A little St. Patty's Day tale for all the Babes. Enjoy!
Tank sighed audibly from his seat at the conference table. "Steph. Do you have the file?"
"Right here," I replied. "Haven't even looked in it yet." I slid a manila folder down the table to Tank, who promptly opened it and frowned in confusion.
"What the hell? There's a mugshot in here, but no one's in the photo." Tank began ruffling through the remaining paperwork in the folder, presumably looking for another picture of our guy.
Bobby furrowed his brows and got up from his executive chair. "Are you sure, man? That photo and file were given to Steph by Connie. And the photo was given to Connie by the jail's booking department."
"There's not another photo in the file," concluded Tank. "Let me check the online arrest records." I watched with curiosity as he opened his laptop and pulled up the Mercer County Sheriff's Office website. He typed in the name of my skip and when the information page finally downloaded, I wasn't surprised to see that the mugshot on the website matched our photo printout exactly. Tank bit his lip. "Must have been some idiot over in booking who couldn't figure out how to work a camera. I'll have to put in a call to the jail."
Bobby walked over to Tank and picked up the computer printout of the photo. He studied it intently, peering at it with his eyes squinted in concentration. Finally, he pointed to the very bottom of the 8X10 photo and jabbed at a green shadow. "Hang on a second. What's this?"
Tank snatched the paper out of Bobby's hands and held it up to his eyes. After a few beats, Tank's eyelids flew wide open. "It's the top of a hat," he exclaimed. He examined the paper for another few seconds. "Baseball cap."
"A green baseball cap? What baseball team's color is green?" Bobby asked.
"Doesn't have to be baseball," Lester spoke up, slouching in his chair on the opposite side of the table. "All sports teams have their logos stitched on baseball caps. Could be basketball, or football...ice hockey..."
Bobby blew out a sigh and ran his hands over his cornrows. "Well that narrows it down," he muttered.
Tank reopened his laptop and pulled up the picture of our skip. He found the green shadow on the bottom of the photo and zoomed in. "The logo is stitched in white thread. I can barely see the top of it." Tank zoomed in a little further and adjusted the quality of the photo. "I think it's the logo for the Boston Red Sox."
Both Lester and Bobby vacated their chairs and went to stand over Tank's shoulders. Tank sat back in his chair so that they could take a look at it. A few moments passed and Lester finally nodded. "Yep. Red Sox," he agreed. "It's the top of the 'B'."
"So what's the deal with this whacky picture?" I asked Tank. "Was it the jail's photo-taking skills that sucked? Or was it a digital camera computer malfunction?"
"Maybe the guy's just really short," joked Lester. He sorted through the papers in the file and came up with the skip's information printout sheet. "Kelly Duff McCarthy. Thirty-seven years old. Got arrested for public intoxication." Lester snorted. "Figures. The guy's about as Irish as I am Puerto Rican." He continued down the list of stats on McCarthy. "Home address listed as being in Maple Shade, near South Jersey. His older brother, Kerrigan Duff McCarthy, bonded him out. He's got blue eyes and red hair...height three-foot-four? What the fuck?" Les's eyes nearly bugged out of his skull.
"Get out," I exclaimed, taking the paper from Lester. Sure enough, McCarthy's height was listed as being somewhere close to my niece Mary Alice's. "I know for a fact that the jail's camera sits on a minimally-adjustable tripod. I bet they couldn't even point the camera down far enough to get his photo."
Bobby looked incredulous. "Couldn't they have found a chair for him to stand on or something?"
Tank shrugged. "I have no clue what was going on over at that jail when they took this photo. All we know is that he skipped his court date and Vinnie wants him brought back into the system. And since I'm in charge while Ranger finishes the remainder of his tour, what I say goes." Tank turned to Lester. "Santos. See if you can drum up some Intel on this guy's whereabouts. Call the phone numbers listed on the indemnitor's forms."
Les headed back over to his chair and flopped down before opening McCarthy's file. "I'll call his brother. He bonded him out, and if McCarthy's still in the area, his brother'll know it." He reached across the table and dragged the conference room desk phone over to where he was sitting. I watched him punch in numbers and I then looked over at Tank and Bobby.
"Speaking of Ranger," I spoke up. "Has anyone heard from him lately?"
Bobby shook his head. "Just that last time a few days ago that we told you about, Bomber," he replied. "He was still in Mosul then. We expect him back within a week or so, actually."
