The Two Gentlemen of Altona (Playing the Fool, #1)
This title is #1 of the Playing the Fool series.
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Mischief, thou art afoot.
Special Agent Ryan “Mac” McGuinness is having a rough week. Not only is he on a new diet, but he’s also been tasked with keeping Henry Page—the world’s most irritating witness—alive. Which is tough when Mac’s a breath away from killing the Shakespeare-quoting, ethically-challenged, egg-obsessed Henry himself. Unless killing isn’t really what Mac wants to do to him.
Con man Henry Page prefers to keep his distance from the law . . . though he wouldn’t mind getting a little closer to uptight, handsome Agent McGuinness. As the sole witness to a mob hit, Henry’s a valuable asset to the FBI. But he’s got his own agenda, and it doesn’t involve testifying.
When evidence surfaces of a mole in the FBI office, Mac and Henry are forced to go into hiding. Holed up in a fishing cabin, they’re surprised to discover that their feelings run more than skin deep. But as the mob closes in, Henry has to make his escape. And Mac has to decide how far he’s willing to go to keep Henry by his side.
Winner: GLBT Action-Adventure / Romantic Suspense / Mystery in the 2015 Romance Reviews Reader's Choice Awards!
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Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Mac was first on the scene, if you didn’t count the local cops. Which Mac didn’t. It was all very well for Val to go on about fostering a spirit of cooperation blah blah blah, but Mac had been after Dean Maxfield for months now, and no local cop was going to fuck it up for him. Also, it was one in the morning, and Mac hadn’t had coffee in eight and a half hours, and he was feeling it. So cooperation was very much off the table.
The winding driveway of Gloria Maxfield’s Carmel home was full of police cars. Blue flashing strobes lit up the facade of the house. It was enough to draw most of the neighbors out. They stood in clusters on the sidewalk, in robes and slippers.
Who the fuck wore slippers anyway?
Mac growled at the spectacle as he climbed out of his car. He slammed the door, then ducked under the crime scene tape that had been wound between the mailbox and a fence post and twined through the hedges like tinsel.
A man walked down the driveway toward him.
Youngish. Hottish. Someone Mac might have even paid more attention to if he hadn’t been busting to get inside and get to business.
“Agent . . .?” the young guy said, sticking out his hand.
“McGuinness.” Mac stared up at the front door of the house.
“Richard Falstaff, Carmel PD.”
“What’ve we got?” Mac asked, frowning at the spectators.
“It’s Gloria Maxfield’s house. Dean Maxfield’s aunt. Looks like there was some kind of family gathering tonight, and—”
“What sort of family gathering?” Mac knew the basics already.
“The aunt’s birthday.” Falstaff ran a hand through his hair. “So Dean turned up with one Pete O’Flannery, the victim. The other guests had already left when those two had an altercation in the kitchen, and Maxfield shot O’Flannery.”
Pete O’Flannery. Dean Maxfield’s right-hand man. And, unfortunately, the guy Mac had been leaning on for the past two weeks to turn informant. So much for that.
“Where was Gloria?” Mac asked.
“She’d gone to bed. Claims she didn’t hear anything. She’s as good as deaf without her hearing aids.”
“One. Some college kid who’s been staying with Gloria Maxfield.” Falstaff looked toward the house. “Probably had no idea what he’d walked into. The uniforms have got him separated in the bathroom. I figured you guys would want to talk to him before we haul him back to the station.”
Some of Mac’s foul mood lifted. “Thanks.” He headed toward the front of the house, but Falstaff didn’t fall into step beside him. “You coming?”
“Left my phone in my car. I’ll catch up.”
Mac nodded at him, and couldn’t help watching for a moment as Falstaff walked toward the street. Helpful guy. And a nice ass. Two of Mac’s favorite qualities.
Mac headed into the house. A Spanish-style two-story that would have looked out of place among the old stone homes of Carmel’s historic district, except that the privacy landscaping toned down the sore thumb effect. It was larger on the inside than it appeared on the outside, and Mac couldn’t help noting that old ladies decorated pretty much the same way everywhere, regardless of money. It reminded Mac of his grandma’s house—cluttered and too quaint. There was a framed copy of the Lord’s Prayer in the front hall, beside a black-and-white photograph of a young boy with dark hair and gappy teeth. Dean?
Every crim used to be an innocent child, and all that bullshit.
The local guys had Dean Maxfield cuffed in the living room. Empty wineglasses and beer cans stood on the side tables, and someone had overturned a basket of pretzels near the entertainment center. Mac didn’t like the look of the two cops—big and stupid, he thought, but he nodded at them, because Val would want him to. He wished Falstaff would hurry back. He’d seemed intelligent enough, at least.
Dean Maxfield was chewing gum and looking pretty unimposing for a mob boss. Leathery face flabby, like the rest of his body. Dark, combed-back hair, and curly, out-of-control eyebrows like an old man’s. He had a cream jacket on over a charcoal mock turtleneck, and there was a dark stain on the cuff of his pants.
“Agent McGuinness,” Mac told the cops. “FBI.” He turned to Maxfield. “You must be Dean Maxfield. Been looking forward to introducing myself.”
Maxfield smacked his gum. He grinned suddenly. “You look like a penis.”
Mac stopped himself from running a hand self-consciously over his shaved head. His hairline had been receding since his early twenties, and when he hit thirty, he’d decided to buzz everything off. Val said he had the right type of head for baldness, and he’d trusted her.
He nodded at Maxfield’s massive stomach. “When was the last time you saw yours?”
One of the cops laughed.
Maxfield stretched his gum over his tongue and grinned again.
