Return to poughkeepsie, p.18
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.18

           Debra Anastasia

  Her cell phone rang: Ryan. His ringtone was a siren, which had made him laugh when she told him. As she reached for her phone, she looked forward to the deep timbre of his voice despite her damn self.

  “Hey, pretty.”

  “Yeah?” She stood and went to the window, laughing when she saw his truck parked outside her dinky Mahopac hotel.

  “You busy?” He smiled from the front seat, sunglasses in place and huge shoulders shrugging as he gave her a wave.

  “Not anymore. I was just doing some work, but I’m happy to see you, sweet thang.” She was always careful to play her part on the phone, never trusting that Ryan was the only listener.

  “I know it’s April, but put on a warm jacket and gloves. I want to show you something.” He flashed the headlights and honked the horn.

  “Keep your pants on, Morales. I’m on my way.” She hung up and gathered her things, locking the door on the way out.

  He revved the engine as she rounded to the passenger side, his music bleeding out around the closed windows. As she opened the door, Ryan leaned toward her, lip-synching an old Lady Gaga song. She laughed and punched his arm when he refused to drive, but instead mimicked dance moves.

  “You have problems.” She tried to grab his arms and make him stop.

  “I have eighty-four issues but my lady is not among them,” he said matter-of-factly, then wiggled free and reached past her to grab the seatbelt, which he pulled across her body.

  “Are you sure about that? Is that your version of Jay-Z? I can’t even find the words for how cheesy you are,” she said, lips almost touching his. He smelled good—just the right amount of cologne.

  He paused, Lady Gaga still singing her heart out, as he clipped the belt in. “It’s not too tight, is it?”

  Eve swallowed, biting her bottom lip. “You’ve got some game, copper.”

  He leaned closer and whispered in her ear. “We got one in that old Impala down the street. A little romance is appropriate.”

  She turned her head just enough to see they were indeed being watched. It was Wren from Mary Ellen’s crew.

  “He’s an asshole and can’t track for shit,” she breathed.

  “That’s the truth. Can I give him an eyeful?” Ryan raised one eyebrow and puckered a bit.

  “Make it worth my while.” She winked as she touched his jaw, letting her hand drift to his neck and follow his bulky muscles to his bicep. He flexed.

  “If the guns make you swoon, I’ll understand.” He kissed her lips.

  She grabbed two handfuls of his leather jacket to keep him close. “More.”

  “Gladly.” Then she let his scent and the feel of his arms rain into her psyche. Later she would tell herself this was for Wren’s benefit, but right this second, being kissed by Ryan Morales was pretty freaking good.

  Finally he pulled away, kissing the end of her nose quickly before putting his own seatbelt on. Eve cracked the window a bit, getting some fresh air in the cab to clear her head. Time to get back to business.

  “You check the truck?” She ran her hand along the rubber edging of the window. He drove the stick shift in the way she tried not to watch. Business, she told herself. Not sexy forearms.

  “Clean as a whistle.” He punctuated his statement by whistling along with the music.

  She took a peek at him, trying to gauge whether he was as affected by their play-acting as she was. He smiled at her, cool as could be. Evidently his confusion about real and fake had evaporated.

  “Good to know. So have you done the latest the old bitch asked?” Eve crossed her ankles.

  “Well, she wanted any police records related to Sevan Harmon, but of course there’s crap. The guy’s not an amateur. So then she wanted all our records on drug-related arrests for the past five years.”

  Eve laughed out loud. “What? That’s not a reasonable request? Who would notice you pulling that?”

  “Yeah.” Ryan grimaced. “I don’t think she believes me when I tell her I can’t do it, but so far she’s not beating my ass, so I feel lucky.”

  “Mmmm…yes, you’re lucky for sure.”

  “Anyway, her last request was something about fraud charges related to weapons, so McHugh and I dug up some old reports on a few long-dead criminals. We tweaked the dates and gave her enough to keep her busy for a while.”

