Detective Anna DeWitt knew who she was. And she hated herself for it.
She knew that she was little more than a splinter. A fragment of a woman who sacrificed herself for the greater good in that damned city at the bottom of the ocean.
She wouldn’t have called that version of herself a god. But when comparing herself to her, well, Anna DeWitt was a mere mortal.
She did not know if she could ever forgive the Lutece twins for putting her on the path to remembering that life, a life that was really not hers. But then again, maybe there was nothing to forgive. Maybe she just had to accept it as it was—her city, Ascension, needed a hero.
Anna DeWitt did not think she was a hero. In her mind, Booker DeWitt was a hero. Not her Booker, but Elizabeth’s Booker. Hell, even Rapture’s Jack Ryan was more of a hero than Ascension’s Jack Ryan. At least, that’s what she thought. Actually, she wasn’t sure what Jack Ryan was in this world. As far as she knew, he was simply attending college on Earth.
Frankly, the Elizabeth that went back to Rapture was more of a hero than she was. Anna DeWitt saw herself as simply a detective who just had the big cases thrown at her.
Anna DeWitt was wrong about herself. She did not simply take cases because they came her way. She had a strict moral code, which she followed in all of her cases. Perhaps the universe’s way of atoning for what it had put other versions of her through.
Her being a hero is not a variable. In the end, she will always do her best to save her friends and her city.
Whether she will succeed, however, is not a constant.
My brother and I felt we should warn you of that.
But that choice is much farther down the line. Perhaps you deserve a diversion of sorts until that day comes.
Sunday, July 5, 2370, 11:23 PM
A dark alleyway behind The Liberty Club, Sandland
The average human spends a lot of time loitering.
There’s probably a study out there with the average amount of time a person spends loitering in their lifetime. I mean, it depends on your definition of loitering. Walking around a city aimlessly with your best friend, hanging out in an alleyway behind the theater where you’re rehearsing a play, enjoying a light summer breeze in the park. Loitering can be refreshing, if uneventful.
The woman in the black fedora and tan overcoat standing outside of the club was loitering for the sake of loitering. The atmosphere in the club had taken a turn for the obnoxious—so many creeps grabbing her butt—so she had gone out for a breather, to enjoy the fresh air.
Well, not fresh. All air in the city of Ascension was processed through turbines, pumping out pollutants and scrubbing carbon from the air. So the whole thing was like a sealed canister hopelessly tumbling through space in a stable position between the Earth and the moon. Of course, there were trees planted in places to help control the environment, so that was basically fresh air, too.
Either way, it was a welcome relief from the sickly smell that permeated the interior of the club. A light summer breeze blew through the air (another completely artificial creation).
The woman heard a door open, along with the flutter of music and drunken singing. She turned to see a man, late 20s, walk out of the club, wearing a black peacoat. He reached into his pockets and pulled out a cigarette. As he placed it into his mouth, he felt around his coat. Not finding what he was looking for, he took to looking in his vicinity.
“Got a light?” he asked the woman.
She raised her arm, revealing a grey metal band that circled around her wrist. She hit a button on it, and a small flame shot out from the band. “Smoke away,” she declared.
The man smiled with gratitude and lit his cigarette.
The woman extinguished the flame and lowered her arm. “Cigarette break?” she asked.
“Basically,” the man replied, blowing smoke out from his lips. “You a smoker?”
“My dad was. I never picked up the habit.”
“It’s a terrible habit,” the man shrugged, tapping some ash away. “My boss discourages it. But what can I say? I’m a whore for nicotine.”
“And I’m one for alcohol,” the woman replied. “Nice to meet you, Mr…?”
“Cobb. Silas Cobb.”
The woman smiled as she shook Cobb’s hand. “DeWitt. Anna DeWitt.”
Silas’s eyes widened slightly. “The Anna DeWitt? The one who solved the Tenenbaum murder and exposed Fontaine’s dealings?”
“The one and only. You seem puzzled.”
“Well, no offense, but I thought you’d be…well, older.”
“Most people expect that,” Anna shrugged. “I don’t like my image showing up in the media. I’ve made some friends in pretty high places, they know how to keep my face out of the papers usually. What brings you to Liberty Club, Silas?”
Silas took a long drag of his cigarette. The way he did it reminded Anna of when her father let her try her first cigarette. She had taken one breath of smoke and was coughing for a week afterwards.
“Lotta pressure at work,” he said finally. “Needed time to destress.”
“No kidding. What sorta work do you do?”
“Well, I guess for my regular job I work at Ascension Overtures. You know, the music store?”
“Yeah, I live a couple blocks from there. Nice place. Doesn’t have anything from before 2100, might want to change that.”
“…I’ll…talk it over with my business partner. But on the side, I guess you could call me an actor.”
Anna smirked. “How’s that working out?”
“I’m detecting a hint of condescension,” Silas remarked, lowering his cigarette.
“Forgive me for saying this, but I know my fair share of actors. Most of them are broke.”
Silas laughed. “Well, you’re not far off. I used to be a broke actor.”
“I took the deal of a lifetime. Pays well, I suppose. Although…” He looked at Anna. “…well, I really can’t tell you.”
“Don’t bother,” Anna replied, pushing down one of her cuticles. “I’m not particularly interested in the details of your life. I just feel like talking to someone. Makes hanging out here a little less awkward.”
“Well then,” Silas retorted. “What brings you to the Liberty Club, Detective DeWitt?”
Anna liked it when people referred to her in a formal manner. “Well, Monsieur Cobb, I too needed some destress-time. I try to take whatever case comes my way, no matter how dangerous it could be.”
Silas flicked some ash away. “Like, for example, throwing Frank Fontaine off a building?”
“So why a jazz club specifically? One would expect you to go somewhere more…bouncy. Like the Club 80s.”
Anna snorted. “If I went there Les Cohen would just flirt with me all night. No…I come here for my dad.”
“Oh, is he here tonight?”
“No, he’s dead.”
Silas raised his eyebrows with concern. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, it was…well…” Anna looked down a bit uncomfortably. “…it was a long time ago. But, you know, he always came here to unwind, and when I was old enough he brought me along too. So I figured it’s my duty to come here when I can.”
There was a brief silence. The conversation had taken a dark turn.
“You miss him?” Silas asked.
Anna laughed. “Of course I miss him, he was my dad. Why?”
“Just asking. You said you keep coming back.”
“For him, yes. But also for me. They’ve got good music and alcohol. That’s all I need.”
Silas didn’t say anything. He just looked off at the traffic light, directing the empty streets and the occasional car who stopped when it was red despite being the only vehicle around simply because they figured there was no point in breaking the law.
Anna glanced at the traffic light before looking back at Silas. “Okay, prettyboy. If you were me, what would you do?”
He let the rest of his cigarette drop to the ground. “Let me put it this way, detective: I’m a performer. I spend my days following directions, but at some point I’d like to be able to do my own thing, without the burden of my relationship with others. Sometimes we’re better off not letting the influence of others hinder us, and maybe try controlling our own life for once.”
Anna took in Silas. He was tall with amber-colored hair. The most distinctive thing about his face were his cheekbones, which easily made him one of the more attractive people she had ever seen. He was a bit thin, but it looked like he had a bit of muscle on him. He looked like something out of an old movie.
After analyzing him for a few seconds, she smiled, “I like your thought-process, Silas. And your face isn’t bad either.”
