"So, Sandra, what's he like?" Sandra looked at her neighbour, Muriel Jones. The short, fat, perpetually smoking woman was sitting on Sandra's spare chair, smoking. She paused to think about the question.
"He's smart, handsome, witty, sophisticated and knows how to treat a woman right" She replied, taking a sip of lukewarm coffee.
"Well, yeah" Sandra finished. "He's not a total tool fairy, if that's what you mean. He has a few slips and likes to flaunt what he has, but I figure he's a pretty decent pick for a boyfriend"
"I see." Muriel took another drag on her cigarette. "And the sex?"
"Have you noticed how often I've been out of late?"
"Point." She took another drag on her cig. "He's a real prize find that one you've got"
"Hey!" came an indignant cry from Zack Smith, Muriel's henpecked boyfriend, who was currently nailing a board over the window. "Do you two mind?"
Muriel looked at him. "Zack, this is girl talk. Shut up"
"Sorry" He muttered and went back to hammering.
"Where were we?" Sandra asked.
"Uh... the windows?" Muriel asked. "I mean, there has to be a reason why you wanted them all boarded up."
"Yeah" Sandra paused. "Well, he's gotten himself in a bit of trouble of late. He wanted to come over here to lie low for a little while. He figures that whoever it is that he's pissed off won't think to look for him out here, and especially not in a decrepit hole like this one."
"So the windows?"
"That's in case, by some bizarre act, they do find him. I want to be able to fend off whoever it is"
"Yeah, well, it's a living"
"Not worried about them getting in?"
Sandra thought about it for a second. "No. Besides, Mrs Smegma would probably set Barney and Otto on them before they got to us"
"Right" Muriel chuckled at the thought of the tyrannical landlady and her two enormous sons laying into various enemies. "If anyone gets through them, they won't be in any state to fight you"
"That bad, huh?"
Sandra paused to think about it. "I can't really say, it's personal, y'see. Last I heard, he had something resembling a small army after him."
"Ouch" Muriel took another long draw on her cig. "The sex must be that good if you're still hanging around with him and putting up with that kind of crap"
The rest of the preparations had gone off smoothly. Sandra had stocked up on supplies of food, water and, most importantly, ammo. She'd also purchased several torches and a whole heap of batteries. It had cost her a lot of the little money that she had, but it was worth it to be prepared for anything that may happen. Besides which, she didn't want to venture outside while Drake was staying here any more than necessary. On his own, Drake was far more vulnerable than with the two of them.
She'd also broken out a tattered sleeping bag that hadn't been used since she'd lived here. She knew that her bed was large enough for the two of them, but only if they wanted to squeeze in together. After what Drake had been through, she very much doubted that he'd be that interested in sharing a bed with her. So, in deference, she was giving him the bed.
After hearing about the death of his sister, Helen, and the subsequent lack of progress in the police's inquiries, Sandra had made an offer to Drake. If he wanted, he could lie low in her place for the last few days before their trip to Hong Kong. While her place was far less secure than Drake's mansion or the SynTech building, it did offer a number of advantages. The most important was its anonymity. Nobody would suspect that a billionaire would hide out in a hole like this. Even if they did find out that he was in the Zone, it would take them forever to find him and track him down to the specific building. Here Jason Stone, billionaire CEO could go back to being Drake, Street Samurai. So while everyone tried to break into his mansion or infiltrate his company, he would be hiding behind a comfortable banner of anonymity.
She sat down in a chair, adjusting a battery-powered floor lamp to give her some light. With the windows boarded up, there was very little light in the room. Mrs Smegma had set up several solar panels on the roof that were feeding a small generator, but she very tightly rationed the power supply.
After a few minutes, she got up and paced. "Where is he?" She asked herself. "Shouldn't he be here by now?" Could something have happened? Maybe he'd been attacked in the street by whoever it was that was after him and his family. Maybe he was dying in a puddle of his own gore again or... No, stop that. It's stupid. He'll be fine. As if to confirm this, a few seconds later there was a knock at the door. Sandra opened it, cautiously at first, and then quickly when she saw who it was.
"Hi" Drake began. Jason had completely changed since she'd last seen him, going back all the way to his Drake persona. His sharp, expensive suits that he'd favoured on their dates were gone, replaced with the combat wear that Drake had worn during his stay in the Zone.
