Road Trips and Recruiting

A Pink Dormouse Production

Part I

"Nice lines," Sands said, running a hand along the car from headlight to taillight. "I'm guessing European."

"Yes, a Jaguar," El said, before Sands started on the back of the car to check out the badge. They had stopped off at Dariel's garage to trade - temporarily - one borrowed car for another that fitted with what Sands wanted for this part of the mission. But now El wanted to get on the road to the border. Over the past week he had kept in regular contact with Lorenzo, who had not only managed to find out details of one target that no one else seemed to know, but had also recruited another three men to the team. So it seemed that Sands would only need to assemble one team, and then the two groups could meet up in Mexico to co-ordinate their plans. "Going to get in then?"

"What colour is it?" Sands opened the door.

"Should that matter?"

"Of course it matters." Sands slid into the passenger seat and began to investigate the stereo controls. 

El shrugged to himself, but he supposed there was no accounting for what Sands considered important. Then he placed his two guitar cases in the trunk, got in the driver's seat and started the engine.


"Here we are," El said, switching off the engine. "And ten minutes early, as you asked."

"What does 'here' look like?" Maybe it would have made more sense to take a plane to Nevada, but at least the car had good air-con. Still, they had made good time, and they could fit in a few detours on the way home if nothing else came up. Then once they had tested their new passports both ways across the border, and found them adequate, next time they could fly.

"Hacienda - no, villa - one big window either side of the front door, three windows on the upper floor Two black jeeps parked in front, no sign of any people."

"Okay, let's go around the back." Trying the front door would be just too obvious. Not that he expected it to be booby-trapped, but better safe than sorry.


El came to a halt.

"Looks like the back is fenced all the way around. The door is here - do we break it, or pick the lock?"

"We could always try opening it," Sands suggested. He reached out and found the catch. "There, unlocked." He pushed the gate open, keeping himself covered as much as possible by the wall. "Now what do you see?"

"Swimming pool. One man in it, with a child. One man sitting by it, holding a drink. No one else, and they don't appear to be armed."

"Okay. We walk calmly up to the table; you pull up a chair for me first, then sit yourself down immediately after I do. I do the talking, you watch for trouble. Savvy?"

"Of course." El sounded faintly amused.

So maybe Sands was being a little over-cautious, but when had that ever harmed either of them?

"Stuart Alan Jones," Sands said, once he had made himself comfortable and convinced himself that El had done the same.

"Jeff, what brings you to this part of the country?" the man in question asked. Sands tried to remember which name he had actually been using back in Florida that time. Jones had just been starting out then. He had arrived in America and quickly made a fortune (in an illegal card game, supposedly), which he had invested in property and left to accumulate, while he travelled the country with his partner. Sands had never figured whether it had been his comments that had swayed Jones into going pro on the explosives front or whether the man had had that in mind for a while before the gas station incident. Either way, Jones had gained quite a reputation for supplying pyrotechnic devices in the intervening years.

"I heard you'd been branching out, taking on work for other people. Obviously it's been profitable for you - do you miss England?"

"Now, why would you ask that?"

"Well, if I were to pass on certain information to the authorities, then you might never see it again. Or they might just send you back so your police could look into your activities before you emigrated. Either way, you wouldn't get to see much of your home country for a very long time - if ever."

"Is that you threatening me?" Jones said. He sounded relaxed about the whole situation, regardless of his question.

Sands heard water lap over the side of the pool behind him, followed by two sets of footsteps - one adult, one child, it sounded like - approaching.

"You really shouldn't do that you know," a voice said from right behind Sands. "It's not very friendly when you're his guest."

Sands turned around in his chair. If they were in any immediate danger - say a couple of guns pointed right at them - El would have found a way to let him know about it by now. Probably by removing the threat, come to think of it.

"So Vince finally got some balls of his own." Sands smirked. "It's kind of touching how the two of you are still together. I guess the kid is Alfred."

The kid in question scrambled onto his knee. Yeah, kids and cats - except cats were usually dry. Sands turned back towards Jones.

"As I was saying, I have plenty on you. But that's not important right now - I have an offer to discuss with you."


