I grabbed us both a fresh crab cocktail, which worked surprisingly well for hangovers, and we were munching on it outside the bronze pig statue when Jimmy called.
I handed her my cocktail and said, “Here we go, kiddo,” while answering my cell. “Jimmy.”
“Okay, I’ve had time to think about it,” he said.
“Twenty-two hours exactly,” I told him.
“Yes, well I had some things to figure out. Anyway, I have a proposition for you, Dex.”
“Yes, both of you.”
“You know I’m not a fan of being propositioned, Jimmy, unless it’s by a very breasty woman.”
I winked at Perry, who was watching me stone-faced, oblivious to the people all around her, fighting to touch the pig.
“This is how it is,” Jimmy went on with a sigh, clearly as sick of dealing with me as I was with him. “And there are no other options. You got that? It’s this or it’s nothing. Either you do it my way or it’s the highway. It’s this or nothing. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I hissed into the phone, grabbing Perry by the elbow and leading her away from the crowd. Satisfied we had some privacy, I eyed her and said, “Jimmy says he has an option for us, just the one option. If we don’t take it, we don’t have a show.”
She nodded, grim but curious. “Okay, what is it?”
“Lay it on us,” I said to Jimmy.
“I have someone I want to add to the show.”
The fuck? No. And I almost said no flat-out, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t screwing myself over by being so impulsive.
“Go on,” I said tersely.
“Dex, you and Perry, to put it mildly, cannot be trusted. You can’t be trusted with delivering a good show, let alone a show in general. You keep screwing up or acting unprofessional. I mean, how many cameras and phones have you two lost so far?”
“No more than the average person.”
“Right. And I think you know what I’m talking about, too. You just don’t have a leg to stand on at the moment, and if I trusted you enough to let you go on as is, you’d just disappoint me all over again.”
That would have hurt if it wasn’t Jimmy who was saying it. I hated the idea of having someone else work with us; it’d totally ruin our dynamic. We worked fast and on the fly, we took risks and chances that sometimes didn’t pay off but sometimes did. Adding an extra person to the pot could make the job more dangerous than it already was.
“So, Dex,” Jimmy continued, “if you two agree to work with this person, then you’d have the sponsorship. Naturally it means that you’d be working a threesome for the near future until an alternative is brought up.”
“Naturally. So what, is this person going to be our babysitter? A host? What?”
“For now he would just be a supervisor. He would pick and plan where you go next—and he already has something lined up as it so happens—he would make all the arrangements, he would make sure everything is running smoothly, he would help you whenever you needed help, and this is crucial, when you think you don’t need help but actually do. I know you, Dex, you’re one stubborn son-of-a-bitch. You need help more than you know.”
“Thanks for your wonderful vote of confidence. So it’s a he then. Who is this guy?”
“You already know him.”
And at that, everything around me began to spin and swirl: Perry, the pig, the tourists, the brick road, the Starbucks up on 1st, as a heavy hunk of lead settled in my stomach. It wasn’t the crab, it was that I knew who he was talking about, and that the person was also standing across the road from me, staring at me above the crowd of people and passing cars.
One ginger fucking head.
I dropped the phone and it clattered to my feet. Perry let out a little cry, trying to go for it while juggling the crab cocktails. I didn’t know if it was yet another phone broke and I didn’t really care. Because I was locked in a surreal staring match with someone I had hoped to never see again.
Maximus was outside of a bookstore, rain jacket on, white and orange plaid shirt peeking out underneath. He smiled at me, at the dumb fucking expression that must have been on my face, and started to cross the street.
“Oh good, it’s not broken,” Perry said, straightening up and peering at my phone, shaking it. “I think you lost Jimmy though. Dex?”
“We’ve got bad news,” I managed to say, still staring at Maximus as he sauntered over.
“What did Jimmy propose?” she asked. “What was the…the fuck is he doing here?”
Yup. She saw him too. I reached for her hand, as if we were preparing to meet a ghost head-on, but no ghosts deserved a punch to the nuts as much as this vag-burglar did.
“Howdy, Dex,” he said in his stupid drawl with his stupid lopsided grin. He nodded chivalrously at Perry. “Little lady.”
“Little lady? Who the fuck are you, John Wayne?” I sneered.
“Here to save the day,” he said, his legs wide apart, arms folded across his chest.
“The hell you are.”
“So Jimmy already told you, has he?”
“Told him what?” Perry asked. “What the hell are you doing here anyway? How did you find us?”
He shrugged with one shoulder. “It’s a small city.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, this feeling of unease spreading through me. It wasn’t just the unease of him here, of Jimmy proposing that we work with him, but that he had just found us here, randomly and at the right moment, which seemed to make it not random at all. Suddenly, it occurred to me that nothing with Maximus was random, and I had to bury that little insight away so I could concentrate on the greater threat.
