This sucks. This whole scenario is on the top of my list of things that suck big time. Despite all my efforts to sort this shit out, I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. This past week has been pure hell. I’ve never had a harder time sticking to a decision I made, but that decision—to stay away from Kaitlyn, that is—is the only way not to draw even more attention to her. Yes, I constantly doubt the efficacy of all of this because Kaitlyn already is on Jackson’s radar, but I can’t risk it.
The worst part is—having to rely on my friends’ reports that she’s safe is about to kill me. My resolve is crumbling with every day I’m away from her, with every time I think about what she’s going through. When Oliver told me she hasn’t left the house but for one small shopping trip, my insides churned.
I’ll never be able to make this up to her.
“Fuck this,” I growl before downing the rest of my drink while sitting at Howard’s desk. I spent an awful lot of time in this office these past days, talking to my boss and my friends. We all tried to find a solution to this predicament but, so far, to no avail. With a groan, I grab my phone, staring at it with a heavy heart. I unlock the screen and read Kaitlyn’s messages for the umpteenth time because this isn’t hard enough as it is. No, I have to remind myself of what I’m missing.
Okay, enough! With a shake of my head, I lock my phone and put it screen-down on the desk. I rub my jaw, which aches from clenching it incessantly. All my muscles are sore from the constant tension that has a firm hold on my body. I let out a long, slow breath and roll my shoulders, trying to get rid of at least some of that tension. Maybe we should just let him win. This whole turmoil isn’t worth it.
When the familiar beep of my phone announces an incoming text, my heart rate picks up. If this is another message from Kaitlyn, I’ll throw all caution to the wind and finally drive over to her aunt’s house to see her.
Ugh, no, I know better. I massage my forehead and bite my lips, unwilling to check my phone. When I finally do, I’m not sure if I’m relieved or disappointed that the text isn’t from Kaitlyn but an unknown ID:
Tonight, usual time. You know where.
I suck in a sharp breath. There’s no doubt about who the sender is. He’s been on my mind more than a couple of times over the last few days, but I’m not sure if talking to him is such a good idea. Maybe it’ll make everything worse.
I contemplate my options. My fatigue undoubtedly plays a part in my decision, but I see no other way. I have no choice. At this point, I need to seize every opportunity to put an end to this. So tonight, I’ll be at the usual place at the usual time.
I’m about to send Howard a text, telling him I’ll be gone tonight, when the office door swings open and my boss steps in. “Oh, hey,” I greet him. I get up from the chair so Howard can sit down.
“Thanks, Aaron,” he says with a weary smile as he scans me up and down. “Damn, you look like shit,” he mumbles before he directs his gaze to some papers on his desk. “I know you didn’t get much sleep, but have you eaten, at least?”
I shake my head even though he doesn’t look at me. “No.”
“Then go to the kitchen and grab some food.”
“No. That’s an order. Go! I need to make a few phone calls, after that I’m going to see my wife.” Still looking at the papers, he waves dismissively before he clears his throat and grabs a folder out of the drawer of his desk.
He hasn’t met my gaze for longer than a few seconds since he entered his office, and it’s getting suspicious. Something is up. I study him with narrow eyes. “What are you not telling me?”
Finally, he looks up. Grimacing, he shifts in his chair. “Aaron...” He takes a deep breath, shaking his head. “It’s nothing. Cathy’s not doing too well. That last chemo hit her hard.”
I frown. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugs. “Thanks.” He rubs his chin, studying me long enough so I notice the dark circles under his eyes. “Take the night off,” he tells me with a heavy sigh. “Please. Get some rest.” Turning his attention to the paperwork, he waves his hand again, reiterating his dismissal. With a curt nod, I leave his office with a new sense of determination to make this right—for all of us.
That night at the usual time, I walk into the usual place. It is surprisingly busy for a weeknight at 10.15pm in this bar somewhere in Brooklyn. Must be some sports event going on. I make my way through the crowd, heading straight to a booth in the far corner that’ll give us enough privacy for our meeting.
The sender of the text from earlier today is awaiting me. I frown when I take in his appearance. I haven’t seen him in a while, but he has aged drastically. The wrinkles around his eyes and on his forehead deepened, and while his hair was slightly graying last time we met, it is now more white than anything else. But the grim expression on his face is still the same, letting you know that in the good cop, bad cop scheme, he is the latter.
With a nod as the only acknowledgment of the other, I sit down across from Wallace Greene, Jackson’s father and retired sergeant of New York’s state police.
“So we meet again,” are his first words. He slides a glass toward me with what I assume to be whiskey.
I take the drink and down it in one go, welcoming the path the liquor burns down my parched throat—anything that serves as a distraction from the other pain I’m feeling. Setting the glass down on the table, I grimace and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. My gaze is fixed on the man whose loyalties are still a mystery to me. He always knew about Jackson’s doings but never made a move to stop him for good. I know he covered his son more than once, detracting attention from him so he could go on with his dealings. Wallace did help me a few times, though, when I wanted to get Jackson off my back.
Holding my gaze, Wallace leans forward. “You made sure he didn’t follow you?”
“Yes.” I lean back and cross my arms over my chest. “Why did you order me here, Wallace?”
