I was still recovering from the effects of having a powerful orgasm when my brain registered an annoying noise coming from the direction of my desk. Apparently the phone had been ringing for some time. Tara was still on her knees with her head resting on my thigh and her arms embracing my waist. I groaned as the ringing continued. "I think I should get that. It could be important," I said while stroking her head.
She sighed and rose slowly to her feet, stealing a quick kiss from my lips before sitting on the couch. I walked half naked across the room to answer the phone. "Hello..." I said harshly and highly annoyed.
It was Buffy calling me from the docks. "Hey Boss. Listen I think something big is going on around here. Everybody is looking alert and they're all unusually tight lipped. I don't know if any of what's going on is related to our case, but something is definitely up." I frowned. "On Mickey's end or Carmine's?" I asked.
"Definitely Mickey's end I tried all my charms on Lefty and he wouldn't give up a peep. When I mentioned the Maclay name I think I saw him blink, but that could've just been his eye tic acting up. I hate to say it, but I think you're the only one who can get the inside scoop."
I hesitated before stating the obvious. "You mean Danny."
"I know you don't like talking to him just to get dirt. He was my friend too and I don't like it either, but I'm telling you no one else is talking. Plus they're all looking jittery and we donít even know if it's got anything to do with us. It wouldn't be smart to snoop around if what we're 'snooping' is none of our business, you know what I'm saying?"
I chewed on the information for a few seconds, pondering my options. "Yeah. You're right. You happen to know where he's hanging around lately?"
"Last I heard he was spending the better part of his time down at Lucky's."
I rubbed the back of my neck and gulped down hard "That dive? Jeez I hate this. All right, I gotta do what I gotta do. I'll go over right away, maybe I won't catch him too watered down at this hour. Do me a favor and go down to Mr. Bogarty's pawn shop, I couldn't get him on the horn this morning and ask him if Pop ever went to see him about some jewels. We can all meet down here at the office after five to compare notes."
"Will do Boss lady and hey you take care of yourself. Remember to eat and go to the bathroom and just do all that human stuff that you forget to do when you get wrapped up, o.k.?"
Buffy's concern brought a brief smile to my face. "Yeah, yeah. You be careful too."
I hung up and looked towards the couch. I had purposefully avoided looking in that particular direction while speaking to Buffy cause I knew exactly what could happen if I looked. I was again floored by Tara Maclay's beauty and my concentration flew out the window and the window wasn't even open.
She was sitting cross legged still in her underwear and garter stockings. I thought 'she's gonna kill me.' But what a way to go added my fevered mind. I cleared my throat and started to pick up my discarded clothing, gathering all of my will power to not pounce on the vision sitting before me. "Uhm... I'm afraid we have to go now doll face," I said in an almost pitiful voice.
She shrugged her shoulders. "It's o.k. really. I'm sorry I distracted you."
I pulled up my underwear and pants. "Are you really sorry?" I asked.
She was buttoning up her blouse. "No, not really. Just thought it would be the right thing to say," she said flashing me a wicked smile.
"You're the Devil in a blue dress, you know that?" I said shaking my head.
She walked over to me looking suddenly vulnerable, hardly meeting my gaze. "I don't want to be a Devil. I don't want to make trouble for you, I just... I just... want to be..." She stopped, looking distressed and out of words.
"You just want to be what?" I asked gently caressing her cheek.
"Yours," she whispered, before meeting my lips for a kiss.
The ride to Lucky's was a quiet one. Tara was looking out the window seemingly lost in her own thoughts. I had some of my own thinking to do. "Yours," she had said and it had made my heart stop beating. I didn't, I couldn't respond to that. I was overwhelmed by a million emotions that I had never felt before. All I could do was offer a smile and another kiss before leaving the office.
In the car my thoughts drifted from the present to the past as we got closer to the seedy bar. Danny what the hell happened to you?
Daniel Osbourne and I grew up on the same side of the street. In high school he was part of the gang and for a brief while when I hadn't completely come to terms with myself we had dated and shared a few kisses. He was a swell guy, quiet, funny and could play the trumpet like nobody's business. It earned him the nickname 'wolf man' cause when he blew on that horn it was like he was howling at the moon. I figured it was worth a shot, but it didn't last. I figured things out pretty quickly, unfortunately it was too late. He had fallen in love, I hadn't, I couldn't, and he took the whole thing pretty hard. We were still friends, but he started keeping new company. It's a funny thing in my neighborhood half the guys are cops and the other half are hoods. That's just the way it is. I'm somewhere in the middle myself, seeing how I never exactly play by the book. Now I know Danny is working for Mickey Malone a big mob boss and personal sworn enemy of mine. I'm not judging him because of the line of work he chose. Some of my other friends aren't exactly choirboys. I'm not even angry that it's Mickey that he's working for. I just think he could do better. He just gave up somewhere along the line and I had never pegged him for a 'quitter'.
