She's Got You
Four beer mugs met above the center of the table with a series of quick, celebratory clinks, the varying levels of golden liquid within sloshing in unison. Drawing his mug in from the group toast to his lips, Scotty Valens drank deep of the cool, malty beverage, then set his mug down on the polished wooden table with a thunk that echoed the three others from his co-workers.
"Another box back on the shelf, another murder solved," Nick Vera said from directly opposite him. "This squad is tops, brother. Tops."
The detectives all responded in kind, and Scotty glanced around the table at the three familiar faces, faces with which he'd spent the better part of the last several days, and a couple of nights, solving the 1974 murder of a used-car salesman. Now they celebrated together at Jones's Tavern, as they often did after closing a case, reveling in the quiet satisfaction that came from giving closure to a family who'd been waiting far too long.
"We make a good team," Scotty's comment was directed at the group in general, but his eyes slid involuntarily to the left, toward his partner, Lilly Rush. Her lips twitched in a reflexive half-smile, but she said nothing.
"Amen to that." Vera reached for the last of the potato skins on the platter in the center of the table.
To Scotty's right, Kat Miller sat up straighter in her chair. "Now just what do you think you're doin'?"
Scotty grinned and shook his head. He'd decided long ago that Kat and Nick fighting over snacks was life's third unequivocal certainty, just behind death and taxes.
"Eatin' the last potato skin," Vera replied slowly, as though explaining the concept to a third-grader.
Kat arched a brow. "I don't think so."
"Been sittin' there for five minutes," Vera stated calmly. "Don't see your name on it."
"The order came with twelve." Kat shifted in her seat. "Rush had two and didn't want the third one, so she gave it to Scotty. He ate that one plus three more. You've had three, and I've only had two. That last one's mine."
Vera eyed the disputed potato skin. "I put 'em on my tab. Goes without sayin' I get an extra."
"Au contraire, jackass," Kat retorted. "You think you're entitled to an extra, you take it up with Valens."
Scotty busied himself with his beer.
"I'm not takin' it up with Valens." Vera's voice rose slightly. "What he and Lil decided to do with their half is irrelevant."
Chuckling quietly over the rim of his beer mug, Scotty cut a can-you-believe-these-two glance toward Lilly, only to find her ignoring the food fight entirely in favor of staring toward the bar and tucking a stray wisp of blonde hair behind her ear.
Scotty followed her eyes. Just like that, his pleasant mood vanished.
Hers didn't. Deep dimples framed a dazzling smile, one she tried to hide, with only marginal success.
Back at the table, Kat rolled her eyes and waved a dismissive hand toward the lone potato skin. "You think stealin' food from a broke single mom's gonna make you feel better about yourself, then have at it."
Vera was nonplussed. "It's a bar snack, Miller. Not like I'm stealin' Veronica's Lucky Charms."
"It's Frosted Flakes she likes," Kat retorted. "And you would steal 'em, if I let you anywhere near 'em."
From the bar, Eddie Saccardo acknowledged their table with a jerk of his chin, then tilted his head to the side in silent invitation to Lilly. True to form, he wouldn't be joining the group. He'd be removing Lilly from it.
"Guess that's your cue." Scotty's gut churned with the familiar combination of irritation and disdain; he took another large swig of beer to try and quell it.
Lilly's chair scraped against the floor as she stood up, drained the last of her beer, and set the empty mug down on the table with a quiet thump. "Catch you guys tomorrow?"
Vera nodded, then turned and tossed a casual wave over his shoulder toward Saccardo.
"Have fu-un," Kat called in a teasing, sing-songy voice, then took advantage of Vera's momentary distraction to dart her fingers in, grab the last potato skin, and pop it into her mouth with ninja-like stealth. When Nick returned his attention to the table and discovered that his prized potato skin was already gone, he responded to Kat's triumphant, stuffed-cheeks grin with a withering glare.
"Anyone up for some eight-ball?" Kat asked, after she'd washed down the pilfered snack with the remainder of her beer.
"I'm next on Will's dance card, soon as Boss gets done kickin' his ass." Vera jerked a thumb toward the pool tables, where Will Jeffries and John Stillman were deeply engrossed in their game, then tossed his wadded up napkin onto the table and frowned over at Kat. "Hey, I thought you said V had a math test tomorrow."
