R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author Urban Fantasy Fantasy Dystopian
S lacker   Jon   Reagan   often   challenges   his   life   expectancy   since   he   and his   best   pal,   an   autistic   genius,   partnered   with   a   couple   of   bounty hunters.   In   their   private   war   against   drug   dealers,   Jon   snagged   a sexy   FBI   agent   girlfriend,   but   he   promptly   got   her   shot.   He’s   been beaten   to   a   pulp   and   tested   his   Kevlar   far   more   than   is   wise,   enough his    partners    often    mumble,    “Bullets    love    you.”    When    he    thinks karma   may   cut   him   a   break,   more   of   the   same   piles   on   when   family skeletons   and   a   new   load   of   disasters   slap   him   upside   the   head.   He faces a life decision. Odds don’t favor him living to make it.
Chapter 1 ~ T he   dude’s   breath   wafted   between   us   like   an   overly-ripe   fish.   He   oozed   redneck,   which   I thought   the   South   had   a   monopoly   on.   Maybe   six   two.   Two   hundred   pounds.   A   bit flabby.   Maybe   played   in   the   secondary   in   high   school   and   still   thinks   he   has   the   moves. That   was   ten   years   ago.   Tonight   his   eyelids   proved   he’d   tossed   back   too   many   beers   too fast since leaving the warehouse floor. I   didn’t   even   want   to   be   here.   The   way   Logan   acted,   she   didn’t   either.   But   it   was   her suggestion.   She   felt   indebted   to   play   tour   guide.   To   entertain   me.   I   should   explain   I’m easily   amused.   But   as   it   was,   my   visit   in   Syracuse   thus   far   hadn’t   been   great,   considering our combined pains. I was trying to keep a smile on my face. Not   that   the   band   sucked.   I   just   don’t   do   the   night   scene.   Cigarette   smoke   burns   my sinuses.   And   I’m   as   boring   as   my   mom.   My   music   tastes   are   actually   mellower   than   hers. She   often   wears   an   old   Metallica   tee   on   the   weekends   working   in   her   yard.   Must   be   a hundred years old. The tee, not my mom. “Ignore him,” Logan shouted at me over the music. I didn’t think there was much chance of that. “You drinkin’ sodas?” the guy slurred. Should I tell him I’m on antibiotics? “And her too?” He hocked a guffaw. Logan’s    on    antibiotics    too.    At    least    I    didn’t    have    a    bag    hanging    from    my    neck collecting gut puss. I shuddered just forming that thought. “You allergic to alcohol, or Bible thumpers?” the jerk shouted. I   guess   he   believed   you   have   to   drink   and   get   stupid   in   a   roadhouse.   Logan   probably shouldn’t have even ordered the soda. She’s still on gelatin and saltines. “Say, babe,” he directed Logan’s way. Even   in   the   muted   light   the   spray   of   his   spittle   glinted   as   it   fluttered   across   our   tiny table. “Dump   this   wuss.   I’ll   let   you   drink   adult   beverages.   Warm   you   up   a   little   tonight   if you’re lucky.” I’ve   known   Logan   since   April.   Long   enough   to   read   her   body   language.   She   was ready   to   kill   this   guy.   Luckily   her   service   weapon   is   still   in   evidence   in   Tampa.   I   held   her hand   tightly   under   the   table.   Three   weeks   ago   a   .45   slug   caught   her   in   the   waist   of   her jeans, twice, coming and going. It wasn’t pretty. So I was going to have to shut this guy up myself. “Don’t,” Logan hissed at my ear. “Go away, okay?” I said to the drunk. Maybe that wasn’t the most assertive I could have been. I returned from my jaunt to Neverland on the floor, spread eagle. The guy freaking sucker punched me. That   I   immediately   figured   out,   because   I   have   experience   in   the   matter.   I   scrabbled to   get   up   from   the   floor   before   I   realized   the   only   face   peering   down   at   me   was   Logan’s. The   other   pant   legs   were   just   guys   waiting   to   set   our   table   back   in   place   and   mop   up   the spilled soda. “Where’d he go?” I mouthed at Logan. I read, “Bouncer,” on her lips. Couldn’t   he   have   shown   up   ten   seconds   sooner?   I   shook   my   head   and   the   common spike    struck.    How    many    concussions    have    I    suffered    since    April?    I    couldn’t    even remember anymore. Logan   didn’t   try   to   help   me   off   the   floor.   Best   she   didn’t   rip   something   important open.   I   managed   on   my   own   and   one   of   the   crew   handed   me   a   damp   cloth,   which   I   used to   clean   up   my   hands   and   the   back   of   my   head.   Wasn’t   much   I   could   do   with   my   sticky- wet shirt or jeans. I   tried   to   ignore   the   leers   and   laughter   from   the   tables   around   us   as   we   headed   for the exit. I slid my tongue over my lip. Yep. Another fat one. We   stepped   out   into   the   night   air,   me   muttering   internally   we   should   have   stayed home.   But   even   Logan   was   getting   tired   of   the   sideways   glances   her   mom   was   giving her. We should have just rented a room while I was here. No. Logan had to make a statement, remind them she was an adult. Neither   of   us   even   tried   to   explain   our   sleeping   arrangement   was   purely   platonic. Though   if   Logan   didn’t   have   that   tube   hanging   out   her   side   I   think   it   would   have   been different. Maybe. I don’t know. Her dad would guffaw if I told him I’m still a virgin. Be thirty in November. I’m not chaste. Just a wallflower. Pretty sure Mr. Logan figured his daughter was neither. Why   was   Logan   so   set   on   me   staying   in   her   room?   Her   parents   lived   in   a   five bedroom   McMansion.   Plenty   of   empty   bedrooms.   If   only   she’d   been   up   to   returning   to her apartment in Brooklyn. But she barely makes it up the stairs to her room here still. Dang   this   trip   had   been   a   nightmare.   Never   should   have   come.   Logan   wasn’t   up   to showing me Syracuse anyway. I tried to take a deep breath. The sinuses still burned from the smoke. “You okay?” Logan asked. I worked my jaw around. Was already stiffening up. “How do you attract so much pain?” Logan asked. If I only knew. She   stopped   me   under   a   sidelight   and   checked   me   out.   I   followed   her   finger   troll around   in   a   circle.   I   kept   my   eyes   from   crossing,   pretty   much,   and   didn’t   fall   over.   She wiped at my nose. The girl isn’t squeamish. “Got a tissue in the car for that bloody nose.” Er. I thought it was just runny, with my allergies. And   I   don’t   think   he   even   caught   me   in   the   nose.   I   think   my   brain   bleeds   out   my nose. Only thing that’s kept my head from exploding. “I’ll drive,” she said. I   wasn’t   going   to   debate   that.   Her   dad’s   fancy   new   Lexus   made   me   nervous   anyway. Way   nicer   than   the   Taurus   my   mom   has   driven   for   twenty   years.   I   should   buy   her   a   new car. She’d   probably   take   it   back   to   the   dealer.   Won’t   take   a   dollar   from   me.   That   idiot father of mine left her in a deep hole. She   should   have   done   the   bankruptcy   thing   like   all   her   friends   said.   Most   of   them are no longer in her life. She’s a stubborn one. The   engine   turned   on   with   lights   as   we   approached   the   Lexus.   I   may   have   jerked. Still   not   used   to   these   fandangle   new   cars.   Inside,   Logan   grabbed   a   tissue   from   the center console and shoved it at me. “I’m sorry,” I said. “For what?” she said. “I’m the one who dragged you here.” Yeah,   she   did.   But   I   was   sorry   I   embarrassed   her.   I   do   that   way   too   often.   What   does she see in me? “Don’t do it,” she snapped. “What?” I asked. “You know what.” The   irritation   in   her   voice   scrubbed   my   gray   matter   with   a   rag   clicking   with   static electricity.    She    believes    I    have    a    poor    self-image.    I    think    I    just    have    a    better understanding of my worth than she does. “Not your fault the idiot sucker punched you,” she said. Roger   never   would   have   been   caught   off   guard   like   that.   But   no   one   would   dare consider   challenging   Roger.   He’s   like   a   five-foot-eight   Atlas.   Exudes   testosterone   and virility. Even if Michael, his dad, believes he’s a virgin. No way Roger’s a virgin. “Don’t   go   comparing   yourself   to   a   Mueller.”   