No Brainer ( The Darcy Walker Series #2) (46 page)

Take a deep breath, Darcy
, I told myself.
Take a deep breath and act like you’ve been here before.

I gave him a relieved smile, mixed with a little bit of a pout. “I was afraid you’d forgotten about me,” I pouted.

“Nah,” he said. “Elmer had something come up.”

So far, so good
, I heard Detective Battle say.

Cowboys had a big, black mechanical bull—a new attraction Dylan had heard about through his Orlando-based grapevine. Guys and girls took turns bucking to and fro like fools. It didn’t look particularly scary. In truth, it seemed rather fun until Elmer decided, “Buffy needs to take a ride.”

Holy. Bull. Gods.

I had no idea how to ride a freaking bull.

If you asked me how I’d come to sit on the bull, I’d say it was Divine Intervention because next thing I knew, I was sitting in a pit as a man in jeans and a cowboy hat flipped the “start” button. My hands sweat like a greasy pig as I gripped the reins and tentatively slid my boots inside the leather stirrups. At first, it was a piece of cake. The bull rocked slowly back and forth, but the moment I adjusted to the movement, the vibration began sending shock waves to my face. Vibrate. Pitch forward. Pulsate again. Pitch backwards. I flopped around like a fish out of water, but when the crowd erupted into cheers, my inner attention-getter threw her left arm in the air and YOLO’d it up.

Right on cue,
Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy
hit the airwaves, and the group grew even rowdier. I bucked. Rolled. Whipped my hair back and forth in a 360-degree circle. I looked like a freaking superstar. When I erroneously grinned at the operator, he took that as confirmation to give me the full rodeo treatment. Before I could scream “No,” he activated the buck-and-spin speed, and the shaking intensified. Starting at my butt bone, it traveled the length of my spine and stopped at the base of my chin, then unexpectedly dropped down to my girl parts. I moaned like a porn star—well, what I thought a porn star might sound like—but my guess was it was more like a wildebeest. My jean skirt rode up to the hoochie zone, and my Barely-Bs practically bounced up and hit me in the face.

Somewhere in the crowd, my eyes found Elmer who was jumping up and down like a kid at the candy store. I’m not sure if I broke a record for staying on the longest, but the moment I got cocky, the bull bucked me into the air, and I landed facedown onto the padded flooring.

My skirt was above my waist.

My panties were … exposed.

I didn’t sign on for this.

And I really didn’t sign on to watch Dylan receive a lap dance from head-over-high-heels-in-lust Yankee Knoblecker. The moment Elmer pulled me back to the dance floor, I spotted Dylan about 40 feet away dirty dancing—no, let me clarify,
filthy
dancing—with Yankee. Wearing a skin-tight, white stretchy dress, her hands snaked deep down into his back pockets, his arms resting on her shoulders. Yankee stood vastly shorter than Dylan, and her batting blue eyes stared up into his face like he held the answers to all of life’s problems.

Best case scenario? He was vying for a Golden Globe. Worst case? I’d perform hip and groin removal surgery later.

Trying to regulate my breathing, I recalled Elmer’s and my last exchange before he forced the mechanical bull on me. He claimed he’d been late because something came up … what was the something?

I blurted, “Elmer, was the ‘something’ that came up your girlfriend?”

Elmer ignored the question, doing a full-spin. “I like to dance, Buffy.” Even though the tempo had slowed, Elmer now square danced. He hooked his arm in mine, and I morphed into his robotic version. Luckily, I’d been trained in the genre. Although, my father had a radically conservative bent, on the days the stress became too much, he’d blast the stereo and dance until exhausted. Thing was, Murphy had complete body control and could go boneless on command; Elmer was in full-blown rigor mortis and needed a coffin.

The giggles and guffaws verified we looked like idiots.

Three songs later, my creativity suddenly went AWOL. I twined my fingers through his hairy stubs and took the party to a vacant two-seat bistro. After we were situated, Elmer dunked his stubby fingers in the wooden nut bowl and proceeded to shove peanuts one-by-one inside my closed mouth. I didn’t consider myself a germaphobe, but everyone knew you shouldn’t eat nuts in a bar. I smiled, reluctantly gulping them down. Picking up another, he left his finger resting on my lower lip.

