Title: Say Goodnight, Grace
Author: Livia
E-mail: livia001@gmail.com
LJ: liviapenn
Recipient: Houie
Summary: Nothing stays, everything changes.
Rating: Some harsh language.

I don't drink at work, so I told the manager at Cheney's I'd meet the putz from the Planet uptown. If I had to do this stupid publicity thing, I was going to need a drink.

Mike printed out an e-mail for me with the address and the time to be there, told me he'd be paying me double overtime just for showing up. Told me it was gonna be a happy little puff piece and I should do it and be happy about it.

Fine, I said, fine. Like we needed the publicity. Like I needed the extra bullshit we'd get if Cheney's became Metropolis' new hot spot and the hipster meta-fuckers started coming out in busloads. The metas who are regulars at Cheney's like it there because no one stares. Because for once in their damn life no one makes them feel like a freak. Tip that balance and no one was gonna be happy.

It was snowing just a little as I got off the Rail Whale at the Clinton St. stop. I didn't usually get this far out of Hob's Bay, not these days. Suicide Slum hadn't changed much when the Tech took over the city-- docks were docks, warehouses were warehouses. Not much you could do to glitz them up with antigrav, holograms or wi-fi. Uptown, this was where the changes were really obvious.

Skyscrapers shot up like blades of grass, insane skinny twists with lights glittering all the way up. Seemed like there were tourists on every corner, gasping at every brand new toy. The shop windows were smart, stealing your face if you stared too long, and all of a sudden all the mannequins looked like you, but skinnier and prettier and wearing nicer clothes. The newsstands scrolled text a few inches above the surface of the screen, providing holo-video if you dropped in a quarter. The Rail Whale hissed away overhead, eerily quiet for something so huge.

I was wearing a dark red t-shirt over a green thermal, my nice green cargo pants and steel-toed Docs. I'd only just started working at Cheney's, so my hair was still impractically long, and I was wearing it back in a plain ponytail. Hardly spandex-with-fishnets, or mask and high-heeled fuck-me boots, but wouldn't you fucking know it: click click click.

Tourists. Bunch of fucking Japanese schoolgirls having a gigglefit and poking each other in the ribs, then pointing at me. The oldest was maybe sixteen, and I didn't see a chaperone anywhere-- they were all alone in the middle of the big city. How fucking stupid could you get?

I turned sideways, narrowing my eyes. "Get out of my face!"

They scattered like fish in a pond, and I snorted, forcing myself to uncurl my hands from the fists they'd naturally clenched into at the sound of the camera. That hadn't even been my best growl.

"Ms. Choi?" came a voice, and I turned.

"Mr. Kent?"

"Thanks for meeting me," he said, extending his hand. I squeezed hard, and he flinched, but not as much as I'd seen other guys do.

"Not a problem," I said, and he led the way into the bar. We wound our way through the crowd, him leading awkwardly. The place looked like an accountant convention, everyone in nice suits, nobody out of place except me. But I was used to it.

The waitress came by, greeting Kent by name-- some dorky name, I forgot it as soon as I heard it. "The usual?" she said, and he nodded. I ordered a beer.

"So," he said, setting his notebook out on the table, uncapping his pen, "how long have you been working at Cheney's, Ms. Choi?"

"Let me get one thing straight with your first," I said. "You want to write about Cheney's, fine, I'll talk to you about the job. But this story isn't about me and I don't want it to be about me."

I was raising my voice a little, but this time, no flinch. Tough guy, huh. "Understood," was all he said. "So what was your first impression of Cheney's? Had you been there as a patron before you started working there?"

"Yes and no," I said. He didn't get pissed or roll his eyes, just waited, though it was pretty clear from my tone that was about all I was going to say.

I was pissed at him already-- not him, really, but the whole situation. Fuck him, fuck this. I could wait him out.

He waited, I waited, and the waitress came back with our drinks, sliding a Coke over in front of Kent and setting a beer down in front of me. I reached for mine, but Kent moved fast, taking it right out from between my fingers.

"Hey!"

"This meeting is on the Planet's tab," he said, "and the Planet wants me to get some information about Cheney's. Now, your boss seemed pretty pleased to have the opportunity to give us some information about Cheney's. So. What's the hold-up?"

With the hand that wasn't holding my beer hostage, he tapped his pen against his notepad. The sound was odd, and then I realized it was an actual ballpoint pen and paper notepad, not just holos over Tech. You didn't see those much in Metropolis these days. Even the waitresses at Cheney's used voice-activated notepods or stylus-screens, if they used anything at all. It made me feel a little warmer towards him, I guess. He was just a schmuck trying to do his job in the middle of all the chaos of this city.

I told myself that, but I still had to reach across and take my fucking beer. I pulled it out of his hands, slowly but firmly, then flicked the cap off with my fingernail and took a long swig. Just making my point.

It helped. I gave him half an apologetic smile. "Sorry."

"Sure," he said, his raised eyebrow saying 'yeah, I'm still waiting.'

"I don't want to do this." I told him, shifting a little in the booth, cracking my neck to the side. My boot thumped into the side of Kent's seat when I tried to stretch my legs out unobtrusively under the table. "I mean, I... really don't want to do this."

Kent looked at me, then shrugged his own shoulders, reaching into his pocket for a twenty and leaving it on the table. "Fine," he said. "You want to take a walk?"

