The rental car smelled of pine air freshener and stale cigarette smoke, strongly enough for both of them that Michael had to roll down the windows as soon as he got in. The smell was still horrible, but it was more bearable when the sluggish breeze outside moved it around a little. He’d not been able to work out where the scent of pine was coming from; he’d thrown the pine-tree-shaped air-freshener that had dangled from the rear-view mirror away when he first got in the car, and he’d checked beneath the seats and in the glove-box and behind the sun-visors but he could find no trace of whatever was renewing the scent. The smoke was more obvious: the car’s upholstery was some kind of artificial suede and had clearly been with the car for as long as people had been smoking. When he got out of the car anything white he’d been wearing that came in contact with the upholstery came away with nicotine smudges, and he was sure that it was on the rest of his clothes as well, just not showing up as well against charcoal greys and navy blues. He found it ironic that the rental agent had been insistent on him signing a piece of paper that promised he wouldn’t smoke in the vehicle and had listed all the most recent cleaning dates for the interior of the car.
The car started when he turned the key though, and he counted that in its favour. You never knew when you might need to leave somewhere quickly. He put the air-conditioning on in the forlorn hopes that it might do something to quench the stenches, and checked his phone again. The signal was still there, and his email had downloaded now. He scrolled quickly through the list, which was short and all new. He practised Inbox-zero techniques, though he wasn’t going to delete and organise messages now; he was just looking for the detail on Rosa.
The email was third from the end, suggesting that it had been sent just before he entered the House of Whispers. He wondered if he’d have got the mail if he’d been a little later to the meeting, or if they’d waited for him to enter the grounds before hitting Send. He suspected the latter from the stories that were told about the office. He opened it, noting that it was all in text with no attachments. The virus checker on the server had given the once-over anyway, and a little box appeared at the top of the email to tell him that nothing intrusive had been found. He ignored it; the people who ran the House of Whispers were probably capable of writing an undetectable virus if they wanted to, and they would be unlikely to want to infect his phone when he was working for them. He pushed away the uncomfortable thought that some people like to make sure every contingency is covered, and read through the email. It didn’t take long.
He put the address given at the end of the email into his phone’s map application and then had to zoom out a little in order to bring his current location into view. It wasn’t that far, perhaps 20 minutes or so depending on traffic. He tapped on the screen until it recognised that he wanted it to provide directions, set the phone on the dashboard and checked that the volume was turned up, and put his seatbelt on. He wanted to keep the windows down, but it was a little too cold for normal people to be doing that, and he wanted to appear just like any other person as he drove. He pushed the button to wind them up, his nose wrinkling in disgust as the air was trapped in the car and he got a sudden whiff of pine-scented cigarette smoke, and then pulled out onto the quiet street. His phone immediately told him to turn round, and he cursed softly under his breath for not having thought to check that first.