My ears perked up. Ranger had been gone for exactly two months yesterday, and while things between us weren't exactly exclusive, we weren't exactly just friends, either. After I'd dumped Morelli for the umpteenth time for good six months ago, Ranger had been showing more interest in me than usual before he left for Iraq. I suspected it was because he felt like he was no longer poaching, but I allowed myself to entertain the notion that he truly cared for me and possibly wanted something special.
And when Joe surprised us all by eloping to Vegas with his proctologist's nurse over the Christmas holiday, I was even more certain that Ranger and I would never have to worry about him botching things up for us.
"Earth to Steph," Lester was saying from across the table. "I found our guy."
"Yeah? So fast?"
"His brother wouldn't give him up, so I called his mother. Said he was headed to Southie for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. He left last night."
I frowned. "Southie. Where the hell's that?"
"You don't want to know," groaned Tank. "Of all the places to be on fucking St. Patty's Day."
Lester and I stared at the photo printout of phantom McCarthy together. "Maybe he's a leprechaun," Les finally said thoughtfully.
Bobby came up and snatched the paper out of Lester's grip. "Get real, you fruitcake," he spat. "There's no such thing as leprechauns."
Les shoved him against one of the rolling executive chairs, laughing hard. When he managed to catch his breath, he said, "You told me there's no such thing as yetis, either, but hey? How's your mom? Did she ever manage to find that special comb that'll brush all the gnats out of her hair?"
"Fuck you, Santos," Bobby grit out.
"Guys, guys," I cut in. "Look. We know where McCarthy'll be tomorrow, so at least we have something to go on. If we leave early in the morning, traffic will be a breeze. We get to the parade, slap some cuffs on ol' Lucky Charms, and then beat the hell out of dodge. Now how's that for a stellar plan, hunh?
Bumper-to-bumper traffic as far as the eye could see was backed up on Interstate 93. Nothing but brake lights for miles. Bobby was in the front passenger's seat, sulking because all he'd had to eat since the night before was a handful of cardboard granola. Tank was crabby because he was stuck driving, and Lester was occupying the backseat with me and had insisted on wearing a sparkly green top hat that had battery-operated light-up letters flashing across the top reading Kiss Me, I'm Irish!
"We have to be fucking crazy," exclaimed Lester, for the millionth time since we'd started out. "Boston on St. Patrick's Day? Were we asking for a nightmare?"
Tank put his blinker on in an attempt to change lanes. "Santos..."
"It's only a five-thousand-dollar bond," Lester whined. "Why does Vinnie want this guy brought in so badly?"
"I have no idea." Tank jerked the Escalade into the right lane and narrowly avoided crashing sideways into a pickup. The driver lay on the horn and Tank, ever calm and professional, simply stared straight ahead in his annoying Ranger-like zen driving zone. Tank took the nearest exit and rocketed the SUV down the off-ramp with frightening speed. He pulled us into more traffic, but this time all cars were at a dead stand-still.
"Forget it. I'll pay Vinnie out of my own pocket for the bond if we can turn around right now and go straight back to Trenton." Lester folded his huge arms across his chest and puffed out his bottom lip.
"That's not part of the plan," Tank replied darkly. "Put up or shut up."
South Boston, as it turned out, was an extremely popular destination for folks looking to have a great time with the Luck O' the Irish. People were everywhere, crowding the streets in hordes. I looked out the window at the unrelenting sea of green, wondering why I always have the shittiest luck with nutcase skips in the weirdest locations.
Tank finally parked the SUV near the beginning of the parade route and cut the engine. "There are kids everywhere," he exclaimed, staring out the windshield at the crowds. "How the hell are we going to be able to pick out McCarthy?"
"He'll be the only four-year-old with a goatee," Lester joked sarcastically.
"How do you know he has a goatee?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "I don't. I just feel it, you know?"
Bobby opened the passenger's side door and angled himself out of the SUV. "The sooner we get this creep, the sooner we can get the hell out of Shamrock Land here." He slammed his door shut and strapped handcuffs onto the utility belt of his cargoes.
"I'm with Brown on that one." Les raised his eyebrow at me before swiveling out of the Escalade and jamming a Glock into his waistband at the small of his back.