All in all, Sands thought it went rather well. Jones liked a challenge, so that was how Sands laid the plans before him - after all, these were not his personal enemies. And the man went for it; then only haggled for a price a little higher than Sands had hoped for, not the extortionate one he had half expected. Vince put up a half-hearted protest about going down Mexico way when they had the boy for his entire summer (apparently the boy's mother and her girlfriend were 'off saving a rainforest'), but was overruled.

"Now," Sands said, "how long do you think it will take you to have the equipment ready?"

"Not long. If Vince doesn't mind taking care of Alfred for a while, I'll drive you to my workshop."

"You don't work here?" El asked.

"Do I look stupid?"

"Depends on who's doing the looking," Sands pointed out, remembering how well the two men had fobbed off the local law in Florida.

"Point taken. But it would hardly fit my ex-pat playboy image if I kept explosives and electronics on the premises. So I've got a little place down the road."

"We'll both come with you," El said firmly.

"Well..." Jones began.

"El's right for once. We leave Vince and the kid here and go out there, all three of us. My money, my decision."

"Fair enough," Jones said. He rattled what had to be a set of keys. "Shall we?"


"Trailer park," El murmured to Sands, sounding slightly surprised.

"Perfect cover," Jones said from the front of the jeep. "No one bothers me, and I don't go asking them their business either."

Sands said nothing, although he could see the logic of it.

"It looks like all the others," El told him, as the jeep came to a halt.

"Again, do I look stupid?" The driver's door opened and closed, then Sands heard Jones walking away.

"I suppose we should follow the man," Sands said. "But first, just what have you got against him?"

"Just a feeling," El said. "I think he will be trouble."

"Well, he's good at what he does. And he owes me. People are far more inclined to stick with the plan if there's something in it for them."

"Really?" El gave Sands' hand a squeeze then jumped out of the jeep.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Sands set off after him, hoping that he would catch up with one or both of the others before he encountered any obstacles.


Even El seemed impressed by the bomb-making equipment and the partly-assembled devices hidden in the trailer. Which was good, since neither he nor Jones would let Sands do much in the way of investigating them. In his next life Sands was going to make damned sure not to hook up with anyone who had ever had kids, they all developed this irritating protective attitude. Like he was going to care if he got a cut or an electric shock off of one of the devices? After everything else that had been done to him?

After some more discussion, they established that the explosives should be ready by the time Sands had assembled the rest of the team in Mexico. El promised to speak to Fideo and put him in contact with Jones, to co-ordinate the explosives at the two compounds. And that was that.


Back at the villa, Sands relaxed by the pool with a drink that Stuart had fixed for him - they had given up on formalities, now the deal had been struck. El was talking to Vince about something over the other side of the pool, and Stuart had vanished somewhere.

"You all right there?" Stuart wandered up behind him. "Or would you be interested in a little Columbian pick-me-up to chase that down?"

"I don't anym- what the hell, sure I do." Sands stood up. "Lead me to it."


"Fuck!" His sinuses were on fire. He should have thought about how screwed things were in that department before accepting the rolled up bill from Stuart.

"Good stuff, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Sands straightened up. He was on the way to being high, but at the same time it felt as if someone was taking a welding torch to the inside of his skull. Not recommended, he decided, wondering how best to surreptitiously check for any inconvenient bleeding.

"I did you two lines."

"Yeah, yeah - and I did mention the part where I haven't touched the stuff in years? One will do me just fine." Either his blood vessels were all intact, or Stuart was just too polite to mention it. The pain inside Sands' head was kind of distracting him from anything much going on on the outside of it right now. "Let's say we just go find the others?" 

Stuart said nothing - but maybe he nodded - bastard. Then he clapped a hand onto Sands' shoulder and steered him towards the door.


El refused to speak to Sands for the rest of the day. Or what felt like the rest of the day, to Sands' fucked-up sense of time. El just drove. And retuned the stereo every time Sands tried to find a station he approved of, or listen to one of the CDs in the auto-changer. The plan had been to head back to Canada, and The Outlaw's last known location, but for all Sands knew El could be taking them anywhere. Going back for that second line, because his head had cleared the moment he stepped out of the bathroom, could have been a good idea if he actually had something to do on the journey. But no, he was forced to sit in the passenger seat with no chance of conversation and nothing to listen to, once he had conceded that fight to El, but country rock. Which he had never objected to way back when, when he had been getting stoned with Marianne, but right now he was more in the mood for something by the Ramones. 

