I took a deep breath. "My name is Cas Russell. I do retrieval. It means I get things back for people. That's my job." I swallowed. "Your sister really did hire me to get you out, okay? I'm not going to hurt you."
"You locked me up again."
"Only so you'd stay put until I could come back for you," I tried to assure her.
Courtney's arms were still crossed, and she'd started worrying her lip with her teeth. "And what about all that other stuff you did?" she asked finally. "With the cartel guards, and the stones, and that cop..."
I scanned the constellations and steered the Jeep eastward, aiming to intersect the highway. The stars burned into my eyes, their altitudes, azimuths, and apparent magnitudes appearing in my mind as if stenciled in the sky behind each bright, burning pinprick. A satellite puttered into view, and its timing told me its height above Earth and its orbital velocity.
"I'm really good at math," I said. Too good. "That's all."
Polk snorted as if I were putting her on, but then her face knitted in a frown, and I felt her staring at me in the darkness. Oh, hell. I like it better when my clients hire me to retrieve inanimate objects. People are so annoying.
By morning, my madly circuitous route had brought us only halfway back to LA. Switching cars twice and drastically changing direction three times might not have been strictly necessary, but it made my paranoid self feel better.
The desert night had turned cold; fortunately, we were now in a junky old station wagon instead of the open Jeep, though the car's heater managed only a thin stream of lukewarm air. Polk had her bony knees hunched up in front of her and had buried her face against them. She hadn't spoken in hours.
I was grateful. This job had had enough monkey wrenches already without needing to explain myself to an ungrateful child every other minute.
Polk sat up as we drove into the rising sun. "You said you do retrieval."
"Yeah," I said.
"You get things back for people."
"That's what 'retrieval' means."
"I want to hire you." Her youthful face was set in stubborn lines.
Great. She was lucky I wasn't choosy about my clientele. And that I needed another job after this one. "What for?"
"I want my life back."
"Uh, your sister's already paying me for that," I reminded her. "But hey, you can pay me twice if you want. I won't complain."
"No. I mean I don't want to go flying off to Argentina. I want my
"Wait, you're asking me to steal you back a clean record?" This girl didn't know what reality was. "Kid, that's not—"
"I've got money," she interrupted. Her eyes dropped to her knees. "I got paid really well, for someone who drove a delivery truck."
I snorted. "What are the going rates for being a drug mule these days?"
"I don't care what you think of me," said Polk, though red was creeping up her neck and across her cheeks. She ducked her head, letting her frizzy ponytail fall across her face. "People make mistakes, you know."
Yeah. Cry me a river. I ignored the voice in my head telling me I should take the fucking job anyway. "Saving the unfortunate isn't really my bag. Sorry, kid."
"Will you at least think about it? And stop calling me 'kid.' I'm twenty-three."
She looked about eighteen, wide-eyed and gullible and wet behind the ears. But then, I guess I can't judge; people still assumed I was a teenager sometimes, and in reality I was barely older than Courtney. Of course, age can be measured in more ways than years. Sometimes I had to pull a .45 in people's faces to remind them of that.