san zyu ni

While the lawyer had spent much of the day preparing for his aikido class, Katz had left early to track Andrew and Liz Bahti’s other friends.  It being a Friday night, there was certain to be some activity planned, and he was right, as Andrew picked up Leonard Wilson and a woman whose name he didn’t know yet, and they went to The Barn.

The Barn wasn’t the sort of place where anything out of the ordinary would happen.  Katz could tell the moment he walked in; there was an air of possibility, of life perhaps, that was missing from the place. 

The same couldn’t be said for Liz’ friends, however.  Katz found himself a seat at the end of the bar and watched Andrew and company for a while, listening.  Two more friends arrived, and Katz kept his ears peeled for names.  Dennis and Tania were the new arrivals, Drusilla was the skinny girl with Andrew, and everyone called Leonard Wilson (whom Katz had identified when doing initial background checks on Charles’ sister) “Peach.”  Of Nikki,, there was no sign, and that was disappointing.  She was the one he most wanted to see.  Katz wrote notes on a 3×5 card he kept in his sleeve, the stubby bowling-alley pencil he liked to use completely invisible in his hand as he scrawled.  He chatted with the bartender, learning a bit about the history of The Barn, which had had four different owners and names in five years.  The bartender had been there for three of them.  As the place filled up a little, Katz moved away from Andrew and his friends and found a seat in a shadowy corner.  Pub fare was offered by a college-age waitress with a low-cut blouse, and Katz was grateful.  He never could resist a nice, crappy french dip sandwich and fries.

He didn’t drink, just did his best to fade into the walls and let the place swirl around him.  His initial assessment that the place had no real life was borne out as the evening went on, with the dance floor remaining empty and very little mingling among the knots of patrons.

Then Liz and Charles showed up. 

Not that the two of them brought the place to life or anything, but Katz almost fell out of his seat.  Given Liz’ alcohol issues, he hadn’t expected to see her in a bar of all places.  She didn’t drink anything but water, and spent most of her time on the dance floor.  Watching Liz move, he was quietly jealous of the lawyer for having the opportunity to tomcat around with the tall woman.  Assuming she didn’t tear his head off, of course.  Katz had reason to be wary; he’d seen one of her friends come back from the dead, after all.  It was safe to assume that none of them were to be trifled with.

He was too far away to hear the conversation, as the group had mostly stayed near the bar with its good view of the dance floor.  They seemed to take to Charles readily enough, accepting him into the group, buying him drinks (Katz wanted to shout a warning to Charles not to drink what they offered him, but stifled it.  Unless the bartender was one of them, it was probably safe.) and making sure he had a good time. 

Liz and Charles stayed for about an hour and a half, then left together.  Katz let them go, though he desperately wanted to follow.  He’d come to see where Andrew and company went tonight, not Liz.  The lawyer could handle himself.  Didn’t have much choice, in fact.

The rest of them stayed for perhaps another hour, drinking and dancing.  Andrew and Tania stopped drinking when Liz left, and Katz guessed that they were designated drivers.  He was right; all five left at once, in two cars, and headed in different directions.  Katz followed Andrew, Drusilla and Peach, suspecting that the evening’s fun was about to begin. 

They drove toward downtown Detroit.  Katz followed the pickup truck at a respectable distance.  He had more than his share of experience in discreet tailing, and they didn’t see him, probably didn’t even get that tell-tale feeling of being watched in fact.  When the pickup got off the freeway and swung into a Denny’s parking lot, Katz pulled into the adjacent lot and killed his lights, watching them.  They were ahead of the last-call rush, and got seated immediately at a booth near a window.  Perfect.  Katz was able to park where he had a good view of them, although he couldn’t see the other half of the L-shaped dining area.

The three of them talked, Drusilla smoking cigarettes and Peach a pipe, of all things.  They dawdled over an apparently idyllic late-night meal.  Katz almost fell asleep, and recited first the Best Picture winners since 1950, then the presidents of the United States, to keep himself alert.  When he got through them all, he started on the vice-presidents.  He transposed Colfax and Wheeler, like he almost always did.  Damn.  He started over again.

Andrew, Peach and Drusilla got up to leave.  Three other men rose at the same time, from a table farther into the restaurant.  The two groups met by the front door, and a small scuffle started immediately.  Katz came forward in his seat as they all rushed out into the parking lot.  Andrew was fighting with two men, one of whom had just flung Drusilla into the flowerbed.  Peach was driven up against a parked car by the third attacker, a man almost twice his size.  Andrew did the best he could against the other two but was quickly driven to his knees.  The leader had a red Mohawk and a black leather jacket with white writing up and down both arms.  They didn’t look like gang colors, but then you could never tell.

From his vantage point, Katz saw the newcomer before any of them, a man in a black trenchcoat who ran halfway across the parking lot with a length of pipe in both hands.  The big guy kneeling on Peach shouted a warning that came far too late, and the man in black poleaxed one of Andrew’s attackers with a home-run swing.  The balance quickly shifted.  Andrew threw the other man off so the man in black could put a pipe-blow across his ribs that drove him to his knees.  Andrew followed that up with a kick to the face.  The last of the three attackers, the big guy, took a step their way and Drusilla jumped fearlessly on him, clawing at his face.  He got away from her and found himself facing Peach, Andrew and the newcomer.  The man in black dropped the pipe and took several steps forward, pulling his coat open, and the big guy turned tail.  He was facing away, so Katz couldn’t see what was in his coat, but the curiosity was almost forgotten when he turned around, smiling at Andrew in triumph.

It was the longhair from Los Angeles.  The one who’d left the corpse for them to find.