“Anthony needs to tell you that I’m here,” Thomas said.
My back stiffened, and my smile faded. “Maddox,” I said, greeting him.
“No shade, Maddox,” Anthony said. “I just promised I’d have her back from now on.”
“The usual?” Anthony asked, seeming annoyed that I’d had to translate.
“I’ll have a Jack and Coke tonight,” Thomas said.
Thomas didn’t answer. Instead, he stared at his hands clasped in front of him on the bar.
“Of course she knows. She knows everything,” Sawyer said with a grimace.
“It might just be time to move on.”
A couple of young guys pushed through the door. I’d never seen them here before, but they walked with their chests puffed out and their arms swinging. I began to turn around as one of them gave me a once-over.
Sawyer put his foot on the ground and began to stand, but I touched his arm.
“Ignore them. The Casbah had a rock concert tonight. They’re probably coming from there and looking for a fight. Look at the big one’s shirt.”
Sawyer quickly glanced in the pair’s direction, pointing out the two-inch long rip around the collar of the man’s T-shirt. We ordered another round. Thomas finished his drink, tossed a bill on the bar, and left without a word.
“That was weird,” Sawyer said. “He hasn’t been in here in how long?”
Sawyer spoke, “And he shows up, has one drink, and leaves.”
“Doesn’t he usually only have one drink?” I asked.
Anthony nodded. “But never when he has that look on his face.”
I turned toward the door, seeing the ripped T-shirt guy and his friend leaving. “That didn’t last long.”
“I heard them say they were bored. Apparently, the service was too slow,” Anthony said with a wink.
“You should talk to Val one more time, Sawyer. Lay it all out on the table. If she doesn’t go for it though, you need to move out, and you need to sign those papers. You’re not being fair to her.”
“You’re right. I hate you, but you’re right. And no matter what you say, Lindy, we’re still friends.”
Sawyer and I tabbed out, said good-bye to Anthony, and then walked across the dark room, pushing out the door. The sidewalk was well lit, traffic was normal, but something was off.
We carefully approached the corner, and someone groaned.
Sawyer meant to take a quick peek around, but he stared, and his mouth fell open. “Oh, shit!”
I followed him and immediately pulled out my cell phone. The two men from the bar were lying in matching puddles of blood.
“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?”
“I have two males, early to mid-twenties, badly beaten on the sidewalk in Midtown. They’re both going to need an ambulance on the scene.”
Sawyer checked them both. “This one’s unresponsive,” he said.
“They’re both breathing. One is unresponsive.”
I gave her the address and then pressed End.
Sawyer glanced around. A middle-aged couple was walking in the opposite direction on the next block, but other than them and a homeless man digging in the trash on the corner to the north, the block was empty. I saw no one who looked suspicious.
Sawyer shoved his hands in his pants pockets. “I guess they found the fight they were looking for.”
“Maybe it was the people they had a run-in with earlier?”
A police cruiser arrived within minutes, followed soon after by an ambulance. We told them what we knew, and once we offered them credentials, we were free to leave.
Sawyer walked me to the lobby and gave me a hug.
“Sure you don’t want me to walk you home?” I asked. “Whoever did that could still be out there.”
“Oh, right. The, uh…the thing,” I said. My head was fuzzy. I was glad we’d decided to leave the bar when we did.
“I’m tailing one of our Vegas sources, Arturo.”
“Benny’s guy? Why is he in San Diego?” I asked.
“Benny sent him to visit his new Eastern family. I’m making sure he stays on the straight and narrow. I don’t want the Yakuza guys to scare him into disclosing or alerting them to our interest.”
Sawyer pushed out of the lobby doors, and I turned to press the elevator button. It was smudged with fresh blood. I glanced around and then used the inside of my blazer to clean it.
The doors slid open, the chime pleasant and welcoming, but when I stepped inside, my heart sank. The button for the sixth floor was smeared with blood as well.
Again, I used my blazer to hide the evidence, and then I waited impatiently for the doors to open. I stomped out and walked straight to Thomas’s door, banging on the metal. When he didn’t answer, I banged again.
“Who is it?” Thomas asked from the other side.
A chain rattled, the bolt lock clicked, and then Thomas opened his door. I pushed through, shouldering past him, and then twirled around, crossing my arms.
Thomas had an ice pack on his right hand and a bloody bandage on his left.
“Christ! What did you do?” I said, reaching for his bandage.
I carefully peeled it away from his weeping raw knuckles and then looked up at him.
“So, you tried to beat them to death?” I shrieked.
“No, that came after I heard them casually mention that they hoped your route home included a dark alley.”
“Wrapping and icing doesn’t constitute cleaning. You’re going to get an infection in your joints. Does that sound like fun?”
Thomas and I went into his bathroom. He sat on the edge of the tub, holding up both of his hands in loose fists.
He nodded toward the sink. “Underneath.”
I pulled out a clear plastic container, unsnapped it, and opened it wide, poking through the various items. “Peroxide?”
“You can punch two full-grown men until the skin sheds off your knuckles, but you can’t handle a few seconds of a fizzy burning sensation?”
“Some people are belligerent, predatory assholes their entire lives until one person comes along and beats the shit out of them. It gives them a new perspective.”