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Friday, January 19, 2018

Hiding the Moon--Part 4

So, today I was supposed to meet with Ambrosia AND conference with my publisher, but both meetings fell through.

I'll be honest--I felt sort of at loose ends, especially because I was editing all day, and, well, boring!

The funniest part of my day was when ZoomBoy discovered Green Day-- and an album called Dookie. Given that Green Day is like the ADHD anthem, this was a big deal for him, and, honestly, the most useful thing the Google speaker as ever given us. Woohoo!

So, boring day for me equals more free fic for you! (Also, I need to have the first part of this done before I write the meeting in Fish, because, well, reasons.)

So enjoy! And have a happy weekend afterward!

Hiding the Moon--Part 4

Burton yawned and looked at the clock on the dash. Seven o'clock.

It was true, he could drive straight through to Victoriana and be there in another three hours--but, maddeningly enough, Ernie was right.

Burton wanted to talk to his boss first, and it would be nice of him to offer a heads up to the people in Victoriana.  Yeah, Ace owed him a few, but Burton had been raised to be polite.

Besides, Ace would be fine with it, but Sonny always needed a little warning, and Burton didn't want to piss Sonny off. Idly, he thought bad to his interactions with the laconic Ace and the highly unstable Sonny Daye and wondered if Ernie would think they were "good" or "full of bugs."

"Good," Ernie mumbled, turning sideways in the seat and curling up like a little kid.  The Tahoe came fully loaded, and Burton hit the passenger seat adjustments to tilt the thing back and make Ernie more comfortable. "Like you," he said happily. "I'm hungry. I usually eat at the bakery by now. Stop, get some food, find a room. Your friends will be there tomorrow morning."

Burton snorted. Yeah, sure, a hotel room was probably a good idea--there was a Motel 6 at the next turnoff and he had cash--but he wasn't planning to spend more than a few hours there.

The thought had no sooner crossed his mind than Ernie chuckled, like he knew something Burton didn't.

"Goddammit!" The fine hairs on the back of Burton's neck stood up. "Why are you laughing like that?"

He knew when the kid's eyes opened.

"I'm a pretty good lay," Ernie murmured. "You're going to want to take more time than that."

"So help me, I will wreck the car."  The idea was preposterous. Burton had urges--he knew them for what they were. But he'd never taken a man to his bed, and he certainly wasn't going to do so now, in the middle of a failed op and the... the frickin' mystery that was Ernie Caulfield.

"That'd be a shame," Ernie said, sitting up and readjusting the seat. "I think I wouldn't mind you touching me."

Burton growled. "You're stoned. It's not happening."

Ernie gurgled happily. "Nope. Wore off before..." His voice dropped. "Before the Corduroy guys thing." He sighed. "I... I wish it lasted longer. That would... it would have been nice to be stoned when that happened."

"Why?" Burton wanted his wits as sharp as possible when shit was going down.

"Don't feel so much. The X or the pot takes over and it... it muffles shit. All the bad shit--hell, even the good shit's bad when there's too much of it. I... I really wish it had all been muffled when all that bad shit happened." He whimpered. "The club guy grabbed my dick. That... that wasn't pleasant."

"Not the first time it happened," Burton wagered.

"It's better when I want it," Ernie said dispiritedly. "I mean, got lots I didn't want, but some of it I wanted. I didn't want that."

"Why do you take it when you don't want it?" He asked, curious. So many pictures of Ernie naked with other people. Always with the same dreamy expression like he wasn't really there.

"Cause you can ride it," Ernie said, eyes closed. "Like ride their endorphins like you ride the drugs. Both ways suck, but one way you're not alone. Until I found the club. That was perfect."

A week ago, and Burton would have dismissed what Ernie was talking about out of hand. But Ernie had unnerved him, pretty much from the beginning, and he found himself flirting with the possibility, the outright probability of the impossible thing that Ernie was in his head.

"Maybe be somewhere without so many people?" Burton suggested. Hell, even if the kid was simply agoraphobic, the self-medication he was talking about wasn't good for him.

"They can find me in the empty." Ernie pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around his shins, which spoke well of his flexibility since he was using the seatbelt. "But now they found me in the city and I don't know what to do."

And then Lee Burton, once in Marine Special Ops, now in special devision covert ops, soldier, assassin, all around logical guy, found himself making the rashest of promises.

"I'm taking you someplace safe," he said. "Someplace not even my boss knows about. You tell me why people are after you and I'll find a way to make it stop. I swear."

Ernie looked at him sideways from his big brown eyes. "Why would you do that? We haven't even rented the hotel room yet." He stared back out into the desert moodily. "Everybody wants sex first."

"Kid, I'm not in it for sex--"

Ernie snorted derisively.

"I was supposed to kill you, you understand? I am a finely trained killing machine--I'm great at it. But I don't kill club bunnies or witchy little bakers or kids who feed all the stray cats in downtown Phoenix. I kill bad men--and somebody put you on my list, and on Corduroy's list, and for all I know on the CIA's list and Jesus, you probably have a fucking SEAL team hunting down your scrawny ass, and I want to know why! My boss didn't like this op and I don't like it, and I'm going to find out who tried to make me a murderer."

"But aren't you--"

"Like you said, kid. It matters if I want it. I kill bad men who like to kill innocent people. I don't kill innocent people who are hunted by bad men."

Ernie "hmmd", appearing to be thinking very carefully. "You still want me," he breathed. "This is your exit. There's a donut shop down past the Motel. Let's go there first."