Bobby and Lester led the parade, with Tank and I bringing up the rear. I was less than enthused about wading through the rowdy crowd, on the hunt for a drunk midget. Nevertheless, he was my skip, and I was the one who'd dragged the guys into this in the first place. I felt obligated to lead the search, for some reason, so I hauled Tank and Bobby and Lester behind a brick wall and formed a huddle with them.
"Here's what we're going to do first," I told them quietly. "Les, you said last night that McCarthy's mother informed you that he'd be here at the St. Patrick's Day Parade today. Did she happen to say if he'd be in the parade or just at the parade?"
"At the parade," Lester clarified. "After that, she basically blew me off. I'm assuming that she's a reliable source, although I really have no clue whether she told me the truth or not."
"Well, let's just assume she wasn't lying and that McCarthy is either here at the parade or down the road at the festival. Now, if I were a huge fan of St. Patty's Day and alcohol, where would I be?" I tried to concentrate by closing my eyes and picturing myself as McCarthy, decked out in green and hopping around Southie like a little red-headed sprite, plastered on green beer.
"Beer tent?" suggested Lester.
Brilliant. "Let's hit it."
"Steph, we've exhausted every beer tent and corned beef and cabbage kiosk here," whined Lester. "Not to mention the fact that we made fools out of ourselves by walking in the parade, pretending to be part of the City of Boston SWAT team while scanning the crowd for McCarthy. Why don't we try some of the other places here in town?"
"I can't wait to get this lunatic," Bobby said through clenched teeth. "I told Kristen I'd be home before seven. She's taking me to O'Reilly's Irish Pub for dinner tonight to celebrate St. Patty's Day."
"I hate to rain on your parade, Bobby, but I'm not sure if we'll make it back to Trenton before then." I glanced at my watch. "It's already quarter to four."
Bobby fell silent as we walked. I knew the guys were growing more and more frustrated as the day wore on, and I felt terrible because I'd asked the Merry Men for their assistance with tracking down yet another one of my weirdos. I knew they'd walk to the ends of the earth for me, but I couldn't help feeling as though I was quickly flying through my deck of Help Stephanie tarot cards.
We piled back into the Escalade and visited two jam-packed pubs, several bars, and even a McDonalds before finally pulling over and parking the SUV at a Wendy's. "If I can't have dinner with my girl, then I'm having it here at Wendy's with you guys," Bobby growled. He opened his door and climbed out of the truck. Tank and Lester followed suit, and I slogged behind them feeling lower than slug slime.
"I'm really sorry, you guys," I said as we trooped through the glass door to the restaurant. "I didn't think it would be this difficult to find this guy."
Lester slung an arm around my shoulder. "No worries, beautiful. We're all into it now, and we're going to see it through to the end."
"Let's hope the end is sometime before sundown," Tank said, getting in line at the counter. "Our search will be even harder in the dark."
After we'd all eaten, we met back outside at the truck. Once the parade had ended, the crowds on the streets grew sparse but the festival at Joe Moakley Park was alive and thriving. There were several events going on, including a concert by the Dropkick Murphys, a leprechaun lookalike contest, and a beer-tasting exhibition.
"Let's head over to the festival at the park," Lester suggested. "I have a funny feeling that we'll have some luck over there."
"Luck? Never heard of the thing." I smiled wryly as Tank ruffled my hair with his huge hand. "I guess it couldn't hurt to check it out."
The sun was setting by the time we'd parked the Escalade in the grassy lot and made our way over to the large bandstand. We each bought a ticket to the festival and stored the stubs in our pockets, just in case we needed readmittance to the park. The Dropkick Murphys were in full swing, and although I'd never heard their music before, their tunes were surprisingly catchy. We laid low by the trees and stuck to the edge of the crowd as we approached the stage. We spread out a little bit and kept in each other's lines of vision, but after about three Dropkick songs Tank made a slicing motion across his throat with his hand, signaling for us to move out.
"What about the beer-tasting exhibition?" I asked when we were back together as a group.
Bobby shook his head. "I'm thinking the leprechaun lookalike contest."
Suddenly it dawned on me that Bobby had hit the nail on the head. I glanced at my watch and said, "It starts in ten minutes. Let's see how close we can get to the stage."
Before we could go any further with our plan, we were stopped by an adorable little girl tugging on Lester's pant leg. "Hey, mister," she said, staring up at Les.
He knelt down on one knee to get closer to her level. "Hi, there," he said to her.
