I stopped across the street from the shabby looking bar and turned off my car. The neon sign across the front read “Tiki Tabu,” and it flickered on and off like a warning. In the silence, the heavy weight of impending disaster tightened my chest. What was I supposed to do now? None of my options looked good, but I’d promised my friend I’d find out what was going on with her husband. Too bad I didn’t know how complicated that would be.
The man I’d been following had pulled into the parking lot behind the bar, and I watched him come around the building to enter through the front door. He looked nothing like Kyle, the handsome Pacific Islander I’d met a few days ago.
Instead of the usual expensive slacks and button-down shirt, he wore torn jeans and a worn leather jacket. With his rough, unshaven face, and strands of dark, wavy hair dancing over his eyes, he looked like a drug dealer, or some other kind of shady character.
So what was he doing here at four in the afternoon? This was such a break from his real life as a guidance counselor at a high school for troubled kids that I could totally understand why my friend had asked for my help. Only, how was I supposed to know if this was part of his job or something worse?
The only way to find out was inside that bar. But, for some reason, I had a hard time getting out of my car. I waited a good five minutes to bolster my courage. Then, with everything screaming at me to stay put, I took a deep breath and opened the door.
Luckily, I’d worn a grey t-shirt with my black jeans and black boots, so I reached into the back seat and grabbed my black leather motorcycle jacket and slipped it on. It was near the end of April, so not too warm to wear it. And from what I’d seen, it would help me blend in with the crowd.
Next, I slung my purse over my shoulder and felt for my trusty stun-flashlight. In my other hand, I kept a tight grip on the small canister of pepper spray attached to my car keys. Knowing I couldn’t put it off any longer, I took a deep breath for courage and hurried across the street.
I hesitated at the door. Then, with my heart pounding, I swallowed my fear and stepped inside. The loud music assaulted my senses, and I squinted in the dark, needing a minute for my eyes to adjust before I could see well enough to find my way.
Taking it all in, my brows rose with surprise to find the place packed with people. At four in the afternoon. Didn’t anyone work around here?
Spotting a couple of empty stools at the bar, I quickly took a seat, wanting to go unnoticed for as long as possible. With the bartender busy, I glanced around the place, hoping to spot my quarry before he spotted me. I couldn’t see Kyle in any of the booths, but there were about four pool tables in the back. Maybe that’s where he was?
“What can I get you?” the bartender asked. He was a big, brawny guy, and the white t-shirt he wore stretched tight across his chest and biceps. Along with his earrings and the tattoos all over his arms, his unfriendly scowl brought a spike of unease to my chest.
“Uh… could I get a Diet Coke with lemon?” His gaze narrowed at my non-alcoholic order, and he took in my fresh face and wondered what I was doing there. I didn’t fit in with the usual clientele… at all. I smiled and continued, “Or lime… whatever one’s easier will work, since I like them both.”
His lips drew into a thin line before he shook his head and left to get my drink. From his thoughts, I picked up that he’d noticed me the moment I’d come in and correctly determined that I had no idea what I was doing there. I had to be meeting someone. But who was it, and what did I want with them?
He knew I wasn’t a cop, since a cop would know better than to come in here alone. And even though I tried to pull off the bad-ass look with a motorcycle jacket and boots, I should have at least tried to cover my blond hair to fit in better. Then he hoped I didn’t cause any trouble, because he had a feeling I was in way over my head. With his instincts on high alert, he glanced over at Big Kahuna’s booth, and his lips twisted with dismay. It was too late. Now I was in for it.
Alarmed, I followed his gaze to a huge man who straightened from a slouch in his booth across from the bar. He observed me with narrowed eyes like a wild tiger scenting its prey. I swallowed and noticed several more guys like him throughout the place, all of Polynesian descent. What had I stumbled into now?
Of course, not everyone looked that way, but it made me stand out more than I liked. So what was Kyle’s connection to these guys? I knew he used to play football at the university, and these guys looked like football players. Maybe he was just catching up with old friends? But if that was the case, why all the sneaking around?
In desperation, I glanced toward the back of the room, hoping to spot him. Just then, a man moved his head, leaving me with a clear view of Kyle in earnest conversation with someone in the far-corner booth. With growing unease, I tried to block out the noise and listen to his thoughts so I could get out of there, but I had a hard time getting through. Then the bartender set my drink down in front of me, breaking my concentration. “That’ll be eight dollars,” he said, asking for a higher price than the five he normally charged.
I glanced at the small glass. It was mostly ice and wasn’t even filled to the top. Worse, it didn’t include a lime or a lemon. I pursed my lips before catching his gaze. The mocking challenge in his eyes got my dander up, especially since he was thinking that I should take the hint that I wasn’t welcome and leave before something bad happened to me.
In response, I took a five-dollar bill out of my purse and set it on the counter. His brows rose at my boldness, and he thought I might be tougher than I looked, but not quite tough enough for this crowd. He was probably right, but it still hurt my feelings. Before I lost my nerve, I grabbed my drink and hurried toward Kyle’s table. I knew this might be my only chance to find out what he was up to, even if it gave me away.
END OF TEASER…