The car that came to pick Andi up was black like Damian’s, but it wasn’t a Pagani or being driven by a dragon.
Andi sat in the back of the Uber and looked at her phone with that I’m expected somewhere, don’t kidnap me pretense that solo women keep up, although in her case it wasn’t entirely true. She’d snuck out that night after getting a call from her brother who’d been missing for three weeks. No one knew where she was—not even her roommate. She was okay with that; she’d worried Sammy enough lately.
Her driver cleared his throat politely, glancing back at her in the rearview. “Nothing personal,” he said, “but I do downtown runs a lot. You either have too much clothing on for this place…or not nearly enough.”
He wasn’t wrong. The Lynx was a nightclub with a reputation, which was exactly why Andi was going there. She gave him a tight smile and hugged herself with Damian’s leather jacket. She was only wearing it because she hadn’t had time to get her own coat cleaned, or so she told herself, and it had nothing at all to do with the fact that it still smelled like him. “I’m good, thanks.”
The driver let her off right in front of the building. Last call was four, and it was about twenty till. She knew from her old life hustling with Danny that now would be ripe with opportunity if she were still interested in playing games—the same kind of stuff that’d gotten her brother into trouble in the first place. But she’d stopped, gone to nursing school, and become legitimate. Her brother? He’d skipped out on his bail bond, then out on her.
Until about an hour ago with his strange phone call, asking for help on a bad connection, which’d brought her here. She bit her lips and watched the entrance to the club. Well-dressed drunken people stumbled out, casting arms up like the streetlights were too bright for them.
But then she saw him. Damian. She remembered his touch on her skin and the way he’d…. Her heart flew into her throat, and her stomach knotted. She could handle herself; she could handle this…him. This didn’t have to be awkward.
In fact, maybe she could….
He turned, and it was definitely not Damian.
Her heart fell and her stomach didn’t relax and the weirdness she was feeling? Most assuredly not disappointment.
It was exhaustion from last night’s shift, was all. It was fatigue from trying to come to her brother’s rescue yet again. She’d vowed on the steps of the courthouse, after realizing she was stuck with a ten-thousand-dollar bond, to be done with Danny’s shit permanently. And yet, here she was, all because he’d called her “Andi-bear.” How long had it been since he’d said that? When they were sixteen?
She could remember it now, her going off on her first date, and him threatening to hurt the guy if he hurt her—out loud in their living room when he’d picked her up, it’d been humiliating—and making his “Andi-bear” promise to tell him afterward if anything needed breaking. It’d been fucked up. Later on that night, after absolutely nothing had happened, no matter how much she’d wanted it to, she’d screamed at him to never call her that again.
Because of all that—and so much more—she was tired now. Which was surely why she was taking a moment and watching the back of the man who was not Damian with a queasy sinking feeling until the crowd blocked her view.
Andi inhaled and shook herself free of her past. She walked up to the door, the heels of her low boots clicking the pavement, and went straight up to the bouncer. “Hey, is Julian here? If he is, can you tell him I need to speak to him? Tell him it’s Andi—Danny’s sister.” The man was shaped like a gorilla, and his thick brow rose in disbelief, but then he shrugged and called it into the walkie on his collar. Someone responded in his ear, and he reached over to open the door.
“Right this way.”
“Thanks,” she said, stepping inside.
The music was overwhelming, trying to pound a pulse into the last partiers of the night. Luckily, the places she’d gone with Danny to play poker and pool had been quieter because if she’d hustled here, she’d be deaf. She hovered by the door, arms crossed, trying to look like she didn’t belong so that Julian would find her more quickly.
“Hey!” A lean man in his thirties with dark curly hair and brown eyes appeared in the thinning crowd with a drink in each hand. His shirt was sharp and shiny, just like his shoes. Andi knew he was a ‘promoter’—whatever the hell that was—and that he also sometimes helped Danny sell his boosted aftermarket car parts. “Andi!” he shouted, barely audible over the noise in the club. “Good to see you again! Drink?” he offered, pushing one on her.
Andi didn’t trust him, and she didn’t trust her drink to not be roofied. “Thanks!” She pretended to be happy, taking it anyhow. “Can we talk?”
