In Rose and Thorne, Vinnie and Ethan have had a long night, and are heading back to the motel for some rest, with their newly acquired temporary guest. After all, tomorrow is another day, right? And in Moving Forward, it's time to confront the guy who assaulted Marshall in the men's room. Payback's a bitch, but is it the right thing to do? Find out in this week's episode. Don't forget to check out what the other Briefers have been up to. Their links follow my tales! Enjoy!
Rose and Thorne #5 (2.1)
The pup fell asleep in my lap on the way to the motel. We had an apartment in Richmond which was our central command post, and which the government footed the bill for, but that was two hours away. Since we’d expected to be in Roanoke for at least a few days, we’d found something local we could temporarily call home.
I remembered an all-night convenience store located not far from our motel. We’d put it to good use in the wee hours of the night for such essentials as beer and potato chips and chocolate cupcakes. It would serve my purpose now. “Pull in,” I directed Ethan at the last second, just as we were about to drive past.
“Yes, dear.” He quickly signaled and turned into the parking lot without missing a beat. I have to admit Ethan’s a pretty good driver. But I’d never tell him so, or let him know I think he might be better than I am. If I did that, not only would I never hear the end of it, I’d also never get to drive. I hardly get to drive as it is.
“You hungry, Vin?” The store was lit by garish fluorescent lights which spilled obnoxiously out into the parking lot, casting odd-colored shadows over Ethan’s face and hands. Maybe they’d had security problems at one time.
“Not really.” To be honest, sleep sounded a lot better than food. First a hot shower, something to wash away the night and put it behind me. “But I’m sure this little guy will be ready to eat when he wakes up. Do you mind going in and getting him something? I hate to move him, or I’d go myself.”
“Not a problem, baby. What brand dog food should I get?”
What was I, a dog whisperer? “I don’t think it matters. Besides, a store this small, you probably won’t get much choice, if any. Just make sure it looks nutritious. Maybe something with tartar control.” I used it for my teeth, couldn’t hurt the pup any to add some to his diet.
Ethan laughed. “I’ll do my best to find something that’ll build strong teeth and a healthy coat. You sure you don’t want anything?”
“Naw, all I want is right here.” I gave him a look so he’d know I meant him and nothing else. He leaned in and kissed me, and he tasted like hot sauce. I lifted an eyebrow.
“What did you eat?”
“A taco. Some guy was selling them in the park.”
“You bought food from an unlicensed vendor?”
“Sure, why not. He looked legit.”
“I would have thought you knew better.”
“Guess not.” He kissed me again, and the taste wasn’t quite as strong as before, more Ethan-flavor.
He was halfway out the door when I thought of something else. I crooked a finger and he leaned in, listening. “I have an idea. When we get back home, how about I make us some of those tacos you like so much.”
“Ooh, the ones with the ghost peppers? It’s been a while since you did that. I like that idea. Like it very much. Maybe I should lay in a supply of antacid while I’m here?”
“Only if you’re a wimp.”
“Not me, señor.” He closed the door and headed into the store. I turned my attention to the dog. His small body rumbled in contented sleep. He was sure cute. I wondered what his name was, but I didn’t want to lift his tag and wake him just to find out. Drat. I should have told Ethan to get him a brush while he was at it. Guess it didn’t matter. I was sure his owner had one. They’d be reunited, maybe even as soon as tomorrow. And then he could get back to his normal routine, whatever that might be.
I leaned back against the headrest, just closing my eyes for a minute, protecting them against the bright light. The sound of the car door jarred me awake. Ethan had several plastic bags in his hands. He tossed them into the back seat and started the engine. A long skinny bottle looked suspiciously like wine.
“What did you get?”
“A bottle of moscato. It was on sale. And I got us a couple of subs, in case we get hungry later. Some of the sour cream and onion chips you like. And all the stuff you wanted for the dog. I even found a brush too.”
I swear he can be the sweetest man sometimes. He makes me all gooey inside. Another secret I keep to myself. He already thinks I’m soft, don’t need to add fuel to that fire. “You done good, Eth.”
“I know.” He gave me a self-satisfied smile, at the same time patting himself on the back. I just rolled my eyes.
The motel had two floors, and each room had an outside entrance, which meant we didn’t have to sneak the dog in past some nosy night clerk. Our room was on the first floor, on the farthest end from the office. It afforded the perfect view of the parking lot. Better safe than sorry. We parked beneath a light standard for the same reason.
Ethan gathered the bags, while I lifted the pup into my arms.
“Hang on a sec, Vin.” He came around the side of the car and opened my door. I stepped out carefully, trying not to turn my ankle. Boy, I couldn’t wait to get out of those shoes. My feet were killing me. Maybe I could talk Ethan into a foot massage. Wouldn’t that be heaven?
We reached the door of Room 115. Ethan balanced the bags while he fumbled the keycard into the slot. He cautiously pushed open the door. Moving into the room ahead of me, he quickly glanced around. “All safe,” he said, and I entered just behind him, kicking the door shut.
