Dull pain from his right shoulder to his hips caused Sam to wake and with his eyes still closed he sensed light coming through the office window. When the Jamaican girl shifted beneath his left arm he realized why he was in pain. Two people sleeping on a cot made for one did not afford him the best night sleep he’d ever had. Rising slowly so as not to wake her, Sam massaged some life back into his arm. Looking down at Christi, her lustrous black hair and brown bare shoulders silently invited him back to bed but he knew he shouldn’t. He wasn’t a guy who worried over much about morals but at this moment he was certainly hoping she wasn’t younger than twenty. She never did say how old she was. After a quick shower and a change of clothes he left a note for her on the desk: “Taking care of some business, be back later.” Then he left the office.
Sam stopped at a local eatery for breakfast. One of the neighborhood cops was sitting at the counter when Sam went in. “Hey Sam,” he said. “Long time no see.”
“Yeah Charlie,” said Sam, “How’s the family?”
“Oh everyone’s good. You know Martha,” he said, rubbing his large belly, “Always baking something for me.”
“Having a good woman in your life can be hazardous to your health Charlie. Better be careful,” Sam said as he sat down.
“Say, Sam, you haven’t heard any rumblings in the area about drugs have you?” The hairs on the back of Sam’s neck prickled.
“I don’t know what you mean, Charlie.”
“Well it seems Downtown has been getting some unofficial reports about a drug war taking shape around here. Two rival factions maybe. Just wondered if you’d heard anything.”
“Not me,” Sam said. “I try to keep my nose out of that kind of business.”
“Yeah I figured as much.” Charlie got up to leave. “If you hear anything you let me know, yeah?”
“You got it Charlie. See you ‘round.” Sam ate his breakfast in silence wondering again, just what he got himself into.
Finished with his breakfast, Sam went to see Madame DuPree. She was sitting quietly behind the counter when Sam opened the shop door. “So you found my niece. That was quick work Mr. Barton. Most impressive. But you did not bring her to me. Unfortunate.”
“In your office. I sent Michael to collect her there.”
Sam was beginning to wonder if this old lady wasn’t psychic after all. “Well the office door is locked and…”
“Michael does not worry about locked doors, Mr. Barton. You may remember that I told you it would be most unfortunate if there were any entanglements between my niece and yourself. You should have heeded my advice.” Sam imagined the third frosted glass window of his office door in as many weeks smashed all over the floor and wondered just how the hell this lady knew what happened last night. Time to change the balance of the conversation.
“Look, here’s the situation. You asked me to find your niece. I found her, and got shot at and chased in the process. I intended to bring her to you but she insisted that she wasn’t going to come. I also learned a few things last night that you neglected to say. Christiana tells me you’re involved with drugs. She…”
“The girl lies.”
“That may be. However a couple things her captors said last night while they were trying to kill us suggest that she may be telling the truth. Now personally I don’t care what you’re into but when you withhold information that can get me killed I resent that. I did what you asked so if you don’t mind I’ll just take my check and our business will be concluded.”
“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, Mr. Barton. I told you to simply bring back my niece and not get involved with her. You also know more now than you should. I’m afraid I can’t have you walking out of here and telling what you know. Your fat police friend would love to hear this tale, would he not?” Sam heard a noise and turned to find all six foot four inches of Michael standing right behind him. Michael reached out with his right hand and grabbed Sam by his coat. Sam took hold of Michael’s middle finger and bent it backward. It had no effect. He bent it further back until he heard it snap. Michael still held Sam firmly paying no attention to his broken finger as he pulled back his left arm and punched Sam square in the face. As Sam’s knees buckled under him, the lights dimmed and went out.
Sam woke lying on the floor with a massive headache and a swollen, possibly broken nose. At first he didn’t understand what had happened. He remembered talking to Madame DuPree and nothing more. Slowly, the big man standing behind him swam into his mind and then it all came back. Why didn’t they kill him, he wondered? Sitting up with his back to a wall, he surveyed his surroundings. He was in what looked to be a store room. Boxes and crates stacked haphazardly here and there filled most of the room. There were no windows that he could see through his blurred vision and only one door. Thinking of how he could get out of the room gave him an idea. He located a large crate with the lid sitting off to one side. Looking inside it he found packing material. Sam climbed in to the crate and pulled the lid back on top. Inside he pulled the packing material over him and settled in to wait.
