Art of Death by Bob Appavu
It was fifteen minutes before the start of the initiation when another man slid onto the barstool beside Riley. “A screwdriver for the kid,” he said.
Startled, Riley turned. He nearly fell out of his seat. “Westwood!”
Westwood smiled down at him, propping his elbows on the bar. “I’m starting to wonder if you have a death wish,” he said in a tone so friendly it gave Riley chills. “Otherwise, why else would you have come back here after I specifically told you to stay away?”
“H-how did you know I was here?”
“You’re a very simple creature. I assumed that after you got word of the heart and hands at the beach, you’d come looking for answers. You’re predictable.”
“Well,” Riley said, “it just so happens I’m not here about Coliaro. I’m here to be initiated into Quinn’s circle.”
Westwood sputtered, then cackled so loud that the bartender raised an eyebrow. “Kid, you’re not cut out for Quinn’s group.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you’re not going into that room. You’re going to get out of here and go home to your precious Nick.”
“And if I don’t?”
Westwood gave him a smirk. “Then I may just have to take you out of here myself.”
A shiver ran down Riley’s spine as he caught a glimpse of Westwood’s hand. Knuckles like small rocks. Pronounced veins. Westwood noticed his gaze and caught his eye. “You just can’t seem to keep yourself out of my path. It’s like you want to get caught.”
“I’m doing what I think is right.”
“Is that so? Because I still think you have a death wish.”
Damn, he hated it when people said that. Why didn’t anyone get it? They didn’t know what it was like to carry the regret he carried. He’d risk his neck a million times over if it meant he didn’t have to sit at home ten years from now thinking about everything he hadn’t done to prevent a death he knew was about to happen.
Westwood leaned in closer. “Are you going to leave willingly, or will I have to persuade you?”
“I need to know who left that heart and hands at the beach,” Riley told him. “You said it yourself, they got killed because I posed for Coliaro.”
“So you’re doing this out of guilt.”
“I’m doing this because unlike you, I care when a person dies.”
Westwood’s gaze went hot with fury. He gritted his teeth, pausing for a moment before turning back to Riley. He nodded toward Riley’s drink. “Finish that. Then we’re leaving.”
Riley didn’t want the drink, but he took it anyway. It was the only way he could think of to stall for time. He took deliberate, excruciatingly slow sips, smirking inwardly as Westwood’s jaw clenched in frustration.
The clock ticked. One minute to Quinn’s initiation.
As Riley downed the last sip of the screwdriver, he glanced quickly around the room. There had to be a way to get past Westwood.
Only there really wasn’t. But he wouldn’t feel right if he didn’t at least try.
The second he set down his glass, he darted out of his stool and tried to make a mad dash toward the door. He barely made it two steps before Westwood caught him with an arm around his waist. “Nice try,” he laughed, pulling Riley close. He lowered his face into his hair, inhaling deeply. “Hmm. Coconut?”
Riley gave a disgruntled thrash, and surprisingly, Westwood let him go. But after Westwood climbed out of his own seat, he stood beside Riley, laying a threatening hand on the small of his back. “Walk with me,” he commanded.
He led Riley into the back parking lot toward a lone car at the far end. The Fleetwood. It was as shiny and rust-free as if it was new, and Riley wondered with an inward chuckle if the car was as undead as its owner.
Westwood walked Riley all the way up to the passenger side door. “Get in. I’ll drive you back to your car.”
Porter’s warning surfaced in his mind. Westwood was tame as long as he wasn’t angry or hungry, so to speak. He tried to judge the man’s mood, but he couldn’t tell if that moment of smoldering anger he’d sensed at the bar still lingered. Knowing he had no choice, Riley slid into the seat. Westwood closed the door behind him, circled around to the driver’s side, and climbed in. He glanced at Riley out of the corner of his eye.
In a split second, Westwood lunged, leaning over him, arms at either side of his head. Riley cried out, falling back into the corner between his seat and the door. His chest heaved as he stared up at the undead man. Westwood towered over him. He was backlit, a shadowy black figure looming above him.
Westwood reached out, grabbed the door handle, and opened the door a crack before closing it again. “Your seat belt was stuck,” he said, a teasing smile on his face. Withdrawing, he settled back into his own seat and shifted the car into Drive.