|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.06(d)|
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Kingston, North Carolina
Aflank steak comes from the lower rear portion of the cow — the flank. Best used for London broil and skirt steaks. These steaks tend to be tougher than most, and —
"Mm ... oh, right there. Yes."
Ribs contain the prime rib, short ribs, and rib eye steaks. Below the rib is the plate, another source of short ribs and skirt steak.
"Oh, Sam." Lynn clenched her eyes shut and adjusted her hips, moving rhythmically.
Jeez, don't say my name.
Sam looked away, at the muted television playing some inane sitcom, at the impeccably neat bureau with the jewelry box and a stuffed animal he had freed from a claw machine at a diner they liked to go to.
The tenderloin, named so because it's the most tender cut, is where filet mignon comes from. Cut bone-in they comprise part of the T-bone steak.
"Oh ... yes. Almost there." Lynn sped up, straddled across him. She dug her fingernails into his shoulder and panted. The pain helped a little, but she never gripped too hard.
Sam had heard that, to last longer, some guys think about baseball. Some guys count to a hundred. There was one guy in his platoon that said he mentally recited his grandma's shoo-fly pie recipe — which was just plain weird.
Sam thought about cuts of meat. It was the simplest place for his mind to go, to distract him from the brunette currently gyrating atop of him with increasing speed. Not that he wanted to be distracted; he would have liked nothing more than to focus on her, memorize the details of her face. The natural wave in her hair. Her modest breasts, the curve of her ribcage down to her pale, flat stomach ...
He didn't want to distract himself. But he didn't want to disappoint her, either.
Sirloin can be divided into top sirloin and bottom sirloin, from approximately three hundred and ten yards. Adjust three-point-two-five inches for MOA. No. That's not right.
Adjust for wind. Humidity's at seventy-six percent.
Is that ...? The target appears to be a woman.
Command says she's strapped, Asher. Take the shot when you have it.
You're gonna lose her! Take the goddamn shot!
Sam's eyes snapped open as Lynn's entire body tensed and spasmed twice. Every muscle relaxed simultaneously as she let out a long, contented sigh, a hundred and fourteen pounds settling on top of him.
"Oh, my god," she said as she rolled onto her back beside him, her chest heaving. "That was fantastic." She ran her hand over his chest. "Did you ...?"
"Yeah," he lied. "Of course."
He kissed her forehead and got up hastily. In the bathroom he peeled off the condom and dropped it in the toilet, and then splashed some cold water on his face.
What the hell is wrong with me?
He stared at his reflection. He needed to shave. His hair was getting too long. The bags under his eyes were growing. He was getting old.
Warm hands stroked his back, running up his spine slowly, and then wrapping around him. Lynn rested her head on his shoulder.
"You could stay tonight."
"Can't. Got to be at work at six in the morning. Sorry."
"Yeah, okay." The disappointment in her voice stung him. "How about dinner tomorrow?"
"I, uh, have that thing with Jake."
"Right. I forgot. Fine, then at least come back to bed and cuddle with me for a few minutes."
He forced a smile. "Sure."
He let her lead him by the hand back to her bedroom and lay beside her, spooning. Four minutes later she was asleep. He got up as quietly as he could and pulled on his jeans.
Sam knocked twice on the door to the rented townhouse. Jake answered with a broad smile.
"Hey, little brother."
Sam stepped past him, into the small living room and nodded approvingly, his arms laden with a case of Belgian dubbel and a chilled package wrapped in brown paper. There were only a few empty beer cans, one dirty sweatshirt, and a couple of caseless DVDs strewn about.
"Did you clean up the place just for me?"
"Don't flatter yourself. I had a 'friend' over last night. How's life?"
"Business as usual."
Jake crossed to the adjacent kitchen and stuck the beer and steaks in the fridge, calling back as he did, "Grill's on; I lit the charcoal about ten minutes ago. Won't be long."
"I'm in no rush." Sam raised a disapproving eyebrow at Jake's gun, a Glock 29 lying on the coffee table as if it were a centerpiece. "How was training?"
