Return to poughkeepsie, p.9
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.9

           Debra Anastasia

  “I think he’s still alive too.” She sighed and left the conversation at that. Speculating about Beckett was an exercise in futility. Her eyes landed on her “fertility kit” where Cole had placed it on the dresser. She hoped it wasn’t the same type of thing.



  RYAN LOOKED AT HIS PHONE in the Wednesday-morning Starbucks line. Christian Grey was calling. He answered somewhat timidly, “Yo.”

  “Morales, I need you at the station in thirty minutes.” John McHugh’s voice was unmistakable.

  “Sure, boss. You want something from ’Bucks?” Ryan handed his frequent-caffeine-binger card to the barista and added the captain’s order to his before hanging up.

  While he waited for his coffees, he scrolled to the contact page on his phone. Angry Trish had changed all his contacts to characters from Fifty Shades of Grey. He knew this because Al’s Auto Shop, usually listed first, was now “50 Shades of Grey gave me more orgasms than you.” After that he had Anastasia Steele and A Helicopter. Worst of all, his mom—whose number he could thankfully remember—was listed as The Red Room of Pain.

  He didn’t bother fixing it. His order was ready for pickup. God love Starbucks. They made a breakup go down smoother.

  When he entered the precinct, Kathy took a break from filing her nails to wave at him with the phone propped on her shoulder. He nodded and rushed past, kicking himself for not getting her her favorite latte. McHugh was waiting for him in the conference room, and Ryan closed the door with his foot. His boss looked serious.

  “Here’s your drug of choice, Captain. What the hell’s going on?” Ryan tried to make sense of all the old files scattered on the table.

  McHugh sipped the drink and kept scanning the files. After a beat he spoke. “I’ve got a real delicate situation I’m dealing with here, and I think you’re the man for the job. You fit the profile.”

  Ryan waited him out. His captain was a methodical cop. Usually his files were arranged just so. This mess would normally lead Ryan to believe the man was drunk, but when McHugh’s red eyes met his he could tells his boss was fighting some demons, but not the bottle.

  “We’re getting some escalating crime. Some beatings, some reports of people being harassed. There’s a bit of a method to it. Someone’s looking for something, and trying to be stealthy about it. I haven’t dealt with this for years.” McHugh tapped the crime photo of a man stabbed over and over, to death.

  “So the party’s over. What do you need from me?” Ryan took the last gulp of his coffee.

  “They’ll likely be buying cops. That’s how this happened.” He tapped the picture of the bloody murder again. “The cop guarding this man’s door was on the take and left his post. Beckett Taylor went in and did him.”

  Ryan snapped to full attention. “I thought we never had him for anything.”

  “We didn’t. We still don’t. All I have is motive and opportunity. But if he’s back in town, we’ll see a lot more of this type of crap.” McHugh shuffled the picture under another file. “I’m proposing that we let you get bought. And then we can find out more about what’s going on. Say no if you can’t. This is no joke. These people are sub-human. I don’t know how serious you and Trish are—”

  “She dumped me.” Ryan set down his empty cup and grabbed the file and the picture underneath it.

  “Sorry to hear it,” McHugh added gruffly.

  “Don’t be. She’s apparently pretty vindictive. I’ll do this.” He glanced at the name at the top. Chris Simmer was the name of the dead body in the picture. The weapon had been determined to be a small sharp. Hell of a way to go. “Is his throat sliced? Damn.”

  The captain added to the horror. “So he wouldn’t scream as he died. I have to be honest with you, I knew this boy. He was briefly engaged to Livia.”

  “Wow. I’m sorry. That’s shitty.” Ryan mentally reviewed his comments, hoping he hadn’t insulted the man.

  “Don’t be sorry. The kid was an asshole. Tried to kill Livia and damn near killed my son-in-law. It was complicated, but regardless, Taylor’s signature was all over his murder. I will not allow that man back into my city or anywhere near my children and grandchildren.” McHugh pulled the files into a big pile.

  “So you want me to be undercover by being a cop.” Ryan nodded. He liked the plan so far.

