A fist banged on my driver's-side window, and my eyes flew open. I lunged for my Glock 42. Nearly shot my foot off.
Two white eyeballs glared at me through the darkness. Horace Ordell.
"You okay, P.T.?" he hollered.
The first thing you gotta know about Horace is that his ass is the size of a small nation. So to get him moving takes an act of war.
I looked at the clock in my Ford F-150: 2:47 a.m.
"You were screaming in your sleep," Horace said. The big man's body was parked a foot outside my door. "Could hear you way the hell yonder."
My eyes drifted to the bouncer's stool where Horace resided most nights. A neon sign above it read The Landing Patch, and two curved strips of light displayed what very unsubtly looked like a woman's legs, opening and closing. And opening and closing again.
I took in the smell of tobacco plants after the rain. The scent of old Georgia dirt.
"Everything all right inside the club?" I asked, opening my truck door.
Horace bobbed his bald head, his skin dark as night. He'd played O- line for Alabama until he blew out his knee.
Behind him, the strip club was housed in an old log mill, set along protected county land beside the Tullumy River. What were once windows for ventilation had been covered with rusted metal signs to block out the light. Drink Coca-Cola, one read. Eat Utz Chips, another.
I glanced at myself in the rearview mirror before getting out. Wavy brown hair. Bloodshot blue eyes.
I also saw into the back of the cab, where Purvis lay. Sweet Purvis, my seven-year-old bulldog. The look he gave me lately was always the same: You're spiraling since she's gone, P.T. Grab ahold of something.
But I'm not the type to reach out and grab. Hugs, for instance. I was never a big hugger. Even before my wife's accident.
I stepped out of the truck, and Horace kept yammering.
"I don't mean you were screaming a little, P.T.," he said. "It was more like History Channel, Army flashback type shit."
"You can go back to your post, Horace," I said. "I'm fine." Of course I wasn't fine. I was five counties from fine.
Horace stared at the ground, his mind hatching something. "Or I could call someone?"
The look on his face was odd. A nervous smirk maybe.
"Like who?" I said.
"I dunno." He shrugged. "Another cop? I know you had a couple drinks. Maybe he comes out here and has you walk the line. Throws some cuffs on you?" He hesitated. "Or you could tip me? A lotta folks tip me."
I almost smiled. A shit-heel like Horace threatening a detective who'd experienced what I'd been through. If brains were leather, this guy didn't have enough to saddle a june bug.
I reached into my truck, and Horace took a cautious step back. Then he saw the highball glass in my hand. I'd brought it out earlier from the Landing Patch, and it was still full.
I handed him the glass and got back in the truck. The night sky was a shade of violet, with purplish-gray cumulus clouds that looked like overstuffed pillows.
"Here's a tip," I said to Horace, "don't go mistaking grief for weakness."
I fired up the engine, and a paper crinkled in my flannel shirt pocket under my seat belt. Unfolding it, I stared at a single word as Horace walked away.
The penmanship was as neat as could be expected, considering it had been written in eyeliner and penned in the dark.
I flipped the paper over. The other side had an address on it: 426 E. 31st. B.
"Damn it," I said, remembering the stripper and her story from the previous night. She was a redhead with bruises that ran the length of both legs. I had promised her I'd come by and flash my badge. Scare the shit out of her abusive boyfriend.