Burton hesitated to ask, because like this kid would know, right?

"They have Crullers," Ernie murmured, looking sublimely happy.

"How do you do that?" Burton asked bluntly. He'd been already to go for the donut question, but seriously, how did this kid keep reading his mind?

"I'm not usually so good at it," Ernie said, looking down at his tennis shoes on Burton's upholstery and picking at the upholstery. "But your mind is very clear. I think it's because of that assassin thing. You need to be totally focused. So It's like reading something etched in stone. But most people aren't like that. I just get fuzzy sort of auras. I...I wish I'd learned how to damp down on it when I had the chance."

"You had the chance to learn how to use this... this thing in your head?" Burton wasn't sure how he was going to tell Jason Constance that their target was psychic, and that was probably why he was the target--but he was really interested in why that made someone want him dead.

"Yeah." Ernie sighed again, like this was the heaviest concept on the planet. "But they didn't want me to make it stop or quiet it down. They just wanted me to tell them who was good and who was bad."

This was interesting.

"What did they do then?"

Ernie's face fell. "They hurt the good people to see if it would make them bad. And sometimes they would."

Burton sucked in air. It sounded like something illegal. It sounded like behavior modification--of the most monstrous type.

It sounded like a reason to kill a dreamy kid who just wanted to get stoned enough to stay in his own head. "Donuts," he said grimly. "You and me need some sugar before I call my boss, and then we need to talk about what's next."

"Okay, Cruller." The kid closed his eyes happily. "You  can ask me anything you want after donuts. But maybe make sure we get a kingsized bed for that other thing--"

"Ain't happening."

Ernie's voice tinkled, low and charming, and Burton wondered exactly what sort of pictures he was painting on the kid's mind.

It would be nice if Burton knew himself, wouldn't it!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hiding the Moon--Part 3

Thanks to Kim Tripp who (gently) reminded me that Burton had been in the Marines and not a SEAL Team (d'oh! Even I know the difference!) so that I could go back and fix that!

Also-- brief family story here: The kids and I watched Frequency tonight--it's an old movie, made in 1999, and a little slow in parts but they loved it. I felt like a hero. Gonna bask.

So, this may be short, because, uh, WEDNESDAY which is always busy (in this case Chicken came by and appropriately distracted me from my mission for much of the day) but hopefully we'll get to hear Ernie speak.

Looking forward to it!


Hiding the Moon--Part 3

By the time Burton got down the stairs, the sounds coming from the shadows were both intimate and non-consensual--and the three gorillas with guns were nowhere to be seen.

"Mm... no. No. Not you. You're not good--"

"C'mon, club boy--you put out for everybody. You're legendary--"

"Who're you? You're not good. Don't touch me. It feels like bugs when you touch me!"

The scream came from the pit of the boy's stomach, but the next sound made Burton sick to his.

A crunch, a scuffle, and a low moan of mortal pain, and Burton could not run fast enough. His heart started beating in two more breath's when Ernie's voice--a low, dreamy tenor--echoed out of the alleyway.

"Stop touching me with bugs!

Jesus, kid, what did you take?

Burton crashed into the alleyway, pistol drawn and laser sight active, while his eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness.

Club kid was down in a crumpled pile in the corner of the alley. His body was twitching but Burton thought maybe that wouldn't last long. Ernie stood panting in the center of the three operatives, panting, pants sliding down his hips and his hands out in front of him in classic martial arts pose. Burton would have found it laughable, like a little kid faking karate, but two of the assailants were bleeding and one was cradling his arm.

The kid had bought himself some time with the element of surprise, but there were two laser lights dotting him, one in center mass and one on his head.

Burton took out the headshot first and the center mass guy next, through the head both of them, and had the gun aimed on the guy who couldn't draw before the bodies hit the floor.

"Corduroy Company," the man barked. "I'm doing for my ID."

"So I'm not supposed to shoot you because you're a merc?" Burton asked, undeterred. "That club bunny with the mushed brain didn't get to pull his stupidity card. What are you doing here?"

"Man, you should know! We got hired by the US Military--this here's a high priority target!"

"When'd the contract come through?" Burton asked.

"Two days ago--apparently the guy assigned to the kid didn't follow through."

"The guy assigned to the target thought the job was hinky and wasn't taking a life without asking any goddamned questions," Burton snapped, feeling grumpy. Two kills defending this kid? Three if you counted the club-bunny with his nose through his brain, but Burton had no way of knowing if that had been the Corduroy mercenaries or the kid himself. "And look what you made me do."

Mr. Corduroy company rolled his eyes. "We take orders, soldier--I don't know how you get to have a conscience."

Burton felt his brain and his chest go cold. He was going to have to kill this guy method like, without any more talk, because there was no reasoning with him.

"Wait," Ernie said, holding up his hand. He practically wafted to where the mercenary stood.

"You broke my fucking wrist," Merc snarled.

"You're a bad man," the boy told him, eyes wide. Gently, he laid his hand on the merc's wrist through his jacket, then shuddered and dropped his hand. "Bad through and through," he told Burton with a shrug. His shoulders drooped dejectedly and he moved to Burton's other side.

He was well out of the line of fire when Burton dropped the final Corduroy mercenary, his silencer loud in the late night air.

* * *

"Where are we going, Cruller?" the boy asked five minutes later.

