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Excerpt for No Saint by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

No Saint

A Louisiana Lawmen Romance

Mallory Kane

 

 

No Saint

Copyright © 2017 Mallory Kane

Smashwords Edition

The Tule Publishing Group, LLC

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-1-947636-64-4

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To my husband, Michael, for being my love, my friend and my rock.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Epilogue

The Louisiana Lawmen series

Excerpt from No Hero

About the Author

Chapter One

This was the worst part of the job. Baton Rouge Police Officer Lusinda Johnston glanced toward the entrance to the alley, where her partner was talking with the woman who’d called 911. She knelt and gingerly placed her fingers on the neck of the young woman they’d found in the alley. To her surprise, she felt a very faint pulse. With her other hand, she pressed the talk button on her shoulder radio. “Officer Johnston here. I need an ambulance at 801 South Bendix Street, STAT. Apparent OD. Victim unresponsive.”

“10-52 to 801 South Bendix Street,” the dispatcher read back to her. “Apparent overdose. Time, 0327.”

“Affirmative,” Lusinda said, moving her fingers to the other side of the girl’s neck. “Hurry!”

DWI Task Force Sergeant Victor Fouchere turned on his flashlight and walked the short length of the alley, searching the ground. “Nothing unexpected here,” he said. He shone the flashlight on the victim’s face. “You get a pulse?”

“Barely. I’m not sure she’s going to make it.” Lusinda’s throat threatened to close up at the words. “Hey, sweetie. Wake up. I’m a police officer.” There was no response. “Come on,” she said more loudly. “Talk to me.”

“Did you check for tracks?”

“I’d hardly call them tracks.” Lusinda pointed to the inside of the girl’s elbow. “I see five puncture marks.” She swiped at the girl’s skin and held up her gloved hand. “Look. She’s used makeup to hide the punctures.”

“There’s the ambulance.” Vic nodded in the general direction of a faint whine of sirens.

“Vic, I don’t think she shot herself up. There’s no paraphernalia anywhere.”

Fouchere squatted with a groan, and quickly examined the girl’s arms and neck. “Looks like you’re right, unless she’s been shooting up between her toes.”

“Should we give her a dose of Narcan?” The sirens were fast getting louder. That answered her question. The ambulance was here. Just as she felt the familiar distorted wail in her ears, the vehicle roared up. Lusinda moved out of the way as two EMTs jumped out and rushed over.

“I’m Sergeant Fouchere,” Vic said. “This is Officer Johnston. Got a call from the woman who lives there—” Fouchere gestured “—that she heard a car door slam and tires screeching. She came out with her dog and found the victim. No ID.”

The EMTs checked the victim. “Pulse is thready,” one of them said. “We got to get her on a ventilator or we’re going to lose her. Did you give her Narcan?”

“No,” Lusinda said.

They loaded the victim onto a gurney and into the ambulance. Within a couple of minutes it sped away, sirens blaring.

Lusinda looked around the alley and then walked out to the street and glanced up and down. It was a residential area. Houses probably built in the fifties. “Nice neighborhood.”

“Yep,” Fouchere said. “Not many kids. Mostly older folks.”

“Well, you would know,” Lusinda teased.

“Hey, forty-eight is not old. You wait and see, Tadpole. You’ll get here soon enough.”

She’d been Tadpole to Victor Fouchere from the time she was a child tagging along with her dad to the precinct when he’d had paperwork to catch up on. She’d always called him Uncle Vic. Now, however, he was Sergeant Fouchere, at least in public.

She knew he was responsible for getting her the position on the department’s DWI Task Force—he and her father’s memory. Working the midnight shift, patrolling the streets for drunks and druggies was not easy, but it was a fast track to experience and respect within the department. She’d even worked a few short undercover operations to ferret out drug dealers or find and pick up underage prostitutes. But this, finding a person dead or dying, was the worst part of the job.

“You think she’ll make it?” she asked.

Vic shook his head. “I don’t know, Tadpole. It didn’t look good.”

“So how long are you going to make me check the bodies while you talk to the rubberneckers or search the ground?”

Vic pulled a cigarette out of his uniform pocket and lit it. “Long as I want to, Rookie. Rank has its privileges, right?”

“Yes, sir, Sergeant.” She smiled. Vic had a way of teasing her, reminding her of her place and making her feel safe and loved, all at the same time.

“Damn straight. You ready?”

Lusinda glanced back at the place where the girl was found and let her gaze trace a path from there to the street. The old, cracked asphalt didn’t show much. There was no syringe, no tie-off, nothing. She was almost positive that the girl, who was probably no older than sixteen or seventeen, had been dragged into the alley.

“Uh-oh,” Vic muttered. She looked up to see him shaking his head as he pinched the fire off the end of the cigarette butt, ground the glowing bits of tobacco into the asphalt, then stuck the butt into his pocket. He’d taught her not to drop anything, not even a toothpick or gum wrapper, at a crime scene. “Listen to me, Officer Johnston. This is nothing but an OD. It’s sad, sure. She got some extra strong stuff and bam, her prom night ends up being her last night. Way it goes.”

“Can I just tell you what I’m thinking?” Lusinda waited until she saw Vic’s reluctant nod. “From what the woman who found her said about hearing the car door and then the tires screeching, I think somebody shot her up, then dumped her here.”

Vic started a second cigarette. “Right. What evidence do you have that she didn’t shoot the dose herself?”

Lusinda knew that no other veteran officer in the entire force would be as patient or as kind to a two-year rookie as Vic was to her. She was grateful that he’d taken her under his wing. “I don’t have hard evidence. I know the absence of paraphernalia isn’t necessarily hard evidence. But that girl is not the type. I can see her agreeing to try some dope, but did you notice her nails and hair? Both expensive. I’ll bet her teeth are straight as an arrow and white as snow, too. She only had five punctures on her left arm, none on her right. Somebody, maybe her boyfriend, has given her a few shots. Tonight he gave her too much.”

