My dad was dead.
'Least that was what my meema was on the other end of the phone tellin' me. Now, I was browbeat in my respect for elders growing up, but it was takin' everything in me not to tell my grandmother to get a grip on the blubbering as if my father was a sainted human being, like he was up in Heaven getting fitted for his shiny halo and downy wings. The man was the biggest piece of shit I had ever met in my life. And given that I spent my life dealing with criminals, that was really saying something.
He was down in hell getting beat to shit if there was any kind of justice in the afterlife.
"Don't ya'll worry about the money," I said, wincing as the drawl slipped back into my voice. Took me a fuckin' year to lose the damn thing and five minutes on the phone with her and it was slipping back. "I'll overnight more than enough to you for the arrangements."
Then she said six words I never wanted to hear: You need to come home, Johnnie.
It had been years since I heard that name.
I hadn't adopted the name Shooter because I was good with a gun, though I was. I didn't even adopt it because I was a sniper for hire, though that was definitely the case.
I did it because I never wanted to be that Al'bama redneck with the shitty dad in the trailer park anymore.
I never wanted to be Johnnie Walker Allen ever fucking again.
Johnnie Walker. Yes, like the god damn scotch whiskey.
I did mention that my dad was an asshole, right? It wasn't bad enough that everyone knew growing up that my dad was a boozer; he had to go and name me after his favorite kind of poison.
"I can't come back, ma'am," I said, squeezing the bridge of my nose, slumping forward in my chair. If I knew anything about my grandmother, it was that the woman was five feet of concrete and butting my head up against her never got me anything other than a headache.
And then she launched into a thirty minute crying rant about how she was too old, her heart too broken, her blood pressure too high, and her arthritis too bad to do something as strenuous as sit inside the funeral home and look through a book of caskets and flowers.
"You don't see any reason it shouldn't be me making the plans?" Like, say the fact that I would be just tickled if they stuck him in a pine box in the city plot beneath three John Does with an unmarked grave. "Yes, ma'am, I know he's my father." I sighed. I was losing; that meant I was going back there. It meant I had to bury my fucking father. "Right, okay. Yes. Yes, ma'am..."
I looked up when I heard footsteps and saw the blond I had brought home the night before- on the short side with impossibly thick thighs, trim waist, and just a bit more than a handful-sized breasts. Curvy, that was how I liked them. This one also had the advantage of a delicate little doll face and huge blue eyes that made her look sweet and innocent. Though, I had learned the night before when she rode me hard and fast while reciting a running monologue of dirty talk that'd make a porn star blush, that she was anything but sweet and innocent.
I brought my hand to my lips in a shushing motion and crooked a finger at her. She gave me a small smile and climbed up on my lap wearing nothing but the sheet she had draped around herself. I ducked my face into her neck and listened to my grandmother for another minute.
"Yes ma'am. Yeah... I'll be there. Right... tomorrow."
I hung up feeling an unusual heaviness weighing on me.
"You have an accent," Molly, the girl sitting her sweet round ass on my lap said with a big smile, revealing one overly pointed eye tooth that gave her perfect face a little bit of character.
"You like that?" I drawled into her neck, running my nose down the soft skin.
"Mmmhmm," she whimpered, already breathless.
"Well, let's see how much you like it when it's drawlin' dirty things in your ear while I'm inside you, babygirl," I suggested, lifting her up and walking her back to my bedroom. Maybe it wasn't the healthiest way to deal with a death in the family, but well, a little slap and tickle seemed to lift the heaviness for a few minutes and that seemed like the best kind of therapy to me.
"The fuck you mean, you're going home?" Breaker, my best friend, my mentor, one of the few people in the world (along with his girl, Alex and our friend and my tattoo artist Paine) who meant much of anything to me.
Breaker was tall and a giant wall of muscle with blond hair and a blond beard. Everything about him screamed intimidation which was good in a job where he pretty much busted faces for a living.
