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Showing content with the highest reputation on 09/18/2016 in all areas

  1. 10 points
    In case you haven't guessed it yet, Renee is still away . If she isn't back soon we might have to send out a search party. Both Cia and I are exhausted with picking up her slack So here is what happened this past week. Monday, we usually would have a story featured in the Featured Story blog. This week, Cia gave us some insight though a review by Aditus on Mikesboy's poetry for NaPoWriMo. This appeared to be a great success as there is 2 pages of comments left for the feature. It is good to see some of our Poets getting the recognition they truly deserve. On Wednesday, Renee shared with us in the Premium Promo, a story by Layla entitled Desolation Angels. We received a excerpt from this interesting story. If you want to read it, make sure to pop by the blog to find out how to get this great story plus many more if you sign up for a Premium Membership. All the details are in the blog. Thursday was a big day for a big announcement. A.J. and The Author Promotion Team announced to the site that Valkyrie was our newest Signature Author!! Valkyrie has amassed a large amount of stories as well as been a frequent contributor on site as an editor, reviewer, and winner of Last Post Wins . Make sure to pop into the blog or her topic in the Signature forum to congratulate this deserving person. Friday, Cia finished the week up by throwing down the gauntlet to see if they were any takers to this weeks Writing Prompts. This week #530 had a first line of "Pull over, I'm going to be sick" . #540 had a tag of The Flood. Lastly Cia feature Sasha Distan's return to the prompts with giving us a glimpse of prompt #526 entitled East-Jesus-Nowhere. Anthology Announcements: ***NOTE: All Deadlines are for submission to the Anthology Proof Team 2016 Fall Anthology: Blindsided / The Forgotten - Due October 28th, 2016 All Pre-2016 Anthology Themes - Due December 14, 2016 2017 Spring Anthology: Jagged Edges / Unintended Consequences - Due April 28th, 2016 Premium Updates: Journey's End by M.A. Church; Book 2 of The Harvest *Premium* Signature Updates: Jabberwocky by CassieQ; Book 3 of Not The Sun Left Without Words by Comicality Leopards Leap by Graeme; Book 3 of The Lilydale Leopards Mental Games by Bill W Mine! by Cia Shelter by Comicality; Book 1 of Shelter Weightless by Cynus; Book 2 of Less is More Promising Updates: Caesura by aditus; Book 2 of The King's Mate Falling Apart by craftingmom Headstall's Reflections by Headstall Morningstar: The Malaise by Headstall One Hundred and Fifty-Five Sonnets by AC Benus; Book 5 of Verse Don't forget.... Read, Write, and Review!
  2. 9 points
    Thought I should mention, the first draft I posted I had Valkyrie winning LBO instead of LPW Then I realized I don't have permission to give away LBO
  3. 6 points
    Have to thank you all again and Adi especially for the review and featuring Napowrimo. Was such a surprise!
  4. 3 points
  5. 2 points
    Emmett is a Canadian polar bear who loves his job, gets on great with his panda room mate, and gets to have excellent sex with his new boyfriend. So when the panda's cousin moves in with them, it shouldn't bother him, but Emmett isn't so much in control of his imagination as he used to be.
  6. 2 points

    From the album: Stuff

    Four new kitties... 'Penguin' on the right
  7. 2 points
  8. 1 point

    From the album: Stuff

    Me at 48
  9. 1 point
    How in the world did I miss this announcement!!!! I know I missed getting on a few days lately, but really, to miss this! So sorry I'm late, good thing for the weekly updates! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!
  10. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 5 “No,” said Jason, almost screaming the word. “NO.” Somehow Pamchenko’s final inquiry had managed to pierce through Jason’s fear into the ribbon of rage that always seemed to be roiling within him. Normally Jason turned from it, afraid to embrace it; whenever it burst forth, it lashed out uncontrollably as it had toward Shane that fateful day in the Student Union. Since then, he had tried to bury it further, to keep it from ever hurting anyone again, but now, miserable and scared after 48 hours that ranked among the worst in his life, Jason allowed the rage to flow from him, to cut through his fear, to fill him with a focused courage. “I don’t know who the fuck you are or who the fuck you think you are, and I don’t know what the hell Shane is mixed up in,” Jason raged, pushing his chair back from the table and standing, “but I refuse to pillage my past for the amusement of some strange asshole. What I did was stupid and wrong and awful, and I have regretted it every single day since it happened. I can’t change what I did, and I know I can never fully make it up to him, but what happened is between Shane and me and nobody else. And it isn’t 4 years ago, it’s now, and now he needs me. I don’t care who the fuck you are or how many hired goons you have,” here Jason gestured past the closed curtains to Ramon, “you will not stop me from seeing Shane.” Jason paused, perspiration pouring from him. His river of rage, potent as it had been, was receding, and he trembled inside as his looked down at the frightening man still seated across the table. He managed to keep that tremble inside, though, and stood resolute. A small movement, something like a genuine smile flitted across Pamchenko’s lips. “Well, Mr. Reid,” Pamchenko said, “you have unexpected depths. So passionate, so eloquent, especially for an engineer. You have made some valid points. Sit, and we can finish this conversation.” As Jason remained standing, Pamchenko barked “Sit” again. This time Jason obeyed the obvious command. “Let’s start with who the fuck I am,” said Pamchenko smoothly. “Technically I am Shane’s employer; he first worked for me here at Diabolique and now at Le Coq.” Responding to Jason’s surprised look, Pamchenko smiled. “My restaurant and nightclub holdings are quite diverse, Mr. Reid, but I’m sure you are not interested in a discussion about my business dealings.” " Actually," Jason thought, "you’re wrong". But he held his tongue. Pamchenko continued, “Shane,however, is much more than employee...he’s….” here for the first time Pamchenko looked human, “....he’s like a son. In fact, he almost was. Shane was engaged to my son, Nikolai.” Jason, unable to control himself, interrupted. “What? You have a gay son? What happened with the engagement?” With a wry amusement tinged with sadness, Pamchenko responded, “I, too, Mr. Reid, have no desire to….how did you put it…..oh yes….’I refuse to pillage my past’ to satisfy a stranger’s curiosity. All that need concern you is that I promised to look after Shane for Nikolai.” Again Jason interrupted, fueled by his last vestiges of rage, “Then why was Shane dancing half naked at a go go bar? Is that how you looked after him?” Anger flooded Pamchenko’s stony visage, and Jason shivered inside, even though he could sense the anger was not entirely directed at himself. Pamchenko controlled himself with visible effort. “It was Shane’s idea. He thought it was the most efficient way to earn money for nursing school. I tried to dissuade him, to allow me to pay for his school or to at least let me loan him the money, or to work at one of my more respectable establishments, but…” Pamchenko’s voice softened, and he smiled as if remembering something, “Shane is very proud, very stubborn, and very persuasive. I finally relented; I thought at least he would be safe there under my security.” The older man’s facade finally cracked. The pale eyes, so blue, were no longer icy, but filled with pain, lines of strain etched the lean, handsome face. The intense crystal eyes bore into Jason’s hazel ones. Pamchenko spoke softly, his voice trembling with emotion. “This happened under my watch. Mine. I let him down. I was supposed to protect Shane, and I failed. I won’t let it happen again. Not so much as a paper cut; not so much as a hurt feeling. That’s why I need to know your intentions. Will you hurt him again? He was already suffered so much. Much more than you know,” Pamchenko said to Jason. “No. I’ll never hurt him again. I just want to do want I can to help him get better, even it’s just sitting there with him.” Pamchenko looked intently at Jason, his blue ice orbs again agents of inquiry. After a long moment, Pamchenko spoke. “The doctors are planning to move Shane to a private room sometime this evening if his condition continues to be stable. I will make my decision tonight as to whether or not I think it is advisable for you to see him again.” At Jason’s cries of dissent, Pamchenko said, “Your protests are very impressive, Mr. Reid, but pointless. Be assured I can and will prevent you from seeing Shane if I think it for the best. I have your number; I will contact you in the morning with my decision. Ramon will drive you back to your vehicle. Good day.” As if drawn by ESP, Ramon parted the portieres and stepped inside the room. “Ramon, please take Mr. Reid back to his car,” Pamchenko said. He then removed a phone from an inside pocket of his exquisitely tailored suit and began scrolling through it. Jason stood and began to protest again, but Pamchenko did not remove his gaze from his device as he stated without emotion, “I said good day, Mr. Reid.” Defeated by this impenetrable wall of disinterest and Ramon’s glare, Jason reluctantly acquiesced. He silently followed Ramon through the restaurant and to the pearl gray limo waiting outside. Jason stared unseeingly out the window as the limo flowed through the streets. What the hell was going on? How did his friend get mixed up into this world of priceless art and dive bars and scary men? And what was Jason going to do if the scariest of those men refused to let him see Shane? It was one thing to bluster about refusing to take “no” for an answer; it was quite another to follow through. He was still in a daze of fear, confusion, and anxiety when Ramon let him out of the limo at the entrance to the hospital’s parking garage. For a brief moment, Jason considering defying the chauffeur and Pamchenko by waiting until Ramon left and trying to get in to see Shane again, but he quickly discarded that idea. For one thing, he had no legal right to visit his friend, and after witnessing the display of Pamchenko’s wealth, Jason had little doubt the man was one of great influence. The hospital would certainly take Pamchenko’s side in any dispute. But more importantly, Ramon stood beside the car, waiting patiently and watching to make sure Jason walked to his own and drove away. No, there was nothing to do now but go home, wait for Pamchenko’s decision and hope for the best. Though it felt like he had left his apartment hours ago, it was still early evening when Jason pulled back up. As he had been too upset earlier to eat, he was ravenous. He ordered a pizza, took a hot shower, and once he had donned some loose shorts and a soft, weathered tee, he turned his phone back on. He might as well deal with some of the certain fall out from his call from Denise. Sure enough, as the phone powered up, he was hit with a mass of texts and notifications of voicemail. Jason wasn’t up to dealing with Denise, so he sent her a text telling her he would be in touch. He couldn’t quite bring himself to type the word “sorry,” but he, hating himself even as he did it, tried to make the message somewhat conciliatory. Her response, which came almost immediately was “I’ll be praying for you.” Jason groaned aloud. Jason ignored the voice mails and Brad’s texts, but just as he was about to respond to one of his mother’s, the phone rang; it was her. His finger hovered over “decline” for an instant, but after the hell of the last few hours, Jason realized that he, like grown children in times of crisis the world over, wanted his mother. “Hello,” Jason said. “Jason,” his mother said sharply. “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for hours. What did you say to Denise?” “We had a fight.” “Obviously,” Barbara Reid said dryly. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten a phone call from her telling me that my son cursed her out. She was in tears. What on Earth were you fighting about?” “We were fighting about Shane.” “Shane?” his mother said in surprise. “Your friend Shane? Why were you fighting about him?” Jason knew he wasn’t making much sense, but he was so tired. So tired, so rattled by events. “She said he deserved to be in a coma.” “Okay, Jason,” Barbara said in that voice of forced calm he remembered from his childhood when she was trying to make sense of events when faced with an incoherent and hysterical child. “Start at the beginning. Why were you talking about Shane to Denise?” “I saw him last night, “ Jason said. Jesus, he thought, how could it have only been last night. It seemed like their meeting happened weeks ago. “Apparently, he lives here.” “You saw him?” Barbara asked. Shane had been a favorite with her, and her heart had ached for the sweet, shy boy after his mother and grandmother’s deaths. When Jason and Shane had roomed together, she had always made Shane his own care package when she sent one to her own son. Barbara had been heartbroken over their falling out, upset by the revelation about Shane’s sexuality, and horrified by Jason’s actions. “How is he? Is he doing well?” “He was okay when I saw him, and Mom….” Jason tried, but couldn’t keep the tears back. He wiped his eyes and tried to hold back a sob. “He …...he said he forgives me…..that he had already forgiven me for what I did.” “Oh baby,” she said, tears in her own eyes. “You made a mistake, we all do it. But I’m glad you saw him. He always was such a sweetheart.” “There’s more.” “More?” she said worried by the tone of her son’s voice. “After we talked, he was attacked on his way home… They beat him, Mom….somebody beat him….it’s bad, really bad.” “Oh my goodness,” she said. “My goodness. How is he?” “He’s still in unconscious. There’s a head injury, so they’ve put him in a medically induced coma.” “Oh my goodness,” Barbara repeated, stunned. “How could anybody do that, especially to such a sweet boy.” “Denise,” Jason answered in a dark voice, “said Shane deserved it. That’s what the fight was about.” “Deserved it?” Barbara repeated, confused. “Why on earth would he deserve it? Nobody deserves to be beaten like that.” “She said he did, because he was gay, and that the wages of sin are death. That’s when I told her to go fuck herself.” “Jason! I know you’re upset, but that’s no way to talk to your fiance. I don’t ever want to hear language like that from you again!” He sighed. “I know, but I was so upset. She doesn’t even know him.” “I know, sweetie,” his mother said, “but she’s young and sheltered. And, quite frankly, her opinion is not so different from what yours was in the not too distant past. You apparently changed your mind, I’m sure she will too.” Jason wanted to yell at her, to scream that she was wrong, that she didn’t know what she was talking about, but remembering the look on Shane’s face as Jason shouted horrible epithets at him, Jason knew he couldn’t. He had been just as bad as Denise. Worse. He had screamed those words at a friend, not a stranger. “I guess so,” he mumbled. “I know so,” Barbara said in a confident tone. “I doubt she’ll ever be comfortable with gays, but I’m sure she’ll gain some perspective. Gays may be sinners, but they deserve our compassion. This may be your first big fight, but it won’t be your last, so don’t worry too much about it. There are many things your dad and I don’t see eye to eye on. We’ve had some real knock-down, drag-outs over the years. Just get on your knees and apologize, send her some flowers, buy her something nice, and it will all blow over.” “I’m not sure I want it to,” Jason said. When Barbara spoke again, her voice was almost cold. “Jason, stop acting like a child. By now you should know that your actions have consequences. You asked someone to marry you; you planned a life together with someone. You can’t just throw that away because you got into a fight, especially a fight over something as silly as whether or not being gay is a sin that deserves divine retribution. I’m truly sorry to hear about Shane, and I will pray for his recovery, but he is an adult. His well being is not your concern. Your fiancee’s well being, on the other hand, very much is your concern.” Jason sighed. “I guess so. Look, I think somebody’s at the door. I’ll talk to you soon.” “Okay, baby. Get some sleep; you sound tired. I’ll be sure to add Shane’s name to my prayer group; keep me posted about how he’s doing. And don’t forget, roses and jewelry will solve almost any tiff. Goodbye.” After talking to his mother, Jason was keyed up again. The problem of Denise kept running through his mind, chasing worries of Shane, and panic about Pamchenko’s decision in an endless loop, so when the pizza came, he took it to the computer to eat while he distracted himself with the internet. Before doing an internet search on head injuries and medically induced comas, Jason guiltily succumbed to curiosity, and his first Google search was for “Viktor Pamchenko.” It produced frustratingly little. His name was occasionally mentioned in connection with some society events, almost invariably linked to a charity. He found a couple of old, blurry photos. There was a tantalizing mention on one web page dealing with the history of the mob in New Orleans that cited an article from 1995 that mentioned Viktor as being connected to it, but Jason couldn’t find the original article. Other than that, not much. Searching for Diabolique turned up a lot of hits, but Viktor himself was rarely mentioned or named as the owner. Frustrated, Jason Googled “Nikolai Pamchenko.” Jackpot. Nikolai had apparently been something of a social butterfly, and his party pics were everywhere as he apparently attended every event in New Orleans that warranted a photographer and press coverage. He was undeniably handsome, Jason admitted grudgingly. He had his father’s chiseled bone structure and lean, broad shouldered frame, but the effect was softened by chestnut hair and greenish brown eyes. After a while, Jason found the engagement announcement in one of New Orlean’s society magazines for Nikolai Pamchenko and Shane O’Neal from about 18 months ago. It included a photo, and Jason’s heart ached with jealousy as he stared at the picture of the handsome Pamchenko smiling down at Shane. He wasn’t sure what made him more jealous, the fact another man had been brave and lucky enough to successfully propose to Shane, or the simple fact that this was a couple obviously in love. Jason couldn’t help but compare this picture of contented bliss with he and Denise’s own stiff engagement photos. Pamchenko looked deliriously happy; Shane, beaming up at his fiance, suffused with happiness was perhaps even more beautiful than Jason remembered. His dark blond hair, stylishly cut, shone in the sunlight, as did his golden skin. His snug sweater showcased his toned physique, and his green-blue eyes sparkled. Shane was wrapped in Pamchenko’s arms, leaning against his chest, and they both glowed with happiness. Jason found more articles from around the same time concerning Nikolai’s opening of a new nightclub, Don de Dieu, which also featured a cabaret space. Pics from the opening night extravaganza showcased the engaged couple, perhaps even more handsome in their evening wear than in the engagement portrait. Jason spotted Viktor sporting what could only be called a grin as he hugged his son. Jason couldn't quite reconcile this smiling man with the grim bastard he had dealt with earlier. But as Jason found more current pics online, he noticed subtle changes. Nikolai, in later photos, seemed thinner, almost gaunt. And though Shane continued to smile at his fiance, something seemed different in his eyes. Shane was still looking at Nikolai with love, yes, but something else as well. Wariness? Concern? Jason spotted Viktor in the background of another picture, unmistakably scowling at his son. At any rate, Jason couldn’t find any mention or activity from Nikolai at any point in the last six months. His social media accounts were all inactive. Googling Don De Dieu brought up the information that the nightclub itself had been shuttered unexpectedly half a year earlier and the building remained empty. At least as far as the internet was concerned, Nikolai Pamchenko no longer existed. Jason frowned at the computer. Curiouser and curiouser, he thought. ********************************************************************************************* In a three story mansion across town, Viktor Pamchenko walked through echoing rooms. He wasn’t quite alone. Ramon was in his apartment in the house’s garconniere, a wing attached at a right angle to the main structure. There was a guard housed in one of the other outbuildings watching footage from the security cameras that surrounded the house and grounds, but there were no other people in the main house. Viktor entered his study, crossing to the bar and pouring himself a few fingers of Scotch. He rarely drank, and shouldn't have this nightcap after his afternoon Bourbon, but this business with Shane was weighing heavily on his mind. Sipping his drink, he paced around the room, years of familiarity blinding him to the beauty of the antique paneling, rich fabrics, and expensive art. At any rate, he had no use for interior decoration right now. Shane, his beautiful, trusting Shane, lying unconscious in a hospital bed. Drinking more deeply, Viktor continued to pace. His pacing led him to one of the room’s built in bookcases, and he paused before it studying a photo in an ornate silver frame. Viktor put his glass down, and picked up the picture. He ran a finger over the smiling faces. He and Nikolai towered over Shane, who stood in the middle. All three were mugging for the camera, and he himself wore a Santa hat. They stood in front of a giant Christmas tree, and Viktor’s heart ached as he remembered that night. The three had been so happy; a family. An unconventional one perhaps, but a family none the less. At least for a bit, for one magical moment, for the first time since Constance’s death, Viktor had known happiness. But of course, it had not lasted. The world, as always, had intruded. Viktor put down the picture, picked up his Scotch, and began pacing again. If he had another chance, how different it would all be. Especially how he dealt with Nikolai. Nikolai. But with Shane to worry about, Viktor refused to think about Nikolai and how he had failed him. If only Viktor could have a second chance with Nikolai, but he couldn’t think of his son now. Even Viktor could only deal with so much at one time. Second chances. They didn’t really exist, Viktor thought, or at least were so rare as to be nothing but a dream. Stil, people longed for them. Viktor thought of Jason Reid and smiled a bit remembering the young man's bravado. It reminded him, somehow, of Nikolai. Viktor considered Jason. Was he, indeed, who he claimed to be? A young man, haunted by his conscious, who wanted his own second chance? Or was he something more? Was this the classic case of keeping one's friends close one's enemies closer? Viktor sipped his Scotch and pondered the problem of Jason Reid. In a hospital bed a few miles away, another young man lay unconscious. He lay unmoving, but he dreamed,deeply. Shane dreamed, or at least hoped he was dreaming, that this nightmare wasn't real, as he lay still in his expensive and exclusive private room, dark and quiet except for the hums and beeps of the machines surrounding him. Shane dreamed he walked through an ancient city, one that reminded him of New Orleans, but the buildings were taller, pressing down on the narrow streets, their facades black with centuries of grime. The streets were filled with color, though, from the costumes of the crowds that swirled through them. The costumes were exuberant and elaborate, flowing, hooded capes and broad swinging hooped skirts, but they were somehow tawdry, too. The garments were bright and garish; the screamingly loud hues actually hurt Shane’s eyes. And the noise. Some sort of music played, loud and discordant, with a pounding bass that hurt Shane’s head. God, his head was aching, and he prayed for the music to stop, but it only increased in volume as the crowds grew in size and agitation. Shane fought his way through it, disoriented. The river, he need to find the river. There was a bridge there, a bridge to the quiet eastern bank. And He waited on the other side. But as he tried to maneuver through the twisting streets, the revelers began barring his way. As Shane continued to fight through them, pleading with them for passage, he realized to his horror that what he had taken for horrible, leering masks were their actual faces, At the realization, he began screaming as they pressed into him, ripping at his own costume. Even as the crowd stripped him, as the fingers began clawing at his flesh, Shane fought on. Fought on to the river. Fought on to the bridge. Fought on to his handsome prince with the hazel eyes and chestnut hair who waited for him on the other side.
