Chapter Thirteen

    Mitch pulled a bottle of Kahlua from behind him. It was also the kind of smirk that a young boy had, as he opened his presents Christmas morning, knowing full well he got what he asked for. Mitch was indeed in a good mood as he showed Krystal all the finer points of bartending. He wasn't sure if it was Krystal herself who made him happier, or if he was just starting to get over the things that had happened to him over the last few days. Whatever it was, Mitch was in a good mood, and he didn't want to spoil it by thinking about it. He'd give the credit to Krystal, who was here, and enjoying herself, casually having a good time, actually interested in what he was doing.

    "So.. this is fun?" Krystal asked, sitting at the end of bar, watching Mitch with a careful eye as he went about his motions, smiling when Mitch would throw a glance and smile himself, her way. She leaned forward, her bare arms laying on the bar, elbows supporting her, as her hands held her chin up. One leg was along the side of the barstool, the other under her, two of the stool's four legs tipped off the ground. Her oversized white collar shirt was stuffed into her jeans, a simple thin black belt surrounded her waist. In Mitch's opinion, the shirt was too large for her, and he wondered why Krystal hid her slim, sporty body under such large clothes.

    Mitch pulled a shot glass up from under the bar and a napkin at the same time, laying the napkin down, then the shot glass on top of it. "Lots," Mitch said, giving Krystal a small wink. "This is a shot glass," he stated, pointing at the small glass.

    "Duh!" she said, laughing, the barstool teetering.

    "It's also called a pony," Mitch said, winking at Krystal.

    "Oh really?" she said, her eyes lighting up, "I didn't know that."

    Mitch took the bottle of Kahlua and gave it a quick flip, as he bent down to grab a spoon. The bottle flipped, spun quickly, and landed in his hand, light as a feather, just off his fingertips. Mitch quickly closed his hand and set the bottle up right on the bar, as he popped up with the spoon in his hand.

spoon1.jpg (38663 bytes)   "What's the spoon for? Mixing?"

    Mitch shook his head. "Nope, layering."

    He took the spoon and turned it upside down, as he poured the Kahlua in the glass, about a third of the way up. "Watch," he said, placing the spoon upside down on the glass, and pulling a bottle of Bailey's from behind him. He slowly pouring it over a spoon, and onto the Kahlua, without mixing the two liquors, another third of the way up.

    "Oooo, it's like layering jello!" she said.

    Mitch smiled. "Uh huh. The Kahlua is heavier than the Bailey's.. but," he said, "it still has to be gently poured so it won't mix."

    "Oooh!"

    "That's what the spoon's for," he grinned, "I cheat," he chuckled, slipping the Bailey's back to its place, and then pulling the Grand Mariner out, topping off the shot with it.

    "Trade Secret?" she laughed.

    "Lazy man's secret," he snickered.

    Mitch handed the shot to the customer, who, like Krystal, had sat patiently, watching Mitch's bar magic at work. The man smiled, and took a sip.

    "So, what's it taste like?" Krystal asked, watching the man empty the shot glass in one gulp.

    The man shrugged. "Good," he said, laying down a few bills for Mitch, and walking away to the dance floor.

    Krystal and Mitch both laughed together at the man. "Hang on, I'll make you one," Mitch said, turning to the back wall and pulling out the 3 bottles he needed again.

    "No.."

    Mitch's eye perked up. "No?"

    "No," Krystal whispered, "make it special. For me."

    "Special?" Mitch asked, "how?"

    "Be fancy.. make it with magic," she added, with a smile.

    "Ooh!" Mitch chuckled, "You want the fancy stuff, like Tom Cruise, huh?"

    "Show off for me," Krystal smiled, as she bit her lip.

    Mitch smiled, laughing, as he pulled out a pair of shades from his side pocket. "Oh, you been watching those Tom Cruise movies again, huh?"

    Krystal laughed.

