Valentine’s Day Flash Fiction: Dial L for Love by Heloise West

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Dial L for Love

By Heloise West

 

“I wasn’t drunk,” Gray insisted. His editor’s office had a ground level view of the February day as another storm battered the small town. “I’m being framed.”

Ellen rolled her eyes with a huff, taking up a stack of paper to straighten again. “It’s automatic termination, Gray, you know that.”

“I can take the damn bus to work,” he grumbled, sitting back.

“Having a car and a valid license is mandatory to the job.” She wouldn’t look at him.

“I was supposed to meet my informant in that dive. I had one beer.” That he could remember.

“You were driving over the speed limit when they stopped you,” she replied.

His brain tried to penetrate the fog that was two nights ago. “Someone put something in my beer.”

“And the cop who stopped you? Your blood work didn’t show anything but alcohol.”

“They said. I’m investigating a bunch of dirty cops in a dirty town, why wouldn’t they try to get me off the story by causing me to lose my job?” Do not say conspiracy, Gray.

“And your informant?”

“I don’t recall meeting him, but he told the investigating cops that I was slurring at the bar. So did the bartender.”

“Then why did he serve you?”

“It’s not that kind of place, El.” Gray ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “You know me.”

“Oh, Jesus,” she said. “You think I don’t want to believe you? It’s my job to terminate you. But I can move you to office staff until you get it straightened out.”

Answering phones and re-writing obituaries, great.

Gray grimaced and stood, went to the door, and glanced out at the small news office. “Seven years down the tubes because of a bunch of dirty cops.” He looked back at her. “You put me on that rumor.”

She dropped her head into her hands. “Aw, Gray.”

“Because you knew I’d find the story and not let go. I can still find the story, and if I do, I can prove to you that I’ve been framed.”

Ellen popped her fists on the desk. “What the hell are you thinking? If you really believe you’ve been framed to get you off the story, what do you think they’ll do next to keep you off it permanently?”

“You want me to give my notes to someone else?” He was a possessive bastard, and it hurt like hell to ask her that question.

“It’s not worth losing your life, and I’m not pushing for that story anymore.” She stood with an air of decisiveness, a small, plain-looking woman with fire in her eye.

“Does that mean we only do the stories that are safe from now on? I’m really starting to hate this town.”

She gave a reluctant nod. “What does Mark say about all this?”

His partner of three years, the love of his life, was a cop. “He said there’s an internal investigation but it’s slow going.”

She grimaced. “I meant about losing your driver’s license.”

And my damn job.

Gray laughed without humor. “He’ll be happy. He’s been asking me to back off.”

“You haven’t told him yet?”

“Mark took a quick trip home, an emergency with his dad. But he promised to be back tonight for our anniversary.”

“Aw, that’s so cute. Valentine’s Day—I mean,” she smirked at his glare. “For a couple of hardasses like you and Mark.”

“I moved in on Valentine’s Day.” Hallmark gimmick or not, it gave them the chance to make room in their schedules to be ridiculously romantic with each other.

* * *

When Gray let himself into their apartment, arms full of roses and dark chocolate, his heart was lighter simply because Mark’s car was in the lot below. He felt safer, too. He laid the roses and packages on the counter that divided the kitchen and dining area and laughed at the dozen roses already sitting in a vase. The shower was running down the hall, small suitcase on the bed, so Gray unpacked for him, which only meant shoving everything into the hamper. He worked through the pockets of Mark’s jeans and removed an empty pill bottle.

He glanced at the label before he put the bottle in his shirt pocket to remind Mark to get the prescription refilled. Prescription sleeping pills? The job was getting tougher, apparently.

Wishing the shower was big enough for both of them, he knocked softly on the bathroom door and called out his name.

“Open the wine!”

Gray went back to the kitchen to the fridge. Shelled shrimp and fat white scallops with garlic marinated in a bowl. He removed the brie to soften and located the corkscrew for the French Chardonnay. He poured a glass for both of them and sipped until Mark had finished in the bathroom. Mark emerged from a fragrant cloud of Old Spice and steam dressed in jeans and a navy T-shirt. Gray almost spilled his wine when Mark rushed him for a tight hug.

“God, I’m glad to see you.” Mark pulled back.

Gray searched his face. He looked so worried. “Did you already hear?”

“What’s in your pocket?” Playfully Mark grabbed out the prescription bottle. “Oh, my God, Gray!” He sounded horrified, stepping back from him as he reached for the wine glass. Mark gulped at it until the glass was empty, still gripping the bottle and not looking at Gray.

“Mark?”

A few moments passed and Mark appeared calmer, though his handsome face was still flushed an ugly red. “Did I already hear what?”

Gray looked from the pill bottle clutched in his hand to the guilty expression on his face. He drained the rest of his wine, too, as fear began to shift in his belly.