  “Good God. Who knows what that woman is playing at. She hates Sevan Harmon, though. Definitely wants to see him fry.” Eve grabbed a pack of gum from his cup holder and treated herself to a piece. “Want one?”

  “Do I need one? Is this your super-pleasant way of saying my mouth tastes like a monkey’s tit?” He lowered his sunglasses and gave her a hard stare.

  “Monkey’s tit? For serious? You’re one weird guy.” She unwrapped a piece and popped it in his mouth. “And you tasted fine.”

  He smirked as he pulled into a parking lot. The Impala pulled in a few spots down.

  “He’s such an amateur. I can’t even deal with her morons.” Eve sighed. “They’re going to get themselves and me killed.”

  “Can’t let that happen.” He pulled his sunglasses off. “Fuck knuckle is walking by in three, two…”

  Eve kissed him before he could say one, unbuckling her belt and straddling him so she could get a look at Wren. He was taking video with his phone in a fairly inconspicuous way. She tossed her hair around while Ryan let his hands wander on her back. Finally Wren passed them, and Eve shook her head. “He was videoing it. You ready for a show?”

  Ryan blew a bubble with his gum. He spoke out of the corner of his mouth, “I’ve got the biggest bubble.”

  “You are such a child.” With that, Eve blew her own bubble and twisted in his lap to sit next to him. She slapped down the sun visor and opened the mirror. They compared bubbles, putting their cheeks together to measure. His bubble touched hers, and then they were stuck.

  Ryan puffed out his cheeks like a blowfish and crossed his eyes. Eve burst out laughing, launching their stuck-together bubbles at the windshield. The gum landed with a splat, and they laughed so hard they couldn’t breathe for a few seconds.

  “Are we actually this hilarious, or are we both freaking out a little about the tail?” Eve finally asked.

  “Crazy lady, I’m not worried about the tail.” Ryan smiled at her.

  The warmth crashed into her chest. She shook her head and twisted, opening her door to get away from the moment.

  “I’m sorry?” He scrambled to follow, locking his truck with the remote. “Did I do something wrong?” He pulled up next to her and spoke softly. “Are you really concerned? There’s been no change in the way she deals with me.”

  Eve pulled her gloves out of her jacket pocket, tugging them onto her hands. “No. Not at all. You’re perfect.” She turned and stole his sunglasses, slipping them on.

  He caught her and spun her into a hug. “Seriously, I never want to offend you. I know it’s all pretend,” he said softly. “I don’t want to accidently touch your boob or do something you’re not ready for.”

  His words hurt when they shouldn’t have. Of course it was all pretend. She knew that. Ryan was a means to an end. That was all. She forced a smile. “You’re all good, Lady Gaga. No worries.”

  “Okay. Shall we?” He held out his hand.

  Eve took it and walked with him toward the Walkway Over the Hudson.

  “Ever do this before?” He looked only at her, never once letting on that there was now a man videoing them just a few feet away.

  “No, sir. Looks pretty from the Mid-Hudson, but I never made the time.” They set an easy pace as they stepped out on the concrete.

  “It was an old, burned-out train bridge for the longest time. Then they made it into this.”

  As trees dropped out of the way, the view of the Hudson River was spectacular. The mountains in the distance even had white caps. “Is that snow? Holy crap!” Eve shivered as the wind picked up.

  “A little bit. Too cold?” Ryan held open his arms.

/>   Eve backed up to him as he snuggled her inside his jacket. She took off his glasses and slipped them into her jacket pocket. “Thanks.”

  He rested his head on top of hers. “Any time.”

  “It’s really gorgeous up here. Look, a train!” She watched as it snaked its way through the trees and blew its whistle on the way into the station. “My cousin was married there.”

  Wren had resorted to just watching them, or at least that’s how it seemed.

  “At the train station? That’s unique. I’m surprised it was allowed.” Ryan let her rest her weight against him. He was like a wall.

  She hummed noncommittally, not wanting to say too much in case Wren had a listening device.

  “So, January, how about you stay the night with me instead of that hotel?” He’d chosen her fake name, so she knew he was being careful.