Burton wasn't taking the easy route--he'd left his sniper rifle bolted to the top of the building, prints and all. First things first, and the first thing was to force the kid up the fire escape in front of him in a minute and a half so Burton could disassemble the rifle and they could beat a hasty retreat through the inside of the building.

"What'd you call me? And move your ass before I kick you up there myself!"

"It's five stories," the kid said mildly. "Nobody heard. That's why the dance club is out here in the warehouse district."

Burton growled and glared balefully at the kid's back, wondering if sheer irritation would make him move any faster. "So noted. Now what did you call me?"

"Cruller. It's your donut. The kind with the glaze but not the flavor," he recited dutifully.

"You didn't even see me that day," Burton muttered, breathing a sigh of relief when they finally broke through to the roof.

"Yes, but you're very definitely good. It radiates. That is a big gun. What are you going to do with that big gun? Why didn't you just pick off the bug-touching guys with that? I was scared, you know. They were going to kill me."

"They disappeared," Burton muttered, getting on his knees and using the air drill to unbolt the base of the gun. "I couldn't see them to shoot. And they were going to kill you--you're lucky to still be alive."

"Mm." The kid nodded, and then sat down bonelessly, like  cat flopping on a carpet, and closed his eyes while Burton worked.

"Did you take out Mr. Date-raping Octopus Hands?" Burton asked into the silence, because the question was making him crazy.

"No," Ernie said sadly. "He would have left after I yelled. He was bad but... there's bad that can be fixed and there's those guys you killed. He could have been fixed. Those other guys are just bugs."

Burton shuddered and clamped the case shut. "Fair enough. C'mon, Ernie, you and me need to get out of this bug-ridden town before those fuckers get you."

"Who's going to feed my cats?" Ernie asked--but he was following Burton without question, which was nice.

"How about half of Pheonix?" Burton was taking the steps two at a time and he wished fervently that Ernie could keep up with him.  "That was every stray cat in the residential district!"

Ernie let out a laugh that should have been on a playground. "But I know all their names!" he said plaintively.

"I'll make arrangements," Burton told him, mind already going to the phone calls he'd have to make to take care of the matter.

"Really? Okay, Cruller--you are a good guy!"

"Burton." Cruller could haunt a guy through four branches of the military. Burton had seen it happen.

"Cruller," the boy said, the stubbornness a surprise when the tone was so amiable.

"Get a move on," Burton snapped. "I got transport three blocks down, but we don't know how many more Corduroys we've got on our tail."

"Mm..."  Ernie seemed to shut down then, his eyes going to half-mast, his body doing what Burton asked but not at triple time. Finally they were in Burton's white Tahoe, heading west.

"Ernie!" Burton snapped, and Ernie's eyes popped open.


"Keep awake!"

"I was. You said you didn't know how many Corduroys were there. Two. There were two more in one of the apartments we passed. They were getting upset." He sighed, sadly. "Do you think they'll miss their friends?"

"Yes," Burton said, thinking about the four bodies on the alleyway. "I think all of them are going to be missed, which is why we need to be in California in less than six hours."

"What's in California?" Ernie asked.

"Haven, I hope."

"Mm.. that's nice. We need to stay in a hotel first though."

Burton did a double take before gluing his eyes back on the road.

"I'm sorry?"

"You need to call your boss, and then you need to call your friends, and you need to get to know me."

"Why in the world would I want to do that?" Burton snarled.

"I don't know--you're the one who's screaming with need."

"I"m screaming with frustration is what I'm doing--"

"Well, that too. It's okay, Cruller. A crappy hotel will be fine. But at ten o'clock I need to sleep, so maybe find something soon."

Burton could see the sun flirting with the horizon in his rearview mirror. "Damn-- where did that time go? It's almost six in the morning!"

"It was five when the killing started," Ernie said sadly. "I don't want to think about it. Tell me when you find the hotel."

And then he closed his eyes and checked out. Just... checked out. No amount of calling his name mad him open his eyes and no attempts at conversation stirred him.

Burton screamed, long and satisfyingly after five minutes of trying to get his attention, and still the kid didn't even interrupt his breathing.

"God," Burton muttered to himself. "My God. What am I going to tell my boss?"

And that got the kid's attention. "You're going to tell him you walked away, Cruller. Because if you didn't, the Corduroy people will be after you too."

Burton blinked and checked on him again.

He hadn't even opened his eyes.


Fucking Jesus.

Who was this kid?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hiding the Moon--Part 2

So, to catch folks up, I'm writing the third Fish Out of Water, and like the second, there is a crossover with Racing for the Sun. This is part 2--and I hope you enjoy!  (For those who usually enjoy my family stories, I'll be posting them on FB and Twitter on the days I'm doing this. Otherwise, suffice it to say dogs/kids/taxi service oh my!)

Oh! We're putting together Volume 3 of the newsletter--be sure you've signed up, and if you've already signed up and didn't get Volume 2, we're working on that!

Oh! And I'd like to add something here--

Blogging is and has always been a seat of my pants endeavor. There's no editor to catch me, no fact checker. When I put these things together for instafreebie or, in this case, probably put the whole series in the back of Fish 3, I'll be able to clean it up a little. But this is writing dirty--please forgive me for typos and errors on the whole. If you say something nice about a fact I got wrong, I'll fix it during the cleanup, but... *lip quivers* Please be nice, okay? Like, seriously, me and Wikipedia are good friends at this point, but I've been keeping the pages on military dress and chain of command open for the last week and I am no closer to knowing those mysteries. I don't know how the military guys memorize that stuff--it BOGGLES me.