Silas smirked. “Not the first time I’ve heard that.”
Anna reached into her pocket and pulled out her business card. “Here: in case you ever need a detective.” She pulled out a pen and wrote down her mobile number before handing the card to Silas. “Or if you ever need a friend.”
Silas turned the card over a few times in his hand. “I’ll be sure to, Detective DeWitt. Hey…have a good evening.”
And, taking a moment to crush the remains of his cigarette with the heel of his shoe, he walked down the alleyway out towards the street and disappeared into the night.
Anna had no idea she would be the last person to see him alive.
Chapter 2: Coincidence and Conspiracy
Monday, July 6, 2370, 9:53 AM
DeWitt Investigations, Calypso Plaza, Bradley Heights
The office was dark, as was often the case. The only source of light was through the window shades, which blocked out the artificial sunlight of the city of Ascension.
In the past seven months, the office had become much cleaner, no doubt thanks to the help of its owner’s new secretary/assistant/accountant/sister/techy. Most of the haphazardly-stacked columns of paper had been organized, shredded, and/or thrown away. Instead of a pile of discarded coffee cups, the windowsill had some artificial flowers. A bookshelf, which to be fair had mostly been filled with tax documents, had been removed and replaced with a new desk area for the secretary. The refrigerator had been cleaned out and generally had some sort of snack someone could enjoy.
Of course, when it came to better habits, there wasn’t much to be said about the snoring woman on the floor, using her trenchcoat as a blanket.
A panel beeped an odd tune and the door slid open, revealing the silhouette of a woman, aged 19, carrying a backpack and a tray with two coffees on it. One was sweetened with some agave nectar, and the other was black.
The panel hummed, and a British-accented voice emerged from it. “Good morning, Sally.”
“Mornin’, Alec,” Sally replied.
“mmmmORNIN’, ALEC!” Anna blurted as she jumped up from the floor. She had been using her trenchcoat as a blanket, and her hair looked like a bird’s nest had been untangled—which is not meant to imply it looked straight, but that it was all crinkled from being held in a certain way for a long time.
Sally stared at her. “You slept on the floor again?”
Anna felt her hair. “Oof, that feels like a bird’s nest that’s been untangled…I didn’t trust myself to drive after I was done at the Liberty Club last night, and this was close enough, so I walked.”
“You literally live behind that door,” Sally retorted, pointing to the closed door next to a bookshelf. “You have a very nice bed.”
Anna rubbed the back of her neck. “Yeah, but that was, like, seven more feet of walking I didn’t have the energy to do. Is that coffee?”
“Alec, where’s her car?” Sally asked, rolling her eyes as she handed Anna the coffee.
“Safely stowed in the parking garage. I activated the homing beacon after she arrived.”
Sally sighed as she turned back to Anna, who was finishing up a big gulp of coffee. “Just as you like it: black as the moonless night.”
“We’re literally in orbit around the moon,” Anna coughed. “None of our nights are moonless. Nor our days.” She took another sip. “Why’d you go out and buy coffee, anyway? We have a machine, it makes pretty good coffee.”
“Well it would, if we hadn’t run out of coffee beans,” Sally replied.
Anna looked at Sally. “So your solution to this caffeine conundrum was, instead of just going out and buying beans, was to go out and buy coffee, meaning someone’s gonna have to make another trip to go buy beans?”
“If I may defend Ms. Tenenbaum for a moment—“
“No, go ahead, I wanna hear what he says.”
“…it is your machine, Detective. Therefore the coffee beans are your responsibility.”
Anna sighed. She’d only been up for two minutes and already the day was looking dull. “Well then…I guess I shall go to the store and buy the coffee beans, seeing as initiative is something this office really lacks.”
“Yeah?” Sally asked, putting her hands on her hips. “And whose fault is that?”
Anna finished her coffee, then picked up her coat from the couch. “I’ll head down to the Grab ‘n Buy, see if you can hold down the fort while I’m gone.”
“Hey, careful while you’re on the way, something happened at the Ascension Overtures store. There’re police everywhere.”
A spark of familiarity with the name of the store crossed Anna’s mind, but the only thing she felt like saying was, “Strange. Well, call me if any clients come by.”
“Gee, 10 in the morning and you’re actually up and about?” Sally remarked. “Pace yourself, detective.”
“I’ll let you lecture me about pacing when you take a test that you studied for regularly instead of cramming the night before.”
“Did you ever follow that advice in college?”
Days in Ascension were entirely artificial: though they followed the Earth clock, Ascension itself generally had a constant supply of sunlight, disregarding the times it was blocked by the Earth or the moon. The city followed the Earth-sun cycle simply because it was convenient. Plus, no one wanted to go through the trouble of making a so-called “Stardate” measurement.
Anna never really understood why people adhered to the cycle so rigidly. But that was mainly because she liked going to clubs until the early hours of the morning. Really, a detective had no set sleeping schedule.
Or maybe it was just her.
There was a considerable crowd near the police line around Ascension Overtures, the local music store. These people seemed to adhere to the normal sleep schedule—as one would expect, they were carrying coffees and various snacks.
“Hey, Sullivan!” the detective called out, recognizing a face behind the line.
Chief Sullivan, a mustachioed man who to Anna always looked like a rodent, looked up. “Anna, what are you doing up so early?”
“Early?” someone in the crowd wearing a red shirt remarked. “It’s past 10.”
“Hey, you in the red shirt, shut up.” She turned to Sullivan as she approached the line. “Just heading over to the market, what’s going on?” She could now see that the main focus of the crime scene was a relatively fancy-looking car with the clearly-defined license plate “SUN.”
Sullivan looked grim. “Well, I’m not really supposed to talk about this, but this is looking a lot like a mob hit. Car was found parked here this morning, someone looked in, saw…well…okay, come on.” He lifted up the police tape.
Anna was taken aback. What could possibly be so odd about the crime scene that Sullivan felt the need to show her?
Soon she found out: the backseats of the car had been removed and replaced by a small kiddy-pool filled with blood, with human remains sticking out, almost as though someone were bathing in it. Only, you know, it was a kiddy pool, so it was too shallow for…
“I can’t make heads or tails of this,” Sullivan remarked. “If you’re gonna kill someone, why do it so publicly?”
Anna leaned in closer. “Well, I imagine someone’s going for theatricality. Like Hannibal Lecter. Is this blood the victim’s?”
“We’re pretty positive. The actual body parts are burnt to a crisp, we can’t get any DNA from them. But we tested the blood, it belongs to the owner of both this car and Ascension Overtures—a man named Cobb.”
No discernible features on the remains. They looked like they had been put through a furnace. Perhaps to hide DNA…but then why put them in a pool of blood?
“What was his name again?” Anna asked, standing up and staring at Sullivan.
“Cobb. Silas Cobb. Local guy, people seemed to like him. I hear he was also an actor.”
Anna looked back at the remains. “This…” she pointed, just to be sure. “…is Silas Cobb?”
Sullivan stared at her. “Err, yes. Did you know him?”
Normally, Anna kept Sullivan in the dark about her personal life. He was always butting in on it, especially when it came to her cases, it was better off letting him know as little as possible. But she’d had her morning coffee and a reasonably good night. “Not exactly. I met him at the Liberty Club last night, I lit a cigarette for him.”
