Angel Fire, p.1part #2 of Angel Series
IT TOOK THE WOMAN A long time to leave her house.
Across the street, Seb stood propped against a run-down grocery store, hidden in the dawn shadows as he watched the woman’s front door. His high-cheekboned face had a light stubble on its jaw; his lean body was as simultaneously relaxed and alert as a cat’s. He was sure this was the right place. It looked exactly like what he’d seen: a golden-yellow house on the main street, with a panelled wooden door, and a small wrought-iron balcony filled with flowering plants – a jumble of red and yellow. With his hands in his jeans pockets, Seb counted the front door’s panels: ten. Then he counted the flowerpots: seventeen.
Come on, chiquita, you’re going to be late for work, he thought.
The door opened at last and a small, round woman wearing a business suit came out. Fussily delving in her handbag for keys, she finally found them and locked the door behind her, then teetered to her car on plump feet that looked pinched in their high-heeled shoes. By the time she reached the car, she’d somehow lost her keys in her handbag again and had to stand on the sidewalk searching for almost a minute, shaking her head in irritation. Seb held back a smile. Yes, this all seemed very like her.
The moment the woman’s car disappeared around the corner, Seb grabbed a battered knapsack that sat at his feet and slung it over his shoulder. He’d already checked out how to get to the back of the house; now he took a quick second to send his other self flying, making sure the way was clear. It was. He crossed the road, strolling through the early-morning silence. A tall wooden fence bordered the house on one side; Seb jumped to grasp the top of it, vaulting over easily. The back of the house was just like he’d seen, too – a tidy concrete courtyard, again filled lushly with potted plants. A faded deckchair stood folded near the sliding patio door.
The window with the broken lock that had been worrying the woman was up on the second floor. It took only seconds for Seb to scale the trellis and slide it open. He dropped silently into her bedroom – pale green, lots of ruffles. There was a smell of perfume, as if dousing herself had been the last thing she’d done before leaving.
And now she’d be gone for hours. Her job was so far away that she didn’t have time to come home for lunch; it had been one of many niggling concerns on her mind the day before. The woman’s thoughts had been like leaves in a whirlwind: none weighty in themselves, but the overall effect had left Seb with a headache from trying to focus on them. Psychic readings weren’t always an easy way to pick up a few pesos, especially when all he wanted was to get them over with quickly, so he could buy something to eat and get back to the only thing that mattered to him. Even so, he hoped what he’d told the woman had helped. She definitely needed to relax more – though he was glad she hadn’t decided to start doing it today.
Leaving the scented bedroom, Seb started searching, his steps echoing on the tiled floors. Though he rarely broke into houses any more, there’d been a time when he’d done it all too often, with much worse motives than now. Gently, he pushed open doors, peered into rooms. His face creased into a frown. She would have one, wouldn’t she? He hadn’t seen for sure; he’d just assumed. Then on the ground floor, he found it: a computer sitting on a desk in the corner.
Perfect. Seb swung himself into the chair and hit the on button. The local school with its computers the public could use was closed today, and he hadn’t been able to get a bed at the hostel for the last few nights, where he might have borrowed someone’s laptop. He entered a few words into the search engine, typing slowly. A list of options came up; he found the one he was looking for and selected it.
Diaz Orphanage, said the website’s home page: A haven for children. Seb’s lip curled. He’d seen many orphanages over the years; few could be described as “havens”. But he’d only found out about this one yesterday, and he needed to check it – who knew, it might turn out to be the place where he’d finally find what he was looking for. His heart beat faster at the thought, though he was only all too aware by now how unlikely it was. Taking a piece of paper from the woman’s desk, he carefully wrote down the address and stuck it in his knapsack; it was around a hundred miles to the east, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre.
Then, on impulse, he brought up a map of Mexico, gazing at its familiar shape and mentally tracing the lines he’d travelled up and down it for years now. He’d started in Mexico City and since then had rarely spent more than a few weeks in one place. Currently he was in Presora, not far from Hermosillo, with its white beaches and throngs of tourists. Presora was quieter, though; a smaller town that had still taken him days to search, checking out every person he passed on the street, entering every building he was able to, sending his other self into the ones he couldn’t.
There’d been nothing. Nothing at all. It wasn’t really surprising – in his whole life, Seb had never seen even a hint of what he hoped so much to find. But he had to keep trying. It was all he could do.
Enough of this; he’d gotten what he came for. He turned off the computer and stood up, swinging his bag over his shoulder – and then his glance fell on the woman’s bookcase, and he was lost. He drifted over to it, squatting on his haunches as he gazed hungrily. A lot of the paperbacks didn’t even look as if they’d been opened, and for a heartbeat Seb was tempted – he’d almost finished his current book, and didn’t know when he’d next find a used bookstore to trade it for another one. He touched the cover of a thick historical novel. It would keep him going for a week.
But no. He hadn’t broken in here to steal, even if in the past he wouldn’t have thought twice. With a sigh, Seb straightened up.
As he started for the stairs he saw a hallway beside the kitchen, with a shower room visible. He hesitated, then went and looked inside. The white-tiled room was almost bare: just a hand towel and a bar of dusty-looking soap, as if the shower in here was rarely used. Which was probably true – the woman lived alone; the pristine pink bathroom he’d seen upstairs was the one with all her potions and powders in it. A mischievous smile began to tug at Seb’s face. Okay, this he couldn’t resist – he hadn’t been able to get really clean in days. His clothes were cleaner than he was; it had been easier to find a laundromat in this town than a bed at the hostel.
He entered the small room, locking the door behind him. There was a tube of shower gel in his knapsack; he dug it out, then stripped off and took a long shower, relishing both the hot water and the privacy. Even after so many years, it still felt as if he could never take either for granted. His body was firm and toned; as he bathed, scars he barely noticed any more gleamed from his wet skin – some white with age, others newer, puckering redly. He hated not feeling clean almost more than anything; it felt wonderful to wash away the grime of the last few days.
Afterwards, Seb dried off as best he could with the hand towel and glanced in the mirror, scraping his wet hair back. It curled when he wore it too short, irritating him, and so he kept it slightly long, shoved away from his face. A loose curl or two always fell over his forehead anyway, just to torment him.
His jeans and T-shirt clung to him when he got dressed again, but the heat of the day would soon finish drying him off. He glanced around the shower room to make sure he’d left it the way he’d found it; then he jogged back up the stairs, eager to get going towards the Sierra Madre and the address in his knapsack. In the green and frilly bedroom, Seb paused at the window, glancing around him.