“What do you want me to do? You can’t expect me to do much for just a toy,” Grant said as he set his fork down and stared at the plushie.
“Hmm, judging by your face earlier, you were really frustrated not winning this. I can tell you really want this, but don’t worry what I am about to ask for isn’t much.” She brought the plushie closer to herself. “I just don’t want to pay for a taxi, I need a ride home.”
Grant’s face lightened from his stern gaze. A ride home? That seemed like a reasonable request for the reward, but Grant still had no idea who she was, or how far the drive would be.
“That’s all you need?” Grant asked. “Why do I have the feeling you aren’t telling me something?”
“No need to worry, all I need is a ride home. Nothing else.”
“I guess I can do that…” His voice wrung out sounding unsure.
“Thanks! Okay, I’ll let you eat now. I’ll be waiting in the arcade room when you are ready.” She smiled and bounced back into the sea of people walking throughout the dining area, clutching the plushie in her grip.
Grant wasn’t at risk to gamble away any more money now. It seemed like a fair trade, unless her destination resided on the other side of the city. The thought of driving through that traffic tormented Grant, but that was nothing compared to fulfilling Elijah’s final wish.
Grant munched on the food, juices from the fresh meat dripping out of his mouth. The stingrays still eyed him, or rather, chomped at him, as if judging him.
The night continued on and left Grant with an empty plate and a full stomach. He stretched his arms and glanced over at the arcade room. It seemed less crowded now.
He paid the waiter and headed back to the flashing lights. The girl was leaning against a wall with a notepad and pencil and the Shuraek plushie rested under her armpit. She stopped writing and shoved it into her pocket when she noticed Grant.
“Oh, you’re ready?” She asked.
“Yeah, I can take you now.”
The girl observed the stingray tanks the whole way out, deep in concentration. They left the establishment and stepped into the half full parking lot.
Idle conversations carried through the still night while groups slogged back to their cars. The bass-less music that echoed from the cheap entrance speakers grew faint as the two made their way towards Grant’s car.
“Oh, hey, sorry, but can you wait a moment. I need to use the bathroom. If you don’t mind, can you pull the car up to that side door up there?”
Grant pulled his car up to the side of the building. Upon closer inspection, the side door seemed to be for employees only. She wasn’t an employee was she? Grant wondered if she had that door mistaken as a public door, but either way she wanted him to park there so he decided to stay.
His car faced Zenall Plus. There was another building beside it that he didn’t recognize though. The building was the same in size to Zenall Plus, but the parking lot was double the size. Cars weren’t the only thing parked there. From the distance where Grant sat, food stands seemed to be set up, reminding him of a fair.
Growing up, Grant had gone to Tonim’s fair many times; every year he went with his parents and brother. That is, until Elijah disappeared. Now, the thought of going to a fair brought Grant feelings of guilt and hopelessness.
He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel with the radio playing classical Nhajan music. The slow strings accompanied by the soft piano playing helped unravel his nerves.
Ten minutes had gone by, and Grant took to eavesdropping on passerbys, hoping to hear more of the murder details, or anything about the city in general. This place was so new to him.
“Did you see that girl who was sneaking into the back?”
“Yeah, I wonder what she is up to, pretty sure she thought no one saw her though hahaha.”
“Oh well, I’m sure she will get an earful when the employees spot her back there.”
Were they talking about the same girl that Grant was waiting out here for? What was she getting into? He only came here to enjoy critically acclaimed food, not get into trouble.
He calmed himself, the music still surrounding him with tranquility. He had no right to get worked up about what he heard. There was no guarantee it was her.
The employee door swung open, casting light into darkness. The girl hobbled back and forth while carrying a large container. Grant shook his head. She made her way to the car and flopped in; the weight of the container appeared to pin her to the seat.
“Let’s get going! Now!” She shouted and placed the plushie next to her and reached into her pocket. The container wobbled in her lap.
“W-what? What’s the big deal? And what’s in the co-”
“I said now! Hurry! Go!”
From her pocket she unsheathed a knife. A cold, sharp sensation rested across Grant’s neck as she forced his head to look forward. Without any resistance, he stomped on the gas and took off out of the parking lot.
Cars halted as they sped through the residential streets; Grant apologized under his breath to the pedestrians who had to witness the reckless driving. If the cops pulled him over, he would just explain the situation. Everything was justified. His life dangled by a thread. That knife could cut it if he made any mistake.
