“Not entirely.” It felt very personal, but there was no protecting anyone’s privacy tonight. If Brody didn’t answer the call, the Pub’s bartender would have to call police dispatch. Pushing a button on his steering wheel, he answered the call.
“This is Todd down at The Pub. We have a situation,” Todd said.
“What is it?” Brody’s appetite dissipated. If Todd was calling Brody directly, Chet was involved.
“Chet. He’s getting into it with another customer. They’re both acting like assholes. So far it’s just posturing and insults, but Chet’s in a foul mood tonight, and I’m too damned old to break up a fight.”
“I’m on my way.”
The sound of indecipherable shouting came over the line.
“If shit gets physical, I’m calling the police,” Todd warned.
“Be there in five.” Brody made a U-turn and headed into town. He pressed the pedal to the floor. The SUV shot forward. The Pub was a quiet neighborhood bar. Most of the clientele would be regulars stopping for a few beers after work or popping in to catch the hockey game.
Hannah grabbed for the armrest. “Is something wrong?”
“Sorry.” Brody straightened the wheel. “Yes. Do you mind if we make a stop? I should have asked you before I agreed.”
“It’s fine. I’m not in a rush to get anywhere.”
“But you’re exhausted, and I promised to feed you.”
“I just slept for three hours and finished a large coffee. I feel better than I have all day. Can you tell me what happened?”
“It’s complicated.” Brody stopped at a red light. “I’ll tell you the long story later. For now, my friend Chet is in trouble. He’s an alcoholic and waiting on some bad news. He’s been in AA and mostly sober for a couple of years, but this week was more than he could take. According to The Pub’s bartender, Chet is looking for trouble and so are the guys he found.”
The Pub sat on the outskirts of Scarlet Falls. The bar had a long history. Like every other old building in New England, The Pub professed that George Washington had slept, eaten pot roast, or changed his socks under its roof. After all, no one could prove he hadn’t. Brody parked in the gravel lot and went inside. Hannah followed him. The halls were lined with historical photos and pictures of the owner with local celebrities. A row of beer mugs etched with the names of regulars hung over the bar.
Behind the polished wooden bar, Todd rubbed a beer glass with a dish towel. His ruddy Scottish complexion had gone red, and anger lent vigor to his strokes. He inclined his head toward a doorway. In the next room, Chet paced back and forth in front of the pool table, his movements too quick, jerky, and uneven.
Holding a tumbler of Johnnie Walker, he was gesturing at a big guy dressed like a biker in torn jeans, boots, and a dirty bandana over an equally dirty gray ponytail. Two more biker types occupied the table with Mr. Big.
“What’s the fight about?” Brody asked. Hannah stepped up next to him. She pressed her arms against his.
Todd shelved the glass and flipped the towel over his broad shoulder. “The big dude recognized him and started in on him with the usual cop-themed insults. And Brody . . .” Todd waved him closer.
When Brody leaned over the bar, Todd said in a low voice, “Chet was in here the other day. He was on duty. He only had a couple of drinks, but I thought you should know.”
“Thanks.” Brody turned to Hannah. “Please go back to the car.”
She eased backward toward the door.
Brody crossed the scarred pine floor and assessed the scene in the billiard room, a long, narrow, and dark space. Three pool tables were strung out end-to-end. Brody scanned the room. Shadows darkened the corners, but the room appeared to be empty except for Chet and the three bikers.
Should he call for backup? He didn’t want the incident to get back to the chief. If he could defuse the situation, he wouldn’t need assistance.
Mandatory retirement loomed in Chet’s near future, but he was all cop, from his ugly shoes to his calculating brown eyes. Sober, he could ignore insults to the badge. But alcohol sharpened his temper and thinned his tolerance.
Standing in front of the three bikers, Chet raised the tumbler of amber liquid and used it to gesture at the bikers. “You think you’re so tough?”
“Tougher than any cop.” Mr. Big stood. He looked familiar in a been-arrested kind of way.
Chet tossed back his drink. “I don’t think so.”
Brody entered the room. “Hey, Chet.”
