Saving poughkeepsie, p.8
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       Saving Poughkeepsie, p.8

           Debra Anastasia

  Cole had an almost a pained look on his face when he spoke again. “Should we really even be here anymore?”

  Beckett had nodded, though he wasn’t sure. He loved having his brothers close, but he’d toyed with the idea of setting up a little commune in a small town in the middle of nowhere to hide from his past.

  “Kyle’d really like to stay, but you know how she is about the baby,” Cole continued. “She’s scared.” He shrugged. “And I might be too. I feel like I’m looking over my shoulder all the time.”

  “We don’t blame you, but with who we all are…” Blake trailed off.

  Message received. His brothers and their wives were concerned for their families. His plan was more of a reality now. Sevan was on his way to Poughkeepsie, and Beckett knew his instinct had been right. When he was finished, Poughkeepsie would be a castle with a moat around it if it had to be.

  When he was a just a young, deadly pup he’d brought the town to its knees by being the scariest motherfucker he could be. But age had given him insight now, and his chunk of time in Maryland had taught him a few goddamn things about patience. As much as he wanted to ignore it and nuke the fucker, the half-dead Rodolfo would not respond well to brutal violence. And dead he wouldn’t say anything. Beckett had to go in humble, go in respectful if he wanted answers and a way to get to the bottom of whatever this was with Eve.

  He took a glance out the window and saw no trace of Eve and Morales. It was no good attacking the geezer from the exterior. That risked an all-out war with countless collateral damage. No, if he wanted to end this, he needed Rodolfo’s illegal empire to implode.

  Ryan grabbed her hand and held her back. “Don’t go too fast right out of the gate.” He let go before she could protest.

  “Ugh. I hate being coddled.” She did slow her steps, though—from turtle speed to snail.

  “I think everyone in the entire world could figure that out.” Ryan smiled at her.

  “I know, I’m a whiner.” She took a sip of the cold water and smiled.

  “So your boyfriend didn’t know I was coming?” She knew he was forcing himself to walk slowly—barely walking at all, actually. She hated this.

  “It wasn’t like I was hiding it. He just has a big meeting today. He was kind of mysterious about it, actually, and I didn’t want to twist him up. He understands that you and I are friends.” She took a deep breath, and the air was so crisp it almost hurt.

  Recovery was going to take forever. Apparently the doctors and her father weren’t wrong when they said she would be diminished for a few months. She’d tried to ignore their suggestions twice, and the pain had caused her to stop moving and almost stop breathing. She had a new respect for Blake and his recovery from his chest wound years ago.

  She decided to change the subject. “So, you dating anyone?”

  Ryan began to whistle.

  “Not answering?”

  He took a swig of water before tossing up a hand. “You don’t want to hear what I have to say about this. And frankly, I don’t want to tell you.”

  She gave him a look that she hoped conveyed how much she couldn’t ignore the obvious obstacle to them being friends.

  “I know you’re with him. I get it,” he said. “I’m not wearing a hair shirt or pining for you. It’s just…” He shook his head. “No one knows everything about me like you do. So when we get time together? I don’t have to watch what’s coming out of my mouth. It’s relaxing. Does that make sense?”

  It did. Eve had had too many names and lives not to see the beauty of being your actual, true self. She nodded.

  “And nothing I tell you will shock you—none of my stories from work. God, if I tell you I had to arrest a twelve-year-old kid yesterday, you’ll get it. You’ll know I hated it. And when I say something in that kid’s eyes scared me, you won’t think I’m a monster for predicting his life of crime and calling him a waste of time.” He kicked a wayward rock out of the way. “I say that to another chick? She’ll worry I’m not father material.”

  Eve nodded again. “Okay, I won’t haunt you about dating for a little while.”

  “Thank you. I just need time, I think. You set that bar pretty high. I think I need some age on me to either lower that bar or get me ready to meet someone who can make me forget about you.”

  She took another deep breath and yelped a bit.

  “You all right?” He put his hand on her back and scanned the area to make sure her noise hadn’t been inspired by their surroundings.

