Urban Fantasy Suspense R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
M argarite   can   legally   carry   a   gun   now,   which   isn’t   a   big   deal   since there   isn’t   much   law   left,   and   she’s   proven   she   can   kill   with   her bare   fist.   With   nine   months   of   black   ops   training   she’s   a   certified killing   machine.   Hopefully   the   muscle   between   her   ears   will   keep her   alive   as   the   hatred   for   her   family   roils,   along   with   the   plague her    brother    designed    and    the    global    economic    spiral    it    caused. There’s little hope for normalcy, only surviving.
Chapter 1 ~ R eliving   the   amperage   searing   my   wrists,   numbing   my   fingertips,   and   pounding   my shoulders   sucked.   Didn’t   matter   it   was   a   dream.   My   body   continued   to   vibrate   fifteen minutes   after   waking   up.   A   bit   dramatic,   jolting   alert   with   the   jet   touching   down   the same instant the C-4 exploded. I   understand   that   when   it   comes   to   disarming   a   bomb,   perfection   is   important.   But did   the   training   have   to   be   so   realistic?   Granted   the   price   of   failure   was   merely   an electrical   shock   and   a   speaker   loudly   tolling   kabloom .   But   the   feedback   was   extremely visceral. Certainly good incentive to do it right every time. I   meandered   another   step   forward   with   the   herd   inching   for   freedom.   Humidity   and Florida   heat   wafted   down   the   aisle.   Ah,   good   old,   ninety   degrees   and   ninety   percent humidity. What could beat that? A ten penny nail in the eye. In   June,   I   froze   on   that   Wyoming   prairie.   Who   knew   it   could   get   that   cold   at   night in   June.   June.   They   could   have   warned   this   Floridian.   Worse,   the   survival   training.   If   I ever have to eat a beetle again I’ll just kill a companion and eat him. I   would   experience   nightmares   of   the   past   nine   months   the   rest   of   my   life.   What’s   a few bad moments lamenting about gnawing on a friend’s leg? A   smidgen   of   claustrophobia   wedged   between   a   couple   ribs.   There’s   a   plague   raging and   we’re   breathing   each   other’s   air.   Too   many   people   crammed   into   one   plane,   all   the overheads   sprung   open   and   looming   toward   my   face.   A   phobia   I   didn’t   even   know   I   had. Hadn’t   before.   Exaggerated   by   the   three   days   I   remained   buried   underground   with   my own   urine   and   feces   inches   from   my   face   in   the   silent   darkness.   My   coffin   lid   kept   me from even sitting up. DynNam is run by a bunch of very dark sociopaths. Most times I close my eyes I still hear the earth being shoveled on top of me. But   I   know   I   can   survive   anything   now.   Maybe   not   an   hour   of   one-on-one   time   with my   brother.   There   is   no   black   ops   training   that   could   get   anyone   through   that   horror. Even   my   shrink   couldn’t   get   me   through   that.   Geez.   First   time   I’d   thought   about   him   in weeks. I   even   made   it   through   my   three-day   burial   without   a   call   to   Dr.   Lazos.   That   is freakin’ amazing. Well, I called him and sobbed after they released me. Zeller   sprang   to   mind   as   I   breathlessly   neared   the   plane’s   exit.   She   is   crazy.   Asked Reg   to   marry   her   while   I   was   gone.   Absolutely   unbelievable.   She   could   do   much   better than   my   autistic   brother.   If   she   lopped   off   a   couple   appendages   she’d   be   better   off   than cursing herself with a life with him. But   she   helped   him   through   tough   days.   Even   if   he   claims   no   emotion,   his   hung   jury had   to   have   been   a   relief.   The   freakin’,   autistic   droid.   And   that   bastard   prosecutor   wants a   new   trial.   You’d   think   developing   a   serum   for   Plague   2.0   could   have   gotten   Reggie   a presidential pardon, even if the serum only worked on one out of ten patients. A   warning   to   future   maniacs.   Don’t   engineer   diseases   to   attack   those   with   a   specific DNA sequence. They become a mean bug resistant to most everything. The   jetway   vibrated   with   the   fall   of   our   harried   steps.   Didn’t   help   my   physical situation.   Extra   space   allowed   me   to   take   a   deeper   breath.   The   roar-hiss   of   the   forced   air mitigated none of the Florida humidity. The   terminal   was   almost   as   packed   as   the   plane.   Reducing   the   number   of   flights   by a   factor   of   ten   is   a   good   way   to   ensure   the   planes   remain   full.   So   there   was   no   rushing for the baggage area. Slog a step. Wait. Slog a step. It   would   be   good   to   sleep   in   my   own   bed   tonight,   not   a   cot   in   an   open-floor   barracks with   seven   men,   all   of   whom   wished   for   just   a   peek   at   my   bare   boobs   to   break   the   stress of the training. Good   thing   DynNam   finished   off   the   program   with   a   relatively   tension-free,   indoor class.   As   freaked   as   I’d   been,   we   had   all   been   after   the   survival   and   field   psyche   training, I could have killed all these idiots who refuse to get out of my way. They still aren’t out of harm’s way. Another   twenty   minutes   before   my   trunks   arrived   on   the   twirly   belt.   I   needed   a beer. I dialed Dacey. “You’re set to be picked up?” he asked. Why else would I be calling him? He didn’t wait for my answer. Bright man. “Be there in five minutes.” If   it   took   six,   I   might   still   kill   someone.   I   hefted   the   first   trunk   on   my   shoulder. Probably   be   smart   if   I   got   a   Skycap   with   a   wheelie-thing.   But   I’m   stubborn   that   way.   I nearly   scalped   a   little   kid   with   the   corner   of   the   trunk.   He   would   have   been   dead   if   he was   two   inches   taller.   A   thirtyish   businessman   lunged   forward.   “Can   I   help   you   with that?” Okay,   I   may   have   smirked.   For   the   past   nine   months   I   had   been   proving   to   arrogant men   over   and   over   I   was   as   strong   as   them.   Almost   as   smart.   Definitely   more   sarcastic. Meaner by far. “Sure. You can grab those two.” He   followed   the   direction   of   my   thumb,   at   the   two   identical   trunks   I   also   had   to   haul to   the   curb.   His   eyes   glazed.   Most   of   us   didn’t   respond   that   way   until   seventeen   hours into   the   stamina   course.   