Elias had slept like garbage. He’d never found himself more thankful to wake up and find that it was Sunday. He didn’t have to go into work again until tomorrow. He could work from home until then.
He sat up in bed, scrubbing his hands over his face. He grabbed his cell to check the time, eyes falling to the text from his mother instead.
Mom: Charity event is Feb 4th. You have until then.
Elias tossed his phone to the foot of the bed. Somehow, he had managed to convince himself his mother breaking into his house had been a bad dream, but the text was proof it wasn’t.
He lifted a hand to the charm hanging at his chest, thumb tracing over the intricate little lines of the small urn. “She knows I’m gonna pick you,” Elias whispered. “I’ll always choose you over anything else. She knows that.”
Warmth enveloped Elias for the briefest of moments. It felt like hugging his dad after a long day at school or after he got home from work. It happened the most when he talked about or to his dad. He was never sure if it was his mind playing tricks on him or his dad’s way of letting him know he was there, listening, watching. He hoped for the latter. Elias had eventually learned not to voice the thought aloud, especially to his parents, but the idea that his dad was watching over him was a comforting one.
Elias glanced over at his phone as the screen lit up. January eleventh. “There… are still a few weeks until the event. I could still make a lot of progress in my research before then. Right?”
“You can do anything you put your mind to, Elias.”
Elias closed his eyes. His memory of his dad’s voice got a little blurrier every couple of months. His brain kept trying to patch the missing pieces with other voices he was more familiar with, but it wasn’t making it better. It only made it worse.
When his dad had died, his stepmother had put away almost everything Elias had of him. Photos, home videos. Eventually, birthday cards had started going missing too. Elias had tried not to question it much–he knew grief did strange things to people–but it had made it hard to remember certain things about his dad. The slow dissipation of his voice was like losing his dad all over again.
He wasn’t sure he could handle that grief a second time.
Elias raked both hands through his curly hair and forced himself out of bed. He could call up JJ and work on tracking down how many murders Vito had been present for. Focusing on work was a good option. A hell of a lot better than grief or anxiety, if nothing else.
But first, a shower.
Elias opened the front door as JJ pulled into the driveway. She stepped out of the car, purse in hand. “Thanks for coming over. I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”
JJ shook her head, closing the door with her hip. “You’re family. Even if I had been doing more than rewatching The Office, I’d rarely consider you an interruption.”
She flashed that million-dollar smile of hers. “Of course.” She stepped into the house and kicked off her shoes as Elias closed the front door. “So what’re we up to today?”
“Vito and Tito Minetti. I have until the fourth of next month to figure out as much of this story as I can.”
“Jesus, a month of research before writing the story? What kinda crack is your boss smoking?”
Elias snorted. “It’s not because of my boss. John’s a good guy. Come on. You want something to drink?”
“Is it too early for wine?”
“Way too early. I need your hacking skills sharp and sober.”
“Pfft, I could hack you under the table at any BAC.”
“I’m sure you could. I’m not a professional hacker.” In the kitchen, he pulled open the refrigerator and grabbed a can of iced coffee. “French vanilla?”
“I’m in my hazelnut phase.”
“Ah, lucky you.” Elias switched out the cans and tossed a hazelnut coffee to JJ. “I sat at Drake’s Place last night to see if Minetti would show up. He frequents a whole strip of bars here in Kansas.”
JJ leaned back against the counter as she opened the can. “And? Did he show?”
“No. But I’m going to keep trying until he does. As long as I keep going to the same bar every night, it’s incredibly likely he’ll show up. I know he rotates between them all. I just don’t know when he makes the switch to a new one.”
JJ nodded and took a small sip of her coffee before pointing the can at Elias. “Hoping he’s into dudes?”
Elias’s brow furrowed. “Eww, absolutely not. I want to pretend I wanna be friends with the monster, not that I wanna sleep with him.”
She shrugged. “I’d sleep with him.”
“He’s a murderer!” Elias exclaimed.
JJ held up a finger. “Is it still murder if all the dead guys are bad guys?”
“What? I think the distinction’s important.”
“Yes, it’s still murder.”
“I’m only half joking with you here. Because, like, I really would sleep with him if the situation happened to present itself. But you have to keep the alleged thing in mind or you’re barely going to scratch the surface of the type of evidence and proof you need to finally get this guy put away,” JJ said. “He’s only allegedly a murderer. If it was already proven, you wouldn’t need to write the article.”
Despite her questionable taste in men, JJ had a point. Police investigations were consistently jaded by the lead investigator honing in on one suspect and never considering any other possibilities. Elias already believed Vito to be a murderer–as did most of the country–but it would take more than one’s personal beliefs to get Vito locked away from the rest of civilization.
“Well, I can’t say you’re wrong,” Elias finally said. “But I do think you should maybe consider not sleeping with the dude. You can do way better than a mobster.”
“Probably,” JJ agreed. “But you can’t deny that he’s hot.”
“I can, and I will.” Elias crossed his arms over his chest. “He’s visually appealing.”
JJ snorted. “Close enough. I’ll take it.” She took another sip of her coffee before pushing herself away from the counter. “Come on. Let’s go dig up whatever we can on their phone records.”
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