Johnny Get Angry
When he reached Headquarters, Scotty paused for a moment outside the glass double doors, feeling just about everything it was possible for someone to feel. Yesterday, when he strode through these glass double doors, this building was his home. Where he belonged. Today, it was just a pit stop.
Yesterday, he was Detective Valens, Homicide. Today, he was just his new partner's errand boy.
So he hunched into the depths of his coat. Pulled on a PPD ballcap he'd found in the glove compartment of the squad car. Scurried, ratlike, through the lobby, eyes in constant, furtive motion. Took the stairs, all eleven flights, up to the lab to lessen his risk of running into anyone he knew. Well, anyone, really. That was the thing about Headquarters. Too many people.
His phone started buzzing somewhere between the fourth and fifth floors. And buzzing. And buzzing.
At that, he knew. The news was out. Stillman had made it official. The squad knew he'd jumped ship.
Scotty waited until he reached the relative safety of the eleventh floor before doffing the cap and repairing the damage to his hair. Then, after a brief, but vicious, wrestling match with his thoughts, he slipped his phone from his pocket. He wasn't ready to read any of the eight—eight?—texts he'd received in the last couple of minutes. But he couldn't resist glancing at the screen anyway, just to see who they were from.
One from Jeffries.
Two from Vera.
Five—five?—from Miller. He grinned at that, despite everything.
Nothing from Lil yet. He wasn't quite sure how to feel about that. He felt everything. All at once. Everything…and nothing.
His phone buzzed again in his hand just as he was about to stash it in his pocket. A text from Mendoza. This one he would read.
Security video goes to Rafferty in the lab. Andale, guapo.
Stuffing his phone and the ballcap into his jacket pocket, Scotty welcomed the distraction his new job presented. Now, all he had to do was find Rafferty, whoever he was, and…
Wait a minute. Rafferty. Scotty knew that name. He also knew the slender figure, the saucy tilt of the head, the cascade of chestnut curls over the back of a white lab coat.
Well, if he had to run into someone he knew, this was about the best case scenario.
At the sound of his shoes on the white tile floor, Frankie turned around. Her large dark eyes widened in not-unpleasant surprise. "Scotty."
"You finally ready to admit you missed first base?" One corner of her mouth lifted in a wry, teasing smile.
"Never." Grinning, Scotty fished the flash drive out of his pocket. "Got somethin' for you."
"Ooh, you brought me a present." Long lashes fluttered as she took the bag from his outstretched hand.
"Security video from the Newman burglary. Hear it's pretty grainy."
"Not for long it isn't." Crimson lips curved, and then a puzzled look crossed her face. "Wait, the Newman burglary? That's your job? I thought you were Homicide."
His stomach muscles tightened to absorb the gut punch. "Was."
"Budget cuts." The response was surprisingly automatic. "Needed someone to move from Homicide to Northwest."
"And you took one for the team." Frankie smiled up at him, her large, doe-like eyes regarding him in a new light. Before he could process whether that light was good or bad, she lowered her gaze and set the bag to the side atop an already-cluttered work station. "I'm finishing something up for sex crimes; I'll take a look at this right after lunch. Let you know what I find."
He nodded his agreement just as his phone buzzed in his pocket. Without thinking, he slipped it out and glanced at the caller ID.
It was Lilly.
And she wasn't texting him. She was calling.
Shit. He really wasn't ready for that.
His stomach twisting like a street vendor's pretzel, he flicked his thumb over the screen to send the call to voicemail, then hoped like hell she didn't leave a message.
And then he hoped like hell she did.
"So I see your phone works." Frankie clicked away at her keyboard, her eyes on her monitor, her olive skin bathed in its eerie blue light.
Scotty's brow creased. "Yeah…"
"Because you never called." She still didn't look at him, but her tone was as sharp as her glossy black fingernails.
Had he told her he'd call? He honestly couldn't remember. It might as well have been years since their brief encounter at the Blue Ball.
"Yeah, about that…" He stashed his phone back in his pocket and fumbled for an explanation. "I, uh…I'm sorry. Got caught up."
Glancing up, she offered a coy smile. "Well, lucky for you, I'm a believer in second chances."
He'd have to be a special kind of stupid to miss that hint. She knew it, too; she'd laid a beautiful pitch right over the plate, and now she was clicking away at her computer again, pleasantly ignoring him. He took advantage of the opportunity to study her. She was certainly pretty, in a slightly edgy way. Long, curly hair. Lips as full and red as a ripe cherry. Tight leather skirt. Stiletto heels. Not exactly typical getup for a lab tech, but on her, it worked.
She seemed pretty straightforward, too. No layers to crack or cement walls to try and scale. He suspected he'd always know exactly where he stood with her.
She wasn't the type of woman he normally went for. Wasn't the one he could see himself with long-term. But she was here, and she was obviously interested, and maybe she could be a balm to his broken heart. He was pretty sure she wasn't Miss Right...but she could be Miss Right Now. And unless he wanted to be Rick Rodgers, still stuck on the same woman almost five decades after the fact, he needed a Miss Right Now.