  “It’s actually charming.” His jacket buffered the wind, staving off the chill.

  Wren’s jacket was not nearly thick enough and while they lingered, he crept back down the walkway, for sure going to warm up in the Impala.

  “He’s gone.” Ryan had done a wonderful job of being observant without getting caught.

  She told him as much after turning in her spot to warm her front against his chest. “You’re a freaking furnace.”

  He pulled her tighter. She set her head against his shoulder and inhaled. He still smelled great. His phone began vibrating in his inside pocket, so Eve fished it out for him.

  “Dude, says The Red Room of Pain is calling?” She showed him the screen.

  “Hit ignore. It’s my mom.”

  Eve hit answer and put it to his ear. He gave her a dirty look, but kept his arms around her.

  “Hi, Mom.”

  “Son, I love you.”

  “I love you too, Mom.”

  Eve mouthed, “Aww…”

  His eyes never left hers as his mom prattled on.

  “I need you to come home. I promised Trish I wouldn’t tell you, and I know she’s excited, but I didn’t think it was fair to spring this on you.”

  Eve mouthed, “Trish? Insane Trish?”

  Ryan nodded. “Whatever she said, Mom, it’s not true. She and I broke up—”

  “Of course you broke up,” his mom interrupted. “But she’s super supportive and has been helping me understand what’s happening. And she’s been wonderful about explaining the procedure to me and the rest of the neighbors. We are now fully ready to accept you as you are. I love you no matter what equipment you have.”

  Eve narrowed her eyes with suspicion to match Ryan’s.

  “Equipment? The whole neighborhood? What’s going on?” He began shaking his head, so Eve had to work to keep the phone in position. He squeezed her tighter.

  “We’re throwing a surprise Welcome to Your New Vagina party tomorrow. And I’m so proud of you, my daughter.” His mother sounded teary now. “I just want you to know I accept you, and I’m ready to make this change with you and support whatever you need to do. I didn’t want you to have one second where you thought I wasn’t with you. I love you so much.”

  Eve watched Ryan turn red with rage. She winced at his face but responded with another mouthed, “Awww…be nice to Mom.”

  “I love you too, Mom. I appreciate the…support. But this, what Trish is saying, it isn’t true.” Eve began to giggle silently, burying her head in his chest. “I can’t come right now—I have plans—but I’ll come over soon to talk through this with you. I’m still a man, though. Just not the man for Trish.”

  “Sweetheart, I know this is hard. But we’re having a block party. There’s going to be a banner and all your old friends from high school. Please, allow us to welcome you into your second birth.”

  Ryan swatted Eve’s bottom as she squirmed and pulled free. She trotted a few feet away, not getting to hear how exactly Ryan extricated himself from the festivities.

  “Fine. Fine. Yes. Glad you were able to get a cake on short notice, but I really…I’ll be there in a little bit to talk about this. And hey, tell Trish to stay right there. Oh, she left? What a surprise. I love you too, Mom. Thanks for calling.” Ryan ended the call and tucked his phone away before rubbing his hands down his face. “I’m going to kill her.”

  “Your mom? Don’t even think about it. That’s the sweetest thing in the world. How amazing of her.” Eve hugged herself, trying to warm up.

  “No Trish. I’m going to kill Trish. Twice.” He pointed at Eve. “And if I remember correctly, I told you to not answer that call.”

  “Sweetheart, then you would’ve missed hearing about your vagina’s coming-out party.” She made a face at him.

  He took off after her, and she was laughing too hard to get away. He backed her against the railing, nothing but a sheer drop behind her.

  “This is hilarious to you?” His eyes sparkled. “My own mother remains unconvinced of my gender.”

  “It’s actually, like, funnier than hilarious.” She tried to duck under his arm, but he restrained her.

  “Are you ticklish, laughing girl?” Ryan had a threat in his voice.

  “No. Don’t even try it. I’d have to toss you off this bridge. And then the vagina party wouldn’t have its princess.” She struggled, but not too hard.