“Dex, what’s going on?” Perry asked.
I shot her a quick look. “Jimmy was about to tell me that we can get the sponsorship if we add a third person to our party. Him.” I jerked my head in his direction.
Her eyes got big like saucers. It was a relief to know she felt the same way I did. Now that I knew that Perry and Maximus had slept together while we were…well, not talking…a part of me wondered if she still harbored feelings for him. And when I was feeling really insecure, I wondered if her reluctance to be with me was a cause of that. Even if she didn’t have feelings for him, his dick had been inside of her, and that made me want to go on a killing spree every time I was reminded of it. Such as now.
“You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, looking horrified. That’s my girl. Keep at it, kiddo.
“Oh, I’m afraid Jimmy is very serious,” Maximus said. “And you two don’t have much of a choice. You either bring me on board or you’re out of a job.”
Perry shook her head. “No. This is ridiculous. Dex, Jimmy is always saying shit like this and it doesn’t stick.”
I sighed loudly, running a hand through my hair. Oxygen seemed rare at the moment and solid thought was escaping me. The universe was conspiring to bring Maximus Jacobs back into my life, and I couldn’t figure out why, other than that the universe had a shitty sense of humor and liked fucking me up the ass. Horny bastard.
“This time it’s sticking, honey,” Maximus said.
“Don’t call me that,” Perry sniped.
I glared at him too. “Don’t you act like you know shit all, dickweed, because you don’t know shit. I’ve been working with Jimmy for the past three years.”
“And yet here I am, brought in to be your saving grace.”
“How much did you bribe him to get the job?” I asked, not holding back. “How much?”
He rolled his eyes. “Right, because this is my dream job, chaperoning you two.”
“You aren’t chaperoning anything! Perry and I have agreed to nothing, and like hell if we’ll let you be a part of what we started.” My phone chose that moment to ring. I eyed it. Jimmy. Fuck.
“What?” I yelled into it.
“You hung up on me.”
“I dropped my phone. It doesn’t matter. I know what you were going to say. He’s right here. Somehow.” I squinted at Maximus over that last part. He smiled back at me. It was so fucking hard to get to him and so damn easy for him to get to me.
“So then you know. So what do you guys say?”
“I say you can shove this idea—”
“Dex!” Perry interjected, grabbing my arm. “How about discussing it with me first before you screw us both over.”
My mouth flapped open. “You can’t be seriously considering this!”
She looked at Maximus and back to me and nodded at the phone. “Jimmy said we have no choice. It’s either this or nothing at all.”
“She’s right, Dex,” Jimmy said in my ear. “This is your option. You either bring Mr. Jacobs on board as your, I don’t know, let’s call him a production manager, or you don’t have Experiment in Terror anymore. One choice gives you security and a sponsorship. The other choice gives you nothing. Or you can keep being a stubborn ass and screw your partner out of something good just because you and your ex-buddy have some old beef to deal with. What do you say?”
I say fuck you. I say no way. I say I’d rather cut off my balls and I love my fucking balls. But I looked at Perry, and even though I knew how much it would bother her to do this with Maximus, I also knew she needed hope in her future. I saw how desperate she was for that, how badly she needed something solid in her life right now, something more than just me. She wanted to have something be a constant when everything with her family and her mental health and her income was up in the air. She wanted something she could count on and I didn’t even have to hear her thoughts to know that.
I took the phone away from my ear and looked at her. “So what do you want to do? You know what I want to do.”
She frowned. “Quit? Just like that?”
“Always a quitter,” Maximus murmured under his breath.
I spun around and slammed my fist into his chest, sending him stumbling off the curb while Perry cried out in surprise. I hadn’t meant to do that, the dude was usually as solid as a tree, but then I remembered the new dynamic. I felt almost bad, but that didn’t stop me from spewing, “What the hell did you mean by that?”
Maximus rubbed at his chest, his chin dipping, eyes becoming green slits. I rarely saw him mad and it was kind of scary, I had to admit.
“I mean,” he said carefully, “just because I’m involved, your first reaction is to quit. That’s how much you can’t handle being around me. I didn’t think I got to you that badly, Dex, really.”
I knew what the asswipe was doing and damn it was working. My ego never went down without a fight.
“Hey, I can handle being around you, I just prefer not to work with douchenozzles, that’s all. You’re only going to get in the way. You don’t know what the hell you’re doing.”
He stepped back on the curb, towering over me. “Oh, and you do? I can see how well you’ve done so far.”