Jake’s eyes snapped open and he looked around the dark bedroom. His cellphone glowed with a dull blue light, vibrating against the nightstand with every ring. It was late, well after midnight. He sat up and grabbed the phone. It was a number that he hadn’t seen in months. “Hello?” he asked the silence at the other end.
He was about to ask again but a reluctant whisper finally came through. It was Lisa. “Jake?”
“Jake, it’s Lisa from the club…” Her voice was quiet, broken, terrified.
“Lisa, I know who it is. What’s wrong?”
There was something about her voice. Some terrible, desperate quality he’d never heard before. “I think I need help,” she said.
“Where are you? What’s happening?”
“I’m scared,” she said, then a voice distant and muffled in the background, and nothing.
“Lisa?” He stood up. “Lisa?” He looked at his phone. It was either disconnected or she had hung up. Should he call her back? Why had she been whispering? He set the phone down on the nightstand then stood in the dark room, staring at the dim outline of it. He grabbed his pants, which were folded over the chair, belt still attached, and he slid them on. Finally he picked the phone back up and called her. It went straight to voicemail.
He hung up and dialed 911.
“911, what is your emergency?”
What exactly was his emergency? He didn’t know, but he could hear it in her voice. “My friend’s in trouble. She just called. You need to track her phone.”
“Sir, are you involved in an emergency?”
“A friend called. She’s in trouble.” He was grabbing his pistol from the nightstand, clipping the holster to the inside of his belt.
“Have your friend call 911 directly sir.”
“I can’t. The lines disconnected. She’s in trouble. I think something’s happened to her.”
“Stand by while I transfer you to the missing person’s desk.”
“No, wait!” It was too late. There was a clicking sound and then ringing. Jake pictured the desk. It wouldn’t even be the missing person’s desk. It was probably some overnight phone station with a bored cop on light duty, taking messages for detectives to look at in the morning.
Jake hung up and dialed 911 again.
A different operator: “911, what is your emergency?”
“My friend called. Someone’s after her.”
“Have your friend call 911 directly sir.”
Jake took a deep breath, trying not to lose his cool. What had he expected them to say? Why hadn’t she called 911? Was it not as serious as it had sounded? Was he overreacting? No. He had heard it in her voice. There was terror in her normally soft and kind voice.
“Sir,” the operator said. “Calling 911 for a non-emergency situation is a crime punishable by…”
Jake hung up and dialed another number, listening to it ring as he continued getting dressed. The other end was eventually picked up and Jason’s groggy voice growled on the other end. “Hello?”
“It’s Jake. I need you to find a cellphone for me.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jason said. “It’s the middle of the night. Call me later with this shit.”
“It’s life and death, Jason. It can’t wait.” It was life and death, wasn’t it?
There was what seemed like a very long silence, then Jason said, “Alright, shit. I’ll go in a little early and run it for you. Give me the number. I’ll let you know. Give me about five or six hours.”
“Six hours?” Jake said.
“You’re joking, right?” Jason snapped. “I’m supposed to go in at one am? How suspicious would that be?”
“I’ll pay you triple for this one,” Jake said, trying to soften his voice. “Just get me that location as soon as you possibly can.”
Another long silence then Jason, sounding resigned, said “Text me the number. I’ll do what I can. But don’t expect it anytime soon.”
Jake sent the text as he left the apartment and headed down to the car.
Eight Months Earlier
Lisa stood in the small, dimly lit coffee shop waiting for her order. The daylight that came in through the windows from the thick, overcast sky was dull and grey. Customers lingered around the counter, many of them holding coats or umbrellas, drops of water from an earlier rainstorm dripping off them and forming little pools on the floor. A smell permeated from behind the counter: Not coffee exactly, although coffee was part of it. There were other smells mixed in; cinnamon; vanilla… a concoction of pleasant smells that when combined together made something entirely less appealing. She listened to the hiss of the machine making her cappuccino and took a slow look around.
That’s when she noticed Jake. He sat facing away from her on a stool by the window, drinking out of a to-go cup that she knew would be full of hot, black coffee. He looked almost anonymous, tucked into the crowd in a ball cap and brown coat. Maybe he was working. He stared out the window with what appeared to be idle non-interest, not seeming to really look at anything, but perhaps that was just for show.
Jake was a private detective of some kind. Although he insisted that all he did was take sleazy pictures of cheating spouses and track down deadbeat dads, she suspected he also did some things that were a little shadier and possibly illegal.
