Sunday, April 30, 2017

Guardian Angels – Protection (11)

When they got to the apartment, Mack insisted on going in first. Although he didn't take out a gun, Kip had the feeling he could pull it instantly if he saw anything suspicious. Since the place was on the small side, with just a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom, it didn't take Mack long before he told Kip it was clear to come inside.
"Did you look under the beds?" Jamie asked, seeming to find the whole thing more exciting than scary.
"Yep," Mack told him. "Under the beds, in the closets, behind the sofa, just like in the movies. All's good."
Kip felt a sense of relief, even though he doubted the killer—if he was going to come after him—would have broken in. He'd just shoot me from some rooftop. And at this point, why bother? I'd have talked to the police already. Emily would have too and he's got to know that. He has to be long gone by now. I hope.
"How does everyone feel about pizza?" Kip asked, taking out his phone. He wasn't the least surprised when Jamie cheered and Mack gave a thumbs-up.
An hour later, the three of them were making definite inroads into the two large pizzas Kip had ordered. Jamie kept the adults entertained with stories about what he'd done with his cousins and what they'd watched on TV. Finally he began to wind down, both in eating and talking, so Kip suggested he should go unpack his bag from the trip and then get ready for bed.
"But Dad…" Jamie looked mutinously at Kip then yawned. "Okay, I guess."
"He's a good kid," Mack said, once Jamie was out of earshot.
"Most of the time," Kip agreed with a proud smile, while he began cleaning up the remnants of supper. Then he asked with a worried frown, "Do you really think that man will come after us?"
Mack hesitated before replying, "From what Detective Howe told me, there's a slim possibility. He might think that you or your sister knows more than you do and could testify in court that he's the man who kidnapped the boy, based on what your father told you."
"Which was nothing," Kip pointed out.
"But the guy doesn't know that, and tying him to the kidnapping could, to his way of thinking, also tie him to the murder of your parents."
Kip nodded. "So, in a way, we're being used as bait to draw him out."
"Not to put too fine a point on it… yes."
Taking a deep breath, Kip looked squarely at Mack. "Just keep Jamie safe. That's all I ask."
"We intend to keep all of you safe. That's why we're here."
"I know." Kip finished clearing up and made a new pot of coffee. "Help yourself," he told Mack when it was finished brewing. "I'm going to check on Jamie."
Kip walked into Jamie's room, expecting to find him asleep. The minute he entered, Jamie whispered, "There's an angel in here."
"What are you talking about?" Kip looked around, trying to figure out why Jamie thought that. The closet door was open, so he knew there wasn't anyone in the room. "It's just your imagination," he said, sitting down beside his son on the bed.
"Uh-uh. I saw him."
"Really?" Kip chuckled. "Did he have wings and flutter around the ceiling?"
"Dad…" Jamie looked at him as if he was crazy. "Of course not. He was just like you."
"I think you were dreaming but still, why don't we go tell Mack?"
"Tell me what?" Mack asked from the doorway.
"Jamie says there was someone in here."
"He still is," Jamie insisted, staring at a spot next to his small desk.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Smoke and Mirrors - 3

“Catch me if you can.”

Daniel shifted to his jaguar form, something that never failed to make Jared wince when he saw it even though Daniel assured him that, after all the years of doing it, it was painless. With easy grace Daniel leapt to a low-hanging branch and then to another higher up on the next tree. Jared chuckled as he gauged where Daniel would probably head for next and lifted off the ground to land on a branch a hundred or so yards from where he’d begun.

The jaguar shook its head and sprang off to the left, landing on all fours on the ground before racing off through the trees.

Jared followed, soon running apace with the jaguar. “You don’t win that easily,” he commented with a laugh. The jaguar gave a soft roar in return that almost sounded as if he were laughing, before speeding up so that Jared was hard-pressed to keep him in view.

The full Long Nights Moon cast its glow between the trees making the shadows deeper and seemingly more chill, even in the warm evening. Suddenly the jaguar drew to a stop across the narrow passage between two trees, turning its head, its eyes gleaming as the moon hit them.

::Don’t move::

Jared obeyed immediately, trusting Daniel’s instincts.

::We have company, although they don’t know we’re here, so far::

::Who, or what?:: Jared asked.

::Two humans, one fairy they’ve caught, although they seem to think it’s some sort of strange insect::


::No shit Sherlock. I could let them see me but that would only make them run. They have her in a bottle like she was a firefly or something::

::Allow me:: Jared slipped silently past Daniel into the small clearing. “Find something interesting?” he asked the man and woman who stood there.

The man hurriedly put the bottle behind his back. “Naw, it’s just a night flying insect for the museum’s collection. Nothing special but one of the aides managed to muck up the one we had on display so…” He shrugged.