"So…" Vera tilted his head toward Kat expectantly.
"Shouldn't you be helpin' her study?"
Kat heaved a weary sigh as she stood up. "Last time I did that, we almost came to blows. So…Mom's helpin' her tonight."
Scotty grinned. "And you need an excuse to not go home."
One corner of Kat's mouth quirked in a sheepish smile.
"All right, Miller." Scotty drained his mug to the dregs and hoisted himself out of his seat, pleased to have something to pay attention to besides whatever nauseating public displays of affection were undoubtedly occurring at the bar. "Prepare to get your ass kicked."
Kat shrugged and grabbed a pair of cues off the rack on the wall. "Anything's better fifth-grade math."
Lilly trailed a hand over Saccardo's broad, flannel-covered shoulders and feathered a kiss to his swarthy cheek, then slid onto the barstool next to him. "Hey, Serpico."
"Careful there, Cagney." Saccardo's dark eyes took on a teasing gleam. "Some circles, kissin' a co-worker in public might be considered an inappropriation."
Lilly laughed. "That's still not a word."
"It still should be." Saccardo reached for a napkin-wrapped roll of silverware.
Smiling, Lilly picked up the drink menu and gave it a cursory glance. "You order anything yet?"
In response to her question, the slim brunette bartender slid a pair of apple-adorned martini glasses in front of them.
Lilly tossed a teasing grin toward Saccardo. "Appletinis. Shoulda guessed."
With a self-satisfied smirk, Saccardo plucked the apple wedge from the edge of his glass, dunked it into the pale green drink, then popped it into his mouth. "Hey. Don't knock good, remember?"
She lifted her glass in a silent toast. "Don't knock good."
Sipping her drink, she studied the man next to her, the man who'd infatuated, infuriated, fascinated, and confounded her for the last several weeks. Ever since he'd bashed his way into her life during the Doyle job, with his backwards ballcap and his barbecue, she'd felt like she was on a thrill ride. The combination of danger and exhilaration left her breathless and reeling, yet desperate for more. He was completely unlike anyone she'd ever gone for in the past.
But he was good.
Don't knock good.
Lilly's brow creased as Saccardo grabbed a matchbook and wedged the tines of his fork into the end of it.
"What are you doing?"she asked.
"You'll see." Dark eyes never left his task. "Hey, got some…interesting news."
"Oh?" She lifted her glass to her lips.
"The Garces bust is finally goin' down."
His announcement left Lilly stunned and blinking. She knew in theory that he'd eventually be summoned back undercover, but eventually becoming actually brought with it more pain than she'd planned.
"Wow." Her appetite for overly sweet apple-flavored alcohol suddenly fading to mist, she set the glass down. "Just when I was gettin' used to you bein' in my back pocket all the time."
A corner of his mouth gave a sad quirk as he reached for a second roll of silverware. "Nature of the beast, Rush."
She knew. As one of the top detectives in Narcotics, Saccardo was the go-to for their most important undercover missions. And the Garces bust was huge. They'd been working on it for months. But it would require him going in deep. So deep she most likely wouldn't have any contact with him for several weeks. She'd known that, too. He'd warned her.
But knowing wasn't going to make saying goodbye to him, to this, even temporarily, any easier.
"When?" she asked.
"Sooner than I'd like." He grinned at her. "But don't you worry. I'll still be here to whisk you away to the Blue Ball on Saturday."
Lilly chuckled at the coarse nickname for the Philadelphia Police Department's annual black-tie fundraiser. "And here I was thinkin' I'd get off the hook."
"Nope, not a chance." His smile widened as he grabbed a second fork and wedged it into the other side of the matchbook. "You still gotta curl your hair, wear that gorgeous dress…"
"What makes you think I got a gorgeous dress?"
"Fine. Wear a gunny sack. You're still gonna be the hottest woman there." Carefully, Saccardo balanced the matchbook, now with the two forks stuck into it, on the rim of the pint glass, then slowly withdrew his hands and looked up at her with a proud, hopeful smirk. "Ta-da."
"The King of Bar Tricks strikes again." Smiling at the unabashed satisfaction in his suddenly-boyish brown eyes, she picked up her appletini. "So you got somethin' that'll go with a gunny sack?"
