The not crying plan didn’t last long. Jessica’s mind kept focusing on the horrible image she’d seen when she’d first laid eyes on Nisa, of a girl with long disheveled hair strapped to a gurney, multi-colored liquid being siphoned out of her with tubes like some sort of demented soda machine. How her mother and sister could do that to anyone… Jessica had sunk to some deep lows, but at least she had a heart.
Come on, get up, you’re not helping by sniveling like a baby. Her mind was more enthusiastic than her legs. She chucked her smoke and put her hands on her knees, slowly sliding up the wall. A quick glance down the alley confirmed that Martha was gone, so she headed inside and climbed the stairs to her floor. “Okay,” she muttered to herself, wiping blood from her nose. Let’s take stock of the situation. If nobody heard that racket and called the police, there should at least be evidence of a break-in…
There wasn’t, at least on the exterior. She would have noticed when she’d walked in a bit ago. The floor didn’t bear any visible tracks upon closer examination. The lock was intact. Heading inside, she began to check for scuff marks and furniture out of place. That search bore no fruit either. Was anything knocked over, was anything out of place?
“Gah, is she a fucking ghost?!” She grabbed fistfuls of her hair in frustration. She kicked the kitchen island, which just hurt her foot. As she threw herself into a chair, she realized that for all intents and purposes, Martha might as well have been a ghost. If she still worked for Skinnyman, then of course she’d be able to spirit someone away without a trace!
Okay, last idea. Maybe one of their neighbors had seen something and was too scared to call the cops. She finished wiping her nose dry and headed over to the apartment to their right, knocking loud as she could. A woman in her early thirties holding an infant opened the door. Jesus, since when did their neighbor have a baby?
Realizing she was standing there like an idiot, Jessica smiled as best she could. “Hi, um, I’m not sure if you know who I am, but I’m your neighbor.” She pointed. “Have you seen anything weird over at my apartment?”
The neighbor lady – God, she didn’t even know her name – just stared for a moment and raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”
How best to explain that your evil twin kidnapped your roommate for science experiments… “I mean like. Have you seen anyone that shouldn’t have been there, you know, not me or Nisa?”
Neighbor lady briefly looked that way before sticking her lower lip out and shaking her head.
“Alright.” Jessica rubbed her hands together. “Haven’t heard any loud noises or scuffles?”
Clearly getting tired of this, neighbor lady hefted her baby and shook her head more vigorously. “No, sorry. If you think there’s a been a break-in though, you should call 911.”
Wow, if only she’d thought of that. Jessica waved and let her retreat back inside. She stood there for a moment, wringing her hands, before shuffling back into her apartment.
Not knowing what to do, she sluggishly fetched a glass and a bottle of whiskey and sat herself at the table. As she took a few nips she subconsciously expected Nisa to scold her for her drinking habits. But there was no Nisa, just a crushing silence she was beginning to process.
“Goddammit!” She hurled the glass into the corner of the kitchen island, shattering it across the floor, some primitive part of her brain hoping that if she made a big enough mess Nisa would appear and set her straight. Her higher functions knew better though. She took a gulp from the bottle.
Someone had to know something. People didn’t just vanish into thin air. Martha would have needed help. Scouts, hired hands, maybe someone who knew them well enough to rat out their daily routines…
Jake Rivers. He was the supplier of Nisa’s distillation equipment when she was in the drug business, but he was also rumored to have connections to Skinnyman, smuggling lab equipment for use in – well, nobody wanted to know the details. There had to be something she could squeeze out of him.
She could clean up the glass shards later, she decided. Right then, she needed a nap. Besides, it wasn’t like there was any danger of anyone accidentally stepping in it.
The Davis branch of the Blackburn Clinic was pristine and white/blue, even at night a stark contrast to its surroundings. Jessica had to sneak past a crowded front lot to get to the rear, which was much less busy. A pair of police cruisers had escorted an ambulance to a side entrance. Someone must’ve gotten shot, shock of all shocks.
It took Jessica a bit of poking around, but eventually she found Jake’s car parked next to a tree near the chain link fence on the far end of the lot. A perfect hiding spot, since she could bend the light away from her profile just right. Besides, no one really paid any attention unless you were trying to get into the hospital.
So she waited. And waited. And waiting turned out to be really boring so she pulled out her smartphone and began poking around the news. There was an article speculating Skinnyman’s current whereabouts, but nothing specific about Nisa going missing. Hell, had Wilbur tried calling her, did he have any idea? If she didn’t show up to work and he couldn’t get ahold of her, he’d file a missing person report, and that would bring him and Jeff into the equation. She wasn’t sure if she wanted that…
Some time past eight-thirty hospital workers began to trickle out. Jessica slid closer to the tree, minimizing her shape as much as possible. Jake was among the last. She almost had to laugh at his appearance. When people thought of doctors, they thought of sweet middle-aged women or tiny old men, not big buff guys. Then again, a male doctor kinda had to be buff to keep patients in line in Blackburn. Jake began fiddling with his keys without noticing her.
“Whoa!” Jake dropped his keys in surprise. He jumped back into a defensive stance, squinting, until he made out her shape. “Jessica, is that you?”
She pulled the shadows away from her just enough to be perceptible. “Mhm. Long time no see.”
Exhaling dramatically, Jake snatched up his keys. “You scared the hell out of me. Thought someone wanted to cap me.” He unlocked his car but didn’t enter. “Does Mouse need something? I heard through the grapevine that she left that life behind. Or is this for you?”
Jessica rolled her shoulders. “Hmph. You could say that. I’ve heard through the grapevine that you’re still running equipment for Skinnyman. That true?”
Jake chuckled and cracked a smile that quickly fell from his face. She wasn’t even trying to hide her expression, was she? “Jessica, why would I run anything for that guy? He chews people up like a sausage grinder. Besides, who knows if he’s even still alive.”
“I don’t have time for this,” she growled. Peeling off uneven strands of light from the nearest street lamp, she quickly formed a pile of inky, haphazard constructs above his feet to anchor him in place. Jake didn’t notice until he couldn’t move his feet.
“What in God’s name – get the hell off of me! Since when did you have powers?!”
Great, what was she supposed to say here? That she had an inferiority complex for being an imperfect clone?
“Have you been working for Skinnyman?!” She barked. For emphasis, she began to slither a tendril up to his mouth. Truth be told, her power level was far below being able to devour him, years of neglecting practice aside. But as long as he believed she could…
“Jesus!” He grabbed the tendril with his hands, which were beginning to shake. “I swear on my mother’s life, I haven’t done anything for Skinnyman since Shortcircuit busted his operations! But I could tell you where I used to meet his crew. Just put this thing away!”
Satisfied with that answer, Jessica withdrew the tendril, but left him trapped in place.
“A parking garage in Greenway, near Olympic City. Not many folks use it because they’d rather use the one in the Armory. You know where I’m talking about?” She nodded. “Bottom floor. Pretty sure his men use that meeting space a lot. What’s left of them at this point…”
It was a starting point. She’d have to poke around a few times, and it would take a while, but she could work her way to Martha. Martha would keep Nisa alive. In agony, but alive. Taking a deep breath she nodded and let him go. “If I see you there, all bets are off.”
Jake checked his legs as if to make sure they were still there. “Understood,” he mumbled, getting into his car as fast as he could and driving off.