There   was   more   plea   than   command   in her tone. She can read my mind almost as well as Augie. I   missed   Augie.   Of   course   he   texted   me   every   thirty   minutes.   I   couldn’t   pronounce the entrée he reported Norm prepared for dinner. Mrs.   Logan   prepared   stroganoff.   It   was   good.   Not   as   much   pepper   or   something   as Mom dumps in hers. Mom likes food that prickles the sensations. Logan   pulled   out   of   the   lot   and   had   us   on   a   parkway   in   two   minutes,   when   she started    in    a    comfortable    monologue.    She’s    accepted    I’m    totally    incompetent    at conversation.   So   glad   she   thinks   of   things   to   talk   about.   Tonight   it   was   about   how   three of   the   ladies,   term   used   loosely,   that   sat   near   us,   dressed.   The   efficiency   of   the   bouncer. The music the band played. The warm night. I   just   nodded.   Though   seventy-nine   degrees   isn’t   warm   to   a   Floridian.   A   Floridian can stand on the surface of the sun in their flip-flops and mumble, “Meh.” You’re in New York, Jon. Way north of I-20 and Southern civilization. On   the   bright   side,   I   was   missing   a   few   days   of   Florida’s   August   inferno.   Missed   little Chica, too. Cute little pup. I’m an idiot. Thinking of what I miss instead of enjoying being here with Logan. “I’m enjoying being here with you,” I blurted, talking over her. “Yeah. I bet,” she said. “I don’t have the energy to do anything.” “Not much to do in Syracuse anyway,” I teased. “Yeah, well you’re from that great tourist state, huh.” “Loved   driving   around   in   those   hills   today   on   the   south   side.”   I   could   throw   her   a bone. “Only a real flatlander could have enjoyed that.” She had teased me for an hour. In Tampa you only glimpse the horizon if you’re on a freeway overpass or the beach. “At least,” Logan said softly, “until tonight you’d kept from getting beat up or shot.” Three   days.   About   a   record   since   meeting   the   Muellers.   No   wonder   I   had   a   bleeding ulcer   and   a   staph   infection.   Still   say   the   latter   was   from   the   long-nose   plyers   Michael used to pull the shotgun pellets out of my arm and leg. “I’d   meant   to   ask,”   she   said.   “Any   fallout   with   the   Tampa   police   about   you   leaving the city while they investigate our thing?” Our   thing.   That’s   what   she   was   calling   it   now?   She   could   have   died.   Together   we killed   seven   men.   The   one   guy   bled   out   two   miles   away   from   the   three   .22   slugs   she   put in his chest. Our thing. We messed up their little abduction plan. Almost got her killed. “Augie still says Goldman’s attorney says screw ’em.” “Is it just me,” she said, “or does that lawyer come across a little slimy to you?” More than a little. “You know more about the law than I do.” I   heard   her   growl.   Going   to   grump   about   my   inferiority   complex   again.   But   she   has the master’s degree. Three degrees. Who needs that many parchments on the wall? I’m the slacker clerk. Chapter 2 ~ M rs. Logan met us in the hall before we executed our escape up the stairs. “You two are home early,” she accused. “Is that blood on your shirt, Jon?” “The   band   was   atrocious,”   Logan-Amelia   said   louder   than   she   needed   to.   “We’re   just going to crash.” “We   had   some   sherbet   a   little   while   ago,”   Mrs.   Logan   bragged.   “Could   I   serve   you   a scoop?” My stomach screeched a heck yeah. “No thanks, Mom,” My Logan answered. “Not on my approved dietary list.” If   we   lived   in   Syracuse,   I   guess   I’d   have   to   drop   the   Logan    and   stick   with   Amelia .   But she   started   out   as   Logan.   And   I   fell   in   love   with   her   as   Logan.   Funny   it   annoyed   me   at first when Denny called me Reagan. “Even   with   the   nap,”   Amelia   continued,   “this   evening   jaunt   tired   me   out.   So   good night.” “Sleep well,” floated at our backs. I   followed   Amelia   up   the   stairs   obediently   despite   my   stomach   crying   out   for   sugar. My   ears   burned   as   I   realized   my   eyes   remained   on   the   seat   of   Amelia’s   pants.   Mrs. Logan   probably   thinks   I’m   a   letch,   but   I   was   just   lamenting   how   much   weight   Amelia has lost through all this. Her jeans are really loose. I   flopped   on   top   of   Amelia’s   bed.   She   headed   into   her   bathroom,   only   swinging   the door   closed   partway.   I   know   that   is   a   message   of   intended   intimacy.   One   I’m   not   sure   I need.   I   think   she   wants   to   impress   me   with   how   comfortable   she   is   with   me,   so   maybe I’ll stop asking, “What do you see in me?” But really. What does she see in me? She’s   knock-me-down-dead   gorgeous.   Sexy.   Smart.   Educated.   A   professional.   Years as   a   Syracuse   cop.   Four   years   now   in   the   FBI.   She   impressed   people   to   get   a   New   York City   gig.   Michael   said   that   spoke   volumes.   And   he   doesn’t   even   like   her.   At   least   doesn’t act like he does. They got off on the wrong foot back when. My   phone   jingled,   Augie’s   tone,   and   Amelia   laughed.   I   love   her   casual   laugh.   It strangles my throat a little and makes the flutterbys in my stomach flop about. “It’s a little late for him,” she said. A   grin   tightened   my   face.   I   pulled   my   phone   out,   which   Augie   bought   me   recently and   thrust   upon   me   with   a   threat.   He   said   I   needed   a   phone   manufactured   this   century. I read his text and my face flushed hot. “He say good night?” Amelia asked. Not   exactly.   Now   he’s   telling   me   about   his   sex   with   Denny?   Could   he   be   rubbing   it in?   The   special   guy   is   getting   it,   but   I’m   not.   Ah.   Denny   had   to   have   gotten   hold   of   his phone.   That   made   a   heck   of   a   lot   more   sense.   How   does   a   blind   chick   text?   But   when   she was   at   her   apartment,   she   was   always   texting   Augie.   Probably   an   app   on   her   computer. Oh, yeah. These fandangle phones have speech-thingie. My sex with Denny tonight was astronomical. Denny lives to pull my chain. The slutty cougar. “Tell him I said good night.” Dang   Logan,   Amelia,   has   a   beautiful   voice.   The   stomach   fluttered   some   more.   She strode   out   of   the   bathroom   in   a   nightie   so   short   it   didn’t   cover   her   collection   bag.   But that   image   wasn’t   enough   to   close   off   my   mind   from   the   other.   Or   suppress   the   erection that filled my jeans. “You’re   gaping,”   she   whispered,   grinning.   She   turned   out   the   bathroom   light   and even    in    the    glint    of    her    nightstand    nightlight,    the    angelic    glow    evaporating,    she appeared more beautiful than anything I deserved. I told her, “It’s just that you’re so homely.” “Oh,” she mewed. “That old seduction line.” Yep.   I’m   really   smooth.   I   hurried   to   take   my   turn   in   the   bathroom.   It   was   really   hard not   to   shut   the   door   all   the   way.   That   would   have   been   insulting,   right?   Since   she doesn’t? I sat to pee. Nighttime   tasks   done,   donning   the   black,   silk   jammies   Michael   bought   me,   bottoms only,   forced   on   me   for   this   trip,   I   padded   back   into   Amelia’s   room,   pulled   back   the blanket   and   sheet,   and   crawled   into   bed   next   to   her.   An   action   that   really   feels   weird   to me still. Sleeping next to Amelia as though we’re longtime lovers. We’ve   never   even   made   out.   Pecks   and   such,   sure.   But   none   of   that   romantic   stuff   in the hot movies. She was shot the first night we ever had alone. Like a date. She   rolled   toward   me   and   the   little   guy   extended   to   reach   her.   Down   boy.   Down. Until Logan was in one piece, there was going to be none of that. Her    hand    reached    my    forearm    and    slowly    traced    toward    my    shoulder.    She repositioned her stuff so she could snuggle closer, her face a couple inches from mine. Had   she   decided   I’d   calmed   down   enough   I   might   not   scream   like   a   girl   if   she   slid into second base? I    wrapped    my    arm    around    her.    