Authors: Jenna Byrnes
Tags: #Erotic Romance Fiction
He couldn’t help noticing the bartender, a handsome man about his own age with similar brown, shaggy hair. Something shined in his eyes, weariness for one thing, but Dix couldn’t put his finger on what else. “Afternoon.” He stepped up to the bar and flashed his badge. “I’m Detective Dixon and this is Detective MacDonald of the KCPD. We’re investigating a murder that took place near here last night. Have you ever seen this woman?” He held up a photo of the deceased.
“Ugh.” The bartender frowned. “Seriously? It’s disrespectful flashing a photo like that around.”
Dix smiled grimly. “It’s not disrespectful for such a pretty, young woman to be lying in the morgue with no name? More than likely, someone out there is missing her right about now. Somebody is frantic that she didn’t come home or show up at work today. You don’t think those folks would want us to move heaven and earth to identify her?”
The man lowered his head. “I’m sorry, you’re right. No, I don’t know her.”
Mac spoke up. “We have a witness who says she came out of this bar somewhere around midnight last night. Were you working?”
He sighed. “I’m always working.”
“And you are—?” Dix prompted.
“Bryan Scott. I own the place.”
“You’re the only bartender?”
“No, I’ve got a couple part time guys, but they only work nights and weekends. Seems like I’m here more than not. Jack worked with me last night.”
“Anyone else? Waitresses, cooks?”
“I have three waitresses, only Jaci worked last night. Three cooks. Mike was the only one here.”
Mac glanced around. “Any of those people working today?”
Bryan shook his head. “As I said, most of my part-timers work nights and weekends. They have other jobs or are going to college.”
“We need to show our victim’s picture around, ask if they remember seeing her, noticed her talking to anyone or maybe leaving with someone.”
“Jaci and Mike will be here tonight at six. Jack doesn’t work again until the weekend.”
Dix said, “We’ll need his phone number, please. We can run this photo over to him and see if recognises her. I can swing back by tonight and talk to Jaci and Mike.”
“Whatever you need.” Bryan pulled out his cell phone and looked up a number, then copied it down on a cocktail napkin. “Here you go. Anything else I can do for you, gentlemen?”
Dix glanced at Mac. “I could use a burger, how about you?”
“Sure. Hold the onion, extra cheese. Fries and a black coffee, please.”
Dix smiled at the bartender. “Make that two. We can sit anywhere?”
The man spread his arm from one side to the next. “Take your pick. I’ll put in your order and bring you that coffee.”
Dix chose a close table so he could hear any conversations going on. He sat, keeping one eye on the man behind the bar.
“Something not feel right to you?” Mac followed his gaze.
“I dunno.” He shrugged. “Maybe this place is busier at night. But if it was this dead last night, the bartender would have remembered seeing a woman as pretty as our vic.”
“That’s a point. He didn’t seem thrilled to talk to us.”
“Most people aren’t, my friend.” Dix added sugar to his coffee when it arrived, and continued his observation. A tall man with slicked back, dark hair appeared in the kitchen window. He was wearing a grease-spattered apron so Dix took him for the cook. The man talked to Bryan for a moment, cast a glance in their direction then disappeared again.
A blond-haired delivery man with a beer logo on his uniform shirt entered through a back door. He spoke with Bryan, and they went over what appeared to be an invoice. Bryan nodded and the man turned to leave. He took his time, glancing around the bar slowly.
“That’s a muscular young man, right there,” Mac commented. “Check out his physique.”
Dix shook his head. “He’s, like, twenty-five. Why would I want to check him out?”
Mac chuckled. “I was referring to his strength, and the size of his biceps. It takes a strong guy to strangle a woman to death. I wasn’t suggesting you ask him out on a date.”
“Oh.” Dix felt his face flush. If he was going to admire anyone, it was the owner behind the bar. He was guarded, sure, but lots of folks were when the police came knocking. There was something else about the man, a hint of subtle sexuality. Whatever it was, it caused Dix’s trousers to tent with the first erection he could remember in too long.
He tried not to think about the hunk behind the bar and turned back to the delivery boy. “Yeah, he looks pretty beefed up. Takes some heft to lift kegs and cases of beer, I suppose.”
Still grinning, Mac said, “Your mind did
start out there, it went someplace totally different. How long’s it been since that Italian stud of yours took off?”
