Although quite a few teens crowded the pizza parlor, Judy felt Gino's eyes latch onto her as she headed for the jukebox.
A few weeks into the investigation, she had a good feel for the employer and his patrons.
Mostly teenagers used the restaurant as a hang-out. However, on a few occasions,
his clientele extended to the middle-aged. The older couples appeared comfortable
with themselves and their wealth. Using their credit card receipts, she and Tom
compiled a list. Ioki and Penhall were in the process of eliminating possible innocents.
Tom sauntered through the dining area, ignoring her as he walked by. She forced her bottom lip to tremble and managed to look crestfallen. Just as they suspected, Gino swallowed their performance hook, line and sinker.
He moved from behind the counter to stand near Judy at the jukebox. "You could do better than him."
She glued her attention to the jukebox and shrugged in acknowledgment. "I don't know. He seems like a nice guy."
"He's okay," the older man said. "But you're smart and cute. You could beat them off with a stick."
She blushed. A tiny smile played at the corners of her mouth. "I doubt it."
He rested his large hand on her shoulder. His fingers flexed, squeezing her. "Kid, you don't have a clue and neither does he. I know a way to change that."
Judy accepted his mild caresses. This guy was slick. She understood how a young impressionable girl fell for his lines. He knew the right things to say.
"How can I get Tom to notice me?" she asked.
"Make him see what he's been missing."
A ringing telephone called Gino away. She turned, watching him swagger away. He wasn't unattractive. He stood at least six feet with shoulder length dark hair and piercing blue eyes. But he didn't use his masculinity to draw her to him. Instead, he relied on building a trusting rapport. Man, he was good.
The kitchen doors swung open. With an apron tied around his waist, Tom carried a large empty container. He retrieved dirty plates and glasses from several tables before he came close enough for them to talk.
"What's the problem?" he asked. "All jukeboxes work the same."
"There's too much to choose." She batted her eyes, playing the lovestruck role to the hilt. "What would you like?"
He dropped the bucket onto a chair and moved to her side. His shoulder skimmed hers. He drew a finger down the selection list. His warm, moist breath fanned her cheek. "Robert Palmer's 'Simply Irresistible'. "
He grabbed the bucket and continued around the tables, pausing to chat with a group of frequent customers. Judy entered the song's code and returned to her table. Her new high school buddies, Shara Monroe and Krysta Owens, giggled as she sat.
"Conversation!" the girls squealed in unison.
Shara leaned forward. Jet black curls framed her round mocha face. "That's a positive step."
Krysta laughed and brushed red wisps of hair from her grey eyes. "Definitely. You've been invisible 'til now."
Shara shook her head. "That's not true. He's looked at her a few times."
"But it wasn't anything significant until today," Krysta said, the image of authority. "Did he choose the song?"
"Yeah." The girls' take on her 'crush' on Tom fascinated Judy. What would they say next? She stifled the amusement that bubbled inside.
Both girls nodded. Then, Shara said, "That says it all. You're breaking him down."
Judy picked an olive from her slice of pizza and chewed. "Gino says he knows how I could get Tom's attention."
Krysta and Shara exchanged a worried glance. Shara pursed her lips. "You don't want to listen to him. You're doing just fine on your own."
"I don't know," Judy said. "He's a guy. He should know, right?"
Krysta broke off pieces of crust. As she lined them across her plate, she said, "What did he tell you?"
"Show Tom what he's been missing," Judy said. "That makes sense. Don't you think?"
"Did he say how you'd do this?" Shara's hands clenched on the table.
"Not exactly," Judy replied. Tom headed toward the kitchen again and she followed his movement with her eyes. Releasing a long, dramatic sigh, she said, "I'd do anything to get Tom's attention. Anything."
"Be careful," Krysta warned. "Listening to Gino could cost you more than you think."
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing." Krysta's mouth curved into a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Just be careful."
"Let's eat before it gets cold," Shara said.
Around eleven o'clock, the pizza parlor dwindled down to only a couple of stragglers. Gino ordered Tom to the back for the bucket and mop. On his return to the dining area, Tom heard voices coming from Gino's office. He edged closer, listening from the shadows.
"Don't, Gino," a girl was saying. "Leave her alone. She's innocent."
"That's the best part," he said. "Her innocence plays like a charm. Can you imagine what kind of dough she'd pull in?"
"But she's just a kid," the female replied, her voice harsh. She sounded protective and anguished. "Using her crush against her… He's probably the first guy she ever liked. Let her enjoy this moment--"
"You sound like my mother." Gino unleashed mocking laughter. "You're just a kid yourself."
"You weren't complaining when the cash started rolling in. I don't want to hear that regret shit now."
The girl sighed loudly. "I'm not complaining. Just think twice about going after Judy, okay? She's a good kid. Her parents are already upset that she has a thing for Tom. They'd die if she started hooking--"
"Hey!" The sound of his palm slamming the desk shook the floor. "It's not hooking. Prostitution is illegal and I'm not a pimp. Don't forget it."
"Oh, yeah." She sounded dejected. "It's just a date."