“Really? May I see it? I’m a bit of an amateur entomologist.” As Jared spoke he caught the man’s eye and held out his hand.

The man stepped forward to hand him the jar. The woman started to protest vehemently until Jared looked at her. “Why do you care?” he asked quietly as he took it.

“Because, oh never mind, we’ll just find another one. Where there’s one there are more, it’s a fact of nature.”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Smoke and Mirrors - 2

Jared made a quick stop at the fridge when they arrived home to take out two blood bags, emptying one quickly, then the second one more slowly as he savored it.

Leaning against the doorframe, Daniel watched in amusement. “You relish that way too much. I’m still surprised you don’t actually hunt for you meals.”

“I used to, I’ve told you that. It’s just too much of a bother now since blood is so readily available this way and I can choose which flavor I want.” He tossed the bags in the trash container then took a beer out of the fridge, lobbing it to Daniel. “So what’s on the agenda for tonight?”

“Probably a good long run since it’s a full moon. Want to join me?”

Jared snorted. “Not if you’re going through the bayous. Last time we did that I came home smelling like something died and took over my clothing.”

“I found a better place a couple hundred miles from here. Well forested and remote enough that no one will bother us.”

Spearing a hand through his short, black hair Jared considered it before nodding his assent. “Anything to get us away from the city and its denizens for a while.”

“Damned good thing the humans don’t know what co-exists with them.”

“Definitely—and preying on them on occasion like the one today. At least he won’t be doing that any more. His pack should have been the ones to deal with him long before we had to, rogue or not.”

Daniel nodded in agreement. “I for one am ready for a long vacation somewhere where there nothing alive but the flora and us.”

“As if that will happen in the near future. No rest for the wicked as they say, for us or them.”

“Hey now, we’re not wicked—much.” Daniel grinned as he finished his beer. “Okay, let’s blow this joint and go release some tensions.”

“I’m all for that.” Jared started past Daniel only to find himself swept into a hard embrace. “Umm, are you planning on releasing the ‘tensions’ before or after our running?”

Ignoring the question for the moment Daniel devoured Jared’s mouth before releasing him. “After. That was just a preview of coming attractions.” He jumped quickly out of the way as Jared aimed a swat at his ass. “Was that your preview?” he asked, laughing.

Jared grinned sinfully in response. “Perhaps. You never know.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Smoke and Mirrors - 1

“It’s all illusion, smoke and mirrors,” Daniel said as he watched from their vantage point high above the street.

Jared rested the palms of his hand on the parapet, peering down at the people walking ten stories below them. With his eyesight he had no problems distinguishing one form from another any more than his partner did. “I know that goblin," he said, pointing. "Stupid but harmless.”

Daniel spotted the one he was talking about and shook his head. “Someone should have told him that teens haven’t dressed that way in fifty years.”

“Retro my dear man, retro.”

“Still an insane form to take if you ask me.”

Jared turned to look at Daniel. “Says the were-jag who lets his hair grow down to his waist so he looks like a hippie.”

“Better than a day-walker who…” Daniel paused, trying to think of an appropriate insult.

“Yes?” Jared cocked an eyebrow, waiting.

“Okay, okay, so you’re the epitome of perfect style to the nth degree.”

Jared’s smirk said it all as he turned back to the job at hand. “We have liftoff,” he said a few minutes later.

Daniel joined him. Nodding, he checked his weapons. “Ready when you are.”

Seconds later they landed in the alley across from the building and stepped out into the throng of pedestrians. A quick glance told them their target was only a few yards ahead of them. The man was tall and muscular, wearing tight-fitting jeans and white T-shirt covered by a leather vest. He moved like the predator he was, his head swiveling right and left as if searching for the perfect prey.

Jared and Daniel closed on him fast. “Looking for something,” Daniel asked menacingly as he dropped the thin stiletto into his hand and pressed the tip to the small of the man’s back while latching on to his arm tightly with his free hand.

Jared stepped in front the man, turning to face him, a small pistol barely visible in his fist. “Silver, in case you couldn’t figure that out by yourself. Come quietly and I may not shoot, ‘may’ being the operative word there. I’m not so certain my friend is quite so inclined to mercy all things considered.”

“Oh,” Daniel said, “and don’t get any ideas about vanishing. Felines always move faster than canines.”

The man gave a low growl that proved he was just what Daniel had said. “If I come with you then what?”

“You face your peers and they will decide your punishment.”

“And if I try to flee you kill me now. Definitely a no-brainer of a decision.” The were-wolf tensed and then leapt up, grabbing the edge of a ledge twelve feet above them.

