Split Second

Page 13


As the night wore on, Chilly’s regulars sauntered in for their prebedtime drink. Ruley knew all their faces and most of their names. Lately he often heard them sharing horror stories about losing their credit lines or other business catastrophes, and he shook his head about it. Things never changed. Only the young sharks still talked urgently about their plans for expansion and higher market share. That never changed, either.
When he was finally ready to take a break at the bar, he asked Cindy, his second daughter, to take over. “Keep an eye on Liz,” he told her. “She’s in a funk.” When he was walking toward his backroom office, he noticed a young man he’d never seen before come into the bar. He looked for the world like a throwback to the old neighborhood with his black beret, his black clothes on a rail-thin body, and his slouchy walk. Didn’t this guy realize he was out of his time, that his effete look had been gone at this bar for more than ten years now? Ruley shook his head and walked into his office. Taxes, he thought. He was always paying some hand that was sticking in his face—city, state, feds, they all had lots of big hands.
Cindy was serving Liz her second glass of Peridot chardonnay when the guy next to her asked if he could buy it for her.
Liz Rogers looked the guy up and down and liked what she saw—namely, that she was bigger than he was and could beat him up if the need arose, which it probably wouldn’t. She liked his thin white face, his dark eyes, and the beret that covered long black hair. It was a big plus that his hair didn’t look greasy. Good hygiene in a guy was always a plus.
Cindy kept half an eye on the two, as she did everyone who sat at the bar. The young guy bought the woman a refill of the same fine chardonnay that made her dad’s cash register cha-ching with pleasure. They chatted, Cindy saw, and looked rather cozy after about an hour.
Because this was a professional neighborhood, even the young people began to straggle out at about ten o’clock, some with a bit too much of Ruley’s fine wine in their bloodstreams. A wine hangover isn’t any big deal, Ruley always said, and besides, they were young, they could drink themselves stupid nightly for ten years and still get up with a smile the next morning and go to work. Hit forty and it’s a different story. They’d learn.
Ruley was coming around the end of the bar when he saw the young man walking close beside Liz of the beautiful smile as she swayed out the front door.
She’d drunk only three glasses of wine; she shouldn’t be weaving around like that. He frowned. Maybe she couldn’t hold her drink, but still, something wasn’t right. What was it?
Liz Rogers was happy, and that was good, even though she knew well enough life would be grim tomorrow morning when she had to face reality again, and that reality was her mother. She’d had to bail her mother out of jail yet again, this time for shoplifting at Marnie’s, an upscale clothing boutique, and so she’d decided to stop at Chilly’s Bar, only a block over from her mother’s condo. Their wine was expensive, but then Todd—with two d’s—had come in and lightened her load and listened to all her woes, and paid for a glass of the swank white wine.
She had really dumped on him, bless him, and he’d told her he’d walk her home. She’d meant to tell him she didn’t live in this neighborhood, that her mom did, but she forgot. When they stepped outside Chilly’s, she took a breath of the cold night air and realized she had to cut this nice man loose and get a taxi.
She smiled up at Todd and pulled out her cell phone. “I’ve got to call a taxi.”
“Why? You live right here in the neighborhood. I’d love to walk you home, Lizzie.”
“Nope, this isn’t my neighborhood; it’s my mom who lives here.”
There was a slight pause, then he said, “Then I’ll take the taxi with you and walk you up.”
“Nah, that’s too much trouble; don’t bother.” No sooner had she spoken than she felt a wave of dizziness and a sudden sick feeling twist in her stomach. Great, this was all she needed after dealing with her mother and the cops and a low-life bail bondsman named Lucky Tasker.
“Are you okay, Liz?”
“Something hit me—I felt like I was going to fall over. Sorry, Todd, it’s been a long day.”
She dialed for a taxi. Ten minutes, she was told, and smiled up at Todd. “I think I’ll go back into Chilly’s and stay warm, wait there.”
“Let’s stay out here. I’ll keep you warm.”
She felt nausea roil in her stomach, threaten to come up into her throat. “I’m going to be sick, Todd. I’ve gotta get to the bathroom.”