  11. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 4 Jason sat across from Mr. Pamchenko, who had now donned sunglasses and was looking out of one the side windows. The man was wearing a dark grey suit that Jason, even with his limited knowledge of style and fashion could recognize as custom. There is no way an off the rack suit, no matter how expensive or how carefully altered could fit that lean, broad shouldered physique quite so perfectly. The finely woven suit fabric gleamed slightly in the soft light that filtered through the tinted windows. Jason tried to gauge the other man’s age. At least early 40s, maybe a bit more. Pamchenko’s tanned skin was smooth except for lines around those remarkable lines, but something….maybe it was the silver wings at his temples, maybe just the air of having seen it all hinted that he was older than that. But one thing was certain about Pamchenko; he was unspeaking. As the limo sped smoothly through the New Orleans traffic, Jason felt his own tensions rising as he sat in the silent car. In less than 24 hours, his dull, safe, carefully crafted life had turned into pure melodrama. As much as Jason was happy that he had encountered Shane again, as happy as he was to know that his actions had been forgiven, Jason wished he had never left his home last night, never gone to the damned bar in the first place. He felt guilty about that thought--without Jason’s card in Shane’s pocket, identification would have taken much longer, possibly negatively affecting Shane’s recovery. But still, Jason thought, I wish this was all happening without me. He fidgeted in his seat as the other man sat silently, patiently waiting for their unknown destination. Jason tried to wait him out, to also sit coolly silent, but he finally broke. “Where are we going?” Jason said in a voice that, to his disgust, wavered slightly. The elegant head turned to face Jason. “To Diabolique.” At Jason’s blank look, Pamchenko continued. “It’s one of my restaurants. It doesn’t open for several more hours, so we can talk privately there. In addition, I am in need of nourishment.” With that explanation, Pamchenko turned back to staring out of the window, clearly done with discussion. Jason, now even more uneasy, sighed, settled back into his plush pearl grey leather seat, and worried about the messages undoubtedly blowing up the phone he had left back in his Toyota. After less than a week in his new city, Jason didn’t really know his way around, but as the limo slid smoothly into an exit leading away from the interstate and into a cluster of high rises, he knew they were entering the central business district, also known as the warehouse district for the number of a old warehouses that had been converted into condos, businesses, bars, and restaurants. The limo stopped in front of of these converted warehouses, this one made of ancient, crumbling red brick. Before Jason could move, the driver, a large, very muscular man in a black suit tailored almost as impeccably as the one worn by Mr. Pamchenko, had lept from his seat and was opening the door for his passengers to exit. Pamchenko motioned for Jason to leave first, and the younger man crawled awkwardly out. Once Pamchenko had also exited, the driver moved to the massive black stained door ahead and held it open. Again, the older man motioned for Jason to precede him and murmured a “Thank you, Ramon” as he himself passed his driver. Jason paused inside the dimly light entrance. The walls were of the same ancient brick as the outside, though here they had patches of paint clinging; a large, dark, ornately carved chest sat to the left, topped by an enormous mirror in an elaborate gold leaf frame. The mirror was obviously antique, with the glass itself being watery and pitted. It dimly reflected the mass of white orchids in the large Oriental bowl in front of it as well as the life-size portrait on the opposite wall. Jason noticed the portrait’s reflection and started. No...it couldn't be….he thought. Jason turned to examine it. A full length portrait, almost life size---large enough, with the frame, to take up almost the whole wall. It was a man with dark hair and beard in a long red dressing gown. The scarlet silk of the robe gleamed against the dark background, and the figure was certainly Mephistophelian enough to fit the decor of a restaurant named Diabolique, but that wasn’t what had arrested Jason’s attention. “Is that….” Jason paused, “a John Singer Sargent?” His mind reeled. He knew little of art, but he knew a work by that well known artist would have an astronomical price tag. “Very good,” Pamchenko purred in a surprised voice. “A distressingly few number of patrons have recognized the artist.” “I….I….remember him from Art Appreciation,” Jason stammered, stunned. He looked at Pamchenko again. Who was this guy? An elegant woman walked toward them, the skirt of her black silk dress flowing around her. “Mr. Pamchenko,” she said, smiling and making sure to include Jason in that smile. “We’ve prepared a table for you in the back.” She turned and walked through a quietly elegant dining room toward a narrow hallway that passed to the right of the enormous paneled bar. In a small niche at the end of the passageway, a table sat topped with snowy linen. Though capable of seating more, only two chairs were placed at it. She pulled a seat out for Jason, who sat meekly as she placed a large napkin on his lap. What the fuck was all this? he thought, barely noticing as Pamchenko, now also seated, quietly conferred with the woman in black. Ramon did not join them, but stood back a distance in the hallway. As Jason waited for whatever would happen next, he examined the room in which he sat. The ceiling, covered in patinated gold leaf was a groined vault, and an antique gilded lantern hung from the apex. The plaster walls were covered in a beautiful, highly detailed mural, painted in Venetian style (again Jason thanked his guardian angel that he had paid attention in Art Appreciation and listened to Shane’s endless dorm room discussions about art and artists), depicting masked revellers in 18th century costume frollicing in celebration. Closer examination revealed that the setting was not Venice, but the French Quarter, and that a disturbingly large percentage of the masks seemed to sprout horns and display demonic visages. Pamchenko noticed Jason’s gaze. “Shane painted the mural,” he said, his accent somehow more pronounced when he spoke Shane’s name. “Shane did that? Wow. I mean, I knew he had talent….but I had no idea.” Jason continued to examine the painted figures, now when even more interest. “Sadly, I don’t think even Shane is aware of just how talented he is.” Jason was startled at the warmth in this cold man’s voice as he spoke of the injured man, and he turned his gaze to look at Pamchenko. Before Jason could speak, the woman had returned with a rolling cart. It contained an ice bucket with a bottle of wine, a bottle of mineral water, a decanter of amber liquid, a platter of assorted meats, cheeses, and fruit, a basket of bread, and the necessary dishes etc. In an extraordinarily short span of time, she had efficiently transferred everything to the table and left. “Before we begin,” Pamchenko said, “I need something to quench my thirst.” He reached for the decanter, pouring some of the amber liquid into a cut crystal tumblr. “And you? Bourbon?” Pamchenko motioned with the decanter he still held, “Or would you prefer wine or water?” Jason usually stuck to beer, but not only was he too embarrassed to ask for something so plebian in such a luxurious setting, he felt the need for something stronger. He had the feeling this was going to be, despite the beauty of the environment and the polite manners of his host, an unpleasant experience. “Bourbon,” he said. Jason picked up the heavy crystal tumbler and took a tentative sip of the liquor; unexpectedly its smooth heat warmed and fortified him. Pamchenko motioned toward the platter of food. “Please, help yourself,” he said. Jason wasn’t hungry, but he took a few pieces of cheese. When he tasted it was as delicious as he expected, but it took effort to force himself to continue to chew and swallow. However, he had the distinct feeling that refusing to partake would offend his host, and Jason found himself very reluctant to do that. After Pamchenko himself ate a few morsels, he motioned for Ramon to come into the room. “Now that we’ve refreshed ourselves, Mr. Reid, I think it’s time to talk.” Pamchenko paused before continuing. “This is what I know. I know that Shane left Le Coq at 2:00 am. I know he spoke to you briefly before heading toward Esplanade Ave. and, presumably, his apartment. I know that at approximately 5:20 am he was thrown out of a van onto City Park Avenue.” Pamchenko ignored the gasp that Jason uttered at hearing about the van for the first time. “During those missing hours he was raped and beaten. I want to know by whom and why.” “What….” Jason sputtered, trying to process this new information. Jesus, just when the situation seemed as horrible as it could possibly be, it became even more awful. Jason put down his tumbler and buried his face in his hands for a moment. He raised his head and stared at Pamchenko “What are you saying? They raped him and then threw him out of a van like a dog they didn’t want?” “Yes,” Pamchenko said softly in a terrible voice. Jason shivered at the expression in those ice blue eyes. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Jason still couldn’t quite comprehend it all. “How could they? How could they do that to Shane?” Sorrow and impotent rage thickened his voice. “Whoever did this…they need to be found…...they need to pay for this…. I want them to suffer. they need to ....” He dashed at the tears welling in his eyes as he trailed off, overwhelmed. “Mr. Reid,” Pamchenko’s voice was cold steel. “You need not concern yourself with that. I can assure you that I will find who did this, and I can further assure you that those responsible will pay. They will suffer; they will suffer very much indeed.” Pamchenko smiled slightly. It was horrifying. Jason shuddered at that smile and the tone those words were spoken in, and a small part of him, a very small part, felt pity for the unknown assailants. “But for now,” Pamchenko continued, “Mr. Reid, I need to know if you can shed anymore light upon the events of last evening.” And with the ice blue eyes searching the hazel ones across the table, Pamchenko began his interrogation of Jason. In later years, Jason was never able to think of the following hours without a sense of dread. The fear that clutched his heart and turned his bowels watery as that frightening creature of ebony and ice asked him question after question about last night, about his movements, about what he had witnessed,. And all the time Pamchenko’s blue eyes were searching Jason’s own eyes, searching Jason’s face, searching Jason’s very being for any deviation in his story, for any slip up, for any hint that he could somehow be involved in Shane’s abduction. And if Jason’s attention slipped from Pamchenko even for a second, it was only to focus on the large form of Ramon blocking the only exit from the space. After an eternity, though, Pamchenko seemed satisfied of Jason’s innocence. Jason sat slumped and shivering, sipping his whiskey, watching Pamchenko talking in low tones to Ramon, who nodded and left the room. As he left, the large man closed the portieres that turned the alcove into an entirely private room. “More?” Pamchenko asked Jason, indicating the decanter of bourbon. Jason hesitated, but nodded in the affirmative, hoping the liquor would help calm him. “Thank you,” Pamchenko continued, “for your cooperation. Shane is…” here the man hesitated, “....very special to me, and while I doubted you were involved, I wanted to assure myself of that. I am always very suspicious of coincidence.” Jason sat silently, still terrified, watching the man across the table like a mouse watching a cat. “So now that business is taken care of,” Pamchenko said, pouring himself a second glass of bourbon, “I have one more question. What are your intentions toward Shane?” “What….what…” Jason stared, even more confused. “What do you mean my intentions?” “Well, I know your name, Jason Elliot Reid of 3865 Lafreniere Ave. I know that you graduated with a 3.3 average from Louisiana Tech University this spring and accepted a job at Turner Construction Corp. that begins in 12 weeks. I know that even though you apparently frequent gay bars, you have a fiancee, a Miss Denise Patterson, who is working on her Master's degree in Elementary Education at LSU.” Jason stared dumbfounded, his drink forgotten, as the other man recited these facts. “I know that you first met Shane your sophomore year of high school when your parents Theodore and Barbara Reid moved to Holly Grove, Louisiana. I know that you and Shane roomed together your freshman year of college. I know that Shane tried to commit suicide after you publicly outed him.” The pale eyes bored into Jason. “But what I don’t know, yet, is why after 4 years you are now trying to return to Shane’s life. I don’t know why after 4 years, you had this sudden urge to apologize. I don’t know why, after 4 years of ignoring Shane’s existence, you are so anxious to visit him in the hospital.” Again, Pamchenko smiled that horrifying smile. “But you will tell me why, won’t you?”
  12. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 2 After Shane left, Jason stood there for a bit, shell shocked. The kiss had been brief, just the merest press of Shane’s lips to Jason, yet his world had been shaken. He had kissed Shane once before, but had forced himself to forget how perfect it had felt. He couldn't do that again. This time he knew he wouldn't be able to repress his feelings for the other man. Jason knew that if he had even the slightest chance of making Shane some part of his life, on what ever terms Shane agreed to, he would have to take it. And Jason knew that it would mean the end to the status quo, to the carefully and painfully built facade he had created over many years. He also knew that there was no way to carry on the same as before, especially with Denise. Jason turned back toward the bar, deciding on one more drink. There was no way he could sleep, and his empty, box littered apartment held no charms for him. He ordered another beer from the same bartender who asked if he had managed to talk to Shane. Jason, not wanting to talk about their conversation, answered brusquely in the affirmative, quickly paid his tab, and took his beer to a quiet corner to mull over the problem of Denise. He knew he didn’t love her, but he had managed to avoid thinking about that, focusing on the positives. They were good together on paper, he knew. She was the sister of his best friend, Brad, a fellow engineering student. They had become roommates after Shane had left the dorm, and Brad had gradually penetrated the shell Jason built around himself after the disastrous end to his friendship with Shane. Jason had never returned to being the carefree guy he had been before, but Brad had been able to occasionally coax him out of their room or the library for some fun. Brad had taken Jason home with him for a summer weekend, where he had met Denise, who was home from the out of state college she attended. She was blond and pretty and uncomplicated, and had clearly taken a fancy to him. Before Jason really knew it, he was spending lots of weekends at home with Brad, taking Denise on double dates with Brad and his high school sweetheart who still lived in their hometown. Jason liked her well enough, and it just seemed the easiest thing to go along with it. The last thing he wanted was complications; life had gotten too complicated once before, ending in disaster, and he wanted to avoid that again. Besides, their dating made so many people happy---Brad, Denise, Jason’s parents, everybody it seemed. And if he weren’t so happy, what did it really matter? So they continued date. And one day, Jason realized that everyone, including Denise was expecting a proposal. He knew he wanted a normal life, a wife and kids and a good job...the whole cliched American Dream. Why not her? His parents were thrilled with her; Denise was a good, wholesome girl, an education major. She was quite religious, raised by strict parents, and Jason was secretly relieved that she insisted on saving sex for after marriage. It just made things easier. Besides, it all seemed so far away, since she wanted to wait until after she completed her education, including a Masters’ degree, before getting married. He hadn’t cheated on her; Jason took his engagement seriously, and except for the two trips to the gay bars, he hadn’t done anything with a guy since a bit of fooling around his senior year of high school. He had slept with a few girls in high school and had dated a bit in his first year or so of college, but it had never been particularly fulfilling. So in the past few years, he had chosen celibacy except for the occasional make out sessions with Denise, and she insisted on a “no hands below the waist” rule. Sometimes he worried about his sexual performance after marriage, but always managed to put those thoughts away, reminding himself that it was still a long way away. But now, thinking of Shane's kiss, he couldn’t put them away. Because that quick kiss had sent shivers down his spine. That quick kiss had made him realize what he had been missing, what he had never had with Denise, with any girl, with anyone else but Shane. That quick kiss made him want more. It made him want Shane, but Jason, being honest with himself for once, wasn’t sure if he was willing to pay the price of pursuing a relationship with Shane (assuming, and Jason realized it was a very big assumption, Shane was willing to agree to try). Still restless after the beer, and unwilling to go home even though it was very, very late, almost 3am, Jason realized he hadn’t eaten since lunch. He had been too nervous about his trip to Le Coq (stupid name for a bar, he thought) to eat dinner, and he hoped that putting some food in his stomach might help him. He Googled late night restaurants, and settled on a diner on Bourbon, the Clover Grill. At the time of the morning, the place was almost empty. An endless cup of hot coffee and a burger did help his mood a bit, but even after hours in the brightly diner, sipping on coffee and listening to the increasingly random jukebox selections, Jason was still confused about everything. What he wanted, what he was willing to risk, what he was willing to do. Around 6am, about the time exhaustion was starting to set in and he was planning to call a cab to take him home, Jason’s phone rang. It was a local number, but one he didn’t recognize. It must be Shane he thought, a bit surprised. Jason had been hoping to hear from his former friend, but certainly not this soon. He hesitated before answering, uncertain, confused thoughts twirling through his mind, but in the end, Jason couldn’t risk Shane’s feeling rejected if he didn’t get an answer. “Hello,” he said, uncertainly. “Is this Jason Reid?” an unfamiliar female voice asked. “Yes. Who’s this?” “I’m with the Lakeside Hospital. A patient with no I.D. has been brought in, but we found a card with your name and number in his pocket. Is there any chance you might be able to identify him?” A sick feeling rolled through Jason, and the bottom dropped out his stomach. It was with great difficulty that he managed to not throw up. “Oh my God,” he said. “Does he have red hair and a beard? And a big tattoo on his right arm?” The woman on the other end paused, and Jason heard a sound like rustling paper. “Please be a mistake,” he kept whispering to himself, “Please be a mistake….” “Yes,” she said. “That matches the description of the patient.” “I’ll be right there. What’s the address?” Jason paid his bill, cursing the time it took to run his card, but while the server was finishing the transaction, the short order cook was calling a cab for Jason. In what seemed like hours, but was only a few minutes, Jason was on his way to the hospital. Awful thoughts were running through his head; he had been so stunned that he hadn’t asked why Shane was taken to the hospital, or even if he was still alive. Worst case scenarios kept running through his mind, and he gritted his teeth at every red light and stop sign. When they finally made it to the hospital entrance, Jason threw a wad of cash at the driver with barely a glance and ran inside. Once inside, he found admittance and the woman who had called. “Is he okay? The guy you brought in. Is he okay?” he yelled. “Sir, calm down. I know you’re upset, but you need to calm down.” With every ounce of effort he possessed, Jason willed himself to breathe deeply and focus. “I’m sorry. Is he okay?” he said. “Are you a family member?” she asked. “No. I’m……” he paused, “a friend.” “I’m really sorry,” her face reflected that she was speaking the truth, “I can’t discuss his case with you since you’re not related. But…” she quickly added seeing Jason’s fallen face, “but he is still alive. He’s in ICU. He's in a coma. He….” here she lowered her voice, and looked around as if to make sure no one could hear her, “was attacked...beaten. They think he will make it.” “Jesus.” Jason lowered his face to his hands. “Sir,” the gentle voice came again. “I want to help him. I need you to give me his name and information please.” Jason looked up. “Of course. Sorry. His name is Shane. Shane O’Neal. With an “ea”” he added. “Next of kin?” “His mother died when he was in high school. His grandmother, too.” The woman looked up, with a questioning look. “Car accident,” Jason said. “His other grandparents died before he was born. No siblings, and I think his parents were only children too. I don’t remember him mentioning any aunts or uncles. He had a couple of older cousins. Third cousins I think.” “That’s a shame,” she said. “Father? Is he still alive?” "Ummm…..I actually don’t know. He has to be in his late sixties. He was in his 40s when Shane was born. Last I knew of him was 4 years ago. He had a farm up in North Louisiana. Carroll Parish. I think his first name was Joseph. I know he remarried.” “Well, at least we have something to go on. We’ll try to contact Mr. O’Neal or his wife.” “Birth date?” “November 29…” he thought for a moment, “1991.” The questions continued, and he answered as many as he could, which was a distressingly small amount. Just as he was finishing, two men walked over to him. One was in his early 30s, about 6 feet tall, not fat, but with a bit of a belly. He was cleanly shaven with dark hair in a neat, conservative cut. His partner was older, Hispanic, approximately the same size, but with longer, shaggy black hair and a goatee. “Mr. Reid?” the Latino asked. “Yes.” “I’m Detective Rodriguez and this is Detective Venturi. Are you finished here? We need to ask you some questions.” Jason looked at the admissions nurse, who indicated they were done. Feeling surreal, as if he had wandered into an episode of Law and Order, Jason followed the two detectives into a small room. “We understand that you are the name on the card found in the victim’s pocket. Is that right?” asked Venturi. “Yes.” “Do you know how he got your card?” Venturi continued, as Rodriguez made notes. “I gave it to him.” “What is the victim’s name?” “Shane O’Neal. With an “ea” not “ei”.” “Thanks. Do you know his address?” “No.” “How do you know the victim?” It was starting to annoy Jason that they kept calling Shane “the victim.” “Shane,” he emphasized the name, “and I were friends in high school and roomed together in college for a while.” “When was the last time you saw him?” “Tonight.” The detectives exchanged looks. “What time?” Rodriquez interjected. “I first saw him around midnight, then I actually talked to him after his shift around 2am. Look,” Jason interrupted. “What happened to him. The nurse just told me he got beaten. What happened? How bad is it?” “Hey kid, I know you’re upset,” Venturi said while Rodriguez gave him a dark look. “But what we’re trying to do is find out what did happen. I can tell you,” he continued as Rodriguez turned his glare to his partner, “he was beat up, and really bad. He’s still unconscious, which is why we’re talking to you instead of him. So, to get back to it,” Venturi paused and looked at the notebook in his partner’s hand. You said something about a shift. You saw him at work, then? Where?” Jason, paused, squirming. The last thing he wanted to do was talk to these two about a gay bar. After a moment, while the detectives looked at him expectantly he sighed, and said. “He was dancing at Le Coq. That’s where I saw him. After he finished, I talked to him for maybe 5 minutes right outside. Then he walked off down the street. Toward Esplanade.” “Le Coq? On Burgundy, right?” Jason nodded. “Anyone see this conversation?” Venturi continued. “There was doorman taking covers. I’m pretty sure he saw us. Anyway, after Shane left I went back in and ordered another beer.” :”Would the bartender remember you?” Shit, Jason realized in horror. They think I’m a fucking suspect. Jesus Christ, could this get any worse? “I think so. We talked for a bit.” “How did you pay?” “Credit card. Wait a minute,” Jason dug in his pants, pulling out the receipt. He handed it to Venturi, who examined it carefully before passing it to Rodriguez who also examined it, and made some careful notations. “I recommend you kept hold of that,” Rodriguez said, passing it back to Jason. “Is that what you were wearing when you saw the victim at Le Coq?” “Yes.” “Do you think the bartender will remember it?” Jason looked down. He was wearing a button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and khaki cargo shorts. Hardly a memorable outfit. He shrugged in answer. “Before tonight, when was the last time you saw the victim?” Venturi asked. “Shane,” Jason said. “His name is Shane.” Again, an exchanged look and a notation. “Before tonight, when was the last time you saw Shane?” Venturi, repeated the question emphasizing the name. “4 years ago.” Jason caught a look of surprise from Venturi. “We had a…..” he paused and thought carefully before finishing “falling out at the end of fall quarter our sophomore year. Shane ended up dropping out that spring and just left. I didn’t know how to reach him.” “Did you go to Le Coq to find him?” Rodriguez asked. “NO!” Jason said, far too loud. He collected himself and continued. “No, like I said, I haven’t seen him in four years. I didn’t even know he lived in New Orleans. I just moved here a few days ago. Last night, I just decided to go out. I don’t really know why I went to Le Coq, I just ended up there. I was really surprised to see him.” Rodriguez gave him a little smirk as if to let Jason know that the Detective knew exactly why people like Jason went to that particular bar. Jason tried to ignore him. “When did you leave Le Coq?” "About 3.” “Where did you go after?” “I was hungry, so I went to Clover Grill.” “ How long did you stay there?” “I was actually there when the hospital called me.” Again, the detectives exchanged looks. Venturi spoke. “You stayed there for almost three hours? Why?” “I had a lot of my mind. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep, and I didn’t want to go home.” “Do you think the staff will remember you?” “Yeah. Of course. They calmed me down. I was freaking out when the call came about Shane. The cook even called the cab for me.” “Do you have a receipt?” This time Jason, didn’t answer, just automatically dug for the receipt. Again it was examined, and Rodriguez made notations. “You took a cab here? Do you remember which company?” Venturi asked. “United, I think. The guy at Clover will know. He told me it’s the one he uses.” “Can I see your hands,” Rodriguez asked. Jason shot him a puzzled look, but stretched his hands out toward the detective, who carefully examined them, turning them over, before making more notes. “Look, kid,” Rodriguez, said, finally closing his notebook and looking at Venturi, who nodded at his partner, “We’ll have to check this all out, but there ain’t a snowball’s chance in hell you’re our perp. Whoever it was beat that kid,” apparently anyone under 30 qualified as a kid, Jason thought, “worked him over pretty bad. Ain’t no way he didn’t get blood on himself and came away without bruising his own knuckles pretty bad. Still,” here he dug in a pocket and produced a card, “keep in touch, especially if you decide to head out of town. Or if you remember anything that you think might help.” They got up to leave. With the relief of knowing he wasn’t a suspect, Jason relaxed. Suddenly, something occurred to him. “Wait,” he said. The pair of older men stopped and turned, looking at him with surprise. “I don’t know if this means anything or not, but something did happen a little weird at the bar.” Rodriguez retrieved the notebook, flipped it open and said, “Shoot.” “Well, when Shane was leaving the floor to change, some guy grabbed him. I was too far away to hear what he said, but whatever it was, it pissed off Shane. He hit the guy, then one of the bouncers hustled him out.” “Probably nothing,” Venturi said, “but still…..What did the guy look like?” “I didn’t get a good look at him. I only saw him from behind. He was taller than Shane by a couple of inches…..I remember him leaning down to whisper in his ear.” Jason closed his eyes trying to concentrate. “He was white. About average weight. Not too big, not skinny. He had a cap on, but he had brown hair…..sorry that’s all I remember.” “Do you remember which bouncer?” “Bald. Big black beard. Lots of tattoos. Kind of scary looking.” The detectives looked at each other. “Barry,” they both said at the same time and laughed. They saw Jason’s surprise, and Rodriguez explained, “In this line of work, you eventually learn all the bouncers. That’s where a lot of the good info is. Anyway, kid, sorry about your friend.” He looked Jason in the eye, and Venturi put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I promise you we will do our best to find the creep who did this.” After they left, Jason found the admittance nurse and tried to find out more about Shane. “I really don’t know anything,” she said. “Look,” she paused and pulled up a schedule on her computer. “ICU visiting hours start tomorrow at 1. My friend Laurie is working then. I’ll let her know to look for you. Maybe she can tell you something.” Jason started to protest, but she stopped him. “Look, honey, quite frankly you look like shit. There is nothing more you can do for your friend right now. Go home, get some sleep, and come back at one. That’s an order.” Recognizing the wisdom, in her words, Jason left. A quick Google search later, he was in a cab headed toward his apartment. It was almost 8am. Reaching home, he took a quick shower, remembering to turn on his alarm clock and to turn off his phone before falling into bed to catch a few hours of sleep. At 12:00, the alarm blared, startling him. He ruefully remembered how hard it had been to train himself to wake to one after having gotten used to Shane’s shaking him awake every morning. Thinking of Shane brought back the memory of all that had happened, and he was in a somber mood as he made coffee and a sandwich before heading back to the hospital. When he reached the car, he remembered he had turned his phone off earlier, and wasn’t surprised to see a flurry of texts and missed calls from Denise. She usually called him a couple of times a day and didn’t like it when he was out of pocket. He thought about ignoring her, but realized that would only make it worse when she finally got in touch with her. Oh God, he thought as he dialed her, if this is bad, how bad is breaking up with her going to be? She answered immediately. “I’ve been trying to get you all morning. Where were you? Why was your phone off?” “I turned it off to get some sleep. I was up all night and had to go the hospital first thing this afternoon.” “Hospital? Oh my goodness, are you alright? Do I need to come down? Oh my goodness.” Jesus he thought, Jason, you really are stupid. Why did you mention the hospital? He said, “Calm down it wasn’t me. One of my friends got attacked in the French Quarter, and he had my card in his pocket. He’s….,” Jason swallowed hard thinking about Shane, “he was unconscious and didn’t have I.D., so the hospital called me.” “You had me so worried. I’m sorry about your friend, but thank goodness it wasn’t you.” They spoke for a minute about various things, but before Jason could get of the phone, she said, “What friend was it? I didn’t think you knew anybody in New Orleans.” Briefly, Jason thought about lying, but he was tired of lying, and too tired, period, to come up with a story on the spur of the moment. “It was Shane. My roommate before Brad. I happened to run into him the French Quarter.” “Shane?” Denise said, “The gay guy? Well, in that case I can’t say I’m surprised he got beaten up. You know those people and their lifestyle. I’m surprised he’s still alive; I assumed he had already gotten AIDS. At any rate he’s not your concern.” Jason was stunned. He knew Denise and her family were deeply religious and conservative, and he quite frankly knew they held a dim view of gays. He had certainly avoided the topics of gay rights and same sex marriage around them, but he was still taken aback by her vitriol. “Denise,” he said, trying to keep his tone even, “whether or not Shane is gay, he was, and is, a friend, and deserves some compassion.” “I didn’t make the rules,” she said, “God did. ‘The wages of sin are death.’” He snapped. “Do you even hear yourself? My friend,” he emphasized the word friend. “is in a fucking coma after being fucking beaten, almost to death. And you can’t find any compassion for him? And you call yourself a Christian. Are you fucking kidding me?” “You do not talk to me that way. Do you understand me?” she screamed. “It’s not my fault some queer’s choices caught up to him. I will not allow that kind of….” Jason cut her off. “Go fuck yourself,” he said, hitting the end button. Almost immediately the phone rang, but he quickly turned it off and flung it into the passenger seat.
