Chapter 1 - Phoenix

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April 23, 2010

Folding my last pair of jeans, I look around the small studio apartment where I have been living for the past six months. Everything is packed and I plan on taking it all to the thrift store in the morning. Most of what I own came from there in the first place, but I had fixed or cleaned everything so that they were in better condition than when I had gotten it all. Hopefully, I get as much money back as possible when I sell it back. The only thing I can take with me is the small bag sitting on the bed in front of me.

Four plain colored v-neck shirts and three pairs of jeans, not including the v-neck and jeans I'm already wearing, are folded neatly on the bottom of the bag. A handful of bras and underwear along with my bag of toiletries are thrown in on top. I'm surprised that all my clothes fit in the small bag. The bag is light, which is good because the other bag already waiting for me at the bus station is heavier.

The digital clock above the stove catches my attention for a moment. Almost time to go to work and I still didn't know how to tell my boss, Earl, that I'm leaving. I'll worry about it after my shift is over. One step at a time. First, I have to get there. I usually leave early enough to go to the gym before work, buy my six month membership expired yesterday. Out of time. I grab the single key to my apartment and the tube of mace next to it before locking my door and heading down the stairs.

The overhead light surges in and out with a low zwap sound as I stand in the small, closed in area at the bottom of the stairs. Long ago, people needed a key or to be buzzed in to get through the door at the building's entrance, but the lock was busted long before I got here. Through the dirty, cracked window on the door, I watch until I see the bus's headlights round the corner.

The bus stop closest to The Spade is half a mile away, but I'm much more comfortable walking in downtown Phoenix at night than in the neighborhood I'm living in. The bus had been right on schedule, so I'm in no danger of being late, but I still hurry towards the employee area when I get to work in hopes of avoiding Earl.

Clocking in one last time, I grab my name tag and look at it. Allison. A wave of sentimentality hits me and I shake it off. It has been a good name for me. Simple enough to remember and common enough to forget.

Stephanie spots me walking in her direction and waves to me before I join her behind the bar. Tips are always bigger on the nights we work together. She's an expert and taught me everything I know about pouring drinks. I watched her carefully, knowing that the faster I learn, the more I would earn. Knowing it is about to be a good night, I smile and wave back.

As we are setting up for the evening, Earl stops by to check up on us. I plaster a look of confidence on my face and smile at him. After a quick chat, he heads off to make sure everything else is ready for the evening. While I watch him walk away, guilt stabs at my heart. I should have told him that I was leaving sooner. I'll be leaving him shorthanded until he can find someone new. I don't normally have this problem with bosses. I take off and assume that they'll figure it out when I don't show up again. But, I really like Earl. There is something about him that, while I can't quite put my finger on it, I almost trust.

There isn't anything special about Earl. At least, not at first glance. He is in his early fifties and his brown hair is starting to thin at the top of his head. The laugh lines around his eyes make him seem like a happy guy, but the shadows underneath tell a different story. He walks with his hands at his side; never in his pockets or crossed over his chest. I get the feeling that he is ready to use them at a moment's notice.

As much as I like the guy, I know I can't stick around. I've already been here too long. My six months ended last week. Its only because I like and respect Earl that I'm going to tell him I'm leaving at all.

I couldn't have asked for a better night to be my last at The Spade. The lights are flashing in rhythm to the music that is so loud it practically pumps through veins. The air is warm and humid on the dance floor where scantily clad women are dancing by rubbing their bodies against their dates. People are having fun and buying drinks.

Stephanie and I work together like a well-oiled machine. When I'm behind the bar with her it almost feels like a dance. I bend over for ice as she slides out of the way to grab another glass. I turn left to get the expensive vodka and she turns right to make sure the customer spots the good stuff. It is all done without words. They aren't needed tonight.

Tonight's tips are going to make a nice addition to the duffel bag full of cash I've got in the locker at the bus station. I might be able to get a place in a better area of the next city I land in.

The hair on the back of my neck rises as a large shadow falls over me. I'm mixing a drink, so my back is turned to the bar. I glance up at the mirrored wall in front of me and breathe a sigh of relief. I don't recognize the guy leaning over the counter. But, that doesn't mean he isn't still a threat.

Stephanie's eyes open wide as I'm pulled by my shirt and large arms close around my chest. Liquor and stale cigarette hits my nose and a warm breath hits the back of my neck. I turn to get a better, close up look at the guys face and remember that Stephanie cut him off ten minutes ago. He starts ranting about getting what he wants even though what he really needs is a coffee and a good night's sleep.

Luckily, Earl is paranoid about this kind of thing and has trained us on what to do in this type of situation. I smile at the drunk guy in the mirror and tell him that if he lets go of me, I'll fix him whatever he wants. It starts to work. After all, all this guy wants is another drink and, in his drunken state, he doesn't sense that it is a trap. Stephanie snaps out of it and nods at me as Earl moves into view.

As much we've practiced this moment in training, the one thing we forgot to account for was the other people in the bar. Just when I think everything is going to be okay, someone smashes a beer bottle over the guy's head. I'm thrown back into the bar mirror and glass crashes down around me before everything goes black.

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Author's Note:

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