He frowned at his hands as he popped the tops off the bottles. “She’s…well, every now and then you get someone in this town who’s just unique. Full of spirit and life. Angie’s like that. I’d rather die myself than see harm come to a girl like that.”

Phil was gripping his beer bottle so hard I was afraid it would shatter in his hand.

“Thanks, Gerry,” I said. “She’s going to be fine, though.”

“Well, that calls for a drink.” He poured himself a shot of Jameson’s, raised the glass. “To Angie’s recovery.”

We touched bottles to glass and drank.

“You’re okay though, Patrick?” he asked. “I heard you were in the middle of the firefight, too.”

“Fine, Gerry.”

“Thank the good Lord for that, Patrick. Yes, sir.”

Behind us, music suddenly exploded in our ears and Phil jerked around in his seat. “Fuck!”

Gerry smiled and touched a switch under the bar, and the volume descended rapidly until the wall of noise became a song I recognized.

“Let It Bleed.” Absolutely fucking perfect.

“Jukebox kicks on automatically two minutes after I

come through the door,” Gerry said. “Sorry to spook you.”

“No problem,” I said.

“You okay, Phil?”

“Huh?” Phil’s eyes were the size of hubcaps. “Fine. Fine. Why?”

Gerry shrugged. “You just seem a little jumpy.”

“No.” Phil shook his head violently. “Not me. Nope.” He gave us both a broad, sickly smile. “I’m aces, Gerry.”

“O-kay,” Gerry said and smiled himself, gave me another curious look.

This man kills people, a voice whispered. For fun. Dozens of people.

“So anything new?” Gerry asked me.

Kills, the voice whispered.

“Huh?” I said.

“Anything new?” Gerry repeated. “I mean outside of getting in a shootout last night and all.”

He dissects people, the voice hissed, while they’re still alive. And screaming.

“No,” I managed. “Outside of that, everything’s been pretty status quo, Ger.”

He chuckled. “A wonder you’ve made it this far, Patrick, the life you lead.”

They beg. And he laughs. They pray. And he laughs. This man, Patrick. This man with the open face and the kind eyes.

“Luck of the Irish,” I said.

“Don’t I know it.” He raised his glass of Jameson’s and winked, downed it. “Phil,” he said as he poured another, “what’re you doing these days?”

“What?” Phil said. “How do you mean?”

Phil clung to his seat like a rocket to its booster, as if the countdown had already begun and any second he’d shoot up through the roof.

“For work,” Gerry said. “You still work for Galvin Brothers?”

Phil blinked. “No, no. I’m, ah, a private contractor now, Gerry.”

“Steady work?”

This man opened Jason Warren’s body up and amputated his limbs, severed his head.

“What?” Phil sucked some beer from the bottle. “Oh, yeah, pretty steady.”

“You guys are a little slow tonight,” Gerry said.

“Ha-ha,” Phil said weakly.

This man hammered Kara Rider’s hands into frozen dirt.

His fingers snapped in front of my face.

“You still with us, Patrick?”

I smiled. “Take another beer, Gerry.”

“Sure thing.” He kept his eyes on me, steady and curious, as he reached behind him into the cooler.

Behind us “Let It Bleed” had given way to “Midnight Rambler” and the harmonica sounded like a persistent chuckle from the grave.

He handed me the beer, and his hand touched mine around the icy bottle as he did so and I resisted the urge to recoil.

“FBI interrogated me,” he said. “You hear about that?”

I nodded.

“The questions they asked, my God. Sure, they’re just doing their jobs, I understand, but the miserable cunts, I swear.”

He flashed his smile at Phil, but it didn’t fit those words, and suddenly I was aware of a smell that had been in here with us since we entered. It was a sweaty, musky smell, commingled with the stewy stench of matted hair and flesh.

It wasn’t coming from Gerry or Phil or me, because it wasn’t the smell of a human. It was the smell of an animal.

I glanced at the clock over Gerry’s shoulder. Fifteen minutes exactly since I’d talked to Devin.

Where was he?

I could still feel his hand where it had glanced off mine around the beer bottle. The skin burned.

That hand plucked out Peter Stimovich’s eyes.

Phil was leaning to his right, peering at something around the corner of the bar and Gerry looked at both of us and his smile evaporated.

I knew the silence was heavy and uncomfortable and suspicious, but I couldn’t think how to break it.

That smell rose into my nostrils again, and it was sickly warm, somehow, and I knew it came from my right, from the pitch black of the pool room.

“Midnight Rambler” ended and the silence that replaced it for a moment filled the bar.

I could just barely hear a low, almost imperceptible chugging sound coming from the pool room. The sound of breathing. Patton was back in the dark somewhere, watching us.

Talk, Patrick. Talk or die.

“So, Ger,” I said and my throat felt dry, as if the words would strangle in my throat, “what’s new with you?”

“Not much,” he said, and I knew he’d given up on small talk. He watched Phil openly now.

“You mean outside of being interrogated by the FBI and all?” I grinned, tried to bring the forced lightness back to the room.

“Outside of that, yeah,” Gerry said, his eyes on Phil.

“The Long Black Veil” took “Midnight Rambler’s” place. Just one more song about death. Wonderful.

Phil stared at something around the corner of the bar, on the floor, out of my eyesight.

“Phil,” Gerry said. “Something interest you?”

Phil looked up sharply and then his eyes half-hooded over, as if he were completely nonplussed.

“No, Ger.” He smiled and held out his hands. “Just looking at that dog bowl on the floor, and, you know, the food in there’s wet, like Patton was just chewing it. You sure he’s upstairs?”

It was supposed to sound casual. I’m sure that’s how he intended it. But it came out sounding anything but.

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