The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles 1) - Page 16

‘Where did you find that out, Mr Bender?’ I ask. ‘On the Net? Am I one of the neighbors who you find things out about?’

He refills his coffee mug. ‘Yes.’ He’s not apologetic.

‘You’re not embarrassed about your snooping?’

‘It’s not snooping. I need to know about my neighbors.’

Maybe so. Maybe I do, too. ‘Then I have a confession to make,’ I tell him. ‘You’re not the only snoop. I did some checking, and I found out a few things about you, too.’

‘Oh?’ His brows arch, and he sits down opposite me.

‘Have you had surgery, Mr Bender? Or maybe you simply have excellent genes?’


‘You look like you’re about forty-five. Fifty at most.’

He doesn’t reply.

‘But Clayton Bender the artist was born eighty-four years ago. You either hold your age really well, or…?’

‘You expect me to fill that one in?’

‘No. I’ve already figured out you can’t be him. No one’s genes are that good. I just don’t know who you really are. A serial killer, maybe?’

He smiles. ‘You’ve got quite an imagination. Nothing that dramatic, I’m afraid.’ He takes a long sip from his mug. ‘But still serious enough it needs to remain a secret. Only a few people know. My agent, for one. He helps build the quirky-artist persona to keep people away. You’re right. I’m not Clayton Bender, but I took his name almost thirty years ago.’

‘Your own name wasn’t good enough?’

‘The name, yes. But the life that went with it, no.’

‘Where’s the real Mr Bender?’

‘He passed away.’

‘Did you kill him?’

He laughs. ‘No, Jenna, I promise you his passing was quite natural.’

‘How did you meet him?’

He stands and walks over to the kitchen sink, pouring the rest of his coffee out. ‘I ran away when I was sixteen. I had no other options.’ He turns back to face me. ‘I got mixed up with some people who could do me some serious harm. A friend gave me some money and his car, and I ended up on the other side of the country on Bender’s doorstep. He was a loner out in the desert and needed a worker, so I helped him out and he helped me, no questions asked. I stayed with him for three years.’

‘He was an artist then?’

‘Of sorts.’ He smiles and shrugs, joining me at the table again. ‘He got by with a small Net business—grinding and then selling natural pigments to artists all over the world—and the rest of the time he wandered the desert collecting stones. He piled them into little monuments wherever he took a notion. I didn’t understand it, but I helped him. In a strange way, it helped me not to think. Maybe that’s why he did it, too. Then one day he went out ahead of me looking for stones, and when I caught up with him, he was dead. I never found out what it was. Heart attack or stroke. I don’t know. I buried him and gave him his own monument and then I waited for another year, thinking someone would show up. Family, friends, someone to claim the house, but no one ever came. In the meantime, I just kept stacki

ng the stones. I lived off the money he had stashed away, but I knew that couldn’t last forever, and then one day it finally occurred to me. I didn’t have to hide out forever. I could be Clayton Bender. I had his birth certificate and other documents, and not a soul in the world seemed to know him. I’ve been him ever since.’

‘And your old life? Do you ever miss it?’

‘Parts. Mostly I regret that I never saw my parents again.’

‘Or your best friend?’

He shrugs and looks away so I can’t see his eyes. ‘Now you know my secret,’ he says. ‘Will you keep it?’

‘I have no one to tell. And I wouldn’t even if I did.’

Tags: Mary E. Pearson Jenna Fox Chronicles Science Fiction
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