  13. 1 point
    Sunday, 1 September 2013 - continued “I got it, Uncle Tommy.” CJ picked up the phone so the injured cop wouldn’t have to stretch for it. “Hello? Detective Kennedy’s room.” CJ scrunched up his face as he listened to the caller. “This is CJ, I’m the Detective’s nephew. Who’s calling?” The boy’s face lit up in surprise hearing the response to his question. “No shit? Dude! He’s really gonna flip! Hang on.” CJ held the handset out to the injured cop, “Uncle Tom, it’s your son Bradley, for you.” “Bradley? Oh God. Oh Jesus. I… I…” Tom Kennedy’s gaze rapidly shifted between CJ’s face and the phone the boy held. His fingers curled around the edge of the white sheet covering the lower half of his body. His breathing became ragged. The length of each breath decreased as the frequency increased. Tears began running down his face. He was still connected to machinery above his head, by leads attached to his chest―one of them started to chime. CJ noticed a squiggly line on the monitor begin to move faster. The peaks it drew rose and a new beeping sound came from somewhere around it. Caleb, the nurse on duty, ran in the room. “His heart rate’s gone through the roof. What happened, CJ?” “He got a call from his son. They haven’t spoken in years. When I told him who it was, he started getting agitated.” CJ was scared, his fear seeping through in his voice. He hoped his uncle wasn’t having a heart attack. “It’s okay, buddy. He’s having an anxiety attack. Let me calm him down and get his blood pressure under control. He’ll be okay in a few minutes. Go sit on the other bed and talk to his son.” “Hello,” said CJ once again into the phone. “Dad? Dad? What’s going on?” “Hey, Bradley, this is still CJ. Your dad got kinda emotional when he heard it was you calling.” “Is he okay? He’s not having a heart attack, is he?” “Nah, the nurse came in and says your dad is having an anxiety attack, he should be fine in a bit.” “Shit! I got scared when I heard those strange noises. So, who are you again? Are you the one who trashed my grandparents and that idiot priest?” “Ouch! Not sure I’d say I trashed them, but I might have made a couple of comments they didn’t like. Sorry about that, the priest pissed me off and I just went a little nutso. He made a comment―” “Don’t apologize, man. Father Enger is a douche. Grandpa Frank can be a pain in the ass when he doesn’t get his way. Grandma just goes along with anything the two of them say, or she prays. You still haven’t answered my question, who are you?” “Oh, sorry. My parents are real close friends with your dad, we came to visit him but the rents went down to the cafeteria to get something to eat. Uncle Tommy was real happy about talking to your mom yesterday. He was all excited thinking you were gonna call him, but he wasn’t expecting it today. Weren’t you and your brother somewhere with friends?” “Yeah, but the weather turned nasty so we all came back. So my mother told us dad got married this summer? I guess I have a step-father? Geez that sounds weird. Do you know this guy? What’s he like?” “Dude, of course I know Uncle JP. He’s a great guy. He’s from Australia and has this great accent. The wedding was a double one. My two dads got married at the same time―I was the best man for all four.” “Wait, your two dads?” “Ummm, yeah, I’ve got two fathers also.” “You live with them?” “Yup, moved up here from Miami in May. I wasn’t getting along with my mom and her husband.” CJ thought now wasn’t the time to go into a long explanation about why he ended up living in Washington. “Hey, I understand you and I are the same age.” “Really? You’re fifteen? I turn sixteen in October. What about you?” “Shit! You’re older than me. My birthday’s in December. So you gonna come visit your dad?” “Well, I gotta talk to him first, you know? But I hope it works out. Mom said we could. Maybe we’ll get to meet if I do?” “Oh shit yeah, we’ll definitely meet. We need to keep in touch. What are you on?“ “Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You?” “Facebook, Instagram, and Kik. But I’m warning you right now I’m not one of those guys who has to post everything on line and respond to every single post I see.” “Oh, you don’t suffer from Facebook diarrhea?” “Ha! Yeah, I know some guys from my old school who had to post anything and everything, and had to comment on most of what anyone else put up. They looked like idiots with their names plastered all over the place. Anyway, you need to sign up, and Kik me sometime. Wanna trade info?” CJ watched as Caleb fussed over Bradley’s dad while he talked to the boy in Boston. He heard a request over the public address system, for Doctor Calhoun to call an extension. The nurse left the room, saying he’d be right back. His uncle visibly relaxed after Caleb returned and injected something into the intravenous line. “Hey man, looks like your dad’s doing okay now. Let me give him the phone and you can talk to him. Hope we get to meet soon, Kik me.” A smiling CJ handed the phone to the cop, kissed him on the forehead, and walked out of the room in search of his dads. He found them and JP in the waiting room, holding his bottle of water and the coffee and doughnuts they had gone for. He explained what had happened and suggested to his fathers it was time to go home. ● ● ● “I can’t wait for this weekend to be over, just one more day to go.” Brett finished drying himself off with the large grey towel while watching his partner brush his teeth. After returning home, the two men had spent time with CJ reviewing the plans for visiting Australia in late December. “I know, right. Who would have thought we’d be complaining about having three days off work in a row.” Cleaning up the kitchen after they’d eaten dinner, CJ said he was spending the rest of the evening with a book. He wanted to finish reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer before the end of the weekend. He explained it was the first book on a long reading list for his English class. “And we still have the meeting in Arlington to deal with tomorrow!” Walking over to his own sink in front of the mirrored wall, he affectionately patted his husband’s furry butt cheeks. “Watch it, Jarhead. You start playing with my butt, next thing you know I’ll have a large inflammation to deal with. I don’t want us going back to the hospital to have it taken care of.” César came up behind Brett, wrapped his arms around the man’s waist, nuzzled his neck, and pressed a growing part of his anatomy against the marine. “No need to go to the hospital, babe. Let’s get in bed; I’ll make your swelling go down.” Monday, 2 September 2013 “He’s kidding, right?” Chatri looked at César when he asked the question, disbelief etched on his face. He and César stood behind Brett and CJ respectively, keeping an eye on them, as they both did barbell presses on the incline bench. “I’m afraid he isn’t. We had a somewhat exciting weekend you could say.” “Helen told me about Detective Kennedy being shot. We went to visit him yesterday morning at the hospital. I’m surprised neither he nor Mr. Smith said anything about CJ being arrested.” “Watch it, Chatri! Don’t go spreading rumors around. I wasn’t arrested. I was mistakenly detained and taken into custody, but never processed.” CJ had finished his set, lifted his olive Harley-Davison t-shirt to wipe the sweat off his face, and switched places with his father. “Same difference, you were in handcuffs in the back of a police car. Anything else interesting happen to you this weekend, or was that enough of a thrill?” Chatri spoke as he and Brett also switched places. “I wish that had been all. The other nasty thing was the big accident Friday on the three-nine-five. A friend of ours, his wife, and their kids were in it. He and the little ones are going to be okay. His wife didn’t make it.” Brett spoke as he took position behind the medical student’s head, slightly bent his knees, and placed his hands underneath the bar. “Oh crap! That sucks. I’m sorry, guys. Geez, CJ, your summer started off with major drama, and it’s ending the same way. Got anything exciting planned for the fall?” “Yeah, I plan on going to school, studying, working out, and doing a little traveling. I’m declaring my life a drama-free zone from now on.” “Yeah right, let me know how that works out for you.” Chatri shut up as he started his set. ● ● ● “I apologize for not being more forthcoming in my e-mail or during our telephone conversation. I didn’t want any records of what I planned to discuss with you.” CJ and his fathers sat in a conference room at the Arlington Police Department Headquarters. Chief Jacobs had offered them coffee or sodas; all three had declined. CJ was certain his dads were just as eager as he was to find out what the man wanted to talk to them about. “Well, Chief, here we are now. How about you tell us what’s on your mind.” Brett’s impatience was etched on his face. “Right. After you left on Friday I met with the two officers involved in the incident which brought your son here. I explained to them CJ was most definitely a minor and there wasn’t any indication he was gay at all. I mentioned his parents were though: one a Marine, the other a business executive. Then I shared my opinion the entire incident was manufactured by them just to put another notch on their arrest record.” Brett leaned forward in his chair, his face and demeanor stern. “I’m not sure I see what relevance our sexual orientation has in this matter, Chief.” The tone of voice was one most adults would use to chastise a child. “Bear with me, Captain. I also mentioned who swiftly called on behalf of your son. You have some powerful friends, CJ.” The police officer settled his gaze on the boy and spoke directly to him. “I’m not sure how you feel about publicity. I mentioned to the two men your case would, in all likelihood, attract plenty of it if the media got hold of the details. They wouldn’t be seen in a very good light. Lawsuits against them and the department were a possibility, and there was a very good chance they’d lose their jobs. I would not be supporting them in any way.” “Cut to the chase, Chief.” César’s irritation, growing to match Brett’s, brought a smile to CJ’s face. He failed in his attempt to hide it by looking at his feet. “They’ve both agreed to resign immediately. They won’t seek assistance from their union, and I won’t initiate disciplinary action. I also won’t provide any sort of recommendation should they seek employment with another department.” “So they lose their job, the whole thing disappears, and there’s no publicity?” CJ jumped back into the conversation before either one of his dads had a chance to say a word. “That’s about it.” “Okay, that works for me. But I want copies of their letter of resignation.” “Gentlemen? You have a decisive young man as a son. However, he is a minor; I’d like your opinion on this.” “I think Brett and I will support our son. You have our word we won’t take any action against the individuals or the department. And we won’t seek any publicity on the matter.” ● ● ● The twins were once again visiting their father when CJ and his dads stopped in for a visit in the afternoon. The teen was smothered in hugs by the two, then dragged to the corner of the room where they’d been sprawled out on the floor, while their grandfather sat on a chair reading to them. The man gratefully handed the book over to CJ when the boy suggested Angelo take a break. He’d take over the reading duties for a while. “Doc promised I could get out of here this afternoon. They’re doing some paperwork to release me. We’re going to spend the night at the house in Falls Church. We’ll pack suitcases for me and the kids, and plan on being on the road to New Jersey early in the morning. We should be back in Hammonton around lunchtime.” “How long do you expect to stay in Jersey?” “I’m not sure, César. The funeral will be Saturday. I’ll figure out what I’m doing afterwards.” “Whatever you decide, you let us know if we can help in some way. And as soon as the details of the funeral service are set, call us. We’ll be there.” ● ● ● “CJ! My main man and miracle worker. I’ll probably embarrass you again, but, son, I’ll never be able to repay you for the gift you’ve given me.” Potus was sitting up on his bed, animatedly talking to a couple of visiting uniformed officers. Seeing his friends walk in, he broke into a huge smile. “Hi, Uncle Tommy.” The boy smiled, nodded at the officers as they said their goodbyes, and went to hug the injured cop. “Guys, I spent over two hours talking to my sons yesterday. I’m so happy, I’m ready to get up and dance.” The Detective’s tone of voice was a pretty good indicator of his high spirits. “That’s great news, Tommy!” Brett had followed his son to the cop’s bedside, grasping his arm and leaning in for a hug. “Bet your ass, Jarhead. Listen to this: my father recounted their encounter with CJ to the family when they returned to Boston. Knowing how he works, he must have tried to make me, and your son, look as bad as possible. It backfired on him. My ex-wife wasn’t buying into his indignation at the disrespect shown by a kid obviously corrupted by a bunch of perverted homosexualists.” Tom made his already deep voice even more so, making CJ chuckle. “Damn! You got your father right. That’s what he sounded like.” “Yeah, figured he’d still be the same. Anyway, his tirade led to my wife e-mailing me as you know, calling me, and to my sons doing the same once their mother told them what had happened. You guys already know she encouraged them to get in touch with me. Talk about a gigantic change in attitude.” “Betcha that’s not gonna go well with your father when he finds out.” César spoke as he backed away from the hospital bed after repeating the greeting his son and his husband had previously done. “Who gives a shit how he feels? I stayed away from the kids ‘cause I thought it was the best thing for them. Their mother coming around means they won’t have to deal with a nasty fight between her and me. My old man I’ll take on with no regrets. I told the boys if their grandfather gave them shit, to let me know. I’ll put the old ass in his place if I have to.” Tuesday, 3 September 2013 CJ read the message and smiled. ――bruh, waitin 4 u @ walls―― “Text messages this early? Which one of our friends is making you smile already?” “None, Dad. It’s from Harley, a guy at school. Met him the first day when Papa dropped me off. He started talking to me about the motorcycle; we ended up hanging together during the week.” ――u on da bike or bus?―― “How come you didn’t say anything about meeting this kid? Is he your age?” César had offered to drop his son off at school, he had a meeting nearby. He had turned onto M Street when CJ’s phone had begun to chime. ――neither, SUV―― “Didn’t think it was a big deal, Dad. We’re in the same homeroom and also have English together. Nice guy.” ――?????―― “That’s good. Glad you’re already meeting people. Remember you’re always welcome to invite them home to visit. Brett and I would love to meet your friends.” CJ was still chuckling over Harley’s question marks reply when he realized his friend and his father were both doing the same thing. “Stop being nosey, Dad. Harley’s just a kid I met. Remember, you said it yourself: helicopter parents aren’t cool. Anyway, have a good one, I’ll see you tonight. Oh and I’ll fix dinner, we ate out too much this weekend.” ● ● ● “CJ!” Harley’s loud greeting made more than one of the students streaming into WALLS turn their head. “Bruh! That ain’t an SUV, that’s a freakin’ Escalade. Sweet truck! Bet your dad gets some looks when he pulls up to the Pentagon’s parking lot in that monster. Although his bike’s just as―” “HARLEY!” CJ was on the verge of laughing his ass off, shouting made his friend stop talking and moving. Even more students turned around to look at them. ”Down, boy. You really gotta lay off the Monsters first thing in the morning. The SUV is my other dad’s car. This one’s the accountant, not the Marine.” “You got two dads? Wow! Really? So freakin’ cool, bruh! How come you didn’t tell me that last week? How was the trip this weekend?” Harley’s mouth was off and running again; without more than a passing reference to CJ having two fathers. “Does the accountant dad also ride? A Harley? You wouldn’t believe all that went on in town! A cop was shot, there was a big pileup on the three-nine―” “Stop, Harley. You gotta give me a chance to answer.” CJ suspected he was going to be interrupting Harley frequently if he was to get a word in edgewise during their conversations. “Yes, this dad also rides, a twenty-ten Road King. If you like the SUV, wait until you see Papa Brett’s pickup. You’ll have to come over one day after school, maybe on a Friday? I can prolly talk the dads into taking us out for a ride the next day if you wanna spend the night.” “Dope!” “Anyway, we didn’t go on the motorcycle trip. The cop that guy shot was my uncle, Tom Kennedy. A friend of the family, his wife, and their kids were in that accident. The wife died. I spent most of the weekend going back and forth to the hospital.” ● ● ● Harley was relatively subdued the rest of the day. At lunchtime, a few girls had joined them at their table as soon as they sat down. There was little time for the friends to talk, what with the females monopolizing the conversation, trying to outdo each other in their efforts to gain CJ’s attention. When he checked his phone there were two eerily similar text messages from his dads: Chief of Police Benton called, the two idiots had resigned, and copies of their resignation were in the mail. Case closed as far as CJ was concerned. On his way home after school, CJ made a stop at Papyrus, on the corner of N Street and Wisconsin Avenue, in the heart of Georgetown. At the high-end stationery shop, he bought a box of quality cards and then headed home to write thank you notes. In short order, he took care of messages to King, the managing partner at Holland and Knight, Colonel Edwards, Mr. Velasco at Senator Rubio’s office, and to the senator himself. Afterwards, he called each of the individuals to verbally express his gratitude and make them aware of the resignation of the two officers. Hand written thank you notes were not the norm, especially for fifteen-year-old boys; his grandmother, Abuela Abelló, had insisted he do so from an early age. By now it was second nature. When both his dads arrived home, he was well on the way to finishing his homework, and had already prepped the evening’s meal. Life was back to normal. ● ● ● “Hey babe, you’re not going to believe what happened to me today. I didn’t mention it during dinner ‘cause we’ve had enough BS this past weekend already. Didn’t want CJ to get any more riled up.” César was in bed already, waiting for Brett to join him. The TV was on but he had muted the volume. “Should I be scared?” “Nah. Maybe? So I stopped at the bank before coming home to get our passports out of the safety deposit box―CJ’s is still valid. Remember Jamal? The assistant branch manager Chip introduced us to? He’s acting manager now. When he saw me, he asked for a few minutes of my time so I went to his office with him.” “Prolly trying to make sure we don’t pull our business from the bank. What with Chip gone, you know?” “That’s what I thought. But get this: he propositioned me!” “He what? He propositioned you? I’ll kill the motherfucker!” “Relax, Captain, you haven't even heard the best part! He told me Chip always bragged about how close he was to us, and implied he fucked around with us on a regular basis. Jamal wanted to make sure we knew he was willing to do anything to keep two of the bank’s best customers happy—anything at all!” “Motherfuckers! Both Chip and Jamal are now on my shoot on sight list! What the fuck is wrong with these people? What’d you tell him?” “I praised him for his interest in maintaining good client relations. It was so damn hard not to laugh when I said it…” “I bet. Fucker should be glad it was you he approached instead of me.” “Next time you get to talk to him. Anyway, I thanked him for his offer while licking my lips and staring at his crotch―I swear the man had a snake running down the leg of his pants.” “Asshole!” “Okay. After I was done having fun with him, I looked him in the eyes, suggested Chip may have slept with half the town―but never with us. Told him Chip was no longer in our circle of friends. I followed up by letting him know if he ever so much as whispered such a proposition to either one of us, we would make sure he was transferred to a branch in the middle of Bumfuck, West Virginia.” “Good… was it honestly as long as a snake?” “Asshole!” Wednesday, 4 September 2013 When he arrived at Walls on Wednesday morning, CJ encountered several tables with students around them near the entrance to the school. Harley was there, waiting for him, and ready to explain. Student organizations and sport teams would set up during lunch and after classes, handing out information about their activities and answering questions. Involvement in extra-curricular activities was strongly encouraged by the school’s administration. After approaching some of the sport teams’ members in the morning and again during his lunch break, CJ decided he might be interested in trying out for the baseball team. The games were all in the spring, and tryouts wouldn’t take place until next year. He decided to concentrate on his martial arts training during the fall and winter. Following his encounter with the biker at the beginning of summer, and his dads frequent admonitions concerning overconfidence, he wanted to maintain and improve his skills. He also spent some time talking to his Algebra teacher, Mr. Thornton, who was trying to start a rugby club at the school. CJ promised to come to an organizational meeting in two weeks. He knew it was wrong, but the thought of Jae Thornton wearing tiny rugby shorts had something to do with his interest. In the afternoon, he stopped at the Student Government Association table, spoke to the officers there, and placed his name on the list of those interested in running for one of the class representative spots reserved for new students. Elections for those would be held in mid-September. His last stop of the day was at the Gay Straight Alliance display, where a dark haired guy with a broad, pale face, sat next to an attractive girl with long brown hair. They introduced themselves as Danek Nowak and Autumn Dingell, club co-chairs. The organization held several social events throughout the year and worked with the school administration on programs geared towards increasing understanding and acceptance of sexual minorities. Their first meeting of the school year was set for the following week after classes ended. CJ signed up and promised to be there. Harley, who had stuck by his side the entire afternoon, also signed up. Thursday, 5 September 2013 Celebration of the Feast of Trumpets―Rosh Hashanah―began on Wednesday at sunset. Thursday, some students and faculty members took time off school to celebrate the Jewish New Year. CJ’s History instructor was one of those absent on Thursday. The second period class had a substitute teacher who’d didn’t have the opportunity to introduce herself before an announcement was heard over the loudspeaker in the classroom’s ceiling: “CJ Abelló, please report to the Principal’s office. CJ Abelló to the principal’s office, please.” “Uuuhhh, someone’s in trouble.” The comment by one of the students made all the others in the room laugh. CJ stood up smiling, grabbed his book bag, and walked towards the front of the room. “Mr. Abelló, I presume?” asked the substitute, shaking her head as if in resignation to the antics of a rowdy group “Yes, ma’am.” CJ wondered what Mrs. Edwards wanted with him. ● ● ● “I understand you had an interesting weekend, CJ.” Martha Edwards had motioned for the boy to take a seat by her desk as soon as she saw him standing in her office’s doorway. “That’s definitely an understatement, ma’am. Not a very pleasant weekend at all. I’ve had enough excitement to last me for a long while.” “Ray told me about your detention by the Arlington Police Department officers. And we heard about Detective Kennedy’s shooting during the evening news on the TV. I’m pleased both events seem to have been resolved in a satisfactory manner.” “Yes, ma’am. Uncle Tom is recovering well and should be home sometime today. The two cops who hassled me have resigned from the police force. But we also had another bad thing happen this weekend. The wife of a friend of my parents died in the big accident on the Interstate on Friday. We’re going to her funeral on Saturday.” “I’m so sorry, CJ. That’s a horrible thing to happen on top of everything else your family had to deal with.” “Thank you, ma’am. At least her kids survived and her husband just had some bruises and a broken leg.” “I called you in to make sure you were doing well and to maybe discuss the StandUp Foundation presentation you previously mentioned to me.” “Oh good. Are you going to ask Ben to do it for us?” “I already have, and he’s already agreed. We’ve worked out the details, but you get to play a part in this. I wanted to make you aware of what we have planned. We agreed to a school-wide event on…” ● ● ● “Hey, babe, just thought of something. Do you wanna invite Ben to stay with us when he comes into town?” Brett was in bed reading while César was next to him, on his laptop paying bills. “I don’t think so. You heard what CJ said, he’s bringing someone with him to participate in the program at Walls.” “Yeah, forgot about that. Guess it would be rude to invite Ben and leave the other guy at a hotel. Maybe we should do some remodeling in the basement. We could give CJ his own space down there? That way we’d have two guest rooms again.” “Something to think about. Hell, we could turn the two bedrooms on the second floor into three and have even more room. I think I’ll e-mail my brother and see if he has any ideas. How ‘bout you put the book away and scoot over here, Jarhead. I’m done paying bills and I think I deserve a reward from you.” “Did you have anything in mind, you horndog?” “I’m certain something will come up.” Saturday, 7 September 2013 At 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, a group of ten men stood in front of the Georgetown townhouse, all of them at some point stretched their arms above their heads and yawned, while waiting for their bus to arrive. César and Brett had chartered a luxury motor coach to transport them to Hammonton, New Jersey. They thought of renting a limo for the two of them and CJ, but decided to go with something large enough for the gang to travel together. The cost wasn’t all that much more. They were all dressed comfortably in t-shirts, shorts or sweatpants, and wore sneakers or flip-flops. Each carried a garment bag in one hand, a pair of dress shoes in the other. Instead of the usual rows of bench seats, the bus had comfortable leather upholstered chairs and couches, a small kitchen area, and a good sized restroom. The early departure would allow them to arrive with plenty of time to spare for the 10:30 church service. “Does anyone want anything to eat now, or should I put it all away for later?” Danno had insisted on providing food for the group, there would be no need to stop at a restaurant during the three-plus hour drive. “What did you bring, Uncle Danno?” While the majority of the adults were already snuggling into their selected spot, ready to fall asleep again, CJ was—as usual—ready to eat something. “Not entirely sure what the guys at the restaurant packed, buddy. Look through it and help yourself, I know for sure there’s bagels and muffins. The cooler I know has juices, milk and water.” “Kay, I’ll grab a muffin and some milk. Leave it there. I’ll make sure it’s stored once I’m done.” ● ● ● Just outside town, the driver stopped for a few minutes so the men could use the restroom and change clothes without the constant swaying of the bus. Traffic headed to the shore on this late summer weekend was relatively light and they had made good time. At the small church they all sat together near the back. It had been full of relatives and family friends, and the procession to the cemetery had been long. As the casket was lowered into the ground, Adriano stood up from his wheel chair with the help of his older brother. The silence of the hallowed grounds was broken by the sobs of many of those in attendance, and by Adriano’s softly spoken words. “Our time together was much too short, I didn’t say I love you nearly enough. But I did, and I always will. I promise to look after our children, make sure they never forget you, and I’ll rejoice in them for the both of us. Life will go on, time will pass, but I’ll never be whole again. I’ll always know you’re missing.
