So I felt refreshed when I stepped into Sigmund’s office on Ashland. But still nervous.
The suite had three cubicles, one private office, and a secretary in a short skirt. She looked my business card over and lifted her phone. “Sigmund? Your 5:30 is here. All right.” She handed my card back. “Just one minute, sir.” She winked. “I’m Sheila.”
Ten minutes later Sigmund emerged from his office. He was tall, with white hair and a jagged nose, like a polar bear who’d been punched in the face. But his suit probably cost more than my car. He stuck a hand forward. “Jurgen? Come on in. I don’t have much time.”
Inside his office Sigmund sank down behind his desk. “What’s this all about, Jurgen? I’ve got another appointment in 20 minutes.”
As nervous as I was, I recognized the usual techniques—using my last name, telling me he didn’t have time for questions. Not inviting me to sit down. Sigmund was a guy who liked to establish dominance up front.
Maybe it worked on other people. I’m not very brave, but I’m stubborn when I’ve got questions to ask.
So I pulled a chair over and settled into my reporter mode. “Were you at the Tiger Club last night?”
“What?” Sigmund shook his head. “In the afternoon, yeah. I had a meeting with Kyra. The manager. You know she’s a lesbian, don’t you?”
I shrugged. “Did you talk to Franco? The bartender?”
“I might have said hello. I was busy.”
I nodded. “So, one of the dancers said she heard you saying sometime like, ‘You’ve got to do it again, tonight.’ Do you remember that?”
I expected an angry denial. Instead Sigmund just rolled his shoulders. “Maybe. I might have been on the phone setting up meetings. Who told you that?”
“Her name was Dawne. She’s dead.”
“Oh, hell.” Sigmund shook his head. “That’s too bad.”
“You want to buy out the other owners of the Tiger Club. Is that right?”
“So what?” He leaned forward, a hand on his desk. “I could do a lot with that property. It’s why I invested there in the first place. What are you getting at?”
“I bet. Did you recommend Franco to Kyra?”
“I might have. I knew him from another bar, and he was a good bartender.” Sigmund frowned. “Look, Jurgen, does this have a point? Because I have a meeting coming up.” He glanced at his phone for the time.
“Yeah, you mentioned that.” I stood up. “That’s all I need for now. Thanks for your time.”
“You know, I feel bad about what happened.” Sigmund stood to walk me to the door. “Even if I can’t really believe all this talk about monsters inside the club. Or back in the alley. Maybe someone’s on drugs or something. I just want to do business. Sheila? Call my car for twenty minutes, all right?”
“Sure thing.” The secretary lifted her phone. “Hello? Mr. Schuyler would like his car soon.” She winked at me. “Okay.” Then she leaned back in her chair. “Anything else, Mr. Jurgen?”
Sigmund’s door was closed. I stood by the edge of her desk. “Do you know a guy named Franco?”
“Franco?” Sheila giggled. “Yeah. Nice guy.”
In my car I called Kyra. “Was Sigmund at the club for a meeting yesterday afternoon?”
“Just for some financial stuff.” She coughed, as if she needed a cigarette, or she’d had too many. “He talked about buying us out again. But I put him off.”
“Was Franco around?”
“It was around three or four. He usually comes in early to set up.”
“So did you tell Sigmund about what happened in the alley?”
“Hell, no!” Kyra coughed again. “He’d think we were crazy.”
Or back in the alley. “He knew about it when I talked to him just now.”
Kyra let out a long, low breath. “Are you sure? I didn’t . . . how would he know?”
One of the dancers could have told him. Or told Franco. If he was secretly working for Sigmund . . . “Maybe we should talk.”
“Okay, we’re at the club.” She sighed. “The cops just released it, and we’re cleaning up.”
I tensed. “You’re not there alone, are you?”
“No, we’ve got Tony. He’s a bartender. And Pablo. He used to be a boxer.”
I started the car. “I’ll be right over.”
I parked and called Rachel. “I’m at the Tiger Club. Just so you know.”
“Right. That’s just what a girl wants to hear.” I could almost feel her fist punching my arm. “Listen, I was checking up on Sigmund some more. Guess what? He’s part of a bar that caters to witches.”
Witches. Well, anything’s possible in Chicago. “Okay, that’s—”
“And Franco used to be the bartender there. Until about six months ago.”
