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“No,” I said. I flipped through all the cards in my wallet until I found the right one. “I’m planning on citing you for building code violations. Lots of them, asshole.” I flipped the card on the bar. It said, “Lewis Prine, State Building Inspector.” Lewis made the mistake of leaving me unattended in his office once.

Blondie stopped looking at Angie, though I could see it hurt. He stepped back a bit and looked at the card. “Don’t you guys have badges or something?”

I had one of those too. Good thing about badges, most of them look pretty much the same to the untrained eye, so I don’t have to carry fifty of them around with me. I flipped it at him, then put it back in my pocket. “All you got’s that one back door?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. Nervous. “Why?”

“Why? Why? Where’s the owner?”

“Huh?”

“The owner. The owner.”

“Bob? He’s gone home for the night.”

My luck was still holding. I said, “Son, how many floors you got here?”

He looked at me as if I’d just asked what the atmospheric density of Pluto was. “Floors? Uh, two. We got two. Rooming house’s upstairs.”

“Two,” I repeated with an air of moral revulsion. “Two floors and the only exits are on the first.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“‘Yeah’? How people on the second floor supposed to get out if there’s a fire?”

“A window?” he suggested.

“A window.” I shook my head. “How about I take you up there right now, see how well you land jumping out a fucking window? A window. Jesus.”

Angie crossed her legs, sipping her beer, enjoying this.

Blondie said, “Well...”

I said, “Well what?” I gave Angie the get-ready look. She raised her eyebrows and downed her beer happily. “Boy,” I said, “you’re gonna learn some shit tonight,” and I crossed the floor to the plywood wall and pulled the fire alarm.

No one in the barroom ran for an exit. No one really moved at all. They just turned their heads and looked at me. They seemed a bit pissed off.

But on the second floor, no one could tell if there was a fire or not. Bars always smell like smoke.

A rather large woman with a rather small sheet over her nude body and a skinny guy with a lot less coverage came down first. They barely glanced at the bar before they hopped out the door like rabbits during hunting season.

Two kids were next. Sixteen or so, both with a little acne. Probably registered as Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They flattened against the wall as soon as they cleared the last step, staring at all of us, chests heaving.

Then suddenly, Simone was there, looking very put out, looking to find someone responsible, her eyes working their way from Blondie, around the crowd of hicks, and finally settling on moi. I glanced at her but passed by, my eyes slowing and holding at a point just over her shoulder.

On Jenna Angeline.

Angie left my shoulder and disappeared around the corner, on the other side of the plywood wall. I waited, my eyes fixed on Jenna Angeline, hers finally meeting mine. They were eyes that screamed resignation. Old, old eyes. Brown and numb and too beaten to show fear. Or joy. Or life. Something passed through them, briefly, and I knew that she recognized me. Not who I was. What I represented. I was just another form of cop or collection agent or landlord or boss. I was authority, and I was coming to decide something about her life whether she liked it or not. She recognized me all right.

Angie had found the main cables and the clarion blast bleated away to nothing in one wheezing second.

I was the center of attention now, and I knew I was about to face resistance, at the very least from the Angeline sisters. Everyone except them, the bartender, and a big, going-to-fat, ex-football player type to my right faded slightly behind a haze of gauze. The football player was leaning forward on his toes and Blondie had his hand under the bar. Neither of the Angeline sisters looked like they had any intention of moving without help from a crane.

My voice seemed loud and hoarse when I said, “Jenna, I need to talk to you.”

Simone grabbed her sister’s arm and said, “Come on, Jenna, let’s go,” and started leading her toward the door.

I shook my head and stepped in front of the door, my hand already in my jacket as the football player made his move. Another hero. Probably a member of the auxiliary fire department. His right hand was heading toward my shoulder and his mouth was open, a gruff voice saying, “Hey, asshole, leave the women alone.” Before he reached my shoulder, my hand cleared my jacket and whacked his arm away and brushed my gun against his lips.

I said, “Excuse me?” and dug the muzzle of the gun hard against his upper lip.

He looked at the gun. He didn’t say anything.

I didn’t move my head, just kept my eyes on the barroom, looked everyone in the eye who’d meet mine. I felt Angie beside me, her gun steady, her breathing shallow. She said, “Jenna, Simone, I want you to get in your car and drive to the house in Wickham. We’ll be right behind you and if you try to take off, believe me, our car’s a lot faster than yours and we’ll end up talking in a ditch somewhere.”

I looked at Simone. “If I wanted to hurt you, you’d be dead now.”

Simone gave off some sort of body language that only a sister would recognize, because Jenna put a hand on her arm. “We do what they say, Simone.”

Angie opened the door behind me. Jenna and Simone passed by and walked out. I looked at Football Player, then pushed his face back with the gun. I felt the weight of it in my arm, the muscles beginning to ache, my hand stiffening and sweat popping out of the glands all over my body.

Football Player met my eyes and I could see he was thinking about being a hero again.

I waited. I leveled the gun and said, “Come on.”

Angie said, “Not here. Let’s go.” She took my elbow, and we backed out of the bar into the night.

NINE

“Sit down, Simone. Please.” Everything Jenna said came out as a weary plea.

We’d been back at the house for ten minutes and had spent all our time dealing with Simone’s ego. So far, she’d tried to push past me twice, and now she was walking toward the phone.

“Man don’t come into my house, tell me how to act,” she told Jenna, then looked at Angie. “And the man ain’t going to shoot me with the neighbors awake upstairs.” She’d started to believe that by the time she reached the phone.

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