Sullivan pulled out his phone and started taking notes. “Did he seem worried or concerned about something?”
Anna raised an eyebrow. “Oh, so now you’re questioning me.”
“Well, you might have been the last person to see him alive.”
Sigh. “Nice guy, I guess. Said he was under a lot of stress at work.”
“Did he say if it was work at the store or acting?”
“He didn’t specify. But the way the conversation went, I think it was acting.”
Sullivan jotted down what Anna said. While his attention was on his phone, Anna took out her own and surreptitiously snapped a photo of the human remains.
“Did he say anything else?” Sullivan asked, looking up after Anna had safely stowed her phone.
“Not really,” Anna lied. Something about Silas’s attitude the night before troubled her, making her wonder if the conversation was better off kept between the two of them. Or the one of them now. “We talked for a bit, I gave him my card, and then he left.”
“Did he leave by car?”
“Nah, he walked.”
Sullivan pocketed his phone. “Well, I might call you for a follow-up later if we find anything else, but I think you’re done here. Thanks for cooperating, I know you’re not used to it.”
Thank you for the backhanded compliment. “It’s no trouble. I don’t have a lot to do today, anyway.” Anna turned and left for the police line.
“Oh, and Anna?”
She turned. “Yes, Sullivan?”
“Are you sure he didn’t say anything else?”
“Would I lie to you?” Anna shrugged.
Sullivan frowned disapprovingly. “I’m not gonna answer that.” And then he turned and started talking to some of the forensics people again.
The cashier at the Grab ‘n Buy was a teenager named Genesis. She always saw Anna when it came to her regular trips to the market, and knew her general shopping routine: two cartons of milk and a box of Cadbury chocolate. Recently Anna had given up on always buying 3 or 5 six-packs of beer, but she still occasionally snuck one into her shopping basket, especially before the weekends.
“You’re up early,” she remarked as Anna approached with a shopping basket full of bags of coffee.
“Why is everyone marveling at how early I am?” Anna sighed. She started placing the coffee on the counter. “It’s not like I never wake up before noon.”
Genesis stared at her.
“So how’s your day been?” Anna asked, feeling a need to change the subject.
“Slow. We have 2 for 1 deals on a bunch of bath products if you’re interested.”
“Just the coffee beans.”
Genesis started scanning the bags of coffee. “Hey, you walked here, right?”
“Do you have any idea what all that commotion is over by Ascension Overtures?”
“Oh, apparently there was a murder. Some guy’s remains arranged in a pretty intricate way, actually: like a body bathing in a pool of blood, only the pool’s too shallow for it to be an actual body.”
“Well…that’s disgusting. Who was the victim?”
“The owner of the store: a guy named Silas Cobb.”
Genesis’s eyes squinted. “Holy shit…now it’s him?”
Not the response DeWitt expected. “Excuse me?”
“You’re talking about Silas Cobb, as in the guy who also acts with Cohen Productions?”
Anna was completely lost. “Yeah, I think that’s him. Why do you ask?”
Genesis looked around before leaning forward. “Okay, so here’s the thing: I didn’t know him that well, but I chatted with him a few times. He mentioned he was working on this new Sander Cohen/Ava Tate movie.”
The first name Anna knew already, but the second one she had to think about for a second. “Ava Tate? The movie star? What’s that has-been doing in a Cohen film?”
“No clue. Weird, right? Never took her for an art-house fan…anyway, so I went online and started looking into the production. It’s called The Pink Room, it’s being described as something like a…’sexual disturbia’ or something like that. But here’s the kicker: I found out that two actors who were attached to this film have been murdered in the past couple of months.”
“Look.” Genesis pulled out her phone and showed Anna an article. “Right here: ‘The body, which was found tangled up in a piano backstage at the opera house this morning, has been identified as belonging to local actor Kyle Fitzpatrick.’ And here: ‘Representatives for The Blue Ribbon restaurant have no explanation as to how actor Martin Finnegan’s remains got onto the meat hooks in their industrial freezer.” Genesis put down her phone. “So what do you think? Conspiracy?”
“Conspiracy is a strong word,” Anna replied. She did find the whole thing a bit too peculiar to be coincidence, but she was reluctant to take on this particular case for a number of reasons.
A few months back Anna had been roped into a case involving the murder of Ascension scientist Brigid Tenenbaum. The case, which she felt was wrapped up in a satisfying manner, had jogged a host of memories she truly doubted she ever should have remembered. Memories of a certain city in the clouds…
That previous case had nearly drained the life from her (and, uh, me), she didn’t want to get into too much trouble again.
The only choice was to try to dodge the question. “If it’s so clear, why haven’t the police noticed the connection yet?”
“I thought about that.” Genesis was sounding like a detective herself. “I can think of a couple of reasons. One is that each of these murders happened in different jurisdictions, so the departments aren’t exactly working together. And their only connection is The Pink Room, which is already pretty obscure. It looks like only the arts entertainment media and Cohen’s circle of influence are really aware of it, and even then Cohen’s pretty secretive about his films in progress.”
Knowing Sullivan, he would probably notice the connection sooner or later. But probably later. For now, Anna and Genesis were the only ones who knew.
“Wait…” Anna looked up. “Why are you telling me all this? If you made the connection, why not bring it to the police?”
Genesis shrugged. “You’re the one who knows what to do around here. So are you gonna take this case?”
Anna pulled out her wallet and started to pay for the coffee. “Are you hiring me?”
That made the clerk laugh. “Nah, forget it.” She placed the coffees in a clear plastic bag. “Seriously though, you can’t deny it’s strange.”
Anna grabbed the bag from the counter. “Don’t be so sure. I’ve seen some strange stuff in my life.”
Genesis laughed as she watched her favorite customer head for the door. She didn’t hear her mutter under her breath, “Well, lives.”
Sullivan had already left by the time Anna passed the crime scene again. It looked like the forensics team was loading the pool into a van to bring back to the station.
She pulled out her phone and made a memo describing the details of the car:
LEXUS, 2368-2372 MODEL?
LICENSE PLATE: “SUN” PROBABLY CUSTOM JOB
COHEN CONNECTION; COMPANY CAR
BURNT REMAINS AND POOL OF BLOOD; WHY BURN REMAINS?
She pocketed her phone. No one was paying her for this, but it didn’t hurt to be curious.
After she returned to the office, she made a fresh cup of coffee and helped Sally with her homework. She wasn’t that much help, but it gave her a sense of accomplishment; a chance to really feel like the older sister.
That night, after Sally had gone back to her apartment, Anna stayed up at her desk and looked up the name of “Silas Cobb.” Nothing particularly noteworthy showed up besides film and theater credits. She found a few videos of him as Louis in a production of Angels In America, but not much else. There weren’t even red carpet interviews with him for the Cohen films he did. Actually, by the looks of it he wasn’t much more than an extra for the films. There was no listing for his role in The Pink Room, however, just that he was in it.
After closing her computer, she reached into her drawer and pulled out a photograph she had received some months ago, one of a necklace with a graphic of a bird engraved on the front.
She stared at the photograph for a good minute. Memory was a fickle thing. She did not remember everything about the other cities. But she remembered enough to look at the photo with a sense of nostalgia.
Sander Cohen. Kyle Fitzpatrick. Martin Finnegan. Silas Cobb. Ava Tate. Names she remembered. Brief glimpses of people in rooms, singing songs, shooting films, electrocuting hapless muses.