The    nightie    plunged    in    the    back    and    I    hadn’t prepared myself for so much luscious, soft, deliriously smooth flesh. My God! I tingled from my toes up. I think my nose turned numb. I managed what maybe could be considered a caress of that angelic flesh. The   other   nights   we’d   talked   softly   until   one   of   us   drifted   off,   diplomatically   turned toward opposite walls after that to sleep. Her   fingertips   trailed   up   my   throat,   to   the   back   of   my   neck.   From   there   she   tangled with my almost shoulder-length hair. Michael threatens to buy some sheep sheers. “Are you okay?” Amelia whispered. “Yeah, yeah,” I said. It even sounded a little panicked to me. She giggled. Bless her heart. Her   lips   touched   mine.   My   heart   had   to   be   dancing   a   polka   inside   my   ribs.   If   I reacted this way to a kiss, coitus was going to give me a stroke. She parted her lips over mine. I tried to reciprocate, but didn’t keep the groan from becoming audible. “Cheek?” she asked. I’d   been   creamed   with   a   two-by-four   a   month   ago.   Fractured   my   face.   But   tonight   it was the jaw. The jerk probably broke it. My luck. “We’re quite the pair, aren’t we?” Amelia asked. She’s perfection. I’m a lost cause. “Don’t,” she pleaded. Dang, she knows every thought that flutters in the vacuum between my ears. “You know,” I whispered, “I was hooked on you before I even knew your first name.” “You’re   so   easy.”   Her   lips   nibbled   at   my   top   lip.   Her   nails   dragged   across   the   back   of my scalp giving me a new shudder. She asked me if I was cold. No. I   think   I   was   sweating.   I   stroked   her   back   with   my   fingertips   and   she   moaned   softly. I was in heaven. Then her caress stopped. Her breathing deepened. She was asleep. Chapter 3 ~ S aturday   morning.   The   house   remained   quiet.   By   the   golden   light   penetrating   Amelia’s blinds,   maybe   seven-ish.   Michael   had   gotten   me   used   to   rising   early,   even   though   laying there with Amelia, listening to her soft breathing, appealed. But caffeine beckoned. I   crawled   out   of   bed   like   a   sneak.   Amelia   still   groaned.   Not   sure   what   that   was   about, but   I   grabbed   my   jeans   and   a   polo   and   headed   for   the   bathroom.   I   closed   the   door, deciding my attempt to be quiet could cover for my girly modesty. Stumbling   down   the   stairs   in   my   bare   feet—I’m   not   really   a   morning   person,   even   if Michael   has   me   conditioned,   I   stamped   to   a   halt   finding   Mr.   Logan   at   the   breakfast   table reading   his   tablet.   Button   down,   long   sleeve   shirt,   dress   slacks.   But   no   tie.   He’d   worn   a tie pretty much since I arrived. Dressier than I ever saw Turlough Reagan, but no tie on Saturdays for Mr. Logan? Dad   wore   knee-length   Bermuda   shorts   and   flip-flops,   maybe   a   shirt,   maybe   not, Monday through Sunday. At least until noon. “Morning,” I stuttered. “You’re working today?” “Come   in,   come   in,”   he   strummed   rather   friendly-like,   which   was   a   first.   “Help yourself   to   the   coffee.”   He   motioned   his   cup   toward   the   appropriate   counter   supporting the   carafe   of   peace,   tranquility,   and   bountiful   life.   “No.   I   leave   the   weekend   research   and brief writing to the junior partners now.” He   always   speaks   an   anglicized   Greek   to   me,   which   I   don’t   ask   him   to   explain.   I hurried   to   pour   my   coffee   and   stood   in   front   of   the   fancy   machine   to   take   my   first   hit. Scalding   or   not,   I   needed   the   promise   of   caffeine   more   to   face   Mr.   Logan   than   I   ever   did to face Michael. “Will you join me?” Mr. Logan asked. Oh, Lord, do I have to? “Of course, sir.” “Our first quiet moment alone,” he said softly. Oh,   that   did   not   sound   promising.   And   me   with   no   Kevlar.   Some   internal   organs   like gall   bladders   and   such   slithered   upward   for   my   throat   and   my   knees   turned   rubbery.   I managed into the chair to his right, keeping my eyes anywhere but on him. “Sorry   I   can’t   offer   you   the   paper.”   He   hefted   his   tablet.   “Read   it   on-line.   My   wife   has never   been   keen   on   keeping   up.   So   being   the   only   consumer   in   the   residence,   took   the plunge.   A   bit   to   get   used   to   at   first,   but   all   in   all—”   He   didn’t   finish   his   statement.   Set   the tablet into the little stand in front of him and took a hit of his coffee. The tick, tick blasted in my head. He exhaled. Tick. Tick. “Amelia doesn’t really talk to me,” he said. I struggled to swallow. “Her   mother,”   Mr.   Logan   continued,   “treats   every   tidbit   of   conversation   with   her   like a   state   secret.   But   I   know   she   cohabitated   with   a   man   for   a   time   in   DC.   I   never   knew   his name. She certainly never brought him to Syracuse.” I might throw up. “I   was   good   enough   as   a   provider.   But   not   much   of   a   father.   I   was   always   about   the client,   the   practice.   Left   Amelia   and   Blake   to   their   mother   to   raise.   Can’t   say   I   caught   a soccer game once.” Blood rushed to my head. It would probably gush out my nose again any moment. Mr. Logan took in a deep breath. “You aren’t a conversationalist, are you?” I met his eyes but kept my mouth shut. “Amelia   has   been   relationship-averse   her   entire   life.   Probably   because   she   couldn’t imagine living her mother’s life.” From   hardly   saying   a   word   to   me,   now   he   was   dumping   all   of   his   family   dirt   over   my head? “Always   been   independent.   Very   surprised   she   came   home   to   recover.   That’s   more   a reflection of how badly she hurt, I suppose.” Good. Safer territory. “So   probably   wouldn’t   have   met   you   if   it   wasn’t   for   that.”   He   glanced   toward   the   far hall for the third time. Eager to get whatever was on his mind out before Amelia joined us? “I did gleam from tidbits from her mother she was considering a transfer to Tampa.” So   Denny   said.   But   Amelia   and   I   hadn’t   discussed   it   yet.   She   probably   didn’t   want   to scare me to death. “I imagine that’s because you live in Tampa.” I met his eyes again. My nose hadn’t begun to bleed yet, thankfully. “Seems   your   presence   calms   the   child,”   he   said.   “Never   one   much   to   sit   for   five minutes straight.” Child. She’d be ticked. I couldn’t breathe. When would this torture end? “She   clearly   sees   you   in   a   way   she’s   never   considered   another   man,   and   I   know   for   a fact she’s dated a state senator and an admiral.” No freakin’ way. And she settles for me? “So you’re special.” Hardly. A spaz. Klutz. Simpleton. Slacker. “To her.” I pretty much suspected she has horrible judgment. “I see you make her happy,” he said. Really? “That makes me happy.” Did I have any limbs? I think my arms and legs were numb. “I’m stiff,” he said. “No one has to tell me. But just wished to tell you that you—” He   cut   his   words   off   curtly,   eyes   jolting   to   his   right.   I   followed   his   line   of   sight.   My history of late implied a thug probably stood there with a gun on me. But it was worse. Mrs. Logan strode toward us. I   was   going   to   be   double   teamed.   Oh,   Lord.   Why   did   I   get   out   of   bed?   Mrs.   Logan’s expression turned, maybe frightened. What? “Jon. Are you well?” She reached out, back of her hand nearing my face. Why was she going to hit me? I didn’t do anything. But she simply set her knuckles against my cheek. “You’re white as a sheet.” I was? “Cheeks are cold,” she said. “Are you—” “Believe I scared him to death,” Mr. Logan said. She jerked a look at her husband, face turning, er, adversarial. “Just welcoming him to the family,” he rushed to say. Her expression washed, um, unbelieving. Welcome to the family? I couldn’t breathe again. Soon pass out, surely. “If   you   and   Amelia   don’t   mind,”   he   said,   “I’m   going   to   kidnap   Jon   for   the   morning. Have breakfast. Show him around a bit.” Mrs.   Logan   said,   “I’ll   go   get   Amelia   to   save   you,”   and   turned   around   and   headed   for the stairs. Mr. Logan chuckled. Wasn’t   funny.   My   lungs   were   twisting   into   one   of   those   over-salted,   bagel-tasting things. We sat and sipped our coffee. Three   minutes   later   Mrs.   