*

We walked down towards the river, following the street-like shadow of the Rail Whale tracks as they curved over the city. He asked me some more questions, mostly softballs about the history of Cheney's, how it had gotten started, how many people were usually there on a good night. Stuff he probably got from Mike already, but that was fine with me.

I led the way as we walked, slowly letting the questions probe further. He kept his head down, bent over his notepad, pushing his thick glasses up his nose, and I wondered if he was noticing where I was leading him.

At first the neighborhoods were Tech-bright, orchid bars and Vespa showrooms. Then shabby-chic, record shops and vintage clothing stores, and finally as we got further away from the glow of the city, the buildings thinned out, becoming bodegas and dive bars, empty lots and tenements with boarded-up first-floor windows.

"That's where I live," I said, pointing out one of the buildings. "Before the Tech hit, it was a shithole. All splintered wood, stained plaster. The floors were gray, and then one day I spilled some fingernail polish remover and found out there was hardwood under the grime. These days..."

Well, he could see most of it for himself, and probably guess at the rest. The building hadn't had too much new stuff added, but it was nearly twice as high as it had been. The apartments had become lofts with huge, arched ceilings. Balls of unsupported light glowed in the stairwell to light your way as you got carried up by the steps. My place had a huge big-screen TV wall that got all the million channels, air-tight cupboards, and a fridge I could have stored a body in. I was trying not to get used to the luxury... you never knew how long shit would last, did you? It helped that I still got roaches.

I told Kent that, and he laughed. "I guess there's a limit to human ingenuity."

"Fuck that," I said, and he looked at me, startled. "This Tech, it's a step forward, a big step, but it's not the be-all and end-all of human achievement. Not by a long shot."

"You're right," he said, "you're right... You know, you ought to talk to someone about that. I'm sure some whiz kid could invent a better roach trap using the Tech we've got now."

"Whatever," I said. "My personal philosophy is: life has roaches. Sometimes you just gotta stomp 'em."

"That's a..." He stifled a short laugh, then pushed his glasses up a little, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Sorry. You... actually sounded a lot like a friend of mine, just now."

"Yeah?"

"Just someone I work with. He works the, uh, the crime beat. Listen, your antipathy to being interviewed," Kent said, glancing up at me. The streetlights were coming on, all up and down the street, as the sun set over the bay. "It's the fact that you can't do your job as well, if there's too much publicity. That's what concerns you."

"No," I said, "it's that Cheney's can't do its job as well. I don't expect you to understand, Kent..." I stepped back, looking him up and down. "You're a straight white guy with a decent job-- what do you know about having to hide? What do you know about getting stared at? Cheney's is underground because the people that go there are underground. Because they have to be. What do you think my job was before Cheney's? Do you think I answered phones? Do you think I worked at Biggie Burger?" I stopped, pressing my lips together. I was talking about myself. I'd worn a sweater to cover my tattoos, I'd told myself to keep my mouth shut-- what was I doing?

"Have you ever met Superman?" he asked suddenly.

"No," I said wearily, "he's never been to Cheney's. Look. I'm a good bouncer. I probably like fighting too much to be great at it, but... I don't think publicity is good for Cheney's. We're going to lose our core clientele when the hipsters start showing up to check out the freaks, and the hipsters are gonna stop coming when they figure out they're goldfish swimming with sharks."

"You think they'll get hurt?"

"To answer your first question," I said, "the one you asked, back at the bar? First time I went to Cheney's, I broke up a fight, and Mike, that's the late shift manager, he hired me right then, so no, I haven't really spent a lot of time there as a patron." I shrugged. "Why do you have to write about Cheney's?"

"I don't have to," he said. "You got a better story?"

I turned around and pointed out at the city. He looked, then smiled.

"Maybe a little big for me."

"Brother, if I had a dime for every time I heard that one."

He laughed, then tried to stop himself, then laughed again. He had a nice smile.

"People look at the city, they come here to take fucking pictures of the newstands, but it's just a city," I said, and I knew I was repeating myself, but I didn't care. "It's bigger, flashier, but underneath it all, it's just the same as it used to be. Just the same as any other city."

"The same kinds of folks," he said.

"The same roaches," I said. "You get what I'm saying?"

"Metas are people too?"

"Sharp," I said.

"I try," Kent said.

"It's not a freakshow."

"I know."

I sighed. I'd been dragging my heels, but when it came down to it, I couldn't keep shit from happening, couldn't keep change from turning my city or my life upside down. "So go to Cheney's. See for yourself. Write your story."

He nodded, the lights of the city reflecting in his glasses. "We do what we can," he said, and looked at me for a second like he wanted to touch me. I hadn't really gotten that vibe from him tonight-- he was wearing a wedding ring, and looked like the kind of guy a ring meant something to. But the moment passed, and maybe I had been reading him wrong, I don't know. He cleared his throat. "Goodnight, Ms. Choi."

"Say 'goodnight, Grace.'"

He nodded. "Goodnight, Grace."

*

I went upstairs and took a shower. My shift wasn't for four hours. Kent could visit Cheney's, write his story, and have it scrolling across the newsfeeds by the time I got to work. And things would change. I couldn't control that. I knew that.

I just didn't like to be reminded of it. But, hell. It was just a job. I could walk away any time someone made me a better offer. I could always walk away. There's no such thing as perfect, but there's nearly always such a thing as better.

Yeah. Say goodnight, Grace.