“No,” Luke said. “Just because someone’s a good guy doesn’t mean what he says is gold. There’s a justice system.”
Which he knew better than anyone didn’t always work.
“Listen,” Mr. Lyons said, “we watch Law and Order. We know shit happens. And shit’s happening.”
“Ali’s our ceramics teacher,” Mr. Elroy said. “She also gets library books and reads to us. We need to help her. We’re all she has.”
“And you want me to do what exactly?” Luke asked.
“We figure since she’s been staying here, that makes her yours too.”
“It’s not like that,” Luke said.
“What is it like?” Mr. Elroy asked, and every one of them looked at Luke through rheumy, but sharp-as-hell, eyes.
Yeah, Luke, what was it like? She’d come along when he’d wanted to be alone, and she’d gotten his entire house torn up in the search for the fifty large. But the landline hadn’t rung in a full twenty-four hours. Ali, whose damn life was circling the drain, had amazingly managed to scare everyone off and give him a chance at his peace and quiet.
In spite of himself, he wanted to help her in return. Not that she wanted his help. The envelope of cash she’d tried to give him was still on the table. Broke as shit, she’d still given it to him, because that was the right thing to do.
It’d been the pride flaring in her eyes that had slain him. She needed to pay her way. He was an ass, but not that big an ass to squelch the life that she projected with every single breath. He might be standing in the darkness, wallowing, weighed down by the things he saw on his job, but she wasn’t like that. She was light.
And yet she was at the police station right now being questioned.
He told himself that she was used to shitty circumstances. Hell, it appeared she was used to shitty men too. Her father, the pincher…him. She was used to taking care of herself and others.
And he had no idea why that got to him. But it did. She did.
“You still with us, boy?” Mr. Elroy asked. “Now’s not the time to go all silent and cranky on us.”
Luke hadn’t been called “boy” in a damn long time. And few other than Sara dared to call him on the silent and cranky. “Ali’s just being questioned,” he said.
“What if she needs bailing out?”
“But if she does?”
“You could do it,” Luke said.
“Yes, and we would,” Mr. Wykowski said. “But…” He glanced at Edward, who still said nothing, gave away nothing. At seventy-two, he looked as fit and healthy as Sara and Jack had reported and pretty much the same as always—as if he’d just swallowed a lemon.
“We don’t have very much,” Mr. Lyons said. “We pooled our available cash together from what was left of our social security for the month, but it’s not much. We had a poker game a few nights back, see, and normally I’d have taken the pot—”
Mr. Elroy coughed and muttered “bullshit” at the same time.
Mr. Lyons glared at him. “—But I had a little bad luck.”
“That’s not what happened,” Mr. Elroy said.
“Yes, it is,” Mr. Lyons said.
“No.” Mr. Elroy shook his head. “Eileen Weiselman knew she had a losing hand, so she flashed you her tits to distract you into folding, and you lost. We all lost.”
“Okay, look,” Luke said, rubbing his temples where he was getting a stress headache. “Ali isn’t a thief. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding that will get worked out.”
“But you can’t just let her sit in jail while it does,” Mr. Wykowski said, horrified.
“She’s not in a jail cell. She’s being questioned. Big difference. And unless she’s charged and arrested—which they won’t do without just cause—she won’t need bailing out.”
“See,” Mr. Elroy said, “that’s good information. I didn’t know that. It’s why you need to be in charge of this situation.”
“I’m not in charge,” Luke said. “Of anything.”
“But she’s down there with hardened criminals,” Mr. Lyons said. “You can’t let her sit there with them.”
Luke sincerely doubted there were any hardened criminals in Lucky Harbor. The daily police reports read like something right out of Mayberry: an elk walking down Main Street, a drunken and disorderly at two a.m., high school punks running over mailboxes. “This isn’t up to me,” he said. “You know that, right? They’re just following procedure.”
They all looked deeply disappointed in him. And then Edward spoke for the first time, uttering only two words. “Get it.”
Mr. Lyons nodded and used his cane to navigate back to the van.
Edward just stood there looking at Luke.
Luke ignored them all and thought about Ali. He’d meant what he’d said, she was no thief. She’d probably give a stranger the shirt off her own back. The thought reminded him of what she’d looked like without a shirt in his kitchen, yelling at Marshall’s voice mail.