Logan   returned,   a   bit   of   surprise   washing   her   face.   “She said you can take care of yourself,” she murmured to me. Mr. Logan chuckled again. Amelia really places more trust in me than she should. Mr.   Logan   suggested   I   get   some   shoes   on.   I   exhaled,   maybe   a   little   like   a   mouse   after the   arm   of   the   trap   has   snapped   across   his   chest.   I   took   a   slurp   of   my   coffee   and   stood. Head wobbled a bit. Oh, Lord. At least I avoided this for three days. Chapter 4 ~ H e   drove   one   freeway   then   another.   If   I   hadn’t   read   Syracuse   was   smack   dab   in   the middle   of   the   state   I   would   have   worried   we   might   be   in   Pennsylvania,   or   Idaho,   any time. We weren’t headed for a favorite diner close to home, that’s for sure. He   didn’t   do   more   than   throw   a   bit   of   idle   chit   chat   at   me.   I   appreciated   that. Spending a bit of time with Mr. Logan wouldn’t be so bad, right? Ah,   jeez,   I   don’t   know   why   my   dad   had   to   come   to   mind.   I   didn’t   need   him   in   my head. I   decided   Mr.   Logan   was   taking   me   downtown,   near   his   office   maybe,   but   never   saw a   high-rise   before   he   finally   exited,   and   turned   left   and   right   for   another   twenty   miles,   or three or four. I was pretty dizzy. We   ended   up   at   a   Starbucks,   of   all   places.   Maybe   that   wasn’t   all   that   wild.   Mr.   Logan didn’t   seem   like   the   hole-in-the-wall   type   of   guy.   He’s   probably   never   owned   a   pair   of loafers   in   his   life.   I   wasn’t   going   to   meet   his   friends   Bubba   and   Cooter   sitting   under mounted   animal   heads   and   have   to   put   up   with   drunken-hunting   stories.   I   hate   the thought of hunting. Unless it’s done with a camera. The   barista   didn’t   act   like   Mr.   Logan   was   a   regular,   who   ordered   a   tall   coffee   and   a bran   muffin.   Since   we   had   been   on   the   road   about   a   week,   I   ordered   a   Chocolate   Chunk muffin,   Cranberry   Orange   scone,   Classic   Coffee   cake,   and   a   tall   Cinnamon   Dolce.   Never been   to   a   fancy   coffee   shop.   Thought   I’d   experiment.   An   hour   later   when   the   fellow handed   me   the   drink   with   its   tower   of   whipped   cream,   I   looked   around   a   little   worried. But there were no biker dudes around to make fun of me. Should I have pulled out my plastic? My   face   burned   a   little   over   that   conundrum,   but   considering   what   the   tab   came   out to   be,   I   was   okay   with   Mr.   Logan   covering   breakfast.   I   could   have   had   a   steak   dinner back home for what our little tray cost. Michael calls me cheap for a reason. Mom calls me pleasantly frugal. We   sat   and   I   think   Mr.   Logan   got   a   kick   out   of   watching   me   eat.   I   even   kept   my   left hand in my lap for the most part, and used my napkin like Mom taught me. All   the   carbohydrates   flowed   south   smoothly,   but   as   I   slurped   on   the   dregs   of   the Frappa-something,   my   stomach   twisted.   Mr.   Logan   hadn’t   said   much,   though   I   figured he   had   something   on   his   mind.   Why   else   did   he   kidnap   me?   The   stomach   churned   as   he led me to his Lexus. Two   minutes   later   we   were   driving   onto   the   campus   of   Syracuse   University.   The whole   family’s   alma   mater.   Whole   family,   as   in   extended,   way   extended,   as   in   great- great-aunts and uncles. He pointed out buildings. Cool architecture. Why here? “I’ve   hinted   to   Amelia,”   he   said,   “coming   back   and   getting   her   law   degree   would   be   a great idea.” There it was. “Understand   you’re   going   to   start   college   this   fall,”   he   said.   “Couldn’t   go   wrong here.” I   did   not   want   to   touch   this   topic.   Not   with   a   ten-foot   tether   line.   I’m   pretty   sure Augie   wouldn’t   move   up   here.   And   I   couldn’t   leave   him   behind   with   Michael   and   Roger. They   would   get   him   killed.   More   likely,   he’d   get   them   killed   without   me   there   to   throw   a hissy every hour. “You might consider supporting the idea. With Amelia.” He said. I know when to keep my mouth shut. He slogged to a stop at a cross street and took a long look at me. What? “You really  don’t talk much, do you?” Nope. The only way I stay out of trouble. “I’d   cover   your   moving   expenses,   school   costs,”   he   continued   without   driving   on.   “It would mean a lot to have Amelia back home.” Away from gun-toting thugs. I   should   be   glad   he   wasn’t   buying   me   off,   to   leave   and   never   call   her   again.   But   that might   be   his   fallback   plan.   I’m   dangerous.   Amelia   was   in   my   company   when   she   got shot. Not on the job. On vacation, visiting me. Amelia   living   with   her   parents   again?   I   couldn’t   see   it.   My   lungs   might   have   bled   a bit   just   thinking   about   that   arrangement.   I   was   surprised   she   made   it   the   past   couple   of weeks. I   mean,   as   parents   go,   the   Logans   are   swell   and   all.   But   there’s   a   reason   I   lived   in   a dump   of   a   garage   apartment   the   last   seven   years.   And   I   love   Mom   to   death.   Except   for the soap-mouth-thing she’s cool. I just need space. Now   I   live   in   a   fraternity   house.   A   quarter-swear-jar   could   collect   millions   every month with the Muellers and Denny around. “If    there’s    a    pride    element,”    Mr.    Logan    said    slowly,    “about    the    tuition    and everything. You could pay me back whenever you wanted, could.” Should   I   tell   him   I   have   a   million   and   a   quarter   in   the   bank   after   our   crazy   spring campaign? A   short   horn   blast   made   him   jerk   his   eyes   toward   his   rearview   and   he   hurried   to hang   a   right.   He   didn’t   resume   his   monologue   for   a   minute.   He   finally   returned   to   his campus tour guide bit. After a couple more minutes he paused and sighed deeply. “Lad. Do I need to grant you immunity to get a word out of you?” I   considered   that.   I   wasn’t   worried   about   getting   in   trouble   with   him   or    Amelia.   He probably   ought   to   worry   about   Amelia   learning   about   this   little   pressure   job   though.   She can go a little berserk, being pressed into anything. “Lord, son.” He was getting a little irritated, maybe. “Amelia gets a little annoyed with me too,” I finally offered. “Go figure,” he said. “You get a lot of snow here, huh?” I said. “A bit.” The king of understatement. “We had a flurry in Tampa once in the seventies,” I said. “I think.” Before my time. “So you’re not crazy about moving up North,” he said. “And you know your daughter isn’t one for sitting behind a desk.” He   froze   a   little   behind   the   steering   wheel.   Didn’t   blink.   Didn’t   breathe   I   don’t   think for a full four minutes. I thought after two minutes a man would fall over unconscious. Finally,   he   took   a   deep   breath   and   exhaled.   “You   know   my   girl   pretty   well,   don’t you?” “I listen a lot,” I offered. He laughed. Before   he   spoke   again   we   were   back   on   a   freeway,   hopefully   headed   for   the   Logan residence. “Promise me you won’t get her killed.” I   wish.   Didn’t   do   such   a   great   job   protecting   her   the   first   time   around.   But   we   were really out numbered. “Your silence isn’t comforting,” he said. I gave him the only answer I had. “We both carry a gun for a living.” “Hum,” he murmured. Augie’s   tone   echoed   from   my   pocket.   First   harassment   all   day.   The   text   read,   “you should come home.” I waited. “have tickets waiting for you at the gate” The   biggest   pressure   in   my   life   is   keeping   up   with   Augie.   I   stared   at   the   phone waiting for the shoe to drop. My mom loves that expression. “first class for amelia” “Amelia?” I blurted. “Amelia what?” Mr. Logan asked. I waited. “business class for you because youre cheap” I sighed. “What?” Mr. Logan hissed. “amelia is packing” Chapter 5 ~ Y eah,   yeah,   I   could   appreciate   their   irritation.   Even   to   me   it   made   no   sense.   Augie beckons   and   the   serfs   scurry   forth.   Or   something   like   that.   Amelia   probably   could    stand another   month   of   tender   care.   