Book Two, Harmony Falls Series
Copyright 2020 Elizabeth Kelly
Seven years ago
“You about to pussy out on me?”
Gideon shifted on the chair he was straddling before laying his arms across the back of the seat and resting his forehead on them “Keep going.”
He could almost feel Preacher’s gaze burrowing into his throbbing back. A few seconds later, the buzz of the tattoo gun started again, and Gideon forced himself not to flinch.
Why the hell had he let the tattoo artist talk him into such a detailed tattoo?
The owner of the tattoo shop, a man inexplicably named Greaser, ambled over, bringing the scent of stale cigarettes and body odour with him. “That lion’s looking pretty good.”
Preacher grunted out a thanks, barely heard above the sound of the tattoo gun.
“You gonna add some shading to that side?”
The gun clicked off and Gideon flinched when Preacher swiped across his abraded skin with a cloth. “You gonna let me do my fucking job?”
“All right, all right.” Greaser held his hands up. “What the fuck crawled up your ass and died this morning?”
“Fuck off, Greaser,” Preacher snarled.
“Watch your mouth,” Greaser replied, but there was no heat in his words.
Gideon didn’t blame him. Preacher was the only guy Gideon knew who was bigger than him. Considering Gideon was just shy of 6’4 and Preacher had at least an inch on him, it officially put Preacher in the ‘do not fuck with me’ category for most people who met him. The tattoo artist was built lean like Gideon was, but Gideon figured he was still at least two thirty-five, maybe two forty.
The gun buzzed to life again and this time when he couldn’t help but flinch, Preacher snorted behind him. “You need me to hold your hand for a bit, maybe call your mommy for you?”
Gideon grimaced as the needle danced over his skin. “Tell me why I give you my money for this kind of pain again?”
“Because I’m the best artist in this whole fucking city,” Preacher said. “And chicks dig tattoos.”
“I thought it was scars they dug,” Greaser said.
Gideon couldn’t see it, but from the way Greaser walked away, he figured Preacher was giving him the look. He’d been on the receiving end of it himself, but after four years of friendship with the tattoo artist, he was mostly immune to it. Mostly.
“God, I hate that fucking asshole,” Preacher said under his breath. “He fucking sucks as a boss and half the time he’s so fucking jacked on coke, he can’t tattoo worth shit. He keeps fucking up the clients the way he does, and this place is gonna go under. He’s barely keeping it afloat now.”
“Give you a reason to finally open up your own shop,” Gideon said.
Preacher didn’t reply and Gideon twisted his head to stare at him over his shoulder. “You talk to Vic about that business loan yet?”
Preacher continued tattooing, filling in stroke after stroke of the lion’s mane across the back of Gideon’s right shoulder. If he didn’t know him better, he’d think Preacher’s concentration was so focused, he hadn’t heard him.
He knew him better.
“I gave you Vic’s number for a reason,” Gideon said. “He said he might be able to help. Call him.”
Preacher shut the tattoo gun off and wiped across the tattoo. “No bank manager is gonna give an ex-con a fucking loan.”
“You won’t know until you ask,” Gideon said. “At least call him and make an appointment.”
“I met with him this morning.” Preacher’s jaw was tense, and a muscle ticked at his temple.
“Like I said, no bank manager is gonna give an ex-con a loan.”
Gideon muttered a curse. “Sorry, man.”
Preacher just shrugged before he tilted his neck back and forth, working out the kinks. Gideon shook out the tension in his shoulders and arms, hating the thick disappointment that radiated from Preacher in waves.
“If you can sit another couple hours, I’ll finish this today,” Preacher said.
His back already felt like mincemeat, but Gideon nodded. Preacher would never come right out and say it, but he needed a friend right now. “Sounds good.”
He grabbed the bottle of water sitting on the floor next to his chair and took a long drink before leaning forward and resting his arms on the back of the chair again.
Preacher started tattooing and Gideon raised his voice above the buzzing. “You wanna get a beer after this?”
“Thought you had a game tonight with your cop friends,” Preacher said.
“I can miss it.”
Preacher huffed out a laugh. “Bullshit. You never miss baseball.”
“You should join the league,” Gideon said.
“Sports aren’t my thing,” Preacher said.
“So, you try something new. It won’t kill you,” Gideon replied. “The guys would love to -”
“You seriously trying to pull that horseshit on me?” Preacher stopped tattooing. “Your cop buddies can’t figure out why the fuck we’re even friends. You think I don’t see the way they look at me at poker night?”