Daniel was seconds behind him, landing on the ledge just as the were-wolf pulled himself up on to it. “Going somewhere,” Daniel asked with a grin as he moved lithely forward. “Canines ain’t so great at tightrope walking even in human form. You should have run instead.” He slammed his fist into the were-wolf’s chest, the force of the blow pushing the creature through the pane glass window behind him. Before the creature hit the floor Daniel was on him, the dagger piercing his heart just as he started to shift.

A woman screamed. Daniel glanced up, smiled and shrugged.

“Looks like you have things somewhat under control,” Jared said as he appeared beside Daniel and the dead were-wolf. He shot a look at the terrified woman and her eyes glazed over. Touching her mind he wiped it of what she had witnessed before suggesting she get back to work.

Once the woman left Jared shook his head. “You had to pick the lady’s room, right?”

“Hey, not like I really had an option. He’s the one who chose to stand by the window when I punched him.”

“Excuses, always with the excuses,” Jared grumbled, but he was smiling as he said it. “Okay, let’s get this out of here before someone comes in.”

They each grabbed one of the dead were’s arms and seconds later the room was vacant.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Guardian Angels – Protection (10)

"She's a lady," Jamie whispered when Kip and Cass arrived to pick him up from Emily's.
Kip laughed. "That she is, but she's also a cop. She's my protector during the day, while you're staying here with Emily."
"Oh. Okay." Jamie looked at Cass wide-eyed then whispered again, "Do you like her?"
"Sure. She seems nice enough, from what little I've seen of her."
Jamie grabbed Kip's hand, tugging him toward the car. "Are you going to see her again?"
"Every day until this is over, I guess."
"Good." Jamie beamed at Cass. "Can we go on a picnic on Saturday?"
"I…umm…I'm not sure that's a good idea. Maybe"—Cass looked at Kip—"does he like movies?"
Kip snorted. "He's eight. What eight-year-old doesn't?"
"Maybe a movie instead," she said, returning her attention to Jamie.
"Yes." Jamie pumped his fist in the air before jumping into the car when Kip opened the back door.
Kip noticed—as he had earlier when they were not inside classrooms—that all the time Cass was talking, she was also scanning the area. This gave him a strong sense of both confidence that she could protect them if necessary and an occasional shiver of fear that it was even necessary.
When they arrived back at Kip's apartment Kip parked in the lot then waited for Cass to join them before heading to the building's entrance. Officer Caldwell—"Call me Mack"—was waiting there for them.
"You're big," Jamie said in awe. Which he was, at about six-two and probably two-twenty-five, Kip guessed.
Mack laughed. "So I've been told a time or three, but it's all muscle."
"Braggart," Cass muttered dismissively. "You don't have to be big to be good."
He grinned. "Nope, but it helps. Still"—now he smiled at her—"when it comes down to it, I wouldn't want to tangle with you during target practice. You're one of the best shots on the force."
"You are?" Jamie looked even more awestruck, if that was possible.
Cass nodded. "I came in second overall."
"Wow. I'm glad you're guarding my Dad."
"Me too," Kip agreed. "What time tomorrow?"
"When do you leave the apartment?" Cass asked.
"My first class is at nine."
"Then I'll be here at eight-thirty," she replied, before returning to her car.
Kip watched until she was out of sight before unlocking the front door of the building.
"You like her," Jamie said, as they went inside and crossed the lobby to the elevator.
"I told you I did."
"I mean you like her."
Kip shook his head. "I've only known her for a few hours. For all I know, she's married with…three kids."
"She's not," Mack told him, looking amused at the conversation.
"See, Dad."
"Enough," Kip muttered, which effectively ended Jamie's probing—for the time being, at least.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Three Lovers on the Grift - 31

It took Lyman several days, and all of his persuasive powers, but he was finally able to convince the powers-that-be within the Portland Police Department that they'd be better served by using Vaughn, Page, and Nigel as undercover agents than they would be by arresting them. Then there was another wait while the decision was cleared nationally and all wants and warrants against the trio were dropped.

With everything set, Lyman and Silas were again standing at the back door of the trio's house, waiting for one of them to answer their knock. The door opened, and Vaughn ushered them inside then from there, into the living room.

"I'll get the others," he said. Then he asked quietly, "Is it all set up?"

"I'd rather tell all of you at the same time," Lyman replied, keeping his demeanor serious.

With a nod, Vaughn went upstairs, returning moments later with Page and Nigel in tow. Once everyone was settled, the three lovers waited, worried expressions on their faces, for Lyman to speak.

"It's a go."

"Thank God. No, no, thank you!" Page sprang to her feet, crossing to hug Lyman so hard he had to beg her to let him breathe. She laughed, releasing her hold on him.