But   I   think   Augie   had   learned   his   lesson   and   would   keep Amelia out of any scrapes. Besides.   Norm   is   a   great   cook.   That   would   be   good,   once   Amelia   was   off   the   gelatin and   saltines.   And   there   was   nothing   I   could   say   to   keep   Amelia   in   Syracuse.   She   was getting cabin fever, even if she didn’t have the energy to blow out a candle. Mrs.   Logan   was   eerily   quiet   as   we   stomped   for   the   Lexus.   I   had   expected   a   little   lava flow   from   her.   Mr.   Logan   had   begun   about   five   arguments   and   Amelia   cut   them   off   with one   look.   I   needed   to   learn   that   trick   for   Mom.   But   she   has   me    trained   really   well.   That index finger is menacing. Me hushing Mom wasn’t going to happen. Amelia is a lot more independent than me. And assertive. And intelligent. And good looking. The   first   ten   minutes   in   the   car   was   tense.   But   Mrs.   Logan   started   with   the   chit   chat which   she   funneled   toward   how   nice   the   last   three   weeks   having   Amelia   at   home   had been. I caught the glint in Amelia’s eyes. She   might   have   hated   being   thirteen-year-old   Amelia   again,   but   she   had   emotions about leaving. I leaned toward her and whispered. “You sure you wouldn’t rather stay here for a while longer?” She   didn’t   answer   me.   Which   was   an   answer   I   guess.   She   leaned   my   way   and   set   her head against my shoulder, eyes closed. Ah. The   hassle   at   the   airport   was   as   big   as   I   expected,   as   well   as   the   transfer   in   Atlanta. Karma   has   something   against   me.   Just   ask   Roger.   It   was   after   nine   PM   when   we   lurched onto   the   tram   for   the   terminal   in   Tampa,   and   I   noted   Amelia’s   face   was   blanched.   Poor baby. But she hadn’t complained once. I wish I was as tough as her. I texted Augie that we were headed for arrivals. He replied with a “k.” But   it   was   Norm,   in   Roger’s   Jeep,   picking   us   up.   Had   Norm   sold   his   Nissan?   And where was Roger? I asked Norm as soon as we climbed in. “I’m not good enough for you?” “No,” I said. “Peru, doing some hiking.” “What?” Amelia and I both screeched. I   know   I   was   wondering   why   Roger,   the   muscle   element   of   our   partnership,   was   out of   the   country   if   Augie   was   in   a   rush   for   us   to   be   back   in   Tampa.   I   met   Amelia’s   glare.   I think she had the same thought, but with a few colorful metaphors thrown in. It   dawned   on   me   as   the   headlights   from   the   cars   behind   us   flooded   the   inside   of   the Jeep, that Norm’s head was a glowing orb. But Amelia beat me to the punch. “You shaved your head!” Norm   is   mid-forty-ish.   CPA   dweeb,   round,   steel-frame   glasses.   Five   feet   five   inches tall,   maybe.   Sure   his   forehead   curved   back   almost   to   the   back   of   his   neck,   but   with   no hair   at   all   and   his   tubby   dimensions,   once   we   were   in   the   light,   I   expected   he’d   look   like a   younger   Mr.   Magoo.   Strange   I   didn’t   notice   under   the   glaring   lights   of   the   arrivals tunnel. “Never have to go to the barber again,” he proclaimed proudly. “Augie’s idea?” Amelia asked. “Denny’s,” he said. Well,   she   does   have   flair.   I’d   been   gone   four   days   and   Roger’s   sequestered   and Norm’s a cue ball. “I’m power walking every morning with Denny,” Norm said. Really? Denny   is   our   autistic   leader’s   mostly-blind   love   squeeze.   You   could   also   call   her   a cougar   deluxe.   Fifteen   years   Augie’s   senior.   Even   if   Augie   maybe   looks   a   tad   older   than her.    That’s    because    she’s    a    well-preserved    knockout.    Aqua    colored    eyes    out    of    a superhero   comic   strip.   Retired   attorney,   due   to   her   eye   issues,   recently   a   mystery   and police   procedural   author.   Did   I   mention   Denny   is   a   knock   out,   in   every   meaning   of   the expression?   A   longtime   athlete   who   hasn’t   let   blindness   slow   her   down   much.   Even   at forty-five. “Already lost a couple pounds.” Norm patted his belly. “Pants are a tad loose.” I hadn’t been gone that long. “Good for you,” Amelia told him. I said, “I’m surprised you didn’t bring Chica with you.” Chica’s   the   group’s   sweet   Pit   Bull.   Pibble.   Still   a   pup.   All   white   except   for   one   brown blotch   on   her   hip.   Never   turns   down   a   car   ride.   Actually,   I   was   just   hoping   she’d   be   in the car. I missed her. “I think she was crashed upstairs with Denny and Augie.” That figured. Just out of curiosity I asked what Michael was up to. Michael   likes   to   think   he’s   our   band’s   leader.   He   was   a   Green   Beret   vet   of   twenty thousand   wars,   one-time   police   captain,   fugitive   recovery   agent   the   last   decade.   Looks   a little   like   a   Greek   god   with   more   muscles   than   any   man   deserves.   Hair   he   mostly   wears in a pony halfway down his back, tattoos out the wazoo. “I think he’s out with your mom,” Norm said. One   of   my   kidneys   went   three   rounds   with   my   left   lung,   I   think.   Crud.   I   was   hoping their   friendship   would   quickly   run   its   course.   I   mean,   I   love   my   mom.   I   think   she’s attractive,   but   come   on,   way   frumpy,   and   she’s   in   her   late   fifties.   Well   of   course   so   is Michael.   But   he   flirts   with   twenty   year   olds   and   gets   away   with   it.   Why   was   he   still calling on my mom? I should shoot him. “You can’t shoot him,” Amelia said. Norm laughed like a burro, the jerk. “We have any new partners or housemates?” I asked. After all, I’d been away four days. More like five with the flight out to Syracuse. “No,” Norm said. “But Augie’s put together an awesome business plan.” Amelia and I both said, “Business plan?” “Mueller Brothers need a business plan?” Amelia asked. Good   question,   though   I’m   unclear   what   a   business   plan   is,   exactly.   Our   band   of misfits   originated   as   a   two-man   show.   But   the   Muellers   weren’t   even   brothers,   but   a father   and   son   with   a   lot   of   bad   water   under   the   bridge,   lately   trying   to   span   the   river with a clean slate. Didn’t   help   when   Roger   learned   several   weeks   ago   Michael   had   been   sleeping   with his    mother,    with    them    divorced    two    decades.    Didn’t    go    over    well    with    me    either, considering Michael had recently been on a couple dates with my  mother. We do weave a web of relationships in our little crew. “Consulting   partnership,”   Norm   said,   as   though   that   should   explain   something.   But maybe it did mean something to Amelia. “Nellis and Associates is what Augie wants to call us,” Norm continued. Now   that   actually   made   sense.   Since   Augie   mumbles   and   we   scatter   to   do   whatever insane   thing   he   suggests   as   though   we’re   chickens   wearing   SCUBA   gear   toting   rocket propelled grenade launchers. I asked, “Who is ‘us’?” Norm said that was a silly question. I closed my eyes. “Augie’s   been   on   a   tear,”   Norm   said,   “about   Mueller   Brothers   not   making   sense, because they aren’t even brothers. Was news to me.” “And what is Nellis and Associates’ product?” Amelia asked. I   didn’t   understand   the   question.   From   my   backseat   view   I   think   I   sensed   Norm struggle to swallow. “What?” Amelia pressed. He   remained   quiet.   In   a   couple   minutes   we’d   be   home   and   we   could   ask   the   gift horse in the mouth. Did I use that expression right? Probably not. “I’m going to pull my gun,” Amelia mumbled. Ha. She wasn’t carrying. “He   says   we’ll   bury   the   bodies,”   he   said,   “but   I’m   pretty   sure   that’s   a   euphemism. And dig up the jewels.” I   know   what   a   euphemism   is,   though   Augie   usually   speaks   more   in   black   and   white. It’s    an    Aspie    thing.    His    expansion    in    communication    skills    is    definitely    Denny’s influence.   The   hussy.   Was   I   going   to   have   to   start   doing   a   bunch   of   digging   for   jewels? Better than getting beat up and shot. “Better   be   a   euphemism,”   Amelia   hissed.   “I   don’t   want   to   have   to   arrest   you   people. So why was Augie in such a hurry to get us home?” “Augie?”   