Six months. Just when Kyra had hired him—at Sigmund’s recommendation. “That’s interesting. Good work. I’ll add you as an item on my bill.”
“Just take me out to dinner. Someplace where I don’t have to carry my own tray.” She hung up.
I knocked on the front door. No answer. I pounded harder. “Hello?”
The door opened. “Hi. I’m Tony.” He was the black-haired bartender from last night. “You were here yesterday, right?”
“Tom Jurgen. Glad you’re okay.” I handed my card over. “Is Kyra here?”
“I’ll get her. Kyra!”
The nightclub looked smaller with the late afternoon sun streaming through the blinds. Last night the lights overhead had been dim and shadowy. Now they were turned on high—bright and blinding.
“Hi.” Kyra picked up an overturned bar stool and wiped her hands on her jeans. “We figured we could get the place in shape to open tomorrow night.”
“It was a crazy night.” Tony wiped a hand across his forehead. “But we can get it all cleaned up, and then—”
“Just get the blood out!” The boxer from last night—Pablo?—stood up in the VIP room with Alexa. “Who’s this guy?”
“Take a break, Pablo.” Kyra rubbed her eyes. “Hey, Tony, get us some drinks, okay?”
“What do you need?” Tony headed behind the bar. “Beer? Energy drink?”
“Just water. Kyra, maybe we should talk in your office?”
Tony poured Kyra an Irish whiskey and squirted some water into a plastic cup for me. Alexa came down from the VIP room and took a bottle of club soda from the fridge behind the bar.
Inside her office Kyra slumped behind the desk and lit a cigarette. “So what have you got?”
I took off my jacket and told them what I knew—including Rachel’s information. “There’s obviously a direct connection between Sigmund and Franco. And magic.” I had to look directly at Kyra. “You’ve been involved with witches’ groups.”
Alexa pointed her eyes at me. “Wait a minute, you’re not accusing Kyra—”
“I’m not accusing anyone.” I held up my hands. “I’m just reporting what I know.”
“Hang on.” Kyra stabbed her cigarette into an ashtray. “I know that bar you’re talking about. The Witches’ Brew. Yeah, I went there a few times, and I saw Franco there, so when Sigmund said he was looking for a job, so I hired him. Figured it would make Sigmund happy.
“Maybe Sigmund wanted him here when he decided to make his move.”
“That’s not . . .” Alexa swung her face to Kyra. “Do you think?”
“I don’t know.” Kyra opened her drawer and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. She had a stack of plastic cups on her desk, and she poured another drink. Then she lit another cigarette. “I hate to think about it. He was always great. But maybe . . .”
“It’s all conjecture,” I admitted. “There’s nothing we can prove, even in a civil case. But if you could get out from under Sigmund somehow—”
“But Franco’s dead.” Alexa stood up. “If he was really the monster—”
“There could be another one.” Kyra leaned back in her chair. “Maybe Sigmund can create more of them. Keep them coming until we get tired of it. God, I knew he was an asshole, but I never thought—”
“But how is he doing it?” Alexa looked ready to break something. “Is there sopme kind of recipe for—”
A knock at the door interrupted her. “Visitor,” Tony announced, smirking at me.
Rachel walked into the office. “Thanks, Tony.” She winked at me, waved to Alexa, and held out a hand to Kyra. “Hi, I’m Rachel.”
Kyra laughed, and then shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you. Whoever you are.”
“I remember you.” Alexa glanced at me. “You’re Tom’s girlfriend, right?”
I stood up. “Rachel works with me. Sometimes.” I shoved my chair toward her. “She must have a good reason for being here. Right?”
“I just always wanted to see what a strip joint looked like.” Rachel sat down in my chair. “Honestly, it’s not as exciting as I pictured.”
Rachel was in jeans and boots, with the shoulder bag she carried her laptop in. Kyra looked her up and down. “Come back tomorrow night when we’re open again. We might even have a job opening for you.”
I didn’t want to picture that possibility too long. I bent down behind her. “You could have called,” I whispered.
“What’s the fun in that?” Rachel opened her laptop on Kyra’s desk. “I wanted to show you something. Did Tom mention about Franco working in that witches’ bar?”