"Yeah." Scotty sidled closer to her desk. "I am. Very lucky."
She glanced up. "Why's that?"
"'Cause I'd like to buy you a drink. Tonight. After work."
"Jones's?" A hint of amusement flitted across her face. "Or someplace classy?"
Was this a trick?
"How 'bout we start at Jones's, and go someplace classy for dinner?"
This seemed to be an acceptable answer, as Frankie's lips curved in a small, seductive smile. "See you at six, then."
He grinned with relief and anticipation. "Six it is."
One by one, Lilly slid the files from the Ellie King job into a crisp white cardboard box. Like all their cases that came over from Missing Persons, Ellie hadn't had a yellowing, shelf-worn evidence box to bring up from the basement. Instead, someone had put a new one together shortly after Bridget Sorenson's confession, and now Lilly was packing it full in preparation for moving it to its final resting place.
She'd been at the scene that afternoon when the dive team dredged Ellie's car up from the depths of the Schuylkill. Mud-covered skeletal remains were in the driver's seat, with a sodden purse wedged down by the floorboards. Inside was a wallet containing some waterlogged cash, a still-legible train ticket to New York...and a driver's license belonging to one Eleanor Anne King.
The car itself was barely recognizable. Once a shiny silvery-blue, Ellie's Eagle was reddish-brown with mud and rust when they pulled it up. Lifeless tires hung around eaten-away hubcaps. Chunks of the fenders had dissolved in the river's murky waters. As a whole, the car looked so fragile Lilly was afraid that if she so much as sneezed, it might crumble completely.
Instinctively, she'd turned toward Scotty to lament the sorry state of the vintage automobile before remembering, too late, that he wasn't there. Oh, well. She'd have to tell him about it when he came back. Because he had to come back. He had to. He couldn't have left.
And now here she was, back in the squad room, putting the lid on Ellie's box. All she had left to do was write "Closed" on the end of it, as they always did. Except…where was the marker? That thick black permanent marker they always used, the one that was supposed to be right here, in the mug next to the Xerox machine…
Oh. Of course. Scotty had written on the box for their last case, and he was infamous for stashing the marker in his desk drawer rather than the mug where it was supposed to be. Everyone always gave him crap about it, but that just made him dig in his heels that much more, the jackass.
With a quiet chuckle, Lilly crossed the room to Scotty's desk, sat down lightly in his chair, and opened the small drawer in the middle. Sure enough, there was the marker, right there in the little tray in the front. Just like always.
But those spiral notebooks he kept in the drawer were gone.
So was that baseball, the one he'd occasionally pull out and toss to himself with a wicked gleam in his eyes. The one that always made Vera scowl for reasons Lilly couldn't even begin to fathom.
The ever-present bottle of aspirin and the set of keys on the Eagles keychain were gone, too.
"You okay, Lil?"
Lilly glanced up to see Will standing there, hat in hand, coat draped over one arm.
"Yeah. Fine." She tore through the rest of Scotty's desk drawers, frantic for some evidence, any evidence, that would point away from the horrifying conclusion she'd just reached. "I was just…gettin' ready to write on the box…can't find the marker…Scotty never puts it back...thought it might be in here…"
The extra shirt Scotty kept in the bottom drawer was gone. His gym bag…that was gone, too.
"The marker that's in your hand?" Will laid his hat on the corner of the desk, the look in his eyes both unspeakably sad and infinitely kind.
The game was up, and Lilly knew it. She slammed the bottom drawer shut and cradled her forehead in her hands as the protective cocoon of denial came crashing down around her.
"Scotty. He's…he's gone."
"I know." Will laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Lil."
"Why would he leave?" She turned stinging eyes on her senior colleague. "Why would he just…walk away, in the middle of a case, without even saying…?" Sadness swelled in her throat, making it impossible for her to speak the word.
Jeffries sighed. "I don't know, Lil. You'll have to ask him."
"I tried callin' him earlier…I tried…" Feeling suddenly foolish, Lilly gave a bitter, tear-filled laugh. She'd wanted to hear his voice. Wanted him to reassure her that no, of course he hadn't left. Not really. He wasn't gone for good. Because he wouldn't leave her. Couldn't leave her.
But he could. Because he just did.
"Didn't answer when I called him, either," Will was saying. He paused, seeming to weigh his words, and then spoke again, softer this time. "But I just saw him headin' into Jones's a few minutes ago."
"Acted like he didn't see me, but…I'm pretty sure he did."
"Jones's." That was their bar. Their place. The place where they'd shared so many drinks and laughs and laid-back moments. And—and it was a place. A place. Scotty wasn't just floating off in some nebulous somewhere, like everyone else who'd left her. He was there. At a place. A place just around the corner. A place where she could walk in and find him and sit down next to him and ask him why.
Moving in a daze, she gathered her things, mumbled some form of goodbye to Will, and headed down the stairs, through the lobby, and across the street, trying to force her reeling mind to prepare. There had to be a logical explanation for this. There had to be. If Scotty had left of his own free will, there was a damn good reason, and maybe if she heard it from his own lips…maybe somehow, some of this would start to make sense.
