Going through the case files, the redacted ones and the non-redacted ones, had been an all-day endeavor, and the clock had ticked over from Saturday to Sunday without notice from either wannabe sleuth.
“Hey, I think I got somethin’.” JJ got off the couch and knelt down beside Elias, holding out a thin stack of paper. She touched a finger to a line somewhere near the middle of the page. “This part is redacted in the files we got from the department’s database. There were several witnesses to the crash, but this one specifically, they saw a motorcycle speed away after the vehicle veered off and flipped.”
Elias took a moment to force himself past the imagery ‘veered off and flipped’ conjured up in his brain. He didn’t remember much about the accident—little more than the motorcycle and waking up upside down had stuck with him over the years—but going over the details as many times as he had in the last God only knew how many hours hadn’t exactly been good for his mind.
With a clear of his throat, he grabbed the papers and read over the part JJ had pointed out, the part that was so important that the police department had needed to redact it when they’d put it in their system. “They thought they saw a gun in the motorcyclist’s hand,” Elias said quietly. “So… the motorcyclist shot out Dad’s tire.”
“Maybe,” JJ said, her voice soft, gentle. “When you talked to Hank, what did he say? I mean, aside from giving you all of this. Did he say anything about the MC?”
“Not really. I mean, he said it was a legal club, just a group of guys who liked bikes and fixing them up. But I don’t know if I believe that.” Elias gave the pages a half-hearted shake. “Especially now.”
JJ wrapped an arm around him and guided his head to her shoulder. Elias closed his eyes, drawing in as deep of a relaxing breath as he could manage. “You’ve never told me about a gun. That’s not something you saw, right?”
Elias shook his head. “No. I remember… hearing a noise before the car veered off. I never really had an answer for that, but I know kid me thought the motorcycle hit us or something. Tried to push us off the road. Adult me assumed that was pretty unlikely.” He blew out a breath, tossing the paperclipped stack to the floor. “Well, I guess I got what I wanted,” he whispered. “Someone murdered my dad.”
“And the department knows who did it,” JJ said. “That cop friend of yours—”
“He isn’t a friend. He wants to sleep with me.”
“You’ve… slept with people for information before.”
“Yeah, but that was a long time ago. Before Nick. Before…” Elias lifted his head from her shoulder and pulled his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them instead. “That was basically an entirely different me. The part of me that was confident enough to do something like that doesn’t even exist anymore.”
JJ stayed silent for a moment before tucking her hair back behind her ear. “Does he like women?”
“Jesus, JJ. I can’t start pimping you out for details. I’ve already dragged you into all of this. Having you sleep with a cop on the force of cops who went out of their way to bury a homicide? Jesus.”
“One, you didn’t drag me into anything. I’m a big girl, and I made my own choice with this. Two, it’s not pimping me out if I offered to sleep with him. And three, it’s not like he’s one of the ones who buried the crash. He’s too young.”
“Too young to cover up my dad’s homicide. It doesn’t mean he hasn’t joined the dark side with the ones who did. Cassata and Lucchese both have massive control in Kansas. I doubt there’s a single damn cop in the state that isn’t on their payroll in some form or another. Even if they didn’t cover up Dad’s murder, they’re all dark side. Every single of ‘em.”
“Fair,” JJ said, her voice quiet. She stretched her legs out and crossed them at the ankles. “So what’s the plan?”
“See if any of the witnesses are alive, I guess. And if they are, a certain nosey former-reporter has some questions to ask about what they saw and what they told the cops about it.”
“Sounds good to me.” JJ leaned up just enough to look at her phone on the coffee table. “But for now, we should get you home so you can get some sleep.”
Elias didn’t think there was any chance in hell sleep was possible tonight, but there was no harm in trying. His meds were all at home too, and he’d already missed his evening doses by several hours. “Yeah, I guess sleep wouldn’t hurt,” he said quietly.
