The Path, the Veritas Chronicles
”Hey Drew, you done yet? ”
”Yeah, be up in a sec. ” Drew hung up the phone in the downstairs bar and finished counting out the till for the night. The bartender had come up short again. ”Damn. ” He mumbled, shaking his head at the womans dumb move. Satisfied he had counted it right three times in a row, Drew closed and locked the till. He took the extra cash out to go in the safe, they did their deposits in the mornings given their late hours and large cash amounts. It was safer.
Tired and strung out from a night of schmoozing and keeping things running smoothly on the floor of the club he and his brother ran in downtown Tampa, Drew poured himself a glass of scotch before making his way to the office. It was a ritual, one theyd kept since opening two years ago. Brandon took care of everything behind the scenes including making the all-important investors happy and Drew handled the floor and the staff.
Despite having no real education beyond high school to fall back on, Brandon had proven resourceful in ways to support himself and his brother. In the last few years hed been on fire, venturing into several different business deals and making decent money with Drew at his elbow doing whatever his brother asked of him. Then, three years ago Brandon had announced he wanted to put down roots, he was going to open a restaurant and nightclub in the heart of the city.
Drew had been nervous. The wheeling and dealing theyd done up to then had been low risk. Restaurants and clubs were notoriously bad business deals and neither of them had any experience running something on that scale. The public was fickle and the hours were terrible. Plus, with the economy turning, people were going out and spending less on entertainment. It was a bad time to roll the dice, hed argued. Yet Brandon had been able to convince the bank and several investors that Carters was going to be a success. He had the prime waterside site chosen, renovated and doors opened for business within a year of his initial announcement that he was making a go of it, a record by all accounts.
And it had proven to be their most lucrative venture yet. Every night the club did a good business and from Thursday through Saturday it was packed with two hour waits for tables.
Drink in hand, Drew walked from the downstairs bar into the main entry that divided bar from restaurant, and up the stairs. At the top of the stairs was a short catwalk style landing with a polished chrome railing and large cube of frosted soundproof glass. The chrome handle was the only sign of a door. Drews worn brown Pumas made barely a sound as he strode across the high gloss wood of the dance floor taking in a view of the city muted by the effect of the tinted glass of the far outside wall and backlighting of the dance club. He made a right to go down the hall to the office. The black insulated steel door was open but the back of his knuckles rapped on the doorframe anyway.
”Come on in. ” Brandon didn look up, he was typing something on his laptop sitting on top of his glass topped desk with the streamlined black phone and lunchbox sized silver square that was the monitor for their security system. Drew locked the money from downstairs away before he was officially off duty. Then, he slouched into the black leather chair turned to put his back to the wall instead of the door.
Brandon loved modern touches. Glass, metal, anything with a chrome finish and he bought it. ”It calls to me. ” Hed told his brother when hed asked. The steel girders that made up the bars had been his choice; Drew had been leaning toward oak. Even the bar tops were steel girders welded together. The bar set the tone for the entire establishment.
Warehouse chic Brandon called it. Drew found it cold but this was his brothers show. He was just there to help, as usual. Brandon was the more aggressive of the two, going after whatever he wanted whether it was a place on the hockey team, a job or a girl. And much like in business, he usually got it. The deaths of their parents had only served to intensify his drive.
Drew was more of an easygoing personality, though equally charismatic, making him the perfect choice for manager and face man for their operation. His designated role suited him and he kind of enjoyed not having to think too hard, allowing Brandon to call all the shots and direct him where to go.
Right now, he wished he could take some of the stress off his brother. Brandon didn look good lately. His long, lanky frame was leaner than usual and there were new shadows under his eyes, matching the hollows under his prominent cheekbones. Long fingered hands shook with a near constant tremor and his left eye had developed a nervous tic.
Bearing their mothers angular features, Brandon was in direct contrast to his brother. Drew had stayed more boyish and softer featured like their father. It accentuated the age difference between the two men as did the dimple that refused to leave Drews left cheek no matter how old he got.
At just under six feet with an athletic frame and striking gray eyes Drew could keep a crowd happy. He was attractive enough to flirt with the women and good-natured enough to fit in with the men. There was something about him that had the peculiar but incredibly useful ability to keep the peace.
Brandon had told him it was his unflappable nature, crediting his ability to ”cool ” a room to his inner peace. The two laughed about that a little too hard knowing that until only a few years ago, that had not been Drews way at all. Brandon however, ran too hot to be good when things got ugly. It was the same intensity that allowed him to run the object of his desire to the ground without fail, whereas his brother would wade in with a near lethargy and within minutes, have the crowd turned around.
The scotch tasted good. Drew took another pull and let it sit in his mouth, feeling its warm burn on his tongue before allowing it roll down his throat. For a few minutes he stared at the back of the silver box showing Brandon views of both front and back entrances. When they started to burn he closed his eyes and rested his glass on his denim clad leg, waiting patiently for Brandon to finish his report. It was probably for the investors, they were always asking for updates on the bottom line and growth, things that held no interest for Drew.
Finally Brandon spoke, his tight voice sharp in the quiet of the near abandoned club. ”Looks like tonight was another good night Drew. ”
Drew could hear the tic starting above his brothers cheek without needing to confirm it by sight and, honestly preferred not to. Free hand running through sandy waves, ruffling them into a thick mess before scratching it back again, Drew answered with his eyes still closed. Sleep was beginning to sound good and it was making him dull. ”Yeah, weve got a thief though. ”
”Dana in the lower bar? ” Theyd discussed Drews suspicions before.