  14. 1 point
    Saturday, 31 August 2013 - continued “Why? What did I do?” “Nothing bad, CJ. Trust me, it’s all good. Tom’s kinda emotional right now, mates. Just wanted to warn you. He had a friendly e-mail from his ex-wife. She mentioned Tom’s parents returned to Boston early this morning, and quickly organized a family meeting. They complained about not being allowed to visit their son, who they thought was dying, by some snot-nosed little fag. She said if a teenager was able to stand up to Frank Kennedy, maybe it was time she and her sons did the same. She asked Tom to e-mail her when he was up to talking on the phone. He did so immediately. He’s waiting for a call from her, countin’ on a miracle.” “STOP TALKING ABOUT ME, I CAN HEAR YOU…” Tom Kennedy’s booming voice startled CJ, his dads, and JP. “Bloody hell, I thought he’d dozed off. Come on, mates, let’s get in there and talk about him in front of him.” JP led them inside the room with a big smile on his face; his husband screaming at them was a good sign. The cop must be feeling better. “Hi, Uncle Tom. You doing okay?” The detective spread his arms out, motioning for CJ to come to him. “I will be as soon as you get your skinny ass over here and give me a hug.” “Skinny ass? Hell if that boy’s skinny. You should see how much our grocery bill has risen since―ouch! What you spank my butt for?” Brett asked, surprised by his husband’s move. “Stop bitching about the food bill, Jarhead.” César’s reply was accompanied by another slap to the marine’s ass. “You eat just as much as the kid does.” “If the two of you can’t afford to feed him, send him over to us. JP and I would be happy to have him.” “Hello… can we stop talking about me as if I wasn’t here? Why do y’all keep doing this with me?” “Listen, CJ. I wanted to tell you if you’re a snot-nosed little fag, like my father called you, I sincerely hope my kids turn out to be the same. I am so proud of you, I don’t really have the words to express it.” There was a tenderness in the detective’s voice which spoke of a deep affection for the boy; moistness was noticeable in his eyes. “I’ve seen you deal with rejection by part of your family, and bounce back stronger and more determined to be your own man. You’ve adapted to a new environment, and become an integral part of a group of older men who all respect you.” CJ fidgeted, he seemed unable to focus his gaze on anyone or anything. His fathers sat smiling, nodding their heads in assent. Clearly, they were glad someone other than them was acknowledging the type of man their son was turning out to be. “You came to the aid of a stranger, a young man being picked on. You tried to reason with the bully, and ended up having to defend yourself when he attacked you. In the process of trashing that asshole, you showed everyone being gay doesn’t give anyone the right to walk all over us. That many of us are able, and willing, to defend ourselves. You’ve impressed politicians, military officers, and world famous athletes. I heard how you stood up for me last night.” “But I did nothing, Uncle Tom.” The boy was blushing, gazing at his hand being held by the detective, still avoiding looking at anyone. “Bullshit! I was told in great detail how you stood up for me in a respectful way, until once again you were threatened. And then, without violence, you beat down a self-righteous Catholic priest. And if that wasn’t enough, you put a couple of old, bigoted idiots, who don’t know the first thing about love or respect for others, in their place.” The injured man held CJ’s hand in his own a little tighter; the gentle squeezing motions visible to all in the room. “You did the right thing not allowing my parents near me. Them leaving after finding out I wasn’t going to die, is proof they had no real concern for me. I am so glad you’ve come into our lives. I look forward to having you as my friend for many years to come. I love you, son.” Sunday, 1 September 2013 “You did good, CJ. Dontcha worry, Bubba, I ain’t going to embarrass your ass again. But sheeet, I ain’t never seen Tommy John get so fucking emotional. When I walked back in the room it was like… I don’t know what the hell it was! ” After a light breakfast at home, and a short two mile jog with his dads, CJ sat next to Dr. Matt Calhoun at Farmers Fisher Bakers, on the Georgetown Waterfront. The teen and his two dads, having no plans for the day other than visiting their friends at the hospital, had called Doc and asked him to join them for brunch. They’d walked to the restaurant, stopping by Doc’s place on the way, to pick him up. “Thanks, Uncle Matt, but can we please talk about something else?” The late summer day didn’t carry with it the oppressive heat and humidity which had plagued the previous three months. Walking around didn’t leave one sweaty and sticky. Autumn was on the way and CJ looked forward to seeing the leaves change color. It would be the first time experiencing a real change in seasons since he had returned to the United States from Germany. “I have an idea for a different conversation topic.” Brett nudged CJ in the ribs, getting his son’s attention. “Let’s tell Doc about our lunchtime chat yesterday. You know, about you getting a tattoo, and about being distracted by your spotter at the gym.” The four men were sitting outdoors, enjoying the weather, with a great view of the Potomac River flowing on the other side of the concrete dock. They were all dressed alike: deck shoes or sneakers, shorts and polo shirts for the adults, a t-shirt for CJ. This one was dark teal; ‘carhartt’ was written across the chest in white, followed by the company logo in light orange. “Shut up, Papa. Don’t you dare!” “I swear, Doc, I think my fifteen-year-old son is more mature than my husband the Marine Corps Captain!” César shook his head; a look of resigned suffering accompanied the gesture. “I’ll let that one pass for now, CJ. But I want details later on. How’s this for a different conversation? Hell if I ain’t had a call from Cristina Pereira yesterday night.” “Chip’s daughter? You shitting me!” Brett had been fooling around with CJ, poking each other, giggling, acting as if they were little kids. At Doc’s comment his head snapped up, surprise on his face. “I sure as hell ain’t, Jarhead.” It was César, not CJ this time, who brought the conversation around to the meal. “You guys wanna get some food before we hear about the call? And I’m ready for an adult beverage.” “Yeah, Dad, let’s go get food. I’m starving.” From having previously eaten at the restaurant, CJ knew their brunch layout was great―one of the best he’d experienced in DC. Reading up on the place, he’d learned it was owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union. It used lots of fresh seasonal ingredients, and the sustainability practices had earned it a certification as a green restaurant. Plus, he thought it looked real cool. Doc and César loaded their plates with grilled vegetables, scrambled egg whites, and yogurt topped with granola. Brett went for the pork tacos, the guacamole, and the sushi being passed around by servers. CJ piled up two plates: breakfast jambalaya, ham, bacon, french toast, cheesy grits, and before he was done eating, he’d also accepted Eggs Benedict from the traveling trays. “So, the girl tells me Chip called her and her brother this last Friday, and asked them to join him for lunch on Saturday. Neither was aware of the break-up, or that their father had accepted a transfer to a PNC branch in Tampa.” “WHAT? He left Washington without saying a word to anyone?” César asked, staring at Doc. CJ and Brett were both too busy eating. “Y’all ain’t even heard the best part yet. While eating, his son asked why we’d broken up, and Chip admitted to cheating on me. Seems Chipper didn’t cozy up to that very well. According to his sister: he stood up, loudly told his dad he was an asshole, walked to the curb, and jumped in a cab headed home. What’s up with all these teenagers being so self-righteous? Here I thought they had no maturity, their brains having been fried extra crispy by silly reality TV shows and video games.” “Hey, watch it, Uncle Matt. How old is this Chipper guy anyway?” CJ had to swallow a large piece of his french toast, washing it down with a sip from his glass of milk, before being able to speak. “Same as you, Bubba. And I was just messing with you ‘bout the fried brains. Cristina is a bit older. She’s eighteen and about to start her freshman year at NYU. She asked me to let her know next time I went up to the city. Said both she and her brother wanted to see me and spend some time with me.” “Damn, Doc, I don’t know what to say. Maybe the kids turned out okay in spite of any defective paternal genetic material which may have been passed to them at conception.” César looked at CJ and winked at him before finishing his comment. “It happens, you know? Look at CJ, he takes after my side of the family. Sounds as if they want to maintain some sort of relationship with you.” “Wait a minute here, Dad. Did you just brag about yourself? And did you just call Chip a… a jerk? Using all kinds of fancy words? You can’t talk in code around me anymore, old man.” CJ decided to say jerk instead of asshole. There was a young girl at the table next to theirs, paying close attention to everything he did and said. “Also, didn’t Uncle Tommy tell me he had a son my age? And now I find out Chip does too? Damn, I’d love to meet those two guys. Just imagine how much fun y’all would have with the three of us around you all the time!” “May the force be with us. Unfortunately, none of us have ever met Potus’ kids―they live in Boston. There may be a better chance to meet Chipper. It sounds like he likes Doc here better than he does his own father.” Brett pushed his plate slightly away from him, folded his napkin and placed it on the table, before leaning back in his chair, contentment written on his face. “Guys, let’s plan a trip up soon.” César was aware CJ had not traveled much outside Florida; he was interested in showing his son other parts of the country. “The four of us can head up for a weekend, I know there’s plenty of room at the apartment. We can catch a show, do a little shopping, and maybe sightsee some too. That was good food. I don’t know where you put it all, Brett. CJ we already know has a hollow leg.” “What have I told you about your lame jokes, Dad? Anyway, I’ve never been to New York. I’d love to go. And I’ve never seen this apartment you guys have been talking about all summer long.” CJ was excited about the possibility of traveling up to the big city. “Columbus Day weekend I’ll be in Chicago visiting the family, so we can’t go then. And Thanksgiving we’ll be in Miami. How about Veterans Day? Christmas? Maybe January? I haven't seen snow in a while either.” “That could be a fun time, let’s talk about it later. And I’d love to see Sean again if it’s ok with you, Doc. I ended up liking the man.” “That’d be fine with me, Emperor. He and I still need to talk, I may head up on my own for a couple of days in the next few weeks.” Feeling lazy after their meal, the guys hailed a taxi for the ride over to George Washington University Hospital. ● ● ● They popped into the Tomassi room, surprising Adriano and the twins. The kids immediately swarmed over CJ, insisting on showing him their drawings. Doc checked Adrian’s monitor readouts, did a quick exam, and promised he’d be going home the next day. The twins had returned to their house with their grandparents the previous evening. They were back at the hospital soon after finishing breakfast; they wanted to be with their dad. The death of their mother had not yet entirely registered in their young minds. Adriano explained to them that God wanted their mommy to do some special work, so she’d gone up to heaven to help him. Part of her new job would be to watch over the three of them, since she would no longer be living at their house. Quiet sobs were soon followed by desolate crying, with plenty of tears also being shed by the father. The children repeated over and over they didn’t want their mommy to go away. After tiring themselves out, they dozed off in their father’s bed. Adriano prayed the explanation would hold for a bit. He knew it wouldn’t be long, before they had to discuss their mother’s absence again. “Hey, Mom, would you and Dad please take the twins for a little walk? I’d like ten minutes alone with these guys.” “Come on, kids, let’s go check out the rest of the floor while our dads have a grown-up talk.” CJ picked up Emmanuel, ready to step outside with the little ones. “Please stay, CJ. You should be part of this conversation. You kids be good for Nana and Popo, okay?” “’Kay, Daddy.” Both kids said, as each held onto a grandparent while leaving the room. “Guys, Danno came by last night, and we spent some time discussing my future. I know my parents will try to convince me otherwise, but I’d like to stay in DC, if possible. I’ll continue to receive my salary for the next thirty days. Short term disability insurance will kick in and take care of most of our needs. I have plenty of savings to cover any shortage, so we’ll be fine.” “Sounds like you’ll be okay, Adriano.” “I think so, Brett. There’ll eventually be auto and life insurance payouts from the accidents, which should provide a good amount of money, most of which I plan to put aside for the kids’ future. When King was here yesterday, he told me the trucking company will most likely jump through hoops to keep me from suing. Their insurance company will probably offer me some sort of settlement, since their driver was clearly at fault. I asked him to represent me when that comes up. I don’t wanna deal with those people.” “That’s a smart move on your part. I’ve had clients in situations similar to yours, the other side often tries to get you to sign off on something right away, while your mind is on other things. King can be your attorney and handle the legal side. I’d be happy to serve as your accountant. If you need any financial advice you let me know.” “I’ll definitely need help handling the money; you’ll be hearing from me. Financially, we’ll be comfortable, if not better off than before. But the money won’t make the pain go away. I’m bottling up a lot of emotions right now because of the kids. I know I’ll have to deal with the loss, sooner or later, but it’ll have to wait. The twins are my priority now more than ever.” “You have family and a group of friends who’ll stand by you, and offer a hand whenever you need help. All you have to do is ask. Brett, CJ, and I will be expecting you to do so.” “That’s true, with people like you and Brett around, I think I can get through this. I want to express my gratitude to the three of you for your generous offer. The boss passed along your message. I’m not really sure I know how to thank you.” “You just did, wouldn’t you say so, Jarhead?” “Yup. Just remember: we have the resources, we consider you family, if anything comes up, even if it’s on a temporary basis, you give us a call.” ● ● ● “Good afternoon, Detective. How are you feeling today?” The cheerful greeting was uttered by Doc as he strolled into Tom Kennedy’s hospital room, closely followed by César, Brett, and CJ. “And a good afternoon to you too, Dr. Calhoun. What’s up with the formality, Doc? New bedside manner? You gonna start being nice to your patients now? Hey, guys.” A light and airy tone with an undercurrent of happiness in the cop’s voice, was quite a change from the sluggish, sometimes slurred speech heard the previous day. “Fuck you, copper. My bedside manner’s just fine. How the heck are you, Bubba?” Doc pulled a pair of glasses from the pocket of his white lab coat, and looked at the clear bag hanging by his friend’s bedside, connected to his arm by a fine plastic tube. “Feeling great, Doc. Fit as a fiddle. That’s for a man with a giant bruise on the chest, and a plugged hole in the leg.” “Any headaches, or pain?” “Nope, neither. But from what I understand that bag you were just looking at has been carrying some happy juice.” “Yeah, that it has. But each time the bag has been changed, the amount of painkiller has been reduced. Right now it’s just enough to take the edge off, and it’ll be completely gone by tonight. If you’re pain free in the morning, and you remain that way for twenty-four hours, you get to go home on Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest. There’s no sign of infection in the area of the wound, that’s always a concern after surgery. But you have to be honest, Bubba. If you get even the slightest headache you have to let the nurse know.” “Sir, yes sir. I promise.” “Good, then I’ll leave these three ruffians here and go check up on a couple more patients. Guys, y’all have a nice visit, I’ll come back when I get done. Thanks for a great meal!” “We’ll make sure he stays out of trouble, Doc!” “Yeah right, Jarhead.” “Damn, it’s good to see you guys and not be all drugged up. Park your asses down, we’ve got lots to tell. Wanna start it off, JP?” The detective’s husband had reclaimed his spot on the bed’s edge he had vacated when the visitors arrived. “What’s up, Uncle JP?” CJ sat at the foot of the cop’s bed while his dads took the two chairs in the room. “Did you guys watch the news on TV this morning?” JP absently ran his hand around the spot where the bullet had entered his mate’s thigh as he spoke. “Nah. We went for a run this morning, then the rents and I met Uncle Matt for brunch, before coming to the hospital.” “The ABC station came on earlier with one of those breaking news crawlers under the image. It kept repeating ‘Suspected shooter of Detective Thomas Kennedy has been found dead’.” That made all three visitors sit up and pay attention. “They eventually broke in with a live report. When the news anchor was shown on the screen, there was a picture behind him of a good looking, African-American guy with a tattoo of a tear drop below his left eye.” “What’s the tattoo mean? asked CJ. “Tom told me it’s a well-known gang symbol, mate. Most of the time it means the person with it has killed someone.” “Shit! What else did they say?” “According to the reporter, the description given by eyewitnesses to the shooting matched the man found. He said at the time they only had a gang related name for the guy, Indio. The teardrop tattoo, reinforced the likelihood of gang affiliation.” JP lowered his voice slightly, as if he was sharing a secret. “The man was found a few blocks away from where Tom was gunned down, behind a dumpster. He’d been shot several times in the chest.” “Any ideas on who shot him?” Typical of a fifteen-year-old boy, once he’d known his uncle would be okay, CJ’s fascination with guns, shootings, cops, and criminals bubbled to the surface. “Nothing so far. We know a few reporters have called the hospital trying to speak with Tom. All have been told he’s unavailable. Some asked to speak with the officer’s husband. They were told I wasn’t available either.” “So that’s the first piece of good news we have. The motherfucker who shot me is gone. No need for drawn out court shenanigans and lots of taxpayer money wasted. My thanks to whomever took him out.” “Probably one of your brothers-in-blue, Uncle Tommy.” “Hush, CJ. No need to start any rumors. And you need to stop watching so much Law and Order on TV. Here’s the next piece of good news: my ex-wife called after you guys left yesterday. We had a very long and pleasant chat.” The man’s facial expression changed along with the topic of conversation; it appeared softer, more relaxed as he left behind the subject of his shooter. “Damn good news, Potus. This could be the opening you’ve always hoped for.” “That it is, César. My kids weren’t at the family meeting my father called when he returned to Boston. They’d left early on Friday to spend the weekend at the Vineyard with friends. So they weren’t exposed to the vitriol my dad―and most likely my brothers―spouted, about the events down here. The ex promised to give them as honest a recounting as possible, mentioning what happened to me, what my parents and the priest wanted to do, and how CJ stopped them. She said it would be up to them, but if they wanted to call me when they returned to the city, she wouldn’t object.” Tom finished as tears had started dripping down his face, he quickly dissolved into sobs. JP handed his husband the small box of tissues supplied by the hospital, while the three visitors remained silent. “That… is… sick!” CJ had to break the emotionally charged moment. He wasn’t one to deal well with extended melodrama. “We were just talking about this at lunch when Uncle Matt told us Chip’s daughter had called him and he mentioned there’s also a son. Turns out that kid, your son, and I are the same age. Wouldn’t it be great if we all got to hang out together? That would be freaking insane!” “Bite your tongue, CJ. I just turned thirty, I’m too young to start getting gray hairs.” Brett ran his hand over the short blond stubble on his head. Freshly cut into his usual high-and-tight, noticing any gray there would have been next to impossible. “So far all I’ve heard is good stuff, Potus.” César and the cop had been friends for a long time, he was happy the man was getting some good breaks. “You’ll be going home soon, the asswipe who shot you is out of the picture, and the wall your father erected between you and your sons has a crack in it.” “Yeah, and that crack’s there thanks to your son. Listen, guys, JP and I have a proposal for the three of you. Wanna tell them, honey?” “What’s up?” Brett asked with curiosity in his voice. “Mates, like most cop’s spouses, I always carry the fear something bad will happen when Tommy leaves home in the morning. This weekend it happened, and we got lucky it wasn’t worse. Once his thinking got clearer yesterday, we started talking about trying not to put things off in the future, ‘cause we never know what may happen when he straps that gun on every day.” “Hey, I could just as well get hit by a bus on my way to school.” CJ chimed in. “That’s true, mate. The shooting just made us more aware we shouldn’t put things off unless there’s a good reason. Like there’s no good reason we shouldn’t spend Christmas in Australia. Tommy’s never been to Oz, he met mum and dad once when they came to visit, and he met Spencer this summer. The rest of my family, and it’s a big one, have never seen his ugly mug in person.” “Watch it, buster!” “So… we’re going to spend two weeks in New South Wales at the end of the year. We’d like to have the three of you come with us. You guys are as much a part of our family as any of the people down there.” “YES! Fucking A. That sounds awesome. I wanna go surfing when we’re down there. Can we go to Manly Beach? The place has to be full of hot guys.” The exuberance of youth made them all chuckle. CJ had clearly shown where his interest lay: sports and men. “Down, surfer boy. Don’t you think Papa and I have a say in this matter?” “But, Daaad…” “But dad nothing. You think you can take the time off, Jarhead? “I’m sure the Colonel will give me leave whenever I ask for it. What about you?” “Even though it’s a busy time for me, it shouldn’t be a problem. I haven't taken much time off all year and my billable hours are very high.” “Great! Well what are we waiting for? Let’s start planning! It’ll be sooo cool to spend New Year’s Eve in Australia.” The fifteen-year-old teenager made an appearance once again. The rapid fire comments conveying the excitement he felt. “Oh shit, I need a passport, don’t I? I wonder if mine’s still good.” “Get me some valid passports, I’ll take care of the visas once I go back to the embassy next week. Find out if you guys can take the time off and we’ll figure out the exact days after you do.” Rising from his spot on the bed, JP ran a hand over Tom’s head, smoothing out his husband’s short hair. “I’m starving, mates. Anyone want something from the cafeteria? I’m going to get me a sandwich.” “Take Brett and César with you, honey. I want to chat with CJ for a few minutes in private. Oh, and bring me a couple of donuts and a cup of coffee, please? “Fucking stereotypes always have some truth to them.” Brett’s quip made them all smile. “Shut up, Jarhead. Anything for you, CJ? “Just a bottle of water?” “Be back in a bit if we can keep my husband―the big, bad marine―out of trouble.” “Asshole!” replied Brett to César. “Matilda, let’s waltz out of here.” JP rolled his eyes at Brett’s reference to the well-known Aussie tune. “Have I told you how much I love your dads, CJ?” Detective Kennedy asked the question as he patted the spot on the side of the bed his husband had been sitting on, inviting CJ to move there. “After your confrontation with my parents, I felt you needed to hear more about my background so you could completely understand why I’m estranged from them.” “You know I was born in Boston, dad was a cop and very strict with all us children. Mom took care of the house and her men, cooked, and helped keep us on top of our schoolwork. Any free time she had, she spent in church. In high school, I was an average student but I was a great football player, made All-State my senior year. Even back then, I was more interested in my teammates than in the cheerleaders, but I knew I had to keep those feelings to myself. I dated some but never for long.” “I think things have changed a lot since then, Uncle Tommy. Today you could probably do whatever you wanted. Especially if you were so big other guys couldn’t pick on you.” “Maybe so, but I’d still have to deal with the family. And being big didn’t guarantee I’d be safe, if a group of guys got together and tried to hurt me. You better remember that part.” “I know, just had that conversation again with the ‘rents this weekend.” “Anyway, I graduated with no idea of what I wanted to do, so I enlisted in the Army. Four years surrounded by men, in an environment with testosterone constantly in the air, wasn’t a picnic. I kept to myself, did my job, and survived. Returning to Boston, I started seeing a girl I’d dated before leaving. I was picking up odd jobs here and there, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. Two years later I got married to her, and right afterwards entered the Police Academy. Ten months later, Bradley was born. He’s the same age as you, will turn sixteen next month. Paddy came along when his brother was a two-year-old toddler.” “I hope I get to meet them sometime…” “I hope so too, CJ. Anyway, I was still fighting my attraction to men. The following years saw me slip into depression. I could no longer—” The ringing telephone interrupted Tom Kennedy mid-sentence. “I got it, Uncle Tommy.” CJ picked up the phone so the injured cop wouldn’t have to stretch for it. “Hello? Detective Kennedy’s room.” CJ scrunched up his face as he listened to the caller. “This is CJ, I’m the detective’s nephew. Who’s calling?” The boy’s face lit up in surprise hearing the response to his question. “No shit? Dude! He’s really gonna flip! Hang on.” CJ held the handset out to the injured cop, “Uncle Tom, it’s your son Bradley… for you.”
  15. 1 point
    Moira O'Brien is an archaeologist studying the ancient history of Ireland. Her particular interest is in the dolmens of the stoneranges called the Burrens in Western Ireland. But she discovers something beyond her understanding. Something that could mean the end of the world. Something that will challenge all she knows, all she believes, and all she holds dear.