  “Just too deep. I’m good.” She took more-shallow inhales while Ryan watched, looking concerned. She rolled her eyes. “I hate this shit. I feel powerless like this.”

  He nodded. “You want to go to the shooting range tomorrow? Let off some steam?”

  “Yes, please! That would be great.”

  Ryan kept his hand on her back until she was breathing regularly again, then he dropped it back to his side.

  Her back registered the lack of his warmth. She liked this human being so much. She really hoped their friendship could make it. There had to be another girl for him.

  Beckett hated this house. Fucking New Jersey. It was as if the deaths that had built Rodolfo’s empire clung to the interior. He was, however, a little flattered by how many soldiers had shown up to keep an eye on him. He kept flinching and making quick movements to freak them out. Finally he was waved forward. One of Rodolfo’s top people escorted him—Nicholas, if he remembered correctly. The old fart didn’t even give his guys proper nicknames.

  He entered a sitting room, where the diminished man seemed to be taking an unplanned nap. Beckett clapped his hands, and he didn’t respond. “I can’t be lucky enough that you’re actually a dead motherfucker right now.”

  Rodolfo opened his eyes. The shrewdness in his gaze was instant.

  Beckett sighed. Nothing as easy as this moldy foreskin expiring from natural causes was happening today.

  “That’ll be all, Nicholas,” Rodolfo said.

  Beckett sighed and went forward without an invitation, sitting in the chair opposite the old man. “Give me one good fucking reason not to snap your neck right now.” He leaned forward, sizing up the old fart for a kill. He could taste Eve’s pain on the tip of his tongue. All he wanted was to hear the man scream.

  “You’ll never make it out alive? You do like breathing. How’s Eve? Healing, I bet.” The right side of Rodolfo’s mouth lifted.

  “You waited until I was out of town. Then you sent asshole Checkers to grab her. Not kill her—grab her, because you drugged her instead of blowing her brains out.” Beckett let the words come out smooth like he was a hard motherfucker, though really he was picturing the worst-case scenario in his head, and it made his heart curl up. “Anyway, last I knew her name was January to you. You need to explain why you know anything about my girl. I thought we’d agreed our status was I leave you alone, you leave me alone.”

  “She’s intriguing,” Rodolfo said, as if he had not a care in the world. “I see talent in her. The videos of her coming to kill my Mary Ellen are riveting. Almost a virtuoso. So young for that talent, and she was on such a different path too—until you ruined it all for her. No children? That’s a bitch. Because her offspring would be a valuable asset to anyone’s business.”

  Beckett stood. “We’re done here. This is why you wanted to see me? Do you not have anything actually useful to say? Business-wise? You do remember business, don’t you? Or do you just daydream about younger ladies you’ll never have now? The truce is over. Suck my dick, Vitullo.” He kicked over the chair he’d been sitting in.

  Nicholas slammed into the room at the sound of the noise.

  Rodolfo stood slowly. “Get out, Nicholas.”

  “But, sir?”

  The old man pointed with his shaking index finger. “Out.”

  Nicholas closed the door behind him reluctantly.

  “You do not decide a truce is over. We went into this together, and we’ll leave it that same way. Need I remin
d you that you have much to lose?” Rodolfo wiped at his mouth. “Never love more than you hate, Taylor. It makes you weak.”

  This old buzzard was the best of the best at being the worst. Beckett hardened himself internally. “And never assume you know every trick up my sleeve, Vitullo. I’m a crazy asshole. I don’t even know what I’m doing next, so you sure as hell don’t.”

  “Speaking of hate…as much as January—” Rodolfo accentuated her fake name “—physically killed my daughter, Mary Ellen wouldn’t have been in such a bad situation if Sevan Harmon hadn’t gotten his hooks in her. Ultimately he’s to blame, as far as I’m concerned. So that should put your mind at ease,” he added with a bit of a cackle, “and perhaps give us an opportunity to work together. I don’t know where Sevan’s keeping himself these days, but it seems no one’s minding the shop in your neck of the woods. He used to have some quite profitable trade routes through there. They could use some tidying up.”

  Beckett narrowed his eyes. “Good to know. Just understand that nothing goes on in Poughkeepsie that I don’t oversee.”

