“Thank you so much for seeing me,” I said once the other girls had left. “I can see you’re busy and I won’t keep you. I just wanted to drop off my résumé.”

I passed her the single sheet, which she skimmed without enthusiasm.

“We do have an opening and if we’re interested, we’ll—” She squinted. “Winnie’s Café? That was your last employer?”

My stomach twisted. “Yes, that’s correct.”

“Tori Dawson …” she murmured as though digging through her memory banks. She dropped her arm, my résumé hanging at her side. “I’m sorry, I don’t have a position for you.”

“But you just said …”

The manager glanced distractedly into the café before focusing on me again. “Look, hun. Maybe you should try a different industry. I don’t think hospitality is for you.”

“What are you talking about?”

She shrugged. “You’ve got a reputation. Unless they’re living under a rock, no restaurant manager in downtown will hire you.”

I wilted. “Really?”

“Maybe you’d do better in retail.” She handed my résumé back. “Shipping/receiving might suit you.”

“But … I’m bad at retail too,” I finished under my breath since she’d already walked away. Stuffing the paper in my folder, I trudged back to the street. Passersby jostled me and I ducked into a shady spot beside a brick wall, staring blankly at the cute shops across the road. Most retail jobs were too slow-paced for me. Bored Tori got herself into a lot more trouble than Busy Tori. Another hard-learned lesson.

If no one in downtown would hire me as a server, what would I do? Either I ventured out of downtown, which would require an expensive transit pass and long commutes, or I applied for a starter position in something completely new. But with no experience—or tips—the pay would be too shitty for me to ever afford a decent place of my own. I’d be stuck on Justin’s couch for another eight months. That, or I’d have to quit college once the semester was over.

Groaning, I massaged my temples. No giving up. I’d apply at the last few places on my list and hope their managers were the rare rock-dwelling types, then head home and come up with a new game plan. I would figure this out.

As I stepped away from the wall, the cool sea breeze gusted down the street, carrying a swirl of dust, leaves, and litter. Skirts flew up and café umbrellas tottered precariously—and a sheet of paper hit me square in the face.

Swearing, I snatched the paper off my nose and examined it in case my skin required sanitation from the contact. I was about to toss it away—I know, littering is bad—when I recognized the layout of the text. It wasn’t difficult. I’d been staring at job postings all week.

Maybe one of the prim and perfect applicants from the café had dropped it. Fat chance I’d land a job anywhere they had applied, but I still scanned the paper. Only three listings graced the page. The first was an entry-level bank teller position in the heart of downtown. Yeah, no. I was many things, but “quiet” was not one of them, and every bank I’d ever set foot in had been silent as a cemetery at midnight.

The second position was for a receptionist at a law firm. Were law firms quiet? I’d never been in one—kind of surprising no one has sued me yet, come to think of it—but I was sure they fell in the same “quiet, dignified, stick-up-their-asses” category as banks. So, also a no.

I squinted at the third one. Bartender? I didn’t have much experience, but I’d manned the bar a few times at various restaurants. And bartenders, unlike servers, had more freedom to tell rude customers to shove their bad attitudes where the sun don’t shine.

But … the address. Turning eastward, I gulped. The place was firmly situated in the Downtown Eastside, a large neighborhood that half the city was too terrified to set foot in.

Pulling my phone out of my purse, I looked up the address. Hmm, okay, so it was on the west edge of the Downtown Eastside—not as bad as I’d thought. In fact, it was barely six blocks away, though outside the safe charm of Gastown. Maybe far enough away that they wouldn’t have heard about Tori Dawson, the Server of Doom and Despair. It was worth a shot, and as the saying around here goes, you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.

Feeling hopeful, I stuffed the paper into my purse, tucked my folder under one arm, and strode east. Just follow the redbrick road.

Disappointingly, the red bricks ended after a quarter block, but the three- and four-story buildings with cute shops continued to border the street. Just when I was starting to feel pretty good about things, I passed a shopfront with empty windows. Then another. Within a block, the doors were blank and the windows covered. The number of pedestrians dwindled to a handful, and they walked quickly.

