Niko sat in the car the discomfort that had been agitating his lungs slowly seeping out with each breath. The old woman whose name he had yet to receive reading from a tablet, agitation plain to see. The large bodyguard who, Tibalt, eyed him but it seemed more out of measure than of vigilance. Niko clenched his toes in the shoes that were just a little too tight.
Just as he was beginning to feel almost comfortable with the situation. ‘Your phone hasn’t chimed once.; she said, tone indicating an observation rather than a question.
‘True.’ Niko said trying to maintain a neutral voice. He hadn’t managed a read on her yet, and no idea how he was supposed to behave here.
Looking up from her tablet she eyed him as though he had done something stupid, but was suspending judgment, waiting for an explanation. ‘Thus my prompting.’
‘Kind of hard for me to tell you why people aren’t talking to me.’ Niko just rattled the answer off, the nervous energy still not having burned off.
‘You really weren’t busy.’ She pursed her lips, leaning back into the plush seats. ‘Just living off your parent’s money then?’
‘You’d never guess the truth.’
‘Well, the suit’s painfully out of date, so I just assumed you were an eccentric. Young but not famous, so you’ve not done anything noteworthy.’
‘What can I say I’m a’ he tried to push down the jitters ‘Fan of the classics I guess’
She let out a small laugh. ‘You are a strange one.’
‘Life’s a pretty strange place. None of us make it out alive right? Can’t be too serious.’ He either got the right answer or just stepped on a mine, from the way her face narrowed.
‘A trite witticism.’ her gaze boring into him. He didn’t budge he just kind of smiled dumbly, holding her gaze. ‘Yet.’ she continued to stare, as if prompting him for a response but Niko blanked. ‘It almost seems like you believe that.’
‘You don’t want to try and tell me this world of ours isn’t a few steps past absurd? Seems like every new bit I see just makes it feel less real.’
She smiled wryly ‘Suppose that depends on how close you stand to the edge.’
‘That’s just my half credit you know?’
‘Well. You’ve already done site better than your predecessors.’ picking up her tablet to go back to whatever she’d been busied with. Niko remained silent, thinking that was the best approach to these sorts of things. They small convoy drove out to the edge of the sprawl, and took a down ramp to the unpopulated sections.
They drove into the largest storage pits, down a ramp like a parking garage and deeper into the earth. Five or so ramps down they hit the first line of mausoleums. Various shrines, obelisks, and small structures dominated the floor. Just at the edge of this, was a large mostly empty plot, where the small cavalcade pulled up.
Several armed goons hopped out to perform sweeps of the area. The crone had apparently lost her connection this far down, having set her tablet down some time ago, she stared off into space. Tibalt for his part looked outside the car, observing the proceeding security checks. Eventually one of the goons gave some kind of hand sign, and sidled up to the car. This seemed to please Tibalt but he remained silent.
This quiet time seemed to drag on, for long enough that concern did begin to seep into Niko. He really wished the voice on the other line would have said anything. The fact that it hadn’t scolded him or anything made him think he did randomly stumble into where it wanted him to go. From here though he’d have liked any kind of guidance. She continued to seem absent from reality, lost deep in her thoughts.
Niko decided he was into deep, so he might as well take a chance here. He leaned forward and gently placed a hand on her knee. Doing this slowly hopefully to not draw the bodyguards ire. She snapped to reality, shock clearly dominating at first, anger coming second ‘The gall of you.’ her voice cracking ‘Tibalt you just going to-’ but the brewing storm seemed quelled.
The bodyguard sat silently, eyeing Niko but making no moves. He met her gaze, the concern evident. Niko wasn’t sure what their relationship was on the deep end but it must have run for a long time. You didn’t just throw looks like that around. ‘Look, You asked to rent me. So, you need a hug or something? Seems to me like you don’t want to be here this moment.’ Niko said grasping at straws.
‘We should go.’ Niko added ‘Hate for you to not get your money’s worth.’ he joked, trying to bring some levity to the situation. For the first time since he’d met her she seemed old, or weary at least, as she let the moment sink in. Niko tilted his head toward the door, which the bodyguard read correctly, opening it a moment later. Niko stepped out into the stale are of the graveyard.
