Read Thin Line Online

Authors: L.T. Ryan

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime, #Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Murder, #Spies & Politics, #Assassinations, #Terrorism, #Thriller, #Thrillers, #Mystery & Thrillers

Thin Line (5 page)

BOOK: Thin Line
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The storm had toned down to something between flurries and snowfall, so we decided to head out for a while to grab a bite to eat. Three-quarters of the
city might've been shut down, but there'd be places open. Some guys, like Frank, would never venture out under the current circumstances. Not the storm;
rather the imminent danger of a target potentially knowing our identities. Neither of us cared.

The faintest trace of sunset lingered to the west. The sky above and beyond the concrete landscape tinged pink, for a few minutes at least. Snow banks rose
six feet high in some places. A slushy path maybe four feet wide had been worn down the center of the sidewalk. Along the edges, the snow was gray, but the
rest was virgin white. It wouldn't last long once the vehicles returned en masse. Then leftover precipitation along the sides of the road would turn black
with dirt and exhaust. But for now, with only the occasional cab or NYPD cruiser passing by, it was safe.

Bear pointed to an unassuming bar with a weathered front door sunken from the sidewalk. "How about there?"

I stopped. "I don't know."

"Think about the walk back, Jack. This might be the only pub open this close."

"Yeah." I covered my brow and scanned the street.

"What is it?"

"You know what it is."

He shrugged. "So what? They can't kick us out. It'd be discrimination."

"On what grounds?"

"We're too tall?"

"I don't want her to think I'm in there because of her."

"So what if she does? You two'll make up soon enough anyway. Let the healing start tonight, Jack. And let a thick rib-eye and a beer or two be the
catalyst."

The longer I stood still, the colder my toes and fingers became. Taking refuge inside, no matter who might be in there, was worth it. So I shrugged, shook
the snow off my head, and extended a hand toward the door. "Lead the way, big man."

The white reflecting off the black-tinted glass entrance door transitioned to a mirror image of Bear as he pulled the door open. Stepping in from the
almost-blinding snow-covered street, the pub's interior seemed as though it was mired in a thick black fog. A few seconds later my eyes adjusted to the dim
pendant lighting. Normally, I'd perform a scan of the establishment to rank every patron's possible threat level. But right then there was only one threat
I was concerned with.

And she wasn't behind the bar.

Bear walked past me, shrugged his coat off, and took a seat on a stool at the far end of the room, his back to the bar area. His gaze swept the place, then
settled on me. He gave me a nod before spinning on his stool and knocking on the wooden bar top. A guy I didn't recognize stepped out from the kitchen and
poured Bear a beer. A few seconds later the smell of the grill hit me and my stomach tightened.

I joined Bear at the bar and ordered a shot of whiskey. It went down fast and hot. So did the second. I could continue and numb everything, including my
wits. So I eased off.

The place was quiet. I'd been in there a few times before and each time there had been a decent-sized crowd. If there was one group I didn't think would be
affected by the storm, it was the regular patrons of establishments that served alcohol. Yet they weren't present. Perhaps it was too early.

Bear and I said little. What were we going to talk about? The events of the day? Not in public. It didn't matter. This wasn't a strategy session. We were
here to recoup.

"You know that big guy over there?" Bear said.

I looked at Bear in the mirror. "Which one?"

"The one with the giant head and fists to match."

I shifted my gaze to the right and saw the man matching the description. "What about him?"

"He was pointing over here a few seconds ago. I don't recognize him."

"I do. His name is Charles something-or-another. Some low-life criminal that works for the Old Man. Well, was low-level, but recently received a
promotion."

"How do you know all this?" Bear said.

I shrugged and looked away. "I know people now."

"Well, get ready to introduce us. He just got up and is on his way over."

Heel-to-toe, Charles's footfalls grew nearer. I continued to look away. Once the reverberation in my stool stopped, I knew he had too.

"Jack Noble, right?"

I ignored him.

Two thick fingertips pelted my right shoulder blade. "I'm talking to you. Be best for you to answer me."