Vibrant. Fierce. Sexy.
But she was also sweet and warm. And vulnerable.
And she was sitting in the police station. Shit.
His cell vibrated. He looked at the screen. His commander. With a long, slow inhale, he connected. “Hanover.”
“Got a death threat this morning.” Commander Craig O’Neil’s voice was gruff and as commanding as his title. “Aimed at all of us. Just wanted you to know.”
“Great,” Luke said. “I’ll start working my way down my bucket list.”
“How about instead you just get your ass back here.”
Not a question but a statement. Actually, more like a direct demand. “I’m on vacation,” Luke reminded him.
“You’re not, you’re working a fucking case. Sheriff Thompson called me to make sure I didn’t mind sharing you. What the hell?”
Thanks, Sawyer. “What did the threat say?”
“It said ‘die pigs.’ But he misspelled ‘die,’ used a Y. Dye pigs just doesn’t have the same impact. But watch your back just in case.”
“How long are you really going to be?”
“Didn’t we just do this? Three weeks.”
“Goddammit.” The commander went quiet for a moment. “How about one?”
“I’ll get back to you.” Luke disconnected.
“Work problems?” Mr. Wykowski asked.
Luke didn’t answer. Mr. Wykowski was a nice guy, but he was close friends with Lucille, which was a lot like being close friends with a PA system. Whatever he told Mr. Wykowski, he had to be willing for the entire county to hear. If he mentioned the threat, it’d be on Facebook in five minutes flat.
Mr. Lyons made his slow way back up the driveway, cane in one hand and in the other…an apple pie.
“Homemade,” he said, waving it back and forth beneath Luke’s nose. “We got it off of Betsy Morango, who made it for her granddaughter. We have to let her in on the next poker game now, but anything for Ali.”
“You can’t bribe me with pie.” Before he’d finished the sentence, his stomach grumbled loudly in a plea for the pie.
The men grinned.
“We all know you’re a pie ho,” Mr. Elroy said.
Mr. Lyons had two plastic forks tucked neatly into his breast pocket. He took one out and scooped up a bite of the apple pie. “Oh yeah,” he murmured, licking the fork. “Good stuff.”
Just the thought of it was making Luke’s damn mouth water.
Edward was still looking at him steadily. Intensely. Luke had no idea what his grandfather’s angle was on this, but one thing he did know: There was an angle. “If I agree to step in here, you nosy-bodies have to agree to something too.”
“What?” Mr. Lyons asked.
“Ali needs a place to stay until she gets an apartment. You have lady friends.” Again he met Edward’s gaze. “Surely one of you knows someone looking for a roommate. She cooks. She does her own dishes. She’s…” Not quiet. Not easy to ignore. “Cheerful,” he finally said, hoping that sounded like a compliment. “She’d be a good roommate for anyone.”
Except for him.
“She can stay with me,” Mr. Elroy said, and waggled his brow.
Luke wrestled with his conscience and lost. “No.” Christ. “Never mind. I’ll find her a damn place myself.” He reached for the pie, but Mr. Lyons held it close.
“Almost forgot, I need another favor,” Mr. Lyons said.
Luke gave him a look. “I’m a little busy working on the first one right now.”
“This one can wait until you get Ali home safe and sound. Roger Barrett needs to hire you. He’s got a problem. He misplaced his ’67 GTO.”
“He didn’t misplace it,” Mr. Wykowski said. “He lost it in a poker game to Phillip Schmidt two years ago, remember?”
“Yes,” Mr. Lyons said, “with the caveat that when the old geezer died, he had to give it back to Roger. Phillip’s been six feet under for six months now, and his grandson Mikey ‘The Doper’ Schmidt still says he hasn’t ‘located’ the GTO, which is bull-pucky. He’s just not done driving the piss out of it.”
“You realize that car’s no longer PC,” Mr. Elroy said, disapprovingly. “It’s a gas guzzler.”
“Gas guzzler, smuzzler,” Mr. Lyons said. “It’s a beaut. They don’t make cars like that anymore. God rest Pontiac’s soul.”
Luke shook his head. “And the GTO is my problem why?”
“Because you’re the problem-solving guy,” Mr. Lyons said.
“Your grandpa says that’s what you do best.”