Disclaimer: I don't own Chicago Code.
Today was quickly going down the toilet. First, I woke up late. Of all days to wake up late, I had to pick today, the day I had a job interview for the first time since I got fired almost a year ago. Swearing profusely, I tumbled out of bed, grabbing whatever clothes I could, ripping a hole in my only pair of nylons, banging my knee into the dresser and stumbling to the bathroom. I did a quick job on my hair, swiped some mascara on my lashes (but not before stabbing my eye with the wand) and brushed my teeth.
When I dashed out to my tiny living room to grab my purse and head out the door, I froze in my tracks at the sight of three men seated in my living room. Two of the men looked way too big to fit in the room. Their arms were as thick as my waist and their heads were small melons balanced on their shoulders. When I entered the room, they stood; one moved to block my way to the door. The third man was smartly dressed with softly graying hair, and a steely blue gaze that chilled down to the bone. He sat calmly on my sofa, watching me, amused.
Hugh Killian. I clenched my fists and glared at him. He was the root of all the problems that had been plaguing my life the last several years. He was the reason my little brother was sitting in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He was the reason I got fired from the Musuem of Arts almost a year ago. And his presence here this morning only confirmed my suspicion that he was the reason I hadn't been able to get another job.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
A slow smile spread across Killian's smug face, "Oh, come now, Colleen. Surely your brother would be disappointed if he thought I wasn't keeping an eye on his poor, struggling older sister."
"If it wasn't for you, he wouldn't be stuck in jail in the first place," I spat.
One of the muscle men took a step forward, but Killian held up his hand, "Your brother chose to take the rap for that murder. He knows where his loyalties lie." He stood and buttoned his jacket, smoothed his tie before turning his chilly gaze to me, "And I was hoping you had figured out where yours lay."
"My brother didn't kill that man," Even though Killian scared the crap out of me, I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. "He only confessed because you told him to."
"And now I'm telling you," Killian's voice dropped low and threatening. I kept my eyes level with his but my stomach was in a knot and it was a small miracle that my knees didn't give out. "That you will come work for me as a bartender at my pub. If you refuse, I'm afraid I'll have to make a call to my buddies at the jail and your dear little brother will have a very unfortunate accident." He paused for a moment before adding, "You should know, that no one in this city will ever hire you. You can refuse my job offer and spend the rest of your life in the vain attempt to find employment, but I have made sure that you will never be employed by anyone else."
It was just as I had suspected. Killian now owned me because he knew I would do anything for my brother, Tommy. My stupid, foolish little brother that had gotten mixed up with Killian's gang in the first place. My only family. The one that hid in the closet with me when we were little while our father had been in a drunken rage and we pinky swore we would always look out for each other.
I hung my head, to Killian it was a sign of submission. I didn't let myself think of it that way. It was merely what I had to do to keep my promise to my little brother.
"Fine," I ground out, "When do I start?"
Killian's smug grin of victory could have melted the wax off his expensive car. Some days, I really hated my little brother.
Three Years Later
The thing about Chicago is that even though times are hard and the streets are gritty, people are tough and crusty so that they can survive in the grim. Yet the sounds of the city combine into the perfect symphony: car horns beep, beep; rusty cars put, put; street vendors screaming expletives just as well as any rapper. Blurs of color of every hue assailed the eyes at every turn.
These days, I didn't bother enjoying the excitement of the city that used to inspire me and the dozens of paintings I created. I still painted, but it was hard to find the inspiration that used to be readily available. Mostly, I tried to keep my head down and bite my tongue so my brother wouldn't have to wake up to a shank buried in his stomach.
I arrived at the bar ten minutes before my shift was supposed to start. Even though I hated Killian and the fact that he cornered me into the job, I still couldn't bring myself to be late or be the bad employee I wanted to be. It was getting close to dinner time but the usual crowd, which consisted of the members of Killian's gang and a few immigrants that sought the company of their fellow miss-placed countrymen, hadn't yet started filtering in.
Irma, who was in her late thirties but looked to be in her sixties and had been working for Killian since she relocated from Northern Ireland several years ago, was working the bar with a rag in her hand and a dirty apron tied at her waist. She waved at me as I slipped behind the bar, "Hey, girl. What you doing here? I thought today was your day off?"
I grabbed a clean apron from under the bar and tied it around my waist, "I traded shifts with Caitlin. She had to take Ronny to the doctor's for his three month check up."
"Ah, that's right. She told me about that," Irma nodded her head as she tossed some empty mugs into the sink and started washing them.
That was about as far as our socializing went. I knew better than to tell Irma too much, she actually wanted this job and would tattle to Killian if I ever said a cross word or hinted that I hated the job in any way. Luckily, a group of guys chose that moment to enter the bar and pick a booth near the back. I didn't waste any time in snatching up some menus and bee-lining for the table. The four young men were all part of Killian's crew. Three of them had been in for a few years now and were slowly working their way up the ranks. The fourth was a new guy. Poor shmuck, I thought as I reached the table and gave them a fake friendly smile.