    "The ones where he wears these, huh?" Mitch said, putting on his Foster Grants.

    "Uh huh.."

    Mitch turned up the collar of his black polo shirt, giving her a lopsided smile. "Risky Business?"

    "No," she laughed, "the other one!"

    "OOH!" Mitch laughed, faking his forgetfulness, "Cocktail!"

    Krystal flashed a smile. "Yes!"

    Mitch shivered for a second, feigning relief. "Whew.. I don't think anybody would appreciate me dancing in my BVD's."

    Krystal rolled her eyes.

    "Okay, fancy stuff if it is..." Mitch said, grabbing the Bailey's bottle in his right hand, and tossing it up and over his shoulder. The bottle spun in the air, sliding down his backside, slapping into his open left palm. "Good enough?"

    "Fancier!" Krystal said.

    "FANCIER?" Mitch said, "what do you think I am, crazy?"

    "You, crazy? Never," laughed Krystal, "no fun either.." she sighed.

    Sid, who had sat silently all that time, perked up, looking up at Mitch. "What do you mean?" he said, slapping his hand on the bar. "Mitch used to be crazy, and I mean crazy!"

    "I was not," Mitch said, shrugging, as he poured his friend another brew.

    "Are you kidding?" Sid laughed, reeling backwards and pulling himself back to the bar, "you did some crazy stunts!"

    "Like?"

    "Remember the time in the mall with Chris?"

    Mitch groaned, knowing exactly what Sid was talking about. He remembered the whole incident well, how could he forget? It was pretty funny. But the last thing he need was for Krystal to know about it, or anybody else. He wished Sid would think up another story, but it was too late. Sid was already telling it, and from the looks of it, Krystal was already too interested in it herself to let it just go unsaid.

    Krystal jumped up from her barstool and squeezed herself between Sid and another customer, grabbing Sid by the arm and shaking him. "Tell me, tell me, tell me!" she squealed in delight, as Sid spilled what was of his drink over himself and the counter.

    Krystal knew Mitch kept a lot about himself quiet, so to catch Sid talking about something from their past was a little treasure for her, and she wanted to know what Mitch had done. Her thoughts went back to high school, when she would watch Mitch and Sid, along with a few others, cracking up, as they walked down the halls, having a good time amongst themselves. She had always wondered what the good times had been about, and had tried various times to get Chris to tell her. But he would just look at her and laugh hysterically.

    It did no good to ask any of Mitch's friends, because they kept their escapades to themselves, it kept them out of trouble they would say, because they were all a bunch of practical jokers, and the last thing they needed was to be blamed for someone else's mischief.

    "Secrets," Mitch whispered, looking at Sid, as he washed started to prepare a drink for another customer.

    "Secrets, schmecrets! I been dying to tell this to someone for ages!"

    "So spill," Krystal laughed.

    "Well, we were at the mall one day.."

    "When?" Krystal interrupted.

    Sid stared at his beer mug, pausing to think. "Uh.. about ten years ago I think."

    Mitch rolled his eyes. "We were like 16 or something.."

    Sid took a sip of his drink and nodded, "Something like that. ANYWAYS.." he said, "we were at this one mall.. we were like teenagers, bored with nothing else to do, so we decided to do a little window shopping." Sid slid his beer mug towards Mitch for a refill.

    "Oh no," Krystal gasped, "what did you guys do?"

    "It's what HE did," Sid said, pointing an accusatory finger at Mitch, "he's a maniac!" Sid took a sip of beer, only serving to gather even more steam. "A madman I tell you!"

    "Oh no," Mitch blushed, a small smile breaking free, as he shook his head.

    Sid set his beer down and leaned over, like he was whispering the story to Krystal, but spoke loud enough that most of the people at the bar could hear. "We were just bored as hell that day, and this guy asks me if I wanna go check out some new music, just to do something - anything. We were all tired of just sitting there watching Chris make the moves on some girl he'd zeroed in on.."

