Don’t look back that’s not where you’re going [On the Record]

# April 5th

“You alright”?

She ran, one hand covering her mouth and the other holding her stomach, off the dance floor and to the back of the bar.

“Guess not.”

Jenny pushed open the back door and stumbled out into the night. She found herself in what looked like an abandoned highway, but that was hardly of importance. The bathroom was not a place she could turn to, so this would have to be it. Soon enough, she was on all fours, staring at the cold, hard concrete slab.

“Who are you?”

A voice reached her, but she could hardly make sense of it. What she needed was relief, which was something only achievable by unapologetically defacing this vacant spot of public property with a noisy retch, as well as discarding all sense of shame.

She did just that.

“Somehow I think you’re not cleaning that up.”

There was the voice again, but now she had regained some of her sense. She could tell that it was coming from behind her. It was deep, vibrant, with tone tampered by time and tobacco. Imagining a middle-aged man sitting in the dark out a low-level bar’s backyard was certainly not an inviting thought, but she could barely move as was.

“What’s your problem?” She was annoyed. Her not replying the first time should have been enough of an indicator that she wanted no part of an argument, or any kind of conversation at all. All she wanted was a peaceful, albeit ever so disrespectful conversation with the ground. “Can’t you see I’m occupied?”

“Well you’re occupying something.” It was a snicker that she heard.

“What do you want?” Finally back on her feet, Jenny was now facing who she had been talking to. On the opposite end of the walkway, sat a man on a wooden bench. It was too dark for her to make out his features, but he did not seem particularly threatening. That observation only made her more defiant.

“I’m just curious, that’s all.” He moved his arms in a casual motion, pointing at the ground. “I was just sitting her all by my lonesome, then suddenly somebody came and start throwing up all over the place.”

“Well then…” Before she could finish the thought, there was another rumbling in her core. Clutching her midriff, she once again painted the soil before her with rancid, an off-colour rejected combination of alcohol, fast food and dignity.
To her, it was just another Friday night.

“You’re not holding up very well, you know that?” The man’s voice lacked the necessary anxiety in its tone for her to perceive it as genuine concern, instead the sarcastic comments of someone too old for his own age.

“I do what I want, old man.” She waved him off, but she was still facing the ground. It took quite a bit of time and effort for her molten centre to settle down, and she could finally walk again. “You don’t know me.”

“Never said I did.”

Jenny had nothing but disdain for that kind of statement. She didn’t like the man. She thought he was just trying to lecture her. Considering the fact that it was eleven in the afternoon and he was hanging around a place like this, as far as she was concerned he was in no position to give life advices.

“Then leave me alone.”

She bellowed, in a fit of discomfort and drunken stupor.

Though she expected a high-brow retort, what she received was only silence. It threw her off guard briefly, then she became sober enough to think. She figured that the man finally decided to leave her alone, and he still was not moving.

Good.

Jenny could vaguely hear her friends calling out from inside the bar. She took a moment to gather her posture, then disappeared inside, slamming the back door on the way in.

# April 7th

“Excuse me.”

She left as fast as she could.

Her friend once told her to never go into the bathroom of D&D’s, unless you’re a regular. This was her second time at this bar, and only then did she realised what kind of mistake she just made. She could have sworn the rotten odour – nothing quite short of olfactory rape – was pursuing her into the exposed air.

Jenny flung open the back door, and arrived at that ever so familiar spot. She could very clearly see the mark she left before, and it amazed her that she was the only customer smart enough to have chosen this are to be a drunken recluse. Maybe no one did for a good reason.

“I see you’re back.”

Waiting for her, at least as the only explanation that would satisfy her sense of self-importance, was the old man from before. She was still feeling quite nauseous, but she did not possess the urge to cause the utter ruination of the ground she was standing on. That, and the fact that streetlights were actually working that day, allowed her to get a good look of the supposed elderly gentleman.

Donning what could only be described as authentic 70s attire, the man had hair of remarkable silver, and though slightly cropped at the side, held together fairly uniformly. His svelte outline seemed to glue itself to the bench, which was where he was still situated. His features were sullen, sagged, but held an aura of sternness and unwavering caution. It remind her of her grandfather, and about as old.