  “That’s the best I’ve got. These bastards are shady and it’s like nailing Jell-O to the wall. There’ll be crazy temptations. This assignment is really horrible—although it could also start you on your way to detective. We’d have to stay in touch the whole time, and you’ll have to be honest with me.” McHugh looked like he was reconsidering even as he explained.

  Ryan had to have this assignment. It had to be him. It was fate. Kismet. “Sir, I’d be honored to help protect the city and your loved ones. As long as we’re on the same page—I’m a cop, not the bad guy, no matter what goes down—I’ll start today. What do you want me to do?”

  “For starters…” McHugh handed Ryan an old-school map. “Your new beat is all Taylor’s old stomping grounds. I want you to slack off there. Pretend to sleep. Talk to hookers. Ignore crimes. Be approachable.”

  “I can handle that.” Ryan began plotting ways to seem like more of an asshole than he already was.

  McHugh extended his hand. “Thanks. I feel a lot better having you on this. It’s a service to me, as well as to the public.”

  The men shook hands, and before Ryan could leave McHugh handed him another picture, almost as an afterthought. “You might as well see what the devil looks like.”

  Ryan nodded, but waited until he was in his patrol car to look. Beckett grinned in the picture. He wore a T-shirt and cammo pants, and it was easy to see the tattoo on his forearm: a cross, a knife, and a music clef intertwined.

  Ryan’s brain did a fist pump. This was a hundred steps closer to Nikko and Wade’s killer then he’d ever been.

  Two days in on his new assignment, Ryan texted The Red Room of Pain as he walked to his truck: Yes, he was fine and yes, he’d be by for Sunday dinner.

  This evening he planned to go drinking in one of the bad parts of town, but one look at his vehicle and he knew his plans had changed.

  “Trish, you hosebag.”

  Super-glued to the passenger side of his F-150 was what had to be fifty dollars in quarters, forming the gorgeous proclamation SMALL COCK. He shook his head and slammed his palm against his forehead. He shouted into the fading sunlight, “I don’t have a small dick! You have a large vagina!”

  An older couple walking their cocker spaniels gave him a disapproving look. He kicked the side of his truck. He called his insurance company, which helpfully suggested he call the police to report the vandalism, then tried picking the quarters off with his keys. There was no way in hell he’d call the precinct and report small cock vandalism. He silently gave Trish credit for her diabolical plan. She knew he’d never press charges for this. He would’ve called her to confront her, but he wasn’t sure if she’d deleted her number or renamed herself after a sex toy on his phone. Bitch.

  He stomped into his apartment after re-parking his truck so the penis-libeling side wasn’t visible from the road. As far as he was concerned, his love snake was just fine. He changed clothes, improvised on his plan, and hailed a cab. He had the driver stop at a pawn shop frequented by Taylor’s people back in the day. He asked the cab to come back in an hour.

  The pawn shop was hardly what anyone would call busy, and Ryan walked straight to the antique guns. It took enough minutes for the shop owner to make his way over that he had no doubt customer service was not paramount—or even remotely essential.

  “You got anything more modern? With a bit of a kick and a dick?” Ryan pulled out his phone and let his badge slip onto the counter. “Sorry. I’ve been drinking a little. Really, I just want to buy something of my own. Sometimes the service weapon doesn’t cut it, you know?” Ryan did his best to look fuzzy.

  The pawn store owne
r gave him a sharp look before shaking his head. “A cop? Shit, you should have your pickings of the evidence room.”

  “If they’ve got their eye on you, you don’t get to touch shit. Never mind.” Ryan gathered up his badge and phone before giving the shop owner the finger. “Fuck you very much.”

  The message was sent. Ryan had made his first official appearance as a slightly crazy cop.


  Sweet Treasures

  “HOW’S TED?” LIVIA FINISHED WIPING DOWN the counters on Monday afternoon.

  Blake burped Kellan before settling into an easy sway. “Your father reported he left the hospital and he’s home. I want to go check on him.”

  She leaned against the now-damp Formica. “At the very least I’d like to slip him a few dinners. Have you heard from Eve?”

  “It’s been two weeks. Not a word.” Blake shifted the baby so he could cradle him.