Alex was perched on the couch, a giant laptop sitting open on her lap. She was gorgeous in her tall, thin, dark-haired, classic kind of way and the best thing that ever happened to Bryan fuckin' Breaker, even if he did have to go toe-to-toe with the worst crime lord in the area to get her. Along with, ya' know... having to kidnap her while I rotted in said crime lord's basement for a spell. Good times.
"Dad died and my grandma is being too hysterical to deal with the arrangements."
"You have other family," Breaker reasoned, knowing better than anyone how much I did not want to go back. Breaker found me sleeping against his building when I was fifteen and had finally had enough of the hunger, the beatings, and the bullying from the hicks in town and ran the fuck away. I never went back. I never planned to.
"No one is stepping up."
"You don't owe him shit," he shrugged, getting up and getting us each another beer. "You don't owe any of them shit."
"Breaker once told me that people in our lifestyle," Alex started, putting her laptop on the coffee table and walking over to take a chair beside me, "when there is a death, that we fight or fuck and move on."
I gave her a smile. "Well, I got the fucking thing done right after the call, but I could use a good fight. Put um up," I winked, tapping a closed fist into her jaw playfully.
"Careful," Breaker warned, leaning back and looking at his woman. "She might be small, but she packs a mean punch."
"Breaker man," I smirked, leaning my arms on the table toward him. "Are you a... battered man?" I whispered dramatically. "You can tell me. I won't judge... except to call you a giant pussy."
Alex giggled and Breaker rolled his eyes. "Be fuckin' serious for a second, Shoot."
"Serious? Me? No one would ever accuse me of that."
"Maybe we should go with," Alex suggested, reaching over to cover my inked had with her flawless, delicate one.
"'Less this is something you need to do alone," Breaker said pointedly at Alex who lowered her eyes at him.
"It's cute that you're both so concerned," I said, grinning when Breaker sighed at my choice of words, "but I am literally flying in, pointing at a casket, and getting the fuck back outta that backwoods town."
"Right, but if you need us..." Alex trailed off.
I offered her a smile, wrapping my pinkie around hers and bringing it up to my mouth to kiss. "I know I can count on you, pumpkin."
"So when you leavin'?" Breaker asked, reaching over and grabbing Alex's chair and hauling it toward his, wrapping an arm around the back.
"Got a flight out at seven. Hoping to be able to get a flight back late tomorrow night or maybe the next morning at the latest. What?" I asked, watching Alex give me an odd smile.
"Liar," I shot back. I knew she knew about my past. Pillow talk and all that. She'd heard some of the stories; the ones I was willing to tell Break. She knew that my acting like it was nothing was a mask. She also knew me well enough to know that it was one I wasn't willing to take off, so she kept her opinions to herself.
I stayed for a couple hours, drinking beer, joking around, trying to ease their minds, hoping that, in turn, it eased mine. Because no matter how well I play acted at stability, the reality was there just under the surface. I had spent fifteen god-awful years in a town where people knew I was getting my ass beat, knew I wasn't being fed properly, knew my dad was an abusive alcoholic, and no one stepped in. No, in turn, I got to deal with the brunt of the gossip and rumors. Teacher's eyes didn't linger over the bruises on my arms or face. Guidance counselors didn't call me in and ask me why I was so skinny. Everyone just jaw-jabbed about old pathetic Ben Allen and how he threw his life away; how it was good that my mama met her grave early so she didn't have to be strapped to the likes of him. And I got the sad eyes when I was a boy and the disdain when I got older as they watched and waited for the apple to land right next to the fucking tree.
I wanted to go back to the town about as much as I wanted acid poured on my face. And, given that I really enjoyed the benefits a pretty face got me (namely with the ladies), that was saying something.
See the thing is? People in small towns have long memories. It wouldn't matter to them that I had gotten away; that I had an apartment that cost more than all the trailers in the old park put together; that I drove a car worth five years of their salary; that I was a grown ass man with a life of his own. To them, I would always be little Johnnie. I would always be a poor, abused boy. I would always be the rebellious, black-wearing, metal-music-listening, fight-causing scrappy teen.
