Chicago, IL, USA
ACME Detective Agency - Midwest Branch
The sprawling giant that was the ACME Detective Agency had a number of local branches on every continent. These international branches ranged in appearance from the breathtakingly beautiful Hong Kong Branch to the amazingly efficient Berlin Branch, but the auxiliary branches of the United States were a different animal. While the Headquarters on San Francisco Bay overlooking the pacific ocean was a complex of engineers, agents, scientists and bureaucrats a local branch was really no more impressive than the local police departments they worked alongside. They weren’t built to be the places that investors and congressmen were walked through to assure the public that their money was hard at work, they were smaller, more intimate, and the agents housed within took on relatively local crime that a detective agency was needed for. A far cry from the work ACME Headquarters handled.
ACME Midwest, located in Chicago, IL, USA, was a modest 4 story building in the heart of Chicago, barely a stone’s throw from O’Hare Airport. The Chicago Branch had been a welcome change to Inspector Eleanor Mayhew after the fallout of the Tower Incident - she wouldn’t have been fired after how public everything had gone but the brass had been more than willing to sign off on her transfer request. Eleanor believed if she’d let them they would have packed for her too. That was almost two years ago.
The years away from ACME HQ had been kind to Inspector Mayhew. While the scandal that she’d caused followed her at first and led to some mistrust among her comrades and unfavorable treatment at her sudden high ranking insertion into their ecosystem it had been quickly forgotten. The Chicago force was blunt and a little gruff on the outside but tight knit and loyal as anything, with each member ready to fill any role at a moment’s notice.
The Chicago branch of ACME had always been 'under renovations' at one point or another. From leaky faucets to blinking lights and broken printers, reports from here were more about repair than progress. When he first arrived at the address some years ago, he mistook it for a police building. But now, with at least a new ACME logo over its art deco doors, he knew where to enter.
The receptionist was a young black woman in a bright teal blouse and neatly braided hair that formed a high ponytail. He towered slightly over her and the desk she sat behind, but she looked at him as if he could have been twelve, "What can I do for you?"
"Is Eleanor--" he didn't have to finish, she was the only Eleanor in the building.
"Is she expecting you?" her voice seemed to snap, but she looked polite. Devineaux was confused.
"Then would you sit and wait?" she pointed to metal fold-out chairs nearby, so small they may have been made for children, "I'll give her a call."
"Here?" Chase indicated to the tiny seats, when she nodded he decided to stand. He began looking around, and became distracted by posters and images on the wall. Spotting a smiling Eleanor Mayhew among them, he mirrored her grin.
"Inspector, are you expecting someone?" The receptionist asked in the background, with Devineaux presently out of ear-shot, "I don't know, six-two, gray suit... and white... very white, he's touching things."
To say Eleanor wasn’t in the middle of anything would have been incorrect. Currently there were nine case files open on her desk in various states of completion, multiple open emails to agencies and private clients from across the midwest and a very friendly but talkative chat with Inspector Cruz from the only slightly better funded and less well known ACME Manitoba Branch in Winnipeg, whom they’d worked with during international incidents (ie: things that went over the Canadian border.) Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, the buzz of the phone had been a welcome change of pace.
Standing from her seat, the phone still to her ear, she walked around the desk and leaned against it as she listened to the receptionist give her report on who’d arrived. The description was pretty basic, it could have been anyone, so it was understandable that her mind wouldn’t have immediately gone to her former boss.
“Next time could you… you know… try and catch a name?”
“No, I’ll be right down. I need the walk anyway, just tell them to sit tight.”
Eleanor’s office was on the fourth floor - usually walk ins were handled by the first floor gumshoes and it was safe to say that very few people asked for her by name, with the exception of her older brother Michael when he was in town, but the receptionist knew who he was by now and besides, he wasn’t the gray suit type.
She made a point to smile at all the agents behind the other open doors as she made her way to the elevator, buttoning the suit jacket she’d grabbed from her coat rack and running a hand through her shorter hair as her heels softly made a scuffing sound on the old carpeting. The elevator trip was spent checking her breath to make sure that her morning bagel at her desk hadn’t left her something to worry about.