He chain-smoked after that, making his next roll-up before he had finished the one before, until El took his tobacco pouch away from him. So then all he had to do was try and figure out where they were headed. And invent revenge plans for later. Maybe when El finally decided to speak to him again, he would decide not to reply.

Eventually they pulled up somewhere, much to Sands' relief. 

"Stay there," El said. Then he got out of the car and locked it before Sands had a chance to decide about replying.

Marvellous. Now he was locked in a car, on his way down, with no idea of where he was or what direction El had gone in. Sands felt his way around the door beside him until he found the lock control, but it refused to budge. He told himself to stay calm and groped along the dash to the stereo controls, only to find that the stereo was not going to operate with the ignition turned off. El would not be enough of a bastard to leave Sands here forever. Amendment, if El was planning on leaving Sands here forever, he would have taken the guitar cases out of the trunk before pulling a disappearing act. Which was slightly reassuring. Perhaps.

Sands decided to see how many revenge tactics he could think up before El returned. He had reached number nine, involving slow dismemberment and boiling in oil, which the voice of reason rejected as impractical, when the door locks all clicked back up. Sands was about to open the door when it was pulled away from him. He went for a gun with his right hand, while using the left to push himself around and out of the seat. He crashed straight into El. Who wrapped an arm around Sands' waist, clamping his hand firmly to Sands' hip, and set off away from the car, kicking the door closed behind him.

El tightened his grip on Sands' hip - bastard would definitely bruise up now - and came to a halt. It sounded like he was unlocking a door. Sands heard it swing open, then El was hustling them both through. The door slammed closed behind them; El slammed Sands around and back into the wall alongside it, quickly grabbing Sands' wrists and pinning them above his head.

"If you ever... do that again, I'll... I'll find someone else to take care of you."

"I just wanted a little fun." He could feel peeling paint and chipped plaster behind his hands. El found them the most luxurious places to stay.

"We can't afford 'fun'," El spat. "Both of us need to stay alert."

"I can function perfectly well on coke - I've done it before." The adrenaline was surging again, reminding Sands of just who and what he was. Invincible, that was it. What right did El have to tell him what he could do?

"And it went wrong for you before, didn't it?" El asked, sounding calmer now.

"None of that was my fault. And I came out of it in one piece, didn't I?"

"The way I heard it, you were lucky." El sounded dangerously calm, in fact. "I need to rely on you, not your luck."

"Rely on me to back you up, or - " Sands bit back the rest of the question. He desperately wanted to know what El was thinking right now, and he was getting no clues whatsoever.

"I'm not losing... anyone else if I can help it." El shifted his grip on Sands' wrists so both were circled by one hand. Then he ran the other down the side of Sands' face. "We work well together, I think I'd miss that."

Sands held his breath. One wrong word now and he could be so screwed. And not in a good way. It sounded yet again as if El planned on walking away from him. That threat had not been as empty as it had first sounded.

"When all this is over," El continued, cupping his hand under Sands' chin, "what do you want to do?"

"I hadn't really thought about it," Sands lied. "Be nice not to worry about anyone coming after us, but it might get kind of dull. Can we talk about this later?" No matter what he thought about doing after Mexico, his one big concern was that El would want to do something different. Yeah, they could discuss it, and yeah, they would probably be able to thrash out a solution. But he was feeling twitchy - not at all in the mood for doing that right now. And El holding him like this was an added distraction.

"Later is fine," El said, gently but still with something - anger? - underlying his tone. "Just promise me one thing. No more drugs."

"I promise." And Sands genuinely believed that he meant what he said.

