Sunday, August 29, 2010

Flash Fiction Interlude: Leap of Faith

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was written for Sunday Scribblings. Coyote and Macy are characters in the Will and Diana series, which you can find out more about in the sidebar or by following the tags.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Coyote ran a hand along the curve of Macy's hip and she stiffened. "Come on. Why do you never let me hold you afterward?"

"Just pay me so I can leave."

The money was in the pocket of his pants, flung somewhere in the tent, but Coyote wasn't ready to search. "Why don't you believe me when I say I like you for you and not just for this?"

Macy rolled over and looked at him. "Maybe because I've heard it before?"

"I'm not like the others."

"No, but everyone knows you're the biggest prankster in the entire Unitas movement. You're unreliable. If you weren't so good at derailing enemy trains, you'd have been kicked out a long time ago."

Coyote watched her roll over again so her back was facing him. "What does that have to do with this? Just because I like a good joke now and then doesn't mean I'd play one on you. Have I ever made you look like a fool?"

Macy didn't answer.

"You know, sometimes you have trust a little."

Macy sat up and pulled the blanket to cover her nakedness, as if Coyote, and most of the boys in camp hadn't been to bed with her. "I did that once, and look what it got me. Or didn't anyone tell you?"

"I heard what Boeing did." Coyote sat up, too. "It was a crappy thing for him to do, leading you on like that. And the whole business with the knitting needle..." he shuddered. "I don't think it was right, but I understand why you did it. You were scared."

Macy nodded.

"I would never abandon you, or say it wasn't my kid."

"I can't have kids any more, anyway."

"That's okay, too. More fun for us, right?"

Macy looked away. "Fun. That's all you guys think about. Just pay me, okay?"

With a sigh, Coyote got out from under the blanket and rummaged among the clutter for his pants. He found the silver coins and placed them on the bedroll where she could see them. "Go on, then."

She took the coins and began putting her clothes on.

"I thought we were friends, you know. You were one of the first ones to really believe me about the voices, and you're the only one in this entire unit who doesn't think I'm crazy."

Macy worked a shrug into her movements as she pulled on a sweater.

"You took up for me when the others were being jerks. That means something to me."

She continued dressing in silence.

Coyote went to her side of the tent and put his hands on her shoulders. "Are you listening to me?"

Macy turned her face away. "Just let me get dressed. I'm supposed to help Paloma cook dinner."

"Fine." He watched her, but made no move to put his own clothes on. Just as she was about to go, he stopped her. "You may not have faith in me, but I have faith in you."

Coyote moved away so she could leave, but instead she sank back onto his bedroll, buried her face in the pillow and cried.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Flash Fiction Interlude: Sense of Direction

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was written for Thursday Tales and will be cross-posted later this week at Weekend Writer's Retreat.. It's also part of the Will and Diana series, which you can find out more about in the sidebar or by following the tags.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“This isn’t it.” Will reined in and the two young men behind him did the same.

The lead rider, Aguilero, sneezed and huddled deeper in his jacket.

Boeing glared. “You’ve gotten us lost." He turned to Will. “I told you we shouldn’t leave the tracking to a guy who’s sick.” He waved his arm in a gesture that took in the darkening landscape and the distant hulk of an abandoned barn. “No way will we make it back to camp tonight. We don’t even know where we are.”

Coyote tightened the reins and tried to calm his fidgety horse. “I know where we are.”

“Shut up, weirdo.”

Will shook his head. “No, you shut up, Boeing. This isn’t getting us anywhere.” He moved his horse a little closer to Aguilero’s. “What do you think?”

Aguilero sniffled and shrugged. “I think I’ve got a fever.”

“Isn’t that just fucking great,” Boeing muttered.

Will turned on him. “He’s our best tracker. It’s not his fault he’s sick.” He looked at Aguilero and in a softer voice added, “I wish you’d told us it was this bad.” He pondered the darkening landscape. “We’ll camp in that barn, if it’s stable enough.”

