Return to poughkeepsie, p.13
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.13

           Debra Anastasia

  “I grabbed shopping bags from your kitchen. I couldn’t find luggage. Hope that was okay?” Beckett watched as his dog offered Vere his tummy.

  Chery stood and nodded. “Can you help me take them upstairs?”

  “Sure.” Beckett scooped up the bags.

  Before following Chery up the stairs he added, “My dog’s fallen in love with you, Vere.”

  The woman froze and looked at the floor.

  Chery turned. “Vere, please tell Beckett what you think of Gandhi.”

  Finally the woman put her stunning blue eyes on Beckett, just a little shy of meeting his gaze. “I like the dog. Thank you.”

  Beckett nodded. “Awesome.”

  Chery went the rest of way up the stairs, and Beckett followed her into the guest bedroom.

  “Are you okay?” she whispered.

  “I’m fine. Here’s your stuff.” Beckett put the bags on the bed.

  “Was he…mad?” Chery covered her mouth, like even mentioning that Jared got angry was a secret she was sharing.

  “He and I came to an understanding. He knows you and I are friends, and that’s going to be okay.” Beckett waited.

  Chery exhaled. “Leaving can’t be that easy.”

  “It probably won’t be. You’ve got feelings for him. But if you decide you’re done? It will be that easy. I’ll make sure of it.” He turned toward the door.

  “Why are you doing this?” Chery hugged herself as suspicion showed in her eyes.

  He got it. She was probably not used to a guy just being a human being. “I used to be a bad guy—not a woman-beater like drizzle nuts over there, but not good either. I’m trying to be different. You and your sister are safe here, if that’s what’s got you worried.” He walked down to the main floor and reset his alarm. He could sense Chery drifting back downstairs behind him.

  “Ladies, I’m off to bed. Chery, text me if you need anything, and feel free to eat anything in the kitchen.” Beckett walked down the hallway to his bedroom, and Gandhi reluctantly tore himself away from Vere to follow.

  He normally didn’t call it a day this damn early, but he wanted to give them some privacy. He put the dog on the bed and sat next to him with his laptop. Tonight had been like a hit on a crack pipe. Doing the right damn thing felt wonderful, but getting to use some physical methods to accomplish it had felt so fucking good he could just cry like a pussy.

  He missed his brothers. Damn it. He brought up Google and punched Blake’s name in. The first link was a birth notice. He clicked on it, knowing he was weak. There was a picture of the baby, who looked like a smooshed-up old man, and then Beckett read the words: “Blake and Livia Hartt and big sister Emme welcomed Kellan Beckett Hartt on December fifteenth. He weighed eight pounds, two ounces, and was twenty-two inches long.” He rested his head against his headboard and closed his eyes. Good God, that kid was already a couple months old. He missed Poughkeepsie so damn much.

  On Saturday morning, Ryan woke up early and surveyed the drying tampons on his ceiling. Trish still had his key, which was turning out to suck, but he didn’t want to deal with his annoying landlord to get his lock changed. God bless Trish—she was as inventive as she was crazy. Last night she’d brought at least ten boxes of tampons into his apartment and wet them down. Then she’d transformed the cathedral ceiling in his living room into a tamponscape. He didn’t have a ladder, which she knew, so the tampons would be there until they dried up and fell on his head. Awesome. That ruled out getting lucky with any other chicks until the feminine products were gone.

  In the last ten days he’d visited as many crapholes as he could find in Poughkeepsie without being too goddamn obvious. He even did some tongue jousting with a fairly filthy hooker on a major street. He turned on the TV and watched a helicopter burning as it crashed in New York City. As a cop, his first instinct was always to think terrorism when he saw smoke and buildings. But after listening to the report, it seemed more like a crazy gun battle. If that was Poughkeepsie, he’d be all over it. Instead he just watched the flames peter out while the newscaster sensationalized everything.

  One of his “special” cell phones rang. He’d purchased a few disposable ones at the start of his assignment. The number was unavailable, but he answered it anyway, expecting another telemarketer.

  “You need to stop dicking around or you’re going to get all of us fucking killed.” The voice sounded computerized. It had been altered somehow.

