Her fingers curled into fists on the table and she snapped, “No way. There is no way Race was messing around with a piece of trash like that.” I noticed she didn’t have the same illusions about me. I put my own hands on the edge of the table and leaned down so we were almost eye-to-eye. She pulled back a little and I saw her gulp.
“What you think you know and what you actually know are two very different things, Copper-Top.”
“I know my brother.” She was stubborn and I liked the way her pretty mouth set in a firm line. Finding someone with that kind of loyalty in a place like this was rare, even if it was misguided.
I pushed off the table. “You know your brother now; you have no idea who he was then. It’ll make for less disappointment if you keep that in mind. I gotta go find Ernie. Stay put and try not to piss off any more of the dancers.”
She screwed up her face, which I had to admit was cute. Those freckles were starting to grow on me.
“I want to come with you.”
“Too bad. Ernie and Novak do business together, so he’ll see me. You try and stick your nose in there, and you’re gonna find your happy ass stripped and onstage whether you like it or not. Ernie isn’t the most enlightened strip-club owner, if you can imagine that. You just keep your ass in the seat.”
I didn’t really care if she was going to listen to me or not. Chuck would keep an eye on her, and if she wanted to tangle with a bunch of half-naked chicks just trying to make their way in the world, that was her choice. Being a babysitter had never been on my occupational goals list and I didn’t have the time to try and convince her that Race was a person with a past, just like everyone else in the Point. Sure, he came from a shiny and more well-to-do place than the rest of us, but that didn’t mean the undercarriage wasn’t just as rusted out and full of holes, just like the rest of ours. The sooner she saw that, the softer the letdown would be when whatever Race had mucked into got dragged out into the light.
I made my way to the back room, nodding in Chuck’s direction and hooking a finger over my shoulder to indicate I had left Dovie on her own. He tilted his chin in acknowledgment and I went to the office and rapped on the door with a knuckle. I didn’t bother to wait for an invite in.
Ernie was a big, fat slob of a man. He was balding and greasy, had beady little eyes, and was as greedy as he was crafty. My theory was that all guys like him started strip clubs because there was no other way they could see hot chicks naked. Novak loved him because he was malleable and a coward. He paid the big boss whatever he asked and let him use the joint for whatever he wanted. In turn, Novak made sure Ernie was insulated, had a steady line of new girls, rich customers, and an endless supply of blow. It was a relationship that benefited both of them. Not to mention, they were both slimeballs and only operated on the other side of the law. In Novak’s case it was the far, far other side of the law.
Ernie was sitting behind his desk talking on his cell. His bushy brows went up high when he saw me. I offered up what passed as a smile but really was more a baring of teeth and leaned back against the closed door with my arms crossed over my chest. My intent was clear. Unless I got the answers I wanted, no one was going in or coming out of the office without going through me first.
“Well, if it isn’t Novak’s golden boy back from the joint. I heard you might be poking around. Trying to hit up on your old girls. Five years is a long time; most of them moved on by now.”
Which really meant most were strung out, got smacked around one too many times, or got too old to bring in the revenue. This guy was a class act all the way.
“I’m looking for Race.”
“You and every other SOB in the Point. Don’t know why he had to show back up and stick his neck out. He had a good thing going with you locked up. Out of sight, out of mind. Now his dumb ass is on everyone’s mind and nobody is happy about it.”
“Honor said he was asking after some moneybags. Who was it?”
“Why should I tell you shit? You went away, kid. You don’t have any pull around here anymore. The way things went down with you and Novak . . . shit, you’re lucky to be breathing.”
I narrowed my eyes just a fraction and let my mouth kick up on the side in a grin that had sent far more dangerous men headed in the opposite direction.
“Novak isn’t here. I am. You really want me to get the answers out of you the hard way? You want to find out all the ways I dreamed up for payback while I was locked up?” I pushed off the door and started to stalk toward the desk.
Ernie pushed back the chair that looked like it was going to snap under his bulk. I saw a fine sheen of sweat break out on his bald spot. I might not have pull, but I sure as hell had push.
“Look, I don’t know who the guy was. Race had a picture, like one out of a newspaper or something. One of those fancy society pages. He was all worked up over it. Demanding to know if the guy had been in here. I told him I had no idea, and he put his fist through the wall.”
He indicated a spot that was covered with a raunchy picture of a girl spread-eagled on a bed.
“He didn’t use the guy’s name?”
“No. I told him I didn’t share Novak’s business with anyone, but that Mr. Fancy had been in on poker night more than once. Not alone either. He brought his own entertainment, if you know what I mean.”
I scowled as Ernie leered at me.
“Race didn’t say what he wanted with the guy?”
“No, but shortly after that, Benny and the boys went and roughed up the chick he was shacking up with. Sent him over the edge. Always thought Race was a smart guy, but then he marched into Novak’s compound, making threats and talking crazy. You don’t tell a man like Novak his time is coming to an end, not unless you want to end up in the ground. Boy wasn’t as smart as I thought.”
I didn’t like the sound of any of that. Race was smart and he knew not to make idle threats. If he had something on Novak big enough to sink an entire criminal empire, it was no wonder he was off the grid, and it explained why Novak had all his minions looking for him. I didn’t understand the timing, why he was back, why he had waited until I was loose to make his move, and I had no clue what he had in his bag of tricks that he thought he could hold over Novak. It was starting to make me uneasy. I didn’t do uneasy.
“The guy he was looking for, he have business with Novak?”
Ernie snorted and tapped his too-long fingernails on his desk. “Like I told your boy, I don’t discuss Novak’s business. That’s why I’m still here and why I got all the best girls. You saw Honor; she miss you? I always heard those girls had a thing for you. I think you broke a couple hearts when you got busted.”