  Ryan went for her ribs first, and she collapsed as he mercilessly followed her down to the cement, laughing as he tickled her.

  When he let her catch her breath, she said, “I’m freaking freezing.”

  “I’ll warm you up even if you’re mean to me.” He helped her stand and opened his arms. She cuddled against him and took a glance around. No sign of Wren.

  He held her face, warming her cheeks with his hands. “You laughing? Damn. That’s a beautiful sound.”

  It was a gorgeous setting, and he was an amazing guy. She felt like someone else. Someone she’d once been, maybe. Or might have been. She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. This job was going to hurt like a bitch when it was over.

  Beckett tossed the slimy tennis ball for Gandhi at the local beach. It was a gorgeous slice of the world. Technically he was at a riverbed, but damn it—it had sand and water so it was a goddamn beach. In the distance was that huge, impractical bridge, set there obviously to scare the shit out of drivers, but also to make his view stunning. Gandhi farted and snorfeled his way back over.

  “You’re so damn ugly, buddy.” He took out his phone and snapped a proof of life picture—and a freaking fantastic life at that—and sent it to Kristen. “You know that lady likes to keep tabs on you.” After five years, however, he knew her concerns for Gandhi’s wellbeing had pretty much been put to rest. But he kept in touch anyway. He liked being Mouse to somebody, somewhere in Poughkeepsie.

  Gandhi spit the ball out at his feet. Beckett picked it up, trying to touch it as little as possible. Still the sand stuck between his fingers. The dog loved it when he chucked the ball close to the edge of the water so he could splash a bit in the surf.

  Beckett loved this freaking dog so much. He brought him to the liquor store, out on little fucking errands, just anywhere he could. How an animal could have so much personality, he didn’t know. This self-imposed seclusion was only bearable because of the damned dog. But sure as shit, he missed his brothers. He missed her. He’d Google-stalked her a few times, but of course he found nothing.

  A high-pitched squeal from the dog snapped his attention back to the present. Gandhi dropped his beloved ball and ran as fast as he could to Beckett, hurling his dumpy body at his shins. Beckett crouched and checked G for seizure symptoms. The best the vet could come up with was that a previous dogfighting head injury set G’s mind on fire a few times a year. Both Beckett and the dog hated the seizures. He’d wrap Gandhi in a towel or blanket and ride out the spasms with him, petting him and sitting on the floor for up to an hour if he had to.

  But this was different. And then he knew. Beckett scanned the beach and sure enough, here came a huge Doberman, off leash, with a jogging owner not far behind. The animal
was well trained and ignored the whimpering Gandhi, trotting by at a dignified pace. But Gandhi was shaking so hard his whines were almost yodels. Beckett waited for the jogger to pass before scooping the dog up like a baby. Between whines, Gandhi used his big sloppy tongue on Beckett’s face. He shook his head. He could only guess, but it’d happened a few times at the dog park and once on a walk—certain breeds of dogs set Gandhi off. He became a shaking wreck.

  After grabbing the tennis ball, Beckett carried the nervous dog up through the steep woods to the parking lot. He didn’t put him down, just juggled the dead weight while he found his keys in his pocket. He got the car started and the air conditioning on. With it at full blast, he eased back the driver’s seat, took a deep breath, and sang Gandhi the only lullaby that ever settled him down in times like these, channeling his inner Eminem.

  It took ten minutes of cuddle-hugging before the dog went boneless in his arms. Gandhi’s huge tongue lolled to the side as he fell asleep. Beckett shuffled his pet to the passenger seat before throwing the car in reverse. He almost smiled as his blood boiled. He knew he’d never know, but if he ever found out who fought his dog and scared him to his soul, it’d be real tough not to kill the shit out of him.


  Good Ones

  COLE HELPED KYLE back into the apartment. She could see dishes in the sink—and bloody pajamas in the center of their living room floor.

  “Do you want a shower?” he asked in a whisper, but it still seemed like he was shouting into her nervous system with a megaphone.

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