"I'd hug you too, but Silas might take issue with that," Nigel said with a grin.

"He might," Lyman agreed, chuckling.

"Now what happens?" Vaughn asked.

Lyman explained everything, including the fact that all possible charges against them had been dropped. "At this point, the three of you need to go talk to one of the local detectives." He handed Vaughn a card with the man's name and phone number. "He'll get things set up and you go from there."

"Thank you," Vaughn said sincerely. "Now we have one more small thing to settle."

Page went back to the sofa, settling in Vaughn's lap with a shake of her head. "Hardly small."

"True." Wrapping an arm around her waist, he looked at Lyman and Silas. "We'd like to name the two of you as the twins' guardians, just in case something happens to us."

"Are you serious?" Silas was obviously surprised, but ecstatic as well from the smile on his face.

"Very serious, if you're willing."

"We'd be honored," Lyman replied softly.

And so it came about that the three lovers were able to give up the grift, at least the illegal one. While that wasn't the end of their story by any means, it was the end of life as they'd known it, and the beginning of a new one.

The End

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Three Lovers on the Grift - 30

Page let out a long breath, laying her head against the back of the sofa. "Now what?" she asked, not looking at the others.

"We take care of the immediate problem first," Nigel said, picking up Brian. "Change diapers."

Vaughn rolled his eyes as he went to get Marcia who was half asleep on the sofa next to Page. "We'll be right back."

They were, five minutes later. Page took the twins to nurse and when everyone was settled again she repeated her question, "Now what?"

"What do the two of you think of his idea?" Vaughn countered.

"It could be—interesting," Nigel said. "He's right about the fact that we've got the skills. And if it keeps us out of jail—"

"Which, according to him, is on our horizon in spades right now."

"Do you think he's got the pull to arrange this?" Page asked.

Vaughn nodded. "I don't think he'd have suggested it if he didn't."

She looked down at the twins with a worried frown. "It will be dangerous."

"True, and before you say it, we won't cut you out of it, but we will make certain that only two of the three of us go off on a job at any one time. That way, just in case of trouble, Brian and Marcia will still have one parent."

"That's a rather morbid thought," Nigel said, "but realistic, I guess."

"We have to face the fact this is not going to be just grifts. We'll be dealing with hardened criminals who have no intention of being caught."

"If this all happens," Page said quietly, "I want us to pick guardians for Marcia and Brian. Or rather, make it official that if, worst case scenario, something happens to one or two of us, whoever's left has no problems about having the right to keep them."

"I agree," Vaughn replied. "And I think we should take it one step further. Now don't shoot me, but Silas and Lyman came here to warn us because of the twins, which to my mind could make them possible secondary guardians."

Nigel looked at him in surprise. "We hardly know them."

"True, but there's no one else I'd even consider. Certainly no one in any of our families."

"For damned sure," Page muttered.

"Okay, before we make a decision on that, let's see if Lyman can work his magic and make the whole deal with the cops happen." Nigel looked at his lovers. "That is, if we're all willing."

"I am," Page stated emphatically. "I want this to be our home, no more running. If that's what it takes then we do it."

"I agree," Vaughn said firmly as he walked across to the sofa. He gently stroked the babies’ heads, then kissed Page and Nigel as if to seal the deal. "I'll get them back up here and we'll let them know our decision."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Three Lovers on the Grift - 29

"As you said," Vaughn pointed out, "we strike hard and fast and then vanish. We're not into the big con, the wire game, or the Tip; they take too many people and last too long."

Lyman nodded. "The same reason we keep our little side business to just the two of us."

"So I get that the word is now out about us to all police departments, nationally." Vaughn looked at Lyman for confirmation.

"Yes," Lyman replied. "And with pictures of Page, the ones she gave that mark."

"Damn it!" Vaughn glanced at his lovers. "We blew it on that. Although you were a blonde in them, Page."

"The cops aren't stupid, Vaughn, they've come up with composites with her in varying hair colors and lengths."

"Which means the department here has them too, I suspect. Hell."

Lyman nodded.

Page looked miserably at the others. "And here we thought we finally could settle down and have real lives like everyone else."

"With our help, maybe you still can," Silas responded. "Not to put too fine a point on it, how are you doing financially at the moment?"

"We're not hurting." Vaughn smiled tightly.

"So despite what we overheard, you don't have to run another con anytime soon."

"No. It's more a matter of keeping our hand in."

"Have the three of you ever considered going legit?" Silas asked.

Nigel snorted. "Doing what? The grift is all we know."

Lyman tapped his fingers together as he studied the trio. "Remember when you asked the first time we met if I ever went undercover to get a story?"