Jake did not strike a particularly impressive appearance; a stout man of less than average height in his late thirties, slightly balding, wearing completely unremarkable clothes, but he looked good sitting there in the cloudy daylight. He looked like he might have lost a little weight, although he still had a healthy glow and a small round beer belly. How long had it been: Almost a year?
She looked away pretending not to see him. He was alone, so there wasn’t anyone to ask that awkward question, “Where do you know her from?” but she still couldn’t walk up to him and say hi. It was an unwritten law. You don’t talk to people you know from the club, and they don’t talk to you. She didn’t want random guys walking up to her on the street, and he didn’t want strippers bothering him in his regular, daytime life. It didn’t matter how close they might have felt in the glowing electric lights of the club, or in the comforting darkness of his apartment; she still couldn’t let herself forget that important and fundamental separation between those two worlds.
Besides, things would be different now. He must have stopped coming around for a reason. He had probably found himself a good, respectable girl to fall in love with.
“Ma’am,” a young man said as he set her coffee on the counter.
Ma’am? She was barely over thirty. She certainly wasn’t “Ma’am” material. She turned and reached for her coffee. Of course, she was dressed down right now; sweatpants, loose t-shirt, her long blonde hair tied back and covered in a ball cap. She tried to laugh off her own silly vanity. Didn’t she have enough guys ogling her at work that she wouldn’t need validation from some random kid working at some random coffee shop? Still, she flashed him a flirty smile and was satisfied with the awkward and needy smile she received in return.
She took the coffee and purred, “Thanks Sweetie,” as she turned on her heels and walked toward the door. She didn’t leave the way she had come though. She went towards the other door; the one closest to Jake. She sneaked another peak at him. The memory of him was still vivid after all this time. She could remember his touch and the fragrance of his skin. She could remember his soft, sad voice rumbling through his dark bedroom while she had rested in the comfort of his arms. She turned her eyes down as she got closer and marched past him as if in a hurry to get somewhere.
“Hey, Lisa?” Jake said.
Feigning surprise, she turned and walked back towards him, smiling; inexplicably flushed. “I didn’t see you there, Jake. How are you? It’s been a long time.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It has. I’ve had to stay away from the clubs.”
She looked at him, trying to understand what he meant and he must have seen the question in her eyes.
He seemed a little reluctant to say more, perhaps his natural shyness coming through. “I’ve been in recovery,” he finally told her; “For sex addiction.”
She didn’t know why, but it felt like he had just stabbed her. It was silly. Of course that’s all she was to him, that’s all she’d ever been; just a drug to get off on. She wasn’t being naïve. She had always known he was just a customer. She had never told herself anything different. Not even all those times she had gone home with him for free, simply because she had needed…
She swallowed back the emotion that was threatening to rise up from her aching belly. Who was she to feel like she was entitled to something more? She wasn’t giving anyone their money back. Everyone was addicted to something. “I’m glad you’re doing good, Jake,” she said. Her voice sounded strong and convincing and she felt herself start to believe it. She smiled and rubbed his shoulder with her hand. “I better go,” she said, relieving Jake of the need to say anything more. “It was nice to see you.” She gave him a warm smile then quickly turned and walked away.
Jake pulled into the parking lot of the strip club. It had been twenty minutes since he’d received Lisa’s cryptic phone call. The club was busy tonight. It was almost closing time but the parking lot was still loaded with cars. Clouds were gathering overhead, glowing with a faint tinge of orange that seemed to agree with the crackling neon sign flickering at the top of the building. Jake stepped out of his small, nondescript car. It was a white Nissan that was so plain it was almost invisible. He locked the door and began walking across the parking lot. How long had it been since he’d come to this place? Everything around him had a strange, surreal look: The stillness of the night air, radiating with the promise of rain; the cars changing color as the neon sign sputtered.
A couple of bouncers stood attentively in the parking lot. He didn’t recognize them. He stepped through the wide double doors into the dark, thickly carpeted entryway. The girl who would normally be collecting entry fees wasn’t behind the counter. This close to last call they wouldn’t be charging a cover anyway. The bouncer who stood at the end of the hallway waved Jake through but Jake stopped to ask, “Have you seen Lisa tonight… Sapphire I mean?” Sapphire was Lisa’s stage name.
The bouncer looked at him with a hint of warning in his eyes. They didn’t give out information about the dancers. Protecting them from over-affectionate customers was part of their job. “She’s not here,” was all he offered as he pulled the heavy curtains back for Jake to enter.