“Of course!” he said, gently taking her elbow with his free hand, directing her around the dance floor to the back.
They went into an office, and he closed the door, which cut out all the treble, leaving just the bass as it reverberated like a drum in its frame. He sat down backward in an office chair, letting it splay his legs, while she sat down on a short couch that she was sure had seen its share of effluvia. She held her hands around her drink, careful not to touch it.
“Did you rethink my awesome idea?”
Andi squinted. “Which one was that?” Julian and Danny were full of ideas, and none of them were good.
“About diverting some meds from the hospital to me,” he said, making a gimmie-gimmie gesture with his fingers.
She laughed nervously. “Yeah, no, I need my license. One of us has to be straight now, to keep the other out of jail.”
“I heard about that,” Julian said and tsked. “He left you holding the bag?”
“Pretty much.” Andi gave him a tight grin and got to the point. “Do you know where he is?”
As good as Andi was at reading faces, Julian’s gave nothing away. “If you did know, would you tell me?” she asked, and he laughed.
“If I did know—which I don’t—I’d tell him you were concerned, and he needed to get in touch.” He patted his own chest. “I got a sister, too, you know. I sympathize.”
Andi set her drink on the floor and brought her phone out to show him. “Do you recognize this number? He called me from it and said things were bad.”
Julian took the phone and squinted at it. “Not off the top of my head; hang on.” He set his drink down and pulled his own phone out, typing in some numbers, before double-checking hers. “Ooh.”
“What?” She leaned over.
He flipped his phone around to show her the S in his contacts list. It was full of people’s names with charming extra appellations, like ‘Shiny Jamil,’ ‘Slutty Sarahi,’ and ‘Stupidfucker Joe.’ But his finger was pointing at one in particular, with the same number that matched Andi’s: Stay The Fuck Away Argento.
“I take it that’s not really his last name?” Andi asked as Julian put his phone away.
“Maybe it is in Italian; I dunno. But if Danny’s with him, just give up.”
Julian shook his head. “I ain’t saying. I don’t want to wind you up into making bad choices.”
“But, if Danny’s in danger…if he told me so, himself….” she pressed.
He frowned deeply and lifted his cocktail for a long swig before speaking again. “He’s a dangerous dude. Always wears a lot of silver—including guns. You don’t want any of him. Trust me.”
“How about you just tell me everything you know, and let me be the judge of that?”
“How about no?” Julian rolled his eyes. “I mean, come on. You can’t just barge in here like you own the place and ask for favors.” He slid one foot out and carefully nudged her cocktail closer. “I mean, I require some foreplay first. Have a drink, at least.”
Andi glanced down at the glass, more determined than ever not to touch it. “I don’t have time for this, Julian. Just tell me where he is.”
“What good would that do? The cops aren’t going after him…not for Danny.”
Andi knew the police in her town had no love for her brother. “Fine. I’ll tell a bounty hunter. There’s a warrant out for him, right?”
“Because you know so many of those types,” Julian said, leaning back, letting his eyes rove up and down her body. She huddled back into her coat. “A priss like you? Trying to figure out where to find him? No way.” He stood and shook his head slowly, making a show of how much he couldn’t help her, and she was acutely aware of how he was blocking the door. “Now if you could promise me a vial of Fentanyl or two…or a sheet of oxy—”
“Fuck, no.” She almost spit. Shit like this was why she’d had to stop ‘playing games’ with Danny. Gambling for tuition was one thing, but now that she had her license, she wasn’t ever going to risk it again.
“Oh, no offense,” Julian said with a smirk, waving his hands back and forth in dismissal. “I mean, he’s only your brother and all. Although, if he’s on Argento’s shit list, that’s gonna be past tense real soon.”
She stood, trying to take up more space, and used her best disappointed-in-everything-going-on-here voice, the one that sometimes got through to drunkards and psychos at work. “And to think, Danny used to talk so highly of you. He made you sound like the shit. Like you were his family—not me. Why do you think he never ratted you out in any of his dumbass schemes? And now—when it would cost you nothing to be even vaguely helpful—you can’t be bothered?”