"Yeah, and?"

Lyman glanced at Silas, getting a small nod from him, and then said, "Obviously I have friends in the police department. I just might be able to act as a middleman and get them to cut you a deal."

That piqued Vaughn's interest. "What sort of deal?"

"The three of you are experts at going undercover if you think about it. Plus you have no connection whatsoever with law enforcement." Lyman chuckled, "Quite the opposite, actually. I happen to know from talking to a couple of detectives on the force that they could make use of someone with your skills. In point of fact, most police departments could when it comes down to it."

"That's hardly going to help us pay the bills, even on the off chance they'd go for it."

"Discretionary funds," Lyman told him, "plus whatever you can pick up while on the job. You're grifters; just use your skills on the people you're gathering information about."

Vaughn nodded slowly, looking at Page and Nigel, and then said, "Give us a few to talk this over?"

"Of course. We'll wait downstairs, if that's all right." Lyman and Silas stood when Vaughn gave them a sharp nod, leaving the office.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Guardian Angels – Protection (9)

"Guardian angel, my ass." Dave scowled as he watched Kip and Cass drive away.
Hal laughed. "Jealous?"
"No. But she has no right to call herself that. That's our title, our job."
"Then go. You can't watch him standing here. I'll see you tonight at Kip's place. Meanwhile, I have a dog I have to worry about."
"Because dogs can sense us sometimes, same as with kids who can sometimes see their guardian angel—or so Samuel warned me."
"You're kidding."
"Nope. I hope Jamie is not one of those. It could prove interesting if he is. I'm just going to hang back well out of sight for now, to keep an eye on him."
"And test the theory tonight?"
"No choice in that matter. From what Kip said about only having two bedrooms, I suspect his apartment isn't all that big."
"This should prove interesting. Good thing we don't take up any real space unless we want to. Okay, I'm off to…class." Dave bent to give Hal a kiss. "Have fun with the dog."
"Thanks, I think."
* * * *
"What am I in for?" Cass asked, walking beside Kip toward the classroom building after they'd parked in one of the campus lots.
"A lecture hall. So you won't stand out like a sore thumb."
"I meant what kind of class."
"I knew that." Kip shrugged. "Advanced fire analysis."
"Sure, if you say so. Why? What the hell are you going for with that?"
"My Masters in fire investigation."
"Seriously?" She looked up at him in surprise.
"Yep. My father was a fireman so I was sort of indoctrinated into that…culture, I guess you could call it. I became fascinated with how to prove whether a fire was arson or not and decided to learn a bit about that when I was in high school. From there, my interest grew and here I am."
"I'm impressed. Detective Howe said you also have a part-time job. Is it related to this?"
"I wish. Okay, I shouldn't be that dismissive sounding. I'm a tutor at the local high school."
"Mr Townsend, you're really beginning to impress me and that's hard to do."
He held the door for her as they entered the building. "What? You thought I was just some schmuck trying to make ends meet to support me and my son?"
"I honestly had no idea what you were. Detective Howe just told me you needed protection for a week or so." She grimaced. "He wasn't big on the details, other than that you were in school and held down a job on the side."
"I guess that figures," he replied, "given how short the notice was. And we're here," he added, opening the door to the lecture hall.
Cass looked around, frowning. "It's pretty empty."
"Yeah. Not that many of us in the class, but I guess it was the only room available and the lectures mainly consist of pictures and films from a site, while the professor tells us what to look for in the specific situation, or asks us to tell him what we see."
"This could actually be interesting," she said thoughtfully, as they found seats in the third row. "Now, if the professor doesn't wonder why I'm here…"
Kip chuckled. "He won't. He's so into what he's teaching that he barely pays attention to who's listening—and learning."
"What about your other classes?"
"I'll probably have to explain why you're tagging along, but given what they're about, I don't think you'll get hassled. It is a branch of forensics science, ergo, law enforcement, if you want to stretch the definition."
"We should stop talking," Cass said quietly, as the professor took his stand at the front of the room.
"Yep," Kip agreed, taking out a notebook and pen. She's not as bad as I expected. At least she seems to get this is important to me. Maybe I'll survive having her hanging around for the next week or so.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Release day! 'Cole and His Dog''

Cole and His Dog
Kicked out of his home at eighteen, Cole ends up at The Haven, a drop-in spot for homeless teens, run by Adam Franks. Unable to spend the nights there, he ends up sleeping rough, is attacked by a pair of punks -- and rescued by a Bullmastiff he names Bull.

Cole and Bull become inseparable. Cole also meets, and is attracted to, Ky, a friend of Adam's, who twice saves Cole from more attackers. After the second attack, things suddenly change in Cole's life when he finds out why someone seems to be after him.