A   man   has   never   experienced   pain   until   he’s   gone   thirty   hours without sleep under constant physical demand. If I could follow orders, SEAL training would be fun to me now. Maybe not, really. DynNam   claimed   they   crammed   a   whole   lot   of   SEAL   training   into   their   nine   month course. If I survived the next few hours, I could say the sixty thousand was well spent. I   strolled   back   for   trunk   number   two   when   a   Transit   Authority   wannabe   shouted   at me, “Are these yours? You can’t leave baggage unattended.” I   flicked   a   glance   over   at   the   twirly-sidewalk   thing   spinning   around   with   a   zillion bags   that   hadn’t   yet   been   picked   up.   I   didn’t   have   to   ask   what   was   different   between mine   and   those.   As   with   many   maniacs   high   on   power   I’d   met   the   last   few   years,   he huffed up like a horny rooster. I held my glare on him for only a second. A   second   more   and   I’m   sure   he   would   have   melted   like   a   hosed-down   witch,   but   I simply    didn’t    have    the    energy.    I    needed    time    to    vegetate    for    the    first    time    since Christmas. Wait. Did I even wind down at Christmas? I grabbed the second trunk, hefted it to my shoulder, and sauntered away. He   shouted   at   me.   I   could   feel   his   angry   eyes   on   my   back   as   he   radioed   for   support. Oh   my.   He   couldn’t   manhandle   this   little   girl   by   himself.   I   dropped   the   trunk   off   four steps from the entrance and strode back for trunk number three. Maniac   TSA-man   tinged   a   little   red   in   his   cheeks   now.   Maybe   he   recognized   how inane   he   was   acting.   Masculine   voices   hissed   loudly   from   the   left,   “Excuse   me.   Make way,”   fifty   feet   away   on   the   escalator.   Doofus’   supervisor   and   a   third,   important   backup was on the way. Killing really was not an option. Not an option, Abernathy. Abernathy! Listen to yourself. Ignoring   the   ado   I   headed   outside   with   trunk   three.   Doofus   threatened   he’d   arrest me. Okay.   The   world   became   a   bad   place   after   the   WTC   towers   came   down,   and   that escalated   with   the   riots   and   anarchy   following   the   outbreak   of   Plague   2.0.   So   I   should   be more    appreciative    of    the    situation.    But    I’ve    never    been    empathetic    or    the    least appreciative of much of anything. Comes with living with an autistic brother, maybe. No. Strictly the Abernathy genes. Oh.    These    twits    would    love    the    weapons    they’d    find    if    they    did    arrest    me    and opened my footlockers. I   watched   the   drive   for   my   black   Expedition.   The   three   TSA   officers   waited   for additional airport police before they exited the building and surrounded me. I   managed   to   mitigate   my   irritation   and   insult,   donned   the   most   helpless   little   girl expression I could generate. Snort. As though I have such a thing. “It’s   a   felony   to   disregard—”   after   that   I   checked   out   of   the   conversation.   I   did attempt   to   pretend   to   listen.   The   cops   ranted.   Doofus   threw   in   some   more   inanity.   Ho boy.   Imagine   if   I   had   been   a   real   terrorist,   they   might   have   asked   to   see   any   bomb remotes   I   might   have   been   carrying   on   my   person.   I   canted   my   head   to   the   left   to   appear appreciative. No one pulled out cuffs, so I didn’t have to break any necks. The    supervisor    asked    me    a    question.    Huh?    Maybe    I    should    have    been    paying attention. “Did you even listen to me?” the man asked. “Mar,   what’s   going   on?”   Dacey’s   voice   meandered   between   the   angry   retorts   of   the other four gents. A    whistle    blared.    I    didn’t    want    to    listen,    but    cops    from    the    drive    were    now descending on us because Dacey left the Expedition unoccupied. There   are   twenty   ways   to   kill   a   man   in   twenty   seconds   and   less   with   the   most innocuous   tool,   like   a   key   or   spoon.   Six   ways   to   kill   a   man   with   your   bare   hands.   I’ve done that. Not what I should have been thinking about. I   caught   Dacey’s   eye   and   pointed   at   the   stack   of   three   trunks   and   he   grabbed   one and   jogged   back   to   the   Expedition.   Maybe   that   would   quell   the   anger   from   the   street cops. “Are we done here?” I asked the half-way sane supervisor. He exhaled hard. “Yes.” I   turned   and   wrenched   a   trunk   in   the   air,   met   Dacey   half-way   to   the   Expedition.   We got the last trunk loaded without another riot or murderous event. Closing   the   door   behind   me,   I   snapped   off   the   music   Dacey   had   tuned   in.   I   needed quiet.   A   mini-panic   attack   threatened.   Tears   welled.   I   had   to   breathe   through   my   mouth. My lungs weren’t working right. Dacey   maybe   glanced   my   way   but   didn’t   say   anything.   He   pulled   into   the   open   lane and    trolled    through    the    tunnel,    into    the    sun    leaning    heavily    over    Tampa    Bay.    I concentrated   on   slow,   deep   breaths.   We   neared   the   roller   coaster   spaghetti   of   highway before Dacey spoke. “Welcome home. You’ve been missed.” A sob threatened. Emotion simmered in my throat. I will not cry. I will not cry. I so needed some down time. I   peered   across   at   my   two   hundred   forty   pound   best   friend,   spirit   guide,   body   guard, chief   cook,   and   laundry   expert.   Add   partner   to   that   list.   He   so   didn’t   look   like   the   nearly four hundred pound mess I met four years ago. He’d   been   hired   to   abduct   me.   Was   expected   to   kill   me.   Really   glad   he   opted   not   to fulfill his job. Would have cut short a really great friendship. He   knew   not   to   ask   if   I   was   okay.   That   would   have   ticked   me   off.   A   moron   could have   picked   up   on   my   anxiety,   right?   I   managed   a   hard   exhalation,   like   an   exclamation point to my inconvenient emotion. “Tight jeans and cowboy boots?” he asked. Well, I’d been stuck in the sticks of Western Wyoming for nine months. “You’ve lost a hell of a lot of weight,” he said. I’d   gotten   down   to   one-thirty   early,   and   then   there   was   that   dang   week   eating beetles.   Not   that   the   barracks   slop   they   fed   us   filled   any   of   us   out.   Lots   of   protein,   very little   carbs.   I   might   never   bulk   back   up   to   my   best   playing   weight.   Though   Dacey’s cooking   would   help.   