  16. 1 point
    “What do you think of the Flyer, guys?” “This is sick, Vasili! Fucking vampire didn’t spare expenses when he outfitted this baby. I have as much access here as I do back in Halifax, this is incredible.” “Figures you’d go gaga over the tech, Neo. What about you, Genni? Any comments?” “Nothing new to add, Vasili; remember I’ve been on it before.” “That’s right, you were part of the team who designed and supervised our enhancements.” “We didn’t do much, boss. Improved radar and communications equipment, some safety improvements and a modified cargo area so we could fit the missile launcher plus any other weapons we might need. But this is Fer’s virgin flight; what do you think babe?” “Like what’s there not to like about a loaded Gulfstream G650? This is what makes us pilots have wet dreams. I’m pissed I didn’t get to fly it, boss. Why do we have a crew of wolves? There are plenty of us dolphins who can handle this puppy.” “The Full Moon Flyer is legally owned by the tribe, Fer. Sharing the plane and the boat is based on a handshake between Chief Mahigan and me. To cover our part of the expenses we charter the plane, pay for its use and also pay the tribe for personnel to operate it. You couldn’t fly and also take part in the operation anyway.” “When are we getting the details of the operation and why am I part of it? Is the Chief Medical Officer of the tribe truly needed?” “You might be, Epo. We have no idea of what condition any kids we rescue will be in; I want you around to look at them. Plus you can use the exercise of the operation. Your wife was telling me you’re getting chubby.” “Fuck you, boss.” “No thanks. Anyway, we’re stopping in the Netherlands to pick up the dragons, then flying to Poland while they continue to Finland on their own. After the initial raids, we’ll fly to Denmark while the Flyer will continue on to Iceland. After the last part of the mission is completed, we’ll fly from Reykjavik home to Nova Scotia.” “Fine, but I want a chance to fly the plane at some point.” “Just talk to the wolves once we get home, Fer. They want as many wolves and dolphins as possible qualified to fly it. Neo, you and your dragon boy were in charge of planning; let’s hear what else you have for us.” “My digging confirmed there are two factions involved. They have split most of Europe amongst themselves and are frequently at odds with each other. The two principals are ex-KGB friends of Putin. One lives in London and the other one in Geneva.” “Are we going after them?” “The dragons will handle that, Fer. They insisted they had the right to do so. Their home cities are where most of their financial resources are located. I think they have some money back in Russia but I didn’t want to hack into the banks there for fear of raising a red flag.” “Are you planning on diverting those funds the way you did with the blood suckers accounts?” “I’m gonna try, Genni, but it’s not our primary objective. We’re hoping phase one of our operation will cause enough confusion it’ll raise the level of animosity between the factions. The goal is to start a family feud which leads to them taking out as many of each other’s troops as possible. The second part of our plans will go into effect then. I’ve also set up some routines to move most of their money out of their accounts but there’s no way of knowing how much will be there at the time. ● ● ● “I’m ready, guys.” Chama’s voice in my ear startled me. It was the middle of the night, the streets in this commercial district of Helsinki were deathly quiet, and I had the comm unit’s volume set too high. That was the signal Litrik and I were waiting for. “Draak, Chama and I will shift now and take care of the guards; you’ll have about fifteen minutes from the time you see the flames.” The three of us were about to raid the Russian mafia’s headquarters in the Finnish capital. Once the alarms went off or the authorities were notified of a fire we calculated a quarter of an hour before the first responders arrived. In that time I had to complete my assignment and disappear from the area. “That’s a go, let’s fuck ‘em up.” My fellow dragons needed a few minutes to strip, remove their communication equipment and store it in the specially designed bag which would be secured to their leg. It would remain there through the shift from human and back. It’s not fun to shift, fly somewhere, shift back and find yourself naked with no clothing around. A bright flare up in the rear of the empty building next to our target started the countdown. The warehouse the Russians used housed their prostitution operations, we had no idea how many children were inside, and therefore couldn’t set the place itself on fire. No way were we taking the risk of directly harming innocents already victimized by the ruthless mobsters. The flapping of wings drew my sight upwards and I caught a glimpse of a man sized flying being circling the targeted building and spouting flames every few meters. Chama was sticking to the smallest possible size as a dragon to facilitate maneuvering between the structures; he was burning out all the security cameras we had detected. A side door opened up and two men ran out carrying what appeared to be AKM automatic rifles. Litrik was waiting for them and he spouted a hot enough flame to burn them alive. Their agonized death scream was short lived but strident and jarring; it hopefully served to induce fear to the remaining guard inside. Our intelligence gathering indicated there were three guards left inside after their operations closed down each night. I could hear sirens in the distance; five minutes had elapsed since the initial flames. My eyes were fixed on the window above the main door on the second floor. It opened and the barrel of a gun appeared slowly followed by a head. Chama was perched on the edge of the roof waiting. The guard didn’t stand a chance, the flame was so intense his face melted away in seconds. The skin vaporized and the muscles broke down until the bone structure was exposed. My turn, if we were wrong about there being three guards I could be in trouble. I ran up the three steps to the front door, attached the ribbon of explosive putty around the lock, pressed the electronic timer attached to the detonator and ran back to my previous spot behind a truck parked on the street. The explosion was not very loud but the bright flash and the rising smoke meant I could kick the door in. Stepping into a small reception area I dropped the package I was carrying on top of the desk in the room. A similar one was being delivered to the apartment of a reporter within the hour. Both contained an assortment of documents summarizing the business carried on within the premises, the names of local members of the organization and that of its head. I listed details about his life in England and any connection to Putin we’d been able to dig up. Two of my cousins where in London, ready to execute the man if he tried to flee. If he stayed put his life would be spared for a few more days. I had less than five minutes to get upstairs where we suspected their business offices were. Slamming my shoulder into the door marked PORTAAT I ran into the stairwell and headed upstairs taking the steps two at a time. Jackpot! Two doors leading from the landing, one marked TOIMISTO and the other one AULA. I kicked in the one for the office and was happy to see blood and charred remains by the window facing the street in front. Stripping while searching the desk with a top off the line Apple computer on it, I started to shove my clothes into my rucksack. Forcing the desk drawers open I got lucky. A small clear container, labeled in Cyrillic, held a handful of memory sticks which went into my bag. I could hear the sirens getting closer. Approaching the window the flashing lights of the responding authorities could be seen approaching the entrance to the industrial park. No time to check on the children, I had to believe they would be rescued by the fire and police officers. I clambered out the window, perched on the ledge and began my transformation. My cranium elongated, my eyes shifted to each side of my head, my nose disappeared; two breathing holes remained above my mouth now filled with razor sharp teeth. As my entire body was quickly covered in armor like scales, my hands and feet turned into claws, a third set of limbs grew out of either side of my abdomen and a set of wings grew out of my back. The membrane between the bones dried and the wings rested on either side of my body, ready to propel me into the air. A thick tail, covered in hardened spikes, extruded from my body. It would serve as a stabilizing limb and also as a weapon in battle. My external appearance was not the sole change; existing internal structures reconfigured themselves and new ones developed. Stomach gases bubbled and were stored in one of the new specialized organs, ready to serve as fuel for my flames. A gestation chamber grew within me with a birthing channel extending to what used to be my belly button. As dragons we could supply either sperm or egg. When one of us became pregnant, we returned to our human shape as a female and remained that way until after birth. The newborn could then end up with two moms, two dads, or one of each; they would both still be the biological parents. The transformation complete I used my hind legs to push off the ledge. I spread my wings, and with a motion bred into my kind, used the membrane covered limbs to propel me above the building’s roofline, disappearing into the night. I would fly towards the Baltic Sea, heading to Klaipeda, Lithuania. Tomorrow night the dolphins would raid a location in Gdansk, Poland before joining us. Once together, a decision would be made concerning further raids. ● ● ● “Hey, Neo…” “Draak! Give me a minute and I’ll be finished here, handsome.” “We’re about to take off and the pilots want us strapped in. Can I sit with you? “I’d like that. I’d also like to spend some time alone with you at some point.” “You did promise me a ride on your yacht and I intend on holding you to that promise, Neo.” “Hell, yeah. I hope you realize I’m interested in more than cruising around on a boat. Maybe a little exploration of your body? I’m bi but I think for you I could forget about women entirely.” “I’m flattered. Being blunt, I’d love to get naked with you but we need to talk about a few things beforehand. Including the fact my lifespan is at least ten times yours. Now, about our current operation…” “The initial raid in Helsinki sent a lot of Russians scurrying. My people back in Halifax were able to trace calls from the people we had already identified which led to more members of the groups we targeted. The evidence left behind for the authorities and leaked to the media pointed to the rival faction as responsible. The guy in Geneva, whose organization ran the Finnish operation, ordered a hit on his counterpart in London that same day.” “Good, I guess our plan worked. I hope they were successful.” “They were. The Brits are reposting the explosion in an exclusive London residential area was the result of a gas leak; it was a hell of a bomb which leveled the house and killed the head guy. Combined with the raid in Gdansk, the underworld is abuzz with rumors about the feud and the ruthlessness of the man in Geneva. He’s still alive.” “Not for long, Litrik will authorize his execution as soon as I report this to him. The ship?” “Has developed mechanical problems and has docked in Malmo, Sweden to disembark all passengers and non-essential crew―read non-Russian―who will be provided alternate transportation to their destinations. The company publicly announced the remaining personnel will steer the ship towards Amsterdam where repairs will be made.” “The fuckers played right into our hands, didn’t they?” “Yup. Halifax intercepted messages indicating the ship was to be sanitized so no evidence of the illicit operations remained. Part three of our operation is a go.” ● ● ● “Neo?” “Hang on, Vasili. A couple more commands and I’ll pack the phone away.” The Full Moon Flyer had landed at Thisted Airport, in northeastern Denmark to refuel in the early afternoon. The five of us and the three dragons had slipped out of the plane and traveled the eight kilometers to the coast line where we now stood. The sun was dipping below the horizon and with twilight came the start of our mission’s final phase. “Done.” “Litrik, once we reach deep water, we’ll surface to take breaths every one to two minutes. Your augmented eyesight will allow you to follow us even in darkness.” “Will do, Vasili. Be careful, my friend.” “Definitely. I’ll breach in front of the boat when we’re in position; it’ll be your signal to light the fuckers up. Let’s go guys. Neo, take the lead.” “Sure, boss.” We planned on swimming out to the ship as dolphins, surround it and follow for a short while. It was a common sight for dolphins to swim around vessels. Our shifting was a two stage process as we became mermen before reaching our final shape. The five of us stripped, packed our clothes into a custom built bag which Epo, our medical guy, secured around his waist with his first aid kit. It wasn’t much as we had all worn shorts and t-shirts, our flip-flops we left behind hoping someone would find them and be able to use them. Stepping into the water our instincts took over. Fingers and toes became webbed while our nails became retractable claws. Our ability to spread our lower limbs diminished as they came close to fusing together. The configuration helps propels us through the water at higher speeds. Genitals shrank into the body while the end of our penises bent into a hook―a convenient way of remaining connected during intercourse while still swimming. Any hair on our body disappeared and our skin became somewhat rubbery; it bulged over our spine as the precursor of a dorsal fin formed. A blowhole opened up on the back of our hairless heads. Our face morphed into something between a human and a dolphin: our nose elongated, our eyes spread apart, our ears shrank as new auditory openings appeared below our seeing orbs. Internal organs rearranged with our trachea and esophagus becoming completely separate tracts preventing water from reaching our lungs when we open our mouths underwater. The blowhole is the only opening into our lungs. As mermen we could function at sea and on land. “Let’s dive, brothers.” Any conversation while in our mermen shape was carried on mostly with sound waves and very few actual words. At Vasili’s command we plunged head first into the waters of Vigsø Bugt and began the second phase of our transformation. The changes to our facial features became more pronounced until all semblance of humanity disappeared. Arms morphed into flippers, our bodies elongated and our lower limbs shrank, morphing into flukes. Although our lung size remained the same, the capacity to absorb and store oxygen increased. We could easily hold our breath for up to seven minutes and dive deeper than humans. Genni was in charge of this phase of the operation; he took the lead with Fer at his side. Both former military men saw duty in Afghanistan and were no strangers to clandestine operations. They took the lead as we swam in a course designed to intercept the Tsar of the Seas―traveling close to the Danish coast on its way to Amsterdam. Epo was beside me with Vasili at the rear until we sighted the vessel. Our enforcers slowed down and took position at the stern of the ship while the three of us forged ahead swimming beside the ship. We played at the bow attracting some attention from a handful of the men on board. Our estimates put the remaining contingent somewhere around a dozen men operating the boat plus however many of those involved in the illicit activities were still around. Surprising the sailors watching us, Vasili breached with enough strength to reach the bulwarks before falling back to the water and immediately submerging below the bilge. The boss’ acrobatic performance was swiftly followed by a slowdown of the ferry boat as the propeller stopped turning. Winged shapes appeared in the dark visible as dark blotches against the moonless starry night; our dragons were making their move. Two of them placed themselves amidships on either side while the third flew lazy figure eights above the forecastle intent on attracting the attention of as many crew members as possible. The dragon we knew to be Chama momentarily distracted the crew. For a moment they forgot about their ship slowing down, and in that instant they sealed their fate. With blinding speed the dragon flew away from the ship before rapidly turning back and heading directly towards the bridge. As he flew over the bow his maw opened and a searing tongue of flame spurted out, setting several men afire and charring the paint on the deck before tilting his body upwards and barely avoiding a collision as he soared back into the night. Vasili surfaced at the ship’s stern, joining Genni and Fer, while Epo and I took up position slightly ahead of them on either side of the boat. We were ready to join the battle as soon as Litrik and Draak cleared the way for us. And hell if they didn’t do just that as I thought of it. Both dragons flew alongside the ship, flaming the deck and in the process turning fleeing Ruskies into crispy nuggets. The nauseating stench of burning flesh permeated the air reaching us as we breached, reaching as high as Vasili previously had. The five of us had aimed ourselves towards the ship as we jumped out of the water and began our reverse transformation. By the time we reached the apex of our climb we once again had arms and legs and landed on the deck bending our knees to absorb the force of the impact. There was charred wood everywhere but surprisingly no visible flames, retardant coatings prevented the ship from catching fire. Close up, the stench of burnt flesh and sulphur was almost overwhelming; I had to fight not to retch on the spot. As a large dragon continued to attract the attention of whatever crew remained alive, the sound of small arms fire joined the cacophony of blaring alarms and men shouting in a language I assumed was Russian. I had been assured the armor-like scales covering the creatures’ bodies made the possibility on a bullet causing them injury a remote possibility. It would have to be a lucky shot hitting one of the few exposed areas of flesh. The other two dragons had turned back after raking the sides of the ship with their flames and hovered over the rear deck as we completed our shift in midair and landed on the ship. I’m certain they watched our transformation with as much interest as we now watched them transform into Litrik and Draak. They had landed on the deck right after we had. “Everybody okay?” asked Litrik as small puffs of smoke emerged from his mouth with each breath. We all replied in the affirmative before splitting into two groups, each one moving towards the bridge on either side of the ship. A dragon and an enforcer in each group, Vasili following on the starboard side while Epo took the port side. I remained behind, completed my shift to human and removed my phone from the waterproof bag I had stored it in before we left land. While tapping away on the screen, sending commands through the satellite link, I watched as each group approached the ship’s control center. The dragons kept watch ready to shift again in an instant if needed as Genni and Fer slammed open the bridge doors, briefly stepped inside and each brought out a twitching, bleeding human speared on their claws. Looking at the uniforms they wore I noted the ship was now without a captain or a first officer. The commands I’d entered on my phone had silenced the sirens and all we could now hear was the waves slapping against the sides of the boat. No shouting, no screaming and no firearms being discharged could be heard. I saw Chama reduce his size, land on the ship and transform into a human once again. We had secured the ship’s topside but who knew what waited for us inside. ● ● ● “That was fun! Can we do it again, Daddy Genni?” “Shut up, Fer. Be a good boy and sit down, let’s hear what Neo has to say.” “Fine but all that excitement has me horned up, you’re gonna be walking funny by the time I get done with you.” “Children, please! Epo’s straight and not used to hearing you gay boys talk about sex.” “Just ‘cause you’re bi doesn’t mean you can start dissing us, Neo. So fuck you!” “In your dreams, Fer. In your dreams.” “Time for me to put on my Alpha hat. All of you shut the fuck up and can the comedy routine; Epo you go first. Tell me about the children, I was too damn busy with other things and unable to keep track of what you were doing.” “In time, the kids will all be physically fine. All nine found aboard were malnourished and suffering aftereffects from the drugs they had been fed. Most of them were bruised; some had burn marks, open sores, and fresh lacerations from being whipped. One girl will need reconstructive surgery to her vagina and two boys will require similar procedures to their rectums. None of those three were in need of emergency surgery.” “Fucking animals, wish we could have taken our time and tortured them, I would have enjoyed hearing them scream in pain.” Fer was the most affected by seeing the kids we found on the ship. “No you wouldn’t have, Fer. We’ll all suffer enough with the memories of what we’ve seen, there’s no need for further horrors. Vasili, during our time at sea en route to Iceland I kept them all sedated while providing nourishment through intravenous lines. I also provided enough antibiotics to kill almost any bug they may have been infected with. All rapid HIV tests were negative.” “That was all the stuff in the duffel bag the dragons dropped off? “It was, Genni. I packed what I thought might be needed to treat between twelve and fifteen patients before we left Halifax. So again, physically they will recover; emotionally―” “Not worth venturing guesses about, Epo. I promised Litrik we would work with the dragons to provide whatever they need. What do you have for us, Genni?” “I’m confident our involvement will not be discovered by the humans, Vasili. When you breached in front of the ship, as a signal to the dragons, Chama activated the transmitter incorporated into the harness he wore. Neo and his people designed it to use low power signals to disable the ship’s engines by incapacitating their computers. The transmitter also jammed all communications from the boat. Due to the short range of all frequencies involved, I suspect they were not detectable.” “Fer, what’s the current status of the Tsar of the Seas?” “Still docked in Reykjavik, under quarantine by order of the Icelandic Coast Guard. By flying back in time to ensure being on duty when we broadcast our mayday before abandoning the ship, Litrik ended up being in charge of boarding it and supervising its inspection. The kids are all in temporary foster homes while the Icelandic government attempts to determine if any have family they can be returned to. Two of the older boys have said they ran away from orphanages in Russia.” “Are we ready for our closing act, Neo? “Yes, Alpha. As soon as you give me the word our friends in the media will receive information packages detailing the ship’s ownership, its operations, and pictures of what we found inside. The children’s faces have been completely removed. I expect the Russian government will be very embarrassed and hundreds of offers will be made to adopt the children without families.” “And the money?” “I was able to divert enough funds to cover all costs of our mission and establish a five-million Euro trust for each rescued child. The existence of the trusts will not be revealed until the kids are reunited with their families or adopted. An “anonymous donor” has funded them and Bank Suisse has no idea who the money came from―everything was done electronically.” “Anything left over, Neo?” “Meh, a little change I’ve split evenly between us and the dragons, Vasili.” “Wanna put a figure to our share of the little change, smartass?” “Enough we could buy one of these little jets for ourselves if we wanted to, Boss.”
