And One More for the New Year

I expect to finish the draft of DYING OF DESIRE, the fourth book in the McCall-Malone Mystery series, within a few weeks. So I’ve decided to follow up last month’s teaser with one more before publication…sometime in April maybe? We’ll see.

Anyway, here you go….

The three of us stopped just inside the door. The usually dim interior was almost pitch dark, the bartender still in the process of turning on lights. I could see her working her way toward the front from the stage area. No music yet. Probably there was at least one girl in back, getting ready for the first set. Which wouldn’t be quite yet. We had successfully beaten everyone else to the place. Customers, anyway.

Even in the shadows you couldn’t miss the two bruisers, a big white guy with shaved head and an even bigger black one with dreadlocks, sitting across from the bar that extended in an L-shape to our right. They occupied two of the little round tables, one on each side of a doorway in the far wall that revealed steps going up. That’s where Guth would be. I was sure of it now. These guys were definitely not customers.

The bartender walked past them and flicked the last light switch. She continued on toward us, angling behind the bar. Young, stocky build, blond ponytail, jeans and work shirt with cuffs rolled up. She was the same woman I’d seen dispensing drinks when I was in here to confront Guth the first time.

She was giving us her full attention by this time, as were the two big boys. We didn’t look like customers either.

As planned, Reuben took the lead, moving carefully around the corner of the bar toward the men. Malone and I stayed two steps behind and did our best to look harmless.

The two goons lumbered to their feet and came to meet us, initially focused on Reuben as we’d hoped. He at least looked like he might be a colleague of Guth’s.

We all came to a stop with about four feet separating us. The black guy gave Reuben a long, cool look. “What you want, nigger?”

Reuben brought his hands up to show they were empty. “Gotta talk to the man upstairs.”

Meanwhile the white guy was giving me and my partner the eye. “Who’s the old man and the bitch, nigger?” he sneered. These guys were also definitely not the regular greeters.

I could feel Malone at my side practically vibrating with hostility as Reuben replied with not much more diplomacy than she would have used, his chin jutting and chest thrusting. “These two white folks know some stuff Mal’s gonna want to hear.” He paused, glaring right at the smaller man. “Just goes to show you ain’t all ignorant fucks.”

Okay, so this wasn’t going well. It had been fifty-fifty at best that Reuben could talk us past the lookouts anyway; launching immediately into an insult contest had reduced the odds to one in a hundred. This wasn’t the one.

Mr. Dreadlocks reached for his buddy’s arm as the guy stepped toward Reuben. “Let it go, Carl…,” he said.

“Fuck that!” dome head yelled as he shook off the restraining grip. “Hands on the bar, boy,” he growled at Reuben, “and spread ‘em. We gotta see if you’re carryin’–and I hope you fucking are.” He gave me and Malone a quick beady glare. “You two stay put.” His partner by now was looking like he’d just as soon be someplace else.

Reuben and I made eye contact as he turned and leaned to put his hands on the bar. He knew he’d blown it but appeared ready to deal with the consequences. Nobody was paying much attention to Malone or me, apparently believing that white people were not currently a threat, so I shifted my left foot back a few inches and lowered my stance slightly. I felt Malone making a similar move. I was still hoping we could do this part without any gunfire.

Since Reuben had simply stashed his gun in his jacket pocket, the pat-down found it immediately. The bruiser let out a short, harsh laugh and reached around to hold the weapon in Reuben’s face, almost shoving it up his nose.

“This what you want Mal to hear?”

Dreadlocks took a step forward. “Carl, just….”

Too late. Carl jerked Reuben back from the bar and swung at his head with the gun. Reuben ducked underneath the swing, grabbed two handfuls of shirt front, and tossed the off-balance white guy in our direction as he went for the black partner.

Perfect. Just perfect.

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