Fish in the Desert–Ficlet

Hey all!

So, the birthday was wonderful– thanks for the warm wishes!–and tomorrow is *Kermit Flail*.

Today, for my birthday (and Mate’s) I felt like writing something totally frivolous.  NEXT week it will be more Scorched Haven, in celebration of Rampant’s re-release, but today?

I wanna do a crossover fic.

And since I’m starting the next Fish Out of Water sometime this month, that felt like a good enough reason to go with that.  And Ace and Sonny ALWAYS live such interesting lives…

(This takes into account events written in this post right HERE.)

 *  *  *

Ellery’s blue-blooded roots were never so apparent.

He stood in the auto bay of the tiny garage in the middle of Victoriana, California and looked like a sweaty guy in a pricey suit.  His normally slicked back mahogany brown hair hung straight and lank in his eyes and his once-white shirt showed dust creases as he’d pushed it up around his elbows in the ungodly September heat. His suit–which would have been perfectly fine in Sacramento where things were, thank God, in the 80’s at the moment– was a prison down here in San Diego, and he kept doing a little shimmy like it was sticking to his creases.

Well, it was tight enough.

 But still, he was trying to maintain professionalism– and Jackson tried to keep his eyes from rolling out of his head.

This interview as not going well.

Ace Atchison seemed like a decent enough guy–although he sported a healing wound on his forehead that looked like it should have used stitches, and walked with a limp, that didn’t detract from a handsome young service man with dark brown hair, gold-brown eyes, square jaw and a way of gritting his teeth, lowering his head and glaring at the world straight. Between that and biceps the size of softballs–and as soft as hardballs-the guy was damned easy on the eyes. And amiable too in a good old boy sort of way.

He’d been helpful in the extreme–lots of “Yessir,” and “I’m sorry sir,” and “Well sir, Sonny and me, we woulda seen that, sir,” and not a drop of goddamned truth.

“Look, Mr. Atchison,” Ellery said for maybe the fourteenth time.

“Ace is fine,” he said, nodding and winking in a good-ol’-boy sort of way. “Now, I can see you’re getting upset, but I’m not sure what I can help you with here.  Your guy, the one you’re trying to defend, says that he could not possibly have killed anybody in  Sacramento because he was down here shooting a kid in Las Vegas. And that we would know that, because he heard the kid came by our little flea-shit shop to fix his broke car.”

Ellery nodded definitely. “That would be correct,” he rasped, wiping sweat from his eyes with a handkerchief that used to match his shirt.

Jackson had two bottles of water in the pocket of his cargo shorts and he pulled one out, cracked it, and handed it over. Ellery took it without looking at him or even nodding thanks and Jackson did roll his eyes–and kick Ellery in the ankle.

Ellery glared at him and Ace kept talking. “Now see, I don’t remember that. And I’da remembered that, cause you say the car was shot, and it’s hard to fix a shot up car, sir, so I think maybe this kid stopped by another gas station.” He paused and raised his voice so it could carry over the knocking of wrenches coming from under a Dodge Caravan on the rails in the bay proper. “Sonny, do you remember a kid coming by here with a shot up car?”

“No, Ace, I do not.” The words were staccato and wooden–and rehearsed.

“Jai, do you remember anything like that?”

“Nyet.” The Russian accent sounded wholly authentic. And deep and resonant enough for a big, big man.

Ace looked up at both of them and smiled a knee-melter of a lie. “Well, sir, you heard’em. Sonny and Jai don’t remember, so it must not have happened.”

“But the police said you got shot and cold cocked by a thief– we have that on record!”  Ellery’s voice cracked, and Jackson wasn’t sure he’d ever seen the man so discombobulated by a lie.

“Well, yeah. But, you know, I was cold-cocked. I can’t remember much more than waking up. Alma wasn’t here. Jai and Sonny were out. The guy stole our money and Sonny’s car. Isn’t that right guys?”

The two men in the auto bay both said, “Yup!” and “Da!” at the same time.