JJ nodded. “Good.” She gave his shoulder a squeeze and pushed herself to her feet. “Just gonna go to the bathroom, and then we can head out. Okay?”
“I’ll be here.”
Vito spent two hours charming his planned fling for the night before her boyfriend came to the bar and, after risking a glare in Vito’s direction, pulled her away. Clearly, he needed to start asking his endeavors if they had a boyfriend before he wasted his time on them. With a roll of his eyes, he leaned down, lined up his shot, and launched the cue ball across the table.
A hand came down in front of the corner pocket, stopping the ball before it could fall in.
Vito dragged his eyes up to the face the hand belonged to. A slow smile spread across his face. “Hello, gorgeous.”
“Mm.” The black man raised an eyebrow. “Does that mean you remember me, or do you call every man you see gorgeous?”
“Oh, I remember you. Great with remembering faces when they look like yours.” Vito straightened himself out and dropped the bottom of the cue to the floor before crossing his arms over the top. “Thank you for the help back there at the apartments. It’s appreciated, really.”
“Well, umm… no problem.” The man cleared his throat. “So, uh, would you happen to need a pool buddy?”
Vito leaned to the side and let his eyes drag up Gorgeous’s body. His dark blue jeans, the Australian Shepherd seated at his feet, his yellow button-up, the sleeves folded and rolled neatly to his elbows, the necklace charms resting near his collarbone, his deep brown eyes behind his black-rimmed glasses. “Would love one.”
Gorgeous smiled a nervous little smile. “Great.” Vito saw his fingers tighten around the handle attached to the dog’s harness, and the dog stood up and walked with him over to the cue rack in the corner of the bar.
“Tell me, gorgeous. What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?”
Gorgeous’s hand stilled for a moment before he grabbed one of the cues and turned to face Vito. “What do you mean?”
Vito smiled. “Baby, come on. Drake’s Place? Like you don’t know this place’s reputation?”
“Mm. So you’re a thug?” Gorgeous asked.
“Something like that. Everyone here is either a thug or looking to lay a thug.” Vito looked him up and down again. “Lookin’ like that, I’m guessin’ you ain’t on the thug end of things.”
“I’m not on either end of things. I just… I couldn’t sleep.” He came back to the pool table and let go of the dog’s handle. “Wanted to be around people.”
“Wanted to be around thugs?” Vito asked.
A tiny smile tugged at one corner of Gorgeous’s mouth. He flipped the pool cue in his hand and used the tip to push one side of Vito’s leather jacket back, showcasing his gun. Vito glanced down before dragging his eyes back up to his face. “Wanted to be around a bunch of MC guys who would protect those around them.”
“MC guys,” Vito echoed. He adjusted his jacket, covered his gun again. “Whatcha need a bar full of MC guys to protect you from, gorgeous?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Vito snorted. “All right. Well, long as we’re here, you’ve got my protection, babe.” He stuck out a hand. “Vitelli.”
Gorgeous grabbed his hand but didn’t give him a name. “I thought Italian’s couldn’t have surnames as first names.”
Vito couldn’t help the laugh that burst from his lips. No one had ever caught that before. “I was born there, not raised. You know how these new age parents are. Can’t just pick a normal name,” he said. “You got a name, gorgeous?”
He raised a brow. “You gonna remember it?”
“It’s Elias. But, y’know. I won’t hold your things hostage if you forget.” He flipped Vito’s hand over and dragged his thumb down the middle of it. “Your tats are beautiful.”
“Thanks. My brother’s a fuckin’ artist.”
“They’re all done by your brother?”
“Mmhmm. Wouldn’t let anyone else touch this canvas.”
Gorgeous—Elias—smiled, brown eyes lifting to meet his. “You’re lucky you’re a cute thug because your cockiness is like, up to here,” he said, holding a hand up by his head.
Vito snorted. “I’m worth it. Got the shit to back it up too.”