While he lay concealed in the crate he thought about everything that happened. Something was bothering him. He was missing something he couldn’t quite get. Something someone had said. Everything Madame DuPree had said was pretty straight forward except the mumbo jumbo about tarot cards, so that wasn’t it. The same with Christi. Michael didn’t talk, so that wasn’t it. He hadn’t talked to anyone else involved with this thing. Sam thought about the two guys on the ship. What did they say? He thought about what he had heard and then it hit him. It was Jerry. What did he say? He was complaining about losing the girl. Yeah, that was it. He said, “The big man’s going to be pissed.” The big man. What did he mean? Who was the big man? Michael, of course was a big man. Could he mean… That didn’t make sense. Michael was a big dumb oaf who worked for Madame DuPree. And didn’t talk, unless the need arose, as DuPree had said. Could he, do you suppose… The thinking was making his head hurt worse so he tried to calm his mind. The crate was cramped and Sam felt like he was getting a charlie horse when he heard the door being unlocked.
“Well Mr. Bart…” Madame DuPree began and then stopped. “Michael! Get in here!” Michael stepped into the room. “Where is he Michael? Where did he go?” Sam heard the noise of boxes being moved. Shuffling feet told him the room was being searched. “It is impossible for him to have gotten out of here! He cannot have left.”
Suddenly Michael spoke. “I don’t know, Madame. He’s not here.”
“Then where is he!?” she yelled in her scraggly voice.
“I don’t know Madame. There are no windows and the door was locked.”
“Well he’s gone! This is bad Michael. We need to find him. And with Christiana gone also, it is doubly bad.”
“I’m sorry Madame. I went to his office like you told me. She wasn’t there. The note said he would be back. He was expecting her to be there, but she left.”
“We need to find them both. Use your resources Michael. Go! But keep in touch. Find them!”
“I will Madame. I will.” Sam heard them leave, and shut the door. They didn’t lock it. So much for her psychic abilities, he thought. He waited for a good ten minutes before sliding off the crate lid as quietly as he could. Climbing out of the box, Sam made his way to the door. Opening it and looking out he found he was in the same hallway in the back of the store as before but at the far end. There was no back door. He crept up the hallway and through the curtain saw Madame DuPree sitting behind the counter where she had been before. No sign of Michael. There was only one way out, nothing more he could do. Sam strode through the curtain, turned to look at the old lady and said, “Madame,” and kept walking for the door.
A screech came from behind him and she was on his back. She was light weight but seemed powerful. Her long red nails dug into Sam’s neck as she bit him in the back of the head. He swirled around hearing the jangle of her bracelets and smashed her into the shelves full of merchandise. Her products flew everywhere and the shelves collapsed. She hung on. Screeching and digging with her nails, Sam could feel blood running down his neck. He turned and ran backward as fast as he could, smashing her into the wall. She lost her grip and fell to the floor. As she attempted to get up, Sam punched her hard on the side of her head. Her head went back, banging into the floor and she lay still. He stood over her catching his breath. Reaching over and grabbing a lamp off the counter, Sam ripped out the electric cord. Flipping Madame DuPree onto her stomach he tied her hands behind her back and then tied her hands to her feet. Sam looked behind the counter and found a roll of paper towels which he used to stop the bleeding. As he left the store he pulled out the cell phone he rarely used and called the police. Telling them what had happened there, but nothing more, Sam quickly faded into the night. For night it was. He must have lain in that room for several hours.
Now he had to find Christi. If she had stayed in his office, Michael would have found her but she was gone. Unless. Unless Michael did find her there. Which would mean that Michael was not who he seemed to be. One way to find out. Sam’s office was on the second floor of an old building not far from DuPree’s shop. He went up the back stairs and peeked through the door. No one in the hall way. Sam reached for his 45 and realized that it was gone. Dammit, he liked that pistol. He could see glass on the floor at his door from his position by the back door. He heard no noise so he went in. The glass had been smashed out of the window and his office was wrecked. Most importantly though, Christi’s clothes and shoes were still there, telling him that Michael did find her there but did not tell Madame DuPree. Which meant that Michael was probably ‘the big man’ that Jerry the sailor had mentioned and was playing each side against the other in some kind of drug war.
Sam quickly pulled off his shirt and put on his Kevlar vest. Finding his 357 in the desk drawer, he put that in his coat pocket along with a hand full of extra bullets. He looked at himself in the mirror. He looked like hell. Holes in his neck with blood trickling from them, two black eyes and a broken nose. And the back of his head burned from the bite Madame DuPree had given him. “That’s it,” he said to his reflection. “Now I’m pissed. Time to go shoot some people.”