My thoughts were interrupted by a warm hand on my knee and a concerned voice. "Are you o.k.?" she asked.
I turned and squeezed her hand. "Sure thing."
I must have not sounded very convincing cause she offered, "You look worried or something. You can tell me about it if you want. I mean you don't have to, but if you want..."
I patted her cheek. "I'm all right, just thinking about an old friend."
She kissed my hand. "The friend we're going to see? It seems like he upsets you."
I took back my hand to shift gears. "Listen, this place where we're going it's not pretty. I don't feel safe leaving you out here in the car, but it might not be so great inside either. I'll escort you to a table where I can keep an eye on you while I speak to my friend, he doesn't like strangers much."
She didnít miss a beat. "Changing the subject? All right. Oh and I'm not worried I know that wherever we go I'll be safe if Iím with you."
I was touched by what she said. I only wished I had her certainty, this was unknown territory and I had all sorts of doubts running around in my head, like a marathon.
Lucky's was a run down gin joint near the docks, it was as dark and grimy on the outside as it was on the inside. As soon as we set foot in the inside my senses were assaulted by offending sights and smells. So were Tara's from the wince I saw on her face from the corner of my eye. As I was taking her to a table near the door and with a view to the bar a drunk bumped into us, nearly making Tara fall. I steadied her with my hands and gave the guy a nasty stare. He was oblivious to it.
He looked Tara up and down through blurry eyes. "Hey sweetheart looking for some company?" he slurred.
I grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket and stared him down. "Look chum, apologize to the lady and beat it before I beat you, get it?"
He didn't get it. He was about to protest when a finger tapped him on the shoulder from behind. "Get lost Charlie."
The drunk smiled and hiccupped nervously. "Sure thing wolf. I didn't mean no harm. I didn't know they was with you, honest. Sorry ladies Iíll be on my way," he said and quickly scurried out the door.
I motioned Tara to sit and I nodded to the new arrival. "I didn't need rescuing Danny," I said very annoyed.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Hey I wasn't rescuing you. I was rescuing that poor fella from one of your infamous left hooks."
I had to smile at that. I gave Tara a reassuring look and led Danny to the bar stools. "How you doing Danny?" I asked with genuine concern.
He poured himself a drink from a half empty bottle and downed a double in one gulp. "I've been better, but then again I've also been worse."
He was about to pour himself another and I stopped his hand on the bottle. "Come on Danny you don't need that."
He pulled his hand away and looked at me harshly. "You don't know what I need. Did you come down here to lecture me? What are you my mother or my priest?"
I shook my head. "Neither Danny... I'm just saying..."
"Nothing, don't say nothin'. Just do me a favor and ask me what you came here to ask. You are here just cause you want to grill me about something, right?"
"All right. Have you heard the name Donald Maclay lately?"
He took another drink and avoided looking at me. "Doesn't ring a bell."
"There seems to be a lot going on around here and the warehouses, what's that about?"
He looked up and looked around the bar. "I don't know exactly. I'm a lowly runner in this game, but I've heard things. Mickey's expecting something big, I know Sal the accountant and he said that the big guy took out a big chunk from the safe to assure his part in some mystery investment or something. Also I've seen some new faces down at the club looking pretty chummy with the boss man."
"What did they look like?"
"I only got a real good look at one of them. He was medium height, blonde hair slicked back and a dapper looking suit."
I stroked my chin thoughtfully. "Thank you Danny. I want you to know I didn't want to use you as a stool pigeon. I'd like to think that we're still friends and if you ever want out of this life you can count on my help."
He laughed with irony. "There's only one way out of 'this life' Red you know that."
I was getting angry now. "Hey, that's a whole lot of crock and you know it! You make your own choices and you got options Danny, you're better than this," I said slamming down the empty shot glass.
He held his head in his hands and looked at me with a sour expression. "Am I ? What options, huh? Playing the horn for two bits in some basement dive won't put food the table Red. It wasn't good enough for my family, it wasn't good enough for you and certainly wasn't good enough for Veruca or maybe it was me who wasn't good enough or isn't good enough for anything else except 'this life'."