Tibalt followed shortly, but it took a stretch of time before his patron herself stepped out. The trio walked into the depths. Niko wasn’t sure what to expect with graveyards, considering no one he knew could afford a plot, and the city kept the mass graves way way below. He’d never himself made occasion to visit.
The ceiling to the place was perhaps two stories up, large flood lights poured light on the road, and on the plot they were visiting, leaving small pools of light where they tread leaving the rest in darkness. It was surreal, almost like he’d stepped out of the world and into a new one. It felt strangely dreamlike.
The mausoleum itself was a domed concrete structure, square in shape, a few steps raising its floor a meter or so off the ground. The trio ambled to the heavy stone doors marking its entrance, walking between green grass, that dominated the front area of the plot. Empty stone platforms, he’d guessed for statues sat at the center of the small patches of greenery.
Stepping into the tomb, he was surprised. There were several spaces that could hold remains but only one was filled. Each wall held space for four such alcoves. The floor was done in an incomplete mosaic of the roots of a tree, just the trunk a trio of branches broke off. Six names marked the few spaces that were complete. At the base were the names Maxwell Veyber and Ella Veyber. So that was her name. Niko felt dread settle knowing just who he’d wandered into.
Some flowers in a pot, just beginning to wilt sat on the floor below the one filled alcove. A glass panel revealing mummified corpse behind it. With the same heavy quiet Niko and Ella walked toward the lone resident of the place. They stood there for a time.
Finally though it seemed she was compelled to speak. ‘I wouldn’t have called him a good man. Not even a good husband I think’ she stood motionless ‘Quality, perhaps. Not good though. I think he’d have laughed, and probably agreed.’
‘The thing I think you’ll have a laugh at, was that it was almost like he wasn’t gone for the first half a year.’ her tone grew lighter as she related the details ‘He had all these recordings, about this and that he wanted done. Upcoming decisions you know. I found out sometime later he’d set these up about once a quarter in case of something like this.’
Niko simply stood silent. If she’d been having this much trouble he thought, perhaps it would be better to simply let her thoughts flow. He could think of a few times where that was what he’d needed himself. So he simply listened.
‘He was obsessed. I’m sure you can tell. A fucking empty box of concrete. Legacy, he said. Every great family started some where he said. A man possessed.’ she finally turned toward Niko. ‘I suspect you’ve never been the morbid sort to see how much a damn thing like this would cost have you?’ he shook his head. ‘It would sour your stomach I think.’
‘He once said he’d never really loved me. Hell of a thing to tell your wife. Mother of your children. That’s what he’d been after. Thought we’d be a strong match.’ she shook her head. ‘My first affair. That man.’ she stated bitterly. ‘Turns out he’d arranged even that.’
Niko’s surprise must have been evident. She broke out into laughter after seeing his face. ‘Suspect your mother or father have done much the same.’ she tapped the glass with a bony finger. ‘Didn’t hire two through five though. Course we’d had our kids then. I’ve thought before that I should probably hate him. But.’ she trailed off, choking back emotion. ‘It is a strange thing. I could still have called him my oldest friend. Bitterly I think.’
Fading back into silence, he took stock of this new information. This sort of thing made his being rented to just stand here seemed less strange. Gave him new context for the voices comment about how his use of the shower had been a waste. He cringed at the thought.
Quietly she turned to leave, without prompting Niko followed. As they made their way back to the car, she stopped to turn to him. ‘I never did get your name.’
‘Niko’ he replied simply. She again held her gaze as if to prompt him to say more.
When he did not she said ‘Well Niko. Thank you. Speak go take a seat in the back car, speak with a woman, named Yvette. She’ll see that you’re compensated.’ He turned to do as requested. ‘Perhaps, you are not busy on other days like this?’
‘I am nearly always open to opportunity he said.’ She nodded, getting back into her car with her bodyguard. He’d just have to see what came of this, and why the voice on the other end even wanted him to be here. Apparently though, he’d done as was hoped. Not that he had any way of knowing for sure.