A pile of dishes soaked in water mixed with soap. I scrubbed one of the plates, then rinsed it in the sink of clean water before placing it on a drying rack. Leslie had cooked for Ramona and me; it was the least I could do to clean up, especially since Ramona hadn’t offered.
Ramona’s newspaper rustled as she turned the page and she had the courtesy not to sit upside down in someone else’s home.
“That’s the third murder this week,” she commented from behind me. “Shouldn’t you do something?”
“Whaeakdmlgjhadojskoo,” came Leslie’s reply.
“You’re the director of the Strokes. Of course – ”
Clang! A pot landed on the floor.
“You alright, Dax?” Leslie called as I picked up the pot.
“Yeah, fine,” I replied, scooping up the fallen dish and returning to my task. The director! Suddenly Ramona’s complaints to Leslie made a whole lot more sense. Even though I knew my condition was to blame for me not knowing, I couldn’t help feeling so stupid. How could I have not figured out that much?
“Yosudfnkelwhefits outside the Strokes jurisdicition,” I heard Leslie continue.
“And what if the System’s behind it all?” Ramona asked.
Finished with the washing, I joined the two of them at the table.
Leslie looked at her in annoyance. “There’s no way that the System – ” They frowned suddenly, their gaze distant.
“What?” Ramona asked, shifting nervously in her seat.
Leslie reached across the table for Ramona’s paper, their purple and yellow nail polish glinting in the sunlight drifting in from the open doorway. They stared intently at the article.
“Leslie,” Ramona said slowly. “If you think there’s even the smallest chance…”
“No,” they responded, tossing the paper onto the table. “Of course not.”
I glanced curiously at the headline: Murder on the Rise.
“Don’t you dare lie to me, Leslie.” Ramona had her palms flat against the table, refusing to break eye contact with Leslie.
“It’s not the System,” Leslie replied as I grabbed the newspaper.
The article wasn’t very detailed other than to say the murders began recently. Even though the victims were in different areas of Illagu, the people investigating had suspicions it was the same person commiting the crimes.
“If the System ever does do anything, promise me you’ll keep it to yourself,” I heard Leslie say.
I looked up in shock. The System would never go beyond her walls. I had thought Leslie knew that.
Ramona sighed, leaning back in the chair with her arms crossed.
“Excuse me,” 216894 called from the door.
“Yes!” I exclaimed, standing up from my seat quickly.
216894 looked at me wide-eyed as I jogged up to him. “Um, I was given…whatever these are…today.” He held up three light brown bars about the size of soap wrapped in plastic.
“Ooh, dessert!” Ramona called when she saw them. “You don’t have those in the System?” she asked as she walked up to us.
“What are they?” I asked.
“Cajeta. It’s made from goat’s milk.”
216894 smiled nervously. “Can I…come in to share?”
“Certainly,” Ramona replied.
“Ramona, this isn’t our – ” I started.
“Thanks!” 216894 replied, following Ramona into Leslie’s apartment. I’d known the two of them were close – it shouldn’t have surprised me that she would treat the place as her second home.
Leslie remained silent as 216894 made himself comfortable, scowling at him the whole time.
To be continued…