Will Ky be able to convince Cole he's told him the truth, while dealing with his own attraction to Cole? And can Ky and his friends keep Cole safe from a man who claims to be Cole's real father?

    Cole walked along the edge of the creek, looking for a place where the water was shallow enough to cross to the other side. When he saw a spot, he took off his sandals, waded over and put them on again, then began checking behind the brush and bushes. He thought he heard voices and froze. Up ahead was one of the bridges that crossed the creek. He could see the red tip of a cigarette, glowing in the dark. Inching closer, he spotted three people, two guys and a girl, he thought, from their shapes. They were sitting, leaning against the bridge abutment.

    One of them must have heard him because he called out, "This is our place, so get moving." He definitely sounded as if he meant it.

    Cole took him at his word, turning back the way he'd come. A few minutes later he found what he was looking for. The bush was thick, standing a couple of feet away from the concrete wall that separated the creek from the street above. Cole could tell from the debris scattered around that he wasn't the first person to be there. He hoped someone didn't think this was their 'place' the way the guys under the bridge had laid claim to where they were camped.

    I was stupid, when I packed up. I should have taken the blanket off my bed.

    He hadn't, however, so he spread out the towel, thankful that it was summer and the night was warmish. Using his backpack as a pillow, he curled up, trying to get comfortable on the rough ground. Every time he started to doze off, something startled him awake -- a car horn, voices of people above him or along the bike path, an ambulance siren.

    Finally, exhaustion overcame fear and he fell asleep. He was awakened, he didn't know how much later, by someone saying, "Well, look what we have here."

    "I wonder what we should do with him," a second voice said, hate and glee lacing his words.

    Cole shot up, trembling, to see two men silhouetted by the early morning light behind them. "Leave me alone," he begged, trying to back away.

    "Now where's the fun in that?" the larger man asked, grabbing Cole's arm to pull him to his feet. He shoved Cole hard against the concrete wall.

    "Please, don't hurt me," Cole whimpered, just before he was punched in the gut. He doubled over, trying to breathe, and slid down the wall, praying he'd survive whatever they had planned for him.

    Suddenly, there was a low growl from behind the punks.

    "What the fuck!"

    The men spun around, giving Cole a clear view of the huge, dark fawn dog, with a black muzzle and ears, standing there, its fangs bared. It moved closer, swinging its head from side to side as if trying to decide which man to attack first. When the smaller man lifted the iron pipe he was holding, the dog sprang, gripping his arm between his teeth. The man screamed in pain and a moment later the dog released him, starting toward the second man, who took off running, closely followed by his companion.

    The dog now focused its attention on Cole, and Cole was certain it was going to attack him. Instead, the dog sat back on its haunches, head cocked to one side.

    "What ... what are you? Like you can answer. Not." Cole whispered. He held out his hand, praying the dog wouldn't chomp it off. He, for Cole was certain it was male, leaned forward to lick Cole's hand, leaving a trail a drool behind. Cole wiped his hand off on the grass, muttering, "Yuck,” as he let out a deep sigh of relief. "Where's your owner?" Cole asked, getting to his feet. He didn't see a collar on the dog, but that didn't necessarily mean anything.

    The dog stood, too, watching as Cole brushed twigs and dirt off his jeans before folding the towel to put into his backpack.

    "You better go home," Cole told him sternly. "Someone is probably wondering where you are."

    The dog ignored him, so Cole pointed to the path across the creek, saying, "Go." Again, the dog ignored him. Cole picked up his backpack, wondering where he could find a restroom, because he really had to pee. Carrying the pack and his sandals, he waded across the creek to the bike path, sidestepping an early morning bike rider. The dog followed, standing beside him while Cole put on his sandals and tried to decide which way to go. He was close enough to downtown that he hoped he could find a coffee shop where he could use the restroom, in exchange for buying coffee and maybe a sweet roll.

    As he started down the path, the dog walked beside him, earning them both leery looks from the few people that they passed. Accepting the dog had no plans to abandon him just yet; Cole took the ramp up to Speer. Across the street, he saw a coffee shop. The dog was right next to him when they got there.

Three Lovers on the Grift - 28

Silas nodded. "We figured this might be the first time you've ever had to answer the question of what you do and were winging it. So Lyman, being inquisitive, did some research, something he's very good at."

"Hopefully you didn't find out anything about us," Vaughn replied calmly.

"I did, and I didn't. What I know is all conjecture, but since you haven't thrown us out or just denied that what we heard had anything to do with anything, I'm fairly certain I'm right about you all."

