Start at the beginning with Chapter One
Seth emerged into the short hallway leading from the walk-in cooler to the main part of the bar. The first person he saw was Neil Moser.
“What’s your plan?”
“Convince him that it’s in his best interest to let some of these people go,” Seth returned. Kessler had insisted they were two men in the midst of a negotiation. Perhaps he could use that to his advantage while withholding the one piece of information Kessler wanted most. “What’s happened out here in the last few minutes?”
“The college kid struck up a conversation with the perp. What is his name anyway?” Moser asked.
Moser said, “I’ve got your back.”
Seth nodded his appreciation, and in the next moment they were back inside the bar proper and he spotted Kessler. He stood on top of the bar, arms crossed over his chest, his focus on the frat boy who had urged Seth to reveal Janie Savoy’s location. He was too far away to hear what was being said, but the frat boy was doing all the talking.
Kessler’s gaze snapped over to him, and again Seth wondered about the sharpness of his reflexes. Everything he’d learned about Sean Kessler prior to playing his part in Janie Savoy’s getaway told the story of a man who worked as a landscaper-for-hire and spent his nights in his neighborhood bar. Nothing suggested a man with the physicality or agility Kessler had demonstrated tonight.
“Your benefactor,” Seth started. “You said that he gave you a file on me.”
“Did he also provide you with combat training?”
Kessler looked down at the tattoo on the back of his hand. “He provided me with everything I would need to get back what’s mine.”
“I told you. Women are not property,” Seth spoke.
“And I told you. If you had ever loved a woman, you’d think differently.”
“Where is your benefactor located?” Seth asked. “Here in D.C.? Somewhere overseas? The jungles of the Amazon? I really want some face time with him. Can you set that up for me?”
Kessler strode down the length of the bar. With affected purpose, he looked down his nose and said, “He wants to see you, too, but he’ll do that in his own time. Considering all of the people waiting in line to take their shot at you, it could be a while before that happens. A long while. You see, there’s something I don’t think you’ve figured out yet.”
“You took someone from him. It’s one of the reasons why we have orders not to kill you. He’s keeping that pleasure for himself. You don’t have to go looking for him. When he’s ready, he’ll find you.”
“You have a lot of faith in him,” Seth remarked, keeping the conversation moving even as he processed everything Kessler said. No matter what information was in the file he had been given, Seth knew his own history better than anyone. If half of what Kessler said was true, then the list of people who could be coming after him was a long one.
But, who on that list would have the resources to pull together this kind of operation?
“He has done everything he said he would do,” Kessler replied. “He’s earned my trust and my loyalty.”
And his obedience.
“You, on the other hand, have shown that none of the people here should trust you, least of all with their lives,” said Kessler.
Seth moved his gaze to the frat boy still standing at the bar. “What is your name?”
“Otto,” he started. “Tell me, what do you think we should do?”
Without hesitation, Otto answered, “Give him what he wants.”
“Because once he has what he wants he’ll let us go,” Otto said.
“And you don’t care that he just killed a teenage boy and shows no remorse for it?” Seth challenged. “You really think that a man who just killed another in front of a host of witnesses can be trusted to keep his word?”
Otto glanced in the direction of his friends, but neither of them would make eye contact with him. He moved closer to Seth until they stood toe-to-toe, his hands propped on his hips. “From the way that he tells it, he’s not the only man in this room who has taken a life. What makes you any different than him?”
Seth swept his eyes around the bar. Each person there was looking at him, listening, waiting for his response to Otto’s challenge. His gaze stayed on Jules for a few seconds longer than anyone else. This was happening in her bar because he hadn’t kept distance between them like he should have. He had thought that staying close, checking in on her from time to time, was the right thing to do. Instead, there was a corpse in her bar, blood on her floor, and a young woman weeping in her arms. He hadn’t protected her. He’d made her a target just waiting to be hit.
He turned his attention back to Otto. “If you’re looking for me to justify my past or my actions to you, then look somewhere else. Are we done here, or do you have something else you want to say?”
“No, we’re not done,” Otto returned. “There are eight of us and one of you. I say, that since it’s our lives you’re putting in danger, we get to be the ones to decide what you do next.”