“You’re still pretty difficult with words, aren’t you?”

“Whatever.” She was not welcoming his snarky wrangles, though it was a noticeable break from the juvenile noises being blasted inside the premise, and the fast-paced life that she was becoming accustomed to. Living with one’s peers tended to do that.

“The name’s Victor.” He proclaimed in smooth timbre. If anything, it urged her to reply proper. “Yours?”

“Jenny.” That she did. There was no deception in her words, as she sensed none in his. “Jenny Vanchez.”

“That’s a peculiar last name you got.”

So she had been told. Many automatically assumed it was something of a Southern America ethnicity, and she honestly did not know whether to say that it was correct. The mystery of it appealed to her, in a strange way. One day, if she were to actually speak with her parents, she may find out. That ship had sailed, however.

Silence overtook them briefly.

“You okay?” Those words snapped Jenny out of her trance. She was lost in memories for a moment there. Looking at Victor, his expression seemed almost remorseful, perhaps worried as to whether or not his remark was something Jenny was uncomfortable mentioning.

“Hey Victor.”

“Yes?”

“What are you doing out here?” Jenny sat on top of a half-broken marble beam. She wanted to talk, at least for a little bit. Her friends were being an insufferable bunch, and she’d rather not return too soon. Victor might not be the most obvious conversation partner, but he didn’t seem too bad. “You look old. Don’t you have a family or something to go back to? Or are you someone with little access to their children once they you got older?”

“Is that what television tells you?”

Jenny stared at him, then her cheeks became flushed. Only then did she realise how terribly inappropriate that comment could have been. She had very few interactions with actual old people in the past, mostly from being such a sheltered kid since birth.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Victor simply waved it off. “It isn’t wrong. Most are thrown into homes.”

“Huh…” Jenny figured that since this was a rare opportunity, she might as well try to confirm all the knowledge she had about the subject. “They say old people really hate homes and stuff. They just want to do their own thing. Is that true?”

“You calling me old?” Victor’s face was rigid and emotionless. It threw Jenny off, but only for so long.

“Your jokes are terrible.” Yet she could not help but gave a slight chuckle.

Despite that, she received no further reply, and there was no other communication between the two for the rest of the night. The both of them simply settled in their make-shift seats, until Jenny heard friends looking for her.

She left.

# April 10th

Jenny stepped out the backdoor, onto the morose nightfall, and inadvertently onto her own territorial smudge of old, now engraved like a true piece of modern art.

“You’re back.” Just as she had hoped, Victor was here to greet her.

“Hey Victor…” She found her place upon the granite, though it was far from the best seat in the house. “How’re you?”

“Still old and unmoving.” Victor was quick to notice the tone of her voice. The cautious optimism could be sensed in his words. “If I didn’t know better I’d say you’re glad to see me.”

“Yeah…” A half-smile. “You could say that.”

“What’s going on with you?” He crossed his legs and leaned back on the bench, awaiting trouble.

“I’m here to meet my boyfriend, but he didn’t show up.” Jenny wasn’t visibly upset, but only because things like this had happened before. “I don’t even know what his excuse was.”

“You’re not staying here either though?”

“Why not?” Jenny didn’t plan to either way, but was curious regardless.

“The place closes early Wednesday and Thursday, it ain’t safe.”  Victor peered at his watch. “Like an hour from now.”

“Oh…” Jenny took a moment of deliberation, then pulled out her phone. “I should probably call a friend to pick me up.”

“Friend? What about your parents?”

“You think I’m underage?” She was. In fact, she was only 18, and was going to have to attend her graduation soon. That is, if she were still in school.

“Kid, even my watch can tell you’re underage.” Victor replied with a half-mocking smile. She was in awe. “Go to any place with a higher cover and you’ll be out on your ass.”

“I see.” She took note. Though she had frequented a few bars since her leaving home, none of them seemed too attentive to check her identification seriously. Admittedly, she did have a decent fake, but there weren’t many places to test it out. “Good to know.”

“You’re 20 at most, probably even younger. If you are, I doubt your parents will let you be freely about bars like this.”

