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Authors: M. C. Grant

Tags: #Suspense, #mystery, #Fiction, #medium-boiled, #M.C. Grant, #Grant, #San Francisco, #Dixie Flynn, #Bay Area

Devil With a Gun (8 page)

BOOK: Devil With a Gun
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Thirteen

“The exit is back
that way,” I say as the two bouncers lead me in the opposite direction. “My friend is waiting for me outside. She'll probably be getting worried. Wouldn't want her calling the cops simply because you have a lousy sense of direction, would you?”

“There's nobody waiting,” the first bouncer says. “Think we don't have eyes on the street?”

I try a different tactic: “So are you two lovers?” I ask.

“Fuck you, bitch!”

“Kinda quick to anger there,” I press. “Strike a nerve? One-way love affair maybe? He's straight, you're—”

I yelp as my arm is twisted behind my back and the bouncer's thumb presses into the existing bruise on my wrist.

“You don't have to hide your feelings with me, boys,” I groan. “I'm a live-and-let-live kinda gal.”

“Shut your mouth,” the bouncer snaps.

At the end of a short, dilapidated hallway, we reach the rear of the hotel and a room labeled
Storage
. The first bouncer opens the door and flicks on the overhead light; the second one shoves me through the doorway.

The room is mostly old boxes, forgotten luggage, stained mattresses, and dusty stacks of wooden chairs. I'm just happy that it's not a torture chamber, complete with dentist chair and crazy Nazi with a drill à la
Marathon Man
, which I watched on Netflix last week.

“This your secret love nest?” I sniff the air. “Smells like it.”

The lead bouncer shakes his massive head and I can see his muscles tense with rage. “The boss'll want me to hurt you. I look forward to it.”

“Deny, deny, deny,” I fire back bravely. “It'll eat you up inside.”

The bouncer makes a move to rush me, but his partner holds him back, cluing me into the fact that they're not allowed to do anything until the boss shows.

They both retreat into the hall before slamming the door closed, leaving me alone inside the windowless room.

I allow a small smile to break through my secret terror, knowing that if I hadn't made them so angry, they might've engaged their brains and searched me. As it is, they couldn't wait to get out of earshot. Typical.

I touch the pearl-handled switchblade in my boot to reassure myself it's still there before studying the room in more detail. The wooden chairs are old and uncomfortable, built in an age when craftsmen wanted them to last.

I lift one off the stack, lay it on its side, and kick at a point where one of the legs meets the seat. The ancient glue crumbles into powder, and two more kicks reward me with a skull-crushing club of solid oak.

Next I check the abandoned luggage, cutting through any locked straps with my knife. Unfortunately, I don't find anything of interest except for an antique hand mirror in a solid silver frame. If I was up against a vain werewolf it could be a lifesaver, but my enemies appear to be human, if just barely.

With my club and knife at the ready, I move to the door and study the hinges. All three hinges are on my side. I slip the blade under the bottom hinge pin and wiggle it up and down. The pin creaks and lifts about an eighth of an inch before stopping. I flip the blade over so that its thicker, stronger edge is now resting under the head of the pin and ease it up with both hands.

It takes some muscle and sweat, but eventually the pin pulls completely free.

I move to the middle pin.

When the handle turns and the door starts to open, I leverage the opposite side with my wooden club to knock it off its hinges. The heavy door falls into the room, yanking my captor with it and eliciting a startled grunt.

Standing on a chair beside the now-open doorway, I capitalize on the confusion by swinging my club toward where I expect the first bouncer's head to be, but I misjudge. The club smashes into the doorjamb instead. Wood splinters and the vibrations send a shockwave of pain down my arm, causing me to drop the club.

I leap off the chair and instantly make a dash for freedom down the hallway, my knife ready to slash anyone who gets between the exit and me. But as I run, I see the two bouncers slumped on the floor.

And just as I realize that they're both unconscious, I hear my name being called by a familiar voice.

“Dixie! Wait up.”

I skid to a halt and turn to see Pinch brushing wood splinters out of his hair. He grins as he says, “You just about knocked my head off.”

I smile in response, realizing that the only reason my plan didn't work was that I was expecting a taller man.

“So I take it we're not getting that beer?” he says as he closes the gap between us.

“Beer's lousy here anyway. I couldn't even finish mine.”

“Good to know,” he says. “They don't do karaoke either, and jam night is sea shanties only. Pitiful.”

I can't help myself as I rush forward and wrap him in a hug, fighting not to collapse onto my knees in a fit of sobbing. Pinch squeezes me back until I feel my strength and resolve returning.

When I'm ready, I let him go and wipe my eyes.

“How did you find me?” I ask.