Lusinda trailed off as she thought about the girl in her little party dress and high-heeled sandals. It could have been Lusinda herself. She’d been around the girl’s age when she’d run away from home. She’d had a rough couple of years before she’d gotten herself together. “I want to call out the crime scene unit.”

Vic walked over to the edge of the pavement and pointed. “Here are the tire tracks, where they peeled off. Looks like somebody pulled her out of the car and dragged her about eight feet.” His finger sketched a jagged line made by the heels and backs of her shoes. “Did you look at the girl’s feet?”

“No! I missed that.”

“You were trying to wake her up.”

Lusinda bent down to look where Vic had pointed on the ground. “And, I didn’t find any drag marks.” She straightened. “Good eyes, Vic. So what do you say? The crime scene unit might get a make on the tires, and even the car. If we catch a big break, something might have fallen out of the car and rolled away—like a needle, a baggie or a bottle top. Something with fingerprints on it. Because somebody killed her with that dose of dope and now they’re out there partying and not caring that she’s probably dead.”

Vic eyed her. “You okay?”

Lusinda shook herself. She couldn’t get the girl’s face out of her brain. “Sure. Just give me a break and you take the next DB please.”

“We’ll see,” Vic said as he looked at his watch. He sighed. “Okay. So we call the crime scene unit. Don’t worry about me, Tadpole. I don’t need any sleep. My wife will understand. We’re heading down to New Orleans tomorrow, to celebrate our twentieth anniversary. I guess I can sleep in the car.”

Lusinda laughed. “Don’t give me that. You just declared that you’re not old. Besides, I’ve known you to work double shifts two days in a row and then drive to Florida.”

“I said I’d call ’em. You’ve got a pretty good track record with these theories of yours. Reminds me of your dad.”

“Thanks, Uncle Vic.”

He pinched the fire off his cigarette and stowed the butt in his pocket, then pressed his radio call button and requested the crime scene unit.

Two days later, Lusinda and Fouchere were in the morgue, talking to the Medical Examiner, Dr. Daniel Odewahan. “Yes, I’ve done the autopsy. She was DOA at the ER and we autopsy DOAs as well as all deaths within twenty-four hours of admission.” He set down his tablet and took off his reading glasses. “This was an interesting case. I’ve gotten some warnings and read some papers about this stuff, but I hadn’t seen it myself until now,” Dr. Odewahan said. “Blood tests revealed that there were several substances found in her system. Heroin, of course. But it was laced with a substance called carfentanil.”

Lusinda’s breath caught. “Did you say carfentanil? I’ve read that there are some extremely dangerous products made from fentanyl. Is that what this is?”

“Yes, it’s an analog of fentanyl that’s around a hundred times more potent than fentanyl, which of course is used every day here for anesthesia and pain management.”

Lusinda nodded, but Vic stared open-mouthed at the doctor. He choked when he started to speak. “Did—did you say a hundred? As in—a hundred?”

“That’s right.”

“Why does something like that even exist?” Vic asked.

Dr. Odewahan shook his head. “Carfentanil has been used as a large-animal tranquilizer for forty years. More technology means more effective ways to obtain drugs and make them available for illegal use. But back to our victim. From my autopsy and the bloodwork, I can tell you that she was not a regular user. Nor was she addicted, as far as I could tell.”

“That was Officer Johnston’s guess.”

“About eight hours after she came in, we received another body, a male, nineteen years old. He had a similar mix of drugs in his system, except his blood level was quite a bit higher.”

Lusinda looked at Vic. “He could have been the one who dumped her.”

“It’s entirely possible,” Vic said. “I got word that Hatfield and Burton are picking up the case. They’ve got identification on the young man who died. They’ll connect the dots.”

Lusinda had known the case would be handed off to detectives, but she planned to keep up with it. She wanted to find out what had happened to the girl. “I don’t get it. Why would anybody lace heroin with something that is probably going to kill the people they sell to? Won’t they eventually kill off their market?”

Dr. Odewahan spoke. “That’s a good question. Dealers are always looking for something new, a way to make more money, attract more users, appeal to users who are looking for a new high. New Orleans has reported at least four deaths involving the carfentanil-laced heroin. Apparently, according to his father, the young man was in New Orleans last weekend. He probably brought the drug back with him.”

They thanked the doctor and left the morgue. “Good job, Tadpole. You were right to question the girl’s death,” Vic said.

“Thanks, Vic,” Lusinda said, feeling a surge of pride at Vic’s compliment. “It was more of a lucky guess. She cared too much about her looks. She seemed like a kid who went to parties and dances and thought it would be fun and wicked to do some drugs. And she’d covered the needle marks with concealer so she didn’t want anyone to find out.”

“Nope. Not a lucky guess. Intuition. You can’t teach that, but when you’ve got it, you’ve got an excellent foundation for becoming a good cop. Maybe even a great one. And, Tadpole, you’ve got it in spades, just like your dad.”

Just like your dad. Vic’s words echoed in Lusinda’s ears as she paced back and forth in her apartment in the dilapidated Ace Hotel on the edge of New Orleans’ famous French Quarter. If a living room the size of a bedroom, a bedroom the size of a bathroom and a bathroom smaller than a closet could be called an apartment.

She was still a little dazed by the speed at which her life had changed. Tipped upside down was a better way to put it. A week ago, she’d been a two-year rookie in Baton Rouge, working the DWI Task Force midnight patrol with Vic. Now suddenly, she was an undercover cop in the French Quarter, reporting to the New Orleans Bureau of Public Integrity. All because she and Vic had found a girl dying in a Baton Rouge alley from a lethal dose of contaminated heroin. Lusinda had been keeping track of Hatfield and Burton’s investigation but hadn’t expected to have any further involvement.

It was a case of be careful what you wish for. She’d been hoping for a chance like this from the moment she’d earned her badge, or to be truthful, ever since her father had died when she was ten years old. Now she had her chance, and she wasn’t confident she could do it. Her job here was not to find out who was distributing the laced heroin. Her job was to go undercover to investigate a detective from the Eighth Precinct who was suspected to be involved with the drug dealers.

