Ivy seemed to be dancing just for him tonight. There she was on stage bathed in the flashes, gyrating like a goddess in a ritual. She grinded the pole to the pulsing bass like a heart beat. Ash liked her taste in raw music–like tempered fire.
“Here’s your drink, sir.” The cute Asian cocktail waitress dropped off his glass of red wine. Ash gave her a ten-dollar bill and made a mental note to assess their funds when he got back. His fistful of petty cash was getting dangerously light, but it was worth getting away from his problems.
A pair of nearby college-age kids with polo shirts and sweaty faces screamed and pounded the table maniacally to Ivy’s dance. One had a skinny build. The other had a head of bushy hair.
Ash knew immediately they were fuck-ups. People who did nothing but smoke weed and get women pregnant with unwanted children. He kept an eye on them to learn more about their characteristics–to study the beast in its natural habitat.
The song ended and Ivy grabbed her tossed undergarments. Ash clapped solemnly but loudly, trying to be heard over the other patrons. What kind of boyfriend would he be if he didn’t root the loudest?
The announcer declared, “Tammy, stage five. Tammy, stage five. All right, give it up for the luscious Ivy. Don’t forget, gang–champagne bottles are just twenty dollars each, so show that special lady how much you appreciate her. And don’t forget about the businessman’s lunch…”
The next girl, named after a city in Texas, took the stage. A fresh cloud of sweat and fruity perfume followed her as Cherry Pie played for the fifth time.
Ash sipped his drink. He couldn’t remember what wine tasted like, so he assumed the sour berry vinegar smell was a property of the vintage. It made him feel indulgent and dignified, like a king watching his performers.
Ivy emerged from the VIP hallway and walked up to him.
“Hey, babe,” Ash said. “Nice set.”
“Are you kidding? The tips were horrible. There’s, like, no one in here tonight,” she sighed.
“I thought you did great.”
“Yeah, you’re a sweetheart,” she brushed his cheek. “Are you all ‘unwound’ now?”
“Yeah, thanks. I really needed to get away. I didn’t expect you to be here when I called, but this worked out great.”
“Yeah. By the way, don’t call me at work again. I don’t want people finding out I’m dating an eighteen-year-old.”
“Why? I don’t act eighteen.”
“Because I don’t want people judging me. All the girls here are bitches. I don’t need them giving me shit.” She looked at his glass. “Hey, how’d you get the wine?”
“You can get anything if you pay enough. Same way I got in. Especially with the kind of people working here.”
“You can get wine for yourself, but you can’t get me a margarita at Poncho’s?”
“Hey, no problem. Waitress?” Ash called out. “A margarita for the best looking lady here.”
The waitress nodded.
Ivy smiled and sat down. “So you fixed your money problems, then?”
“Not exactly, but I needed a break from work stuff. It’s hard–the guys are untrained, don’t have enough drive. There’s no way to establish ourselves. It’s like trying to fix a condemned building. I don’t know where to start.”
“Why can’t you collect money off the guys you catch? Like bounty hunting.”
“Bounty hunting?” Ash tilted his head. “Interesting idea, but that’s for guys who skip bail. I want to get actual criminals–the ones who slip through the cracks. Crime comes from people who go unpunished or don’t change from their punishment.”
“Huh? How are you going to make money doing that?”
“I’m sure there’s a way to get money from that, but I’ll think of it later. It’s not all about money. It’s about stopping the people who hurt others and get away with it. The ones who drag society down. The parasites.”
Ivy snickered. “You could start with Dave.”
“Yeah, my ex-boyfriend. He was a real skeez. Kept stealing tips from me. I’d tell him to do something, and I’d come home and he’d still be in the bed. And then he’d want to fuck while I was tired from dancing all night.”
“A regular Sir Walter Raleigh,” Ash said.
“And you know what else? One time he came in the club, like he was gonna save his fair princess stripper girlfriend. I was talking to some guy and he came in and smashed a beer bottle over his head.”
“Really? Did he get thrown out?”
“Of course. And he got some jail time. But I think he’s out now. God, don’t you think that guy deserves to get made?”
“Yeah, you can do your White Knights thing to him? Right?”
Ash held up his fingers. “First of all, I don’t have a White Knights thing. Second, I’m not a hit man. I stop criminals. I punish people who deserve it.”
“And who says who deserves it?”
“I do,” Ash shrugged. He was no genius when it came to criminal justice, but he had good reasoning. And it didn’t take a Ph.D. to find out who was taking bribes, and who was skipping on jail time.
“And what are you going to do when you find all these people you talk about?” Ivy said.
Ash looked away and sipped his drink. How was he going to get the corrupt politician who flew under the radar, or the guy who called 911 a hundred times a day. Something seemed wrong about storming up to them in the middle of dinner. But he wasn’t always going to catch people with their hand in the cookie jar. On the other hand, that’s how a lot of them went free in the first place.
“I’ll think of something.”
A shrill “Show us your asshole!” from across the room made them both cringe. Ash looked in the direction of the two obnoxious college guys. Several empty bottles of overpriced booze lay around them.
