Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Flash Fiction Interlude: New Year's Resolution

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday 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.

Fausto fiddled with the radio antenna, but all anyone could hear was a faint voice overlaid with the crackle of static.

"Give it up, man." Peru leaned back against the duffel bag he was using as a cushion and reached for his beer.

"It's supposed to be an important broadcast," Fausto reminded him.

Ozone reached for his own beer - a new brand out of Chicago they had stolen in a recent train robbery. He took a sip and winced at the taste. "Me and Gitana will go to the plaza later and get the transcripts."

"Like hell I will," Gitana shouted from the other side of the room where she was playing with a dirty black kitten and pretending to ignore them.

The men looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Gitana didn't do anything she didn't want to unless their gang leader Vince specifically asked her to.

Ozone picked at the label on his beer bottle. "So since we can't listen to the radio, let's share New Year's Resolutions."

Peru frowned in confusion.

"It's a custom from before the resource wars," Ozone reminded him. "You're supposed to think of what you'll do different in the new year."

With a snicker, Peru glanced at Gitana. "I resolve to get rid of that damn cat next time Beauty Queen isn't looking."

"I heard that!"

"I've got allergies," he reminded her.

She shrugged in unconcern. "Vince said I could keep it, so bitch at him if you've got a problem with it."

Ozone, ever the peacekeeper, tried to defuse the situation. "What's your resolution, Gitana?"

"Her resolution is to finally get Vince in bed," Fausto muttered. He took another sip of his beer.

If Gitana heard his remark, she gave no sign.

"Okay, then. What's yours?" Ozone set his bottle aside, too disgusted with the Chicago beer to drink any more.

Fausto turned back to the radio. "To get this thing to work."

Ozone threw up his hands. "New Year's is supposed to be a time of new beginnings, self-improvement and things like that, not fixing radios." At the sight of Speedball returning from guard duty, he called out to him. "Got a New Year's resolution yet?"

Speedball sneered. "Same as every year: demolish our enemies and stay drunk or high as much as I can."

Ozone shook his head. "We're supposed to be seeking personal transformation, not staying in the same old rut."

"What's your resolution, then?"

Caught off guard, Ozone stammered for an answer, but before he could think of something, Vince came out of his office, saw Ozone sitting near the radio and frowned. "What do you think you're doing?"

"He's thinking up a New Year's resolution," Peru said.

Vince raised an eyebrow. "How about you resolve to do a better job remembering when you're on guard duty?"

With a start, Ozone jumped to his feet and fumbled for his weapons. The others chuckled, but from across the room, Gitana gave Vince a soulful look and asked what his New Year's resolution was.

Seeing all eyes upon him, Vince grinned. "If I had a resolution, you bunch of sorry bastards are the last ones I'd ever tell."

His gang members watched him disappear into his office, then gave each other knowing nods. "He's got one," Fausto said.

"Something big, I bet," Peru added.

"I hope it involves drugs and money," Speedball muttered.

Gitana looked away. Everyone knew what she hoped Vince would do different in the new year.

"I wonder if he's resolved to—" Ozone began, but the others cut him off.

"You heard the man," Fausto reminded him. "You're on guard duty."

With a small sigh of frustration, Ozone headed toward the vestibule at the back of the warehouse. If their leader had any big plans for the new year, they would learn them as they happened. Come to think of it, wasn't that always the way? People could talk all they wanted, but it was what they did day-to-day that really mattered.

Ozone took his spot by the rusted steel door and settled in to wait. "Happy New Year to us all," he muttered.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Flash Fiction Interlude: Bad Trip

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday 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.

It started with shouting, but Vince was used to the members of his gang getting into arguments. He ignored it and returned to his inventory. Gitana would want the jewelry; that much was a given, but its value so exceeded that of the other goods they had stolen that he couldn't gratify her wish without annoying everyone else. Besides, Peru might like those gold earrings for his girlfriend...

He looked up at the sound of booming and crashing against the warehouse wall. "What the hell?" He went to the door of his office, nearly running into Ozone who was bursting with news.

"It's Speedball. He got into the stash, and that white powder wasn't what we thought it was."

"Damn him." Vince was as annoyed with Speedball for stealing as he was with himself for leaving the cache from their recent heist in range of an addict. "Where is he now?"

The sharp report of a gun offered a clue. They ran into the warehouse and found Speedball in a corner, screaming and shooting the walls.

"He's not hurting anything," Ozone pointed out. "Might want to just let him have at it."

Vince assessed. It was true that whatever Speedball was on would wear off in time, if his energy for destruction didn't flag from sheer exhaustion first. Nevertheless, it wasn't good to appear passive in front of his team. He had to get Speedball under control. He hurried back to his office and got something from a rusty desk drawer. Then he returned to the scene of destruction and waved away his curious gang members. "Go away, for your own safety. I'll let you know when things are under control."