As they walked their horses toward the barn, Will fell in beside Coyote, who was looking around with his usual air of casual curiosity. “I'd hoped we would make it back tonight.”

Coyote nodded in understanding. “Our girls can handle it.”

“Handle what?” Will’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Not sure, but don’t worry. It’s fine, and we’re not far from base. We’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Can we get there tonight?” Will looked ready to ride off in whatever direction Coyote might suggest.

A few paces behind, Boeing had been listening. “Don’t tell me you believe everything Psychic Wonderboy says.”

Coyote flashed him a look. “How often have I been wrong?”

“The problem isn’t that you’re wrong,” Boeing admitted. “It’s that you’re vague, and those voices in your head tend to leave out critical information.”

With a twitch of his shoulders, Coyote acknowledged Boeing’s point. “We can’t get back tonight, anyway.” He glanced at the old barn with a devilish glint in his eye. “This will be fun.”

“Glad it’s all a game to you,” Boeing said, and went to lead his horse inside.

Will stopped and glanced at Coyote. “You’re sure we can’t make it back tonight, and that our girls are safe?”

“Safe? No. But like I said, they can handle it.” He clapped Will on the shoulder. “You worry too much.”

Will watched him go inside, then cast his eyes toward the evening sky once again. His gaze settled on the old weather vane, creaking in the wind. Useless thing. It could tell which way the wind blew, but not which direction one should go. But what could he do? Coyote was right. Their girlfriends were skilled and savvy fighters, just like they were. They could manage any problems that came up. And in the morning, Aguilero would lead them out of this place.

He would have to.














Photo by Leolajax

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New Flash Fiction

Another Steal Tomorrow flash, this one about The Twins: Stealing Dinner. The story contains no spoilers about the novel and it has a few links to additional information, where appropriate. There are other stories about them in the sidebar of the Steal Tomorrow site.

Be sure to check out the other offerings this week at Sunday Scribblings!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

New Steal Tomorrow Flash

I have a new Steal Tomorrow story up, an origins story about Jay Gallard. It contains no spoilers: Second Chances

This is a Three Word Wednesday offering, so be sure to check out the new Three Word Wednesday's site for more fun. If you're a writer and you haven't been participating in the weekly prompts, why not?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Maelstrom Fiction

New Maelstrom fiction: Feathered Friend

This is a Sunday Scribblings offering, so be sure to check out Sunday Scribblings for more fun. If you haven't been participating in a writing prompt site, why not? Join us!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Announcement!

Hey, everyone, check out my contest-winning story at Every Day Fiction today! It's only 238 words, and long-time readers will be familiar with bad boy Vince, the main character.

There is also a blog interview where we talk about my writing at Flash Fiction Chronicles.

I've cross-posted this at my bunny blog and at my main author site, which I'm going to be transitioning to over the next few months.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Steal Tomorrow Flash Fiction

I have a new Steal Tomorrow story up. This one relates an incident that was alluded to in the novel, but it contains no spoilers: Preppies and Potatoes

This is a Three Word Wednesday offering, so be sure to check out Three Word Wednesday's site for more fun. If you're a writer and you haven't been participating in the weekly prompts, why not?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New Prompt Site: Thursday Tales

Hey, peeps, there's a new weekly writing prompt site: Thursday Tales. Every Thursday they offer a picture and you have all week to write about it and post your link.

This week's pic inspired a Steal Tomorrow story: Darkened Lamps.

Go check out Thursday Tales, everyone, then write a Thursday tale of your own!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

New Flash Fiction

I haven't written about Bo for awhile, so here's a new Maelstrom fiction: Non-Standard Deviaton

And here's a new Steal Tomorrow story about Cassie and Leila: Unidentified

These are Three Word Wednesday offerings, so be sure to check out Three Word Wednesday's new site for more fun. If you're a writer and you haven't been participating in the weekly prompts, why not? It's easy, fun, and you'll get some great feedback, so join us!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Steal Tomorrow Flash Fiction - New!

