\ 22:50 "After Hours" | unlimitedi.net
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Slàinte Pub

Alison turned to face Pablo, who came up beside her as Cadee left to return to her work. She smiled at him abashedly and said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to abuse my position now. This isn’t my usual thing anymore, but there’s a story out there.”

Pablo's brow knitted. He had sort of forgotten this aspect of her personality. The newshound. Keeping the secrets of the SCU right after he was recruited to the unit had contributed to them drifting apart.

"I suppose if I’m going to play cop on our dates I have to expect you to play reporter."

"'Fraid so. A good reporter's never off-duty either." She leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek. "I promise I'll only be a few minutes, I just want to get some snaps. Can I tell your cop buddies out there that you've given me an exclusive?"

"I suppose," he said reluctantly. He was certain that they'd give the cover story that they had hastily thrown together. Anything vague or suspicious would be covered by 'that information is pending the investigation'.

"Just hurry back, I'd hate to ruin a date on account of work, for either of us."

“Definitely. If you want to finish off your poppers, I’ll be back before you know it.” She grinned at him and left him to find his own way back to his original table. Heading to the side door to get her pictures, she realised there was still activity nearby.

“No, I’m not going to hospital!”

It was the injured man in the booth who was talking. Alison could see that the EMT had more or less finished ministering first aid and was now speaking to someone on his radio – presumably with the ambulance outside. Seeing the merest of opportunities, Alison slid into the seat opposite the man while the EMT was busy conferring with his colleagues. Fishing around in her purse, she pulled out her digital recorder and set it on the table in front of her.

“Hi,” she said, sliding one of her business cards across to the man. “I’m Alison Scruggs, reporter. The Detective over there says you’re a hero. Would you mind talking to me about what happened? Just a brief statement will be fine.”

Logan gritted his teeth as the pain in his shoulder flared up. Ah shit. He could just imagine how mad Romano would be if it came out that Logan was somehow attached to this debacle. Low profile was one of his boss's major mantras.

"I'm not a hero," he finally said, trying to play up the pain so that maybe the reporter would leave him alone. "There was a guy in trouble and I did what I could to help him out, that's all really.” Keep it simple, he thought. Give her one little comment and maybe she wouldn’t fish around for more info.

Hmm. It was one of these non-talkative types. It wasn’t surprising, given his reluctance for medical treatment. Clearly this man had secrets of his own – but she wasn’t interested in those right now. She pushed gently. “A guy in trouble? I heard he was on fire. Did you see what happened?”

"It really happened pretty fast," he said, trying to come up quickly with some sort of story that would appease her appetite and stop any follow up questions. "I was coming out of here; saw these punks picking on some homeless guy. By the time I got there, the guy was up in flames and the punks jumped me."

"Wow. Most people in New York would just look the other way, you know. So what happened next?" Having already got Pablo’s side of the story, she knew there was more to it, and wanted to see how closely this man’s account matched Pablo’s.

"Then I did my best to try and fight the punks off and get the guy to drop and roll. I wasn't able to get to him in time, but I did manage to knock out a couple of the guys before the cops came out to help. They opened fire and it was all over. I was pretty banged up though...like I said, it's a bit of a blur."

"Well, you did far more than most people would. May I have your name for the story?" She saw the frown begin to crease his forehead before she'd even finished asking, and she couldn't say she was surprised. He'd already tried to refuse the EMT and had refused a trip to the hospital. "I won't publish it if you don't want me to," she added quickly, trying to allay his fears.

He sighed, relieved that she wasn't going to push it more than that. "My name's Logan... off the record."

"Off the record," she confirmed. "If you're not going to the hospital, you probably ought to get home and rest soon. Thanks for your time, Logan."

There was no way he’d agree to having his photo taken, she knew, so she didn’t even bother to ask. Instead, she slipped out the nearby side door that Pablo had used to bring Logan inside, and surveyed the alleyway where it seemed the bulk of the action had taken place. A couple of detectives were already on the scene – presumably Pablo’s drinking buddies, but they were busy directing EMT’s who were just zipping up a body bag. Knowing she had scant moments to get a candid shot, she held up her iPhone and grabbed a series of snaps of the alleyway, then zoomed in on the pair of body bags lying on the ground.

