Photographs: Chapter 1

Russell looked down at the photograph in his hand.  The image was old, yellowed, and wrinkled.  He looked up again.  In the photo, the building had been a bar, with sign of active light.  The colors were faded, and it had been uninhabited for probably a decade.  Yet it was the same building.  The angle of the mountain behind it was right, and the trim around the windows was dingy and battered but recognizable.  At some point, over twenty years ago, his father had stood in this very same spot.

Carefully, he tucked the photograph away and took another look around.  The coffee shop on the other corner was clearly of newer construction, but the bookstore across the street looked like it has been there for centuries.  He took a deep breath, and headed over.

He was pulling his phrase book from his pocket when the man behind the counter gave him an annoyed look.  “I speak English.”  His accent was thick, but the words were intelligible.

“Thank you.”  Russell smiled.  He hesitated a moment, then pointed.  “Do you know anything about the bar that used to be just across there?”

The man gave him a considering look.  “It closed five years ago, after the fire.  Why?”

A fire.  Naturally.  The first real lead he had, and it caught fire.  Russell exhaled.  “My father visited this area before I was born.  He liked the bar enough to have some photos of it.”  Russell shrugged.  “Thought I’d stop in for a drink while I was in the area.”

Something briefly flickered across the man’s face, and he gave Russell another look.  “This is a bit off the path for tourists.”

Alright, the guy was willing to chat a bit.  Or maybe he was bored.  The shop was otherwise as empty as the street.  “Yeah.  I had a hard time finding it on the map.  I, uh…”  He swallowed.  “My father, he uh, he died.”  At least that was the assumption.  “When I was ten.  I thought I’d retrace his footsteps, see…”

“Finding a connection.”  The man’s face warmed a little, and he offered his hand.  “Otto.”

“Russell.”  He accepted the handshake.  “Yeah, that’s the intention.  Can you, uh…”  He smiled.  “What made the bar special?”

Otto twitched his shoulder.  “Beer was good.  But uh…”  Otto took a deep breath, then brushed an imaginary speck of dust off his counter.  “Mostly it catered to a particular sort of crowd.”

“What kind of crowd?”  Russell raised an eyebrow.  His mother said his father had been a soldier once.  “Military?”

“Some, but uh…”  Otto shifted his feet a little awkwardly.  “It attracted those of a certain persuasion.”

“Musicians?”

The other man gave him an annoyed look.  “Men with preferences.”

“Prefer…”  The wheels clicked in his mind, and he felt himself start to blush.  “Oh.”  He winced.  “Oh.”

“Mmm.”  Otto nodded.

“I don’t suppose you know anyone that…”  He winced again.

“That sort tended to want to go unnoticed.”  Otto shook his head.  Then he frowned.  “Though the landlord that rented it to the bar is still around.  Not sure what you’re looking for, exactly, but he might be able to let you in to take a look if you ask politely.”  He started looking around the counter, then after a moment produced a business card.

“Thank you.”  Russell accepted it.  “Uh…”  He looked around.  “If you’ve got a book on the history of the area…”

“It’s not in English.”  Otto smiled as he led Russell to a shelf.

“I’ve got google translate.”  Russell accepted the tome and paid.  Then he tucked the book away before heading back to his vehicle.

Continue reading Photographs: Chapter 1

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War: Chapter 2

“So how was the luncheon?”  Michaels smirked at his partner.  Gabriel just narrowed his eyes.  The mayor’s wife patted his ass.  “I told you to spill coffee on the chief’s desk, but you didn’t listen.”

“I do not miss political functions.”  Stephan shook his head and looked up at Gabriel.

“You had to go to a lot of them?”  Michaels glanced at him.

“Only black guy on the force.”  Stephan shrugged.  “I got dragged along to all of them.”  He looked over his shoulder.  “Magda had to go to, until they hired…”  He frowned.  “What was her name?  Pretty blond girl with the…”  He gestured in front of his chest.

“Violet.”  Ash supplied the name.  Stephan smirked at him, and Ash rolled eyes.  “They were very noticeable.”