But regardless of all my feelings about heading back, that was what I was doing. So I left Breaker and Alex's sometime around midnight and headed home. I packed a bag while I drank some Jack which was either funny and ironic or pathetic. I wondered how many rounds dear old dad was in before his body finally gave up. I wondered if it was the scotch I sent him that finally did him in. That would be a beautiful kind of karma.
See... I had moved on. I built myself a life. I got myself some people who would kill or die for me. I had fun. I got as far away from all that shit I was raised in as possible. But you never really get free of your past and starting the day I turned twenty-one, every month, I had a case of scotch sent to my father. I knew he wouldn't want fuck-all to do with anything from me, but I also knew he could never refuse the booze. So maybe I helped kill the bastard.
Seven hours later, I was boarding the plane, a knot the size of a fist twisting in my stomach.
"Heya darlin'," I said, grabbing the wrist of the flight attendant as she walked slowly past me. Her body tightened, no doubt used to way too many scumbags trying to put their hands on her, before she rounded her shoulders and turned to me with a hospitality smile plastered on her face. Her eyes landed on me and the smile stretched slightly, her head cocked to the side, her shoulders relaxed.
"Can I help you with something?" she asked in a way that suggested that if what I needed included the removal of my pants, she would be all for it.
"Nope," I said, rubbing my hand over the veins in her wrist, "just wanted to look at you for a minute," I winked and her cheeks flushed.
"Well, if you need anything," she started, trying to sound professional and failing, "my name is Maggie."
I tugged on her wrist slightly until her body bent forward toward me, my other hand raised and traced the nametag over her breast. "I see that."
"Oh, lordy," a feminized male voice broke in, leaning over the back of my chair. "Can you touch me like that?" I twisted my head over my shoulder to see a male flight attendant standing there in the same blue uniform Maggie had on. I dropped my hand from Maggie's breast. "Look at that face," he said, shaking his head. "Why can't any of you bad boys be gay? I would eat you up."
I slanted my eyes back at Maggie. "I prefer to be the one doing the eating."
"Holy crap," the male attendant groaned, fanning himself. "Come on Maggs, let's get you out of here before this silver tongue devil drags you off to the bathroom and becomes a member of the mile-high club."
"Been a member for ten years," I added as I dropped her wrist. "And I am a... frequent flier."
I sat back in my chair, listening to the safety spiel, smirking every time Maggie's eyes fell on me during the demonstration. I wouldn't get a chance to follow through with anything with her, but I made both of our days marginally better.
A little over two and a half hours later, I was grabbing my bag and heading over to the car rental. They had nothing like what I wanted to rent- preferably something like what I drove back in Navesink Bank- sleek, new, expensive. No, my options were pick-up trucks, hatchbacks, and late model muscle cars. I picked the latter in black and cranked up the music loud enough to drown out the thoughts in my head as I got closer and closer to my hometown.
"Christ," I sighed as I drove up to the town, shaking my head. Things were supposed to change. I half expected to head back home the next day and see two new restaurants opened and three mom-and-pops closed. That was how things were, ever changing. But my hometown seemed stuck in time. Not only were all the businesses the same, they hadn't so much as updated the paint. I parked at the end of the street, climbing out of the car, and heading to the funeral home.
I hadn't called and when I walked up and found the door locked, I cursed softly, slamming hard at the wood.
"Boy quit all that bangin'," a voice called from the street. My back straightened automatically at having been called 'boy' as I tried to ease my face into softer lines. "It's Sunday," she added with emphasis.
At that, I felt a smile tug at my lips. Of-fucking-course it was. And I was in the South. And no self-respecting business was open on a Sunday aside from the diner in town where everyone went after church. Shit.
"Right," I said, turning toward the street and having to resist the urge to roll my eyes. Because there on the sidewalk was my old third grade teacher. Small fuckin' town. "Thanks, Miss. George," I said, taking off down the steps toward my car.
"Johnnie Walker Allen!" she called in that don't you dare move tone that was, apparently, just as effective to a full grown man as it was to a boy. I turned back toward her, forcing a smile. "About time you showed up. Your grandmama has been a mess!"
"Yes, ma'am," I agreed, nodding.