Vaughn crossed his arms over his chest, resting one hip on the corner of his desk. "Mind telling me exactly what you know, or think you know?"

"And how you got what information you think you have," Page added.

"And why you decided to break in here and face us down," Nigel put in, finally sitting again.

"As I said, what I put together is all conjecture." Lyman held up his hand, bending down one finger. "First off, there are stories about a team of confidence people—one female, two male—who strike hard and fast then vanish. Secondly, their preferred game involves the woman claiming to have had sexual relations with the mark and then threatening to tell his wife if he doesn't pay her off. Sometimes there's also a man involved, acting as her incensed husband if the mark needs a bit of a threat to make him pay her off."

"A standard grift," Nigel said with a smile. "It's almost been done to death. Why think that they are us?"

"Two men and a woman who are more than cagey about how they support themselves tweaked my interest. So, Silas being the expert at such things, took advantage of a call of nature to access your computer."

"Like hell!" Vaughn exclaimed. "It's so well protected—"

"Against normal invasion, yes," Silas put in. "I'm not normal. I have to know what I'm doing for our little side business. You're smart enough not to keep anything incriminating on it, but you don't eradicate your searches. Or"—he smiled—"your picture manipulations. By the way, you're damned good at that. I'm envious."

"Thanks, I think," Vaughn said with a bit of a smile. "Guess I've got some cleaning up to do."

"This all still begs the question of why you're letting us know what you think you've found out about us, as well as admitting to what your 'side business' is," Page said quietly.

"That's my fault," Silas replied. "I like the three of you, but more, I love the twins." He grinned as Marcia seemed to smile at him. "I really don't want to see you all end up in jail, and from what Lyman found out today you could be on your way there if you try pulling off this scam."

"Shit! Why, how?" Nigel spat out.

Lyman fielded that one. "Your shenanigans out west caught the eye of a particularly dedicated police detective who happens to be a good friend of one of your marks." He looked pointedly at Page. "The one that you claimed made you pregnant."

She chuckled. "That could be one of three actually. It was a good scam while it lasted."

"Well, this particular one reported what happened to his friend. Not soon enough to set up a sting, which was lucky for the three of you."

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Three Lovers on the Grift - 27

Lyman stood there, smiling slightly. Beside him, Silas lounged against the doorframe.

"How did you get in here?"

Silas held up a set of lock picks. "You really should keep your alarm system on 24/7," he commented.

"How long have you been listening," Nigel asked as he stood, handing Brian to Page. "And more to the point, why were you listening? Why are you here?"

"Long enough to know what you three are planning. As I said, you might want to reconsider," Lyman replied, stepping into the office.

"Fuck," Nigel said quietly but passionately.

Vaughn stared at Lyman angrily. "Why would we want to do that?"

"Do you mind if we sit down? We need to talk."

"No shit," Page muttered. "Who the hell are you two? Obviously more than what you seem."

Silas shrugged as he dropped down on one of the office chairs. "You might call us concerned citizens."

"We might not. Now talk," Vaughn ordered.

Lyman moved to stand behind Silas, resting his hands on his husband's shoulders. "We are concerned, and we are citizens, not that one has to do with the other. I guess an explanation is in order."

"You could say that." Although he felt no real threat from the two men at the moment, given their attitudes, Vaughn still wished he was the kind of homeowner who kept a gun handy, as much as he hated them.

"To start with, I really am a reporter, and as all of you know well, Silas is a pediatrician. Those are our day jobs so to speak. In my case being a crime reporter serves me well as it gives me an inside edge with the police and keeps us off their radar."

"Which we really prefer to be," Silas added with a chuckle.

"All right, I think I'm beginning to get the picture here." Vaughn looked at Lyman and Silas, one eyebrow cocked. "Your day jobs, as you put it, are legit; it's what you do at night that isn't."

"Exactly," Lyman agreed. "Like you three, we're not exactly model citizens at times, although we don't count on what we do to be our sole support. It's more of a hobby."

"A night time 'hobby' suggests you're thieves of some sort, right?" Nigel said.

"Right, although since we consider you friends we've never taken advantage of your occasional absences to see what you might have that would interest us."

"Nice of you," Page said acerbically. "And yet you seem to know more about us than we're comfortable with."

"A great deal more," Lyman agreed. "The first time you invited us for supper, Silas took advantage of your hospitality to do a bit of snooping."

"I'm nosy," Silas said with a grin. "I could blame it on living with a reporter, but honestly, it comes naturally."

"There was something about the explanation you gave us regarding what the three of you did for a living that didn't ring quite true," Lyman told them. "I mean it all sounded good, but as if you were sliding around corners to keep us from knowing the whole story."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Three Lovers on the Grift - 26

A month after moving into their new home, the three lovers were again planning a new game.