“You left a message, remember? And when I found myself being stood up, I asked the bartender if he'd seen you. Man was nice enough to point the way.”

I glance down at the unconscious bouncers.

“And these two?”

Pinch shrugs. “Nap time.”

“I shouldn't have called,” I say. “But I'm so glad you're here.”

“Let's find a nicer bar. You can buy me a drink to say thanks.”

“I can't leave yet.”

“Oh? It would seem like the prudent thing to do.”

“I know, but I need to take someone with me.”

“Who?”

“A young girl with pink hair.”

“I didn't spot her in the bar.”

“Then she's in a room.”

“No shortage of those.”

“The guy at reception will know which one.”

Pinch raises an eyebrow. “Will he tell you?”

“I can be very persuasive.”

Pinch grins again and gestures for me to lead the way.

Unfortunately, the only route I know to get to the lobby is back through the bar.

“This could get ugly,” I tell Pinch.

“I've been in there.” He smirks. “It already is.”

Despite everything that's happened, I burst out laughing just as I push open the door.

The roomful of men turn to stare, but when they see that it's me, they all swivel back around and instantly find the interior of their beer mugs fascinating. All, that is, except one.

Pinch squeezes my shoulder and whispers, “You leave a lasting impression.”

The one exception is a Polish dockworker with a swollen and discolored finger, flattened nose, and blood-encrusted muttonchops.

Pinch winks at the dockworker as we move past, and while scarlet blooms in every burst blood vessel in his cheeks and nose, Gerek makes no attempt to stop us.

In the lobby, Warrick holds up his hands and mutters, “I didn't do, do— I d-d-don't know nothing.”

“What room is she in?” I ask.

“Uh, uh, uh.”

“I don't have time.” I jab my thumb in Pinch's direction. “Tell me now or my friend will remove your fucking spleen through your anus.”

Warrick gulps and blurts, “Twenty-two, on the second floor.”

I nod. “Is Lebed here yet?”

Warrick gulps again and moves his head in the same useless gesture that doesn't answer my question. I head for the stairs, deciding and/or hoping that he means no.

“I like the spleen via anus threat,” says Pinch as we climb the stairs to the second floor. “Mind if I borrow that sometime?”

“Be my guest.”

He chuckles. “You surprise me, Dixie.”

“In what way?”

“This,” he says. “You're normally so passive, but I just saw you leave a room full of hard men quaking in their salty boots. I like it. You'd make a good contractor.”

“Uh, I'll take that as a compliment.”

“You should.”

On the second landing, I open the door and peer down the hall. There are no bouncers standing guard outside any of the rooms, which is likely because of the video surveillance inside. If anyone starts trouble, whoever monitors the cameras will sound the alarm.

We head down the hall to Room 22. Outside, I stop and tell Pinch about the cameras.

“You shouldn't be seen,” I tell him. “No point you getting on Lebed's radar, too.”

Pinch's grin practically breaks his face in half. “Curiouser and curiouser, Alice.”

I wrinkle my brow in confusion, but don't want to waste time asking exactly what he means. Instead, I try the handle. The door is unlocked.

Inside, Roxanne is on all fours on the bed while the drunken ox is mounting her from behind. The man still doesn't quite appear to know where he is, as his eyes roll around his skull and ribbons of drool drip from the corners of his mouth. He's operating on autopilot, pure primal instinct. He also has the hairiest ass I've ever seen outside of a zoo.

“Get dressed,” I tell Roxanne. “We're leaving.”

She rolls her eyes at me like a teenager caught kissing a boy in her bedroom. “I told you, I'm working.”

“Red Swan is on his way and he's not happy.”

Roxanne pales but tries not to let her fear show. The ox, oblivious to anyone else in the room, continues to thrust into her in a rhythm that would confuse Ringo Starr.

“This isn't open for debate,” I say, cutting off any argument. “We're leaving. Now.”

She stabs a thumb over her shoulder. “And what do I do about him?”

The ox shows no sign of finishing anytime soon. I turn to Pinch, who's standing in the hallway.

“Any advice?” I ask.

He reaches into his pocket and tosses over a scuffed leather blackjack. I catch it and instantly feel the weight of a lead core surrounded by dense sand. Pinch points to a soft spot just behind his ear, indicating that I should swing the weapon with everything I have.

I move behind the ox, careful to avoid the sweaty slap of hairy buttocks. Then I wind up my pitching arm and let loose with the sap. It lands with a heavy thud that stops the ox's eyeballs from rolling in all directions. In a brief respite of clarity, he turns his head. His pupils center and his lips curl into an angry grimace before his eyes roll skyward and his body begins to fall.

I quickly shove him from the side so that he lands on the bed beside Roxanne rather than crushing her beneath him.

“You have ten seconds,” I tell her. “Move.”