Her new boss, Deputy Chief Edward O’Reilly of the New Orleans Bureau of Public Integrity, had requested her to be detailed to New Orleans after he’d heard about the two victims in Baton Rouge. According to Vic, O’Reilly had been impressed with her intuition about the girl.

She suspected that what O’Reilly had really been impressed with was Vic’s embellished version, and what O’Reilly wanted was a reasonably attractive female officer who was completely unknown in New Orleans.

“Oh, Dad,” she whispered to her dead father, as she often did when she was worried or scared or unsure of herself. “I don’t want to screw this up.” She picked up her phone to check the time. The detective, Richard Easterling, was supposed to show up at the hotel today to begin his undercover assignment. But it was already after two.

“I’ve finally got a chance to bring down a dirty cop. The first of many, right, Dad?” Her pacing took her to the dingy window on the other side of the room. She turned to walk back—and saw a cockroach. With an involuntary shudder, she grabbed the handle of a ragged straw broom and swung it hard. And missed. The disgusting creature ran under the couch. She upended the flimsy piece of furniture with one arm and swung the broom again. The roach was squashed.

“Gotcha!” she exclaimed triumphantly, pumping her arms in the air. The end of the broom thumped against the sprayed-on ceiling and rained white sparkling powder down on her. “Come on. Who else wants a piece of me? I dare you to show yourself!”

Her gaze probed the corners of the room, but no challengers appeared. “Okay, then.” She took one more look around, then tossed her weapon aside. “I’ll kill you all, even if you have been here for millions of years. I’ve been here twenty-four, and I’ve just begun to fight.”

She inspected the sagging couch, which seemed to be free of vermin, then flopped down on it, leaning her head back against the cushion. She missed her pretty apartment in Baton Rouge. It was barely bigger than this, but it was bright and fresh and clean. She hated everything about this place. The cockroaches, the musty smell, the depressing dirt-colored walls and floor. She’d sworn she would never live like this again. But living here was part of her undercover persona.

She’d moved into the Ace Hotel seven days ago, so that by the time her subject got here, she’d be a familiar sight to the landlord and the other tenants. Somehow, Deputy Chief O’Reilly had managed to get her a part-time cocktail waitress job at Beauregard’s Restaurant and Bar, an upscale establishment at the corner of Esplanade and Rampart Streets in New Orleans’ famous French Quarter. If everything went the way Deputy Chief O’Reilly had told her it would, Detective Easterling would also have a job at Beauregard’s.

She checked the time again, even though she’d been checking it every few minutes since seven a.m. when O’Reilly had called to give her a heads-up. Easterling, whose undercover name would be Richard Easton, was supposed to move into his apartment, one floor below hers, today.

Lusinda stood. She was too nervous to sit still. She had so much information bouncing around in her brain. Rick Easterling was a seasoned detective. He was one of the best undercover cops in the New Orleans Police Department. His fellow officers called him the man of a thousand faces. He’d never failed at an undercover operation and he’d never been made. But now, he was suspected of being a dirty cop.

Sin grimaced, just as she did every time those two words entered her head. Dirty cop. The one thing on the planet lower than a cockroach. How could someone who had sworn to uphold the law, to protect the public and his fellow officers, gun down a brother in arms in cold blood? Grief, sudden and sharp, sent nausea gurgling through her belly. Lusinda knew that dirty cops existed, because one of them had shot and killed her dad.

She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “I made it, Dad,” she whispered. She’d finally gotten the job she’d always wanted. She was the newest and the youngest officer assigned to the New Orleans Police Department Bureau of Public Integrity.

Taking a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders and tugged the sleeves of her black top down to her wrists. Glancing in the mirror, she brushed ceiling dust out of her hair and off her clothes. She was ready to happen to meet Easterling on the stairs when he arrived.

She nodded at her reflection. She could do this.

“Richard! Richard Easton! Wait up!” a voice called behind Detective Rick Easterling as he stepped into the lobby of the Ace Hotel.

What the hell? Who was using his undercover name? Nobody around here should know him under any name except the Ace Hotel’s landlord and other cops. He whirled. Coming in through the doorway was a small, wiry man with curly hair. Not a cop. He was way too bleached and tanned.

“Who are you?” Rick snapped, stopping his hand before it automatically slapped his side, reaching for a gun.

“I’m Carlos. Carlos Montoya.” Montoya paused and glanced around, although there was no one in the small lobby. “I’m a CI for the Eighth Precinct.”

Rick shook his head. “I’ve never seen you there.” Something tugged at Rick’s memory. He was sure he’d never laid eyes on the man. He’d thought he knew all the confidential informants that were associated with the Eighth. Had he heard the name before?

“Lieutenant Larsen sent me. You can call him.”

“Oh don’t worry,” Rick retorted. “I will.” Montoya didn’t even flinch. Rick would keep his word, but the man’s easy confidence had already convinced him.

Montoya looked down, then back up and Rick saw tears starting in the dark brown eyes. “You don’t recognize my name, do you?” he said. “I didn’t expect you to.”

Carlos Montoya. Sonofabitch! Rick almost stumbled in surprise, but he managed to stand his ground. He even managed to lie, although a heavy dread had settled on his chest. “Nope.”

Montoya blinked and pressed his lips together, then he squared his lean shoulders and lifted his chin, causing his yellow Van Dyke beard to jut out. “Of course you don’t, but you should. Not for me. For Jack. I was standing right there beside him when he called you. I heard him telling you about me and asking you to have dinner with us. He wanted you and me to meet. And I saw his face when you refused to see him.”

The tightness in Rick’s chest crawled upward toward his throat. He sucked in air through his clenched teeth. “Did you have a message for me from Larsen?”

Carlos’s damp lashes quivered but he stood his ground. “I told you. I’m a CI for the department. The Lieutenant wants me to show you the ropes and put in a good word for you down at Beauregard’s. I know some people down there.”