    Mitch could see that day in his mind, as if it had been yesterday - Sid puffing on a cigarette when you were still able to smoke in malls. Sid had waved him off, wanting to watch Chris score. Some things never change, Mitch thought, noticing how Sid still smoked the same way he did back in high school - puffing on his cigarette, inhaling deeply, til it glowed red, and the long ashes just fell off on their own. Yet the cigarette would stay in Sid's lips, his fingers never touching it. Once a cigarette was in Sid's lips, it wasn't coming out till it started to burn the filter. Sid would flick his tongue against the cigarette, and that would shake it enough to set the ashes down falling, at which point, Sid would only brush them off himself.

    Their friend Chris was the total opposite of Sid. Where as Sid dressed sloppily, any old T-shirt, shorts and a baseball cap, Chris always kept himself looking sharp, even if they were just hanging out. The way Chris saw it, he was always 'on stage,' always in the spotlight. The guys would always start up with him, because every time they decided to go out, they would end up having to wait an hour, for Chris to decide what to wear. He always had a great sense of style, and dressed the best of all of them.

    He had gotten it from his mother, who was always well dressed herself, who herself got appreciative stares from men. This annoyed Chris no end whenever they went out together, since they all thought she was his older sister and not his mother. Having his friends gawk at his mom was no better. Chris's mother had never been around much, as a singer trying to get her career off the ground, she didn't have much spare time. She spent most of her time singing at local clubs and parties, but nothing much had come of it.

    In the meantime, Chris' grandmother had raised him, and Chris was left with enjoying what visits he had with his mom, enjoying his time with her even more than his friends enjoyed checking out her shapely body. Mitch could still recall the way Chris, hating all the attention she got, would wish his mother was more average, like everyone else's, the kind of mom that would drive the gang to McDonald's. But she wasn't. She was gorgeous. Not a trace of her true age could be detected in her face or body, except for her hands. Although her fingers were long and slender, with pretty manicured nails, her hands were wrinkled, and she always tried to cover them up. Wiping his hands on the bar rag, Mitch could still remember the way he felt hand lotion on her hands whenever she touched him.

    "Who gives a fuck," Sid said, continuing his tale, bringing Mitch out of his daydream. Sid had always been more concerned with getting a laugh from someone than their phone number. Oh sure, getting a phone number would have been nice, but Sid was more intent on having a good time and just enjoying himself, laughing the day away. He had had a lot on his mind back then, his family looking to him for emotional support with his father divorced his mother and had split. Sid's younger brothers would always look to him when they needed anything, and often the pressures would get to him and make him crack. So Sid never gave a damn about how he looked, he just wanted out, and when he got the chance, he threw on his clothes and ran.

    Mitch had been somewhere in the middle between Chris and Sid, he didn't have anything fancy to wear, like Chris' fancy purple jacket and slacks, with fancy black shoes. Yet Mitch liked to actually look half decent too, more so than Sid. He'd grab a pair of jeans, some T-shirt, or polo shirt, and his jean jacket, and he'd be set.

    "So what finally happened?" Krystal asked.

    "Mitch was sure Chris would crash and burn, but I knew better," Sid laughed. "He was so sure he pulled out five dollars to bet me.." Sid's eyes lit up as he told the story. "That was the easiest five bucks I ever made.."

    Mitch chuckled. It had been an easy bet for Sid to take, and Mitch was a fool for making it. Chris was a good looking, and girls loved that taboo thing, with him, being black and all. It had been an unbeatable hook for Chris, as he would walk up to the prettiest white girl he could see, and start to flirt with her, sometimes he'd even throw in a British accent for the hell of it. Chris was a player, and enjoyed the game, he enjoyed the chase, but most of all he enjoyed its rewards.