The Fontaine case had proven there were certain constants between the cities. Frank Fontaine had been a lying murderer in Rapture, and he proved very much that in Ascension. Jeremiah Fink was a philandering louse in Columbia, and there was absolutely no denying he was that in Ascension.
And Esther Mailer…where was Esther Mailer from? She never was able to remember which city she was in. But the odds were in favor that she was a lying bitch there as well.
Knowing the rumors about Cohen and his production company, it didn’t take much mental power to guess this Cohen was as deranged as the one in Rapture. But she could not guarantee this Cohen was guilty of the same crimes.
Anna needed a drink.
She went over to the fridge and looked in. No alcohol…she should have bought some at the Grab ‘n Buy.
She opened one of the cabinets in her desk and found what she was looking for: the dregs of a bottle of scotch.
She placed it on her desk, grabbed a glass, and pulled open the top. But she didn’t pour the drink into the glass. Instead, she sat there, staring at the bottle.
Finally, she tapped a button on her desk, and Alec booted up. “How may I assist you, Detective?”
“Alec, I need you to crunch some numbers. Can I afford to take on a case where there’s no financial benefit?”
“…I’m…not entirely sure I understand what you mean, Detective.”
“If I decided to commit to a case where I wasn’t gonna get paid, would I be able to without running this business into the ground?”
“Well, if the situation involves just not earning money for the duration of such a case, you could hypothetically continue paying taxes and bills and buying groceries for about three more months.”
“And if it’s more than just not earning money?”
“You mean like all of your cases?”
Anna laughed bitterly. “Yeah.”
“Well, my programming can’t give you an exact estimate considering how unpredictable your investigations tend to be.”
“I guess that’s true.”
“But if you take into account any potential risk of injury and legal problems that you could encounter like you have in the past…well, my best guess is you would have to start asking Sally for money.”
Sally of course had a substantial inheritance following the murder of her mother, the scientist Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum. That was one inheritance Anna had no intention of ever touching.
“Thanks Alec, that’ll be all for tonight.”
Alec’s panel made a beeping noise before turning a shade of purple.
Instead of going to bed, or even taking a sip from her whiskey, Anna opened a blank document on her computer. At the very top she typed out the phrase “SILAS COBB AND THE PINK ROOM.”
“Maybe not an actual case,” she muttered. “But curiosity never hurt.”
Suddenly, Alec’s panel went blue again. “Sorry to disturb you, Detective, but I just noticed there’s a new message in your inbox. I’ll cue it up on your screen.”
A message appeared:
I am sorry to disturb you, but a friend of mine gave me your address. My name is Donovan Boyer, and I am looking to potentially hiring you to investigate something a bit…personal for me. May I stop by your office tomorrow?
Absolutely. Feel free to come by anytime. But be advised I cannot guarantee I will answer the door before noon.
Detective Anna DeWitt
Chapter 3: Hired
Tuesday, July 7, 2370, 11:34 AM
DeWitt Investigations, Calypso Plaza, Bradley Heights
Sally had left a message a few hours before Anna woke up, saying some stuff had come up at school and she would not be able to do her afternoon shift.
Anna hadn’t heard it yet, though. Right now she was sitting at her desk, listening to the sound of someone entering the reception area of her office.
“Hello?” a voice called out.
“Through the door on your right,” she replied, getting up from her desk.
The door opened and in walked a young man, probably early 30s, wearing a brown suit. His hair was combed to the side with a crisp part on the same longitude as the furthest edge of his right eyebrow. He had put too much gel on, his hair was shining even when he wasn’t standing under light.
“Mr. Boyer, I presume,” Anna said, walking up to him and shaking his hand. “Have a seat. Would you like some coffee?”
“Uh, no thanks,” he said nervously. “It…goes right through me.”
“Fair enough.” Anna made herself a cup before directing him to the chair directly opposite her desk. “So…tell me about yourself, Donovan Boyer.”
“Just call me Dean. I don’t really use Donovan.”
“Well, Dean Boyer, what can I do for you?”
Dean glanced around the room. Anna didn’t like when her clients did that: it implied initial mistrust right off the bat. Not a good start to relationships in her book.
“Well…it’s about my ex-boyfriend.”
Anna let out a sudden cough, which was definitely not accidental. “Not that kind of Private Eye, pal.”
“No! No, not like that…” Dean shifted embarrassedly. “He, well…he’s been murdered.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I was looking to hire your services in investigating his death.”
“Is that so?” Anna pulled out a notepad and a pencil. “Well, my asking price is 400 dollars a day.”
Dean looked startled. “Isn’t that a little much?”
Anna smiled. “Well, under normal circumstances I would settle for minimum wage. But when we take into account accident insurance and risk of bodily harm and the potential need for me to be bailed out of jail—“
“Okay, okay! Can you give me an estimate on how many days this would take?”
“Not really. I go over every detail, but one case could take a few hours and another could take me a month.” Noticing Dean’s sickly look, she added, “Though most of my cases only take a week.”
Dean looked at the door. “Umm…I don’t mean to be rude, I think I’ll take my case elsewhere.”
Anna shrugged. “Fine with me. Before you do though…mind taking a look at that bulletin board over there?”
To Anna’s left, hanging between two windows in the lounge area, was a large bulletin board. At the center was a picture of an unpleasant-looking man with a red line drawn in crayon over his face. Next to it, linked by some red thread, was a picture of what appeared to be a femme-fatale-type with a question mark over her face. Linked to her were photos of five people, each with a red X covering their faces.
“That’s from my last big case,” Anna explained. “I’m sure you remember Frank Fontaine? That’s him with the red line through his face. That lady next to him was his lieutenant, who also carried out assassinations for him—specifically, those five people.”
“Now…look at what’s directly above Mr. Fontaine.”
Linked to Fontaine with blue thread was a picture of Anna.
“Notice anything different about mine?” she asked. “Perhaps a lack of crayon? Think about that before taking your services somewhere else.”
Dean stared at the board for a moment longer before turning to look at Anna.
The detective knew what that silence meant. She gripped her pencil and began writing on the notepad. “Your boyfriend…what was his name?”
“Silas. Silas Cobb.”
The pencil tip broke. Anna stayed still for a moment.
She put down the pencil. “That’s ‘Detective,’ to you, Mr. Boyer. Well, today’s your lucky day. I’m waiving the fee.”
“You’re what?!” Alec exclaimed.
“I’m already undergoing an active investigation with regards to your boyfriend’s death. You don’t have to hire me for a case I’m already on.”
Though he didn’t say it out loud, Boyer seemed pleased by this. “So where does that leave me?”
“Just a witness.” Anna pulled out a microphone. “Mind if I record our chat? I’m gonna need to check back on some stuff over the investigation.”
“Alec, transcribe the conversation as we go along.”
“…of course, Detective.”
Anna turned on the microphone. “So, how did you know Mr. Cobb?”
Boyer, who seemed more relaxed now, leaned back in his chair. “Well, we hit it off at a club one night about a year ago, and we ended up getting an apartment together about two months in.”
“Well, he was good with money, able to support both of us. Then he got cast in some Tennessee Williams play that was co-produced by—“
“Which Tennessee Williams play?”