  “Suck my ass.” Ryan waited to see where disobedience got him.

  “Cops like you don’t last long.” The voice sounded disembodied.

  He couldn’t glean any emotion or background noises as clues. “Says who?”

  The laugh sounded more like a bark with the distortion. Probably a free fucking app. “Just leave.”

  “I’ll go wherever I fucking want. I’m above the law, and I sure as shit don’t listen to coward-ass vaginas who can’t even use their real voices.” Ryan didn’t hang up.

  “She’s not my boss, but you best listen.” The call ended.

  “That was weird.” He’d have to let the guys at work analyze this phone. He got up to check the notes on his computer. He wanted to track which places he’d given out that particular phone’s number, but as he neared his desk, he stopped in his tracks. His screen saver was dongs—hundreds of them bouncing across his monitor. And worse, each dick had either his or a member of his family’s face on the tip. Dancing Dongs would make a great band name. It was less delightful as a screen saver. He wiggled the mouse to make the picture go away, only to see Trish had set a particularly veiny one with his mother’s face on it as his wallpaper.

  “Bitch.” Ryan pulled up his spreadsheet. At least she’d left Poseidon alone. He’d left his ammunition out next to the fish, hoping to send her a clear message.

  He smiled to himself, proud to have one-upped her at least on that, when he felt the wet slap of a tampon coming loose from the ceiling and landing on his head.


  Insane Bitch

  WHEN EVE RETURNED TO MARY ELLEN’S HOUSE in Somers a few days after the debacle, she was surprised to see it still standing. Security had been beefed up even more, but she was buzzed through anyway. She wore jeans and a T-shirt under her coat—simple, non-threatening clothes. Still, she was surprised when she wasn’t frisked.

  On her way through the foyer, she noted ten new men. One directed her into the freaking ballroom, which was apparently where Mary Ellen preferred to do business. The room had flickering candles on every table despite the lack of an actual event. It was the middle of the day.

  “January. Welcome home. You and I have quite a bit to discuss. Ladies, please go to your rooms.”

  As they passed, Eve noted that Micki was among them, though she seemed to have some wounds on her arm. There were less than a handful of ladies left now. Eve crossed her arms and waited to see what was next from this insane bitch.

  Mary Ellen sighed. “I do suppose you deserve some credit for what you did the other night. But how about money instead?” She sent a quick text on her phone and one of her guards entered with an envelope.

  The man handed the envelope to Eve. She didn’t bother to open it, but she examined him as he turned to leave. He had a scar under his right eye—one so obvious, even a scared little girl would notice it. She marked him as an enemy in her head. Someday she would make him pay.

  Mary Ellen smirked. “I’m sure you’ll be pleased. Go ahead, count it.”

  Eve stepped to the nearest table and held the envelope over the candle’s flame. The paper blackened before catching. Mary Ellen’s eyes widened in surprise. Eve let the flames lick her fingers far past what was sensible before dropping it on the floor and stamping it out. What had been a sizeable stack of money was now black ash.

  “I don’t want your money.” Eve crossed her arms again.

  Mary Ellen tapped her first finger on her lips. “So I can’t trust you, and I can’t pay you. What’s keeping me from just eliminating y

  “As I’ve mentioned before, try me.” Eve tilted her head a bit.

  “Burning that money is an act of war. Surely you know that.” Mary Ellen stood and stepped closer.

  “Or an act of loyalty like you’ve never seen before. Perspective is everything.” Eve smiled. “We have a common enemy.”

  An odd shadow passed over Mary Ellen’s face, but she quickly composed herself. “Okay. I’ve an assignment for you. We’ll let the outcome of that decide your fate, shall we?” She went to the table again and picked up a manila envelope.

  Eve did rip this one open and scanned the information. Finally. The file was on a Poughkeepsie cop. She studied the papers and pictures for a moment, then slid them back into the envelope. She walked back over and lit it with the same candle that had destroyed the money.

  Mary Ellen was furious. “Do you have some sort of mental problem? Or a death wish? Both?”

