Nichole did not realize the exact moment when her leg stopped it's anxious pumping, nor when her fingertips quit scratching against their hang-nails, nor even when the tightness released as comfortably as an hydraulics switch from her jaw. Her hurry was too great for her to pay heed to such things, but the quitting of these nervous little regularities coincided exactly with the moment that the taxi she was a passenger in lurched to a stop against the curb outside the door of her building. Rather than taking time to recognize her behavioral trivialities, however, she flashed her phone at the Tesla-bot in payment and squeezed out of the taxi and onto an unwelcoming urban sidewalk. This was one of the plethora of reasons for her urgency. “Escape” should have been reason enough, but her rush was as much in anticipation of the stiff drink she craved and the man who would mix it as it was to get away from the antiseptic-smelling taxi, the bitter January cold, her work, and in a larger sense, her life. Even still she paused under the fabric canopy just long enough to touch quick, futile fingers to the wind-blown hair reflecting back at her from the glass door... not that Hank would notice, or care. Once safely inside the skyscraper’s lobby she glanced at her phone. It was 3:15 pm. Shit! She was arriving here earlier every day, wasn’t she? Well, fuck it. She had held out as long as her “sober-self” would allow. Besides, it wasn’t like she was going to get fired for leaving early. After all, she did next to nothing when she was at work and besides, there was never anyone there to recognize her efforts when she bothered to accomplish anything, nor to hold her accountable when she did not.
“Hank’s Place” had long ago become Nichole's preferred haunt, being one of the many businesses that made up the first floor mall inside her downtown apartment building. If it got too bad, if she got too bad, Nichole had only to stumble up the elevator to her apartment from here. The retro-feeling juke-joint had the added benefit of being super-slow on weeknights. She’d made the mistake once of coming down on a Friday night to find the place a fucking zoo of young professional types, most of them unmet neighbors whom she recognized only as occasional passers-by in the building’s many corridors. That weekend night had been a mistake she was careful not to make again.
But her very favorite thing about “Hank’s Place,” the thing that kept her coming back was currently standing behind the bar polishing an already clean glass with a gleaming white towel. She headed straight for him, hanging her coat and bag over the back of her favorite stool before sliding herself onto her accustomed place atop it. A curious glance revealed only three other patrons in the place; two young men in jeans shooting a quiet game of pool, and a pretty woman in a wall booth who was ignoring the pair's preenings. All three of them she recognized as regulars. Two of the three Nichole had vague recollections of sleeping with in the not so distant, if scarcely remembered past. And of those two it was the woman sitting alone in the booth who offered a hopeful smile as Nichole’s eyes roamed her way. She gave the woman whose name she could not remember a polite wave before swinging the stool around to face her real prey, a smiling Hank who had already placed a freshly poured vodka tonic on the bar in front of her. One more reason to love this place… the service was fucking excellent!
"How’s my favorite embed?” Hank asked her with his deliciously dimpled smile.
"Shhhh! Don’t call me that. Someone might hear. My reputation is bad enough as it is.” Her smile was as much in acknowledgement of her own comment as it was in return of his, while her disdain for sobriety was evident in the speed with which she reached for the offered drink. “I’m good… now. You?” In true cop fashion her voice resonated lower, sounding more serious than she intended, despite the fact that she was not a police officer, as “police” were a thing of the past. Captain Nichole Landreaux was rather a social worker. She had originally been recruited fresh out of UNC to work alongside police officers, to embed with them if you will, but now that the officers themselves were all defunded, Nichole and those like her were almost comically left to fend with vicious criminals for themselves... or not, as was usually the case.
"I’m still here pouring my heart out, Babe.”
"Ugh. Was that supposed to be a joke?”
"Waited all day to use it.”
Nichole sighed hopefully. She slouched forward on her stool, closing the distance between them. She was only half-kidding when she said, “Why not run away with me, Hank? Right now! We‘ll move to some deserted island and live naked together in a cute little bungalow, happily ever-after! You could stick with your strong suits, mixing drinks and making love, and you wouldn’t need to spend all day thinking up these awful jokes anymore?”
"If you ever saw me naked you’d think that was a joke.” Hank chuckled at his own, self-deprecating humor.
"Try me! See if I laugh.”