Larsen had mentioned a CI, but he hadn’t told him who he was. “Fine. Anything else?”

“Yes. I can give you information about Beau and the people who work for him.”

Rick narrowed his gaze. “You work for Mr. Beauregard?”

Montoya shook his head. “Not really. Sometimes I’ll handle something for him.”

This time, the guy didn’t look so sure of himself. Rick had always worked on his own. Larsen’s sudden idea that he might need help was a little suspicious. “I’m good, thanks,” he said dismissively. “Larsen knows I work alone.”

Above him, Rick heard a door slam and light steps on wood as someone started down the stairs.

“Right. But there are things you should know about Beau—”

“Yeah. I said I’m good. I’ll see you later.”

“Oh hi,” said a female voice above them. Rick glanced up but all he could see were legs. Really nice legs in a short red leather skirt and clunky heels, skipping down the stairs. “Are you guys moving in?”

As he watched, one of the heels caught on a step and the owner of the legs tripped and fell on top of him, knocking him to the floor.

Chapter Two

Shocked, Rick tried to catch his breath, not easy with the girl’s body draped over his chest and her red-clad buttocks so close to his face he couldn’t focus on them. He could focus on her legs, though. They were bare, and went on for miles. She’d lost one of the shoes. He looked at the body on top of him. Attached to her excellent behind in the other direction was a slender back that curved enticingly up to unnaturally black hair. His body reacted immediately and instinctively, but not in the way he wanted it to.

He wanted to shove her out of the way, but he was frozen in place, his eyes and nose and arms full of long, gorgeous woman and his body beginning to tell him—and probably her—how he felt about having well over five feet of firm, luscious female flesh pressed against him.

She took a deep breath, and her breasts pressed enticingly into his right arm. “Sorry!” she muttered as she wriggled around, trying to right herself. The wriggling sent delicious signals to Rick’s slightly dazed brain, not to mention other, baser parts of him.

“Whoa!” he cried. “Wait! Hang on a minute.” Her squirming was rocketing up the intensity of his reaction. He pushed himself up to his elbows, but all that accomplished was to slide her extremely nice bottom lower on his lap. Not better. In fact, it was way worse.

He glanced back at her legs, trying to judge the easiest way to get out from under her without further torturing his growing arousal. There was no help there. He’d already noticed that her legs were perfect. Long and shapely and promising a treasure trove between them. Beautiful, long female legs were one of his favorite things, and these were the best set he’d ever seen, bar none. His fingers twitched to trace the curve of ankle to calf to thigh to—Stop! The situation was getting urgent. He shoved himself up to a sitting position and dumped her off his lap.

“Oh, my.” Carlos Montoya asked breathlessly, “Are you all right?”

Rick answered, “Yes.”

“I was asking her,” Montoya said, holding out his hand to the girl. “Here, sweetie. Let me help you up.”

She took his hand and managed to right herself and stood, tugging on her sleeves. “I’m fine, thank you,” she said. “Haven’t I seen you at Beauregard’s?”

“Why yes. I thought you looked familiar. I’m Carlos Montoya.”

Hi. Sin. Sin Stone,” she said. “I knew I’d seen you there.” She shifted her weight and landed on her bare foot. “Oh!” she cried, teetering and grabbing onto Montoya’s arm.

“Are you hurt?” Rick asked. He clenched his teeth and reined in his growing arousal, forcing it to deflate by a superhuman exertion of will. Then he stood.

“No,” she said, looking around her. “I’m—fine. I just need my other shoe.”

“Are you sure you had on two shoes? Maybe that was your problem,” Rick asked, not trying to disguise his sarcasm.

She propped her fists on her hips. “I had on two shoes,” she said indignantly. “I tripped. I was rushing to grab something to eat before I headed in to work—at Beauregard’s.” She gestured vaguely.

“You work there?” Rick echoed irritably, tossing a glance at Montoya, who shrugged. She worked at Beauregard’s. Montoya worked for Beau and for the police. This assignment was fast becoming much too complicated. All he wanted to do was get settled in his apartment and then head over to Beauregard’s to apply for the bartender job that should be vacant as of a few hours ago. The NOPD had arranged to have one of the bartenders picked up on an old outstanding warrant, which left the popular restaurant and bar one bartender short.

“Part time,” the girl said, really looking at him for the first time. Her eyes were a deep shade of green that couldn’t possibly exist in nature. She had to be wearing contacts.

“I um—” She stopped and looked down.

“You…?” Rick said before he could remind himself that he didn’t care what she was saying, he just needed her to get out of his way so he could get ready for his undercover assignment.

“I—” She paused again, then swallowed and looked away. “I’m hoping they’ll hire me full time soon, because I can’t live on what I’m making now. Oh there’s my shoe.” She hobbled toward the door, grabbed her shoe and teetered on one foot as she slipped it on. Then she lifted her chin. “Told you I had both shoes,” she said.

Rick felt the urge to chuckle, but he suppressed it, just like he was doing his best to suppress the effect that the delicate curve of her neck and the shimmer of that impossibly black hair were having on him.

He checked his watch. He was going to be late getting to Beauregard’s if he didn’t get a move on. Why in hell were these people blocking his progress? He edged toward the stairs, but the girl and Montoya were both in his way.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I need to get settled and…” He gestured past them toward the stairs.

“So, Richard?”

He growled under his breath. “What?” He didn’t want to look at or talk to Carlos Montoya for one more second. Despite what he’d said, he actually did remember the name and the phone call. It had been from his older half-brother, Johnny. Johnny had wanted to talk to Rick and introduce him to his fiancé, Carlos Montoya. Surprised and a little panicked at the idea of seeing the brother who’d abandoned him almost sixteen years before, Rick had said no. Then a few weeks later, Johnny was dead.

“Watch the time,” Montoya said. “I’ll call you. I’ve got your number.”

Rick half-turned and did his best to kill the man with a glance. It didn’t work. He did have to give him credit. Montoya was no dummy. In one small piece of conversation, he’d reminded Rick that he’d been Johnny’s lover, that he had the number of Rick’s prepaid phone, and that Rick was not going to get rid of him easily.

