It was late, and all Martin Caiber could think about was how much he wanted to go home. Thankfully, he was almost finished with his business and he yawned as he leaned back in his chair to watch his father’s accountant writing figures in his ledger. Stacks of money, carefully banded together, lay on the table around them and the accountant was tallying them up as he moved them from the table to a black duffel bag. Martin didn’t want to look at them, but he couldn’t help it.
He’d grown up seeing stacks of cash on tables just like the one they were sitting at, but had never gotten used to it. Now that his father was gone, all of it belonged to him and every time he saw one, it was surreal.
“That’s all of it,” the accountant said, putting the last stack of money into a duffel bag as he closed the ledger. “Good take tonight. It’ll put you far enough into the black that you can afford that pay raise you want to give the bartenders.”
“Good,” Martin said. “They deserve it. I’ve seen some of the crap they put up with from drunks and tips don’t make up for half of it, even if the drunks do tip well.” He pulled the bag across the table and zipped it up, then handed it to one of the bouncers who was inexplicably wearing sunglasses at night. “Take this with you and make sure it goes into the private account.”
“Sure thing, boss,” the bouncer said, heading for the door. Martin sighed.
“And don’t call me that,” he called after the bouncer. He put his hands over his face and rubbed it as the accountant put his ledger in his briefcase. “Thanks, Bill.”
“You’re always welcome,” Bill said, zipping his bag. “I don’t know that I ever said it, but I’m so sorry about your dad. It was a lovely funeral and I appreciated the invitation.” Martin nodded and his accountant put on his jacket. “Have a good night, sir.”
“Thanks, I will.” Martin yawned again and leaned his head back to look up at the ceiling. The late nights he’d been putting in at the clubs were starting to catch up with him, and he closed his eyes for a second. He was going to have to get used to them if he wanted to take his father’s place but he still wasn’t sure he wanted to.
Martin stood up, ran his hand through the black hair he’d inherited from his father along with his thin frame and put his jacket on. He was starting to zip it up when one of the other bouncers came in. He was still wearing the earpiece he wore when he was working the door, and the black suit he was wearing marked him as one of the men who dealt with clubgoers.
“Sorry to catch you when you’re just about to leave,” the bouncer said. “There’s a woman here asking to see you.”
“A woman?” Martin didn’t want to talk to a woman, he only wanted to go home. Unfortunately there was no other option. His new duties included meeting with new people and directing them to whatever part of the organization could help them. “Does she look like a cop?”
“No, sir. She’s wearing a suit with a flower in it. If she’s a cop, she’s not on duty.”
“Fine, send her in,” Martin sighed. The bouncer nodded, then went back into the club proper. He took his jacket off and sat back down at the table. It was a good thing the money had been removed from it; the last thing he wanted was some strange woman getting ideas about stealing it. There was a glass of whiskey near his hand and he picked it up to take a drink. He was already tired but the buzz he’d gotten from his previous glass had worn off, so he figured he could stand another. Martin was just finishing his drink when the door opened again and a woman walked through it.
She was indeed wearing a suit, and Martin could tell with one look that it was a man’s suit that had been tailored for a woman. It was black and obviously expensive, and she was wearing a peacock blue shirt beneath it. In her buttonhole was a fire-tipped rose, and she wasn’t wearing a tie. The boots she was wearing had a low heel that tapped in an authoritative way as she crossed the floor toward him, and her dark brown hair was twisted into an updo behind her head. The effect of it all was that he was dealing with a woman who knew what she was doing, and exactly what she wanted from him. When her bright blue eyes met his hazel ones, Martin felt warmth spreading through her body. He didn’t just want to talk to her, he wanted to ask her out.
“Hi,” she said as she reached the table. “You must be Mr. Caiber.”
“I am,” Martin said, motioning to the chair. “Have a seat.” The woman nodded and pulled out the chair across from him. “What can I do for you?”
“A significant amount, I hope,” the woman said. “Forgive me for showing up so late, by the way. I’ve been driving for hours.”
“Oh? Where were you driving from?”