Another Steal Tomorrow flash, this one about Julilla:On Target

Julilla is one of my favorite characters. She tough, smart, and knows the meaning of girl power. If you want more, check out: Post-Pandemic Hoop Dreams.

Be sure to check out the other offerings this week at Sunday Scribblings!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Maelstrom Fiction for Three Word Wednesday

New Maelstrom fiction: Get Your Kicks On Route...666?

This is a Three Word Wednesday offering, so be sure to check out Three Word Wednesday for more fun!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Steal Tomorrow Flash Fiction and Sunday Scribblings

Another Steal Tomorrow flash, this one about May:Alchemy

Here's another May story, in case you want more: Ars Gratia Artis.

Be sure to check out the other offerings this week at Sunday Scribblings!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Maelstrom Flash

New Maelstrom fiction: Double Dog Dare

This is a Three Word Wednesday offering, so be sure to check out Three Word Wednesday for more fun!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

New Steal Tomorrow Flash - Three Word Wednesday

Another Steal Tomorrow flash. This one is about David, who I've come to understand better with time. He's not a good person, but time has made me more sympathetic than I used to be: Scavaged

Be sure to check out the other offerings this week at Three Word Wednesday!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Flash Fiction

From the Steal Tomorrow series: A Civilized Place

Be sure to check out other Sunday Scribblings offerings!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Flash Fiction

New flash on the Steal Tomorrow site: Photograph

Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday for more literary goodies!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Maelstrom Flash Fiction

Latest is here: Coming Clean

And here are a couple of other recent ones, in case you missed them:

Djinn Dreams

Amperage

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Flash Fiction

New Maelstrom story: When Pigs Fly

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New Flash Fiction: Civic Duty

New Three Word Wednesday post is here: Civic Duty. It's about 650 words and is part of the Steal Tomorrow series.

Be sure to visit Three Word Wednesday each week for stories, poems, personal essays, and other fun stuff!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: Toward a Philosophy of Ethics

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Sunday Scribblings story features Vince Mott. You can read more about Vince by following the tag at the bottom of the post. You can read my other Sunday Scribblings flash, Demon Ethics, at my Maelstrom site.
============================================

“You lying piece of shit.” Vince slammed the young man against the warehouse wall and shoved a knife against his throat. “Where is it? Tell me fast, and I won’t have to hurt you too much.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marco stammered. “You got paid.”

“Shorted.” Vince dug the point of his knife into Marco’s skin, just enough to make him cringe. “We had a deal.”

“But I got shorted, too,” he squeaked.

Vince was tempted to shove the blade right through the little bastard’s throat. Dumb kid, new to the scene. Vince had hesitated to take the job, but everyone had to start somewhere. “Your incompetence at closing your own deal doesn’t mean you get to screw the people you brought into it. You can pay up with cash, goods, or blood. Your choice.”

Marco was sweating now and his breath came in trembling gasps. “I don’t have it. But I’ll get it and I’ll pay you before the end of the week, I swear.”

Ballsy kid. Vince gave him that much. He dug in with his blade and opened up a gash that bled into the boy's collar. “Try again. Or do you want to feel how deep this knife can go?”

By now Marco was shaking so hard he threatened to impale himself on the knife and finish Vince’s job for him. “Desk drawer. Bottom right. Under the book.”

“Get it for me.” Vince grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the desk. He watched as Marco fumbled in the drawer, removing papers, rags, and a tattered copy of The Elements of Moral Philosophy, uncovering a small cache of whiskey bottles and coins.

“You can have it all. Just let me go.”

“No,” Vince said. “Give me what you owe me, and that’s enough.”