I   didn’t   look   forward   to   greeting   a   full-length   mirror.   My   five   feet thirteen   inches   looks   good   with   a   full   one   hundred   sixty   pounds   on   it.   I   had   never   been   a petite little girl. “Let your hair grow out,” he said. I hadn’t had a lot of free time to visit a spa lately. “Damn I missed you,” he said. My eyes welled. He talks too much. Dang, emotional Greek. Chapter Two ~ A n   odd   squeal   followed   the   thunk    of   me   nudging   the   door   open   with   my   toe.   Motion,   an unrecognizable   white   blur,   freaked   me   out   and   I   dropped   the   trunk   and   wrenched   for my 9mm on my hip, which was naked. At least of hardware. Funny they frown on you boarding a plane wearing a sidearm. “What   the   hell?”   bellowed   from   the   foyer   inside.   I   guess   the   trunk   dropping   to   the front deck made quite the noise. Zeller’s voice. I   shouldn’t   have   been   surprised   to   hear   her.   Dacey   had   written   she’d   moved   in,   sold her   house   in   Atlanta.   After   getting   fired   from   the   CDC,   I   never   had   been   clear   why   she continued   to   take   research   gigs   in   Atlanta,   flew   to   Tampa   every   other   weekend   to   see   my brother. Why would anyone fly to see my brother? Four   beeps   indicated   the   alarm   had   been   calmed   and   the   door   wrenched   open   fully. Zeller   extended   her   arms   wide   to   suck   me   into   an   embrace.   She   knows   I   hate   that. Maybe   why   she   does   it.   Any   little   thing   to   irritate   the   snot   out   of   me.   So   here   it   came.   My face   had   to   have   crinkled   like   a   raisin   but   she   grabbed   me   and   squeezed.   Ho   boy.   One   of us was going to teeter over the trunk between us. “Welcome home, sister,” she screeched in my ear. Sister?   I   really   don’t   need   another   sibling.   The   one   I   have   by   birth   is   more   than   I can   deal   with.   Thankfully   Dacey   took   on   a   great   deal   of   the   burden   the   last   four   years   or I would have killed the man. Ho boy, I think about killing folk a lot. Double   ho   boy.   Zeller   had   filled   out   some,   the   last   nine   months.   Had   boobs.   Dacey’s cooking. She   finally   let   me   go   but   didn’t   stop   talking   as   I   studied   the   wiggling   white   thing   at my feet. Ho boy. Zeller    gushed    an    introduction.    Forty    pound    Pit    Bull.    Un-named    as    yet.    Sweet enough   to   give   me   cavities,   supposedly.   All   white   except   for   a   chocolate   patch   over   her right   hip.   She   looked   up   at   me   with   copper-colored   eyes   that   said   pick   me   up   and   love me for eternity. Ignore it. Deny it. Don’t be weak, Abernathy. I’d   lived   five   years   without   a   canine   companion.   This   creature   wasn’t   my   brother’s fault. And I was pretty certain Zeller wasn’t a dog person. Dacey appeared behind me and I ripped him a look. “What?” he asked, as though he could possibly be innocent. A dog? We don’t need a dog. “Surprise,” he said. A dog? Zeller   grabbed   one   handle   of   the   trunk   I   dropped   and   I   grabbed   the   opposite,   and we   cleared   the   threshold,   though   the   bundle   of   white   fur   continued   to   wiggle   and   whine pathetically. Sounded more like a gerbil than a dog. I’m   returning   from   nine   long   months   of   the   most   intensive   training   from   hell,   in preparation   to   start   my   own   security   company,   and   my   partner   thinks   we   have   time   for a tagalong on four paws? I would kill him. Again with the killing thoughts. Dacey said, “I’ve been calling her Baby, but whatever works for—” “We don’t have time to care for a dog,” I hissed. Dacey’s   face   imploded   with   emotion.   Aw,   geez.   The   first   words   I   mutter   to   him   and   I rip   out   his   heart.   Who   could   have   guessed   he’d   think   I’d   want   a   scruffy   mutt   around.   To remind me of Brassy. Five years and my chest still crumples when I think of her. “She’s a rescue,” Zeller said. “Sweet as can be.” I   don’t   care   how   sweet   she   is.   She   kept   looking   at   me   with   those   copper-colored eyes,   ears   back   as   though   someone   might   kick   her   in   the   ribs   any   moment.   Zeller   knelt and   scratched   the   mutt   behind   the   ear.   Zeller’s   blue   eyes   looked   up   at   me   as   though   she   was the rescue looking for love. Dacey   set   down   his   trunk   on   the   one   we’d   gotten   into   the   entrance   of   the   sitting room    and    fled    with    some    lame    excuse    he’d    get    the    last    trunk.    As    though    our conversation was over. Zeller asked, “Isn’t she cute?” A-freaking-dorable. She   actually   was.   Calm   as   a   clam   now.   She   sat,   that   tiny   whip   of   a   tail   thrashing right   and   left.   I   had   always   assumed   one   day   I’d   replace   the   empty   hole   Brassy   left   in   my heart. But not now or any time soon. Motion   down   the   hall   drew   my   attention.   Reg   stood   outside   his   room.   His   eyes flicked   toward   the   floor   quickly   to   avoid   that   evil   eye   contact.   That   two   second   glance would   be   all   the   welcome   I   got   from   him.   He   hugged   himself.   An   odd   mannerism   for him.   Stolen   from   Zeller,   maybe?   His   hands   usually   fluttered   at   the   seams   of   his   khaki pants. Dacey trudged in with the last trunk. Zeller said, “You left with one gym bag over your shoulder.” I    hadn’t    needed    much.    I    alternated    between    the    three    sets    of    cammo    fatigues DynNam   provided   the   first   two   months   I   was   in   Wyoming.   A   few   pairs   of   boxer   shorts, socks, and sports bras didn’t take much space. But   I’d   acquired   quite   the   library   while   I   was   there.   And   selected   a   lot   of   hardware   I sighted   down   an   open   range,   day   after   day.   I   had   to   get   two   sets   of   everything   of   course. I couldn’t leave Dacey to just his 9mm and baby .380. We’d need a gun safe. Would the admiral notice if I stole his? “You hungry?” Dacey asked as he set down the last trunk. Does a beaver like to swim? “You bother to ask?” Zeller mumbled. I   turned   and   headed   for   the   kitchen   and   Reg   panicked   and   lurched   back   into   his room   and   closed   the   door.   Even   for   him,   that   was   weird.   But   knowing   him   for   twenty- one   years,   I   should   never   be   surprised   by   his   behavior.   