“Michigan. I just finished a job there and decided I’d take off as fast as I could.” She smiled and Martin wondered exactly what kind of work she did. “Anyway, it just so happens that I’m looking for someone and I was told that if I wanted to find something out about any underground activity, Barry Caiber was the one to ask.” The woman raked her eyes over him critically. “You’re a lot younger than I expected.”
“That’s because I’m not Barry, I’m his son. My father died about a week ago, I’m afraid, and I don’t have his connections just yet. I’ll help you however I can, though.” Martin offered his hand to her. “I’m Martin Caiber.”
“People call me the Hawk,” the woman said with a smile as she took his hand and shook it. “Either that or just Hawk. Nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Martin said, drawing back his hand. “What is it that you do?”
“I find people,” Hawk replied simply. She reached into the breast pocket of her jacket and withdrew a business card, which she handed to Martin. He looked down at it, scanning the plain white card with interest. Written in simple black type were the words The Hawk and a phone number with a Texas area code.
“So you need information. Mind if I ask what for?” He offered the card back to her and she held up a hand.
“Keep it. In case you ever need anything.” She smiled and leaned forward. “There’s a little girl missing from Texas, and her mother has hired me to find her. My information led me to Michigan, but I hit a dead end with a pair of train tickets to Chicago. Which is why I’m here.” Hawk hesitated a moment and Martin raised an eyebrow, indicating she should continue. “Eddie Brighton gave me your father’s name.”
“I see.” Martin looked down at her card again. “Best I can do is give you another name, I’m afraid.” He took out his phone and brought up his list of contacts. “I have an associate that was a friend of my father’s who can probably help you. From what I’ve heard, he can find anyone.” He looked up at Hawk. “I haven’t had a reason to try him out, though.”
“I’m happy to take any help you can offer,” Hawk said. “I don’t like to waste time when I’m looking for children. Finding them is particularly important to me.”
“Glad to hear it,” Martin said. He rummaged through his pockets until he found one of his own business cards. It was much more detailed than Hawk’s, with a colorful logo and a font that had been created for him, and he flipped it over to write a name and phone number on it. “Jimmy Hirakawa. He’s supposed to be the best.”
“That’s just because you hadn’t met me yet,” Hawk said with a wink. She took the card from him and tucked it into her breast pocket. “Thanks for your time.” It looked as if she was going to get up and Martin was struck by the feeling that he was never going to see her again.
“How about having a drink with me?” He was afraid his voice sounded desperate but either Hawk didn’t realize it or didn’t care, as she smiled at him and leaned back in her chair.
“Sure,” she said. “This is a nice club, you’ve probably got some top-notch booze.”
“Damn right I do,” Martin said. “Hey, Jessie, bring us a couple of Rey Sol Anejo,” he called out into the bar, and a woman’s voice replied with something he couldn’t quite hear.
“Rey Sol, huh?” Hawk smirked at him. “You must be trying to impress me.” She crossed her leg over her knee and Martin returned the smile.
“Is it working?” A woman with a ponytail and an undercut came in and set two glasses of crystal clear tequila on the table between them, along with a bottle of what appeared to be the same liquor.
“You know I was about to clock out, right?” Jessie’s tone of voice suggested that she was extremely put out by having to serve him, but she brightened when Hawk took a folded bill out of her inside pocket and held it out to her with two fingers. The number 50 was clearly visible and it was Martin’s turn to be impressed.
“For your trouble,” Hawk said. Jessie gave Martin a withering look, then left them alone with their drinks. “My dad always told me you should try never to piss off your bartender or your hairstylist.”
“Good advice,” Martin said, lifting his glass. “Welcome to town. Here’s to what’s hopefully the start of a new friendship.” Hawk raised her glass and clinked it against his, then tipped it up and drained her tequila in one drink.
“That’s really good,” she said, setting her empty glass on the table. “Definitely worth tipping well. Speaking of money,” she went on, “I suppose you get paid for giving me this information?”
“My dad would have insisted on it, but I’m not going to push the issue. I’d rather not interfere with anything that a kid’s life might depend on.” Martin finished off his own drink and nodded to the bottle. “Want another?”