Charles's rise in the Old Man's organization meant he had some clout behind him. But he also had something to prove. According to some, a lot to prove. He
was a new captain, hustling out on the street to show his dominance, that he was the alpha in all situations now.

I turned toward Bear, looked over my shoulder, and nodded without making eye contact.

Charles looked me up and down. "Don't bother getting up or anything."

"I won't." I spun forward and picked up my drink.

"Maybe you don't know who I am?" Charles asked.

Before I could reply, Bear hopped off his stool and placed himself between Charles and me. It was like watching two grizzlies belly up to each other.
Between the two of them, they had to weigh over six hundred pounds and were at least thirteen feet tall combined. I wasn't sure the floor would be able to
withstand the impact if they went to the ground.

"Maybe you don't know who we are," Bear said, as he delivered a pointed finger to Charles's sternum the way cops like to do. "And I guarantee if you try to
find out, you won't like the results you get."

By this time, I was off my stool and attempting to wedge a hand in between the two Goliaths. Across the room, the three guys who'd accompanied Charles into
the bar were on their feet and moving toward us. Each had one hand concealed, presumably wrapped around a pistol grip, or a knife, or a blackjack. Though I
didn't relish the idea of facing any of the weapons, I preferred a man with a knife in this situation. Meant he'd have to get close to do any damage.

Charles lips parted and spread, a strand of saliva trapped between. He lifted both arms, took a step back. He never diverted his stare from Bear.

"Easy, everyone. Easy."

On their boss's order, the men stopped halfway between their table and the bar. Hands remained inside jackets. I kept mine visible. No need to give anyone
a reason to act due to panic or uncertainty.

Yet.

Charles, still staring at Bear, said, "Jack, I just came over to introduce myself. I thought maybe you and I could help each other out. You know, a
business opportunity."

"What would I need your help for?"

He smiled and shrugged. "I heard you ran into some trouble this morning."

"Is that right? Where'd you hear this?"

"I hear things, Jack. I dunno. Hell, what do I know? Maybe something that helps you."

"In what way would you be able to assist with any trouble I might have had this morning?"

For the first time, Charles looked directly at me. "I know things. I know people. We might even know some of the same people, and the identities of those
individuals would probably surprise you."

"Nothing surprises me."

"Then accept my offer to help you."

"Why would you offer that help to us?"

He glanced at Bear, then back to me. "I help you, then maybe you do a favor for me."

"Maybe, huh?"

Charles shrugged again, said nothing.

"I'm afraid I don't delve into your line of business, Charles," I said. "We tend to stick to things on the up and up."

"There's not much difference between what you do and what I do, Noble. But I didn't come here to argue that. I really do want to help you out, and so does
my boss. And, if it makes a difference, he can sweeten the offer by tossing in a hundred grand. You two can split that up any way you want."

"Won't be nothing to split up," Bear said. "My partner told you to piss off, so why don't you and your band of merry hooligans over there get lost?"

Most men backed off when a guy the size of Bear told them to get lost. Charles didn't, though. A smile crossed the criminal's face.

"I know you think you're a bad dude," Charles said to Bear. "But you don't know me. And you better pray to God you never get to know me in an intimate
manner, because I will use your nuts as bobbers and your dick as bait."

Bear took a step forward. He'd rolled his sleeves up after shedding his coat earlier. His forearm muscles rippled as he clenched his fists.

The tension rose like heat from fresh lava. The guys midway across the room sensed it, too. They grew edgy, shifting from foot-to-foot, waiting for the
inevitable fight to break out. Only they wouldn't jump in with fists and boots. They'd bust out their weapons and put a quick end to the ordeal.

And to me and Bear.

 

Chapter 9

WITH THE DIVIDE between Charles and Bear shrinking, a familiar voice drove a wedge between the two large men.

"I thought I told you to stay out of here, Charles." The kitchen door swung out and banged against the wall as Clarissa stepped through. "And your boss
knows why, and he agrees with me."

I leaned forward, whispered, "Big guy like you lets a little thing like her push you around?"

"You can shut up, Jack," she said. "I don't know what the hell you're doing in here either. I'm liable to let old Chucky-boy carry you out with him."