“Oh, I’m… I’m sure you do.” Elias took a step back and grabbed his pool cue. “So… how about you keep me safe until closing time, and I figure out how to play pool?”
A smile pulled at one corner of Vito’s mouth. Protecting a gorgeous man for a couple hours sounded like a reasonably easy job. And if Elias decided somewhere between now and then that he actually was at Drake’s Place to sleep with a thug, so be it. “Deal. Do you know how to rack ‘em?”
Elias shook his head. “No, but I can learn if you can teach.”
“Oh, baby, I can teach.”
Elias smiled. “Then I guess we’re all set.” He gestured downward with his right hand, palm parell to the floor, and the dog sat down near the corner of the pool table. “Where do we start?”
“The plastic triangle,” Vito said, tapping the bottom of the cue to the slot beneath the table. Elias bent down to grab the triangle ball rack. “Aussie there have a name?”
“Gordo.” Elias set the rack on the table, eyes lifting back to Vito’s face. “Do you like dogs?”
“They’re cool. Less bitchy than humans.”
Elias snorted. “That’s fair.”
“Uh, sorta, but not necessarily. Service dog is his official title.”
“Mm.” Vito watched Elias as he rounded the table to roll the striped and solid colored balls back toward the rack. “Never seen those handle harness things on a regular service pup, I don’t think.”
“Well, he’s supposed to drag me away from bad decisions.”
Vito laughed. “I dunno how to tell you this, but I think his radar’s a little off, babe.”
Elias smiled. “Yeah, seems like it.” He walked back over to Vito, cue in hand. He touched two fingers to Vito’s right forearm. “You’re, like… covered in gods.”
“Recognize ‘em?” Vito asked.
Elias shook his head. “Yes and no. I’ve seen some of them, but I don’t know their names.” His brown eyes lifted to meet Vito’s. “Why so many?”
“Relate to each one in my own little ways.”
“How do you relate to this guy?” Elias asked, fingers sliding down to the back of his hand.
Vito glanced down at the bird-headed God seated atop a pile of skulls on the back of his hand. “He’s Montu. Egyptian God of War.”
“And I’m war and chaos, baby.”
One corner of Elias’s mouth lifted. “You’re ridiculous.”
“That’s one of the more polite things I’ve ever been called.”
“Yeah, I can imagine. What with you being a thug and all.” Elias fingers slid up to a different god. “What about this one?”
“After I rack up the billairds, if you can break ‘em, you can ask about any of the tats. Yeah?”
Vito leaned his cue against the wall and pulled the billards together with his forearms, clicking them into a little triangle against the edge of the table. He slipped the rack over top of them and went about arranging them in numerical order. He could feel Elias’s eyes on him, watching his every movement. A part of him took the intense watching as threat, but the much larger part of him had wanted Elias pushed up against a wall, Vito buried inside of him, since the moment he’d seen him in the apartment building’s hall. That part of him kept the Horror Twin half from acting out, from pushing Elias against a wall for an entirely different reason.
“Are all of them really done by your brother?” Elias asked.
Vito cleared his throat, pushing the tip of the rack to the faint gray circle a few inches up from the edge of the table. He lifted the plastic triangle and slid it back under the table. “Every last one. Consider me a walking portfolio for my big bro.”
“He does beautiful work.”
Vito turned back to Elias, a grin on his face. “That’s just ‘cause it’s on me, babe.”
“I’m sure it is,” Elias said with a soft laugh.
Oddly, the comment didn’t sound sarcastic or like a flirty little jab. Just… polite agreement. Vito wasn’t sure he’d ever gotten that kind of response before, and his ego wasn’t sure if it should be insulted or not.
“All set. Should we get to teachin’ now?”
Elias nodded. “Sure. You get to teachin’. I’ll get to learnin’.”
Vito smiled and stepped away from the table. Realistically, there was a damn good chance Elias knew everything there was to know about pool. It was a tactic Vito knew all too well, one he’d even used himself a time or two. People enjoyed teaching others the things they were good at. He tended to use that to his advantage, and if Elias was willing to let him do it, he sure as hell wasn’t going to complain.