“Err…A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“Well, it was co-produced—“
“You sure it was Streetcar? He also wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
“I’m…pretty sure it was Streetcar.”
“Was there a random-ass moment where a lady kisses a kid?”
“I’m sorry, is any of this relevant?”
“I don’t fuck around with Tennessee Williams. Go on.”
Boyer waited for a few seconds before continuing, clearly on-guard after that strange digression. “Well, the co-producer of Streetcar was Sander Cohen, so I’d see him around a lot in the rehearsal space. He seemed to take a…a liking to him after a few rehearsals.”
“Something weird started happening. He started coming home pretty late in the evenings, he was cold and distant with me and his friends… he tried to keep to himself. Like he was hiding something.”
“Was he cheating on you?”
“Knowing what Cohen gets up to with his muses, I wouldn’t put it past him. Either way, soon as the production was over, Silas packed up and left. Moved to a penthouse near the studio.”
Anna pursed her lips. “So…why did you wanna hire me?”
“Well, a few months ago, he called me out of the blue. I think it was a wrong number. But he sounded like he was in trouble.”
“What’d he say?”
“It was a weird call… he said ‘the goods had been compromised’ and that he wanted out. But then he realized it was me and hung up. He sounded… pained?”
“Like he’d been injured. He was breathing a lot and it sounded like it was hard for him to speak. Probably wasn’t a call I was meant to hear. He called me back about a week later and apologized, said he’d gotten mixed up. But whatever he was up to…it had to do with Cohen.”
“You think Cohen killed him.”
Boyer let out a laugh, an unusually candid one for him. “Not himself, no…that guy wouldn’t dare get his hands dirty. But he has to have something to do with it. Silas got in over his head, cost him his life.”
“Precious. Alec, stop recording.” Anna leaned forward. “On-record, you’re not hiring me. But off-the-record, considering you came with the intention of it, I’m obligated to offer you any information I find.”
Boyer held up his hands. “No information needed. Just… I need closure.”
Anna nodded. “I’ll let you know when I’m done. Feel free to head out.”
Boyer nodded as he grabbed his things and headed for the door. But before he left, he stopped. “By the way…” he said, looking over his shoulder. “Bring Cohen down, alright?”
And then he was gone.
Normally, Anna would have found some way to weasel herself into the Cohen Studios. This time, however, she had someone much closer to Cohen to help her get there through more legitimate means.
“Alec, call LeSandra Cohen.”
The muffled sound of dance music. “Well, Ms. Draper, I presume.”
“What can I do for you, Anna?”
“I need a way to get close to your father.”
“Ooh, looking for a date?”
“You know I’m not. It’s…for a case.”
“This is about that Cobb kid, isn’t it?”
“How did you know?”
“Listen, DeWitt: I know my dad. Sander Cohen is one of the most dangerous men in the city, I wouldn’t put it past him to kill Si, much less Kyle or Martin.”
“You knew them?”
“Of course. He loves bringing his work home with him.”
“Pleasant. So why haven’t you gone to the police about it?”
“Evidence, honey. I may be his socialite daughter, but he’s practically one of the founders. I can’t go to anyone about my suspicions, not even the Board of Improvement. If anyone’s gonna find proof he killed those guys, it’s you.”
“He’s got a banquet at Cohen Studios tomorrow night. I might be able to sneak you in as a journalist. Maybe the backstory is we’re old girlfriends.”
“Not far off.”
“As I recall you weren’t too interested. I’ll get you a ticket: what name should I put you under?”
“Courtnee Draper, Arts Section of Odyssey Magazine.”
“Got a good ring to it. Oh, one more thing.”
“Who hired you for this?”
“No one, actually, I’m just curious.”
“…just curious, huh? Well, you know curiosity killed the cat.”
Anna smirked. “Yes, but satisfaction brought it back.”
“Good girl. See you tomorrow.”
Chapter 4: The Gala
September 3, 2019
Okay, wow. I mean, almost two years since I last updated? This is, uh...this is bad. I mean, not as bad as dropping a fic for a decade, but, like...this is really bad.
Hi all! UberVenkman here, back with another exciting chapter in the saga of––okay, look, I'm really sorry, okay? Life got in the way, I've started writing a lot more original content, this got pushed to the side.
Truth is, writing Detective DeWitt stories is really hard, because of the sheer level of detail and stuff I have to do. Shadow of a Crimson Moon took me a year to write all the way through before I started publishing it. This one I decided to take more of the "publish as you go" route since I wanted to put this out there, but even a single chapter takes a lot of concentration. But I think I owe the people who've read my work a new chapter in this saga.
Basically, this and another chapter are about finished, though that one I might rewrite. If I can get myself to plow through the one after that one, I think we'll get the ball rolling again.
Thank you for your patience. Now please enjoy.
"Why am I here again?" Sally asked, adjusting the strap on her dress. She and Anna were in the speeder on the way to the Cohen Studios gala.
"You're my assistant," Anna replied. "So you need some field experience pretending to be someone you're not, in this case a photographer."
"The name on my card is literally 'Sally Tenenbaum.'"
"Well your mom kept you out of the papers, it's not out of the question for you to have become a professional photographer. Me, everyone knows my name."
"Yeah, well just hope not everyone knows your face."
"I got political reporters following me around after the Colony 12 case. This is an arts/entertainment party. I mean, really, what are the odds of Andrew Ryan and Sofia Lamb being there? Or Comstock, for that matter?"
Sally scoffed. "Please. Comstock doesn't even know we exist."
Anna didn't feel like telling Sally her suspicions about that regard. Last Christmas she had been called to City Hall for a direct meeting with the Board of Improvement, but learned that Comstock had recused himself from the proceedings due to "family matters." She had never been very comfortable thinking that was the only reason for his lack of presence.
"What kind of name is 'LeSandra,' anyway?" Sally asked as she fiddled with the camera.
"I guess the elder Cohen thought he was being clever. Her friends call her Les, though. Her closer friends call her Lez."
It took Sally a moment to register that. "Oh," was all she managed to muster. Then, after thinking about it, "What do you call her?"
Anna rolled her eyes. "Les."
"Ah, well, careful saying that when you're drunk."
"I'm not doing this to get drunk. And neither are you—don't think just because you're not gonna get carded means I'm letting you consume alcohol." The car began to slow down as Anna turned it towards the security gate for the Cohen Studios backlot.
"Yeah, yeah…you're here to get Sander Cohen's attention. Let's just hope things go smoothly."
"Good evening. How may I assist you today?" a friendly voice chirped from the security panel.
"We're here for the gala," Anna replied.
"May I have your name?"
"Courtnee Draper, and guest."
"And the password?"
"And dreadfully distinct against the dark, a tall white fountain played."
"Excellent. Keep driving down the backlot until you reach Soundstage C. Enjoy the gala, Ms. Draper and guest."
"Some password," Sally muttered as the security gate opened and Alec moved the car forward.
Anna looked out the window. There did not appear to be much filming occurring tonight, most likely because of the gala, but she could imagine rows of costumes being pushed around or golf carts carrying stars about twenty feet to their next filming location. She had a certain respect for the cinema, especially artists liked Cohen, who had a tendency to look to the classics for inspiration. Cohen was one of the few artists who still released his films on 35mm, which provided several opportunities for screening jobs at the Ascension University cinema when she was still taking classes.