Ivy rolled her eyes. “Christ, those limp-dicks have been here all night.”
Ash nodded. “I’ve been watching them. I’m surprised the managers tolerate their behavior.”
“They have to. They’re spending money like crazy. All the alcohol they’re buying,” Ivy said. “That goes straight to the club. Not us. He keeps trying to get us to put him on stage for his birthday.”
“Isn’t that what you do?”
“It’s been his birthday five times this month.”
A girl-next-door brunette in a sheer shift and underwear approached the two of them. She hunched over, accentuating her cleavage and spoke, probably asking for a lap dance. The skinny kid scooped his hand down her panties and clutched a handful of ass.
She shrieked, as the two roared with laughter. She made some reprimands and walked away. The skinny one shouted, “Hey, come on, you know you want it,” as Bushy-Head whistled.
“Aren’t there rules against that?” Ash said, “Against touching the girls?”
“Sure as shit, Sherlock.”
“Where the hell’s the bouncer? What’s he doing?”
“Just Jones working tonight. And with all they’re buying, the boss probably told them to look the other way. Hey, you’re in security or something,” Ivy said. “Why don’t you take care of those guys?”
Ash looked at her grimly. “Sorry, I don’t do requests.”
Ivy gnashed her teeth. “The hell’s wrong with you? You’re gonna let them do whatever they want?”
“I’m not gonna do things just cause you say. There have to be rules here. Rules that I go by. It’s the bouncer’s job to take care of this.”
“Yeah, and where’s he? You’re here watching them. If you were a White Knight like you said you were, you’d do something about it.”
“Hey, I’m taking a break from that right now. I don’t tell you how to do your job.”
“Whatever.” She stood up. “Just think about what you want to do tonight. You know, I might be too upset.”
Ash grunted and turned back to the two. They catcalled and hurled profane insults at the current girl on stage, a young redhead. Ivy was right–they reveled in their obnoxiousness. They made trouble because they wanted to. Bushy-head held up a dollar.
“See, watch,” Ivy said. “I bet they do something here.”
The redhead bent to the floor and crawled around on her hands and knees. She wiggled her butt for the guy to slip the money in. Skinny jumped up, placed the bill inside, and pinched her ass. She jolted, but didn’t react beyond that.
They high-fived each other. “Dude, that was fucking awesome,” Skinny shouted like he wanted everyone to know what he did.
The redhead turned around, her grinning face marred by fear and humiliation, which was hard to do in a stripper.
“See?” Ivy said. “Oh, it looks like Sue is going to try and say something to them.”
The cocktail waitress came over to them and said, “Sir, you can’t handle the dancers like that. You have to-“
“Hey, hey, baby, baby,” Skinny said in a drunken slur. “Do you know who my dad is? Huh? Do you? Do you know who my fucking dad is? Do you know how important he is? He could buy this entire place and all you whores and kill you all and dump you on the side of the road and no one would care. Huh? Do you get that?”
The cocktail waitress left shaking her head. Skinny called back “How much do you make an hour? Huh?” Bushy-head raised his drink, and nodded gravely.
Ash glared at them as he sipped his wine. The more he thought about it, the more they fit the criteria. They were ruining everyone’s good time. They were harming the dancers. And trying to use power as influence. Strike three, you’re out.
“Fine. I’ll do something.” Ash scooted his chair back. It was his responsibility after all–a White Knight should never truly be off-duty.
He walked up to them as menacingly as he could. They didn’t even notice he was there until he put his hands on the table and leaned over.
Ash said, “Hey, guys, listen to me. No one wants to hear your shit. Cut it out.”
Skinny was not the least bit fazed. “Who the fuck are you? Who the fuck are you?” he slurred as loud as he could.
Seeing his civil tactics wouldn’t work, Ash upped the ante. “Look, punk, either quit messing with the girls or I’m gonna throw you out myself.”
“How much do you make an hour? Huh?”
Instead of leading him on, Ash said, “Are you gonna cut it out?”
“Ho- how much do you make an hour?” he stuttered. “I’m asking you–how much do you make an hour?”
“I don’t work here. And what I make is irrelevant. Much like you.”
Skinny scooted out of his chair and pointed his drink-holding finger at him. “You gonna talk to me like that? You know who my dad is?”
“I don’t give a fuck who your dad is.”
Skinny guy’s mouth dropped. “You wanna go, boy?” he mumbled. He poked his finger into Ash’s chest, spilling a good portion of his drink on him.
Eyes never wavering, Ash knocked his hand away with a backfist. The glass shattered, soaking their feet in alcohol.
Skinny took a drunken swing at him. Ash leaned back and dodged. Skinny boxed at the air again and again. Ash weaved his head in and back, toying with him. He could do this all day, but that wouldn’t accomplish anything. Ash channeled power into his arms, wound up and shoved him in the ribs.
Skinny flew back against the wall and fell on his butt like a rag doll. Ash yanked his head up by his hair.
“Let me say this one more time-”
Bushy-Head jumped on Ash’s back, wrapping his arms around his neck.
