I raised my eyes the moment the name fell on my ears. A dark skinned man walked with a slow swagger toward a table near the stage that Jackson occupied.
“He’s not here,” Jackson didn’t move from his comfortable position – his feet kicked up on the table, arms crossed and Tina pouring fresh whiskey.
“I was supposed to talk with him today.”
Tina walked off and gave a nod in the direction to tell me she thought I should pay attention.
I moved to a closer table and slowly picked up discarded glasses. Keeping my ears open.
“When will he be back?” The man had a deep, threatening drawl and I could smell his perspiration as it dripped from his wool pad beard.
“I can give him a message. Have a seat.”
I figured him to be at least a hundred or so pounds overweight. His fists were the size of sledge hammers and it seemed moving his body was a heavy chore on his legs. He grimaced with each movement as he settled in a chair.
The man watched the blonde on stage in silence. His eyes never glued on Ashley until she’d finished and stepped off the stage. “Damn she’s fine.”
“I thought you were here to discuss business.” Jackson motioned with two fingers, pointing at the spot in front of his guest.
I hurried to obtain a draft and brought it to table.
“Hey, there.” Ashley walked by, swiping a hand across the man’s shoulder.
I rolled my eyes. Ashley never missed an opportunity to lure men from their cash.
“You want a dance, baby?”
The man turned and knocked a mug of beer that I had set down in front of him, to the floor.
“I’m so sorry.” The man was clumsy. His size and deep voice only disguised the lamb he truly was. This man was obviously not an invention of his own thoughts.
“Shit happens – take a hike, Ashley.” Jackson caught my gaze and raised a knowing brow, then flicked his fingers, acting as if he had assumed Sean’s role at De’Bris. “Let’s start with your name.”
I pulled a dry rag from the back pocket of my jean shorts and patted the liquid. Listening closely.
“I’m … I’m … my name is Henry.”
Ashley returned with a new beer, setting it in front of the guy and irritating me. Damn, everywhere I turned she was in the way, inserting herself in situations that were none of her business.
Henry’s eyes followed her every move. “I don’t know how you get anything done in this place.”
“This is the only one who does anything for me.” Jackson grabbed me by my waist and pulled me into his lap. An easy way to keep me at his table without raising suspicions.
“Really?” The man’s held his jaw open. “Your girl?” He seemed easily impressed. “I never had a woman like that.”
“Are you a cop, Henry?” Jackson spat.
“Huh? Wha … no!”
“You got about five minutes to prove me wrong.” Jackson encircled arms about my waist, seemingly losing interest in his guest. He nestled gently kissed my cheek and rested his chin on my shoulder.
“I … I’m not.” Henry stammered.
Jackson pulled a gun and set it on the table in front of him as a threat. “What do you want, then?”
“Okay – okay. I know how to move the drugs.”
“Keep your voice down.” Jackson barked in a hushed tone, glancing toward the blonde who still distracted the man’s vision. “Gianetti’s managed to keep that shit quiet for a lifetime and I’m not about to be the one to let it get screwed up.”
Henry swallowed hard. “Oh,” he lowered his voice and continued. “I worked with Drew McClure.” Drew McClure was the middle man, transferring the Gianetti supply. His major mistake was allowing his cousin, Stephen to become involved. Now Stephen was an important witness – one that knew enough to put Sean away for a lifetime, and only I knew where he hid.
“He hasn’t been seen in over a year,” Jackson informed him.
“I know – I – I’m the one who buried him.”
“I’m not the one who killed him.” He stammered. “The Divanis – Grato – He’s the one who brought him back – with a hole in his chest. Showed up at the warehouse. We cleaned the whole place out in a couple of hours.”
“I think I’d like to see where you put his sorry ass.”
“Why?” Henry curled his lip and narrowed a brow. Was he suspicious? Or clueless?
“Just want to make sure the son-of-a-bitch doesn’t get dug up by some wild animal.”
“Well, sure … if that’s what you want.”
“I got too much going on around here to deal with that shit. Gianetti didn’t exactly leave instructions.”
“I can imagine.”
“Can you?” Jackson narrowed his eyes. “Keeping those transfers running smoothly and undetected isn’t going to be a picnic. I honestly don’t think you know what you’re trying to get yourself into.”
“Yeah, well I’m out of choices.” He growled. “Medicine cures everything in this damn world – but only if you can afford it.”
“My brother.” He admitted and my heart went out to him. “He’s just a kid. I – I’ve always done everything right – but what the hell am I supposed to do when they tell me my family’s too poor to live?” He downed the mug in big gulps. “So just tell me where to pick it up and where to drop it off.”