    "You look to be in great shape, Chris would say, and the girl would giggle. Do you dance?" Sid said, shaking his body a bit, and swinging his arms in front of him as Chris would do, in a small, self-contained dance. "So Mitchy throws out some singles on the bench in front of me, and me, bein' the kind of pal I am, remind him that he's gonna lose. But does this stop him? No, he just pulls more bills outta his wallet.."

    The memory still cracked Mitch up whenever it was retold. "Finish the story," Mitch chuckled, "you might as well. You’re bound and determined to.."

    "So our pal Mitch gets up and starts walking over to where Chris and the girl are standing, and flops his hand at Chris.. 'okay you bitch,' he lisps, rolling his eyes, and handing Chris his money, 'you can pick up a girl you little bastard'.."

    Sid and Krystal were both laughing hysterically at this point, so much so that Sid had to blurt out the story between laughs. "Chris' eyes got big, like dinner plates, and the girl went from a look of confusion to disgust.. so Mitch goes 'I promise to never cheat on you again,' and he looks at me and says 'you know Sid's not as pretty as you..’"

    "I didn't even care I had lost the bet, I hadta get over there and join the fun. So I'm like 'you better not be turning straight on me!'.. by this point the chick is outta there in a hurry, and Mitch is snickering as Chris is punching him in the arm."

    "How could you do that?" Krystal laughed.

    "He deserved it," Mitch laughed," he flirted too much."

    "The stories I could tell ya Krystal," Sid laughed, peering over at Mitch over the edge of his mug, loving to see his usually reserved friend fidget nervously behind the bar..


   Jessie looked over the books again as she sat in Mitch's office. They had moved back there as the bar got more busy, and the noise level started to intensify. Maybe in the back where it was more quiet she'd be able to make heads or tails of the books. This can't be right, Jessie thought, scanning the figures. No wonder the books are so screwed up, there's incorrect entries everywhere. How could Mitch have made so many mistakes?

    "Angel?"

    "Yeah, sugar?"

    "I'm gonna go get Mitch," she said, complete confusion written on her face, "I need to ask him about some of these entries."

    "Sure," Angel nodded, "I'm sure he can make some time for you, he's just working the bar is all."

    "Okay," Jessie said, picking up the book and closing it on her thumb to keep her place, as she went to get Mitch.

    "So he kept calling him an asshole and hitting on the arm," laughed Sid, as Krystal's mouth was wide open with laughter, her nails digging into Sid's arms unintentionally.

    Jessie snuck up behind Mitch, and tapped him on the shoulder. "We have to talk," she whispered in his ear.

    Mitch looked at Jessie and sighed. "Not now.."

ledger1.gif (8642 bytes)"Not about us," she said, nudging Mitch in the ribs with the ledger, "it's about the books.."

    "Okay," conceded Mitch, looked down at the book, "gimme a minute.." Jessie stared at him hard. "Okay, now.." Mitch said, pulled the draft beer handle down, and pouring Sid another beer. "Be back in a second Sid, need to take care of something."

    "But you'll miss it," Krystal sighed.

    Mitch winked at Krystal. "I lived it," he chuckled, "besides, I don't think I want to be around for the conclusion."

    Krystal frowned, eyeing Jessie.

    Jessie held up the book as she grabbed Mitch around the arm. "It's important," she said, pulling him away, "he'll be right back."

    Jessie led Mitch to the stairs leading up to the loft, where they were alone, and the noise was muffled a bit. "I've found some problems with the books Mitch."

    Mitch motioned for Jessie to follow him up the stairs. She could see his body language change, shoulders slumped as he climbed the stairs. Jessie sat down on the couch, and turned on the floor lamp. "These numbers are all wrong.. stuff doesn't match. What's going on here Mitch?" Jess asked, closing the ledger, and laying it in front of Mitch on the couch.

    Mitch sighed, his head in his hands, not knowing what to say to Jess.

