Read Chapter One
The Compass Bar was a perfect square. At the center of the space, there was a circular bar and along each of the walls were booth seats. No freestanding tables or chairs. On nights when it was busy, customers either crowded up to the bar, made friends and shared one of the booths, or gathered in the open spaces and stood. Tonight was not a busy night, but there were way too many people given the situation that was unfolding.
The two young women sitting in a booth on the left caught Seth’s attention as he scanned the first quadrant of the bar. A girls’ night out gone horribly wrong.
Sitting in the corner booth was a retired Secret Service agent. He and Seth had had several conversations over the past year, and familiarity told him that the man wasn’t carrying a weapon. That didn’t, however, mean he couldn’t be helpful should Seth find himself in need.
On the right side of the bar there was a group of three college-aged young men, one of them wearing a green t-shirt with white Greek letters announcing his fraternity affiliation. Frat boys. Depending upon how much they had had to drink, they could turn into a wildcard he didn’t need.
Nearest him, also on the right side of the bar, sat a young man who Seth was sure wasn’t even close to the drinking age. More likely, he had just gotten his driver’s license. The waitress, Danielle, was standing at his table, hands empty. Seth wondered if she was the reason the teenager was there.
Jules stood in the center of the bar, and when Seth looked at her, he saw the fear that burned away her usual snarky attitude. She didn’t take shit from anyone, and no matter what the patrons of the bar threw her way, she handled it with the same effort it would have taken her to polish her fingernails while watching her favorite television show—Justified—for the dozenth time. The defiant rebel she presented to the world was muted, hiding until it knew it was safe to come out again. She stood next to the bar, her hands at her sides and within full view of the man that had come into her place of business and threatened her and her customers.
Everyone’s attention centered on the man standing on the bar. He had a Beretta 92FS in his left hand, and the barrel was pointed at Jules’ forehead.
“I’m here,” Seth said. “What is it you want?”
“Direct and to the point. In a hurry? Got somewhere else you need to be?” said the man, swiveling his head on his neck before meeting Seth’s gaze.
Seth didn’t respond to the taunting questions. He crossed his arms over his chest and waited, his feet in a wide-legged stance, his weight evenly distributed and his body ready to react. “Since you insist on pointing your gun at someone, turn it on me and then tell me what it is you want.”
The man pivoted on his feet and stepped along the bar until he was as close as he could be to Seth without losing the advantage of his elevated position. “What makes you think you’re in any position to give orders?”
“Because you requested an audience with me,” Seth answered. “You have my attention, but not indefinitely. Stop wasting my time.”
He tilted his head to one side and sneered down at Seth. “You’ve misinterpreted the situation. You are not the one who’s in control here.”
Not yet, but I will be, he thought silently. He wouldn’t ask again for the man to tell him what he wanted. When it was required of him, Seth possessed infinite patience. As long as the others in the bar were not under imminent threat, he could wait this man out for as long as necessary.
“What is your name?”
“Does it matter?”
“Not in the least,” Seth returned. “Tell me about that tattoo on your hand.”
The man’s gaze went to the back of his hand for an instant before he looked back at Seth. “You don’t recognize it?”
“He said you would,” the man replied.
His face twisted into a sadistic smile, and sinister light burned in his eyes. “He’s been watching you. For months now. Haven’t you felt the cold weight of his stare? Hasn’t the sixth sense you government spooks develop been tingling?”
Seth didn’t have a photographic memory, but it was damn good, and he didn’t remember ever seeing this man or the tattoo on his hand. And yet it was clear that this man knew him and something about his past life. “What does this have to do with him?”
The man paced to his left and then his right before halting and returning his focus to Seth. “You could say he’s my benefactor and my mentor.”
“In what way?”
Waving his gun hand to indicate the room and the moment, he answered, “He made all of this possible, and then he pointed me in your direction. He told me you’re the man capable of giving me what I want.”
“Which is what?” he asked, reassessing the man in front of him. He wasn’t just someone with a gun and this wasn’t a random act of violence. What was happening had been premeditated, and whoever this “he” was that the man was referring to, it was clear to Seth that he was the true architect of this scenario. This man was playing his part, but it would be dangerous to underestimate him.
“Give her to me,” he said.
“Not going to happen,” Seth declared.
The man let his gaze travel over every single individual in the bar before it returned to Seth. “You see, I know that you come here to do your drinking when you want to a drink. I know that this woman is someone that you count as a friend. I know that the waitress knows you by name, that you tip well when you’re here, and that you and the old man sitting in the corner over there chat from time to time. He told me that you wouldn’t stand by and let innocent people die. Not if there was something you could do to stop it. He says you’re noble or honorable or some shit like that. All that means to me is that you’re not going to let me pull the trigger and end someone’s life tonight. Not when it’s within your power to give me what I want and make me go away.”
“He obviously doesn’t know me all that well,” Seth countered. “If he did, he’d know I would never make this devil’s bargain.”
“You’re a man that has something to lose, which means you should never say never,” he said, jumping down from the bar and landing agilely on his feet. From his back pocket he withdrew a silencer and screwed it onto the barrel of the gun. “I have twenty bullets. How many do you think it will take to make you change your mind?”
He didn’t wait for Seth to respond. Instead, he aimed and fired the first shot.
Read Chapter Three