"I dunno." He turned half in his seat. "I clean up pretty damn good."
She arched a brow, taking in his faded shirt and ripped jeans. "What, you got a pair without holes?"
He shrugged and sipped his drink. "Maybe. Guess you'll have to wait until Saturday to find out."
Lilly grinned at the now-familiar zing of anticipation. He had something up his sleeve, she was sure. And she'd better be ready.
But with Saccardo, she wasn't sure it was possible to be ready. The best she could do was buckle up, hold on...and have the time of her life.
Lil never used to drink appletinis.
Until Saccardo came along, Scotty had never seen her drink anything but beer, and she usually just ordered one and nursed it throughout the course of the evening. But here she was, drinking the girliest of girly drinks, flirting and smiling and acting like a lovestruck teenager.
Scotty rubbed chalk onto the tip of his pool cue and watched the unfolding scene with the same bizarre, visceral fascination of the looky-loos they always had to chase away from crime scenes. He didn't want to stare. Not really.
But he couldn't look away.
Oh, now Saccardo was doing some asinine, frat-boy bar trick, no doubt to impress Lilly. And sure enough, there she was, being impressed. Scotty had never thought Lilly Rush would be impressed by something as inane as a bar trick...but maybe he didn't know her as well as he thought he did.
There was no doubt about it. Lilly's relationship with Eddie Saccardo annoyed Scotty, and the fact that it annoyed him annoyed him even more. Saccardo seemed like a decent enough guy. A little cocky, perhaps. Borderline obnoxious, with no regard for rules, boundaries, or personal space.
But there was no denying he'd brought the smile back to Lil's face, a smile that had been missing since the day she was shot. Scotty supposed he should be grateful for that, no matter the source. Shouldn't he?
"Hey." Kat's voice was sharp enough to startle him and jerk his attention to where his colleague was standing, leaning on her pool cue, eyeing him with irritated suspicion.
"Sorry." Leaning over, he quickly lined up his shot, slid the cue through his circled index finger a couple times, then sent the smooth white cue ball into the fourteen with a satisfying smack. The green-striped ball rolled close to the corner pocket, thumped off the velvet-covered side of the table, and wobbled to a lazy stop in the center.
Kat's frown deepened. "You tryin' to lose on purpose?"
It was a fair question. Kat Miller's skill set was vast and varied, but playing pool was in no way a part of it. And yet, a quick scan revealed that she had only to sink the eight-ball, whereas his three remaining stripes still lay scattered across the deep emerald surface of the table.
"Nah." Scotty rubbed more chalk onto the tip of the cue stick, hoping by his actions to convince her it was merely an equipment failure. "Just tired."
Kat glanced over her shoulder at the bar, where Lilly was whispering something into Saccardo's ear, and turned back with a skeptical grin. "Uh-huh."
Irritation flaring, Scotty set his mouth in a grim line and focused his entire being on the game in front of him. He sank his three remaining balls in quick succession, then smacked the eight-ball straight for the side pocket. It rattled around the rim, then fell in with a decisive thud, and Scotty pumped a fist in silent celebration.
"Lucky shot," Kat griped, though the gleam in her deep brown eyes revealed how grudgingly impressed she truly was.
Scotty turned around to reach for the rack, and, inescapably in his line of vision, Saccardo was toying with the softly-curled ends of Lilly's ponytail, an arrogant smirk on his face.
"Wanna go again?" Kat was asking.
"Nah." Scotty hung up his cue. "I'm outie."
"Outie? What are you, sixteen?"
The amusement from her comment was a soothing balm to the churning in his gut, and Scotty managed a genuine smile. "Whatever, Granny. I must depart."
Kat sighed and hung her stick next to his. "Guess it is time to face the music." She started to head toward the exit with him, but took a detour when they reached the table where Nicky and Will were halfway through their own game.
Under normal circumstances, Scotty might've stuck around. Kat and Nick talking smack was usually high quality entertainment. The neon-ringed clock on the wall cajoled him; it wasn't that late, and there wouldn't much awaiting him at home besides SportsCenter and an empty fridge.
Scotty sighed as he pushed open the door of Jones' to a faceful of autumn's damp chill. Maybe he wouldn't go home.
But he sure as hell couldn't stay here.