He Loves Me Not - Part I

     “I was told this was something you all… might… might be able to handle,” Mrs. Croner says to Eradication, before blowing her nose on another one of the seemingly endless supply of tissues from her purse. She’s dressed smartly in a dark skirt and a bright yellow blouse, but she clutches her purse in her lap like it’s a shield or some kind of talisman designed to protect her from evil. She was probably very pretty in her own right once, but the events of the recent past have taken a heavy toll. Dark bags hang beneath her eyes, which she’s tried unsuccessfully to cover with makeup. The once thin lines around her mouth have become much deeper from months of constant crying. She sits with her shoulders slumped, her spirit decimated over the last year by a judicial system that’s betrayed all of her beliefs. Her hair, once probably vibrant and well-groomed, now hangs dull and in need of a cut. It’s her eyes that are the most haunting. They’re the eyes of someone whose world has been ripped apart at the hands of another. They catch her lost hopelessness in every expression.

     “Here,” Keening says to her with no emotion, holding out the overflowing wastebasket to the woman, as she’s done for the last fifteen tissues.

     “Thank you,” Mrs. Croner replies for the sixteenth time before dropping the damp tissue on top of the pile in the basket.

     “Would you like some more water?” Hellbound asks her. “Or, I could make some coffee,” she offers.

     “She’s been through enough,” Desolation says, causing Hellbound to reply with a sarcastic ‘Fuck You’ smile, but she doesn’t speak the words. Even she knows now is not the time for arguing amongst themselves.

     “Coffee would be nice,” Pandemic says.

     “I’ll make you some later,” Hellbound tells her.

     “Sweet,” Pandemic replies, returning her attention to the mismatched Rubik’s Cube.

     “Mrs. Croner, I’m afraid…” Eradication begins but the woman interrupts.

     “I just don’t know what else to do,” the woman continues. “Bill and I always said, if anything like this every happened, there’d be no place they could hide. No place, they could run. Nothing too extreme,” Mrs. Croner says, pulling out tissue seventeen, folding it in half and holding it to her lap. “But then Bill died three years ago, right before that bastard took our little…” she says, choking up and needing number seventeen to dry the endless flow of tears. “After the trial,” she continues after a moment to barely compose herself. “He just walked out of the courtroom a free man. But I know he did it. I KNOW he did!”

     “Mrs. Croner,” Eradication tries again.

     “I’ve got money,” Mrs. Croner says, pulling a thick envelope from her purse. “I was sure you’d want cash. I’ve got more if you need it.”

     “Take the money,” Keening tells Eradication.

     “As I was saying Mrs. Croner, I don’t think…” Eradication begins, ignoring Keening’s urgings.

     “But you don’t understand!” Mrs. Croner blurts, her tears flowing freely. “There’s no one else I can turn to! I need your help!”

     “I’m sorry, Mrs. Croner,” Eradication says in a firm but gentle tone, as she stands from behind the battered desk in the rented office and walks to the door. “This isn’t the kind of work we do here at LNB Detective Agency. We’re not hired thugs and we don’t take the law into our own hands for money, and I suggest you don’t discuss this with anyone else. The legal implications for you could be quite serious,” she says, opening the office door to show the woman out.

     “Wait! What?” Desolation asks.

     “Damn you!” Mrs. Croner whispers as she walks to the door. “You’re the only ones that can help me. My little girl was all I had left.”

     “I’m sorry,” Eradication replies, closing the door behind the down-trodden woman.

     “I thought this was exactly the kind of work we do for money,” Desolation says after a moment of silence.

     “Shut up,” Eradication tells her without much conviction.

     “Fucking thing!” Pandemic shouts, smashing the square puzzle into smaller, broken cubes in frustration.

     “I can’t believe you!” Hellbound says, spitting the words in disgust. “If we’re not here to help people just like her,” she says, pointing at the latched door. “Then what the fuck are we doing here?”

     “Wait,” Eradications says, holding up her hand.

     “Bullshit!” Hellbound shouts. “I want to know! You need to tell me what the fuck we’re doing if it’s not helping people like her. I think that definitely falls under the category of Basically Offensive… like in our fucking name!”

     “The least we could have done is taken the money,” Keening adds.

     “We don’t do that kind of shit for money!” Eradication shouts.

     “So we’re not going to help that woman?” Hellbound asks.

     “I didn’t say that. We’re just not taking her money, but we’re definitely killing the son of a bitch.”

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