“I’ll be going now,” Montoya added as he pulled open the street door.

“Good,” Rick muttered. The girl’s gaze met his, her eyes wide. She’d heard him. That was fine with him. He didn’t care what she thought. He folded his arms and assessed the girl, who wasn’t actually a girl. From what he’d seen and felt, she was all woman. But he was not about to try and guess her age. He wasn’t good at it. Early on, after a few bad guesses that had put an end to dates and once a relationship, he’d stopped playing that game.

So while privately he might guess she was mid-to-late twenties, he wasn’t about to voice his guess aloud. She looked young and fresh, with no sign of the jaded slouch and dull gaze of those who’d been kicked too many times by life. She’d done her eyes with the dark shadows that goth girls used, and her hair was the unrelenting black that they seemed to prefer. At least she hadn’t put bright red or purple in it. She had on a black long-sleeved shirt and the red skirt that had buckles all down one side. And then there were those legs.

When he tore his gaze away from her legs, he caught a different look on her face, which disappeared as soon as she saw him looking at her. So far, she’d been bright and a little flirty. But for that brief instant she’d looked unsure, maybe even a little lost. The green eyes, made more intense by the dark eye shadow, had been wide and frightened.

He felt a familiar sensation somewhere around the middle of his chest. He did his best to tamp it down but it stayed put. This happened more times than it should. He’d see a frightened look in someone’s eye and reflexively pop into protective mode. Why was he so quick to step in as protector, maybe even savior? He turned away, disgusted with himself, because if she flashed him that lost, scared look one more time, he’d end up handing her his résumé. Knight in shining armor seeks position saving damsel in distress. Available 24/7.

He’d wasted way too much time with Montoya and this goth girl. Rick had to get that bartending job. Otherwise, his undercover assignment would be blown before it got started.

Rick picked up his duffel bag and pushed past the girl toward the stairs. She moved to step away, and collided with the bag.

“Oof,” she cried, barely catching herself.

“Okay. Why do you wear heels if you can’t walk in them?” he asked.

She tilted her head. “Beauregard’s requires at least a two-inch heel. And I can walk in them,” she retorted, still holding on to the banister. “You got in my way.”

“Yeah. Seems like a lot of things get in your way. How old are you anyhow?” he asked. Damn it.

“Me?” she said, looking surprised. “Why?”

“I just—” He really didn’t have a good answer. He hadn’t intended to ask that question out loud, but judging by her quick response, she was probably about to lie. “I just wondered if you’re old enough to wear those things.”

“Ha-hah. You are hilarious. I’m twenty-four.”

She could be. He nodded.

“Really?” she asked sarcastically. “You can’t even pretend you think I’m younger?” she asked, rolling her eyes.

“Right. Wow. You barely look twenty-three.”

Her eyes lit up as if she was going to smile, but she didn’t. “So, you work at Beauregard’s too?” she said. “I haven’t seen you there.”

“I should be starting today, if I get my butt over there.” He started up the stairs again. “See you.”

“My name is Sin,” she said.

He stopped. “What?” He’d thought he might have misheard the name earlier. “Your name is Sin?”

She nodded and held out her hand. Her fingernails were short and painted black. “Sin Stone. And you’re Richard, right?”

Rick ignored her outstretched hand. “See you later.”

By the time Rick had climbed another couple of steps, he’d left most of the sunlight behind. The tall windows on the first floor were not duplicated on the second. In fact, everything about the second floor was more seedy and dingy than the floor below, and that was saying something.

“Hey, uh—Richard.”

Rick stopped and looked back. The waitress had followed him. Her head stuck up above the landing, her black hair shimmering in the light from below.

His twisted neck began to throb and a slight swirl of nausea wrapped itself around his middle. He’d been having migraines ever since he’d been shot. They were triggered by bright light and strong smells, like bleach or smoke. The musty odor of the hotel combined with the harsh sunlight would give him only a minute or two, if not less, before the pain escalated into a full-blown migraine. Acrid saliva combined with the nausea and made him grimace. He knew the signs. If he didn’t lie down within the next couple of minutes, he’d toss his cookies all over the hall floor.

He risked one last glance at her, and caught a hard expression on her face that vanished immediately. She opened her mouth to speak.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m late.” He turned toward the door marked 203 and a wave of dizziness hit him. Sonofabitch. The migraine was fast taking over his consciousness. It took him two tries to insert the key. As soon as he was inside, he dropped his duffel bag on the floor and slammed the door. He emptied his pockets of the uncomfortable stuff, like his pocketknife, a small roll of duct tape and a few long plastic zip ties—things he took with him everywhere. Then he collapsed on the couch without looking at it. It was vinyl, stiff and unforgiving. Shifting to find a comfortable position, he threw an arm over his eyes and tried to clear his mind. In a minute, he’d get up and dig in his duffel bag for the tablets that dulled the headache and left him with a weird combination of euphoria and panic.

He lay there trying to clear his mind so he could sleep for a while, maybe a half-hour. But every time he started drifting off to sleep, he’d think about the waitress. What’d she say her name was? Sin? Sin Stone. That was a made-up name. Dyed black hair. Bright green contact lenses. Who was she hiding from?

Whoever it was, she’d be doomed once they looked straight at her. She wasn’t exactly pretty, but she had the most expressive face he’d ever seen. Every time Rick looked at her, her expression was different. That defiant vulnerability he’d first seen that had brought out his protective instinct; a curious frown, as if she were a trying to make a puzzle piece fit. But when she called to him as he’d climbed the stairs, he’d caught a hard, calculating look, as if she hated him. It was gone so fast he could have misread it, but he didn’t think so. He had to admit, as annoying as she was, she was also fascinating. But he was on assignment, and he’d vowed a long time ago never to get involved while working undercover.