  “I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Now that Harmon’s MIA, I’m going to take a good, hard look at how to maximize what he left behind. Never stop sucking a teat that’s giving milk, I always say.” Rodolfo raised his eyebrows as if this were a profound statement.

  Beckett closed his eyes for a moment. There were things he was good at. Claiming a town happened to be one of them. “I can’t recommend that,” he said. “Not in Poughkeepsie. This is your chance to avoid a war, so stay out of my way.” Beckett was already out the door in his head. He wanted to take this guy down from every angle. He would mentally drain him, financially ruin him, and kill anyone who got in his way.

  “Listen, you’re right to be angry. I tried to take her, and I shouldn’t have. I crossed the line. Like I said the other day, I won’t try again. That’s my word. I still see value in our truce.” Rodolfo held out his hand. “It’s still in place?”

  It wasn’t the words but the intonation that let Beckett know it was a threat and a play. He shook his head. “Don’t ask me to shake the hand of the man who tried to kill my girl. I don’t trust myself stepping that close to you.”

  Rodolfo smirked a bit. “I lost two men, remember? They were good ones too. I think we can call it even.”

  “She’s worth twenty of your men. Maybe more, and you know it. Never touch her again.”

  Rodolfo’s gaze followed Beckett as he backed toward the door. “Those sounded like orders instead of requests.”

  “Did they? Actually, orders coming from me usually have motherfucker attached to them. I just treated you like a tender great aunt. I’m not afraid of you, but I have respect, like I would for a twenty-three-foot alligator residing in the goddamn sewer. Nothing’s killed you yet, and you’ve lived through a lot of shit. You want to be in my life? Then you’ll have to contend with how big my balls are.” Beckett sighed. Years ago he’d have left a pile of old bones on the floor like he was exiting a chicken wing joint. And damn if that wasn’t still the most appealing option. But now, he had to be better at the game than anyone had ever been.

  He nodded once at Rodolfo, letting the man know the truce, such as it was, remained intact, and he closed the door firmly behind him, using everything he had to keep his hands to himself like a five-year-old. In the hallway he passed Nicholas, heading toward Rodolfo’s study with a glass of water and a tray of pills. The guy was the worst and just the vibe coming off of him was all wrong.

  “I know you hear everything, you pansy little fucker,” Beckett announced as he passed. “I don’t trust you. Just so you know.” He stepped up to him, and though Nicholas was a bit taller, fear crowded into his eyes. “Pussy.”

  On his way out of the building, Beckett gave the gathered soldiers a winning smile, clapping a few on the back to boot. By the time he got to his car, only two guys still trailed behind. He rolled his eyes before he turned to face them, and they raised their guns.

  “Listen, you ladies think you have a sweet deal here with the crypt-keeper? He’s an insane fucker. I’m looking for a few men, and none of his mind game bullshit. Families are safe with me, and you don’t have to bleed out on a sidewalk to leave my employ. I pay better than this stingy shit as well.” He saw the interest flare behind their eyes. “You’ve heard of me, I can tell. So find me if you’re interested.” With that, he hopped into his Challenger and cranked OnCue up loud.

  Nicholas shook his head the whole way into Rodolfo’s sitting room and placed a pill and some water on the desk. Rodolfo harrumphed about having to take the pill and maneuvered his lips into a certain configuration to keep a water-tight seal.

  Nicholas waited until he was sure the task was complete before speaking. “He’s a punk. Say the word, sir. I’ll start the plans tonight.”

  Rodolfo clicked on his TV, and the credits for The Price is Right rolled. “We’re playing the long game, Nicholas. The generational game. Find out how to create my future children. We know now that Sevan is nothing, so that’s the only job you have.”

  Nicholas sighed as he turned, but he dared not say anything aloud. Instead he just wished silently for some kind of a release coming soon. He was getting antsy. He’d managed to make contact with the doctor in Europe, but had yet to offer him a change of venue for his research. And anyway, that man offered no option for the bloody release he craved. His services would be required for the long haul.

  Before he got to the door, Rodolfo’s voice stopped him.