    "These books are unbalanced Mitch. Come tax time you're gonna have big headaches.. all this money's unaccounted for, there's all these false entries.. it's gotta be.." Mitch sat next to her on the couch, and still wasn't saying a word. "Mitch!" Jessie said, raising her voice, "what in the world is going on here? What are you trying to cover up?"

    Mitch got up and went over to the window, looking out over the street to the beach. "Shit," he mumbled, leaning his head against the cold glass.

    Jessie came up to Mitch, laying her hand on his shoulder. "There's expenses that aren't accounted for Mitch, missing receipts, and the ones you do have are suspicious at best.." Even in the dim light Jess could see Mitch tightening his fist, his hand growing a pale white. "If you don't figure out where this money is going.."

    "I know exactly where it's going," Mitch yelled.

    Jessie stood very still, shocked at his tone. "Where?"

    "Angel," Mitch said, turning back around to face Jessie. "Angel - he was in trouble, and needed money.."

    Jessie's jaw dropped. "You faked the entries?"

    Mitch walked Jessie back to the couch, gently forcing her to sit down. "I did it for Angel," Mitch sighed.

    Jessie's eyes searched Mitch's for an answer, for some explanation to what he was saying. "But why?"

    "It's a long story."

    "I can't believe neither of you told me this," Jessie stated, incredulously. "I mean I'm good with books, but I don't think even I can untangle this mess. Why didn't you come to me for help sooner?"

    "I'm not going to tell the person I owe my livelihood I can't help him Jessie."

    "But Mitch, couldn't you guys have told me? Maybe I could have helped.."

    Mitch sighed. She was right. Despite what had happened, he knew he could have trusted Jessie with the details of the problem, without having her discover them for herself in the books.

    "Mitch, you need money - and fast," she groaned.

    "Well.." Mitch said, "I have an idea.."


   Lynn came into the bar just as Jess and Mitch were coming back downstairs. Her eyes went to the stage, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she noticed Nick sneaking in from the kitchen, onto the stage, just in time to join the band as they finished tuning up their instruments before their set.

    "I wanna hear the truth about the hat," Krystal yelled to Mitch, as she saw him pass by the bar and to the stage. She could just picture Mitch running through the mall, police and angry shopper in tow. She'd have to ask him about it later. Krystal picked up Kelly and laughed, watching Mitch wave at her, and make his way to the stage. "Well, I don't think daddy is that crazy!" she said to her, as Lynn came over to the bar, and found a seat next to Krystal.

    Jessie was behind the bar with a large ledger book in her hands, with her back to Lynn, looking up at the stage. For once Lynn was glad that Jessie's attention was otherwise occupied. Her lipstick was smeared, and she was doing the best she could to wipe it off with a bar napkin. And her hair.. it was beyond repair. From the corner of her eye she caught Sid staring at her. "What are you gawking at?" she hissed.

    Sid shrugged. "Your blouse is on inside out," he stated, matter-of-factly, taking a sip from his beer.

    Lynn looked down in disbelief, and sure enough, it was. Gasping, she raced over to the ladies room, hoping nobody else had noticed.

mike2.gif (4198 bytes)Mitch had made his way up to the stage, and had pulled the microphone from its stand. "Gimme just a second guys," he said to the band as they were making their final adjustments, "I have an announcement to make."

    "No problem boss," Johnny nodded.

    Mitch tapped on the microphone three times, and all three times, the loud thumps echoed throughout the bar. "Excuse me, I have an announcement," Mitch said.

    The bar came to a hush, as they waited for the band, but saw Mitch instead.

    "What's he doing?" Krystal asked.

    "Damned if I know," Sid shrugged.

    "Next Friday is Halloween," Mitch said, "and just for the hell of it, the Dusk to Dawn is going to have a Halloween costume party."

    The crowd cheered as Mitch made his announcement, some people whistling their approval.

    "I’d also like to take this opportunity to announce that Triple Threat will be our house band here at the Dusk to Dawn, and will be part of the festivities on Friday. Make sure to call the bar’s hotline and watch for flyers with more details about the costume party. Thanks.."