As the elevator doors opened, she calmly walked to the reception desk and froze as her eyes looked towards the waiting area. The receptionist tried to say something but she paused, looking first at the Inspector, then at Chase.
“...well. This wasn’t expected.” Eleanor said softly, straightening herself up before addressing him properly. “Director Devineaux…”
Decorative plants in the area were mostly succulents, with an evergreen palm in the corner. Chase Devineaux touched the leaves of a echeveria and decided it was of the ‘Green Goddess’ variety, then he heard her voice.
"Eleanor," his nod preceded the opening of his hands. He paused, considering, were they on hugging terms?
Blue eyes looked over her glasses as a welcoming smile appeared on her face, her body language appearing calm and confident. Chase looked just as sturdy as ever, with just as shiny a suit, though his new facial hair was a welcome change. Exactly when he’d decided to start growing it she couldn’t tell; she hadn’t looked back towards ACME HQ since she left. There was no motion indicating an inclination to hugging him, after all two years was not long enough to forget exactly how they left each other’s company, but she didn’t seem to look towards him with any bitterness. Her hand moved forward to shake his.
“To what does the Midwest Branch owe the visit? We don’t normally get that many guests…”
She knew what he was there for. Or, at least she knew he wasn’t there for the branch. Why would he be? Protocol would dictate that four levels of administration visit before he’d even step foot in the region, let alone visit the office itself.
Taking the handshake, he was glad the moment wasn’t more awkward.
“I’m not here for Chicago,” he confessed, a brief reaction from the receptionist told Chase she might have been listening and he tensed slightly, “Is there… somewhere we can go?”
Catching the tense reaction from her guest Eleanor’s head turned slowly, looking to the reception desk where Danielle, the receptionist, was casually starting to check her email, as if she wasn’t just listening intently and waiting for some sort of juicy details. After all when Eleanor had arrived the situation under which she’d transferred offices was well known, and to be honest Danielle was just the type of busybody who loved knowing everyone else’s personal information.
“...Danielle, could you forward all my calls to voicemail, and tell the Chief I’ll be out for a bit?” she asked, trying not to roll her eyes when the receptionist acted as if she hadn’t heard her.
“Sure, no problem Inspector.” the woman answered, starting to type a few things on her computer while Eleanor looked back to Chase and motioned towards the elevator.
“I’ve got a place we should be able to talk.”
Following Eleanor to the stainless steel elevator doors, Chase remembered ACME Tower. There was a coffee machine that never would work and the elevators were so slow that going 16 floors could take just as many minutes.
He reached to press the button, out of habit, but didn’t know if they should go up or down, so he paused to let her press instead.
“Slightly nostalgic,” he chuckled once, “how many floors is this building?”
“Four.” Eleanor answered softly, reaching out to press the up button, which answered with a ‘ding’ and allowed the door to open immediately. It appeared it hadn’t been used since she came downstairs. “Technically five, but the fifth isn’t elevator accessible, nor is the roof.” As they stepped inside she pressed the number 4.
“It’s also not used for business, not since the branch downsized in 2008. There shouldn’t be any eager listeners up there, a perfect place for a talk as long as you don’t mind the fact it's being used for storage.”
“I don’t mind” Chase Devineaux nodded, “It’s… as good a place as any.”
He opened his coat and retrieved a silver envelope inside a transparent linen bag.
“Chai,” he said as he handed it to her, “I was in India last week, I figured you might already have a tin… so…” His lips curved to smile, slightly crooked.
Taking the gift with care she smiled, looking over the bag with a keen eye. “They never do import the really good stuff here… or maybe by the time it gets past customs it's not as good as it would have been…” Looking up from the silver envelope her hands instinctively pulled the package to herself.
“I’ll have to track down that tin you gave me.” Eleanor lied. She knew exactly where that tea tin had gone to - it currently held her small paint brushes back in the garage, on the shelf next to her paints and wood finishes. To her credit she’d almost thrown the thing out when she’d moved, but held onto it out of a sense of nostalgia for better days.
There was a pause as her eyes went to the elevator floor for the moment. “So… India huh? How's… business back at HQ?”