It was an effort to raise his heavy lids. ”Yeah, shes short again tonight. Thats three times in the last two weeks. I checked it after I covered the lunch shift and it was dead on. I counted it three times after she closed tonight and Im coming up forty short. Shes the only one who was on it all night, Jaime left it alone. ”
”Do you want to tell her or do you want me to do it? ”
”I got it. Shes off tomorrow, Ill call her when I get up and give her the news. ” Even if the woman was a thief, Drew knew she had a kid at home and his dad wasn in the picture. She was skimming but that didn mean she had to have Brandon ream her out in front of everybody. Getting fired was going to be hard enough. He felt really bad for the kid though, it wasn his fault his parents were dumb.
Grunting was Brandons only reply. His mind was already moving on taking Drews with it. ”Think you can handle things for a few days without me? ”
Sleep was temporarily pushed off, Drews mind sharpened. ”Where are you going? ” Brandon was taking a number of short overnights lately. He was elusive about them and more than once Drew had wondered at his honesty about his destination. Last month hed said he was going to Massachusetts and Drew had seen a receipt sitting on top of his trashcan for a coffee in Atlanta. At first Drew thought it was a woman, unfortunately, it wasn .
”Terry wants me to go to North Carolina with him. Hes got a business opportunity for me, for us, and wants me to meet with some of his people. ” Brandon stared boldly at his brother, daring him to disagree. The tic undermined his challenge.
Drew felt that familiar gnawing in the pit of his stomach; Terry Pritchard was bad news. He had come into their lives about the time Brandon had decided to open the club and slowly but surely, hed been insinuating himself in their lives ever since. Brandon used to make the decisions about what he wanted, not anyone else. Call him selfish sure, but you always knew what Brandon wanted. It was one of the things that drew people to him, his surety of purpose, his drive.
Now, nothing was decided without Terry having a say. Sometimes Drew thought the guy had some sort of hold on Brandon. Hed asked once if Terry was blackmailing his brother. All hed gotten was chewed out and a glass thrown at him. Fortunately Brandon didn have the arm Drew did or hed have been in the hospital getting stitches. And when Terry started sidling up to Drew harder than ever a few months ago, hed shut the man down cold telling him to go to hell. Pritchard had just laughed. Twice hed sent some of his girls over and Drew had politely declined. He didn want anything that guy was selling. Brandon had asked him not to offend him, he was one of their biggest investors. It was only out of respect for his brother he didn pull the guy out back and beat him senseless. Drew hoped to buy him out some day and be clear of him for good, maybe then his brother would be able to relax.
Terry Pritchard was the only thing in this world that had succeeded in getting a rise out of Drew for more than five minutes. Even then once the initial rage was past, Drew had a hard time summoning enough anger at the man to seek him out. He would have seen it as a character flaw on his part, laziness or simple mindedness, if he had spent more time thinking about it. But he didn . Something always seemed to come along to distract him.
”Oh. Sure. ” It was pointless to argue. Where Terry was concerned Brandon couldn be reasoned with.
Brandon stared at the monitor, avoiding his brothers gaze. The tic made it look like he was winking. ”I know Im leaving you on a Thursday night but I should be back before things get busy for the weekend. ”
”Its cool Bran. Don worry about it. Ive run the club before. ”
”Yeah, I know you can do it. I just hate to leave you with everything. Ill be back as soon as I can wrap things up there. ” Guilty eyes flicked over before being drawn back to the monitors face.
He suddenly didn feel like sitting and having their usual nightly powwow after close. Standing up, Drew stretched and downed the rest of his drink. With a rub to the front of the white dress shirt he wore under his black sport coat he announced, ”Im whipped. Ill see you when you get back, all right? ”
Brandon gave him a queer look but other than some new wrinkles between his brows, gave no indication he was displeased. ”Okay. Hey, be careful while Im gone. ”
The genuine warning in Brandons casual dismissal left Drew with an ominous feeling. ”Always do. ” Taking care not to exit too hastily, Drew left his glass on the bar and walked out into the muggy night air at last beginning to give up a few precious degrees.
In a few weeks the humidity would be unbearable but it was a mild spring so far and he was not complaining. The sweltering heat was something hed never been able to get used to and Florida left him feeling like something was missing. Someday he wanted to hand the reins of the club over to a manager and go back to the Midwest or even the West Coast, anywhere Terry Pritchard didn exist was fine.
That was the thing about losing your family, nowhere ever really felt like home. Drew thought it for the millionth time.
Hitting the button, he heard the locks pop and climbed into his new toy. The silver 370Z had been a Christmas present to himself. Hed been socking away all of his profits, not a hard task when you spend every minute at work. It was actually hard for him to find the time to spend money so hed had a good amount laying around when his old Blazer had finally died on him. The new car had been a luxury hed thanked himself for every day since. Today was no exception. Drew found himself settling into the seat, the tension already easing off of his shoulders as the engine growled to life and he pulled out into Tampas perpetually thick traffic heading up Dale Mabry Highway toward his condo on the outer fringes of the city.
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