Ace turned and smiled gamely. “And that’s what we told the police, and that’s the God’s honest truth.”

The sound Jackson made was a cross between a snort and a “bullshit” and a cough, and Ellery glared at him again–but this time with his mouth open, and Jackson thought it was time to change tactics.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a smile. “My friend here has some other questions to ask you about that day, but I’m telling you, I gotta piss like a racehorse. Do you folks have a restroom here?”

Ace’s look in Jackson’s direction had a smirk in it. Ace knew what Jackson was doing, Jackson knew that Ace knew, but Ace was pretty damned sure there was nothing to find.  “That’s fine. Alma over there has the key to the john around the corner. Let us know if it’s not stocked or gross or anything–she prides herself in keeping that thing clean.”

“Thank you, sir. Ellery, be nice to Mr. Atchison, I have the feeling that’s about all he knows.”  But he kept eye contact with Ace as he said it, so Ace would know that he knew that every word of his story was Grade-AAA bullshit.

The teenager behind the counter wore a bright turquoise T-shirt–a little tight, but not uncomfortable–and a bright flowered comb in her glossy raven’s-wing hair. She had a school book in front of her, but her eyes were all for Ellery and Ace in the center of the auto bay–and for the two sets of feet sticking out from under the Dodge Caravan.

“Heya,” he said, flashing his sweetest smile at her. “I understand you can give me the key to the bathroom.”

Her wide, expressive brown eyes went narrow and flat. “Did Ace tell you yes? I’m not doin’ nothin’ Ace didn’t say.”

“Yeah.” Jackson nodded sincerely. “Ace said it was fine. Told me to let you know if the paper wasn’t stocked.”

The girl–Alma–swore at him in Spanish. Jackson kept his face impassive, and she told him that if he said one goddamned word about the state of her pristine bathroom with the potpourri she picked out just for Ace, she would tell her gay cousin who lived in Twain-Harte to come out of retirement as a brujo and curse off Jackson’s balls.

Jackson endured it all with a straight face until she got to the part about his balls–he was still a little sore from the thought of his poor cat.

“Your cousin can leave my balls out of it,” he said blandly in English. “Sweetheart, I just want to use the head.”

She made a face at him and buried her nose back in her book, but Jackson wasn’t done yet.

“Chemistry?” he asked–in Spanish. “That’s good. You look like a smart girl.”

Alma looked up warily.  She was a beautiful girl–but she probably heard that a lot. A girl who prided herself on her brains didn’t hear praise for it nearly often enough.  “Ace, he’s going to send me to college,” she said in English. “He and Sonny, they’re good men.”

And then, as though she’d revealed too much of herself, she buried her nose back in her book, and Jackson took the hint.  As he walked away from the cashier’s window, he noticed that to the side of the garage sat a small white house. Someone was trying to grow grass and was growing algae instead, and a yapping dog was losing his shit from inside.  But the swamp cooler was on, probably to keep the dog comfy, and there were curtains in what looked to be the kitchen window by the porch stairs. Who lived here, he wondered. Ace? Sonny? Jai?

Probably Ace. By himself?

He rounded the corner just in time to see a black-bearded, bald man-mountain in blue coveralls escape from the restroom, wiping his hands hurriedly on his ass. He was pretty sure this one wasn’t Sonny.

“Heya there,” he said with a smile, running to catch the door before it slammed shut.

Man-mountain slammed it shut and eyed Jackson impassively as he approached.

“Well, that was unfriendly,” he said.

“You walk stiffly,” the man said, his voice thick with accent. “You are either horny or injured.”

Jackson choked on a laugh. “Oddly enough, injured and not horny.”

Man-mountain nodded thoughtfully. “The silly man in the suit is not bad looking. Is he yours?”

Jackson swallowed past the relationship panic he’d been fighting since he’d been forced to move in with Ellery while his house was being fixed. “For the time being.”