Hank picked up her already empty glass, pouring it half-full of Gray Goose before spraying it the rest of the way full with pressurized tonic water, and finally freshening up the lime. “Here you go, Niki. This will have to do instead.” Hank was the only person in this world who could call her “Niki” and live to see tomorrow. Oddly though, she kind of liked it when he called her that, like it was his pet name just for her, like a little secret kept between them, yet Nichole‘s sad expression was legitimate. She had the misfortune of being in love with a happily married man, meaning her life was shit.
“How is Kalli, anyways?” She asked without really caring about the answer.
"She’s good, thanks. She’ll probably come down for a while, a little later on.”
"Fucking great. Thanks for the warning.” Hank finished shaking the martini he was mixing and then measured it out carefully before carrying it over to the lone woman's table. Nichole didn’t try to hide her disappointment in Kalli's coming. Hank was everything Nichole had ever wanted and the asshole belonged to someone else. Yet in spite of that Nichole still got his nearly undivided attention here every night, didn’t she, which was probably more than what Kalli got. But even as that thought crossed her mind Nichole heard happy laughter coming from behind her. She turned to see that "other" woman, the one sitting alone in the booth posed with an elbow on her table and her chin resting in her palm, practically swimming in Hank's charm. Couldn't the bitch see that Hank was only being polite? What was taking him so fucking long, anyways?
No, Hank might only be hers for a short while, but a loser like Nichole would take what she could get. And then later, around closing time, Nichole would go upstairs with whomever was paying her attention in the moment, imagining that person to be Hank in her inebriated mind. It sucked, sure, but like it or not here she was; thirty-seven years old and she had never been in a serious relationship with anyone for any length of time in her entire life. But being a sleaze was better than sleeping alone. This Nichole knew for a fact. She had done plenty of both, enough to know that she hated going to bed alone even more than she hated waking up with a stranger. And while never having been what she would call beautiful, Nichole still kept herself together well enough that she seldom had to be alone if she didn’t want to be, thank God.
When the 5:00 news came on the television over the bar Nichole was already on her fourth vodka tonic, but the lead-in story effectively cleared her fogging brain. Another murder. “Hank, could you turn that up?” Her voice found it’s authoritativeness once more, so that Hank’s response was quick in picking up the remote.
"… is the fifth in a string of murders that has both Sky-Cop and the embeds baffled. Our own Tisha Hamel has more on the story.”
"Thank you, Margot! This is Tisha Hamel, reporting live from Queen’s Road, where the newest victim in a string of vicious murders was found just moments ago and, as you can see, in broad daylight, almost as if the perpetrator is flaunting his crimes at the Sky-Cop system. The “as yet unidentified” victim is female, as were the previous four victims. And also like the others she was found after having been brutally assaulted. We are still waiting to find out if anything can be seen on video, or if any identification can be made by Sky-Cop, the new and widely hailed “Police Replacement System,” or PRS, which has incredibly come up with no leads whatsoever, neither via camera nor DNA on any of the previous four victims.”
The young reporter wore the same posture that reporters have worn since the beginnings of television while behind her, in the scene's background, several young thugs shoved at each other in attempts to get themselves into the camera’s view so that their lewd gestures toward the pretty reporter could be witnessed by the world. The reporter turned back towards the camera then, her microphone squeezed tightly in her mittened hand, her brow creased into a skeptical frown which seemed softened below her comically balled, beanie-styled cap as she let Charlotte know who it was reporting to them by calling forth her most serious sign-off voice, “Tisha Hamel. WSB-TV. Charlotte.”
Nichole’s glass was empty again. She rattled the ice in it loudly enough that Hank would hear as she slid it across to his side of the bar. A desperate, drowning voice was crying out for help from deep in the depths of her mind, but she wasn’t worried by it. Experience reminded her that if she ignored the voice it would eventually tire of swimming, and would just slip away below the surface, eventually... especially if she gave it a helpful push under.
At 4 am Nichole was on the treadmill in the basement gym of the skyscraper, an alcoholic sweat having formed a thick, clear glaze over her pallid face. Nichole had not bothered being especially quiet when she’d left her apartment, as the woman from the booth last night was still sleeping in her bed and Nichole held out hope that the woman would be gone when she returned. There was a vague recollection of kissing on the elevator ride up last night, but that was all; memories of a soft, lingering tongue on her neck, and behind her ear. Nichole honestly could not remember if they had made love, or if she had simply passed out once in the safe confines of home… though the nameless woman was still naked in her bed this morning, so something must have happened.
