25 or 6 to 4


sf_gabriella_icon.gif sf_nicole_icon.gif

Scene Title 25 or 6 to 4
Synopsis Waiting for the break of day
Searching for something to say
Flashing lights against the sky
Giving up, I close my eyes
Date October 12, 2020

Dorchester Tower Apartments: Miller Residence

“And would you ever consider running for office yourself?”

Gabriella Milos sits perched on an armchair in Nicole Miller’s living room. A cup of coffee sits neatly on a saucer on the side table next to a phone with a recording app open, the ascending seconds turning into minutes on the screen as they speak.

At the church across the street, the bell tolls the hour the same moment this most recent question leaves the New York Times reporter’s lips.

One. Two. Three.

The sound faint enough that it won’t interfere with the record, and Gabriella also takes notes by hand, the slim reporter’s notepad held on her knee, a pen poised in her hand ready to write.

Four. Five. Six.

That should probably be a softball of a question, but from where Nicole’s standing, it’s a lot more like a landmine. To admit to her own ambitions would feel like an undercut to her candidate. To say she doesn’t have designs on holding public office herself would be selling herself short. She pretends to be distracted by the church bells momentarily, turning her face toward the window.

Seven. Eight.

Then, she seems to shake off the woolgathering, turning back to the reporter with a smile. “Oh, gosh,” she laughs, as though caught off guard. “Maybe?” That seems a good compromise between truth and the omission thereof. “One campaign at a time, though. That’s how I’ve always done it. First we focused on the senate race, now we’re working on making the transition congress. My only goal right now is to get Senator Faulkner to that next level.”

Nine. Ten.

Nicole’s smile falters slightly and she’s glad this isn’t a video interview. How much of her own life has she put on hold for Isaac Faulkner’s pursuit of success? “I have to admit,” she brightens again, leaning in as though sharing a conspiratorial secret, “Senator Miller does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?” She chuckles again. “Maybe someday.”


The reporter smiles, graceful fingers moving the pen across the paper. “I like it,” Gabriella says with a conspiratorial sort of smile. “More women in more offices can only make the world better, in my opinion.”

The two women know each other well enough; both in career and personal life, they tend to float in the same circles, if for different reasons. That Gabby wanted to do a feature article on Nicole was probably expected; if not Gabby, it’d be someone else, and Gabby already had Nicole in her reporter’s rolodex.

“This campaign is a little different, given you are Nicole Miller now. Has married life changed you in any way, would you say? Apart from the last name, of course.”

It’s another question that has the potential to be easy, but for someone in Nicole’s position, nothing is as easy as it is on the surface. Gabriella’s expression shifts to something a little apologetic, as if she knows the question is annoying. “To be fair, I’d ask the same of a man,” she adds, lest her subject think she’s being sexist toward her own gender.

“Oh, I know,” Nicole is quick to assure, even if her smile is a little tight at the corners. “I personally appreciate your integrity, Gabby, or I wouldn’t have agreed to this interview.” Now the corners of her eyes crinkle slightly, showing the beginnings of crows feet, portraying the compliment as genuine.

“Honestly? I mean, of course my life has definitely changed. We maintained our separate apartments before we got married, so we weren’t living together before then. It’s almost been a year — not quite, but I’ve had time to get used to it. It’s not that I don’t come home to an empty apartment anymore — Zachery is a surgeon and keeps all sorts of hours — so it’s not uncommon for him not to be there when I get in, but there’s almost always a fresh pot of coffee waiting for me when I wake up.” The amusement still lingers around Nicole’s eyes. “If that’s not love, what is?”

But she’s quick to add, “What hasn’t changed is my work ethic. Which is probably much to my darling Zachery’s chagrin. But he actually makes balancing my career and my home life much easier. He is so supportive.” Nicole lifts a hand from her knee, gesturing with an open palm toward the ceiling, as though carrying the weight of her next thought. “And I do my best to return the favor. Though he’s… so brilliant,” and it’s clear to see she has a lot of pride in her husband and his career, “he really doesn’t need any help with that. He’s really got his act together.”

