Red raised her glass and downed her drink, trying to make the lump in throat die a watery death.
Mack watched the P.I. and shook his head "Look here, this be the last drink I serve ya lass. One more and ye'll be hitting the floor. And since when are ya the kind to sit and wait around to be "clipped" by anyone?"
"Since I just don't give a horse's ass..." Mack's face turned red and he interrupted the P.I in mid-sentence "Now hold yer horse's asses and heads too while yer at it. I've known ya since you were just a wee tyke holding on to yer father's hand. I used to give ya piggy back rides when you wore out yer uncle and I'll have none of that attitude..."
A light seemed to go on in the redhead's brain "Mack... that's..."
"I didn't say I was finished. Now no more of this self-pity. If you're in trouble get out of town while things cool down or find a way to fight. Don't you be like yer uncle, he got himself a nice bullet shaped hole in the gut over some girly-girl too. Now ya pick yerself up from that stool, stop thinkin' from in between yer legs like ol' uncle Johnny and take of business like ya always do."
Red smiled as recognition and an idea finally filtered through the murky waters in her mind. She squared her shoulders "skirt troubles..." checked her piece for bullets "ol' Uncle Johnny..." straightened her tie "you're so on the money Mack" she said, leaning over the bar and planting a kiss on the bartenders cheek, plus a light smack and a pinch for good measure before storming out of the smoky bar.
The burly Irishman took a step backwards and rubbed his cheek. after speaking like that to red the last thing he expected was a kiss. A good right hook, o.k. or a slap in the face, sure. But a kiss? He scratched his head in confusion and winced as the door slammed shut behind the retreating figure.
Red shook her head and walked out the bar with a small smile on her face. The streets were dark and slick with the puddles that remained after a rainstorm. Red stood under the street lamp staring up at her old bedroom window wondering if she was right or if at this point she had completely lost her mind. I wonder... It would make sense... as much as any of this can I suppose.
It seems like it was centuries ago and yet just a moment ago too that she was in my arms. I never wanted to let her go. But in this world all good things come to an end. She was getting dressed and we both got shy all of a sudden, turning red around the ears and not knowing what to say to each other. Sounds silly doesn't it, getting shy after what we had just done?
I wanted to throw myself at her feet right then and tell her to stay till the end of the world. Instead it came out "So kid... you gonna tell me what's got you so spooked?"
She refused to look at me "I think I should go." She said in a small 'little girl lost' voice.
"Hey now wait a minute..."
She began to head for the door "I shouldn't have... I've just waited for so long... I-I can't do this to you."
"Tara wait..." It was too late, she ran out just as I was pulling my pants up. It didn't help that just then Xander bumped me on the way out. I made it to the street, but she was already gone. Who knew a dame in heels could run so fast?
I walked in cursing under my breath. The whole gang stood around grinning. I guess I must have looked like quite a sight, my shirt half buttoned, shoeless and holding my pants up with one hand. It's hard to act dignified when you're only half dressed. I squared my jaw and took my lumps as best I could.
Xander looked me up and down trying not to grin too widely "Hey boss. We brought ya a sandwich, but I see you 'ordered in'."
Buffy piped in too, wagging a finger in front of my face "Tsk-tsk shame on you having dessert before dinner."
Anya opened her mouth as if to say something, then she closed it again and pouted "Aw, heck!... They took all the good jibes."
I finished arranging my clothes "Har-har everybody's a comedian... you all done? Or are you gonna ask me who's on first?"
With that I went into my office slamming the door so hard the windows shook. My gut was telling that she was in trouble, I had to find her and find her soon.
Trouble it was. Xander did a fine job of finding her. If you would have asked me I would have guessed 'The Plaza' and I would have been wrong. She was uptown, but not in the swankiest joint. Funny, her silk stockings didn't spell out 'penny pincher'. Neither did her perfume, if I closed my eyes and tried real hard I could still smell it in the air around me.
I took the elevator and walked quietly down the dimly lit hall. Room 506, I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the loud voices coming from the inside. I felt the urge to bum rush the door, but thought better of it. I put my ear to the door and my hand on my piece just in case.
An angry man's voice was shouting things I couldn't quite make out. There was a radio on as well and the noises got jumbled. I did hear her loud and clear when she said, "Donnie, it's not like that. I'll get it done, please don't..." in a pleading voice. The guy yelled back something like "You'd better or..." Or what? I thought angrily from behind that damned door. He seemed to lower his voice and I couldn't hear anything else. I put my hand on the knob and held it tightly wondering if I should burst in or wait for a sign of trouble. I couldn't stand the thought of Tara being in danger. But I couldn't be certain of what was going on. For I knew the guy was her boyfriend or something and my bursting through the door could make things worse for her.
I heard footsteps coming towards me and I headed quickly three doors down, making believe that I was searching for my key. He rounded the corner towards the elevators and I went to make sure he was gone.
I stood before the door and knocked on it firmly. She came out, holding her robe shut and sobbing into a hankie, my hankie, I noticed. Her eyes were set down on the floor. "Did you forget something..." She began to say before looking up.
"No. But you did sweetheart." I said giving her my best grin.
