The gentle hum of conversation welcomed Ray as the oak panel doors swung inwards to admit him. He strolled in with the bounce of a man who’d woken up to find Miss World blowing him. In fact, he had to make an effort not to hold his arms aloft like he’d knocked out the heavyweight champion. His smile faded a little as no one even spared him a second glance, but the rush of the heist would stay with him for a while yet.
“Move out of the fucking way,” a gravelly voice grunted and Ray was barrelled into from behind.
He flailed in vain to keep his feet but could not stop himself from stumbling into the nearest table, sending the drinks flying. The two men at the table looked ready for a fight before they saw the size of the intruder. A glance behind him was more than enough to dissuade them from taking any action, especially after Paul had ordered them a couple of drinks on him.
“Take it easy will you,” he said, once the drinks had been sorted. “We pulled off a good job; we didn’t win the fucking super bowl.”
“Haha!” John laughed, clasping Ray on the shoulder. “Don’t worry it about it, kid. After my first job I walked into the nearest bar, found the hottest girl in there and said ‘My house, now.’ She threw her fucking drink in my face. But this was a fucking beautiful job, biggest score I’ve ever had, enough to keep my old lady in gin for at least the week.”
He led them to a booth in the corner and a couple of men and women scampered away as they slumped down. A neat whiskey was slid under John’s nose before his second ass cheek had hit the cushion and the waiter waited for Paul and Ray. Ray ordered the most expensive whiskey they had and immediately frowned to himself: he’d never had a whiskey in his life. He made a mental note to ‘calm the fuck down,’ he wasn’t Frankie Bray yet, shit, he wasn’t even the spit Frank used to clean his shoes.
“What are you so happy about? You look like your mother just told you ‘you shit gold and piss bourbon.’”
The voice, slurred slightly with the first embers of drunkenness, took Ray by surprise. He looked to his right to find icy blue eyes boring deep into him. Curly, shoulder-length hair framed her fair face: faultless as a fresh snowfall. She arched a sculpted eyebrow when he didn’t answer straight away. He took a gulp from his freshly arrived drink to gather the pieces of his mind and had to supress the urge to spit it straight back out.
The woman snorted out a laugh at his displeasure and he felt himself slowly turning red.
“Let’s just say: I’ve had a very productive morning,” he eventually said, attempting the cool nonchalance of someone whose elbow wasn’t steadily absorbing someone else’s drink.
“So you’re one of the geniuses who robbed a bank without scouting it out for cops. If you’re looking for your next big score,” she leaned in to whisper into his ear, while Ray tried not to stare. “I hear the mayor has a lovely bottle of scotch in his office.”
She sat back with a self-satisfied smile, daring a half-decent comeback.
“Well, if I ever stop pissing bourbon then maybe I’ll give it a look.”
Her laugh was a glorious sound; the bastard offspring of a bawdy sailor’s guffaw and a soul songstress’s lyrical chortle. She nodded her head in approval, a ‘maybe this guy isn’t as stupid as he looks’ kind of nod.
A cheer from nearby drew both of their gazes. A slim man, pipe in mouth, had one arm raised triumphantly, his three darts each lodged firmly in the triple twenty. Ray watched the woman’s eyes drag over to the pool table in corner, one that was a little too close to the walls to comfortably take a shot.
“What do you say, John?” She spoke without looking away. “Fancy a game?”
“Not now, hon. I’ve earned enough green today; I don’t need to take away a little girl’s lunch money.”
“What about you, slick? Brave enough to put a couple large on the table?”
Two hundred dollars was more than Ray usually made in a week, but fuck it, this’d been a good week.
“You’ve got yourself a game, sweetheart, but, if we’re gonna get to know each other better, I prefer Ray to slick.”
The corner of her mouth turned up a little. “I’ll call you whatever the fuck I want; you’ll call me Alice.”
The eight ball rolled tauntingly into the left corner pocket to join Alice’s seven stripes and Ray’s single potted solid, along with his masculinity.