That said, she had since learned Cohen was far from a saint in his personal life than he was in his artistic life, which made the prospect of screening his work a little less desirable, much less getting involved with him at all.
"Remind me again why we're doing this without any payment involved?" Sally asked.
"I'm curious," Anna replied. "What more reason do you need than that?"
The car came to a stop in front of one of the soundstages.
"Let me spell it out for you," Sally retorted. "M-O-N-E-Y."
They got out of the car and looked up to see the giant sign for Soundstage C, stylized so that the "C" was disproportionately larger than the word "Soundstage."
Anna handed her keys to a friendly-looking valet. "Keep your camera out and your smile on," she said to Sally. "We need to blend in."
The first thing that hit Anna in the face when they entered the soundstage was the strong scent of overpriced perfume. The second was the sight of all the gowns and tuxedos people were wearing. The third was the scenery.
"Get a load of this, huh?" Sally gaped.
If they hadn't remembered they had just walked through the entrance of a soundstage, Sally and Anna would have believed they had just walked into the courtyard of a gigantic Tuscan villa. The soundstage was decked out with rustic walls, cobblestone paths, hanging lights, balconies, and of course, music and alcohol. Elaborately dressed guests were casually chatting away and sampling various foods. The only real sign that this was a soundstage were the lights way up in the ceiling, but one could easily ignore those by looking at the artificial stars.
"This…is decadent," Anna said after a long moment. She turned to Sally. "Okay, stick to the plan. Cohen's daughter said we had to meet her by the string quartet."
"Can I at least have some hors d'oeurves?" Sally asked, looking hungrily at a waiter walking by with a tray full of cocktail sticks with prosciutto and mozzarella.
Anna sighed. "Just…grab a plate and see what you can grab on our way. I don't want you searching for the waiter who's got bruschetta."
"I would never," Sally replied, crossing her heart. "I hate bruschetta."
The string quartet was playing a tune that sounded suspiciously like Britney Spears's "Toxic" done in a Postmodern Jukebox-type remix to sound more period-appropriate.
LeSandra Cohen stood in a corner surrounded by various other socialites Anna recognized from trashy reality television. The younger Cohen seemed to be regaling them with tales from her recent vacation to Earth, spending time in the global-warming affected Maldives.
"…and we were just wrapping up when the ground began shaking…" was all Anna got a chance to hear before Cohen noticed her. "Ah! As I live and breathe, Ms. Courtnee Draper! Friends, this girl is responsible for one of the most thrilling nights of my life!"
The socialites all snickered. They were probably thinking of something highly inappropriate.
"Good evening, Ms. Cohen," Anna said in a Midwestern accent. "Have you met my photographer, Sally Tenenbaum?"
"Ah, so you're the young Tenenbaum! I see you're enjoying the nibbles."
Anna turned. Sally was precariously holding two plates in her left hand, each piled high with various finger foods.
"I'm just hungry, Ms. Cohen," Sally shrugged with one shoulder.
"If you'll excuse me, friends," LeSandra said to the others. "I'd like to have a quick word with Ms. Draper. She's doing a profile of me for the arts section of Odyssey Magazine." She motioned for Anna and Sally to follow her.
They walked up the stairs to a balcony, past some other guests, and through a door.
To Anna and Sally's bewilderment, the door led outside of the Tuscan facades into what looked like the rest of the soundstage: bare, dark, and ready for another day of filming in the morning.
"Dear god, it's so hard keeping a straight face around those people," LeSandra groaned, dropping the incredibly fake expression she'd been holding since long before she saw Anna.
"I don't envy you," the detective remarked. "So what's up?"
"First, can I have some of that food?"
Sally looked at her plates. "Oh, sure, help yourself." She handed one to LeSandra, who promptly gobbled up several morsels.
"Sorry," she said, handing back the significantly lighter plate to Sally. "I'm not really allowed to stuff my face at these events. Can't risk embarrassing photos. Alright, so your case: I did some digging around about production on The Pink Room. My father's been fairly secretive about it, he hasn't even let me visit the set."
"Alec, take notes."
"Right away, Detective."
"Hey Alec," LeSandra piped up.
"Ah, yes, good evening Ms. Cohen."
Anna cleared her throat. "What did you find out?"
"It's looking to be an incredibly expensive production. He's been shipping in at least twenty new 35mm cans every week."
"He's a perfectionist though, right?" Sally piped up. "It's not that unusual."
"Right," LeSandra nodded. "But production's been going on for months, you know how much films costs these days? You have to custom manufacture it, then have it imported directly to Ascension. And besides, one reel is 20 minutes of footage, it's basically wasting money on something you can recreate on a computer."
"David Lynch did it with Twin Peaks long after the digital revolution," Anna shrugged.
LeSandra scoffed. "My dad's no David Lynch. He's shot enough footage to make a film that'd last two weeks. Not that I'd put it past him but no investor is going to want to put forth the money to make a film that uses that many reels and would take that long to view in a single sitting."
The detective frowned. "So then where's the money coming from?"
"That's all I know. My family's rich, but we didn't become rich because my dad invested in his own films, he just put weird technicalities in contracts which entitled him to box office returns. Usually did that by seducing investors."
There was a bit of a silence. "Literally or figuratively?" Sally asked.
"Yes," was the deadpan reply. Then, "Oh, where are my manners. Nice to meet you properly, Sally." She shook the younger Tenenbaum's hand.
Sally looked perplexed. "We…just met outside."
"Yeah, that was my socialite persona," LeSandra explained. "You're meeting the real me right now. Anna's told me a lot about you. You're a chemistry major?"
"Yeah, but I'll be taking a year off starting in the fall."
"Ah yes, and a well-deserved one. Hey, if you need a side job or anything in the meantime, I could use some help at the Club 80s, I hear you're good with accounting."
"Well, I mean—"
"Probably pays better than Sherlock Holmes here."
Sally couldn't hold back a sudden laugh before covering her mouth. "I like her," she whispered to Anna.
"So where do we go from here?" Anna asked, ignoring the conversation that had just happened.
"Well, your best course of action is getting onto the set of The Pink Room. Unfortunately, I can't give you access, but my dad's got a reputation for letting reporters he likes do exclusives. I can introduce you to him."
"One more thing. Smudge your lipstick."
"It's gonna look suspicious if I left the party with two women and they came back without smudged lipstick."
Anna could tell by Sally's amused reaction that she was visibly taken aback by this.
"Lez Cohen indeed," Sally remarked as she rubbed her hand against her lip.
"Les," Anna scowled at her sister.
LeSandra smiled. "Yes, well, some folks in my dad's circle call me Lesser Cohen."
"Oh," Sally remarked. Then, after thinking about that, "Oh."
"It's oh so difficult being rich," LeSandra said sarcastically. "Let's go."
They emerged back into the courtyard, the guests none the wiser.
"Getting busy, Ms. Cohen?" a really bougie looking guy in a tuxedo remarked to the three women.
"Does it show?" LeSandra replied, adopting her socialite persona once more.
Sally leaned over to Anna. "Having to act like that all the time…can't be good for the brain."
Anna stifled a laugh then shushed her sister. "Hey Les, how about some photos for the article?" she abruptly said in her previous Midwestern accent.
Sally circled around them and snapped some shots while backing up through the crowd. As if they sensed royalty, the crowd parted as they made their way towards a small clearing.