“Good, keep going. I’ll give you directions. First head left on the next intersection. If we make it to my destination without anyone following us, you’ll get your dumb plushie.”
The sudden change of attitude from the girl turned him cold and pale. Going to Ocean’s Ray was a mistake.
The sound of liquid sloshing side to side dulled inside the container. What did she take from the restaurant?
While keeping the knife close to Grant’s neck, she took off the lid of the plastic container with her other hand. Her hand dipped inside and moved back and forth, creating a light splashing sound.
“It’s okay Taria, Mommy is here.”
Grant focused on the road but slowly moved his eyes over, his heartbeat accelerated. There was no way she took one of them, right?
Strings of red lights illuminated the interior of the car at every stoplight, making the maroon seats an extra shade of red. The water surrounding the critter in the container glistened a crimson shine as the gaze from the girl’s eyes sunk into the pool of water.
“Have you been a good girl? Those bad men took you away didn’t they!? It’s all right now, you don’t have to be afraid anymore. I know you don’t like hanging out with all the others, but I hope you made a few friends while you were there.” She continued to pet the animal.
A genuine smile rose from her lips, and she lowered the knife. She acted like this stingray was her child.
She turned to Grant and said, “Sorry, I promise I’m not actually a violent person. But, I was not about to risk getting caught stealing Taria back. Things would get messy then....”
Grant calmed himself as the situation became a little less threatening. Her eyes focused on the stingray, beaming the whole time. She really didn’t seem like the violent type, but he couldn’t be too sure.
“If someone actually stole your pet… I think going to the police would have been your best option,” Grant whispered, finding it hard to make his words audible.
“Hah. You really don’t understand anything,” she said as she placed the knife back in her pocket and fumbled around by the cushion of her seat. “The people who stole her are from law enforcement.”
“I-I don’t understand. What do the police want with a stingray.”
“Hey what’s your name?” She asked, avoiding the question.
Grant hesitated, but if he didn’t give his name would she threaten him again? He didn’t have a choice in this situation. The aura she gave off seemed mysterious and honestly, dangerous.
“Ohh, so you live at Lot 100?”
What? How could she possibly know that?
“How do you know…?”
“Ah, you left this paper sitting here.” She maneuvered the piece of paper against the street lights as they drove. Someone named Lars too, I’m assuming that’s the landlord? Judging by that, I have to guess you live in Lyros, or are in the process of moving.” She grinned, “Looks like it’s my lucky day.”
Lucky? Hell no. Grant’s arms started shaking. What a terrible start to his move. A crazy girl who threatened his life already knows where he lives.
“How can you guess that…?”
“Lars is, well, you could say, kind of a celebrity in my parts of the city.” She ran her fingers along the stingrays tail and pulled it a bit out of the water.
“In what way?” Grant asked.
“You’ll understand once you get to know him.” She reached the tip of the stingray’s tail. “My, your tail has grown even longer hasn’t it?”
She avoided directly answering Grant’s questions which made his stomach turn. What was she hiding?
All he needed to do was get this girl to her location and he would be free of her. The thought of the plushie wasn’t even in his mind anymore. The knife was now hidden in her pocket and out of sight, but if he made her upset, perhaps it would return.
“Okay you’re going to need to turn off the main road at the next stoplight…” She continued giving directions until they reached the destination.
Grant received a residential tour of the city, but in no way was it a joyous experience. He stayed on edge the whole time.
“It’s this one!” She pointed to a single building amidst a cluster of apartment complexes. “Just pull in front of here.”
The car stopped in front of the brick building. She placed the lid on top of the container that carried her pet and opened the door.
“Ah, right, here you go. Here’s your stuffed animal.” She nudged the plushie towards him. “I’m Rinari by the way.”
Her attitude unnerved Grant. He sat still, not saying a word.
“Well, I’m sure I’ll see you soon.” She smiled.
Did he hear her right? Soon?
“Soon…? What do you mean?”
“Grant, I know where you live now. Take care.”
She slammed the door and Grant watched as she walked towards the building, her hair liken to a stingray itself. Dark purple bangs curved to a point on her forehead between her eyebrows. Her hair increased in length all the way around until the back of her head where long strands resembled a tail.