To his surprise, Man-mountain–Jai?– slumped a little, looking defeated. “I would fuck you until you sobbed. I like the yellow hair.”

Jackson’s eyeballs were going to pop out of his head. “That’s, uh, flattering. And terrifying. And flattering. But I really do need to use the john.”

Jai waved his hand expansively behind him. “Do you? There is much desert that needs water.” He smiled and his white teeth looked big as roof tiles. “It is even the same color.”

Oh God–he couldn’t even stop it from coming out of his mouth. “Piss yellow is a coward’s color,” he said, lowering his head and getting ready to get beaten back into the ground.

But the giant just cocked his head. “Which is why it is a good place for burying cowards,” he said, flashing more roof tiles at him. Then he stepped sideways out of the way. “Enjoy your piss, yellow-haired man.”

Of course, after that conversation, Jackson really did need to pee. He finished, sweltering in the little bathroom attachment, and exited quickly, splashing water on his neck and forehead.

He ran straight into the slighter, shorter man in the blue coveralls.  He had blond hair over his collar, blue-gray eyes, and a thin face. Pretty, in a faded sort of way, like he had to rub off layers of scared to find himself. He was stringy strong–not bulky at all, and would probably be tough as tree roots until he lived to be ninety.

This must be Sonny.

Jackson tried a smile again, and wondered how Ellery was faring, banging his head against the brick wall in the auto bay.

“Hello there–should I give you the key, or get it back to Alma?”

“Ace didn’t do anything,” he said flatly.

“Uh, we didn’t say he did?”  Sonny’s eyes were cutting to the desert and back in hard little darts, but like he was having trouble focusing on the goal. “We just– we just want to know if a kid came in here shot.”

“Kid didn’t do anything either. I mean, if one did. Cause he’s the one that was shot, right? Kid that’s shot, he’s not going to be the bad guy. Just running from the bad guys.”

Well, couldn’t argue with that. “Yeah, well, the guy we’re defending isn’t great.”

“Ace is,” Sonny said, and Jackson thought that, should he have to fight one of them, the man-mountain or this rabid rat-terrier here, he’d take the man-mountain. Sonny would sink needle teeth into Jackson’s jugular and not let go.

“Is he now? How’d he get hurt?”

Sonny looked down. “I did. Swung my wrench wrong, nailed him in the head. Not his fault. None of it is his fault. He’s a good guy.”  He fixed his eyes on Jackson’s face again. “He’s the best guy. Mine. You don’t go fooling with Ace now, you hear?”

Oh hell. This was a surprise. “Well, as long as he doesn’t go fooling with Ellery, I’m fine with that.”

Sonny shook his head. “Ace takes care of people. Alma, Jai…” His voice trailed off. “Me. He takes care of me when shit goes south. You can’t be yelling at Ace.”

Oh hell. Sonny lived in the house too.

Jackson heard Ellery’s voice raised loud enough to be heard over the small garage.

“I’ll go fix that,” he said calmly. “But look– I need you to tell me one thing, and then you’ll never see us again.”

“We’ll see what the thing is,” Sonny said cagily.

“If, say, a kid came by this garage, bleeding, what would you do?”

“That depends,” Sonny said softly.

“On what?”

“On whether he was a bad kid or a good kid. If he was a good kid, just trying to get his sister back from bad guys, well then we’d help him. If he was a bad kid, and he held a gun on one of us, we’d hurt him.”

That was oddly specific. “And if he was both?”

For the first time Sonny met his eyes. “We’d do both.”

Jackson nodded his head. “Well then. We’ll be on our way.”

“Will you be coming back?” Sonny asked, his voice hard and vulnerable at the same time.

“Not on your life,” Jackson said grimly.  Or his life. Or Ellery’s life. Because Jackson had no idea that coming back to this place might not end in death or blood or terrifying sociopaths holding tightly on to their one true person by killing the whole world.

But it might.

He rounded the corner and Ace hadn’t broken a sweat–but Ellery had.

“Won’t you even check the calendar?” he yelled.