Norm   gushed.   “I   just   thought.   I   didn’t.   I   assumed.   You   weren’t   done   in Syracuse?” For   a   bright   guy   Norm   doesn’t   think   on   his   feet   very   well.   Even   when   he’s   sitting down.   He   really   only   does   well   when   he’s   in   the   kitchen,   creating.   Though   he   proved himself effective with a pump shotgun under fire last month. I   got   one   of   those   killer   shudders   I   get   when   Augie   is   telepathically   programming   my brain, or whatever he does. Not that I believe in telepathy. Amelia   tried   to   turn   in   her   seat   to   face   me   in   the   back   but   that   isn’t   something   that’s easy to do with her gaping holes still. “Did you just shudder?” “Yes.” “Oh, Lord,” she mumbled. So she’s figured it out. Maybe Denny told her she gets them from Augie too. Of course Denny told me she doesn’t believe in telepathy either. But heck if we can otherwise explain it. Chapter 6 ~ W e   should   have   named   Chica,   Rocket   Dog,   the   way   she   plows   down   the   stairs   when someone   enters   the   house.   Her   soprano   bark   tickles   the   heck   out   of   me.   I   knelt   quickly to give her love before she stripped the flesh off my hips jumping up on me. Chica   gave   Amelia   a   pass   for   the   moment,   luckily,   since   Amelia   still   isn’t   great   with leaning over. Now   that   we   weren’t   in   the   Logan   residence,   maybe   I   could   start   thinking   of   Amelia as Logan again. I like the name. Another switch might make me dizzy though. Amelia walked to the nearby settee to greet Chica. A   hey   at   the   top   of   the   stairs   drew   my   attention.   Denny.   She   wore   one   of   her   skimpy nighties   with   nothing   over   it.   Dang   the   woman   has   no   modesty.   Probably   was   like   that before she was blind. “Welcome home, y’all.” “Hey, Denny,” Amelia and I echoed. “You guys are settled for the evening, huh?” Amelia called up the stairs. “Yep,” Denny answered. A grin turned up one side of her face. I    knew    what    the    smile    meant.    She    had    her    hunky    man    in    the    sack    and    wasn’t through   with   him.   The   woman   possesses   a   powerful   sex   drive.   Jeez.   One   morning   Norm thought he needed to explain that to me. Some things I get all by myself. “Then   don’t   feel   obligated   to   join   us,”   Amelia   said.   “We’ll   see   you   in   the   morning.   I’m exhausted anyway.” “Night then.” Denny turned and nearly skipped for Augie’s room. Norm   offered   to   fix   us   something.   I   opened   my   mouth   for   a   heck   yeah.   But   Amelia claimed   she   ate   on   the   flight.   Yeah.   She   was   in   first   class.   We   peons   got   a   packet   of crackers. But   I   followed   her   for   the   master   suite   and   Chica   danced   up   the   stairs   to   rejoin   Augie and Denny. “Night   then,”   Norm   said   and   tromped   up   the   stairs   behind   her.   We   called   back   a thanks for picking us up. Jeez. A grilled cheese would have been nice. “Nellis and Associates,” Amelia hissed as she closed our door behind us. “Really?” I   sensed   irritation.   But   kept   my   mouth   shut.   That   I   can   usually   do   without   getting shot.   I   carried   her   bag   to   her   side   of   the   bed   and   set   it   down.   Tossed   mine   toward   the bathroom. “Really? You’re good with that?” Yep. Irritation. “What?” I asked, sitting on the bed and kicking off my old runners. Maybe   a   new   business   venture   would   reduce   my   concussions   in   the   future.   Getting shot is a drag, too. “Denny’s   missing   the   conscience   gene.”   Amelia   kept   with   the   hissing.   “And   Augie’s unable to judge risk. That pair is going to get you all killed.” How   could   Nellis   and   Associates   be   any   more   dangerous   than   Mueller   Brothers Fugitive   Recovery?   But   I   kept   my   mouth   shut.   And   I   figured   it   was   unnecessary   to explain   I   didn’t   pick   up   on   all   the   ramifications   and   nuances   of   a   new   business   model. Whatever a business model is. Amelia’s face softened. “You’re too laid back for your own good.” No   point   stressing   out   if   I   have   no   clue   what’s   going   on.   “You’ll   set   me   straight, huh?” “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked. Uh oh. Why’d I open my mouth? She   planted   her   fists   on   her   hips   for   a   ten-count,   before   they   slumped   to   her   sides. Her face was sheet-white again. “Before you pass out,” I said, “why don’t you brush your teeth and come to bed.” She    gave    me    her    you’re-so-frustrating    look,    before    digging    a    nightie    and    her toiletries    thingy    out    of    her    twenty-foot-long    bag,    and    headed    for    the    bathroom.    I stripped,   pulled   back   the   bedspread   for   us,   and   flopped   onto   the   cool   sheets.   Ah.   Felt great. The   constant   spike   through   my   forehead   tightened   for   a   moment,   but   as   I   managed to relax my shoulders, it lessened. I was drifting to sleep when Amelia returned. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. For what? I imagine my expression explained my confusion. “I know I go off,” she said. “You’re very understanding.” Not   really.   I   figure   it’s   just   safer   to   keep   my   mouth   shut.   It’s   sad   in   a   way   that   she hasn’t really figured out how simple I truly am. With   two   hands   on   the   mattress   for   support   she   leaned   over   and   gave   me   a   kiss   on the   mouth.   We   haven’t   ever   gotten   around   to   a   lot   of   that.   Which,   yeah,   is   a   little   weird since   we   sleep   together.   Maybe   that   situation   just   continued   forward   from   her   sleeping in   her   jeans   on   the   bed   with   me   that   first   night,   in   North   Carolina   when   we   were   hunting Ronaldo Moreno. And then, when we ran out of bedrooms here. Her harness thing was missing. “You’re not wearing the, uh,” I mumbled. “I withdrew the tube,” she said. “The bag has been empty. Just a little bandage now.” Oh boy. Her doc would probably be a little ticked with her. “You sure—” She crawled over me and between the sheets. I enjoyed the view. “Go. Your turn,” she whispered. I   headed   for   the   bathroom.   She   was   asleep   of   course   when   I   returned.   That   was   okay. I   turned   off   the   light   and   crawled   into   bed   as   gently   as   I   could.   She   groaned   as   I   settled, and her hand reached out for my shoulder. I   have   no   clue   how   I   impressed   this   incredible   woman,   but   I   was   definitely   the luckiest   guy   in   Florida.   I   lay   back   and   tried   to   relax.   Maybe   the   soft   touch   of   Amelia’s fingertips   interfered.   Or   her   irritation   with   the   whole   Nellis   and   Associates-thing   jerked at some of my loose synapses. Then   the   odd   situation   of   Denny   and   Augie,   and   Norm,   and   Roger   living   upstairs jangled old chains as though I lived in the pages of A Christmas Carol . Our   house   comfortably   holds   our   gang.   It   sounds   weirder   than   it   is.   Of   course   Denny still   has   her   home   on   Harbour   Island,   and   Augie   often   sleeps   over   there.   So   it   isn’t completely the fraternity house it sounds. I    have    all    these    brothers    in    my    life    now.    One    an    Aspie    who    was    pretty    much uncommunicative   five   months   ago,   sleeping   with   one   of   the   sexiest   females   this   side   of I-40.   Another   dating   my   mother.   I   should   shoot   him.   I   have   no   idea   how   Norm   became a roomie. He just moved in. Then   the   all   too   common   memory   hit.   Michael,   Roger,   and   me   blasting   away   with shotguns,   into   those   six   SUVs   full   of   Ronaldo   Moreno’s   enforcers.   The   spray   of   auto glass,   blood,   and   gray   matter   splatter   replayed   through   my   brain   over   and   over.   My stomach twisted. Crud. I   was   hungry.   And   no   way   was   I   going   to   sleep.   I   didn’t   want   to   put   words   to   that   day in   Miami.   But   I’d   killed   men.   All   three   of   us   had.   Our   deed   was   on   the   national   news   for a   week.   It   was   called   a   drug   war.   The   journalists   had   no   clue.   It   was   kill   or   be   killed.   