“They’re just pissed because you take all their money,” Gideon said.
“Not my fault they fucking suck at poker,” Preacher said.
“It’s kinda cute, you know. The cop and the robber being best buds,” Greaser called out from his station. “It’s like that cartoon cat and mouse … what the hell were their names again? Tom and Harry?”
“Jerry, you fucking moron,” Preacher said. “Now do me a favour and mind your own fucking business.”
“Harry and Jerry don’t sound right,” Greaser muttered before returning to his sketch book. Gideon stared at the floor as Preacher resumed tattooing. He knew the other guys at the precinct found his friendship with Preacher strange, but it didn’t bother him. Preacher had served his time behind bars and kept his nose clean since his release. Hell, in another two months, his parole would be finished, and he would have real freedom again.
Their friendship shouldn’t have worked, but it had since Gideon walked into the tattoo shop, four years ago. Preacher didn’t exactly have a heart of gold, but he was a good man, despite how hard he tried to hide it.
The tattoo covered ex-con had become one of his closest friends – hell, he was probably his best friend – since Gideon had moved to New Cassel. Homesick for his hometown of Harmony Falls and missing his family, he’d decided to get a tattoo on a whim. An old school rose on his left shoulder, like the one his father had. He’d booked an appointment at the first tattoo shop that came up on Google, choosing Preacher as his artist because he had the next available opening.
Gideon smiled a little. The rest, as they said, was history.
“We still on for Friday night?” Gideon asked.
“Nah, man, I can’t make it this time.”
“Why not?” Preacher might refuse to join the softball league, but he never missed their monthly poker night.
“Got other plans.”
Preacher’s voice sounded off. Gideon turned, eliciting a curse from Preacher as he yanked the tattoo gun away from Gideon’s back. “The fuck, man? You trying to mess up your tattoo?”
Gideon studied Preacher’s face. “What are your other plans?”
“Who are you, my goddamn mother? I got plans, okay?” Preacher made a twirling motion with his finger. “Turn the fuck around so I can finish.”
Gideon continued to study him, and Preacher rolled his eyes. “Dinner with some old friends. There, you happy, Mom?”
“Why are you lying to me?”
“I’m not,” Preacher said, but he wouldn’t look him in the eye.
“Preacher, what -”
“Drop it, Gideon,” Preacher growled.
Gideon turned back around. He hadn’t been a cop for all that long, but he’d already started to develop that tingling at the base of his skull that his partner, a twenty-five-year veteran named Maurice, referred to as ‘cop sense’.
The tingle was there now. So strong that it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Preacher was lying to him. He didn’t know why Preacher was lying, but he had a bad fucking feeling about it.
* * *
“Tell me something.” Maurice glanced at him as he stopped at a red light.
“What’s that?’ Gideon scanned the empty street around them. It was almost three in the morning and anyone out at this time of the night would be suspicious.
“How many ladies you get just because of those weird eyes of yours?”
Gideon laughed. “Knock it off, Maurice.”
“I’m serious. I’m fifty-two years old and I’ve never met anyone with two different coloured eyes before. To tell you the truth, a guy with one blue eye and one green eye freaks me out a little, but I imagine the ladies go crazy for it. What’s it called again? The condition you have?”
“It’s called heterochromia and it’s not a condition. You make it sound like I have some sort of disease for God’s sake,” Gideon said with another laugh.
Maurice just shrugged. “The ladies like it though, don’t they?”
“Yeah,” Gideon admitted.
“Knew it. Ain’t none of the ladies even take a second gander at my eyes. Guess that’s what happens when they’re shit brown in colour.” Maurice stepped on the gas when the light turned green.
“You starting to regret taking the extra shift?” Maurice turned left and cruised down the quiet and empty street.
Gideon shook his head. “No.”
“You missed out on poker night.” Maurice scanned the street as he drove.
“Probably a good thing. The guys were getting tired of me taking their money,” Gideon said.
Maurice grunted out a laugh. “More like the ex-con taking their money.”
“The ex-con has a name,” Gideon said.
“What the hell kind of name is Preacher anyway?” Maurice said. “Sure as shit, he’s no fucking choir boy. I don’t care how good he’s been since he paroled out.”
Gideon frowned when Maurice suddenly pulled over and parked. “What are you doing?”
Maurice jerked his thumb to a car across the street. “Speak of the choir boy himself.”