"Hi" She replied, not sure what to say. "Er... come in" She stood back and allowed Drake to enter. He looked around the room, noticing the changes since he was last here.
"You've changed the place a bit" he commented, noting the windows. Apart from a few brief visits when picking her up or dropping her off from one of their dates, Drake hadn't stayed in the apartment after their first night together. Their shared time had been spent in various clubs, theatres or cinemas in Neo York proper, their nights in Drake's house.
There were several reasons for this. Firstly, Neo York offered a better selection of venues. Secondly was Sandra's interest in seeing the other side of things, away from the slums of the zone. The third was security; if anything happened, it was much easier to get assistance in Neo York. The third was simple comfort. Drake lived in a large, well-appointed mansion. Sandra lived in a run down, structurally suspect hole in the ground. Now, of course, the roles were reversed.
"Yeah, it's a new security system I had installed" Sandra replied, almost sounding amused. She shut the door behind her. "So how'd you get in? I take it you didn't bring the limo"
"No" he replied, putting his bag down. "I made arrangements with a few members of the police force to get in here"
"You didn't talk to anyone called Davies, did you?" Sandra asked, a sudden note of alarm in her voice.
"Er... Nothing" She brushed it off. "He was a guy I knew back then" Inwardly she thanked herself. If he'd arranged it with Alan, whoever it was who was after Drake and his entire pet army would know where Drake was by now.
"So, uh... can I get you something?" Sandra asked. She didn't really have much to offer.
"No, thanks" he replied.
"Sure." There was an uncomfortable pause. "Um, make yourself at home. There's not much here, but it's all yours"
Drake slowly rose from the bed as the sunlight reached him through the small holes in the wood. Sandra had put them in for vision and, if needs be, firing ports. He looked down at Sandra's slumbering form, curled up in the sleeping bag on the floor.
Living with Sandra had been interesting, to say the least. The first thing that had come to his attention was the lack of amenities. No lighting except during certain times of day, very little water and none of it hot, no heating or air conditioning, no fresh food... the list went on. He'd begun to realise the sorts of things he took for granted, living where and how he did. Here in the Zone, the people couldn't even rely on getting to clean water from day to day. It made him wonder how the many clubs and bars stayed open. Presumably they bought all their stuff in from Neo York proper, but how they did in such quantities mystified him. Oh well, a problem for another day.
Another thing that he'd noticed was Sandra herself. It was clear that she wasn't used to having company, and spent an awful lot of time alone. Her personal habits were... different, was probably the word. For starters, she rarely washed, obviously needing to conserve precious water. This went some way to explain why she always took so long in the shower at his house. She was simply taking advantage of the wash, not knowing how long it would be before she got one again.
Other things had gotten him as well. Sandra didn't have much stuff, a lot of what she had was combat gear, and most of the rest was spare clothes. She did. Somehow, manage to spread it as far and wide across the small apartment. If anyone had broken in to try and take anything, they would have to look for it on the floor, in some odd place, or under some other haplessly discarded item. Sandra would, each morning, spend time plodding around semi (or not at all) dressed, hunting around for clothes or other items. Could she clean it all up if she wanted? Probably. Did she want to? Probably not.
After a while, another thing had appeared. The two of them hadn't talked much since he'd arrived, Sandra probably wanting to give him room and time. When she had spoken. However, there was something different about her in their conversations. Normally she was rather loud, and frequently spiced her words with some rather colourful language, making creative use of some odd words. However, in here, she was somewhat quieter and subdued, the amusing language somewhat absent. She was still as straightforward and honest as she'd been in the past, but now she was a lot less loud and boisterous.
There was a knock on the door. Sandra pressed her back to the wall, pistol in hand. "Who is it?" She harshly demanded.
"Er... food?" came the voice from the other side. Sandra cautiously opened the door and peered out. Muriel Jones stood in the hall, carrying a pair of bags. There was nobody with her. She opened the door. "Come in" Muriel hurried in as the door was slammed shut behind her. "Were you followed?" Sandra asked before Muriel could say anything.
"No" she replied wearily.
"Look, Sandra" She began as she put down the bags. "I don't mind getting you guys food. It's being interrogated that I object to"
"Sorry about that" Sandra replied. "I just had to be sure"
"Whatever" Muriel replied.
"Look, you sit down, I'll put the stuff away" Sandra stated.