Hiding the Moon--Part 2

Gah! Phoenix sucked in July! The day's temperature had been 113 fucking degrees, and in the city, all that heat just sat and baked into the juicy asphalt and the stoic brick and adobe. Yeah, sure, most places had air conditioning on the inside, but Burton was on a rooftop, covered with a tarp and trying not to hallucinate about Fallujah.

Fallujah had been bad. He'd been with his first Marine unit then, and the guys were the best. Well trained, smart as hell, they goddamned had your back if they had their next breath. But bad intel was bad intel, and when you find yourself facing a preschool through the scope of your gun, that intel was as bad as it got.

One spooked kid, a new recruit, hadn't held his wad. They'd been told the place was full of chemical weapons and everybody had their fucking phobias.

Burton would have taken any assignment after that--any goddamned one--to not have to look at another dead four-year-old and know that he'd been part of the team responsible.

His CO knew that. So his next assignment had been the guy leaking them the bad intel.

It had been a shot much like this one--covert, from a building top, down into a crowd. Burton hadn't hesitated. One kill shot, no collateral damage.

It had all felt so neat and simple then.

This was not neat and simple.

Tracking Ernie Caulfield hadn't been a cakewalk so much as it it had been a walk through cake. The kid was working at a bakery at the moment, and he'd get home at ten in the morning, sleep through the hottest part of the day, get up at eight, eat sunbeams and rainbows for all Burton could see, and go dance at his favorite club--appropriately called The Flower Child.

He'd dance his heart out for hours. Fucking hours. Yeah, he'd take a tab of X--Burton could see that--but he wasn't an addict. Burton had camped out in opium dens--he knew what addicts looked like getting their fixes.

That was not the look on his face by a longshot.

Ernie took that tab--always handed to him by a sweet little girl wearing a tie-dye dress who worked at The Flower Child-- with the expression of someone who suffered from chronic headaches downing their first Motrin of the day. Like the X was soothing him, keeping the pain from making him crazy.

So Burton had sat watch from the building top for three days, watching Ernie through a sniper's scope, trying to figure out what this kid's deal was.

He seemed to do okay at the baker's. Burton had gone in for a donut on the first day, and Ernie had been happily involved in the back, probably mixing up dough for all Burton could tell. The bell had tinkled, he'd called up, "Don't worry, Max--he's good."

"Thanks Ernie. Gets tetchy at four a.m.."

"Yeah--don't worry about this one. And tell him the crullers are about twenty minutes from done, so if he can have a cup of coffee, it'll be fine."

Burton had blinked but Max--paunchy, grizzled, fifty-ish--didn't even look up. "How many crullers would you like, sir?"

"Are they good?" he asked, because that had been a really specific guess and he was a little but unnerved.

"Donuts fresh out of the frier. How bad could they be?"

Well, yeah. "Three," he answered promptly. Sugar and water--it was all a growing boy needed in this temperature. "And cream for the coffee."

He hadn't seen Ernie that morning-- the kid had stayed back and baked or whatever. But the crullers had been delicious and the coffee beat Starbucks by a mile.

But he'd scoped him out that night across from his apartment, when he'd gotten up, opened the window and let in stray cats from all over the neighborhood and fed them. He'd shooed them out on his way out the front door as he'd headed for the club, and Burton had trailed him in the shadows. The kid didn't... move like other people moved.

He swayed, he wandered.

Burton had watched him disappear into alleyways and then pull himself back, looking surprised to find himself in that part of town. The block was four blocks, and it took him half-an-hour. Burton was a breath away from grabbing the kid by the back of the neck and steering him toward the club.

And now, Burton was up on the roof across from the club, watching as Ernie windmilled his arms harmlessly in a mash of bodies bopping to a song Burton had never heard.

Just watching them made him feel old, but watching Ernie-- that made Burton feel whole other things as well.

"Okay, little hamster boy," Burton murmured, watching the boy's gyrations. "Why do you do this every night? I am highly curious."

But Burton wasn't the only one.

From his vantage point, Burton saw two distinctly disturbing things.

One was God's gift to all gay and bi boys, who had latched on to Ernie's back and was dancing with him with way too much familiarity.  Burton couldn't look at the guy without growling, because even if Ernie returned his interest, it was damned hard to tell when the boy was as wasted as he appeared to be.

No, smarmy dance kid shoving his hand down the front of Ernie's pants was not even acknowledged, and Burton was a heartbeat away from going down there, grabbing the kid by the ear, and hauling him away from the fucking club, just because somebody should, dammit!

The other thing was potentially much more dangerous than smarmy dance kid.

"Who are those guys?" he asked himself. They were trained. That was the first thing he could tell. One had point, the other had follow up and the one in the middle was scoping out all the angles. They also moved their lips, indicating ear pieces and military-esque technology. Burton could spot their weapons--the obvious ones--tucked into shoulder holsters and hidden by sport coats, and he got a lot of bitter satisfaction about how easy they were to make and how much they must have been suffering in all that gear.

They ranged themselves throughout the club, moving from the bar to the corners and back again, but generally forming a net around Burton's very own sweet-eyed stoner boy.

It made Burton twitchy.

A part of him very dryly noted that how dare they stalk the guy he was supposed to kill--but most of him had given it up from the moment he'd scoped out Max's Pastries and Coffee.

If this kid was a threat to national security, Lee Burton was President of the United States and a Russian traitor to boot.

