An AU for the au abc challenge (prompt zoomorph) Hart Investigations faces their toughest challenge yet, as a ghost from Kimberly's past brings the agency a new case. Slash, femslash, implied viole...
Prompt: (for au_abc challenge) Zoomorph
Disclaimers: I have no claim to the Power Rangers characters and concepts and no money is being made from this work of fiction
November 25th, 1953
Metropolis at night, a different world to the crowded streets of daylight hours; as the neons flicker on, on sidewalk corners and in windows, life begins to emerge onto the streets. From doorways of shops and offices, the last tired workers are emerging to make their way home, mingling, as they reach the steps to bus stations and subways, with the brightly colored night life issuing from the entrances. Doorways to homes open, spilling light onto the sidewalk; from inside, a cacophony of gaily laughter and music can be heard. Women, dressed like brightly painted butterflies, flit from one party to the next on the arms of their dapper escorts.
Some head towards Twelfth Street, where The Palladium has just opened its doors for the first of the evening’s screenings; passing shops with darkened windows and the occasional couple, still lingering over their after dinner brandies, at tiny tables outside intimate little cafes – waiters hovering impatiently in the doorway. By eight o’clock, the streets in this part of town will be near deserted, the last diners to brave the late autumnal chill having finally settled their bill and staggered, replete, into waiting taxis.
A grey drizzle was falling on the downtown district of Angel grove, chasing inside most of the evening’s usual nightlife as Aisha, fastening the belt of her rain coat, exited Jubilee station and made her way along the street. By the time she had walked as far as West Ave, the hem of her dress was stained by water kicked up from the multitude of puddles forming on the sidewalk.
At the corner of West and Main, she slipped under the awning of a newsstand, turning to scan the sidewalks in the direction she had just come as if expecting someone, but the passing flow of humanity continued in a steady procession past where she stood.
Blowing on his hands to warm them, the vendor watched her with interest for a moment, noting appreciatively the generous curves of her figure beneath the raincoat before finally calling for her attention. “Hey lady, you gonna buy something or what?”
She turned quickly at his words, as if having just realized he was there, and he was given the impression of large doe-brown eyes in a face the color of warm caramel. The rain had liberated tendrils of dark hair from her tight chignon and it fell forward to frame her face, softening the wide cheekbones and pointed chin. A handsome woman, he concluded, perhaps in her early thirties.
Picking up a newspaper from the stand and a pack of gum, she pulled off her glove and extracted a note from her purse, handing it over to the vendor. Then, holding the paper over her head, she darted across the street to the entryway opposite, glancing once more in either direction before slipping in through an unmarked door.
The warmth came as a welcome relief to Tommy as he stepped into the offices of Hart Investigations.
“They’ve closed Harding Station again,” Fredrick was saying, as he hung his fedora on the stand beside the door and started unbuttoning his coat. “Third riot in a month, this is getting ridiculous.”
“I heard there were ‘Wolves involved,” Carl added from his corner.
“Bloody ‘Wolves,” Fredrick grumbled, “When will they get the message that their kind isn’t wanted here?”
Not wanting to get involved in the discussion, Tommy made a beeline for the coffee pot beside Jason’s desk, picking up one of the less chipped mugs from the side table and sniffing cautiously at it before pouring himself a drink. ‘Wolves were a controversial topic these days and one Tommy had learned to steer clear of.
It had started two years ago apparently as a turf war, a rash of theft and vandalism in the less privileged communities of Southend and Easton, that nobody had thought much of. Then it had escalated. A wave of crimes swept through the city, increasing in destructive nature as it gained momentum and striking ‘Wolves and humans without discrimination. Nobody seemed to know which direction it was coming from and the fear and distrust this bred between races had caused a streak of riots in the city. Only last week, a young ‘Wolf had been killed by a mob fuelled by paranoia. Tommy had been only a block away at the time and had been chilled by the reports as they started coming in.
Taking his first sip of the evening, Tommy turned back to the open plan workspace that he shared with the three other detectives the agency employed.
“Boss wants you,” Jason said, without looking up from the paperwork in front of him.
“Say what she wants?” Tommy asked.
“Does she ever?” Jason shot back, rifling through the stacks of office files and loose sheets on his desk. “I need those papers for the Van-Hilton case,” he said, finding the files that he wanted and waving them at the other man. “And I found these under that mess you call a desk. You gotta start doing your paperwork sometime, man - even if it’s only to save my sanity.”
Tommy accepted the sheaf with a grateful smile and dropped them onto his own desk opposite, noting with dismay the fresh pile that had sprung up overnight in his in tray. Shaking his head ruefully, he headed for the director’s office, mentally cancelling his dinner plans and resigning himself to a long night at the office. He knew that Phoebe would understand when he called to cancel. Sure she’d make a pretense of being put out, but they both knew that she could find another to keep her company easily enough. The truth was that they had both understood when they signed on for this – whatever it was – that neither of them was interested in the responsibilities of a relationship. That was why their arrangement had worked so well for this many years: no strings, no commitments.