“You shoot your buddy Pete tonight?” Mac asked.
“You’re not in such great shape yourself, you know,” Maxfield remarked, glancing at Mac’s midsection.
Okay, that hurt a little. Mac wasn’t overweight, but he was stout, and he’d definitely developed a bit of a paunch over the last couple of years. He had a tendency to stress-eat, and he and his doctor were working out a new diet plan that didn’t involve coffee or donuts. Or alcohol.
Mac really hated his doctor right about now.
“On a new regimen. I’ll send you an After photo. In the meantime, you and I are gonna have a long talk back at the office, all right?” He looked at the cops. “The witness?”
“Bathroom. He’s a—” The cop turned to his buddy.
“Art student,” the second cop said. “Staying with Gloria while he studied poetry or something.”
Maxfield muttered something at that, and swore under his breath.
“What’s that?” Mac asked him.
“He’s a pissant. A sponging little asshole pissant!”
Say what you liked about the guy, Mac thought, at least he didn’t beat around the bush.
“A sponging little asshole pissant who’s going to put you away for a long time,” he suggested.
Maxfield snorted. “Kid hasn’t got the balls!”
“We’ll see.” Mac smiled exactly the sort of smile that men like Dean Maxfield hated: Gotcha, asshole. He nodded at the cops. “Bathroom?”
“Down the hall, on the right.”
His smile grew. “Well then, I might just go and see what our witness has to say for himself.”
“Ha!” Maxfield twisted in his seat, heaving his body around to watch Mac go. “You tell the little snot that he’d wanna think real carefully before he talks!”
Mac shook his head. “Yeah, I’ll be sure to do that.”
He headed down the hallway, checking rooms as he went. The kitchen was a mess. A pair of legs stuck out from behind the bench, and there was a fuck-ton of blood. A spray of it against the refrigerator, stark and lurid, and a dark pool of it on the floor, inching along the gaps between the tiles. A crime scene guy in plastic booties was snapping pictures.
In the next room, an older lady was talking to a detective. Her neck wobbled whenever she spoke. She was wearing a robe and hair rollers, and smoking a cigarette. “Well, I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’m sure Dean couldn’t do anything like this. He’s such a nice boy. Toby must have been mistaken.”
She looked up at Mac standing in the doorway, her face drawn and pale. There were deep shadows under her eyes and a strange, hopeful expression in them, as though she believed Mac could possibly make some sense of this for her. She was in shock, probably. And in denial, absolutely. Dean Maxfield was not a nice boy at all.
He continued on.
There were two more cops stationed at the end of the hallway. He flashed them his badge. “This where my witness is?”
“Toby Seacoal,” the first cop said, and grinned at the second cop.
The second cop grinned back.
Okay. Private joke? Mac had definitely not had enough coffee or sugar to deal with this. This detoxing thing was bullshit. “Something I should know?”
“He’s ah . . .” The first cop made a face.
The second cop snickered. “The kid’s like twenty, and he’s boning the old lady.”
Nope. Not enough coffee in the world for a revelation like that one. Gloria Maxfield was what, about sixty? Sixty-five? Which isn’t to say that he had any problem with people that age having sex. Hell, he hoped to still be at it himself in thirty years’ time. Just . . . just she looked so much the way he remembered his grandma, with her turkey neck and her floral robe, that he could feel his balls trying to climb back into his body at the thought of it.
“You sure about that?” he asked.
The cops exchanged another look.
“She’s paying for some trip to Europe for him,” the first cop said. “For his poetry.”
Second cop’s grin returned, creeping across his face. “Yeah. Does she look like a patron of the arts to you?”
Mac had no idea what a patron of the arts was supposed to look like. He couldn’t say he’d ever met one. Gloria Maxfield looked like an old lady who’d been pulled out of her sleep to find herself in the middle of a nightmare. Whether or not she was screwing some kid young enough to be her grandson was the least of her worries now.
“Toby Seacoal. Has he said anything?”
“What? About the old woman?” the first cop asked.
Mac scowled. Both of these guys shared the same one-track mind. “No, about the fucking dead body in the kitchen.”
Oh. Professionalism. Mac saw the moment it occurred to the pair of them. They even stood up straighter.
“Says he came downstairs for a drink.” The second cop scratched his thigh. “Heard Dean Maxfield and the vic arguing in the kitchen. Stuck his head around the door just in time to see Maxfield shoot the guy.”
Better and better.
“Maxfield didn’t see him, so he went back upstairs, locked his door, and called 911.”
Lucky guy, not to go to pieces. Smart too, keeping his head down and calling the police.
“We were first on the scene,” the second cop continued. “Detective Barnes said you guys would be interested in Maxfield, so we figured you’d want your witness separated.”
“Thanks.” Mac frowned. “Wait, which detective?”
“Detective Barnes. He’s in with the old lady now.”
“What about the other detective?” Mac asked. “I thought he was in charge.”
The cops exchanged a look, and then the first one said, “What other detective?”
Shit shit shit.
Something was very wrong about this. Very fucking wrong.
“Falstaff.” Mac’s heart beat faster. The blood rushed to his head. “Richard Falstaff.”
“Um.” The first cop shrugged. “Never heard of him.”
“Open the door.” Mac clenched his fingers into fists. “Open the fucking door!”
The first cop pushed the door open.
A neat, tidy bathroom. An apricot mat around the base of the toilet. One of those freaky dolls that sat over the toilet rolls. A framed homily of some sort on the wall. And, floating in the breeze let in by the wide-open window, a pretty gauzy curtain.
The bathroom was empty.
Mac’s witness was gone.