"Seriously," he mumbled. "Who are those fuckin' guys!"

He studied them again, but when he went to check on their position relative to Ernie, he'd disappeared.


The logical thing to do was to remain up top. The club didn't have a back entrance, but it did have a side entrance which led to an alleyway and the outdoor access restrooms. Logic--Burton's friend since his first A in math--dictated that he stay up top on that building and scope out the goings-on with the full weight of his very expensive government issue personally modified sniper's rifle at his beck and call.

99% of the time, Burton relied on that part of his brain. It functioned very well, thank you, and he credited it for keeping him alive in some very hairy shit.

But the 1% of his brain that stayed friends with guys who knew him in the military that nobody knew he knew--that part of his brain was the part that was running the show.

Burton found himself charging down the fire escape of the old brick warehouse at full-speed, the heat forgotten in his need to be on the ground, in that alleyway before smarmy dance guy got Ernie into the dark and shadows where military ops guys could do worse things.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hiding the Moon

So, when Racing for the Sun came out, I always planned to do a sequel and/or a spin-off. The spin-off would include Lee Burton, Ace's friend, the special ops guy who helped Ace plan the rather, uh, grim ending that you can read about in Racing for the Sun. 

Lee's story might have stayed untold permanently, but Sonny and Ace figure big in the next Fish book, so I think that maybe, with a little diligence, I can give you the story behind Marine Officer Lee Burton, who now works black ops, and has just been given an assignment that might be more trouble than it's worth.

* * *

Burton didn't like the meet.

He didn't like the timing, he didn't like the place, and he didn't like the way Jason Constance, his handler, was fidgeting with the manilla envelope in his hands.

None of it spoke of good things to come.

"I hate fuckin' Denny's," Burton snapped, scowling. He had a degree in computer science and had graduated from Officer Candidate School fifth in a class of two-hundred. But the only person he talked to that he liked and knew as a friend had been fighting in alleyways when he should have been taking his SAT's, and Burton sounded more like Ace Atchison and his boyfriend, Sonny, every goddamned day.

"Well, they're disappearing for a reason," Constance muttered, toying with the envelope again. "Look--"

"What in the hell is wrong?"  Burton didn't believe in fiddlefucking around.

Constance sighed and ran his hand through tightly curled hair that pulled back from a widow's peak. "I don't like this," he muttered. "I don't like this assignment. I don't like that they specifically asked for you. I don't like the asshole this request came from. I'm putting it out there. I don't fucking like this. You have the right to say no here. And if you say yes, and this doesn't look kosher in any fucking way. You have the right to bug out and leave the target pristine, you understand?"

Burton blinked.

He was a military assassin. 

He worked primarily on American soil, although he'd been overseas enough to get pulled for some gigs in the middle east. Mostly, he took care of people who couldn't be legally identified as terrorists--but who had the stacks of guns and the agenda and the covert acts of violence that actually made them terrorists.

A surprising number of his targets had blond hair and blue eyes and had done some heinous fucking shit.

Burton didn't see innocent a lot. And he certainly hadn't seen a target that had tempted him to neglect his duty.

Burton palmed the back of his shaved head with a hand the color of burnished dark oak and reached out for the folder.

"At least let me see the op," he muttered.

Constance handed him the envelope and darted his eyes back and forth like a fucking spy, when the first thing you learned in black ops training was how not to act like a fucking spy. Burton's curiosity--a thing he thought had been yanked out of his chest along with his conscience--surfaced unexpectedly.

What had him spooked?

He opened the folder and blinked.

"This kid?" he asked, staring at the photos.

The kid had an unshorn abundance of curly black hair, for one. It hung around his ears, was being constantly pushed out of his eyes--a full three-quarters of the pictures showed the kid fucking with his hair. It didn't look like a fashion statement--it just looked like the kid forgot it was there.

The rest of his face was sort of pretty--narrow chin, narrow cheekbones, tiny blade of a nose. He had eyes a man could drown in.

Burton blinked and tried to slow-breathe that thought away. He hadn't had a feeling like that since he told his girlfriend back home he was breaking up with her.

The breakup had hurt--they'd been friends since grade school--but not as much as becoming the man he'd known he'd become while he was bedding his pretty high school sweetheart and lying his ass off.

But this kid's eyes--big, brown, luminous in a pale face--Burton had to swallow. He usually took care of those urges with a girl for a night, but he'd known they were in there for men as well.

He just kept those to himself.

"There is..." Constance made a frustrated sound and took a long swig of his dank coffee. "There is nothing in that kid's jacket that looks like he should be in that fucking jacket."

Burton scanned the details and had to agree.

He saw a lot of half-finished classes and trips to the dance floors. A lot of pretty bedmates, but no man in particular. And a lot of jobs he'd lost for being late or for forgetting something important or for general flakiness. He's a nice kid, one employer had stated, but he's as reliable as a rabbit. 

Criminals who ended up on the wrong end of Burton's scope were often very reliable. "Oh, he killed people on a regular basis? But he punched the clock every day and ate lunch with my wife!" That was who Burton was assigned to.

X-blowing disco bunnies?

Not so much.

"Hinky," Burton muttered, looking Constance in the eyes.

"I won't say this more than once," Jason Constance told him, the lines around his mouth seeming particularly deep and bitter today. "If this kid doesn't smell right, walk away."

"Who asked you to off this kid?" Burton asked.

"Some fucking commander from a naval base in Las Vegas--"

"Las Vegas?"