    Nick twirled the drumsticks between his fingers excitedly. Cool.. now he was sure to be in the middle of everything - close to Lynn when he needed a piece, and at the bar every night to be able to keep an eye on Jessie. Lynn, it seemed, was the good luck charm he needed to turn his life around.

    "SEE!" yelled Sid, "I told you he was crazy!"

    Jessie smiled at the crowd's positive response to Mitch's announcement. They would be cutting it close since Halloween was only a couple of days away, but Jess was sure that they could pull in some decent money without having to shell out too much. Tomorrow she'd check out the storage room and see what decorations Mitch had from previous years. She also made a mental note to sneak in an ad for the party in the Wave, making it just under the wire for this Friday's edition.

    What in the world was she going to say to Angel? Jessie wondered, leaning up against the bar. Asking Mitch about it had been hard enough, but Angel? Jess had never known Angel to be a violent guy, but what would she do if the big, towering man took less than kindly to her remarks? She met Mitch's gaze as he made his way back over to the bar, and sighed. I need a drink, Jess thought, reaching for the Absolut Citron.


   Lynn had spent a good ten minutes in the bathroom out back, and had managed to brush her hair back into a smoother shape. Her little romp with Nick was just what the doctor ordered. Her cheeks still burned, as she thought of the deliciously wicked rendezvous they had shared not thirty minutes before. She could still feel Nick's hard body against her skin, his hungry hands roaming her body. Wiping her lips clean, she uncapped her lipstick, rolling it up to expose a good inch of the deep red - her signature shade. Pressing it to her lips, she smiled. She would take full advantage of her newfound partner in crime. Soon Jessie would be out of the way, and quite possibly, if her good fortune held, SHE would make her move on Zach, and make him her own.

    Even the fact that Sid the sod had noticed her shirt was inside out didn't bother her - she could always say that he was drunk if he ever mentioned anything. Nothing and no one would stand in the way of her plans.. not now. Looking at herself one last time, Lynn arched her eyebrows. No, not even Kelly would be a load around her neck. If in fact she was able to land Zach, she would pawn her daughter on good ole Mitch.

    Pressing her lips sensuously together, she smiled. Things were coming together nicely, if she did say so herself. She would keep her eyes and ears open, and bide her time til she and Nick put their plan into action. Coming back out into the bar, she saw Jessie downing a shot. Drink up Jess, she thought. You won't know when and you won't know how, but I'm gonna get ya.

    It was a shame that she wouldn't be able to stay a while and listen to the band play, but it was late, and she could see Kelly was tired. The little girl sat next to Krystal, her head resting against the woman's shoulder, as she rubbed the sleep gathering in her eyes.

    "Baby?" she said, walking over to Kelly, "go get your dolly, Mommy’s ready to leave. Lemme just go say goodbye to your daddy.." Taking a sip of her watered down drink, she looked up at Mitch, who stood by the stage talking to one of the bar's waitresses. His attention was diverted, and she used the opportunity to give Nick a smoldering look.

    Slinking over to Mitch, she smiled sweetly, resting her fingertips on his shoulder before whispering in his ear. "We're gonna get going," she said, "Kelly's tired.."

    Mitch stopped a moment, and turned to Lynn. "She should have been in bed hours ago, Lynn," he scolded.

    "True," she smiled, "but you know how it is.. things came up. Besides, she got to know your friend.. Opal?"

    "Krystal," he corrected.

    "Oh yes, of course, Krystal.. well, lemme gather your daughter's things, and we'll be out of your way.."

    "You're not in my.."

    Lynn always had a way of making him feel guilty, but Mitch let it go tonight. He had bigger fish to fry. Turning his attention back to Betty, he watched Lynn disappear to the employee lounge.

notepad1.gif (12666 bytes)Ripping a sheet of paper from the notepad in her purse, she scribbled down a note to Nick:

    'Bahia Mar.. room 815..Kelly will be asleep
    so pass by anytime.. I look forward to exploring
    our little venture further..'