This time she doesn't argue.

Fourteen

Pinch drops Roxanne and
me in front of my building after coercing a promise that I'll call if I need assistance.

“It's been fun,” he says. “I didn't realize how much I missed the rush.”

“Personally,” I say, “you can keep it. Forget rush, I'd rather lie on a sandy beach with a handsome mute waiter bringing me Long Island ice teas and touching up my sunscreen with strong but amazingly soft hands.”

Pinch grins. “You have such specific fantasies.”

“Details are important.”

“Like I said, you'd make a good contractor.”

“I'll keep it in mind.”

After Pinch drives away, I take hold of Roxanne's arm and lead her up the stairs to my apartment. Inside, she takes one look around and asks if she can take a bath.

I point the way while slipping off my jacket and heading for the kitchen phone. Before reaching it, however, I'm distracted by the unfinished glasses of wine still standing on my coffee table. I make a detour to pour both half-sipped glasses into one and carry the full glass to the bathroom. The door is ajar, but I knock softly anyway.

“Come in,” says Roxanne. “It's your house.”

I enter to find her naked again, leaning over the sink and scrubbing the makeup off her face. Cigarette burns and bruises, both old and new, run the length of her body from shoulders to ankles amidst a confection of tattoos that I didn't have time to examine in the hotel room.

Two of the circular burns form the eyes of a lifeless baby curled above her right hip, while the largest tattoo is a length of barbed wire that wraps around her spine. The artist has created the illusion that the wire cuts into and under her skin on one side of the spine before appearing on the other, continuing in a series of intertwining loops. Growing from the wire in three random spots are delicate red poppies.

On the back of her left calf, the tattoo is of a partially open zipper. Peeking through the zipper's gap is the green eye of a black cat. Her right calf is bare, but her right buttock is inked with a small rectangular sticker that reads:
Your ad goes here
.

“Is that for me?” Roxanne asks.

My gaze lifts from her body to her freshly scrubbed face, and as I hand over the wine I can't believe how old she still looks for being barely twenty. The spider web wrinkles around her eyes and mouth are not from laughter or joy; they go so much deeper.

She sips the wine and sighs before brushing past me and stepping into the tub. After switching off the taps, she leans back, closes her eyes, and balances the lip of the glass on the lower lip of her mouth to take long, noisy sips, as if attempting to filter errant grape seeds through her teeth.

Leaving her to it, I head for the kitchen to call her sister.

There's a knock at the apartment door just as I hang up with an excited Bailey. The door opens before I get to it, and Kristy rushes in to give me a big hug.

“You survived,” she squeals. “I was so worried. That neighborhood is scary.”

Releasing me, Kristy steps back to study my face. “No new bruises,” she says with a smile. “That makes a change.”

“It went fine,” I lie. “No problems.”

“Did you find the sister?”

I nod toward the bathroom. “She's taking a bath.”

I flash back to when I was in the bathroom earlier and suddenly realize what is missing.

“Have you seen Prince?” I ask urgently. “He never misses a chance to get under my feet as soon as I get home.”

“He's with me,” says Kristy. “It's OK. I was lonely when I got home, so I took him over to our place.”

I exhale in relief but still jump in alarm when the phone rings.

“Relax, Dix,” says Kristy. “Where's that bottle of wine gone? We deserve a glass.”

With a chuckle, I reach for the phone and lift it to my ear.

On the other end of the line, Frank says, “Did you piss him off?”

“Who?”

“Krasnyi Lebed. Your Russian.”

“How do you know that I met with—”

“There's a car downstairs,” Frank interrupts. “Hate to disturb your evening, but I need you to join me.”

“Where?”

“I'll tell you when you arrive.”

I glance toward the bathroom. “I have company.”

“Just you. The driver's waiting.”

“But, Frank—”

The line goes dead in my ear.

With an irritated sigh, I cross the room to the front window and glance down at the street. An unmarked patrol car is idling at the curb. The driver—a young, handsome man in a two-piece suit picked off the rack by his mother and sporting a ten-dollar haircut from the same barber as his father—looks up and tilts an invisible hat in my direction.

I hold up five fingers and he nods in acknowledgment.

“Everything OK, Dix?” Kristy asks.

“I need to go out,” I say.

“But you just got in.”

“And I need a favor,” I add.

“So long as it's not babysitting the naked prostitute who is currently butchering Lady Gaga in your bathtub.”

“Just don't let her leave,” I say with an apologetic grin. “Her sister is on her way over. Keep both of them here until I get back. Please?”

“I'll need more wine.”

I grab my jacket as I head for the door. “I'll pick up a bottle on my way back.”

“Make it two,” says Kristy.

BOOK: Devil With a Gun
6.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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