Valerie

She strode into my office gecko-footed and surly. Something like gills fluttered gently on her elegant, swan like neck. The woman looked around in disapproval, vertical pupils narrowed in the harsh light in the shitty little room I drank in. She was tall and lean, with slender curves hugged in what I assumed to be smart fabric, given the state of her custom feet.

“You Grouse?” she asked. Her voice was a throaty purr, like a cup of gravel trying to talk sexy.

“Probably. Who wants to know?"

She pulled something out of her rear pocket and tossed it onto my battered desk. A badge. The helper overlay in my left eye verified it as authentic. Detective Nerissa T. Wilkins. Definitely a cop. And a detective, too. That meant we had something in common, but I didn’t let on. The last thing I needed was another cop hounding me about the detective suite I may or may not have forgotten to return when I got booted off the force a few years back.

“A cop? I don’t believe it. You sure you’re not an exotic dancer?” Most strippers I knew got animal installs. Tiger stripes, leopard print, feathers. Used to know a really cute girl with an elephant trunk thing going on. Or a tapir. It sounds weird and it was, but she was cute. Point is, it was weird to see someone with animal parts outside the red light district.

“I’m a cop, you shit.” She crossed her arms, and leaned back on one leg. Her lizard feet drummed on my office floor. The pads of her gecko toes started wearing a new spot in my already threadbare fucking carpet.

“Ugh, lady, come on. Not on the carpet.” She stopped drumming, but didn’t uncross her arms.

“I thought most of the force was robotic these days. Didn’t know cops went in for cosmetic extras, that’s all,” I said.

“I wasn’t born a cop, Grouse. And these aren’t cosmetic. They’re functional.” You might have thought her voice had dropped an octave or two here, ripe with seductive promises. Of the sensual pleasures a beautiful woman with gecko feet and multifunctional lungs could provide. You’d be wrong.

“Ok, you’re a cop. What do you want?"

The gills or whatever on her neck flared. Probably in annoyance. I’ve been reading about body language lately.

“I want you to find someone."

“Oh yeah? A friend of yours? Like some kind of frog lady or something?"

I laughed too loud and too long at my joke. I wanted to get an idea of how detective Nerissa T. Wilkins handled annoyance.

“See, it’s funny because you’re part gecko or whatever."

“You're a shit comedian."

Cool disdain in her voice. Not anger. No noticeable increase in body temperature, according to my helper. Nice. She was a professional. I love working with professionals.

“Who are you looking for?” I took my feet off my desk, and scooted forward on my little wooden chair.

Detective Wilkins pulled a little vid player out of her back pocket. A young woman with light red hair played an old time piano, then looked at the camera, laughed and made a face.

“She’s cute. Friend of yours?"

The detective paused before answering.

“Yes. An old friend."

My helper told me she wasn’t exactly telling the truth. Not lying, not quite. But the redhead was more than a friend. Or not just a friend. Machinery doesn’t handle subtlety well, but I had some idea of what was going on here.

“What’s her name?"

“Valerie."

“Valerie, huh. That’s a weird name.” Detective Wilkins did get angry at this. An increase in blood pressure, slight rise in body temperature. She held out her hand for the player. The little vid started over, but I caught movement in the lower right corner just before it automatically replayed. A slender, light brown arm reached toward the woman playing the piano. Probably Detective Wilkins, but I didn’t say anything.

“Can you help me, or not?"

I paused for half a second, as she gently returned the player to her pocket. The smart fabric sealed automatically when she withdrew her hand. Detective Wilkins didn’t want to take any chances with that little device.

“Oh, sure. Yeah, definitely. Going to need as much info as you can give me, though."

She tapped a skintight band on her left wrist, subvocalizing a command. I didn't quite catch it. Didn't have my ears on, as they say.

“What’s your address?” she asked me.

“I uh, don’t have one,” I lied. I’m not a good liar. It’s easier to just leave relevant details out if I want to mislead someone. But she caught me by surprise. Amateur mistake on my part. Should’ve had a second round of stims that morning.

“Cut the shit, Grouse. I know you’ve still got the old detective suite installed. Give me your address."

So she was onto the shit I’d be pulling since she slunk into my office. I rattled off an integer, and she sent me everything she knew about Valerie. A quick flip through the input revealed several redacted files. Personal files.

“Huh,” I said. “Ok, this should give me enough to get started. I’ll be in touch, Detective.” I rose to shake her hand.

She grasped my hand, firmly. Strange blue eyes, light brown skin, a dusting of freckles across her nose. A guy could fall in love, you might say.

“Just cut the shit next time. I don’t have time to play games with you."

Or maybe you wouldn’t say that. Either way, I had a new case.