“He didn’t ‘take off’,” Dix said petulantly. “He moved back to Italy to be closer to his family. It’s been six months.”
“That’s a long time to be celibate, man. Not for a married guy, because we get used to it. But for most guys.”
Dix smiled. “I was married once. I remember what it’s like once the kids start coming.” He stopped talking as the owner approached. He tried not to look at the man’s jean-clad body, but it was distracting.
Bryan brought two plates and a bottle of ketchup to their table. “Here you go.”
“Smells great.” Dix looked at his face. “Daytime cook leaves about what time?”
“My cousin Galen. He gets off between five-thirty and six.”
Dix nodded. “How often do you get beer deliveries?”
Bryan folded his arms across his chest. “Don’t miss a trick, do you?”
He smiled. “Wouldn’t be a very good detective if I did. Just asking. You seem to have a pretty tight-knit little group here. Everyone looking out for one another. Seems like someone might have seen our girl coming in or going out.”
“Someone did,” Mac added. “Another customer.”
Bryan shrugged. “Yeah, well we get a lot of patrons through the door. Some are regulars, many are not. It’s a sketchy neighbourhood, we do watch out for our own.”
“That’s good,” Dix agreed. “Beer deliveries? About this same time each day?”
The owner sighed. “Three to four times a week. His route varies, but it’s usually early afternoon. Our vendor’s just a kid, you probably saw him.”
“We did.” Dix looked at him. “Thanks for the information. And the food.”
“Yell if you need anything.”
Bryan returned to the bar while Dix and Mac took the top bun off their burgers at the same time. Dix cocked his head at an angle and studied the meat and tomato. “Looks clean to me.”
“Me too.” Mac reached for the ketchup. “Always prefer to get our food
people find out we’re cops.”
“No shit.” Dix took a bite. “Tastes good. We might have to remember this place.”
“You can come back for dinner,” Mac teased.
“I might do that.”
His partner’s face clouded over. “You don’t mind coming alone, do you? I’d hate to leave Cecile.”
“Course not. I might ask Abby to come with. She’s got a keen sense of observation and might pick up on something.”
Mac waggled his brows. “Abby, eh? You switch hitting these days?”
Dix wiped his mouth with a napkin. “We’re just friends and you know it. I told my ex-wife she turned me off women for good.”
“It’s no wonder the two of you have such a good relationship,” Mac teased.
He shrugged. “Don’t have to see her anymore. Jared’s twenty-five and lives half a world away.”
“Marine Corps got a good one with that boy.”
“Yes, they did.” He glanced up when a young woman with a long blonde ponytail entered and walked straight to the bar. She barely looked old enough to drink. “Incoming.”
Mac glanced at her surreptitiously. “Hope he checks ID.”
Dix listened to try and catch their conversation.
“How you doing?” she asked Bryan.
“How’s it look? Sl-ow,” he drew out the word.
She glanced around the room. The other couple had finished and left. It was just their table and the old man at the bar. “Yeah, I see that. I was going to ask if you needed help for a couple hours, but I guess I got my answer.”
Bryan shrugged. “Just me, old Pete and the cops.”
Her gaze immediately darted to their table.
Dix looked at his plate, picking up a fry and popping it in his mouth.
“Cops?” she repeated. “Why are they here?”
“Eating lunch,” Bryan replied.
“But they told you they were cops?”
Mac spoke softly, not looking up from his food. “Most business-owners like having police patronise their establishments. Makes them feel safer.”
“Unless they have something to hide,” Dix agreed, one eye on the couple at the bar.
“Why do you think they’re here?” she whispered, but it was loud enough for Dix to hear.
“Maybe they were hungry,” Bryan whispered back.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re no fun. Where’s your sense of imagination?”
“Imagination gets people in trouble. I’d prefer to think they were hungry and heard we have good food, which we do. You want something?”
“Nope, if you don’t need me I’m heading for the library. I have a paper to work on. See you later!” She leaned across the bar and kissed his cheek.
“Behave yourself,” he called after her.
She glanced over her shoulder and winked. For a moment she locked eyes with Dix, and he saw amusement there. She winked at him, too, then flounced out. The place grew quiet again.
“College student, one of his waitresses,” Mac observed.
