Troy was in a sour mood at quitting time. Only a few shots of Jack Daniels and the mindless chaos of Dink’s Tavern could pull him out of his funk.
He’d always liked Dink’s. They didn’t serve liquor in Baccarat tumblers. No one discussed the financial health of his portfolio. The food was lousy but the bar featured a live band, which was good. It was easy to lose yourself in the throng of blue-collar types bemoaning dead-end jobs and DOA relationships.
Troy wasn’t sure how his parents or his sister would react if they learned he frequented Dink’s. He didn’t know why he was drawn to a dive rigged up to look like a ship marooned in the cornfields outside Lincoln. Dink’s represented the antithesis of a life of privilege, the cultivated world where he towered over his family like an awkward relation. Different. He was an aberration in the Fagan gene pool.
Jeffrey, the corpulent bartender, grinned. “Speak of the devil.” In the background, the band burst into an oldie, the Stone’s Brown Sugar. “Troy, I was just talking about your trick with the darts.”
“He was,” a man said. The guy smiled, revealing yellow teeth. “Is it true you can hit a bulls-eye without looking?”
Troy slid onto a barstool. “Jeffrey, get me a drink.” After a double shot of Jack Daniel’s appeared, he regarded the man. “Yeah, it’s true.”
“Not tonight.” He threw back the drink. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the sensation of heat gliding down his throat. He felt edgy, and it wasn’t all because of Ourania showing up late. He’d been edgy his entire life. “Some other time, pal.”
Jeffrey eased his forearms onto the bar. “C’mon, Troy—one time. I’ll buy your next drink.”
“The next two drinks.”
Further down the bar, a biker with stringy blond hair pulled out his wallet. He was nearly as big as Jeffrey, with a beer belly and SUCK ME written on his black shirt. Troy was afraid to analyze why he found the statement amusing. Probably because it was dark and offensive, like the part of his soul he kept hidden from his family—kept hidden from himself most of the time.
The biker held up a ten-note. “Prove you can hit the bull’s-eye and it’s yours.”
Troy leaned back on his barstool, his dusty jeans and air of discontent putting him on par with the biker. Maybe that was why he liked Dink’s. No one looking at him would guess he’d been a millionaire since birth, the money tucked away in accounts his parents tended like a garden of possibility. He’d never touched a cent of his inheritance and they’d never asked why. If they had, he wouldn’t have been able to offer a suitable explanation.
He nearly laughed as the biker wagged the bill through the air. It was probably the last of his paycheck. No doubt the rest had been squandered on beer and women.
Troy stood. “Anybody else think I can’t do it?” He waited as tradesmen and bikers seated all the way down the counter pulled out wallets and slapped down bills. He regarded Jeffrey. “Okay. What do I hit this time?”
The bartender flushed crimson. “Revenge is mine.” Reaching under the bar, he produced a folder stuffed with tax documents. “How ’bout sales tax?” He yanked a letter from the mess. “Columbus says I’m late with my payments. Kill it, Troy. Kill it dead.”
The biker pushed through the throng. Taking the document, he jabbed at the State of Ohio seal. “Think you can hit that?”
The seal was larger than a half dollar, an easy shot. Pleased, Troy nodded at the bulletin board on the back wall. “Tack it up and get everyone out of the way. I don’t need a lawsuit if I miss the mark and nail someone who’s standing too close. I’ve already had a bitch of a day.”
The biker cleared a path from the bar to the bulletin board, twenty paces off. On the beer soaked dais, the band stopped playing. They did whenever Jeffrey talked Troy into doing his monkey act. They ought to pay me for entertainment. Troy chuckled to himself, reconsidered. No, I ought to pay Jeffrey for getting me out of this crappy mood.
He took the dart.
Oblivious to the silence descending upon the bar, he counted off the steps to the bulletin board. With care he studied the tax notice. The state seal was dead even with his chin, which pleased him. Low shots were more difficult.
He returned to the bar. With his back to the dartboard—which drew a delighted murmur from the crowd—he poised the dart between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. He settled his attention on Jeffrey, who smiled with anticipation, but he visualized the seal. He had a near photographic memory and the honing instincts of a wolf tracking a kill. Two other strange traits bequeathed to him alone from the Fagan gene pool.
“Now,” Jeffrey said.
Troy sent the dart sailing over his right shoulder. The thud of impact, and the tavern roared with approval.
Sitting, he tapped the side of his glass. Jeffrey poured another drink. The biker, slack-jawed, gathered winnings from disenchanted patrons all the way down the bar.
Taking the cash, Troy swiveled around to examine his handiwork. Sure enough, he’d hit the center of the seal.
Immediately his sense of self-congratulation died.
A man strode to the board and yanked the dart free. He was taller than average with hair as deep a chestnut as Troy’s but with strands of grey mixed in. When he turned around, Troy blinked. The guy was working at the mansion. With the masons or the carpenters? It was impossible to recall every man hired by his subs.
With a start, he recalled seeing the man yesterday. The bastard had been talking to Ourania near the forest. She’d appeared angry. From the second story of the addition, it was too far away to hear their voices. Troy was about to go out and protect Ourania if the guy made a pass. She’d stalked off before intervention was needed.
Clearly, she hadn’t liked the guy.
It was easy to understand why. There was something vaguely combative about him, something off-center. He approached the bar, and instinct pulled Troy to his feet. They stood gauging each other like two combatants called into a battle neither understood. Troy connected with the man’s vacant eyes and sensed something missing, a spark of compassion. He knew instantly that the man didn’t land a punch quickly or often. But when he did, he aimed to kill.
Evidently he wasn’t looking for a brawl. Turning the dart between his fingers, he unleashed a voice bleached of emotion. “You’re pretty good,” he said. “But you aren’t great.”
On impulse, Troy curled his hand into a fist.
Catching the movement, the man smiled. The laughter didn’t reach his eyes. “Cool down, boy. I’m not here to fight.” He nodded at the cash heaped on the bar. “I want your winnings.”
“What?” Troy couldn’t recall the last time he’d felt so unnerved. Then his features hardened. “I’m not giving you my winnings, pal.”
“I’m not asking for a hand-out. I’ll get them fair and square.” The stranger drew his gaze to Jeffrey. Sweat glossed the bartender’s brow. “What else you got in that folder?”
Speechless, Jeffrey slid the folder across. “Ah. Here we go.” The man chose a tax form with a state seal no bigger than a dime. He regarded Troy. “I’ll hit this without looking. When I do, you’ll hand over the cash.”
Troy would’ve laughed if his gut hadn’t warned against it. It was impossible to hit something the size of a dime from twenty paces unless you were staring straight at it. Even then the odds weren’t good.
“Go for it,” he said.
He suffered a growing unease as the stranger went through the same paces he’d executed a moment ago. The man instructed the biker to put the tax form on the bulletin board. He walked up to the board slowly, measuring his steps. When he returned, he faced Jeffrey with the dart poised in his left hand exactly as Troy had done.
Jesus. Troy stiffened, his blood running cold.
But the man didn’t wait for Jeffrey’s signal. He threw the dart over his right shoulder with the precision of a robot.
And hit the center of the seal, dead on.