Authors: Rowan Speedwell
5032 Capital Circle SW
Ste 2, PMB# 279
Tallahassee, FL 32305-7886
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Love, Like Water
Copyright © 2013 by Rowan Speedwell
Cover Art by AngstyG, www.angstyg.com
Cover Photograph: TomCoolPix
Cover Model: Nicko Morales
Cover content is being used for illustrative purposes only
and any person depicted on the cover is a model.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Dreamspinner Press, 5032 Capital Circle SW, Ste 2, PMB# 279, Tallahassee, FL 32305-7886, USA.
Digital ISBN: 978-1-62380-787-0
Printed in the United States of America
For Vicki Childs, for all the conversations starting with “So, write anything lately?” and ending with “Keep writing!” A half century isn’t long enough to be friends with you.
Muchas gracias to Manuel Elizondo for his insights into Puerto Rican culture and life in Humboldt Park; to Lynda Fitzgerald, beta reader extraordinaire; and to J.P. Barnaby, best critique partner ever. And to Vic and Lin, who wouldn’t rest until they got me into the saddle.
No podria haberlo hecho sin su ayuda.
always the same dream. The warehouse, reeking of cigarette smoke, diesel fuel, and desperation; the slow yellow flash of the lights rotating on the idling forklift, reflecting off the oily floor; the slosh of water against the riverside dock; the sharp, angry voices of the men around him.
And the woman—barely a woman, more a girl, her tight T-shirt stretched over the rounded belly she had her hands clasped on. Four, maybe five months pregnant, just starting to show. She was on her knees in front of the angriest of the men. “Little bitch!” He smacked her with the butt of the pistol; she went sprawling, her long dark hair spilling around her bloodied face, blending with the swirls of black oil on the floor. “How much did you take?”
“Not much, ’Chete,” she whined, and tried to get up. He kicked her in the thigh and sent her down again. “Just a little, a few bucks—
para el niño
,” Machete Montenegro said, and kicked her again.
. Lina, how much?”
“Two grand,” she admitted, weeping openly now. “Just two grand. For the baby….”
“Fuck the baby. It wasn’t for the baby or you’d be long gone. Where is it?”
“Adelicio has it,” Lina admitted. “I gave it to Adelicio.”
“Fuck,” ’Chete said. He looked over at where José and the rest of his men stood. “I’m done with her. Finish it.”
sat up in bed, sweat soaking his T-shirt and pouring down his neck at the remembered sound of the gunshot. God damn it—it had been four months, and he was still fucking dreaming about it. It wasn’t as if ’Chete hadn’t ordered people killed before. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t killed people himself, for that matter. But it was always men before—rival gang members, traitors, whoever ’Chete or the other bosses said. Never a woman.
Never a pregnant woman. He ran his fingers over the fuzz of his growing-out hair, longing for a cigarette, longing for a drink. Longing for the heroin that once buzzed in his blood and kept him solid in the hell that had been his life for so long.
“You all right?” The tinny voice came from the speaker by the door. They’d taken to monitoring his room at night after the last couple of nightmares had left him broken and hysterical. They weren’t his jailers, he reminded himself. They were trying to help.
The problem was he didn’t know if there was anything left of him to help.
came eventually, and with it, the weekly visit from his mother. He hated the way she looked: far older than should be accounted for by the three years of his exile, as he thought of it. She’d shrunk in on herself, the tall slender beauty curved as if bracing for a blow, the sleek dark hair streaked with silver. He knew she’d visited him in the early days he didn’t remember, and thought maybe that was the reason she watched him with such fearful eyes, though he was always careful to move slowly and speak gently to her. Their conversation was of simple things—his sister’s new boyfriend, his mother’s business concerns, his uncle’s ranch—small, casual tidbits of news, without emotional resonance. Once or twice in the last few weeks, she’d tentatively mentioned the trial, but only in passing, as if it was something that didn’t quite matter. It didn’t, really. His part in that was done. It wasn’t as if he’d have to go to court—the evidence the Feds had was more than enough to put them all away.
