Hint 4. If You Don't Like Him, You Don't Have To Worry
Alex stumbles into my room without even knocking.
“Maya,” he pleads, “I overslept. Can I get a lift into work? You know it’ll only take a second and I’ve got a massive hangover.”
I mumble something blearily, trying to bring myself into wakefulness. A quick check of the clock reveals that it’s nine am already.
“You’re a disgrace, Alex Higgs.”
“Please, Maya. I’m dying.”
He shakes my legs incessantly until eventually a combination of the movement and my annoyance wakes me up properly.
“Fine!” I shout, kicking him free. “I’ll take you in but you owe me.”
“Yes, obviously. Thanks, Maya.”
“Whatever, let me get dressed.”
I boot Alex out of my room before pulling on a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt.
“How are you going to impress Jack in that?” Alex asks as I rejoin him in the living room. “I mean there’s a good amount of boob but it’s just so boring.”
“I thought the plan was to not encourage him?” I ask, eyebrow raised.
“That was before I discovered the corridor tv,” he says.
I sigh, exasperated, but Alex doesn’t care, linking arms for his lift into work.
“You owe me,” I remind him one more time and we reappear at his desk.
“You’re the best.” Alex grins, throwing Tim in the desk next to his a hearty salute just to rub it in, and drops down into his seat.
“Can I have a lift tomorrow?” Tim asks wistfully. “It’ll only add like an extra four seconds to your day.”
Just as I’m about to disappear again, my imagination already whipping up snug images of my tousled bed, a shout grabs my attention. I turn back towards my desk, responding to Amber’s beckoning palm.
“What’s up?” I ask, throwing a glance over my shoulder to make sure that Ripley can’t see me through the glass of his office wall. “I’m not meant to be here.”
“Officer striptease?” She prompts.
I shrug noncommittally.
“Oh don’t give me that, Maya.” She laughs, throwing her gaze around the office, presumably to make sure Docklen’s not in yet, before leaning in close. “I know he went to your flat yesterday.”
“Because I gave him your address, that’s how. Did you…?”
“Amber! How could you?”
“I was doing you a favour, love. Trust me. Did you…?”
“No I did not.” I make the mistake of hesitating after the sentence though and Amber’s eyes widen in delight. I keep forgetting she’s a girl and I can’t get away with hints like this in front of her.
I can’t help grinning conspiratorially.
“Well of course I would. I’m a slut.” She winks. “We’re not talking about me now.”
“I think I would,” I say, “but he’s an utter dick.”
Amber waves away the end of my sentence like it’s nothing.
“Personality’s inconsequential, dear.”
Ripley’s door flies open with a slam and the expression on Amber’s face tells me it’s definitely because of me. I cringe, grinning guiltily.
“Time’s up,” I breathe.
“Kurtis!” Ripley yells. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Amber grabs my arm before I can leave.
“Don’t think you’re getting out of this that easily,” she says. “My shift finishes at five, I’ll pick you up at yours.”
“Kurtis! Stop distracting my working officers. Get out of this station right now!”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
The station disappears around me and I collapse onto my sofa at home with a smile.
“Look what I found in the stairwell,” Alex announces as he lets himself in.
“I have even more gossip now than I did this morning!” Amber squeals, pushing past my housemate to throw herself on the sofa at my side.
She’s wearing a tiny sequinned dress and heels. I haven’t moved since this morning. I thought I had at least another thirty minutes before her arrival. There’s no way I’m ready for whatever it is that she has planned.
“No, no, no. This gossip is too good. It’s illegal to pass on this gossip without cocktails. I can’t do it unless I feel like some sexy mafia wife in a movie about the 1920’s.”
“So we drink on Tuesdays now?”
“Come on, Maya. I’m on the night shift tomorrow and you’re basically on holiday until Thursday. This is totally our Friday.”
The girl makes a good point.
“Give me one minute,” I say, disappearing into my bedroom.
“Can I come?” I hear Alex ask as I slip a tiny black cocktail dress over my head.
“We’re going to drool over boys,” Amber warns.
“What if we want to drool over you?”
“Hmm… touché.” Alex laughs. “But then if I don’t come, the girls at the bar won’t get the chance to drool over me and it’s a little selfish of you both to steal all the fun.”
I walk out of my bedroom, shaking my head at him already.
“You’re not coming, Alex,” I say. “You’re still on morning shifts and I’m not giving you another lift into work tomorrow.”
“We’ll see about that one.” Alex chuckles, winking conspiratorially with Amber as he disappears into his bedroom.
She bites her bottom lip as he goes, turning to give me a look. I roll my eyes in despair, grabbing her elbow and transporting us in the general direction of town. I’m not supposed to reveal that I’m Sapient+, so work is the only place I can casually appear without causing trouble. I make it so we arrive in a quiet side alley, within thirty seconds walk of Amber’s favourite cocktail bar, so it’s not a massive hassle. We’ve got a table and a fluorescent coloured drink in less than ten minutes.
“Right,” Amber prompts, “for the third time. Tell me everything about Officer Striptease. What did he say last night?”
“Not a huge amount, he just apologised for being a dick. It was weird though.”
“Sexual tension weird?”
I decide not to tell Amber about his opinion on my ‘cute’ pyjamas. She’d only be disappointed in me for wearing them in front of him in the first place.
“Ha! I wish. But I mean, like, why did he even bother coming. He could have waited until Thursday.”