  She paused for a moment, captured by the sight of Blake’s bicep flexing to protect Kellan’s head. She was sure her hormones were a giant bag of crazy, but Blake was hot holding the baby, simple as that.

  Livia came close to kiss the baby’s head and then Blake’s lips. “Thank you.”

  “For burping him?” He leaned forward to kiss her forehead.

  She shook her head. “For fighting for this. For us. Every day.”

  “It’s an honor, Mrs. Hartt.” Blake shifted back into his easy sway, keeping the baby locked in his slumber.

  “When was the last time we slept? Do you remember?” Livia went to the fridge. She knew she had some items that were long past their pitching date.

  “Define sleep? Like in a bed and closing your eyes until you’re done?”

  She smiled. “Now that is ridiculous talk. I mean like four hours drooling in the rocker.”

  “I think I indulged in that pleasure on Wednesday of last week. Someday they’ll want to sleep, right? That happens?” Blake smiled as Emme bounded into the kitchen wearing a unicorn outfit.

  She saw Kellan asleep and spoke in an exaggerated stage whisper, “Daddy, baby brother Kellan is asleep. Don’t sneeze!”

  Blake mouthed, “I won’t.”

  “Mommy, today at school a man said hello to me. I told him he was a stranger and I don’t talk to his type.” She proceeded to drag a chair over so she could climb onto the counter.

  Livia felt herself pale and watched Blake stop mid sway. “Where was Miss Jenny?”

  Emme got herself a package of fruit chews from the cabinet. “Frank bumped his head and there was blood. I was playing frogs with Sawyer, and it was my turn to run away. I was by the woods fence.” She used her teeth to rip into the package.

  Livia held herself back. All at once she wanted to gather her girl up and beat the hell out of her teacher. It was irrational—the teacher at Emme’s preschool was excellent.

  “What did he say to you, exactly?” Blake asked, resuming his sway.

  Emme was too smart to be played. “Am I in trouble? Mommy?”

  She searched her parents faces, big green eyes filling with tears.

  “Of course not,” Blake said. “But you were right, he was a stranger so your adults need to know what he said.”

  Livia went to Emme and cuddled her up, kissing her head. “Tell me what happened with the stranger. We’re proud of you for doing the right thing.”

  Her daughter clutched the fruit chews like a stuffed animal. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

  Livia pulled Emme off the counter and hugged her hard, forcing her own tears back with superhuman strength. “No. You did great. Shh.”

  She carried the sniffling girl to the rocker and sat, humming her favorite lullaby. Emme began out and out crying. Blake laid Kellan down in his playpen and began to help Livia comfort their girl.

  “Hey, look at me, sweetheart. It is so okay. I’m so glad you told me and Mommy. That was really brave.” He patted her back and kissed her cheek.

  Through hiccups and sniffles, Emme gave her version of the events. “Well, I was being a frog, and Sawyer was the frog catcher, so I ran to the fence, and I stepped in the No Zone just for a minute. Just for a second. And that’s when the stranger said, ‘Emme.’ And then he asked me if Daddy had a drawing on his arm, and he showed me a picture of this.” Emme turned Blake’s hand until they could all see his brothers’ mark. “He had a long mark under his eye, like an old boo-boo. And then I told him he was a stranger, and I left.”

  Livia hugged Emme closer. “It’s okay. You’re here. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

  She began humming again and rocked the chair out of habit. Emme sniffed herself to sleep. Livia rested her head on her daughter’s. Blake shook his head and looked at his tattoo. Livia raised her hands and shrugged, asking him what the hell they were going to do without actually saying the words.

  Blake pulled an ottoman closer and sat, placing his hand on her back. Her sleeping breaths shuddered from time to time, her body still crying just a little.

  “I’ll tell your father. I’ll find a way to tell Eve. And Emme’s not going back to that school.” Blake looked ready to defend them all with just his anger and fear.

  Something her father had told her a million years ago trickled up Livia’s spine and into her consciousness: “Do you know what we call Beckett Taylor down at the precinct? The Bloody Bastard.”

  Livia loved Blake with all that she was. He was an amazing father and husband, but there was no way she was putting her children in danger. And she was scared they were already there.