    Retrieving Kelly's doll from off the table in the lounge, she turned back, under the pretense of saying goodbye to Mitch. "Bye hon," she said, purposely bumping into Mitch. "Oh! Clumsy me," she said, dropping the doll. Crouching down, she used the distraction to slip her note under the sole of Nick's boot, just an arm's length away. Giving Nick a quick wink, as well as an ample view of her cleavage, she straightened up, gave Mitch a quick peck on the cheek, and made her way through the crowd back to Kelly.

    Nick too, was in rare form. Not missing a beat, he dragged the note towards him until it was illuminated by one of the bright stage lights. Glancing down, he read the note and smiled. There would be worse ways of spending his days than at the Bahia Mar with a busty blonde vixen.. And yet.. He pounded the drums with added gusto as thoughts of Jessie, her body pressed against his dancing, the taste of her soft lips on his made his blood race. Halloween.. it would be a perfect night to put his plan into action. No one would notice a drunk woman in a crowd of rowdy people. The costume party would be the perfect start of a very interesting evening..

    Mitch came back to his post behind the bar, not saying a word to Jessie. Just the sight of the ledger in her hands was enough to make his temples throb. Hopefully they'd be able to come out ahead through all this.. all of them..

    "Wish me luck," Jess whispered to Mitch, "I'm gonna go back and talk to Angel. It's not gonna be pleasant, but it has to be done."

    Mitch sighed. "Go for it," he said, feeling kinda guilty that he wasn't doing it himself. "No holds barred Jess.." Jessie nodded, and disappeared into the back.


   Angel was quiet, seated at Mitch's desk, his head resting against his hand, as if he held the weight of the world on his shoulders. "He told you didn't he?" Angel asked, quietly.

    "Yeah, he did," Jessie said, taking a seat across from Angel. "He had to. There's too many discrepancies in the books for me not to have noticed Angel. I just wish you guys would have come to me sooner. I may not be a CPA, but I've helped Zach enough with the paper's accounting to have been able to have figured something out."

    Angel felt like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "You're right, Jess, there's no excuse.. for any of this.."

    "How did all this happen?" Jessie asked, resting her hands on the big book which lay across her lap.

    "When Suzanne died, I was messed up for a long time. They approached me back then, when I was weak with grief, when the lingerie store was starting to lose money. They said I could make some decent cash by letting them use my store as a front for their money.."

    "Oh man Angel.. the mob?" Jessie sighed. "You've been involved with the mob even before you had the bar?"

    "I wasn't thinking right Jess. Yeah, I shoulda known better. I let them use my store to launder their money, and got a decent chunk of cash for doing nothing. Hell, I used that money to move myself to New York."

    "So, how'd they get tangled into the bar?" Jessie asked, almost afraid of the answer.

    "I thought I'd be able to make a fresh start for myself in New York. There's a lot more demand in the city for my type of merchandise," Angel said, leaning back in the chair, and tilting his head back. "But no matter how far away I ran, Suzanne's memory was still with me. What's worse, I didn't know anybody up there, so I was lonelier than ever. That's when I started to send money down here to Mitch. I guess subconsciously I wanted to stay here all along.. I was just running.."

    "That still doesn't answer my question. How did you get involved for those people again?" Jessie asked.

    "Simple. I started to drink. To forget. I'd hang out in bars and clubs til all hours of the night. My employees were robbing me blind. Then one night I ran into someone I thought I knew. Tony Martini. I cried in my beer, and this kid - not much older than you - laughed at me and said that I just needed the right business connections. He brought me to Atlantic City, and we partied hard, and for a while I thought what the hell," Angel said, shaking his head sadly, "the world screwed me, I might as well screw the world and live it up.. and I did."