Damn, that bed looked good.
to be continued
Moving Forward #5 (1.5)
They returned to the table to find everyone standing about, literally chomping at the bit. As soon as they saw Marshall and Lee, they started to surge toward them, everyone talking at once. Lee held up his hands and they fell back as he cut a path through them, heading toward Denver’s cousin.
“Where is he?”
“He’s with a group of guys in the game room,” Dustin said. “I didn’t say anything, and he never noticed me. Too busy playing pool.”
“All right, then. Much obliged.”
“No problem. I don’t like bullies,” Dustin said simply. His eyes met Marshall’s, and Marshall was torn between annoyance at what he’d said and gratitude for his support. He gave Dustin a curt nod before he turned away and followed Lee. He knew without looking they were being followed by the others. He knew better than to think they were about to sit this one out. They were his and Lee’s friends, and they were damn loyal.
Inside the game room, the sound level was high, between noisy conversations and high tech electronics. Mostly occupied by men, they were engaged in shooting pool or playing darts or testing their skill at pinball. Three pool tables sat in the middle of the room, and each held a row of quarters, people waiting to play. Marshall immediately recognized the man who’d assaulted him. He stood beside the farthest table, cue in hand, and he didn’t look happy. Maybe he’d missed his shot.
The man glanced in their direction, and his scowl seemed to turn uneasy. The next moment, his expression went blank as he watched them approach, his eyes flickering between Marshall and Lee. He tightened his hold on his pool cue. A man standing beside him gave him an irritated shove. “Move your ass, Al. You missed, it’s my shot.” When his companion didn’t respond, he swiveled toward them and fell silent.
“Whaddya want?” the man addressed as Al said belligerently.
“I want to talk to you.” Lee’s voice was steely but controlled, but Marshall new what lay beneath his apparent calm.
“About why you thought you could hurt my partner and get away with it.”
“Al, what’s he talking about?” The question came from the man who’d been trying to get in his shot. He looked from Al to Lee.
“Nothing. He must have me confused with someone else.” Al started to turn away, but Lee grabbed his arm.
“No you don’t, you’re going to stand there and face the music.”
“He doesn’t have you confused with anyone,” Marshall spoke up. “It was you. Just now. In the men’s room. You got mad because I didn’t want to dance with you again. You did this to me.” He pointed to his bruised face.
“I saw the whole thing.” Dustin appeared at Marshall’s side, fists clenched.
“That’s ridiculous,” Al bluffed. “You’re nothing but a little boy with an overinflated ego. Why should I waste my time on you or your boyfriend?” He tried to pull out of Lee’s grasp.
Lee released his arm and grabbed him by his shirt instead, twisting the fabric. “Nobody hurts Marshall and gets away with it. Why don’t you take a shot at me if you’re so damned brave? Pick on someone a little closer to your own size? Afraid you might get hurt?"
Several other men began to form a group around Al. “What’s going on here, Rudy?” one of them asked the man standing beside Al.
“This guy’s looking for a fight.” He gestured toward Lee. “Says Al hurt his boyfriend or something.”
A disgruntled murmur ran through the newcomers like a wave. Lee ignored them.
“You afraid to face me in a fair fight?” Lee taunted Al. “Afraid I might hurt you? You know, I just might at that. But I’ll tell you what. You admit to what you did, and apologize to Marshall, and just maybe I’ll let you walk away from this untouched.”
Al laughed, but it was nervous laughter. “Me afraid of you? I don’t think so. Why should I apologize to that piece of shit anyway? He’s nothing but a cocktease—”
Lee’s fist smashed into Al’s face. Al yowled in pain and covered his nose with his hand. Blood streamed through his fingers.
“Goddammit! You broke my fucking nose!” Al’s voice came out in a nasal whine.
“I’ll break more than that, you son of a bitch. Are we going to take this outside and settle it like men or do you intend to start crying for your mama?”
Marshall noticed Al tensed, and his first thought was he intended to hit Lee. The hell he will.
Marshall took a step toward him, with the intention of swinging at him. From the corner of his eye, he saw Dustin was also in motion. Al started to turn away from them. Maybe he was retreating after all, the coward.
Without warning, Al whirled back around. He raised the pool cue he still held over his head and brought it down forcefully on top of Lee’s head. Lee twisted away at the last moment, deflecting the blow onto his shoulder instead. He staggered back, almost losing his balance. He was propped up by Roy, who helped him keep his feet.
“Why, you no good sonofa—” The rest of his words were lost in the furious outcry from Slim and Rye and the others who surged forward en masse. Equally angry shouts came from the other side. Marshall was sure a full-blown melee was about to break out, but he was more concerned about Lee. He started to reach for him just as he felt a tug at his arm.
To his annoyance, he found Dustin was trying to drag him away. “C’mon, let’s get you out of here.”
“The hell with that.” Marshall yanked his arm out of the other’s grasp. “I’m not leaving Lee. You get out of here if you want.”
Just then a shot rang out.
to be continued
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