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The Afflicted (Semi-Closed)

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If Cole hadn't been drinking prior to meeting with Spencer Morris there was a very good chance that the encounter would have devolved into violence about ten minutes in. Not that he was drunk, or even really buzzed; but that boilermaker had been enough to take the edge off of talking to the old bastard. Racism and misogyny were an unfortunate fact of life in the States, but Morris took it to a level that would make your average Klan member tell him to tone it down. Blacks, Mexicans, Italians, Asians, the Irish, all of them were frequent targets of the super's verbal abuse. Not that he was above taking their money; though it was well known among the other tenets that he charged anyone who wasn't his preferred flavor of white man extra. 

Somehow, he was even worse when it came to women. When Cole had first brought Regina onboard, he had done his best to keep her out of Morris' sight; but it was inevitable that they would meet eventually. His heart had sunk like a stone when he'd heard the geezer holler out a lecherous remark towards her. With the patience and grace of a saint, she had managed to remain polite, both then and in every future encounter. Truth be told, he sometimes wished she would lose her cool. Cole sure as hell couldn't blow his top when she kept calm in the face of the disgusting things their super slobbered at her.

"Shoulda brought yer partner wit ya boy," Morris croaked from across his desk, "Woulda loved ta get a look at that sweet little ass."

Cole gripped the arms of his chair so hard his knuckles were white, "I'll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your mouth when you talk about my partner."

"Ah, quit yer bitchin," Morris scoffed, "What's yer problem? Ya sweet on the wop?"

The question riled Cole up more than usual because he couldn't be sure if Morris was being insightful, or just an asshole. Just the thought that the old man might be able to see through him like that angered him to an unreasonable degree. He had to count to ten before continuing.

"I just need an address," he managed, "Clark Price's secretary. Give it to me and we can be rid of each other."

Morris stared at him, faded blue eyes unreadable before he rose from his chair and limp to a filing cabinet. He searched a few drawers before he pulled a manila folder out and sat back down across from Cole; an ugly little smile stretching his lips.

"If I give ya this, yer gonna owe me a favor. Ya know that, right?"

Cole did, and the thought of being in the super's debt made him want to vomit up everything he'd eaten since the third grade. But short of beating the man and taking it, there was no other way to get that file. As tempting a prospect as that was, he knew it wasn't a viable option.

"Fine. What do you want?"

"Not yet," Morris grinned, sliding the folder over to Cole, "But don you go forgettin."

Unsure he could trust himself to speak, Cole nodded and snatched the file before standing up and storming out of the super's office. Returning to his own office, he walked over to Regina and handed her the file. Morris' remark about his feelings for her echoed in his head, leaving him unable to look her in the eye.

"You drive."

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“Uh- Okay. Sure.” Regina blinked, taking possessions of the folder that seemed clumsily offered to her, not as if Cole were in a rush to get rid of it, but as though his mind were full of other things and handling the file’s inconvenient shape and size was not one of them. She gave him a puzzled look, then thumbed open the worn, tan folder and glanced down at the page. 

The secretary’s last name appeared to Regina first and her eyebrows raised. “Santos?” She murmured, moving distractedly, automatically, to sit on the edge of his nearby desk. That could be lucky for them. Gina recalled seeing the woman, whose first name was Dorothea, once or twice; She had mocha skin and short, straight hair styled in a conservative, chin-length bob, but that was about all that she could remember. She flipped the page. There, in neat printing on the back, she found the address. “Actually, I won’t need to. It’s not far. We can walk.” 

— — — 

Dorothea Santos lived in a run-down tenement building six blocks North of their office. By the time they reached it, Regina’s soft, dark hair had begun to bake under the beating sun, leaving her neck gleaming with sweat whenever she swept it from one shoulder to the other. On the stoop sat an elderly man in an old and rickety wooden kitchen chair. His head, crowned with pale grey down was turned away, every so often jerking softly from the neck. He might have been sleeping, except that when the detectives stepped onto the bottom stair from the street, the man’s face turned toward them. Regina saw that his eyes were thickly clouded. 

“Hello,” Regina tried to make her voice sound cool, but reassuring. Merely offering a politeness, alerting the sightless man to their presence before they approached too near and startled him. It didn’t seem to be needed. His face was pointed directly at them, he knew they were there, but the man shrugged and said nothing at all in return. 

The front door was left open, and so were most of the apartments lining the hall inside, to let in a cross-draft that might provide some relief to the sticky, wet heat. The secretary’s door, however, was tightly closed. Regina knocked softly. They waited, but there was no answer or sound from inside. She knocked again, a little more firmly, and said, “Miss Santos? Dorothea Santos?” 

For a moment it seemed, again, like there would be no response, but just as Regina was about to resign to the possibility that she wasn’t home, there was a stiff, heavy scraping of the deadbolt from the other side of the door. The door cracked a couple of inches and a young, pretty girl with fearful eyes surrounded by deep, tired bags peeked out at them. “Yes…?”

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Six blocks felt like six hundred during summer in Harlem, but Cole had learned to tolerate discomfort in a muddy foxhole somewhere in the Italian countryside. Even as the sun attempted to broil the asphalt off the streets, he walked on without a complaint. Yet something still gnawed at him; some sliver stuck in the back of his mind telling him not to let his guard down. It kept his head on a swivel, and his fingers grazing the reassuring weight of the handgun on his hip. For whatever reason the cops hadn't been interested in taking it, and after the incident at the office, he wasn't inclined to go anywhere without it. 

Dorothea's apartment complex was the kind of place that no one visited unless they had a good reason to do so. The residents were close knit, and outsiders were viewed with suspicion at best, and outright hostility at worst. Cole could feel eyes on them, though so far he and Regina had been left alone. Still, no reason to push their luck. Best to get in, find out what, if anything the assistant knew, then get out. 

Regina knocked on the door before he could, and a few moments later the door opened a crack.


Cole flashed a winning smile, the one he used when he turned on the charm, "Dorothea Santos? My name is Cole Sharpe, I'm a private detective. I'd like to talk to you about your boss, Clark Price."

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Dorothea's face looked ashen with dread. Nothing against Cole's smile; her partner's charm act was usually impressive. But what the receptionist saw through the crack in her door was a white man come around to ask about her white boss, and with everything that had happened.... 

The young woman squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head abruptly. "P-please, leave me alone." She entreated softly. Gina heard the accent in her voice. It was subtle, suppressed from the woman's years in American schools and jobs, but still there. Just as Dorothea started to push the door shut, Regina interjected. "¿Hablas español?" 

It did the trick. The door froze. Dorothea's wide eyes were fixed on her, a sliver of hope gleaming amongst the fear in them. "Si...

Regina touched her partner's arm, a silent gesture for him to step aside. To extend a moment of trust and let the junior investigator try. She smiled and took a step forward, placing her hand on her chest as she soothed and introduced herself to Dorothea in the immigrant's native tongue. They spoke rapidly for a few minutes; Gina's voice warm and reassuring as she gestured from herself to Cole, Dorothea's gradually relaxing. The secretary nodded finally and turned her dark, maple syrup eyes back to the man. 

"Okay. Come in..." she acquiesced quietly, stepping back to allow the investigators entrance into her neat but meager apartment. 


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