Henry Page was cruising down I-75, heading south. He didn’t have much of a plan, just knew Stacy had some people in Richmond, Virginia, and he’d be able to hole up there for a while. He didn’t like to get too far away from Indianapolis—from Zionsville, specifically—but he was hardly going to stay around and wait to have his head blown off and his body dumped in White River by Dean Maxfield’s buddies.
Holy shit, if he’d had any idea who he was getting into bed with—figuratively speaking; he’d never actually done anything with his patron—when he’d charmed his way into Gloria Maxfield’s home . . .
He’d have picked some other rich old lady to sponsor “Toby.”
He stayed at five above the speed limit. It was Flashback Weekend on 106.7, and he couldn’t help thinking his mother would have been proud he still knew all the words to “Summer Nights” from Grease. He and Viola used to be able to sing the whole show, to their mother’s delight. Back when she was still capable of delight.
He’d never had a great voice. Probably best he’d given up his Broadway dreams. He was better suited for what he did now.
The Subaru behind him was right on his ass. He signaled and got into the right lane. Then, when it tried to pass, he sped up. Every time the other car accelerated, he did too. Every time it slowed down, he slowed down, keeping just abreast of it. The driver turned and gave him the finger, then roared past. Henry let him go.
“‘But oh, those su-u-mmerrrrr . . . niii-hiiiiiiiiiiii-ghts,’” Henry sang loudly, as the chorus swelled behind him and the drums crescendoed, and the song ended.
Suddenly there were flashing lights. Henry didn’t know where the cop behind him had come from, or why he didn’t go after the dickhead in the Subaru, who’d just headed for the horizon doing at least ninety.
Henry knocked his head against the seat rest and sighed. He could speed up, but he doubted that would help anything. Wasn’t going to shake a cop on the interstate. And no chance of wheedling his way out of trouble once he was caught. So he pulled onto the shoulder and held his breath, hoping the cruiser would pass him. It rattled onto the gravel behind him and stopped.
He tried to assess the officer who got out. Male, probably fifties. Not at all attractive, but maybe that was a good thing. Sometimes the uglies appreciated an ego boost. But sometimes they were so bitter that any effort to charm them pissed them off. Female cops were the hardest to win over, which had surprised Henry at first but made sense, he supposed. Most people would accept a man catching a pretty girl speeding and letting her go with a warning. But there’d be no end to the shit a woman would get for letting a hot guy off the hook.
The officer wasn’t dog’s ass ugly. Just kind of boring looking. Henry rolled down the window.
“Afternoon,” the officer said.
“Afternoon.” Henry flashed him an apologetic smile.
“This your car?”
Not exactly. He was borrowing it. Sort of.
“I’m test-driving it.”
He had taken it for a test-drive. He’d wanted to see how it would do over long distances. At night. And across various geographic terrains. Once he was in Richmond, holed up somewhere no one in Maxfield’s gang would ever find him, the dealership was welcome to take it back.
“No plates,” the cop said.
“I applied for them. But you know how the—”
“Get out of the vehicle, sir. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
“Is there a problem?” Henry kept his movements slow as he obeyed. The radio was blaring “Rapture.” He’d always liked that one. Good song to dance to.
And here was a familiar dance now. One, two, three, and he was face-first against the hood of the car with his hands cuffed behind his back. Shame. He preferred to lead.
“Car’s been reported stolen.”
“I’m sure there’s been some kind of mistake,” he told the hood of the car.
The cop frisked him; nothing in his touch to reveal that he enjoyed this part of his job any more than he should. Boring, middle-aged, straight-as-fuck cop.
“Yeah, I’m sure there is.” A smile tempered the cop’s tone like he’d heard it all before but it never failed to amuse him. “And I’m sure we can sort it out back at the station.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Henry agreed.
The cop plucked the wallet out of Henry’s back pocket. Flipped it open to look at his ID. An Oregon driver’s license. “You’re a long way from home, Henry Page.”
Yeah. Sure was.
The cop hauled him upright, then reached inside the car to pull the keys out of the ignition. He checked the floor and then the trunk. For what, Henry wasn’t sure, but he’d kept the car neat as a pin. And he traveled light.
“This the new Chevy?” the cop asked as he shone his flashlight into the darkest corners of the trunk. “Runs all right?”
“Oh, yeah. No V-6, but it can still get you off the lights first.”
“Couldn’t beat that Subaru.”
“I let him go.” No point denying it. “Look, the Subaru’s okay. A bit flashy for my tastes. All spin and no substance, you know? But the Chevrolet is nice. It’s a smooth ride. Anyway, have you got something against buying American?”
The cop snorted. “Guess I just don’t support the industry as much as you do, huh?”
Okay, Henry officially liked the guy.
“I guess not,” he said with a rueful smile.
The cop dragged Henry’s bag to the edge of the trunk and unzipped it. Stared at the bulk packages of Skittles, M&M’s, and gummy bears. “Anything in here I ought to know about? Any weapons? Sharps? Drugs?”
“No, sir. Nothing in there but food and a book.”
The cop checked carefully. “You never said where you were heading.”
“Richmond.” He’d kind of hoped to get farther than Dayton, Ohio. Shit, he was still in spitting distance of Dean Maxfield. And he’d seen what Maxfield could do to a guy’s skull, with the help of . . . what was it? A .44? Henry knew nothing about guns, except that he didn’t want to be on the wrong end of one. Ever.
“Richmond,” the cop repeated, like he didn’t believe it.
“I’ve got friends down that way.” Henry leaned on the side of the car and watched the traffic.
