So this is it. It was supposed to be a “ficlet” but in reality, it’s about 15K–so a full out novella. Now honestly, I don’t think this is publishable because too much relies on things from other books, so it’s still going on the back of Fish on a Bicycle.
But one of the fun things about following me on social media is you get to see it now.
Surprise Visit!–Part 8
Jackson couldn’t keep his eyes off monstrosity dangling over his head.
“Really?” he asked nobody in particular.
“I was about to say the same thing,” Ellery muttered, staring in the same direction. “I mean, apart from being hideous—”
“It’s gonna fall on our heads and kill us all?”
The hideous thing in question was a large plywood rainbow arch, painted in neon colors—badly—and suspended about thirty feet off the ground using nylon cord in the branches of trees, and a cherry picker. Besides looking garish and unhealthy, it also looked… precarious. Damned precarious.
Jackson looked at Ellery, and they both looked at his mother, who was lingering over a table of admittedly lovely blown glass baubles that had caught her eye.
“We need to get her away from this thing,” Ellery said, and Jackson nodded in return, his blood running just the tiniest bit cold. This had been the longest four days of his life—but he was damned if it would end with Lucy Satan’s blood on his hands.
He gave the sign, which read, “Crafty, Free, LGBQT!” another dubious look and caught a flash of something shiny from a gap in the cherry picker.
With a shake of his head he turned towards Ellery’s mother, who was charmingly terrorizing the poor blue-haired waif behind the counter.
“So, these were blown by your wife? That’s wonderful. Is that her there?”
“Yes ma’am.” She nodded at a tanned, wiry woman waiting on another customer. “She’s been learning the craft from her uncle since she was in high school.”
“Well this must be her calling. And did you make the felted bags they go into? Because they complement the artwork so very well.”
Blue-haired waif smiled weakly and looked toward her wife, who was not in rescuing position. “Thank you,” she squeaked. “We, uh, like color.”
They did indeed. The glass globes were done in a variety of techniques, from color diffused throughout the glass, to the kind that looked like flowers in the center, to the kind with abstract shapes drawn throughout the sphere, the colors undulating and receding with the angle.
Jackson smiled and winked at the poor woman, not talking because he sort of got that wasn’t her thing. Instead he peered at the artwork, as fascinated by the colors as Ellery’s mother seemed to be.
“Which one do you like?” Lucy Satan asked, and for once he didn’t get defensive or snark at her. For one thing, the girl watching them was fragile, and she might not get that with them, being bitchy was a bit of a dance.
“Mm…” Jackson ran his finger down one that was a cluster of white and ebony flowers, with hints of green. “That one’s very Ellery, except it’s a little girly. But pretty.” He smiled at the waif again. She smiled back gratefully. “This one…” He had to reach out and touch it. The colors were rich brown and bright magenta, and they reminded him of his sister’s hair. Back before it had been a thing, Jade had found a way to put a strip of that bright puplish pink in her rich brown hair. She’d done it as tightly kinked curls, she’d done it as waves. Even when they’d been in high school and she hadn’t had the money to get her hair “done”, she’d bought a box of something totally inappropriate for her hair and combed it through her tight mahogany-bronze ringlets. The dye had lasted until her next wash, of course, and she’d needed to cut the ends off because it had fried them completely, but she’d loved that color.
His sister of the heart—he’d put her and her boyfriend through a lot this past year. And she hadn’t wavered, not once. It had been her idea to break off the on-again-off-again thing between them—which was good, because they’d both fallen in love with other people. But she was a lesson—a true good lesson—in how love, real love, wasn’t something you could just fuck away.
“This,” he said thoughtfully. “Reminds me of Jade.”
“It does indeed,” she said.
Jackson risked a look at her, and she was regarding him thoughtfully.
“Did you and Ellery decide on the office?” she asked, catching him by surprise.
“The one on F street.” He sighed. “The parking is going to suck, but you know, he really loves the inside.”
“And you’d do anything for him, wouldn’t you?”
Jackson nodded. “Well, yeah.”
She patted his hand. “I appreciate the two of you, doing what I asked this week. Not asking questions.” She let out a little sigh, and he wondered if she was as tired as he was. “I think I was asked to come here because you and Ellery could handle this situation, and Ellery’s father…”
“Is too sweet for words.”
She gave a throaty little laugh. “IT’s really so very much easier for us to be in danger, isn’t it? Than to let our loved ones be?”
Jackson nodded, and out of instinct, he looked up at the cherry picker.
Burton was standing up and sighting somebody in the cherry picker!
Jackson grabbed Ellery’s mother and wrapped his shoulders around her, hating that she was six inches shorter than he was, even in her pumps. With a quick look around he saw Ellery, standing under the sign, head cocked like he couldn’t’ figure out what in the hell Jackson was doing.
And beyond him, he saw a motorcycle, veering toward them, ready to go up and over the sidewalk and into the crowd like it was out of control.
From far away, he heard Burton shouting “Rivers, get down!” at the same time he said, “Ellery move!”
Burton had never almost frozen in his entire life.
He’d had them all in his sights. The happy little family, looking at doo-dads, Ellery standing a few paces off, apparently entranced by his mother and Rivers making nice. Wasn’t that fucking adorable, right?
Then Jason had spoken up in his earbud. “I got Charley One, repeat, got Charley One. Charley Two is inbound motorcycle, heading east down K street. He has no options, repeat zero options.”
Uh oh. Bad guys with zero options often got desperate. Burton disregarded invisibility and stood to spot the motorcycle when he saw two things.