“Come over here, step a little closer to the table.” Elias did as told, and Vito stepped behind him, grabbing his hand. He pulled it back a few inches on the pool cue. “Not too far away from the end, but not too close to it. Yeah?”
Vito stepped in a little closer and dragged his fingers up Elias’s forearm before settling his hand over top of his. He felt the sharp inhale of Elias’s breath, the slight relaxation of his shoulders. His back was so fucking warm against Vito’s front, the man a damn near perfect fit between his arms. Vito nuzzled his neck with the tip of his nose. “You smell good,” he murmured.
“Umm, it’s, uh… it’s Old Spice. I think it has, uh, shea butter in it? So y-you’re probably, umm, you’re probably smelling the vanilla.”
“Mm.” Vito smiled against Elias’s neck. “I like it. Like it even more that you had an answer.” He laid his free hand on the table, officially trapping Elias in. “Couple of good ways to use your other hand as your brace, but you gotta actually, you know, brace it. I usually like to use the groove between my thumb and forefinger ‘cause I think it’s the easiest, but you can wrap your index finger around it like a circle if you need to. Whole bunch of fancy, weird ass hand positions you can try too.”
Elias chuckled. “I think I’ll start with simple.” His hand hovered above Vito’s for several seconds before he slid it down Vito’s tatted-up skin, stopping as his fingers slipped into the gaps between Vito’s far more gnarled knuckles. “So… if I successfully break this, I can ask about any of the tats I want?”
“Any you can see with my clothes on, anyway.” Vito buried his nose in Elias’s dark, curly hair just long enough to breathe him in. “I’ve got a lot more hidden under said clothes, if you’re interested in the full selection.”
Elias’s laugh was a bit more nervous that time. “Let’s just start with pool.”
“Sure, babe. I can manage that,” Vito promised. Elias laid his hand down beside Vito’s on the table, their fingers just barely touching. “You’re driving me crazy, gorgeous,” Vito whispered, lips brushing the shell of Elias’s ear.
He shivered. “Is that, umm… a good crazy or a bad crazy?”
“A very good crazy.”
That nervous little laugh was back. “Good, I think,” Elias whispered. He hit the cue ball, scattering the racked balls around the table. He slipped out between Vito and the table, tapping the end of the pool cue to the Vito’s right wrist. “This one.”
“Mmhmm. She, uh, she’s the goddess of a couple things, but I have her here because she was said to protect the home from evil spirits and shit. Protection, good health, whatever. Shit I need I need in my line of work.”
“Well, it seems she’s been doing a good job, then.”
“You know, I think you’re right. I have gotten stabbed less since I added her to the sleeve.”
Elias snorted, rolling his eyes. “So… I guess tattoos aren’t the only thi ng you’re covered in then, huh?”
“What do you mean? Oh, like scars?” Vito asked. Elias only nodded. “Yeah, I’ve got a nice collection of those too.”
“Your MC should take better care of you, you know. Stop adding new scars to the canvas.”
Vito chuckled. “You tellin’ me you don’t like a man with a couple good scars?”
“Depends on the man, I suppose,” Elias said, his voice soft. He nodded toward the table. “I believe it’s your turn.”
Vito grabbed his pool cue. “So if you get to ask about tattoos, what do I get?”
Elias drummed his fingers against his pool cue, gaze focused on his dog as his free hand came up to fiddle with the charms on his necklace. “I dunno. What interests you?”
“You got any tats?”
“Okay, well, obviously, if I win, you need to get one.”
Elias laughed, and the smile stayed on his face a little longer than the other times. “No can do, I’m afraid. I promised my best friend she’s get to be there when I finally got my first one done.”
“Drat.” There were very few things he was interested in, especially when it came to his flings. He wanted Elias naked and beneath him in a bed somewhere, and there weren’t many things he wanted between now and then. “If I win, you tell me why you need a bar full of MC guys to make you feel safe.”