Not Mark. It can’t be Mark. He wouldn’t…he’s not one of those dirty cops…please God, not Mark.

Jesus. Don’t be so Barbara Stanwick!

“I got an OUI,” Gray said. “I lost my job.”

“You did?” Mark sounded hopeful but confused. “When did this happen?”

“The night I was supposed to meet my informant for the story on the cops. I remember going to the bar and having one beer, but even that’s vague. I remember you left to go to your dad’s.” It was hard, but he thought back. “You made my favorite protein drink and left it for me. I drank the whole damn thing.”

Mark was half Italian and half Irish, it was hard for him to hide—anything, unless he was wearing his stone-cold cop face. Gray’s paranoia about conspiracies fell away at the miserable expression on his lover’s face.

“I love you,” Mark said. “I’m sorry about the OUI. I only wanted to keep you away from the informant and safe at home because I was worried, and the thing with my dad was an emergency. I couldn’t be here for you.” Now he was pale and shaking. “I don’t want to lose you. But I’d rather lose you because of this than because they hurt you.”

Gray almost laughed. Almost. “Mark, I’m allergic to those damn pills. I have sleep behaviors if I take them. No wonder I can’t remember drinking and driving. I was asleep!”

* * * end * * *

This is the link to follow for a chance to win an ebook copy of “Hitting Black Ice” my first release, and a handmade rainbow and crystal heart suncatcher. You can sign up until February 18, 2015 😀

a Rafflecopter giveaway

These are the participating blogs and their stories:

 

Giveaway and Valentine Flash Fiction (02/14/15)

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Six Days Until the Valentine Flash Blog Hop

Five great flash fiction authors

For you (heh, see what I did there?).

Free (rhymes with three, anyway) flash fiction and a chance to win ebooks from every blog on the hop…

Two prizes from me: an e-copy of Hitting Black Ice and a handmade rainbow suncatcher with swarovski crystals, the largest 18mm. It’s about a foot long, Valentine and LGBTQ themed with rainbow crystals and a single heart-shaped red crystal at the bottom. Oh, wait, here’s Ivy to model….

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IMG_0654 Now you can see the heart…

First chapter of Hitting Black Ice is at the top of the blog, if you want to take a peek first.

I’ll post a rafflecopter link on Valentine’s Day with the flash and leave it up for the week so everyone has a chance to read the stories on our Hop of Love. 😀 Each blog is handling their giveaway their own way. We hope you come and read our stories and enter the Giveaways!

Love, Heloise West (and Ivy)

Valentine’s Day Flash Fiction Blog Hop

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We’re looking for MM Romance flash fiction of 1200 words or less for our blog hop.

The theme is Valentine’s Day.

We’d also like our authors to offer something for a giveaway for commenters on the blog–a free book, an amazon card, gift cert or a handmade something, in an effort to get more readers interested.

This is a good way to promote your work, your blog, your backlist. If you’re not published yet, it’s a good way to get some feedback.

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Here’s the link:

Last Dance

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Last Dance

 Heloise West

 

I brought Rocco his brown bag lunch, like I did every day.

The Strand theater was dark and closed; inside they were getting ready for their next production. I handed over his lunch with a quick kiss and a pat on the bum, and left. The Strand is old, its ghosts noisy; I had a hard time shutting them out even when it wasn’t this close to Halloween. The big glass doors closed behind me, the musty carpet smell still in my nose. I breathed deep the autumn air, taking in burning leaves and the bright edge of winter.

Hauntings are like scents. I get a whiff of something and it either passes me by or leads me. The dead break me into pieces. I need to help them, but it makes me damn dreary company. Rocco, who loves opera, calls me his Camille then and takes good care of me.

I should tell him I love him.

After this Halloween, when the thresholds can’t be so easily crossed, I promised myself. My nerves tingled like hot wires. On the sidewalk, body on autopilot, I turned for home.

Joey!

I stopped dead at the sound of my name.

WumpaWumpaWumpaWump. A lush syncopated bass line floated by me as if anxious to cross the busy street.

someone left the cake out in the rain… echoed in my ear, then abruptly shut off. A distant sound of cheers and applause followed.

“Do you need help?”

Feminine sobs answered me.

The song was important or the singer? Donna Summer or Richard Harris? Or was the clue Summer, as in the season? Or the song, MacArthur Park? For all I knew there was a pun or a name hidden there.

I needed more from her. My deeper mind, soul, or subconscious acted as a mirror. The more information, the clearer the picture.

Of course, the closer to Halloween, the easier to send the unquiet spirits onward. The spirit had drawn me into her circle, so her walking into my dreams that night didn’t surprise me.

Stage lights. A gun goes off three times. Three people, shadows on a stage. Two men and a woman. A love triangle?

Three more shots. Look harder.

I see….Donna Summer? A glitter ball slowly revolves above her on the stage.