“It doesn’t matter what they think.” She was not feeling like talking about this. It was a matter of freedom that she had already chosen for herself. “I’ll do whatever I want.”

“Well, I ain’t one to judge but…” Victor took a lapse in speech. “You don’t look like someone who makes good money.”

“So?”

“Well I don’t see how you can afford to live on your own.”

“My boyfriend helps.” He was also the person that convinced her to leave her house in the first place, but she wasn’t going to say that.

“Alright.”

Victor reclined back onto his bench, and stayed silent. Jenny wanted to ask him a few things, but realised that she had shut off communications on her own terms with her attitude. There wasn’t anything left for her to do, so she called up a friend for a ride. During her wait, she noticed Victor smoking cigarettes, but said nothing of it. It wasn’t anything of note.

She soon left.

# April 13th

Jenny ran into the bar. The night was dark and full of sorrow. She carried in her hands the moon’s harvest, yet she could not stop. It was 3 in the morning, and D&D’s was barely alive. Only the most reckless of drunkards dared to stick around this time of day, and most of them weren’t conscious. The bartender gave her a weird look, mostly scrutinising the content of the package she held, but Jenny disregarded his gaze, and bolted out the backdoor.

“Slow down, kid.” There he was. “Why’re you rushing?”

“I need somewhere to hide.” Jenny was just standing there, basket in hand, and dressed in a ridiculous getup that she happened to acquire from some basement. Winter jacket, leather boots, and hobo gloves spelt only one explanation.

“Did you steal those food?”

Jenny could do nothing but nod, albeit slowly and guardedly. She was here because she was scared, but who was to say there wasn’t anyone around to report her, even Victor.

He broke a deep sigh, and smoked the cigarette held in between his fingers. “How did this happen?”

“I didn’t have any money left…” She was glad that at least Victor was willing to hear her out. Still, it didn’t change the fact that she had no good excuses to make.

“And your boyfriend?”

“I… don’t know. He hasn’t been back in a while.” Jenny was tearing up, not because of being reminded of her boyfriend going missing, but realising that she never actually cared about him that much. Yet she was willing to follow him, with nothing but a flimsy promise and blind faith, away from shelter and safety, and into this life.

“Look, kid.” Victor took a slow puff. “I’m not going to call the police on you or anything, but I can’t say I support what you’re doing.”

“Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.” She meant it. Tonight’s ordeal was definitely something that would easily scar her for life. “I was lucky enough to get away this time.”

“Why did you even leave home?” His tone was like trying not to sound as accusatory as possible, but Jenny was far passed caring about things like that.

“I had a lot of troubles with my parents.” Saying that, she was slowly realising how maybe her problems at home really weren’t as big as she thought they were at the time.

“Did they mistreat you?”

“No, they didn’t. I just…” Why did she actually not get along with her parents? Her father was always caring, though being a military man, was never able to spend a lot of time at home. And as morally bankrupt as her mother seemed to be, Jenny was never treated badly. “Maybe I just didn’t give them enough of a chance.”

“Well, what are you going to do now?” He tapped off the embers on the rollup, and discarded it. “You can’t go out there like that.”

“I think I’m just going to stay here for a while, and eat.” Being hungry was what drove Jenny to stealing in the first place. Leaving was accurately not an option, and there was no one she could call at this time of day. She stared at the basket in hand, and begrudgingly pulled out a bag of chips. It was the only thing she felt like taking a bite of.

“Sit down, kid.” To Jenny’s surprise, Victor moved to the side, leaving a large space on his bench for her. She had never seen him even move from the spot before that.

“Are you sure?”

“Least I could do.” His smile told her not to worry. He was still just an old man in a dark alley, but right now, he was the only one she had.

Jenny came to sit on the wooden bench. It was neither particularly comfort nor large, and she was even more confused as to why Victor would prefer it. Perhaps it was just convenient, she couldn’t know. However, at this point she just appreciated the space she was left with, and ate in peace.

The night became calm and cordial, almost enough to make her forget about the restlessness of her mad dash away from that convenient store. With time and silence, she thought about the way she was living, and whether or not she was doing the right thing. When she was younger, she watched shows about rebellious teenager who faced dire consequences because of their lack of forethought. Only then did she realise how similar she had been to those stereotypes.