As Jake walked into the club the loud music washed over him. He felt the throbbing pulse of base-tones reverberating through the air with heavy, concussive power, thumping into the hollows of his body. The room was a panorama of beautiful women and flashing lights. Everywhere Jake looked men clustered in groups showing off, or sat in dark corners alone. All four stages were still active. Girls in various states of undress spun acrobatically on silver poles or moved from table to table, grinding against laps. Women sat across men’s legs drinking over-priced liquor as they made flirty small talk over the roaring music. Everyone looked dark and vivid in the red and black lights.
Jake noticed Jamil, another bouncer, but this one at least he knew. Jake approached him and leaned in, shouting to be heard over the pounding music from a nearby speaker. “Have you seen Lisa tonight?” he asked.
“She’s not working tonight, Jake,” was Jamil’s reply.
“You know where she is? She called me. I think she’s in trouble.”
Jamil gave him that same wary look. This was too much to ask. “Sorry Jake,” he said. “No idea.”
Jake nodded his head and walked away. He sat down a short distance from the bar, in the quietest spot he could find. Jaxie, a beach-bunny blonde waitress who had worked at the club for years, strolled up to Jake’s table wearing the skin tight shorts and bikini top that seemed to be the uniform of the day. “Hey Jake,” she said. “Where you been? You had us all worried.”
“I’ve been working,” Jake lied.
“You want your usual,” she asked, bending at the waist to bring her face level with his; “Or just a beer? It’s almost closing time you know?”
“Yeah, I’m a little past beer already so bring me a double. But Jaxie, I need to ask you: You seen Lisa tonight?”
“She’s off tonight, Baby.”
“So you don’t know where she’s at?” Jake asked again. “I think she’s in trouble.”
She moved back slightly and shrugged, obviously beginning to feel interrogated.
He looked around. There were a lot of new girls working since the last time he’d been here. The place was full of faces he didn’t recognize. “What about Jasmine?” he asked.
“Yeah, she’ll be on the stage in a minute. You want me to let her know you’re here?”
He didn’t know Jasmine from outside the club. She didn’t do the kind of side-work that Lisa did. She just danced her shifts and went home, but Jasmine and Lisa were friends in spite of their very different lifestyles. Perhaps being the only girls working at the club who were around thirty had given them some kind of bond; two veterans still working in a business full of twenty year-olds.
“Yeah, please let her know,” Jake said. “Thanks Jaxie.”
By the time Jake’s whiskey got to the table Jasmine was already stepping onto the stage. Jasmine was a striking, dark haired beauty. She had a smooth oval face and a serene stare which gave her the appearance of being a cross between a Zen master and a living Barbie-doll. Tonight her height of five foot ten was exaggerated by her eight inch tall platform heels. She swayed gracefully, commanding the area around her, wearing a red gown that looked like it was styled after but completely inappropriate for a fancy ballroom. It was short and low cut and slit along the side. The skin tight dress showed every contour of her slender, athletic body. She had the hungry, lean look of a fighter coming off a hard weight cut, but Jake knew she stayed like that all the time.
This place would normally be a trigger for Jake’s sex addiction, but with everything on his mind he barely registered it as Jasmine stripped to her small red thong; swaying around the pole. All Jake could do was count the time he was losing and sip his drink with an unsettling feeling that Lisa’s problems were increasing with every wasted minute.
Soon Jasmine was walking across the thick carpet, weaving through the tables towards him. Her tall, slender body was back in the tight red dress. She stopped along the way to share a word or a hug with a regular here and there, but after every delay she turned her attention back to Jake, strolling up to him with long, graceful strides.
She sat down at his table, not close like she was working him, but across from him, leaning forward and looking into his eyes with curiosity. “What’s up, Jake?” she asked him. “I haven’t seen you around in a while.”
“I’ve been in recovery,” he told her, not sure how much she already knew.
Her eyes showed a hint of curiosity, “I don’t think I’ve ever even seen you drunk.”
“Not booze,” he said, growing more comfortable with the confession; “Sex addiction.”
Jasmine exhaled lightly at the absurdity. “Whatever. I just figured you stopped coming in because Lisa was giving it to you for free.”
“I haven’t seen her in months,” Jake said.
“That’s the same thing she told me,” Jasmine said as if it was a mark against the credibility of his story, while she studied his face for some kind of tell. “It’s a shame,” she finally told him. “That girl has a crush on you.”
“Have you seen her? She called me tonight. She was… She’s in trouble.”
