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Next of Kin, Chapter Eleven: 26%


  11:44:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1323 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Eleven: 26%

Eleven, 26%

It was odd, being back on the regular grid. Louder, and busier, but there was also safety and anonymity back in the crowd.
I recognized the apartments as I pulled up to them. It was the same make and model of pre-fab apartment complexes as mine, though hers looked to be in slightly better shape.
I checked the time on my interface. It was late, but not so late that I could put off telling her what had happened and still pretend I was being conscientious. I stepped up to the door and my interface dialed inside.
The name Tara popped up, with no picture.
?I think you know my brother,? I said.
The door slid open, though the call stayed up. ?John mentioned you,? she said, in a voice that was at once light and youthful, but pinched and worldly. ?I always wondered if we'd meet.? I saw her crossing the room, smiling. Jim's fawning description felt flat and lifeless compared to her. Her smile faded, however, when her eyes lingered on me. ?You've been deputized?? she asked. ?Oh God,? her legs trembled, and I steadied her.
?John?? she whimpered, as I helped her to a chair. ?I guess at least this time he's got an excuse for ignoring my calls.?
?I'm sorry,? I said.
She had already composed herself again when she leaned back in the chair. ?I guess I always knew it ended like this, but I guess, I always assumed it would be later. That he'd have time to see our son grow up.?
A child with fairer hair than Tara or John toddled into the room. He was adorable, with the slight catch that he looked like John as a child, and John had been a juvenile terrorist at that age. The child let out a primal scream, then ran around his mother's chair giggling and making noises like a cartoon airplane while waving his arms.
?His name's Max,? she told me. ?Max, do you want to meet your uncle?? He didn't acknowledge her, other than to do another fly-by, this time sputtering his lips. I didn't know if that was added speed, or signified engine troubles. ?Sorry,? she said. ?He's still running out his energy.?
?It's all right,? I said. ?He's a kid. It's what they do.?
She yawned. ?Sometimes I do wish he'd do a little less of it, though.?
I wanted to offer to help, take the kid off her hands, if only for an afternoon. But I didn't want to put off the questions I knew I needed to ask her. There had been a message hovering at the bottom of my screen since the moment I walked into her apartment.
?Investigator Tip: In cases where the victim knows their assailant, it is statistically likely to be a spouse, significant other or former lover.?
?Are you... were you and John together?? I asked.
?I think the answer to that changed day to day, minute by minute. Were we exclusive? Did I expect that he'd come home and play house at the end of every day? No. Were we fucking? Did he always tell me he loved me after? Yes. Did I hate him, for not being able to either properly leave me or stay? Absolutely.?
?Did you hate him enough to hurt him, or have someone else hurt him??
?I hurt him all the time. And he hurt me. We always hurt the ones we love. We love them enough to know how to, and sometimes we abuse that knowledge, out of fear, out of frustration. If you're asking, though, if I killed him, or had him killed, no. John was like smoking. Everybody, me included, knew he was bad for me. But I just couldn't kick the habit. And maybe that's for the better. Because it got me off my back.? I frowned.
?I stopped hooking. I'm a mother, a single mother. I was a teenage prostitute because I was desperate, and didn't have a lot of other things I could do. John supported me long enough to get myself stable.?
?Was he your only support??
She smiled. ?I learned pretty early you didn't rely on John for anything. Some months, he paid my rent, bought groceries, and promised I'd never want for anything. Then he'd disappear for two months without a word- and without any money. I work. Phone sex and net cams.? My eyes widened a little. ?I like sex work. I like knowing I make other people feel good. But I got away from the damaging, dangerous aspects of sex work. If you're coming into it from a position of power, you can set yourself up so you're safe, and about as protected as a woman can get. But I wasn't that; I was vulnerable. And I think everybody saw it. And some took advantage. That doesn't happen anymore. Guy gets jerky, and he loses his feed, simple as that.?
?When was the last time you heard from him?? I asked.
?About a week ago,? she said. ?He was stressed, worry about something with his work. He came over I'm pretty sure to knock out some of his frustration,? her cheeks reddened a little, because she realized I wasn't a client, I was family. ?But when he came over we just talked, and I held him.?
?Did he say what he was stressed about, exactly??
?Only that he was getting friction from the people he usually worked with, and attention from someone who wanted to take their place. But it's not that simple. Most of the thuggery and violence in the trade circles around the distributors. That's where the real cash is. People at John's level, they're the pizza delivery guys at the bottom of the food chain. Its the chain operators who have all the power, and he was caught between two of their whirlpools. That's essentially all he told me- at least all the detail I remember.
?I hate to ask, but where were you last night??
?Same place I am every night. Here.?
?Can anyone corroborate that??
?I was in a room until about ten. Chat logs would confirm that. But if you're asking for a witness, I don't think any of the guys who were in that chat with me would fess up, even if you could get their real names from my boss.?
?How about 11:25?? I asked.
?Nope. I get off at ten, because I want to keep Max on a regular schedule. At 11:25, the only person who could vouch for my whereabouts was him. Well, him and my GPS.?
I pinged her GPS log, but came up empty. A message appeared on my interface. ?Investigator Tip: Many sex workers purchase GPS apps or upgrades that make it more difficult for johns or pimps to stalk them. Many of these are legal, but some exist in a gray, quasi-legal area.?
?Do you own a gun??
?Couldn't you have checked the registration?? she asked. ?Of course, that only answers half the question. Because you still wouldn't know if I had an unregistered gun. But no. I had a tweaker try to break in; he followed John here, and surmised that maybe he had a stash here, and tried to get in after he left. I asked John to buy me a shotgun. He always put it off.? She sighed. ?He wanted to be able to take me out shooting, first, so I could get used to using it, before I was relying on it. I guess that's never going to happen.?
?I'm sorry for your loss,? I said.
?Me too,? she said, but she paused. ?If it is him,? she said, almost certain it couldn't be. But she recognized her own denial, and fought. ?Is it? Have you been, to see the body??
?I haven't,? I said. ?I was kind of hoping it wouldn't come to that.? I sighed. ?But I guess it's that time.?

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