Gabriella’s smile broadens at the compliment, and she shows a rare playful side by tossing her long blond hair over her shoulder and lifting her chin a little, as if the comment has bolstered her confidence. “I appreciate that,” she says warmly, her olive-green eyes mirroring Nicole’s blue as the smile reaches them.

“That is love, though my parents have a really great housekeeper who manages the same for them,” she says with a grin. “I one day aspire to being able to afford my own housekeeper. Lord knows I won’t get a husband to make my coffee for me.”

Her hand writes even as she speaks, jotting down Nicole’s words in her odd mix of handwriting and shorthand. “What advice would you give to a young woman wishing to go into your field?” she asks, brows lifting as if to punctuate the question.

“That’s the dream, right?” A housekeeper to attend to one’s every needs. “My parents had one of those as well while I was growing up. Apparently I was a handful,” Nicole jokes. “Finding the right partner… It just kind of happens. I was perfectly happy as a single woman.” That much is something of a lie. The idea of being single was one that weighed on her, but she also wasn’t as single as she often appeared to be. “I didn’t think I’d find someone who fit into my lifestyle, but…” She shrugs. Obviously her expectations were flipped on their heads.

The next question forces her to focus again, which she’s grateful for. Nicole lets her gaze drift toward the ceiling while she considers. “You know, I think the most important thing is to stick to your guns. When you know you’re right, when you believe in something, you have to stick to that. Be willing to learn from the wisdom of others, of course, but I think women especially know when something is right or wrong for them, but we’re also very prone to letting others tell us we shouldn’t trust ourselves.”

Nicole smiles a little wryly. “Persevere. People are going to try and tell you that you’re in the wrong line of work. They’re going to tell you to go fetch the coffee. Don’t let them undervalue you. Don’t undersell yourself. Make them regret underestimating you.” Her brow furrows and she leans forward to rest her elbows on her knees. “And those of us who’ve been playing this game for years? We need to be better about supporting the young women who want to follow in our footsteps. Mentorship, opportunities, amplify their voices. We need to prove to the old boys’ club that we aren’t the exceptions in our gender.”

Gabriella all but beams at Nicole’s answer; her “old boys’ club” is a bit different than Nicole’s, and luckily a little more diverse, but it still has its glass ceilings at times. Even at as liberal a paper as the Times.

“That, Nic, is pretty fucking inspiring,” she says, letting up on the professionalism a bit. “I love it. The readers will love it, too.”

She looks around the living room in its late-morning light, considering the atmosphere. “I’m sending Faith to shoot your photos. Let’s make this a completely feminine effort. That, and she’s great. I have her coming here, as you know, but if you want it somewhere else — the campaign office, maybe — I can change the location since it’s not ‘til tomorrow. Have you thought about…”

October 13

Bay Ridge

“Get out of the way!” shouts the irritated voice of a courier on a bike as he rounds the corner, having to give a wider berth than he’d like around Nicole, who stands a few feet from the curb.

The sun is low in the sky to the west, illuminating the street with its hazy orange glow. Nicole recognizes the neighborhood after a few moments of looking around, getting her bearings. Yi-Min Yeh’s shop isn’t far from here. A cafe across the corner is one she’s been to to meet with a former classmate. It’s all very familiar, and yet she had just been sitting across from Gabriella Milos, talking about her photography appointment for the article for the Times. Hadn’t she?

Ahead, an ornate clock on the top story of a building states the time: 3:35. The second hand makes it to the XII at the top of the face, and the minute hand ticks over to 3:36.

Nicole gasps sharply and jumps out of the way of the courier. How long had she been standing there? Where the hell is she and how did she get here? Her breath starts to come in short and shallow as she makes her way back up to the sidewalk, slowly piecing together her location and just how far from home it is. “Oh god,” she whispers to herself. “Oh god. What?

After a moment, she remembers herself, forcing herself to breathe and to school her features into something calmer. She can pass off the momentary disorientation to anyone whose attention she happened to catch as shock from the near-miss with the bicycle. Yes. That sounds perfectly plausible. It’s not that she somehow dissociated so hard that she ended up across town.