She looked at me like a deer caught in headlights "W-what are you doing here?" she said nervously looking out into the hall and pulling me into the room. She closed the door behind us and put the lock in place. O.k. I thought safety first.
"I was just in the neighborhood. And you did forget to say what it was I could help you with, so..."
She walked towards the window, with her back to me and the full moon casting a beam in her direction she looked like an angel, just standing there in the darkened room. "You shouldn't have come Willow. It's dangerous."
I took a few steps towards her "Why? That guy that just stormed out of here, I could take him. Who is he, jealous boyfriend ?" I was trying to keep the 'jealous' out of my voice and failing miserably.
She shook her head "No. He's my brother. He's also dangerous. I never should have come to you. Please leave, please Willow." She leaned her forehead to the window sill and I saw her shoulders slump a little.
I closed the distance and held her from behind. I just couldn't help reaching out to her.
"Hey... kid you're shakin' like a leaf. Take it easy. Who ever he is, whatever's going on, I already promised to help you and I never back out on a promise."
She turned in my arms with fresh tears in her eyes "You have to go. You don't understand. I can't even understand it yet. If you stay, you could get killed. I couldn't live with that. Please go." She sounded as desperate as I felt. All I knew was that I couldn't walk away from her. What she was saying made no sense, but neither was what I was feeling for her.
I didn't care if I had to face the Devil himself. I was already condemned if I couldn't have her. I didn't care if I had to face death. I didn't want a life where she wasn't by my side.
Yeah, I was crazy. There are worse reasons than love to lose your sanity over.
I looked into her eyes and forced her to look straight into mine. "Now you look here kid... I don't run from danger, I run straight into it, see? I've never backed down from a fight and I'm not gonna start now that found something really worth while to fight for. You're gonna tell me what's going on and we're gonna get through it together. And I ain't taking no for an answer, you hear? So I don't want no lip...
Then just like that, in the middle of my rant she leaned down and kissed me. I smiled and said something cheeky like, "O.k. that kind of lip is fine." She smiled too and resumed the kiss. This time I kept my trap shut, well to words anyway.
These kisses were different from the ones in the office. They were unhurried, languid and sweet. This was it. My own private Eden. How come every time she kissed me it was like leaving this Earth?
As much as I enjoyed the attention I was getting, something kept gnawing at the back of my mind. I retreated softly and took her face in my hands, I took a moment to breathe and regain some control over my senses. "Those lips of yours will be the death of me. Before we go on I have to know what's going on?"
She upturned my palms and kissed them softly one by one before walking away. She turned towards the door "You should go," she said in a cracked voice. I could tell she was biting back a flow of tears.
I never could stand to see a broad cry and of course this wasnít just another ordinary broad. This was Tara Maclay, mystery woman, and it was breaking my heart to see her eyes watering with little drops of pain. I guess Iím a sucker and a sappy one at that.
"I already told you I'm not leaving until tell me what's going on."
She shivered slightly and wrapped her arms around her self. "And I already told you, how can I explain anything, when I don't understand it myself? All I know is that you'll be in danger if you stay. Please Willow, walk away."
I was about to protest full heartedly when I heard a noise just outside the door. She heard it too and got a panicked expression on her face. She ushered me inside the closet. I saw through the small blinds that she hurried to turn the radio up and wiped her tears before sitting down on the bed.
The doorknob clicked and a man entered the room. I recognized the voice. He was the one who was screaming at her when I was behind then door and he didnít sound too pleasant now either.
"Who the hell were you talking to Tara?"
"No- no one Donnie," she said, nervously stuttering.
"I heard voices in here."
"It was just the radio."
"Yeah? Well I guess it would be. It's not like you have any friends in this city or in any other."
There was a cruel tone to his voice and his remarks that I didn't appreciate. If he had kept it up much longer I would've dammed the consequences and rushed out to give him a fat lip.
"Listen up Tara, I've asked around, that Frankie Red character bit the dust, but the office is still around. He had a daughter who runs it now. We're going to have to change strategies. The gist of the plan remains the same though. We'll go there tomorrow and feed her the story. Don't mess it up or there will be Hell to pay. You understand me?"
She nodded as he gripped her shoulders. Even through the blinds I could see that he was gripping her too damn hard for comfort. The uneasy feeling I had in my gut had multiplied by a million. What did any of this have to do with my Pop and why was Tara a part of a plan that included feeding me a story? There were more questions than answers and I didn't like it one bit.
My knuckles were turning white from gripping them so tight at my sides. He let go of her and I saw a wisp of a cruel smile on his face as turned to slick his hair back in front of the dresser mirror.
"That's a good girl. Now I'm going out. I'll be back tomorrow, ten o'clock sharp. I booked a reservation at the Plaza. There are people who have to think were still rolling in dough."
"Where did you get the money for that?" she asked.
He raised his voice again. "That's none of your business. I got connections. I'll get my job done. You just make sure you do your part."
He passed by quickly and shut the door with a slam. Tara stayed still on the bed. When I came out of the closet I found her with her face buried in her hands, she was crying again. I was determined to question her hard about everything, but one look into those watery eyes and all my anger faded.
I sat next to her and held her tight. There would be time for answers later.