The lights went out, then on again.
When they came up, it was like nothing had happened. Every occupant of the crowded bar seemed frozen in place, then reanimated in the same instant, laughing nervously, scraping stools, grabbing napkins.
Except, noted plainclothes detective Raine, the man she’d been following. He had disappeared.
That meant he had accomplices. And she must have missed a signal to them.
She had to think, and quickly. Fist Adams now had a lead of several seconds, and it was growing.
In the long evening tailing him through seedier and seedier sections of town, then back into a working-class neighborhood, she became convinced he was leading her to his headquarters. When he’d slipped into this bar without a single glance backward, she sensed the first stroke of luck on this case.
Had he known she was there all along?
A minute ago, he’d been standing at a table toward the back of the room. She’d been nursing a beer at the liquor bar near the front with one eye on the mirror, keeping track of Fist, and the other on the outside door. It hadn’t opened in the last few minutes. He couldn’t have ducked under the bar. So, assuming no trap door under his table—that would be ingenious—he must have headed for the rear corridor. Did it lead to restrooms and a storage room, or a set of stairs to the same?
She put on a show of downing the last of her beer, grinned at the bartender, and made for the restroom sign.
It pointed to the left, and two steps beyond sight of the customers, she hurried down a steep, poorly lit stairway, relying on her soft soles not to betray her. She heard a low-pitched argument coming from the lower level. Near the bottom, she slowed, eased forward, and peeked around the wall.
In front of the men’s restroom, two toughs were snarling at each other, holding their clenched arms at their sides. The shorter one with his back to her was Fist.
“I’m telling you one last time, Lionel, this has got to end. You think I gave you the signal for no reason? I’ve got a tail, and a good one.”
“We can’t be having electrical problems every time you get nervous. No one in a million years would dream of any connection here... unless you call attention to it with your stupid tricks.”
“And I’m telling you, the gig’s about up. Don’t be a fool, let me talk to Arnold.”
The man facing Fist grabbed his lapels and lifted him off the ground. Fist responded with a wicked kick to his shin. The man crumpled to the ground.
As he struggled to his feet again, he spotted Raine. She cleared her throat and hustled toward the closer ladies’ room, outlined by a harsh glare around the door.
“Excuse me, gentlemen. Didn’t mean to interrupt, but—you know, can’t hold it much longer.”
Fist whipped around and the two men watched her shove the door open. As it banged behind her, she heard Fist shout, “That’s her. The cop who’s following me.”
She locked and bolted the door.
“Get real. She’s just a broad who’s got to go.”
Clearly it was time for backup. Raine kicked a stall door to simulate the sound of closing it, turned on the faucet, pulled out her cell phone, and texted her partner, who’d promised to monitor her whereabouts: Help. Downstairs. Praying the signal worked in the basement, she pocketed the phone again, turned off the water, and flushed the toilet.
Now what? All that was keeping her safe was a residue of chivalry and a flimsy door. With these guys, neither would last long. Barricading herself in the stall was useless, nothing could be wedged in front of the door, and the high vent was a joke, barely enough to lessen the odor of bleach and urine, certainly not large enough to escape.
She should have taken the opportunity to pee.
Then an idea struck her like a lightbulb in a gag strip. She pulled out her phone again and loaded a training app, then held it against her sleeve. She turned off the light and backed under the sink.
She willed them to notice.
“Hey, the light went out. Maybe you were right, Fist.”
“Duh. You’d better go in after her.”
“And face her in the dark? It’s a waiting game. We get reinforcements and we’re ready when she’s tired of staying there. Or let her wonder how long we’ll wait and Arnold can slip away.”