We rattled a dangerous, powerful man. Then my dad came to mind. I really  didn’t need to be thinking about him. I   unwound   from   Amelia   and   the   sheets   and   headed   for   the   kitchen,   stood   in   front   of the   fridge   looking   for   anything   I   could   nuke,   and   the   soft   pad   of   feet   descending   the stairs reached me. “I thought you’d need something to eat,” Norm said. He   wore   a   baggie   white   tee   and   boxers.   Bare   feet.   Had   to   admit   he   looked   dandy with   his   chrome   dome.   Odd,   me   just   in   my   boxers,   no   shirt.   Maybe   not   odd   for   a fraternity house. “You know these cannibals around here never leave leftovers,” he whispered. I shut the fridge door and sighed. “Amelia looked tired,” he said. I   nodded.   He   was   pulling   the   panini   press   out   of   the   cabinet.   Um.   I   pulled   the   fridge door   open   and   grabbed   up   the   bread,   Velveeta,   and   oleo,   and   lined   them   up   for   Norm. While   the   press   heated,   he   grabbed   a   beer   and   gave   me   a   head   tilt.   Milk   went   better   with grilled cheese, but why not. He handed me the first bottle and grabbed another. Our piffs  echoed loudly. “It tough with the in-laws in New York?” he asked. In-laws?   I   hadn’t   started   thinking   of   the   Logans   that   way.   As   indirect   as   Amelia   and my    relationship    has    been—we’d    likely    never    settle    into    what    others    might    consider normal.   Especially   with   our   house   situation.   Good   thing   the   place   had   plenty   of   bed   and bathrooms. “Actually   was   pretty   nice,”   I   said.   “Though   Amelia   felt   under   the   magnifying   glass. But it had less to do with her and me, you know.” He   nodded   and   slugged   back   a   gulp   of   Corona.   Wiped   his   mouth.   “I’m   dying.   I   have to ask. So what’s with, you know.” “She never brought it up,” I whispered. “And   you   didn’t   ask?”   His   brow   arched   higher   than   they   seemed   they   should   be   able. Gave him an odd look with the new doo, or lack of. No   way   was   I   going   to   press   Amelia.   And   didn’t   want   her   to   feel   as   though   every word she uttered to Denny was going to be in my ear a minute later. “Don’t   you   think,   just   maybe.”   Norm   paused.   “She   told   Denny   knowing   she’d   blab, expecting you to give her a nod, kind of, if it was something you were open to?” A neon light blinded me for a moment and electricity shot up my arms. I almost dropped my Corona. Wouldn’t have been a big loss. I really don’t care for the aftertaste. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
SCI FI Suspense
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
SEEker 3 Chapter 1 ~ T he   dude’s   breath   wafted   between   us like     an     overly-ripe     fish.     He     oozed redneck,   which   I   thought   the   South   had a    monopoly    on.    Maybe    six    two.    Two hundred   pounds.   A   bit   flabby.   Maybe played   in   the   secondary   in   high   school and   still   thinks   he   has   the   moves.   That was   ten   years   ago.   Tonight   his   eyelids proved   he’d   tossed   back   too   many   beers too    fast    since    leaving    the    warehouse floor. I   didn’t   even   want   to   be   here.   The way   Logan   acted,   she   didn’t   either.   But it   was   her   suggestion.   She   felt   indebted to   play   tour   guide.   To   entertain   me.   I should   explain   I’m   easily   amused.   But as   it   was,   my   visit   in   Syracuse   thus   far hadn’t     been     great,     considering     our combined   pains.   I   was   trying   to   keep   a smile on my face. Not    that    the    band    sucked.    I    just don’t     do     the     night     scene.     Cigarette smoke    burns    my    sinuses.    And    I’m    as boring   as   my   mom.   My   music   tastes   are actually   mellower   than   hers.   She   often wears     an     old     Metallica     tee     on     the weekends   working   in   her   yard.   Must   be a   hundred   years   old.   The   tee,   not   my mom. “Ignore   him,”   Logan   shouted   at   me over the music. I     didn’t     think     there     was     much chance of that. “You      drinkin’      sodas?”      the      guy slurred. Should I tell him I’m on antibiotics? “And her too?” He hocked a guffaw. Logan’s   on   antibiotics   too.   At   least   I didn’t    have    a    bag    hanging    from    my neck    collecting    gut    puss.    I    shuddered just forming that thought. “You    allergic    to    alcohol,    or    Bible thumpers?” the jerk shouted. I   guess   he   believed   you   have   to   drink and   get   stupid   in   a   roadhouse.   Logan probably   shouldn’t   have   even   ordered the    soda.    She’s    still    on    gelatin    and saltines. “Say,     babe,”     he     directed     Logan’s way. Even   in   the   muted   light   the   spray   of his   spittle   glinted   as   it   fluttered   across our tiny table. “Dump   this   wuss.   I’ll   let   you   drink adult   beverages.   Warm   you   up   a   little tonight if you’re lucky.” I’ve   known   Logan   since   April.   Long enough   to   read   her   body   language.   She was   ready   to   kill   this   guy.   Luckily   her service    weapon    is    still    in    evidence    in Tampa.   I   held   her   hand   tightly   under the   table.   Three   weeks   ago   a   .45   slug caught    her    in    the    waist    of    her    jeans, twice,     coming     and     going.     It     wasn’t pretty. So   I   was   going   to   have   to   shut   this guy up myself. “Don’t,” Logan hissed at my ear. “Go     away,     okay?”     I     said     to     the drunk. Maybe       that       wasn’t       the       most assertive I could have been. I      returned      from      my      jaunt      to Neverland on the floor, spread eagle. The    guy    freaking    sucker    punched me. That     I     immediately     figured     out, because     I     have     experience     in     the matter.   I   scrabbled   to   get   up   from   the floor    before    I    realized    the    only    face peering   down   at   me   was   Logan’s.   The other   pant   legs   were   just   guys   waiting to   set   our   table   back   in   place   and   mop up   the   spilled   soda.   “Where’d   he   go?”   I mouthed at Logan. I read, “Bouncer,” on her lips. Couldn’t     he     have     shown     up     ten seconds   sooner?   I   shook   my   head   and the   common   spike   struck.   How   many concussions      have      I      suffered      since April?      I      couldn’t      even      remember anymore. Logan   didn’t   try   to   help   me   off   the floor.    Best    she    didn’t    rip    something important   open.   I   managed   on   my   own and   one   of   the   crew   handed   me   a   damp cloth,    which    I    used    to    clean    up    my hands   and   the   back   of   my   head.   Wasn’t much    I    could    do    with    my    sticky-wet shirt or jeans. I     tried     to     ignore     the     leers     and laughter   from   the   tables   around   us   as we   headed   for   the   exit.   I   slid   my   tongue over my lip. Yep. Another fat one. We   stepped   out   into   the   night   air, me     muttering     internally     we     should have   stayed   home.   But   even   Logan   was getting    tired    of    the    sideways    glances her    mom    was    giving    her.    We    should have    just    rented    a    room    while    I    was here. No.   Logan   had   to   make   a   statement, remind them she was an adult. Neither   of   us   even   tried   to   explain our    sleeping    arrangement    was    purely platonic.   Though   if   Logan   didn’t   have that   tube   hanging   out   her   side   I   think   it would    have    been    different.    Maybe.    I don’t   know.   Her   dad   would   guffaw   if   I told him I’m still a virgin. Be     thirty     in     November.     I’m     not chaste. Just a wallflower. Pretty    sure    Mr.    Logan    figured    his daughter was neither. Why   was   Logan   so   set   on   me   staying in   her   room?   Her   parents   lived   in   a   five bedroom   McMansion.   Plenty   of   empty bedrooms.    If    only    she’d    been    up    to returning       to       her       apartment       in Brooklyn.   But   she   barely   makes   it   up the stairs to her room here still. Dang       this       trip       had       been       a nightmare.    Never    should    have    come. Logan      wasn’t      up      to      showing      me Syracuse anyway. I    tried    to    take    a    deep    breath.    