"What's all this for?" Anna asked, staying in character.
"My dearest father is putting on a special performance for tonight's festivities," LeSandra replied. "It's bound to be a spectacle."
A voice in the crowd: "Ah, Ms. Cohen!"
LeSandra's face faltered. "Brace yourself, Draper," she whispered to Anna. "Ms. Tate, wonderful to see you again!"
Gliding out of the crowd came a stunning woman with red hair and a blue sequin gown. She had an air about her, like something out of an era lost centuries ago yet somehow fully present. You know, as an actor should be.
"Ah, dear LeSandra, I was hoping to catch at the very least a glimpse of you at this party," the woman said. "You've grown so much!"
LeSandra gave a laugh, then turned to Anna. "Ms. Draper, you of course know of Ava Tate, right?"
"Well, I certainly hope she would!" Ava Tate replied. "I wouldn't think I'd have become a has-been that quickly!"
Anna figured it was best not to bring up what Genesis had said the other day.
"Of course not, Ms. Tate," Sally replied. "I just want to say…my mother took me to see you in Love Letters some years ago…"
"My goodness, you must be young Sally Tenenbaum! I was dreadfully sorry to hear about your mother. I truly could not believe the actions of that dreadful Frank Fontaine!"
Sally seemed to suspect fauxness in Ms. Tate's sympathy. "Well, I like to think she lives on in her work."
"Ah yes, I certainly hope you will continue her legacy. And who is this?"
LeSandra gave Anna a light shove. The detective suddenly became aware she had been gaping for the entirety of the interaction.
"Uh…" she managed before quickly going back into character. "Where are my manners? Courtnee Draper, entertainment reporter for Odyssey Magazine."
"Oh? You must be quite a new one, I don't think I've seen you before at one of our events."
"She's a freelancer," LeSandra explained. "I'm good friends with her, and thought it would be fun for her to do a profile for me."
"Right, because who wouldn't enjoy broadcasting their entire lives in print media?" Sally remarked.
There was a slight silence as everyone looked at her.
"Ahem," she said quickly. "Picture?"
"Yes, of course!" The moment was over and Ava Tate and LeSandra Cohen were all smiles.
"Ah, before I forget, I'd like you all to meet a new friend of mine." Ava motioned to someone in the crowd, who walked over. "May I present Ms. Eleanor Lamb!"
Anna turned and made eye contact with Eleanor Lamb. She was wearing a red sleeveless dress and a headband with a single rose on it. There was something familiar about her.
"Eleanor, have you had the pleasure of meeting dear LeSandra Cohen?" Ava Tate asked.
"I'm afraid not," Eleanor replied in a clear posh accent. "But I believe my mother is quite familiar with your father," she added. She flashed her eyebrows at LeSandra.
LeSandra, as if receiving a coded message, nodded. "Yes…I'm afraid the business of our parents is quite often unknown to us. Ms. Lamb, do you perchance know my friend Ms. Courtnee Draper?"
"I don't believe so," Eleanor replied. She held out her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Draper."
Anna shook it. "And you, Ms. Lamb. I'm quite familiar with your mother's work." That was a basically a lie, but she knew a thing or two. "It's very impressive."
Anna suddenly became aware that Eleanor was still holding her hand and staring at her very strangely.
"I'm…sorry," Eleanor said, finally letting go. "But actually…have we met before? You look very familiar."
"You know, you do too, perhaps I've interviewed you before?" Anna replied. Obviously she had not, but there was definitely something strangely familiar about Eleanor Lamb.
Sally coughed. "Picture?"
The three Ascension socialites posed together as Anna stepped aside.
A loud drumroll played. "Ladies and gentlemen and those of you who may identify as neither! Please make your way to the courtyard as the main festivities begin!"
"Ah, I'm afraid this is where we part ways," Ava said quickly to LeSandra. "I will try to get dear Sander to let you onto the set of our collaboration one of these days, I assure you!"
"You know," LeSandra said quickly. "Perhaps Ms. Draper would be more desired on set?"
"She would?" Sally asked. Then, "Oh yes! Perhaps Odyssey could do a profile on the production as well!"
"Is that so? Well, Sander's never been too receptive to spoilers…" Ava Tate thought for a moment. "But I could certainly vouch for you. When he comes out later I will be sure to put in a good word in person. Well, toodles, LeSandra!" And she was gone.
"Well?" Anna asked LeSandra.
LeSandra leaned over to Sally and Anna. "The babysitter from hell," she whispered.
Someone cleared their throat.
They looked up to see Eleanor Lamb, still staring at Anna. "No…Ms. Draper, I have definitely seen you before."
"Where?" Memories flashed before Anna's eyes as she suddenly remembered the girl she had encountered outside city hall on Christmas Eve the previous year. "Oh."
"Last Christmas, you were—"
Loud dramatic music suddenly played.
"Ah, the performance," Anna said quickly. "Sorry, Ms. Lamb, we could talk some other time!"
"This way! Cohen's daughter coming through!" Anna pulled her little group through the crowd.
"What was that about?" Sally asked.
"Nothing, let's watch the show."
A spotlight shined brightly on a balcony with a closed set of doors. A loud drumroll played.
"You know me…" the voice of Sander Cohen played from the speakers. "I do like making an entrance. Although I'd rather that entrance have a little…spark."
A stream of smoke began emerging from the cracks in the door.
"Greeting, all of you…it's wonderful that you could join me here in my studio. Now…let's start things off with a bang."
The door burst open and a caped figure came flying straight out and over the balcony, following from behind by a colorful explosion that broke through several of the façade's windows, sending purple and red smoke into the courtyard. The figure tumbled through the air before landing on their feet at the center of the courtyard, before the purple and red smoke engulfed him.
Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the smoke dissipated, revealing the uncloaked figure for all to see: Sander Cohen himself, proudly standing before the crowd.
The audience applauded with appreciation. Even Anna had to clap her hands.
"Let the festivities…begin!" Cohen swung his cape around and flung his hands to the ceiling. The crowd looked up in time to see several dancers in gaudy outfits descend from the roof and onto the courtyard as the music started playing.
"Nice," Anna remarked.
Anna and Sally looked at LeSandra, who was visibly scowling.
"He did the same thing ten years ago," she remarked passively. "He's losing his touch. Only a guy like Sander Cohen can make mindfucks dull. Let's go." She turned and headed back into the crowd.
Anna and Sally looked back at the courtyard, where the dancers were engaged in some typical showy choreography.
"Cohen's always been the audacious type," Anna remarked. "I wonder how far he'd go to stop people from being bored."
Cohen stood next to the banister of a long staircase, casually ingratiating himself to the various socialites and businessmen.
There was something immediately disturbing about him. His face was a pale shade of white, contrasted uncannily with a dark black shade of lipstick. It was almost the same shade of white as the rest of his outfit, a blindingly white tuxedo. His mustache and hair were all slick with some sort of oil. He wore black cotton gloves on his hands. The whole getup made him look like a character from a black and white movie had stepped off the screen and was now in the crowd.
"…Jodorowsky, Aronofsky, Wes Anderson—all of them 21st century frauds! When you see a Cohen film your mind will transcend all that you know. You will come close—that much closer—to seeing the universe as God sees it!"
"Ooooohhh," was the general response.
"That is the job of us artists! After all—God did not build this city! Visionaries, businessmen, artists—we built it! We have become the gods of Ascension!"