  17. 1 point
    “Góðan daginn.” “Good morning to you also, Uncle Litrik.” “Draak? It’s good to hear your voice, nephew. It’s been a while since we’ve talked; emails are nice but hearing a voice is so much better. How are you adjusting to your new assignment at Brunssum?” “It’s going well, Uncle. The Joint Force Command is going to be a great opportunity to learn, and meet some people who I’ll deal with for a long time. After my tour ends, and I return to the Dutch Air Force, the experience will help me advance in the ranks.” “I’m surprised you’d call me in the middle of the day on a Monday. To what do I owe the honor?” “Not very good news, I’m afraid. Over the weekend I read a confidential NATO report which affects out family. It’s not classified, but it’s also not meant for the general public. Two weeks ago, the body of a young boy was found floating in a canal in Amsterdam. He had been strangled to death, and there was evidence of physical abuse, including traces of semen in his rectum. Analysis of the DNA determined it was from at least half a dozen men.” “That’s horrible! How can anyone derive any sort of satisfaction from abusing a child? I’m quite aware it takes place but still, hearing about it causes me to question how civilized humans really are. I hope the culprits are found, and punished. You said this affects our family?” “Yes, I did. The child has not been identified, but I recognized the family’s birthmark in the boy’s photographs included in the file. The small claw was clearly visible on his left shoulder. I’m certain it’s the body of my Estonian cousin who disappeared two years ago.” “Motherfuckers! You tell me everything you know, we’re going to find the people who did this to the boy. When we do, I’ll personally rip them to shreds, and enjoy listening to them scream, as I watch them slowly bleed to death. Do the authorities have any leads?” “Yes they do, Uncle; but it’s all being kept quiet for now. NATO and INTERPOL became involved when evidence surfaced of a large criminal group being involved. There are signs the culprits have ties to the Russian government, and a connection to Putin is being looked into.” “It never ceases to amaze me how such a great nation as Russia, can produce so many bullies and thugs. Can you email me a copy of the file? Or would you get in trouble for doing so? I want to think about what we can do.” “I already sent it to your private email address; I used the family’s encoding protocol. Once you review it, and come up with a plan, let me know how I can help avenge the death of my young cousin. I feel the same way you do concerning the people responsible for his death.” ● ● ● The file Draak sent me was one of the most nauseating things I’ve ever been exposed to. The photographs showed a rail thin boy with longish blonde hair, and bruises all over his body. The narrative accompanying the images made my stomach lurch and my eyes fill with tears. I had met the boy a few months before his disappearance; I recalled bright eyes and a loud laugh, as he ran around his parents’ apartment in Tallinn. Our tightly knit but widely dispersed family had looked for the boy incessantly when he went missing during a family holiday in Saint Petersburg. No traces of him were ever found, until now. The angry red marks along his back, buttocks and legs spoke of repeated lashings; the cigar burns over his genitals spoke of sadistic monsters who I would be happy to burn alive. I chose to push the images of the broken body as far down in my consciousness as possible and concentrated on memories of the once happy child. A child without his dragon powers since he had not yet reached puberty. Sixty-five million years ago an extinction level event destroyed most life on planet Earth. Out of the holocaust a few species arose, evolved, and thrived―mine amongst them. We became exceptional in many ways but were limited in our reproductive capabilities. That which made us powerful: strong bodies, the ability to shift between forms, flight capability and the power to generate flames at will also restricted our mating. Blinded by lust we often injured ourselves or our partners in the throes of passion. Each dragonet born was treasured by us all. As dragons, we enjoyed exceptional longevity but our numbers were not large. The two remaining branches of our kind, one in Asia and one in Europe, kept a low profile and functioned as humans as much as possible. In difficult times, however, we did not shy away from a fight and used our powers to gain any possible advantage. The history of our race, and the mystery surrounding the body found in the Netherlands, occupied my thoughts as I soared over the North Atlantic on my way from Reykjavik to Halifax, Nova Scotia. My call to the chief executive officer of Trident Enterprises had gained me a meeting with the man. Vasilikós Delfíni Allásso̱n agreed to meet with me after I revealed my awareness of his recent encounter with Vlad Tepes. A very surprised but calm man invited me to lunch and offered to send his jet for me; I accepted the meal but refused the plane. I needed to be alone with my thoughts for a while and the nearly thirty-five hundred kilometers between our homes would provide me close to eight hours of solitude. ● ● ● “Mr. Allásso̱n, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Your agreeing to see me on such short notice is truly appreciated.” “It’s good to meet you, Captain Dreki; please call me Vasili. I must admit your call intrigued me and alarmed me; your knowledge of my people’s nature came as a surprise. Your request for assistance could not be ignored after reviewing the information you forwarded. My sincere condolences on the death of your nephew. His disappearance, abuse and murder are not something I’ll easily forget.” “Thank you, Vasili; my family appreciates your willingness to listen to us and we hope you will agree to assist us. And please, Captain Litrik Dreki is an officer in the Icelandic Coast Guard. I’m not here in that capacity. I’m here as a private citizen and ask you call me Litrik as my friends do.” “You’re a man full of surprises, Litrik; your awareness of the incident involving Vermillion Industries and Prince Tepes[1] was quite a shock. My associates and I felt we camouflaged the true nature of the incident from discovery by outsiders―we failed to account for the possibility of Dragons being around. Your revelations led to quite a bit of research by my pod’s chief analyst; he found plenty of references to your kind in ancient records before the sinking of Atlantis but not many since that time.” “We chose anonymity a long time ago, Vasili; it’s the way in which we avoid the dangers of being a magical creature in a world dominated by humans. Man’s fear of what it doesn’t understand has resulted in annihilation one too many times. Long ago we decided not to interfere with humans and to instead concentrate on the wellbeing of our families. Today, we find ourselves unable to stand aside and permit the atrocities visited upon one of our own to be repeated on anyone else. This time we must take action and we need help.” “I understand, Litrik. After looking through those documents you sent, as Alpha for the pod, I decided we would provide assistance as you’ve requested. I did consult my inner circle, something I do whenever there’s potential danger to any of us. All the members agreed with my decision. Our Delta, Genni Thallassio and his husband and fellow enforcer, Fer Thallassio, insisted on volunteering for the mission. They want to start a family and the thought one of their children could suffer how your nephew did enraged them.” “Thank you again, my friend. We will forever be in your debt.” “Here’s what I’d like to do, Captain; I understand you must return to Iceland shortly but my people are ready to start working. I’d like to put my head geek in charge of developing the plans for retaliating against these murderers―his work is what enabled us to defeat the vampire. He’ll be calling your man at NATO, gather any additional information on the suspects and in all likelihood, initiate internet surveillance. “I’ll meet with him during the process but I’d like him and your nephew to develop our plan of action. Go home, you and I will talk soon; I expect we’ll be seeing each other again in a few days somewhere in Europe.” ● ● ● That felt right; I’m now certain asking Vasili, and his people, for help was the proper move. I could tell how affected he was by our boy’s torture and murder. Based on what I’ve heard of him and on what I saw during our meeting the man must have a strong moral compass guiding his actions. There was abhorrence for the events I presented evident in his demeanor and no hesitation when he promised to provide assistance. During his encounter with the vampire, I believe his actions were initially motivated by a desire to protect his business partners in the Bay of Fundy tidal power project. His close work with the werewolves of the Full Moon pack during the crisis showcased his ability to cooperate with others to achieve a common objective. The resolution to the conflict was elegant. Although Prince Vlad escaped, the financial resources of the bloodsucker were severely compromised and he will think twice before attempting any further incursions into eastern Canada. The business partners are no longer in danger and the wolf pack and dolphin pod reaped unexpected monetary benefits. His comments on how the new found wealth was being employed to benefit all the wolves and dolphins spoke highly of him. The Alphas could have appropriated the lion share of the money but chose instead to use it for the good of the many. And hell, the jet and the yacht were nice toys to end up with also. When Poseidon agreed to save the pack of werewolves living on Atlantis before it sank into the ocean, he created an incredible group of beings. The capacity to shift between human, merman and dolphin forms gave them the ability to function on land and sea, effectively making them much more effective than they had been in their wolf form. They’re army, navy and marine force; my Dragons will serve as the air force in this operation. Vasili’s not aware of the sense of loyalty my people have but he’ll eventually find out. His agreement to assist us has made him and his people new friends for life. Regardless of the outcome, his willingness to step up and help will make my people view him as a hero. It was good to meet his Chief Technology Officer also. I was extremely impressed with Neo; the young man displayed an exceptional grasp of his area of expertise. During the conference call with Draak I felt as if they were speaking an alien language. Those two connected so rapidly I think they’ll hit it off when they meet in person. I should let my nephew know his new acquaintance is bisexual; my Dutch relative will need a drool-proof cover on his keyboard when he sees what the Canadian looks like during their planned Skype session. ● ● ● “There we go, Draak; I love my big screen monitor and the clear picture it gives me. It’s good to put a face to the emails we’ve been trading―nice smile buddy.” “Same here, Neo; my uncle was right you’re one big fucker. He said you played American football at uni?” “Yeah, I went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and played for the Engineers all four years I was there. Hey, after meeting your uncle Litrik and seeing how every bit of visible skin on him was covered with such colorful tattoos, I was expecting you to be showing some ink.” “I’m too young for that. My people decorate their body one piece at a time and considering how long we live it takes a few of hundred years before we reach the level my uncle has.” “A few hundred years? Wow! How old is he? And how old are you?” “Uncle Litrik is over five hundred years old, I’m sixty-two.” “Fuck, I hope I look as good as you do when I reach your age. Not likely though, our life span is around ninety years. Our ability to heal when we shift between forms helps us remain healthy but many of us die in accidents. The sea is a dangerous lover. Anyway, were you able to access the NATO information I asked for?” “Yes I did and I’ll be sending it over in a bit. None of it is classified but I’m glad you didn’t try to hack into the system. I’m certain you’d have been able to get in but sooner or later they would have tracked you down. This way there’s no risk of you being discovered.” “Great, Draak, how about giving me a quick summary?” “We’re facing a decentralized organization in the Russian Mafia. They operate in almost every country in Europe and each operation is independent. They cooperate in several areas including the sex trades; kiddie porn is a component in that segment of their business. Children are initially used in the production of films and webcasts of live sex acts―both ventures generate millions in revenue each month. After the novelty of a child wears off, they are moved into prostitution; those who survive are sold into slavery. This is in addition to those who are sold into servitude from the outset. NATO suspects Vladimir Putin and his thugs at the Kremlin benefit from all the illegal activities financially and in turn provide a degree of protection to the criminals.” “I’ll have to pay attention to the interconnections when I review the files you’re sending me. So there’s no evidence of one overall leader?” “No there doesn’t seem to be one. The different groups have been known to disagree and become confrontational at times.” “That’s a good thing to know; it could be just the opening we need to deal with these assholes.” “I’ll send the files over as soon as we disconnect, Neo. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions and I hope you and I get to hang out when you come over to Europe.” “Me too, Draak. I’ll probably be over in a few days. Have a good night and a great weekend, handsome.” [1] Tidal Power
  18. 1 point
    “You’re gonna have to teach me how to drive this monster, Vasili.” “You don’t have to learn how to unless you want to, Mahi. If it’s the two of us I can play Captain, if you want to take the family or some of the tribe members out, I can get some of my guys to crew for you. I do want to make the first weekend trip after we clean the place out and make some changes an outing for the men who ran the operation for us and their families.” “That would be cool; can we sleep that many?” “Yeah, we’ll give the couples and the crew first dibs on the cabins; kids and single men can sleep in the salon or topside. I plan to string a hammock outside and spend my nights under the stars as long as the weather let’s me.” “Do you mind my guys naming the boat the Atlantis?” “Fuck no! It’s the perfect name. Plus naming the jet the Full Moon Flyer was another stroke of genius on their part. My people will be stoked when they see the name of the tribe on the plane.” “What a fucking month! I guess it all worked out in the end, though.” “For the most part yes; Tepes getting away by turning into smoke pisses me off.” “He’s one cocky fucker. Just him and the two goons on board. And they sailed this thing all the way from Marseilles! They probably had a larger crew they put ashore somewhere in New England.” “I have a feeling this is not the last time we will see him. He lost a lot of money, a jet and a yacht―he’s probably not happy with us. He’ll see right through the ruse of the solicitor stealing the money and the plane.” “Not going to worry about it right now. You and I have at least three days at sea before we dock at Sambro and we’re going to spend most of that time naked.” “Now we’re talking! Before I forget, the wife sends her love but asks that you not wear me out. She claims sometimes after she lends me to you I’m useless to her for a day or two!” “Ha! That woman is a trip, you better be good to her. When you and I are near retirement age we’ll all have to sit down and figure out what we want to do in our personal lives." “Matters to be dealt with, mate. Matters to be dealt with at another time. For now it’s you and me and some good loving.”
  19. 1 point
    …he turned into a fucking merman! An honest to goodness merman, MERDE!’ ● ● ● “Hello?” “Vasili, it’s Mahi, I have some bad news.” “Huh?” “Come on. Vasili, wake up. This is serious.” “Hang on, give me a minute. For crying out loud, Mahi, you know what time it is?” “Yes, I do. It’s almost five in the morning and you need to get your ass up. We have a problem.” “Okay, okay, I’m up. It’s almost time for my morning swim anyway. What’s going on?” “The body of one of the guys you sent over washed up on the beach just minutes ago. He was shot several times but he also had two puncture wounds on the neck.” “Oh fuck. Where is he now? “We moved him into one of the coolers at the fish-house. Two of my guys cleaned him up and wrapped him in canvas until you tell us what to do.” “Okay, good. Give me half an hour and I’ll call you back. I’ll be heading over with a few of our guys once we can get organized.” ● ● ● “Hey, men; Prota will join us in a minute, he had to take a phone call. What do you have for us, Sesi?” “Not a lot yet, Vasili. Sorry about your man―we’ll get the fuckers involved in this. Our guys who cleaned him and discovered the two puncture wounds on the side of his neck also, noticed a smaller hole on his back with a tiny needle imbedded in it; we think a tranquilizer dart was used to knock him out before he was transported aboard the yacht. In spite of the obvious bite by a vampire, the kid was not drained of blood; combined with the gunshot wounds I’m pretty sure he began to shift when first bitten.” “Fuck! That means the blood suckers are most likely aware of our existence now. Néo, any images from the drone? Any new communications from the yacht?” “No images, boss. Our man must have been brought on board while the drone was back at our place getting fresh batteries. Our chief enforcer, Genni, has already arranged for us to have two more drones by this afternoon so we will not have lapses in coverage again. We monitored one call from this guy Tepes to someone in New Orleans. He ordered additional muscle and sent the plane down to pick them up after sunset tonight. The wolves are handling that angle of the operation.” “Mahi?” “I’ll let Mel handle this since he made the arrangements. You’re up kid.” “Okay, Néo was able to track the location called in New Orleans and it’s a large building in the French Quarter of the city. We think it’s one of their safe houses. I contacted my counterpart in the Bayou Pack and requested assistance. I explained the situation, without mentioning you guys can shift into mermen or dolphins, and he agreed to help. “Their safe house has been placed under surveillance and if the wolves smell any vampires, they have orders to kill them. Wolves are also on the way to Louis Armstrong Airport to await the arrival of the Vermillion jet, establish surveillance and prevent anyone from boarding after sunset.” “Sorry about the phone call guys, but I’m glad I took it.” “What’s up Próta? “That was the owner of Acoustic Solutions; his daughter was approached by two guys as she left a movie theatre last night. She was told to inform her father he should decide what he valued most, his company or his family.” “Shit! I guess they’re ready to make a move now.” “I think so, Mahi. But I have an idea on how to deal with these assholes. Can we take a break so I can discuss this with Sesi?” ● ● ● “Beta Próta and Beta Sesi reporting for duty, sirs!” “Get over yourselves, assholes. But thanks for trying to lighten the mood, what did the two of you come up with?” “Próta and I made some calls and put some wheels in motion. Since our two companies are the main participants in the joint venture we arranged for a conference call with the owners of our four partners to make them aware of a potential danger to all of us. We talked about the threats and then let them know the consortium was arranging for security details for them and their immediate families. “We asked our Deltas to coordinate the arrangements and insisted a couple of wolves be included in the evening teams. In case vampires appear we know wolves can kill them but we have no knowledge of what mermen could do to them. Próta, wanna take part two? “Sure, Sesi. We asked the owner of Acoustic to call the solicitor in Québec and let him know he was ready to accept their offer but wanted to have the deal finalized over the weekend. He let the lawyer know their offer of one hundred million Euros was acceptable and to make sure the funds were ready for transfer first thing Monday morning. The little shit sounded so happy I thought he would crawl through the phone and kiss our guy. He promised to contact his client and arrange for a transfer of funds to his trust account and asked for an hour to finalize a proposed contract which he would then email. We’re waiting for it any minute now.” “Néo, I’m sure your little wiretap has revealed some information, correct?” “Right you are, Vasili. The solicitor placed a call to the yacht and then an email was sent from the boat to a bank in Marseilles. The transcript of the call and the text of the message are being emailed to you as we speak. I think we need another break until we have the proposed contract and a response from Marseilles.” ● ● ● “So, he called and agreed to sell, at last good news. Maybe I won’t have to return to Marseilles with nothing to show for my efforts. I’m glad the conversation our friends had with his daughter helped him realize our offer was a most generous one. Have you sent him the proposed contract?” “Yes, Prince Tepes. I expect a call from him sometime later today. I may have to fly to Halifax sometime this weekend if we’re to have a closing on Monday morning.” “The company jet will be at your disposal when it returns from New Orleans. Our friends arriving on it have their orders and know where to go―you need not concern yourself with their actions, they’re here as insurance.” “Yes, sir... about the money?” “I’ve just authorized the transfer of one hundred million Euros to your trust account.” “What have you found out about that abomination we encountered last night?” “Nothing so far, your highness. I contacted individuals in the top twenty population centers in North America and not one of them has ever heard of mermen shifters. Maybe it was a mutant wolf?” “You’ve been watching too many Marvel movies but maybe you’re right. I hope so for all our sakes.” ● ● ● “Yes! We’ve got the motherfuckers! By the end of tonight your pack, Mahi and our pod, Vasili should have a lot of money in a Cayman Islands bank account and two new toys to play with.” “Damn, Sesi, I’ve never seen you this excited or smiling so broadly. Let’s hear it. You have our undivided attention.” “Thanks, Vasili, most of the credit goes to your guys. Próta came up with the idea and Néo is playing a big part in operation Blood Bath.” “Oh no, you didn’t! Please tell me you didn’t just say our plan has a corny name as if this was some sort of graphic novel adventure.” “Sorry, Mahi, but Néo came up with the name and we thought it was funny enough to use. Anyway, the money from Vermillion is now sitting in the solicitor’s trust account and when we give the word Néo will make it disappear. The funds will jump all over the place until an account in the Cayman Islands receives a large transfer.” “How far are we straying from the law, Néo?” “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies, boss. When the solicitor disappears and leaves behind a note on his computer about how tired he was of working for blood sucking French capitalists and how he had decided to take an early retirement and move out of Canada… well, you get the picture. Someone associated with Vermillion back in France will try to find him but they’ll have no luck. Mel, wanna take over?” “Sure thing. Néo forgot to tell you guys the Vermillion corporate jet received instructions to return to Québec since there would be no passenger pickup in New Orleans. Upon landing they’ll be met by three wolves, the pilots will be sent home and two of our flyboys will bring the plane to Halifax. All necessary paperwork will be electronically filed to show the transfer of the jet to Shiftmates Corporation; a new entity jointly owned by both our companies. Another group of wolves will meet our solicitor friend as he leaves his office tonight. I won’t bother with details but the world will be better off with one less lawyer on it. Genni, your turn.” “My report is brief since I have to run out of here soon. Once the wolves have handled both those matters, Néo will take care of the money, the solicitor’s note, the ownership transfer for the jet and the ownership transfer to the same company of one luxury yacht currently anchored in the Bay of Fundy. Before sunset a group of my guys will shift into dolphins, swim to the boat, then shift into mermen and board our new vessel. We’ll catch the vampires while they’re unable to function, dispose of them and of any of their human accomplices.” “You guys are shitting us, we end up with lots of money, a corporate jet and a luxury yacht?” “You got it, boss. Once we’re done we’ll will get you and Mahi on a Zodiac and out to the Atlantis. Oh yeah, we took the liberty of naming our new canoe.” ● ● ● “Are we ready, men?” “Yes we are, Vasili. You and Mahi just kick back, relax and get ready to light up the victory cigars when Operation Blood Bath is over. Próta, Néo and I will take care of everything. We decided having everyone around the table in the sound proof conference room was best so we turned the place into mission control.” “Vasili, I think our boys have been smoking the funny seaweed again. Operation Blood Bath? Mission Control? What the fuck? When do we get started, Néo?” “First step is the solicitor, Mahi. But our teams should start checking in any…” “Mission control, this is building security. We’re waiting for the package to arrive.” “That’s Mel, guys; he’s in charge of snatching the lawyer. Our surveillance has his routine down pat and we almost know when he farts after lunch.” “Mission control here, we copy building security.” “This is airport security, mission control. We’re in position. Toy delivery expected momentarily.” “The guys taking control of the plane will wait until we give them the signal to step in. They’ll take care of the pilots and then head to Halifax after refueling.” “Mission control this is beach patrol, we’re ready for our swim.” “Genni is leading the boarding party himself, we think he…” “Excuse me, Monsieur?” “Oui?” “We have a message for you from Vermillion.” “Who the hell are you? How do you know that name? I’m calling security.” “Oh, I don’t think so, Monsieur…” “Ooops, mission control this is building security. We sort of damaged the package so we’re going to place it in the trunk of our car and take it with us.” “Was that growling I heard?” “Yes it was, Vasili, one of the boys must have gotten excited, shifted, and ripped a throat out. Néo, that’s a go for you.” “On it Sesi. Just give me a minute and… okay money has started the trip to the Cayman Islands. Time to upload a note explaining the disappearance of a slime-ball and to file ownership transfer papers on a small private jet. Money is ours, guys. Let’s get us a plane. Airport Security, you have a green light.” “Got it, two pilots and a ground operations director coming right up.” “Gentlemen, if we could have a minute.” “Sorry guys, this is private property you’re not allowed in the building.” “I think we are since your boss was kind enough to give us the plane as an early Christmas present.” “What the fuck are you talking about? I’m calling…” “Damn, I can’t believe all three tripped and broke their necks when they fell! Mission Control, we’re loading up the garbage and taxiing to our hangar. Give us an hour to refuel and change the numbers on the plane and we’ll be on our way to Halifax.” “Roger that airport security. You have all the necessary documents in case you need them. I’ve already filed a flight plan on your behalf. Be safe, flyboys. Now comes the dangerous part; beach patrol this is mission control, you’re cleared for a swim in the bay.” “Acknowledge that mission control, keep an eye on the TV and we’ll report as soon as possible. Vaaaaampiiiiires… come out and plaaaaay…” “Bathroom break everyone, we have a little time before they’re ready to board. We have all three drones in place so we can follow the action.” ● ● ● “Here we go men; that’s a hell of a lot of dolphins surrounding the yacht, how many did you send out?” “Only a dozen, Mahi; those are mostly wild ones. Genni must have invited them to swim.” “Great cover, Vasili. Wow! Nice breach!” “Take a look at the infrared camera guys, you can see our men shifting again right underneath the keel. There they go, they’re boarding now. Infrared reveals two individuals inside, no idea how many vampires since they don’t give off heat. “Now it could get dicey boss, if those two goons pull out guns our guys… oh shit, one of our guys is down. He’s probably shot… oh, there go the assholes trying to back out of the cabin and headed right towards our guys waiting outside. Yeah! Men overboard it seems; probably those two decided to go for a swim in order to cool down. I wonder if they’re alive or not. Sesi wanted at least one of them alive so we could interrogate him.” “Right now I’d be happy knowing all the vampires are gone, Néo. Someone to use enhanced interrogation techniques on would just be a bonus. What was that? Quick! Move the drone! Track that column of smoke rising through the cabin’s roof.” “Shit, can’t do it guys; it’s moving too fast.” “Mission control this is the crew of the Atlantis. We have zero casualties, one flesh wound and two drenched rats. One blood sucker seems to have evaporated. How about we send the tender out and you guys can come and check out our new toy?”
  20. 1 point
    The man crouched low to the damp earth and touched the small indentation. The track was fresh, only minutes old. He rose and continued down the path that was invisible to those less observant. His bare feet made no noise as he stealthily walked forward, trailing his hands along the occasional broken piece of vegetation marking his quarry’s path. He heard a twig snap and stopped, listening intently. After a brief period of silence, he slowly crept forward to a small stand of shrubs and peered through them. He held his spear close, ready to fly at a moment’s notice. He held his breath as he spied the small deer he’d been tracking for hours. The little animal was at a bad angle; if he threw his spear now, he would surely miss. He waited with the patience of a skilled hunter as the creature grazed in the small clearing. The animal turned toward him, providing the perfect opportunity for the hunter to strike. The spear sailed noiselessly through the air and found its mark unerringly. The little deer staggered forward and collapsed. The man was upon the deer in seconds, eviscerating it with a sharpened stone and eating the warm liver and kidneys before other predators could scent the kill and drive him off. The deer was lean, but there was enough meat to last for days. He proceeded to expertly butcher the animal, then stopped abruptly. The ambient noise of the forest had changed. He continued with his task, on even higher alert now, cutting the meat as quickly as he could and placing it on a worn skin. The man jumped up and raised his spear as the bushes directly across the small clearing rustled and parted, allowing another man to enter the tight space. The man was smaller than the hunter and very thin. His right leg dragged behind him, and he looked at the hunter with a mixture of fear and desperation. He was dressed in thin skins, not the thick fur that the temperature demanded, and shivered as he stood in place, hands outstretched in a supplicating manner. The hunter frowned and motioned with his spear as if to throw it; however he retained his grip. The other man tried to duck away, but his lame leg gave out, and he fell with a pained grunt. The hunter decided the smaller man posed no threat and resumed butchering the deer. He could pick the bones if the predators didn’t get him first. A breeze blew through the clearing, causing the smaller man to shiver violently. The hunter’s eyes widened in fear—an emotion he seldom felt—and he backed away from his kill, grabbing his spear. The scent evoked memories of heat and lust and searing pain. He involuntarily raised his hand to the rough, scarred skin on the left side of his face as the unmistakable scent filled his consciousness. Mate! It had been many autumns since the hunter last encountered that smell. He lived with the tribe then. When the other young men hit puberty, they quickly found unbound females and mated with them with abandon. The dark-haired young hunter would watch in fascination as the male’s engorged members slid in and out of the young females. One of the females tried to get him to do the same thing to her, but his body didn’t react the same way as the other males. She quickly grew bored and frustrated with him, leaving to find someone who could satisfy her urges. The tribe’s elders were not pleased with the young man, as soon he was the only unmated male in a tribe with an overabundance of females. He was an excellent hunter, though, and useful to the tribe in other ways, so they allowed him to remain. During the following dry season, the group of hunters had travelled far for a kill. It was worth it, as the meat from the mammoth would last the tribe for weeks. The young hunter had been instrumental in the hunt and delivered the killing blow. The hunters were jubilant and offered him the heart of the beast, which he happily consumed. After the butchering was completed, the group moved to a clearing in the woods to spend the night before heading home. The dark-haired youth grinned cockily as he approached a nearby spring to quench his thirst and bathe. He stopped dead as an unfamiliar scent washed over him, causing a physical reaction he had not previously experienced. The source of the scent was crouched at the edge of the spring, drinking the cool, refreshing water. Even though they had no spoken language, and therefore no word for what he was feeling, the message was clear. Mate! Acting purely on instinct, the young hunter strode over to the man by the pool, his erection leading the way. He knelt next to the man and reached for his dick with one hand as his other caressed the man’s ass, his finger briefly flitting over the most intimate of places. The other man’s eyes widened in shock, and he grabbed a stone, smashing it against the dark-haired hunter’s head. He fell to the ground, unconscious. The young hunter awoke the next morning with a splitting headache. He sat up groggily and felt the blood that crusted his face from the gaping head wound. He crawled to the spring and drank deeply before plunging his head into the cool water, cleaning away the dried blood. He stood up, and after a brief moment of dizziness, managed to make his way to the clearing where the hunters spent the night. There was no trace of them. The young man knew the way home, however, and two days later he arrived at the cluster of caves during the middle of the great feast celebrating the hunters’ return. Silence descended upon the tribe as the young man entered the celebratory circle. The man from the spring grew white upon the sight of the dark-haired youth he was sure he’d killed. Through gestures he indicated to the tribe the events that happened at the spring. When the young hunter didn’t deny them, the tribe leader picked up a branch and set it in the fire. He gestured for the young man to come close. The naïve youth realized too late what the leader had in mind, and his screams echoed throughout the forest as the hot brand seared the side of his face. He ran into the forest and never attempted to return. The hunter turned and ran away from the crippled man in the clearing, heading toward the cave he’d lived in since spring. He entered the small cave cautiously, then lowered his spear when he determined it was clear. He lay down on a pile of furs, burrowing deeply. Sleep eluded him. The scent of the crippled man remained strong and provoked a physical response he hadn’t experienced since that fateful night at the spring. He touched his erection and gasped at the sensations that coursed through his body. He wrapped his hand around it, and the movement caused him to cry out in ecstasy as white fluid spurted all over his hairy chest. He fell asleep with a smile on his face, remembering the other man’s scent and the sensations he’d just experienced. Hours later he sat bolt upright, grabbing his spear. His attention was drawn to the mouth of the cave as he heard a slow scraping sound steadily approaching. He raised the weapon, preparing to throw it when the strong scent hit his nostrils, causing him to pause and then lower it. The man from the clearing hobbled closer, hands outstretched. He set something down on the ground, backed away, sat, and waited. The hunter approached warily. He flicked open the skin with the tip of his spear, finding the meat he’d left behind when he fled the other man’s presence. The scent of the other man overwhelmed the hunter. His body physically responded, but he also felt other emotions he couldn’t make sense of. A low growl drew their attention to the mouth of the cave. A small tiger prowled toward them, drawn by the scent of the meat and the crippled human who would be easy prey. The tiger leapt toward the smaller man. The hunter threw his spear. Through a combination of skill and blind luck, the spear entered through the tiger’s eye, felling it immediately. The hunter was instantly upon it, twisting its thick neck with a sickening crunch. His first thought was of the smaller man cowering on the ground. He knelt by the man’s side and gently touched his shoulder. The fear in the man’s eyes evoked a response foreign to the dark-haired hunter. He would’ve given his life to protect the man with the intoxicating scent. The smaller man let out a soft cry and embraced the larger hunter, burrowing his face into the man’s furry chest. The hunter realized they could no longer stay there. The scent of the slain tiger would attract more predators. He retrieved his sharpened stone and butchered as much meat as he could carry, adding it to the skin containing the venison. He walked over to his pile of furs and handed them to the shivering smaller man, who donned them gratefully. The hunter held out his hand and helped the crippled man to his feet. He bent down and gestured for the other man to get on his back. The hunter’s burdens were heavy, but his heart was light, as he carried his mate, their supplies, and his weapons out of the cave in search of new shelter for them both.
