Para-Noir

I

This city needs me.

And I need this city.

We're alike in some ways. Dark, with a hidden layer. A layer trapped by years of corruption. A layer of filth that washes over us. The city is a mystery, even to itself. Just like me.

I know my name is Aaron Hotchner.

I know I came to the city five years ago.

I know my wife and son are dead.

That's all I know.

I am a mystery, even to myself.

But then again, so is everyone else in this city.

***

Penelope Garcia sets a thick pile of files on my desk, followed by a large cup of coffee. Her title is assistant, but she is so much more than that; friend, confidant, family. In the city, she's the only person I have. I found her two years ago, hiring out her computer skills to the highest bidder. We felt a strange connection, as if we had known each other in some previous life. I asked her if she wanted to work for me. She said yes.

'You're still wearing your hat,' she tells me. I put my hand to my head, and realize that she's right. I put the fedora on the hat hook, put my coat on my coat hook. My suit jacket I hang on the back of my chair.

She smiles at me, snaps my suspenders. 'Now you look like you're ready for work,' she tells me.

'What's the fare today?' I ask her.

'Cheating spouses, mostly,' she tells me. 'The kind of thing I can track down in my lunch break.'

'Anything else?' I ask. I'm sick of cheating spouses. Sick of tiny problems that are beyond my skill level. I'm here to help people who are in genuine danger, not help people who are looking to score in their divorce settlements.

'I did get an interesting phone call,' she says. 'I couldn't trace it. A woman – she says she can't say her name on the phone – needed to come and see you. She couldn't talk long, because she thought they might be listening in.'

'That does sound interesting,' I concede. 'Did she say what time she was coming in?'

'As soon as she could get here.' It's then that I hear the heavy footsteps. Inquisitors, it almost sounds like. I put my hand to my gun holster, just in case. I'm not going down to the Inquisitors without a fight.

It's not the Inquisitors. It's the woman from the phone call, or so I assume. Emily. She looks like an Emily.

She's wearing dark jeans, dark boots. Almost everything about her is dark, except for that alabaster white skin. Even that is marred by cuts and bruises. Blood coats one side of her face, stemming from a nasty gash in the forehead.

'I'm being followed.' She's breathing heavily. Exhausted. 'Inquisitors.'

'You can't bring them here,' I hiss. 'Inquisitors killed my family. You think I want them to kill me too?'

She looks at me with a strange look in her eyes. For a moment I almost think I've met her before.

'Inquisitors didn't kill your family,' she says. 'An unsub did.'

I don't know what she means by that. I don't know what an unsub is supposed to be. Or who she is supposed to be for that matter.

'Don't worry, Hotch,' she tells me. 'I lost the Inquisitors. For now.'

Hotch. Why does she call me Hotch? No-one calls me Hotch. Penelope calls me Hot Stuff. Everyone else calls me Aaron, or Mr. Hotchner. No-one has ever called me Hotch.

'Emily?' I ask her. She really does look like an Emily.

She grins at me, and I can see the blood that has coated her mouth. 'I guess you haven't quite forgotten everything.'

'What do you mean? What is it I'm supposed to remember?' The questions that have been haunting me for five years. Along with, 'Who am I?'

She looks at me sideways. 'I can't tell you that,' she says.

Everyone in this city is a mystery.