Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private Eye #224

Have you ever had to say “goodbye forever” to someone who wasn’t dying?

It’s weird.

Usually, when you’re leaving or they’re leaving, you can fall back on promises of reunion: “Oh, be sure to write!” or “Give me a call sometime!” or even “Look me up on the Internet!” Whether you mean it or not, whether you do it or not, those are the things you say when you part.

“The odds are infinitesimally small that you and I will ever again have any form of communication” doesn’t have the reassuring platitude quality that lubricates an awkward farewell.

Timing and circumstances prevented other forms of social lubrication as well. It was now or never.

They brought Eduin out first. He was wearing ugly blue scrubs that I can’t imagine he was happy in. The utilitarian fit just emphasized his scrawniness, but he’d had a shower, and looked healthy enough.

“You really did it?” he asked, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “Beat Alurian, I mean?”

I nodded. “I didn’t do it alone, but yeah. His program’s been deleted.”

“Good,” he said, but his eyes were haunted. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t do anything but get taken hostage. Thanks for…” He trailed off as his voice tightened. He looked at the floor, and I could see tears against his cheeks. “Thanks for coming back for us.”

“Hey,” I said. Then I said it again, louder, demanding eye contact. “Hey! Who made that me that wild-boar sling, and the stretcher, and kept us all fed when we got stranded in the forest? You dug in and carried your weight when the rest of us were ready to fall apart. We never would have made it without you.”

Eduin didn’t reply. Anger flickered across his face, but then it softened, and he chuckled.

I frowned. “What?”

“Ugh,” he said, flashing a sad smile. “You just sound so freaking cheesy right now.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked, matching his smile. “Well how about this? Find something better to do with your life than middle management for a seedy little criminal enterprise.”

He smirked. “It wasn’t seedy.”

“Yes it was,” I said. “If you’re going to stay in the city, you’re probably going to need a lawyer to help you with whatever comes next. Look up Benjamin Madison. He’s helped me out when I was in a spot.”

Eduin shrugged. “I don’t know if I’m staying or not. I think I’ve got to try and figure out who I am before I decide what I want to do.”

“That’s as much of a plan as I ever make,” I said.

Next up would have been Eddie Truth, but apparently she decided to pass. The guard relayed a message that she wasn’t done with me yet, and she would turn up when I least expected it. I believed her.

Pensky was dressed in the same ugly scrubs as Eduin, but he looked more at home in them. He marched to his spot in front of the portal like he was back in the police station interrogation room. I think he wished for a steel table that he could lean on to glower down at me.

“I don’t like the way you operate, Esposito,” he said, scowling. “You’re too loosey-goosey and you don’t trust your team.”

I recoiled. “Yeah, well you’ve got an ugly haircut,” I snapped.

“That said,” he continued. “You obviously are willing to put your life on the line to save other people, and you get results even when it’s only because you beat the door down with your forehead. I can respect that.” He took a deep breath. “Also, you got me back to my slice. And you stopped the city from getting nuked.”

Another long breath, while he dug in the pocket of his scrubs. Then he held up a picture of himself, along with a thirty-something heavy-set woman and a little girl. “This is my family,” he said. “And they live here.” He pushed the picture back into his pocket. “Still do, thanks to you.”

“I’m glad to hear it, Pensky,” I said.

He gave me a brisk nod. “Don’t think I won’t arrest you though, if you put me in that position.”

“Well gosh,” I said. “You’d have to catch me first.”

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