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?”
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–“
“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.”
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?”