She looked to her side, and see a man of age. “Victor.”

“What is it?” He answered without turning his head, still staring into the night.

“You never told me about why you always stay here.”

Victor only looked at her and smiled. This was not the first time he had waved off the question, but Jenny was not going to give up on asking it. She would stop for today though, as there were other things needed to be done.

“When is it safe to leave?” She was getting tired. The back of the bar seemed like a peaceful enough place, but she could not afford to stay here for much longer. Her phone was low on battery, and it wasn’t like her boyfriend was answering any of her calls. Who knew what mess he’d gotten himself into?

“After six or seven.” Victor held up his watch. “About an hour or two.”

Jenny nodded in appreciation, and simply waited. There was nothing else said for the rest of the night. She sat there, clutching to the store basket.

Morning came, and Jenny called up a cab home. As she left, the old stranger could not help but notice a broken smile.

# April 22nd

This was the first time Jenny came to D&D’s during the middle of the day. The sleazes and lazes had already been cleared out by this point, and she actually managed to take a decent look at the place. The bar was small, but it never seemed like that during the evening. Walking in, she spotted the usually rows of patron seats, only empty. In the middle was a dance floor, just as she remembered. However, at the back of it, sat a stage. It looked dated and unused, possibly fallen into disrepair. A shame, she thought.

The morning had a different bartender, and he seemed quite absorbed in cleaning the place, no time to pay attention to her. She simply strolled passed him, and headed to the back door.

It creaked open, and before her was a sight without words. The ‘abandoned driveway’ was so much more than she thought it was, now that she could actually observe it under sunlight. There were cars lined up from end to end. The gradual, lurching ascent of the aroma of motor oil under the burning sun dressed the atmosphere under intense gravity. Jenny could not help but stood in awe of the scene, and took in the air of euphoric exhilaration. It was the brightest morning she had seen in some time.

“Liking the view?” Amidst the endless array of props and obstacles, was a lonely wooden bench. Victor was there, to no one’s surprise.

“I have to admit.” Jenny smiled in response. “It looks a lot nicer than when your eyesight doesn’t extend further than your fingertips.”

“Haven’t seen you around lately.” He lit a cigarette. “What’s been going on?”

“I left my boyfriend.” She did, and it was just as uneventful as she thought it would be. It spoke volume of that relationship. “Voluntarily.”

“Good.” Victor took a heave.

“I also moved back with my parents.” Her expression was quite reticent saying that.

“Are you alright with that?”

“Mostly.” Jenny remembered that day, a week ago, when she showed up at their doorstep. Her dad took leave from his service trying to find her, and was very close to filing a missing person report. Her mom gave her a good scolding, but the both of them were just glad she was safe. It was the first time she ever felt she belonged in the household, and wasn’t planning to let that go again. “Somehow everything was much better than I remembered.”

“So what next?”

“I’m coming back to school.” Jenny was starting senior year again. Her grades were far from abysmal before she quit, but it was too long a gap for her to have any hope of making up and graduating this year. Still, if that was the worst of it, then she would happily take it. “I’ll be graduating next year if it all goes well.”

“Are you good at studying?”

“It bores me.” She remarked with a pained expression. There was no reservations in her words. It was one of the reasons she quit school in the first place. “Takes too long to do anything worthwhile anyway.”

Victor laughed at that notion, to which Jenny narrowed her eyes in disapproval.

“You’re not wrong kid.” He rubbed under his nose so vigorously, it looked like it was performing a kind of tribal war dance. “It’s just funny because I’ve been hearing people saying that kind of stuff for fifty years.”

“What do you say I do then?” Jenny crossed her arms in frustration. A high school degree was important, if not absolutely necessary simply to move anywhere in life; that was what she was taught. She believed it still.

“You must enjoy doing something. Something productive that you’re good at?”

“I like art, I guess.” Jenny was fully aware of people’s perception of her as just another middle-class white girl, unfortunately there was nothing she could do to remedy that fact. It only got even worse as her mother pushed her to study ‘the arts’ since an early age. She could’ve done music, but pictures have always interested her far more. “Sketches, paintings, that sort of stuff.”