“Yeah she was…”  Stephan chuckled.  “Almost out of uniform a few times.  Good cop.  She’d bat her eyes, bend a little forward, and next thing anyone knew the suspect had babbled every bit of information they had.”

“I seem to recall a certain someone walking into a pole the time she wore a mini-dress for a sting.”  Magda grinned.  She caught Gabriel’s arm as he tried to go past into the house.  “Where are you going?”

“To change.”  Gabriel glanced down at her.

“Sorry partner.”  Michaels patted his arm.  “They took a vote when they learned you were in dress uniform.  You’re not allowed to do that.”  He looked over at where Matthias and Ted were coming up the stairs.  “Erilon voted on your behalves.”

“So, it was one to…”  Gabriel turned to count heads.

“Nah, it was unanimous.”  Michaels grinned.  “I like picking on you.”  He put his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder.  “Remember, our job is to serve and protect for the forces of justice and democracy.”  He turned back to the grill and started putting burgers onto plates for Matthias and Ted.

Gabriel started toward the door again, and Magda stepped into his path to block him.  Daniel and Laura came up the stairs, and Daniel started snickering.  Gabriel exhaled and looked up at the sky.  “She showed him the photo?”

“She showed him the photo,” Michaels confirmed.

“What photo?”  Matthias raised an eyebrow.

“Oh for…”  Gabriel took a deep breath, then he shrugged.

Michaels nearly dropped the plate he was holding when Gabriel simply started unbuttoning the jacket of the uniform.  “Uh, partner?”  He blinked.  “What are you doing?”

“Stripping.”  Gabriel continued unbuttoning the jacket.

“You’re…”

“Is anyone…”  Gabriel looked around.  “Going to stop me?”

“Hell no.”  Matthias grinned, then put an elbow on Ted’s shoulder.  Ted was running a hand down the front of his face.

Continue reading War: Chapter 2

War: Chapter 1

He shuffled a few papers together in a pile on his desk and then set them aside before grabbing a different stack.  Rather than invest Mr. Ishi’s money directly into the center, he’d set up an investment fund.  From that, he funded several types of scholarships and grants.  Security deposits for kids getting their first apartments, emergency car repairs, clothes for seeking employment, and other needs.  It was rapidly becoming one of his favorite parts of the job.

Actually deciphering the applications, however…  Ted rubbed his eyes and winced.  Maybe he should have listened to Monica about having them be only online, but not all the kids had access to computers.  He’d set up a small computer lab there at the center, but perhaps he should consider expanding it.  Ted exhaled, then set the applications in a folder.  Magda and her crew would be arriving sometime today.  Perhaps he could convince Daniel and Ash to help.

There was a light rapping at the door.  “Come in.”  Ted looked up, expecting to see Margaret.  Then his face broke into a wide smile.  “Rebecca.  I wasn’t expecting you until next week.”  He stood up.

His ex-wife returned the smile.  “Plans changed at the last minute.  I hope you don’t mind me just dropping in.”  She shrugged, then looked around.  “Last time I saw this building it looked like setting it on fire would be doing it a favor.”

“We’ve put a lot of work in over the past couple years.”  He walked around the desk.  “Let me show you around.”

“Just show me to whatever room is emitting that heavenly smell.”  She nodded as they stepped into the hallway.

Ted laughed.  “Sister Margaret teaches a cooking class.  I believe this week is brownies.”  He gestured for her to follow him.  “And since she is a nun I suppose heavenly is accurate enough.”

Rebecca smiled warmly as he introduced her to the class.  He referred to her as an old friend rather than explaining to everyone that she was his ex-wife.  And it was true enough.  They’d been friends once, and after putting their disaster of a marriage behind them they’d managed to become friends again.  The kids let her taste the brownies, and she praised them all.

After the kids filed out, he turned toward her.  “So what does bring you to town?”

“I realized I’m still paying rent on that storage unit on Fifteenth.  Since I don’t recall what is in it, I thought I should check with you before heading over.”  Rebecca shrugged.

“I remember it being a lot of boxes that we never unpacked after we moved from Oregon, but beyond…”  He frowned, then waved a hand.  “That might be where all those linens are.”