Chin held high, I lengthened my stride, my strappy but comfortable sandals slapping against the sidewalk. Could I run in these if I had to? Probably. Fear was a great motivator.

I wasn’t scared yet, but as I hurried past a heavy-duty chain-link fence with barbed wire on top, I started to doubt myself. Maybe I should go back. What shops there were had thick bars over the windows. Even if I was safe enough in broad daylight, what about late-night shifts—assuming I got the job?

I replayed the café manager’s declaration in my mind. No restaurant manager in downtown will hire you. Screw that. If I needed to carry pepper spray to and from work, then so be it.

Increasing my pace, I strode toward the next intersection. I had to be close, but all I saw was a bike shop called “BIKES” and a tattoo parlor with bars across the windows and the door. Pulling out my phone, I checked the map again, then rounded the corner, walked twenty yards up the street, and stopped.

A black door stood in front of me, tucked into a shadowy nook with no overhead light. Faded print in Ye-Old-English lettering declared, “The Crow and Hammer.” Painted beneath was a black bird with its wings spread ominously, perched on an ornate mallet.

The cube-shaped building featured barred windows on the second and third floors. Its northern neighbor was a shorter building with boarded-up windows and construction tape across the doorway. On the other side was a cramped parking lot with a dumpster and two cars. My gaze returned to the painted crow with its flared wings.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Okay. I could do this. Stepping into the shadowed alcove, I reached for the door.

Chapter Three

Before my fingers touched the peeling paint, an overwhelming urge to turn around washed over me like a bucket of ice water. I didn’t want to be here. The need to walk away—or better yet, run away—roiled through me like a physical sickness. I wanted to be anywhere but here and if I didn’t retreat now, I would … what? Get eaten by a boogeyman on the other side of the door?

Damn, since when was I such a chicken? Teeth gritted, I grabbed the handle and yanked the door open.

My bad case of nerves passed the moment I stepped inside, but honestly? The interior wasn’t any more reassuring than the exterior. Heavy beams in the ceiling, wood finishes, and dim lights gave it that dark English pub feel, and it was much smaller than it appeared from the outside, with enough tables and bar stools to seat maybe fifty people. The chairs were cast around like a stampede had charged through the front door, and though it was clean-ish, a strange smoky smell hung over the place. Not cigarettes, not drugs, not wood smoke, but … something.

Oh, and did I mention the place was completely empty? It was early for the dinner rush, but empty was not a good sign for any business.

Since I was too tough—or too stubborn—to sneak back outside and pretend I’d never set foot here, I soldiered onward. The door wasn’t locked, so that meant they were open, right? Winding around the scattered chairs, I approached the bar at the back. Centered on the wall was a massive steel war hammer, the metal nicked and tarnished, the wooden handle dark. I eyed it warily, hoping it was firmly anchored in place.

Setting my folder on the thick wood bar top, I tried to peek through the gaps in the saloon doors behind it. “Hello?”

A muffled voice answered from somewhere beyond the saloon doors. So someone was here. Someone who was busy, apparently. I waited, shifting from foot to foot. Since I was just standing there, I nudged the nearest bar stool under the lip of the bar. Then I reached over and tucked the next one into place. And since I’d done that, I fixed the other ones too. Much better.

With a peek at the saloon doors, I straightened the nearest table. What a mess.

The doors swung open and a woman half fell out of the room beyond. Short, plump, and maybe ten years older than me, with dark hair twisted into a messy bun and bangs that were streaked with blue and red. Clutching a stack of folders so thick they threatened to disgorge paperwork, the woman looked around wildly before spotting me.

“Who are you?” she blurted.

Was that how she greeted all their customers? No wonder the place was empty.

I hitched my professional smile into place and grabbed my folder. “Hi, my name is Tori Dawson. I’m here about your bartending job opportunity.”

“You are?” She dumped her papers onto the bar top and gave me a frowning once-over. “Walk-ins aren’t usually how we …”