As he had promised, Hank’s wife Kalli had made an appearance in the bar last night. Nichole’s arch-enemy arrived flaunting tight, stretch-fitting leggings and a thick, loose sweater that was nowhere near thick or loose enough to hide the shapeliness beneath it. As Kalli worked behind the bar a very drunk and unusually quiet Nichole had been surprised to find herself fantasizing about touching her. The fantasy was so titillating that Nichole’s heart had begun racing until she was genuinely afraid that it might give out, that she might fall from her stool stone-dead right there in the bar while fantasizing about the wife of the man she loved. How fucked up was that?
Nichole picked up her pace on the treadmill, trying to erase the memory of it, as it somehow felt disloyal to Hank in some crazy, neurotic way. She closed her eyes as she ran, only to find that the "naked Kalli" vision from last night had returned, and was beckoning to her from behind her closed eye-lids. As Nichole imagined her hands reaching for Kalli in her fantasy she also imagined Hank’s large, strong hands wrapping around her own naked body from behind. It was too much for her. Nichole stepped shakily away from the treadmill. She wiped the sweat from her eyes with a towel and hurried back to the elevator, cursing it's slowness, and then praying when it finally did arrive that the placebo woman whose name she couldn't remember had not yet gone.
Nichole caught a Tesla-bot into work, texting it to the apartment building’s front door as even in broad daylight the city’s streets were hardly safe for walking. From the Tesla-bot’s backseat she watched the miscreants pass by; the homeless, the addicts, the mentally ill, the kids in their wolfish packs who ganged up for safety, and power. “Tesla, play Godsmack.” The music from her more youthful days poured forth through the car’s high quality speakers, puzzle-piecing nicely into the drudgery of the urban landscape.
Tesla-bots filled the roadways on the way in to the office, dominating the landscape. Taxes, electricity costs, and parking fees combined to make it way too expensive to own a vehicle in the city, so with the streets unsafe for walking there was little choice for those who still bothered to work other than to ride to their job in a Tesla-bot, but it was really not so bad. The cars were nimble and efficient, if small. Naturally, it was the Tesla Company who perfected the self-driving car, and they did it by essentially giving up on the clunky, ineffective self-driving cars being tested back at the time. Instead, they had used the best of their self-driving car features combined with their company’s autodidactic robot. The robotic driver simply plugged itself into the car and away they went, working together in perfect synergy, never breaking a traffic law, never being in the wrong lane, always taking the quickest route and never getting lost. When the destination was arrived at the robot driver unplugged itself, exited the vehicle, held open the door, helped you with any bags, and then swiped your app with it’s eyes, charging you for it’s services, neat as a pin and with no need to tip.
”Shit!” Nichole looked up to see that some group or another was staging a protest outside of the precinct station. “No Tesla, take me around to the back door.” It was just that easy.
The hallways were empty inside the precinct, and most of the offices too. Once upon a time the building had bustled with the best and worst of life, but the building was now much larger than needed and it’s marbled floors, bulletin boards, and block walls dated it back to a better organized time. Her footsteps echoed loudly as she walked, even though she wore rather low, comfortable heels. There really was not a lot to do here. There were no cops and no criminals, leastwise not any who would actually ever be charged with a crime. Like most cities in 2030 America, Charlotte was mostly "self-policed." Sure, the PRS, a system of cameras, satellites, and DNA collection could have, or should have (at least it had back in it’s brief hey-day), caught any and every criminal act out there, but who really cared to catch a criminal who was never going to be prosecuted once caught? And so, like most everything else circa 2030, the “foolproof” system suffered from lack of funding, uninstalled updates, and corruption, not to mention it's general neglect.
Nichole managed to suffer through five hours in the office. In that time no one called, and no one entered. If someone had entered she would not have hesitated to pull her service Glock and order them the fuck out. She had learned long ago that you cannot help those who don’t want help. To try was to place you at their whim… a place Nichole had naively found herself once a few years ago. That was a place she would never be again. Fuck helping them. Having foregone lunch, at 1:00 she had had enough and texted for a Tesla-bot. The taxi was quick to arrive and to hurry her back not so much toward home as toward Hank’s.