“Oh, the ones we collected in Europe?”  She started nodding.  “I think you’re right.”  She gave him a hesitant look.  “Dibs?”

“All but the French ones?”  He raised an eyebrow.  Magda was going to be staying with them, after all.

“Deal.”

Continue reading War: Chapter 1

Patreon – The Island

Mark was perfect.  Or nearly, anyway.  He had luscious black hair that contrasted beautifully with his deep blue eyes.  Several years of wrestling, surfing, and rock climbing had given him a wonderful musculature beneath skin that remained pale no matter how much time he spent outdoors.  It was the Irish in him.

He was even a decent guy.  Even though Reggie rarely said yes, Mark generally made an effort to invite him along when going to a concert or other event.  And when Reggie did go, Mark shut down his friends when they tried giving Reggie shit.  Sometimes he’d even take Reggie out, just the two of them, playing the big brother.  The man really only had two glaring flaws.  The first is that he was straight.

Reggie glanced at the door to his room before turning his attention back to the screen.  Mark was in the shower, water dripping from his body as he shook his head under the stream of water.  Mark was straight, and it really wasn’t wise to have a giant crush on his stepbrother.  If the hidden cameras in Mark’s room were found, he’d have a lot of unpleasant explaining to do.

Fortunately, Mark didn’t have a lot of interest in tech.  He supported Reggie’s interest, even showing up to cheer him on at the robot wars.  Reggie turned the feed off as soon as Mark was dressed.  A few minutes later, Mark knocked on the door before sticking his head in.  “Hey, Reggie, I’m heading downtown.  Want to come?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”  Reggie reached for his laptop case.  “Could use some out of the house time.”

Continue reading Patreon – The Island

Truth and Shadows

She took a deep breath, then checked her tape recorder again and did another mic check.  Everything was still in working order.  And just in case it wasn’t, she still had her notebook.  Though the guards had insisted she use a felt tipped pin instead of anything that could be used as a weapon.  That made her even more nervous.  What the hell was she doing here?

The job advertisement was something she would have passed by, had she not still been flying a little high from her little adventure under the pier.  She’d almost called him up when she realized she’d forgotten to give him back his handcuffs.  They’d been sitting on her desk when she’d fired off the resume.

Diana Valerio, intrepid girl reporter.  Ace reporter.  Oh god, there were footsteps coming down the hall.  She set the pen back down and pasted a friendly smile on her face.  Somehow, she managed to keep it on as the guards set about securing the prisoner to the other chair.  Unlike hers, it had been bolted to the floor.  The man they were shackling to it looked every inch the stereotype of a scary black man.  He was well over six feet in height, with pounds of prison muscle packed onto this frame.  A scar ran down the left side of his face, from hairline to jaw, and she was surprised to see he still had the eye.  She could see tattoos visible on his neck as well as on his clean-shaven head, and from the looks of things his nose had been broken several times.

His hands were secured behind his back with heavy duty manacles, and his ankles were also fastened to the chair.  The guards didn’t stop there.  They also put leather straps on his legs and chest to keep him firmly fastened in place.  She found herself hoping he didn’t get an itchy nose.  Then she found herself hoping the restraints weren’t actually necessary.

As soon as the guards left the room, she took a deep breath.  “Mr. Viteri, thank you for agreeing to my request for an interview.”

“Ma’am.”  He inclined his head in her direction.  He shrugged.  “Guy in the cell next to me owes me ten cigarettes.”  His voice was surprisingly soft and pleasant, with a bit of a drawl.

“Um…”  She tilted her head.  “May I ask why?”

“Told him I was going to be talking to a woman named Diana today.  He bet me you’d be more Amanda Waller than Wonder Woman.”

“I hope he pays up.”  She smiled.  “Is that why you agreed to an interview?”  Her new boss hadn’t expected her to actually get the interview.  The man before her had turned away dozens already.  Given the man’s predilections, she was fairly confident her looks weren’t why he

“Forty requests this month.  But yours started with a please and ended with a thank you.”  He shrugged again.  “I am a southern boy, ma’am.  Good manners go a long way.”

“I will keep that in mind.”  She nodded.