The thing with lying, Stacy always said, was not to complicate shit. And she said it quite a lot to Henry, who liked to add a bit of flair to his stories. He usually enjoyed the opportunity to embellish a little, to spin out a story and see where it took him, but not with cops. Against all the odds, Henry still had a clean adult record, and hoped to keep it that way. Which wasn’t to say he’d never been arrested . . . but there was a big difference between arrest and a court appearance, and always a few chances to vanish in between.
A kid in a passing van waved at Henry.
Henry would have waved back, except for the cuffs.
“Okay.” The cop zipped Henry’s bag back up. “Well, they’re gonna be waiting for you awhile.”
Henry sighed. “Man, this is all a huge mistake.”
“That so? Guess we’ll figure it out back at the station.”
“I guess so,” Henry agreed, and climbed awkwardly into the cop’s cruiser.
“What the hell, Val?” Mac slammed his hands on her desk and glowered.
Valerie Kimura, to her credit, didn’t even flinch. She looked up from her paperwork and raised a single, quizzical eyebrow. It was a skill Mac had always secretly envied. “What the hell about what, Mac? The fact that Dean Maxfield just walked out of here?”
“Yeah.” And the asshole had waved at Mac too.
Val dropped the eyebrow. “What do you want me to do? He’s got enough witnesses lined up to say that he never went near Pete O’Flannery all night, and a girlfriend who swears blind they were both woken up by the gunshot.”
“Which is bullshit.”
“Which is bullshit,” Val agreed. “Also, we have a lab report that says the gun was clean. So what can I hold him on? The verbal statement of a witness who up and vanished?”
Vanished. That was a nice way of not saying that Mac had let the guy walk away. Which was what everyone else in the office was saying anyway.
He pulled out a chair and sat. “So what now?”
“I don’t know. What now?”
They’d been partners before her promotion, and worked together so long that Val rarely pulled rank on Mac.
He rubbed his forehead. “Well, Toby Seacoal doesn’t exist. No surprises there.”
Val picked up her pen and began to spin it on her desk. “So what is he? A con artist?”
Mac thought back to his interview with Gloria Maxfield, who still thought the sun shone out of her little poetry major’s ass. “Has to be. But we’ve got his prints from the guest room at least, so if he turns up . . .”
“All right.” Val frowned slightly. “Okay, so I’m just throwing this out there: what if Maxfield isn’t lying?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Not kidding.” Val’s pen spun away from her, and she reached out and smacked her hand down to catch it. “Speculating. I know you’re after Maxfield, and I know the way you fixate on a target. It’s not a bad thing, Mac, but it does give you a hell of a blind spot. Any other crime scene, and who would be your first suspect?”
“The guy who ran away.” He tried to remember Seacoal’s face. A young face. Good-looking. Brown hair. And shit, he was trained to look for details, but all he’d registered at the time was good-looking cop with a nice ass. Registered it, and filed it away to add to later when he wasn’t rushing to arrest Dean Maxfield. But he thought, he hoped, that Val was wrong. Letting a witness talk his way out of a crime scene was bad enough, but letting a killer do it . . . Mac would never live it down.
“I don’t think he’s a killer,” Mac said. “Dean Maxfield is a killer, and he had a hell of a motive if he even suspected Pete was thinking of ratting him out.”
Which Pete absolutely had been. Pete had a daughter, a girl who was getting in some legal trouble of her own. Trouble Mac had promised him would go away if he turned informant. Pete must have betrayed his nervousness somehow, the poor bastard, which gave Maxfield all the reason in the world to kill him. Toby Seacoal, whatever the hell else he was, could only have been a bystander.
“So talk to Gloria again. See if there’s anything more she can tell us about this mysterious Toby Seacoal.”
Mac nodded, then turned his head when someone knocked on the door.
“Mac.” Calvin Hooper stepped in. “We’ve got those photos.”
“Okay.” He stood, nodded to Val, and followed Calvin out into the main office.
Penny’s desk was covered in photographs.
“Are these chronological?” Mac picked up the first one.
Gloria Maxfield’s birthday guests. A strange mix of local gangsters, the Carmel Historical Preservation Society, and a group of women who shared Gloria’s passion for quilting.
“I think so,” Penny said. “Some aren’t time-stamped. A few of the old ladies don’t have digital cameras.”
“Who doesn’t have a digital camera?” Calvin said with a grimace.
“Old ladies, Calvin.” Penny narrowed her eyes. “I just said that.”
Even Mac, who didn’t follow office gossip at all, couldn’t mistake her contempt for the guy. Calvin had it bad for Penny and everyone knew it. Unfortunately for him, Penny thought he was a tool. Everyone knew that too.
Calvin’s phone buzzed, and he turned away to check it.
“Oh,” Penny murmured as she pored over the photographs. “Forgot to give some girl a fake number again.”
Mac cleared his throat. “Have we identified everyone in these?”
Penny nodded. “All accounted for.” And then she made a face. “Sorry.”
He studied the photographs. He saw Toby Seacoal at the edge of one, blurred, as though he was turning away. And then in another, standing beside Gloria Maxfield as she blew out her candles, but managing to look the other way. A third: holding up a piece of cake that obscured his face.
Checking the photographs, Mac got an impression of the guy, but not much more than that. “Pick the best shots and see what the lab can do. See if they can generate a composite from what we’ve got here.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to talk to Gloria Maxfield again.”
She had to know something about Seacoal that would give Mac a lead. And, even if he was clutching at straws, it felt good to take some kind of action, instead of just hanging around the office staring at his reports and castigating himself for being an idiot. Also, he was getting pretty sick of the way whispered conversations stopped the second he walked by. Yeah, he’d fucked up. Yeah, could we move on, please?
