Sighing, she glanced at the clock. It read eleven fifty. She had been at the bakery since six in the morning, and she was exhausted. The shop had closed hours ago, but she and her grandfather were up. She knew why he was here. It was the tenth, and on the tenth, the Talons came to collect.
“Hey.” Claire walked out to the front. She saw the slight shock on her grandfather’s face.
“You’re still here?” Mickey regarded her strangely. He was fidgeting, something she found a little peculiar.
“Yeah, I’ve been here all night.” Her eyes narrowed on him as she wiped her wet hands on her apron. “Why are you still here?
“Please go home, Claire.”
Her eyes narrowed on him. “What’s wrong?”
“Go.” He was counting money at the register, his eyes turning back to the task.
“I thought I’d catch a ride home with you.” She gazed out the glass windows, everything beyond covered in artificial lighting. “I don’t like walking at night by myself.”
“You’ll be fine.” He shooed her with his hand. “Just go.”
“Okay.” She nodded then retreated to the back. Five minutes later, she returned, carrying her bag and purse. “Night, Grandpa.”
“Good night, Claire.” He continued writing, not pausing to acknowledge her.
With a heavy heart, she unlocked the glass doors. Her gaze settled on some of the Talon’s goons, who were laughing and joking outside. “Tommy’s here.”
“I said go!” her grandfather snapped.
“I’m going.” She pushed the door open and walked outside.
“Hey,” one of the men spoke. “Up a little late, aren’t you?” He was leaning up against the car, the other two with him smoking.
“Wedding season.” She nervously shifted the bag on her shoulder. “I have lots of work to do.” She scanned all three faces quickly. Usually, only Tommy came to collect, but there were two others with him tonight. She didn’t know them.
Tommy flicked his cigarette to the sidewalk. He sent her a smirk. “Ain’t you supposed to be some place?”
“Yeah, at home sleeping.” she said cheekily. She knew what he meant. She was supposed to be with Sniper tonight, but she had blown him off to work.
“Sleeping. Good one. Remind me to relay that to Sniper.” Tommy chuckled as he made an “L” with his index finger and thumb. Puckering his lips, he blew through them softly as he pretended to shoot her. “Better yet, you tell him. I’ll give you a ride to the house when I’m done here.” Tommy pointed to the car. “Besides, it’s not safe for pretty girls like you to be out alone.” He snickered. “You might get hurt.”
“That’s okay—I can manage.” She glanced at the shop then at Tommy.
“We insist.” The man leaning on the car straightened, opening the back door. “Get in.”
“Is he…?” She lowered her voice as her eyes met with her grandfather’s. He was watching them closely with a fearful expression. “Behind?”
“Yeah.” Tommy straightened the collar of his dress shirt and started rolling back the sleeves. Claire’s gaze settled on the tattoo on his forearm. It was the same one Sniper had.
“A lot?” Claire swallowed hard, but her voice stayed steady.
“Five hundred last month.” Tommy sent her a smile, his grin perfectly white, but his teeth slightly crooked. “I’d give you a discount, but you got a man, so I can’t offer it to you.” Shrugging his shoulders, he raised his hands out to her. “Picked the wrong guy, Claire. Shoulda picked me instead. ‘Ya won’t get no pardons from the big man, no matter how good of a fuck you give him.”
“Whatever,” Claire snapped.
All the friendliness drained from his voice. “And this doesn’t concern you, so get in the car.” He pointed to the vehicle. “Now.”
She nodded, obeying. It was cold inside, the leather chilling her. Music was playing, the driver briefly sending her a smile as he tapped to the beat on the back of the passenger seat. Hunching her shoulders inward slightly, she tried to make herself smaller. Her gaze turned to the men who went into the bakery.
She could see them arguing, Tommy pointing his finger angrily at her grandfather. Mickey seemed very upset, motioning toward his menu and then his cash drawer. After a few minutes, she saw her grandfather hand over an envelope reluctantly. The scene made her shiver. She was terrified, and as the song blared from the radio, she heard the driver sing along softly.
She saw Tommy smash one of the glass sneeze guards at the counter. Even though she couldn’t hear the sound, it made her shudder. Sliding over in the seat, she quickly opened the door and bolted. The driver turned to glance at her, but he didn’t seem too interested in chasing her.
Claire ran and didn’t stop until she entered her apartment building. She was out of breath, her hand pausing over her heart as she leaned up against the wall. Closing her eyes, she tried to calm herself.
She knew something terrible was happening at the shop, but she couldn’t do a thing about it. Calling the police wouldn’t work. All that would do was get her and her family killed. She couldn’t risk that. Calling Sniper wasn’t an option, either. He had made it very clear to her that his business was his business, and he didn’t do favors.