The city the Tesla-bot carried her through was the same shit-scape she passed every day, yet it had shifted shapes slowly over the years, so slowly Nichole had hardly noticed it happening. She could still remember when everything had been different. It amazed her that the city had somehow wound up here, in this dilapidated state. “Nearly” every building was crumbling from neglect, and was either abandoned altogether, or was filled with the destitute, the “nearly” included because every so often appeared a sky-scraper on the skyline like the one in which she herself lived, the sky-scrapers sparkling golden-clean against the surrounding gloom. Fiefdoms these buildings were, self-contained communities, little enclaves of decency amongst the rabble of addicted hordes scrambling outside them, fighting to find a way in. The buildings had names like Job Towers, Pichai Center, and Elon Plaza. The cameras and security in these buildings were top notch, but they should be, as the homeowner fees required of those living in the buildings were beyond astronomical. Still, it was money well spent in an age where everyone was some sort of criminal. And while those fortunate enough to live in such a building were happy to do so, it was still sad to see those who couldn’t afford to doing their best out here on the streets to fight their ways through life. The only other signs of an advanced humanity to be found other than the skyscraper islands which seemed to float along in this shit-storm sea were the Tesla-bots themselves, moving amongst it all like ants upon a hill, scurrying the more fortunate souls from this safe-spot to that one.
The only other person in Hank’s Place when she arrived was sitting on her favorite fucking stool! You would think that after all of these months the least Hank could do for her would be to save her damned stool! Did he not care about her at all? She chose one three stools down, nearly tipping it over in her anger as she did so, thinking it far enough away that the asshole sitting on her regular stool would see that she didn’t want to be bothered... not yet, anyways. At least she hoped it was far enough away.
There was no brilliant smile today as Hank placed her vodka tonic in front of her, ruining her mood even more. “Have you heard about Natalie?” He asked, his face a mask of seriousness.
"No. Natalie who?” From his look Nichole could tell that she’d missed something important, but she truly had no idea what it was, or who this "Natalie" person could be?
"You mean you don’t know her? She comes in fairly often.” Hank looked confused. “I was sure you two knew each other.” The statement came out more as a question.
A switch flipped in Nichole’s unfortunately still sober brain, but she didn’t want to voice the thought, especially not in front of Hank. She half-way suspected what was coming next, but she tried to take on an “above it all” air. “No, tell me? Who is this Natalie, and what horrible thing has happened to her?”
"She was in here yesterday. You waved at her when you first sat down?”
Nichole shrugged impatiently and shook her head no, but a cold finger found her spine. She took a sip from her glass and hoped Hank did not notice it trembling in her hands.
"She was murdered today by that serial killer guy they keep talking about on TV. They found her on the sidewalk a couple of blocks down.”
So that had been her name? Natalie? The girl whom Nichole had slept with at least twice, but who had been so insignificant to her that she hadn’t even bothered getting a name from. Well, Natalie wasn’t insignificant anymore, was she? She was the lead story now, and was liable to drag a suddenly leery Nichole into the headlines with her.
"Shit! What happened?” Nichole’s words were barely whispered.
"They don’t know yet. All that technology, all that money, and they either don’t know, or they aren’t saying.” He leaned down closer, where his other patron might not hear. “I kind of hoped you might know something?”
"Me? Why would I know anything?” Her words came out slightly panicked, as her confused brain took the question in the wrong direction. She thought he was asking her because he’d seen them leave together last night, she even wondered if Hank thought she’d had something to do with it?”
But Hank only shot her a daft expression. “Damn, Niki! You are the police, aren’t you?”
Relief coursed through Nichole’s frozen veins. “No Hank, I'm not the police. I’m just an embed. I don’t know anything. I mean, they don’t tell us shit.” She didn’t have the heart to tell him that there was really no “they.” There was only her left, and a few other clueless, hardly working embeds in the whole city, all five of them wearing the title “Captain” to maintain a perception of equality across the force, but none of them were trained in actual police work. They were little more than councelors', for fuck’s sake! Hell, she would have quit the force long ago except that one of the best perks of government work was the tiny, 15th floor apartment here in this sky-scraper refuge which kept her from living out there amongst the crazies.
Hank’s face showed his disgust. It was the first time that his beautiful face had ever looked at her like that, and surprisingly the disgust wasn’t due to her drinking, or on account of her promiscuity, but was over her work, or rather her inability to do that work… and maybe over her lack of sympathy for someone he had seen her leave with just last night. Nichole felt a flood of anger that colored her cheeks pink. What was that bitch to him anyways? Why was he so fucking concerned about her?
