Tex burst into Maggie McGee’s like he’d been shot out of a cannon.
It was way too early in the morning for that kind of energy, so Champ, who was the only other person there, chose not to react. Instead, he stared at the chessboard and pondered his next several moves as he waited for the delivery truck to arrive.
“I need a lot of money, and I need it right now!” Tex announced when he screeched to a halt next to Champ’s table.
That got the old man’s attention.
“Settle down,” Champ advised. “Champ cannot process a crisis at this hour. Champ also knows from experience that trying to acquire big money in little time always leads to decisions that result in death or jail time. So take a minute to breathe and rethink your life’s path.”
Tex nodded and took a deep breath as he sat down across from Champ.
Tex nodded. “Yeah, I paid that off with the reward money. Bruno is a saint. He told the Feds that I provided information that led to the capture of Irish Tony…”
“The prick who tried to kill Wally and Detective Bruno!” Champ grumbled.
“The crazy thing is,” Tex continued, “I don’t think there was an active reward. Irish Tony had been considered dead for like fifteen years, but somehow, Bruno got them to write me a check.”
“Champ has seen firsthand how persuasive Detective Bruno can be,” he said with a cackle that echoed through the empty bar. “Tell Champ why you need money then if your debt is paid.”
Tex glanced down at the chessboard as if somehow, the pieces held the answer to his quandary.
“I need to find someplace to live, and every place I’ve checked wants first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit,” Tex explained. “I’m working seven days a week now between here and Aspen’s, and I can’t afford anything. You were homeless. Do you think I can survive?”
Champ looked at his friend in concern. “Champ’s got to be honest. There’s no way you’d survive a week living on the street. But you won’t have to. You can always crash at Champ’s. There isn’t much, but there’s a couch to sleep on and a roof over your head. What happened with the house you live in now?”
Tex sighed and slumped down in his seat.
“You know that asshole real estate guy Miles Fitzpatrick?”
Champ’s entire body tensed up at the mention of the name. The man’s face was plastered on billboards all over the city. He had some stupid new reality show where people demeaned themselves for the right win a job working for him. There were rumors that the guy was thinking about running for governor.
But Champ knew Miles Fitzpatrick personally. The real estate mogul had once paid Champ to sleep in the parking lot of St. Sebastian’s in hopes of driving down property values.
While Champ loathed the man, that chance encounter had led to his meeting Detective Bruno and Wally, which had changed his life forever.
“Champ knows the man,” was all Champ revealed to Tex.
“The house I’m living in belongs to my buddy’s grandmother, who moved to Florida. She never intended to sell the place, but Miles Fitzpatrick is buying up the entire neighborhood so he can put up billion dollar condos. He made her an offer that she couldn’t turn down, so now I’ve got less than a month to found a new place to live.”
“Champ thinks that sucks.”
Tex nodded his agreement. “Here I was, finally getting my life back on track. And it’s not like I was taking it easy. I’m working my ass off. I intend to get my music career going again, and I’m going to need money for new equipment and studio time. But I guess that dream gets put on hold while what little savings I squirreled away goes towards a new apartment.”
Champ reached across the table to pat his friend on the shoulder.
“Champ isn’t going to let you give up on that dream!” he vowed. “Champ knows how hard you’ve been working. Champ sees how happy you’ve been since you’ve met Aspen and finally get to play for an audience again.”
“It’s hardly an audience,” Tex corrected him. “A café full of bored housewives and college kids isn’t much. Plus, I’m only doing covers. I’m just a living, breathing jukebox to them.”
Champ pounded on the table with his fist, which immediately got Tex’s attention, but somehow managed to not knock over a single chess piece.
“Champ doesn’t want to hear any defeatist talk,” the old man growled. “Champ knows what it’s like to be punched so hard that you fall down and never want to get up again. Champ lived on the street. Champ made rash, stupid decisions and ended up in jail. Champ will not let that happen to you. Do you understand?”
Tex slowly nodded.
“No one’s ever cared about what happened to me before,” Tex confessed.
“Champ gives you his word. You will not end up on the street. You will not end up in jail.”
Tex finally allowed himself to smile.
“Thanks, Champ. You have no idea what this means to me…”
“I checked him out when we first arrived,” the EMT assured Wally. “He was a little groggy from the crash, but the airbag and seat belt saved him from any serious injury.”
“Then why the hell is he unconscious?” Aspen demanded as she wiped away a tear.
“My guess is exhaustion,” the EMT replied. “He can ride in the same ambulance as his buddy and we can have the docs do a more thorough exam at the hospital.”
Wally nodded and pulled a shaking Aspen back towards him to allow Wally to be loaded onto a stretcher and wheeled away to join Champ.
“He’s going to be okay, right?” Aspen asked Wally with pleading eyes.
“I’m no doctor, so I can’t say that for certain,” Wally told her. “From a legal standpoint, though, the three of you are definitely not out of the woods yet. You’d better ride with me until I’m clear on what exactly happened here.”
Aspen nodded her agreement and walked with Wally towards his car. On the way, they passed the bullet riddled sports car that firefighters were working to pull away from the tree that had ended the high speed chase.
TO BE CONTINUED…