In the street beyond, she could make out the smouldering wreckage of a car, and tried to edge a bit closer to get a better angle on it.


She turned her head, her press pass already in hand. She lifted it up to show the advancing cop. “Hello, Detective. Alison Scruggs. I was just trying to get a couple of photos. I happened to be in the bar waiting for my old friend, Pablo Sandoval, when all this happened. He just gave me an exclusive on the story.” She smiled sweetly at the Detective. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, so she hazarded a guess. “You must be Charley, I suppose.”

He’d looked just about ready to order her back inside regardless of her story, but when she knew his name, he hesitated. “Look, you really shouldn’t be here,” he said sternly.
“This is an active crime scene. But since you’re Pablo’s friend, I’ll escort you up a little ways. But then you’re going right back inside, okay?”

“That’s fine. Thanks, I appreciate it.”

She got some good photos of the Prius and the attendant pileup, took photos of the Detectives, the EMTs and even sneaked in another shot or two of the body bags as they were loaded into the back of an ambulance. She made sure to get everyone’s name and chatted with Charley, getting yet another angle on the story. He spun the same line about a group of guys attacking some homeless man. Finally she flashed a smile at her escort.

“That’s it. I’ll get back out of your hair. Thank you so much, Charley.”

Back inside Slàinte, she pocketed her iPhone and recorder, and peered around looking for Pablo. He was back in his original booth, polishing off the jalapeno poppers. She joined him, sitting opposite him, and pushed a half-drunk beer out of her way. “They’re just about done out there. The bodies were being loaded into the ambulance when I left. Thanks for indulging me. It’s been a while since I did a crime scene like this, but I was right here…” She shrugged. “I couldn’t pass it up.”

"I wish I'd passed up the poppers. Blecch...they’re sitting kind of heavy."

She laughed at his stupid joke and in that moment he remembered what it was that had made him go to all this trouble to reconnect. He missed her, he realized. He'd dated a few women in the last seven years but they'd been short come-and-go relationships. They fit together in their lives but not their jobs. He held hope that time had changed that.

"So what would you like to do from here?"

"Well..." Alison gazed around the pub, seeing the red and blue flashes from outside reflecting off the mirrors behind the bar. "I'm easy. It's okay here, but I'd understand if you want to go somewhere else, all things considered. Hell, they may ask you to fill out paperwork or something. We can't be having that."

She picked up one of the poppers off the plate. They were starting to cool, but were still warm enough. Biting down on it, she grinned at Pablo. "Do you know, I don't think I've eaten one of these since... well, since we used to go out."

No guts, no glory, Sandoval thought. "We could take a cab back to my place in East Harlem." He let the suggestion hang for only a second before taking the hand she'd been
casually wiping on a napkin.

Alison raised an eyebrow. “Oh, Mr. Keen, are we?” she said lightly.

He replied offhandedly, "No pressure. Just two friends. Coffee. I might even have something on the video we could watch. Or...if it's too late, I'll gallantly see that you get home first."

"You know, my place is a lot closer than East Harlem. I'm just in Greenwich Village. And I have coffee."

"That makes the gallant part easy," he said, tossing some cash on the table. "Let's go. Cab or walk?"

2021-05-11 23:20 – Tuesday
Greenwich Village

Alison kicked off her shoes in the kitchen and padded over her hardwood floors to where Pablo sat at the dining table by the picture window. The view from the penthouse loft was impressive, especially at night. She handed a steaming cup of coffee to him and stood for a moment, staring out the window.

"I never get sick of this view. New York at night looks like someone's gone mad with Christmas lights. It's so beautiful."

She pulled out a chair and sat, resting her cup on a coaster to let it cool a little. It was just a trifle too hot to drink yet. "I owe this all to Lucinda Graves. That, and people's insatiable appetite for a good vampire story."

"Vampires and insatiable appetites go together well," he said cryptically. "From up here you might think everything was normal. But don't let this cynical cop ruin it for you."

He dragged his eyes away from the vista, and concentrated on Alison. "How much of Alison is Lucinda?"

Alison pondered that one for a moment. "It's hard to say. When I'm writing, I'm probably as much like her as I'll ever be. I let my imagination run wild and despite all the horrible things I put my heroine through I almost envy her the exciting life she leads. When I'm out in public as the author of the Darque series, though, it can be hard to keep up that sexy façade." She shrugged. "It feels pretentious a lot of the time, but it's the image we've cultivated and it seems to sell books."