"I want you to have this." The little girl held something small and green-looking out to Lester and shyly tucked her hand back behind her dress.
"What is it?"
"It's supposed to bring you good luck." The little girl smiled and ran back to her awaiting friend.
Lester got to his feet and we all crowded around to see what the little girl had given him. It was a rare four-leaf clover, in perfect just-picked condition. Les grinned and said, "We should each pull off one of the leaves. We could use a little luck on our side tonight."
"I'll do it," Bobby said immediately. He yanked off one of the clover's leaves and stuffed it into the back pocket of his cargoes. He sighed deeply and smiled, shutting his eyes. "Damn. I feel lucky already. Maybe I'll get even luckier by winning that speed boat they're raffling off over there." He gestured towards an area across the park where a large Donzi speed boat was sitting, awaiting its winner to whisk it away. We all had a chance at winning the boat, since we each had a park ticket.
Tank was next to pull one off. "Big bond money and hot women," he said excitedly as he stuffed his leaf into his boot.
"Dude. We can't wish for the same thing," Lester said to Tank, annoyed.
"Just pick something else, Santos." Tank slugged Les on the shoulder.
Lester scowled and pulled off his leaf. "Fine." Suddenly, he grinned a big, shiteating grin. "Tonight, I will have hot Irish sex with a bangin'-ass redhead."
Bobby hooted with laughter. "You're gonna put your corned beef into her cabbage, say? You're gonna ask her to sample your sack of potatoes? Make her kiss your blarney stone?"
"Okay, okay," I interjected, grinning. "Enough with the bad Irish jokes. And no one's sack of potatoes is getting any kind of action until we finish ripping off the clover leaves. I'm next." I moved to take my clover leaf from Lester's hand, but my boot got caught on someone's lawn chair and I went down to my knees. The guys were surrounding me in an instant, and Lester pulled me up with both of his hands. I realized that he was no longer holding onto my clover leaf.
"Steph's leaf," exclaimed Bobby. "Santos. Did you drop it?"
Lester paled in the dusk light. "Shit."
I sighed. "It's just as well, Les," I said, dejected. "It wouldn't have done much good, anyway. I'm a lost cause in the luck department."
"Beautiful, I'm so sorry," Lester lamented. "I'll see if I can get you another one."
Up on the stage, the leprechaun lookalike contest was just about to start.
"Don't worry about it. We've got a job to do tonight. I'll worry about luck later."
We made it to the front of the crowd in front of the contest stage and spread out. An emcee got things going with some music and flashing lights, and the contestants for the leprechaun lookalike contest all filed out onstage and stood in a row. My mouth fell open as my gaze locked on the cherub-like face of a tiny redheaded man with blue eyes and, damn that Lester, a goatee. He was shirtless, but had on a sparkly green bowtie, matching sparkly suspenders, and tight green spandex knickers. On his feet were shiny black boots and perched on his head was a top hat to complete the look.
I was next to positive that I was staring up at Kelly McCarthy because my Spidey-sense was telling me so. Bobby was to my right and I looked over at him, my eyes wide.
"The one in the middle?" he mouthed to me.
I nodded ever so slightly and turned to my left to get Tank's attention. "It's him," I mouthed. I was sure of it.
Tank nodded once and put his cell phone up to his ear to call Lester, who was situated across the stage behind some speakers. Tank wrapped up the conversation and slowly edged over to me. "Santos is covering the back area of the stage. Bobby and I have the right and left. You stay here in the center and keep McCarthy in your sight. Since we don't have the two-ways tonight, you'll have to call us if you need us."
"Okay," I breathed.
The contest droned on and finally it was time to choose the winner and the two runners-up. It was down to McCarthy and two other men, and by the looks of things, the other two didn't stand a chance against McCarthy's realistic leprechaun charm. Sure enough, McCarthy won the contest flat-out and was even asked to perform a little St. Patty's Day skit onstage.
He took the mike from the emcee and I watched as he scanned the crowd. My heart leapt when his beady blue eyes landed on mine and his lips formed a sinister grin. "You." He pointed directly at me. "Brown curls."
Christ. "Me?" I squeaked. Mayday, mayday, I thought. Air Plum is going down in flames. "What did I do?"
McCarthy cackled and belted out in a thick Irish accent, "I've got a feeling that you don't have the Luck O' the Irish tonight, me darlin'. Why don't you hop onstage and find out just how lucky you can get?"
