I was tall, well over six feet. I had dark hair and dark eyes that chicks like to tell me made me mysterious. I didn’t talk a lot, not unless I had something important to say, which led to my not-unjustified, badass aura. Plus I owned a mirror, so I knew what I had going on was pretty nice to look at. I wouldn’t win a modeling contract anytime soon, but the chicks seemed to dig it just the same. Even with the scar across my scalp and my nose being twisted from being broken more than once. But possibly the most noticeable difference between me and every other decent-looking guy floating around was the tattoo of a small black star inked next to the outside corner of my left eye. I thought it was a brilliant idea when I was sixteen and high. Now I still thought it was cool in an intimidating and “I’m crazy enough to tattoo my face” kind of way. Like I said, I looked like a thug, an all-right-looking thug, but a thug nonetheless.
I needed to get a handle on Race and get back into some pretty young thing’s bed. Roxie was off the table if she was going to sell me out as soon as I got my rocks off. I never did trust her. She played the role of innocent-girl-next-door too well. Especially since she was as far from innocent as any one person could be. Annoyed at how the first few hours of my freedom were playing out, I put in a call to an old contact.
Silence met my ears from the other end of the call. I tossed the smoke and slid behind the wheel of my car. It felt more like coming home than banging Roxie or knocking Benny around ever could.
“Who is this?” Everyone I knew was a suspicious bastard. That was especially true when the person on the other end of the call happened to be a rather successful drug dealer.
“When did you get out?”
“Already looking for a score?”
Hell no. Five years without made me never want to mess with any of that stuff again. It made the bad choices I made even worse. If I was going to screw up now, I was going to do it clean and sober.
I told the dealer in a flat tone, “No. I’m looking for Race. I heard he dipped out when I got busted and showed up a little while ago making noise at Novak. No one’s seen him. Have you?”
More silence. There was a fifty-fifty shot I was going to get an honest answer. I hoped my reputation still held enough weight to put the fear of God into people. If not, I would just have to go knock some heads together and earn it back.
“No. I tried to hit him up a few times after you got locked up. I thought he would get me into all those college parties and I could split the take with him. He stopped answering my calls.”
Good for Race.
“He still at the school?”
“No one knows. I know Novak kept eyes on him after everything went to shit, but then he was just a ghost.”
“I need to find him.” I made sure the seriousness of the situation was hard in my voice.
There was some muttering on the other end of the phone, and the sound of rustling like he was getting out of bed. Even drug dealers need a good night’s sleep, I guess.
“Look, last I heard he was staying with some chick in the Point. A redhead. Benny sent a crew to drag him back to Novak, and he was gone when they got there.”
The Point was where I grew up. It was the opposite of the Hill, where Race grew up. I didn’t like the sound of that at all.
“A working girl?”
“No. Just some girl. Not a fancy college girl or a skank. Just a girl. Benny’s guys scared the crap out of her and that’s why Race went postal on Novak. You taught that preppy little shit how to talk tough, and everybody wonders if you taught him how to follow through on it.”
I didn’t need to teach him. Race was smart. Brains beat brawn any day of the week, plus he actually had stuff to lose. That made a man dangerous. It was a man who had nothing that wouldn’t put up a fight.
“How do I find the girl?”
“I dunno, Bax. Google that shit.”
I pulled the phone away from my ear and frowned at it. It looked like knocking heads might have to happen after all.
“You better have an address or I suggest you put on some pants. I’ll be over there in ten to drag your happy ass on a tour of the city if I can’t find the spot on my own.”
There was some swearing and some more rustling and I heard a lighter flare up.
“Check the Skylark, that crappy apartment building downtown. I think that’s where I heard.”
“I’m supposed to just go knock on every door in the middle of the night?” I was getting frustrated and pissed off, and I think he could tell. He really didn’t want me to pay him a visit in the middle of the night in the mood I was in.
“There’s a diner across the street. Stick your head in there and ask. The chick is a carrot top. Like orange and young. Benny’s guys picked her out of a crowd no problem, and you know he doesn’t hire the best and brightest.”
I snorted in agreement and fired up my baby. God, how I missed that sexy growl.
“I also heard you jacked his face all up.”
“He started it.”
“Benny’s not the type to let something like that go.”
There was a dry laugh on the other end of the phone. “Still think you’re the baddest dude on the block? A lot has changed in five years, Bax.”
I didn’t think the obvious needed an answer, so I hung up and tossed the phone on the seat next to me. I was already in the Point. Roxie lived right downtown, so it only took a couple minutes to find the Skylark and locate the diner. I pulled the Runner into a spot in the parking lot under a light and pulled a beanie on over my shaved head. I got out of the car and looked at a group of kids that had no reason to be out this late in this part of town, other than they were looking for trouble. I gave them all a hard stare, waited until each and every single one of them looked away, and went inside.
I was tired. I had just walked out of the barbed-wire gates of a prison a few hours ago, but it already felt like months. I was just as tired of my life and of myself, but that didn’t stop me from having things I needed to take care of. I waited to catch the eye of a harried-looking waitress, and when I did, she gave me a slow once-over and indicated that she would be with me in just a second. Waiting tables sucked. Waiting tables at a greasy spoon in the crap part of town in a place that was open twenty-four hours sucked even worse. I felt bad for her.
“What can I do for you, hon?”
I saw her eyes flick over the bruise that was flowering on the side of my face from Benny’s sucker punch and over the blood his uppercut had left on my bottom lip. I’m sure I wasn’t a pretty sight at the moment, but she was pleasant all the same.