The men looked at each other doubtfully, but obeyed.

"What do you think he's going to do?" Fausto asked.

"Who cares?" Peru said. "They're both crazy."

Ozone cast a worried glance into the depths of the warehouse, where Speedball was still screaming about something. "I'm sure he has a plan."

Twenty minutes later, Vince walked toward them out of the depths of the warehouse. "All clear. Leave him where he is and go about your business."

Fausto shook his head. "But what did you...?"

Vince gave a wicked grin. "I waited until he was out of ammo."


He held up an empty syringe. "Helps to have a sister who's a nurse."

While the men chuckled and headed back into the warehouse, Vince went toward his office. There was more than one reason he was the leader of this gang.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Flash Fiction Interlude: Thieves and Politicians

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was written for Sunday Scribblings and 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 sat at the battered metal desk in the office of the abandoned warehouse he and his gang called home. He frowned at the numbers on the piece of paper in front of him and tried to re-do his calculations. He was pretty sure Big Jim from the Sabados had shorted him on their recent handoff of stolen pharmaceuticals, but he couldn't prove it.

Something wasn't adding up, and he was beginning to get a headache. It wasn't the smoke from the guttering kerosene lamp that was making his head pound, and it wasn't his hangover or the numbers themselves. What was grating on his nerves and making him clench his teeth in frustration was the low hum of a squabble somewhere in the warehouse. It was common for arguments to break out among his group of misfits, but this had been going on for nearly an hour.

With a scrape of rusted castors on the concrete floor, Vince pushed back his chair and stood up. What did it take for a guy to get a little peace and quiet around this place? He went into the area his team used as living quarters, where he found his idealistic lieutenant Ozone under verbal attack.

"You're delusional," Peru was telling him.

"We're not buying into your twisted fantasy," Fausto added.

"What the hell is going on?" Vince said.

Ozone turned to him but it was soulful spitfire Gitana who spoke. "This idiot thinks we should vote in today's election."

Vince looked at Ozone in curiosity. "Is that what all the yelling has been about?"

"They won't listen," Ozone explained. "They think voting does no good."

"They're right," Vince said with a shrug. "El Duque has this town all locked up. The elections are just a cover."

"It's rigged," Fausto agreed, coming to stand by Gitana. "A waste of our time."

"It's not a waste of time." Ozone appealed to Vince. "Even if El Duque's men throw away all our ballots, we're at least sending a message."

Vince raised his eyebrows. "What kind of message? He already knows he's a thieving bastard. Voting for someone else won't do any good."

Ozone sputtered. "But— if we don't vote for someone else, El Duque will think we want him and his goons in power. Or that we don't care, you know? We have to let him know how we feel. That's what democracy is all about."

Gitana gave a derisive snort. "Democracy? You think this is the old days or something? You think we're still part of the United States?"

"The United States isn't a democracy either any more," Peru reminded her.

"Right." Gitana turned back to Ozone. "There's no such thing as a democracy, except in the history books, so quit pestering us about it."

Before Ozone could say anything, Vince held up a hand for silence. "She's right," he said. "We're only a democracy on paper and you've got no business harassing anyone about it." At Ozone's crestfallen look he added, "But you're right about one thing - if you vote, you're at least taking a stand." He looked each member of the group in turn. "Vote or don't vote, makes no difference to me. But if you don't vote, don't complain about who gets elected, got it?"

After getting everyone's nodded agreement that this was reasonable, Vince told them to keep things quiet and went back to his office. A few minutes later, Ozone poked his head in.

"Thanks for sticking up for me, boss."

Vince looked up from where he was still trying to figure out how he had been shorted. "I don't know if I'd call it that."

"You got them to quit arguing with me."

"I did that because you guys were bugging the shit out of me."

"Well, thanks anyway." Ozone paused, then asked, "So are you going to go vote?"

"Hell, no. They're all dishonest bastards. Even if we got another guy in the mayor's seat, he'd be no better." He bent back over his columns of numbers and now he saw the problem. With a pleased little grin, he calculated how much Big Jim owed him. He shook his head as he listened to the clop of Ozone's boots walking away. Poor guy was a good fighter, but too optimistic. Vince knew there were enough thieves in this world, himself included, without voting for any more of them.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Flash Fiction Interlude: Limited Operations

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was written for Sunday Scribblings. 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 particular story takes place around the time Will and Diana first started with Unitas, when they were in their early teens.

The journey had taken longer than they expected. Although the map was good and they were familiar with the terrain from last spring's campaigns, Will and Diana found the roads washed out and a bridge collapsed from recent storms. Their horses were hardy and patient, but that patience didn't extend to the teenage messengers. When they came within sight of town, Diana urged her mare to a trot with Will close behind.

