A/N This story was my entry in the Bad Boys of Twilight contest. It was a one-shot then, but I decided to split it up into five chapters. I didn't change a thing otherwise. The story did not win, but it did get "host's choice," chosen by the lovely Hoodfabulous. You should check out her stories. Huge thanks to Mazzystarla and Honeybeemeadows, who did the prereading on this for me. I owe them both.
Part One: Encounter
"Beer," I say, eyeing the dump as my eyes adjust to the darkness. Looks like it's held together with nothing but dust and the sweat of a hundred cops gone bad.
She pulls her dark hair into a quick bun, wipes down the bar in front of me, makes sure I get a good look at her tits under the white tank top that's a size too small.
"What kind," she says, approaching the tap. Her red lips smile; her eyes don't.
"Whatever." I'll be lucky to get a clean glass in here, let alone a decent drink.
She fills a mug, slides it over. Foam tides over the top, oozes down the frozen glass, pools at the bottom.
"That'll be six dollars," she says. She lifts her eyebrows.
I pull out my wallet, finger a $100 bill.
She freezes, eyes my ID and gold shield before I flip the wallet closed and hand the bill over.
"It's yours," I tell her as she takes it, her fingers brushing mine.
She hesitates before stuffing the bill into her bra. I can see it resting against her smooth skin.
"What else do you expect for it, Detective Cullen?" she says with a half smile. She's quick.
"The truth, Miss Swan." I've done my research.
I light a Marlboro, hit the beer. It's flat, weak. The ice crystals floating on top have more flavor than the beer does.
"I don't know anything," she says. She turns her back to me, as if she's going to rinse some glasses, looks over her shoulder. "Like I told the uniforms when they were in here yesterday."
"I'll decide what you know. Understand?"
She steps back from the sink, pulls the towel from her apron, re-wipes the same spot in front of me. She looks like she's deciding something. I know which way she'll go, but I let the process take hold. She side-eyes the two guys at the other end of the bar.
"Don't worry about them. I own them. This is about you, me, a dead kid and a perp who don't got much longer to live. You're going to help me find him and I'm going to kill him."
She stops wiping. Looks at me hard. Chews on her cherry-red bottom lip like it's coated in candy.
I remove my sunglasses and give myself over.
She looks deep, doesn't like what she finds. I can feel the moment she breaks. The hue of her skin changes from pink to gray, caused by the way the neon reflects off the fine hairs that now stand on end. Her eyes dim, the breath leaks from her lungs, her bottom lip quivers, tiny wrinkles appear at the corners of her eyes.
It feels like taking over someone's soul.
"Yeah," she says. She sighs. Her voice is shaking. "The guy was in here before."
"Before what?" I say.
"Before that," she says.
She nods at the window, where across the street police tape still surrounds the shot-up husk of a tattoo shop that used to double as a mob safe house.
I sip my beer.
"Tall," she says, "black leather jacket, real nice, soft and smooth. Expensive suit underneath, black on black."
I know the guy. Jimmy the Vamp, hitman, number two in the chain of command. Likes to shoot people in the neck twice. Watch 'em bleed out. A guy with a mean streak and no conscience. He screwed up this time. Got caught in the act. A shoot-out took a little kid's life. The whole department's on this one. Problem is, Jimmy knows a thing or two about me. Payoffs, witnesses disappearing. Stuff I can't have the brass latching onto. He goes down, he'll sing like a canary and take me down with him.
"What else?" I ask.
"His shoes," she says. She turns away, puts her head down.
"Tell me, Bella. I need to know about the shoes."
She's tearing up now, can barely speak. She looks at me through wet eyes. "His shoes," she says. "They were covered in mud."
"The mud, Bella. What about the mud?"
She stops, and her gaze puts a hole through me. She takes a breath and chews that lip. "Red," she says. She says it so softly it's almost like a prayer.
She stares off into space and takes a smoke from my pack. Her fingers shake so much she can't light the match.
I pull out my Zippo. She takes my hand in hers and guides the flame to her mouth.
"The mud was red," she repeats, inhaling, blowing two quick streams of smoke through her nose.
We both know red mud only comes from one place around here, the old clay mine off Canterbury Road. I know where he's hiding now.
I drop my butt into the last of the beer.
"You did the right thing," I say, not meaning it for a second. I reach out and take her hand. It's frozen. Her nails dig into my palm as she grips me back.
"Please don't tell anyone," she says. She won't let me go. Clasps my hand hard. "Please, Detective. They'll kill me."
The butt has burned down to her fingers, filling the air with acrid smoke. The washcloth forgotten, she gives me all her attention.
She's right. They'll kill her. And I don't give a good god damn. Everybody gotta die sometime.
"Don't worry about it," I say on my way out the door. "You didn't say a word."