"Same old shit." Jake had just returned a couple days ago from his two-week stint at Fort Bragg. "Like I don't know the stuff already. There must be some way to get exempt from all that."
Despite no longer being active military, Jake had joined the National Guard for the extra money — which meant doing his one weekend a month and two weeks a year. It was worth it for the supplemental income; being a beat cop in a burg of three thousand people wasn't exactly winning the lottery, and Jake never shied away from living above his means. Even the rented townhouse was in the nicest part of town.
Sam, on the other hand, played it safe. He hadn't blown all of his deployment earnings on a brand-new Mustang convertible; he drove a ten-year-old pickup he'd bought just before he'd entered the military. His apartment was on the south side, where rent was cheaper. He had a good job as a butcher in the local grocery store; he made decent money and had health insurance and a retirement account. His existence was safe and simple. He liked it that way.
"Hey," Sam said, "this is new." He pointed at a framed photo hanging on the wall opposite the television, a fifty-two inch flat-screen LCD that looked utterly ridiculous in the small living room.
It was the only photo that Jake displayed anywhere in his whole place. It was a family photo, all six of them, when they were younger. Sam must have been about twelve in that picture. Sarah would have been around sixteen, Jake was ten, and little Zeke was only five ...
"Been meaning to put it up for a while," Jake said, standing beside him. "Didn't have a frame until Mom gave me one a few weeks ago."
"We look ... happy," Sam said quietly.
"Yeah. Well, I do. You look constipated." Jake laughed, snapping Sam out of it. "Come on. Let's get the hard part over with."
He followed Jake into the kitchen, watching as he reached far into the rear of a chest-high cupboard and pulled out a dusty bottle of Glenfiddich 21. They'd been working on it for six years. He poured them each a shot and handed one to Sam, who took it and held it aloft.
"To Zeke," he said. "Happy birthday, buddy."
"We miss you every day."
Jake toasted and they each downed the shot. It warmed Sam as it slid down his throat; strange. He didn't recall feeling cold.
Jake winced a little and then sighed. "Jeez. Would've been ... what? Twenty-seven?"
"Twenty-seven," Sam confirmed. He dropped the shot glasses in the sink while Jake replaced the bottle in the rear of the cupboard.
"How about something to drink?" Jake said, trying to sound chipper.
"Please. But one of the ones I brought. Not that domestic piss-water you call beer."
Jake laughed as he grabbed a bottle and a can from the fridge. "I seem to recall you shotgunning PBR like they were gonna stop making it. When did you go all beer-snobby on me?"
"Eh, I don't know." Sam popped the cap off with a bottle opener on his key ring. "Lynn's dad is kind of a connoisseur. He's got me trying all this new stuff —"
Jake raised an eyebrow. "Lynn's dad, huh?"
"So, you two have been dating for what, like a couple of years now?"
"Something like that." Two years and two months, almost to the day.
"You've been dating for two years." Jake counted on his fingers. "She's smart. She's beautiful. She's cool. She's good in bed —"
"I never told you that ..."
"It's implied. And now you're cozy with her folks? Let me ask you something. What the hell's wrong with you?"
"Dude, if you give me that 'you're not getting any younger' crap, I'm going to punch you in the throat."
"Alright, fine. Sam, I won't tell you that you're not getting any younger." Jake grinned. "You two could at least move in together."
"I like my place. She likes hers. We're good."
"Your place sucks. I'm telling you, if I had a woman like Lynn, I'd be packing my shit tomorrow and shopping for a ring by Sunday."
"You would not," Sam rolled his eyes.
"Okay, I wouldn't, because I'm a philandering dirtbag. But if I was you I would be."
"Christ, you sound like Mom." Sam took a long swig of beer. Lynn's dad had good taste. "You know me, Jake. I don't take the shot —"
"No," Jake interrupted forcefully, holding up a finger in warning. "No, no, no. Do not give me that bullshit catchphrase of yours. That's an excuse, and you know it."
