I open every book with a different action beat. This is my favorite scene in the book because it encapsulates the quality of the relationship between Harry and Toni so well. After two books, Toni isn’t watching from the sidelines anymore, she’s applying what Harry has taught her and she’s running with it. She doesn’t have his quiet reserve; she’s wilder than he is, high on adrenaline and the excitement of what they do. Harry’s a little more calculating, or he likes to think so. Toni is brand new to their world, bouncing around like a great big puppy, not entirely sure what’s going on, but happy to be involved.
I also started the book with that happy-go-lucky feel on purpose, because of the nasty turn it takes later on, and to counterpoint the… shall we say… dramatic way the book concludes.
The yellow silk blouse ended in a tastefully ragged line just above her navel. The skirt rode high on thighs wrapped in fishnet stockings with artful holes torn into them. Ankle-high leather boots added three inches to her modest height. She carried two full shot glasses and sipped from each to keep from spilling them. She scanned the crowded floor, spotting her man.
His pink hair spiked high in three horns above a brutal-looking face, all slabs and angles and indolent curves. He thrashed and slammed back and forth in the packed dance floor. He was easily six-and-a-half feet tall, his aggressive snarl visible above the throng of faces.
She had no trouble getting his attention, elbowing two other women out of the way, and holding up a shot. Dexter Harris took the glass with a grin. She toasted him and knocked her shot back like medicine, heaving the glass behind the stage where it shattered. The lead singer ducked and never missed a word. Dexter grinned at her and tossed his empty over his shoulder into the crowd.
“What’s your name, girl?” he yelled, bending down to brush her ear with his lips.
“You should come with me!” she hollered back.
“Yeah? Why’s that?” he asked her, still thrashing to the frantic beat.
“You really want to!” the woman bellowed. She grabbed the bottom of her blouse and pulled it up, flashing her miniscule breasts. He laughed and nodded.
“You’re right! I do!” he said. He grabbed her bicep and led her through the crowd, elbowing dancers and bystanders out of their path.
She tugged him into the mouth of a darkened alley. He pushed her against the wall. He leaned down and kissed her, and she returned his kiss with enthusiasm. His hands stretched down and squeezed hard, fingertips finding the edge of her skirt. She broke the kiss and breathlessly said, “Wait.”
“No,” he said, panting. “You wanted-”
“I wanted you to come with me. I did. I do. And I want you to have this,” she held up a small square. He took it mostly out of reflex.
“A rubber? Fine, whatever, long as I get under that little skirt, baby,” Dexter said. He started to tear open the square, but it wasn’t a condom. He unfolded a piece of paper.
“Fuck is this?” he muttered. He held it up to read by the yellowed streetlight.
“It’s a warrant for your arrest, Dex,” the woman told him. Her voice lost its playfulness. “You missed your court date. Jumped your bail. I’m here to take you in.”
Dexter grinned and dropped the paper- and drove a fist into her bare midriff. Her breath exploded out of her and she doubled over.
Dexter chuckled. “Stupid little bitch,” he rasped. He grabbed a fistful of hair and jerked her head up. She used the momentum to drive her fist into the underside of his jaw, where it landed with a meaty thud. He gagged, staggering back. She threw a follow-up right cross. The blow wasn’t solid but it drove him back against the brick wall. He raised his fists but she followed the punch with a heavy leather boot between his legs. Dexter uttered a squawk and dropped to his knees.
“You- you b-bitch,” Dexter sputtered. He glared up at her.
She cocked an eyebrow. “Coming quietly, Dexter? Or do I have to get-”
His fist flashed outand caught her in the mouth. Her head rocked backward, cracking against the alley wall behind her. She grinned with bloodied teeth as she uttered a laugh of delight. Dexter hesitated.
“Dexter,” she said pityingly. “You know what? I have killer legs.”
Dexter’s mouth opened.
“And I have great tits,” she continued.
“What the fuck-” he started.
“I’m a hell of a kisser. Face ain’t too bad either, I think. But you know what quality I like best about myself?” the girl asked him in a throaty, sensual growl.