"That won't be necessary." Charles took a few steps back, held his hands up. "We're taking off." He motioned his guys toward the door, then added, "Think
about what I said, Jack. We could use a guy like you. Him, too."

Bear chuckled as he turned toward the bar. Clarissa met him on the other side. He asked her for an update on his steak. The place smelled of seared meat.
It was killing the big guy.

Frigid air and wafts of snow knifed through the establishment as the door closed in the wake of the men. With Charles and his guys gone, there were only
two other groups of people remaining. They did their best to ignore me as I looked over them. In time, they'd get up and make their way out, too, with as
little disturbance as possible. People hate conflict, and hate being around those likely to cause it.

"Why are you getting involved with a guy like Charles?" Clarissa asked.

I swung my right leg over the bar stool and sat down. "Money sounds good."

"You realize the things they're into? You'll have every agent you used to work with camping out in your hallway, waiting to bust you two idiots."

Apparently she'd cooled off. Her concern seemed genuine.

I said, "We aren't considering doing anything with Charles, or his boss. That's not our gig. You know that. He approached me just now. And you saw how that
turned out."

"All I know is what you tell me, and there are times I don't think your words are grounded in the reality that most of us share."

"I tell you everything I'm allowed to, Clarissa. If that's not good enough, then I don't know where to point you for better explanations."

"Don't patronize me." She poured me another drink, then exited through the kitchen door. It flapped in and out, sending wave after wave of wood-smoke-laden
air in our direction.

The hum from the television blended with the sounds of conversation from the tables behind us. The white noise provided welcome respite.

After a few minutes, Bear said, "You think that Charles guy is gonna take this personally?"

I shrugged. "I suppose, but frankly, I don't care, man. We've got a bigger problem. Presumably one that can inflict more harm on us than Charles."

"What about the guy he works for?"

"Taylor?"

Bear shook his head. "Charles."

"Don't know too much about him. No one does. Goes by the moniker of Old Man to most. Runs his organization from the dark. Into a lot of things, from what I
gather. Some of which crosses paths with our line of work. I've heard of a few politicians having dealings with him. Maybe a person or two in the
Pentagon."

"Really?"

I shrugged again. "That's what I hear."

"Sounds like the pay's better."

"You considering it?"

"Thin line, right? Maybe money is what makes it fade."

I had to smile after Bear sprang the comment back on me. But before I could mount a response, Clarissa emerged from the kitchen carrying two plates loaded
with meat and vegetables. She set them down in front of us, disappeared into the kitchen again, then returned with a rack of glass mugs.

"We're shutting down in thirty," she said on her way past us. "Order up if you want anything else."

I got up and joined her at the other end of the bar. A risky move, considering Bear had already devoured half his meal.

"We all right?" I said.

"No, Jack, we aren't."

"Look, I told you we were up here on business. If it weren't for this storm, we'd have been gone by now."

Clarissa said nothing. She flipped each mug in her hand and slid them upside down on the rack perched over the bar.

"Why don't you come back to the apartment with us?" I said. "It's closer than your place. The streets are a mess. Not many cabs running."

"I've got no interest in hanging out with you two drunks tonight in that matchbox you call an apartment."

"Clarissa-"

"It's time to quit playing dress-up." She looked up and set the hand towel she'd been drying the glasses with on the counter between us. "You're great,
Jack, but together, we're not."

I reached for the towel and said nothing.

She turned and made her way toward the kitchen, stopping to pour the final round of drinks before pushing through the door that divided us. The door
thumped against the frame with each pass until it came to rest, slightly off-center.

I returned to the stool and sat down next to Bear.

"She had tears in her eyes," he said.

I nodded, said nothing.

"Wanna talk about it?"

"Nothing to talk about."

Bear stuffed the last bite of steak into his mouth. He glanced down at my plate. "You gonna eat that?"

I was no longer hungry, so I slid the plate in front of him. A few seconds later, my cell phone reverberated against the bar top. I flipped it open. Frank
was calling.

BOOK: Thin Line
3.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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