He spun around and opened his arms wide. “What say you, people of Compass Bar? Should this guy tell our captor where he can find his ex? Or do you want to continue cowering in your seats and wondering if you’ll be the next one to take a bullet?”
“Man, what are you doing?”
Seth looked at the table where Otto had been sitting with his friends. The one that had spoken in a hushed but anxious tone wore a dark green button down with the sleeves rolled up over his forearms. Beneath the sleeve, a tattoo peeked out. He moved and the sleeve shifted upward, showing more of the tattoo. A stylized Celtic cross.
“Sit down and shut up,” the other one at the table urged. He wore the jersey of Argentina’s national soccer team. “You’re going to get someone killed and I don’t think this is the guy you want to piss off right now.”
“You don’t want to piss either one of them off,” said the one with the tattoo.
“Two votes for cowering,” Otto remarked. Turning to the two women sitting on the opposite side of the bar, he approached them and asked, “What about you? I heard you tell him your name is Belinda. Wouldn’t you like to get to a hospital where a doctor can give you a painkiller and get that bullet out of your leg?”
Belinda opened her mouth to speak but Kit responded before she could get a word out. “If he’s the only one standing between a woman and her abuser, then I want him to keep doing what he’s doing.”
Kit turned to Belinda, and from where Seth stood, he could see her eyes narrow and her features harden. “No. We are not the kind of people who would endanger another woman’s life to save our own. I won’t be that kind of person. What if it was you? What if you were this Janie Savoy and had no idea that the man who had abused you for who knows how long was about to show up on your doorstep?”
“She can call the police,” Belinda replied. “Get a restraining order. Or we can call the police once we get out of here. We can get help to her before he does anything to hurt her.”
“Is that what you really believe?” Kit asked. “Or is that what you want to believe?”
Belinda said, “I don’t want to die.”
“I don’t want to die, either, but I’m not going to vote to sell this woman out,” Kit replied. She looked up at Otto and said, “You can call it cowering if you want and that’s okay. A lot of people don’t recognize courage when they see it. Now go away.”
Kit’s eyes landed on him, and the weight of her stare was the equivalent of a silently spoken command. She hadn’t assumed that she could control him or the situation but she had made her voice heard.
Otto was smart enough to move away from the booth Kit and Belinda occupied. Focusing on the other two women in the bar, he went over to them and squatted down beside them. They hadn’t moved from the spot they’d been in when Seth had lifted Gabe out of Danielle’s arms, and Otto took care to avoid the blood pool.
“What about you, honey?” he asked, his eyes seeking Danielle’s.
Danielle straightened away from Jules’ embrace. “Don’t call me that. When Gabe came in earlier you were rude and obnoxious to him. You’re a bully, just like the man pacing on the top of the bar, acting like he’s a lion prowling in the Sahara. You both prey on people you think are weaker than you. I’m not weak and neither was Gabe.”
Seth had never heard Danielle raise her voice to anyone, not even rowdy, drunken bar patrons who tried to put their hands where they weren’t invited. He had taught her a few simple defense moves that would cause plenty of pain and get her point across without having to say a word. Even in her grief she was fierce, choosing words as her weapon.
“You’re a hothead with no regard for anyone but yourself,” Jules said. “If it’s a choice between trusting Seth or trusting the maniac on my bar, then there is no choice.”
He watched Otto rise to his full height. The arrogant bravado that had carried him through the bar made him turn and look at Kessler, who stalked the length of the bar in the same way he had seen Josh pace in a straight line from one end of his office to the other. Otto waited for him to get closer. Seth watched the silent exchange take place between them, and his internal alarm system went off.
Otto moved his gaze to Moser. “And you, old man? Are you with him, too?”
Moser rose an eyebrow in response.
Seth studied the interplay between Otto and Kessler. He was missing something. Something damn important. Moser had told him that Otto and Kessler had gotten chatty, but Seth had attributed Otto’s forwardness to a brash personality. Had he misread the situation? Were the two really strangers or did they know each other?
He looked at Otto’s hand. No maze tattoo.
“It’s too bad you’re all with him,” Otto said.
“Why’s that?” Moser asked.
Kessler raised his gun and pointed at Jules, but it was Otto who said, “Because if he doesn’t get what he wants in the next sixty minutes, she goes boom.”
READ CHAPTER SEVEN ON TUESDAY, 9/5