Since it was evening, they bypassed the clinic and went straight to the doctor's house where Will banged an urgent staccato on the door.

A white-haired gentleman opened the door and frowned. "Can I help you?"

"Are you Dr. Eldridge?" At his nod, Will handed him an envelope. "Message from Commander Harley Mayes with Unitas."

"You have to come with us right away," Diana blurted.

The doctor looked at her over the tops of his glasses before turning his attention to the letter. "I'm afraid what you're asking is impossible."

Will and Diana glanced at each other. They were new to running messages for a military unit and had no idea if this sort of response was unusual or should even be allowed.

The old man appeared to read their minds. "For one thing, I'm not part of your military operation, although I support you. Second, I'm the only doctor this town's got." He waved a hand for emphasis. "I have a typhoid case on the other side of Main, and a young woman up the street is due to have her first child any day now."

"But this is appendicitis," Diana said. "Francisco has to have a doctor."

"He has to have a surgeon," Dr. Eldridge corrected her. He folded the letter and put it back in its envelope. "I haven't done an appendectomy in years and even if I did that kind of operation every day, I wouldn't want to do it under field conditions."

Will reached a stealthy hand toward his gun, but the doctor had sharp eyes.

"That won't do you any good, son." He sighed and handed back the letter. "Even if I went with you, it's not likely your man would make it. The danger of complication and infection is too great."

"Isn't there anything we can do?" Diana asked in exasperation. "Is there another doctor we can ask?"

"No one close, I'm afraid." Dr. Eldridge gazed at her and his features softened. "How about you bring your patient here and I'll see what I can do."

"He's in pain, he has a fever, and he's throwing up," Will said. "He can't get here. That's why we came to get you."

"And I can't go with you. I'm sorry."

Before they could question the man further, he shut the door, leaving Will and Diana staring at each other on the front porch.

"We can't go back without any help at all," Diana said.

"I have a good mind to kidnap him."

"Think that would help?"

"No telling." Will shoved the letter in a pocket. "Let's think about this."

Diana followed him to where their horses were tethered to a wind-blown apple tree. "We'll have to think fast," she said. "Francisco was pretty bad off when we left. No telling how he's doing now."

"Might even be dead," Will pointed out.

"That's no reason not to try."

While they pondered, the wind picked up and their horses shook their heads with impatience.

"We'll go to the next town," Will finally said.

"Think it'll do any good?"

He shrugged and swung himself into the saddle. "I don't want anyone saying we didn't do everything we could."

Diana agreed and mounted her horse. As they rode into the growing darkness, the wind blew dust across the road and low clouds scudded across the deepening blue of the sky. It wasn't likely they would reach the next town and convince a doctor to come with them in time to save their comrade, but at least they were making every effort. One could do no more than that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Flash Fiction: Trick or Treat

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday 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.

Peru was on watch when they came knocking. They didn't seem like a threat but one could never be sure. He called some of the other gang members over.

Ozone peeked out the crack in the door. "Weird, but they look harmless."

Three brushed her hair out of her face and glanced over his shoulder. "Strange outfits, but they seem like ordinary ankle-biters to me."

"Can't be," Speedball grumbled, reaching for his knife. "It's a trick. They said so themselves."

"Trick or treat," Ozone corrected him.

"So we get a choice. Big deal. I'll show them a trick or two."

The others restrained him before he could go outside and do something rash, but that still left them with the dilemma of what to do about the two costumed children outside the door of their gang's headquarters.

"They could be a decoy," Peru pointed out. "We open the door and whoever put them up to this jumps us."

"It's a possibility," Three said. “I’m inclined to be cautious.”

"But what if they're innocent?" Ozone asked. He peeked out the crack in the door again. "I hate to send them away empty-handed if they're just ordinary kids trying to have a little fun."

Peru and Ozone discussed the matter and agreed to go out via the emergency exit and search the area. Three stayed behind to guard the door, checking from time to time to see if the children were still there.

After a few minutes Vince came around the corner. "What's going on?" He frowned. "You're not supposed to be on watch. Where's Peru?"

Three explained about the trick or treaters. “It’s an old custom from before the Resource Wars.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of it. What does everyone think this is, the twentieth century?” He looked out the crack in the door. "For figments of someone’s overworked nostalgia, they sure are patient."

"I guess they figure if they wait long enough they'll get a treat."

Vince absently rubbed the blue stripe on his face. "Let's find them some treats, then."

"Around here?"

"You're right. The only types of treats we have aren't suitable for children."

They were still pondering when Ozone and Peru returned. "I don't know what their deal is," Peru said, "But they're still out there and we don't see any evidence that it's a trap."

"We need to give them something," Ozone said.