I   learned   to   worry   about   myself. Must explain my narcissist personality. That, and Abernathy genes. Don’t worry about Reg. I   really   needed,   wanted,   lusted   for   one   of   Zeller’s   Michelob   Ultras.   And   let   one   of   my house   partners   dare   raise   an   eyebrow.   I   might   have   had   a   problem   with   alcohol   a   few years   ago,   but   I’m   legal   now.   Found   healthier   ways   to   cope   with   the   depression   Dr.   Lazo dared to suggest might haunt me forever. The   silly   dog   followed   me   down   the   hall,   shoulder   constantly   kissing   the   side   of   my leg.   If   it   was   waiting   for   loving,   it   would   wait   till   Hell   installed   a   furnace.   She   wasn’t sticking   around.   I   expected   to   be   busy.   I   already   had   three   contracts   in   a   trunk.   A celebrity   client   sweating   a   stalker,   a   trucking   firm   needing   to   buff   up   its   security   in Florida   with   all   the   unrest,   and   a   Pemex   deal   worth   millions   to   revamp   security   against revolutionaries.    Still    can’t    believe    DynNam    thought    their    youngest    graduate    to-date could manage that deal. I impressed some idiot. “Why the scowl?” Zeller asked. I   had   too   much   on   my   mind   and   needed   too   much   sleep.   There   was   the   debt   my brother   was   racking   up   on   his   legal   troubles   too.   I   grabbed   a   beer   out   of   the   fridge,   but considering Zeller’s lifted chin-nod, I handed her that one and got me a new one. We   popped   our   caps   in   sync,   took   long   gulps,   and   sighed   together   as   though   we’re twins.   Weird.   Then   the   aromas   hit   me   and   I   wandered   to   the   ovens   and   flipped   on lights.   Oh.   Oh.   Oh.   I   shot   a   dreamy   look,   had   to   be   dreamy,   at   Dacey   who   had   held   back in   the   hall   a   bit.   He   was   wise   to   be   scared.   I   know   6   ways   to   kill   a   man   with   my   bare hands. “Ready to eat?” he asked. “Asking stupid questions again?” Zeller mumbled. She   hit   her   beer   again   and   I   followed   her   lead,   before   she   fell   into   a   monologue   of the    current    goings    on.    The    local    economy,    like    everywhere,    was    in    the    toilet. Unemployment   hitting   a   new   high.   Crime   rampant.   Everything   cost   twice   what   it   did   a year    ago.    The    plague    popped    up    here    and    there    with    no    explanation    across    the continent.   Babies   and   grandparents   were   still   dying   from   it.   The   Middle   East   was   a ghost town. They had run out of desert to bury people. Her tacky expression, not mine. I   could   have   told   her   I   had   Wi-Fi   in   Wyoming,   but   I   kept   busy   watching   Dacey pulling   trays   of   hot   wings,   a   roast,   ribs,   and   sausage   from   the   ovens,   bowls   out   of   the fridge.   The   vinegary   aroma   of   my   favorite   four   bean   salad   hit   me.   I   almost   swooned, whatever a swoon is. Potato salad. Deviled eggs. Dacey   paused   to   use   his   phone.   I   was   expecting   that.   The   neighbors   would   be   over in   a   second.   I   wasn’t   waiting.   I   grabbed   one   of   the   paper   plates   already   set   out   and loaded   up   with   one   of   everything,   a   double   slice   or   dollop   of   everything   particularly delish, just in case we ran out of anything later. I   snuggled   into   a   bar   stool   when   the   front   lock   rattled,   followed   by   a   pair   of   steps. The little Pit didn’t bark. Just moseyed to the hall and craned her neck. When    did    we    give    the    admiral    a    key?    He’d    had    it    for    years.    Funny    I    couldn’t remember   ever   giving   him   one.   Reg   never   would   have   offered   up   a   key.   Probably   got   it from one of his CIA buddies. Tebs,   my   one   time   shrink,   who   fired   me,   entered   with   a   yahoo   and   a   welcome home.    I   had   to   put   up   with   two   more   hugs,   after   the   admiral   set   down   the   two   six-packs he contributed to our party. The more the merrier. I   closed   my   eyes   to   the   ado.   Nine   months   I   hadn’t   gotten   close   to   a   radio,   much   less a   crowd   noise.   The   eight   of   us   were   always   too   tired   to   even   talk   in   mumbles   outside   of our   training   scenarios,   deciding   who   did   what   with   what   munitions,   to   which   pretend foes. Blowing things up was a whole heck of a lot of fun. Funny that noise never got old. Tebs,   AKA   Dr.   Quorra   Tebeth,   and   the   admiral,   her   honey,   hit   me   with   six   questions each.   I   hope   they   didn’t   expect   me   to   answer.   Especially   tonight.   Especially   with   a chicken   breast   between   my   teeth.   I   didn’t   want   to   think   about   Wyoming.   What   I   went through. All I wanted to get through tonight was my wings and barbeque. The   two   exchanged   looks   when   it   appeared   obvious   I   wasn’t   going   to   answer   them, and the room quieted as plates filled and beer bottles pished . Of   course   Zeller   kept   the   conversation   from   completely   dying.   Dacey   disappeared for   a   second   and   returned   with   Reg,   who   entered   the   dining   room   and   met   my   eyes   for   a two   count.   He   stepped   toward   me,   hesitantly.   Dacey   must   have   threatened   his   life   if   he didn’t say something to me. He managed a nod. I   returned   the   nod   with   a   manufactured   smile,   and   he   blushed,   rushed   around   the counter to fill his own plate. I   may   have   downed   too   many   beers   with   my   artery   clogging   Southern   food,   because by   nine   o’clock   I   could   barely   keep   my   head   up.   Tebs   suggested   I   turn   in.   Evidently   I looked   like   an   overcooked   soufflé.   Whatever   that   would   look   like.   I’ve   never   turned   on an   oven   in   my   life.   Also,   I   tend   not   to   follow   suggestions,   but   gave   her   a   nod.   Everyone lined   up   to   give   me   a   hug.   I   have   no   idea   why.   They   repeated   their   welcomes.   I   don’t know why. I don’t get people. Never have, never will. I headed for my shower. When   I   came   out   that   silly   dog   lay   on   the   settee   across   from   my   bed.   I   gave   her   a long   look.   Her   ears   pulled   back   tightly.   Those   copper   eyes   didn’t   blink.   Ho   boy.   She   was   cute.   But   she   had   to   go.   Soft   voices   wafted   from   the   kitchen   around   the   corner   and   up my   short   hallway,   the   clink   of   pots   and   utensils   being   washed.   