“Symbol drawing? Loomis construction? Paper or digital?”

Jenny took a note at that line of questioning. It was odd that he was being so specific.

“I can do portrait construction, I guess.” Jenny struggled to recall her dabbling in such a hobby. Most of it wasn’t terribly sophisticated, if not natural to her. “How do you know about art?”

“I barely know anything, but I had some of those people at an old work place of mine.” Victor displayed a content smile, as if reaching a satisfying conclusion. Jenny was reasonably curious, but decided not to pursue it. There was something else, a direr question.

“Alright, Victor, no more backing out.” It was all friendly banter, of course, but Jenny was determined to find out. “Would you please just tell me why you’re here all the time?”

“You’re still hung up on that?” He laughed light-heartedly, to which Jenny nodded eagerly. “Alright, come sit down first.”

She complied. He opened his pack of cigarette, and offered her one. The brand name Merit flashed in front of her eyes for a split second. It was not something Jenny was familiar with.

“I don’t smoke.”

“Good. This stuff will kill you.” There was not a single hint of irony in his reply. “I’m here waiting for a friend.”

“All this time?” She was truly not expecting such a reply, since it seemed like Victor just liked being around the place more than anything. “This isn’t some sort of cliché where this friend is actually dead, is it?”

“No, kid, you’re way too imaginative.” Victor continued to laugh it off. “The person I’m waiting for is very much alive. However, she’d have to find me first.”

“Are you in hiding or something?” Victor’s smile only became wider. “You’re not a serial killer or something, are you?”

“I’m not that hard-working.” He lit another butt, yet held it motionless. “I’m just looking to get away.”

“Does that mean Victor’s not even your real name?” Jenny was absorbed by the sense of mystery, which brought life to the conversation. It wasn’t intentional, but she really wanted to know.

“I left my real name somewhere near Montana.” Victor clenched the bud in his hand, extinguishing it before even taking a hit. His smile never left his face. “Victor’s all you got, kid.”

# May 3rd

Jenny waved at the bartender, and he waved back. She was one of the very few sane people he had the chance to talk to, working the morning shift. Their conversation never lasted more than greetings and simple courtesy, but it was an anomaly regardless.

School for her wasn’t going to start until autumn, and that was months away, so she found herself coming back here often. It took a lot of convincing for her parents to allow her to do it, with her previous track record, but they agreed on it under the condition that she must be reachable through phone at all times. It was reasonable, since she had already learnt her lesson very well the first time.

She said that she came here to hang out with a friend. However, Victor didn’t talk much still, and a lot of the time they simply enjoyed the silence. He sat and smoked his cigarettes, while she stayed on the other side of the bench and sketched many things, per his requests. Sometimes she would share her work, and he would only nod silently.

Today was different.

“Kid, I gotta tell you something.” Jenny just arrived, and hadn’t even settled down yet. “I have to go.”

“What?”

“I told you I was here waiting for a friend, right?” His voice was hoarse as always, but not brimming with the usual relaxation. It was instead heavy and fogged, possibly indicating bad news. “Well, she found me.”

“So you’re going to leave, just like that?” This came far too abrupt. Meetings here with him was becoming frequent enough that Jenny would consider it almost a habit. Surely she didn’t think it would be this way forever, but certainly it was not possible to think it’d end this early. “I didn’t really think you were serious.”

“I was, kid.” A deep sigh. “I’m sorry to have sprung it onto you like this.”

“Don’t you like this place?” The look in his eyes told her that he did. “Why do you have to go?”

“I’ve made some choices…” Victor found it in himself to return to his usual articulation. Perhaps it was because he realised how things were getting quite distressful, or he was trying to pick himself up. “The past caught up with me.”

“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

He shook his head.

“So this is it…”

“Don’t look so down, kid.” He lightly patted her on the back with a smile. She couldn’t bring herself to do the same. “Before I go, I’ve left you a little something.”

“What do you mean?” Such a statement were sure to pique Jenny’s interest.

“You’ll know it when you see it.” Even at the last moment, Victor could not help but kept his enigmatic speech. “You might have to wait a bit, though.”