“Any chance I can come with you?” Penny asked.
“Sorry.” He knew she was desperate to get out of the office; desperate enough to volunteer to go with the Idiot of the Week. But she was on light duty until she was medically cleared after her bout of shoulder surgery. “Calvin?”
Calvin shoved his phone in his pocket. “Yeah, Mac?”
“Sure. Let me suit up.”
Mac just hoped Calvin wouldn’t spend the whole drive talking about how many reps he could do a minute, which half marathon he was training for, or the chick he’d banged the night before.
He shifted impatiently. “Hurry. We’ve got to move on this.” Under his breath, he muttered, “I’ve got to move on this.”
“You know, Mac.” Penny nudged a photo so that it was in line with the desk’s edge. “What happened with your witness? Could have happened to any of us. I mean, most witnesses don’t have the balls to pull a stunt like that.”
“No shit. But I’d rather not talk about my witness right now. I’d rather focus on getting him back.”
Penny stared at him, her mouth slightly open. “All right then,” she said shortly. “Good luck.”
Five minutes later, they were walking out of the office—Calvin in the middle of a story about a woman at his gym who was gonna fuck him any day now—when Emilio caught them in reception. “Mac! We’ve got a call from Dayton PD in Ohio. They’ve got your witness in custody!”
The tension Mac had been holding in his gut untwisted for the first time in days. “Calvin, hold that thought. I’m going to Ohio.”
Henry had been in worse holding cells. This one was practically homey. He had it to himself, so he tried to sleep. Which was easier said than done. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Dean Maxfield fire that gun, and Pete’s head come apart like a wet sponge.
He stared at the ceiling.
Not that he had time to worry about her. Dean probably wouldn’t shoot his own aunt in the head. Henry didn’t fall into the same protected category. If Dean found him, he was as good as dead.
Another man in the same situation might be panicking, but Henry didn’t see the point. He was safe for the moment. He just needed to get moving again, before Dean managed to track him down. Shit, he had at least another two clean aliases, and no pressing need to head back to Indianapolis anytime soon. As far as the cops knew, Henry Page was just a dumb guy who’d made an even dumber mistake. If he made bail—Stacy would come through with the cash—the cops in Dayton would never see him again.
Fuck, he really needed to make bail.
Or failing that, a distraction and a five-minute head start.
He closed his eyes again and wondered when they’d give him something apart from lukewarm coffee. And the donut he’d gotten from his arresting officer after explaining he hadn’t had anything to eat in hours. Well, not explained, exactly. All he’d had done was mention it in passing, and the cop’s good nature had done the rest. His name was Rob. Or Rod. Probably Rob. If Henry hadn’t been so tired, he’d have remembered a detail like that. Rob was much friendlier than his last dealing with law enforcement: the cranky bald guy from the FBI. Who had no doubt gotten a lot crankier once he’d found that empty bathroom. Still, Henry felt he’d more than done his civic duty by calling 911, when he could just as easily have hightailed it out of there and not put himself on Dean Maxfield’s radar at all.
Not that he hadn’t already been there.
Dean hated him.
“Aunt Gloria, that little asshole is trying to screw you over!”
“Nonsense, Dean. Toby’s a good boy, and what I do with my money is my own business.”
In fact, Dean had probably been itching for a chance to shoot him way before Henry witnessed Dean killing Pete. From the beginning, he’d fixed on Henry with the aggressive determination of a pit bull on steroids.
Oh well. Fuck him. He could rot in jail, witness or no witness. That’s what forensics were for, right?
The door opened and Henry sat up straight, hoping whoever was coming in had brought food.
It was the bald FBI agent. McGuinness? McWhirter? Paddy McGinty’s goat? Fuck. He had a styrofoam cup clenched in his hand, and Henry smelled shitty coffee.
Better let baldy make the first move. And hope that move wasn’t slamming Henry’s head against the wall.
McCorkle looked seriously displeased. “Detective Falstaff.”
“H’llo.” Henry kept his tone polite.
“You,” McHappy Meal said, advancing into the cell, “are a witness to a homicide. My witness. Do you want to tell me what the fuck you think you were doing, running out like that?”
“Ah.” He tried for a charming smile. “Impersonating a police officer?”
“Yeah, let’s add that to your list of charges.”
He sighed inwardly with relief. “Well, two things is hardly a list. It’s more of a pair. How did you even find me here?”
“You left prints all over Gloria Maxfield’s house.”
“Ah.” Damn it. Henry blamed terrorism. Suddenly every little PD in the nation had one of those fingerprint scanners with the glass plate and a direct damn link to the FBI, instead of doing it the messy, old-fashioned way—with paper, and ink, and a nice healthy delay before they got entered into the system. “I see. I’m sorry, it was Agent McGuinness, right?”
It was only right that one of them remembered their manners.
“That’s right. And you are?”
Whoever his current ID said he was. “Henry Page.”
“Not Richard Falstaff?”
“No. No, I am not.”
“And not Toby Seacoal?”
McGuinness regarded him quietly for a moment, then shook his head. “You’re a con man.”
“I categorically deny that baseless accusation.” He’d always preferred the word “grifter.” It seemed a little less . . . polyester suit and hair oil, and a little more Kerouac and the open road.
“Categorically,” he said again, folding his hands in his lap. Good, solid word, categorically. It had a nice air of authority to it. It wasn’t his fault if MacGyver didn’t understand that.
“Well, bad news. Because I don’t think it’s baseless.”
“Do I get a lawyer?”
