Sam was washing glasses, trying to keep up with the busy night, when Knuckles left his table and came to the bar, leaning over it and motioning him close.
"Who's the new girl?"
"That's Paulina, our new waitress," Sam said, already suspecting Knuckles' motivation. "Why, did you have a problem with her?"
"No," Knuckles snorted. "No problem at all. In fact, I'd like to see more of her."
"What do you mean?" Sam knew exactly what he meant, and he didn't like it one bit.
"I mean, can she dance?"
"I didn't hire her to dance," Sam said. "I need a good waitress, and she's the best I've had in here in a long time."
"Why don't you take that stick of a girl, Becky, and put her on the floor taking orders, and put Paulina on the stage." Knuckles gestured toward Paulina, making a sweeping motion toward the stage. "That woman's got some meat on her bones." Knuckles chuckled, and his goons, who apparently knew what he was saying from their table near the stage, joined in, laughing in unison.
It was like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon, or an old-time gangster movie. Maybe that's where Knuckles and his gang got their playbook. Sam looked at Paulina as she worked her way from one table to the next. She moved with fluidity as if she'd been doing this for years, but he doubted she could dance. He looked over to the dance floor. Becky was throwing herself onto the pole, spinning around it and sinking slowly to the floor in the splits. She could dance, but she was no waitress. He'd lose business with Paulina on the stage. It'd be even worse with Becky on the floor. He grabbed a tumbler and shoved it over the bristles of the brush, stalling for time, hoping that Knuckles would suddenly burst out in laughter again, and tell him he was just kidding.
"Hey, I'm talking to you." Knuckles reached across the counter and poked at him, before squeezing a handful of his shirt into his hand.
He wasn't laughing.
"She's not a dancer," Sam said. "She's a good waitress, the best I've had in here in awhile, and it's only her second day." Besides, what would I do with Becky?"
"Becky's none of my concern," Knuckles poked his knuckles into Sam's chest with each word. "You tell Paulina she's gonna dance, and me and my boys here will tip her well if she does."
"What if she doesn't want to dance?" Sam already knew what Knuckles was going to say, but it didn't hurt to ask.
"If she won't dance, you'll fire her. If you don't fire her, I'll have your bar fired, if you know what I mean." Knuckles made a wide sweeping gesture with his arms. "Can you imagine this entire place reduced to ashes? What would you do then?"
"I'll do what I can." Sam stopped washing glasses, grabbing a towel instead, and squeezing it until his fingers hurt.
"You'll get her to dance, or I'll become very upset," Knuckles said as one of his goons sitting at his table flicked a lighter, bringing it to flame. "And I think you already know, bad things happen when someone makes me upset."
Knuckles turned, and walked out of the bar, his entourage standing up from the table and following behind him. Sam squeezed his towel again as Knuckles passed the table where Frost sat, and Frost looked up at him. He was relieved when Knuckles walked beyond Frost, paying him no attention. Sam figured Knuckles either didn't see him, or he didn't recognize the bounty hunter.
Sam knew exactly what kind of bad things happened when Knuckles was upset. He'd seen numerous bars and convenience stores along South Boulevard either burned to the ground or suddenly become without owners after doing something to upset Knuckles. He would not let that happen to his bar.
Frost wanted to jump up out of his seat and cuff Knuckles on the spot as he passed by his table, but he resisted. He had to be smart with this skip. This was the one that could finally get him back on track. Plus, the way he saw the bartender and Knuckles talking, and Knuckles gesturing to Paulina meant she might be involved in all of this somehow. He might gain an advantage if he could get close to her. Well, that, and her look, and her sassy, confident attitude intrigued him.
He waited at his table until the bar closed, nursing two more virgin rum and coke drinks until the last customer left the bar. The skinny dancer picked dollars and change off the small stage, and then disappeared through the kitchen door, probably putting some clothes on. Paulina was working through the tables, picking up empty glasses and bringing them to the bartender. He was busy washing the glasses by hand, as Paulina made a second sweep through the lounge cleaning tabletops.
"Sir, you're gonna have to leave, the bar's closing," the bartender yelled to him.
"If it's alright with you, I'm just waiting to talk to Paulina." Frost looked at Paulina as he yelled back to the bartender.
The bartender waved at Paulina, and yelled to her, "You know this man, Paulina?"
Paulina looked at the bartender, then back at him. Frost knew he was taking a chance. If she didn't want to talk to him, she could simply tell the bartender she didn't know him. This was it, do or die. He was either going to talk to her, or be persuaded to leave with all the subtlety of a shotgun shoved in his back. The dancer must have heard the yelling over the music, as she made an appearance from the kitchen door to watch.
"Yeah, he's okay, Sam," Paulina said, but she looked at Frost with a less than pleasant expression on her face.
She finished wiping down the tables and left her towel at the bar before walking to his table.
"So, what's the deal," Paulina said. "Did you wait around all night to remind me again how you saved my life?"
"Well, you have to admit, it didn't look like you had the upper-hand with Lefty."
She folded her arms, and made a 'Pfft' sound before saying, "I've been dealing with guys like Lefty all my life. It's no different than dealing with guys like you."
"Ouch, you got me," he said. "Look, I'm sure you can take care of yourself just fine. Maybe I misread the situation, but I was looking for Lefty and he nearly fell in my lap when I saw him in that alleyway with you. Please, accept my apologies, and sit with me?"
Paulina stood for a moment with her arms crossed before sitting down. "Apology accepted, but only under the condition that you stop bringing it up."
"I really think we got off on the wrong foot," Frost said. "Maybe an apology isn't enough. Let me make it up to you over coffee, or a late-night dinner."
"I could use a good cup of coffee." Paulina looked back toward the bar.
The bartender, and the dancer were standing next to each other, looking like they were doing their best to listen in.
"Okay, I'll go for coffee with you under one condition," Paulina said.
Frost looked at her, shaking his head. "You put conditions on everyone like this?" She shot him a blank look, as if she couldn't even conceive negotiating without someone bending to her conditions.
Her blank stare turned into a faint smile, and she continued stating her condition. "We take Becky with us. You can give us a ride home afterward. It's late after all, and two delicate flowers like us shouldn't be left alone in the dark with all those evil fingerless men out there." She snickered at her own joke."Okay, now you're just mocking me," Frost said. "Deal. Coffee and a ride home to make up for last night."