"You don't have to put on sexy, it is part of who you are," he grinned at her. "Seductorisima."

She felt a slight blush creep up her neck and she glanced down at her coffee. Deciding it was cool enough to drink she picked it up and sipped at it, using the time to get herself under control. She discarded half a dozen flip lines to use in reply and settled instead for changing the subject.

"So what about you? Being a hard-boiled New York cop can't be easy.”
She figured she might as well just take the plunge and ask the question that was uppermost in her mind – the reporter part of her, at least. She wasn’t willing to listen to the other part of her just yet. “What sort of cases do you have to deal with, anyway? Your card said Special Crimes - but that could mean anything."

Where did that come from? Damn her reporter instincts. "You know how if a criminal commits a crime over state lines it goes to the FBI? Or if they threaten national security they go to Homeland Security? Or when it is a matter of diplomats and foreign powers the CIA takes the case? We make that determination. We act a central liaison between federal agencies and the NYPD. Our unit was formed just after 9-11 to deal with coordinating the New York enforcement agencies FDNY, NYPD, Border Patrol, Subways systems and City Hall with the US Government. New York does so much that it needs someone to figure out who to call when it goes over our heads."

Wow, write that down, it almost sounded plausible! he thought.

Alison blinked. Wow, he's good. That almost sounded plausible.

She toyed absently with her coffee cup, her eyes fixed on Pablo's face. The signs were subtle, but she was sure he wasn't telling her everything. "Uh huh," she said noncommittally. "So... what was Code 77? And why would the EMT see something strange? I get the feeling those weren't just regular thugs."

His expression hardened ever so slightly, and she grimaced. "Look, I know you've probably got sensitive material you have to deal with. And you think I'm just being a nosy reporter type. And, well, to an extent I am. But I'm happy to write a story about a homeless guy being attacked by hoods. I just want to know, for myself, what sort of work are you really involved in? If we're... I mean, if this... you and me meeting up again like this, if it's what it feels like, then I want to know."

Pablo sat quietly for a long moment.

Look at the time; I've kept you up too late, already.

He looked into her eyes and at her face and the soft curls of her hair on her shoulder and remembered what it smelled like in the cab.

I'm sorry, that's classified. I'm sure you'll understand.

He watched the steam from her coffee curling past her face and realized she was holding her breath.

We have just built this bridge, Alison, do you want to burn it so soon?

"Alison, if I tell you: am I telling you...or the reporter in you?"

Damn you for an idiot, Alison Patricia Scruggs, she berated herself. She let out her breath slowly, her lungs beginning to burn from holding it for that interminable pause while she watched an entire world of possibilities hang by a thread.

She reached over and laid her hand on his where it rested on the table. "You know what?
As long as you have to ask that question, I don't need to know that badly. Please, just tell me that you're not doing anything that's going to put you in danger. Well, no more than any cop does, that is."

"The mission is to enforce the laws, preserve the peace, reduce fear, and provide for a safe environment," he said soberly. "But there are ... obligations that come with that mission that I can't really talk about with you. Not right now anyways. It's good work though, Alison, just like it always has been."

"I don't doubt that for a second, not with you."

"I never thought you did. But part of my mission includes secrets. For what it's worth, a 'Code 77' isn't my secret; it belongs to a federal agency. It’s a pre-arranged message. It means 'I'll be in later to sign the paperwork.' Really."

"Sure it is," Alison rejoindered with a sly grin, lightening her tone to turn it into more of a joke. "Ooh, I know. You're Mulder and you're looking for aliens."

He stared at her for a beat, "That's a science fiction reference, isn't it? Sorry, I never got into it much. Just hopeless, I guess. I don't suppose your appreciation for modern art has improved either, has it?"

Alison shook her head. "Nope. I may have to tie you down and force you to watch Firefly in return for you dragging me to a gallery."

He stood up and walked over to hold her shoulders, "I want to try again. We have to remember who we are and discover who we've become. It isn't like starting over, it's like..." He glanced at his watch. "It’s like midnight. It's tomorrow already. Time to start a new day."

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