Kyra groaned. “We’ve been over that. Yeah, I know that bar. I used to hang out there. It’s how I met Franco. And Sigmund.”
“Any of these guys?” Rachel turned her laptop around. “It’s a partial list of employees for the last two years from their website. No names, just pictures, but I thought maybe you’d want to see if you know anybody else from there. You know, just in case Franco wasn’t the only sleeper agent here.”
Kyra pulled the laptop toward her, and Alexa slipped behind her, one hand on the desk as she scrolled down. “I knew her,” Kyra said, peering at the screen. “And him, he opened in the afternoon. That girl, she was weird, but harmless. I only hung out there because I was pissed off at the world. It was around the time I met you.” She put a hand on Alexa’s wrist. “Look, there’s Franco. He was—”
“Wait a minute.” Alexa pointed a finger. “Is that . . .”
“Tony.” Kyra blinked. “I don’t remember him working there.”
“Is he the guy out there now?” Rachel stood next to Alexa behind the chair.
“Yeah, him and Pablo.”
She leaned down. “Him. I got a weird vibe from him.”
Alexa cocked an eyebrow. “Like—a disturbance in the Force?”
She looked up at me. “Like something bad.”
As bad as the monster? I grabbed my jacket. With the Taser in a pocket. “I guess I’ll go talk to him.”
“I’ll come with you.” Rachel headed around the table.
Kyra stood up. “Me too.”
“Let’s not gang up on him.” I held up a hand. “You three stay here. But keep the door open. I’ll give a manly scream if I need help.”
“He’s an excellent screamer.” Rachel winked at me.
Tony was rearranging bottles behind the bar and wiping everything down. “We might be in shape to open tomorrow. If anyone shows up.” He stood. “Beer?”
“Just water, thanks.” I leaned against the bar. The nightclub looked different from this side. And with all the lights on. “So, do you know Sigmund?”
“Yeah, he’s one of the owners.” He squirted water into a plastic cup.
“Before you worked here?”
That stiffened him up. “I worked at a bar called the Witches’ Brew. Weird place. He used to hang out there. So did a lot of, uh—well, they talked about witchcraft and magic and stuff. And dating.”
“What was he doing there?”
Tony shifted his feet. “I think he was trying to buy the place. He buys and sells. I don’t know.”
“Franco worked there too, didn’t he?”
“Yeah. We didn’t know each other that well. But he was good.”
“I don’t know about that.” He shrugged.
“You saw the beast last night.” I sipped my water. “What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know, man.” Tony stepped back. “It was crazy.”
“What’s going on?”
I managed not to jump. Pablo was right behind me. “Just talking to Tony.”
“It’s all right.” Tony yanked a green and yellow bottle out of the cooler. “Have something to drink.”
Pablo grinned and pulled unscrewed the top. “Thirsty work. You think we can open tomorrow?”
“Maybe.” Tony pointed at my cup. “More water?”
I remembered Tony handing Franco another bottle last night. One with green and yellow stripes. Right before the beast showed up. “Wait—”
But Pablo gulped half the bottle down in one swallow before I could yank it from his fist, spilling most of the rest across the floor. “What the hell?” Pablo yelled.
“What’s in this?” I held the bottle up in Tony’s face. “Rachel?”
Tony backed away. “What are you talking about? Who are you again? I don’t know—”
Rachel burst through the door behind the bar. “Tom? Tom! Are you—” She slid in the puddle and grabbed the edge of the bar. “Whoa.”
I handed the bottle to her. “Anything from this?”
She took it, then looked at the floor. She lifted up one foot, checking out the sole of her boot. Then she flung the bottle across the bar. “We’re in trouble.”
Rachel’s psychic powers can be a little hit or miss. But I’d learned to trust them. Especially when she was this firm.
Kyra and Alexa stormed forward. “What’s going on? Tony?”
“I don’t know!” Tony jabbed a finger at me. “This guy—”
I darted from behind the bar to pick up the now empty bottle. Aside the green and yellow stripes, it was blank. No name, no brand. “What’s in here, Tony?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He sat up on the bar and swung his legs over to the other side. “I’m out of here.”
“Wait a minute.” I didn’t know if I could physically stop him, but I had too many questions left. “Tell us more about—”
“Tom!” Rachel shrieked. And she doesn’t shriek often.