"Evening, gentlemen," I said as I laid out the menus, which in all honesty were just a waste of space. No one looked at the menu. Ever.
"Hey, Colleen," Will shot me an arrogant smirk just as he always did in the hopes that it would win me over. "You're looking fine tonight."
I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt advertising the bar. My hair was pulled up in a half-assed pony tail and I wore no make-up which made me barely look old enough to even be in the bar with my big blue eyes and freckled cheeks. I rolled my eyes, "Nice try, Slick. The answer is still no."
His friends all oh-ed as Will pursed his lips. "Colleen," Mikey, another one of Killian's cronies clapped a hand to the shoulder of the new guy. "This is Liam. He's our new friend so we're showing him the sites."
I turned my attention to the new guy. He had blue eyes and long curly hair pulled back into a pony tail. His smile was friendly. To me, he didn't seem like the type to be hanging out with these guys but give Killian a few months and this poor shmuck would be just as bad as the rest of them. I gave him my usual fake friendly smile.
"Colleen," Mikey informed Liam, "Is the best waitress here. She has just the right touch when pouring beer. Irma shakes too much 'cause she's trying to quit smoking and always gets way too much foam and Caitlin, boy, you never want to accept a beer from her, trust me."
"I'll remember that," Liam smiled up at me, not in the I-will-conquer-you way that Will did or the I-own-you way that Killian would, but in a way that my best friend in high school would have after we did something crazy and now had to keep the secret from the teachers or parents.
For a second, I was dumbfounded. Never once in all the years I'd been associated with any of Killian's crew did I feel like any of them could come close to 'friend' status. Then Liam waltzes in the bar and I'm thinking maybe this guy isn't so bad. But then, they never seem that bad at first, a little voice whispered in my ear and snapped me back to reality.
"So," I cleared my throat, "You guys want the usual then?"
They all nodded and reassured Liam that yes, he wanted the usual. I hustled back to the bar to put the order in to our resident chef, Big Dog. Then, I pulled out four mugs and filled them with beer imported straight from Ireland and delivered them to the table. More customer's started filing in so Irma and I tag teamed the waitress/barkeep duties. Irma's shift ended at nine when the dinner crowd was gone and I could tend the bar on my own until closing at one. Big Dog would keep the kitchen open until eleven, then spend the last two hours cleaning up in the back before helping me close.
I hadn't given Liam or the others a second thought after delivering their meal until Liam suddenly took a stool at the bar around midnight. He sat at the end, apart from the other two patrons, who were mostly clustered toward the middle so they could gab about the good ol' days. The other three guys were still at the booth, nursing their third beer of the night. Since things had slowed down, I was absentmindedly doodling on a napkin when Liam took his seat.
I quickly shoved the napkin away, "What can I get for you?"
"Actually, I couldn't help but notice you've been doodling on that napkin all night whenever things get slow," Liam's voice was clear and even, soothing almost. He'd only had one beer so far and I doubted the other three even noticed that he wasn't on their playing field for a fun evening. "Can I see it?"
I hesitated for a moment before handing over the napkin. No one ever noticed that I doodled on the job and it wasn't something I readily shared with anyone. After Killian got me fired, my art career became something I hid, unwilling to let Killian take even more from me. Liam took the napkin and admired the work.
"That's really good," He handed the napkin back to me as I mumbled a thank you. "You're an artist?"
I glanced down the bar, part of me hoping that someone needed a refill so I didn't have to answer, part of me hoping they didn't so I could. I didn't know how to feel when no one needed anything. "Yes," I answered finally.
"Have you seen the new exhibit they have at the Museum of Art?" Liam was being awful friendly and I was beginning to wonder if he wasn't that great at holding his alcohol and was just as wasted as his friends after the one beer.
"No," I replied. I spotted Will, Mikey and Ray all turned in their seats, watching us. Narrowing my eyes, I turned back to Liam, "Look, if those guys put you up to this and you're fishing for a date, you can just forget it."
Liam didn't even look phased that he'd been caught, "I will admit, there was some talk about you turning everyone down and being an untouchable, but that's not why I came over here." I cocked an eyebrow, not sure if I believed the last part. "I just wanted to see what you'd been drawing. Honest. I have a sister-in-law that is really big into art and, don't tell the guys this," He leaned forward slightly as if sharing some big secret. Without thinking, I leaned forward too so we were only a few inches apart, "But the interest has sort of rubbed off on me."
I grinned. Full on grin. I couldn't even remember the last time that happened. Liam grinned back and asked for a refill on his beer so he didn't have to go back to the table empty handed.