“Because he wants to do terrible things to you?”
Oh god, not even half as terrible as the things I would do to him if I could just stand to get halfway through a conversation with him.
“Why did he have to ruin it, Amber?” I wail. “I liked him, like, before I’d even met him…”
“Yeah, I’ve got newspaper cutouts in my bedside drawers too.”
“And then he fucked it all up?”
I pout, stirring my cocktail despondently.
“Well, if you want my advice, you should just sleep with him anyway. If you don’t like him, then you don’t have to worry about messing friendships up. It’s a win win.”
“Plus,” she says, “I need you to do it for me. You’ve got to use that glorious body of yours to seduce secrets out of him. Something big’s going down and Jack Docklen knows.”
I rise an eyebrow, intrigued. “Do I get to hear your big gossip now?”
“Yes!” Amber exclaims, hands waving, barely able to control her excitement. “Ok, right. Does anything strike you as slightly… strange… about Docklen joining our happy little team right now?”
“What, other than the fact he’s an utter arse and way too irresponsible for his role as a superior officer?”
“Maya, sweetie,” Amber chuckles, “whilst you do have the benefit of being a wonderful human being and not an arse in any way, perhaps you should consider your own position on the responsibility scale before condemning Jack Docklen. Take it as a sign, rather, that there’s still some hope for you yet.”
“I’m not irresponsible.”
Amber raises a single, perfectly-shaped eyebrow.
“Sure, honey, so why weren’t you at work today?”
“I wanted to be at work!”
“But you weren’t allowed to be.”
“Alright Amber, I get it. No need to rub it in.”
“Maya!” Amber wails, “You don’t get it. You think you’re responsible but you’re not and that’s almost worse. Docklen would never have gotten into that bank building if it wasn’t for you. If it wasn’t for you, none of this mess would have even happened and you could have been sleeping with him already.”
I know she’s trying to keep the topic light but I’m so pissed about work that I decide to take it the wrong way anyway.
“Is this your big gossip, Amber? Is this what you brought me here for?”
“No.” She pouts.
“You brought me here to insult me. I’m not irresponsible. I’m caged. How many times do I have to tell you? If I was just allowed to be me, the full me, the Sapient+ me, then I wouldn’t lose it like that. I need to feel like I’m fulfilling my potential. Look,” I turn round, pointing to a couple huddled at a table in the dark corner. “Did you even see them when we walked in?” I ask. “No. But I did, because my brain takes in every single detail and stores it. He’s so drunk he’s slurring his words and he smells terrible. He keeps trying to force himself on her and she’s too terrified of him to just tell him to leave. I know this because I can hear every word they’re saying. You can’t. You don’t know. I’m expected to just sit here and pretend like I don’t know it’s happening because I’m off duty and I’m not supposed to ‘interfere’ in anything that’s not a national emergency. It makes me feel dirty, like I’m a criminal. In everything we do, Amber, I feel like I’m letting the bad guys get away with it and it’s driving me mad.”
Amber’s heard this speech too many times to be sympathetic. She drops her head into her hands, making a frustrated little noise at the back of her throat.
“It’s OK. I get that it bothers you.”
“No you don’t.” I smile to let her know that that’s alright. “Docklen gets it though. You know it was his idea to use my powers to save those people. He thinks Ripley’s wasting me.”
Amber looks thoughtful.
“I can’t decide if he just really knows how to get into your pants, Maya, or if he was testing you.”
“OK.” Amber leans in, beckoning me closer. “You know how Gloria’s Sapient+ too and her desk is right next to Ripley’s office?”
“Yeah,” I laugh, guessing where this is going. “And he always forgets she can hear everything going on in there.”
Amber joins in my laughter.
“Exactly! So at about, oh I don’t know, maybe lunchtime today, Ripley calls Docklen into his office and pulls the blinds.”
“The blinds? Fuck.” I lean back, grinning. “He only does that when he fires someone.”
“I know!” Amber screams. “I thought he was a goner.”
“Shortest police career in the history of the city.”
Amber places a delicate palm over her lips, trying to hide her grin.
“Only he didn’t get fired,” she says, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder before leaning in even further. “It was actually better than that.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“Ok,” Amber throws in a quick disclaimer, “so Gloria says they spoke really low and, like, half of it didn’t make sense, but she’s certain Docklen’s not just here because of his promotion. He’s on some special government assignment.”
“Fuck off doesn’t even cover it. Gloria says that’s all she managed to glean until Docklen said something about you and Ripley got angry enough to raise his voice.”
“Yah-huh. Docklen wants you on his team, his super secret something’s going down team.”
“Way. Except…” Amber hesitates, setting her glass carefully back down onto the table. “Ripley said no.”
I open my mouth to speak but Amber’s already talking.
“It was the only thing Gloria was certain of,” she says. “Apparently Ripley lost it at the first mention of your name. Kept saying you were too ‘innocent’ and that he wasn’t going to have Docklen come waltzing in here, endangering his most promising officers.”
“Wow.” I’m an experienced Detective Sergeant. I’ve led murder enquiries. I’m Sapient+, I’ve literally watched people tear themselves apart with their own abilities. There’s so very little in this world that I would consider myself too innocent for. And Ripley knows it. “I wonder what the assignment is.”
“I’m sure that doesn’t matter, Maya.”
“Maya, think about it. It’s not about the assignment: Docklen wants you on his team.”