"We’ve got nothing appropriate," Vince reminded him. "What do you want to do, give them some whiskey? Marijuana? Something out of Speedball's meth stash?"

Ozone stalked off in exasperation.

"We'll just tell them we haven't got anything," Three finally said. "We can't let two little vulnerable kids stand out there all night."

Vince agreed. "Give them these." He dug in his pocket and produced two silver coins. "That ought to do it."

Cautiously, Three opened the door.

"Trick or treat!"

She gave the children a tight smile, complimented them on their patience, and gave them each a coin. "Now run along. It's late and you don't want to get in trouble."

The children were about to leave when Ozone came running from the other room. He darted out the door and put something in each child's bag. "You kids have a happy Halloween!"

After a few thank-yous, the children walked away. Ozone went back inside and Peru closed the door. "What did you give them?"

Seeing all eyes upon him, Ozone gave a little shrug. "Nothing much."

Outside, the two costumed children paused under a streetlamp and looked inside their bags. "Beans?" one asked.

"I got hominy."

"I thought grownups were supposed to give candy."

"I guess that's not how they do it anymore."

With small sighs of frustration, the children continued up the street to the next building where lights suggested someone was at home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Flash Fiction: All In a Night's Work

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday 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.

The knock woke Sara from a dreamless sleep. She fumbled for the lamp but the electricity was out again, so she turned on her solar-charged lantern. There was another tap on the door, and Sara grabbed a robe and padded to the door. Although she knew the pattern of the knock, she gave a few taps and waited for the reply before unlocking.

A young woman slipped inside, dressed in a long black skirt and with a shawl partially obscuring her face. She shook out her corkscrew curls while Sara closed the door. “You knew it was me.”

“Vince would kill me if I quit using the code.” Sara had been under her brother’s protection since their parents died in an epidemic. Nothing would make Vince breach that trust, even though Sara was now an adult and a nurse, exposed every day to the worst this war-torn city could show her. “How many is it this time?”

“Two that look serious and a few minor ones. Mostly gunshot. I took a hit too, but it’s just surface.”

“Did it bleed out good?”

“You can look at it after you do the others. Just get your stuff.”

Sara hurried to her bedroom and slipped into jeans, a sweater, and a dark trench coat. She grabbed the black leather bag that she kept for emergencies and followed Gitana out the door.

They crept down the stairs and out into the night. A bicycle rickshaw waited by the curb and Sara recognized the driver—a hunched, tattered man who asked no questions. She climbed into the narrow seat, wedged so tightly against Gitana she could feel the Glock strapped to the other girl’s hip.

As they bounced their way over the rutted streets, Sara pulled her coat closer. In the pale light of the half-moon, huddled forms slept in doorways by the embers of dying fires. Two dogs ran out from the shell of an old bank, and when one of them menaced the driver, he squirted it in the face with a chili mixture from a dirty plastic bottle.

The headquarters for Vince’s gang was a bullet-scarred shop that had sold greeting cards and jigsaw puzzles before the resource wars and secession. Gitana gave a coded knock at the service entrance and whispered the night’s password. The door opened and a bald, blood-smeared man glared at Gitana. “Took you long enough.”

“It takes as long as it takes. If you weren’t always fucked up on something, you might have a concept of time.”

“And if you weren’t such a bitch—”

Sara left them to their argument and went inside. On what had once been the sales floor, two wounded men lay on canvas tarps while others, less seriously injured, sat nearby passing a bottle of murky liquor back and forth.

A dark-haired man looked up from examining a pad of gauze covering a wounded man’s abdomen. The blue stripe running from his left eye to his jawbone gave him an intimidating appearance, but when he shook his hair out of his eyes and smiled, he looked like a child only playing at being a dangerous gang leader. “Hey, Sis. Thought you'd like a little overtime.”

“’Like’ isn’t quite the word I’d use for it.” Sara squatted by the injured man. “Is this your worst case?”

“Seems to be. There’s so much blood I can’t tell if anything important got hit.”

“Everything in the abdominal cavity is important. Even if his organs were spared, there’s the risk of peritonitis.” She examined the man gingerly, but didn’t remove the pad. “Best thing would be to leave the bandage in place and get him to the hospital.”

Vince gave her a look. “You know how we feel about that sort of thing.”

“Yeah, but I’m not a surgeon and I don’t have what I need to do a transfusion. Take your chances if you want, though.” She fumbled in her bag. “I can at least give him something for the pain.”

After she injected some morphine, she moved to the next man. This one didn’t seem to have any life-threatening injuries, but he had lost a lot of blood and was in shock. She cleaned his wounds, picked a bullet out, and covered him with blankets before moving on to the next patient. It took her nearly two hours, but eventually Sara got everyone patched up as well as she could.

She wiped her hands and got to her feet. “What about you?” She looked at Vince. “Anything you’re not telling me?”

