Blind God's Bluff A Billy Fox Novel - By Richard Lee Byers


It wasn’t weird that I was running away. It was weird that I met a man with no eyes running in the opposite direction.

A few minutes earlier, I’d come out of the Columbia Restaurant with a stomach full of swordfish and wine. I had no business eating there, but I was so deep in debt that paying for an expensive supper hardly seemed to matter.

Blowing the rest of my cash at Bobbi’s, my favorite cigar bar, didn’t feel like it would matter, either. So, a little buzzed, I ambled down Seventh Avenue, past other Cuban and Italian restaurants, vintage clothing shops, botanicas, and candy cane-shaped wrought-iron lampposts. Since it was a weeknight, there weren’t too many people on the sidewalk. But some of the bars had live music even so. Death metal pounded through a closed door. Jump blues strutted out an open one.

I stopped to listen to some of the latter. The guy on trumpet was good. And as I loitered there, I happened to look on down the street to the spot where my ’57 Thunderbird was parked. What I saw gave me a jolt that sobered me right up.

Pablo and Raul, the Martinez brothers, were waiting by the car. Worse, Raul spotted me at the same moment I spotted them. Big as a dumpster and just as charming, he gestured for me to come on. When I didn’t, he spoke to Pablo, who then lumbered toward me.

Pablo was even bigger than his brother, his bowling ball-size muscles, receding hairline, and the hair-trigger viciousness in his piggy eyes proof of the life-changing power of steroids. Could I handle him, and the tire iron he carried around in a gym bag, too?

It wasn’t absolutely impossible. Hell, I’d seen combat in Afghanistan and come out of it in one piece. But even if I managed to get in touch with my inner Extreme Cagefighter, it wouldn’t solve anything. It would only escalate the situation. I turned and walked back the way I’d come.

Pablo followed.

I considered ducking into one of the bars. But I had a hunch that if Pablo caught up with me, he’d likely try to beat my ass no matter how many witnesses were watching, and I wanted to avoid getting cornered. I scurried down the narrow alleyway between two brick buildings.

At the other end was the branch campus of Hillsborough Community College, the boxy cinder-block classroom buildings a clunky contrast to the old Latin architecture in the rest of Ybor City. I jogged across a parking lot to the nearest one and started trying doors.

Locked. Locked. Unlocked, but because a class was in session. The professor, a chunky, middle-aged ex-hippie chick with gold-rimmed glasses and long gray hair, broke off her lecture to frown at me.

“Sorry,” I said, closing the door. I glanced around. Pablo was stalking across the parking lot.

Shit! I’d hoped I’d lengthened my lead by more than that. It wasn’t fair that someone so humongous could move fast.

But I was pretty fast myself, and now that we were away from Seventh Avenue, and its cops and security cameras watching over the tourists, it was time to prove it. I ran flat out.

Which took me into a tangle of streets lined with small, shabby one-story houses and duplexes—shacks, really—some built just a couple steps from the curb. It was what’s left of the Tampa of our grandparents, or great-grandparents, assuming they were working-class.

I figured I could lose Pablo in that dark little slum. Then I’d just have to pray that he and Raul wouldn’t deliver their message by trashing the T-bird.

My father had loved that car, I did, too, and visions of shattered headlights, battered Raven Black tailfins, and slashed Flame Red upholstery were almost enough to make me turn around and go back. But only almost. I kept moving ahead, and that was when I met the man with no eyes.

I spotted a shadow moving in the patch of murk under the spreading branches of an oak. Thinking that Pablo had somehow gotten ahead of me, or that Raul had joined the chase, I faltered. Then the shadow stumbled out into the moonlight, and I saw that it wasn’t either of the thugs, or anybody else who could hurt me. The guy was old, skinny as a praying mantis, and wore grubby, badly fitting clothes like one of the homeless, not that I’m sure I noticed them immediately. It was hard to pay attention to much of anything except the empty sockets weeping blood