"I'm sorry about your daddy. I heard you are taking care of the arrangements."
"Yes ma'am," I said again, slipping my hands into the pockets of my black jeans.
"Well come along. I'll take you to Harriet," she said, waving a hand at me. I suppressed the urge to tell her no and slipped my arm into hers. Fact of the matter was, I had no intention of seeing my grandmother or any of my family for that matter. I wanted to take care of the arrangements and get the hell out of there. There was a reason I hadn't shown my face in town since I ran off all those years ago despite having a gaggle of relatives left.
I should have known I would never get away with that.
"You know, if it wasn't for all those tattoos and piercings, you turned into an attractive young man."
"Thank you ma'am," I smiled, deciding not to tell her that I got boatloads of pussy that liked the look of my tattoos and liked the feel of one particular piercing of mine.
"It's such a shame about your daddy." A shame it didn't happen a decade ago, sure. "But it is nice to see your face back 'round these parts," she said as I opened the door of the diner for her.
To say the entire restaurant hushed would be an understatement. It went from raised, animated voices and the sounds of eating and drinking to stone dead silence.
The diner was the same as I had remembered it: worn linoleum floors that were more brown than white with age, sparkling metallic booth and table tops, faded yellow walls. At the breakfast bar along the back sat all the old men. At the tables, the families with children. At the booths, the women of varying ages, spreading gossip no doubt. Everyone was dressed in their church clothes as I walked in in black skinny jeans, checkered creepers, and a faded ZZ Top tee.
"Just go on back to your eatin'," Miss. George said, waving a hand at them. "We're here to see Harriet, not be gawked at."
With that, she lead me down the booths to where my grandmother was sitting at the largest one in the corner, surrounded by her church ladies and one or two of my older cousins.
"Johnnie!" she said, her eyes immediately filling with tears. Now, here's the thing about my grandmother: she didn't give a spit about me. She never did. What she did care about, however, was her reputation in town. And if she didn't turn on the waterworks at seeing her long-lost grandson, well, what would that say about her?
"Meema," I smiled, releasing Miss. George's arm and reaching across the table to cover her meaty hands with my own.
"Look at you," she gushed, pulling her hands away to bat at the tears on her cheeks. "Finally home. Come on, sit. We'll get you some lunch."
"No thanks, ma'am. I ate on the plane. I need to go see if the motel has any openings and settle in."
"Motel?" she gasped and I felt my eyes close as I took a deep breath. Crap. "You will not be staying at the motel. You have family 'round these parts. Unfortunately, I am all full-up right now but maybe Cassie..." she said, gesturing to a cousin I remembered as nothing but a tattle tale when we were kids, all bleach blond hair and too-dark tan as an adult.
"I don't want to put anybody out, Meema," I said, shaking my head.
"Well why can't he just stay at the apartment?" Cassie asked, clearly as jazzed about the idea of me crashing with her as I was.
"Apartment?" I asked, brows drawing together. Last time I was in town, there were houses and there were trailer parks, but there were no apartments save for the one or two on top of the stores in town.
"Your father's apartment," Cassie said, her tone at once authoritative and disdainful.
"What happened to the trailer?" I asked and saw most of the eyes at the table look down or away. "Ah, I see," I said, shrugging. I did see. He lost it. It was a piece of shit on more land than he could afford and he was never good at holding down a job. "So dad was staying in an apartment," I prodded as everyone stayed stubbornly silent.
"Brand spanking new place off of Clark," Miss. George said, nodding at me. "Private in the ground pool and tennis courts and everything," she added, sounding excited about the prospect.
Across the table, my grandmother had hauled her purse up off the floor and had it sitting on her lap, rummaging around the contents. "Here they are," she said, producing keys and jingling them at me until I took them, all the while I bit my tongue so I didn't tell them that my dead father's apartment was the absolute fucking last place in the world I wanted to spend the night. "2B," she told me with a nod.
I pocketed the keys and started to slide back out of the booth. "Right. I am going to go get settled in then."