They gazed at each other a long time but it was Vince who turned away first. "Come in my office."

Sara followed him to the cramped and airless manager's office. If he was asking her to treat him in private, it could only mean—

"Bastard got me in the ass. You think—?"

"I've seen both cuter and uglier than yours."

With a sigh of annoyance, Vince dropped his pants.

The wound was impressive, bruised and crusted with blood. Sara tried to get a closer look, but he flinched at her touch. "The good news is there's both an entrance and an exit wound, so I won’t need to dig lead out of your butt."

"And the bad news?"

"I'm going to need to flush it out."

He gasped as she tentatively probed one of the holes. "You'll numb it first, right?"

Sara fumbled in her bag. "Yes, but I want this to drain for a couple days, got it?"

Vince looked at her over his shoulder. "I can't go around with a bandage on my ass."

"Why not?" She uncapped a syringe. "Got plans that don't involve wearing pants?"

"Just clean me up, okay?"

Sara suppressed a smile. For a few days, the city's young women would be spared the attentions of her ladykiller brother. Not bad for a night’s work. With a satisfied air, she jabbed the needle into his buttock.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Flash Fiction: Making the Most of Things

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction precedes Tin Soldier and contains no spoilers. It is posted here for Sunday Scribblings.

Carina walked the paddock fence, deep in thought. She had visited her parents' high desert rancho for years, but now she was here for good, or at least until her husband came back from the war.

One of the donkeys trotted to the fence and Carina rubbed her velvety nose. "There will be no getting out of your checkups now. Soon you'll be wishing I'd go back to the city and take care of dogs and cats."

Carina sighed and leaned against the fence. In spite of the privations of the Resource Wars, she had enjoyed city life - not just the stores and entertainments, but the little niceties that made life easier. What wouldn't she give to be able to light a room at night with the flick of a wall switch? Would she ever be able to enjoy a shower again without having to hurry so as not to empty the rooftop tank?

She patted the donkey's nose again and continued her rounds. When her husband came home, it would be different. He was a doctor and between his medical skills and her veterinary prowess, they would do well in this valley. When the wars ended, no one would have to hide their solar panels in the basement and ration their battery-powered lights behind blackout curtains. The anti-hoarding laws would be lifted and she would be free to prosper.

In the meantime...she looked around the dusty property with its ribbon of creek coaxing living things out of desert dust. She was the only qualified veterinarian in this valley, and word was that the veterinarian on the nearby reservation was old. Carina would make out okay here and lay the groundwork for her husband's return.

The sun was low in the sky now, dipping below the mesas. In a mellow frame of mind, Carina started toward the house but stopped at the edge of an alfalfa field where her older sister stood brooding over the freshly-irrigated crop. "You could make a nice painting out of it, don't you think? All this green surrounded by desert."

Amalia looked at her through narrowed eyes. "I'll turn into a regular Georgia O'Keefe out here."

Carina suppressed a sigh. Although Amalia was in many ways the more practical sister, her interests had always been toward literature and the arts. Farm life was going to be hard for her. "People have always made art in the desert, even when it was just native people painting pots. We'll find things to do here. Maybe we can even make it fun."

"You'll find things to do. I'll just cope."

"It's better than the city, with the riots and rationing."

"Perhaps." Amalia jerked her head. "Dinner was almost ready when I came out here. Let's go before Mom and Dad worry."

"What's to worry about, out here in the country?" Carina tipped her head and looked at the deepening blue of the sky, where a few faint early stars twinkled.

Amalia worked a shrug into her movements as they walked the path toward the low adobe house. "As far as they're concerned, we might as well be kids again."

"I know. Still, it was best to come out here. Things are getting worse in the cities. At least out here we may have a chance."

"Of course."

She said it without conviction, but Carina knew better than to belabor the topic. They were nearly at the house and she thought the glow of candles and kerosene lanterns in the windows gave it a certain charm.

"What are you smiling about? I saw what Mom was cooking and it wasn't much."

Carina didn't care if dinner was a bowl of beans or an epicurean feast. This place may be her fallback and not her dream, but she was here now and she was going to make the best of it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flash Fiction: The Speech

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday 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 pushed his way through the packed and stuffy auditorium with Ozone, Fausto and Gitana close behind. "I can't believe I let you talk me into this."

"It's going to be great," Ozone assured him, shoving a young man out of the way so he could stay close to his boss. "El Duque is one of the best speakers around."

Gitana rolled her eyes. "It's easy to be a good speaker when all you ever say is lies."

"Speech-making is an art," Ozone reminded her.

"And most art is just a bunch of make-believe," Vince said. He stopped amid the swirling mass of people. "Where's Speedball? Don't tell me we lost him already."