She wears a spangled halter, black skirt, and high heels. Ebony curls fall to her shoulders, and ruby lipstick highlights her smile against her brown skin. I smile back in the darkness of my dream.

She throws back her head and laughs. I almost see why she finds this funny. She pulls on a bright white feather boa, but then drops it and drags it along the floor, back and forth, a little agitated. Her ankles are thick and the high heels appear larger than I expect.

When I woke up in the morning, I understood her impatience with me. My ghost was a man in Donna Summer drag.

Rocco told me over late breakfast that the Strand had been a cabaret-type venue once with live bands and drag performances in the 90s. We were too young then to have gone to any of those shows.

We did a little bump and grind in my kitchen, singing (badly) the chorus of “Bad Girls.” Then Rocco kissed me breathless, pinning me against the wall next to the broom closet.

When I went to the library, I found my ghost.

*

Halloween night at the Strand, I said goodbye to Rocco and settled in for the real performance with dread and anticipation. I sat front row center, and fell asleep, moving easily into the deep inner space of vision.

When I opened my eyes, she was there on the stage in her glitter and heels, smiling at me.

“I didn’t think I’d see you again.” There was a throb of hurt in her voice. The statement was not directed at me. The play had begun. “Jesus, these things are killing me.” She kicked off the heels, and removed the wig, laying it on a chair. He winked at me.

“I was going to leave, Mark, but I want you to come with me,” The second spirit said behind me.

“Baby, you know I can’t. This is a good gig.” The singer’s voice was smooth, and deeper with the wig and shoes off.

I turned to the man Mark addressed; another black man wavered in my sight, their voices an echo that had yet to fade.

Aaron.

My dread increased. They’d been dead for almost twenty years; the pain still raw and permeating the space we inhabited.

Aaron’s fear for Mark grabbed me as he passed. He jumped up on stage to stand with Mark. They stared into each other’s eyes, their expressions potent with love and sorrow. They fell into each other’s arms as hot tears ran down my cheeks.

“You don’t want me to leave?”

“I don’t, I don’t,” Mark sobbed.

“I know it.” Aaron soothed, ghostly arms holding Mark tight.

“But, if I leave with you, Sam will follow us. I’m afraid he’ll hurt you.”

“If you stay, I know he’ll hurt you,” Aaron said.

As if summoned, a shadow moved through the stage curtains.

Sam, the newspaper had told me in lurid terms, had been Mark’s lover. His possessive rages had provoked Mark into leaving him for Aaron. Sam throbbed with danger the color of newly spilled blood; his jealous anger righteous and sharp as a knife ready to strike.

Yet a tiny light shone near Sam’s heart. In the darkness of his soul, since the twenty years since their deaths, this light had come to life. It hit me like a sledgehammer. Love. Despair. Regret.

I cried out a warning anyway. Sam shot them twice and both bullets pierced them through. Arms still entwined, they fell to the floor, and their blood spread across the stage.

The third bullet was, of course, for Sam.

For me to see and hear them so vividly, the veil between the worlds of life and death was indeed thin on this night. The lover’s, I sensed, were anxious to go, but Sam kept them here. His thirst for revenge fought with the soul’s yearning for forgiveness.

“Let them go, Sam,” I said. “It’s not your time.”

Sam reappeared stage right with head down and empty hands out. The only thing that lit him now was the tiny flame of hope. Mark and Aaron had been so angry and afraid of him for so long, they couldn’t see the way out, further trapping them on this plane. The lovers stood with their arms around each other again.

Aaron, who had been ready to go when the play started, turned as gossamer curtains blew out, inviting the spirits to walk through. I knew that the star-dappled corridor led to the Light, but not what lay beyond it.

Holding onto Aaron’s hand, Mark smiled and twiddled his fingers at me as the pair passed through the curtains.

Tell your man you love him, Joey.

Overcome, I put my head in my hands and sobbed. I knew him by his cologne. Rocco sat beside me and pulled me into his arms so I could weep on his shoulder. I’d never been given advice by my spirits before and managed to whisper, “I love you, Rocco.”

~*~

Great stories for our blog hop this week:

October 26:  Jenna and Dakota
http://www.jenawade.com/blog/
http://alittlebitofnaughty.blogspot.com/

October 27:  ND Wilder and Amelia
http://ndwylders.blogspot.com/
http://ameliabishop.wordpress.com/

October 28 Alexis and Evelise
http://alexisduranblog.com/
http://sexyforreview.blogspot.com/

October 29: Kimber and Jennah
http://kimbervale.me/
http://www.jennahscott.com/

October 30: JT Hall and Chris
http://jthallwriting.wordpress.com/
http://chrismchart.com/

October 31: Kate W., Skye, and Heloise (Jan)
http://wordsthatburnlikefire.wordpress.com/

http://skyejonesromanceblog.wordpress.com/
https://velvetpanic2.wordpress.com/