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Ramones blared from massive speakers, and sticky-sweet funk assaulted Declan’s nostrils. Edgy drunks packed Rubber Room’s floor. He scanned again. Still no Thad. Where the hell was he? Dec didn’t have time to screw around. After three days of detox, the reaper crawled under his skin, itching to snuff out life. Dope hadn’t kicked the killing jones. He needed enough to kill it–and himself–or he’d stand over another corpse soon.
The damned stink coated the back of his throat. Opening his mouth, he gagged on death. Most of the thugs surrounding him carried the same mark: two months, and they’d drop in a massacre. Dumps like this were beacons for the doomed. He ought to know.
He squinted at smoke-clogged haze, weaving through a living guidebook of social disorders. When he entered the crush around the bar, a pair of imminent tragedies angled for position. Spotlights bathed them in blood crimson, the universe’s cruel in-joke. They still had the fresh faces they’d brought to Hollywood, but their eyes matched the reaper perfume, stone dead.
The brunette wobbled on her heels, wearing a familiar grimace. “Didn’t you used’ta be that singer?”
Dec didn’t even flinch at pity anymore.
“You have an impressive grasp of specifics.” He couldn’t spare the energy to play twenty embarrassing questions.
“Supposta be bigger’n Guns N’ Roses.” She slurred the accusation, a finger circling at her temple. “Guess not.”
The ginger shrugged an apology. “She’s had a rough day. You won’t complain, will you?”
They were hustlers too. He should’ve known. Civilians didn’t chat up junkies at the ass end of the food chain. Intervention rarely succeeded with working girls, but he had to try. They were kids, charging toward a bad end. Besides, he needed all the good karma he could get.
“Both of you should get out now and never look back.”
“I’m sure you mean well.” Ginger called bullshit nicely, anyway.
“Usually not, but I have my moments.”
Under the cloying death, she smelled like spring rain. She had an odd energy he couldn’t place, but was too familiar to ignore. He was too preoccupied with the fire ants scuttling over his arms to sort it out. One thing was certain: death would claim her soon, and it’d be ugly.
“Trust me. If you stay, this place’ll kill you.”
The brunette had already lost interest and wandered off toward the trick rooms with the rube on her other side. She was a trooper; he’d give her that. Ginger lingered, but he only had more unwanted advice to leave while she could.
“Please stop. He’d kill my brother,” she whispered, her glance darting around. Her eyes widened, and she made a hasty grab at his junk. “Your lance need a polish, white knight?” she asked, loud enough for everyone nearby to hear.
“Oh, Dec, playing Captain Save-a-whore again?” Thad clamped a beefy paw on the back of his neck. If bad timing had ranks, the bastard would qualify as a grand master. “I thought we’d finally cleared this up the last time.”
He had to stay calm. White light burned behind his eyes. The girl looked right at him, but showed no fear. She should’ve been afraid.
“It was nothing.” She failed miserably at sounding nonchalant. “Gloria’s had a few too many, and he was worried she might be in trouble, that’s all.”
Thad didn’t budge. “This is my problem. Sophie here has a brother with an expensive habit, so I have a hard time believing she can’t tell a useless junkie from a real person. As a man in my position, how do I respond to my property lying to me like a fucking rube?”
Conscience demanded he make the call, because conscience was an unhelpful asshole.