Better When He's Bad (Welcome to the Point 1) - Page 4

“I’m looking for a friend.”

“A table for two?”

“No. He might’ve been in here a few times. Big guy. About my height, but skinny. Blond hair, green eyes, looks kinda like he should be modeling for Abercrombie and Fitch. He might’ve been hanging around with a redhead who lives close by.”

She tilted her head to the side and hollered at some drunks who were throwing napkins at each other in a back booth.

“No hot blondes have been in on my watch, but I know a redhead. Dovie Pryce. She’s in every morning. We usually grab coffee as I’m getting off my shift. She lives across the way.”

“You sure you’ve never seen my buddy? Word is he might’ve had a thing with her.”

“With Dovie? No way. That girl lives like a nun. Goes to night school, works a full-time job, and a part-time one on the weekends. She doesn’t have time for a guy.” She slid her gaze back across me. “No matter how cute.”

I smiled at her and rubbed a thumb along the line of my jaw. I was going to have a nasty bruise there.

“Are you always so forthcoming with your friends’ information?” If so, no wonder Benny’s guys had found the redhead so easily.

“No. In fact the last guy who came looking for her found out the hard way. No one wearing a suit around these parts has any kind of good intentions. Our cook is an ex-Marine. I had him handle the last guy.”

“You think I have an honest face?” There was no humor in my tone and she got my drift right away.

She just shook her head at me and clicked her tongue. “No, hon, you look like you had a bad day.”

I barked out a laugh with zero humor in it. “Believe it or not, today is the best day I’ve had in a long time.”

“Hmm . . .” She ran her eyes over my battered face one last time. “Good luck finding your friend, hon, but leave Dovie alone. She’s a good girl who doesn’t need your kind of trouble.”

“How do you know what kind of trouble I am?”

She waved a hand dismissively in front of me. “I’ve been around a long time, sweetheart. Any boy with that many secrets in eyes that dark is the worst kind of trouble. The kind you can’t ever get out of.”

I couldn’t argue with her and I had the info I needed for now. I tipped my chin at her and let the grimy glass door swing shut behind me as I walked back to the parking lot. I glanced at the Runner to make sure the kids hadn’t touched her and then back at the building that held my prey.

“Hey, man, you got a smoke?”

The biggest of the kids grew some balls and approached me. He was probably all of thirteen years old. Too bad I saw so much of a younger me in him.

“You’re too young to smoke.”

“Are you shitting me?”

I lifted an eyebrow and he took a step back.

“No, I’m not.” I pointed at the Skylark. “You know a redhead that lives there?”

His eyes narrowed at me suspiciously.

“Why?”

“ ’Cause I’m asking is why.” Little punk. I wondered if I was that annoying when I was running the streets off the leash.

“Will you give me a smoke if I do?”

I fought an eye roll. “Sure, kid.”

He grunted and shuffled his worn-out tennis shoes on the asphalt. “Dovie. She lives on the same floor as me. She’s wicked nice. She cooks dinner for me and Paulie sometimes.” He hooked his thumb at another kid, this one had to be ten or eleven. What the f**k was wrong with the world we lived in that these kids were out hustling me and not in bed waiting for school to start the next morning?

“What floor?”

“Why?”

I frowned at him. “We gonna do this all night?”

He shifted nervously and his gaze slid to my car. “That’s a sweet ride.”

I gritted my back teeth. “It is.”

“You steal it?” I wondered if he had any idea who I was. I used to be a legend. Now I was just a cautionary tale.

“No. That’s about the only thing I didn’t steal.”

“Can I go for a ride in it?” This kid. I had to give him credit. He had what it was going to take to make it in this part of town.

“Maybe. If I can find the girl and she can help me find my friend.”

We stared at each other in silence for a long moment. His little crew of hooligans was getting restless, though. I clearly wasn’t a mark; they didn’t want to tangle with me, but they didn’t really want to help me out either.

“You promise?”

Did I promise? Did this kid think I looked like the kind of guy who kept promises? I shrugged.

“Sure, kid. I promise.”

“She’s on the second floor. Apartment twelve. The last guy that asked told me he would spot me a hundred. He lied.”

Jesus. Benny had bribed the kids to get her info as well. Out here it was every man for himself, and that bastard knew it. I sighed and fished out a hundred-dollar bill. I had a stash of cash left from before the bust that was going to have to last me until I figured out my next move, and handing any of it over to a punk kid didn’t thrill me. I passed it to the kid and turned to go across the street to the dingy apartment complex.

“Smoking is bad for you. Go buy some groceries, or some new shoes or something.”

“What about the ride?”

“We’ll see, kid. We’ll see.”

I jogged across the deserted street, and stepped over the sleeping bum on the front walk. I pulled open the rusty security door and took the stairs, which smelled like stale beer and something I didn’t want to think too much about, to the second story of the building. The hallway was empty, but I still pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up over my beanie and tried to make as little noise as possible. No one with any kind of common sense was going to open their door to someone who looked like me after the sun went down. Luckily I never met a closed door I couldn’t open, save for the one that kept me separate from my freedom for the last five years.

This apartment was crap, which meant the door was crap. I could have jimmied it open with a credit card, but it also gave under a little pressure from a well-placed shoulder and a hard shove. There was a loud pop and a soft creak but no one stuck their head out of their apartment to see what was going on. Most people who lived in places like this didn’t have anything worth stealing in the first place, and most single girls forced to live like this invested in better locks. I pushed the door open and went to slink inside in the darkness. I knew I was going to scare the shit out of the girl, but surprise was key, and nothing was going to stop me from finding Race.

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