As he reached the door to Kimberly’s office, Tommy could hear voices coming from inside and he hesitated before knocking.
“Do you realize the risk you’ve taken coming here?” The director sounded unusually flustered.
“There was no other option,” another woman’s voice was calmly responding, “Need I remind you of the current climate? There were very few options open to us to begin with. Your agency is our last hope.”
There was a silence then and, after waiting to be sure nothing more was forthcoming, Tommy raised a hand and rapped lightly on the office door.
“Come in,” the director called after a short pause.
Kimberly was perched on the corner of her desk, facing one of the chairs. Despite the masculine outfitting that was imposed upon her sex by the business, she still made the manly cut of her grey suit somehow more feminine. The Jacket, fitted through the shoulders, emphasized her slender build and beneath it, the small, discreet curve of her breast was flattered by the pale linen blouse she had chosen. Today her mid-brown hair was secured with a comb at the back of her head, exposing the plains and angles of her heart shaped face.
The client was sitting straight backed in a chair facing the desk, her eyes meeting his boldly.
“Tommy,” Kim began, pressing a hand to her eyes. “This is Aisha, an old friend of mine.” Aisha leaned forward, setting down the cup and saucer she held. “Aisha; Thomas Oliver, the agency’s best.”
As he took her hand, firm and cool in his, Tommy discretely ran his eyes over the woman’s appearance, automatically cataloging anything he might find useful later. “And what can we do for you today Ms…”
“Campbell; it’s Miss, and Aisha will do just fine,” she supplied in a business like tone. “And I’m here on a very personal matter.” The first thought Tommy had on hearing this was ‘cheating boyfriend,’ but he quickly dismissed it. Affairs were meat and potatoes to him, but it didn’t seem like a woman like this would have trouble holding onto a man. And the one skill Tommy prided himself on was his ability to read character quickly. Of this he was sure: Aisha Campbell was not the type to turn to an agency for man trouble.
“We’re being hired to investigate a kidnapping,” Kim provided in a weary tone. Tommy’s head came up sharply at that.
“We don’t handle that kind of investigation,” he said with a troubled frown. “We don’t have the resources.”
“Which is what I was just explaining when you got here,” Kimberly responded, turning back to Aisha. “As you can see,” she indicated the office with a wave of her hand, “we’re a small agency, with limited resources, specializing in insurance. We may handle the occasional divorce case but never an investigation as complex as the one you require. You’d be well advised to try one of the larger agencies out in Euston.”
“My employer was very specific about this,” Aisha returned with a shake of her head “it must be Hart Investigations.”
“Your employer give you a reason why?” Tommy questioned.
“No, and I don’t require one,” she responded primly, turning her gaze to meet his. “His judgment’s enough for me.”
“If I might ask, why is your employer sending an intermediary? Why has he not come to us himself?”
It was fast - so fast that Tommy almost missed it: the flicker of anger in her eyes that was suppressed as quickly as it arose. “Unfortunately, he is restricted in his movements about the city,” she conceded.
Alarm bells began ringing in his mind as soon as he had registered what she had said. But just as he was about to ask her to elaborate, Kim silenced him with a warning look. “You understand,” she cut in smoothly, addressing the other woman, “that this is a highly unusual case that not many agencies would be comfortable taking, under these circumstances.”
Realizing at this point that the director was already aware of their prospective client’s circumstances, Tommy figured that she was asking him to sit in on this so that she could consult him afterward - something her father had done often in the past. Looking for a way to remain in the room but remove himself from conversation, the manila envelope on the desk caught his eye.
“Case notes?” Tommy asked, jerking his chin in the direction of the packet. Kim nodded and reached for it automatically as she continued to regard Aisha.
Folding his five foot eleven frame into the Wing chair closest to the window, Tommy accepted the photographs the director passed to him, casting a critical eye over them as he listened to the women continuing their conversation.
“You’ll take this case because our mutual friend needs your help,” Aisha was saying, her eyes remaining fixed on the brunette opposite. “And because you owe me,” she added meaningfully, reaching for the bag at her feet. “This is what we’ll pay as a retainer,” she said, crossing over to where Kimberly was sitting and deliberately placing a stack of bills between them on the desktop, “and this is to cover your initial expenses.” Laying out two more stacks beside the first, she closed her bag and looked significantly at the director. “And I’m authorized to release more capital as required.” Sinking low to be on Kim’s eye line, her voice took on a more personal tone, the hard set of her eyes softening. “We know how the current financial climate is taking its toll on small businesses like yours, and I’m to extend our assurances that we always take care of our own; if there’s anything you need…”
Kim eyed the money on the table. “I’ll think about it,” she sighed.
“Adam doesn’t have the luxury of time.”
“I said, I’ll think about it,” the director snapped, her eyes flaring.
To give her her dues, Aisha didn’t even flinch; she just nodded, as if confirming something to herself. Then she rose from her position, picking up her bag from the table. “Then we’ll await your call,” she said formally, taking her leave. “Miss. Hart; Mr. Oliver”
As soon as the door had closed behind her, Kimberly let out a long sigh and placed her head in her hands.