El, it seemed, believed him too. He took a half step forward, pressing up against Sands. Who turned his head until his lips contacted El's forefinger. Then he drew it slowly into his mouth, exploring every whorl, scar and callus with his tongue. El tasted of salt and nicotine, with maybe a hint of leather. Sands tilted his head back, raking his teeth towards El's fingertip. The grip around Sands' wrists tightened, and the finger was withdrawn. And then El was kissing him until it seemed that one or both of them would asphyxiate. Sands twisted against the other man, grinding into him, wanting but not entirely sure he would get.

El broke the kiss and dropped his free hand, the one not crushing Sands' wrists together against the wall, to the waistband of Sands' jeans. He unfastened the top button then - fucking tease - he untucked the front of Sands' T-shirt and slid his hand up under it. Sands hissed as rough fingers found one nipple and twisted. El kissed him again, gave the other nipple the same treatment, then pulled the T-shirt up over Sands' head.

Sands could feel El looking at him. He tilted his head, trying to give the impression of looking back. Then El switched his grip on Sands' wrists to the other hand and pulled the T-shirt away.

"Tell me - " Sands stopped. "No, I don't want to know."

El ran his fingers over the scar on Sands' upper arm, then over the older one at his shoulder.

"Did you tell me how you got this one?"

"Probably," Sands said, wanting El to just get on with it. There was still that nagging doubt that El was building up to something that Sands was not going to like. Leaving for example, but no, he would not be that much of a bastard.

"Maybe you could tell me again later," El said, raising Sands' hopes that this was not the end. He kissed the scar on Sands' shoulder, then the one on his arm. Then he released Sands' wrists. 

Sands kept his hands where they were for a moment. Then he dropped them down onto the other man's shoulders and felt his way to the buttons on El's shirt.

"Patience," El said before kissing him, on the lips this time. Sands worked his way down the shirt buttons regardless, then started on the pants. El pulled away slightly, pushing Sands back into the wall with one hand while using the other to unzip Sands' fly. He relieved Sands of the rest of his clothes, pressing his mouth to each scar on Sands' legs on the way down. Then it sounded like he was doing the same for himself. Sands waited.

"Where is..." There was a scrabbling then the sound of something skidding across the floor and contacting a wall. Sands suspected it was his cell.

"Other pocket." How come he was the organised one anyhow? He stretched his arms out along the wall to either side. Jesus Christ Pose. He resisted the sudden urge to clench his nails into his palms - or tap them on the crumbling plaster for that matter. Damn, he was still buzzing too much for this to work.

He heard - felt - El straighten up.

"You look like," El took Sands' shades away from him. "I'm not sure what."

"But you like what you see?" Sands edged his feet slowly apart and inclined his head. 

El closed the distance between them once more and sank his teeth into the side of Sands' neck, digging his fingers into Sands' opposite shoulder. Then pushed up into him as Sands threw his head back against the wall. Oh, boy. After all the times Sands had thought about getting fucked up against a wall, El would choose this moment to actually play the damn game out. Good, but oh fuck, it could be so much better, were Sands not still high. He brought his hands onto El's shoulders and moved with the other man, trying to grab at every last fraction of sensation. His back and shoulders were starting to throb where they scraped the wall, which should have been turning him on still further - and he was hard but nothing much else going on there.

El was close to the edge - Sands could feel it - and Sands was nowhere near. 

"If you're holding out for me," he muttered into El's neck, "it ain't gonna happen"

El slammed him hard into the wall, and again - and damn it but it seemed like he was still angry at Sands. Who could feel layers of skin being scraped off his back by the plaster behind him, his shoulders jarring at every up-thrust. And still he knew how much he would be getting off on this if he only could. Just when he was starting to wonder if the décor would really be improved by a collage of blood, El sagged against him. Then he pulled out and swung Sands around and onto the bed.

Nice to know they had one. Sands could hear El gathering up his clothes and pulling them on.

"Stay there." He followed that by opening the door - it had been unlocked all the time? Then he slammed it behind him, and it was definitely locked now.

"Okay," Sands said to the empty room, "if you hadn't convinced me before, I'd definitely be swearing off coke right about now." He pulled the covers around himself and waited for El to come back. El would come back, Sands was sure of that; it just might be a while.