Find a weakness and push
, I told myself. Once I thought about it, my tactic wasn’t complex. Elmer was a lunkhead. His involvement—whether with Gertrude, Polly, or even Lola—no doubt, meant errand boy.

Choking it down, I leaned over and gently placed my hand on his knee. “You’re a catch, Elmer.”

“You understand me,” he grumbled.

Tell him you do
, Detective Battle coached in my ear.

“Yes,” I swore, and as much as I hated to do it, I let my fingers swim in the bowl of nuts, grabbing a fingerful to feed him. “Doesn’t your girlfriend?”

“She don’t get me,” he munched.

“I’m sorry. Well, how’s your social life? Do you get out much?”

“The world doesn’t see enough of Elmer Herschel.”

“Why’s that?”

He grunted loud, “I babysit my woman’s kid.”

The verb in me started itching as I dumped the nuts onto the table, lining them up from biggest to smallest. “Boy or girl? I have a six-year-old little sister.”

Elmer crossed his leg over his knee, repositioning his tube socks. “Boy,” he answered in a frown. “He’s a five-year-old little brat.”

“My sister can be a handful, too,” I giggled.

Elmer flashed an impressive bucktoothed grin. “You look good tonight. My woman always looks good.”

“Your girlfriend? What does she look like?”

“Good,” he repeated.

“What’s her name?” I asked, hoping he’d let it slip.

“We have nicknames.”

“Oh, yeah? What are they?”

“That’s a secret, Buffy. Elmer wants to hold you.” I didn’t want to sit on Elmer’s lap, but a sting meant I’d pretty much signed on for anything.

When I’d halfway scooted onto his lap, he surprised me by turning the tables and crawling onto mine. My lap collapsed in protest but surprisingly held up the weight. “What does her little boy look like?” I choked out.

“Your normal little boy except this one’s too smart.”

The conversation felt like an exercise in futility. I glanced around for Dylan, merely to get a nod of encouragement, but he appeared too busy dipping Yankee to the ground amidst a quintet of girls waiting their turns. I frowned to myself. Wow, we needed to have a talk, but that was so totally on the backburner.

Keep it rolling
, I heard in my ear. “Comfy?” I asked.

“Are you going to tell Elmer why you came to the Saturday night game? We saw you there. And why were you at our apartment building?”

If I were crossing the street, let’s just say a cab nailed me.

I would’ve sworn he hadn’t recognized me. With my heart now beating louder than the music, I decided to be
unbelievably
and perhaps
stupidly
blunt.

“What’s the name of the little boy, Elmer?” I whispered.

He hesitated, as his body grew stiffer. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do,” I said. “Somebody’s making you keep him. You took him. You framed the grandparents by putting that dye in their home and scared them into thinking you’d throw their daughter in jail.”
Be careful
, I heard Battle growl.

“Why would I do that?”

“You knew about Lola’s identity as Lynx, and for some reason, you wanted to keep her services. What better way to do that than to threaten her little boy?”

“If the grandparents were innocent, why would they run?” Elmer asked slyly.

“Perhaps they were more afraid of standing still.”

In one blink, Elmer morphed from boneheaded errand boy, to cold, calculating, and not-to-be-messed with felon. “Buffy has a very active imagination,” he warned.

Somehow, I kept my voice even-keel. “If it isn’t true, then why did you agree to meet me?”

“Elmer was curious. Plus, Elmer’s an exceptional dancer.”

I didn’t know what to do next. I practically had a confession, but to close the book on the case, I needed a name. “Is Cisco okay?”

“That’s not his name no more,” he muttered. “We changed it.”

Sweet mercy … whoa … wow. Sonovagun.

Detective Battle gasped in my ear.
We’ve got him!
he shouted.
Get his location, and give me her name
.

“Who does Lola play for, Elmer?” I pushed. “Who’s X?”

Elmer buried his face in my neck, tightening his arms like a child not wanting to let go. “Elmer doesn’t want to answer that.”

“Does your girlfriend hold you?” I asked, trying another angle.

“Not a lot. I think she’s using Elmer.”

“But you love her?” I whispered. Elmer nodded. I honestly think I was conversing with multiple people the way he eased in and out of first and third person speech. “You’re in love with a woman that makes you do things you don’t necessarily want to do.”

He jumped to another personality, his voice dripping with cynicism. “Nah, Elmer doesn’t care to do them. We just wanted to know what Buffy knows.”

