Quiet Lost is a story of betrayal, murder, love and lost love. It will require several chapters to tell Neil’s story.
Saturday night, September 12
Neil walked in the house and hung his keys on the key rack by the door, his coat in the closet.
“It sure is quiet here without Cassie,” he said loudly to the empty entrance hall.
Samantha peeked around the corner, a dish towel thrown over her shoulder. “Just finishing the dinner dishes.” She walked up and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thanks for driving her to the sleep-over party.”
“Sarah’s mom said to not pick her up until at least noon tomorrow,” said Neil. “She’ll be grumpy all day after staying up half the night. Did Brad leave? I didn’t see his truck out front.”
“Yep, right after you and Cassie did. He said to not wait up for him.”
“Good, maybe he’ll get lucky out there in his nether-world, and he’ll have a sleepover till tomorrow.” Neil kissed Samantha softly. She leaned into him, walking her hands slowly up his neck and into his hair, making little circles with her fingertips, massaging deeply.
“Ooh, your magic hands.”
Her eyes dilated; he wanted to jump into the depths.
He slid his hands down her back, over the curve of her hips and up under her sweater. “Can I take your clothes off?”
She raised an eyebrow, gave him a lopsided grin and headed for the stairs her hand out behind her. Neil took hold and followed.
Samantha’s head rested on Neil’s shoulder. “First time today I’ve been warm.” She ran her fingers down his arm and over his chest, tracing muscles. “Today was fun; you and Brad didn’t have a single argument. Cassie sure loves her uncle.”
“Hmm,” Neil replied lazily, hands behind his head, eyes closed. “I wish he’d stay in California… or anywhere but here.”
“Maybe he’s changed, maybe…” her sentence faded, “I don’t know.”
“I doubt it, Sam.” He visualized Brad leaning toward him, eyes glaring. “He can put on the good-guy act for a day or two, but the real Brad will show himself – you know that – and he’s liable to break Cassie’s heart.”
Samantha looked at Neil, a pleading for charity in her eyes.
He felt an unavoidable sadness. “Sorry, he needs to prove to me he can be trusted. I’ve tried all my life to trust him, and he always proves otherwise. And now he’s going to be right under our noses. It burns me up.”
He flipped off the bedside lamp, turned toward Samantha, dropping his arm across her waist and kissed her forehead. “I don’t want to talk about him anymore.”
“Mmm, ok,” Samantha said sleepily.
“Isn’t it too early to go to sleep?” Neil mumbled as he felt his mind drifting.
“Can you get that?” Samantha nudged Neil’s shoulder, her voice thick with sleep.
“Huh? Oh. Yeah.” Neil felt around on the bedside table till he found the phone. “Hello.”
“Are you Neil?” a man’s voice inquired loudly. Country music blared in Neil’s ear.
“Who’s asking?” He propped himself up on one elbow and turned on the bedside lamp.
“My name’s Billy. I’m the manager at the Old Boulder Bar. There’s a man here, says his name is Brad and you’re his brother.”
“Yeah, that’d be me. Is there a problem?”
“Well, he’s drunk, walking crooked, so I figure no way he can drive – used to be it wasn’t our responsibility, ya know? Humph. I confiscated his keys. He says he doesn’t have any money for a cab – he sure had money for drinks, though – , I gotta talk to my staff about that one. Anyway, he needs a ride.”
Neil looked at his watch – 11:00 – that was early by Brad’s standards. He glanced over at Samantha, sound asleep.
“Ok, tie him up until I get there.”
A chuckle, “I hear ya.”
“Can his pickup stay there until I can get it in the morning?”
“Sure, man. No problem. Ask for Billy when ya get here.”
Neil walked up to the booth just inside the door of the Old Boulder Bar. “Can I talk to Billy, the manager? I need to give someone a ride.”
“Are you Neil?” asked a pretty girl with a cowboy hat and a very low-cut blouse.
“He said to go to the back pool-room bar – no cover charge.” She pointed and held out a set of keys. “Through that arched walkway. He told me to give you these.”
Men stood shoulder to shoulder at the numerous bars in the expansive room, all eyes scanning for available females. A band played on an elevated stage to his right, in front of a hardwood dance floor crowded with boots and hats. He maneuvered carefully in the semi-darkness. Every table appeared to be occupied; the noise level in the dangerous decibel range.
He passed through the walkway and squinted as he allowed his eyes to adjust to the relative brightness. The music moved into a backdrop of acceptable noise. Pool tables, shuffle boards and dart boards were placed strategically, each with its own lighting and plenty of elbow room.
He spotted Brad at the back of the room just as he took a clumsy swing at a short, dark-haired man, missed him and spun around drunkenly. He grabbed the edge of the bar to keep from falling. An uppercut from the swarthy, well-muscled opponent caught Brad under the chin, and he fell back into another man. Taller, suave, with slightly lighter skin, but apparently a member of the same gym, he spun Brad around and punched him in the stomach.
As Neil ran forward, he heard a grunt of air blasting out of Brad’s lungs. He grabbed the shorter man just as he was yanking Brad upright. Neil jabbed twice before the guy realized what was happening and then landed a hook just under his sternum. He groaned and bent over.
Brad was lying on his side in a fetal position. He pushed himself onto his hands and knees and vomited. The taller man kicked him hard in the ribs.
Neil hollered, “Hey!”
Suave-guy turned to Neil and said with a Mexican accent, “You making this your business? You want to help this scum pay us what he owes us?” He moved forward and threw a jab.
Neil dipped and returned a right cross to his jaw. Anger flashed in the guy’s eyes. Good! Get emotional. Neil bent his knees; his whole upper body rotated fast and hard as he spun out his left fist from his shoulder. He kept his feet grounded to the floor as he swiveled and felt the force travel up his legs providing power to the punch.
He saw disbelief as he stared in his opponent’s eyes. Bet you didn’t think a white boy could fight. Neil followed with two hooks to the stomach. The guy bent over, and Neil knew it’d be several seconds before he could recover. He helped Brad stand up while he looked over his shoulder for swarthy-guy who was coming at him snorting like the Toro zeroed-in on the red cape.
Neil let go of Brad, turned to throw a punch, but the guy moved straight for him, coming in for a head-butt, reaching both arms up to grab Neil’s neck. In a counter-move that was as automatic as breathing, Neil grabbed the collar of the shorter man’s shirt thrust him away and pulled him back causing a whiplash effect. He leaned forward, looking toward the floor and jammed the crown of his head into the top part of the man’s face. The bull dropped like a rock. Neil looked down at him, surprised.
Brad was leaning on the bar, his head slowly bobbing in front of him. Neil grabbed his arm, “Move! Now!”
Brad stumbled. Neil pulled Brad’s arm over his shoulder and they shuffled forward.
At the archway, Neil looked back to see if anyone was following them – the taller man was bent over holding his stomach moving toward his buddy still prone on the floor. “Come on, let’s get out of here before they come to their senses.” Brad’s red eyes gazed unfocused at his brother. Neil held on tighter and dragged him through the crowded tables, banging into chairs, patrons cussing and moving out of their way.
The cold air outside was a relief. Neil pushed Brad into the back seat of his BMW. “Whatever you do, don’t hurl in my car.”
He heard Brad moan as they spun out of the parking lot.
Click on Quiet Lost: Chapter 7 to the right.