His cell was ringing. Muffled, but insistently. Sands uncurled from around El, wincing as he moved - well just about anything - and dropped to the floor. He groped around in the direction of the sound until he found it, buried under a heap of his clothes. Good to know it was still working. He flipped it open, missing the connection to his computer and its associated Caller ID already.

"Yeah, hello, what?" he muttered (probably best not to wake El just yet).


Now that was promising. Sands got slowly to his feet and made his way cautiously (no point waking El by stumbling either) to the bathroom. He closed the door and leaned against it. Bad move, he thought as soon as his back touched it. Sitting on the edge of the bath was probably out too.

"Jorge! What do you have for me?"

"I have made contact with a local operative," Ramirez said. That would be one of El's gun-toting mariachi buddies, Sands hoped.

"Go on."

"Between us we have managed to build up floor plans of both your targets. He is watching one; I am watching the other. I should have a list of personnel and their regular activities for you by the end of the week."

"That's very... efficient of you. Send everything to the address I gave you before." So that would be a quick trip to Toronto to collect from the Post Office, but then he would not want to leave the house empty for too long at a stretch while they might still have need of it.

"One other thing," Ramirez said. "I have found out something very interesting about my main subject - something that not many people seem to know."


"Yes, it seems he has quite the art collection. Little of it on display, you understand, but I have included the location of his safe on the floor plans. I just thought you might want to bear that in mind before you decided to destroy the compound altogether."

"You know, Jorge," Sands said, always happy to make some extra profit on the side, "I could almost get to like you. See if you can find out what he has in his collection and I may just up your fee."

He cut the connection, then opened the door a crack and listened. It sounded as if El was still asleep. Good. Sands punched in the speed-dial for Marianne. Whatever time it was here, it was bound to be daytime in France.

"Bonjour, Shel."

Sands added another mental tally-mark to the revenge score he was keeping.

"Marianne. That friend of yours, Coco, wasn't it? The one that was doing time for misappropriation of other people's goods."

"You mean Corky?"

"That's the one. Is she out yet?"

"She's been out a couple of years. Last thing I heard, she was back in Chicago, doing honest work."

"Well isn't that nice? Our prison system does have its success stories after all. You can find me some contact details, I'm sure."

"Give me a little time, and I'm sure I'll find someone that knows where she is. You do realise that you're going to owe me big time for all this?"

"And there I was thinking that I was still collecting on certain events of a few years back."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean. I'll call you, okay?" Marianne hung up. When all this was over, maybe they would have a proper chat. Maybe he would even let El join in. Or maybe not; El had fetched their luggage in from the car the night before, then turned in, still without saying much of anything to Sands. So it was best if he stayed ignorant of just how deep Sands' 'little chemical dependence' had actually gone.

Sands crawled back under the covers and tried to make himself comfortable again. El rolled over and slung an arm across Sands' shoulders, making him wince. El sat up as suddenly as if the touch had burned him, and then there was a click as he turned the light on. Followed by a sharp intake of breath. 

"Now what?" Sands had been planning on a bit more sleep before actually doing anything else with his day.

"I hurt you. Last night - "

"Well, you're that little bit bigger, quite a lot stronger and one sense up on me. Go figure."

"No, it was because I was angry. I let that take over."

"And the problem is? Listen, El. You know what I am; I know what you are. I'm hardly going to get all upset if you beat the crap out of me once in a while." He stopped there, not adding 'especially not when I enjoy it,' suspecting that might be too much information for El to process this early in the day.

El said nothing. Sands took that as a sign he needed to add something more. There was, he suspected, little that El could do that would affect how Sands felt about him. But he resisted mentioning that - El would probably dismiss it as so many empty words.

Sands propped himself up on one elbow, the less bruised of the two, it felt like, which was fortunately on the same side as the hip El had not had hold of on their way from the car. He reached out and made contact with El's arm, pulling him back down onto the mattress.

"Yeah, I'm broken," Sands said, crawling over El to straddle his thighs. "But I'm not going to get any more so because of anything you care to do. You're not that good, bad, whatever at it." He ducked his head down and nipped at El's lips.

"Sometimes I think you are one strange individual."

"Aww, shucks. And what does that say about you for sticking with me?" Sands hoped he put enough of a sarcastic twist on the question to hide his relief that El seemed to be planning on sticking around, thank you very much.