I   considered   shouting   at Dacey to come get his dog. But didn’t. I    sighed    and    crawled    between    the    sheets,    pulled    up    my    current,    semi-nasty, paranormal   screamer   on   my   tablet.   As   tired   as   I   was,   I   wasn’t   going   to   get   more   than   a few   pages   read.   Perfect.   A   hum   rose   next   to   the   bed.   The   pup   had   hopped   down   from   the settee,   stood   glaring   at   me.   I   didn’t   have   to   peer   her   way   to   know   that.   Begging   dogs have a supernatural aura that crawls into a sucker’s pores. Within   ten   seconds   she   was   up   on   the   bed   with   me,   subtly   splayed   out   along   my   leg. Why   me?   Hadn’t   she   been   around   Dacey   the   past   week?   Five   minutes   later   she   lay curled beside my hip. By   the   time   I   shut   down   my   tablet   her   shoulder   pressed   lightly   against   my   shoulder. Amazing she could curl up into such an itty little ball. Ho boy. I gave her a pat. Her coat was silky soft. Like warm butter. Chapter Three ~ M y   phone   woke   me.   It   shouldn’t   have.   After   rising   at   five   AM   every   morning   the   past nine months, amazing I managed to sleep in. Phone claimed it was 10:13. Ho boy. The   buttery   soft   pup   lay   snuggling   my   neck   now.   I   vaguely   remembered   Dacey calling   her   at   some   time   as   the   sky   tinted   light.   So   she   had   gone   out   and   returned.   She was poorly misinformed. She wasn’t staying. “What?” I blurted at my phone. “I   got   all   my   business   settled,”   Brice   answered.   “Catching   a   flight   for   Tampa   in   a few.” “Reschedule,”    I    mumbled.    This    was    going    to    piss    him    off.    I    forgot    to    call    him yesterday. “What?” he hissed. He   got   away   with   that   tone   only   because   I   had   made   him   a   partner.   May   have   been a big mistake. “You’re   off   for   Jacksonville.”   I   rubbed   sleep   from   my   eyes.   Yeah.   I   should   have called him last night. I wasn’t going to suggest the late warning was my fault. He   snorted,   Why?    I   explained   because   he   had   an   audit   to   perform.   He   groaned about    hating    audits.    I    voiced    for    about    the    thirtieth    time    in    our    almost-three    year friendship he shouldn’t have become a CPA. “I hate you,” he said. “Not auditing the books,” I explained. He   sighed.   I   assumed   that   meant   he   was   happy.   I   summarized   we   had   a   potential client, a shipper, having trouble avoiding hijackers. Brice mumbled a, Huh? “I   want   you   to   analyze   the   scope   of   their   issues,   determine   how   thin   their   security   is, figure out if this contract is reasonable compared to the financial terms.” “What contract?” Ho boy. I hadn’t mailed him a soft copy. Something else I forgot to do. “You   realize,”   he   said,   “I’m   supposed   to   be   a   financial   forensic   analyst.   Not   AKRs contract expert.” “That’s why you never got me in bed,” I mumbled. “Excuse me?” he hissed. “You’re narrow minded.” “I’m   not   narrow   minded.”   His   tone   endeavored   out   of   his   alto   range,   going   for baritone. Was never going to happen. “They aren’t expecting you yet,” I said. “So you need to take care of that too.” “You do anything on this contract yet?” he asked. “Haven’t even signed it yet.” “Oh,” he said. A moment later he asked why. I said, “Due diligence . ” Left him to figure out what I meant. “So all it would have taken to get you in bed was—” “No   reason   to   be   worrying   about   that   now.”   I   still   enjoy   flirting   with   the   man.   I consider   him   a   dear   friend.   He   is   more   gentleman   than   any   other   male   I’d   ever   met.   But I   accepted   the   simple   truth   a   long   time   ago   that   water   shouldn’t   mix   with   jet   fuel.   After all, he’s an accountant. And his choice of profession fit his personality. I   have   the   heart   of   an   assassin.   He’d   never   have   a   chance   with   me.   Hopefully   he wasn’t   leaving   his   family   business   with   the   hope   of   still   hooking   up   with   me.   Surely   I had shut any romantic options down a year ago. I’d been brutal. So,   what   if   Dacey   said   Brice   still   adored   me?   I’m   adorable   by   nature.   Cough,   cough. Brice better accept there was nothing more than a partnership ever to be between us. He   asked   about   my   flight,   the   last   of   my   training.   The   problem   with   talking   on   the phone,   I   can’t   shut   down   small   talk   with   a   look.   So   I   told   him   he   was   breaking   up.   Told him to call me when he made it to the client’s office. He hung up with a gruff, “I hate you.” Poor guy. As   I   disconnected,   the   puppy   sat   up   and   hung   her   head   over   my   arm.   Those   copper eyes.   Ho   boy   were   they   manipulative.   She   threatened   to   lick   my   nose.   Ho   boy   if   she didn’t   accomplish   it.   I’d   never   seen   such   a   long   tongue   before.   I   grabbed   her   head   and gave   her   a   teasing   shake.   She   flopped   over   and   opened   that   massive   maw   of   hers,   way out   of   proportion   with   the   rest   of   her   body,   and   dared   me   do   it   again.   Yeah,   she   was   a vicious creature. “Don’t get comfy around here, girl. This isn’t permanent.” Ho   boy   if   that   didn’t   give   me   a   stitch   in   the   side.   She   hissed,   not   anywhere   close   to   a growl,   rocked   her   head   at   me,   enough   to   get   me   to   play   with   her.   The   manipulative   little thing. Ho dang she was soft. Like a baby’s butt. Maybe Baby was a good name for her. Because Butt would never do. “You’re   not   getting   a   name,”   I   told   her.   “That   would   be   like   implying   you’ll   be around here for a while.” I   grabbed   my   tablet   and   forwarded   Brice   the   Jacksonville   contract.   Ho   boy,   I   could still   use   ten   more   hours   of   sleep.   I   groaned   and   dragged   myself   out   of   bed,   walked   to   my armoire.   While   she   didn’t   bodily   move,   those   copper   eyes   followed   me.   Funny   thing.   I pulled   on   a   sports   bra,   my   regular   black   tee   and   cargo   shorts,   resisting   the   temptation   to baby-talk   with   the   pup.   The   stinker.   Manipulator.   She   had   probably   dug   herself   under Dacey’s skin. He’d die if I said she had to go. I couldn’t do that to him. After   the   morning   necessities   I   staggered   for   the   kitchen,   Baby   stroking   my   calf   with every stride. Ho boy, could she kiss up. Dacey sat at the counter reading his tablet. “Hey, sunshine. Bacon and eggs?” “Cereal’s   fine,”   I   mumbled,   dragging   a   cup   down   and   filling   it   with   coffee.   