Ace Atchison just smiled. “Well sir, I could, but we’re simple folk. If Alma didn’t have to go to school, we might not even know where summer stopped and winter began. I mean, this is the desert after all. Unless the rains come, or it gets hot enough to cook a dog in the road, we don’t always know.”

“You know what month it is!”

“No you don’t,” Jackson said, grabbing  Ellery’s bicep and hauling him toward the Lexus.


“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Atchison!” Jackson called over his shoulder. “I promise you if you ever see us again, it’s cause we’re having car trouble on the way to Vegas and for no other reason!”

Ellery was literally digging in his heels and Jackson just kept going, letting the hard soles of his shoes stir up little dust devils around his legs. “Jackson he was just going to–“

“Not tell you a fucking thing,” Jackson muttered, throwing Ellery into the car–passenger’s side–and getting into the driver’s side before Ellery could even scramble to the other side.

“Got your keys?” Jackson asked, and as Ellery was patting his pockets, Jackson used the push-button start and started the car. He didn’t rip out of the dusty parking lot, because that would have resulted in a giant donut and Ellery’s first aneurism. He accelerated at a leisurely pace and turned the car west, toward San Diego.

“Jackson– what in the hell?”

Jackson glanced at him and thought he looked rumpled and pissed and… oddly dear.  Innocent. He hoped Ellery was innocent enough for what Jackson had to say next to appeal to him.

“Ellery, I want you to tell me Gordie Simms story one more time.”

Ellery huffed, put his seatbelt on, and crossed his arms in front of him. “Gordon Simms, small time thug, mob muscle, drug dealer, petty-thief, conman. Pulled in for questioning literally two-dozen times, arrested once. Our time.  Someone paid up his bail and hired us to defend him.”

“Awesome. So we’re defending a scumbag. Go us. Now tell me his story.”

“He is accused of shooting a store owner in Sacramento in June. He claims he couldn’t have been, because he was involved in a drug throw down in Vegas. He and another small-timer were hired for the moment, and some kid was supposed to deliver drugs in Vegas or his sister would eat it in San Diego. It was a double cross– the two bosses in charge had no intention of either giving up drugs or giving up money, and the kid and his sister were sacrifices in some big fucking game. Gordon and his buddy shot at the kid, but the kid drove off–he left a blood trail and his car was leaking oil, so they followed him to the little shithole we just left.”

“Victoriana,” Jackson said, but seriously. How many shitholes were there on that road with a Carl’s Junior, a service station, and a garage.

And nothing else.

“Victoriana,” Ellery confirmed. “Anyway– that’s when things get fuzzy. Gordie and his buddy didn’t see anything at the garage, so they took off toward San Diego, to see if the kid made it back for his sister.  They found no girl–but no buddies either, and a fuckton of blood.”

“And then…”  Jackson needed him to see it.

“And then they drove back to the people who hired them in Vegas and…”

“And some Russian mob– these guys were working Italian–but some Russian mob guy tells them that the shop is closed and they shouldn’t be seen any further south than Bakersfield. And that’s when they drove to Sacramento, that day.”


Ellery grunted. “I mean, it’s an unlikely story.”

“It is.”

“If we can’t find some corroboration, I’m going to tell him to plead out.”

“It sounds poetic.”

“But that doesn’t change that we don’t know what happened, and there might be a murderer out there.”

Jackson sighed and edged up the speed. His own car was in the shop–he’d promised Ellery a trip down to San Diego, and Ellery asked if he could take care of some business before they parked themselves at the San Diego Marriott and spent most of their time naked in the hotel room when they weren’t looking out over the harbor.

“Ellery, do you know why we discourage the hunting of rattlesnakes in California?”

Ellery frowned. “Because there’s no reason to. They fulfill a vital part of the ecosystem and they don’t seek people out to kill them. If you introduce a pot bellied pig or a natural predator to their environment they don’t overpopulate to the point that they seek out animals or humans. Mostly, you don’t bother them, they don’t come bother you.”