"Man, that place is so far off the grid it makes us look like a billboard in Burbank. I'm not sure which favor he pulled to get access to our division but--"

"This was the kid he pulled the favor for." Burton's chest turned icy.


"I hate being used as a tool."

"So do I."

"I'll scope out the sitch. If this kid's bad--"

"Do what you have to."

"If not--"

"Walk away."

Burton studied the pictures again-- this one a long distance shot of the kid waking up in a pile of happy naked limbs, looking around him like he was surprised to be there.

"Ernie James Caulfield," Burton murmured, reading from the jacket. "Boy, who did you screw?"

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Dear Deceased Garage Cat--

Otherwise known as Shula-monster, the small brown shadow:

Bye sweetheart. You had a good long life out here.

I'm sorry that you had to live in the garage--it's what happens when cats can't use the cat box in the house though. You were really sweet, just not indoor cat material.

I hope that was okay with you.

I hope it was okay that you lived with us for seventeen years, mostly in the garage. I hope it was okay that you got to sleep on all the old blankets, and that we'd pet you on those rare occasions that we saw you and you didn't run.

I hope it was okay that the kids dragged you inside sometimes just to cuddle--I hope that wasn't cruel. You always waited an hour or two before asking to be let back into the garage.

I hope you forgive us for the dogs. They're assholes to all cats, not just you.

I hope you forgive ZoomBoy for that one time he tried to stick a dog diaper on you so you could come inside. He forgave you for the bite to his thumb.

I hope you knew that we loved you in a distant way--you were the Great Aunt of cats. You didn't visit often, but you were appreciated when you were here.

I hope it's okay that ZoomBoy forgot his right from his left and dug your little grave so close to the garage. On the one hand, you're probably comfy there. On the other hand, the other side was more often in sunlight, and you didn't get a lot of that.

I hope it's okay your graveyard is getting a little crowded. We put the Altoids box/fish sarcophagus back with you when we covered you up. At this point the more the merrier, right?

I hope you enjoy Halloween--it's going to be a riot there. Guard us well, protective spirit, okay? And don't worry, the dog's got the backyard. You've got the easy job.

I hope it's okay that I cried a little for you. You were such a delicate, quiet thing, but you did love the occasional show of affection. It's hard to fault a creature that poops outside and asks for little more than food, fresh water, and occasionally getting her whiskers smoothed back. In a house of fuzzy attention whores, your retiring nature was much appreciated.

I hope you know ZoomBoy and Squish and Chicken and Big T all miss you now. You were never as invisible as you tried to be.

And I really hope your spirit can give the useless furry meat sacks around here some anti-vermin lessons. I have the feeling you were carrying a whole lot of that burden on your own. These floofy assclowns just don't seem that bright, I swear to Goddess they don't.

Mostly I hope your life was content here. Not every cat is made to be box-trained, but I hope being queen of the garage made up for that. I know even though it's filled with teetering columns of crap, the garage us a lot emptier without your skittish little presence. Thanks for hanging with us. I hope you know you were loved.

Sincerely, Amy Lane and company--

Also known as the wonderful bringers of food and the terrible distributors of small-dog retribution.

May you get to sleep in all the sunspots now.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Worm Gamucking

So, uh, took the dogs for a walk today.

Yes, it had rained a lot the day before, but still.

I mean, what on earth could go wrong?

I mean, I knew one part of the path would be flooded--but I've got that mastered, right? I walk on the side of the path for part of the flooding, and then I move into the residential area so I can swing around the second part of the path and then, Bob's-Your-Uncle, I can take one of the residential paths back to the loop. Yeah, sure, it's an extra quarter mile onto my walk--I can use the exercise, right?

Of course, when I get down the path and realize that it's twenty feet of standing water, my can-do attitude sort of dissolves.

And as much fun adding a quarter of a mile to my walk has been, in order to go back and avoid all puddles altogether, I'd be adding another mile to my walk, and, well, I've got things to do!

So I suck it up, roll my pants up to my knees, take my shoes off, and walk across the pond, ignoring the little air bubbles coming up from the seams in the concrete, stepping over the piles of oak leaves and God knows what's in them, and apologizing profusely to Geoffie who is actually swimming during the last bit because the water was that deep, and she is that short.

Oh--and trying not to completely bite it by slipping on the mud which is way slippery without the traction of my shoes.

I make it.

I walk to my car, let the dogs jump in and get on a towel, and then I sit in the heat until my feet dry and I can put my shoes back on.

And the whole time, I'm pretending that there wasn't a chance... not even a teeniest hint of a chance... that I stepped on any worm carcasses during the entire trip.

Don't tell me, folks.

I just don't want to know.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Kermit Flail--A Quiet but Hopeful January


So, welcome to the first Kermit Flail of the year!

It's a little bit small, and that's my fault--I was thin on social media over the last few weeks for family reasons, but I'm SO pleased about the people who submitted!

Alix Bekins and Connie Bailey are some of my oldest and best friends in the writing business. They write because they love it, and they teamed up together because they're great friends and they wrote sci-fi because it's their passion and they're both funny, witty, awesome people and I'm so happy to see them writing for the helluva it again, and SO proud to have them on my blog!

And Mercy Celeste! Who hasn't heard of Mercy Celeste! She breaks your heart every time! This book looks like no exception and I'm proud to host it on my blog :-)

And as for me? I've got a book that folks have been waiting for--for a long time at that! Can you guess? I bet you can--and if you haven't read the rest of the series watch this space, and follow me on social media for some sales going on so you can read the whole whack of them without going broke!