I   didn’t bother   with   cream   and   sugar.   The   boys   in   Wyoming   gave   me   grief   for   adulterating   my caffeine.   I   mostly   got   to   where   I’d   only   sneak   some   sugar   every   other   cup,   if   they   weren’t being attentive. Dacey   pushed   his   cup   forward   and   I   topped   him   off.   I   sipped   at   my   coffee   as   fast   as   I could,   eager   for   the   caffeine   infusion.   I’d   read   ground   coffee   had   hit   over   twenty   bucks   a pound. “We’ve   cut   back   around   here,”   Dacey   said,   reading   my   mind.   “Hard   to   find   it   on   the shelves.   A   local   website   sprouted   up   a   while   back,   reports   where   there   are   supplies   of coffee. Often times it’s all gone before I can get there.” “Bummer,” I mumbled. He explained he made this pot special for me. I offered him a wink. “No, really,” he said. “Usually we make it half as strong as this.” Ho boy. “The   US   has   terminated   imports   from   a   lot   of   countries,”   he   said.   “To   avoid,   you know.” I   nodded,   drew   in   a   smidgen   of   the   black   gold   we   were   talking   about.   I   set   down   my cup   and   headed   for   the   front   room.   Baby   followed   me.   I   opened   the   trunk   I’d   marked with   a   pound   sign   in   marker,   pulled   out   my   bulging   portfolio,   returned   to   the   kitchen, grabbed my coffee, and settled next to Dacey at the counter. He   followed   every   motion   too   closely   with   those   almost-black   eyes   of   his   with   an unasked, What? I   drew   out   the   Pemex   contract   and   slid   it   to   him.   “I   want   you   to   be   the   lead   on   this. The true face.” “Mexico,” he mumbled, glancing over the front. I   told   him   to   flip   back   to   page   twelve.   When   he   got   there,   I   pointed   to   the   financial terms. He whistled. “And Lorna said you were crazy for shelling out sixty-kay for that training.” He   still   hadn’t   slipped   into   using   Zeller’s   last   name.   I   wasn’t   surprised   she   was doubtful   of   my   career   choice.   She   struggled   to   see   any   point   in   studying   anything   but bio-science.   Acted   as   though   I   was   destined   for   minimum   wage,   studying   computer science and psychology at Tampa University. “What’d you mean, true face?” “Clearly   someone   at   DynNam   sold   them   on   me,   for   whatever   reason.   So   they’ll expect   to   see   me   at   their   refineries,   checking   out   their   pipelines,   whatever.   But   you   have real-world experience that makes AKR a force.” AKR,   the   first   letter   of   our   last   names,   Abernathy,   Kosta,   and   Rossi.   The   three musketeers. “I only attended the technical portions of DynNam’s—” “I said real world .” I gave him a hard glare. “I   drove   around   in   a   Humvee   and   confiscated   hooch,   handed   off   real   crimes   to ACIC.” In   my   head   I   interpreted   the   acronym.   Army   Criminal   Investigation   Command.   I should   know   all   of   the   alphabet   soup   by   heart   from   listening   to   Dacey   and   the   admiral wax-wistfully, along with Kory and Adam when they were home on leave. “Well.” I sighed. “I don’t even have that experience.” “Don’t   shortchange   yourself.”   His   voice   rang   strained   as   though   we’d   just   had   a shouting match. “You impressed people in Wyoming for a reason.” “They      were      impressed      with      rumors,      like      I’m      some      conspiracy      fighting superhuman.” He grinned. “You did kick some terrorist butt the last few years.” I harrumphed. “I kept Reg alive.” “Not easy to do. You know, as soon as anyone meets him they want to kill him.” I   managed   not   to   cackle.   So   my   claim   to   fame   is   keeping   alive   the   most   hated   man on Earth. Many called 2.0 the Abernathy Plague. I   needed   to   focus.   “This   contract   will   take   all   of   our   involvement.   But   you   good   with taking the initial lead?” “As   long   as   all   of   us   are   way   over   our   head,   sure,   I’ll   be   the   grander   lost   party.”   He exhaled. “What about Brice?” I   slid   the   Jacksonville   contract   at   him.   “Ain’t   a   little   contract   either.   I’m   guessing we’ll have to hire sixty to eighty operators.” He    smiled.    Yeah.    I’d    fallen    into    DynNam’s    nomenclature.    Like    that    wasn’t inevitable. “You?” he asked. “I   have   a   quick   and   dirty   one,”   I   said,   “that   I’ll   get   out   of   the   way   fast.   Take   a   quick drive   to   Naples,   then   I’ll   jump   back   in   with   the   two   of   you.”   I   rose   and   poured   myself   a bowl of cereal. He   fingered   the   third   folder   out   of   my   portfolio   and   flipped   it   open.   I   let   him   read while I smorged out. “Who’s this celebrity?” he mumbled. I   held   in   my   smirk   and   he   flipped   pages   scanning   the   document.   He   had   to   have missed it on the first page. The following three pages was contract boiler plate. “Tina Straight,” I finally offered. His   eyes   immediately   glazed.   “You’re   kidding?   You’re   killing   me.   Tina.   Really?   I   love her. You take this and leave me with Mexico?” “And a multi-million dollar contract.” “Still. We’re talking Tina.” I said, “I hear people think she’s good looking.” He   snorted.   “If   angelic   perfection   can   be   called   good. ”   His   face   turned   a   bit   angry . As if dying in a vat of acid is only an uncomfortable way to go. “I’ve been a professional body guard for years,” he said. “I should—” “All I need you to do is die of a heart attack when you meet her.” “You get to meet her?” he asked. I gave him a duh  face. Baby circled once and lay across my bare feet. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
SCI FI Fantasy Dystopian
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
