a true first draft:
“Son of a bitch.” Mason slammed the receiver of his phone down hard enough to make the plastic groan. He yanked a hand through his short hair—already tousled and spiked from the countless times he’d dragged his fingers through it—and looked up sharply at the chuckle intruding on his anger.
“Yo.” Stoney Ward slouched against the doorjamb, his thumbs hooked in the front pockets of his jeans, grinning broadly.
Mason did a mental eye roll. His brother was the last person he wanted to talk to right now. Born minutes before Mason, Stoney had the natural arrogance of a firstborn son and the irritating assumption it was okay to nose into the lives of his younger siblings. An inch taller, a few pounds heavier and a whole lot straighter, he was a Guam PD plainclothes officer.
“I’m really not in the mood right now, Stoney.”
Oblivious to his brother’s glacial stare, Stoney pushed away from the door and crossed Mason’s office to drop into the chain in front of the desk. “I’ve heard.”
“I’ve just spent all morning talking to your brothers in blue. And all afternoon arguing with one very angry principal who thinks I should consider becoming a social recluse so as no to inflict my gayness on the community.”
“I’m fucking pissed.”
Stoney nodded at the Weekly on Mason’s desk. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the hot bartender you’re dating?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Pissed off. I get it.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s not Buchanan.” Mason took a deep breath, reached up to drag his hand through his hair, caught himself and rubbed his chin instead. “He hasn’t called me yet and I would have expected him to. He likes to make sure others know he’s the one yanking their chain. The man’s on a perpetual power trip. He cannot not take the credit. Besides—”Mason’s glance fell on the Weekly open to Soren’s picture and the blurb about Tradewinds“—that would just get him angry at Soren, not me.”
Stoney snorted. “That man has a hard-on for you, no matter what.” He waved away Mason’s comment about his choice of words and continued, “So what are we talking about then? Jealous ex-boyfriend? Some teenage delinquents you banished from the mall? I have to say, though, I would have expected a bunch of kids to just write fag. They’re not usually this creative. Or organized.”
“That’s because someone told them what to do.”
“Oh? A paid hit? Got someone in mind?”
“Rings a bell. Remind me.”
“The asshole who got me kicked out of the military.”
“Ah, yes. It’s coming back to me. You decked him in a gay bar and he didn’t take that so well. Bigoted jerk.”
“Right. Pickle kisser was his favorite slur.”
“That’s one hell of a signature.” Stoney leaned back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other. “When’s the last time you heard from him?”
“The day I left Fort Benning.”
Stoney gave his twin a skeptical frown. “That’s been a while. You’re sure it’s not The Smile?”
Mason did another mental eye roll.
“Have you talked to Soren about this?”
“How’s he been doing?”
“Working his ass off. Mom’s cabinet is done. I saw it on Saturday.”
Mason smiled. He’d thought replacing his mother’s bullet-riddled curio cabinet had been a nice, guilt-driven offer; he’d had no idea Soren was going to build it from scratch, or how much work was involved. “He’s wasting his talents tending bar. He needs to make furniture for a living.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“The plan is to find Krukowski and beat the shit out of him. Oh, and to convince a certain principal that the gay president of this company can keep his school as safe as the straight security guy down the street. You have the give the man credit for coming right out with it. He wasn’t beating around the bush like some of our other clients.”
“You’re shitting me. They think this is your fault?”
Mason reached for the Weekly on his desk. Soren looked good in his picture. His red hair gleamed like polished copper and his wide smile added a boyish charm to his gorgeous face. There was no mention of Mason in the two sentences that recapped Soren’s spectacular coming out, but there were enough people on the island who remembered his name in connection with the shooting and the kidnapping. He’d hoped at the time that the typhoon pummeling the island would have taken the majority of the headlines, but James “The Smile” Buchanan’s son being kidnapped and involved in a deadly shootout had been of far more interest to the general public. Mason almost losing his life and Soren publicly announcing his homosexuality had only added to the people’s curiosity.
“I’ve been getting phone calls. Hang-ups mostly.”
“Shit.” Stoney stood. “How long has this been going on?”
“Two, three weeks.”
“And now the graffiti?”
They both knew what that meant. If Krukowski was behind this, he was getting closer, becoming bolder, angrier, which considerably upped his unpredictability factor. And the threat he posed.
“Why is he stalking you after all these years? You don’t just remember that there was someone you forgot to get even with. Something set him off.” Stoney began pacing Mason’s office. “You don’t know where he is?”
“It’s freaking Sunday back on the mainland. It was hard enough getting the little information I got. I burned a lot of bridges when I left, Stoney, I don’t exactly have a good line back to the unit. The Sergeant I spoke to didn’t know Krukowski, so he must have been gone for some time. If he’s still in the service, I’ll find him. If he retired, I’ll find him, too.”
“God damn, Mace. The man could be on the island, just waiting to blow your head off.”
The thought had occurred to Mason, but he couldn’t dredge up the necessary worry. Krukowski might have been an asshole during their time in the Rangers, but he hadn’t shown any psychotic tendencies. No, it was far more likely he was about the same thing he’d been back then: destroying Mason’s reputation. And damn, according to most of Mason’s clients, the man was doing a good job of it.