So exciting stuff--and some much needed good news.

Let's have a better year, everyone!!!

Song and Key
by Alix Bekins and Connie Bailey

The Men from GLEN

Dreamspun Beyond | #11

So-called monsters won’t hold these spies back!

For two secret agents on a mission to a secluded Romanian village, the toughest fight they face may not be against the folktale monsters lurking in the foggy mountains and old ruins, but against their unlikely attraction to each other.

Keller Key is the top operative at the covert Global Law Enforcement Network—and boy, does he know it. Sexy half-Ukrainian, half-Korean Sevastyan Song is a close second. When the agents go undercover to investigate an old friend’s suspicious death, it soon becomes clear something sinister is afoot in the ancient forest and decrepit abbey. If an evil organization doesn’t spell the end of them, the angry locals might. But if they’re going to conquer their enemies, they need to keep their hands off each other and their minds on the case, in a rivals-to-lovers paranormal mash-up that gives new meaning to spy-on-spy action.

Buy at Dreamspinner

Buy at Amazon:

Long Way
by Mercy Celeste

Death Waits for No One

Former Marine Chad Mayes planned to honor his father’s last wishes and lay him to rest in California.

Estranged from his family for so long he wasn’t prepared to return to the life he left or the people he barely remembered. He planned to do his duty and drift away to figure out his place in life.

That was the plan, right up until he laid eyes on his first crush.
Skip Simpson didn’t have time to worry about his son’s life.

An emergency call from his best friend requesting a get together sent him packing north. He went, never expecting his world to be flipped upside down when the Marine, half his age, walked in the door.

The plan was to scatter his best friend’s ashes. Not end up on a trek through the woods, with his friend’s son.

But what exactly does a free spirit and a lost soul do in the woods? Alone. For days. In one tent… when one is one’s best friend’s son and should be off limits.

Chad and Skip are about to find out.

Book 2 in the Adventures INK series. Should be read in order.

Buy at Amazon

Bobby Green

by Amy Lane

Vern Roberts couldn’t wait to turn eighteen and get the hell out of Dogpatch, California. But city living is expensive, and he’s damned desperate when Dex from Johnnies spots him bussing tables.

As “Bobby,” he's a natural at gay porn. Soon he’s surrounded by hot guys and sex for the taking, but it’s not just his girlfriend back in Dogpatch—or her blackmailing brother—that keeps him from taking it. It's the sweet guy who held the lights for his first solo scene, who showed him decency, kindness, and a smile.

Reg Williams likes to think he's too stupid to realize what a shitty hand life dealt him, but Bobby knows better. What Reg lacks in family, opportunity, education, and money, he makes up for in heart. One fumbling step at a time, they connect, not just in their hearts but in their bodies, where sex that’s not on camera, casual, or meaningless, becomes the most important thing in the world.

But Reg is hampered by an inescapable family burden, and he and Bobby will never fly unless he can find a way to manage it. Can he break the painful link to his unrealized childhood and grow into the love Bobby wants to give?


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Zombies from Timothy

So, I've been going back and forth about how much to share.

On the one hand, this blog started out as a document of my kids and life in general and all of those pithy, amused observations that I was frequently making for the people around me that weren't getting a whole lot of response. I figured if I could make them here, at least they'd be out of my system and I could stop boring people with them.

But it grew, and I get a few hundred hits an entry, and then there was that whole "You can't talk about your old job" thing that happened when I was let go from Natomas, and I got good with compartmentalizing, and eventually I learned a thing that my nearest and dearest could never seem to teach me: Some things were not meant to be shared publicly.

So my family has been grieving and my husband has been grieving, and I'm not sure about how much of that I want to broadcast on the internet as it happens--but this thing, I think it's okay to share.

So one of my biggest complaints about services is when the pastor or reverend or whoever speaks, because so often, this person seemed to know the absolute least about the deceased, but suddenly he gets to dominate the floor and talk about how much luckier that person is to be away from all THESE tacky people and up in their heavenly home.

I haven't been to a single funeral when the pastor had anything to say that sounded like the person I once knew.

But my MIL had recently found a church she really loved--one where she could be quietly of service, and much beloved. I was hoping this time, we'd have a winner.


See, the poor man--he was very young--was feeling super super bad about not getting to see Dee the day she passed. He'd gone two days before and she'd just moved so he'd missed her, and had made time on Wednesday, but he called her and she told him she was enroute to the hospital, and of course she passed Thursday morning.

So, his first words were about how bad he felt that he'd missed the chance to visit her, and for a moment I felt hope. Hey--this guy at least knew her, knew her personally, had been to her home.

And then he seemed to notice Dee's grandchildren--who had been featured a few times in Mate's lovely and touching photo montage.  (He'd set it to Simple Things, because, like me, he'd found the song lovely, and thought it represented her life in a touching way.) But suddenly he saw the four people under thirty in the room, and he knew they were special to her...

And he pulled out his YA Bible Study skills and oh my God, we were in the book of Timothy and Revelations...

And a rather lurid retelling of the story of Lazarus.

Mate and I stared in horror as he started leg two of the sermon, and I had a sudden thought. Our kids were sitting in the row next to us, one row back. They were not church kids. Big T was filming the service, so he was mostly out of trouble, but... but the younger kids.

Quietly, I craned my neck to see what they were doing.