“Probably got ripped off by a John and didn’t have money for a fix. She’ll be fine.” She sounded like she was familiar with getting late night phone calls from addicts.
“This was real trouble,” Jake told her. “I could hear it.”
She sighed doubtfully but got a cellphone out of her purse. She held it to one ear, covering the other with her hand to block out the music. “Lisa, call me when you get this Sweetie. You’ve got everyone freaking out.” She hung up her phone and slid it back in her purse, looking blankly at a fixed place on the table as if lost in thought. “Okay,” she finally said, looking back up at him. “She was supposed to roll out with Crystal tonight. They were doing some private show deal with one of Crystal’s regulars, I don’t know his name. But it was exactly the kind of thing I’ve told her not to do without a pimp.” Jasmine paused, studying Jake’s face in the dark, throbbing lights. “You sure it’s real trouble, not just some junky bullshit?” she asked. “I love the girl, but she can have her moments.”
“It was real,” Jake said.
“Alright, hold on.” She got out her cellphone again and made another call. “Hey Krista, it’s Dawn,” she said, using real names instead of their stage names. “Do you know where Lisa is?” … “Jesus, I’m just asking.” … “Because you guys had that thing tonight.” … “Fell through how? Hello?”
Jasmine, aka Dawn, looked at Jake and shrugged as she slid the phone back into her purse. “She said Lisa didn’t show up and the thing fell through anyway. She must have got some money somewhere though. That girl was high as hell.”
“Okay,” Jake said. “Thank you. Listen, I know it’s a lot to ask, but it would really help if you could give me Krista’s number, maybe her full name?”
“I like you Jake,” Jasmine said. “And I know Lisa likes you. But I can’t tell you that. I don’t know you like that. I’ll make sure Lisa calls you when she turns up, okay?”
There was no point in arguing the matter. “Okay,” Jake said. “But please call me if you hear anything.” He took out one of his business cards which read, ‘Jake Adam’s Security, Surveillance and Private Investigation’ in simple black letters next to the phone number for his answering service. He took out his pen, scribbled his personal number across the bottom of the card and passed it to her. “Call me anytime.”
Jake stood up and turned to walk away.
“Jake,” Jasmine said. “I’m sure it’s nothing, but it’s really sweet of you to worry. You need to tell her how you feel. A girl can’t live that life forever.”
So how did he feel? All he felt right now was sick inside. Something was definitely wrong. “Okay,” he said. “I will. Just please call, okay?”
With that he turned and walked out of the strip club and into the parking lot. A light drizzle of rain had fallen over everything and the droplets of water shimmered over the cars in the buzzing electric light.
Jake turned down the suburban cul-de-sac where Lisa lived. He remembered a night like this a long time ago: Parked on the street in front of her house, just sitting in the car like a couple of kids after a school dance. Lisa had her head resting on his shoulder, lightly tracing the fingertips of one hand up and down his thigh. Her hair was soft against his face and neck and the skin of her delicate wrist looked flawless in the dashboard lights. He had already paid her. “Thank you for a lovely night, Jake,” she said.
He held her close, savoring the illusion. He didn’t say anything. He never knew what to say.
“I’ll see you next time,” she finally said. “Thanks for the ride.” She kissed his cheek then smiled at him. He ran his hand through her dirty blonde hair and stared into her clear green eyes as she blessed him with that radiant smile. She gave him an innocent little kiss on the lips then got out of the car with a wave. He watched her walk across the lawn to her cozy rental house, her beautiful body unable to be disguised by her plain-looking street clothes.
At times like that it had felt like she really was his lover; like he hadn’t paid for her affection. It was an illusion that, he guessed, must still persist. Otherwise, why would he be doing all this?
He pulled his car into the driveway and parked next to the small brick building. It had been almost two hours since she had called him and, the more that the night stretched into morning, the more sure he became that something was wrong. The house was dark except for a light in the back which she always left on when she wasn’t home.
He got out of the car with the small canvas bag that contained his locksmith tools and tried to look casual as he walked up to the front door. He knocked on the wooden door, even though he knew she wouldn’t be there. When no one answered he got out his tools and went to work on the lock. The deadbolt popped open quickly and he calmly stepped inside. The alarm panel on the wall by the door started chirping, warning him it was about to go off. He reached up and opened the keypad, typing in the factory default reset code for that model, gambling that the installer hadn’t bothered to change it. They hadn’t and it immediately stopped its chirping. He left the alarm in programmer’s mode and walked out of the little entryway and into the quaint, three room house.