  Eve shook her head. “Are you an amateur? Never keep hard copies.” She took a deep breath and rattled off Ryan Morales’s address, social security number, and badge number. “He’s been on the force six years and has been known to frequent pawn shops, strip clubs, and four known drug dealers’ houses. He likes brunettes and has type O-positive blood. Did I miss anything?”

  Mary Ellen narrowed her eyes. “Fine. Seek him out. Become his girlfriend. I want pictures of the inside of his apartment, details on his favorite sexual position, and information on anyone he loves. We’re buying him. You’re—”

  Eve interrupted, “Providing insurance. I know how the game is played. I’ll be in touch.” She turned and wondered if she’d make it out the front door without a bullet in her back.

  Ryan stood in line at Starbucks to get his usual fix. He should’ve been preparing to spend his weekend in the worst parts of the city, but damn it, he was going to speak fake Italian and feel like a yuppie douche for a few freaking minutes first. He dug through his wallet to find his gold card and nearly dropped it when an iPhone damn near exploded at his feet. As he bent down to retrieve it, he noted two very promising black high heels. He said a silent prayer that the picture his mind had drummed up to match the sexy shoes would prove accurate.

  The legs were long and shapely, and just past the beautiful knees came a black skirt—an inch shorter than sensible. He almost moaned. Her white shirt had one too many buttons open, and the face waiting for the now-broken iPhone? Even his imagination wasn’t active enough to come up with a face that damn gorgeous.

  She was shaking her head. “I took it out of its case for two seconds to clean it. Now look at it.” She held out her hand and winced. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to throw my phone at you.”

  “It’s okay.” Ryan was thrilled to find his voice still worked.

  The barista interrupted. “Next, please?”

  Ryan gestured. “Can I buy you your coffee? Make up a little for your destroyed phone?”

  “I couldn’t. Plus, I’m a total wuss and get hot cocoa.” She smiled at him and Ryan’s pants felt like they were on fire. Her long black hair swept forward and covered one stunning blue eye.

  “I’ll have a venti Caramel Macchiato and a venti hot chocolate.” Ryan turned to her. “Is that okay?”

  She laughed. “Thanks.”

  Ryan gave his name and waited with the gorgeous woman for their order.

  “So, I hope you have your boyfriend’s number memorized.” He pointed at the shattered phone in her hand.

  “You’re smooth.” She smiled like she wasn’t offended.

  “Sorry. That obvious?”

  She nodded toward the counter, and he found the barista had called his name and he’d not even heard it. He grabbed her drink and a coffee sleeve for her. He bare-handed his piping-hot cardboard so he’d look tougher.

  “Can we sit? Do you have somewhere to be?” She motioned to an empty table.

  “Yes—I mean, yes we can sit. And no to having somewhere to be. I mean, other than work, and that can wait.” He put down the drinks and pulled out her chair just in time for her to sit.

  She smiled. “So where do you work?”

  He looked her up and down. Her outfit said expensive businesswoman. He hoped she wouldn’t look down on his profession. “I’m a cop.” He waited to see if she would be crestfallen.

  “Really? Wow.”

  He couldn’t read her. She took a sip of her drink.

  “And you do?” he asked. Me. Please say me.

  “I’m in import and export, which sounds pretty exciting. It’s not. I’m in town to visit my dad.” She looked out the window, concern passing over her pretty face.

  “So how’s ol’ dad holding up?” Ryan tried not to choke on his coffee and pay attention to her answer. She’d hugged herself, and her cleavage now monopolized his line of sight. Don’t look. Don’t look. Fuck. Looked. Stop looking.

  “He’s recovering. Almost all the way recovered. Scared me this time.” She bit her bottom lip.

  His copness helped him ask the next question, thank God. “Was he ill?”

  “No, he was attacked. Won’t tell me by who. He’s the nicest guy. It doesn’t make sense. He’s insisting he fell.”

  She leveled her gaze at him. He felt like he was being analyzed.

  “Here? In my town?” Ryan really looked away from her boobs now.

  She shrugged. “I’m assuming. He doesn’t want me involved.”

  “I don’t blame him.” Ryan sat back in his chair. He’d seen no report of an older man being assaulted recently, and he’d been watching for shit like this.

