Emma has been doing her job long enough to sense a disturbance in the atmosphere—especially on her own turf. Something feels off from the minute she walks in the building full of solitary matchbox offices stacked one against the other that she calls home. Her hand hovers absently over the holster on the waist of her skirt, disguised by her suit jacket. She knows better than to ignore her instincts.
Her little rented office is on the fifth floor, the glass pane display the words ‘E. SWAN-PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS’ in a fancy script. It was late enough that the click of her heels was the only sound, other than— Glen Miller…?
Emma has a record player in her office but the last she checked, it was broken, gathering dust in the corner for when she got around to having a look at it (which was never.) She quickens her pace and sees her door is ajar. Moonlight Serenade is indeed filtering out into the corridor. A man sits behind her desk, elbow on leaning on one of her files with a gun pointed at the door. Emma whips her own out and points it at him, unlatching the safety. Nobody threatens her, least of all in her own office. He grins pleasantly, a row of straight pearly white teeth glinting off the lights of the city outside.
“Ms Swan, I presume?”
Her hand tightens on the gun instinctively. “Who wants to know?”
"Killian Jones. Though some people prefer my more colourful moniker—Hook."
"What do you want?"
"I have a proposition for you," he says amiably.
Emma swallows, trying not to make it obvious. “Well, Mister Jones, I tend to react better to this sort of thing when someone isn’t pointing a gun at me. What’s say you drop it and then I listen to what you have to say.”If not I’ll be willing to bet I’m a faster shot, Emma adds in her head.
Jones seems to have forgotten about the revolver he holds. “Oh, this?” He shows her the barrel. “It’s unloaded, see?”
Emma gives him a half annoyed, half suspicious look and holsters her own gun again. He doesn’t show any sign of moving from her chair so she leans against the window instead, refusing to subordinate to this stranger. She can hear the muffled sounds of teeming life in the city below them, intermittent horns and police sirens blaring then tailing off as they pass into the distance. The city that never sleeps indeed.
"Well?" Emma prompts after Jones watches her in silence for an uncomfortable amount of time. "What do you want?"
Jones laughs lightly. “I was told not to expect pleasantries from you, Ms Swan, and you certainly do not disappoint.”
Emma bristles, folding her arms tightly. “Let’s see: you somehow break into my locked office late at night, fix my record player for reasons known only to yourself, point an unloaded gun at me and now you want small talk? Forgive me if I’m not forthcoming on that front, but I happen to want you out of my office as soon as possible and asking if you caught Giants’ game is hardly going to be conducive to that now is it, Mister Jones?”
"Touché," Jones says, smiling. Emma gets the strangest feeling the whole ‘breaking in’ shebang was him setting her some kind of test that he’d just decided she passed. She shifts uncomfortably—she doesn’t perform for anyone unless she chooses to. His face grows serious, bright forget-me-not blue eyes intent on her. "I need you to help me find someone."
Emma considers this. “You got a missing person?”
"No," he replies carefully. "More like… a score to settle."
Emma shakes her head—she’s heard that one before. “I don’t do gang rivalry cases. It’s a rule of mine. I’m not getting myself into shit I’d rather avoid for anyone’s money.”
”This is a personal score, Ms Swan. While I can’t deny the man I want to find is a shady figure, it has nothing to do with gangs I promise you.”
"It better not," Emma warns. She kicked herself briefly for making it sound like she’d already decided to take on his case. Rookie mistake. "Who is he?"
Jones picked up a toy ball Emma kept on her desk for boredom in between cases and passed it between his hands. “You may know of him, he’s known as the Crocodile to most but he has many aliases, Mr Gold and Rumplestiltskin among them.”
Emma does know of him in a vague sense. Knows he’s a nasty piece of work and that he has his fingers in a lot of pies around town and probably beyond for that matter. There are probably a lot of people who want misfortune to befall the Crocodile. “What kind of score are we talking here, Mister Jones?” she asks.
Jones doesn’t answer for a long time but his face says it all: heartbreak. Emma doesn’t know this man from Adam but he looks so lost and lonely in that second her heart goes out to him. She knows what it feels like. “The Crocodile… took something more precious than you can imagine from me, Ms Swan. Let’s leave it at that.”
Emma guesses the Crocodile killed someone this Killian Jones loved, it’s not hard to glean from the look in his eyes and his words. “Okay, well… why do you need my help? Why don’t you do it yourself?”
Jones’ face brightens again, his lips turning up. “I’ve been reliably informed you are the best in the business. And this requires a certain degree of, let’s say, delicacy. If the Crocodile even suspects he’s being hunted, I imagine I may turn up in concrete shoes at the bottom of the Hudson and that is not happening before I get my revenge I assure you. I need a professional.”
"That right?" Emma says, leaning back.
She hadn’t missed the part where he more or less told her he’s willing to die for his vengeance quest. These were not idle threats of revenge. He meant it. She can’t say she really advocates his misguided, self-destructive quest—and she knows such types well enough to know he won’t be convinced out of it by words from a stranger— but she at least admires his passion and conviction.
"Indeed." He grins. It occurs belatedly to Emma that he’s shockingly good-looking, all dark hair and blue eyes and cut-glass jawline. Jones stands and saunters over to the window, poking his fingers through the blinds and pushing the slats apart to look out. The orange lights cast shadows on the angles of his defined cheekbones. Emma watches him carefully. "Given the risk and sheer amount of time that will be involved, I can pay you handsomely for your part. You won’t be left out of pocket. I won’t ask for any of it back if we do not succeed- the moment it’s in your hand, it’s yours."
"Time?" Emma questions.
"Ah, yes, that’s the other thing." He turns to her and looks her in the eyes. Emma takes an automatic tiny step back. "As you may have heard, the Crocodile is a slippery son of a bitch. He has footholds and places to hide the world over. I’m expecting this to take… a very long time, Ms Swan.”
Emma remains silent.
He continues talking, but collects his coat and hat from her desk, ostensibly about to leave. “I’m talking years here, and it’s important you understand that before you decide to help—or not, as the case may be. I’ll leave my telephone number and wait a week; if I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume you do not wish to take the case and you’ll never hear from me again.”
Jones turns when his hand is resting on the door handle to smile at her. “It was nice meeting you, Ms Swan.”
“Wait.” He turns, an eyebrow arched. “How did you get in here anyway?” Emma asks.
Jones chuckles and reaches in his pocket for a small metal hook. “I’m rather handy with a lock pick.” He points at the hook. “Where my moniker came from.”
Emma smiles too. “Hook. It suits you. It sounds… dastardly.”An idea pops into her head. I must be crazy, she thinks as he considers her words with a smirk. “You got a job, Hook?”
“Er, no. Not at present.”
Emma nods. “Right then, if I’m taking on the Crocodile then you’re working for me now. Not just on your case either but other cases too—you can file and lock pick and such like when I need you to.” Hook raises his eyebrows, surprised but not opposed to the idea.
This, Emma thinks, has been an odd night, even by her standards.