"That would work," Page agreed after Vaughn laid out his idea. "However—" She suggested a couple of minor changes to make it even better, and safer. Then she picked Marcia up from the bassinet and settled down at one end of the office sofa.

At the other end of the sofa, Nigel was listening with one ear while jiggling Brian on his knee. Now that he knew without a doubt, thanks to Silas, that the baby was his son, he had become even more attached to him. He still adored Marcia but there was just something special about having a child of his own. He knew from watching Vaughn with Marcia that his lover felt the same way about her.

"Niles, pay attention."

"I am, I am. It all sounds good to me. After all it's just a variation on what we've done several times before."

"Only your part is bigger now. It's one thing to be the protector. It's another to be the incensed husband and father, and now doubting that you are the father of her child, all things considered. That's why we're using Marcia, not Brian."

"That's certainly going to make the mark more afraid than he will be already."

"Exactly. And the man we're targeting this time has even more to lose than most," Vaughn's smile was predatory, "since he's a 'reputable' minister and family man. Too bad for him that he tends to stray when he goes off on retreats."

"And I was so shocked when he came on to me, and then suggested we go to his room for some 'special praying for my soul'." Page's face reflected her dismay for a moment before she laughed. "This man deserves what he's going to get, or more to the point what he's going to give up in order to save his sterling reputation."

"When are we going to set this in motion?" Nigel asked.

"He's going off on another retreat next week, so either right away or when he gets back."

"If he holds true to form then let's wait till he gets back. He screws around but never on his home turf so he should be ripe for feeling guilty about his peccadilloes."

"Word of the Day strikes again," Vaughn said, laughing. Then he got back down to business. "That's a good point. So we've got a bit over a week to finalize it and get out there."

"Which would not be the smartest move you three have ever made."

Vaughn swung around at the sound of a voice coming from the office doorway. "What the hell!" he spat out.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Three Lovers on the Grift - 25

Two days after arriving in Portland, the three lovers and two babies were finally getting settled into their new home. Page, with the guys' help, had gone on a spending frenzy to furnish the house. Even at that they still had a couple of empty rooms and only the barest minimum of furniture in some of the others.

Vaughn had made all the arrangements to transfer their monies into an account at one of the local banks. For the first time since he'd met Page, he used their real names, as well as Nigel's. He felt both scared and elated as he signed the papers that would open a checking account for them. He knew, deep down inside, that there was no way to connect them to any of the aliases they'd used over the years, but he still felt a shudder run through him as he slid the papers back across the desk to the branch manager.

She smiled at him, thanking him for choosing the bank, before taking him to one of the tellers. There he handed over the bearer bonds for the monies he'd gotten from closing out the various accounts he'd had under other names. The teller looked surprised, but made no comment as she recorded the amount and then handed him a checkbook as well as the sizable amount of cash he'd requested.

He'd already arranged for driver's licenses and other needed forms of ID for each of them soon after they'd finally decided to settle down permanently in one place, using the man who had always handled that for him. He was expensive but his work was beyond compare so Vaughn had never minded paying the price. The same man had also produced credit cards for them that would pass any known inspection and were linked to a known vendor bank. That bit of legerdemain had drained one of Vaughn's smaller bank accounts but was well worth the price.
* * * *
Now, after the shopping spree, they were finally feeling that sense of satisfaction that comes with a new home that was all their own. The men were collapsed on the sofa in the living room, eyes glued to a game on the decently sized television on the built-in bookcase opposite them.

Nigel turned as he heard Page coming down the stairs and immediately jumped to his feet to take Brian from her. "You're supposed to holler rather than carrying them both down at once," he admonished her.

With a dramatic eye roll, she countered with, "I'm quite capable of handling these two tiny bundles by now."

"But what if you slipped, especially on the stairs? God, Page."

Without turning away from the game, Vaughn growled, "Children, behave and quit arguing."

Nigel snorted in amusement as he rejoined him, putting Brian in Vaughn’s lap so that he could watch the game too, even though he knew the baby really couldn't yet.

"Practicing for when they get older?"

Vaughn smiled down at Brian, one hand on his stomach to keep him securely in place. "I have a feeling the twins will be much better behaved than either you or Page."

"I resemble that remark," Page said, smiling sweetly as she took over Nigel's lap, leaning back against his shoulder, Marcia carefully held in the crook of her arm. "So, who's winning? For that matter, who's playing? And can I change the channel to something worth watching?"

"Hell no," Vaughn growled, making certain the remote was well out of her reach.

And so they spent the third evening in their new house, contentedly bantering, each one happy that, for the first time in his or her life, they really were 'at home'.