  Fire flashed in her eyes before she closed them. “Listen, didn’t mean to dump my concerns on you. You just have that kind of face, I guess. Thanks for the hot cocoa.” She stood.

  Ryan stood as well, trying not to scramble in surprise. She’s leaving.

  “Hey, I didn’t mean to offend you. Seriously. You’re concerned. Is there any way I can help?” He waited as she seemed to try to make up her mind.

  “Maybe you could to talk to him? See if he’ll tell you what happened?” She covered her mouth as if she couldn’t believe she’d asked.

  “Sure. How about now? You busy?” Ryan held her hot cocoa out to her.

  “Not with anything that can’t wait.” She looked excited.

  He followed her out the door to her sweet Audi.

  She opened her door. “Do you want to just follow me? Although, having a police officer follow me makes me nervous—will I leave my blinker on? Am I going too fast?” She wrinkled her nose when she laughed.

  He took a breath and looked her dead in the eyes. “It’s okay. I’d never let anything bad happen to you.”

  She looked away, and his cop radar went up. This lady was working through something, but she slid immediately back into an upbeat mood.

  “Listen, it’s right across town,” she said, no trace of strain in her voice. “He’s going back to work tomorrow, and I just want to keep him safe.”

  “Sure. I’ll follow you…” He left the sentence dangling and held his hands palms out.

  “Eve.” She rolled her eyes at him.

  “I’ll follow you, Eve. Just don’t run any lights.” Ryan pulled out his keys and turned toward his truck. “Crap.” It was covered in bright yellow Post-it notes.

  Eve came to stand next to him. “Wow. Is that your ride?” There was laughter in her voice.

  “Yeah. Just give me a second to peel those off.”

  She followed him over to his car, and he wanted it to explode all action-movie style when he saw that Trish had scrawled helpful little tidbits on each note: Momma’s boy. Afraid of lobsters. Pissed his pants in third grade!

  “You know what? How about you give me your dad’s address and I’ll meet you there in like ten minutes?” Ryan watched as her eyes slid over the notes.

  “Vindictive ex?” She smiled at him.

  “You could say that.” He knew he was blushing. And dying.

  Eve pulled off the Momma’s boy note and flipped it ove
r. She produced a pen from her bag and wrote an address on it. “Hate to see all this wasted paper,” she said.

  “Yeah.” He had nothing to say. Anything he’d ever confided to Trish was probably written behind him.

  Eve stepped closer and tucked the Post-it in his jacket pocket. He couldn’t breathe. “In my experience, women get insane when they realize their ex was epic in bed. They’ll do anything to get him back.” She patted his pocket before walking back to her Audi.

  Ryan watched her every step—the heels, the skirt, the flowing hair—as she turned and winked at him. He engraved it on his man brain. The wind picked up, and he could smell her perfume as she got in her car and pulled away. She even drove sexy.

  Once Eve was out of sight, he turned and faced his truck. Nothing to do but shake his head and start peeling. If he didn’t let his dick do the thinking—and that was proving to be tough—he’d suspect Eve of being a little bit too nice and her iPhone explosion a little too convenient.

  “Fuck.” He punched to hood of his truck, and a Post-it stuck to his hand. Ryan hated that he couldn’t turn his cop brain off. And that it was probably right.

  Eve waited at the stoplight. Ryan was a good cop. She could tell after meeting him, and she’d assumed as much from the reports she’d seen. He hadn’t started hanging around crap joints until after her father had been beaten down. It was obvious Ryan had been assigned to appear like a creepy asswipe.

  Bringing him to her father was a test. But she really didn’t need it. The kindness in his eyes was not a lie. He might still prove useful, though. She tapped her hands on the steering wheel until the light turned green. A few minutes later she pulled to a stop in front of her dad’s building. After freshening her lipstick, she got out of the Audi just as Ryan’s defiled truck came to a stop behind her.

  He hopped out and gave her an embarrassed smile. “Sorry about that.”

  “It’s okay. You missed one though.” Eve pointed to the bright yellow corner sticking out of his grill.

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