They tried to look around, but there were too many people. The house lights flickered and someone onstage began testing the microphone.

"We'll catch up to him later," Ozone said. He pushed past Vince and Gitana and began fighting his way toward the front rows.

"He's right," Gitana said, tugging on Vince's arm. "You know how Speedball is. He probably saw one of his connections and went to cut a deal."

"That's what I'm afraid of." Vince turned to Fausto. "Go find him." When Fausto protested, Vince repeated himself. "I don't want to see your face again until you've got him."

Vince and Gitana followed Ozone to the front where he was trying to squeeze in next to an eager young couple dressed in El Duque's colors of red and gold. From a hidden pocket in his coat sleeve, Vince produced a switchblade and El Duque's followers saw the wisdom of finding another place to enjoy the proceedings. As he sat down, Vince glanced around in annoyance. He had a pretty good idea what the speech would be about and he was in no mood to hear the local strongman's empty promises. It was only because he had nothing better to do tonight that he had allowed Ozone to talk him into coming here.

He was trying to get comfortable on the hard wooden bench when he saw something that just might make the event worthwhile. Sitting on the other side of the aisle was a young woman, her face turned toward the stage and her smooth hair flowing like melted butter down her back. As if she could feel Vince's eyes upon her, she turned and flashed him a smile.

Vince slowly returned her smile. Who was she and why was she here? Was she one of El Duque's admirers or was she here out of curiosity and boredom like he was? Did she have a boyfriend or husband? Vince could take care of that little problem.

A sharp poke in the ribs brought him back to the moment. "What are you looking at?" Gitana demanded, as if she hadn't already spotted the beauty in the other row.

"Just checking for signs of trouble," Vince said.

"You're as big a liar as El Duque."

"And you're not my girlfriend."

Gitana turned away with a huff as the lights dimmed and El Duque strode into the bright glare of a spotlight.

While Ozone clapped enthusiastically, Vince tried again to catch the blonde's attention. She mouthed some words he couldn't make out in the darkened auditorium but his mind reeled at the possibilities.

Gitana poked him again. "Quit making a fool of yourself over that dumb little hussie."

Vince waved her off. "Pay attention to the speech or something."

Sullenly, she sidled up to Ozone, but he was having none of her antics either, entranced as he was by El Duque's words about what he would do for city infrastructure.

Vince was deep in flirtation with the blonde, oblivious to Gitana's occasional kick to his ankles when a scuffle at the back of the auditorium drew his attention. He turned around his seat and muttered a curse.

The blonde waved a scrap of paper at him as he exited the row. He shoved it in his pocket with grin and a thank you, and ran up the aisle, followed closely by a furious Gitana. They arrived at the auditorium doors just in time to see Fausto being dragged outside by guards.

Vince gave chase. "It's okay, man," he told the guards. "Whatever he did, he won't cause any more trouble. Just hand him over to me and it'll all be cool."

"Who are you?" one of the guards asked.

"A friend of his."

"Well, you can bail your friend out of jail in the morning. We don't allow fighting at political functions."

Fausto looked away in embarrassment as the guards dragged him away.

"I could kill that motherfucker," Vince muttered.

"Which one?" Gitana asked.

"All of them. I should've never let Fausto out of my sight. He's been jonesing for a fight ever since that deal with the Diablos fell through." He looked around. "Where's Ozone?"

"Still listening to El Duque."

"Any sign of Speedball?"

Gitana shrugged and took his arm. "Let's go get a drink."

Vince sighed. "That's one of the best ideas I've heard all night."

As they walked the crumbling streets to the nearest bar, Vince didn't notice Gitana's fingers slip into his jacket pocket and remove a piece of paper. "So what did you think of El Duque's speech?"

"What?" He frowned and looked at her as if she were speaking a foreign language. "Oh yeah, the speech. It was nothing much."

They were at the bar now and Vince held open the door for her. Gitana met his eyes with a soulful look, crumpled the paper unobtrusively and dropped it into the muck outside the building.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Excerpt: Vince and the Riot

NOTE: Since Alice Audrey has kindly given a shout-out to Vince at The Serialists, I've posted an outtake about him from Diana's Diary (Day 31 if you want to read more).

In the excerpt below, Diana is at the hospital with Vince's sister Sara while a riot sweeps the city. Vince went to see what he could get out of the chaos but promised he would return at eight o'clock to walk Sara home.


Eight-thirty, and we tried not to let on what we were feeling. I kept reading, no longer with any idea what words were coming out of my mouth. Sara fidgeted, jumped out of her chair, looked out the window and sat back down, only to start squirming again. We were both at about the limits of our endurance, each afraid to meet each others’ eyes and ask the question on our minds, when we heard new footsteps in the hallway.

We looked up together as Vince strode in, grimy and smelling of smoke. Sara flung her arms around his neck.