Getting herself as far out of the way of other pedestrian traffic as possible, Nicole starts patting herself down, checking her pockets for her phone. This doesn’t make any sense. Panic attacks and dissociation only come with heavy rain and thunderstorms. And even then, she’s never dissociated so much that she’s left her apartment, or the campaign office.

Think, think, think!

What’s the last thing she remembers? It can’t just be the photoshoot. She must have done something after that. Did she go out for coffee? To the Vanguard around the corner from her apartment for a glass of wine? Maybe that’s it. Maybe she and Gabby went out to the wine bar to be social and… Did she get roofied? There’s no way she got drunk enough to lose hours of time.

Nicole looks back up to the clock, keeping her breathing slow and even. She realizes that there’s no date to reference on the clock’s face. Her heart sinks and she swallows hard, her mouth having gone dry.

A man standing nearby reading through something on his phone glances her way, his dark brows knitting with concern.

“You all right, miss?” asks the stranger in the remnants of an East London accent wrapped within Americanized syllables. He doesn’t step close, perhaps noticing the somewhat panicked look in the woman’s eyes. “Someone I can call for you, maybe?”


He lifts his phone to indicate he’s got the proper device to do so. But Nicole’s fingers find her phone, her keys, her ID — all the things she carries when she’s traveling light to leave the house.

Nicole pulls her phone from her pocket and looks relieved. “No, no no no,” she’s quick to wave off the offer of assistance. “I just thought I’d dropped my phone when I dodged the bike. It’s all fine.” She flashes a smile, “Thank you, though. I appreciate it.”

Maybe she needs to go to a hospital? But if that hit the papers, that would be a disaster. Index fingers taps restlessly on the glass back of the phone as Nicole pulls up the speed dial list and tries to decide whether she’s going to call her husband or her office. It’s her husband she calls as she decides to start walking in the direction of the Rose and Trellis. A familiar space, and someone she knows she can trust.

The call, unsurprisingly, goes to voicemail. “Hey, uhm… It’s me.” Like that wasn’t obvious. Nicole winces at herself and what her nerves are doing to her. “Iiiit’s…” Pulling her phone away from her ear, she checks the time again and her blood seems to freeze when she notes the date. The phone is jammed against her ear again. “It’s 3:40 on Tuesday the 13th.” Even though most voicemails provide a timestamp on retrieval, she has a habit of leaving that information all the same. “I’m headed over to see Yi-Min at her shop, but I think I’m going to—”

Nicole lets out a deep breath that ends in a small noise of distress that she hopes doesn’t pick up on the line for Zachery to hear later. “Just call me back when you get this and you have more than two minutes. I love you.” She presses the red button on the screen to end the call and clutches the phone tightly in her hand like she would her keys between her knuckles after dark. A talisman to ward away… whatever universal force this is that’s trying to mess with her.

Nick Holden watches the woman, and it’s clear he doesn’t quite buy the story, but there’s also something like sympathy in his blue eyes. He still doesn’t move from where he stands, a few feet away, not wanting to startle Nicole further in her fraught state.

He pulls his wallet from his pocket, sliding out a business card to present to her, stretching it across the distance that spans them so she can pluck it from where he holds it between his index and middle fingers. Holden Investigations, along with a phone number.

“You look a little less than okay.” His voice is soft, not accusatory but sympathetic. “You wanna escort to your shop? I got some contacts with the police if you need to talk to someone. Or maybe you might wanna lay off the hydrangea or dahlias at the shop a bit.” There’s no real judgment in his voice.

He himself is fond of the black-cap calla lilies, after all.

Stopping in her tracks when she realizes the man means to engage with her further, Nicole looks down at the business card. At first like it might be bad luck to accept it, but she relents and reaches out to take it, giving it a proper examination. His is not a name she recognizes, which means he’s not in the habit of digging up dirt on people like her. Or that’s the hope at any rate.

Her eyes come up to him when he makes the commentary about the flowers, and the secret language they represent. She considers feigning confusion, then offense. Instead, she smirks faintly. “Not my thing,” she says instead. It could mean the variety of flowers, or the product that comes with that order easily enough.

