Devil s Bargin


Chapter 1

For all my kick-ass girls.

You know who you are.

Everything you do matters.

Sol's Tavern was a place for serious drinkers.

It had no elegant decor, no pretty people sipping layered liqueurs. Sol's had a bar, some battered stools, a couple of slovenly waitresses, and a surly guy to pour drinks. There was a dartboard with Osama bin Laden's face pasted on it behind the bar, and for a dollar a throw, you could try your luck; the proceeds went into a faded red-white-and-blue jar that promised - however doubtfully - to go to charity.

But the best thing about Sol's, to Jazz Callender, was that it wasn't a cop bar, and she wasn't likely to run into anyone she'd ever known.

Jazz pulled up a bar stool and set about her business, which was to get so drunk she couldn't remember where she'd been. She caught the bartender's eye and nodded at the empty spot in front of her. Their conversation consisted of a one-word order from her, a grunt from him, and the exchange of cash. Sol's wasn't the kind of place where you ran a tab, either. Cash on the barrelhead, one drink at a time.

I could get to like this place, she thought. And knew it was a little sad.

As she leaned her elbows on the bar and picked up her Irish whiskey, Jazz scanned the bar's patrons in the mirror. She didn't actually care who was there, but old habits were hard to break, this one harder than most. The faces clicked into her memory, filed for later. A couple of unpleasant-looking truckers with bodybuilding hobbies; a fat guy with a mean face who looked as if he might be trouble after a few dozen drinks. He was drinking alone. There were two faded night-blooming women in low-cut blouses and dyed hair, years etched as if by acid at the corners of their eyes and mouths.

Jazz was still young - thirty-four was young, wasn't it? - but she still felt infinitely older than the rest of them. Seen too much, done too much...she wasn't going to attract a lot of attention, even from the bottom-feeders in here. Especially not dressed in blue jeans, a shapeless gray sweatshirt with an NYU logo, and clunky cop shoes left over from better days. Her hair needed cutting, and it kept falling in her eyes. When she looked across at herself in the mirror she saw a wreck: pale, raccoon-eyed, wheat-blond hair straggling like a mop.

Her eyes still looked green and sharp and haunted.

Sharp...that needed to change. Quickly.

She tossed back her first whiskey, clutched the edge of the bar tight against the burn, and made a silent again gesture at her glass. The bartender made a silent pay me first reply. She slid over a crumpled five, got a full shot glass of forgetfulness and slammed it back, too.

The door opened.

It was gray outside, turning into night, but even the glimmer of streetlights was blocked by the man coming in. Tall, not broad. Her first thought was, trouble, but then it turned ridiculous, because this guy wasn't trouble, he was about to be in trouble. Over six feet and a little on the thin side, all sharp angles, which would have been okay if he hadn't come dressed in some self-consciously tough leather getup that would have looked ridiculous on a Hell's Angel. He didn't have the face for it - lean and angular, yeah, but with large, gentle brown eyes that scanned the bar skittishly and looked alarmed by what they saw.

His badass-biker leathers were so new they creaked.

Jazz resisted the urge to snort a laugh and repeated her pantomime with the bartender. Behind her, she heard the squeak, squeak, squeak of the new guy's leather as he walked up, and then he was climbing onto a bar stool next to her.

"Love that new-car smell," she told the bartender as he poured her a third shot. He gave her a cynical half smile and took her five bucks. The fool did smell like a new car - also some kind of expensive aftershave that reminded her of cinnamon and butter - very nice. So maybe he did have some sense after all, biker leathers notwithstanding. Idiot. She imagined what kind of welcome he'd have gotten if he'd walked into a bar like, say, O'Shaugnessey's, over on Fourteenth, where the cops congregated. They'd have probably directed him - with velocity - to the gay leather bar down the block.

Her comment hadn't