“You also pointed out that you hadn’t read the books already written about my case.  Just the trial notes.  Said you wanted to get my side of the story without risking their influencing your views.”  He smiled.  “That’s the part that got you the interview, ma’am.  Reporters should have an open mind.”

“Thank you, Mr. Viteri.”  She took a deep breath.  “Would you like to start?”

“I’ve got some time.”  He winked at her.

“Alright then…”  This time the smile was genuinely friendly.  She’d been worried he was going to be hostile or confrontational.  This might go well.  “Shall we start in high school?”

“Rather not.”  He shook his head.  “High school set the scene, but it isn’t really where things got started.”

“Your lawyer cited bullying…”

“Ma’am, I think the fact that I’m in here kinda suggests he wasn’t a great lawyer.”

“Fair point.  So set the scene for me.”  The tape recorder was running, but she picked up the pen anyway.

“I was bullied in high school.  Skinny, broke, nerdy, black, and gay.”  He nodded.  “Pretty much the absolute lowest you could get in Bailey.  I skipped a few grades on account of the nerdy, or things might have been different.”  He glanced down at himself.  “I was kind of a late bloomer.”

“I see.”

“Thing is, that’s a common story.  You can walk down the street and run into a dozen people with the same one.  High school had good parts and…”  He looked up at her.  “It bother you if I cuss?”

“I want your words, Mr. Viteri.”

“High school had good parts and shit parts, and on the whole, it didn’t bother me too much.  But like I said, it sets the scene.  I got bullied particularly hard by a bunch at the top.  You know the names.”

She looked down at her notes.  “Timothy Bradford, Elliot Mercer, Arlo Velin…”  She looked back up at him.  “Paden and Tobias Grady.”  She didn’t miss the slight flicker across his eyes at the last name.

“High school is the time in your life when you’re still figuring out who and what you are.  Where you start making your first real decisions.  But it doesn’t define you.  That part comes a little bit later.  So, uh…”  He chuckled a little.

“Mr Viteri?”  She raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry, it’s just…”  He took a deep breath.  “You asked where my story starts and uh…”  He shrugged, making the shackles rattle a little.  “Hope you’ll forgive me for not being able to resist, but uh…”  He smiled.  “It really did begin on a dark and stormy night…”

Continue reading Truth and Shadows

Archeology 101: Chapter 12 – The End

Abigail kept her hands under Khait’s shoulders, carrying him by his armpits while Bridget got his legs.  Together they lifted him onto her bed and laid him down.  “Alright.”  Bridget took a few deep breaths.  “Alright.” She swallowed.  “Alright.”

“Is it?”  Abigail stared down at Khait.

“He’s breathing, so…”  Bridget put her hand on his forehead as if to check his temperature.  “Maybe we should call an ambulance.”

“And tell them…”  Abigail sat down on the side of the bed.  “What would we tell them?  We don’t even…”  She hung her head.  “He got food poisoning from bad Italians?”

Bridget barked a laugh, then put her hands over her mouth.  “Abby.”

“Yeah?”  Abigail took Khait’s hand.

“I’m not sure, but uh…”  She exhaled.  “I think I strangled a man.”

“Either that or you beat him to death, because he didn’t move a hell of a lot while I was cutting off…”  Abigail trailed off.  “Bridget I cut off a man’s finger.”  Her eyes widened.  “Oh, god, Bridget, your hand.”

“Yeah it’s…”  Bridget looked down at the blisters on her hand.  “Okay, adrenaline is starting to wear off and I think I might need some ice and some vodka and some dilaudid and some prozac.”  She swallowed.  “Maybe not in that order.”

“I have ice and vodka.”  Abigail stood.

“Okay.  Let’s start with those.”  Bridget started toward the kitchen.

She got halfway down the hall when a horrible thought struck her.  “Bridget, do any of those guys know where you live?”

“Well they…”  Bridget gave her a horrified look.  “They knew who I was and tracked me down in…”  Her voice became small and hopeful.  “In Rome, and we aren’t in Rome right now so maybe they can’t find us here?”

“We will have some time at…”  Abigail made a growling sound, then went back to her closet.

“Abbey, what are you doing?”  Bridget followed.