  “And never underestimate Taylor. He’s driven by loyalty—a kind that makes him even scarier than you, my friend.”



  Blake folded up the Disney bags in the Thursday morning sunlight of his kitchen. Coming back from vacation had been ridiculously hard. He’d had a blast with his family, and as much as Beckett and Cole would make fun of him, he couldn’t wait to go back to the land of the mouse.

  “You need those to go in the recycling?” He turned at the sound of her voice. “I’m going to the garage to see if my cell phone is out there.” Livia in jeans and a T-shirt still made his heart race.

  “Hello, beautiful.” He grabbed her and pulled her in for a kiss.

  “Really? I haven’t even brushed my hair today. It’s me or Emme who gets ready in time for school in the morning. No time for both.” She hugged him back, cuddling against his chest.

  “Easier to grab from behind then.” He growled in her ear and spanked her butt.

  “Ow. Watch it, piano hands.” She spanked him in retaliation.

  “Go easy with the money maker.”

  “Last time I checked, I just have to keep those evil hands safe so you can continue to compose music.” She spanked him again. “You can’t insure everything.”

  “Careful.” He nibbled on her ear.

  “Promises, promises, Mr. Hartt.” Livia smiled up at his face.

  He counted, moving his lips silently.

  “That’s a large tally you have there, sir.” Her hands found the way to his back pockets.

  “Is that what we’re calling it nowadays? A tally? Whatever turns you on, penguin pajamas.” He pulled her into a quick dip and nuzzled her neck.

  “Mommy, Daddy is being Pepe Le Pew,” came a small voice from behind them. “Now you have to hit him.”

  Blake and Livia shook their heads and laughed.

  “Your daughter.”

  “No, your daughter.”

  “I’m everyone’s daughter, and Kellan just tipped over a giant box of cereal in the pantry.” Emme joined her parents’ hug, effectively ending their embrace.

  “Did you want those bags in recycling?” Livia repeated while conceding her place in Blake’s arms to Emme.

  “No, thank you.” He smiled at his little girl.

  “So…we’re keeping the bags?” Livia gestured to the neat pile on the counter.

  “Yes.” He tipped Emme upside down. “So I need to go to the pantry?”

  Emme laughed and watched as her hair brushed the floor. “No, you don’t. Kellan and Marx are eating the cereal together. It’s precious.”

  Livia took off in the direction of the pantry.

  “Precious? Really? When did you learn that one?” Blake pulled her up and set her on her feet.

  “Mommy says it to the neighbor about that new dog that barks all the time. But yesterday when she was done, she said, ‘Precious, my ass,’ in her quiet voice. And I think ass is a bad word.” Emme began to feel the scruff on his jaw—her favorite pastime when she had her father’s attention.

  He bit his lips together so he wouldn’t crack up. After nodding he added, “True, that is an adult word. I bet Mommy didn’t know you heard it.”

  Livia walked into the room with Kellan propped on her hip. He ate cereal from a small Tupperware.

  “He was hungry?” Blake nodded at his son.

  Livia rolled her eyes. “As usual. I’m letting the cordless vac take care of the mess.” She meant the dog. “What didn’t Emme hear?”

  “Tell her, baby girl.” Blake put his hand on Emme’s head and turned it toward her mother.

  “I’m not a baby.” She turned to Livia. “You said a bad word. I’m not supposed to say them.” Emme began dancing her feet around, spinning under his hand. Finally she stopped twirling, and he steadied her with his hand. “I heard you say, ‘Precious, my ass’ about Mrs. Show’s new dog.”

  Livia nodded and gave Blake a hard look as Kellan began chanting, “Aaaa. Aaaa. Aaaaass.”

  “Well, now even the baby’s cursing.” Emme held her hands up as she shrugged.

  Livia and Blake laughed so hard that he hung onto the counter, and she squatted down to steady herself.

  The kids laughed a bit, not quite sure what was so hilarious, and then wandered to the living room.

  “Emme, we have to leave for kindergarten in just a couple minutes,” Livia called as she made her way to him. They both lay on the linoleum. “Are we insane or was that the funniest thing in the world?” she asked, catching her breath.

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