"Chairman Comstock won't be happy to hear that," someone in the crowd remarked.
"Comstock and I are peers—we are both visionaries!" Cohen took a sip of his cognac. "But unlike him I don't have to dumb down my work for the common simpleton."
Laughter from the crowd.
"Ahahaha," LeSandra spoke up. "Father, if I could speak to you a m—"
"Ah, dearest LeSandra, come to my arms!" Cohen stretched out his hands and rather forcefully pulled LeSandra in and kissed her on both cheeks.
"Oh boy," Sally remarked, looking at the picture of the moment she had captured. "I'm gonna delete that later…"
"You are carrying on the Cohen legacy, my dear girl, you are destined for sainthood!"
"Yes, as you've said…several times," LeSandra replied. "I was wondering—"
But Cohen was very clearly not interested in engaging with LeSandra anymore, as he turned back towards the crowd of his peers.
Major scumbag points, Anna thought to herself.
"My dear Sander, are you just going to let your daughter off without letting her introduce her good friend?" Ava Tate spoke up.
Sander Cohen turned back and eyed Anna. There was something unpleasant about being looked at by Sander Cohen. A condescending stare mixed with an unsolicited stare by a stranger on the street.
"This is my friend Courtnee," LeSandra said, breaking the silence. "She's a reporter for Odyssey, and Ms. Tate and I thought it might be interesting to bring her onto the set—"
"I don't like these entertainment whores snooping around my studio," Cohen interrupted.
Anna suppressed the urge to punch Cohen. He had a very punchable face.
LeSandra tried to protest. "Dad—"
"I have no use for your kind of media," Cohen continued, ignoring his daughter. "Believing in what's going to make a headline. It's never about the art or the artist, it's about what the artist is doing in his bed or where he runs off to in the middle of the night. You reporter types will just find something that will make the flashiest headlines. I don't need your kind at my studio."
There was a bite behind Cohen's words, as though he was about to spit in Anna's face. In her head she thought, Well, this case is going to end real quick.
Suddenly, to everyone's surprise, Ava Tate laughed. "Don't be daft, Sander!" she said. "Any friend of your daughter's is more than just 'crooked media.' I'm sure Ms. Draper would represent your film properly in her magazine, wouldn't you Ms. Draper?"
"Of course," Anna replied with a completely straight face.
"Besides, a little spotlight on a passion project never hurt anyone," Ava Tate continued. "Perhaps it's time we lifted some of the secrecy on The Pink Room."
Cohen looked at Tate. "Now—"
"Sander, it's perfectly fine." There was something dangerous in Ava Tate's voice. But whatever the danger was, at least it wasn't directed at Anna. "At the very least, she could write up this story and save it for after we release the film. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
Cohen put on his oiliest smile. "Well then, I suppose if your character can be vouched for, I can have it arranged for you to visit the set." He eyed Anna again. "I trust you won't take advantage of my hospitality."
"Of course not, Mr. Cohen."
Sander Cohen whistled. "HECTOR!"
One of Cohen's twentysomething lackeys came running.
"See to it that Ms. Draper here gets a press pass to the set."
Hector looked stunned. "You're letting a reporter in, boss?"
"Do I pay you to question me? Oh that's right, I don't pay you at all." Cohen sipped his drink. "Not in money at least."
Hector looked at Anna. As soon as he did, several alarm bells went off in Anna's head. He seemed suspicious of her, as though his immediate impression was "This girl is not a reporter and I've a good mind to tell everyone in this room right now."
Thankfully, he simply nodded to Cohen and ran off.
"We have a full day of shooting tomorrow," Cohen said to Anna. "Do stop by when you can, Ms. Draper." And with a slight gusto of his hand, he turned and walked away.
"Umm, okay!" one of the businessmen shouted. "We can, uh…we can finish our conversation another time!" He glared at Anna as if it was her fault his fascinating conversation with Cohen about money had been cut short.
Well, to be fair, it was.
LeSandra Cohen didn't accompany Anna and Sally back to their car. Instead, she sent Anna a text letting her know that she would make sure Anna's cover wasn't blown by the real Odyssey magazine.
"So…" Sally pursed her lips as Anna got into the car with her. "Cohen."
"Right. He's an 'uh.'"
That made Sally smile. But she quickly frowned. "We're gonna have to hang around him?"
There was a knock on the window.
Anna looked up to see the valet, holding a slip of paper.
She rolled down the window. "Yes?"
"Sorry, Ms. Draper," the valet explained. "But I was asked to deliver this message to you."
Anna took the paper. "Who's it from?"
"I'm…not at liberty to say." The valet nervously looked around before departing.
Anna stared at the paper. On it was a very clear, succinct message:
I know who you are.
"What is it?" Sally asked, craning for a look.
Anna quickly folded the paper and stuffed it in her pocket. "I'm gonna hang around Cohen," she corrected, seamlessly bringing the conversation back to its previous topic, despite knowing Sally could tell she was hiding something. "You are going to stay at the office."
"I thought you wanted me to do more fieldwork," Sally said, disappointed.
"Something tells me this isn't going to be a good first case for that," Anna said distractedly as she turned on the car. "We're gonna have to keep our wits about us."
And with that, she stepped on the pedal and promptly reversed the car directly into the front of the one directly behind it.
There was a frenzied commotion in the crowd outside as several of the valets came running.
"I'm sorry, what were you saying?" Sally pointedly asked Anna, who had closed her eyes in frustration.
"You okay?" Anna asked after finally opening her eyes.
Sally sighed. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Er…it looks like my imaging software has been…compromised by the collision."
"Fuck." After taking a deep breath, Anna got out of the car. Luckily for her the speeder was specifically designed to survive collisions with fairly minimal damage, besides the odd scratch. She'd used that to her advantage a number of times.
Unfortunately for the other car, it wasn't built to such specifications.
Anna turned to the angry driver. "I am so sorry, listen, I'll—"
"I'll pay for the damage," Eleanor Lamb said suddenly.
Anna stared at her. Where had the heir to the Lamb name come from? "Excuse me?"
"I'll pay for the damage," Eleanor repeated. She pulled out a device, tapped in a few numbers, and handed it to the car owner. "Will this cover everything?"
The car's owner stared at the device. Their anger subsided, and with a shrug said it would suffice.
"Umm…thank you?" Anna said slowly to her apparent savior.
"Don't mention it."
Anna put her hands in her pockets and stayed silent for what felt like hours but really was only for a few seconds. "…why?" she finally asked.
Eleanor raised an eyebrow as she eyed Anna once more. "You know, I'd be careful in this neck of the woods. It's very easy for one little incident to lead to something much bigger." She shrugged. "But you already know that, don't you…Ms. Draper."
And with that, she turned and disappeared into the crowd. Anna didn't even have a chance to respond with much more than a dumbfounded stare.
"What was that?" Sally asked as Anna returned to the car.
"Something very bizarre." Anna took off her data oculus. "Here's something you can do tomorrow." She handed it to Sally.
Sally rolled her eyes. "First a bullet, now a car crash. If you're not careful with these we could lose Alec for good."
"Don't be daft, Sally. She'd appreciate the chance to be rid of me."
Anna patiently tapped the steering wheel. "Alec, I'd be dead without you, you know that right?"
"Oh believe me. I know."