Marco's hands shook as he counted out the gold and silver coins. When Vince instructed him to switch out a bottle of whiskey for some of the silver, he nearly dropped the bottle, but finally Vince was satisfied. He put his knife away and drew his Glock, just to make sure the boy didn’t try anything stupid. “Nice doing business with you,” he said as he watched Marco put the items into a bag. “But we won’t be partnering again.”

Marco nodded.

“And by the way….”

“What?”

Vince gestured with his gun toward the book. “Since you aren’t bright enough to figure it out for yourself, read that before you try to make a deal with anyone else.”

“I don't understand.”

Suppressing a sigh, Vince took the bag and made to leave. Poor kid. There would probably be a funeral for him soon. “I thought not.”

New Maelstrom Flash Fiction

New flash fiction at the Maelstrom site. Demon Ethics

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Flash Fiction: On Earth As In Heaven

This is another one in my Steal Tomorrow series. It's also a Three Word Wednesday post:

On Earth As In Heaven

Thursday, February 04, 2010

New Flash Fiction

This one is part of the Steal Tomorrow series, which I'm starting to work on again. This is also a Three Word Wednesday post.

Practical Nurse

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: The Beacon

No one was sure what the fires meant. They had appeared three nights ago at dusk, bright like stars against the black hulk of the mountain, and they had burned through the night until dawn. The city was rife with rumors, and in the decaying warehouse, speculation among Vince's gang members grew.

“It’s a signal,” Speedball said as he sharpened a knife. “There’s going to be an attack.”

“Wishful thinking,” Gitana sneered. “You’d love it if we got into another big fight.”

“Okay, glamour-girl, what’s your explanation?”

“Travelers. Ordinary campers cooking their food.”

“Who’s talking bullshit now? Campers don’t light fires that big. Those are beacons. They mean something.”

Ozone looked up from trying to find a station on the radio. “I heard it’s some kind of nativist thing. One of the tribes is trying to revive some old tradition for how they grieve their dead.”

Gitana shook her head in disgust. “Leave it to you to come up with the most absurd explanation imaginable." She looked around. "Vince! We know you’re listening. Come out here and settle this!”

Vince stepped out of his office. He had heard every word of his crew's conversation, and was consumed with concerns of his own.

“So what are all those fires about?” Gitana said. “War, ancient mythology, or just refugees trying to stay warm?”

“If it was refugees, El Duque would’ve done something to stop the rumors by now.” Vince pulled up a rickety chair. “And I don’t buy the crap that it’s natives lighting signal fires for the spirits of their kindred. Some people will believe anything.”

With a hurt expression, Ozone turned back to his radio.

Speedball brandished his knife with satisfaction. “That leaves war. We’ll get some goods out of this.”

Vince wasn’t so sure the beacons were a sign of war, either. If someone wanted to attack a stronghold like this city, why advertise the fact? “Actually, I’m a little worried it may be a sign of peace — one of the regional leaders coming to talk with El Duque and cut a deal.”

“Peace would be nice,” Ozone mumbled.

Speedball turned on him. “Peace would be the worst thing imaginable, dumbass. How the hell would we make a living?”

Vince nodded in silent agreement. Too much law and order, and he’d have to shut his little protection racket down. Either that, or go to prison. He had no other skills, even though his sister had pestered him for years to apprentice himself to someone or enter a legitimate job training program. Somehow he didn’t see himself as a shopkeeper or an accountant. This world, dirty and chaotic though it may be, suited him fine.

“Well, whatever it is,” he said, “I just hope it’s not a treaty. Peace would be my worst nightmare.”

Ozone had found a radio station and waved a hand for silence. “They’re talking about the beacons. And something about a curfew.”

“So that’s the game, is it?” Vince stood up. “How much you guys want to bet El Duque ordered those fires so everyone would be scared and he could crack down?”

