Chapter 12 - A Sharp Welcome

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I enter the hotel with butterflies in my stomach, and this time it's not Inez's pancakes. Pete is the last person I want to see, expecting another lecture from him. Or possibly he'll handcuff and lock me in a room. All I can do is start with an apology and hope for the best.

A thirty-something woman with short brown hair and a Super 8 uniform stands behind the front desk, smiling as I approach. "You must be Barry."

I nod and guess my height's the dead giveaway, like it always is.

"Nice to meet you," she says all perky like. "I'm Fig,"

As happy as she seems, maybe I'm not in as much hot water as I thought. Ha, wishful thinking.

"Pete is at the convent. He said for you to go upstairs and find Nassar if you showed up."

"Okay." While I won't have to face Pete, I'm not off the hook. Nassar will be pissed I took off on him this morning.

"Before you go, could you do me a favor and bring that upstairs?" She points at a crate sitting near the end of the counter. It's filled with liquor. "Tell Nassar that the pizza will arrive any minute?"

"Sure." I pick up the crate by its handles and head toward the elevator. When the doors slide opens three men and a woman rush out. They vary in ages and are casually dressed. They pay no attention to me and I do the same. Seconds later, they're gone beyond the closing doors.

On the fourth floor, the tile is sticky, making me squeamish about what's been going on all day. And there's the usual smell of cigarette smoke. The place is quiet until I approach an open door, where a Viking axe flies into the hallway and lands at my feet. My body shakes and the bottles clink in the crate. Pete warned me about his wild crew. Too bad running away is no longer an option.

I take a few steps backward, ready for the next lethal weapon to launch my way.

A tall guy with rusty hair and a full beard rushes into the hallway. The top of his head looks as if he gave himself a haircut with hedge shears. He sees me and laughs. "Howdy, Chump." He reaches out with a muscular arm and chunky hand to shake.

"What the hell?" My body tenses, offended he's calling me the chump, when he's the idiot who could have beheaded me.

"Chump." It's Nassar, still wearing the red silk robe from this morning, but he's lost the heels and put on jeans. "Stop harassing Barry."

"I'm not." He drops his hand and stands with his chest out, his pecs well-defined under his blue t-shirt. "Can't be too careful around here these days, thanks to him."

"You're Chump?" I ask, now understanding he was introducing himself.

"For him, it's an appropriate name." Nassar turns to the man. "Did you print the leases and sharpen all the weapons?"

Chump puffs out his lower lip and exhales hard. His overgrown mustache hairs flutter. "Weapons are always ready, but the damn printing's a pain in my ass." He leans over to pick up the axe.

"Well, then, get back to it," Nassar says.

"Make him do it." Chump stares daggers at me. "It's his fault the leases sunk with the boarding house."

I sigh. There it is. Everyone blaming me again. Then again, I can't argue I've been a asshole, worried only about Nina.

"Chump." Nassar glares at him.

"Fine, you want the printing done, I'm taking this." He pulls a bottle of bourbon from the crate, then throws the axe over his shoulder. As he stomps back into his room, coins jingle in the pocket of his cargo shorts.

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