“Rosen is CEO,” Chase gave a listless shrug, “I’m sure you got the memo sometime last month?”
The doors opened onto the fourth floor.
“Aside from that, not much has changed in two years.”
Chase held the door for her and then followed Eleanor out, awaiting her lead.
“I’m sorry,” he shook his head, “I know I should have called ahead.”
Eleanor made a point not to comment on Rosen - the last she’d heard of the woman was her opinion on the Inspector’s transfer; ‘‘At least she has the decency to put herself out to pasture.’ Or so said the brass that approved her relocation.
“There’s no need to apologize…” she answered calmly, stepping out from the elevator and starting to lead him down the hall to the stairwell, past the doors of a number of her colleagues, some of whom looked up from their desks, some of whom didn’t even notice them. “I just would have made sure the coffee machine was working, maybe talked Chief Begay into getting some dark roast in.”
Reaching the end of the hall and the door to the fifth floor she held it open, motioning him upward. “After you.”
“Thank you,” Devineaux breathed, adjusting his cuffs slightly to focus his thoughts as he walked into the room. He found a suitable seat, but decided to stand.
“I’ll be quick, E,” he started, and the words, no matter how rehearsed, were difficult, “I know you said no apologies… but I let this fester for two years, and it's my fault.”
He exhaled and unbuttoned his jacket, separating the part as his hands glided to his trouser pockets.
“You were right,” he didn’t make eye contact, “I wasn't the man I made myself to be.”
Chase looked at her, those glasses were smaller, but held the same glimmer they once did when he first walked into ACME tower, “But you made me see that, and I want to thank you.”
A beat passed.
“It was a lesson,” he added, “If there’s anything I can do, Eleanor… I’m here. Two years late, but here.”
There were places where she wanted to interject, save him from having to spill everything on his mind in one go, but there was, Eleanor was ashamed to admit, a piece of her that needed to hear the words. To let him be the first to apologize, and to know he might feel just as bad about how things had gone. Because she was human, and no matter how much she tried to pretend that she hadn’t thought about their last conversation it was never true.
A long pause hung between them as she searched for the words to say, leaning against an outdated office desk, ignoring the boxes of old supplies stacked on top of it and the dust that brushed against her black suit jacket, remembering her last words to him.
Sometimes, I *wish* you were actually the man you make yourself to be.
in the end, you're just a shell with a million-dollar smile and a shiny suit--
“...you know, Chase… I, uh… I once knew a guy. Long time ago. Back when I was in charge of the VILE case… Even before Chief Weller came into the picture… even Carmen Sandiego wasn’t the same back then… he swept into my office like a goddamned white knight. Brought me tea from India and I thought he was untouchable.”
Hands going to the back of her hips she moved from the desk pacing a little, eyes going to him but then leaving again. “First… I wanted to be with him. Then I wanted to be him. Then, I wanted to protect him and then… well, eventually I wanted to hate him. Because my white knight wasn’t as shiny as I expected him to be. That’s the thing about… looking up to someone. Sometimes you see a side of them, and you think that's all there is to them. Or maybe you want to believe that’s all there is to them.” she said softly, now making it her own turn to drop eye contact as she looked around the room. “...its not really that fair to him when you think about it.”
“No, it’s not,” Chase agreed, his eyes finding hers. He had been, in short of better words, daft. “But I haven’t been fair to you.” Moving, he placed both hands on the back of a sturdy chair.
“All those years ago, I needed control. To come back into ACME and act like I had everything,” truth wasn’t any easier than apology.
“But, really, I had nothing.”
He was expressionless.
“A better man might have warned you that he wasn’t… shiny,” he shrugged with the corners of his mouth. There were things he couldn’t say, no matter how honest he wanted to be. Slowly, his gaze shifted towards the door. Maybe he should leave, before he caused any more damage.
“But those times weren't all bad,” his voice was lower, “were they?”
“No.” Eleanor answered definitively, her eyes finally connecting properly to his again. “I can’t even say most of it was bad, and the times that were… well they were just as much my own fault.”
A pause, an exhale. The words had come out quicker than expected.