But when the trial was done, so was he. There was nothing after the trial. It was as if the world had ended, leaving only a long, empty, blank space. He couldn’t imagine anything after that.
This morning his mother was wearing a spring jacket in a primrose yellow that made her dark hair glow. She’d had her hair colored so that the gray didn’t show, and she’d had her nails done. It looked so pretty he couldn’t help but smile, despite his weariness. “You look nice,” he said.
“Thanks, sweetheart.” She reached up and kissed his cheek, running her hand over his fuzz of hair, just as he had during the night. “It’s growing out. That’s nice. I didn’t like the shaved head. Made you look mean.”
“That was the whole point,” he said gently. He knew what she meant—it made him look skeletal, with his sunken cheeks and hollow eyes. He’d put on some weight since he’d been here, but it wasn’t more than a handful of pounds. He had no appetite. He only really wanted the drug. He only really wanted to forget. “So what’s the occasion?”
“I talked to your Uncle Tucker last night.”
He smiled politely and held the wooden guest chair for her, then sat across from her on the edge of the narrow bed. “How is Uncle Tuck?”
“Oh, he’s good. He’s making noises about getting old, but he always does that.” She fidgeted a moment, then said, “The lawyers came to see me. And Mr. Robinson.”
All the pleasure of seeing her drained away. “He’s not supposed to see you,” he said tightly. “He’s supposed to leave you alone.”
“It’s all right, Joshua,” she assured him. “He wanted to let me know—to let
know—that the hearing is over. Your part of it is done. This nightmare is over. The evidence they have is more than enough to put those bastards away forever, and the grand jury agreed. They aren’t being granted bail. Now it’s just the trial, and that won’t happen for years yet.”
He stared at her, at the new happiness in her eyes, the relief, and felt only the same emptiness. “That’s nice.”
“Nice? It’s wonderful. As soon as you can leave here, you can start over….”
She stopped. He spread his hands wide—those long-fingered hands, still broad across, though the tendons were sharp against the thin skin: the hands of a junkie. The hands of a killer. “I got nowhere to go.”
“Mr. Robinson said….”
“Mr. Robinson can go to hell.” There was no vitriol in the words—they were just words. “Do you think I have a snowball’s chance in hell out there? Yeah, they got Montenegro. But the cartel’s still in business. They’ll come for me, once they know I’m out. The minute I hit the street they’ll realize I was the one that sold out Montenegro, and I’m dead.”
“They won’t look for you. They think you’re in prison here in Cincinnati. Mr. Robinson said you and they were very careful not to involve us. They don’t even know your real name, so we’re not in any danger of reprisals. You can leave, and be safe.”
He cocked his head, looked at her, the words making no sense at all to him. “What?”
“That’s what I wanted to tell you. When Mr. Robinson said it was all over, and you were free to go, I called your uncle. He’s been wanting you to come to the ranch, to stay there and maybe take over someday, if you like it. Those terrible men won’t find you there. You can have your old life back. You can be my Joshua again, and leave all this behind. Cathy and the kids can come see you on vacations—they don’t even remember you anymore.” She smoothed her hand over his cheek. “I hardly remember you anymore. I want my Joshua back.”
He stared at her bright dark eyes and thought,
Your Joshua is dead, lady
leaned on the fence and watched the kid working with the sorrel mare. She was feeling the cooler weather September was bringing, and she frisked delightedly around the patient boy. It was good to see her lively. He remembered when she first came here, her coat dull and shaggy, scarred from abuse and neglect, her tail tangled and droopy and her eyes sunken and hopeless. Now her tail flew like a red silk flag, the upswept conformation hinting at Arabian blood, her dark liquid eyes bright, her coat clean and well-brushed and healthy, though there were still white streaks where the scars had been. She was one of the lucky ones; too many of the rescue animals that came here lived such a short time before the years of neglect and damage took their toll. When she’d arrived, he’d judged her to be about twenty, at least, and was shocked when the vet said she was no more than five. Now, she looked it. “Jesse,” he called softly in his calmest voice, not wanting to startle either the mare or the boy, “see if you can get her to take the bridle. She took it yesterday—I want her to get used to wearing it.”