The crowd began chanting, "Go! Go! Go!"
Shit. I wasn't prepared to do a takedown in front of thousands. I had cuffs, and my stun gun, but as far as making a fool out of myself went, I'd done enough of that during the parade earlier while pretending to be the only female SWAT officer with the Boston PD. But duty was calling, and I was only so stupid enough to pick up the phone.
I managed to get the guys' attention as I slowly climbed the stairs of the stage, keeping my eyes trained on McCarthy. I saw Lester onstage in the wings, off to the left, with his hand instinctively on the Glock at his waist. Tank was by the speaker over to the right, on the ground. Bobby, I knew, was behind me and if it weren't for the guys making their presence known, I'd have wigged out right then and there. That so wouldn't have been good.
I approached McCarthy onstage and sidled up to him. "K-kelly McCarthy, y-you're in violation of your b-bond," I stammered, stage-whispering to him. I reached around my back to pull out my cuffs, but McCarthy cackled into the microphone, startling me.
"I'll tell ya what," McCarthy exclaimed into the mike. "I'll give ya all the luck you'll ever need if you do one thing for me."
"Yeah? And what's that?" I asked him.
Suddenly, Tank and Bobby climbed onto the stage with Lester, guns drawn. McCarthy whirled around and went wide-eyed at the sight, stammering into the microphone as his lips quivered. "You can't be up here," he wailed. "I'm in the middle of a skit!"
"Well, skit this," Bobby growled, lunging for McCarthy and managing to twist his little arms behind his back. "Vinnie Plum sent us to wrangle you in." The crowd gasped in shock. Lester kept his Glock trained on McCarthy as Tank cuffed him. Bobby and Tank got him upright and the crowd booed as the three of them frog-marched McCarthy offstage. I quickly climbed down the steps and raced around to the back of the stage, where Lester was patting McCarthy down. He found a thin wallet containing some credit cards and an ID in a pocket of McCarthy's spandex knickers. Les opened it up and pulled out McCarthy's New Jersey driver's license.
"Kelly Duff McCarthy," Lester read aloud. "Maple Shade, New Jersey. We've got him, guys. Hey, Steph, good work tonight."
"I didn't do anything," McCarthy insisted, wiggling like a snake to get out of the cuffs. "Please, let me go! I'll go to court, like I'm supposed to. Just take me out of these cuffs. I'm not a common criminal!"
"When you skip court, you are," Tank boomed. "Your bond is five thousand dollars. And who do you think has to pay that fee when you don't show up for your scheduled hearing?"
McCarthy's eyes went wide. "The president of the jail...bail...bonders?"
"Wrong," Lester said. "Your bail bondsman does, if your brother won't. Since he was the one who bonded you out, technically he'd be responsible for paying that five grand back."
"But my brother doesn't have that kind of money," wailed McCarthy, near tears.
"Then you should have thought about that before you skipped your court date!"
We finally got McCarthy over to where we'd parked the Escalade, listening to his cries and whines the entire walk back. In the ten minutes it took us to reach the truck, McCarthy had begged, pleaded, blackmailed, reasoned, and finally just accepted the fact that he was going back to jail until his next court date. Before we had the chance to load him into the backseat of the Escalade, however, McCarthy decided to try one last time to get us to cut him some slack.
"Can you please just cuff me in the front? I promise I won't try to run." McCarthy sounded pathetic, and his pity party didn't fall on deaf ears. Tank reluctantly uncuffed his hands from behind his back and recuffed them in the front after McCarthy had stretched. "Thank you."
"Why did you pick me to go on stage?" I asked him.
McCarthy smiled. "Like I told you earlier. You don't look like you've had the Luck O' the Irish for quite some time, lovey. I wanted to bestow it upon you before it was too late."
"Can you actually do that?" I asked him, not buying it. "You're just a regular person. Right?"
McCarthy grinned again, this time with a twinkle in his blue eyes.
Suddenly, the loudspeaker in the parking lot crackled to life and a woman's voice announced, "It's time to reveal the winner of the speed boat raffle. Everyone, get out your park ticket admission stubs!" Bobby, Tank, Les, and I all raced to dig in our pockets for our stubs, keeping an eye on McCarthy all the while.