Speedball passed his knife from hand to hand. “I don’t believe in curfews. Last guy who tried to tell me when to get off the street—”

“We all remember,” Vince said. “And next time you kill a government type without orders, you’re out.” He stood and stretched. “But curfews don’t mean anything in our line of work, and we have a job tonight. Ozone, turn off that stupid radio.”

“But they’re saying—”

“More lies, I’ll bet. Turn it off. The only thing those fires signify is that people will get excited over any little thing.” He turned and headed back to his office. “Get your weapons ready,” he called over his shoulder. “We’ve got work to do.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: No One's Yes-Man

“Forget it, man. No.”

Calixto set down his glass and stared. “You’re kidding.”

Vince shook his head of thick black hair and a gold earring flashed in the dim light of the pub. He took a gulp of his whiskey and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. “You heard me.”

“But…” Calixto leaned across the table. “…the payoff will be huge. Everyone knows you’re a money-whore. Quit playing around.”

“There are some things I just won’t do, no matter how good the money. Why is that so hard to believe?”

“Do you want all the details of your notorious career, or should I just hit the highlights?”

Vince tossed off the rest of his drink and looked around for the waitress, but she was nowhere to be seen. “Running drugs and guns is one thing, but what you’re asking is totally different. I have standards.”

“Now I know you’re lying.” Calixto sucked down the rest of his whiskey, then shoved the glass aside with a black-gloved hand. “If it’s the percentage that’s bothering you, just say so. You’ll be putting your guys at more risk than usual, so how about an extra five percent? Ten?”

“I’m telling you. It’s the deal itself that’s the problem, not the money.”

Calixto sat back and pondered. “There’s got to be some way to get you on board. Your folks are the only ones I would trust for this kind of thing, and it’ll be worth your while.”

Vince stood up and rested both hands on the table, leaning over Calixto with an ugly light in his eyes. “I gave you my answer and it’s final. Do you have any idea how many of the world’s problems are caused by people who say yes when they should say no?”

Without waiting for an answer, he strode across the barroom and out onto the street. The streetlights weren’t working again, but that was no matter. Nothing had been right since El Duque came to power. Not that things had ever been right in Vince's lifetime.

He rested a hand on the handle of his Glock and felt secure, then tipped his head back and gazed at panorama of stars. There were times when “no” was the only right answer. Because there was hell to pay when the answer was always yes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: Cure

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday story features Vince Mott and his sister Sara. You can read more about Vince by following the tag at the bottom of the post.

*****

Vince helped Sara sit up and held a steaming cup to her lips. “Drink this.”

She tried to obey, but the taste nearly made her gag. “What the hell is it?”

“Chicken broth. With garlic and green chili.”

Sara looked at him askance.

“And a measure of whiskey.”

“What else?”

“Just some medicine I found in one of your cabinets. I figured since you’re a nurse, it must be useful or you wouldn’t have it.”

Sara lay back among the pillows. “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you? It’s just a cold. Quit fussing over me.”

“No way.” Vince set the cup on the edge of a small table where it teetered before he pushed it to a more stable place next to a book. “Mom and Dad started out with ‘just a cold’ and look what it got them.”

“A doctor checked me out before they sent me home from the hospital. Do you really think—”

The look in his eyes brought her up short. Vince kept girls and fellow gang members at arm’s length and felt little sympathy for the victims of his criminal enterprises, but he’d fight the devil to keep from losing his last remaining family member. “You know what would really be good?”

Vince leaned forward with the eagerness of a child.

“Orange juice.”

“What?”

“I know it’s out of season…hard to find and expensive, but it’s the ideal thing for getting rid of a cold.”

Vince stood up, nearly knocking his chair over in his enthusiasm. “If there’s any in the city, you’ll have it. I’ll ask my sources and call in a few favors.”

Sara waited while he puttered around her tiny apartment, making sure she had everything she needed. When he finally left, she breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t likely to find orange juice anywhere. Transport from other regions of the former United States was expensive and uncertain. If he did find some, he’d probably have to fight for it, but that was okay. It would keep him busy and make him feel like he had done something special. That was all that mattered.

