The Wrong Girl
The building was a dull grey and the textured siding that covered it, which might look velvety in the low light, appeared almost dirty in the light of day. The parking lot itself was small and nearly deserted, littered with trash from the previous nights’ crowd. There were only two cars parked in the lot now, both near the building itself. Taylor pulled up next to them and made his way to the front door, giving it what he thought of as his ‘cop knock’, which was basically pounding on it with the side of his closed fist in a steady rhythm.
Taylor backed up as an audible click could be heard through the door then it swung open, showing a small, dimly lit interior room with a desk to one side and a door leading into a much larger open area on the other.
“Yea.” The deep, rumbling reply came from the small man-mountain that answered the door.
The voice belonged to a huge black man who topped Taylor by a good five inches. He was wearing a tight black shirt that showed off arms roughly the size of telephone poles, or at least that’s how it seemed to Taylor.
“Hey, I’m looking for a guy named Nick. I was told he might be here.”
“We’re closed,” the guy said and started to close the door.
Taylor stuck his foot in the jamb, preventing the door from shutting all the way.
“Brother, you better be prepared to live without that,” he said looking at the offending appendage.
Taylor did a once over and quickly concluded showing a private investigators license wouldn’t do him any good in this situation. Peeking out of the bottom of one of the short but amazingly tight shirt sleeves was something Taylor thought he could work with, however.
“I don’t want to cause any problem. A family has me looking for their daughter, and she was last seen with Nick. I just need to talk to him for five minutes. Can you help out a fellow vet?”
The guy’s facade of anger slipped for a second as he looked curious, “You serve?”
“Yea. Tenth special forces outta Bragg. Got out a few years ago. You?” Taylor asked, pointing at the tattoo on the man’s bicep.
“Second battery in the seventy-eighth, stationed near Kandahar.”
“I was in Afghanistan too, out in the Pech valley.”
“Man, that place was rough,” he said, eying Taylor for a moment. “Normally I wouldn’t let you in for nothin’, but Nick’s a piece of shit and I saw some of you guys operate once. It was pretty badass.”
“Thanks, man,” Taylor said as the mountain moved out of the way.
“Just, don’t go causing any trouble or I’ll have to toss you out on your ass.”
Taylor slid past and into the dimly lit building, and said, “That’s the last thing I want.”
Taylor also knew he meant it.
He’d learned a lot in the army, but in the modern era basic military training didn’t include a lot of practice at anything more than the most rudimentary unarmed combat. The whole idea was to kill your opponents at a distance, if possible. Drilling in physical combat had mostly gone out when the bayonet became obsolete.
Of course, the various Special Forces did get more advanced training, but that went to the door-kickers like Delta and SEALs mostly. Green Berets were the thinking man’s Special Forces, trained with an emphasis on integrating and coordinating with indigenous forces over personally knocking down the bad guys, not that they didn’t do their share of that.
Beyond that, in each unit of Army Special Forces, which was designed to operate independently of larger forces for long periods of time, each soldier had a specialized area of focus. Taylor’s had been as a weapons sergeant, and his training had focused on knowing how to use and even repair a huge range of weapons from every military across the globe.
Since he was now operating alone most the time, and in totally different circumstances than his Army life, Whitaker had been working with him on his close fighting techniques, trying to make him better able to defend himself in different situations.
Even with her help though, he was still far from an expert and this guy looked like he could snap Taylor in half if he wanted to.
The guy went around the small counter on one side of the room to sit on a stool that didn’t seem likely to withstand his weight, and pointed to the larger room through the door in the other wall. Walking through the opening Taylor entered a big open room supported by four huge columns near each corner. On one side of the room was a stage that stood only a few inches off the ground and was scratched all to hell. Against one wall by the side of the stage were some very large double-stacked speakers with cables leading onto the stage itself, coiled against the back of the wall with a couple of mic stands towering above the whole mess.
The other side of the room had a long bar with staggered shelves on the wall behind it starting waist high and rising about four feet, covered in a wide selection of bottles of various sizes and shapes. Neon lights ran behind the bottles that would have created an impressive glowing effect showing through the intoxicating liquids, if the overhead lights had not been on.
The bar however did seem to have what Taylor was actually looking for. A middle-aged and somewhat scruffy guy who looked busy pulling bottles from boxes and setting them up on the bar, one after another. In front of the bar facing the bartender, a much younger guy was talking more or less nonstop. He wore a ratty pair of jeans and a torn T-shirt with a faded concert logo Taylor couldn’t make out.
He had to admit that Crissy’s description of ‘skeezy’ was dead on the money. Everything about this kid said lowlife in training.
“You Nick?” Taylor said, walking up to the kid.
“Who wants to know?” the kid asked in a nasally voice, turning toward Taylor.
“I do. I’m trying to find Mary Jane Norris, and from what I’ve been told, you were the last one to see her.”
“I have no idea who you’re talking about. Now beat it, I’m busy.”
The look the bartender gave suggested he wouldn’t mind if Nick was busy somewhere else.
“Look, her parents asked me to track her down and make sure she’s OK. You were pointed out, and described pretty accurately. I was told you two were dating and you were even seen together last week.”
“Whatever. Don’t know the chick, now beat it,” he said, not even bothering to look up as he spoke
Nick words were of the ‘I could give a shit’ variety, but everything else about him said the kid was seriously freaked out. Nick not only knew who Mary Jane was, which Taylor was aware of before coming in, but he was seriously upset about being asked questions about her.