    Jessie sat back in stunned silence, as Angel went on to tell her that his drinking wasn't his only problem. It was very easy for him to get used to living high, gambling away his lingerie shop's small profits. Soon he was borrowing money from Martini to pay his bills, until, before he knew it, he was in over his head. Martini and his crowd strong armed Angel into using his shop as a front for the selling of glamour drugs – ecstasy, acid, heroin.. All Angel could do was shut his eyes and be glad that his business was flourishing again, no matter what the reason, and that he actually had money to send to Mitch to revamp the Dusk to Dawn.

    "So what was the breaking point?" Jess asked, wearily, rubbing the tension from her temples.

    "I started to see teenagers, coming into MY store to buy drugs. Kids Jess, who were searching for the rush that sex and drugs could offer them. I couldn't take it anymore. All I could see was Suzanne's face in my mind at night. I knew how disappointed she'd be if she saw what I had become. So I decided I wanted out.."

    "But it's not that simple with the mob, is it?"

    "No, it's not. My lingerie shop was producing - big time, and they didn't wanna let me 'ruin a good thing.' Plus, by this point I owed them like fifty g's.."

    "Fifty thousand dollars?!" Jessie gasped.

    "Yeah," Angel groaned. "My reaction wasn't much different from yours.. but what could I do? I didn't see a way out. So.. I started to skim some money off the top, sending it down here to Mitch for the bar. That's where all the unexplained deposits are about.."

    "Where did all that money go Angel?"

    "This place needed a lot of work. I had friends work do the repairs and interior work on this place, so we could play with the numbers. But still, even with friends cutting me a break, the money disappeared quickly. I was scared and I was stupid, and I ran again, to the only place I've ever felt to be my home.."

    "So you just up and left? Just like that?" Jessie asked.

    "Just like that.. I told Martini that he would get his money.. no matter how long it took me to pay it back. But as you know it's not that easy. I've been taking what little profits we have here at the bar to pay him off bit by bit, but they're pissed off, have added a steep interest to my loan, so it's almost like I'm not paying anything at all. I thought that my regular payments, no matter how small, would be a show of good will, but it's not enough. Tony's superiors are out for blood. They didn't take too kindly to me pulling the plug on a good thing. They've lost money because of me. They see me as taking off with their cash.."

    Jessie sat quietly for a moment. She could see the worry etched into Angel's face, his eyes almost pleading for help. What's done is done, Jessie thought, holding onto the ledger on her lap. Angel realized how wrong his actions had been, and consequently how hard it would be to get out from under them. What they needed to concentrate on now was how they could turn things around.

    "The books are gonna take a lot of doing to set right," she sighed, "but I have an idea. I have an old friend, Joe, who might be able to work his magic on this mess.."

    Angel adjusted his position in the desk chair. "I dunno, Jess.. can he be trusted?"

    Jessie smiled. "If anyone could repair the damage - as much as possible of course, under the circumstances - it's Joe. He's helped me out in the past.. at the paper.. let's just say Zach has committed his own set of financial snaffoos from time to time. He's like a brother to me, Angel. I'll give him a call tomorrow, and see how quickly we can get together and fix this."

    "I'd owe you big time, Sugar," Angel smiled, the worry melting from his face.

    "What are friends for?" Jessie answered. "Besides, if this place went under, where would I hang out, huh?" she teased, winking at Angel. "Between you, me and Mitch, we'll work it out.. you’ll see. Oh," she paused, "speaking of Mitch, he came up with a great idea tonight.."

    "Oh?"

    "It's gonna take some fancy footwork to pull it off in time, but we're gonna throw a costume party here at the bar. We'll charge ten dollars as a one time cover. I know a few people that would be glad to come and help out, for a small percentage of course, reading tarots, doing karioke.. it'll be fun and profitable all at once.."

* * * * *

Copyright 1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.

 

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