She slid a three-by-five pictograph engraved with Gagmar’s likeness toward the bartender.
The man picked up the picture. “A Chamaeleon?”
Gaelyn nodded. “He can change the color of his skin, as well as the texture.”
“It’s a good thing they wear clothes.” The deformity of his lips slurred his words. “Otherwise you’d never see ’em. Yeah, he was here. ’Bout a day or so ago. Said he needed to ditch some bounty bitch.”
He glanced at her, a smirk tugging at the corner of his crooked mouth.
Gaelyn snorted. “Did he say how long he’d be staying?”
The bartender shook his head. “Nope. But I expect he’s still around. You might check the ice tunnels in Sector 2. Them lizard folk don’t feel cold like the rest of us. Seems a good place to start.”
She thanked him for the information, downed her drink in one gulp, and handed him the empty shot glass. “Hey,” she said, just as he turned to leave, “anyone else asked about him?”
The bartender pondered her a moment, contemplating his response. He nodded and leaned toward her. “Big guy. Long black hair. Red skin. Looked like the devil ’imself.”
His voice scarcely reached a whisper. The mingled aromas of bourbon and cigarettes danced on his breath, combined with the putrid odor of infected flesh. Gaelyn tried not to gag. “Reese,” she groaned, leaning back in her chair to escape the smell.
Maybe it’s someone else. Reese shouldn’t be here. Couldn’t be here. He’s not the only Trøndite around, right?
Before asking him anything else, the door to the bar creaked open. The hairs on Gaelyn’s neck stood at attention. Straining to see around the bartender’s impeding frame, she caught a glimpse of the scale-skinned figure standing in the threshold.
Their glares locked across the smoke-filled room. His forest-green eyes narrowed and his lips peeled back in a sneer, revealing razor sharp teeth. The texture and color of his skin instantly changed to match the scarred wood grain of the front door. Only his khaki pants and brown leather coat prevented him from blending right in, becoming near invisible to the naked eye.
“I’ll have to settle my bill later.” Gaelyn jumped to her feet and practically knocked the bartender aside as she moved to get around him.
While she doubted he’d send the cops after her for one unpaid shot of whiskey, she didn’t make a habit of dodging bar tabs. She always kept her word. Once she’d either captured or secured her hit, she’d return and pay up.
“Sure,” he replied, trying to get out of her way.
By the time she sidestepped the stunned bartender, Gagmar had turned tail and run. The front door stood ajar from his hasty retreat.
“Dammit!” Whipping a stun gun from her hip holster, Gaelyn raced out the door after him.
An empty alley greeted her. She scanned the pathway from front to back, top to bottom, slowly making her way behind the bar. It appeared as though he’d vanished.
Her eyes strained to see an outline, a shape, anything.
I know he’s here!
But without her de-cloaking goggles, she’d never see him, even if he stood against the wall right in front of her.
That slimy son of a…
She spotted what looked to be an article of clothing tucked behind a pile of empty crates near the back door. Using the toe of her boot, she pulled the item from its hiding spot. Instantly recognizing the khaki pants, she knew she’d been duped.
“Dammit!” Re-holstering her weapon, she retraced her steps and went back inside the bar. Ignoring the bewildered patrons who’d all stopped to watch her entrance, she went straight for the counter.
“Where are the ice caves?” she demanded, not waiting for the bartender to finish pouring his customer’s drink. “What’s the quickest way there?”
The bartender nodded toward a shrouded figure seated at the other end of the counter.
Gaelyn clenched her teeth. She didn’t have time for games. Glancing at the cloaked being through narrowed eyes, she quickly evaluated any potential level of threat.
Male. Tall. Well-built. Who is this guy? Where’d he come from?
She hadn’t noticed him before.
With an air of “don’t-fuck-with-me” in her step, she made her way toward him. “The bartender seems to think you can be of some assistance,” she declared, stopping a mere six inches to the left of the man’s seated frame.
He ignored her, choosing instead to take a long swig from his mug. Soft black leather encased thick fingers and a wide palm. The large stein looked small in his massive hand. Despite her skills in combat, she contemplated pressing on. This was one big motherfucker; the last thing she needed to do was piss him off. But Gagmar was getting away. She didn’t have time to coddle.
Removing her laser from its holster on her left thigh, she plopped it onto the countertop. Her hand rested lightly on its black metallic shape, her finger hugging the trigger. “Well?”
“I can take you there, for a price,” he replied, his deep voice a thunderous rumble within his muscular chest.
Annoyed, she lifted her chin. “Name it,” she growled.
The man chuckled. “It’ll be steep,” he warned. “Perhaps more than you’re willing to pay.”
Gaelyn’s patience wore thin. They wasted precious time. Is this guy gonna get down to business or what?
Struggling to see his face beneath the shadowed hood, she leaned a little closer. “Look, buddy. I don’t have time for games. Either name your price or I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
He glanced over at her, his onyx, deep-set eyes two bottomless black pits within his handsome angular face. “I want half the booty. For starters.”
Gaelyn’s breath caught in her throat. Reese.
This wasn’t happening.
He pulled back his hood, letting the heavy material fall onto his broad shoulders in a neatly folded pleat. “Hello, Gael. It’s been a long time.”
Her right fist clenched at her waist. With forced control, she resisted the urge to knock that superior smirk right off his handsome face. “Reese,” she said through clenched teeth. “It’s been three months. Or maybe you don’t remember.”
Reese chuckled. “I remember. From the tone of your voice, I suppose you’re still pissed about that.”
Gaelyn glared at him. “I needed that money.”
He looked her up and down, his gaze hesitating at her breasts and the juncture of her thighs before returning to her face. “Looks like you did well enough without it. I heard you bested Amoz out of a good ship. It’s about time someone put that fat ass in his place. I’m glad it was you.”
Gaelyn snorted. “I seriously doubt that.”
Reese shrugged and returned to his drink.
Taking a deep calming breath, Gaelyn forced her ire to a low simmer. “I suppose you’re after the same hit?”
He shrugged again. “It’s a sizeable payoff.”
“He’s my contract,” she said through gritted teeth.
Reese turned fully toward her, his massive frame almost comical atop the straining bar stool. “Well now, seems we have a difference of opinion on that matter.”
He offered a grin so seductive it could melt the ice right off Quaoar’s frozen surface. The bartender’s description fit him to a tee. With his rectangular features—the wide zygomatic breadth, broad jaw, flaring gonial angles, and prominent chin—Reese did look like the devil himself. Of course the red skin, horns, and barbed tail only added to his demonic appearance.
Gaelyn’s gaze dropped to the tight, black T-shirt stretched across his bulging pecs and flat abs. Warning bells clamored in her head, but her inspection continued on to the waistband of his faded jeans, and inevitably to the generous bulge at his groin.
An old song her father used to play popped in her head and it seemed a perfect fit. Too bad she couldn't remember the lines. Something about the devil, a fiddle, and a deal. Well, she may not have a fiddle, but the devil was sure as hell sitting right in front of her. And from the look in his eyes, he obviously wanted to make a deal.