He’d never been inside the house before, but the place felt familiar. It seemed to vibrate with Lisa’s beautiful energy. The walls were decorated with paintings that evoked the feeling that you had seen them before, like they were random scenes from old movies that you’d seen a dozen times but couldn’t quite remember: A well-dressed couple somberly drinking in a bombed out café; a man in a fedora standing alone in the pouring rain. There were no pictures of family, not even of the long dead grandmother who had raised her.
The house was lived in but not messy. A few glasses sat in a drain rack by the sink. The television remote sat on the back of a small loveseat. A jacket lay on the floor next to the coatrack. A dirty clothes hamper sat just inside the bedroom, slightly overflowing. If anything had happened to Lisa, it hadn’t happened here.
He moved through the house making sure the curtains were closed before turning on the lights and beginning his systematic search. First he stood in the front room and looked around, noting everything. He let his mind wander over the details of the space for anything that looked out of place. He imagined Lisa, moving from room to room, watching TV, typing at the small computer desk, eating at the little table against the kitchen wall. Nothing seemed out of place or even slightly disturbed from how he imagined she would leave it.
He walked over to the small computer desk and moved the mouse, bringing the PC out of sleep mode. He began to open her programs. All her social media and email passwords were saved on the machine, so he began going through them one by one. It wasn’t long before he was able to get the full name of Krista Jameson aka Crystal, the stripper who Lisa was supposed to have been working with earlier in the night. Seeing the girl’s picture on Lisa’s Facebook, Jake realized he had met her before, although briefly. She had started dancing at the club in those last few weeks before he stopped going. He remembered the small and slender, dark haired girl because of the striking tattoo of a rose, winding down her spine from her shoulder blades to the small of her back.
Lisa had Crystal’s phone number saved to her contact list. He wrote it down then pulled up an information search website he belonged to, trying to get as much information as he could, even though it would probably mean nothing. At this point Crystal was his only clue. Crystal’s number was unlisted, but of course telemarketing companies had all her info and within minutes he had her address. He glanced through the tables of information he had on her. It appeared that she lived alone. She didn’t pay for a serviced alarm system. He knew what supermarket she shopped at and that she drove a silver Lexus convertible that she owed twice the value of.
He looked around the computer some more but couldn’t find anything about what Lisa had been planning that night, so he stood up and continued his search of the house. He went through drawers and cabinets and scanned along shelves and countertops. He checked inside books and in some of the more obvious hiding places.
In the bottom of her underwear drawer he found a folded piece of notebook paper. He opened it and saw it was an unfinished letter. He folded the letter back up. Then he almost laughed at himself for the absurdity of not wanting to read it. Was it really more of a violation than anything else he’d done tonight? What if it was related to whatever was going on? Wasn’t she the one who asked for help? He opened the letter once more and began to read it. It was written in Lisa’s own hand.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to say it in a way that has real meaning or could ever possibly touch you, whoever you’ve become.
“I haven’t changed, no matter how many times I’ve tried. I always tell myself I’m going to get my shit together, but then I think- Maybe just once more- Maybe just one more taste will satisfy me and then I can finally get better. But it’s time to admit that I never will- If not to you, then at least to myself.
“I don’t know why I would tell you this. I don’t know who the hell I’m really writing this letter for.
Jake folded the unfinished letter back up and returned it to its hiding place. He looked around, wishing there was something in this house that would speak to him, reveal to him something he could use to find her; but there was nothing.
He sat down on the edge of her bed, feeling helpless. The only clue he had was Crystal, Krista Jameson. He reached into his pocket to get his cellphone when it suddenly began vibrating. He pulled the rumbling phone out of his pocket and looked at the screen. It was Jason, finally. It had been almost four hours.
Jake accepted the call, pulling the phone to his ear. “You have an address for me?” he asked.
“You did say triple for this one,” Jason reminded him.
“Yes,” Jake growled; “The address.”
“It’s been completely shut down for over an hour. Not just turned off, but battery dead or removed or something, so all I can give you are its locations up till then.”
Jake grabbed the pad and pen from his cargo pocket and began to write down the addresses.
Fourteen months earlier
Lisa was lying on the bed next to Jake, head resting on his chest, listening to his steady breathing. She traced her fingers through the soft hair that ran from Jake’s belly button to his pelvic bone. She could remember some distant memory, so far away it felt like it belonged to an entirely different person; that foolish child who believed in all the shit that foolish children believed. She remembered lying in the arms of some star-eyed boy who still looked at her like she was the fresh, warm sunshine; back when even she still believed that’s what she was.