"The winning ticket is 913974. That's 913974. Will the lucky winner please report to the raffle area immediately!" Tank's face fell. Lester's was next to droop with dismay. I tossed my crumbled stub in the grass, bummed. Bobby was...wait a second. Bobby was grinning from ear to ear.
"What?" I asked him.
"Steph. I won that boat."
My heart skipped a beat. "Seriously?"
Bobby held out his ticket and sure enough, he was ticket number 913974. "Thank you, four-leaf clover!" he yelled to the darkening sky. "I guess I've got a speed boat to claim." Whooping happily, he jogged off, leaving the rest of us to deal with McCarthy.
"I'm telling you, that four-leaf clover's no joke," Lester said knowingly. Just as the words left his mouth, a voluptuous redhead made her way over to us, stepping across the grassy parking lot in neck-breaking stilettos. Lester's jaw hit the floor.
"Hi," she said, grinning a movie-star grin at Les. "I saw you on stage earlier when you and your partners were arresting this guy." The girl nodded towards McCarthy. "Um, I was just wondering if you'd like to go have a drink with me." She smooshed herself up against Lester's front and raised an eyebrow. "And later, I might let you kiss my blarney stone." The girl's accent was heavy, and I had a feeling she really was Irish.
"Are you...really Irish?" Lester was nearly tongue-tied.
"Hailed straight from Dublin." The girl grinned again, this time wickedly.
"My hot Irish sex!" squeaked Lester, allowing himself to be led away by the arm, attached to the woman of his dreams. "Steph - I'll be home in the morning. Or maybe the afternoon. I'll call a cab. Hell, it'll cost me about a thousand dollars, but it'll be so worth - " Lester was cut off by the redhead spinning him around to face her and her tongue invading his mouth. He kissed her back fiercely and before I knew it, she was shoving him into the passenger's seat of a Mercedes and was preparing to peel out of the grass parking lot.
When they were gone, Tank and I turned back to McCarthy. "Well, what now?" McCarthy asked us, sighing impatiently.
"We're taking you back to Trenton," Tank replied. "Let's get you in the truck." He led McCarthy over to the Escalade and got him buckled into the backseat before slamming the door shut and locking it.
"Let me see where Bobby's at." As soon as the words left my mouth, my cell rang and Bobby's number flashed across the screen.
"Tell Tank to bring the truck around to the boat raffle area," Bobby shouted once he had me on the line. "Thank God he's got a boat hitch on the back of that thing!"
"Sure," I replied to Bobby.
We loaded into the Escalade and rode around to the other side of the park, where Bobby and a few other people were waiting next to the speed boat. It was already sitting on a trailer, so Tank backed in and set up the truck so that one of the contest officials could hitch the boat.
Tank frowned. "Brown. What in the hell are you going to do with this speed boat?"
Bobby shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. "Um, well, I thought Santos and I could play Miami Vice on it..."
Tank stalked around to the driver's side and Bobby and I got into the truck with him. "You're both idiots," Tank remarked. "By the way, Lula called my cell while you and Steph were using the Port-o-Potties down by the bandstand. We're going out tomorrow." Grinning, he pulled his four-leaf clover leaf out of his boot and brandished it. "Hot women and big bond money. This thing really does work."
We rode back to Trenton with a speed boat hitched to the bumper of the truck and a leprechaun-lookalike skip tied up in the backseat. It was one hell of a long drive, especially since McCarthy insisted on telling us his entire life story. And not the abridged version. I'd had enough of hearing about his crazy escapades by the time we were passing through Newark, and I'm sure Tank had, too. Bobby was too excited about his new speed boat to care about what McCarthy was yammering about. He was Googling boat marinas on his iPhone, trying to find the best place to store his new prize. Tank suggested keeping it out in front of the RangeMan building, but Bobby protested, saying it'll probably get stolen. I wasn't sure, but I had a feeling that's what Tank was getting at.
I frowned and stared out my window. "I'm glad you guys have all had good luck tonight," I said softly. "I lost my four-leaf clover leaf and banged up both of my knees after tripping over that lawn chair. All my good luck spun down the toilet of that Port-o-Potty I had dared to use before we left the park."
"Steph," Tank began. "Sometimes luck isn't all about catching skips, or winning boats, or getting laid and making money. Maybe it's about finding a good friend, or having a true love. Or being fortunate. Look at all you have. You've got friends and family who love you. To me, that's pretty damn lucky."