"That I am as mad as you?" El reached up and pushed Sands' hair back from his face.

Flash of memory, from a time he had thought a complete blank. Sensation through opioid haze of a hand holding his, and a voice telling him that he was strong, a survivor; and that the owner of the voice would see what could be done to make things right.

"Maybe you are. Maybe that's why I stay with you. Ever thought about that?"


This was getting far too serious. Sands located both of El's hands and pinned them to the bed, then lowered himself to slowly rub against the other man.

Electric sparks seemed to crackle from his cock to his eyeless sockets. So almost-real that he gasped and pulled away. El reached up and pulled Sands back down, rough fingers skating over tender bruised and grazed skin. Which did nothing for any ideas Sands had been harbouring about endurance.

"You don't have to wait for me." El sounded amused.

Sands sucked on his lower lip. Then he rocked slowly back and forward, ignoring the sparks this time. It was all still too much.

El pushed up and rolled them over so that now Sands was the one pinned to the mattress. The twinges from his shoulders and back intensified all the other sensations and he just gave up and went with the ride. The state he was in this morning, he would be hard again by the time they made it to the shower. Then he would have El on his knees. The shower was cramped - he really needed to speak to El about the accommodation choice - but there should be enough space.


El carried the two guitar cases out to the Jag. He uncovered it, pleased to see that no one had checked under the tarpaulin and discovered that it was worth stealing. Last night he could hardly have cared less where they stayed, but in the light of day, and after events in the meantime, he was prepared to reconsider his choice. The last of his anger had been driven out by the sight of Sands' back, and he had done everything in his power to make up for it since. But whatever Sands might say, there had been no excuse for El's over-reaction to a problem he had anticipated, ever since they had met with Dariel in the nightclub.

Besides, it was not going to happen again. Sands was unsure about whether he could keep his promise, that much was obvious, but it would be easy to keep him away from temptation. When all this was over, they would go far away. And El would take steps to ensure that outside agencies were never able to blackmail either of them into taking on potentially dangerous jobs. How he would do so was a little unclear right now, but there had to be a way.

El had left Sands curled up on the bed, wrapped in a bathrobe from their previous hotel. When he returned, it was to find a bundle of all the bedclothes, with Sands somewhere in the middle. El sat on the edge of the bed and poked at the covers.

Sands made a muffled squeak, then burrowed rapidly out of the bundle to wrap his arms around El's waist, with his head pressed into El's thigh.

Confused, El dropped a hand down to stroke Sands' hair.

"I was gone five minutes at the most."

"Yeah, well come-down's a bitch sometimes. Waits around when you think it's gone away, then sneaks back to sink its teeth into your brain." 

"Anything I can do for you?"

"Valium, marijuana, more alcohol than you'd let me have this time of day. Or failing that, you could try rolling me a cigarette."

"The last I can do."

"Good." Sands seemed to relax a little, one hand drifting down to toy with the chains on El's pants; they were more comfortable than any others he had found recently. And that was one less thing to distract him, when he needed to be ever watchful outside of wherever they happened to be holed up for the night.


He ought to have known that it would get worse before it got better. But now he had two very good reasons for keeping his nose clean (and there was a pun in there somewhere). First, the only place El was likely to find someone to take care of Sands would be back in the asylum that, even now, he sometimes wondered if he had ever really left. Second, while Sands did not share El's belief in prophetic dreams, he did know that the most sure-fire way of his latest nightmare coming true would be for him to get strung out beyond reason before a fight. That had been how it had happened before; that was not going to happen again.

At least this hotel, and the one before, had been up to scratch. Hell, here he even had a full size desk with a modem socket for his laptop. So he had plenty to occupy him, while El was out shopping for tobacco, tequila and ammo. On that subject... he rolled another cigarette and sparked his lighter. Which clicked feebly. 

He sparked it again, holding his hand what seemed to be a safe distance above it. Nothing doing. He shook it. Sure sounded empty too. Now why had El not said anything? Sands tucked the roll-up behind his ear and went in search of El's jacket, it being too hot for the other man to bother wearing it today. With any luck there would be a lighter in one pocket or other.