“You’re basically guaranteed to win.”
“Pfft. I’m a couple beers deep. You got just as much chance at winnin’ as I do, babe.”
“Guilty. But I’ll go easy on ya.” Vito lined up his shot, aiming for the side of the pool table rather than any of the billairds. “See?” he asked as he straightened himself back out. “Totally got a chance of winnin’, babe.”
Elias rolled his eyes, “Yeah, we’ll see about that.”
Like a true gentleman, Vito let Gorgeous, whose name had unfortunately escaped him sometime during their last game, win all but one round of pool. At last call, he dropped his hands to the green felt on either side of the shorter man, pinning him between himself and the table. Gorgeous laid his hands on Vito’s chest, eyes rapidly scanning his face. “I-I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I can’t.”
“Engaged? Married?” Vito asked. “Just my luck.”
Gorgeous shook his head. “No, I just… I don’t really do the one-night-stand thing, you know?”
“Mm.” Vito raised a brow. “Ever?”
“No, just not in a while.”
“What I’m hearin’ is that I’ve got a chance.”
Gorgeous laughed. “Yeah, I guess so,” he said softly. His gaze dropped to where his hands still rested on Vito’s chest. “You won the last round.”
“Right. Whatcha need a bar full of gangsters for, babe?”
“I’m digging into a closed case I probably shouldn’t. It’s starting to stink of a conspiracy that, at the very least, involves the cops. Maybe the mob. Maybe some important government official. I dunno. Either way, every inch I dig into it puts me and my friend at more risk. She has security at her apartment, and she somehow managed to sleep with that thought in her brain, but… I couldn’t.” Gorgeous swallowed, gaze lifting back to Vito’s face. He offered a little smile and drummed his fingers against Vito’s chest. “So thanks for keeping me safe.”
“My pleasure.” Gorgeous had said a lot of words, but Vito’s brain had gotten stuck on ‘closed case’. “You a cop?”
“No. Ex-reporter. Now I just write true crime podcast scripts for a YouTuber.” Gorgeous shook his head. “But no, not a cop. You’ve got nothing to worry about, Vitelli.”
“Sweet.” Vito cocked his head to the side. “How do you feel about kissing thugs instead of sleeping with ‘em?”
“It has nothing to do with thugs, for what it’s worth. And… I dunno.” Gorgeous tugged on either side of Vito’s jacket. “You a good kisser?”
Vito snorted. “Amazin’.”
Without a smartass retort, Gorgeous leaned up and kissed him.
Vito groaned, lifting his hands to Gorgeous’s face, tongue pressing against his lips. God must’ve been pulling favors that morning, because Gorgeous parted his lips and allowed Vito to deepen the kiss. Vito tilted his head back for a better angle. Gorgeous whimpered into his mouth, a hand sliding up to his face, fingers threading their way through his hair. Vito pushed his knee between Gorgeous’s thighs.
Vito groaned as he broke the kiss, eyes dragging over to Drake. “What?”
“We’ve talked about this.” Drake waved a hand in his direction. “Kissing is fine until it looks like you’re gonna take your clothes off. No sex on my damn pool table.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Vito looked back at Gorgeous, who had lifted one hand to cover his mouth and nose. “Sorry, babe. Didn’t mean to embarass you. Drake’s a shit.”
“It’s okay. You, umm… you are indeed a good kisser.”
Gorgeous cleared his throat and gave Vito’s jacket a tug. “How about you give me your number, huh? Maybe… we can play some more pool and check out some more tattoos?”
“Sorry, babe. It’s tempting, but I don’t do that. Phone numbers are a no-go. But if you’re not busy tonight, I’ll be punching the evening clock at O’Riley’s place around six. Maybe I’ll see you there?”
“O’Riley’s,” Gorgeous echoed. “Yeah, maybe I’ll see you there.”
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