Leave it to Tank to make me tear up. "Yeah," I whispered. "I guess I just miss Ranger, that's all."
"I know you do," Tank said softly. He glanced at me in the rearview mirror and smiled sadly.
We reached the Mercer County Sheriff's Office by eleven that night and pulled around to the booking department. We got McCarthy out of the Escalade in one piece and Tank and I walked him inside to the docket lieutenant. When we reached the counter, McCarthy pulled a small piece of paper out of the pocket of his knickers with one of his handcuffed hands. He unfolded it out in front of him and handed it to me. It was well-worn, ripped, and wrinkled, but the writing on it could still be clearly read: Dance as if no one were watching, sing as if no one were listening, and live every day as if it were your last. Love will find you always and always you will be loved.
"What is this?" I asked McCarthy.
"Something that my great grandmother once gave to me. I've kept it close for many years. It's brought me much good luck in my lifetime." McCarthy sheepishly held up his handcuffed hands. "Well, until now. But you, young lady, look like you could use it more than I."
I held the fragile paper in my fingertips, trying hard not to put just one more wrinkle on it. The thing looked to be about a hundred years old, and I was next to positive that McCarthy would attack me if I let something happen to it on his watch.
"I - I don't know what to say," I said to McCarthy.
He smiled his toothy leprechaun-lookalike grin. "Keep it close, me darlin'. And when you've finally decided you have all the luck you can have for one lifetime, pass it along to someone who needs it. Just like I did for you."
"Thank you," I said. "I'll guard it with my life."
It was eleven-thirty when Tank and Bobby dropped me off at my apartment building. "Before he left for Iraq, Bossman gave us strict orders to walk you upstairs," Bobby informed me. "I'll go."
He and I exited the truck and I looked back at the outrageous speed boat attached to the Escalade. "I still can't believe you won that thing."
"Believe it, baby." Bobby began to hum the theme from Miami Vice and led me into the lobby. We rode the rickety elevator up to the second floor and Bobby inspected my alarm system when we approached my front door. "Nothing looks breached. I'll do a quick sweep of the foyer and living room and bedroom before I go. Okay?"
I nodded. "Sure."
Bobby and I crept into the cool, dark foyer. Rex was running on his wheel. The a/c had kicked on, and I'd left a light on in the living room. All was peaceful. "You're good here, Steph."
I hugged Bobby before walking him out. "Thanks for everything today, Bobby. Sorry you missed dinner with Kristen."
"It's okay," he replied. "I'll see her tomorrow." Bobby paused. "Think that'll bring you some Luck O' the Irish?" He gestured towards the piece of ratty paper that I still had in my hand.
I shrugged. "Probably not. But hey, it's still St. Patty's Day for another -" I glanced at my watch "- twenty seven minutes."
"You never know," Bobby said, laughing. "I'll catch you in the morning."
"Bye, Bobby. Hey, do me a favor and check on Les when you wake up? Call him and make sure he's still alive and hasn't died and gone to Irish-sex heaven?"
Bobby grinned. "Will do."
I shut the door after Bobby and kicked my boots off in the foyer. I needed a shower in the worst way, so I bypassed my bedroom and headed straight into the bathroom. I stripped off gear and clothing on my way and placed the ancient Irish blessing note from McCarthy on my bathroom vanity. I read over it one last time, feeling my eyes fill with tears as I stood naked next to the shower. Tank was right. Luck was about so much more than material possessions and money or scoring with hot women. I had a lot to be thankful for, and when I realized that, something inside me began to ache. It wasn't right. The guys all got their St. Patty's Day good luck tonight, but I was once again stuck without it.
I thought of Ranger and wondered what kind of luck he had. Obviously good luck, because the man has everything he's ever wanted and then some. The rustle of clothing behind me stopped me cold.
"Not everything I've ever wanted, babe," came a voice from the bathroom doorway.
I gasped and whirled around, instinctively trying to cover my nude body. "Ranger! What are you doing here? When did you get back?"
"Earlier today, while you were in Boston with the guys." Ranger approached me and molded his clothed body up against my warm naked one. He took my face in each of his hands and looked down into my eyes, grinning softly. "I've never been happier to see you in my entire life."
My heart soared. "Yeah?"
He nodded. "Yeah." Ranger lowered his lips to mine in a gentle kiss. "And where did you come up with the idea that you think I've got everything? Because I have money and successful businesses and cars?"