He winced as the pain in his temples ratcheted up. He reached out, managed to hook the duffel bag’s strap and dug inside until he found his migraine tablets. He fumbled the package open, cursing whoever had come up with the idea of child-proofing, and stuck the mint-flavored tablet under his tongue.

Next job was to wipe his brain clean of tension-inducing questions and concentrate on something pleasant and relaxing, like a vision of a quiet lake, or the memory of long, lithe forever legs.

He had just drifted off to sleep when his phone rang. He opened one eye to check the caller ID. It was Larsen. “Yeah?” he muttered.

“Easton?” Lieutenant Larsen said cautiously, using his undercover name. When Rick didn’t answer, the Lieutenant continued. “Someone with you?”

“Headache.”

“Did you meet Montoya?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I met him.”

“What’s the problem? Had you met him before?”

His pulse skittered and pain throbbed in his temple. He pushed himself to a sitting position on the vinyl couch and rested his forehead in his palm. Had Larsen somehow connected him with Jack Adams? Was that why he’d sent Montoya? “No.”

“He’s been working with the department for years. I thought maybe you two might have run into each other at some point.”

Rick bit his lip, suppressing the urge to protest too much. Larsen’s voice sounded just like it always did. He didn’t know anything. “Nope,” he said grouchily. “Y’all really dug around the bottom of the barrel to find him, didn’t you?”

“He’s not that bad. He’s been doing odd jobs for Anastase Beauregard for years. He’s a good CI. Quiet. Keeps his eyes and ears open and his intel is always good.”

“Super.” Rick sat up gingerly. “If he’s that good, shouldn’t we know more about Beau’s operation?” His head had finally stopped throbbing and was beginning to feel like a balloon that would float away if it weren’t tied to his neck. Thank God the medicine was working.

Without stopping to think, he said, “I suppose you know he was screwing Adams, that attorney who was killed.” He grimaced at his words.

“That’s not widely known. How do you know about them?”

Crap. He knew better than to do much talking while he had a migraine. “Heard it somewhere. I forget. How is that not a conflict of interest?”

Larsen laughed. “He’s a CI—not a state employee, Rick. The brass figure Adams’s death gives Montoya a vested interest in helping us find the source of the bad dope.”

“I guess. He doesn’t exactly seem like the most stable pony in the—you know—stable, though.”

Larsen chuckled. “How’s everything else going? You get into the apartment?”

“Yep.” Rick rubbed his temple. “Thanks, by the way, for the five-star accommodations. I’m heading over to Beauregard’s to apply for the bartending job in about a half-hour.”

“Don’t wait too long. You should be a shoo-in. Montoya tells me Beauregard’s only got one bartender over twenty-one and he’s drinking up all the profits.”

“So how does Montoya fit in with Beauregard?”

“Went to work for him when he was a kid, I think. Don’t underestimate him. You’d be surprised at what-all he knows.”

No. You would. Rick hung up. He’d be yanked out of here faster than a speeding bullet if Larsen knew that Jack Adams, one of the victims of the bad dope, was his half-brother Johnny.

Chapter Three

Three hours later, Rick was trying on one of the black logo T-shirts he’d been issued at Beauregard’s. It was at least two sizes too small. Earl, the middle-aged manager of the bar and restaurant, had told him that was the right size. “Boss wants those who got it to show it off.”

The other thing Earl told Rick was that he was on the edge of being too old. “Work on your hair,” he’d advised him. Rick had almost laughed, but Earl’s serious expression made him think twice.

He ran a finger under the short tight sleeve and wondered if it was going to cut off his circulation before the night was over. He tucked the shirttail into his new black jeans. At least they fit. He pushed his fingers through his hair. For himself, he’d leave it that way. It was long enough so he didn’t look like a skinhead, but short enough to stay out of his eyes.

He pulled the copy of a men’s magazine and a can of hair stuff for men from a bag of drug store items he’d picked up. Following the directions on the can, he sprayed a little on his hair. Spray the hair lightly, then finger-comb, the directions said. Rolling his eyes, he pushed his fingers through it again and squinted at the result. Wet, furrowed and a little spiky. Ridiculous, in his opinion.

He glanced at the magazine cover. A pouty male model, who couldn’t have been a day over eighteen, was posing shirtless with his hand tucked into the waistband of his very very low-slung jeans. Rick’s hair looked a little like his.

Rick turned sideways, then looked at the mirror and pursed his lips. Close. In fact, not too bad for the ripe old age of twenty-seven. He felt heat rising up the back of his neck to his ears. He wiped the pout off his face with a scowl. He didn’t like tight clothes, specifically not T-shirts that strained over his biceps and fit snugly over his torso.

Truthfully, he’d almost rather be shot than have to work as a bartender in a place like Beauregard’s. But he’d do what he had to do for a chance to get closer to whoever was putting the laced heroin on the street, because when he found that person, he’d have the man who murdered his brother. He didn’t know what his next step would be, but he knew that whatever he decided, nobody would stop him.

He retrieved a few twenties from his duffel bag and stuffed them into an old wallet he’d picked up in a thrift store. He’d learned from a veteran cop never to use his own wallet. It didn’t take long for the leather to take on the unmistakable shape of the badge. It would give him away in a heartbeat.

Before pocketing the wallet, Rick glanced at the fake driver’s license he’d been given. Richard Easton, Chicago, Illinois. As he slid the wallet into the back pocket of his pants, there was a brisk knock on his door.

“Not you again, Sin Stone,” he muttered. He thought about not answering it, but the knock came again, louder. That didn’t sound like her. Hmph. What does a tired, desperate cocktail waitress’s knock sound like?

He opened the door and rolled his eyes when he saw Montoya there. “I thought you were gone.”

Montoya nodded past him, so he let him in rather than taking a chance they’d be overheard. Slamming the door, he turned, straightening to his full height of six feet, prepared to let Montoya know that he didn’t want to talk to him.

Then he saw what the other man was holding. All the starch went out of him. “What are you doing with that?” he growled.

Montoya didn’t say a word. He just held out the worn leather jacket.