He straightens up to look past me, probably to catch the eye of a waitress because a moment later, he holds up two fingers with a nod. He rubs his hand over his cleanly shaven jaw and turns his attention back to me. “I heard what my precious son plans on doing.” His expressionless features give nothing away of his opinion on that matter, so I’m surprised when he adds, “I want to help you.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “Why?”
With a heavy sigh, he empties his drink. He swirls the glass, watching the last drops of the whiskey at the bottom. “It’s time to repent.” He lifts his gaze, holding mine with a firm determination. “All my life, I’ve been a corrupt cop. I did many horrible things, let lots of horrible things happen as long as the money was right. I looked the other way more often than I should have when I learned about Jackson’s dealings, but those times are over.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “I don’t get it. Why now?”
He shrugs, lowering his gaze again. “My wife left me. I’ve kept everything from her for over forty years—everything from when I first accepted bribes for ticket fixing to all the times I destroyed evidence or otherwise ensured Jackson’s protection from the consequences of his illegal activities.”
We are interrupted by a waitress who turns up at our table, wordlessly placing two drinks in front of us. Once she’s gone, Wallace continues, “She found out and packed her bags. Haven’t heard from her since she left.”
I let out a humorless laugh. “I would say I’m sorry–”
He holds up his hand. “Save it! I know I got what was coming to me. She won’t return to me, I know that too. But I finally need to do the right thing, and that would be stopping Jackson.” He takes a sip of his whiskey and adds in a low voice, “I know he threatened your girlfriend.”
I just about manage not to choke on my own spit. The knot in my stomach tightens. “How do you know?”
He shrugs nonchalantly. “I have my sources.”
With a long, low sigh, I rub my chest, watching Wallace with narrowed eyes. “What are you suggesting?”
Again, he swirls his glass, takes a sip, and places it on the coaster, taking his sweet-ass time to answer. “We need to catch him red-handed. In the middle of a deal, with the drugs stacked in the back of the Kingston Bar.”
I straighten up, shifting left and right. “And how will those drugs get there? Howard hasn’t sold the place to Jackson.”
“Yet,” Wallace says. The right corner of his lips lifts in a half-smirk. “Right this minute, Howard is in a meeting with Jackson to finalize the sale, reassuring him you talked him into selling. Jackson will sign the papers that will make him the legitimate owner of the Kingston Bar as of midnight tonight.”
I gape at him. “How do you know all of this?”
While I sit at the edge of my chair, he still has all the time in the world to explain. “I saw Howard a couple of days ago.” He downs some more of his drink before he goes on. “He told me he was sick of seeing you like this. As you couldn’t come up with anything, he decided to contact me. We talked it through, so here I am.”
“You talked it through?” I grimace and wave my hand in a go-on motion.
“Yes. Howard wants to set Jackson up, and it’s all on him in case it goes wrong. He’s got nothing to lose.”
I lean back in my chair as an unpleasant shiver runs down my spine. “What do you mean?”
With his lips pressed together, he takes in a deep breath through his nose. Again he chooses to take another sip of his whiskey before he answers. “His wife won’t recover. She’s dying. He has no one else, no kids, nothing. So if Jackson looks through our act, Howard will be the one to pay for it.”
I gasp. I have a hard time to unclench my jaw because I grind my teeth so hard. “What?! No!”
Wallace tilts his head, tapping his fingers on the table. “Listen, boy. There’s no other way. This was Howard’s idea. He’s fully aware of the potential consequences. But I’ll do everything in my might not to let it come that far.” He stares at me intently while I try to calm my inner turmoil with slow, deep breaths. “Now to your part,” he continues. “I need your help. You need to play along. Make Jackson believe you’re on board with everything.”
I run my hand over my face as I swallow hard to get rid of the painful lump in my throat. “So Howard sells.” I let out a heavy sigh. “Then what?”
He looks around as if to make sure no one listens in on us. He leans closer. “One of the new undercover guys of my old department approached Jackson for a deal that’s gonna take place tomorrow night at the bar.”
I furrow my brows. “And he’s not going to get suspicious?”
“Let’s hope not. You’ll have to convince him that there’s nothing to be suspicious about. Can you do that?”
I squeeze my eyes shut and pinch the bridge of my nose. Can I? What if I can’t? Will Howard really be the one to pay? But fuck, Wallace is right. This is the only way.
With another deep sigh, I look at Wallace and nod. “But what about the bar? If it becomes the property of Jackson–”
He holds up his hand. “Once Jackson is behind bars, I’ll make sure it is reverted to Howard.”
“If we succeed.”
He huffs. “What happened to your positive attitude? Does this have anything to do with that girl of yours?”
I snort. “She’s not–” I let the rest of that sentence dangle in the air. No, I can’t say it.
With a shake of his head, Wallace laughs. “Damn. Be careful, Aaron. You know what drugs can do to a person. Love is just another intoxicant that inebriates the senses, and in the end, women become our poison and ruin us men. Look at Howard and me.”
I glare at him. What the fuck is he talking about? Yes, I let a woman become my poison, as he calls it. I crave her presence and her touch, but in no way has she ruined me. On the contrary; she fixed me by filling a void inside me—a void I wasn’t even aware of until I didn’t have her by my side anymore; of that, I am certain.
So while I listen to the rest of Wallace’s plan, a new hope flickers inside me that it will all be over this time tomorrow, and I’ll have Kaitlyn back in my arms.