“And I could die from slipping and falling in warm cat yak getting out of bed,” he said.
She laughed. “It’s the warm that always gets me.” She sobered. “I just want you forewarned. Since you seem so fragile and all.”
“Yeah,” he said dryly. “I’m as fragile as a peach.”
“I want you to listen to me,” she said, squeezing his fingers with surprising strength.
So he bent low, thinking she was going to tell him something important in regard to her wishes.
“If you take my cat to the pound after I’m gone,” she said, “I will haunt you for the rest of your life, and then I’ll follow you to hell and haunt you for all of eternity.”
Keane drove straight to South Bark. It was past seven and he felt like a dick that he’d left Willa to deal with one of his problems. He could only hope Pita had been . . . well, not a PITA.
The shop was closed, locked up tight as a drum, and dark, except for the twinkle of the holiday lights strung across the glass window front. He took it as a good sign that there wasn’t a note posted for him.
He pressed his face up against the glass but no one was inside. Turning, he strode across the cobblestone courtyard, lit by more strings of lights. The water fell from the fountain, the sound muted by the music tumbling out of the pub, which was still going strong.
Near the alley, Old Man Eddie was talking to two gray-bunned ladies. “Some beauty for the beauties,” he said, handing them each a little spring of green held together by a red ribbon.
The ladies handed him some cash and smiled broadly. “Thanks for the . . . mistletoe.”
Mistletoe his ass, Keane thought with a reluctant smile. That was weed. He entered the pub and moved to the end of the bar. Rory was there, seemingly in a standoff with Max, who was minus his sidekick, Carl.
“No,” she said.
“Look, you want a ride home to Tahoe for Christmas,” Max said. “And I happen to be going that way. Why take two buses and a damn train when I could drive you?”
“Maybe I already have my tickets.”
She rolled her eyes.
Max just stood there, arms folded across his chest.
“What’s your problem?” she snapped.
“You know what my problem is,” he said. “It’s you.”
She pointed a finger at him. “You know what you are, Max? You’re a hypocrite.” And she whirled away from the bar, nearly plowing Keane over.
He put his hands on her arms to steady her.
She backed away from him, a scowl still on her face. “Sorry.”
“No worries,” he said. “You okay?”
“If one more person asks me that, I’m going to start kicking asses and taking names.”
“Fair enough,” Keane said, lifting his hands in surrender. “I’m just looking to relieve whoever is on Pita duty.”
A small smile crossed her face. “I offered to be, but Willa insisted. She was here with her friends, it was girls’ night, but I lost track of her.”
“Try the back,” Sean suggested from where he was serving behind the bar. “Pool table.”
Archer and Spence were playing pool back there, and arguing while they were at it.
Seemed like it was the night for it.
“It’s getting too cold. You’ve got to get him off the streets,” Archer was saying as he shot the four ball and bounced it off the corner pocket.
Spence stood and pointed at the nine ball. “Bottom pocket,” he said and made his shot before pointing at Archer. “And I’ve gotten him off the damn streets. Multiple times. Have you ever tried arguing with someone who literally fried their brain at Woodstock?”
“Man, that guy is still frying his brain,” Archer said. “And speaking of, he hung some of his clippings in the alley entrance and is telling any woman who walks by that it’s mistletoe.”
“You talking about Old Man Eddie?” Keane asked.
Archer and Spence exchanged a look. “Yeah,” Spence finally said. “We’re trying to figure a way to keep him warm and healthy for the winter months that he’ll agree to. So far all he agrees to is living in the fucking alley.”
Keane nodded. “He’s out there right now, selling some of that ‘mistletoe’ to a couple of older ladies.”
Archer jabbed a finger at Spence. “Deal with him tonight or I will.”
“Thought you gave up being a cop,” Spence said.
Archer narrowed his eyes and the testosterone level in the back room spiked to off-the-chart. “Was that supposed to be funny?”
“A little bit, yeah.” Spence turned to Keane. “You play?”
Keane eyed the pool table. “Some.”
Archer’s bad ’tude never wavered as he reset the balls.
“Never mind him,” Spence said. “He’s just pouting because he’s a big, fat loser tonight. I’m already up fifty bucks.”
“You whined so much when you lost last week that I felt sorry for you,” Archer said. “I’m letting you win.”
Spence shook his head. “Lying to make yourself look good is just sad. Especially since girls’ night ended and Elle isn’t even here anymore for you to show off.”
Archer shoulder-checked Spence hard as he moved around the table to shoot.
Spence practically bounced across the room but he didn’t look bothered in the least. In fact, he looked smug.
Archer slid him a hard look. “You know why I want Eddie cleaned up or gone. You fucking damn well know why.”
Spence’s easy smile slipped. “Okay, yeah. I do know.” He waited quietly while Archer shot again, and then again, each time sinking multiple balls into the pockets. “I’ll deal with it. I promised Willa the same thing because she doesn’t want her kids tempted.”
Keane choked on his beer. “Her kids?”
Archer looked up from the pool table and actually smiled. “She didn’t tell you?”
Spence gave Archer a shove. “You’re an asshole.” He turned to Keane. “Not her kids. Her employees, the ones she so carefully collects to save, since there was no one to save her.”
Keane prided himself on being cool, calm, logical. Emotions didn’t have a place in his everyday life. But ever since he’d walked into Willa’s shop that first time, he’d been having emotions. Deep ones.