“You get to come with me. Immediately.”
“I hate lawyers.”
“I went to law school,” McGuinness said coldly.
“But you’re not a lawyer.”
“Maybe I should have been. Could be putting scum like you behind bars instead of having everyone in my office whispering behind my back about how I let you walk right past me.”
Henry gave him a slight grin. “To be fair, I make a pretty convincing police detective.”
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done? The lives you’ve put in danger by letting someone like Maxfield walk?”
He was fairly sure Maxfield was the one putting people’s lives in danger—by ending them. “I didn’t let Maxfield walk. If he shot that guy, you should have found something to hold him on.”
“You were the one who told us he shot the guy!”
Oh, this was fun. Agent McGuinness was going to burst an important blood vessel if he wasn’t careful.
“You know who should be our number one suspect?” McGuinness raged on. “The guy who ran.”
“Why aren’t I?” Not that he was complaining. But he did want to know.
“Because Maxfield shot Pete. You know it, and I know it, and you’re coming back to Indianapolis with me to tell me everything you saw that night.”
“I’m glad you’re not a lawyer. Lawyers make me uncomfortable.”
“And I don’t?” McGuinness sounded a little affronted.
He studied McGuinness. All law enforcement officials made him uncomfortable, but McGuinness wasn’t so bad. Was actually attractive, and would have looked even better without the scowl. His gaze fell on McGuinness’s hand, still gripping the styrofoam cup so hard Henry was surprised it hadn’t split. He looked up at McGuinness and grinned again. “If you wanted me to be uncomfortable, you wouldn’t have put me in this luxury cell.”
“Less comfortable accommodations can be arranged.”
Henry swung his legs. “So am I in protective custody? Or under arrest?”
“Could go both ways.”
“Mmm. I love going both ways.” He saw that little muscle twitch in McGuinness’s jaw again. Delightful.
“If you help me out with Maxfield, maybe you can stay out of prison. Got it?”
He swallowed. Wasn’t going to let McBaldstone know how much the idea of jail bothered him. “I’ll see what I can do.”
McGuinness folded his arms, spilling a few drops of coffee onto the tile. “How long did you stay with Gloria Maxfield?”
“Would have been two months this Saturday.”
“And what exactly were you doing there?”
“She was helping me with my studies.”
“Your studies,” McGuinness repeated. His arms were huge. The rest of him was big and not in the best shape, but his arms were well defined. Not that that was at all relevant to their conversation.
“Italian poetry. She’s got quite a library on the second floor.”
“Where do you study?”
“Check the roster.”
“You can bet I will. Let me guess: Gloria was helping you with tuition?”
McGuinness rocked on the balls of his feet. “You didn’t know who she was.” He didn’t say it like a question.
“I didn’t know who she was related to, no. Do I look crazy?”
“You sound like a scumbag.”
“I prefer ‘opportunist.’” Henry flicked a piece of lint off the cot. “Look, did Gloria complain about me?”
“Gloria’s busy trying to deal with the fact that her nephew shot someone in her kitchen.”
“You talk to Gloria. And you check the admissions list at Jordan. I’m there.”
“No.” McGuinness stepped forward, letting his arms fall to his sides. More coffee spilled. “You’re here. You’re right where you deserve to be. And you’re mine for however long it takes to put Dean Maxfield away. You got it?”
Henry leaned forward. “Do you think you could get my arresting officer back in here for a second?”
McGuinness’s dark eyes narrowed. “What?”
“I’m kind of hungry. And Rob had donuts.” He gave McGuinness what he hoped was a three-legged-cat-in-an-ASPCA-ad look. “Please?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“You want a donut? Rob’s nice. I’ll bet he’d give you a donut.”
“I do not want a donut.”
“Watching your figure?”
McGuinness rolled his eyes. “You’re the second criminal to make fun of my figure in the last three days.”
“Was the other one Dean? Because he should talk.”
“That’s what I said. Guy’s all flab.”
“Sing it, sister.”
McGuinness looked at him sharply.
“Anyway, I wasn’t making fun,” Henry hastened to add. “I just wondered. Because of your resistance to donuts. And the decaf.”
“Your coffee. It’s decaf, right?”
McGuinness shook the dregs in the styrofoam cup. “How do you know?”
“It smells like shit, and you look half-dead. And you’re holding that cup like you’re throttling a chicken. How long have you been off the real stuff? Two days? Three? It gets better.”
“Do you ever shut up?”
“Rarely. May I make a recommendation?” McGuinness didn’t say no, so he went ahead. “Teeccino.”
“It’s an herbal coffee substitute. Mediterranean and absolutely delicious. It’s got a unique fiber that—”
“Save it,” McGuinness snapped. “We’re not talking about my diet. We’re talking about you scamming Gloria Maxfield.”
“I thought we were talking about me watching Dean Maxfield shoot a guy.”
The foam cup finally cracked. Brown sludge spattered the floor.
“Uh-oh.” Henry lifted his feet to keep them from getting wet. “I hope you’ll tell Rob that was you and not me.”
McGuinness snapped his fingers. “Get up. I’m taking you back to Indianapolis.”
“C’mon, really? Before breakfast? We’ll stop for something on the way, right?”
“Shut the hell up.”
Henry regarded him sympathetically. Yeah, this guy needed a sugary caffeine hit immediately. “A headache, right? And the shakes? I read somewhere that quitting caffeine is worse than quitting heroin, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. I mean, is it purely anecdotal evidence? And even if it’s not, even if it’s proven, it doesn’t mean that we should all take up heroin instead, does it?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Coffee and heroin,” Henry said. “The very comparison implies a value judgment, don’t you think? Which seems disingenuous, because obviously heroin is much worse.”