Gideon squinted in the darkness. The car was parked well away from the puddle of light the streetlamp cast on the ground, but he still recognized Preacher. A man his size was hard to not recognize.
“What the fuck is he doing just sitting there?” Maurice asked.
“I don’t know. I’ll go find out.” Gideon opened the car door as Maurice settled back in the driver’s seat, already reaching for his phone. The sound of the Candy Crush music drifted out of Maurice’s phone and Gideon climbed out quickly, shutting the door to muffle the annoying music.
He crossed the street, tugging at his vest and turning his radio down. He stopped in front of the driver’s door. Preacher, his big hands gripping the steering wheel, stared grimly out the windshield. After a moment, Gideon rapped on the window. When Preacher didn’t respond, he rapped again. “Open up, Preacher.”
Preacher rolled down the window. “Hey. What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” Gideon said.
Preacher’s gaze dropped to his body cam.
“I haven’t activated it yet,” Gideon said. “Whose car is this?”
“A friend’s,” Preacher said. “Why are you working tonight?”
“I took an extra shift. What’s going on? I thought you were having dinner with old friends?”
Preacher just shrugged and looked out the windshield again. Gideon watched the bead of sweat roll down the side of his face. “Look at me, Preacher.”
“Just go, Gideon.” Preacher’s hands were gripping the steering wheel so tightly, Gideon wasn’t sure how it hadn’t snapped.
Preacher’s voice was edged in bright panic. Gideon’s cop sense kicked in, that tingling at the base of his skull that made the world a little brighter and sounds a little louder. He bent down, putting his face near Preacher’s. “Tell me what the hell is going on.”
Preacher didn’t answer, but his gaze flicked to the right at the row of buildings before arrowing in on the road ahead of him again. Gideon stared at the buildings. The street ran behind the back of a small strip mall. There wasn’t much in the mall, just a couple of higher-end women’s clothing shops, a Starbucks, a dentist office and - Gideon’s stomach tightened - a jewelry store.
Preacher was parked on the street directly behind the jewelry store. Gideon gripped the window edge of the car and glanced behind him. He could see the glow of Maurice’s phone and see the vague shape of Maurice’s face as he played his Candy Crush game.
He faced Preacher again, pitching his voice low despite Maurice’s distraction and the emptiness of the street. “Tell me what’s going on.”
“If you’re my friend, you’ll get back in your car and fucking leave,” Preacher said.
“It’s because I’m your friend that I can’t leave,” Gideon said. “You working a job?”
Preacher’s jaw clenched so hard that Gideon was surprised he didn’t hear molars cracking. “What if I am?”
“Don’t do this, Preacher. Not when you’re so close to being free.”
“I have to,” he said.
“No, you don’t,” Gideon replied. “Your parole is done in two months. Don’t fuck that up.”
Preacher sucked in a breath. “I’m never gonna get a loan. If I want my own shop, I need money. This is how I get it.”
“This is not how you fucking get it,” Gideon said. “You think being a getaway driver for a bunch of two-bit thieves is gonna give you your dream? How’d that work out for you the last time you did this? Huh?”
Preacher didn’t reply and Gideon reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “Four years you were behind bars, man. Four goddamn years. You really want to go back to that place? Do you want to be that guy again?”
When Preacher stayed silent, Gideon said, “Drive away.”
“I can’t. I need the money,” Preacher said.
“Not like this.” Gideon glanced behind him again. Maurice was giving him an impatient look and he raised his hand in a ‘one minute’ gesture. “I’ll help you get the money to open your own shop. I swear. We’ll find a way to make it work together. All you have to do is leave.”
“I leave and I’ll never have my own shop.”
“You will,” Gideon said. “I promise you.”
When Preacher stayed silent, Gideon said, “Simon, trust me.”
Preacher’s nostrils flared and he sucked in another deep lungful of oxygen.
Gideon stepped away from the car. “Drive away, Simon. Please.”
A muscle ticking rapidly under his left eye, Preacher turned the car on and, with a final look at Gideon, drove away.
Gideon activated his body cam and pulled his gun from his holster before glancing behind him at Maurice. The older cop was already climbing out of the car. Gideon walked toward the service door of the jewelry store, checking his surroundings as he drew closer to the building.
The door swung open and he raised his gun, pointing it at the two men who walked out. They stared at him in silent shock, black cotton masks over their faces and each of them holding one of those reusable grocery bags.
As Maurice’s footsteps drew close, Gideon smiled at the two men. “Good evening gentlemen. I’ll need you to raise your hands, nice and slow."”