6 Ways to Kill Chapter 1 ~ R eliving   the   amperage   searing   my   wrists, numbing   my   fingertips,   and   pounding   my shoulders    sucked.    Didn’t    matter    it    was    a dream.     My     body     continued     to     vibrate fifteen    minutes    after    waking    up.    A    bit dramatic,   jolting   alert   with   the   jet   touching down the same instant the C-4 exploded. I    understand    that    when    it    comes    to disarming   a   bomb,   perfection   is   important. But   did   the   training   have   to   be   so   realistic? Granted   the   price   of   failure   was   merely   an electrical   shock   and   a   speaker   loudly   tolling kabloom .   But   the   feedback   was   extremely visceral.   Certainly   good   incentive   to   do   it right every time. I   meandered   another   step   forward   with the    herd    inching    for    freedom.    Humidity and   Florida   heat   wafted   down   the   aisle.   Ah, good     old,     ninety     degrees     and     ninety percent humidity. What could beat that? A ten penny nail in the eye. In     June,     I     froze     on     that     Wyoming prairie.   Who   knew   it   could   get   that   cold   at night     in     June.     June.     They     could     have warned   this   Floridian.   Worse,   the   survival training.   If   I   ever   have   to   eat   a   beetle   again I’ll just kill a companion and eat him. I    would    experience    nightmares    of    the past   nine   months   the   rest   of   my   life.   What’s a     few     bad     moments     lamenting     about gnawing on a friend’s leg? A    smidgen    of    claustrophobia    wedged between    a    couple    ribs.    There’s    a    plague raging   and   we’re   breathing   each   other’s   air. Too   many   people   crammed   into   one   plane, all   the   overheads   sprung   open   and   looming toward    my    face.    A    phobia    I    didn’t    even know   I   had.   Hadn’t   before.   Exaggerated   by the      three      days      I      remained      buried underground   with   my   own   urine   and   feces inches   from   my   face   in   the   silent   darkness. My coffin lid kept me from even sitting up. DynNam   is   run   by   a   bunch   of   very   dark sociopaths. Most   times   I   close   my   eyes   I   still   hear the earth being shoveled on top of me. But   I   know   I   can   survive   anything   now. Maybe    not    an    hour    of    one-on-one    time with    my    brother.    There    is    no    black    ops training   that   could   get   anyone   through   that horror.    Even    my    shrink    couldn’t    get    me through   that.   Geez.   First   time   I’d   thought about him in weeks. I    even    made    it    through    my    three-day burial   without   a   call   to   Dr.   Lazos.   That   is freakin’    amazing.    Well,    I    called    him    and sobbed after they released me. Zeller   sprang   to   mind   as   I   breathlessly neared   the   plane’s   exit.   She   is   crazy.   Asked Reg     to     marry     her     while     I     was     gone. Absolutely     unbelievable.     She     could     do much    better    than    my    autistic    brother.    If she   lopped   off   a   couple   appendages   she’d be   better   off   than   cursing   herself   with   a   life with him. But   she   helped   him   through   tough   days. Even   if   he   claims   no   emotion,   his   hung   jury had    to    have    been    a    relief.    The    freakin’, autistic   droid.   And   that   bastard   prosecutor wants   a   new   trial.   You’d   think   developing   a serum    for    Plague    2.0    could    have    gotten Reggie    a    presidential    pardon,    even    if    the serum    only    worked    on    one    out    of    ten patients. A    warning    to    future    maniacs.    Don’t engineer    diseases    to    attack    those    with    a specific    DNA    sequence.    They    become    a mean bug resistant to most everything. The   jetway   vibrated   with   the   fall   of   our harried     steps.     Didn’t     help     my     physical situation.   Extra   space   allowed   me   to   take   a deeper   breath.   The   roar-hiss   of   the   forced air mitigated none of the Florida humidity. The   terminal   was   almost   as   packed   as the   plane.   Reducing   the   number   of   flights by   a   factor   of   ten   is   a   good   way   to   ensure the    planes    remain    full.    So    there    was    no rushing for the baggage area. Slog a step. Wait. Slog a step. It   would   be   good   to   sleep   in   my   own bed    tonight,    not    a    cot    in    an    open-floor barracks    with    seven    men,    all    of    whom wished   for   just   a   peek   at   my   bare   boobs   to break the stress of the training. Good    thing    DynNam    finished    off    the program     with     a     relatively     tension-free, indoor   class.   As   freaked   as   I’d   been,   we   had all   been   after   the   survival   and   field   psyche training,   I   could   have   killed   all   these   idiots who refuse to get out of my way. They still aren’t out of harm’s way. Another     twenty     minutes     before     my trunks   arrived   on   the   twirly   belt.   I   needed   a beer. I dialed Dacey. “You’re set to be picked up?” he asked. Why else would I be calling him? He    didn’t    wait    for    my    answer.    Bright man. “Be there in five minutes.” If   it   took   six,   I   might   still   kill   someone.   I hefted    the    first    trunk    on    my    shoulder. Probably   be   smart   if   I   got   a   Skycap   with   a wheelie-thing.   But   I’m   stubborn   that   way.   I nearly   scalped   a   little   kid   with   the   corner   of the   trunk.   He   would   have   been   dead   if   he was       two       inches       taller.       A       thirtyish businessman   lunged   forward.   “Can   I   help you with that?” Okay,   I   may   have   smirked.   For   the   past nine     months     I     had     been     proving     to arrogant   men   over   and   over   I   was   as   strong as   them.   Almost   as   smart.   Definitely   more sarcastic. Meaner by far. “Sure. You can grab those two.” He   followed   the   direction   of   my   thumb, at    the    two    identical    trunks    I    also    had    to haul   to   the   curb.   His   eyes   glazed.   Most   of us   didn’t   respond   that   way   until   seventeen hours   into   the   stamina   course.   A   man   has never    experienced    pain    until    he’s    gone thirty   hours   without   sleep   under   constant physical demand. If   I   could   follow   orders,   SEAL   training would be fun to me now. Maybe not, really. DynNam     claimed     they     crammed     a whole   lot   of   SEAL   training   into   their   nine month    course.    If    I    survived    the    next    few hours,   I   could   say   the   sixty   thousand   was well spent. I    strolled    back    for    trunk    number    two when   a   Transit   Authority   wannabe   shouted at    me,    “Are    these    yours?    You    can’t    leave baggage unattended.” I    flicked    a    glance    over    at    the    twirly- sidewalk    thing    spinning    around    with    a zillion   bags   that   hadn’t   yet   been   picked   up. I    didn’t    have    to    ask    what    was    different between    mine    and    those.    As    with    many maniacs   high   on   power   I’d   met   the   last   few years,   he   huffed   up   like   a   horny   rooster.   