Plum’s men split up and went in opposite directions, on the sidewalk outside the motel, searching for me. I felt like a sitting duck. All it would take was the headlights of a passing car to reveal my hiding place. One of them paused on the sidewalk right in front of me. He was so close that his cologne filled my nostrils. I didn’t realize that I was holding my breath, until the men eventually climbed back into the sedan and it pulled away from the curb. Shaky laughter cut short my sigh of relief. That had been way too close for comfort. Once the immediate danger had passed, I felt more tired than ever. Part of me wanted to go across the street, climb back into bed and sleep for a week. The other part of me was afraid to move.
I wondered what to do next. Finding another motel was a possibility, but I had limited funds at the moment. Who knew how long it would take Hiromi to auction off Plum’s cell phone? For that matter, how did I know she was even trustworthy? Look at how far off base I had been about Plum! The way my luck was going, Hiromi would just pretend to find buyer, in order to lure me into a trap, so she could just take the chit.
I didn’t know what Plum had done to turn Hiromi against her. It wasn’t very important to me. The fact was that no matter how angry she might be, Plum was still her sister. Blood would always be thicker than water. That’s why it didn’t seem possible for me to suss out where Hiromi’s loyalties really lie. She might not even know the answer to that one. Hell, I felt conflicted about my own sister. On the other hand, Hiromi had just warned me about the phone. She had saved my life. Maybe I was just being paranoid. I was too tired to think clearly.
Indecision kept me rooted in place until my feet started hurting. Danger seemed to be lurking everywhere. What if those men came back? I heard ringing again and nearly jumped out of my skin, thinking that Plum’s phone was ringing with the battery removed. The memory of grabbing Tammy’s purse from the burning house came back in a rush. I realized with a giggle of relief that she must have a cell phone amongst the clutter in the bottom of the big bag.
I had no intention of answering someone else’s phone twice in one night, but it did give me an idea. With very little money and no friends, I could sleep on the street or stay in the last place that people would look. I decided to stay at Tammy’s place. I fished out Tammy’s wallet and found her address.
Unfortunately, it was too late to catch a bus and I didn’t feel safe walking the streets with Plum’s men circling the area looking for me. I reluctantly took out Tammy’s phone and called a cab, waiting until it arrived to step out of the shadows.
The driver did a double take, staring at me as though I had just materialized out of thin air on the sidewalk by the rear passenger door. A short time later, we pulled up outside Tammy’s place and I was pleasantly surprised to find it in a decent neighborhood. Her apartment didn’t disappoint. It was clean and tastefully furnished. The sight of two suitcases inside the front door stopped me in my tracks.
I realized that Tammy had left earlier that day, thinking that she was going to run away with Mr. Canfield. Funny how easily a dream could turn into a nightmare. How many people walk out their front doors every day not knowing they won’t make it back? That poor woman! I stood in the darkness and wept, too exhausted to surpress the grief welling up inside of me.
As my tears subsided, I began to feel a little unnerved alone in the dark. I fumbled around for a light switch and flipped it on. The weak light only pushed the shadows against the walls of the foyer and hallway. I could dimly make out furniture in her living room and a doorway leading into the darkness beyond. My overactive imagination conjured up the idea that her spirit was probably lurking in the shadows, angry at me for the part I played in her death and my invasion of her home.
Telling myself how illogical that thought was didn’t make me feel any better. I bustled through the apartment closing blinds and switching on lights, trying to dispel the fear causing chills to race down my spine. I didn’t want to start thinking about the many times I had danced with death. What would happen when my luck ran out?
Unbidden, the memory of Tammy writhing in agony returned to torment me. I laid on Tammy’s bed and wept uncontrollably. Meeting Plum had seemed like such a blessing, but I still should have known better than to let my guard down so quickly. Nothing that good had ever happened to me. All I wanted now was for things to go back to the way they were when I no one paid me any attention and my biggest problem was paying my bills.
Regret made me think desperate thoughts. Feeling emotionally and physically drained, I began giving serious consideration to quietly ending my life. It seemed so much easier than trying to find a way out of my seemingly hopeless situation. At least that way, I could choose my exit and end things painlessly. I lay there, convincing myself, until the thought of Plum standing over my body with that perpetually smug expression of hers made me angry.
Why the hell should I do Plum’s dirty work for her? She could not be allowed to destroy me that easily. I had to show her how wrong she was about me and how dangerous it could be to underestimate a person, no matter how weak they appeared to be. After I had taken care of her, then I had a score to settle with Mr. Canfield. Having goals made me feel less hopeless but I was still a little weirded out. It was too late to call my mother, so I decided to call Hiromi.
“Hello? Who is this?”
“It’s me Patricia.”
“Patricia? Why are you calling me from someone else’s number? I almost didn’t answer.”
“You were right about them tracking Plum’s phone.”
“I knew it! Are you alright? Where are you now?”
“I’m fine, they didn’t catch me. I found a good hiding place for the night.”
Hiromi’s voice relaxed back into her usual bored, slightly irritated tone, “Then why the are you waking me up again? I just got back to sleep a few minutes ago.”
“Sorry, I’m feeling a bit freaked out right now. I needed someone to talk to. The strangest thing happened. Plum called me and started I don’t know…chanting. I have no idea what she was saying. It made me feel strange. I felt this…this…crawling sensation in my head. I would have passed out if I hadn’t dropped the phone.”
“You’ve never seen her do anything like that before?”
“No, of course not. I’m not even sure what she was doing.”
“You really don’t know anything about that woman do you? I thought you lived with her. She usually has her victims move in with her.”
“I did stay with her for a few weeks.”
“Then you must have walked around with your eyes and ears closed because the signs were probably all around you.”
“Signs of what? Are you talking about her breaking the law?”
“No, I’m talking about the fact that she’s a witch.”
“Very funny Hiromi.”
“Do you hear me laughing? I’m not joking.”
“Yeah right, next you’ll be telling me that she’s not really a business woman.”
“Oh no, she’s definitely an entrepreneur and a very successful one at that. I’m sure you can imagine the advantage that certain supernatural abilities afford her.”
“I’m not saying I believe a word you’re saying. If she is a witch, then why would she need so many employees?”
“Most witches have coven.”
“You mean she was grooming me to join her coven?”
“I didn’t say that Patricia. After all, she didn’t even clue you in to the fact that she’s a witch.”
“Well then, why did she have me move in with her?”
“Hmm, how do I say this tactfully? Practicing witchcraft, as with engaging in illegal activities, requires secrecy. In order to maintain it, from time to time you need a scapegoat to take the fall for you.”
My mind rebelled at Hiromi’s words. Like a splash of cold water in the face, it stunned me. I kept waiting for her to start laughing and say that she was joking. I couldn’t deal with any more unpleasant surprises.
“No, I don’t believe you. If she’s a witch then why did she try to have someone else kill me? Why not turn me into a toad or something?”
“You watch too many movies Patricia. Following your logic, she should have green skin and fly around on a broom. As for her putting a hit on you, my guess is you were about to be scapegoated. My advice to you is to go underground and pray that she forgets that you even exist. If she sends someone from her coven after you then you’ll wish that a bullet had finished you off. How soon can you get that phone and chit to me?”
“How quickly can you line up a buyer? I’m not turning anything over until you have cash in hand.”