I shrugged in his arms. "I just figured you felt lucky by having those things."
"I do," Ranger agreed. "But there's one thing that I'm by far even luckier to have." He released me and toed off his boots, leaving them sitting in the corner by the bathroom door. His skin was an even darker shade of mocha from the unrelenting desert sun. His hair was cut short, like Lester's, in thick toussled spikes. He'd lost some bulk from his muscles, but he looked toned and more delicious than I'd ever seen him, standing in my bathroom in a tight black tee shirt and black cargoes. I watched as he pulled off his tee shirt and tossed it onto the vanity.
"Let me help you," I breathed, feeling myself succumb to the incredible feelings of having him half naked in front of me. I'd missed him so much. I unbuckled his belt and slid it from the loops before unbuttoning his pants. They slid over his lean hips and pooled at his feet, leaving him as naked as I. Ranger immediately pulled me up against him after stepping out of his pants and yanking off his socks.
When his warm body touched mine, I felt my own wetness dampen the tops of my thighs. "I want to show you how much you mean to me, babe." Ranger's lips came down on my own, gentle at first and becoming increasingly demanding as he sought entrance to my mouth with his tongue. I opened it for him, feeling the warmth from his mouth and tongue as it slid sensually over mine.
He backed me into the shower and turned on the water, ensuring that it was nice and warm before positioning me underneath the blistering spray. He soaped up a washcloth with my bodywash and began to run it over my heated skin, gently cleansing me from head to toe while I sudsed up my hair. When I was clean, he quickly soaped himself up and rinsed off before pulling me against him once more. He held me close for several moments, his hard length pressing into my lower belly.
"God, Ranger," I finally groaned against his neck. "I need you inside me."
Ranger was only too happy to comply. He backed me against the cool tile of the shower wall and kissed me deeply, bringing his hand up to my breast and gently tugging on my hypersensitive nipple. He switched to the other breast when I brought my leg up around his hip, drawing my wetness against the tip of him. When he sensed that I could no longer take his sweet torture, he braced his forearm up against the tile and guided himself into my throbbing, aching body, inch by excruciating inch.
"Dios," he ground out. "You feel so incredible. Shit, I have been dreaming about this moment for so long." He buried himself into me to the hilt and stilled to get control. His breaths blasted down onto my neck and he was physically shaking with need.
I was in pure bliss as Ranger's hips began to move slowly, pushing in and dragging back out as I matched him thrust for thrust. I couldn't get close enough to him. I held him to me as we slid together, the warm water streaming from the showerhead beating down on our bodies. He reached between us and slid his thumb in circles over my protruding clit, heightening the pleasure. I contracted around him, unable to continue to withstand the searing pressure that was flooding into my groin, and I screamed his name. With a growl that echoed off the tile walls and was music to my ears, Ranger sprayed his hot seed into my body and held me close to him as he came.
"Stephanie," he gasped out, still moving slowly within me. "I love you. I'm in love with you."
My heart contracted at his words. I brought his face to mine and kissed him, slow and deep, while he rode out the last tremors of his orgasm buried within my inner walls. "I'm in love with you, too," I breathed against his lips.
"Christ, you don't know how good it feels to hear you say that." Ranger choked out a breathless chuckle against my shoulder and then kissed it. "I thought about nothing else while I was in Iraq. You have no idea."
While Ranger and I held each other and made attempt after attempt to calm down, I stole a glance out into the bathroom through a crack in the shower door. The note from McCarthy was still sitting on the vanity. Was it true? Did things like that Irish blessing really bring good luck?
"I think my luck has finally changed," I admitted to Ranger with a smile as we stood together against the shower wall.
"What do you mean, babe?"
"I've found something far better than fancy material possessions and other things like that."
Ranger grinned, his white teeth blinding against the dark cocoa of his skin. "Am I your pot of gold, babe?"
I nodded and grinned back, feeling happier than I ever have in my short, sad life. "It's the Luck O' the Irish, I tell you."
"Well, happy St. Patrick's Day." Ranger tenderly kissed my neck and moved his lips down my chest and finally knelt before me, burying his face in my belly. "And it's about to get even better."
When his delicious tongue touched my aching folds, my head fell back against the tile as a huge grin burst out across my face.
Holy Blarney Stone, Batman!
The END! How'd you guys like it?