“Why not? I’m just going to my hotel after this.” She set her glass down and Martin poured her another. “Of course I’m going to pay you, by the way. You’ll get your money when I get mine. How does ten percent of my fee sound?”
“Sounds fine to me.” He poured himself another bottle and raised his glass. Hawk did the same and smiled. “I’m not in any hurry.”
“It shouldn’t be long, once I find the girl.” She smiled at him and downed her tequila. Martin looked at her a little more closely as she did. With the outfit she was wearing, she looked like a stereotypical hitman and he smiled at her.
“So what are you going to do when you find them? With the kidnapper, I mean.”
“Let’s just hope for his sake that he comes quietly.” She set aside her glass. “I’d better get going. My legs are cramped after driving so long and my hotel room has a whirlpool.” Hawk stood up and buttoned her jacket. “Thanks for the drink. I don’t know when I’ll get to have Rey Sol again.”
“Anytime you want some, come back here. I’m usually back here dealing with business.” He got up from the table to see her out and she raised an eyebrow.
“Business, huh?” Martin knew what she was implying, and part of him wanted to tell her it wasn’t what she thought but he also knew that he wouldn’t be considering that if he hadn’t been so struck by her. “Whatever you say, Marty.” She walked briskly toward the door, then stopped and looked back at him with a smirk, holding the card up between her first and index fingers. “Maybe I’ll make it twenty percent because you’re so cute.”
At a loss for words, Martin stood and watched her disappear into the front of the club. Once she was gone, he dropped back into his chair and exhaled. The woman was a hurricane in a tailored suit but it didn’t stop him from wanting to talk to her again. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful, she was also obviously intelligent and focused on her goal, which made him think that even if he wanted to see more of her, she would be too busy for it. It was a shame, though. He’d been so focused on trying to keep his life and his father’s separate that he hadn’t let himself have much of a social life, and now that he’d come across someone he liked it seemed as if she wasn’t in the market for one of her own.
The two Reys had given him back his buzz but he didn’t want to stay around the club much longer, so he finished his whiskey and put on his jacket. He didn’t feel like driving home himself, so he stepped outside to catch a cab. Even at this time of night there were plenty driving around and he went to the curb to flag one down. He was looking down at his cell phone, thinking he should put Hawk’s number into it, and didn’t noticed the car headed for him until its headlights splashed over him.
The gray sedan jumped the curb just as Martin dove out of the way into the alley, stumbled, and fell headfirst into a pile of garbage bags. One of the bouncers ran toward him as the sedan pulled back into the street and drove off in a squeal of tires. Martin sat up, surrounded by bottles and things he would rather not think about, and put a hand to his head.
“Are you okay, Mr. Caiber?” The bouncer stood over him and offered a hand, which Martin took gratefully to help him off the ground.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Martin said. “Just a little shaken up.”
“That car was coming right for you,” the bouncer said, looking down the street in the direction the car had driven. “Any idea who it might have been?”
“Not in the least,” Martin said. He picked a squashed lime wedge off his jacket and tossed it on the ground. “I don’t want to deal with it right now, either. All I want to do is go home and take a shower.”
“Let me drive you then,” the bouncer said. He pulled the earpiece he was wearing out and stuck it in his jacket pocket. “It’s too dangerous for you to stand around out here waiting for a cab.”
“If you say so,” Martin said, glad for the offer. He followed the bouncer around the back of the building where there were a couple of parking spots for employees. His own car was in one of them but he walked past it. If he hadn’t been in any shape to drive after the drinks he’d had with Hawk, he definitely wasn’t now.
The bouncer unlocked the car and Martin got into the back seat and pulled the door shut, then leaned his head back against the leather and closed his eyes. This was getting out of hand. As much as he didn’t want to seem paranoid, there was no getting around the fact that it was the second time in a week that someone had tried to kill him.
Available at all retailers January 15, 2019 – preorder now for $0.99!
Nook, Kobo, Apple Books: http://books2read.com/BuyAtAnyCost