A richard l wren mystery.., p.24
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       A Richard L. Wren Mystery-Adventure Sampler, p.24

           Richard Wren
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Gus looked around the crowded bar and beckoned to a bus boy. “Hold the fort a while, Esteban.” The boy looked overjoyed, probably with the prospect of tips, thought Josh, as he followed Gus along the bar and then through a door that led away from the noisy public area and to a corridor.

  “How’s this?” asked Gus, running his fingers through his slick hair.

  Josh reassured him he looked great and he held up the camera. He began by asking him a few basic questions about the club and Gus responded enthusiastically. Then he turned to more probing questions.

  “They tell me you know everyone’s names, that true?”

  After a further few minutes, it was clear that Gus either knew nothing of importance about Navarese, or wasn’t telling. He brought the interview to a close and followed Gus back into the bar. Hal was nowhere in sight.

  Just then he felt someone grip his elbow and all of a sudden he was being steered towards Navarese himself by one of the gang members.

  Before he could release himself from the grip, Navarese appeared before him. Josh caught a flash of light from the switchblade in his hand and he looked into the snarling face of Navarese, his eyes slitted, teeth clenched. The music was loud and Navarese had to bellow. His breath stank of cigars.

  “What do you want, asshole?” Not waiting for an answer, he went on. “I been watching you, making believe you’re filming the crowd here, while all the time you’re after me. Somebody paying you to get pictures of me? Fat chance you got ‘cos I’m on to you.” And with that he made a lunge toward the camera, but Josh was too quick and moved it out of reach. Frustrated, Navarese next made a swipe at Josh. “You son of a bitch.”

  Josh was easily able to misdirect the knife in such a way that Navarese just thought he had missed his target. Josh also gave him a slight nudge, which sent him falling back into his group. As he righted himself he snarled, “You ain’t heard the end of this yet.”

  By that time, Gus and the owner had arrived. Josh didn’t know what to expect. Navarese crouched, knife in hand as if he was about to spring at him. The rest of his group circled behind him ready to follow his lead. Then something unexpected happened. Gus, the bartender, took control. With a wave of his hand at the sound booth, the music suddenly stopped and the club was silent. “BACK OFF!!” Gus shouted.

  A surprised look replaced the snarl on Navarese’s face as he lowered the knife. To Josh it was as if a rabid attack dog had suddenly turned into something docile. In a lowered voice, audible only to Josh and Navarese, Gus continued. “One more complaint about you and your knife and I’ll see your job’s gone. You know I can do that, right?”

  Navarese slowly turned his back on Josh and with much bravado told his gang, “C’mon, let’s get out of this rat hole.” The silent crowd parted for them as they left the premises.

  Gus turned back to Josh, “I told you to stay away from them.”

  Josh apologized. “I didn’t think they’d start anything in here.”

  “Are you kidding? You saw him draw on those two at the bar, what the hell’d you expect?”

  Josh apologized again and added, “Well, it’s over now. Thanks for your help.”

  Gus hesitated a moment, then leaned over the bar and in a lowered voice, added: “If I was you, I’d be mighty careful when you leave, that guy’s vicious. And, he holds grudges. Lucky for me I’ve got a big family who can be a hell of a lot more vicious than him and he knows it. I don’t imagine you have that kind of security.”

  Josh thanked him and cast a glance around for Hal. Still no sign. This hadn’t worked out as he had hoped. He had chosen this place because it was so crowded they thought they wouldn’t be noticed when he came face to face with the enemy at last. But it hadn’t worked out that way because Navarese had such a temper and drew attention. Now the bastard was really mad.

  Josh was anxious to leave. He wanted to tail Navarese. He supposed Hal was outside in the car already so he ran to the parking lot in time to see the tall figure of Navarese fold himself into a Lincoln sedan. As far as Josh could see, he was alone. No other sign of the gang. The door of the Lincoln slammed and Josh could hear the engine start up.

  It was time. Josh raced over to his own car, relieved to see Hal inside.

  “Start her up Hal, he’s getting away.” Hal didn’t move. Josh thought he had the window closed and couldn’t hear him. As he ran around the car to get in the passenger seat, he gave the fender a huge wallop. “C’mon Hal, let’s go.”

  He wrenched the passenger door, threw the camera onto the back seat and got in, expecting to hear the engine start and Hal asking questions. With a growing sense of apprehension, Josh looked more closely at Hal. His hands were pushed into the steering wheel as if he was holding it, but his head was lolling to one side. Quickly Josh took his pulse, strong and steady. As he tried to pry his eyes open and check them, he felt the slipperiness of blood on the back of Hal’s head.

  “Oh Hal. Not again,” he mumbled.

  Josh fumbled with the seat belt, trying to get it unfastened and finally succeeded, all the while talking to Hal. “Hal, I’ll be right there. Just hang on. I’m going to lift you into the back seat and get you to the emergency room. I think you’re okay, maybe a little concussion. You’ve got a little blood on the back of your head, maybe a stitch or two, but don’t worry everything’s going to be okay.” He didn’t know if Hal could hear him or not, but he wanted to reassure him if he could.

  Backing out of the passenger door, he felt something jab into his back.

  “Gotcha you son of a bitch. Stay right where you are.”

  Josh had no illusions about what was poking him; it was unmistakably a gun barrel. But his first concern was Hal.

  “I don’t know what your beef is,” Josh said. “All I wanted to do was give the restaurant a little publicity. Most of the people inside thought it was a great idea. Look, my buddy here’s bleeding.” Josh held up his hand covered with blood. “He needs stitches.”

  “Screw him. You’re both gonna’ be bleeding a hell of a lot more than that before I’m through with you.” That was the last thing Josh heard. Someone punctuated the threat with a hard blow to the back of Josh’s head and he was out cold.

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