Rick reached for it, but his hand froze. He couldn’t make himself touch the soft, scarred leather. He stared at Montoya, hating the thread that bound them both to the jacket and its owner. “He kept it,” he whispered. It wasn’t a surprise.

Montoya smiled sadly. “Of course he did.”

Of course. His brother had never cast things away casually. Not clothes and not loyalty. It hadn’t been Johnny who’d refused to be a family, it had been Rick.

“He never wore it,” Montoya said, his voice harsh with emotion.

Rick swallowed. His brain filled in the words Montoya didn’t say. He never wore it after he left. After you refused to accept either of his two gifts to you—his jacket or his exit from your life.

Rick shook his head, working hard to stop the stinging behind his eyes.

“It’s yours,” Montoya said.

“I don’t want it,” Rick responded, his voice tight and harsh.

He heard Montoya move, heard the quiet swish of leather against leather, then listened as Montoya walked over to the door.

“I could help you. I could give you information about Beauregard’s,” he said. “About the bar, the back rooms, Beau.”

Rick still didn’t say anything.

“Okay, then. Well, my phone number’s on a piece of paper in the pocket.”

Rick heard the latch turn on the door. He clenched his jaw, but the two words came out anyway. “Why you?” he asked.

Montoya turned. “Why me what?”

Rick took a long breath and shook his head as if to clear it. “Why are you my CI? Does Lieutenant Larsen know about Johnny?”

“About Johnny and me? Sure.”

“About Johnny and me.”

Montoya’s jaw tensed and he lifted his head. “Don’t worry, Richard. All this time, Johnny kept your awful little secret. Wouldn’t want anyone to know that you had a brother who was a fag, would we?”

“That’s not what I meant. I don’t—”

“I know what you meant. You pushed for this case, didn’t you? You want to find out who killed your brother, but if your bosses knew you were related to one of the victims of the Bad Dope Murders, you’d be assigned to crossing guard duty in Lake Providence at the northern tip of Louisiana, as far away from here as they could get you.”

“He was my brother,” Rick growled.

“Whom you hadn’t seen since you were eleven years old. That’s sixteen years.”

“That’s right. I was eleven. I didn’t understand why he had to leave. Now I do.” Rick did his best to ignore the hollow ache in his chest. “You still haven’t told me how you got assigned to this case, or why.”

Montoya chuckled wryly. “Larsen thought I’d be an asset. I’ve done work for Beau for years, since I was a kid. I haven’t been working as a CI as long, but it’s been long enough that Larsen trusts me. I’m valuable now because Larsen knows how much I want to find out who poisoned that heroin and who murdered Johnny with it. Also, I’m hardly one of the blue brotherhood. I’m replaceable.”

“Replaceable?”

“If something happens to me, they just send in another CI. Not that they have another one who’s got an in with Beau.” Montoya waved his hand.

It surprised Rick how cavalier Montoya was about the chance he could be killed working this case. But then again, maybe it wasn’t that much of a surprise. When Rick had first found out Johnny had been killed, he’d felt like dying.

“How—how was he?” he asked haltingly.

The sardonic twist to Montoya’s lips faded into a sad and gentle smile. “Johnny was good. Happy. He was doing what he’d always wanted to do. He was a child-advocate attorney, and he did pro bono work for people in and around the Quarter.”

Rick nodded. He’d kept up with Johnny’s career. Montoya paused, then said, “And he always kept up with you.”

“I know,” Rick said tightly. He did know. Johnny had sent him notes in the mail. Little sticky notes or scraps of paper, always in his neat printing, always signed with a looping J. Happy Birthday, Kid. Congrats on making detective. Heard about your commendation. Good job, Kid. I’m proud of you. That was his brother. That was Johnny.

Johnny’s full name was John Kevin Adams. Ever since he’d passed the Bar he’d called himself Jack Adams. He’d left his childhood name behind. “You call him Johnny,” he said to Montoya.

Montoya’s smile widened. “That was who he was, to me.”

The two of them stood there for a moment, each lost in his own memories of the man they had both loved, then Rick cleared his throat. “You said you had some information for me about Beauregard’s?”

“Right.” Montoya straightened, taking Rick’s cue that it was time to get back to business. “You got the job, I see.” He looked pointedly at the Beauregard’s T-shirt.

“Yeah,” Rick said, running his hands down the front of the tight shirt. “I was a little surprised. The guy didn’t seem to be happy with anything about me—my age, my looks, my clothes—nothing, but he hired me anyway.”

Montoya nodded. “That was my job, to make sure you got hired. Earl’s a pushover. You just have to catch him at the right time. I mentioned to him that his job would be a lot easier if he had a bartender who could handle the customers and the other employees. Told him I’d met you and that you’d been a bartender up north—Chicago.”

Rick eyed Montoya. Maybe he could be an asset.

“Don’t blow it, Richard. Try not to let how you feel about me affect your job. We both want the same thing. I think together we can make Johnny’s death count for something.”

After Montoya left, Rick stood for a moment, looking at the leather jacket. Montoya had hung it on the rickety coat rack in the corner. He walked toward it, feeling as though he were trying to walk under water. He forced his fingers to touch the sleeve. The worn leather was as soft as he remembered it. Soft and supple as kid. The last time he’d seen the jacket was the last time he’d seen his brother.

You think I like dodging Dad’s fist every time he looks at me? Think I like being called disgusting names and ridiculed and knocked around at school? Ask any guy if he’d choose to be gay.

That’s a stupid word, Rick had responded. Why don’t you just say queer or fag? That’s whatcha are ain’t it?

Rick grimaced when he remembered what he’d said. At eleven years old, he hadn’t been mature enough to comprehend what Johnny was trying to tell him. He’d spent a long time stubbornly refusing to understand. Eventually, he’d realized how awful it must have been for Johnny, living with a stepfather who hated him and what he was. They shared their mother, but Rick’s dad was not Johnny’s dad.

