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Friday 1:15 A.M., EST
Neptune Beach, Florida
Peter Williams stepped around the side of the Quickie Mart just as Tarek reached for the front door.
"Tee," Peter called quietly. "Over here."
Tarek stopped dead in his tracks. He turned to his right and squinted into the darkness.
Peter took another step forward, letting the light from inside the convenience store fall on his face.
"Holy Jesus." Tarek's face registered astonishment for a second. Then he smiled a fake, insincere smile. "Officer Williams. Long time no see. What "
"Not officer," Peter said. "Not anymore."
"Right." Tarek nodded. "I heard."
"I'll bet you did," Peter said. He studied Tarek. The man looked exactly the same as he had the last time Peter saw him. Tarek Aziz "Tee" was his street name was six feet and a hundred seventy pounds of solid muscle. Tan, good-looking, when he wasn't supplying marijuana and coke to the street-corner dealers out here on Justina Avenue he was playing gigolo to the rich widows down in Ponte Vedra Beach.
"You keeping busy, Tee?" Peter asked. "What you been up to?"
"Not much." Aziz shrugged. "Getting by. You know."
"Uh-huh." Peter did know. Back when he'd been a cop, Tarek had been one of his main snitches. Aziz gave Peter information, Peter gave him money and helped him stay out of jail.
"I want to talk toyou, Tee," Peter said.
"Not here," Peter said. "Walk with me."
Aziz followed Peter around the side of the Quickie Mart. A sputtering fluorescent bulb above a steel delivery door lit up the sidewalk.
"I need some help, Tee. I'm looking for a guy." Peter reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a piece of paper an artist's sketch. He handed it to Tarek. "This guy. You know him?"
Aziz held the sketch up to the light and studied it.
"Why you want this guy?"
"That's my business."
Light dawned in Tarek's eyes. "This is the guy. The guy who shot Kelly?"
Peter nodded. No use denying it. "That's right. Kelly and the girl." Peter at five-eight a good half a head shorter than Aziz looked up at the taller man and caught his eye. "This is a bad man, Tee. I want him."
Aziz shook his head. "I cannot help you. I have never seen him." He tried to hand the sketch back to Peter.
"Do me a favor," Peter said. "Keep it. Show it around."
"Please, Tee," Peter said. It burned him to have to do this, to ask a small-timer like Aziz for help, but where else was he going to go? The police? Fat chance of getting help from them.
Tarek sighed. "I don't know. The people I work for..."
Peter gritted his teeth. When Tarek was snitching for him, and Peter said jump, Tarek not only asked how high he didn't even dare land until Peter told him it was okay. And now this?
But he held his temper. He needed Tarek's help. Tee knew a lot of people up and down the Florida coast. Over the last six months of looking, Peter had pretty much exhausted his sources around here. He needed to widen the search.
"You do, this for me," Peter continued, "and I won't forget it."
Aziz was silent a moment.
"A lot of people," he said finally, "not me, of course, but a lot of people they're happy you don't be a cop anymore. They don't like you."
"Uh-huh." Peter could understand that: he'd made this part of Jacksonville a pretty uncomfortable place for the criminal element to hang around in. With Tarek's help, of course. But he didn't point that out right now.
"Don't say it's for me, then. Say it's for you. Say you want to know who the guy is."
Peter shrugged. "That's up to you. You come up with a story that works."
"No. That's not what I mean." Tarek shook his head." Why should I help you?"
Peter stopped himself just barely from exploding.
"Because I'm asking, thats why."
"That's not enough, I'm sorry."
Peter gritted his teeth. "What are you looking for money?"
Tarek smiled. "That would be a start."
"If you find the guy, there'll be money."
"But still you want me to work? For nothing?" He shook his head, and held out the sketch again. "I can't do that."
"You mean you won't do that."
Tarek shrugged. "That's right. I won't do that."
Peter glared at him. Tarek's back was to the store parking lot. Over the man's shoulder, he saw the car Aziz had driven up in. A light blue minivan. Hard to tell from where he stood, but it looked like the van had out-of-state plates.
"What you got in that car of yours, Tee? A little something for the dealers around here?"
Tarek sneered. "It's none of your business what I got."
"Suppose I make it my business?"
"You can't do anything now," Aziz said. "You're not a cop."
Peter smiled and shook his head. "You got that all wrong, my friend. Now that I'm not a cop, I can do whatever I want."
Tarek flinched, and stepped backward.
He tripped over a row of milk crates behind him on the sidewalk. He fell hard to the ground. The sketch floated up in the air and landed on the sidewalk next to him.
Right at that instant, a patrol car cruised by on the avenue. It made a quick, screeching turn into the Quickie Mart lot, and two cops hustled out. Peter recognized them both right away Hibbard and Shannon.
They made right for the side of the building.
Black Dawn. Copyright © by D. Stern. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.