And with that, for the first, and most likely only time, Jenny witnessed Victor standing up from his seat. He was remarkably taller than he looked sitting down, with a willowy figure and firm posture. Jenny finally had to acknowledge how he was oddly similar to and old-time detective.

Perhaps too much.

“Victor.”

He turned his head at her words.

“Thank you… for everything.”

“Don’t thank me yet kid.” His cigarette moved to align with his smirk. “I hadn’t done anything amazing.”

“Yet?”

“You’ll see.”

Briefly checking his watch, Victor let out a ring of smoke. He stared at a patch of sunbeam littered across the passage, and stood in silent. Victor looked ready to leave at any moment, but he didn’t, at least soon. Instead, his gaze drew so much attention that Jenny was starting to stare too.

Beneath the light cover was the mark of shame from that very first day. She could only stare at it in nostalgia. It hadn’t been a very long time, but a lot had changed in her life. She shifted her sight towards the old stranger, and somehow he also seemed so different.

Eventually, Victor seemed to have finally found it himself to part ways.

“Hey old man.” A last note Jenny felt the need to say. “See you later.”

“You won’t, kid.” He took a light, gentlemanly nod. “Take care of yourself.”

She followed, as Victor entered the bar’s interior. The bartender stared at him wide-eyed, probably because they had never before met. It was only natural.

Victor left through the front door, Jenny remained.

They never saw each other again.

# May 15th

Jenny sat in a corner, with the sketchbook in her hand. This table had become her favourite spot.

“You want something to drink?” The bartender asked.

“Can I get a lemonade please?”

“Coming right up.”

Ever since Victor left, Jenny had been noticing more customer frequenting the bar around late morning. Apparently, it was doing a slight renovations, and would be hosting afternoon performances from local musicians and entertainers. First opening was in a few days.

Sipping her drink, Jenny could not help but notice a shift in her drawing. She never used to be aware of it, but thinking back, Victor always reacted more strongly to art of hers which had an empirical drive. They had brief talks about this subject before, and it became clear that the man himself could not even imagine a scenery, let alone draw. However, his attention to facial details and accuracy was extremely impressive.

She always wondered what kind of job he used to have. At times, it scared her. However, that question never ceased to be intriguing.

Distracted, Jenny stared at the improved stage. It was no longer covered in dust and cobwebs, instead red carpet and frills. In the middle of it stood a microphone stand. She might not had been a paragon of artistic acceptance, perhaps moulded by the generation, but was still receptive to a good rendition. Thus, she was looking forward to it.

Then her mind drifted to Victor’s words of parting, of his ‘gift’.

#May 17th

Jenny found herself amongst an attentive crowd. She wasn’t used to something like this, but it wasn’t bad. It seemed that D&D’s had quite a few old audiences that used to be regulars, back when the place wasn’t a club. Some were returning out of curiosity, just to see what truly had been revitalised.

One performer per day was what Jenny was told, which was fine. Exciting or not, she still preferred the place to be quiet once in a while. She enjoyed it, for what it was worth. Her attention was elsewhere though, as the show was about to start.

“Ladies in gentlemen.” The bartender was also the showman for the day, quite a change in apparel he must have gone through. He stood in front, hastily moving in place a small chair. “Give it up for our first ever live musical performance in 8 years, Miss. C!”

Before Jenny could wonder about the peculiarity of such a puzzling alias, she was captivated by the singer that walked the stage from behind the lifted curtains.

Her full and gloriously sculpted legs eased further along the floor, heels delicately grazing along fine and robust wood. Her pace was of supreme unhurried patience. Her contour – lengthy, slender, and powerful – was wrapped inside a brimming crimson gown. The woman was of sublime beauty, and favoured the audience with a perfectly congenial smile as she arrived at the plain stilted stool. Her hair, formed together with stunning streaks of ebony, was allowed to flow freely onto her shoulders and rested. Her slim, gently tapered fingers grasped the microphone with idle elegance.

She gave the host a slight nod, then began to sing.

“Lost in the dark…”

The impossibly haunting and beauteous mezzo-soprano echoed the walls.

“What do you see beyond your stare?”

