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Trouble walked into the bar and Hawk took notice.
Patrons threw irritated glances toward the door as unwanted light streamed into the murky tavern and a breeze stirred the alcohol-tinged air. Protests in several languages demanded a return to darkness. As soon as the door closed and shadow reclaimed the room, the dissent settled. Hands, tentacles, and pseudopods continued lifting glasses.
No one else paid attention to the man who entered. Hawk, seated at a side table, saw the warning signs. Tense shoulders, clenching hands, darting eyes; all symptoms of a person on the edge of doing something stupid, dangerous, or both.
Hawk scanned the room. His gaze wandered over a multitude of species. He saw one other person observing the twitching newcomer: a slender human female with olive skin and black hair. Her eyes reflected a light of pure gold, marred only by the thin black dots of her pupils. She wore a deep blue executive unisuit and an expression of dread as she stared across the room. A corp-rat of some sort, she appeared completely out of place in a dive like the Ripspace Grotto.
Guess she’s slumming, Hawk thought as he poured a shot of Trill’s Gutter Run—his fifth in the past half-hour—and slammed it down his throat. He knew he shouldn’t be drinking so much, but that didn’t stop him. It hadn’t stopped him in five years, ever since…
He squashed the thought. He didn’t mind getting tipsy on self-pity, but he refused to wallow in it.
To distract himself, Hawk returned his attention to Twitch. He had begun stalking through the bar, head jerking back and forth as he searched the gloom, most likely seeking the corp-rat.
I won’t get involved, Hawk told himself as he poured another shot. I’m here to meet a contact about a job and that’s it. I won’t get involved. He suddenly wished he had brought along Wolf or Ashron for back-up, but the client had requested discretion. Wolf, a Uraxian who stood two-and-a-quarter meters tall and had muscles stacked on top of sinews, didn’t fit the bill. Ashron, a lizard-like Lorothian, would have blended well with the Grotto’s clientele.
Golden Eyes slid through the crowd, trying to keep bodies between herself and Twitch. Her movement had the opposite effect. Like a laser, the man’s eyes honed in. He carved a direct path toward her, heedless of who or what he shoved aside.
The commotion caught the woman’s attention. She froze as the man bore down on her.
Hawk studied him: just shy of two meters, a solid hundred and twenty kilos, sallow skin, and no hair. A little taller than me, maybe twenty kilos heavier, Hawk observed. It would be an ugly fight, so it’s a good thing I’m not going to get involved.
He downed the shot and licked his lips to catch stray drops. His thick mustache prickled his tongue.
The man’s twitching had ceased after he spotted his quarry, but his fists and jaw remained clenched. He stopped in front of the woman and glowered down at her. She stared back, terror on her face. Neither moved as the patrons, unaware or choosing to ignore the situation, carried on around them.
I won’t get involved, Hawk reminded himself as he reached up, pulled his coffee-colored hair off his shoulders, and stuffed it into his shirt collar.
“Let’s go, Anne,” the man rumbled.
“I’m not going anywhere with you, you bastard,” the woman said, her defiant words betrayed by a trembling voice.
“Don’t make this difficult. Mr. Daratar said to bring you back and that’s what I’m going to do. Legs whole or broken, he doesn’t really care.”
Anne looked around, the panic of a trapped animal rolling off her.
Adrenaline surged through Hawk. He grabbed the bottle of Trill’s by the neck and lowered it to his side. I won’t get involved…but I can take him if I have to.
The man continued in a near whisper Hawk barely heard. “No one in this hole gives a damn about a little corporate tramp, so just follow me nice or things will get ugly.”
Her golden eyes fell on Hawk, a plea for help burning into him.
Hawk sighed. I guess I’m going to get involved.
He covered the distance in two steps and stood beside the terrified woman. “Anne?”
“It is you!” Hawk said in a boisterous voice. He grabbed her in a hug. “How in the galaxy have you been?”
“Just fine,” she said, hesitating before returning the hug.
“You’re interrupting,” Twitch said.
Hawk let go of Anne and turned to face the man. “Oh, I’m sorry.” He shifted the bottle to his left hand and held out his right. “Sean Grey. Anne and I are old friends.”
Twitch didn’t offer his hand. “I don’t believe you. I think you’re some punk with Good Samaritan Fever, a disease which has been known to inflict great pain.”
Hawk lowered his hand and transferred the bottle. “I’m forty-two, much too old to be a punk. You did get the Good Samaritan part right, and I have to admit that’s an apt description.” Hawk smiled. “‘A disease which has been known to cause great pain.’ I would never have expected a low-credit goon like you to come up with something that good. Used it before?”
Anger flashed across the man’s face. “I don’t have time to stomp your ass right now. We have to go.” He reached out to grab Anne. Hawk intercepted him, seizing his wrist. Twitch stared at Hawk, eyes wide with shock, as if he couldn’t believe someone would have the audacity to touch him. “Oh, buddy, you just—”
Hawk didn’t let him get any further. His hand came up and the bottle smashed atop Twitch’s skull. It shattered, glass and brown liquid sliding across the man’s bald head. The immediate area filled with acrid fumes. Blood formed where the glass cut Twitch’s hairless skull. Hawk pushed Anne behind him, waiting for the man to fall.
Twitch grinned as he shook his head, flinging liquor and blood through the air.
Uh oh, Hawk thought.