“I was going to cuff you for the drive back, but I think I’ll have to gag you too.”
“With food?” Henry showed McGuinness his most winning smile.
“Get up,” McGuinness ordered.
He paddled through the coffee toward the door. “So, just to clarify, am I under arrest?”
“You are currently in the custody of the Dayton PD.” McGuinness held up a pair of cuffs. “They are transferring you to my custody. If you don’t give me any more shit, those charges may be dropped.”
“If and may,” Henry mused. “An ironclad guarantee if I ever heard one.”
McGuinness cuffed him.
Mac tried very, very hard not to reach out and steal Henry’s donuts. Henry sat with the box on his lap—a farewell gift from the boys at the Dayton PD—and ate them all the way back to Indianapolis. And made pointed little pleasurable noises as well, each one of which translated as, Fuck you. I have donuts and you don’t, nah nah nah.
Mac hadn’t paid much attention to Henry Page’s face the night he’d passed himself off as a detective at Mac’s crime scene—too focused on his ass. Mac was pretty sure Henry hadn’t been wearing the glasses then. He was wearing a pair now, though, that made him look like the earnest student and Romantic poet Gloria Maxfield thought he was.
Lina had taken a look at one of the poems sweet little Toby Seacoal had “written” and announced it was a fairly poor translation of an aria from Saint-Saëns’s Samson and Delilah. Which was exactly the sort of shit that Lina knew without even having to look it up. She was wasted in the Indianapolis field office.
“Do you need those glasses?” Mac finally asked him, when he was sick of counting down the miles with nothing but Henry’s theatrical donut-eating noises and the clink of his handcuffs to listen to.
Henry licked frosting off his bottom lip. “Depends.”
Mac pretended he hadn’t watched the progress of Henry’s tongue. At all. He concentrated on his irritation instead. There was no such thing as a straight answer from this guy.
“They don’t really help me see any better,” Henry said at last. “But they are quite useful.”
“For looking like an accountant?”
“Oh no, I’d never be an accountant. All that math.” He shuddered.
“For what, then?”
Henry sucked the tips of his fingers. “Guy out in Tucson told me they were hot. Said I’d get lucky more often if I wore them.”
Mac gripped the wheel a little harder. “And has it worked?”
Henry pulled his lips off his pinky with a smack. “So far.”
“What were you doing in Tucson? Besides getting lucky?”
Henry leaned back and jingled the cuffs. “You know, I like small talk, but I have a feeling anything I say can and will be used against me in a court of law.”
“This is all off the record.”
“Well in that case, I was in Tucson getting lucky. At cards.”
Mac gripped the wheel tighter. A truck sped past them. “So what’s your specialty, Henry? Sweet talking old ladies out of their disposable income? Playing dress-up? I know you’re lousy at stealing cars.”
“Never tried stealing a car.”
“You were picked up for driving a stolen—”
“Borrowed. I took it for a test-drive. Lost track of time.”
Mac shook his head. “I’ll bet your grade school teachers wanted to beat the shit out of you.”
“Nah. They loved me.” Henry wiped his hands on his jeans. “I’m decent at dress-up, I guess. I look good in costume.” He glanced out his window, and Mac snuck a peek at the back of his head. Thick, tousled dark hair in need of a wash. He probably looked good in anything. “The thing about conning is, there’s not really much deceit involved. You’d be surprised what people are willing to give you or do for you when they like you.”
“Do people like you?” Henry asked, turning to him.
He didn’t answer.
“People like me.”
“Aww. Gimme a chance.”
“Like hell. And don’t expect any free donuts from my people. Thanks to you, we had to let Maxfield go. And I’m wasting a day of my life retrieving you.”
“You request it?”
“Did you ask to be the one who came and got me?”
Mac hesitated. “Yeah. Why?”
“Just wondering. You still seem salty about the crime scene.”
“You were the sole witness. You bailed. You lied to me, then you bailed. Damn right I’m salty.” And speaking of salty, he would have killed for some potato chips from the office vending machine. Or one of those peanut caramel bars.
“I wasn’t gonna hang around waiting for Maxfield’s gang to kill me.”
“You know him pretty well?”
“He stopped by Gloria’s now and then. There was an instant and mutual loathing.”
“And yet you stayed with Gloria—even once you realized her nephew was a mobster?”
“It was the middle of Toby’s midterms.”
His grip on the wheel tightened. “I’ve been after Maxfield’s boys a long time. So if you know anything about the pack he ran with, you could make yourself extremely useful.”
“Sheriff, I’m just here to tell you what I saw that fateful night.” Henry paused. “I didn’t have to call 911, you know. I could’ve just beat it. Really wish I had.”
“We’d’ve kept you safe. We’re gonna keep you safe.”
“Until Maxfield’s put away. And then what? Then it’s my brains on someone’s custom cabinets.”
“There’s options. Witness protection.”
Henry huffed. The air went sour in the car, and Mac tried to tell himself to be grateful Henry had shut up. But suddenly Henry leaned over and looked out the window. “There’s Chase Tower. Almost home.”
“Is Indianapolis home?” Mac didn’t know why he’d bothered to ask. As though Henry would give him a straight answer.
“Altona. Moved to the city when I was sixteen.”
He gripped the wheel harder. “Very funny.”
“I don’t know what you think you know about me, but this game stops now, you hear? Or I will charge you with every fucking thing you can possibly be charged for.”
“Whoa.” Henry held up his cuffed hands. “I don’t know what I said, but I’m sorry. You wanna lick some glaze off the bottom of the box? It might help with the mood swings.”
