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.