  21. 1 point
    Chapter Sixteen: The Bargain With no distinction between night and day Lanyon had no idea of how long he sat in his cell. It did not matter. All he could think of was the danger Avery was in. Why were they separated? Was he being kept in another cell? He doubted it. Avery was too rare a prize to waste in the brig. He was ruminating on just that when another prisoner was shoved in his cell. “Avery!” The figure remained where he fell. When he reached him he saw it was not Avery but Talon. “Not you again.” “Please… please don’t hurt me.” His eyes were bloodshot and crusted with dried tears. All over him were deep black bruises. He had clearly been tortured. “Naw… you’re not worth the effort.” Stepping away He found himself dragging Talon along. The kid was clinging to him like a suckered squid. “Hey get off me.” “Don’t leave me. I can’t be alone. I can’t.” Lanyon didn’t know why, but he began to suspect that Talon’s injuries had been self inflicted. “Talon, where’s Puggles?” “They took him from me… Please, please don’t leave me alone.” Poor kid. He has had never known a moment left by himself. “I guess I can keep you company for a bit.” Practically dragged to the floor he did what he could to comfort the lad. It took a while but when he was sure Lanyon would not run off he calmed down enough to sleep. “If you weren’t such a brat I might come to like you.” Lanyon combed the knots out of Talon’s hair while he slept. When the cell doors opened again it was Avery who entered. “Ave!” Bolting to his feet Lanyon practically tackled his friend. “What the hell is going on? Are you alright? Let me take a look. If they’ve dared hurt you I’ll…” “I’m fine Lan… As fine as I can be.” “What do you mean?” “Wait.” Avery went over to where Talon was cowering in a corner. Reaching into a pocket he handed him a blue vial. “Here.” Talon consumed its contents in a single gulp. Whatever it contained took effect quickly. The bruises faded and his skin gained back a little of its color. Talon’s trembling muscles relaxed to stillness. “Puggles?” “You will see him soon.” “What did you just give him?” “They call it Blue. I don’t have a clue to what it really is or how it works. Talon mentioned it once but until now I’ve never seen its effects.” Talon chuckled, a wide grin on his face. Lanyon took note of it. “Seems to do more than heal. Probably addictive.” “Yeah… better for us to avoid it completely.” “Have they offered you any?” “Not yet though I don’t know why. From what I understand it’s part of their daily diet.” “I…” Seeing Avery again and safe left Lanyon mute. That did not mean he could not share his sense of relief. He pinned Avery against the nearest wall. He peeled away their clothes. Like a starved man reaching for bread his hand grabbed at Avery’s flesh. If Avery wanted to protest his mouth over his lips silenced him. Just as he reached for Ave’s belt, Avery switched their positions just in time to take the full force of a stun bolt. “Ave!” Avery collapsed into Lan’s arms. He looked for the shooter but he caught only the tail end of the fleeing guard’s cloak. “Why Ave, why?” Carefully he lowered his friend on a cot. The spot where the bolt hit was red but flesh appeared undamaged. “Don’t leave me,” Ave whispered. “Leave you? Not in this life.” Catching a movement in the shadow out of the corner of his eyes. He twisted about to find the slaughtered head of the guard rolling at the foot of the cot. The thrower stood three feet behind him. He was covered head to foot in black armor. Even his face was covered. In both hands he wielded a staff with tipped with two foot blades on either end with a just as long grip in the center. Talon, seeing the head and the staff’s wielder screamed. “Silence!” The man commanded in deeply accented English. Avery pulled Lanyon closer. “Don’t leave me.” “Never,” he whispered back. The man with the staff commanded Lanyon to move away from Avery. “Stand aside Centarii.” “No… you stand aside.” “You dare defy me?” “Where Ave is concerned yes. “The masked man pressed a sword tip against Lanyon’s chest. Even when it cut into his flesh he didn’t budge. When it became clear that he would not back down, the mask man threw the weapon against the opposite wall and screamed in defeat. Tossing his mask aside he went to his knees. “Please Ave, I’ll give you whatever you want. Don’t let this fool stand between us.” Lanyon turned back to face Avery. “What is this?” “The price of your life.” Avery sat up and turned his attention to the Segundo. “He is a part of me. To harm him is to harm us.” “Then I will spare his life.” “No! You will do more than that. He is to remain with me. Remain with us. If you want me to accept you then you must accept him.” Everett clenched his jaw but nodded. Avery wasn’t done with his list of demands. “You will give Puggles back to Talon.” “I will give both to you but I will not give them back to each other.” Avery knew better than to demand more. “If you do these things and find my father I will stay with you until a way home is found.” “And after?” “You will have to decide what matters to you more: me or the Maze.” “You would take me back to your world?” “Only you and no other. I will not let you deliver the horrors of your world to Earth.” “You are asking too much. How can I give up all I have strived for?” “The decision is yours. If ruling the Maze is more important to you than me you must swear you will let us go.” “By the Personas you deal a hard bargain but it is fair. If I value my throne more than I will come to value you than I have no right to keep you.” Everett took Avery’s hands in his. “Will you give me your hand?” “I… I do.” “You have made me the happiest man in the Maze. We’ll have a ceremony at once. I’ll see to everything. The towering Segundo headed out of the cell. “You will not regret this.” Lanyon kept his silence until he was sure Everett was gone. “You might not but I do. What are you think Ave? What about Karl? What about us?” “It is the only way we can survive. Without his protection we will find ourselves the lab rats of the Personas. He is also the only one who can help us find my dad.” “Do you love him? Can you?” “He is a Walker.” Aaron said as if that explained everything. On returning to the Fisher Estate Karl focused his full attention on reading through the companies files on Lordon and Walker Industries. What he found didn’t bode well for him, Ave, or the Dozens. Cal was proving quite skilled in diverting the attention of his father’s old friends in the company. Robert was putty in his hands and willing became one of the Dozens. Soon Robert, also a lawyer would replace his father as Fisher Industries chief legal consol. The same steps were being taken to replace the board with men loyal to Cal. Only when the time was right would Karl take full control. Karl was buried in a stack of files dealing with recent nano research when he felt a pair of hands massage his neck. “Mmmm that feels nice.” “I’m glad.” Cal whispered. “I think you’re due a break.” Reaching around he pulled his husband into his lap. “You might be right. There is so much I need to learn.” “Why not delegate? We have plenty of experts on the payroll.” “When I think of egg heads… hot and sexy doesn’t come in mind.” “They don’t have to be among the Dozen.” “I don’t think I can trust someone who isn’t.” “There are always the Symbiotes.” “I do not think I could stomach doing that to another man.” “Just a suggestion.” As Cal walked away he left of trail of clothes behind him. Greatly tempted to follow Karl turned his gaze on the picture he kept on the desk. It should him and Ave shirtless and in each other’s arms. For Ave it had been an innocent act. For Karl it had always meant much more. Each time he felt his determination weaken he gazed at the photo to remind himself what the true prize was. His commitment to Ave was share by the original Double Dozen but not the newer ones. They only desired tender affections of the originals. That would cause problems one day but not before he had Ave back. “You summoned me master.” Captain Ryan Gains was one of the few of the newer Dozens that he trusted as much as one of the original Dozen. It took a while for him to discover the reason why. But thanks to contacts within the Pentagon he learned that the Captain’s father had been part of the mission that Thad Labatt had led to find Ave’s dad. “Come over here.” Karl slapped his empty lap. The redhead’s lips form a wide grin. “More than happy to.” Karl dropped his pants to his knees, freeing his erect cock. After he gave the captain a good ride they retreated to a spy-proof conference room. “What more have you learned about your father’s mission?” “Not much. Unlike Winters and Labatt, he never came back. According to the debriefing Colonel Labatt made on their return he had been among the men who ended up trapped in the Maze when the Relic gateway had been destroyed. “Who destroyed it and why?” “Your father and Avery’s led a revolt at Walker’s secret base. They intentionally led Walker into the Maze then destroyed the Relic and trap him there.” “Why not kill him?” “I do not know but they must have had a good reason.” “From what I’ve read on Lordon’s records of the Eye Ave’s dad and Travis were both born in the Maze but influenced by polar opposite gateways, the Eye and the Relic. That might be the source of the bond between them. They might not have killed Travis because Ave’ dad wouldn’t let it happen but I’m only guessing.” “Makes sense given your bond to Ave. Most of the Dozen are decedents of those born under the influence of the Relic. Beside’s Ave you’re the only one who’s father was influenced by the Eye who is a member of the original Double Dozens.” “True. We need to know more however.” “Is that the mission you have for me?” “Part of it. It is as you said. I am the only one other original other than Ave who was born under the influence of the Eye. You might not be an original but so where you. Where were you born by the way?” “I assumed it was before my father went on that mission but I can’t say for sure.” “I am however. You were one of those Ave’s father brought back with him. That is why I trust you more than the new Dozens . You were not only influenced by the Eye but by Ave’s dad as well. That is why I am sending you into the Maze. To find Ave and if possible our dads, yours included.” “I am honored by your trust in me. Will I be going alone?” “You can take whoever you want with you. The only condition I have is that they were made a part of the Dozens by no one other than you or me.” Ryan clearly like the idea of that. “That actually sounds fun.” “Consider it a going away party.” “What of Cal?” The Captain was all business again. “He has his uses but there is something about him I do not trust. There’s a streak of jealousy in him I’m uncomfortable with. I will have to deal with it eventually but not before Ave returns.” “If there is a member of the Dozens you cannot trust then that person should be eliminated.” “Are you offering to do the deed?” “If you so order it.” “I might have to but not now. I will have the originals keep a closer eye on him. I am fond of him but Ave comes first.” “You and me both.” He gave Karl a salute. Karl replied with a kiss and a grope. Julian would have put more of his people around the Fisher Estate but that would have drawn too much attention. They were not all that needed given he had the perfect spy he could depend on. It had not been hard to convince Fisher’s chief consul the need to take steps to remove Labatt and his friends as a threat to Cal and the company. Breaking Cal fully from his conditioning was impossible without killing him. Weakening it was possible. It involved the use of emotional altering drugs delivered by nanos. Having Glenn’s son put the drug in his food was easy enough. Even though Rob had quickly been converted afterwards the drug needed only be delivered once. Slowly but surely the drug would weaken his connection to the others. His growing isolation would lead to paranoia. His paranoia would lead to his betraying the Dozens. His betrayal would bring the Dozens back under Julian’s control. Julian’s people were already feeding his fears with stories of Karl’s undying love for Avery. Karl’s own obsession of getting the Winters back only served to aid Julian. When the time was right he would push Cal over the edge. It would be a blood bath. Karl would survive… Cal would not dare harm him. But before the smoke cleared the gestalt Karl had carefully built would be in ruins. He and the survivors could then be dealt with without a fuss. There was only one flaw to the plan. If Karl were to find Avery before Julian could use Cal then no matter how many killed the gestalt would be unbreakable. If only the Board had not forbidden he not harm the two. “Damn you Amanda. You risk ruining everything we’ve work for.”
  22. 1 point
    Ode to a Perfect Willy Willy McAdam, man of our time, Perfect and punctual, always in line. Buy you a drink? Lager and lime? Willy McAdam, man of our time. Willy McAdam, man of our time, No longer young, still in his prime. A drink would be great. Bottle of wine? Willy McAdam, man of our time. Awaking each morning, alone in his bed, Living with mother, until she be dead. Breakfast is ready her voice calls on through, Crispies or toast? One piece or two? Hop to the bathroom, jump in the shower, Hopelessly useless, lacking in power. Scraping his chin, brushing his teeth, Using his hand to find some relief. Catching the bus, a beautiful day, Giving his seat to the lady in grey. Perfect gent, but what would they say, If only they knew that Willy was gay? Coming alive, subduing a sigh, Onto the bus comes one with blue eyes. Greeting the man, unwilling to ask, Nodding politely, retaining the mask. Boarding as always on 5439, Regular as clockwork, always on time. Young and attractive, full of intrigue, Distant and lofty, out of his league. Private emotion, hidden desire, Physical attraction, lighting his fire. Desperate to add a name to that face, Hanging his head in shameful disgrace. Willy is here, they call on arrival, At last, someone cries; he has no rival. Help me to do it, a colleague does plead, Willy's our man, he's what we need. A popular man for what he can give, Helping and building, making it live. Quietly eating his lunch on his own, Watching them happily chat on the phone. Join us tonight, out for a drink, Reluctant when pressed, just let me think. Come, they all plead, we'll go for a jive, Down in reception, meet us at five. Why did he come, he wonders inside, The noise is too much and nowhere to hide. Taking his drink he sits by the fire, Stares into flames reaching higher and higher. A life meant for sharing, shouldn't it be? They could all do it, why couldn't he? Without being asked, he knew what they’d say, Probably hate him if guessed he was gay. Wished it were different, can't change a thing, No hope of romance, never a ring. No point in dwelling on what wouldn't falter, He'd hardly be making that trip to the alter. Couldn't be angry, bitter or mad, No one to blame for why he was sad. A mother at home for whom he should care, That was his purpose, why he was there. Time to go home, dinner to make, Watches to check, excuses to fake. Just enough minutes to the 5439, To drink up his glass of lager and lime. Ready to stand, looks up in surprise, Mind if I sit asks the man with blue eyes? See you each day when we wave on the bus, Don't really know you, but my name is Gus. Both of them knew it, it was there in the eyes, No longer hidden by secrets and lies. My name is Will, my friends call me Willy, Try not to giggle, I know it sounds silly. Can I get you a drink? A lager and lime? Why did that sound, like your place or mine? We talked by the fire, he knew it was right, Came out of the darkness and into the light. I'm not what you think, he said with a sigh, A smile came from Gus: neither am I. I've watched you for months on the 5439, Hoping to meet you, biding my time. Surrounded by friends, glasses of wine, Raising our toasts, making him mine. Holding him close. So perfect, divine. Willy McAdam, man of our time.
  23. 1 point
    I lay in my bed, shivering under the covers. I couldn't make a noise, couldn't stop the darkness when it came to smother me. I lay gasping over and over trying to get enough air in my lungs to release a scream. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, but I could feel. The fear, sharp and acrid, was punctuated by a flash of blinding pain. I managed to sit up and scream when then, trembling violently as I huddled against the wall in the darkness. My father rushed into my room and flicked on the light beside my bed. "Velaku, are you okay? What is it, what happened?" I wrapped my arms around his waist and cried into his warm skin. His wings folded around me, brushing gently down my back in sharp contrast to the pain I had felt in my dream. Here was comfort and peace, a warm haven to take away the fear and misery that I dreamed about every few nights. He always came to comfort me; every time I cried out he woke me and held me until I calmed. He asked about the nightmare, but I couldn't speak of what happened to me in the dreams. This time had been the worst one, never before had they been so real. I had felt actual physical sensation and pain rather than just the sense of foreboding and overwhelming fear in the darkness. "Velaku, look at me." My father pulled my chin up to stare into my wet eyes. "This dream holds power over you as long as you allow it. It cannot harm you if you do not let it. Whatever happens it isn’t happening to you, not really. It’s not real." "I know it's not real," I whispered, unable to speak louder with my throat so raw from the violent screaming and tears that clogged it. I continued to tremble and had to fight to speak at all. “I don't know how to stop the fear. I don't understand why it keeps coming, I don’t want to dream like this but it won’t go away." "In time, you will learn why you bear this burden I am sure. The why of things in life are rarely so easily answered. But for right now you have me. I will be here whenever you fear your dreams and together we will try to find a way to beat them. Remember, my wings will always shelter you in times of trouble." I nodded and trembled a little as I rested my small head against his chest. He held me and rocked me for a time before he laid me back down, pulling up the powder blue sheets and my cloud coverlet and kissed my forehead. That was all the reassurance my child mind needed. But still the dreams continued. It wasn’t for several years after that night that my father went to work one day and never returned. My teenage mind didn't grasp the import of the whispers and fearful looks that went on for days. I knew something was wrong when I asked my mother each day where my father was but I had such confidence in his promise that he would always be there for me I accepted her feeble reassurances and shrugged off the vague worry I felt deep inside. Then one night I had another nightmare. It started off with the same lack of sensation but the fear and the pain were more intense than ever. A sense of heat and blood, the taste and smell filled my senses. I felt almost as if I was experiencing the dream in truth. I was somehow aware of my body lying in my bed yet I was unable to wake up. I could feel things, things that felt like they were shifting inside of me. I tried desperately to wake up, used all the will I possessed to stop the dream. I finally lunged upright and gasped before an agonized scream tore from my throat. My mother rushed into my room, the bright light from the living room dazzling my eyes from where I huddled against the wall. When she sat next to me crooning I saw the tears falling down her cheeks. "Where is he, Mother? Where is he?" I needed my father; I needed his wings and his promise of safety. She pulled my head back with both her hands to look into my eyes, the cobalt blue eyes I got from my father. "We got a phone call tonight from the police. They found your father but he was hurt by some bad people. He can't come home to us sweetheart, he was just hurt too bad. But now he's up in the currents soaring the sky forever while he waits for us to join him. He will always watch over you but he can't come back home again." I didn’t understand, not at first. She kept stroking my face as tears slipped down hers to drip on her blouse. I shook my head and frowned as I mouthed her words silently as I tried to make sense of them. I shrieked over and over when it finally sank in that my father would never return to earth, never fold his wings around me and tell me it would all be okay. I tore out of my mother's arms and ran from the house. The cliff was so close and I fell to my knees at the very edge, keening my sorrow and fierce hatred of those who had taken my father from me. I wanted to leap off and join him in the skies though I had no wings; I wanted to hunt those responsible down and rend them to pieces with my blunt, talonless fingers and stop them from ever hurting anyone else. Mostly I wanted the comfort of a father now forever beyond my reach. I could hear my mother singing my hatchling song to try and calm me, but my pain was too much to respond to her as I keened my grief, rocking back and forth with my arms wrapped around my body. Hours later I slumped unconscious at the rim of the ledge, one arm reaching out to the air currents that slipped up the cliff face to caress my hand as I mourned the loss of my father. A sharp pain took me; all of a sudden I was back in the darkness of my dreams. This time I could hear a voice, one that hissed up and down in my mind, a strange chanting wail that pulled at something inside me just like it had earlier. Trapped, my body pinned down in the dream, all I could feel was a burning in my back and hands, a flash of sharp white hot pain that both woke me instantly and stunned me as motionless as I had been held in the dream. I heard a tearing sound and felt my shirt split up the back to hang loosely from my arms. At the end of each finger was a long talon that was curved sharp and deadly. I buried them in the ground, trying to hold on to my sanity. This couldn’t be happening. I tried to stand up, to find my mother. I felt it as wings unfurled from the buds on my back, like a muscle stretching beyond its limit, bowing my body in pain and tearing a new scream from my throat. There was an echo in my mind but I was too focused on the pain to understand that it wasn't coming from me. My mother came running from out of the house toward me but she stopped and stared in shock, one hand over her mouth. I panted, on my knees again with my head resting on my arms on the hard ground as the pain slowly subsided. Hearing my mother gasp, I opened my eyes and saw a great shadow on the ground around me. I looked up into the snowy white that surrounded me. It was my wings, torn from my back years before they should. Not only that, but they were a blinding white with a snow red drop on the tip of each feather. The shock of seeing them was too much on top of everything else and I fainted. I didn’t hear my mother call for help and I didn’t see the stares of the Falcons who came at her call. I roused slightly and twitched as they moved me to my room and laid me down carefully on the bed to wait for the doctor. My mind had decided that my body had enough shocks and it was protecting me. I fell into a deep sleep that held no dreams. It was some time later when I woke up in my bed alone. The sheets were cool under my hot face as I lay there, trying to wrap my mind around what had happened. That was when I heard them, the quiet whispers from the hall. I closed my eyes quickly when my door cracked open. "See, Dr. Pannar, his wings, years early. And the colors!" My mother's voice was almost hysterical. "You say they just burst from his back? What was he doing?" "I told him about Keserem. He was keening on the cliffs, all alone. He wouldn’t let me comfort him." My mother paused and let out a quiet sob that she quickly muffled. "I was so sorry to hear about that Elalera. The loss of your mate is a great sorrow." The doctor’s voice was laced with sadness. Carthera mated for life and to lose what amounted to one’s heart and soul often meant quick death for the surviving mate who couldn’t handle the loss. "But what I need to know is exactly what Velaku doing when his wings came out." I was listening intently, keeping my eyes closed. I had never seen another flier with wings at my age and the shock I had seen in my mother’s eyes and heard in her voice stayed with me. I desperately needed to find out why I was different; the need was as great as my sorrow for my father. I didn’t want to be even more different. "He had fallen asleep at the edge of the ledge. He pushed me away to grieve on his own. He was always closest to his father so I wanted to give him some space. Life is hard for a Carthera boy his age and a mother is not what he truly needs now. I could hear him mumbling in his sleep from the hall but when he screamed I ran to him. His eyes were wild and he didn't seem to really see me. All of a sudden his wings split the back of his shirt and unfurled around him. I was so shocked I couldn't move. Then he passed out." My mother sounded scared and confused, and I longed to comfort her. She was wrong. I did need her, I loved her, but what I wanted was my father. She was right in that; but I wanted to know just then the most was what was so wrong with me. I kept up my act, trying to breathe normally though I doubted with the dim light that they could see my back under the folds of my wings. "I've never seen the wings burst on their own without a ceremony, have you?" she asked. "No. Something very strange is going on here. The wings of a fledgling have to be coaxed out after they meet their mate and blood bond. The pair is always together as they are sung out by their families." The doctor sounded as confused as my mother. "I know. I just don't understand how this happened; it’s not possible. Do you think they could have been brought on by what happened to Keserem?" "I don't know, I just don't. Do you know more of what really happened?" My mother let out a soft sob and pulled away from the doctor; he went to her and they spoke so quietly I couldn’t hear them. I heard the creak of my door shutting and almost shredded my pillow in frustration with my new talons. I knew now why my mother was so shocked over my wings coming out but I needed to hear more about my father too. I slid out of bed and tiptoed over to my door, cracking it open as slowly as I could. I strained to hear the voices in the den. "The police said . . . human hunters with lynx Carthera . . . hit his wing and hunted . . . tore him apart. “It was murder.” I could only hear parts of what she said but it was enough to unleash the fury boiling inside that my wings had made me forget. I shrieked and my wings burst open and spread behind me as I threw my head backward and announced my fury from the swollen cords of my throat. I heard an answering call in my mind but again was so distraught that I didn't think about what it meant. "Velaku!" Dr. Pannar pulled open my door and stared at me in shock. The light fell on my wings and the red drops seemed to throb as my wings rose and fell with each harsh breath. "Your eyes, oh Gods, your eyes." He seemed frightened, stepping backward until he slammed into the wall. "Velaku, you need to listen to me. You must calm down, you must master this rage." I tried to listen to my mother, tried to obey, but it was so hard. I felt the pain of my father's murder burning in my veins as I opened hands now tipped by lethal talons. I was in full hunter mode and my anger surged and burned my veins as if it was acid burning me from the inside. My eyes glowed red as if the fires of righteous wrath burned from them. The image I saw in the mirror shocked me but not enough to loosen the hold the rage had on me. "My son, please, please, stop this." My stare snapped from the doctor standing in my way to my mother trilling my hatchling song, trying to bring calmness and peace to my soul. It lessened the killing rage, but I was still unable to talk, my thoughts only of the revenge I was sworn to visit upon my father’s killers. "Your father would not want this, for you to follow him into death. You must not do this; you are not ready. You must calm yourself.” She stood in the doorway, one hand held up as if that could stop me if I tried to escape. My voice was distorted, harsh with the urge to shriek my fury until all knew that I was on the hunt. My voice was a harsh croak. "My father would not want his killers free to savage more people or clan!" She shook her head. "That is not your call yet. You are still a youngling, no matter how early your wings and talons come. You must wait, bide your time. I will not stand in your way after you reach your maturity and find your mate. If you must act now then call the Falcons. Put them on the hunt." She took a step toward me, hand still out. “You can still act in honor.” I stood rooted to the floor, her calm words bringing sense if not peace to my mind. I resented it even as I knew she was right; I did not even know how to use my wings and claws yet. I shuddered as I pushed down the fiery fury until it was a hard icy ball lodged deep inside. My core was now bathed in the ice of a grim purpose. "My father's people belong to me, the clan belongs to me," I said proudly, furling my wings to lay flat against my back. "Bring me Mishtar. The Falcons will hunt this day!"
