In Jack's Arms (Fighting Connollys)(2)

By: Roxie Rivera


"Eric, they didn’t take anything useful. They totally bypassed the big-ticket items like jewelry and

electronics. They didn't even try to get to the firearms. All they took were the video cameras and cell

phones."

He frowned. "That's all?"

I nodded. "So far that's the only thing that's missing back here. What kind of a gang robs a store full of expensive, easy to fence jewelry and doesn't even take a single gold chain?"

"You've seen some of the dumbasses who run with the crews around here." Eric shot me a troubling look. "Of course, this might have been a message."

"From?"

"You're in a tricky spot here, Abby. You've got the Hermanos that way and the 1-8-7 crew that way." He gestured to his left and right with his thumb. "Now that John Hagen is getting out of the sharking game, the word is that the Albanians are pushing down into this territory."

Nothing that Eric said was a revelation to me. I had lived and worked in this neighborhood long enough

to know all the angles and all the power players. "I doubt it's the Albanians."

"Yeah, because they're such warm and fuzzy guys."

"I don't know about warm and fuzzy but I've never had problems with any of them."

"Probably because your granddad used to play nice with Afrim Barisha before he got himself shot and

stuffed in a trunk," Eric brusquely replied. "Don't think I don't know about all that under the table dealing those two did."

"I wouldn't know a thing about that." I did, actually, know quite a bit about the way Granddad used to take payments for the Albanian loan shark who operated out of the backroom of a bar a few blocks over

from us. After inheriting the business, I put a stop to it, but I had managed to maintain a cordial relationship with Besian Beciraj, the mob captain who had stepped in to fill the power void.

"You had better not," Eric gently warned. "That's not a world you want to get mixed up in, Abby. It's dark and dangerous business. Stick to pawning and making loans. It's safer."

I considered some of the violent and threatening customers who came through the front door. "Some

days."

"Fair enough." He conceded that fact with a smile. "Look, I'm going to keep an eye on this case. To me, this burglary was part of a bigger pattern. You had an attempted break-in a few weeks ago and then this real break-in last night. They stole from you but not enough to hurt you. Someone is trying to intimidate you—

and who is more likely than Besian?"

"He doesn’t need to intimidate me. Our business models are totally different. I operate on the right side of the law, and he operates on the wrong one."

"It could be about a protection tax."

"Well, I'm a skilled negotiator, Eric. I've got this one."

"Don’t be so cocky, Abby. You can't do everything on your own."

"I've done a pretty good job so far." Eric knew only too well what sort of childhood I had survived before Granddad had stepped in to adopt me and my older brother. At a very early age, I had learned that I could count on no one but myself—and that I needed to be able to talk my way out of any situation. "We'll be fine, but I really appreciate you showing so much concern."

"This pawn shop has been around since the fifties, and your family is one of the oldest in this

neighborhood. The businesses on this block are the main reason this area has stayed safe and prosperous. I want it to stay that way."

"So do I."

Eric signaled the end of that discussion with a short bob of his head. "So how is Mattie doing? I'll admit I was upset that he wasn't placed on my baseball team this year. I really miss him at short stop, and no one trash talks from the dugout like Mattie."

I grinned at the funny memories Eric evoked. For the last four years, the detective had been coaching a

special needs baseball team every summer. The program had gotten so popular that they had added two

more coaches and teams this year. "Mattie was sad that he didn't make your team, but he seems to really enjoy Jack and Finn's coaching style."

Eric issued a throaty sound of annoyance and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves those

Connolly brothers." He gave a snort of amusement. "At the rate the bleachers are filling with single ladies, these games are going to be standing room only soon. If the women hanging around the parking lot after

the games are any indication, Jack might be the hottest bachelor in Houston this summer."

I ignored the sharp bite of jealousy that Eric's words inspired. The mere mention of Jack Connolly sent

a wicked swooping sensation through my belly. Like his two younger brothers Finn and Kelly, Jack was