Lee slumped in her seat and we drove in silence, hitting the freeway as the radio oozed some middle-of-the-road “adult alternative” crap into the air space. Neither one of us said anything until we’d passed a couple downtown exits.
“I thought we were going to get something to eat,” she said, her head swiveling as we whizzed by a Wendy’s.
“We will. Just let me get oriented here.” My foot eased up on the gas. “The ghetto is south of downtown. Doesn’t it seem like we should be getting off the freeway?”
“Hell, I don’t know.” Lee leaned forward for a better look.
“I think Broadway’s a good bet,” I said. “It goes right into the bad area.”
Two exits down, I took Broadway and made a left to go south. After a few blocks, we found ourselves straight on target. We’d arrived in the heart of Oak Vista, a low-rent, crime-ridden area that I’d only driven through before, quickly and by accident. We passed another fast-food joint, but I noticed it too late to turn in. My stomach was rumbling like a semi, too. Next to me, Lee rummaged through her purse.
“What’re you looking for?”
“I think I have a giant Snicker’s,” she said and then let out a yip. I heard a wrapper crackle. “Want some?” she asked.
“You bet.” I figured I’d get some bona fide vitamins and minerals from the peanuts.
We cruised the boulevard, chewing candy and peering out the windshield at the surreal view, like we were watching a movie and enjoying something from the snack bar.
“Geezus, this is unbelievable,” Lee said, her words muffled by chewing.
“…I had no idea.”
“You never came to this place when you were, you know, walking the wild side?”
“God, no.” My eyes flew momentarily to her face. “I just partied a little. These people mean business.”
Our eyes riveted out the windshield again. Both sides of Broadway were lined with seedy motel/car park places, obviously built in the 50s and 60s. These swanky establishments were painted bubble gum pink, fireplug red or, in the case of the Happy Bluebird Motel, baby blue. The astonishing thing was realizing that every one of them housed crack whores, crack dealers, and crack addicts. At that moment, I hoped with all my heart my errant husband wasn’t holed up with a crack gal getting AIDS and making babies. Crack babies.
“What’s that?” Lee cried, out of the blue, pointing at a parking lot.
“I just saw a shiny white pick-up. In that motel lot.” Her voice sounded high-pitched with excitement.
We’d already passed the place, so I made a right turn at the next corner and circled back around the block. I pulled up to the Gold Crest Motel, its neon yellow crown glowing in the darkness. The sign under the crown actually read, “Go d Cr st otel,” what with upkeep not being much of a priority in the area. We turned into the lot, and I spied the white pick-up at the end of a row of beat-up cars. A couple guys came out of a room and stood by a trashcan, eyeing us, probably because I was driving so slowly. And because we were a couple clean-cut white chicks cruising a crack motel.
Lee started to roll down her window to say something.
“No, don’t!” I yelped.
Her head whipped around. “I was just going to ask…”
“No. Look, the truck’s a Dodge not a Chevy.”
I shot the Bronco forward, swooped around the parking lot, and screeched out.
Gunning into the far lane, I looked at my buddy. “You were the one who didn’t want to do anything stupid.”
She gave me her hazel Heidi eyes. “I was just going to ask if they knew a guy named Kenny.”
“Uh-huh. And what if they came up to your door and shoved a gun in your face?”
“Oh. Wow. This is like being in ‘Law and Order.’”
I rolled my eyes and took off down the road.
We continued cruising parking lots and side streets, looking for Kenny’s new Silverado, but never spotted it. Eventually, I decided to stop at a liquor store on the main drag and ask if anyone there had seen a guy fitting Kenny’s description. It beat just driving around. Besides, unlike the dark motel parking lot where Lee had wanted to inquire about my husband, the store was a brightly lit public place. Plus, I think we were getting used to the neighborhood. Not to mention I could use another Snicker’s bar.
“I’m coming in, too,” Lee said, as I pulled to the curb opposite the store. “I want some jerky.”
Geez. Jerky and Snicker’s. All the food groups.
I locked up the Bronco, and the two of us dashed across the street. When we hit the other side, a group of guys huddling around a chopped car leered at us and tossed a couple remarks our way. We ignored them and kept our eyes fastened to the ground, which was why I didn’t see what was coming. Just as I was about to open the store door, a huge guy with a shaved head pushed through, hit my shoulder and spun me around. He stopped mid-step and stared.
I froze, my brain leaping over the weeks since I’d last seen him. It was the crack-dealing thug who’d come to my house the day I was moving—the one who’d been hunting down Kenny and the money he was owed. It was L.J., the giant Shar Pei.