Of course, I thought to myself as I got into the car, it wasn't like I had much idea, either.
The roads were slick and dark, but driving didn't intimidate me anymore. My reflexes were well up to the job, and I barely paid attention to the road. The problem was keeping my speed from attracting attention when I had company. I wanted to be done with today's mission, to have the mystery sorted out so that I could get back to the vital task of learning. Learning to protect some, learning to kill others.
I was getting better and better with my shield. Kate didn't feel the need to motivate me anymore - it wasn't hard to find reasons to feel angry, now that I knew that was the key - and so I mostly worked with Zafrina. She was
pleased with my extension; I was able to cover almost a ten-foot area for more than a minute, though it exhausted me. This morning she'd been trying to find out if I could push the shield away from my mind altogether. I didn't see what the use of that would be, but Zafrina thought it would help strengthen me, like exercising muscles in the stomach and back rather than just the arms. Eventually, you could lift more weight when all the muscles were stronger.
I wasn't very good at it. I had only gotten one glimpse of the jungle river she was trying to show me.
But there were different ways to prepare for what was coming, and with only two weeks left, I worried that I might be neglecting the most important. Today I would rectify that oversight.
I'd memorized the appropriate maps, and I had no problem finding my way to the address that didn't exist online, the one for J. Jenks. My next step would be Jason Jenks at the other address, the one Alice had not given me.
To say that it wasn't a nice neighborhood would be an understatement. The most nondescript of all the Cullens' cars was still outrageous on this street. My old Chevy would have looked healthy here. During my human years, I would have locked the doors and driven away as fast as I dared. As it was, I was a little fascinated. I tried to imagine Alice in this place for any reason, and failed.
The buildings - all three stories, all narrow, all leaning slightly as if bowed by the pounding rain - were mostly old houses divided up into multiple apartments. It was hard to tell what color the peeling paint was supposed to be. Everything had faded to shades of gray. A few of the buildings had businesses on the first floor: a dirty bar with the windows painted black, a psychic's supply store with neon hands and tarot cards glowing fitfully on the door, a tattoo parlor, and a daycare with duct tape holding the broken front window together. There were no lamps on inside any of the rooms, though it was grim enough outside that the humans should have needed the light. I could hear the low mumbling of voices in the distance; it sounded like TV.
There were a few people about, two shuffling through the rain in opposite directions and one sitting on the shallow porch of a boarded-up cut-rate law office, reading a wet newspaper and whistling. The sound was much too cheerful for the setting.
I was so bemused by the carefree whistler, I didn't realize at first that the abandoned building was right where the address I was looking for should exist. There were no numbers on the dilapidated place, but the tattoo parlor beside it was just two numbers off.
I pulled up to the curb and idled for a second. I was getting into that dump one way or another, but how to do so without the whistler noticing me? I could park the next street over and come through the back.... There might be more witnesses on that side. Maybe the rooftops? Was it dark enough for that kind of thing?
"Hey, lady," the whistler called to me.
I rolled the passenger window down as if I couldn't hear him.
The man laid his paper aside, and his clothes surprised me, now that I could see them. Under his long ragged duster, he was a little too well dressed. There was no breeze to give me the scent, but the sheen on his dark red shirt looked like silk. His crinkly black hair was tangled and wild, but his dark skin was smooth and perfect, his teeth white and straight. A contradiction.
"Maybe you shouldn't park that car there, lady," he said. "It might not be here when you get back."
"Thanks for the warning," I said.
I shut off the engine and got out. Perhaps my whistling friend could give me the answers I needed faster than breaking and entering. I opened my big gray umbrella - not that I cared, really, about protecting the long cashmere sweater-dress I wore. It was what a human would do.
The man squinted through the rain at my face, and then his eyes widened. He swallowed, and I heard his heart accelerate as I approached.
"I'm looking for someone," I began.
"I'm someone," he offered with a smile. "What can I do for you, beautiful?"
"Are you J. Jenks?" I asked.
"Oh," he said, and his expression changed from anticipation to understanding. He got to his feet and examined me with narrowed eyes. "Why're you looking for J?"
"That's my business." Besides, I didn't have a clue. "Are you J?"
We faced each other for a long moment while his sharp eyes ran up and down the fitted pearl gray sheath I wore. His gaze finally made it to my face. "You don't look like the usual customer."
"I'm probably not the usual," I admitted. "But I do need to see him as soon as possible."
"I'm not sure what to do," he admitted.
"Why don't you tell me your name?"
He grinned. "Max."
"Nice to meet you, Max. Now, why don't you tell me what you do for the usual?"
His grin became a frown. "Well, J's usual clients don't look a thing like you. Your kind doesn't bother with the downtown office. You just go straight up to his fancy office in the skyscraper."
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