Squish was wiping a spot from her pristine pink boot. ZoomBoy was in full sprawl.

Big T and Chicken were staring at the poor pastor with ginormous eyes, and Chicken did a slow pan toward me and mouthed, "Zombies?"

I tried not to respond, because church! Respect! A service! But my eyes got big, and she later said, "You pursed your mouth like you were trying not to laugh."

The rather odd eulogy finally ended, and I stood up to thank the congregation. I noted that there were people from all moments of Dee's life there--the people who knew her when she'd been the smiling little tot in the video montage, her family who knew her best, and Mate and I and her grandchildren and nieces and nephews, who knew her as a full and productive adult, and her spiritual family who gave her such comfort in her last years before she passed. I told everybody how grateful we were that so many people had appreciated the woman with the quirky smile and the sly sense of humor and the hidden determination that we had loved, and how her grandchildren got to see a little bit of her, from child to grandmother, in their stories of her during the service.

As I was finishing the final thank you, I was surprised by a sound from my peanut gallery.

Squish had broken as I was speaking, and Chicken and ZoomBoy joined her, and as everybody left the room to have snacks in the foyer, Big T draped himself over them and we had a big group hug of devastation.

I was reassured.

For a moment as the pastor had been speaking, they'd lost sight of why we were there--but once they connected with the woman they will miss so much, they were able to grieve.

I managed a moment to console the kids--and then poor pastor. Like I said, he was young, and I told him to please forgive himself for not being there on her last day. Like I've said, she hadn't demanded care or attention, and if her sister and the hospital hadn't called us, we wouldn't have known. He'd done his best to take care of his parishioner, to give her solace and kindness, and I fully believe that counts.

But in the minivan afterwards, after we'd taken the flowers to the family plot in Auburn and then joined the caravan from my parents' house to Wong's (where many of our family moments are celebrated, from birthdays to graduations) Chicken and Big T were in our car, while Squish and ZoomBoy rode with my parents.

"So," Chicken said after we'd started. "Was it my imagination, or was he really talking about zombies?"

"Oh my God!" Big T said, "I mean he brought up Narnia, but I was wondering when the Walking Dead started to figure in!"

I swallowed and looked at Mate, to see if he wanted to reprimand the children or adult or anything of the sort and he let a bewildered smile break. "Seriously, all I could think about was Batman and the Lazarus pit of Ra'sh alGhul (sic)."

I burst into laughter, because now I could say it. "The X-Files," I said promptly. "They had that episode..." and by now, we were all laughing too hard to breathe. "The one with the bowl?" I howled. "Remember?"

"Oh my God! Yeah! I remember that one!" the kids said.

And together we got it all out of our systems--mostly--before we got to Wong's.

My parents paid for Wong's--Mate offered, and he said, "Uh, I was going to let my mom take care of it," because that's what funeral expenses were for.

My mom said, "Yeah, my mom took care of our dinner after her funeral. But we want to do this for you."

And for a moment, I almost lost it, when we'd all managed to keep our shit together, because if it's ever my turn to take everybody out to dinner on my parents' dime, I'm going to be in bad shape too.

Today, Chicken came by to do her laundry, and I gave her the now-common warning: "You know, if I have to look down from the Goddess's meadow to hear some asshole talk about zombies at my funeral--"

"Yeah, I know. You'll haunt me and I'll deserve it."

"Damned straight. Your father knows it too."

"Anything else?"

"Dad wants to be cremated--"

"And spread over the ocean. I know."

"Yeah, but we were both thinking we might want some of our ashes put in a rock, you know, like Chiquita? So you can set us outside and sometimes come out and say hi."

Her lower lip quivered. "That's sweet."

"It seemed to give ZoomBoy comfort after the dog died."

"I like that. I'll make it so."

Just no zombies. I think as a family, that's all we ask.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Two Things

* In Regret Me Not there's a part where Hal's condo had the power turned off and he went in to clean the place up. He comes back a few hours later and Pierce is concerned that his hands feel like ice. An early reader suggested that this was hyperbole because, after all, how cold would it be inside that house? Fifty, maybe sixty degrees?

I stetted. I wouldn't want to work in an apartment that was less than sixty degrees, so the part stayed in.

After a couple of days of trying to get something accomplished in a house that's fifty degrees--maybe fifty-five at the most, I would like to gently inform that reader that I win, Hal's hands would be like ice, and I'm right and they're wrong and full-on gloating WILL commence, as soon as my core temperature returns to normal.

Two days at the most.

* Mate's Aunt Sis asked me if I wanted to keep the pictures of "the dead relatives".

I responded, "No, because when I was alone in that damned house and everything creaked and it was all haunted and it was freezing and Mate was gone six nights a week and I was stuck with two babies and no car and Big T couldn't talk and Chicken had a heart murmur and the house was never clean enough, those assholes were JUDGING ME for being a failure as a mother and I HATE THEM."

I finished, breathing a little hard because my blood was up, which was great because I was freezing and it helped, and she looked a little taken aback.

"Well, okay then. Carl and I will take them if you don't want them."

"That would be fine," I said meekly.

Some wounds don't heal. Now I know.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Past and Pending

 I'm tired and it's late, but I'm going to leave you with this.

Once, a very long time ago, I took a picture of Mate with his two children.

He has four now, and everybody is very old and sophisticated, but still...

Long ago it was Mate and two babies.

And he's still pretty amazing, even when they're as old now as we were then.