She finished her drink and rattled the ice sharply in its' empty glass for another. Hank ignored her, continuing to polish every-fucking-thing that didn't need polishing, but she sensed the message in his actions. Was he telling her to go? But go where? There was no place else to go! This place was her life now, and had been for a long while. She couldn’t go to her apartment, not at 2:00 in the afternoon! What the hell would she do up there? And she sure as hell wasn’t going back to work.
Well, fuck him. She would go, but first she pulled out her phone and searched, “Charlotte serial killer.” The first story that popped up was the most recent. It occurred to her as she read that she was researching the article more for herself than she was for the murdered young woman she’d made love to last night, and then again this morning. Christ! The whole affair had been so impersonal that Nichole hadn’t even bothered to get the girl’s name. When and how had she become so fucking heartless, anyways? She picked up her still empty glass and tried to suck something from the nothing it contained.
"Sixth Victim Found in String of Murders!" Nichole scanned through the article. Natalie Bowman was her “nameless” lover’s name. The article mentioned that Natalie lived in this building, which was unsurprising. Where else could "Natalie" get laid that was so convenient? Her body was found on the sidewalk at 9:00 this morning on 23rd street, only two blocks away. Nichole tried to remember what time it was that she’d left for the precinct this morning? 7:00, maybe? It crossed Nichole’s mind that her own sweat, saliva, and other dried fluids were probably all over the girl’s dead body. Even a system as jacked-up as Sky-Cop was could hardly miss finding DNA if it was slathered all over the victim. For the first time in a long time Nichole did not want another drink. Without even a good-bye for Hank she slid from her stool and, in another first for her, Nichole hurried out of a bar for once, instead of hurrying in.
Nichole Landreaux was concerned. She would not use the word scared, as concern was more easily managed than fear. She rode an empty elevator down to an eerily empty parking level where she half walked, half trotted towards the maintenance office, the clicks of her heels reverberating back to her through the concrete cavernousness of the garage. Inside the maintenance office she found a sleepy-eyed Latino man working on an invertor's motor, but his eyes awakened as she flashed her badge towards him. “I need you to let me inside Natalie Bowman’s apartment.” Nichole did not even know the correct police lingo. “This is urgent police business!”
The man just looked at her, his eyes regaining their previous, sleepy characteristics.
“Hablas ingles?” Nichole remembered that much from her first day of High School Spanish class.
The man shook his head no.
"You’ve got to be fucking kidding me." Nichole spoke under her breath, and then louder. “Natalie Bowman, asshole! Donde es her apartmento? Yo soy policia!” It wasn’t real Spanish, but she was sure he understood.
The man said something in fluent Spanish and an absolutely filthy computer on the desk behind him answered in kind. The man shouldered past Nichole and spoke again to seemingly no one in particular, “Sigame, Senora!” Not understanding, and unsure of what he wanted her to do, Nichole followed him blindly to a service elevator, where the man punched a greasy finger to a greasy button which mutely declared itself to be the 22nd floor.
Upstairs, the maintenance man swiped the door to apartment #226, pocketed the key-card, and walked away, wanting no more to do with the police, or with a loco-assed embed for that matter. Nichole entered quickly, pulling the door shut behind her. The cameras would have recorded her, but security could not monitor everything all the time, could they? She didn't know what she was looking for? Nothing really, she supposed. She was just curious, more than anything. The apartment was much larger than her own, and was impeccably neat but for a jacket tossed haphazardly over the sofa’s back, as though Natalie might return for it at any minute. Nichole picked the jacket up and held it open in her outstretched hands. A snapshot memory flashed of a pretty young woman in this very jacket smiling hopefully from her barroom booth. Nichole pulled the jacket to her face and immediately recognized the summery, flowery scent of Natalie, though already she could barely recall what the younger woman looked like.