Ash shouted and spun around, trying to shake off the heavy load. He landed on the wood floor face first, and felt a snap in his jaw. Stinging pain ran up the side of his mouth.
“Mother fucker,” Bushy-Head said, still on top of him. “I’m going to fuck you up.”
Suppressing the pain, Ash tried to wriggle out. But Bushy-head kept his face pressed to the floor. He couldn’t burn what he couldn’t see. Images of being held by Ivan flooded his mind.
“Not again,” Ash murmured. He used his supernatural strength to push himself up. Bushy-head flopped to the side on his back, and Ash brought his elbow down on his stomach. He gasped for air as Ash rolled away and stood up.
“Not again,” Ash said. “Never again.”
He grabbed Bushy-head’s torso, pinching his sensitive sides, and lifted him over his head. He howled in pain as Ash threw him over the bar. Shelves collapsed and glass and alcohol rained on him in a sonorous crash.
Ash heard someone shout “Get him!” Maybe wanna-be heroes. Or the bouncers finally came. He’d show them what they’d all get.
The bar erupted in a wall of flame, fueled by the spilled alcohol. Girls shrieked. Men shouted.
It still didn’t satisfy him. Ash turned around and saw the gaudy neon and strings of lights. He flung out his hand at them. Light bulbs burst like machine gun fire. Pink fabric curled up in orange ribbons. Tables and chairs blazed up.
Smoke began to saturate the room. Ash didn’t care. Anything he saw he burned. He burned the floor. He burned the stage. He burned the curtain. He burned the lights. He burned the disco ball.
A sharp ache stung his head, jolting him out of his trance of rage. He took a breath and inhaled only smoke. It was like he hadn’t breathed at all, so he inhaled harder. Fits of coughing overcame him.
Crap, he’d really stepped in it this time. He looked around for Ivy, but couldn’t see anyone through the haze. Maybe everyone else had escaped. He turned toward what he thought was the exit, and ran, stumbling over chairs and tables. He couldn’t see anything but gray.
Hands pushed against his back–maybe Ivy’s–guiding him through the smoke.
“Yes, sir,” Harrington said. “I’m back at the police station now. I’m eliminating collateral data, then continuing my task.”
Harrington stood at an empty desk, cell phone pinned to his shoulder. He opened his briefcase and slid some remaining folders into it.
“Come back? But, there’s still… But we have traces on him, we were close-. So it was all for nothing? … Yes, the body is still in the truck. … Oh, that’s real sensitive, sir.”
He looked up. The other cops were staring. He didn’t give a shit what they thought.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. It’s been a long night. … Yes, sir. All the more reason to return. … I’d like to be in on the preparations for that. … Yes, sir. I’ll finish up here now. Understood.” He clicked the phone off and the other cops returned to their shuffling papers and jingling keys.
Harrington walked up to the Chief Jenkins’s desk and dropped the briefcase to make his presence known. “Where is the cop who was looking into the missing person?”
Jenkins didn’t look up from his computer. “It’s polite to make an appointment if you’re going to yell at me.”
“Answer the question.”
Jenkins started to rise. “Hey, my authority here-”
“Shut up.” Harrington said, and pulled out his cell phone. Jenkins sat back. “Where is the cop who was looking into the missing person case on Friday?”
“Huh? Missing persons? That’s James Rolston’s department.”
“Not him. The girl. The one we… I spoke to before.”
“Hm? Oh, Tuesday? She’s not here.”
Harrington gritted his teeth. “What do you mean ‘she’s not here’?”
“I don’t know where she is. She might be off duty.”
“Find her,” Harrington said. “Find out where she is and contact me. And if she calls in, I want to know about it. I want to know what she knows.”
“Why?” he said. “Is she a suspect?”
Harrington pointed at him with a shaking finger. “Listen, if you don’t contact me the moment she contacts you, I will tear this place apart, and you will never be able to work in this country again. Understand?”
“You little-,” Jenkins said.
“No more of your incompetence. You know who I work for. You know what I can do to you. Find her, or we’ll find you.” Harrington picked up his briefcase and walked away.
It took all his restraint not to punch the cops he passed on his way to the front exit. He focused solely on getting to his car, then back to headquarters.
As he entered the lobby, the front desk clerk called out, “Hey. You. You’re one of those agents, right?”
Harrington whipped around. “What?”
“I got someone you might want to talk to.”
He indicated a boy who looked ragged and shaky enough to be homeless. Harrington approached him.
“Something I can do for you?” Harrington said.
“Um, yeah. Um, I don’t know. I mean, I think I know. There’s a guy out there. I think he’s kinda dangerous. I don’t know if I should be… I mean, he’s a good guy. But I think-“
“Is this someone who’s done something bad?” He spoke as if talking to a retarded boy.
“Maybe. I think. I don’t know. I’m kinda scared. So you should… I mean, I can tell you where he is.”
“Has he committed a crime?”
“Yes. I think so. I mean, he set the guy on fire.”
“He set a man on fire?”
“Uh huh… with his mind.”
Harrington’s eyes lit up. “What’s your name, son?”
“My name’s… everyone calls me Squirrel.”
Harrington smiled, “I can see why.”