With a massive explosion, the world turned upside down for Sadie Brooks and Kyle Lachlan. Had they really survived the unimaginable assault on Bootlegger Head? Had one-third of their lives, Conan Roan, fallen in the basement of that grand house, holding the door for their escape?
With that wound in their hearts, they look for something to fill it, and maybe it’s revenge.
It won’t be easy, their enemies are in different places across the world: Germany, Monaco, France, and even home in the USA.
Things might not be quite as they appear, and revenge could become rescue.
The video was grainy and low quality, but the fact that the news helicopter camera had shown anything was proof that their gear was good, but not military grade. I could make out the hulk of the house, but there were almost no details. Even the holes torn in the side were nothing more than dark spots in a shadow. Then there was the ‘puff’ as the first stage of the weapon fired, reducing the fuel to a vaporized cloud. The second explosion ignited the aerosol and smashed the house like it had been made of match sticks.
The camera swung violently away, as the concussion wave threw the helicopter up and away like a child’s toy. A second feed started – security footage from a distant location – only catching the flare of the second main explosion.
State and Federal agencies are asking people to please stay away from the historic Bootlegger Head area, as the investigation into the explosion and the apparent underworld battle that occurred continues.
A reporter interviewed a man in a drab off-the-rack suit. Her and use of sharp words bothered him. He responded to her questions with a deadened monotone. He said that everything was under investigation, and people with information were being asked to come forward, and that the “goshdarn med’ya” needed to stop running off at the mouth.
I hit the pause and rewind button. The video zipped back to the start and began playing again, and I watched the house vanish in a puff of flame. It looked like such a small thing, nothing like the explosions in movies. There was no giant churning pillar of black smoke and flame, just that intense fireball, and then everything was dust and shattered ruin, over and over again.
“You’re just torturing yourself, stop,” Sadie said in her characteristically soft voice.
“I can’t accept it,” I said, pressing my hand against the side of my face.
The last six months had been nothing but hell, and the only thing that had gotten me through it was the angel with her hand on my shoulder. Sadie had more experience than I did surviving this sort of loss; this hardship.
In a way, she rescued me.
It was fair, I had picked her up off the side of a highway, and she picked me up off the floor of the bedroom in a house I had hated. I turned the laptop off and put it back on the desk.
“There was nothing we could have done differently.” She gave my shoulder a firm squeeze, a gesture of her support. “You know that.”
“There was, there had to have been.” I looked up at her. “We played the game for years and never lost, not even once.”
“That’s the thing Kyle; eventually? Everyone loses.”
She was right, and Roan knew it, too. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have gone through all the preparations, and there wouldn’t have been those videos on the rin our bags. I suppressed a shudder. She wrapped her arms around me, and I could feel her face against the back of my neck, her warm breath against my skin.
“C’mon, how long have you been watching that?” she asked.
“Too long,” I admitted. Watching it was almost an act of penance. Maybe if I watched the house destroyed enough times, the damned fireball, and everything blown to fuck all, it would either make sense or the ache in my heart would go numb from it. Six months hadn’t done it, but I had the rest of my life to go.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured late one night as I sat on the edge of the bed running a brush through my long hair. I’d gathered it over my shoulder and brushed it every night before bed like this. Tonight, it was no different, except for the fact that I was lost in reverie.
“Do what now?” Kyle asked, looking up from whatever printouts he’d been reading and over at me.
I didn’t see him move, but rather felt it through the mattress below my butt.
“I said I was sorry,” I said softly.
There was a rustle of papers as he lowered them to his lap.
“Look at me, Sadie.”
He hadn’t called me Shady in a while… I swallowed hard, afraid to turn around and meet his eyes.
“Sadie…” His voice was gently chiding. I sniffed and set the brush aside and twisted, adjusting my seated position so I could look at him. He was lying on his back atop the covers in his usual tank top and lounge pants, all in unrelieved black, of course.
“For what? You’ve not done anything wrong,” he said.
I bit my lips together.
“For that time in the gym a while back,” I whispered, the guilt eating me alive.
He turned and tossed the papers onto his bedside table and sat up, resting his forearms atop his knees.
“What about it?” he asked.
“I…” I didn’t know what to say without sounding pathetic. I mean, I didn’t know when he had stopped wanting me, and I felt so guilty.
“Sadie, look at me,” he said, and his tone was uncharacteristically gentle.
I looked at him and his eyes searched my face.
“Closed mouths don’t get fed,” he said, raising his eyebrows, and I flinched.
It was something Prissy would say, except she hadn’t meant it the way Kyle did now. She usually meant that if somebody didn’t come clean about whatever business she was on about, none of us got to eat.
“You didn’t want it,” I said and swallowed hard. “You don’t want me—”
“Don’t say shit like that,” he said softly, and I felt my mouth drop open.
“But nothing,” he said. “Don’t you ever say shit like that. You’re all I’ve ever wanted.”
I shook my head, mollified. He raised his eyebrows and jutted his head forward slightly, as though expecting me to say something or argue, but I was honestly too confused.
“Understand?” he finished for me.
“It’s not you,” he said with a shrug, and I frowned. “It’s me… I think.”
“Okay, um, elaborate.”
“About the only thing that gets me worked up right now is the thought of Gwendolyn Kaijin’s severed head on a pike.”
I jerked back as though he’d just slapped me.
“It’s about all I can think about. When I sleep, I go through the last minute in the Bat Cave, and I see their faces, and I know their names. I want every last one of them dead, choking on their own blood. I want them to know why I’m killing them in the most violent and personal way I can imagine.”
“I-I care, but I don’t care about that… does that make sense?” I asked.
He shook his head, and I flicked my tongue against my lips, wetting them.
“When it’s just you and me, like this… I-I can’t do this cold impersonal thing anymore, Kyle. I need more,” I said. “And I know it’s selfish and I know it’s wrong, and I—”
“Shit, please don’t cry again,” he said, sitting up a bit straighter. “Just tell me what you need. I hate it when you cry and I can’t seem to fucking stop it and it happens so much now.”
I closed my eyes and said, “I need you to love me.”
Text Copyright © 2020-2021 A.J. Downey & Jared KingPacal Lain
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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