There was an opened laptop on the dining table. Nichole crossed to it and tapped the space bar, but it only opened to a password protected home screen. Standing here the kitchen looked sterile. The countertops were empty of clutter, the refrigerator of magnets, the sink of dishes. There was no purse hanging from the barstool, no phone on the island, no keys, nor cards to be seen. The rooms had a familiar feel, being so much like Nichole’s own. Returning to the family room Nichole was met by no personal pictures on the walls; no former lovers, no children, no pets… only impersonal ocean scenes, and desert flowers. In the bedroom Nichole found the first signs of life, an unmade, king-sized bed with only one side of the bedding pulled back. Nichole placed her palm on the exposed sheet to find it unsurprisingly cold to the touch. She sat down where her palm had just been and closed her eyes. It was so hard to believe! Just a few hours ago Nichole had been lying in her own bed just a few floors down from this one feeling this woman’s warmth beside her, and now she was dead. Shaking it off, Nichole returned to the business at hand. A quick search revealed the typical sex toys and lubricants found in every single woman’s nightstand, while the dresser drawers contained designer jewelry, skimpy unmentionables, satin nighties and pantyhose. The more expensive clothing was hung neatly in the closet with pretty shoes paired-up underneath. Like Nichole’s own apartment, this was the apartment of someone who was half-way packed and waiting; waiting for someone, or for something… it was the home of someone waiting for some sort of stimulation to find her, and of someone who was ready to go with it when and if that stimulus ever did.
A melancholy Nichole unplugged the laptop on her way out and carried it with her to the elevator. In the lobby she texted for a Tesla-bot to run her back to the office. She felt a sudden and irresistible need to know more about "Ms. Natalie Bowman."
For once Sky-Cop, or the PRC rather, did what it was supposed to do. Back at the precinct station Nichole plugged Natalie’s laptop into the system and watched as sequences flashed across the screen until the password was found, warming the computer to life. A review of Natalie’s recent searches revealed the typical shopping apps that one would expect along with other popular news and entertainment sites, but the one that continually cropped up was one unfamiliar to Nichole, so she chose that one to open, “Prose.com.” Natalie’s account showed up under the pseudonym “Nat-so-Special.” Nichole clicked it open to her homepage and began to read.
Funny, what consuming the inner-most thoughts of one does to another. Strange, that climbing inside one’s mind reveals them as human in ways that crawling atop them never could. Reading Natalie Bowman‘s words did to Nichole something that all of her one night stands never did do, something that the vodka never could, nor Hank; he with his perfect face, his bartender humor and his sage wisdom. Natalie‘s words made Nichole feel.
Alone in her office Nichole read, riding Natalie’s words like an emotional roller coaster, soaring through the highs of her life, and drowning in the lows. Nichole was surprised to find herself described in a racy piece from two weeks ago entitled, “A Hottie Hook-up at Hank’s,” a bouncing, happy remembrance of she and Natalie’s initial meeting. The piece left Nichole with a skeptical, but toothy smile... that someone could actually find her desirable? The details from the piece left little doubt that Natalie had not been nearly as wasted through it all as Nichole herself had been. And that piece was followed by another, a poem as hopeful as Natalie’s eyes had been when she’d smiled at Nichole from her booth, a smile begging for more, but written for a lover too blind to see.
As she read Nichole laughed, and she cried. Natalie was no longer just a body in her bed, but became a voice in her head, an intelligent voice, a poetic voice, a voice valued by other writers on this “Prose” site for it’s perspective, and for it's vision; a voice to go with the body that might have accompanied Nichole through her lonely life, but a voice even further out of her reach now than Hank was.
The buzzing of her phone interrupted Nichole’s thoughts. A notification from Sky-Cop.
"Urgent Notice!” It read. “Captain Nichole Landreaux wanted for the murder of Natalie Bowman. Ms. Landreaux should be considered armed and extremely dangerous!”
Nichole laughed out loud as she texted for a Tesla-bot. Here she was! Right in the fucking police station, for Christ’s sake! There was no one to arrest her, and no one to prosecute her! Still, it was with reluctance that she closed the laptop. She had enjoyed meeting Natalie Bowman and was certain to reminisce about her, and to miss her in the coming days. Nichole’s heels clicked louder than usual down the empty hallway of the precinct building. Her Tesla-bot was already waiting for her at the back door.
"Tesla, take me to Hank’s Place." Nichole applied some lip gloss against the wind’s chill and settled back to watch the crazies pass along the city’s shit-stained sidewalks.
Nichole was exhausted. She was ready for a drink… and there was still Kalli to deal with later, but she could not contain a friendly smile from forming for the lifeless, metallic eyes that met hers in the rearview mirror, eyes that did not care where they stopped, nor what carry-ons they removed.
It was amazing the baggage a Tesla-bot would unload for you without even an added charge for the service.