  24. 1 point
    "You called for me, Velaku?" Mishtar was a strong warrior, his form slim like all bird Carthera but with long, lean muscles cording his body and magnificent black and brown wings held proudly behind him. He was the epitome of our warriors, a Carthera most worthy of respect. He had risen through the ranks quickly after he mated and became the leader for the Falcons at just twenty six, younger than any before him. I had always looked up to him as the Falcon I wanted to be. Today, he was dressed in black jeans and a special leather jerkin that left his wings free to move behind him. He was armed; the attack on my father had the clans on high alert. His chest was crossed by blades and throwing stars to use from his preferred place to attack; flying above his enemies to rain down death from the skies. "My father was murdered by a lynx Carthera working with humans," I said bitterly, my rage burning brighter just from saying the words. I fought to control my anger, digging my new talons into my legs in an attempt to pull me away from the urge to enter hunting mode and kill everyone in my way until my father’s murderers lay dead before me. Mishtar eyed my wings twitching behind me. The snowy white wings arched behind my head and the feathers made a ruffling noise as I fought to keep them folded. “Are these local humans?” Mishtar asked fiercely. “Do you know who betrayed your father? Was it one of the local Lynx clan?” “I’m not sure.” The humans that lived nearby were our allies; we worked with them to improve the life of the Carthera in their society, not against them. In the past we had to hide who we were and live on the fringes in game preserves or hidden eyries. That had all changed in the last generation. Humans and Carthera in our region had found a way to make peace. The thought that some of the men that my father had met with, that he had helped and been helped by in return, were traitors was enough made me sick. That a member of the local Lynx clan would go against my father, the leader of all Carthera in our region, would be even more unthinkable. We were not animals, but we obeyed a hierarchy that was as instinctual as our animal brethren. In nature, a falcon would not defeat a lynx but the benefit of a human brain mixed with the advantage our wings gave us in battle made the Falcon Clan the deadliest of our kind. We could not deny all aspects of our nature even as we became more civilized. Fights for power, position, or for land had always been our way, but things were slowly changing. Obviously someone was trying to stage a coup of some sort to overthrow my father's leadership of the local Carthera clans. There had been signs of something big happening that my father had hid from the Council, the clan leaders that made up his advisors. I knew more than my mother supposed, my father having begun my instruction some time before his death. I thought I was prepared for whatever we faced but I never expected my father to die. I hadn't known about the overwhelming surge of hormones that would hit me when my wings came out though. I had no way of knowing if every newly transformed Falcon felt this way, and I was too afraid to ask. Carthera transform when they mate, during a complex ceremony held in front of the clan. My transformation occurred with no warning, no mating. I was a freak and what if this rage was a sign to others that I was unfit for leadership? I couldn’t let my father’s plans fail. It was hard; I could barely stop the killing rage from overtaking me from moment to moment. I struggled with myself to keep it out of my voice, but I would not fail my father or our people. I would keep it together. I would save my people no matter what the cost was to me personally. "I need you and your wing squad to find them. It won't be easy, this happened far from here, on the outskirts of our territory near south eastern Oregon. Find out who killed my father and bring them to me if you can. I will be satisfied with their deaths but I need much more information than I have. Someone is behind all this, directing the troubles that have been cropping up all over our land. My father told me this before he left. “That . . . that was why he was traveling, trying to find out who was behind the attacks when he was killed!” My voice rose in volume as I stood up, pounding my fist on the desk in front of me. “I want answers. I want retribution. I want their deaths!" I had to stop and calm myself. I was breathing hard as I closed my eyes and bowed my head, fighting the urge to dig my talons into the beautifully carved desk that my father had sat at for so many years but would never sit at again. I heard the sound of a fist striking a strong chest. I looked up, opening my eyes to see Mishtar bowed before me, honoring me even though he was a seasoned warrior and leader of the Falcons and I was nothing but an untrained boy. “Your father trained me himself; I will not let his memory down. I swear the Falcons will not rest until we have the answers you seek.” His face was hard as he swore his oath, a deadly promise. I knew he would avenge my father as I couldn’t even as I struggled with my desire to be the one who led the attack against our enemies. I stared into his eyes, at the promise burning so fiercely, then returned his salute. I watched silently as he walked away. He needed no more orders than I gave him. Mishtar would track down all the intel available and then plan his next moves without any need of more orders for me. I sank down in the chair and thought of all the decisions my father made in this room, all the times he sent men off on dangerous missions. It was hard to trust that Mishtar would know the best way to handle the investigation, but I had to let him do it his own way. My father had ruled over the many groups of Carthera that owed him allegiance and lived in the territory he claimed and protected. He always told me to issues as few orders as possible; the more you told a person what to do and how to do it the more you would have to. I held those treasured bits of advice already shared but knew I had lost the bulk of my father's wisdom with his death. My sorrow swelled and I stood up abruptly, unable to sit at his place any longer. I sought out my mother. The remainder of my evening was spent with her, sharing our memories of my father and tears to lessened the sadness of his passing. The next day would be the formal death ceremony for our clan; all those who lived in our eyrie would attend. There was no reason to delay the ceremony, even though we didn’t have his body, but I wanted to hold off on an enclave of the Carthera leaders to give formal announcement of death. I couldn’t tell them what I didn’t know until I had heard back from Mishtar. So many questions were still unanswered. Full of anger and pain, I didn’t sleep at all that night. *** The fledglings that I had known all my life held back from me at the ceremony. I was no longer one of them, though not much bigger in form yet. My wings seemed larger by comparison to my slim and sleek body than the other youth I stood among. Their unusual coloring, the stark white and red, stood out among the wings of the men of our tribe, most of which were rich browns, yellows, and blacks like our bird cousins. I stood on the edge of the cliff where I had mourned my father alone just two days before and watched the flight of the women of our tribe as they looped and danced in the air celebrating the life that my father lived. The men provided the beat with their feet before launching into the air, swirling and diving among the lighter colors of the women. The youth and younglings kept stomping and joined in with a low chant. Above it all rose the keening call of my mother as she sang the ululating death song of our tribe. She held the final note until all the dancers had set down, her body still hovering above the ground with her head thrown back to the sky. Wings settled as the last note echoed into a deep silence as she finally ended the song to honor my father. She slowly drifted to the ground, crumpling to her knees. I knelt next to her and wrapped her in my arms as her tears silently flowed down her cheeks. One by one the people of our tribe came and touched us, soothing gestures of love and comfort, reminding us we weren't alone, that our nest mate was gone but we remained firmly in the land of the living. We were still connected to our clan. When the last person left, we still sat together rocking with our eyes closed. It was some time later before my mother's tears finally slowed and came to a shuddery halt. I hugged her as tight as I could and she hugged me back in an equally fierce grip before finally before sitting up and wiping her eyes. "Let's go home, Velaku." Keeping our arms around each other, we slowly walked to our house on the center ledge. We spent the day speaking softly of my father again, remembering the love and protection he had shared so freely. I went to bed and fell into a deep slumber, exhausted from lack of sleep and the catharsis of the ceremony. I woke up whimpering in terror. My dream had returned. I didn’t scream this time though; my fear was too great for that. I had been in locked in a pitch black darkness, feeling my body twist and change, and then an agonizing pain in my back and sides. My hands shook and I whimpered as I moved. I hurt even now. What was happening to me? *** The next day gave me an odd feeling of dichotomy. People returned to the normal routine their jobs and their lives even though mine felt like it was destroyed. The fledglings were gathered on the grassy lawn for their Jintue lesson before it was time to leave for class. We had integrated into the public school system some years before I entered grade school and quickly found that our smaller size often made bullies think they could prey on us. But we were Carthera and not weak. From almost the first moment we could walk we were taught Jintue. It was a fighting style specifically suited to our smaller, lighter bodies. We moved fast, attacking and blurring away before returning to hit the next weak point until our larger prey was down. Other Carthera came close to our speed but none truly matched it. Coupled with our wings and talons after we matured, we were a force like no other. The humans quickly came to know this and their children began to respect our fledglings and the bullying mostly stopped. But still we trained. At the same time that the fledglings learned ground maneuvers, the youths trained at flying and weapons under the tutelage of several retired members of the Falcons. They called out instructions and orders to the pairs learning to fly together in loud voices. This was where the Jintue lessons became the basis of the true fighting style of our clans. The youths learned to dive through the air to strike and then dart away; their body, wings, and weapons a harmonious blend that brought death to those who tried to strike or stand against it. Each youth trained with their mate, learned to fight with them, and how to protect each other. It was to this area of the training field I made my way that strange morning, sent away by the fledgling instructor. "Velaku!” An older man with grizzled hair and pale brown wings approached me slowly. Dorvan was a very old friend of my father’s. I trusted him like I trust no other in our clan. "You are here to train?" "Yes. I am . . . uncomfortable in my new form and find myself quickly changing." My pants had been tight this morning and a bit short. My jerkin had no longer closed over my chest and stomach. My muscles were much more defined, if still small. The changes brought about by my transformation were rapidly maturing my body and mind but the effects were not instant. I tugged on my leather jerkin again. "I need to learn to use these too," I said as I pointed at my wings. I didn't know if I should be excited or scared. "I've just the partner for you, Ningaven's mate is ill today. You can partner with her." Ningaven was a friend, though a few years older than me. She had found her mate a few months before. I nodded my agreement as I fit on my wrist and ankle sheaths. They held only dull practice blades since the first thing every youth had to learn was how to fly without falling on their butt. I thought I was prepared for that, but Ningaven and Dorvan taught me differently. Ningaven's high ringing laugh pealed out of her mouth when I first tried to take off. I forgot to close my eyes and the dirt kicked up by my wings blinded me. I scowled and tried again, remembering to close my eyes until I got a set of eye covers. My wings swept down, once, twice, and I lifted into the air. I thought I was secure so I tried to turn around to give her a smug look. My right wing didn't beat properly and I ended up almost on my side in the air. I panicked and my wings fluttered wildly before I crashed back onto the ground to land in a twisted heap. I groaned, ignoring her giggles as I flopped over onto my stomach and gave my tender wings a shake. "Laugh it up, Ningaven." "Oh, I will," she managed to squeeze out in between fits of laughter. She smiled at me. "Don't worry, Tallsin and I both tumbled the first time we tried to fly too." Ningaven managed to stop laughing finally, but her eyes still twinkled in amusement as she grinned at me. "We made the same mistake. You can't hover that low to the ground unless you have a lot more momentum built up. Up higher you have the air currents to glide on; they help keep you from getting too tired or falling straight down when you lose the beat. “C'mon, I'll show you!" She took a few steps away from me, stretching out her wings. I stood up and watched her take off. I could see the muscles in her lean legs flex and bunch before she gave a leap and shot into the air rising upward by powerful thrusts of her gray and black wings. She rose quickly before swooping back down toward me. "What are you waiting for, come on! Fly!" I bent my knees and shoved hard against the earth, leaving its support for the freedom of the skies. This time I kept going until I felt the warm winds buffet me. I was grinning from the excitement of my first real flight. Every fledgling dreamed of the day he found his mate and got his wings. I loved the feeling of flying but felt the lack of a mate as I took a few moments to look at the pairs around me before Ningaven called over to me. "Open up your wings a bit more and catch this updraft." She soared away and I beat my wings up and down, stretching them wide to catch the thrust of a warm updraft send me shooting after her. I quickly caught up to her before she swooped away again, whooping and laughing. I mimicked her movements, my body twisting and dipping along the constantly shifting winds, reaching out and snagging a handful of her jerkin before I darted away. We played tag in the air and I quickly learned how to shift my wings and body to maneuver through the skies. In the air there was a freedom of body that I had never really been able to come close to imagining my daydreaming of mating and transformation. "Alright you two, time to stop playing around. Let's put him through the beginning exercises, Ningaven," Dorvan bellowed from the ground. We stopped our game and hovered obediently about thirty feet up in the air. I was breathing hard but quickly recovered. "Do you remember the first balance exercise from Jintue?" Ningaven asked. "Of course." I held out my hands, palms flat and facing her. Ningaven put her hands against mine and then gave a great beat of her wings to shove against me. I instantly lost contact with her hands, unable to flow backward gracefully with her forward movement. It took a moment of beating my wings quickly to regain control. "Huh, that's a lot harder up here,” I said with a frown. "Try again!" Dorvan called. When the same thing happened he yelled up at us, "Again, again!" until I began to learn to adjust my wings and flow backwards with the force Ningaven exerted without letting our hands lose contact. Soon I was pressing back against her in return, following her as she gave gracefully before coming to a stop, with our hands still resting palm to palm. "Good! Balance is the key when fighting in the air. You can't do the throws and body jabs that you learned for combat on the ground but there is much else to learn," Dorvan said in a pleased voice. He continued to put us through the basic workout I had seen the youths do each day long past the normal time, keeping us working until the sun rose high in the sky. I wasn't going to school where my transformation and hormones would be a dangerous mixed with the humans. Ningaven stayed to train with me, her mate unable to escort her to college. Carthera males were very protective of our females. By the time we were permitted to land I was trembling and panting with exhaustion. I didn't feel too bad about my condition though; Ningaven looked a little worse for the wear too. "Go, eat some lunch and rest. I am sure Tallsin is wondering when you are going to show up, Ningaven. Velaku, come back this afternoon at three; I will be available then for the private instruction you requested." "Bye, Velaku." Ningaven waved at me over her shoulder. She was already walking away to find Tallsin. Newly mated couples did not spend much time apart. “Thanks Ningaven!” I waved back to her and then turned to the exacting instructor who had pushed me so hard all morning. "Thank you Dorvan, I just feel that I need to learn as much as I can as fast as I can." Dorvan clasped me on the shoulder. "I understand. Your father would be very proud of you, I am. Remember, three o'clock. You won’t like what happens if you are late." I nodded, somber at the mention of my father. I would avenge him, no matter how much work I had to do. I had no mate and the Carthera council would not convene for another two months unless I called an emergency session. Nothing else mattered but training and finding his killers.
  25. 1 point
    I had no way to tell how long I had been out or where we were when I woke up. My mouth tasted awful, a bitter metallic flavor coated my tongue and my head was pounding. My hands were completely encased in cotton and seemed to be fastened together behind my back. My wings ached where I was laying on them and the cuts on my face throbbed. I tried to stay still to hear something from our captors that might give me some idea of where we were but I grunted when we went around a corner and my weight shifted painfully, alerting them to the fact I was awake. The man who had taunted Natham leaned over the seat I was dumped on and smirked at me. “Well, well, look who’s awake.” His eyes were dead and cold and I shivered as I met his slit pupil gaze. Snake. He was one of the Snake clan. I remained silent as I silently promised him his death. He hissed at me and I sneered. Let him underestimate me based on my size. My retribution would be all the sweeter. “Not long now, baby bird. We’ll soon have you exactly where we want you and your clan and your land will be ours. I saw your mother once with your father. She’s a delectable little tidbit. Do you think she’d sing for me while I use her before passing her to our human accomplices?” I could not remain silent. “You stay away from my mother!” I fought against my bonds but I couldn't move them an inch, my struggles earning me only pain in my wrists from the metal cutting into my skin. He gave that little hissing laugh, as if he could feel the pain and relished it. I wanted nothing more than to kill the bastard. His head moved away from my line of sight and I could hear small sounds in the backseat where Natham had been. I thumped my head back against the seat, feeling tears burn in my eyes. The men who had killed my father and tortured my mate were torturing him again and I could do nothing to stop it. I strained against my bonds, not caring when I felt hot fluid begin to drip down my wrists. I was so lost in my hate and self-recrimination that I didn’t even feel the sting of another shot before I was sucked back into unconsciousness by the drug’s insidious pull. *** This time when I woke up we were no longer moving and my arms were no longer bound together behind my back. Instead I was hanging from the ceiling, suspended by thick, cold metal bands that dug into my wrists. My shoulders and elbows screamed in protest from holding all my weight while my feet hung several inches above the floor and my wing tips just brushed the cold concrete floor. I couldn’t move my wings at all; someone had bound them to my body and I was unable to break the restraint. I struggled wildly and finally had to stop from the pain in my already cut wrists. I rested, panting and slumping as far as my bonds allowed me. I heard the sound of footsteps approaching and I brought my head up to glare at one of my captors entering the room. Captive or not, I was the leader of my clan and all the clans in my territory. I would not cower or show weakness! A tall man was coming toward me with a lazy stroll, his eyes gleaming covetously at me, as if he had a new toy and all the time in the world to play with it. He was a cat and I caught the musky scent that accompanied a leopard. His skin was a golden yellow and his eyes were pitch black, reflecting the light like shiny black onyx. Finger long teeth glistened in the harsh fluorescent light when he sneered at me. “The son is not nearly as impressive as the father.” He spoke to someone behind me. It wasn’t until then that I realized I wasn’t alone; realized that my struggles and failure to free myself had been witnessed. The thought made me burn in anger and my fingers curved in the urge to rake my talons down the smug faces of my captors. The man who moved around from behind me was the cat Carthera had originally grabbed me from the mall. He moved toward the other man aggressively but his manner held a hint of subservience. I could tell this new cat, the leopard, was important. The door he had come in was left open and I debated struggling again in an attempt to get free and reach it. It was unlikely I would be able to break the thick metal so trying to escape right then was futile. I decided to conserve my strength and listen to discover whatever I could. As long as they didn’t kill me first I might find out more about these ferals and their operation to take over my territory. With the door open I could hear strange sounds coming from the hall but I was distracted from them when the cat who had grabbed Natham and me from the mall started speaking. “It was simple. The plan went off perfectly,” he said smugly. “Now, I expect to be paid.” “Of course the plan was perfect; it was mine!” the leopard hissed. “If your mercenaries hadn’t failed at the warehouse in the first place none of this would have been necessary. Now I have to finesse the situation to prevent the other clans from banding together even with their leader missing. Your incompetence has made my job that much harder. You will be compensated when his clan gives up their rights to their territory and hands over their accounts, not one second before. Your job is not over yet; there are still the Falcons to be considered. They are fearful opponents!” “I fear nothing!” the mercenary scoffed. “The warriors with Keserem were no trouble.” “You had the advantage in numbers and the police had secured them before they knew anything was up. Don’t get cocky!” the leopard snarled at him. “The Falcon clan has held supremacy over the other clans because they are both smart and ferocious in battle. You would be wise to remember that they may be small but they are not weak.” The man eyed me and the cuts on my face from his claws. “Their leader is,” he said cockily. “A youngling not fully matured? Yeah, big challenge,” The leopard scoffed. “He is not important of himself, other than a good way to torture my wayward son and to get control of his clan. If those Falcons hadn’t raided the center and stolen Natham they both would have died by now and I would have been able to take over the clans days ago.” I was confused; this leopard was Natham’s father? How was that possible when they were different clans? I blanched at the thought of the thought of dying but he was right. As badly starved as Natham was when the Falcons found him, the continued abuse on his body would have killed him in another day or two. Carthera are strong and we heal quickly but that comes at a price. Our bodies need a lot of fuel and most clans are very social and tactile. Sensory deprivation coupled with physical abuse, along with starvation would have killed Natham if my men hadn't found him and brought him to the eyrie. If Natham hadn’t been rescued, I would have died along with my mate, though we never exchanged a blood bond in person. The clans would have fallen into disarray and my father’s territory would have been easy pickings. This Carthera was cowardly, using abuse and torture on someone he claimed as family in order to gain power. I was furious that my father died at his dishonorable hand by trickery and a shriek of fury I could not hold back was smothered by the foul gag they must have shoved in my mouth the last time I was unconscious. The sound was still audible and made them turn their attention to me. “Oh, don’t like that idea do you, little bird?” The leopard and the other cat laughed maliciously. “Don’t worry. You won’t have to worry about that much longer.” I expected them to beat me or continue gloat over my bound body but they didn’t. The leopard stroked his claws across the exposed flesh of my stomach, creating four shallow cuts that welled up with blood. He licked one claw daintily, tasting me. “Hmm, delicious. I always enjoyed a young tender morsel for dinner.” He cleaned his other claws, lapping delicately at them with his rough pink tongue as he savored my blood while watching me. I could feel my eyes open wide and my breath came faster as panic began to set in. I did not want to be eaten! The other cat Carthera watched avidly, his nose practically quivering as he took in the scent of my blood and the stink of my fear and anger. The pink tip of his tongue came out and he quickly licked his lips was he watched the small cuts drip blood that ran in trails to soak into the waistband of my pants. His eyes gleamed and he practically quivered in want as I shuddered. My nose was not as good as other Carthera species but I didn’t need to smell his scent to know that he lusted after me. The bulge in his pants was more than enough. Sick, sadistic bastard. “We’ll be back, little bird. Don’t worry, we won’t leave you all alone here; not for long anyway.” With an evil smirk the leopard stalked from the room, snapping orders to someone as he entered the hall. The mercenary cat was still staring at me as he backed out of the room, pulling the door shut at the last moment. The way his eyes had lingered over where my pants hung on my hips had me worried. Though I was pretty sure being raped would really hurt more than being eaten I didn’t want to experience either. The light in the room shut off and I was plunged into darkness. I could no longer hear any sounds with the thick door closed. I was alone in a cold dark room and hanging painfully from the ceiling. The metal manacles were digging into my wrists and I could feel small trickles of blood running down my arms from my raw wrists as I struggled repeatedly to break loose. I worked at the foul material held in my mouth by a strip of tape, trying to dislodge it or at least compress it so that my jaw wasn’t quite as stretched. I slumped in my bonds, sucking in air through my nose, trying not to lose control over my panic and fear. A small square of light came in a small hole in the door, the only ‘window’ the room had. The dark was so reminiscent of my dreams that it was almost impossible to fight down the panic that urged me to scream. I knew if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop. I couldn’t afford that type of weakness. I focused on the small square of light as if my life depended on it; certainly my sanity did. I wasn’t sure how long I would be kept there or what Natham’s father would do to me but I could imagine all too well. Hours must have passed as I hung there. I dozed off once and jerked when I woke up, fiery pain from the shackles rubbing my raw wrists made me groan into the soaked fabric gag still stuffing my mouth. I could not believe I fell asleep when I was facing certain torture and death. I tried to keep my eyes open and focused on that small light but the demands of my body for sleep were simply too much. Soon my chin hung to my chest and I slipped into my dreams. *** If one’s waking world is nightmarish it only stands to reason that your dreams should be pleasant and full of hope to give you an escape. But that is a child’s view of things. Bad things don’t just happen to bad people and you aren’t going to receive something ‘good’ just because you feel you deserve it. So of course when I could no longer fight my body’s need for sleep I slipped not into pleasant dreams of my family and better times, but into my familiar nightmare. This time it was not all dark; it was more vivid and real, almost as if it were happening to me in person. I could see rough stones and feel the cold of a slab beneath my body. I strained to move but I was trapped, unable to twitch even a finger. A line of pain, sharp and hot, lanced across my back to join other stripes already burning from my shoulders to my knees. I shuddered and realized that I was being whipped, the skin flayed from the back of my body by someone with the precision of a long time torturer. This time words came also, hissing insults and threats, spiteful gloating and hatred spewing from the person whipping me. He grabbed me by my long braid and jerked my head up to spit in my face. It was in that moment I fully realized what this was, what my nightmares had always been. I was within Natham; feeling what he felt as if we shared one body. The fear and pain that had made me scream as a child had always been his, but the reality was so much worse than I had imagined. I hated the fact that he had known a life like this. I was sad for him and furious at the torture my mate had been forced to endure for years. I would not allow this to continue. We were mates, we were supposed to be bonded, no matter what the strange circumstances that had begun our bond. I willed strength into Natham through the dream. I tried to share with him my courage and fortitude. I sent him love and the promise of retribution. I was filled with an icy resolve. I would make these men pay and pay dearly for harming those I loved. I could faintly sense his surprise and then a surge of love came back at me. It held the taint of resignation and a sense of absolute despair that shocked and scared me. I tried to send reassurance but I could feel the spark that made Natham into who he was slowly fading. He had been recovering nicely the last few days but his tormentors had done too good a job on his mind as well as his body. He was on the brink of the death of his soul. I struggled to send him a sense of hope that I barely could feel myself.
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