The place was a relatively small square, and booths lined the walls, with the equally square four-sided bar in the center. The man behind it was about six feet tall, blond, in black leather with tattoos crawling up and down both arms.
The booths were mostly occupied by men. No, not mostly . . . Bryn realized that she was the only woman in the entire place.
And from the bartender’s look, not very welcome, either.
“Sorry,” he said. “You’re probably looking for the place next door, sweetheart.”
“She’s not,” Patrick said, and eased onto a barstool in front of the man. “I’m here to see Brent.”
“Don’t know him.”
“Yes, you do. He’s in that booth right there, with the curtains closed. I want you to walk over and tell him that Patrick is here to see him.”
The bartender’s face settled into a scowl. “He knows you; you know where he is. Why put me in the middle?”
“Because we both know if someone opens that curtain without the right signal, bad things happen to them,” Patrick said. His voice was still calm and pleasant, but there was something different in his body language. “Get your ass over there and introduce me.”
The place had gone almost silent, except for the time-worn whisper of the singer. . . . Everyone was looking at them, and the pressure of the stares made Bryn’s muscles go tense. This place—she couldn’t get a good read on it. Not at all.
“Anything else?” the bartender asked sarcastically. Patrick smiled and dug two tens out of his pocket to lay them on the wood.
“I’ll have a scotch, neat. Bryn?”
“Tequila,” she said. “You can skip the lime and salt. That’s for turistas.”
That got the bartender to reappraise her, and she saw a flash of humor in those cold blue eyes. “True enough,” he agreed, and poured the drinks. “Be right back.”
The money disappeared into the till, and he didn’t offer change. Then he flipped up the pass-through on the bar, walked to the booth with the closed curtain, and rapped with both hands on the wood on either side. Then he slid the curtain over about an inch and murmured something.
The curtain slid back on its rod with a hiss of metal rings, and the bartender beckoned to them.
“Right. We’re up,” Patrick said, and grabbed his drink. “Follow my lead, Bryn.”
She drained her tequila in one burning gulp, put the empty glass down, and trailed him to the booth.
Inside, it was even more dim than at the bar, and as Bryn slid into the wooden seat next to Patrick, she tried to get a sense of the man across from them. Older, fit, tough, with a military haircut and bearing.
“Major,” Patrick said, and nodded. The man didn’t nod back. He didn’t, Bryn thought, look especially happy to see them. “Came to cash in a favor.”
“McCallister.” The voice was gravelly—so much so that it seemed like one that had suffered serious damage at some point. “I don’t think so. You’ve got nothing I want. Who’s the bitch?”
“The bitch,” Bryn said, “is sitting right here, and she’s someone who could break your kneecaps in about five seconds. Sir.”
“If you called me a bitch, you don’t really care too much.”
She surprised a smile out of him, but that wasn’t an improvement, not at all. He was . . . creepy. He didn’t respond, just turned his attention back to Patrick. “Not going to defend the little lady, McCallister?”
“I don’t need to defend what’s secure,” he said. “Buy you a drink, sir?”
The man—Brent?—looked at him with empty eyes for a long few seconds, then said, “Bourbon. A double.”
Patrick gestured at the bartender, but he was already pouring, as if he knew the order, which he probably did. Once he’d delivered the glass, Brent, without a word, swept the curtain closed.
The space felt claustrophobic with the three of them. Bryn tried to keep her breathing slow and steady, and her eyes on the man on the other side. He needed watching; there was no doubt about that. He was armed, and very dangerous.
Patrick seemed as relaxed as she’d ever seen him. He silently toasted their host—captor?—and took a sip of his scotch. Brent picked up his bourbon and drank off half of it in a gulp.
“Favor,” Brent said then, and turned the glass in a slow circle on the table as if he intended to grind it into the wood. “I’m out of that business. It’s strictly cash these days.”
“Then let’s call it what it is: a debt. You owe me. And I want payment. Not in cash. In action.”
“You’re fucking crazy, coming in here to tell me that. The fuck you think you are, you little shit?” The words were aggressive, but oddly, the tone sounded almost . . . tolerant. At least as much as Bryn could hear through the rough, scarred blurring.
“I think I’m the man who saved your son, sir,” Patrick said. “And I think we should just stop posturing before one of us gets carried away.”