She sneezed and reached for a handkerchief. The cold was just an ordinary cold. With or without orange juice and her brother's strange concoctions, it would take care of itself.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: These Times

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story features Vince Mott, a character from Diana's Diary, which is part of my Will and Diana series. You can read more about Vince by following the tag at the bottom of the post.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vince slammed back the rest of his drink, then put the glass and bottle of purported Canadian Club away. He didn’t bother locking his office as he left, since the members of his gang knew better than to touch his stuff. The last one to do it was living on the streets now, missing a few teeth and fingers, and bearing some interesting scars.

The easiest way to get to the site of tonight’s deal was via the motorcycle he had stolen a few weeks ago, but he didn’t want to call attention to himself, so he walked until he found a bicycle rickshaw driver looking for a fare. Vince gave an address, then sat back and pondered while the rickshaw bounced over the pitted roads of the city. He wished the government would tear up the old asphalt and lay down stones or something. Too many people still clung to the notion that the old days of prosperity would return if only new cheap sources of oil were found and the government would put down all the infighting.

And while they were dreaming, perhaps they’d like an Easter Bunny, too. Vince smiled to himself. Young realists like himself were the future of this town.

The driver dropped him off in front of a taqueria that Vince knew to be a front for a drug operation. He tipped the driver, waited a few minutes, then set off for the address he had committed to memory.

When he got to the bullet-scarred building, he circled it, noting all possible ways in and out, and any obstacles that could trip a guy up or obscure a lookout’s point of view. Then he bought a kebab of questionable meat from a nearby street vendor, sat on a shop step and watched his target for a few minutes. After he had determined the place wasn’t under surveillance, he gave the rest of the meat to a stray dog and found his way into the building, his Glock drawn and ready.

Although most of the windows were boarded up, enough dusty light filtered in that he could see the hulking shapes of old display cabinets, derelict computers and piles of rags. There was nothing here worth stealing, although that wouldn’t be true later tonight. After his eyes adjusted, Vince started making his way around the room, making note of obstacles and pitfalls, just as he had outside.

He was dragging a dead electrical line out of a traffic path when a small sound caught his attention. He pointed his Glock. “Get over here, hands up, motherfucker.”

A hunched shape separated itself from the shadows. “I don’t want no trouble.”

Vince assessed: white hair, wild matted beard, filthy clothes. Even from this distance the man reeked. “You’re going to have to find another place for tonight, grandpa.”

“But this is my shop.”

“The whole city is full of empty shops. Find another.” Vince dug in his pocket for some coins. “It’s for your own good.”

“You don’t understand. My father opened this place when the building was brand new.” The man waved a trembling hand. “The walls were clean and white then, with red trim. The counters held beautiful new things for sale – electronic gadgets I bet you’ve never in your life seen in operation.”

Vince shrugged. “It was all wasteful and ridiculous. Now take this money, buy yourself a meal and find another building to squat in for a few days.”

“No. I took this place over from my father when he died. It was hard to find new things to sell, but I learned how to repair old electronics. I would clean them up and make them work like new.” He pulled up a rickety chair and sat down. “Then I got drafted and sent to fight in the resource wars. I came home to civil war. I couldn’t re-open my business; I got gassed overseas and my hands shook too bad from nerve damage to repair anything. I had no home, and my family had scattered. I had this place, though. It’s still mine, and if you want me out of here, you’ll have to shoot me.”

Vince gazed at the man for a long time before speaking. “The old days,” he finally said, “before the wars and all that…was it really as good as they say?”

“It was a lot cleaner, and a person was mostly safe as long as he minded his own business. We had fancier toys, but life is hard no matter when you live it, son. It’s only in our own heads that some other time or place is better.”