She scooped the money off the table and slowly counted each bill, a smile growing on her face. It wasn’t the first time Ray had been hustled and each time he’d had to fight the urge to smash a chair round the crook’s head. It was a fight he’d lost more than once. This time was different though. This time it was a smile he had to fight off.
“One hundred eighty,” she spoke as she reeled off the last bill.
Ray lost his fight. “Tell ya what,” he said, pretending he hadn’t seen her slip a twenty up the sleeve of her elegant black silk dress. “How about I buy you a drink and we call it even.”
She leaned back against the table and paused, looking him up and down and making him shiver. “Better make it a strong one.”
The hush that fell over the bar was momentary but unmistakeable, and all eyes turned to the door. Ray had never seen the moustached man before, but the air of power and control radiated off him like stink off shit.
Frank Bray paid no notice to the greetings shouted from all corners. He didn’t stagger into a table like an asshole either. His eyes were like a hawk, locked on its prey. He wasn’t hunting a mouse though. Instead he strolled steadily towards the far wall, not far from where Ray was gawping in his direction. The Boss finally broke his silence when he reached the dartboard and turned to the man still holding his last dart, ready to throw. “You done with this?”
The man merely nodded and Frank took the board from the wall, before handing it to one of the men who had walked in behind him. “Put it in my office.”
Ray barely noticed the woman grab his hand and pull him back to John and Paul at the booth. They sat down as Frank reached the bar and shoved a few bills into the barman’s breast pocket.
“Good to see you again, Mr Bray,” the wiry barman said. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Two fingers, Lou. How’s your little boy?”
“Much better, sir, because of you, of course; I can’t begin to thank you enough.”
“You could start by getting me my fucking drink.”
Frank, drink in hand, turned towards them and Ray felt himself shrink a few inches. Their eyes met for a couple of seconds before the heat of the stare was too much for Ray to handle. Alice sat passively next to him, legs crossed in an almost too casual way.
John climbed to his feet, a smile on his crooked features and his arms splayed in welcome. “Frank!” he greeted.
The Boss smiled in turn and grasped the stout man’s arms in his large hands.
“John, my boy! What am I going to do with you? The mother of every cop’s worst fucking nightmare.”
“What can I say, Boss? All I want is the quiet life but God has other fucking ideas.”
Frank slid into place next to John on the bench. He leant forwards, icy blue eyes staring into the woman in front of him. Alice, for her part, ignored him for a few seconds, until it became clear that he would not look away.
“Hello, Alice,” he said calmly.
Ray was suddenly very aware that his, now sweaty, hand was interlocked with Alice’s and she had no intention of letting go. Frank turned his gaze on him, looking him up and down just as his daughter had. Ray shivered for an entirely different reason.
“So you’re the guy from the heist.”
Ray smiled to himself, it took most men years of grunt work before they were ‘the guy.’ He’d done it in an afternoon with little more than his high school football tackling skills. “Yes, sir.”
Frank drummed his fingers against the wooden table and licked his teeth behind his lips.
“I have a lot of guys working for me, and most of them are dumb as a fucking garden gnome. But Paul tells me you’re different and, if the way you handled yourself today is anything to go by, you’ll go a long way in this business.”
He pulled out his wallet out of his pocket and counted out a few bills, sliding them over to Ray. Ray stared down at them not knowing what to do, before Frank spoke again.
“Now, go to Anderson’s store and get me two bags of dog food. Woofies, turkey and ham; you come back with chicken and pea and I’ll snap your fucking neck. Now repeat that back to me.”
Ray looked to each of his neighbours, trying to figure out if the Boss was kidding. He wasn’t kidding.
“Yeah, I got it Boss,” he said.
“Woofies, turkey and ham, Boss.”
Frank smiled and leant back against the rest, pulling out a cigar.
“You’re gonna go far kid. You’re gonna go far.”
Chapter 4 by Andrew Wright
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