Jenny had never quite imagined how a supposedly simple female solo vocal could affect her. She could feel the lyrics, as it tore at her senses, evoking a throbbing and excruciating heat from her very core. At times, it was like a whimper lingering in the air, encircling people and their past grievances. It brought alive inexorable illumination, and also unearthly blackness. The prosaic fact was: she was helplessly enthralled.

“Know at that moment, I will be around.”

The song was over, just like that. The crowd could only offer a sense of disbelief as a fitting first reaction. Then, thunderous and positively aggressive applauses erupted within the modest establishment. Amid them, Jenny was only able to catch up with the praises half way through, as she was too busy glued to the singer.

The show went on for another half hour, then Ms. C retracted to the backstage. Everyone left, citing at how amazing their experience was, and how D&D’s was finally be able to find its calling once again. Everyone, except Jenny.

The only thing on her mind was how she wanted to talk to this woman.

Having patronised the bar enough, she quickly found a way to access the area behind the curtain falls. She was sure that if she asked the bartender really nicely, he would have let her in regardless, but it was important that this conversation she looked forward to was going to be private.

Soon, she had found what she was looking for. Sitting on a sofa, beneath the dimly lit neon, was the singer. The lighting condition only highlighted the honey-tanned skin, the flowing ravenous hair, and the gorgeous aura populating the room. It wasn’t difficult to notice that between those ruby lips was a lean, scorching cylinder, emitting a velvet smoke all too familiar.

“Merit…” Jenny spoke aloud without realising it, drawing the attention of the woman in question.

“Why hello there…” Ms. C took a slow and delicate drag, then turned. Her eyes lit up with interest. “You must be J.”

“I’m… Jenny, yes.”

“You know V?”

“Victor?” Jenny was perplexed at the need to spell out names in passcodes. Still, she could not look away. “Did he tell you about me?”

“I suppose he did.” Ms. C flashed an arrogant yet absolutely heart-throbbing smile, too successful in wavering whoever was at the receiving end. “He said you were an artist, and you know this area.”

“I guess so.”

“Then you’re exactly who I’m looking for.”

“For what?”

Ms. C reached for her purse. Against all expectations, she pulled out what seemed like a genuine detective badge.

“Cher, private investigator.” Jenny could do nothing but stare in disbelief. “I’m here to investigate a drug trade, and am in need of a facial compositor.”

“That’s why you’re looking for me?” Jenny was still in awe. If that entire show was a setup, then it had to have been the best she had ever seen. However, there were overwhelming reasons to believe that it was still a bona fide production, which only impressed her more.

“Indeed. V left a note which told us you’re interested in this line of work.” Ms. C, or Cher, was no longer displaying the expression of a professional seductress, instead that of a hard-boiled operative. “Am I to assume that’s true?”

Jenny was speechless. When she complained to Victor that school was boring her, nothing could have prepared her for something like this. However, the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea of using her talent to help make a difference. It should be easy enough to verify the validity of Cher’s claims, but should they turned out to be true, Jenny wouldn’t be against helping.

“Yes.” A cautious answer, but it was good enough. “I’d need you to prove it to me first, but most likely yes.”

“I see.” Cher gave a relaxed exhalation. “V was right, you got guts.”

“…thank you.” Jenny smiled at the approval. Thinking back, there was still something she needed to ask. “Why did Vic-, I mean V, have to leave?”

“V used to be one of us.” Cher’s complexion turned sullen. “Now he’s on the run from us.”

Jenny was not prepared to process that kind of information. She didn’t want to believe Victor a bad guy, but then again she never knew him at any capacity. In the end, she only wanted to know more. “What did he do?”

“Nothing that would affect someone like you.” Cher snuffed her cigarette with a distinct lack of delicacy. “We’ve mostly overlooked him, since he’s still feeding us information on his own accord. However, that won’t last forever. Sooner or later his usefulness to law enforcement will cease to be, and we’d be forced to take him down.”

Jenny had to take the time to ponder all that had happened. She remembered Victor’s last words, telling her that they should not meet again. At that time, she believed him to be cynical. Now, it only seemed like Victor himself wished for it. When it came to that, would she be able to go against him? That was almost too much to ask of her.

She stared at the cold unlit cigarette. It looked strangely alluring.

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