“I’m from Altona. Whatever else you dug up on me—”
“I didn’t dig anything up on you. I was too busy running for my life. Can’t we both be from Altona?”
“It’s a town of two hundred people. I’d have remembered growing up around someone like you.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. And no offense, but wouldn’t you have grown up way before I did? I mean, maybe you don’t remember me because I was still in diapers when you left for college.”
He nearly swerved into the other lane. Two drivers honked. “How old are you?” he demanded, looking at Henry. “Twelve?”
“Well, I’m thirty-one. So no, you wouldn’t have been in diapers when I left. Unless you required diapers well into your adolescence. Which wouldn’t surprise me at all.”
“Harsh, Mac.” Henry paused. “Does anyone call you Mac?”
“Everyone calls me Mac, except my parents. But if you call me anything but Agent McGuinness, you can wash down those donuts with a few of your own teeth.”
Henry was silent for a moment. Mac waited, on edge, for whatever the little fucker would throw at him next. “You look older than thirty-one,” Henry said finally.
Mac clenched his jaw.
“It’s a good thing! You look really, uh, sophisticated. Serious. Lots of frown lines.”
“Well you look like a little kid who’s playing a game that’s way too big for him.” That was the bitch of it, as far as he was concerned. He could see why people fell for Henry—he looked like a little boy playing dress-up. Like someone who didn’t realize these were real lives he was messing with, real people he was hurting.
He remembered the Thanksgiving his niece Cory was six. She’d dressed in shabby clothes and put her harmonica in her mouth and walked around the dinner table holding out a hat. Cory was a cute kid—always had been. She’d committed to her character so thoroughly that everyone had thrown their spare change into her hat. And the adults, in turn, had created a panhandling monster who’d tried the same trick at the next two family functions until Mac’s sister Libby sat Cory down for a talk.
Someday, Henry Page was going to meet someone who didn’t think the act was cute. Who wasn’t okay with being manipulated. Who was going to kick the living shit out of him.
Mac only wished he could be there to see it.
“Maxfield’s too big for me. I’ll admit that.” Henry stroked the edge of the donut box. Slowly lifted the lid. “There’s one donut left. If you eat it, I won’t tell your doctor.”
Mac glanced at the box. “I don’t need a donut.”
“You want a donut, though.”
“Put it down.”
“Come on. Eat the donut. It’s got sprinkles.”
He glared at the donut a moment longer. Reached out and grabbed it. Stuffed half of it into his mouth.
“Atta boy, Mackie.”
He purposely pulled up too fast to the next stoplight and slammed on the brakes, sending Henry lurching forward.
It was almost as satisfying as the donut.
“So what sort of witness protection can I anticipate?” Henry asked as the elevator doors pinged open inside the FBI’s Indianapolis field office. It wasn’t at all what he’d expected. On TV, FBI offices were all dimly lit and full of glass, shiny technology, and incredibly attractive people. This place was a little disappointing. The only interesting lighting appeared to come from a flickering fluorescent panel in the ceiling. The lobby, such as it was, wouldn’t have looked out of place at a dentist’s office; a sad potted plant leaned at an angle against the counter. A path of worn carpet led from the elevator doors to the counter, and then beyond into . . . cubicles. How incredibly bland. He sighed as he stepped out of the elevator. “Is it possible to request something with a pool?”
“Working on your tan?” McGuinness asked.
He patted his stomach. “Gotta work off those donuts somehow.”
McGuinness’s frown lines deepened. He’d been in a bad mood the whole drive, and it hadn’t improved when they’d hit the morning traffic in the city. The last stretch of the trip had been interminable. To McGuinness, certainly. Henry had chattered the entire way through it, wondering just how far he could push the guy.
“Hello,” he said to the woman behind the counter. “Lovely morning.”
The woman looked up. Her answering smile faltered as she saw his cuffs.
“My point remains,” he said now, as McGuinness led him further into the disappointing office, finishing the story he’d started way back on East Ohio Street. “You can’t actually steal a cat unless it wants to be stolen.”
McGuinness spun around. “Shut the fuck up!”
He blinked, fighting to keep the smile off his face while all around them heads started popping up from behind cubicles like prairie dogs. McGuinness just made it so damn easy.
“Agent McGuinness,” a woman called out. “Can I have a word?”
The tone of her voice made it clear it wasn’t a question.
McGuinness’s shoulders sagged.
“Is this about the donut?” Henry asked him in an undertone. “You shouldn’t feel guilty about that. You really needed that donut.”
McGuinness grabbed him by the wrist. “I need someone to put my prisoner in a cell, right now!”
“Witness,” Henry reminded him. “Your witness.” He smiled at the guy who approached. Square-jawed, fair-haired. He looked like the sort of guy who’d go to church on Sunday. Early. “Hi, I’m Henry.”
McGuinness ignored him. “Jeff, put my witness in a cell, and don’t let anyone else get near him.”
“Sure, Mac,” Jeff said.
“Bye, Mac.” Henry grinned, and Jeff led him away before McGuinness could snap for good.
[D]efinitely a romance like no other...I will guarantee that you will fall in love with Mac and Henry.
Cute and funny with exciting gun shooting and mystery thrown in. ]T]his book is a delight.
*Top Pick* With plenty of brilliant and enjoyable dialogue, the beginning of this series was a fast-paced, suspenseful romance.
By the time I finished reading the book, I wanted to know more about Mac and Henry...I'll be falling in love with this series soon.
[T]his story was so much fun! ... I liked this first story a lot and am really looking forward to the rest of the series.