The kid, by his very nature, would have set Taylor on edge. But being lied to so blatantly, and badly, just straight-up pissed him off. Taylor’s face twisted in an annoyed grimace as he looked over to the bouncer, who had gotten off his stool and was leaning against the door frame between the club proper and the front room.
The bouncer gave Taylor a long look then an almost imperceptible nod, turning to face the front check in area, putting his back to the club proper. Taylor took that as tacit approval. Lunging forward, he wrapped his forearm around Nick’s neck in a choke hold. At the same time he kicked the back of the kid’s knees, causing him to collapse backward, banging his legs on the front of the bar.
Nick made a gurgling sound as Taylor adjusted his choke hold to put himself at a more sideways angle allowing him to walk forward pulling the kid with him. Nick struggled, his heels dragging on the ground, unable to get traction as he pulled against the vicelike grip around his neck, cutting off his air supply.
Taylor got to the men’s room door and yanked it open, pushing Nick in ahead of him, causing the kid to fall and slide across the tiled and extremely disgusting floor. As Taylor walked in and stood over him, the gasping boy stared up, eyes now filled with terror.
Taylor waited until the door swung close before he spoke.
In an even, icy voice he said, “Let’s try this again, Nick. I know you know her. I know you were dating her, although I’ve heard it defined more of a mooching off her rather than dating. I know you were with her at some point last week. As far as I know right now, you were the last person to be with her before she vanished last Saturday.”
Nick was whimpering, his eyes refusing to meet Taylor’s.
“Before I ask you my question again, let’s make the ground rules clear. If you lie to me again, I’m going to beat the shit out of you. If you dodge my questions, I’m going to beat the shit out of you. If you ... you know what, I’m betting you get the idea. So here we go. I understand you were with Mary Jane Norris last week. Tell me where and when the last time you saw her was, and where you think she might be right now.”
Nick started softly sobbing.
“Nick, it’s your turn,” Taylor said, nudging him roughly with one boot.
“Yea, I was here with her on Saturday, man,” Nick said, wiping his nose, blinking away tears. “We were going to dance for a while and party, then the bitc ... ahhhh.”
Nick’s speech ended when Taylor’s boot connected with his ribs.
“A little less colorful commentary. Try sticking to just the facts, it’ll hurt less.”
“She,” Nick said then coughed, grabbing his side before continuing. “She met some guy and ditched me. He was a big dude. His head was shaved and he wore boots kind of like yours. I hadn’t seen him in here before. She was all over him, getting all slu ... umm ... dancing real close to him. I just chilled with my bro while he worked the bar. I didn’t see her after that, and I have no idea where she went. I swear.”
Taylor stood over Nick for a moment, hoping Nick understood the consequences of what would happen if this was bullshit. His brain however, was going into overdrive. The description didn’t sound like someone who would be in a club that catered to college age kids. He sounded a lot more like a professional. If it was accurate, it sounded a lot less like a party girl blowing off her family and a lot more like the daughter of a rich and powerful woman being kidnapped.
Taylor knelt next to Nick and roughly rolled him over, pulling out the oversized wallet from the kids pants, almost ripping off the chain that stretched from the corner of the wallet to his belt. Opening it, Taylor removed what he was looking for before dropping the wallet on the grungy floor and rolling Nick back over.
Still kneeling, looming over Nick, Taylor held out the kid’s driver’s license an inch from his nose.
“Nick, I know where you live. If I find you lied to me, even once, I will find you and you will regret it. Are we clear?”
Nick just nodded, unable to find his voice. Taylor glared at him a moment longer to reinforce the point before standing and walking out of the bathroom without a backward glance.
The bartender was staring as Taylor left the restroom, headed for the front area of the club. Taylor could feel the man’s eyes on him, but ignored it, intent on his target. The bouncer was holding a book when Taylor walked back out of the club, setting it on the counter when he noticed Taylor. The giant didn’t say anything, just raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Not a drop of blood anywhere. It’s like it never happened.”
The guy gave a nod and reached for his book when Taylor set a hand gently on it, stopping the man and earning a much less friendly glance.
“Is there someone here in charge? An owner or something?”
“Why,” the man said in a weary, rumbling voice.
“You’ve been solid with me, and I appreciate it. It looks like something might have gone down here the other night and I want to give you guys a chance to get out in front of it.”
“What kind of something?”
“A girl getting snatched out of your club kind of something.”
The giant frowned, staring at Taylor’s face, gauging seriousness. Without a word he turned and headed back into the club, waving a hand as he passed Taylor indicating he should follow. They headed to a door halfway between the stage and the bar.
Taylor couldn’t help but notice that Nick had yet to appear from the bathroom.
The giant knocked on the door and the mumbled reply seemed enough to allow him to open the door and step in, ushering Taylor past then shutting the door behind them.
“Mr. Fredricks, this guy says we might have a problem,” the mountain said, looming behind Taylor.
The guy at the desk appeared to be in his fifties with thinning, slicked back salt and pepper hair, wearing what Taylor had to assume was a stylish suit. Although, it could be off the rack for all Taylor knew about fashion.
The man took off the reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose, setting them on the desk in front of him and leaning back in his chair.
“It must be a serious problem. This is the first time Mikey has ever brought someone I don’t know back here.”
Taylor looked back at the giant, wondering why guys like that were always called Mikey or Tiny.
“I believe a girl may have been grabbed out of your club last Saturday, I was hoping to get a look at your security footage to see what might have happened.”
“No one was dragged out of here against their will, that’s for sure. My guys keep a close watch on everything, and they would stop anyone from taking out a girl who was too drunk or messed up to leave under their own power. We run a clean club here and I make sure none of that shit happens in my house.”