“A waitress with benefits,” Dix added. “She planted a kiss on him before she left.”
“On the cheek.”
“Do you kiss your boss on the cheek?”
Mac laughed. “Good point. Okay, waitress with benefits. She’s a young one, though. Maybe Mr Scott is a dirty old man.”
“He’s not that old,” Dix muttered. “About my age.”
“I don’t see you kissing twenty-year-olds.”
“Another good point. You ready? I’ll pay the check.”
“I’m going to find the little boys’ room.” Mac stood. “Meet you out front.”
“Yep.” Dix pulled a twenty from his wallet and sauntered to the bar. “Food was great. I’ll tell my friends, unless you don’t want other cops coming around.”
“Please. The more the merrier. As you can see, we could use the business.”
“Kinda what I thought.” He tossed the twenty on the bar. “Blondie one of your waitresses?”
Bryan paused from making change. “I’ll bet you passed that detective’s exam on your first try.” He spread the bills and coins on the bar.
Dix grinned. “Damn straight. She just looked young, is all.” He pulled back a couple of ones, leaving a five and some change for a tip.
young. Putting herself through college. I like to give decent kids a break when I can.”
He gazed into Bryan’s eyes. “That all you like to give her?”
Anger flashed briefly in the owner’s eyes, but it disappeared just as quickly. “She’s a good kid, and she’s twenty-one. Please leave her alone.”
Dix shrugged. “Homicide investigation, you know. I have to go wherever it leads me. I noticed you didn’t tell her we were here because of a murder.”
Bryan studied him levelly. “I’m sure you’ll take care of that when you come back tonight.”
Dix nodded. “See you then.” He went to the front sidewalk and waited for Mac. It was a decent spring day. The weather was warm but not yet hot. Summers in the Midwest made wearing a suit coat everyday feel like a sauna. He’d enjoy this weather while he could.
* * * *
Back at the station, they tacked photos and information up on an evidence board. Dix brought in materials from the first homicide just a week ago. Madison Ames had been found in another alley, a couple of blocks away from today’s discovery. A married clerk in a ladies wear store, she was last seen leaving a restaurant after meeting friends, and was found strangled the next day. Evidence concluded she’d been raped, but no DNA was discovered at the scene. The half-dozen cigarette burns on her torso had been delivered ante mortem—preceding death.
This new case appeared to be eerily similar.
“I’ll phone Madison’s husband and see if she’d ever been to Last Call,” Mac offered.
Dix nodded. “It may not be a connection, but at this point it’s worth checking out. Something felt off in that place, though I can’t put my finger on exactly what.
Mac smiled and went to work.
When Dix’s phone rang, he was pleased to hear Abby Walters on the other end of the line.
“We’ve got a positive ID. If you can believe this, her fingerprints were in the system. Donna Reitz worked as a secretary at the county courthouse. And of course, all government employees—”
“Would have fingerprints in the system,” Dix finished her sentence. “Good job, Ab.”
“You’ll need to notify next of kin. Database says that’s her mom and dad.”
“We’re on it. Mac and I went to the bar she was last seen at, but none of the same employees will be there until tonight. Food was pretty good. Want to go back with me after work, grab a bite and talk to a few people?”
“Let me guess, Mac doesn’t want to leave Cecile and you hate to eat alone?”
“Something like that. I’ll go by myself if I have to. Just thought it might be interesting to get your perspective on the place. Things don’t seem quite right there.”
“No, I’d love to check it out. Best offer I’ve had all week.”
“Which is not saying much for your love life.” Dix chuckled. “I’ll call you later to firm up plans.”
“I’ll be here.” She sighed dramatically, for his benefit, he knew. Abby was a knockout and she could have a man in her life if she wanted one. But like many members of the police department, sometimes it was easier to focus on work than to try and juggle the job and a relationship.
Until the right person comes along. Then the juggling is worth it.
Dix smiled and went to find Mac. They had some bad news to deliver, and needed to get on with it.
Breaking the news of a loved one’s demise was one of the hardest parts of Dix’s job. Donna Reitz’s parents took it hard, as they all did. They were close with their daughter but didn’t know where she went on a daily basis after work and weren’t sure if she frequented Last Call. Dix left his card with them and he and Mac returned to the station to continue digging.