After the call ended, Jackson sat up, turned his legs around, and sat on his bed. He stared out the window that looked down on the alley below. Everything was still wet from the rain. To someone who didn't know any better, Jackson looked half asleep. But Jackson didn't sleep. Not really. He associated sleep with dreams and he couldn't remember the last time he had a dream. Whenever he laid down on the narrow bed and closed his eyes to rest his body, he drifted in darkness until he opened his eyes again.
For this one thing he was grateful.
The man who called had asked if he was disturbing Jackson; this was more out of formality than actual concern. Jackson knew the man only as Kingston, and he knew that Kingston imagined himself to be a gentleman. He often wished that Kingston would give up the charade – especially when he called in the middle of the night. Jackson preferred short and concise conversation. It saved time and, what was more important, didn't waste his.
“Give me the name,” Jackson had said. Kingston laughed, but didn't comment further. Jackson didn't need a false sense of camaraderie to do his job; he didn't have friends, didn't have family. He had long given up on the idea of brotherhood he'd learned in the Army and again when he rode with the club. Jackson was his own army, his own club. At least Kingston had learned to stop asking him if he wanted to meet for a drink.
“Cranston,” Kingston said. “William G.”
“Need any particulars?”
“Only if they're important.”
Kingston went on to tell him where William G. Cranston could be found, and where he could be found for the next four days. That was the window. Four days. If things went the way they usually went, Jackson would be seeing this Cranston within a day and a half, unless there was some delay he couldn't account for. People, in spite of being addicted to routine, changed it on occasion. And if Cranston had any idea who was coming for him, he might change his routine. Sometimes they ran. Mostly they didn't. If this one ran and it took longer than four days, he had an understanding with Kingston that it cost extra. Kingston didn't have a problem with this, and Jackson didn't object to making more money; it was more about time.
He took his last cigarette from the pack next to the lamp on the bedside table, lit it with a match from the book of matches sitting next to the pack, and stood up. The moment he stood up his entire body was awake.
Before he tossed the book of matches back on the bedside table, he looked at it. He'd picked it up in a bar three nights before. Jackson only went to this bar once every other month or so. He'd gone there for the same reason he always went there. To meet Audrey. Audrey was a hooker – though for as much as it cost, she called herself “a professional girlfriend.” It was supposed to be a joke; Jackson supposed it was funny. But as far as he was concerned, whether you pay $20 or $20,000, a whore is a whore. Audrey kept herself up and was still young enough to be sexy. She was the most recent in a line of arrangements he'd had over the years. She was smarter than most and didn't mind that Jackson didn't really like to chit chat. He met her at the bar and they left soon after, going to a hotel downtown where Jackson had reserved a room. He never brought anyone to where he lived, never went anyplace with them he didn't know, and he never spent the night.
Audrey was one more in a long line that would probably include many more before he got beyond the need to get his rocks off. By that time Jackson figured he would either be dead or he would retire and disappear completely. Then not even Kingston would be able to find him. And if he happened to, Kingston wouldn't be found, either. By then Audrey would be a faint memory; he might not even remember her name. He rarely remembered information was not necessary.
But there was something different about her, too. Jackson wasn't entirely sure what it was. In the past, he would get what he needed and when he tired of their company, he would stop seeing them. There had probably been a few who had made the mistake of falling in love with him – that chubby blonde one in Kansas City had been like that. But he never led them on, never allowed them to expect more than a generous tip and money for a cab ride back to where ever they slept. He didn't offer personal information and didn't ask for any.
He was not different with Audrey, and she was quick on the up take. She was all business and he liked that. No bullshit. No fuss. Maybe that was it. But that didn't explain why he sometimes woke thinking her name or why he sometimes thought he smelled her his clothes, even after he'd had them laundered.
He put on clean clothes, pulled on his coat, grabbed his case out of the closet, and walked out the door of his small one room apartment. It opened into an interior court, like many of the old buildings in New Orleans. One way in. One way out. His room was on the top level in the corner near the stairs. He stood at the railing for a second and looked down. There were some quarter kids living on the level below him. They were awake, playing music, getting drunk and high. They were round-faced and starved at the same time. The girl, a tattooed whore of no more than 17 years old, had propositioned him before. He never spoke to her. She looked and smelled diseased.
As he made his way down the stairs to the street, he thought about William G. Cranston. Kingston had sent the man's picture to his cell phone. He was a thin man with brown eyes and a pock marked face. He didn't look like he would be any trouble.