Bottles rattled as an enormous man–his hands, big as shovel scoops–pulled the dolly up the steps and onto the platform. Once there, he wedged it between the bar and himself, easing it into an upright position, careful not to upend the boxes stacked high, emblazoned with the names Jack Daniels, W.L. Weller, Makers Mark and Jim Beam.
He moved the top box–the Jack Daniels one–from the dolly to the bar and ran a box cutter through the cardboard.
A buzzer sounded.
The man’s hand jerked, arcing the razor blade through the webbing between his thumb and forefinger and into the meat of his other hand. Blood gushed.
“Shit!” the man yelled.
He fumbled frantically behind the bar searching for towels.
Again the buzzer juddered. And again.
A heavy-set woman in an expensive beige pantsuit appeared from a hallway behind the bar.
“What the hell?” she barked.
The man raised up, the mound of towels on his hand already red with blood.
“I sliced it. Bad,” he said.
She headed down the steps toward metal double doors with an exit sign above.
“Put pressure on it. Hard.”
Even in platform wedges she had to raise to the balls of her feet to peer out the peep hole.
She yanked one of the doors open and stepped halfway into the alley, looking one way around the door–nothing–and the next. He was about to turn the corner.
“Hey!” she yelled.
He turned and faced her. She motioned for him to come forward.
“Sorry. I was in the stock room.”
He didn’t move. He was slender, of medium height, older than she expected. Like her’s, his hair was startlingly white. But his was natural.
“Come on in. I don’t bite.”
He approached slowly. She held the door for him. Once inside, he stood with his back against the wall. She shut the door. The enormous man leaned on the bar, grimacing.
He removed his sunglasses.
“You Ranger?” she asked.
“I’d better be,” he answered.
She walked toward the bar. “Let’s go to my office.”
He followed her up the steps.
“Get Fletcher on the phone,” she ordered the enormous man. “Tell him you need stitches and you can’t make it to the office. Tell him Gee Gee or whoever’ll make it up to him. Then sit your ass down and keep your hand above your heart.”
They walked behind a curtain and a down dimly lit hallway to a wood paneled room with musty carpet. She plopped down behind a desk.
“Have a seat,” she said motioning toward a chair with a torn vinyl cushion.
He sat. She slid a manila envelope with an 8×10 glossy on top of it across the desk.
“I guess Zack filled you in.”
He examined the photo. “Yeah. But I’d rather hear it from you.”
“Nothin’ special. Smart enough. Lacey Cummings is her stage name. Her real name is Patricia Slate. I’ve heard the girls call her Patty.” She lit cigarette and offered him one. He shook his head. “No family to speak of. Mom’s dead. Dad never was in the picture. Went to school in Fort Wayne. We had an arrangement. She ran off owing me two hundred grand.”
“Wrong,” he said.
He laid the picture on the desk. “She ran off owing Detroit two hundred grand.”
She blew a stream of smoke at his face. “So you’re a good boy. You did your homework.”
“We have a deal or not?”
He smiled. His teeth were small, clean and yellow. “Not for thirty we don’t.”
Her executive chair groaned as she shifted. “How much?”
“Because of Detroit?”
“Yep,” he answered.
You really break it off in a girl don’t you?”
“I don’t make a habit of it. But it happens.”
“Alright,” she grumbled. “You’ll get the extra twenty with the rest of it when it’s done.”
He pried open the clasp of the manila envelope and thumbed through two stacks. “I’m okay with that,” he said.
She got up and opened the office door. He finished counting, fastened the clasp and then walked out.
Halfway down the hall she called to him. He turned around.
“No pictures. I wanna see it.”
He bent his fingers into the shape of a pistol and pointed at her.
“Gotcha,” he said.