Jaden pointed the clunky Gull 200 toward Tamlando. With luck on his side for a change, he found the dealer he was seeking at his Ybor Mall food court haunt.
Unfortunately Squeeze saw Jaden, too, and took off in the opposite direction.
Jaden followed him. “Squeeze! Wait!” What was with people running from him today?
“Roar, roar, and out the door, splitter. My customers don’t like loud lions on the prowl.”
Jaden lowered his voice. “I’m sorry, but I need your help.”
Squeeze continued walking briskly toward the parking garage, and Jaden trotted after him.
“Saying you need help is like saying peanut butter needs chocolate. You’re just not Amsterdam if you’re not in need of help.”
Jaden sighed, exasperated. He still hated the sound of that nickname. Even with everything that was happening, he liked to think he was a long way from the useless punk that name had referred to. “Look, this is different.”
“Different from finding your girl, getting you high, and keeping your butt from getting kicked at the warehouse? I’ve helped plenty. And all I ever wanted was a gold star and maybe a milk carton that wasn’t recyclable. Is that too much to ask?”
Squeeze’s non sequitur stupefied Jaden. He had never been sure of everything Squeeze was talking about, but he did know there were certain things the dealer was always good for. Once Squeeze heard him out, Jaden knew he’d offer his assistance. He just had to charge ahead. “I need you to get me into the U.Z.”
Squeeze snorted. “In’s not a problem. Tell any Senior Manager how you’ve been occupying your time and you’ll get in.” He continued toward the parking garage, but his pace had slowed. “I do say out’s a sight tougher, though.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“It’d work. You could find your girl and have a real Florida cracker wedding. A possum as best man, a raccoon as maid of honor. Just think of how cute it would be if you gave them tiny hats to wear. . . .” His voice trailed off.
“Of course that’s assuming she’s not dead already.”
“Nice. Look, it’s clear you’re not the right person to deal with. Ice cream bar woman looked like a sovereign Susie, if you know what I mean, a real take-charge kind of woman.” Jaden knew how to hit Squeeze’s vulnerable spot. No street boss liked to be told someone else was better than he was. “I’ll just drop by the warehouse on my way home. . . . ”
Now that made Squeeze stop. “You’re already running with the top dog, but the question is, are you willing to play fetch?”
Squeeze pushed his hat back and wiped his forehead, surveying Jaden. “When I throw my Frisbee, my dogs come back with it, ya understand?”
Squeeze rolled his eyes and sighed. His tone and demeanor changed. He sounded like a Corporation voice-over artist from the Midwest. “I can get you in, but you can’t stay, and you can’t bring your raver out. Along with smuggling yourself in, you’ll be smuggling in a few items of my choosing as well.”
Jaden’s stomach turned. “That’s kind of risky, don’t you think? I could get nailed just walking around with the stuff before I even made it across the wall.” Jaden cringed at the thought of being a prisoner himself.
Squeeze resorted to baby talk. “Awww . . . did the big bad maverick get an itty bitty day job and forget to work the night shift once in a while to stay in practice?”
Though he didn’t want to admit it, there was a sliver of truth to Squeeze’s insinuation. Jaden had been out of the game for quite some time. And it wasn’t as if he was going to start out in the minors. Breaking into the U.Z. was the championship game.
But the whole reason he had gotten back into this mess initially was because Ally needed him. And she still needed him. He couldn’t leave her behind that fence, not knowing what had happened to her. He couldn’t endure another night reliving the heartless, sadistic things he had said and done to her. He had more virtue than that. And it was time he started showing it.
“I’ll do it.”