One was Jackson, wrapping his body around Ellery Cramer’s mother, and the other was Cramer, standing right in the way of the motorcycle straight toward him.
And then the third thing. The big assed nylon cord, the granddaddy of sailor’s knots that held the entire hideosity of a sign up from this side.
He screamed, “Rivers, get down!” at the same time Jackson screamed, “Ellery move!” and then he prayed for timing and pulled the cord.
Ellery didn’t give a shit what everybody was yelling. Jackson was protecting his mother bodily and Ellery had to go help him. He lunged for the two of them, knocking them both to the ground just as the giant piece of plywood swung down and knocked off some poor asshole on a runaway motorcycle that was heading for the craft fair.
The cycle went sideways and slid across the concrete, coming to a stop about a foot away from Ellery’s backside as he lay on the ground, feeling foolish. The rider—wearing black leathers with a yellow helmet—got unsteadily to his feet and was reaching around behind him for something when suddenly he fell to his knees, and then on his face.
Ellery’s eyes went wide as a thin trickle of blood came out of his helmet and a gun went skittering across the sidewalk.
And out of nowhere, an ambulance pulled up.
Jackson and Ellery’s mother were still climbing creakily to their feet as the ambulance guys—no medics Jackson or Ellery had ever met, and they knew this beat pretty well—gathered the cyclist up and put him on a gurney without even taking off his helmet. Given the lack of movement as a whole, Ellery suspected the helmet was probably holding all the cyclist’s brains in, after the bullet had liberated them from the rider’s skull.
As they clambered to their feet and checked for bruises, Ellery caught Jackson looking over their heads and nodding, before going back to making sure Ellery’s mother and Ellery didn’t have any scrapes.
Jackson, of course, had bloodied his elbow going down, because Jesus Christ, that man.
As the crowd started muttering to itself and stopped looking for police—who didn’t appear to be coming—and nobody noticed that the motorcycle had just seemed to pick itself up and drive away—Ellery looked a question at Jackson.
Jackson shrugged and smiled wearily—and then jumped and checked his pocket. “Uh, so, Lucy? We can go the fuck home now.”
For a moment Ellery’s mother sagged, looking a little older, and a little fragile, and a little like she’d actually needed that protection after all.
Then she stood upright and gave Jackson a level look. “Of course, dear boy. But if you will excuse me, I have a purchase to make, and I’d really love to see the rest of the booths here, don’t you think?”
Jackson let out a little laugh. “Of course, Lucy Satan. Of course.”
They stood back and let Ellery’s mother make her purchases, and Ellery put his hand solidly on the small of Jackson’s back.
“So, is it over?”
Jackson pulled out his phone. One bad guy dead, one in custody. Will text you tonight with the all clear. Nice reflexes, by the way.
As Ellery watched, Jackson texted, Thanks for the apple fritters.
And that was all. “Wow,” Ellery muttered. “So, do we still have to go to the game tonight?”
Jackson just looked at him. “After we’ve invited Jade and Mike? Do you really think your mom is going to cancel now?”
No. No she would not. But they would get to go home and have dinner there and spend some time on the couch. And since his mother couldn’t get another flight out until the day after next, they had an actual day to sit quietly and visit, while Jackson swam laps in the pool and tried really really hard to forget the last five days had ever happened.
Good luck with that, though.
Before she left, Ellery’s mother gave them a charming hosts’ gift.
A hand blown paperweight, with the unlikely color combo of bronze and magenta mingling in the center. Jackson had smiled as he’d unwrapped, and set it down on it’s felt coaster with surprisingly respectful fingers.
Ellery had just cocked his head.
“You don’t like it?” his mother inquired.
“Mm… not my colors,” he said diplomatically.
“Well then, think of it more as Jackson’s gift.”
And Ellery did. But that was okay. He gave his mother a genteel kiss on the cheek. “Something that makes him happy is a gift for me,” he said, feeling sappy.
But his mother just smiled and patted his cheek, and it was time to take her to the airport.
They got back and collapsed on the couch in complete relief.
“Please tell me you won’t miss her,” Jackson begged.
Ellery looked at him, wearing the waterproof bandage on his elbow like a badge of honor. “Jackson?”
“If I stripped naked and bent over the couch, would you to get the lube from the bedroom? I’d really like to celebrate being alone.”
Jackson’s chuckle, ripe and filthy, was enough to get him to stand up and start toeing off his shoes.
Jason Constance had learned to sleep on a helicopter a long time ago—but he couldn’t. Not today.
“You dropped a sign on his head,” he said in disbelief.
Burton opened one eye, because he had been sleeping. “You taught us to use the weapon at hand,” he replied, voice mild.
“I don’t even believe how that went down.”
Burton snorted. “I don’t believe you subdued your guy without killing him. It took an awful lot of fun with knives to get that guy to talk.”
Constance shrugged. Like Burton, the physical things—the running, jumping, shooting people while you did it—that part had been the easy part.
It had been holding on to the tiny fragments of his soul that was hard.
“But a sign!”
Burton blew out a breath. “If I tell you a secret, will you shut up about the fucking sign?”
“Ernie texted me the day after we left. There was ‘Rivers get down’, and there was ‘Pull that thing!’. Guess how it played out.”
Constance started to giggle. “Really?”
The giggles died abruptly. “Let me know if he texts you anything about me, okay?”
Burton just stared at him, and Constance got an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“What? What’d he say?”
“He said that in the end, when it’s all over, you’re gonna be okay.”
And for the life of him, Jason Constance, who’d had a plan all his life, couldn’t think of another thing to say.