Part Three

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Thirty minutes later, I've parked in the deserted bus station parking lot and there are a number of reasons I'm staring at the locker key and not moving. First and foremost, this is my last chance to find a way to earn my $700 back, and how likely is it that the prize is in a bus station locker of all things? The location feels like it's home to some nefarious secret I may be better off not knowing. However, sitting in this car and diving into the old memories and emotions Ella has inadvertently stirred up with her "fear" comments holds zero appeal. I didn't leave Los Angeles over fear. I left because I chose to start a new life. I left because . . . damn it. He was still there, but it wasn't about fear. It wasn't me being a coward. I simply chose to be smart. To leave a situation that could have turned dangerous. Again. It could have turned dangerous again.

Needing out of my own head, I pop open the door and step outside into a gust of the typical San Francisco evening winds, which send a chill down my spine and inspire me to grab the lightweight jacket I keep handy in the backseat. I slip it on and decide to leave my purse in the car, lock the door, and stuff my keys and cell phone in my pocket, while the locker key is in my other hand, ready for fast use so I can get the heck out of here.

Crossing the parking lot, I assess the whole three cars parked here and there and decide it must be a slow time for travel. Entering the building, there are rows of worn blue empty seats in the middle of the room and lining the walls, and some sort of unmanned check-in counter to the far right. Spying the lockers directly ahead, I charge forward and find the number I'm looking for rather quickly, but I'm ridiculously nervous. I inhale and then try to stick the key in the hole, only to discover my stupid hand is shaking, a bad reaction to adrenaline I've had since I was a kid and need to fix before law school. I just really need this locker to be worth $700. I steady my hand, turn the lock, open the steel door, and stare down at an envelope. I am not encouraged.

Sighing, I reach for it and open the seal, retrieving a note card from inside that is typed with only a short note.


It didn't have to end like this.

A chill races down my spine, a sense of foreboding with it. The past is just too present and messing with my head. There is nothing wrong now and I've taken self-defense classes. I can handle myself now, anyway. Inhaling on that logical thought, I reach inside the envelope again and find only a plastic Ziploc bag, which I hold up to inspect. It holds nothing but what is surely a fake World Series $50,000 poker chip.

I stare at the chip and wonder why it's in a plastic bag. Frowning, I grab the note I'd found with it and read it again.

Jason, It didn't have to end like this.

Something about this feels really wrong. Like blackmail? Nervous laughter bubbles from my throat. "You, Skye," I murmur, scolding myself, "have been watching too much Law & Order."

Shoving the plastic bag and the note back inside the envelope, I shut the door on the empty locker. I can officially say my auction hunting has been a bust. I have a poker chip you can most likely buy for about fifty cents and a bunch of someone else's underwear. Perhaps I should have listened more to the Storage Treasures training and gone with no money my first time. Then Ella would not have been able to push me into bidding on something that didn't feel right for me.

Okay. Yes, she would have. She'd have just made the high bid herself and given me the locker. I should have stayed home; now I'll have to work double shifts at the restaurant for months to make up the cash I've lost.

Ready to get out of this place, I head toward the end of the row of lockers only to catch my jacket on the steel edge. I reach for it, and the key to the locker I'm holding goes flying from my hand. I cringe. Not again. Good grief. It bounces on the hard floor and goes under a row of lockers. I squat down, thankful I'm still in the jeans and tennis shoes I'd worn to dig through the storage unit, but I am not about to touch the filthy floor. Somehow it feels different than digging through dusty boxes. I'm also not getting the key unless I do. And why do I need the key anyway? The locker is empty.

Decision made, I stand up and walk through the deserted rows of fake leather seats and past a man with ripped, dirty clothes who wasn't here a few minutes ago and has decided to use several chairs as a bed. Coming here alone, after dark, was not my smartest decision. Who would even know if I went missing? Ella, I assure myself. And my asshole boss. Still, I'd let my fear over lost cash dictate my actions, and I'm sharper than that, but then I've never been to a bus station before, I remind myself. I thought it would be more like an airport, with lots of security and a food court to soothe my now extremely empty stomach.

I'm almost at the exit when a tall, broad man in a leather jacket enters the station, and while not unattractive, his features are intimidatingly hard, his dark hair spiky. He holds the door for me and instant unease splinters down my spine, but then I'm jittery after reading that note. Using the same avoidance strategy I harness frequently at the meat market that is my gym, I avert my gaze and dart past him, murmuring a "Thank you," and exit the building without incident, to be greeted by a chilly wind.

I hunker down into my jacket and hurry forward, and it's all I can do not to look back, but I don't want to encourage interaction with the stranger. Thankfully the streetlights are brighter than I remembered, fully illuminating the parking lot that is now empty but for my car. I guess that means the spiky-haired guy took a bus here. Hmmmmm. Where is everyone else who was on his bus, if that's the case? And the bus doesn't seem to fit him anyway, which is silly, since this is a bus station and he is here. But then, so am I. He must have gotten dropped off to take a bus. It's the only logical answer.

Finally at my car, I allow myself a peek at the door to find no sign of the spiky-haired man in leather, and I've just started to slide into my car when I hesitate. The only way I can prove that locker is now mine is with that key, and yes, the locker is empty, but some gut feeling tells me I need to hold onto it. What if there's some sort of registration paperwork the key will allow me to access? What if it connects to another locker? Most likely not, but I'm not ready to rule that out as an option if it might mean money. I slip the envelope under my seat, get out, and lock the car again, then some silly instinct has me removing my cell from my jacket pocket and typing in 911 before shoving the phone and my hand back inside my jacket. I'm ready, and giving myself no room to second-guess my actions, I jog back to the station.

I rush inside and frown at the absence of the sleeping man, wondering where the heck he went to so quickly and where he might pop up.

Actually, where's the man in leather?

Glancing at the check-in counter, I note that it's still vacant as well. Feeling ever so uneasy, my heart races, and I quickly cut through the rows of chairs and approach the locker, stopping dead in my tracks. The man with the spiky hair is standing in front of it, and it's open. Air freezes in my lungs. He found the key. The implication that he somehow knew I had dropped it is clear, and I am now standing right out in the open. If he turns his head he will see me. My heart leaps into my throat and I take off running. I am out of the building and hiking it to my car in a flash, and I'm not foolish enough to look back. My car keys are still in my hand, and I scramble inside the vehicle and lock the doors. I am shaking so hard that I can barely get the darn thing started. Finally, I put the gear into reverse and back up with a screech of tires, and as I do, I look at the entry of the bus station. Acid burns my throat. The spiky-haired guy is standing there staring at me. I hit the accelerator.


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