“Old flame?” Tommy asked without looking up from the photograph he was studying, giving the director time to compose herself if necessary.
“Something like that,” Kim responded tiredly. She offered him a tight smile when he glanced up, but did not elaborate further. Then her attention seemed to turn inwards as she considered the matter at hand. “The hardest part of this is that she’s right,” she said, a thoughtful frown slowly forming, “we can’t afford not to take this case. You’ve seen the figures; Hart Investigations is living on borrowed time as it is.” He had to agree with that. He had seen how the director would sit at her desk pouring over the ledgers for hours, searching for some way to make their ever dwindling resources meet the demands of the rapidly increasing rate of inflation.
“But to take on a case like this?” He asked, not believing that the rational woman before him could now be contemplating such drastic measures. “It’s beyond our experience.”
“Then we’ll ask for outside help from another agency.”
“We’ll find the money some other way. We always do.”
“I don’t think we will,” Kimberly finally admitted, shaking her head and looking back up at him. “Without help this time, we really are going under.”
Tommy took a moment to take in that admission and what it cost her. He had taken this job as a means of paying his bills, he had other skills. She was a woman in a man’s industry; a woman who had taken on her father’s foundering business after his death, putting in long hours and all her savings into building it up again; teaching herself to read the large accounting ledgers her father had kept and to understand every aspect of the business’s operation.
Kim reached up distractedly to remove the comb from her hair, shaking loose the mid-length tresses as they fell forward to frame her face. He could see her thinking, could tell by the way she was worrying at her lower lip that she was weighing the options and not liking the outcome. “So we’re taking the case?” he asked.
She hesitated for a moment, and Tommy could see the brief flicker of doubt cross her face. He didn’t envy her this decision. Then she rallied, visibly steeling herself, before nodding the confirmation. “We’re taking the case,” she said. “But if we’re doing this, I’m going to need everyone on board. Tell the boys not to take on any new cases, until further notice; and that from now on, this case takes priority.” Tommy nodded and stood, preparing to leave.
“We’ll have to start calling in favors too,” she added, rising and briskly moving behind the desk to consult her rolodex. She was starting to gain momentum, now that she had made the decision; her father’s daughter through and through. “This is going to take every resource and contact that we have.”
Tommy turned when he reached the door, his hand resting lightly on the handle as he watched her for a moment, thinking. There was still one detail that called for his attention; something the client had said that had set off alarm bells in some corner of his mind. He had to think back over the conversation before the words came to him. “Aisha said something about her employer not being able to come to us himself. Is there risk to this case?”
Kimberly eyed him critically and Tommy again had the sense that there was something she was withholding from him.
When it became clear that he wasn’t going to leave the matter there, she shook her head and finally supplied in a brisk tone “The missing person, Finn O’Conner, is an Alpha, Tommy. He’s a ‘Wolf”
Hissing through his teeth, Tommy pressed knuckles to his brow as he fought to contain the string of expletives that immediately came to mind at the thought of working such a controversial case. Looking up, he could see that Kimberly was still standing by her desk, calmly watching his reaction to this revelation with an unreadable expression. Taking deep, even breaths, he reminded himself that they’d just been over why they needed this case: ‘Wolf or no ‘Wolf, money was money. Didn’t mean he had to go easy on the director though, considering she’d just withheld important information. He filed that thought away in his mind for later use.
“And Aisha,” he asked, as the thought occurred to him, “is she a ‘Wolf? It was a big risk, coming to this side of town on her own, if she is.”
“Aisha can defend herself if necessary,” Kim responded with an almost too casual shrug. “But no, she’s human.”
“So what’s her involvement in this?” Tommy asked.
“Nobody in this town will be seen conducting business with a ‘Wolf, so occasionally it’s necessary for them to manage their affairs through a representative. Aisha has been associated with the pack for years, and they trust her to act in their best interests. I trust her too,” she added pointedly.
Something of his troubled thoughts at these new revelations must have shown on his face, for Kim stopped what she was doing and placed her hands carefully on the desk in front of her. “Look,” she said, “whoever took Finn couldn’t have chosen a worse time for the pack.” She shook her head and lowered her voice to a more confidential tone. “There’s a lot of disruption in the community, a turf war on a huge scale that’s affecting ‘wolves and humans alike - and the pack is few in number, but they hold a vital piece of territory.” She stood up and moved around the desk toward him as she spoke, until she was standing close enough for him to see the seriousness in her eyes. “Finn is a powerful Alpha but in his absence, command has fallen to his Beta,” again, she shook her head and looked away, as if contemplating the situation. “Adam is young and untried,” she explained, “and he has his work cut out for him trying to keep the pack together.”
When Kim looked up at him again, Tommy was struck by the grim expression she wore.
“Tommy, I know how you feel about ‘wolves, but unless we find Finn...this could mean trouble for all of us.”