Book VIII – Forged Under Blue Fire

 

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There are moments that change your life forever. A look or a glance; being in the right place at the right time, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oz hasn’t decided which it was for him. Not yet. All he knows is that he wishes that he could have acted sooner and spared Mia Köhler her life.

For Elka, it was definitely the wrong place at the wrong time and now she’s lost her sister. Lost in a miasma of despair, an unlikely friend has stepped out of the fog of her grief to take her hand.

Both are moving slowly, carefully, working through their mutual tragedy a day at a time. Still, there are aspects of that morning that could come back to haunt them. It could easily be the end of their tale as much as the beginning.

Elka

Everyone was being so nice, and all I could feel was this terrible nothing. Just numb. This hole scorched in the center of my being, silence flooding my veins, the edges still smoking. It was like my sister had been shot, but the hole was in the center of my chest and I couldn’t stop the bleeding no matter how hard I tried… but nobody noticed.

I stared, sightless and vacant out the window at the restaurant and couldn’t even drum up enough feelings to feel bad for my father. For leaving him to shake hands and deal with the murmured condolences for his dead daughter… all while his living one sat alone in the four-person booth by the front window staring out at the city street and the people and the cars going by.

“Ms. Köhler?” I looked up at the policeman who’d been there that day. Who’d shot the man who’d shot my sister.

“Officer Jones,” I said and hated how faded and tired my voice sounded.

“Call me Hector,” he said and set a cup of coffee on a saucer in front of me. “Or just Oz.”

“Oz?” I asked, pulling the cup on its saucer closer to me, reaching for the sugar. “Like the Great and Powerful?” He set down a little stainless-steel carafe of creamer and slid into the booth across from me, batting at his tie to keep it off the table, smoothing it against his broad chest.

“Oh, ah, nah… like the T.V. show, about the prison. It’s, um, what I do.”

“I thought you were a police officer,” I said adding creamer to the cup mechanically, stirring it in with the little spoon on the saucer for it.

“I am, with Indigo City but I don’t work the street. I’m a jailer.”

“Oh,” I said softly. “But you…” I bit my lips together and reached for the sweetener.

“Yeah, I carry, but um, that’s not my usual deal.”

“I see,” I said softly.

A silence lapsed between us and I swallowed hard, wrapping my fingers around the coffee cup, letting the warm ceramic heat my palms even though it was summer outside, and my hands weren’t cold. I was cold. It just wasn’t the kind of cold that a blanket or a warm drink could fix.

“I came over to check on you,” he said evenly and I liked his voice. I dragged my eyes up from the coffee lazily spinning in the mug and fixed them on his face.

He was handsome. I didn’t usually go for bald men, but on him it worked. He had a strong jaw that was shadowed by a light dusting of stubble, a pencil-thin mustache over his top lip. A bit of ink from a tattoo peeked out of the cuff of his shirt sleeve, a nice watch gracing his wrist. A definite conversation piece but I just didn’t have it in me to comment.

“So, uh, how are you doing?”

“My sister was murdered right in front of me,” I murmured carefully and gave a nervous sort of laugh. “I’m, um, not really sure how I’m supposed to feel,” I confessed.

Oz

As she studied the menu, I could pick out more details about her. The way she bore the weight of her sadness on her shoulders with grace. The way the longer she perused the menu, the more the pinched look left her face. She looked tired, but there was an elegance to it. For all the shit she’d been through since I met her on that fateful day, I could see she still bore the brunt of a much older hurt.

She’d been handed more than her fair share, but she was handling her own and it was impressive.

In watching her, I leaned back in my seat and had mad respect for the woman in front of me. She looked up and closed the menu, the faint smile on her face slipping as she looked me over.

“What?” she asked, uncertainty creeping into her voice.

“You’ve been through a lot of shit,” I said plaintively.

“Um, I suppose so,” she said quietly, blushing faintly.

“You’re killin’ it, though. You don’t think anyone sees it, but I see you. It’s hard, but you’re makin’ it happen for yourself. You’re doin’ good. A lot better than most people would. That’s for sure.”

“Um, thanks?” she said meekly.

“Just speakin’ the truth,” I said with a shrug.

“Are you always so…”

“Blunt?” I asked.

“Direct?” she said at the same time and it was certainly more tactful, but I didn’t care about none of that shit. I was past sugarcoating anything and I told her so.

“You ain’t gotta sugarcoat nothin’ with me.”

“I – I – I was just being polite,” she stammered.

I nodded. “That’s cool, but you ain’t gotta be polite with me.”

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” she said gently. “You’ve already been so nice and done so much for my family.”

I barked a jagged laugh. “I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like I’ve done enough, honestly. And as for my feelings, not like you’re gonna hurt all one of ‘em I got left.”

She tittered a light laugh and asked me, “Is your sense of humor always like that?”

“Dry, sarcastic and as black as my ass?” I asked and her eyes flew wide.

“Yeah,” she said, caught off guard once more.

“Pretty much,” I agreed.

We were interrupted by the waitress, coming to take our order. Elka ordered quietly in gentle murmurs and asked me, “Is it alright if I don’t get it too spicy?”

“Sure,” I nodded.

She turned back to the waitress who gathered our menus off the table with a smile and went back toward the kitchen to put our order in.

Elka was considering me silently and I let her. I didn’t know what she was thinking and at the same time I didn’t know what to say.

Text Copyright © 2019 A.J. Downey

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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