Moments later, Lilly pushed open the door of the bar, the bells jangling against the glass as they always did, and stepped into the tavern's close warmth. Unwinding the scarf from around her neck, she waved off the bustling, menu-wielding host and scanned the dimly-lit interior.
At the sight of a familiar figure at the bar, her heart gave a flip.
Scotty was here. He was here.
He perched on a barstool; casual fingertips swirled a half-empty glass of scotch. He had on that extra shirt, the one that was missing from his bottom desk drawer. The dark blue one, with the black stripes.
Damn. She'd forgotten how good he looked in that shirt.
Steeling herself, she let her scarf drop from nervously twisting fingers, took a deep breath, and started toward him.
And then stopped.
Because he…he was with someone.
Lilly's eyes widened in horrified disbelief as a long-haired brunette draped possessive fingers over Scotty's forearm. And he was…God, he was laughing and flirting and flashing that dimpled grin. Like nothing was wrong and nothing had changed and nothing was bothering him.
How was this possible? How could be sitting here, enjoying himself—on a date, no less—when he'd just severed the most precious relationship she'd ever had? How could he discard six years of smiles and laughter and tears and cases and confessions with as much casual ease as changing a shirt? How dare he?
At that, something snapped within her. White-hot fury burned in her chest; her hands started to shake. Partners came and partners went. She knew. It was part of the job. But—but she and Scotty were more than just partners. They were partners. And this wasn't just a job transfer. This was a betrayal. His empty desk had turned her world completely upside-down in a matter of moments, leaving her cold and aching and bereft, and here he was all smug and shit-eating, like it was nothing. Like she was nothing.
Lilly couldn't think. She couldn't breathe. All she could do was feel. And feel, and feel, and feel. She stood rooted to the spot, staring at Scotty and his date, wishing like hell she could just rip her hammering, overfull heart out of her chest so she wouldn't have to feel any more.
How the hell could he do this to her?
Scotty leaned his elbow on the bar and toyed with his glass of scotch, watching as Frankie dissolved into giggles at the latest war story he'd told her. He always kept a dozen or so of these little anecdotes from his patrol days in his back pocket, having found them perfect first-date ice-breakers, but he wasn't sure they'd be quite as effective on someone who worked for the Department. Fortunately, Frankie had gobbled them up like Vera with a bowl of bar snacks.
Normally, it gave Scotty a rush, making a woman laugh. Causing luscious lips to curve with mirth, a pair of beautiful eyes to shine like diamonds. But this time, the reward was hollow. Because Frankie's laugh wasn't the laugh he wanted to hear. Her brown eyes seemed dull compared to the sparkling pair of sapphires he wished he were looking into. And her smile? God. There was no comparison.
"Oh, the things I miss, starin' at a computer screen all day."
Frankie's voice to his left broke into his thoughts and brought him back to earth. He looked over at her with a curious smile. "What, all of us comin' in and outta the lab all day, you never heard any war stories?"
Her hand crept up his forearm, rested on his shoulder for a moment, then dropped chastely to her lap. "I don't normally go out with guys from work."
"Well." Plastering on a flirtatious grin, he lifted his glass to hers. "Glad you could make an exception."
Frankie's smile was filled with wicked promise. "Me, too."
"So since you don't date cops," he drawled, "I'm guessin' you never heard the one about the blind policeman."
"Blind policeman?" The expected frown creased her smooth brow.
"This domestic call came in every Friday night. Same damn couple. Partner and I decided to shut 'em down. We go to their door with a white stick and glasses, start takin' down their report. Grope their faces. Tell 'em it's an equal opportunity program. Threw 'em off so bad they didn't call for weeks."
Frankie burst out laughing again. Her giggles were contagious, and Scotty found himself chuckling right along with her at the memory. The blind policeman was his game-winner, his slam dunk. Hell, even Lil had laughed when he'd told it to her all those years ago. It was the first time he'd ever heard her laugh.
A pang amidst the chuckles made him down the rest of his drink, but Frankie's continuing laughter reassured him that she hadn't noticed.
When at last her giggles died down, he glanced over to find her watching him, brown eyes twinkling with seductive mischief.
"Did you know…" she asked over the rim of her mojito, "that you have the sexiest dimples when you smile?"
She had his attention. "Do I?"
"Mmm-hm." Frankie set her glass on the bar and leaned toward him. "Right…about…"
The familiar icy voice froze him in his tracks.
He turned slowly to his left, and, sure enough, there was Lilly. In stark contrast to the coldness with which she'd spoken his name, her eyes were blue flames. There was almost visible smoke coming out of her ears.
His heart pounded like a jackhammer. His mouth felt like sandpaper. But damned if he'd let her see any of that. Damned if he let her know, for one instant, how much her mere presence affected him.
Placing his empty glass on the bar, he pasted a smile on his face and forced lightness into his voice.