I gripped him by the shoulders. "That's even more of a crock. Your family? I heard that your mom's heart broken about you and your sister is engaged to that nice Rory kid and will be moving out soon, besides there's other ways to put food on the table. You know with me it was never about you, you know that. As for that Veruca dame, you were too good for her not the other way around Danny. Stop making excuses. I know you've been hurt but you gotta move on. This is no place for you."
His eyes were watery now and I had to look away. I caught Tara staring at me intently and I stared back for a moment.
"I wish I could believe that Red. I wish everything could be like it was when we were kids."
I looked back at him and then Tara again. "Well it can't be. Let the past die and get on with your life and get off the pity stool."
He looked in Tara's direction. "Is she part of the case you're working on?"
Now he was the one who put his hand on my arm. "You got 'that gleam' in your eyes Red. Be careful."
I tried acting nonchalant. "What gleam?"
He smiled. "'That gleam' that you never got with me. She looks classy. Remember what your pop used to say? I wish I would've listened to him, cause Veruca didn't only whistle, the dame sung and danced when she was driving me to my grave."
I raised my eyebrows defiantly. "Tara isn't Veruca."
He raised his hands in a defensive position. "Hey, I'm just saying be careful. Those uptown gals like crossing the tracks to see how the other half lives, they get in some action and then they cross over again before they break a nail."
"This is not like that," I said without really being sure of it myself.
"Fine don't listen to the guy who's been through it before. Look if this is important to you I'll keep my ears to the ground. I'll let you know if I learn anything new. I would suggest that you keep a low profile from now on, Mickey would love an excuse to mess with you."
He was going to take another drink and seemed to change his mind. He pushed the glass away and hesitated before saying, "Hey and Red... thanks for the 'word slapping' I think I needed it. I'm gonna think about taking you up on your offer."
I smiled and extended my arm for a handshake. "You do that Danny."
He shook my hand, I walked over to Tara and we exited the bar. I left hoping to hear from Danny soon and not precisely about the case.
Tara tried talking to me in the car about Danny and our exchange at the bar. I let her know that it wasn't the best time for that story. We went to the hotel to pick up her things and drove back to the office. I wanted to see if there was anything new to go on.
Anya was filing her nails and listening to a jazz tune on the radio. "Oh hello Boss. You got a message from Buffy she said Mr. Bogarty does know something but that he'll only speak to you." She looked at Tara suspiciously and lowered her voice to a conspiratory tone. "He also said that you should come alone."
I nodded and looked over to Tara who was looking down at her shoes. I suppose feeling quite uncomfortable. "Thank you Anya. Buzz me if anything new comes up. I'll wait for Giles to check in before going over to the pawn shop. Oh and Anya..."
"Knock if I'm going to enter. Gotcha," she said winking and popping her bubble gum.
That woman really annoyed me sometimes. Tara blushed and followed me inside.
We had remained mostly quiet during the afternoon. None of what was happening made any damn sense. Now Mickey Malone of all people was some how mixed up in the whole deal. That just made everything more complicated and dangerous.
I took off my jacket and stared out the window for a while trying to clear my mind.
Tara cleared her throat and spoke in a small voice. "Are you mad at me, did I do something wrong?"
I lowered the shades and turned to meet her sad gaze. "No." I loosened the knot in my tie. "I just... I'm trying to think how all the pieces come together. It's driving me nuts that I can't see a connection."
She rose from her chair and walked slowly towards me stopping a few inches from my body. "I wish I could be more help." She ran her hands through my hair, pulling back some stray strands from my face behind my ears. "Is there anything I can do to help you now?" she asked in a soft and teasing tone.
I felt my mouth go dry and I was just about to respond when a loud shrill made her jump back. It was the phone again. "Hold that thought." I told her before answering. "Hello Giles. Yeah? I see. Well that's not much to go on. O.k., here at five o'clock."
I looked wistfully at Tara, work before play I told myself. "I have to go the day's almost gone and we don't have much to show for it. You can stay here with Anya."
She gave me a pleading look. "Don't worry she's a good egg, just a bit odd. Give her a chance. I'll tell her to order you something to eat. You look tired too, that couch can make a pretty good bed if you want to nap a little or something." I put on my jacket and she stepped up close to me again. She straightened my tie out and kissed my lips briefly.
"Be careful," she said holding on to my waist.
"I will kid. I will."