His cell began to ring. He dug it out of his pocket and flipped it open.


"Bonjour, Shel. That friend you wanted to get in touch with?"

"Tell me you have a number for her."

"Of course. She's holed up with her gal in New York of all places."

"You speak to her?" 

"Sure I did. She's up for it, and says she'll call you after the weekend, so long as her current location never reaches the ears of one of her former employers, back in the windy city."

"Ah. Fall foul of the Mob there, did she?"

"I guess so. Listen, she's doing this because I said you were a friend of mine. Don't piss her off."

"Now when would I ever - "

" - I mean it, Shel. You piss her off and that's the last favour I ever do for you. So," Marianne said in a much friendlier tone, "you find my old bike yet?"

"Working on it."

"Give her a pat for me."

"I'll consider it. Can't have people thinking I'm crazier than they do already. Not having any second thoughts about coming back?"

"I'm happy here." Marianne sounded as decided as ever, worse luck.

"So," Sands said, trying to sound disinterested, "domesticity's still all it's cracked up to be?"

"Why don't you try it and find out?"

"Do you notice hell freezing over? 'Cause I sure don't. We'll talk again soon." He hung up before Marianne could regale him with stories of how great the wife and kids were. Then he got back to hunting down El's jacket.

It was hung over one of the room's other chairs. Quite logical really. Sands patted it down and found a lighter in one pocket and something flat and square in another.

Interesting. He lit his roll-up then turned his attention to his other find. Cardboard. Open at one end. He encouraged its contents out into his other hand. Circular, hole in the centre, slightly rougher on one side than the other. And his laptop had a CD drive.

He slipped it in and waited to see what, or if, it would auto-run.

It was a plain old music CD, but it had a rather interesting selection of tracks on it. Single acoustic guitar, one set of vocals, not at all shabbily produced for a demo. Of course the question was who El had made it for. And, obviously, whether he had intended Sands to find it.

On reflection, Sands decided that he preferred the songs in Spanish, although that sure was an interesting interpretation of Don McLean's 'Vincent'. And if El had sent a copy off to any industry bigwigs, then Sands would be very interested in their arguments, should they choose to reject it out of hand.

Not that he wanted El getting noticed - he liked having his very own guitar god, without doing the 'sharing with the general public business'. Besides, they would have to lie low a while longer yet. But if they did decide to give up the mayhem and killing, then music was a far better plan than running a bar or whatever the hell Marianne was currently doing with her time.

Sands quashed that thought damn quick and went back to reading the personals on Hitmail.


The footsteps outside sounded like El. Except that there was something not quite right about the sounds that accompanied them. A key turned in the lock and Sands dropped behind the bed, guns readied.

"Expecting company?" El asked.

Sands holstered the guns as he heard the door close. He stayed sitting right where he was though, and waited for El to come to him.

"Find everything we needed?" 

"Everything I went for. And something else." El leaned down - swoosh of air with the tang of leather in it - and cupped his hand under Sands' chin. Then he lifted his hand slowly and Sands unfolded himself until he was standing.

"The coat?" Sands burrowed into it. And it was soft, like a second skin; one which had not spent twenty years on the road.

"The weather turned colder," El said matter-of-factly. "Besides that, though. There is someone we need to meet with."

"Anyone I'm likely to know?" More top the point, was it anyone that Sands needed to avoid?

"An Irishman - ex-mercenary, living in New York. I think he would be useful."

"And how did you learn of this guy?"

"A priest told me about him."

"Ah. This would be another of those secret societies that I'm not privy too. Same as how come all the musicians in Mexico seem to be gun-toting maniacs."

"Not all. Just some of those I know, and knew. I thought you would be less interested in hearing about those without guns."

"Don't be so sure." Sands could listen to El speak on any subject, given the correct mood and lack of anything else to do. He rubbed his cheek against the jacket, where it curved over El's shoulder.

"Remember what I said about you being strange?"

"Ain't denying it." Sands took hold of the lapels of the coat and stepped backwards, tumbling them both onto the bed. "Now tell me about this Irish gunslinger."

To Be Continued...



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