But since he knows… “I suppose if you don’t mind walking with me, I wouldn’t mind the company.” Nicole slides her phone back into her pocket for now, and the business card gets slipped into her wallet. “What do you generally investigate, Mr. Holden?” They can pass the time with a little small talk, can’t they?

What does he investigate? “Not florists,” he says with a bit of a wry smile, lest she worry that his knowledge of the shopkeeper’s side hustle will collide with his connection on the force. He lifts a shoulder, one hand lifting to push back a lock of dark hair that falls across his forehead.

“Typical things. Cheating spouses, verifying background checks, looking for missing people that the police have stopped looking for.”

He gestures for her to lead the way, though obviously he knows it himself, if he knows Yi-Min by name. “I don’t mind walking. I’d prefer to know you got there in one piece and didn’t stop short in the sidewalk when it’s a taxi coming around the corner instead of a bike.”

After a couple of steps, Nick glances at her from the corner of his eyes. “It’s none of my business, but has that happened before?”

“Mm.” Not florists is a good thing. The fact that she didn’t mention the name of the shop, but he knew exactly where she meant, means he’s not a threat to her in this particular case. The corner of her mouth ticks up as he lists off the things he does investigate, and she nods along.

Nicole sidesteps that question just as easily as she sidesteps the wad of gum in her path on the sidewalk. “Do you investigate hit and runs?” His side of eye glance is returned with one of her own, calculating and waiting for his response.

He lifts a brow at the question, sliding both hands in his pockets as they walk along. He has an innate grace for the sidewalk ballet of dodging pedestrians slower than they are or those coming out of shops without looking where they’re going; afternoon in this area is fairly busy, with people trying to tie up business and errands before close of business.

“That’s a specific question,” he says after a moment. “I haven’t, but I could do. There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?” The question is a rhetorical one, more of a verbal tic common to Londoners.

He juts his chin in her direction, looking her over from head to foot and back up. “That what happened to you just now? You don’t look too banged up.”

“It’s what happened to me three years ago,” Nicole replies easily. As though it doesn’t haunt her. As though she can sleep through a rainstorm, let alone drive in one. She smiles tightly, stepping closer to the private detective to avoid colliding with someone in a bigger hurry than she is.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” she admits. That he had to ask the question implies he doesn’t know who she is, which suits Nicole just fine. “Police haven’t been able to do anything. I’m sure they stopped trying within weeks of the accident. I survived, right? So what do I have to complain about?” The smile fades. “But someone almost killed me, Mr. Holden. I’d like to know who and I’d like to know why.” Even if the answer is something tragically mundane as It was dark, it was rainy, and I was drunk. At least then she’d know.

“Three years ago,” he echoes, nodding. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, miss.”

He does sound sorry, and his smile is a little contrite when he speaks next. “I can try, but three years is a long time ago when it comes to that sort of thing. Evidence is washed away, memories are hazy. I can get the police reports that are public record, sure, but talking to mechanics and possible witnesses, that gets tricky. Some mechanics keep great records; others not so much.”

They come to a corner, the intersection busy enough that not even native New Yorkers would cross until the cross traffic gets the red light.

Nick turns to look at her while they wait. “I can take the case, if you want me to, but it might be a lot of man hours with no pay off. And I’m a bad businessman because I like you well enough to be honest with you that it might end up unsolved, and I don’t wanna waste your money, ma’am.” That English accent turns that ma’am into more of a mum, and he shakes his head, a smile pulling his features upward. “Miss.” Old habits die hard.

The smile makes a brief return, but there’s nothing but sadness in it as Nicole winces faintly and shakes her head. “No, it’s fine. Forget I said anything.” Just like that, any sliver of hope she might have tried to grasp at is let go. Dismissed as foolishness. “Money’s not my concern, but I appreciate the honesty. I just wouldn’t want to waste your time either.”

Three years is a long time. If the police couldn’t dig anything up, what could she have expected from an investigator whose bread and butter is digging up evidence of adultery for divorce cases?