“Here,” he said, handing her a bag. “I got you some stuff.”

Her shoulders slumped, and all her previous worry and sympathy vanished. “Why did you do that? I told you—”

“Let me take you home, and if you still want to fuss at me, you can do it there.”

He looked at me. “Come on, let’s take my ungrateful sister home.”

The dormitory was so close I wondered if Vince’s concern wasn’t a little excessive, but when we got outside and I saw the people camped in rings around the hospital, I understood. These people had been burnt out of their homes with nothing in the world but what they could carry on their backs or in a bag. Even though there was extra hospital security tonight, some of the characters in the crowd looked tough and wily. Vince and I kept our hands on our weapons and moved Sara quickly through the crowd to the door of her building.

“Want to come up?” she said.

“No, you look tired.” He gave her a peck on the cheek. “Someone will be here tomorrow to walk you to work. Don’t go alone, all right?”

She brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. “You worry too much, but okay.”

After she went inside, Vince gave a jerk of his head. “I need a drink. Want to come?”

We went to a bar he knew—a dark, smoky place lit by candles and oil lamps. It was populated by hardened street types in leather and expensive-looking jewelry that they guarded with the guns and knives on their hips. Vince ordered us some vodka and we took our glasses to a corner table. I sipped my drink, watching the people in the room and waiting for Vince to speak.

“It was hell,” he finally said, as if I had asked a question only a moment ago, and out loud.

“Were any of our people hurt?”

“No, and we did really well.” He took a big gulp of his vodka. “But whenever ordinary civilians get mixed up in these things. . .”

I knew exactly what he was talking about. “It’s one thing to see dead and wounded combatants, but when it’s old men, women and kids. . .”

“There’s some really sick motherfuckers in this world, you know that?” He slammed back the rest of his drink, waved a waitress over and ordered another one. “No, wait. Bring two more. Let's not waste time.”

We talked for what seemed a long time. I tried not to pry, and gradually the whole ugly story came out. “We scored pretty good off the deal,” he finally said.

I wasn’t sure it was anything to brag about, but someone would’ve ended up with the goods and I suppose it might as well be Vince and his gang as anyone else. Better than everything ending up in the hands of the people who started all the trouble, at least.

“What are you going to do with it all?” I asked.

“Piss it away drinking and gambling. Give some of it away in impulsive gifts and charity. If there’s anything left over, I'll buy a little food and maybe pay off a creditor or two.” He grabbed my hand across the table. “I’ve got a present for you. Finish your drink, and we’ll go someplace I can give it to you without everyone watching.”

You can find more stories about Vince by following the tag below or by reading Diana's Diary, Days 22-33 under January: Urban Adventures

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Excerpt: Illusions

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This excerpt from Tin Soldier has been edited for clarity and to help it work as a piece of standalone flash fiction. It is posted here for Sunday Scribblings.

“I'm grateful for all his help,” Carina confessed as she collapsed into a chair in the sitting room of the hotel suite. “But Alvi tires me sometimes.”

Donovan watched her cautiously. Alvi the peddler had been a friend of Carina's family for many years. Now that she was a widow, he hoped to be something more. Donovan wondered if she had noticed.

“Thank you coming to town with me and putting up with all this. I’ve been a lot of trouble.”

“You’ve been no trouble at all.” Donovan wandered over to the stack of packages from the day's shopping and pulled out a bottle of scotch.

Carina sat up. “Can I have some? Just a little to help me sleep.”

Donovan poured a generous amount for her and then some for himself. Now that the military funeral was over and supplies purchased for the valley farm Carina shared with her sister, Donovan felt weary to the bone. Maybe it wouldn’t take long to get their packages staged by the door. He could hire someone to pack the wagon in the morning and help with the coffin that was the main purpose of their errand.

“You shouldn’t lie to me,” Carina said, startling him out of his reverie.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve been nothing but trouble.”

“It’s not your fault. You're still grieving.”

She frowned over her drink. “That's no reason for you to lie. Alvi lies. I’m not sure why, but he does. It depresses me to only get more lies from you.”

“What does Alvi lie to you about?”

“You tell me.”

Their eyes met. “He has to lie," Donovan finally said. "He’s a government informer. The peddling is just a cover.”

Carina nodded, as if he were confirming what she had already suspected. “I should’ve realized long ago.”

“I don’t think there’s any malice in it. He gives a lot of disinformation. He’s even helped people escape to the Underground.”

“So he plays both ends against the middle.”

“Whatever his faults, his feelings for you are sincere. He'd do anything for you.”

“Except take no for an answer.”

Donovan frowned. Carina had only learned the news of her husband's death a few weeks ago. Had Alvi proposed so quickly? What did it mean for Donovan's own prospects with her if he had?