I turned. Kyra and Alexa were staggering back toward the door. But Kyra leaned down and grabbed a big bottle of whiskey. “Get out of my bar!”
Pablo was gone. The monster lurched forward, growling.
Not again. “Rachel! Get them back upstairs!” Mostly I wanted to get Rachel as far away as possible, but I figured she might run if she was helping someone else.
Kyra hurled the whiskey bottle at the beast just as I flung the empty can of—whatever it was. My can bounced off its chest. Kyra’s bottle hit it in the neck, and it howled in fury as Rachel pulled on Alexa’s arm.
“Get out of my club!” Kyra pulled another bottle from behind the bar. “I’ve worked too long—”
“Kyra!” Alexa ducked as the bottle flew. “Come on!”
Damn it. Rachel was still too close to the monster. I plunged a hand into my jacket for my Taser. “Hey you! Ugly!” I waved an arm, my fingers shaking as I fumbled with the Taser. “Take this, you bastard!”
The first dart hit its arm. It swung around roaring, the liquor from Kyra’s bottle dripping down its neck. I fired my weapon again, a straight shot at the thing’s chest. It slammed a thick fist down on the bar, and then leaped forward. At me.
“Run!” I dropped the Taser and backed away, pushing bar stools at its feet. I knew I couldn’t outrun it to the door, but all I cared about was making sure Rachel got away.
Okay, I cared about getting away myself. I’m not a hero. But the monster was too big, its hairy legs too long. It claws looked too sharp. It had killed Dawne. Or at least the beast last night—just like it—had slashed her and sliced her.
I tripped and fell flat on my butt. Scrambled back as the beast lumbered toward me. I grabbed for my cell phone. Maybe the cops would show up and shoot it before it found its way to Rachel.
Tony kicked the cell phone out of my hand. “Sorry, Tom.” He shrugged. “It’s just business.”
The beast loomed over me.
“Pablo!” I held my arms high. “Pablo, it’s me! And you’re—you! You don’t have to do this!”
The monster roared.
Kyra pitched a bottle of vodka. She hit the beast in the back, and it stormed toward her. She spun around herself and leaped through the door behind the bar, slamming it hard enough to rattle the mirror over the liquor bottles.
No sign of Rachel. Good.
I rolled over and pulled myself up. Tony was blocking the door, a worried look on his face.
I’m not much of a fighter, but I was scared and desperate. So I charged him, swinging my fists as wildly as a six-grader in a playground scuffle.
I surprised him—or Tony wasn’t much of a fighter either. I hit him in the stomach and he staggered back with a grunt. Then I had my hand on the door.
Tony tried to pull me back, swearing, but the monster had turned again, looking for something to lash out against. Suddenly Tony was pulling at the door too, pushing me through.
I confess I thought about trying to push him back inside with the monster. After all, he’d tried to kill all of us. And last night’s beast had killed Dawne and the others. But I couldn’t just leave Tony in there to get ripped to shreds. Plus, I wasn’t strong enough to hold the door against him.
He stumbled against me on the sidewalk. Streetlights and the moon cast shadows on the concrete as a man walking two dogs veered around us, staring with suspicion.
I patted my pocket, then remembered that Tony had kicked my cell phone away. I grabbed his arm. “Give me your phone!”
To my surprise, he held it out. “The monster—it won’t stay long.”
“Shut up.” I’ve got Rachel’s number on speed-dial—and in my memory. I punched the digits as fast as my trembling fingers could move. “Is Pablo going to die?”
“I don’t know.” He backed away from the door. “I didn’t think—”
My chest unclenched at the sound of Rachel’s voice. “Where are you?”
“Right behind you, dummy.”
I turned around. Rachel and the other two were running around the corner of the building.
I put Tony’s phone in my pocket. “Where did you get that stuff?”
“S-Sigmund.” Tony swallowed. “I think he got the mixture from someone at the Witches’ Brew.”
I rolled my eyes. “Why the hell didn’t he send a couple of thugs over to beat people up? Like a normal gangster?”
Tony leaned against a garbage can, still gasping for breath. “He figured it would be better if it was something no one would believe it. Or remember. Not everyone has a clear memory of the thing. That’s what he said.” He bent down, groaning. “No one was really supposed to get hurt! Just scare people.”