The topic is dismissed while she waits for the walk sign to change. A sharp inhale signals her intent to speak again. “You ever see anybody do that before?” She gestures vaguely back toward where she and the bike messenger nearly collided. “Did you only look up when the courier shouted?”

Nick shakes his head to her talk of his time wasted. “If I get paid, it’s not a waste of my time. It’s just a waste of your money if it doesn’t resolve anything, but I just want you to know it’s a long time for that sort of thing, and anyone else you might go to — if they make you promises? They’re probably lying.”

The light turns green and he glances back to where she indicates the interaction a block behind them. “What, forget they’re standing in traffic? Sure. Pretty common I think, especially these days with cell phones,” he says lightly, but it’s a bit too light, like he’s saying it for her sake.

“We’ll make sure you don’t stop in the middle of this one, yeah?” he says with a grin, looking down the street to check for any bike couriers that might need to come around the corner.

Rose and Trellis sits just at the end of the block. He nods toward it. “You think you can make it there? I can keep an eye on you from here, if it makes you feel better.” He might be teasing a little.

“Well, I appreciate that much,” she says of the warning about promises given by others. She has his card now. If she decides to pursue it, she knows how to reach him.

His responses to her question about the pausing in the street thing are met with a grimace on her part. She knows how absolutely ridiculous it must sound and how much worse than that it must have looked. Nicole tilts her head as she starts to cross the intersection, indicating that she’d like him to follow her to the door, if he’s willing.

“Nothing like that’s ever happened to me before. I have never zoned out that hard before. I’m just wondering if you saw how long I’d been standing there before anyone said anything.” Nicole shrugs, and hates herself for being this honest about what happened to her back there. Whatever it was.

Suddenly, her eyes dart away from him to looking straight ahead instead with a focus that betrays the sudden shift in her thoughts. What if someone had drugged her, and he just happened to be there to catch it? What if there’s a counter article that hits the tabloids tomorrow accusing her of being so high that she just wandered into traffic?

That’s a late game play she might have conceived of, given a big enough threat. (But no one is a big enough threat to Nicole, or Faulkner’s campaign.) When she steps up onto the curb and out of the flow of foot traffic again, she smiles. “Thank you, Mr. Holden. I think I have it from here.” For a moment, she considers heading crossways, rather than continuing down the street to Yi-Min’s shop. But Yi-Min and Nicole have been photographed together for years now at various events — gals being pals — so either the plausible deniability of her presence at her shop for a social call and not drugs exists, if this is a set-up, or the damage has already been done anyway. “I’ll be sure to pay it forward to the next lost soul who looks like they need someone to walk them home.”

“Ah,” Nick says, nodding with understanding. “Sorry, no. I was a bit lost in my memories, I have to admit, and maybe also thinking a bit about an old crime that I can’t seem to find enough evidence for, funny enough.”

He reaches into his inner coat pocket for his cigarettes, Capstans, and shakes one out, before offering one to her, brows lifting. “Not a hit and run, that.” There’s old, scarred-over grief in his eyes that makes him seem older than he likely is.

“Best of luck. You got a name, so if you call I remember who you are?” he asks, returning the cigarettes to his pocket in exchange for his lighter.

Nicole accepts the offered smoke with a short lift of her chin. “Thanks.” She doesn’t move to light it up, but holds it between two knuckles like just having it, for now, is enough to satisfy some longing. The brand is mentally noted with a faint upward turn of her mouth. Imported. Not easy to come by. Probably tastes like home to him. He’s not the only one in the habit of sussing out details about other people from the seemingly innocuous things.

She considers not giving her name, but figures that’d be easy enough for him to come by all the same. Especially when — if? — the spread about her hits the Times. “Miller,” she tells him, voice stronger than it has been since the start of their encounter. “Nicole Miller.” She offers a sympathetic smile to him in parting. “I hope you find your answers, Mr. Holden. I’ll call you if I need help with mine.” As she turns and starts to walk away, down toward the shop, she holds up the cigarette over her shoulder and calls without looking back, “Thanks again for the smoke!”

She’ll savor it.

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