Julian stared at her coldly. “He always said you could be an annoying bitch, you know that?”
She swallowed but held her ground. If Danny didn’t want to hear her opinions on his activities, then he should have kept his goddamned mouth shut.
“Fine,” Julian huffed, appraising her again. “What do you got? Your phone is old; I don’t need that shit.” Andi blinked as he went on. “And…you’re cute, but a bad lay. I can tell.”
“Does negging women ever actually work?” Andi asked him.
“You tell me,” he said with a leer. “You feeling anything?”
“Yeah, no. Look…other than drugs…what do you want?” She had ten thousand dollars in an envelope at home right now, courtesy of Damian, but if she acted like cash was an option, Julian would shake her down to the last buck.
He sucked on his upper lip, then jerked his chin at her. “That’s a pretty dope leather coat.”
Andi froze. It’s just a fucking coat, she told herself. Just dead animal skin sewn together to keep someone warm. It’s not even yours. And Damian is not yours. He never will be, and besides, that’s what you wanted, remember?
“All right,” she said, sliding out of Damian’s coat, taking everything of hers out of the pockets and shoving them into her jeans. Julian took it from her and put it on. It was too big for him, but that didn’t stop him from smoothing the leather with his hands. When he was done appraising it, he nodded.
“Argento is down by the docks. He’s in the shipping business, which is another reason you should stay away from him; you cross him, they won’t find your body in the Bay. He’ll just ship your dead ass to China.”
“Charming. And you can’t be any more specific?”
Julian broadly shook his head. “Not even if you brought me Dilaudid.”
Andi frowned. Some information was better than none, but the docks were huge. Even if her brother was in danger, it wasn’t an area she could tackle solo tonight. But she had to do something. She wove around Julian, off to figure out what that was.
“Hey!” he shouted as she reached the door. The bass outside had turned impossibly loud, all the better to shake the last patrons of the night into the street. “I look good in it, no?” he asked. She knew by mostly reading his lips.
“No,” she said, flipping him off with both hands before walking out.
Other club patrons kept her company on the sidewalk as she waited for her ride. As much as she wanted to, she didn’t keep her phone out. Just because her two gens old iPhone wasn’t sexy enough for Julian didn’t mean there weren’t other people who’d be interested in swiping it, and all the people stumbling out of the club looked like easy marks to her. So, she waited until she was buckled into the back of her Uber to pull it out and hopped into her “recents” category.
After Danny had gone missing following the hearing, she’d texted their Uncle Lee, who she knew had both money and connections. She’d never pressed to find out from what or with whom because her mother had told her that was rude, but now she wished she had. Because Uncle Lee had promised her he’d handle things, but what had he been doing all this time? And why hadn’t she asked him what was happening sooner?
She supposed a part of her was just tired of dealing with Danny’s shit and had been perfectly happy passing it off.
Andi scrolled through her contacts for the umpteenth time, trying to figure out who else she could call. She stopped at the name BLACKWOOD, and her finger hovered. It probably wasn’t even Damian’s real number, but some work number—or a burner. She should just delete it. It’d be better for everyone involved.
Her thumb hovered over the delete button just for a second, then scrolled past it with a sigh back down to Uncle Lee and started typing out a text.
Hey Uncle, I’m sorry it’s late, she lied, but Danny just called me from a strange number and said he was in trouble before we got cut off. I know you just got back to town, and the last thing you need is to clean up another Danny mess, but I don’t know what to do! He said something about the docks and some guy named Argento? She kept lying because she might as well give him all the information she had. Again, super sorry! Thanks for letting me reschedule last week’s dinner. Look forward to seeing you tonight. Love you!
“Hey,” her driver said, startling her. It was the first thing he’d said all ride. “You’re not going to be sick, are you?” He started swerving to the side of the road.
“Sorry. You just looked sick there for a bit.” He shrugged in the rearview as he pulled them back into traffic. “It’s a hazard of picking people up from clubs.” “Oh, no, I’m fine.” He wasn’t wrong, though, Andi thought while staring out the window. She did feel sick about things—just not like that.