My nerves were on edge as I pulled into the driveway at Tristan’s two-story brick house. His car was still there, but there were no lights on inside as far as I could tell. I killed the engine in my own car and stepped out, scanning the area for any signs of disturbance. None of the plantings looked like they’d been trampled, none of the windows were open or broken; nothing seemed out of the ordinary at all. My initial overview complete, I made my way up to the house, my shoes seeming to scrape louder than usual across the pavers.
I found the front door locked, but this was only a minor inconvenience for me. I took a deep breath and willed myself to vanish, moving through the solid door with little effort. Once on the other side, I rematerialized just enough to make sure the coast was clear before I solidified completely. The house was dark, and the fact that the door had been locked seemed to be a good sign. As with the outside, nothing seemed out of place. I made my way through several rooms filled with immaculate antique furniture mixed with a healthy dose of modern amenities, marveling that it didn’t look more like a museum.
I crept carefully up the stairs, peeking into each of the rooms. Every one of them was decorated in the same mix of modern and old, with no shortage of artwork or musical instruments. One thing was clear: Tristan was a huge fan of order and cleanliness. If anything had taken place in this house, I’d have been able to spot it immediately. If he’d run afoul of Stone’s men, it was more likely it had happened off the premises.
I exited the way I’d come in, visualizing the route he’d have taken to meet with me at my place. Obviously he’d secured a different mode of transportation for whatever reason, most likely in an attempt to keep out of sight. I slipped into the seat of my car and drummed my fingers on the steering wheel for a moment before firing up the engine.
As I drove along the familiar road back toward my house, it became apparent that he would probably have had to make at least one pit stop along the way. Selwyn was notorious in his love of ridiculous snack foods, and a convenience store on the corner would have made for a quick and easy stop if Payne had felt confident enough that he wasn’t being followed. The parking lot was empty aside from an older car that probably belonged to the kid working behind the counter, so I turned in and headed for the door.
“Hey man. You got a second?” I asked. The kid looked at me sleepily at first, but with a growing curiosity.
“Yeah, it’s kinda slow right now I guess. But don’t try nothing funny; I’m within arm’s reach of a rifle and Mr. Billingsly taught me how to use it.” His caution was probably well-founded, but it still made me bristle just a bit. Still, he was at least willing to talk to me.
“I was just going to ask if you happened to remember seeing a friend of mine come in here tonight. It would have been about an hour and a half ago, maybe a little more. Not sure what he’d have been wearing, but it would probably have been pretty nice. He’s in his early to mid twenties, about five foot eleven, maybe six feet tall, with black hair and hazel eyes. He has a roundish face…”
“Pale as all get out, dresses in a lot of black, sort of goth?”
“Yes, that’s him.”
“Yeah, seen him here lots of times. He was in earlier but didn’t buy anything. I think he left with some chick.”
“Do you happen to remember what she looked like?”
“Oh yeah. She was smokin’ hot. Nice body and long, white hair. Seen her in here from time to time as well.”
“Thanks for your time,” I said, quickly heading for the door.
So Payne had definitely been at the store, and had left with a dame that sounded a lot like how he’d described his ex-girlfriend to me. Of course, he hadn’t been as crass in his description as the clerk was, but I didn’t think there were too many women in town with pure white hair that were under the age of 70. At our last meeting, he told me that he was currently in a stable relationship with the ebony-locked Emily Laine, so what could have caused him to skip out on a previously set up meeting to spend time with his ex?
It was possible she was in on it, but it seemed more likely that Stone was using her as bait. Now I had to figure out where the couple had gone after leaving the store, which probably wasn’t going to prove to be as simple a feat as tracking them there in the first place had been.