second floor a cursory inspection, pausing to look over the diverse inhabitants of two basketball courts, four handball courts, an aerobics room, and two additional free-weight stations, but at tour’s end only found himself with yet another difficult decision to make: what to do now? He could either go back down the stairs to try the other two doors off the service desk, or proceed onward and upward, to the third floor and, if possible, whatever points lay beyond.
He stood at the landing of the staircase leading skyward and studied its ascent. It looked like a steep climb he didn’t want to make, and that, he decided, was probably how the fat man would have felt about it, too. He retraced his steps and tried a new door on the first floor below.
Townsend’s heavy friend was in the locker room, spinning the dial of a combination padlock securing one of the lockers in the back, struggling to perform a task too delicate for his meaty fingers to pull off with any grace. The sounds of male horseplay betrayed the presence of two other men in the room with him, but they were off in a distant corner and he was ignoring them accordingly.
Gunner’s arrival, however, he found distracting. At the sound of the door ringing open, he looked up from the lock to watch the black man come in, by all appearances just another jock looking for a place to change. The detective turned into the bathroom nearby, groping for the fly of his pants, and disappeared inside. The fat man took a deep breath and went back to work.
The jaws of the lock popped free. He snatched the locker door open, exchanged a bulky envelope inside for the loaded pillowcase, then secured the locker again, spinning the padlock’s dial to make sure it was closed for good. He peeled the envelope open for a brief instant—lifting a few crisp bills out for a close look—and smiled.
Standing at a urinal in the bathroom, going through the motions of relieving himself, Gunner used the full-length mirror in the other room to watch the big man shove the envelope into his windbreaker’s left-hand pocket and leave, glancing half-heartedly from side to side to look for a witness he didn’t want to see.
Gunner was tempted to follow, but not much.
Waiting for Townsend to come get his clothes was no sure thing, but unless the white boy had more between his ears than the thin air people gave him credit for, it was a risk worth taking. Townsend had paid someone good money to assemble a CARE package and drop it here at the Y, and sooner or later, either in person or by yet another proxy, he was going to show up to retrieve it.
Gunner found an empty locker along the same row as Townsend’s and slipped quickly out of his coat and shoulder holster. He didn’t want to be standing around twiddling his thumbs when the white man made his entrance, and taking his shirt and shoes on and off before a vacant locker seemed like a clever way to, look busy at any given moment.
He tossed his coat into the locker atop the holster, followed that with his shirt, and bent down to untie a shoe. The same pair of male voices he had heard earlier wandered toward the door, and Gunner glanced up just long enough to watch two middle-aged white men in matching raquetball togs and headbands leave the room. He turned his head before the door closed behind them, pulled his left shoe off and threw it in with the rest, then went to work on the right.
The laces never came loose in his hands.
Something very unforgiving collided with the base of his skull and he hit the concrete floor with his face, meeting the black wall of unconsciousness, head-on, without resistance.
He was sitting on a hard toilet seat when he next opened his eyes. Somebody had propped him up in the far, stall where he wouldn’t easily be discovered, still naked from the waist up. He blinked twice, hard, and forced himself upright and mobile. He stumbled into a short, naked man on his way to the urinals, bounced off him into the