“I have no regrets, Chase.” she finally said after a moment. “Well, ok, thats not true. I regret my message to ACME Agents going to the press… but I don’t regret choosing to make it in the first place. Just like I regret letting myself get upset that you weren’t what I thought you were… but I don’t regret finding out. Though I’d still argue you’ve got a little shine to you. It's just hard to see it when you’re dealing in shades of gray.”
A smile opened and he gave a soft chuckle.
“I’m not sure what you thought I was,” he reached over, offering a handshake, “but I am glad you thought something of me.”
Sighing and shaking her head with a smile, not ready to spell out any clearer how she really felt, Eleanor took his hand again, but this time didn’t let go quite yet.
“What can I say? I’m a sucker for a guy who brings me tea. Call it a character flaw. I’ve got plenty of them.”
“Come on,” Firmly shaking Eleanor’s hand, he pulled her in and wrapped his arm around her for quick hug, “You’re doing good, I’m glad for it.”
There was a tense feeling in her frame at the sudden hug but she quickly relaxed into it, her own free hand coming around to hug him in return. There was something nostalgic about it, and she couldn’t help but lean into it just a little.
“I try… I’ve heard you’re not doing too badly for yourself… though if you need some backup… you know you can call right?”
In the embrace, he patted her back, “I wanted to talk to you about that.”
Eye-to-wire-framed-glasses again, he continued, “I’m heading back to Siberia for a bit, negotiations,” he shrugged, very slightly, “Hoping to have you swing by Accolade next week, if that’s okay?”
“Sounds like your area of expertise. Off the books I imagine… even I remember Rosen’s public policy on that sort of thing…” Eleanor answered, but there was an awkward cough before an eyebrow rose at the mention of her returning to the Accolade.
“Swing by? You say that like its just down the street, Chase.”
“Yeah,” he nodded, “Anytime next week, call Renee when you land? I want to pick you up.”
Eleanor sighed softly, the idea of simply picking up and going to the Accolade for lunch, when she helped run an already underfunded branch, was not exactly a walk in the park. Then again did he mean to visit or…
“I’ll… think about it. Ok?” she answered. “I’d have to get clearance from Chief Begay, and get coverage on my cases…”
At her questionable ‘Ok’, Chase smiled and gripped her hand warmly, shaking it, “Okay.”
Then he listened to her words and casually chuckled, “I need to catch another flight. But don’t think about it too long, Eleanor, took two years for me to come here… I wish I’d done it sooner.”
Releasing her, he stood, briefly glancing over the room’s corners. It looked exactly like the offices in the old ACME building from this angle. Satisfied, Devineaux nodded goodbye, “I’ll see you next week.”
Buttoning his suit, he headed out to the elevators and the rental car parked below.
Exiting the room a step or two after him she stopped at its threshold to watch him as he entered the elevator down the hall, her line of sight clear as they made one last connection of glances, and she smiled, before the steel doors of the elevator closed and Eleanor was left alone.
A moment later she heard the familiar rushed steps of the midwest branch head Chief Jalen Begay coming down the hall to her left, putting on his jacket and straightening his tie to address the visiting director that he’d only just heard was here from a particularly talkative receptionist. Looking where Eleanor’s eyes were he could see the numbers above the elevator indicating a drop off down on the first floor.
The two stood silent next to each other a moment before the Chief finally spoke.
“That was him?” he asked, though there was little agency or even question in his voice. He already knew his answer. E still nodded.
“He had to catch his flight… sorry I didn’t introduce you.” she replied, finally looking away from the elevator and to her superior officer.
The Chief nodded and his hands went to his hips as he caught his breath a little more. He wasn’t exactly out of shape, though age was starting to catch up to him. A moment later he finally spoke. “Everything alright?”
Eleanor’s nose wrinkled, but the Chief’s face stayed firm, as the question could mean a number of things, only a part of which were personal.
“Yeah.” she replied, unbuttoning her jacket and slipping it from her shoulders. After all there was no longer a need for formality. “...I’m gonna need some time for a trip to ACME HQ though… looks like I’ve got a meeting with the director in a week or so…”
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