"Hey," Sam narrowed his eyes angrily. "Don't call it bullshit." He softened a little. "And it's a life principle, not a catchphrase."
Most active-duty snipers live by a simple saying: One shot, one kill. Sam's sniper instructor, a stern, lean-faced man named Harkin, had imparted a slightly different wisdom upon him: Don't take the shot if there's a chance you'll miss. Harkin had meant it literally, and Sam had lived his life by it for six years. Then, when he was out, he continued to live his life by it, though in a metaphorical sense.
"You keep telling yourself that it's some wise philosophy," Jake said, "but there are two problems with that. First, it's actually a saying about killing people, not living your life. And second, it's keeping you from taking any real risks."
"I've taken plenty of risk. Six years' worth. But thanks," Sam said bitterly.
"That's not what I meant. Look, what's the worst that happens? You marry Lynn, later you get divorced and she takes half your shit?"
"Yeah, that's pretty much the worst, I guess."
"And that's enough of a reason for you to —"
"Just drop it, alright?!" Sam shouted suddenly.
Jake leaned against the counter and stared out the patio door. "Sure. Whatever."
Sam sighed and changed the subject. "You talk to Mom lately?"
"A few days ago, yeah. I thought about calling her this morning, but you know she'll be at church all day."
Their mother, Mary Asher, would not be answering the phone today. She would not take any visitors or even fetch the mail. A staunch Catholic, Mary would be at church, dressed in black and mourning the loss of her youngest son, Ezekiel.
Six years earlier, Zeke had turned twenty-one. He was stationed in Kandahar at the time. One of his buddies had pulled some strings and managed to get their hands on an illicit batch of moonshine. They drank and partied all night until they passed out. Despite their situation and surroundings, they had celebrated.
That same night, an errant mortar — that's what the army called it, an "errant mortar"— was fired up over the wall of the FOB and landed directly on Zeke's CHU (containerized housing unit, a fancy acronym for the corrugated metal boxes in which the soldiers lived). Zeke died immediately in his sleep. The walls had been blown outward, killing three others that slept nearby and wounding six more. The Ashers were given a folded flag; there hadn't been enough of Zeke left to send back.
Zeke had turned twenty-one, six years earlier, then died the same night. Every year since, Mary Asher would mourn her son in her own way. Jake and Sam would secretly gather and perform their ritual, an ode to him, as well.
When Zeke turned eighteen, their father had shared a shot of Glenfiddich with each of his three boys, unbeknownst to Mary, who would have hit the roof, as a celebration of him becoming a man. Zeke had said, at the time, that it was the best thing he'd ever tasted. Mary promised him whatever meal he wanted; he asked for steak, medium rare. Three days later he told his family he was joining the army. He wanted to follow in his older brothers' footsteps. Sam had been a scout sniper with the Marines and did two tours in Afghanistan. Jake drove a Stryker for the Army in Iraq.
At the time, Sam had worried for his youngest brother. Zeke had always been a gentle kid, but he tried to be tough so that he could better emulate his siblings. Jake had a squat, solid build, and Sam was tall and lean, but Zeke was downright lanky; at six-two and a hundred thirty pounds soaking wet, Zeke was built for running, not fighting. He'd been a track star in high school, and even earned a scholarship, but he turned it down to join the Army. Sam and Jake sat down with him one night, had a little brotherly powwow, and told him about what he'd face. The kind of stuff he'd see. They didn't plead with him or try to scare him; they were candid. It didn't change his mind. Zeke shipped off to basic and eventually became a forward observer. Then he got shelled in his sleep.
"Yo, Earth to Sammy. Where'd you go?" Jake snapped his fingers in front of Sam's face.
"Sorry. I, uh, don't know. My mind's been drifting a lot lately."
"Night terrors back?"
Sam hesitated. "Yeah." That was part of the reason he didn't often stay the night at Lynn's.
"You taking your meds?"
Sam took a long swig of beer. "Mostly."