“You think you scare me?”
“I think it’s mutually assured destruction, and I brought my girlfriend,” Patrick said, and smiled. “So one of us is more confident.”
“Or more stupid.”
Patrick just waited. He sipped scotch. Brent didn’t sip, but he gulped the rest of his bourbon, and after a solid minute of silence, said, “I don’t deny you did my son right. Favor’s owed to you by him, not by me.”
“He isn’t here. You are. I think it’s more a family debt.”
“Case could be made,” Brent acknowledged, and then sat back and pushed away his empty glass. Bryn tensed, because it was the kind of move a man made before going for a weapon. Not this man, though. He stayed still, waiting to see what they’d do, and when neither she nor Patrick reacted, he nodded. “Tell me what you want.”
“I need to know where to find a man, and I need you to take the news we were here to your goddamn grave, sir. Deep black. You get me?”
“I get you. What’s the name?”
Patrick hadn’t ever asked, and now he looked at Bryn. She resisted the urge to nervously clear her throat, and said, in a gratifyingly calm voice, “Martin Damien Reynolds.”
“Shit,” Brent said. “You people.”
“You know him?” Patrick asked, and now there was a little trace of a frown on his face. If Brent did know the man, that would, Bryn realized, be a terrible complication. This was a world of favors, and if Brent owed a bigger one to Reynolds . . .
“I know of him,” Brent said, which was a relief. “What if I told you that bastard was in Paris?”
“What if I told you I’ve noticed that people who phrase things that way are full of bullshit?” Bryn asked. “He’s not in Paris. He’s not anywhere but in Northern California, so let’s try this again.”
That got her the second smile of the meeting from Brent. She didn’t like that one any better than the first. “Where the hell did McCallister dig you up, cupcake?”
That made her almost laugh, in a sweep of bleak humor. Dig you up, indeed. McCallister cut her off, though, by saying, “She’s ex-army, so knock it off or she’ll knock something off of you, Major. And she’s right. Stop fucking around.”
“Buy me another round.”
Patrick’s frustration showed in the way he yanked the curtain back and signaled the bartender, but not in his expression as he turned back. “Well?”
Brent drew it out as long as he could, waiting until the drink was delivered, then slow-gulping the first half before nodding. “You’re lucky,” he said. “Could have been in Paris. Could have been in fucking Afghanistan, for that matter. But the guy you’re looking for is up north.”
“You think I memorized it? Give me a break. It’s going to take a minute.”
“You’ll fucking wait out there, McCallister. And this info pays all debts, you understand? I never want to see you again.”
Patrick nodded, and Bryn slid out of the booth.
He didn’t. He asked, in a very different, almost gentle tone of voice, “How is he?”
There was a heavy silence, and then Brent said, “Don’t know. My boy doesn’t talk to me. He’s alive, though. Alive and well. Got married, I hear. Probably got some kids he won’t tell me about until I’m too feeble to care. If you ever see him, tell him—” Brent went silent for a second, face set in a blank mask, and then continued, “Hell. Just tell him you saw me and I asked after him. That’ll do.”
Patrick nodded assent, and got out of the booth. He pulled the curtain behind him and walked Bryn to the bar, where he ordered them both drinks and paid the tab.
“Who the hell is he?” she asked, as her tequila shot was deposited on the bar in front of her.
“One tough, slippery son of a bitch,” Patrick said. “Could have been a general if he’d kept his mouth shut, but he isn’t built that way. These days, he runs people like Brick, and a lot of other shit that isn’t so nice. You want things done, no matter how messy, you find Brent.”
“And he seems like such a nice guy.”
Patrick snorted in amusement, then took a long sip of his scotch. “I liked his son.”
“And you saved his life?”
“He took some pretty bad hits. I got him to cover and did first aid until they could evac him. Head injury. I never saw him again, but he wrote to me, after. Told me they’d discharged him and he was doing better. Considering they didn’t think he’d make it off the battlefield, I thought that was a pretty good outcome.”
There was a but in there, she sensed. “And?”
He drank the rest of the scotch in a rush. “He lost both his legs.”
She nodded. She knew plenty of guys like that—legs or arms blown off, replaced by impressively crafted replacements. “Lucky,” she said.