“I am…”  Abigail yanked the box off the top shelf and typed in the combination.  Then she picked up the handgun and started looking it over.  She caught Bridget staring, and raised an eyebrow.  “Come on, sugar.  You aren’t the only one whose daddy was a soldier.”

“I’ve got a 45 and a shotgun.”  Bridget nodded.  Then she tilted her head.  “Maybe we should skip the vodka.”

“But not the ice.”  Abigail gave the hand a pointed look.

“No.”  Bridget turned for the kitchen again.  “Definitely not the ice.”

Continue reading Archeology 101: Chapter 12 – The End

Archeology: Chapter 11

He stared at the man wearing the ring, then turned toward Bridget.  “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.”  Her eyes were tight enough that he knew she wasn’t completely honest, and when his eyes went toward her hand he noticed bruises and cuts.  Bridget shook her head.  “I’m sorry, Khait.  I tried to —”

Lothar started laughing.  “Wow.”  He smirked at Khait.  “She actually thinks you care.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Guess burying you in the desert didn’t rob you of your charm.”

“I told you, Lothar…”  Khait smiled.  “It’s just not going to work out.”  He narrowed his eyes.  “You’re not my type.”  He glanced at Abigail and gave her what he hoped was a comforting smile.  “This is why you shouldn’t date werewolves.”  She returned the smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes.  “They get clingy, start humping your leg, and —”

“You weren’t kidding.”  The man wearing the ring rubbed his face.  “He really doesn’t know how to shut up.”  He shook his head.  “You’ll not speak again without permission.”

Khait glared at him, but the ring’s power forced him to silence.  “Leave him alone.”  Abigail turned to glare at the man.  Dammit.  He needed some way to get her and Bridget out of here.

Continue reading Archeology: Chapter 11

Archeology 101: Chapter 10

He lay on the sand, watching the sun set over the ocean.  Abigail’s head rested on his chest.  Khait curled an arm around her shoulder.  She snuggled into him, the stuffed cat in her arms.  It was the only one of the prizes she’d kept.  The rest she’d given away to children as they explored the pier.  “Did they have anything like that in ancient Egypt?”

“Surprisingly yes.”  When she gave him a disbelieving look, he shrugged.  “Games and the like, on market days.  A few small rides.  Like the spinning swings.”

“Okay.  Tell me the truth.”  She raised her head to rest on her hand as she stared at him.  “Did aliens build the pyramids?”

“No.”  He shook his head.

“Dragons did it.”

“Actually, no.”  He shrugged.  “They were simply tombs for particularly arrogant Pharaohs.”

“That is…”  She sighed.  “So boring.”

“They made excellent decoys though.  People focused on the big things, and never went looking for the little ones.”

“Clever.”  Abigail put her head back on his shoulder.  “I’m still not putting out on the first date.”  Khait went still.  She raised her head again.  “Khait?”

“I…”  He gave an embarrassed laugh.  Then, in the second most out of character thing he’d done tonight, he decided to simply be honest.  “I’ve been having such a good time I completely forgot to seduce you.”

“That is simultaneously the sweetest…”  She leaned over to plant a light kiss on his lips.  She tasted of cotton candy and beer.  “And most disappointing thing a man has ever said to me.”

“So…”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Does that mean you’ll —”  A shadow fell over them.  “You are blocking our light.”

“Move.”  One of the four men waved at him.  “This is our spot.”

“Didn’t see your name on it.”  Abigail lay her head back on Khait’s shoulder.

“We said, move.”  One of the other men drew himself to his full and not inconsiderable height.

“Remember that cop at the airport?”  Abigail put her hand on Khait’s stomach.

“That one…”  Khait waved a hand, and a wet spot appeared on the front of the first man’s pants.  The man went wide-eyed.  “Or that one?”  The second man suddenly leaped into the air as smoke began pouring out of his pants.  He made a frantic screaming sound as he ran toward the water.

“The first one.”  Abigail snuggled into him.

“Right.”  Khait looked up at the now staring men and let his eyes go red and glowing.  “Bugger off.”

His arms went around Abigail to pull her in closer as the men fled.

Continue reading Archeology 101: Chapter 10