“So I want you to keep this in mind. Imagine you are holding a small garage together by the seat of your pants–“

“And suspected illegal street racing,” Ellery said dryly, because that had been in Ace Atchison’s docket too.

“Still– not pulling in buckets of cash. And suppose, there you are one day when a kid in a broken car pulls into the service station and holds a gun on you–or one of your people.”

“Then that kid would be dead,” Ellery said seriously.

“Well, if it was me, yeah. But suppose you’re the one used to talking people down, and you do t his on a regular basis because your boyfriend is a borderline psychopath and you need to keep him together.”

“You got all that from running into the little blond guy at the bathroom?”

Jackson remembered Sonny’s eyes and shuddered. “Yup. So, you talk the kid down, and your boyfriend comes unglued and accidentally nails you in the head with a wrench and the kid accidentally shoots you, and you wake up going, what the fuck?”

“You call the police?” Ellery asked, like it was obvious.

“Unless your trusted employee, and the other person you depended upon to keep your boyfriend from collecting scalps like beads, disappears with the kid to help him get his sister back. Your trusted employee is a big Russian guy with mob connections and a soft spot for young girls–not the pervy kind, just… you know…”

“Sisters,” Ellery said softly.  Well, yeah. Jackson had a soft spot for his own sister, that was the kind of thing that would give a young girl a flowered comb that she’d wear with pride, even though it was hopelessly out of fashion.

“So, the Russian guy disappears and comes back and tells you it’s taken care of. And you don’t ask another question.”

“Because Russian mob?” Ellery asked, sounding appalled.

“Because family,” Jackson insisted. “Because you were making your family safe. And trying not to bite the unwary traveler. And your family closed ranks to take care of you.”

“But…”  Ellery flailed. “My client!”

“I’d hazard a guess that your client is more dangerous unprovoked than those people are if you walk into their place of business with a gun and insist that they help you so your sister doesn’t die.”

Ellery let out a groan of frustration. “We don’t have any proof of any of this!”

“Nope,” Jackson said smugly.

“But our client is going to be convicted!”

“And that’s bad because…”

Ellery’s voice dropped with embarrassment. “It will fuck up my record.”

Jackson laughed, because Ellery didn’t like to admit he was vain, which meant Jackson had him.

“Rattlesnakes, Ellery.”

“A helpful part of the ecosystem.”

“But don’t step on them by accident.”

Jackson smiled. “So, San Diego Marriott?”

“You owe me!”  Ellery demanded.

“I owe you nothing but a dick up your ass. And you’ll like it!”

“This is going to haunt me,” Ellery muttered.

“Legally, you are under no obligations here. This is purely speculation. The official record stands and backs us up.And all of the evidence is, more than likely, rotting in the desert. And I don’t see it coming back.”

Ellery grunted. “I’m not… this isn’t…”

“I’ll top all week, Ellery. All week.”

“I like topping!”

Jackson laughed, low and dirty, and imagined Ellery, on his stomach, thighs spread, body despoiled, monosyllabic with satiated lust.

“So do I.”

“What if I think of a reason–oohhh…”

Jackson squeezed his thigh, then higher, then higher, steering with one hand. “All week.”

“You are still injured.”

“We shall find ways.”

“I want to top,” Ellery said petulantly, and Jackson found him, swelling under his boxers. He swallowed audibly. “Eventually.”

“Are we going to tell the police about that little service station in Victoriana?” Jackson asked silkily.

Ellery melted into the leather upholstery, thighs spread. Yeah, it had been a long time since Jackson had been able to top.  “Nothing to tell,” Ellery mumbled. “You know I’d do it if we had even one scrap of proof…”

“Sure. Sure you would.”

“Can we stop on the way and nail each other?”

“A shower, Ellery?”

“Oh God. You suck.”

“I do–I suck a lot. I suck, I rim, I swallow…”

“Hurry, Jackson. We’ve wasted enough of our vacation already.”


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