“Well, we’re scared.” I backed away Kyra stalked toward us. “And really pissed off.”
“Tony? Goddamn it!” Kyra planted her feet on the sidewalk. “That thing is wrecking my nightclub! You’re fired!”
Rachel grabbed my hand. “Are you—you know—all right? Not that I care or anything.” She kissed my cheek.
I hugged her shoulder. “I’m fine now. I think. I just have to . . .” I looked at the door. “We need to check on Pablo.”
“Oh god.” Alexa grabbed Kyra’s arm.
I stepped to the door, ready to dash if it suddenly burst open. Rachel bent over my shoulde.
We listened and waited together. Even Tony. After five minutes, Rachel put her hand on the door. “It’s quiet.”
“Okay.” I put my hand on the door handle. My throat felt dry. “Stand back and I’ll—”
“No.” Alexa nudged me out of the way. “It’s my club. And Pablo works for me.”
I sighed with cowardly relief. Kyra stood behind her as she sorted through a set of keys and then shoved at the door.
Pablo lay on the floor, still breathing, his clothes shredded like Franco’s. Rachel followed the two women in and knelt besides him, checking his pulse and respiration. She’s not a nurse, but she’d taken a few lifesaving classes. “I think he’s fine. If he doesn’t wake up in a few minutes, we should call an ambulance.”
“I should maybe go.” Tony stood in the doorway. “I mean, I’m fired, right?”
“Shut up.” I pulled Tony into the nightclub and shoved him toward a chair. “Sit.”
Tony sat. Wow. No one ever listened to me like that. I felt like Batman. “Uh, Kyra?”
“What?” No one ever snarled at Batman like she did, so I was back to feeling like Tom Jurgen again. “So I’ve got sort of an idea of what we could do . . .”
Two hours later Sigmund walked in to Kyra’s office with a self-satisfied sneer. His grin faded somewhat when he saw all of us crowded in: Kyra and Alexa behind the desk, me and Rachel in a corner, Tony and Pablo at the door.
Pablo had woken up after five minutes. No memory of his transformation. But when I told him what Tony had given him to drink, we barely managed to stop him from beating Tony to a senseless pulp. Alexa gave him a T-shirt sporting the Tiger Club logo, and Kyra found some sweatpants that would fit him.
Now he looked at Sigmund as if he just wanted five minutes in the ring with him. No gloves, just fists and anger.
“What’s going on?” Sigmund leaned against the door and crossed his arms. “You said you were ready to make a deal.”
“We are.” Kyra tilted back in her chair. “We’re going to buy you out.”
He chuckled. “That’s not what you want to do.”
Alexa leaned forward. “Last night a monster killed one of my people. And a customer! And sent three more to the hospital. And you did that, you asshole.”
“You can’t prove I had anything to do with that.” Sigmund laughed. “A monster in your bar? Who believes that?”
“Let’s see.” I stepped forward. “Why don’t you take a look at the deal?”
Kyra slid an envelope across her desk. “Here’s our offer.”
Sigmund snapped it open. He laughed again. “This is a joke.”
“Is it funny?” Alexa sauntered around the desk. She looked as sexy in jeans and a sweatshirt as she had in her red lingerie last night. “That’s our offer. Take it or leave.”
Sigmund ripped the envelope up and threw it on the floor. “Screw both of you bitches. This place is going down.”
“Watch your language, punk.” Pablo folded his muscular arms across his chest.
“Oh, for god’s sake—” Sigmund stood up. “Are we done here?”
“So you deny any knowledge of the monsters here.” I looked around the room, making sure everyone heard me. “Is that right?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He stood up. “Is that all? Or are we—”
“Then let’s have a drink together.” I held out a hand. “And then you can decide.”
He chuckled. “A drink?”
Tony coughed. He held out a bottle, green and yellow stripes.
I took it from his hand. “Everyone out of the room.”
Rachel stared at me. “What are you doing?”
I unscrewed the cap. “Everyone out of the room. Except Sigmund.”
Tony and Pablo made their way to the door. Kyra scowled, but she followed Alexa. “Are you coming?”
“Hell, no.” Rachel perched her butt on the edge of the desk and glared. “I can’t believe we didn’t talk about this.”