Chet’s chin jerked around. Bleary eyes blinked at Brody. “What are you doing here?”
“Picking up your sorry butt.” Brody nodded at Mr. Big. “Excuse me, gentlemen.”
“We’re in the middle of something,” Mr. Big said.
“Tell you what, guys. My friend had a few too many. I’m going to take him home. Why don’t you guys sit back, relax, and have a drink on me?” Brody waved at the bartender through the doorway. “Hey, Todd, bring these boys a round of whatever they’re drinking.”
Brody was carrying his off-duty gun, but he’d prefer a quiet resolution. Besides, pulling his weapon would generate an excruciating amount of paperwork.
But Mr. Big wasn’t sober or smart enough to take the bone Brody was waving under his nose. “I ain’t done with him yet. I’ll bet you’re a cop, too.”
“Then you would be right.” Brody slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He flipped it open, showed his badge, and stowed it back in his jacket. He had no doubt the big dude saw his off-duty weapon on his hip. “But there’s no need for this to go any further. I’m taking my friend out of here. You can enjoy the rest of your evening.”
“But Brody, he said cops were pussies.” Chet pressed forward.
Brody stopped him with a hand on his chest. “Everyone is entitled to his opinion.”
“See? Cops are pussies.” Mr. Big reached out. He shoved Chet’s shoulder. “Pussy.”
Chet threw the first punch. Stepping between them, Brody blocked it with his shoulder. He put his back to Chet and faced the biker. This was getting out of hand fast. He sent a silent prayer of thanks that he’d sent Hannah outside.
Without taking his eyes off the three bikers, Brody shouted, “Todd, call for backup.”
“Already done,” Todd yelled back.
Mr. Big puffed out a stream of angry air and sent a fist the size of a bowling ball straight at Brody’s head.
Jewel woke to darkness. Somewhere outside, an engine rumbled. Disoriented, she lifted her head from the dirt floor. She’d lost track of time. How many days had passed? Mick hadn’t made another appearance. Lisa had brought a small amount of water and food twice a day. Jewel had been hungry and desperate enough to devour leftover fries, lettuce and tomatoes picked off burgers, and pizza crusts with chew marks. It wasn’t the first time in her life she’d been hungry enough to eat another person’s scraps. If she was going to escape, if being the important word, she couldn’t afford to be picky.
Her chances weren’t promising. She sat up, the movement sending her brain into a spin. The heat and Mick’s beating were taking their toll.
The engine sound grew louder. Deliveries weren’t normal for this neighborhood. No one around here had the money to order stuff online. Brakes squealed. The engine idled. A door creaked open and slammed shut.
The truck had stopped.
Sweat broke out on Jewel’s arms. For the next few minutes, she listened to the sound of her heartbeat echoing in her ears. Shoes scraped in the dirt outside the shed. The door opened, and cool evening air swept into the space, chilling Jewel’s damp skin. The beam of a bright flashlight seared her eyes. She raised a hand to block the light, but the man set it down on the floor just inside the shed, pointing it toward the ceiling.
Grinning, he moved toward her. He was short and stocky, in baggy jeans and an oversize T-shirt. There was another man standing behind him. The uplight illuminated his face with devilish shadows. Jewel cringed, shrinking against the wall. Rough concrete scraped the skin of her back.
He unlocked the cuffs, grabbed her arm, and pulled her to her feet.
“What’s happening?” Jewel hated the tremble in her voice, but panic sliced through her control.
He said something in Spanish.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked, trying, unsuccessfully, to keep her voice calm.
“Don’t bother.” Lisa stood by the door, arms crossed over her chest. “They don’t speak English.”
Outside, twilight had fallen, but the early evening wasn’t completely dark yet. They switched off the flashlight, walked her out of the shed, and steered her toward the gate that led to the front of the house. There was no point in screaming. No one would respond. She’d tested that fact out a few times over the last few days. This was not the kind of neighborhood where people looked out for one another. Jewel walked through the opening. A U-Haul-size truck was parked at the curb. Once she was inside of it, there was no chance of her getting out. She knew it. Beyond it, the empty street stretched out in front of her. Freedom.
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