“Well, I don’t know that.” Jackson admitted. “I was hoping you could tell me where he moved it to.”
“Hell, boy. If Sean Gianetti didn’t think you needed that info, maybe you’re not the man I should be talking to.” He stood. “Shit – Maybe you’re a cop … you and your woman.”
The air in my lungs paused. I squeezed Jackson’s leg, feeling the slight tension he hid well.
“What the hell did you just say to me?”
I moved with Jackson as he slowly rose. His hand on his gun in response to the slight movement of his guest’s hand. In that moment, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my partner. He was the type to deck his superior without a bit of remorse – but how far would he go into our pretend world to protect our undercover identity?
Henry’s large hand clasped his gut. His face unexpectantly screwed up in pain as semi-automatic fire peppered him from behind. His body shook violently, then collapsed on the table, sending napkins soaring and beer flinging and mixing with droplets of blood.
My body connected with Jackson’s and without thought, he hurled me to the hard floor, tipping the table on its side.
Chaos erupted. High pitched screams. Bullets pinging. Glass shattering. Splinter’s of wood flying – all muffled by the weight of partner’s frame.
Completely defenseless. No gun. All I could do was let Jackson shield me from the peppering rounds that destroyed De’Bris.
“Go!” He growled in my ear, nearly lifting me on my feet. Hunched over, we rushed toward the stage door. Jackson firing repeated shots. “Ugh!” His shoulder jolted, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the floor. Blood immediately drained from the puncture.
I landed on my knees, quickly crawled across the floor, snatched his weapon from his hand, and darted glances about the room. Five men in long trench coats and black ski-masks terrorized the club. They fired their weapons, with no obvious target, only stopping long enough to replace empty clips.
But I recognized the short, stocky frame of Carl Bolivar as he stepped up to the bar and peered over at the bartender.
Spencer stood, hands held high, shaking uncontrollably, the front of his pants darkened by moisture.
I noticed Tina squatted behind the D.J. booth with Devo’s large arms around her.
“Are you alright?” I know I moved my mouth, but I doubt she heard the sound over the commotion.
“I’m okay.” I read her lips.
“Jackson?” I ripped off my tank top and held it to the gushing wound.
“Shoot those assholes …” he winced out.
“Get up!” I popped up long enough to exchange shots with the masked man heading our way. The club has cleared up except for the unlucky customers. Innocent people who’d only wanted a fun night at the strip club.
A gazed at the familiar faces of the dancers, laying on their bellies some dead – some pretending. Red filled my field of vision, but I don’t see blood, but rage.
“Get the hell out of here!” Jackson insisted, giving me a slight shove. “The back door!”
“Not without you.” I snatched his tee-shirt forcing him to his feet. “Tina!”
We ran toward the dressing room and out into the safety of the alley, falling against Jackson who leaned against the cement wall just outside the door. His lips fell upon mine, heavily, hungrily – I pulled away gazing with complete astonishment – for a moment.
“You’re not hurt that bad,” I joked – and let out a scream. “Tina! Run!”
Caught from behind by a large clump of hair, there was nowhere for me to go. The gun slipped from my hand and Jackson stood, his jaw ticking. His hands held in surrender.
“Walk!” The masked fiend grunted, shoving and moving me with the handful of hair he held, his gun digging into Jackson’s back – forcing him forward until we in front of the bar, facing his boss.
“Now, it’s a party.” Carl Bolivar removed the mask and dropped it upon the bar. “How do you like the redecorating?” He held his gun out, pointing to the destruction. “You don’t have to worry – I plan to keep most of Gianetti’s employees around – most of them.” He turned his aim on Spencer and pulled the trigger. The bartender fell over the cash register. His blood spilling over it in large doses.
“You look confused.” Bolivar nodded and his henchman forced us into nearby chairs. “I run things around here now.”
“Got any ideas?” I murmur to Jackson.
“Not a one.” He stared intently at Bolivar, challenging him.
“You got something to say?”
“Yeah.” Jackson rose, and straightened his Jackson. Not showing the slightest hint of pain from his wound. “Are you gonna pay me?”
Bolivar reared back his head and let out a roaring laugh. “Yeah, I’ll pay ya – If you work for me.”
“Alright then.” Jackson took my hand and pulled me toward him. “It doesn’t matter to me who runs the show. As long as I get mine.”
I held my breath as we walked toward the door. Would we make it? Could it be that easy?