She drove her right fist into his nose. Cartilage crunched and blood squirted down his lips and chin. He squealed, hands fluttering to his face. She wiped her own blood away from her lips and examined it. “I’ve always been proud of my ability to take a punch,” she told him. She glanced down the alley and asked, “Wanna take over? I softened him up for you.”
Harry DeMarko stepped out of the shadows. He held a shotgun in one hand. He tossed a pair of handcuffs to her. “You know the rules, Toni. You brought it down, you dress it out.”
She caught the cuffs. She eyed Dexter, who held his streaming nose, eyes alive with hatred. Toni Bennett licked at the blood trickling from the corner of her mouth and said, “Wanna go two out of three, Dexter?” She raised the cuffs in one fist, an impromptu brass knuckle.
He glared at her and extended both of his arms. She pouted but slipped one cuff around his right wrist. “Come on, big guy,” she said. “Up against the wall the way you like it.”
He clambered to his feet and turned to the alley wall. She pressed him against it as she shot the cuff around his left wrist. She gripped the short chain between and said, “Come on.”
She pushed him toward the street. As they emerged from the alley he threw his weight back at her, catching her off-balance. She staggered and Dexter tried to run back toward the club. Her foot hooked around one of his ankles and she kicked his feet out from under him. He struck heavily, the breath exploding from his lungs. He arched his neck to keep his face from slamming into the filthy concrete. Toni knelt on his back. “You don’t get away. Don’t you know that? We’re the good guys. You’re the bad guy. You don’t know that?” she asked him.
“Fuck you!” he spat, blowing blood in streamers across the sidewalk.
“Don’t be nasty. You gonna come quietly?” Toni asked.
He bucked in response, trying to throw her. She felt his fingers against her thighs, scratching and pinching as he clawed for purchase. She rapped his nose smartly on the pavement. He howled and stopped bucking. “I asked you a question, Dex,” Toni said. “You gonna come quietly while you still have a nose?”
“Fuck… f-fucking… fine. Fine! I said fine. Let up, bitch!” Dexter sputtered. Toni stood up, rubbing at the insides of her thighs where his ragged nails had left red and white raised welts. She pressed a foot on his back.
Harry came up beside her. “You finished?”
“I suppose. Right, Dex? Am I finished or am I just getting started?” she asked. Dexter wiggled a little as she pressed her heel into the small of his back, but said nothing.
“You’re full of juice tonight,” Harry said. “What got into you?”
Toni grinned. “Just enjoying myself. Is it wrong to love what you do?”
“Nope,” Harry told her. “But don’t let an easy win go to your head. They’re not all like this.”
“Better get the car, Harry,” Toni said. “The natives are restless.”
“All right. Be right back.” Harry turned.
“Harry?” Toni called. He looked back.
“Leave the shotgun, okay?” she asked. He handed over the weapon. She held it casually, finger off the trigger, but with the barrel pressed against Dexter’s back. Harry went to fetch their car.
“Fuck you doing this for? What’d I do to you?” Dex asked.
“Nothing,” she said diffidently. “You’re just a name to me.”
He growled, “You know when I get out I’ll come for-”
She pressed the barrel into his kidney. “Keep talking, hotshot,” she said.
A wide-bodied no-color Buick double-parked and Harry got out. He opened the truck. They hoisted Dexter to his feet and marched him to the car.
“I ain’t getting’ in there, man,” Dexter said to Harry.
“It’ll be harder,” Harry explained, “to lift you in after I put your lights out, sure, but in you’ll go anyhow. The question is, you wanna help, or you want to get your lights punched out?”
Grumbling, Dexter didn’t struggle as they set him into the wide trunk- the reason they rented a Buick when running a skip trace- and lowered the lid. Toni put the shotgun in the back seat and started for the driver’s door. Harry stopped her. “I don’t think so, Mighty Hunter. Licensed to carry a gun, sure. You still haven’t passed your driver’s test. Slide over,” he said.
She pouted. “Come on, Harry. It’s my turn.”
He said, “You know the rules. Driving with me is one thing. You don’t drive with a prisoner until you pass the test.”
“Bully. Jerk. Meanie. At least give me a kiss,” she said.
He leaned down and did so, taking his time and getting it right. She smiled against his mouth. When they broke away she said, “I’ll tell you what: I’m going to let you drive cause you ask so nice, Harry.”