Carina tossed back the rest of her scotch and stood up. “I’m going to pack my things and get ready for bed. Thanks for the drink.”

After she left, Donovan staged his purchases near the door, then poured himself another drink and went into the bedroom. He found Carina in her nightgown, standing in front of her empty luggage. Clothes and other items were spread across the bed in disarray and there was an expression of confusion on her face. “Do you need any help?” he asked.

“No, it’s just. . .” She shook her head and smiled at her own folly. “How hard can this be, right?” She began picking things up and stuffing them in a bag. “It's been so hard to get started on anything since I found know. Anything I try to do, I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong, and I won’t have another chance. Every decision feels irrevocable.”

“I don’t think how you pack is going to make much of a difference,” Donovan said. “But if you don’t leave out something to wear tomorrow, you’re going to find yourself irrevocably having to unpack again.”

Carina sat on the bed and ran her fingers through her hair. “I think I’ve lost my mind.”

“Lost your illusions, more like.”

“I guess I had a lot of them to lose.” She searched his face earnestly. “Isn’t anything as it seems?”

“I’ve never thought so.”

“I liked my illusions.”

Donovan fumbled in his pocket, pulled out a blue velvet box and handed it to her.

The necklace seemed to glow with an inner light in its nest of white satin. Carina’s breath caught and she looked up at Donovan in confusion. “This must’ve cost a fortune.”

“Not really.”

“You didn’t steal it, did you?”


“But you probably stole to pay for it.” She hesitated, as if she would give it back. “I can’t wear blue any more - it was my husband's color.”

Donovan took the necklace and held it up so she could see the full effect of the light shining through the gems, then he clasped it around her neck. “Of course you can wear it. It’s the color of your illusions.”

She reached a hand to her collarbone and touched the cool stones. Without meaning to, she smiled. When she looked at Donovan again, a little of the old warmth and humor lit her eyes. “I guess there’s no harm in wearing a reminder of how deluded I can be.”
Want more? Tin Soldier is free and online.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Flash Fiction: Bad Patient

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday 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.

Sara glanced at the clock and sighed. Four hours since the last round of medication; time to dose him again. She set the book aside, got up off the sofa and went into the next room. Her brother Vince lay on the bed, pale and sweating. "Time for your meds," she said in her most chipper nurse's tones.

"Not again." He turned away. "Why do you keep torturing me?"

"Because it's the only way you're going to get better." She took his chin in her hand and tried to force a mixture of vitamins and antibiotics down his throat.

Vince pushed her away. "Why can't you give me the good stuff? You know - morphine or something?"

Although it was true that Vince's injuries would've merited pain-killers had he gone to the hospital instead of to her apartment, Sara knew better than to risk it. Vince had enemies, and clouding his mind with narcotics could get them both killed. "It's too hard to sneak opiates out of the hospital," she lied. "If I lose my job, then what? You know what they say: Avoid the appearance of evil."

"There's other hospitals you can work at. Besides, you're too smart to get caught."

"It hardly matters, since here we are." With an air of brisk efficiency, she pulled back the blanket and unwrapped his bandages, inspecting each injury for signs of infection. One wound in particular troubled her. "This one goes deep," she told him as she frowned over an abdominal laceration. "If it pierced your liver, you could need more care than I can provide. You should--"

"No. No hospitals." Vince shook his head. "The cops will be looking for me there."

"They might look for you here too."

"But you'll warn me. You'll get me out in time." He turned appealing eyes on her. "You wouldn't let El Duque's men get me, would you?"

It was a rhetorical question. Of course she would do anything to protect her brother from the city's dictatorial government. He was her last living relative, and it was because of him that she had been able to go to nursing school and establish herself in a career that would guarantee her an honest living for the rest of her life. She owed Vince everything, except, perhaps, a little patience. She brought the vial of herbs and medicine back to his lips. "Drink this and your secrets are safe with me."

Their eyes locked, and with reluctance, Vince choked the medicine down.

"You can be a bitch sometimes," he muttered.

Sara suppressed a smile. "I love you too, brother."

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Flash Fiction Extra: Waiting Game

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Three Word Wednesday 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.

He had come here hoping to bump into her, but no such luck so far. Her good looks and elusive style transfixed him the last time she saw her here with her long legs, pouty lips and a Glock at her hip with her name spelled out on the handle in what looked like diamonds. She wasn't the sort to knuckle under to someone else's demands. Too bad for her. Vince hoped he would catch up with her before Quix from the Catorces did. Poaching on an established gang leader's turf could only lead to trouble, and although Vince liked to brag that he wasn't sentimental, he had a certain admiration for pretty girls who could hold their own in a fight. If the Catorces jumped her, it would be a fight she wouldn't win alone. Vince sighed and leaned against the wall...waiting.