There was something about Jake that always brought that feeling back for her; something about the way he held her; the soft flutter of his heartbeat moving through the drum of his chest; the gentle strength of his quiet voice. It always filled her with the comforting illusion that, if they really wanted, they could be more. Like they could just snap their fingers and be some other, different kind of people who belonged to some other, different kind of world.
“When I was a little girl,” she suddenly told him, without the slightest provocation. “My grandma used to take us to church every Sunday. She’d dress my sister and me in these old fashioned dresses that she probably had to wear a thousand years before. All cotton and thick collars, like something you’d dress an old doll in. We used to hate it. We’d sit on these uncomfortable wooded benches listening to the preacher talk forever; then there’d always be a big potluck picnic. Everyone would gather on the grass in front of the little stone church and we’d sit on the uncomfortable concrete benches out there. Everyone at the church was old, and me and my sister were the only kids there.
“We would always have to be quiet, and pretty and show how well adjusted we were; how losing our parents didn’t scar us. Sunday’s were worse than schooldays. But it was also kind of fun in a way: Like my sister and I had our own secret club, just the two of us. She used to always do impressions of all the old ladies in the church when no one was watching. It’s funny, at the time I dreaded those days, but now they’re all I can remember about that time.” She listened to her voice drifting off, being swallowed up by the silence, and then she abruptly added, “Did you ever go to church?”
Jake laughed quietly. She knew he was amused by the rambling nature of her thinking.
“Yeah,” Jake said, his warm hand lightly tracing the contours of her frame. “On holidays mom would decide the two of us were Catholic again and we’d show up to some random mass somewhere, all dressed up, not knowing anyone.”
Lisa pictured a small Jake Adams, with that same sad, thoughtful face, standing with his mother in that big, nameless church with all those big, nameless people. The image made her feel sad inside. She wasn’t sure why. But it was a nice kind of sad; a poetic kind of sad. Being in Jake’s arms made that kind of sorrow seem sweet and somehow worthwhile. She savored the moment, breathing in deeply, inhaling the warmth and masculine scent of Jake’s body.
“Do you ever see your sister?” he asked.
“No,” she said, all that warmth and comfort she had felt suddenly evaporating. She figured everyone had those moments; warm, beautiful moments; but they were always temporary, and this one was passing now, like the whispered promises of vanishing loved ones. She sat up on the edge of the bed, grabbed her shirt and pulled it on. She knew she had some pills in her purse. They would have to do until she could get her hands on something stronger. The two hundred dollars Jake had given her was folded up, lying on the dresser next to her purse.
“I better go,” she told Jake. “We both have places we need to be.”
Jake pulled his car to the address Jason had given him. He felt a sinking feeling inside as he parked next to the dark and blind alley. The address wasn’t exact. It could be any of these buildings, or it could be that ominous passageway looming out beside him. He got out of the car and walked over to the alley, standing at its opening for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness within. The first thing he noticed was the smell of garbage assaulting his nostrils. As his eyes continued to adjust, he could see that the pavement in front of him was strewn with trash and filth. There was a dumpster about halfway down that looked like it hadn’t been emptied in weeks, and its contents overflowed onto the asphalt. Plastic bags from neighboring homes and businesses piled up, many of them ripped open, spilling their contents out for the wind and the rats.
Something that didn’t belong immediately caught Jake’s attention; a cluster of clean white wrappers and small plastic cases laying out in the center of the alley, away from the rest of the trash. He moved forward, taking out his flashlight. The packaging appeared to be the refuse of medical work, lying in a roughly cleared area along the ground. He looked along the pavement and piles of trash, seeing blood, dried within the filth.
Jake picked up the wrappers and looked at them one by one but couldn’t find any useful information. He let the last one fall back to the ground before he stood up and walked the length of the alley. When he reached the next street he saw a small glass-walled convenience store, blazingly lit in the otherwise hazy gloom. The glass walls of the tiny building had clearly been designed by someone who had no clue what this neighborhood was like. Steel mesh had been added later, covering the back corner of the building in order to protect the cashier from smash and grab attacks.
Jake crossed the street and walked into the store. The small building was crowded with colors: Blue drink cans, red chip bags, purple candy wrappers. He grabbed a bag of chips just for something to buy, then realized he was actually hungry and grabbed a cold sandwich to go with it. He walked up to the clerk, who was behind a laminar wall of bulletproof glass. He put his money into the tray under the glass and slid it over to the young Mexican clerk.