I’d never broken the law before, always preferring to save money on gas by never going over 65 on the freeway. But today, I was willing to go 90 plus the whole way and zigzag my way through the lanes.
Khit might have started off before me, but I was closer to the restaurant. Darryl’s apartment was only ten minutes away from downtown compared to the twenty minute trip from my place. Since Khit had just left my house maybe five minutes ago, I still had a chance of beating him there.
And then I hit traffic. Of course. It was a Tuesday night, and I was driving during rush hour.
But if I was stuck, Khit had to be too.
After enduring it for five minutes, I maneuvered my way to the off ramp. It had to be a little faster if I used side streets. With one hand on the steering wheel, I played with the setting on my GPS to give me directions to The Grill House using side streets.
There were still tons of cars, eager to get home, but it was nowhere near as bad as the chaos on the freeway.
I eyed the time, watching as ten minutes became fifteen, then twenty.
Then I turned onto a one-way street and was rewarded as the side of the restaurant appeared in the far distance.
To my side, I saw Khit’s car, and he was just coming out of it.
He had been lucky, finding a place to parallel park in crowded downtown.
I, on the other hand…not so lucky. And I couldn’t parallel park even if I had a gun to my head.
I took my next option. I stopped my car right there in the middle of the road despite the angry beeps and yells from the cars behind me. Rolling down my window, I called his name and honked my horn.
He must have been deaf. The dense man was oblivious to me and the angry line of cars behind me.
I looked around my car for some object, any object. An old, dried-out pen was in one of my cup holders, and I decided it would have to do. Praying that my aim would not be off, I threw it out the window. I had been aiming for his back, but it landed right smack into the back of his head. It was enough to make him turn around anyway.
“Khit!” I screamed.
Finally, he saw me. He started running towards me, the panic in his face apparent. He was looking at my car and me as if we were some mirage.
“Oh God!” I cried, exasperated. “It really is me. Get in the car before I get a ticket.”
Like a zombie, he obeyed, still staring at me the whole time.
I resumed driving, to the relief of everyone else on the road. And just to make sure Khit and Julia wouldn’t accidently see each other from the car or the restaurant, I told Khit to duck below view of the window.
“Why?” he asked.
“Just do it!”
The abruptness in my tone forced him to comply immediately. When I had passed the restaurant by several blocks, I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Are you sure you’re completely all right?” he asked me. “Scyther didn’t hurt you?”
“Didn’t even touch me,” I assured him.
“In that case,” he took a deep breath before finally exploding. “Tell me what the hell is going on!”
“Let me pull over somewhere first before I get into an accident.” I found a parking lot behind a bank and pulled in, safely parking. Never in my life had I felt so happy to have made it to a parking lot in one piece.
Khit was impatiently glaring, silently waiting for me to speak.
“Well, here’s what happened. Your mother is in that restaurant for a yaojing reunion that Scyther organized.”
I proceeded to fill in the details of my day, beginning with my encounter at the park with Scyther, Julia’s visit to my apartment, losing my cell phone, and dinner with Darryl.
“I would have told you everything earlier if I had my phone,” I said. “But I have no idea where it went. I had it when I went jogging, and then it disappeared.”
Khit’s mouth was set in a straight, grim line. “I have a good idea who has it. Scyther has fast hands. He stole it from your pocket this morning.”
Thinking back to that encounter, I now realized that he must have taken it when he bumped into me. “But why?” I asked.
“Because he used it to call me. To convince me that he had kidnapped you. He owns The Grill House and said he cleared it out for the night and fooled you into going there.”
And then Khit had called Liana to see if I was home. When she’d told him I’d gone out for dinner, Khit had been convinced that Scyther had pretended to be Darryl to call me out on a date to the restaurant.
“He told me he would be waiting at the restaurant for me. And if I didn’t show, he would kill you.” He cursed, calling Scyther a string of horrible names that were well-deserved. “I should have thought it through, but I couldn’t think straight. I was only focused on you. I should have known something was up.”
“It’s all right,” I started to say, but it occurred to me that we might not be completely danger-free yet. Julia was at the restaurant. What if the yaojing reunion was just a cover-up? What if Scyther was holding Julia there against her will?
Before I could voice my questions to Khit, his phone rang.
He stared at the caller ID and said, “It’s Scyther.” He jerked the phone to his ear and answered.
“Your game is over,” he snarled. “Caren’s here with me, so don’t pre—”
Although his expression never changed, something Scyther said caused Khit to tense up again. He hung up the phone abruptly and swore.
I asked him what Scyther had said. “Is your mother all right?”
“There were loud noises in the background, so I’m positive that Scyther wasn’t lying about the reunion. Nothing will happen to my mother with all the yaojing watching, and even if they weren’t there, Scyther likes my mother too much to ever physically hurt her.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“It’s my dad.” Khit’s voice trembled just a tiny bit, revealing his distress. “He’s on his way to San Diego. Specifically, to The Grill House.”
Khit told me that his dad had hired a PI to investigate Julia’s whereabouts. Unknowingly, the PI was really Scyther undercover. Scyther had told Dr. Inari to meet him at The Grill House, where he would reveal new information about Julia. Of course, both Khit and I knew that if Dr. Inari went into The Grill House, he would see Julia, and they would forever be separated.
“Well, where’s your dad now?” It was about a two hour drive from LA to San Diego, so we might still have time to figure out how to stop Scyther’s plot from succeeding. But Dr. Inari could also be parking in downtown and walking over to the restaurant, and in that case, there would only be seconds to stop him.
“I don’t know,” Khit said. “I’ll call him.”
Of course, I could only hear Khit’s side of the conversation as he talked to his dad, but it was enough to tell me that Dr. Inari was being stubborn. The doctor had just started out from LA, having just gotten off work, which was the good news. That meant we still had at least an hour and a half to two hours to come up with a plan. But the bad news was that nothing Khit said could deter the doctor from coming here.
“But I’m telling you that the PI is really a yaojing!” Khit shouted angrily. “What do you mean even if he’s a yaojing, he has information? He’s a yaojing who has no other intent but to harm you. Just trust me on this!”
Even though Dr. Inari couldn’t know about his wife’s activities, he still knew that the yaojing existed, not to benefit humans, but to harm. I couldn’t understand why the doctor would still come here and take the chance of becoming a victim of a yaojing’s schemes. Even if he didn’t know what those evil schemes were, he should know enough about the yaojing to realize that something shady was happening.
Especially if his own son was warning him. He should at least believe his son.
But then it occurred to me that maybe Dr. Inari was willing to take any chances for the same reasons Julia was willing to take on nine tasks. Maybe Dr. Inari didn’t care about the danger because he hadn’t lost hope in retrieving his wife and would take any risk just for the chance of seeing her again.
Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. I had to take a chance too.
I tapped Khit’s shoulder, and he looked over, still engaged in an unending argument with his father.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” I mouthed.
Then I got out of the car and pretended to walk to the bank. I looked back at Khit to make sure he wasn’t watching me anymore, and then I took off in a sprint. Khit would be too engrossed in his phone conversation to notice that my bathroom break was taking an abnormally long time. And when he did notice, I hoped I would have accomplished my mission already.
Since it was obvious that Dr. Inari was coming to San Diego even at the advent of the Apocalypse, there was no use wasting time on his end anymore. I had to work on Julia. She didn’t know that her husband was coming here, nor did she know that Khit was a mere five blocks away from her, all thanks to her so-called friend, Scyther.
I was the only one who could warn her.