Although Rick now understood why Johnny had left, his hurt at his brother’s abandonment was still there, too deep to excavate. Rick had wanted so badly to see him, to talk to him. He had no idea why he’d said no. Now it was too late.

“Damn it, Johnny,” he muttered. “What the hell? What are you doing to me?” A knot formed in his throat. Johnny must have told Montoya all about the day he’d left, as well as Rick’s refusal to accept the jacket, although Johnny and Rick, and now Montoya, knew exactly how much Rick had wanted it back then. He’d wanted it more than anything, except for Johnny to stay. But Johnny couldn’t stay and endure his stepdad’s abuse. Rick had thought it was about selfishness. Now he knew it had been about survival.

“Montoya, you son of a bitch. You knew exactly what you were doing, didn’t you?” Of all the things that had belonged to his brother, the jacket was the one thing he couldn’t refuse. Through the jacket, Johnny was sending him a message. Find my murderer before he kills again. Find him, put him away and then move on.

Rick took the jacket off the rack and pressed his face into the soft leather. It smelled like tannin, like sweat and cigarette smoke—like his brother. He clenched his teeth. There was no time for sentimentality. He pinched the corners of his eyes where dampness had gathered, and checked his watch. If he didn’t hurry, he’d be late for his first night at Beauregard’s. He hung the jacket up and started to turn away, then remembered that Montoya had said he’d put his phone number in the pocket.

In the right-hand pocket, he found a folded slip of paper with Montoya’s phone number on it, and entered it into his phone. He stuck the paper back into the pocket and hung the jacket back on the rack. As he locked the apartment door behind him, he forced another lock closed, the one that locked away memories of his brother. He needed all his wits about him to be sure he was accepted as a bartender at Beauregard’s and wasn’t made as a cop. He’d learned the habits and tells that criminals can spot so easily in career police officers. He’d earned the title of The Man of a Thousand Faces at the Eighth Precinct, not because he could change his face, but because he could change his demeanor enough that it seemed to affect his appearance.

He’d spent time preparing to become a bartender. Not acting like a bartender—becoming one. Larsen had given him a driver’s license for Richard Easton from Chicago. Rick had invented a persona to go along with the ID. He was a drifter and a troublemaker. He’d tried to settle down in Chicago, but he’d gotten in trouble and so he’d headed down south, back to New Orleans, where his parents had lived when he was small, to try and start over one more time.

It had been obvious that Earl, the manager of the restaurant and bar, hadn’t liked him. Lucky for Rick he knew all too well how to be a troublemaker, and Earl had picked up on that. But Montoya had obviously done his job well. From what Rick could see, at least seventy percent of the wait staff in Beauregard’s were under twenty-one. Most of them looked wasted or hung over. All of them looked hungry.

Rick had never tended bar before, but he’d downloaded and studied a mixology app. That should be all he’d need to make just about any drink that was ordered. Would Richard Easton, bartender and troublemaker, be accepted at Beauregard’s? Tonight would tell the tale.

Lusinda had decided on her first day of work at Beauregard’s Restaurant and Bar, on the far edge of the French Quarter, that she didn’t like the place. It seemed upscale, but Deputy Chief O’Reilly had told her that the back rooms held sleazy secrets, including quite a few very important and well-known people who were frequent visitors. As she prepared to go to work, she adopted a smirk and a half-confident, half-hopeful swagger that characterized Sin Stone, cocktail waitress. She grabbed her apron and her dupe pad from her locker, set her handbag inside and locked it. After washing her hands, she clocked in and headed into the restaurant.

Before she’d been detailed to New Orleans for this job, she’d had less than a dozen hours working undercover and all of them had been under Vic’s tutelage. Now she had six days under her belt at Beauregard’s, and while she’d been accepted by the staff in the semi-suspicious way that the new kid was always treated, she still started each shift in a near panic, afraid she would do something that would telegraph to the world—and to Rick—that she was a cop.

She surveyed the room, recognizing a group of obviously underage kids who showed up most nights cruising, waiting for an invitation into one of the secret, enticing back rooms, or, failing that, a hookup. They sat or stood at the bar, the guys trying to look relevant in their cuffed jeans and hiking boots, and the girls hoping in vain that their cut-rate knockoffs made them look rich and with-it rather than cheap and desperate.

Watching them made Lusinda sad. Although they giggled and flirted with any customer who might buy them a beer, when one of them happened to cross gazes with her, their eyes held a flat look that made her want to grab them and shake sense into them. Most were not even old enough to drink.

A large percentage of the kids probably wouldn’t be around for long. They lived on the edge, crashing with strangers or huddling in alleys. They’d follow anyone home who promised them a warm bed, drugs or food. And so they sank deeper and deeper into the quicksand underbelly of the city that care forgot—the Big Easy—New Orleans. Several of them had already fallen victim to the bad dope on the streets.

“Hey, Sin-city, let’s go,” Nina, one of the waitresses, called out as she picked up a huge tray laden with drinks and deftly moved among the tables in her platform heels, never spilling a drop.

“Relax, Nina, I’m here.” Lusinda signed in on the computer.

“Hey, Bobby,” she called out to the painfully shy boy who was stacking glasses on a shelf. “Could you put my bag under the counter? They’re groceries. I couldn’t make them fit into my locker.”

Bobby nodded without speaking.

“Thanks, hon,” she said, which made him blush as he went back to stacking glasses. The first day she’d met Bobby, Lusinda had asked Darla about him.

“Oh, honey,” Darla had cooed. “Of course he’s underage. But if you think about it, all he’s doing is handling glasses and boxes. He’s just working. He’s not drinking.” Darla’s tone told Lusinda that what Bobby did or didn’t do was not her problem.

As Lusinda finished signing in, she took a look at Rick, who was working the bar. His black hair was carelessly slicked back and a bored frown marred his face as he strained a strawberry margarita into a glass for a guy who seemed to have a few too many sweat glands. A woman in a sleeveless dress that emphasized the crepey flesh on her arms was waving a vapor cigarette and flirting with him as he swiped condensation off the bar.


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