This Time Tomorrow - Tessa Bailey
Las Vegas 2017
Elias clearly needed to get out more.
Laughter came easy to everyone else gathered around the poker table, the fellow members of his S.W.A.T. team getting to know the strangers they’d been seated with. The sound of shuffling poker chips blended seamlessly with their conversations, cards spitting out of the dealer’s hands and landing with neat, two-card piles in front of them.
This wasn’t his first time in a casino, but he didn’t recall a state of suspense chafing between his shoulder blades those other times. They’d arrived an hour ago and he’d checked behind himself a dozen times, expecting…what? He had no clue. But the energy in Vegas was almost frenetic. Desperately hopeful. People on a deadline to have the time of their lives. And his law enforcement intuition was probably in overdrive, trying to put everyone and everything into two categories. Threat. Not a threat.
A balled up cocktail napkin hit him in the shoulder. “For the love of God, Perry, would you stop thinking so hard over there?”
Elias’s lips jumped. He didn’t need to look up from his cards to know his teammate Kenny had thrown the napkin. “You would say that when you’re trying to rob me blind.”
“Hey, look.” Across the table, Kenny leaned over the green felt. “We’ve all had our turns going home broke to the missuses.” The beers he’d knocked back at the pool were catching up with the former college linebacker. “It’s your weekend to pony up, Silent E.”
Elias showed no reaction to his name being shortened, but it was the first time any of his teammates had done so. He’d been working with the highly trained tactical unit for three years, and with their lives at continual risk, the brotherhood was fierce. Every damn body had a nickname. Except him. Until now, apparently. He tried not to let the meaningfulness of that show on his face as he folded his terrible hand.
“Kenny speaks the truth,” chimed in Darius, also known as “Latte,” thanks to that one time he had Postmates deliver a tray of lattes to a post-raid crime scene. “Give us all your money. Think of it as a long-overdue initiation.”
Kenny chuckled. “Still can’t believe we finally convinced you to come. We were starting to think you didn’t love us.”
“Calm down,” Elias said without missing a beat. “I’m still on the fence.”
Kenny and Latte laughed along with the strangers at the table, but Elias couldn’t join them because that odd rub was happening again between his shoulder blades. He accepted his next hand from the dealer, checked his turn, then cast another glance toward the casino floor. There was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, everything was status quo. The poker section was populated with young men mostly, only a couple of women. The slots were swarmed with seniors, their hands smacking down on the buttons, the jackpot count ticking higher over their heads. A younger crowd crammed in around the roulette wheel. Pit bosses paced down the center of endless blackjack tables. Nothing was off but him.
Elias shook himself and turned his attention back to the table where Latte was in a tense hand with a man in a San Diego Padres hat. “Where did Jenks and the commander go?” he asked, referring to their other teammates. Five of them had driven up from Los Angeles together for a mandatory breather from the department. They’d yet to talk about why, but Elias suspected that’s what the beers were for. Liquid courage might make it easier to bring up the uncomfortable subject. “Don’t tell me those punks snuck off to another Cirque du Soleil show.”
“Yup. Mystère this time.” Kenny chuckled. “They’re going to meet us back at the Encore later. After they’ve located their dicks.”
Latte lost the hand with Padre man and leaned back in disgust. “Hey, man,” he said to Kenny after a moment of grief for his bank account. “I cried at O. That shit is emotional.”
Kenny gestured to table’s occupants. “You’re really going to humiliate the LAPD like this? Do you care nothing for our reputation?” Obviously enjoying the laughter from the other out of towners, he tipped his head at Elias. “Now Silent E over there has the right vibe. Lethal. Cynical. Mysterious.”
Elias shook his head, uncomfortable being the focus of attention at the table, but not wanting to lose the ground he’d gained with his teammates. He liked these guys. A lot. And hell, they were right. He’d never come to Vegas with them, despite