I did everything I knew to do in my free time, which was now a lot, to find her, but I couldn’t be obsessed with it, or I’d tip my hand, and she’d get me first.
If I told anyone, or hung around anywhere too long, word would get back to her.
That she was watching me, I was certain; it was like having a mother who could only watch her child from a distance, or through a plate glass window, but without connection, as if she watched you like you were a disappointment, or a mistake.
Yeah, I had it rough, but I had good people in my corner, and now, because of my inability to staunch the flow to my manhood, I was a walking corpse.
Could be why I fastened on the knife work too; maybe it was some sort of sick substitute, but I don’t want to think about that too hard.
In the small morning hours after midnight, the streets I walked were empty of all but the most desperate.
I could feel the weight of their stares, and I could smell the scent of heightened fear.
A whore with frizzy red hair passed me, muttered something, and made the sign of the cross.
I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t.
The steps in the ramshackle tenement I lived in were rickety, and the hall reeked of garbage and urine.
I should’ve known when she was willing to come back here that something wasn’t right, but alcohol could still affect me then.
I fumbled out the key, humming something I remembered from another life, when I was a boy.
I pushed open the door.
And her scent hit me like a ball peen hammer between the eyes.
I was fast, but she was faster, throwing me into the wall, and kneeing me in the groin on the rebound.
I dropped like a sandbag to the floor, doubling over.
Her voice poured over me like honey with rotting flies in it.
“I’ve been watching you. Heard you were asking questions about me; discreetly, but asking nonetheless. If I wanted you to die, I would have killed you.”
I wanted to ask why she didn’t, but the pain hadn’t let up, and I found myself wishing right then that she would, as an act of mercy.
She pulled my hair and jerked my neck up so I was looking at her, my face red, and I was breathing in gasps yet.
She bent down, tightening her grip, my neck too taut to move so I couldn’t look anywhere else but in her eyes, her irises glowing red so I’d get the message loud and clear.
“Leave it alone, fledgling. Leave me alone. I’m higher up the food chain than you think. But if you decide to ignore my warning, ask around.
She kneed me again, hard, under the chin, just to make sure I didn’t pursue her; I bit the inside of my cheek, and the taste of my own blood mixed, with the crook’s now, spilled out of my mouth onto the floor.
“My name’s Jazleen.”
She let me go, and where I’d been on my knees before, I slumped all the way down.
She walked past me, and I heard her go down the stairs, out into the cold night I just came in from.
I had a name now.
And I had my work cut out for me.
And Jazleen was living on borrowed time…