“Rachel?” I clutched the bottle with both hands. “Come on. Please leave.”
She looked ready to slap me. But then she stood up and marched to the door. “See if I do any more favors for you, Tom Jurgen!” The door shuddered as she slammed it.
Sigmund shook his head. “You can drink all of that. It doesn’t prove anything.”
“Scared?” I grabbed two plastic cups from the stack on Kyra’s desk. “Let’s try this.”
He watched as I poured the drink into both cups. “Count of three?” I smiled. But my heart was pounding as usual.
Sigmund glared. I stared back. For a moment I like felt like I was in the final standoff in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Was I Clint Eastwood? Or Lee van Cleef? Or the other guy? One of them ended up dead. I couldn’t remember which.
“Screw you.” Sigmund grabbed his cup. “I only wanted to scare you people, but I guess you don’t even know what’s good for you.” He drank the liquid down.
I gulped mine. “How long does it take?”
“Not long.” He pushed his chair back and stood up, pulling his necktie off and dropping his coat on the floor. “Two, three minutes after you drink it. Then you’ll be a monster, so full of rage and pain you’ll destroy everything in sight. These sluts, your girlfriend—”
“Godzilla vs. the Thing, right.” I pushed my chair back. “Where’d you get it?”
“This witch I knew. I didn’t believe it at first, but then I mixed some up and tried it on a cat. It got crazy. And then it died.” He whipped his belt off.
“A cat?” Bastard.
“I guess Tony gave Franco too much. The idiot.”
“Yeah.” I could feel the stuff boiling in my stomach. I had to do something before Sigmund dropped his pants. So I stood up.
“Speaking of idiots—” I pulled my Taser from my jacket, loaded with two fresh darts. “Did you really think I’d drink that stuff? I don’t even like regular Red Bull.”
Sigmund froze in the middle on unbuttoning his cuffs. “What?”
“Guys!” I raised my voice. “Come on in!”
The door opened. Kyra and Alexa marched in, smirking. Rachel punched me. “I’m never pretending you can tell me what to do again.”
“Noted.” I grinned.
Tony and Pablo stayed out in the hall as Kyra sat down and opened her desk. “Do you want to take another look at our offer?” She dropped a second envelope in front of him.
Sigmund looked around the small room, glaring at all of us. “You haven’t proved anything.”
“Except that you were lying when you said you didn’t know anything about the monsters.” I picked up the bottle and set it down again.
“So what? No one’s going to believe—”
“We’ve got it recorded.” Kyra pressed a button on her desk phone.
“—three minutes after you drink it. Then you’ll be a monster, so full of rage and pain you’ll destroy everything in sight, these sluts, your girlfriend—”
Kyra shut it off. “So are you ready to deal? Or should we play this for your friends? Some of them will think you’re crazy. The rest won’t want to do any kind of business with you.” She opened her drawer and pulled up a second envelope. “This is our new offer.”
He scowled. “You think this is going to stand up in court?”
“We both know this isn’t going to end up in court, Sigmund.” I put the Taser away. “So you lost. Get used to it. Move on.”
He looked ready to punch me. Maybe the warning in Rachel’s eyes changed his mind. Instead he snatched the envelope. “The hell with all of you.”
Kyra slid a pen across the desk. He signed the documents and stuffed the check into his wallet. Then he picked up his cost and necktie off the floor and stomped to the door. “Losers.”
Kyra sighed. “I guess we’re not re-opening tomorrow night. Hey, Pablo! You can take off. Tony?”
He peeked through the door. “Yeah?”
“You’re still fired. Get lost.”
His shoulders drooped. “Okay.”
I stood up. “I’d stay and help clean up, but Rachel will tell you my cleaning skills leave much to be desired.”
“Just send me your bill.” She stood up and shook my hand. “Thanks.”
Alexa hugged me and kissed my cheek. “Yes. Thank you.” Then she hugged Rachel. “You too.”
We walked down the narrow steps. “So it actually worked.” I felt tired. “Good for us.”
She punched my arm. “I can’t believe you drank that stuff. Even if it was just Sprite with extra sugar.”
“Yeah. I hope she gets rid of it. All of it.” I swallowed. I needed a drink of water.
# # #