Lexi woke early the next morning, despite falling into her lumpy bed just hours before. She spent the day walking a short distance along South Boulevard, visiting thrift stores, and buying some great retro clothes with her tip money from the night before. Throughout the day, her thoughts wandered incessantly back to the mystery man that showed up in the alleyway. On the one hand, she despised his flagrant chauvinism. He probably thought it was his place to save the defenseless damsel in distress. He probably even thought he was doing her a favor. On the other hand, he did get Lefty away from her, in a sense, saving Lefty, but he would never know that. But there was something deeper about him that intrigued her. Even in their brief meeting, she knew what kept him on her mind. His intense look held her, for that moment, like a deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car.
She felt a power in his dark eyes she'd only felt in the presence of her Grandfather. Not the kind of power commonly abused but a power he wielded with care and skill—a power hidden from the world. But he could not hide the power from her. Each time Alexis caught herself falling into thoughts of the man, she'd rummage through another rack of clothes, faster than before. She caught herself physically shaking at times, as if shedding him from her memory. She would probably never see him again, especially if he saw her first. The way she treated him the night before, he would likely run the other way and tell his friends to stay away from that mean bitch. Nonetheless, she felt a pull from him. Maybe just an intriguing tug but it was there, and it was undeniable.
By four in the afternoon, Alexis finally settled on a hamburger from a local fast food place before walking back into the dark cavern of the Pink Pony bar and grill. With last night's mystery man safely pushed into the back of her mind, like a pair of old shoes, shoved to the back of the closet, she decided to get an early start at the bar.
Sam was the only one in the bar, running glasses up and down on a scrubber before patting each one dry with a towel, and placing them in a straight row on the counter top. Sam looked up at her as she sat on a bar stool, the slightest hint of a scowl on his face.
"You're here early." He plunged another glass over the brush in the sink, not looking up at her.
"Not much to do here."
Sam huffed at her terse response but said nothing. He looked at her now, standing motionless, staring into her eyes with that scowl on his face. The silence became unbearable, and she was about to turn and walk away when he finally broke the silence.
"I had a talk with Becky last night."
"Yeah, about what?" she asked, although she had a good idea what they talked about.
"Seems you had a little run-in with Lefty last night."
"He followed me into the alley, but it was nothing I couldn't handle." Alexis tried to say as little as possible, although she didn't know why. Sam probably already knew everything there was to know.
"Becky told me Frost showed up and took him away."
"Yeah," she said. "But I still could've taken care of it myself."
"I don't doubt that, Paulina," Sam made Alexis do a mental double-take with his use of her fake name. "You just have to be careful. You gotta be careful with the customers... and Frost." He fell silent for a moment, running another couple tumblers through the wash before speaking again. "I know you have to defend your... your, honor against the kind of customers I get in here, but I don't want you driving them away either. You know what I mean?"
"Yes, I think I do." Alexis felt her face heat up as anger grew within her, her blood rising to a low simmer. "You want me to be nice to the thug customers, allowing them to run their eyes and greasy hands all over me, maybe even allow them to think I'm some kind of slut, while I gently and discreetly pull their hands off me. Am I right so far?"
Sam stood motionless for a moment. Alexis could nearly hear the gears turning as he likely tried to form some reasonable response.
"Something like that," Sam said, his voice already betraying his earlier conviction. "I mean, not the slut part though."
"So, you're telling me I should let these thug customers have their way until my virtue and morals take a back seat to your profits?"
"No, Paulina. It's not like that," He pleaded. "I would never ask you to sacrifice anything for my customers."
"Then what, exactly, do you want from me?"
"I don't know," he said. "I'm just under a lot of pressure here. I wanted this to be a good safe bar, but these people have kind of got me by the balls. They all report to their boss, and he's a powerful man around here. He could shut down my bar tomorrow or burn it to the ground if he wanted, leaving me with nothing."
"Can't you just go to the police?"
"He owns the police. At least most of the police on the south side. And then when I hear Frost showed up last night, it only makes matters worse."
Alexis wanted to ask him why he was against someone like Frost helping him get rid of his thug problem but early customers were filtering into the bar. One after another, customers slowly filled the tables, raising their hands and demanding drinks. It was a Friday night, and she assumed it would be busier than the night before, maybe even the busiest night of the week.
By ten o'clock, the bar was packed, nearly every table full. Customers near the stage reached forward to shove dollar bills into Becky's string bikini as she writhed up and down the dirty brass pole to tinny-sounding rock songs. A big barrel-chested man with curly red hair and an entourage of at least four equally barrel-chested men came through the door. Alexis watched as an entire table of customers quickly got up from their seats near the stage when the man and his group approached. They promptly took the other customer's seats. She gathered up a few empty glasses from the table as quickly as she could, and moved toward the bar, anxious to ask Sam about the new customers.
"Who's that guy," she said as she gave him the tray of empty glasses.
"That's the man I told you about earlier." Sam glanced past her to the table. "His name is Norman Taylor, but I'm sure he'd prefer you call him Mister Knuckles. He's the reason we all walk on eggshells around here."
"If he's so tough, why does he need all the bodyguards?"
"I'm sure he doesn't need them but he—" Sam stopped in mid sentence, looking to the front door. "Oh shit, this is not going to be good."
Alexis turned and saw the man from the night before, Frost, walking into the bar and looking directly at Knuckles.The lights from the neon sign outside streamed through the door around him, making a halo around his entire body. His big brown bald head reflected the pink hues making his dark skin appear even darker. He was tall and thin but muscular, in a tight sinewy sort of way. He seemed to ooze confidence, strength, and raw sexual prowess from everywhere. Not that she had any experience with sexual prowess but she knew it when she saw it. She suddenly snapped out of her daze, conscious that she might actually be drooling, and turned to pick up her drinks as a distraction. Sam smiled at her but she pretended like she hadn't noticed. She quickly grabbed the notepad and pencil from her pocket, making a beeline to the table with the man Sam called "Knuckles".