"Mind if I smoke?"
Muriel seated herself on one of the chairs, lighting up a cheap, foul-smelling cigarette while Sandra stuffed items in a cupboard. Drake entered the room, wearing only his pants, towelling himself off. "Did I hear you talking to someone?"
Muriel immediately jumped up and almost sprinted over to him, her hand out, the cigarette hidden in the other. "Hi! You must be Drake!" She took his hand, shaking it thoroughly. "I'm Muriel Jones, Sandra's neighbour and best friend"
"Uh, hi" Drake replied.
"Glad to meet you!" She replied, taking his hand and shaking it thoroughly. Muriel was short, this stood out more compared to Drake, with his chest being at her eye level.
"Yeah" Drake replied, somewhat at a loss for words.
Muriel pushed him aside and drew herself close to him, putting her hand around her mouth and talking quietly. "Look, I think I should warn you that Sandra can be a bit much at times..." She began. "If you want some time to yourself or want to get away from her at any point or need someone else to talk to, you can always pop around to my place. It's just across the hall."
"Muriel?" Sandra asked, not looking up from the cupboard. "You're not trying to steal my boyfriend from me, are you?"
"No!" Muriel replied, sounding somewhat hurt.
"Yeah, right" Sandra replied. "What would Zack say?"
"Nothing." Muriel flatly stated. "One whinge and I'd have him out on his ass"
"You would" Sandra replied with a smug tone in her voice.
"Is she, ah, always like this?" Drake asked, Muriel now returning to her cigarette.
"Muriel?" Sandra asked. "Only when I bring home attractive men"
"Which means never" Muruel finished.
"Exactly" Sandra finished.
"Right" Drake finished. "I'll, ah, be, uh, getting dressed" He turned around, closing the door behind him"
"And no, you can't watch" Sandra added.
It was late on the last night before they left. It was noisy outside, making sleep hard. Sandra and Drake lay in their sleeping bag and bed, starring at the walls and occasionally speaking.
"So... tomorrow" Sandra said for the umpteenth time.
"It's finally happening" She added.
"Yeah" Drake replied again. He looked around the apartment, dark save for some light coming in from cracks in the boards. "Will you miss this place?"
Sandra paused for a second. "No. You?"
"Well..." Drake began, but Sandra cut him off.
"You can be honest"
"It has its charms"
"I said honest"
There was a long pause. "No"
"I didn't think so" Sandra finished. There was another long pause. "Uh, Jason... This is kind of personal... you don't have to answer if you don't want to"
"Sure" He replied, sounding a little uncertain. "Go on"
"Is there... is there anyone else? I mean, like your family?" She thought about the big, very empty house. Surely he couldn't be the only one left.
"No." He replied sadly. "There's only Hobbes, Moira and myself left." There was an uncomfortable silence. "And Athena, wherever she is." Another silence.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to..."
"It's all right." Drake answered. "Do you, uh, have a family? I mean, like your parents..."
"Sort of" Sandra replied. "My parents never speak to me. I... I did a number of things that they didn't like, that they didn't want their eldest daughter doing with her life..." She stopped for a moment before continuing. "After what happened to me and my becoming a Sam, they stoped speaking to me altogether." She sighed deeply. "I've got a sister. She's a good kid, and a bright one. She's not going to be stupid enough to follow in her sister's footsteps."
"Do you still speak to her?"
"On occasion. My parent's don't like me seeing her, so I don't." She paused for a moment. "It's better for her that way."
"I'm sorry." Drake said, quietly.
"No, don't be." Sandra replied. "Compared to what you've been through, it's nothing. I know that they're still alive and safe and well."
"And that's important to you, right?"
"Yes." Sandra finished. "That's all that really matters, sometimes"
The black armoured limo pulled up outside. Drake zipped up his bag as Sandra gave the place a final check. "Our ride's here" he announced. Sandra walked over and peered through the slit in the board.
"Of course. I figure that we may as well leave here in style." He said with a grin.
"Cool" Sandra replied, smiling. "You know, after living here for so long, it will be kind of strange to see somewhere different."
The two of them left the room, securing the door behind them. "Different?" Drake asked. "Wait till you see the place I got you in Hong Kong. You'll love it."
"I'm sure I will." Sandra finished as they went down the stairs. "I'm sure I will."
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