I held my glare on him for only a second. A   second   more   and   I’m   sure   he   would have   melted   like   a   hosed-down   witch,   but   I simply    didn’t    have    the    energy.    I    needed time    to    vegetate    for    the    first    time    since Christmas.   Wait.   Did   I   even   wind   down   at Christmas? I   grabbed   the   second   trunk,   hefted   it   to my shoulder, and sauntered away. He   shouted   at   me.   I   could   feel   his   angry eyes   on   my   back   as   he   radioed   for   support. Oh   my.   He   couldn’t   manhandle   this   little girl   by   himself.   I   dropped   the   trunk   off   four steps   from   the   entrance   and   strode   back   for trunk number three. Maniac   TSA-man   tinged   a   little   red   in his   cheeks   now.   Maybe   he   recognized   how inane     he     was     acting.     Masculine     voices hissed    loudly    from    the    left,    “Excuse    me. Make   way,”   fifty   feet   away   on   the   escalator. Doofus’   supervisor   and   a   third,   important backup was on the way. Killing really was not an option. Not an option, Abernathy. Abernathy! Listen to yourself. Ignoring   the   ado   I   headed   outside   with trunk   three.   Doofus   threatened   he’d   arrest me. Okay.    The    world    became    a    bad    place after   the   WTC   towers   came   down,   and   that escalated     with     the     riots     and     anarchy following   the   outbreak   of   Plague   2.0.   So   I should      be      more      appreciative      of      the situation.   But   I’ve   never   been   empathetic or     the     least     appreciative     of     much     of anything. Comes     with     living     with     an     autistic brother, maybe. No. Strictly the Abernathy genes. Oh.   These   twits   would   love   the   weapons they’d     find     if     they     did     arrest     me     and opened my footlockers. I     watched     the     drive     for     my     black Expedition.   The   three   TSA   officers   waited for    additional    airport    police    before    they exited the building and surrounded me. I   managed   to   mitigate   my   irritation   and insult,   donned   the   most   helpless   little   girl expression     I     could     generate.     Snort.     As though I have such a thing. “It’s   a   felony   to   disregard—”   after   that   I checked    out    of    the    conversation.    I    did attempt    to    pretend    to    listen.    The    cops ranted.     Doofus     threw     in     some     more inanity.   Ho   boy.   Imagine   if   I   had   been   a real   terrorist,   they   might   have   asked   to   see any     bomb     remotes     I     might     have     been carrying   on   my   person.   I   canted   my   head   to the left to appear appreciative. No   one   pulled   out   cuffs,   so   I   didn’t   have to break any necks. The    supervisor    asked    me    a    question. Huh?    Maybe    I    should    have    been    paying attention. “Did   you   even   listen   to   me?”   the   man asked. “Mar,   what’s   going   on?”   Dacey’s   voice meandered    between    the    angry    retorts    of the other four gents. A   whistle   blared.   I   didn’t   want   to   listen, but      cops      from      the      drive      were      now descending    on    us    because    Dacey    left    the Expedition unoccupied. There   are   twenty   ways   to   kill   a   man   in twenty    seconds    and    less    with    the    most innocuous    tool,    like    a    key    or    spoon.    Six ways   to   kill   a   man   with   your   bare   hands. I’ve done that. Not   what   I   should   have   been   thinking about. I   caught   Dacey’s   eye   and   pointed   at   the stack   of   three   trunks   and   he   grabbed   one and   jogged   back   to   the   Expedition.   Maybe that   would   quell   the   anger   from   the   street cops. “Are   we   done   here?”   I   asked   the   half- way sane supervisor. He exhaled hard. “Yes.” I   turned   and   wrenched   a   trunk   in   the air,   met   Dacey   half-way   to   the   Expedition. We     got     the     last     trunk     loaded     without another riot or murderous event. Closing   the   door   behind   me,   I   snapped off   the   music   Dacey   had   tuned   in.   I   needed quiet.     A     mini-panic     attack     threatened. Tears   welled.   I   had   to   breathe   through   my mouth. My lungs weren’t working right. Dacey   maybe   glanced   my   way   but   didn’t say   anything.   He   pulled   into   the   open   lane and   trolled   through   the   tunnel,   into   the   sun leaning      heavily      over      Tampa      Bay.      I concentrated    on    slow,    deep    breaths.    We neared     the     roller     coaster     spaghetti     of highway before Dacey spoke. “Welcome home. You’ve been missed.” A   sob   threatened.   Emotion   simmered   in my throat. I will not cry. I will not cry. I so needed some down time. I   peered   across   at   my   two   hundred   forty pound   best   friend,   spirit   guide,   body   guard, chief   cook,   and   laundry   expert.   Add   partner to   that   list.   He   so   didn’t   look   like   the   nearly four   hundred   pound   mess   I   met   four   years ago. He’d    been    hired    to    abduct    me.    Was expected   to   kill   me.   Really   glad   he   opted not   to   fulfill   his   job.   Would   have   cut   short   a really great friendship. He   knew   not   to   ask   if   I   was   okay.   That would   have   ticked   me   off.   A   moron   could have    picked    up    on    my    anxiety,    right?    I managed      a      hard      exhalation,      like      an exclamation     point     to     my     inconvenient emotion. “Tight    jeans    and    cowboy    boots?”    he asked. Well,    I’d    been    stuck    in    the    sticks    of Western Wyoming for nine months. “You’ve   lost   a   hell   of   a   lot   of   weight,”   he said. I’d   gotten   down   to   one-thirty   early,   and then    there    was    that    dang    week    eating beetles.   Not   that   the   barracks   slop   they   fed us   filled   any   of   us   out.   Lots   of   protein,   very little   carbs.   I   might   never   bulk   back   up   to my    best    playing    weight.    Though    Dacey’s cooking   would   help.   I   didn’t   look   forward to   greeting   a   full-length   mirror.   My   five   feet thirteen   inches   looks   good   with   a   full   one hundred    sixty    pounds    on    it.    I    had    never been a petite little girl. “Let your hair grow out,” he said. I   hadn’t   had   a   lot   of   free   time   to   visit   a spa lately. “Damn I missed you,” he said. My    eyes    welled.    He    talks    too    much. Dang, emotional Greek. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017