  Eve added diamond earrings and stepped away from the mirror. Technically this was her room at Mary Ellen’s mansion, but in her nearly two weeks of official “employment” she had yet to spend the night. The girls weren’t imprisoned, so to speak, but strongly encouraged to remain.

  Eve had refused. She had things to do. Fortunately, one of them was not currently going to her job at Silver Force Industries. They’d generously offered her a leave of absence when she’d explained her father’s sudden illness. But she did spend time checking on him. Well, actually she checked her updates from the security she’d hired. If Mary Ellen’s people hadn’t put two and two together yet, she wasn’t going to help by leading them to her father’s door.

  She looked at her reflection dispassionately. The dress was a designer number—probably cost more than the expensive drapes. She fastened her high heel’s buckle, also diamond, before double-checking the knife in her garter belt. Carrying a gun to this shitfest wasn’t a smart move.

  Earlier that day Mary Ellen had called the chosen ladies into the ballroom for a meeting. Each girl sat as Mary Ellen smiled benevolently. “Ladies. My sweet treasures. I have your first outing planned, and I wanted to give you some pointers!” She leaned forward and patted the closest woman’s hand.

  Eve folded her arms and waited. All this woman wanted to do was play games. There’d been no talk of Beckett, Poughkeepsie, nothing. It was fashion and playtime. There were now ten girls who “worked” for Mary Ellen. Five were old timers with plenty of experience.

  “Tonight I need all you new recruits to watch how my girls work a room. They’re part geisha, part Mary Kay lady. Tonya is a particular one to watch, January. Promise you’ll do me that little favor?” She leaned forward and smiled.

  Eve nodded once to acknowledge she’d heard Mary Ellen but didn’t commit to anything.

  “I have some business to discuss with the gentlemen attending tonight’s gathering, and having gorgeous women around makes the boys more amenable. Please don’t actually gratify any of them until Tonya gives you an all clear. We need sexual tension. Men don’t understand that the person who willingly puts their testicles in her mouth owns them, not the other way around.” She shrugged and clapped at her own observation. “In your rooms are your Cinderella outfits. You may dress and wait for your stylist to appear. We have three hours to become divine. Off you go!”

  The stylist hadn’t spent long with Eve—gave her the jewelry she was wearing and added
a few thin braids to her hair before leaving. So Eve now sat down to contemplate the conversation she’d had with Blake in the Poughkeepsie woods a few days earlier.

  “Did John find anything?” She’d leaned against the large oak next to one of Blake’s wood shelters made from sticks and leaves.

  “A few people reported seeing a man in camouflage on foot, headed in the direction of the school a few days before Emme was approached. She noticed a scar under his eye when she talked to him.” Blake jammed his hands in his pockets.

  “So he’d been lying in wait for the perfect moment. Fucker.” Eve closed her eyes and tried to make sense of her swirling emotions. “I’ll get you security. Someone will be near all of you at all times.”

  “And John will grill the hell out of anyone you hire. Will they pass his inspection?” He ran a hand through his hair.

  “I’ll find people who do.” She pushed away from the tree. Hanging with the pastel princess was turning out to be huge waste of time. This was where she was needed.

  “We’ve got it right now. But Livia and I were both really freaked out.” He came to stand next to her. “Your hair is…different. Everything okay?”

  She turned to face him. “Everything is far from okay. Your family was targeted. A man I fully intend on killing talked to my niece. Alone. I wish Be—” She bit her tongue.

  “You don’t know if him being here would make it worse or better.” Blake touched her shoulder gently.

  “He’s still causing us trouble five years later. Loving him is a life sentence.” She patted his hand awkwardly.

  “I gotta believe loving my brother is the right thing to do. I’ve got my family safe. You worry about living through whatever it is you’re doing.”

  Eve began stepping backward as he did the same. “I’m in a dragon’s lair, cousin. And I’m going burn it to the ground so no one else gets hurt.”

  She’d spun on the heel of her boot then, as Blake gave her a final wave. She looked down now at the frou-frou shoes Mary Ellen had chosen for her. Ridiculous, and impossible to work in.


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