"You sure we can't get you to stay for some sweet tea at least?" my grandmother asked but the look in her dark green eyes, the dark green eyes I inherited from her, were threatening me not to take her up on her offer. She did, after all, need to cry and moan to her ladies about her loss and having the only person in the world who might contradict her claims of her sainted son's passing was not going to get her the kind of attention she craved.
"No ma'am. Next time. Ladies," I said, turning to the table as a whole and giving them a smile that made more than one of them blush, "always a pleasure."
With that, I left the diner, making myself take the walk back to my car slowly even though all I wanted to do was run, put the pedal to the floor, and get the fuck out of there. Instead, I got into the car and slowly turned it in the direction of Clark Street. I had no actual intention of staying at the apartment, mind you, but curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to check it out. Then I would go right to the motel and get a room.
The thing that I never appreciated growing up was how green Alabama was. Back home, the wilderness was tamed into perfectly manicured lawns in the suburbs and completely missing in the more industrial parts of town like where I lived. But as I drove down the streets, all I saw was various shades of green. Old oak trees were bent over the street, moss hanging off the limbs lazily. It was soothing enough to have some of the anxiety slipping away. I wasn't, by nature, an easy person to rile. But there was something about family, about facing your past, that made even the most level-headed of people lose their cool.
Clark Street Apartments was a three story building made of brown brick. Each apartment had small balconies which were cluttered with various items. As I was told, out back I could see a pristine Olympic-sized swimming pool and a tennis court off to the side. It was all nice and new and, from what I could guess, way out of my father's price range. I grabbed my bag and fished the keys out of my pocket. It didn't surprise me when the front door wasn't locked. It didn't even surprise me that there was no one manning the front desk. This was the South. No one locked their doors. No one saw the need for added security.
The halls were a fresh shade of grayish-blue with all the doors to the apartments painted white. There were no obnoxious paintings on the walls and the hardwood floors were waxed and shiny. I took the stairs up to the second floor, finding six apartments. At the end of the hall was my father's.
And the door was open.
I stiffened slightly, hearing noises from inside, inwardly having flashbacks to coming home from school and finding people stealing our shit because Pops owed them money. I dropped the bag silently outside the door and pushed the door open, quietly making my way across the floor toward the sounds I heard in the open kitchen area.
"Come on you stupid, evil thing," a female voice said, but it wasn't low and angry like the words sounded; it was said in that high, soothing voice women used on animals and children, like she was trying to coax something.
I rounded the kitchen counter to find a woman kneeling on the floor in the corner, trying to reach underneath the cabinet for something. My eyes drifted over her backside. Her short jean shorts were doing nothing to hide the round ass and shapely thighs. Her white tee was riding up slightly as she bent forward, revealing a few inches of her back. Her long black hair was in a low side ponytail, all glossy and begging to be touched.
Well then. Maybe my stay wouldn't be so bad after all.
I cleared my throat and fought a smile when she jumped, slamming her head up into the half-open door to the cabinet. Her hand was reaching up to rub her head as she fell back onto her ass and looked up at me.
Fucking hell. That face.
She was of some sort of Spanish heritage that brought back images of the six months I spent in Mexico with Breaker and Alex, hiding out from the shit we got ourselves into. Six months of native ladies with their exotic eyes and long dark hair and curvy as fuck bodies. Oh, yeah. I had a good time in Mexico.
But this woman put each and every one of those ladies to shame.
Her jaw was on the square side; her nose straight and thin; her lips were plump and perfect. But it was the eyes that did a man in. She had deep, heavy-lidded bedroom eyes, looking sleepy and sexy at once, and were the darkest shade of brown possible. Her skin was on the light side which only served to make her dark hair, eyebrows, eyes, and lashes stand out all the more.
My eyes slid lower, taking in her body with a leisurely inspection I was sure she didn't appreciate from a complete stranger. But I just couldn't help myself.
She had it all: lush tits, hips, thighs, ass... and she somehow managed to have it all while still looking fit. It was a biological impossibility that all of mankind owed her parents a heartfelt gratitude letter for making possible.
"Hey there angel," I greeted, lips quirking up.
Maybe the trip wouldn't be a total waste after all.