Having heard enough, Tom tiptoed past the office and rushed to complete his mopping assignment.
Tom relayed what he overheard to the Captain and Judy. She remembered the girls' reaction to what she told them and wondered which one spoke up on her behalf. Krysta and Shara tried to act like normal teenagers, but there were moments when the hardness of their lives shone through. If they were willing, Judy planned to help them once the busts were made. Gino deserved whatever happened to him, but the girls, whether they realized it or not, were victims.
"Just take it nice and slow," Fuller warned the night of their planned sting.
She nodded. "I've worked Vice before. Everything should go like clockwork."
Tom joined them at the coffee machine. "She'll have a wire, right?"
"Right," Fuller answered. "Ioki and Penhall will be parked in a van across the street. You're inside the parlor and I'll be down the block. Since Gino wants her to meet him at the pizza parlor, the location of the date shouldn't be far."
"Unless the date is with Gino," Tom said, frowning. "What if tonight is a test of her…skills?"
She and Tom already had this discussion. She knew that his worry prompted him to return to the topic. However… "No, that's not it. He specifically told me that he had a friend who wanted to meet me. He said the guy was nice and meeting him at the restaurant was a sure-fire way to make you take notice. The date is with a john."
"I agree," Fuller said. "You have your weapon?"
"Yes, it's concealed." And strapped to my thigh, she thought.
"Let's get in place then." Their Captain strode away.
Tom stilled her with a hand to her upper arm. "I don't like this."
"I know," she said, "but this is a part of it. I'm not willing to give up my career. Are you?"
"Why does it have to come down to either or?" he asked. "Can't I express concern?"
"Yes, but if we continue as we are, it's something we'll have to get over," she said. "I'm a good cop. You don't have to worry about me."
"I know you are." He released her arm and donned his Gino's pizza parlor cap. "How do I look? Do I still make Judy Hall's heart throb?"
She smiled and slipped her arm through his. "It throbs faster than a speeding bullet."
Tom saw Fuller and the guys run up the fire escape and knew that Judy was ready to make the bust. Since Cindy Miller's suicide attempt, Gino hadn't looked at the pizza parlor employees for participants in his prostitution business.
Tom threw off his apron and rushed to join his coworkers.
"You have the right to remain silent," Ioki said as Penhall cuffed the john. "Anything you say can and will be used against you."
Tom continued past them. He scanned Gino's apartment. Uniformed cops filled the area. The activity set him on edge. Where was Judy?
Finally, he reached the back bedroom. Fuller held the struggling, handcuffed Gino in an iron grip. A flash of brown thigh peeked at Tom as Judy holstered her weapon and finished reading the perp his rights.
Gino's wild gaze connected with Tom. "You're a cop, too? I should have known."
Fuller began to drag Gino from the room. "You're a looker, Judy. If you ever want a pay increase, get it on your back! The charges won't stick. Look me up, baby."
Tom's hands tightened into fists. Judy grabbed his arm when he would have swung. "Don't. We got him and the john on tape discussing the fee. He's about to learn how to make friends…on his knees."
"What?" She gave him a look of complete innocence. "I'm only saying what you were thinking."
His eyebrow quirked. "Actually, I was thinking about how lucky your gun is right now." He gave her thigh a long, pointed look. "Damn, lucky."
They had dinner at her place that night. Tom brought the fixings for ice cream sundaes while Judy supplied the main course--salad, steak and baked potatoes. The soulful tones of Al B. Sure serenaded them while they devoured the meal.
"We survived our first case together as a…you know," she said, raising a glass of wine to toast.
Their glasses clinked. They sipped. Tom slid closer to her on the sofa, drawing her into the curve of his body. She rested her head on his shoulder. Her hand fell to his denim-clad thigh. Lightly, her hand glided up and down and back and forth.
"I've never had a secret girlfriend before," he confided, pressing his lips to her temple.
"Is that what I am?" Her breath lodged in her throat. She croaked out, "Your girlfriend?"
"Aren't you?" His voice dropped to a low murmur. He stroked her bare arms. Each caress created tingles all over her body.
"Let's see. We've spent every spare moment together. I haven't thought of any other guy except you--"
"You went out with Ioki."
She lifted her head to glare at him. "That was a favor for a friend. I don't count it. Neither should you."
He held her stare for a moment. Then, his expression softened. "Agreed. Besides, I have a confession to make. Doug made me go to a singles bar with him--"
"It was nothing," Tom quickly explained. "You know he's been kinda looking, so he asked me to go with him. A favor for a friend. That's it."
"Harry. Doug. The Captain." She lay against him again. "How can we keep them in the dark? Sooner or later, they'll figure it out."
"We'll deal with it then."
"They'll think we betrayed them," she said.
"We'll handle it."
He nodded and lowered his head to hers. "Together."
Tom's kisses sealed the promise and Judy's fears about the future succumbed to the delirious sensation of his touch.
[Author's note: This story takes place in 1987 but Al B. Sure's CD wasn't released until 1988. Consider the usage as my wielding creative license. *g* An email only chapter follows.]
THE ENDBack | 159