The sinuses still burned from the smoke. “You okay?” Logan asked. I     worked     my     jaw     around.     Was already stiffening up. “How   do   you   attract   so   much   pain?” Logan asked. If I only knew. She    stopped    me    under    a    sidelight and    checked    me    out.    I    followed    her finger   troll   around   in   a   circle.   I   kept   my eyes    from    crossing,    pretty    much,    and didn’t   fall   over.   She   wiped   at   my   nose. The girl isn’t squeamish. “Got    a    tissue    in    the    car    for    that bloody nose.” Er.   I   thought   it   was   just   runny,   with my allergies. And   I   don’t   think   he   even   caught   me in   the   nose.   I   think   my   brain   bleeds   out my    nose.    Only    thing    that’s    kept    my head from exploding. “I’ll drive,” she said. I    wasn’t    going    to    debate    that.    Her dad’s     fancy     new     Lexus     made     me nervous    anyway.    Way    nicer    than    the Taurus   my   mom   has   driven   for   twenty years. I should buy her a new car. She’d    probably    take    it    back    to    the dealer.    Won’t    take    a    dollar    from    me. That   idiot   father   of   mine   left   her   in   a deep hole. She        should        have        done        the bankruptcy    thing    like    all    her    friends said.   Most   of   them   are   no   longer   in   her life. She’s a stubborn one. The   engine   turned   on   with   lights   as we   approached   the   Lexus.   I   may   have jerked.   Still   not   used   to   these   fandangle new     cars.     Inside,     Logan     grabbed     a tissue     from     the     center     console     and shoved it at me. “I’m sorry,” I said. “For   what?”   she   said.   “I’m   the   one who dragged you here.” Yeah,    she    did.    But    I    was    sorry    I embarrassed    her.    I    do    that    way    too often. What does she see in me? “Don’t do it,” she snapped. “What?” I asked. “You know what.” The   irritation   in   her   voice   scrubbed my   gray   matter   with   a   rag   clicking   with static   electricity.   She   believes   I   have   a poor   self-image.   I   think   I   just   have   a better   understanding   of   my   worth   than she does. “Not     your     fault     the     idiot     sucker punched you,” she said. Roger   never   would   have   been   caught off   guard   like   that.   But   no   one   would dare   consider   challenging   Roger.   He’s like     a     five-foot-eight     Atlas.     Exudes testosterone      and      virility.      Even      if Michael,   his   dad,   believes   he’s   a   virgin. No way Roger’s a virgin. “Don’t    go    comparing    yourself    to    a Mueller.”    There    was    more    plea    than command in her tone. She    can    read    my    mind    almost    as well as Augie. I   missed   Augie.   Of   course   he   texted me    every    thirty    minutes.    I    couldn’t pronounce     the     entrée     he     reported Norm prepared for dinner. Mrs.   Logan   prepared   stroganoff.   It was    good.    Not    as    much    pepper    or something    as    Mom    dumps    in    hers. Mom     likes     food     that     prickles     the sensations. Logan   pulled   out   of   the   lot   and   had us   on   a   parkway   in   two   minutes,   when she        started        in        a        comfortable monologue.   She’s   accepted   I’m   totally incompetent    at    conversation.    So    glad she    thinks    of    things    to    talk    about. Tonight   it   was   about   how   three   of   the ladies,   term   used   loosely,   that   sat   near us,     dressed.     The     efficiency     of     the bouncer.    The    music    the    band    played. The warm night. I   just   nodded.   Though   seventy-nine degrees    isn’t    warm    to    a    Floridian.    A Floridian   can   stand   on   the   surface   of the   sun   in   their   flip-flops   and   mumble, “Meh.” You’re   in   New   York,   Jon.   Way   north of I-20 and Southern civilization. On   the   bright   side,   I   was   missing   a few    days    of    Florida’s    August    inferno. Missed little Chica, too. Cute little pup. I’m an idiot. Thinking   of   what   I   miss   instead   of enjoying being here with Logan. “I’m   enjoying   being   here   with   you,”   I blurted, talking over her. “Yeah.   I   bet,”   she   said.   “I   don’t   have the energy to do anything.” “Not      much      to      do      in      Syracuse anyway,” I teased. “Yeah,    well    you’re    from    that    great tourist state, huh.” “Loved   driving   around   in   those   hills today   on   the   south   side.”   I   could   throw her a bone. “Only    a    real    flatlander    could    have enjoyed   that.”   She   had   teased   me   for   an hour. In     Tampa     you     only     glimpse     the horizon   if   you’re   on   a   freeway   overpass or the beach. “At   least,”   Logan   said   softly,   “until tonight   you’d   kept   from   getting   beat   up or shot.” Three    days.    About    a    record    since meeting   the   Muellers.   No   wonder   I   had a   bleeding   ulcer   and   a   staph   infection. Still   say   the   latter   was   from   the   long- nose    plyers    Michael    used    to    pull    the shotgun pellets out of my arm and leg. “I’d    meant    to    ask,”    she    said.    “Any fallout   with   the   Tampa   police   about   you leaving   the   city   while   they   investigate our thing?” Our     thing.     That’s     what     she     was calling    it    now?    She    could    have    died. Together   we   killed   seven   men.   The   one guy   bled   out   two   miles   away   from   the three   .22   slugs   she   put   in   his   chest.   Our thing.      We      messed      up      their      little abduction plan. Almost got her killed. “Augie   still   says   Goldman’s   attorney says screw ’em.” “Is    it    just    me,”    she    said,    “or    does that   lawyer   come   across   a   little   slimy   to you?” More   than   a   little.   “You   know   more about the law than I do.” I   heard   her   growl.   Going   to   grump about    my    inferiority    complex    again. But   she   has   the   master’s   degree.   Three degrees.       Who       needs       that       many parchments on the wall? I’m the slacker clerk. Chapter 2 ~ M rs.   Logan   met   us   in   the   hall   before   we executed our escape up the stairs. “You     two     are     home     early,”     she accused.   “Is   that   blood   on   your   shirt, Jon?” “The    band    was    atrocious,”    Logan- Amelia   said   louder   than   she   needed   to. “We’re just going to crash.” “We   had   some   sherbet   a   little   while ago,”    Mrs.    Logan    bragged.    “Could    I serve you a scoop?” My stomach screeched a heck yeah. “No      thanks,      Mom,”      My      Logan answered.   “Not   on   my   approved   dietary list.” If   we   lived   in   Syracuse,   I   guess   I’d have   to   drop   the   Logan    and   stick   with Amelia .   But   she   started   out   as   Logan. And   I   fell   in   love   with   her   as   Logan. Funny    it    annoyed    me    at    first    when Denny called me Reagan. “Even      with      the      nap,”      Amelia continued,   “this   evening   jaunt   tired   me out. So good night.” “Sleep well,” floated at our backs. I     followed     Amelia     up     the     stairs obediently   despite   my   stomach   crying out    for    sugar.    My    ears    burned    as    I realized   my   eyes   remained   on   the   seat of   Amelia’s   pants.   Mrs.   Logan   probably thinks     I’m     a     letch,     but     I     was     just lamenting    how    much    weight    Amelia has lost through all this. Her jeans are really loose. I   flopped   on   top   of   Amelia’s   bed.   She headed      into      her      bathroom,      only swinging    the    door    closed    partway.    I know    that    is    a    message    of    intended intimacy.    One    I’m    not    sure    I    need.    I think    she    wants    to    impress    me    with how    comfortable    she    is    with    me,    so maybe   I’ll   stop   asking,   “What   do   you see in me?” But really. What does she see in me? She’s                   knock-me-down-dead gorgeous.    Sexy.    Smart.    Educated.    A professional.   Years   as   a   Syracuse   cop. Four     years     now     in     the     FBI.     She impressed    people    to    get    a    New    York City     gig.     Michael     said     that     spoke volumes.   And   he   doesn’t   even   like   her. At   least   doesn’t   act   like   he   does.