Even though he was a flaming fruitcake, I was guardedly optimistic I could close this deal. My gut said to keep up the surrogate mommy routine. As Elmer nestled in tighter, a tentative yet determined hand latched onto my shoulder. I glanced back into the eyes of a confused, agitated, and totally abhorred Kyd. By the expression on his face, he was one sentence away from blowing the lid off of everything.

Bloody hell…

“Hey,” he frowned, jerking his head toward Elmer. “Who’s the date?” Kyd yanked Elmer off of my lap, holding him down in his seat, one hand angrily glued to his shoulder.

“This is Elmer,” I explained.
Keep Elmer talking
, Detective Battle warned in my ear.

“Elmer,” Kyd repeated, suspiciously eying him. “Does Taylor know about Elmer?”

We both immediately scanned the dance floor and spotted Dylan savagely fighting his way through a crowd that was within inches of fire code violation. He didn’t just fight the crowd. It was like Moses parting the Red Sea and then smiling when the bad guys drowned. A glance behind him, leaning up against the bar, unveiled a smiling Grizzly chatting up a brunette.
Say what??
I might as well have seen a geyser in the Sahara Desert. I didn’t do anything for a beat. No breaths in. No breaths out. Just stood there and realized I was totally out of my league. The girl accompanying him was string bean skinny and model-tall. Bubbly. Trendy. Wearing a smile that promised dumber-than-dirt. Detective Battle was dead-on. This girl looked right around my age. If Gertrude still held the title of Grizzly’s significant other, trouble definitely brewed in botox paradise.

Right then, a man eased out of the shadows, tapping Grizzly on the shoulder. Like Grizzly, his build was stalwart, and he’d dressed in lightweight khaki pants and a short-sleeved silk shirt. His white hair was shorn short, everything tailored to perfection, but a voice in my head warned “too perfect.” When Grizzly turned to face him, the man angled his face backwards, briefly glancing in my direction. He wore mirrored sunglasses, so it was virtually impossible to get a read on him, but what features I could distinguish sucked me under; it’s as though my body had knowledge of something my mind hadn’t quite registered.

“I-I’m busy, Kyd,” I stammered, my throat constricting.

Kyd pulled me out of my seat, sandwiching me between him and a profusely sweating Elmer. “I would’ve brought you tonight,” he said tightly. “What’s up?”

Insert nervous laughter
. “Wh-where’s Mary?” I sputtered.

“We’re on a break,” he answered, eyes narrowing.

Elmer stood up, his nose crammed into Kyd’s chin. “Elmer’s going to break your face. Get away from my woman.”

Kyd laughed loudly, “Darcy’s not your woman.”

“Darcy?” Elmer asked confused.

She’s been made!
Detective Battle screamed in my ear.

If I’d had a sword, I would’ve fallen on it. It would’ve been less painful than what came next. In one heartbeat, Elmer’s eyes turned violent, and his voice spluttered and yowled things unidentifiable to the human ear. Next thing I knew, he went kung-fu fighter and smacked me twice in the face. My jaw stung with the force, and my vision went on whiteout, rolling like the smoke of a rapidly growing fire. I took a deep breath to fill my lungs but still felt like I’d hit a brick wall.

Kyd’s eyes flashed angrily—his temper gaining speed like a tropical storm in the Gulf. He crumpled Elmer’s collar in his angry fist. “You idiot! Now you’ve really pissed me off!”

It went downhill fast from there.

I considered myself a lover, not a fighter, but when it came to little kids, I always thought of Marjorie. Granted, she’d probably be a stripper someday, but Cisco might find the cure for the common cold or even be a televangelist. So as I swung on their behalf, Kyd cursed and punched, embracing his bad-boy side. Elmer wasn’t exactly what I’d call a seasoned brawler. In fact, his shortcomings were more pronounced than mine. After a bloodcurdling, girly scream, he took a swipe at Kyd but accidentally jacked the jaw of a bystander. This guy went berserk and came at all three of us like a mixed martial arts champion. His arms and legs performed roundhouse kicks accompanied by a hand thrust under the jaw. Thankfully, Elmer received the brunt of it, but amidst the flailing arms and legs, I received a bloody lip, nuts down my bra, and a few bottles whizzed by my head.

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