Jake rolled his eyes. "Come on, man. You know better than that."
"I don't like how they make me feel."
"Better than the alternative."
Jake was right; he knew it firsthand. Maybe not to the same degree that Sam did, but he was a shoulder when Sam needed it. "Anyway. Big plans for this weekend?"
"Uh, sort of. I'm taking Aiden to see a movie tomorrow. It's some R-rated horror flick Sarah doesn't want him to see."
They shared a grin. Their eldest sibling, Sarah, was thirty-eight; she'd followed in the footsteps of their mother by graduating college at twenty-one, getting married by twenty-two, and having a kid by twenty-three. When she announced it was a boy, Mom had lobbied hard for Sarah to name him Isaac — there was a trend in the Asher family of biblical names, though Mary Asher simply called them "traditional". Parents Peter and Mary; daughter Sarah; sons Samuel, Jacob, and Ezekiel.
And then Sarah went and ruined everything by naming her son Aiden, one of those twenty-first century new-age-sounding names.
"Good. Kid needs a little excitement in his life. You know Sarah's not going to let him get his learner's permit until he's eighteen?" Jake scoffed and shook his head.
"Oh, I'm sure his two very cool uncles will do something about that." Sam grinned. "You want to come with us?"
"No can do. I have a date with a divorcee tomorrow."
"Yeah. A very recent divorcee. Just call me Jordan, 'cause I'm hitting those rebounds all day."
Sam shook his head. "If Mom were here, she'd remind you you're going to hell."
"They say the journey is half the fun, right?" Jake grabbed another beer from the fridge and motioned toward the patio. "Grab those steaks. Coals should be ready."
Asheville, North Carolina
It was happening again.
It was happening again.
Why was it happening again?
Thirty-five years. It'd been thirty-five years, almost to the exact month. Why. Why? Why?
When he'd first heard about it, it was from some yokel on the plant floor — a Bill. Bill told the guys about it while he stood nearby with a clipboard. Bill told them about it, and then Bill and his buddies had laughed.
And he stood there, with his clipboard trembling in his hand, trying to contain himself. Trying to hold back tears. Trying not to break down and wail right there on the plant floor. It was a miracle he didn't wreck his car on the drive home.
They talked about it on the radio. They laughed too. They LAUGHED.
By the time he'd gotten home, he could barely get the top off the prescription bottle. Several pills skittered across the floor, he was shaking so badly. Then he'd curled up in a ball on the floor and cried until he was hoarse. When he couldn't cry anymore he rocked himself to sleep. When he woke up, the feelings of dread and panic and pain and confusion and terror were all still there.
Thirty-five years. Why were they back? WHY?
He couldn't go back to work for a week. He got better — a little better. But out there, things got worse. He knew they would.
It was happening again.
He'd called off too many days of work now. They demanded to see doctors' notes. But he hadn't been to the doctor. He needed more pills. He'd gone through them all in two weeks. He chewed them up, unintentionally, because he couldn't stop his teeth from chattering. Even the ones that went under the fridge — he moved it and found them and swallowed them dry.
He was out. He couldn't get more. No, he could; he could lie and say he was mugged. Yes, junkies took them. He could get more.
But he didn't. Instead he lay in the fetal position on the floor and cried and let it play over and over and over and over in his head.
See this? You see this, kid? You try to run, this is gonna slit your fuckin' throat.
Please ... no ...
Shut up. Stop squirming.
Please ... let me go ...
What's your name? I wanna know your name.
I ... I ...
Your name, goddamnit!
Harry? Doesn't matter. Shut up. I'm gonna call you Harry. Now listen here, Harry. You feel this?
Aah! P-p-please ...
Excerpted from "Clown Moon"
Copyright © 2017 S. Prescott Thrillers.
Excerpted by permission of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART I: SEND IN THE CLOWNS,
PART II: CLOWNS AT MIDNIGHT,
PART III: CLOWNING AROUND,
PART IV: CLOWNS TO THE LEFT OF ME JOKERS TO THE RIGHT,