Vince nodded and put his gun away. The coins he had dug out of his pocket were still in his hand and he laid them on a grimy counter. “There’s going to be a little business operation going on tonight. Someone else chose this spot and I can’t change it. Make yourself scarce, don’t interfere, and you’ll make out all right.”

“And what about you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Will you make out all right? You seem like the sort that goes looking for trouble.”

Vince laughed. “No, old man, trouble found me. I’m just trying to make the best of things. Like you say, it’s only in our imagination that there’s anyplace better.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Flash Fiction Extra: Good Deeds

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday story features Vince Mott and his sister Sara, two of the characters from My New-Found Land. You can read more about Vince by following the tag at the bottom of the post.

It had taken a bit of doing to get the medicines the doctor ordered, but Sara was nothing if not dedicated. She gave up her lunch hour to go to the other floors and scour the cabinets, and even asked at individual offices in her zeal, offering to barter. Now if she hurried, she might still have enough time to go on the roof and eat her sandwich, up high where it was safe and she could look over the wreck of the city and imagine what it must have been like in her parents’ and grandparents’ day.

She stepped into the patient’s room, then stopped with a jolt. A man stood over the unresponsive girl’s bed, his dirty fatigues and gaudy jewelry marking him as a local tough, one of thousands that roamed the streets in loosely organized gangs, looking for quick payoffs. Sara watched him place a fluffy stuffed rabbit in the crook of the child's arm and tie a satin ribbon around her wrist.

“Vince, what are you doing here?”

The man straightened up with a guilty look and shook his black hair out of his eyes. “You’re supposed to be on your lunch break.”

“And you’re supposed to be guarding a gun delivery, looting abandoned houses, or whatever illegal things it is you do.” She motioned him away from the bed so she could check the child’s vitals. “Are you the one that brought the charm bracelet yesterday? And the duck the day before?”

“Maybe.” Vince shoved his hands in his pockets. “Are you one of El Duque’s informants now? Is it a crime to give stuff to a sick kid?”

“No need to get defensive. It’s just kind of funny this girl has been here almost a week and you never told me you knew her.” A sudden suspicion gripped her. “Don’t tell me she’s yours. If I’m an aunt and you’ve been hiding it from me, I swear, I’ll—”

Vince held up a hand. “It’s not like that. Jesus.”

“With all the girls you’ve had, it wouldn’t have surprised me. So how do you know her?”

“Does it matter? I was just trying to do something nice.”

“She’s in a coma. She doesn’t know who’s being nice and who’s not.” She moved the stuffed rabbit and tucked the covers more tightly around the girl’s wasted body.

“Is she going to make it?”

“I don’t know.”

Sara worked in silence, feeling Vince’s gaze upon her.

“Got a few minutes?”

She glanced at her watch, one of the many things he had given her from his lootings over the years. His illegal activities had enabled her to go to nursing school and helped her survive on the meager and unreliable wages of the city hospital.

“Let’s go on the roof.”

Vince knew her well. She waited while he ran a gentle hand across the girl’s hair and murmured encouraging words. Then she took his arm and let him lead her to the staircase and out onto the flat roof of the hospital.

“World kind of sucks,” he said, as they gazed at the decrepit buildings below. “But we have to get what we can out of it.”

Sara thought of the little girl in the room below, dying needlessly. “I guess.”

He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a flask. “Good stuff. Came all the way from Kentucky.” He pressed it into her hand and made her take it.

“About that girl…”

Vince shook his head. “Let a guy do a good deed now and then, okay?”

“You’re a regular Robin Hood.”

“You have your way, I have mine.”

Sara slipped the flask into one of the deep pockets of her nurse’s smock. It would come in handy when she was home in her small apartment, with night closing in. Vince had always been generous in his strange way.

“You ready to go back downstairs? I’ve got a deal to coordinate for tonight.”

“Sure.” She cast a final look out over the city, trying to imagine what it once was like before the collapse and the wars. Then she let Vince lead her to the door and back downstairs.