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With my sandwich still in launch-into-my-mouth position, I looked up from behind the bread to see both King and Bear standing on the top of the seawall, peering down at me.

Bear looked just a good as he did the night I met him, but now, he looked even better. Because he was shirtless. His ab muscles glistened with sweat. I thought King had a lot of tattoos, but Bear didn’t have a single inch of available real estate left on his skin.

King spoke first. “Oh no, don’t worry about me. I’m fine. Just went to check out what that bomb like noise was, but you go ahead and finish your sandwich. We’ll wait.” He was smiling out of the corner of his mouth.

Bear crouched down. “Oh shit. Check you out. Didn’t think you’d still be alive.”

I put my plate down and stood up. “If you two are done mocking me, can one of you tell me what the fuck that noise was?”

“Oh shit. Sorry, that was all me. This girl came over, and she’s got this old Volkswagen Bug. One thing led to another…”

“I don’t want to know,” I interrupted.

Bear continued, “All I was going to say is that while her lips were wrapped around my cock, I vaguely remembered promising to fix her bug for her. What you heard was that very car backfiring. For what I’m thinking was the very last time, because it’s dead. Like super dead. Like there is no coming back from that dead. Which totally blows cause the girl could suck the—”

King held up a hand. “Okay, Bear, cut the bullshit, you can tell her what really happened.”

Bear nodded and his phone rang. He pulled it out of his back pocket and clicked a button on the screen. “Yeah.” He scratched his beard. “Fuck. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, I’ll tell him.” He clicked the phone again and put in back in his pocket.

“Isaac is on the move. Jimmy and BJ spotted him and his boys in Coral Pines this morning. Looks like they’ve got business there. BJ spoke to a guy in Isaac’s crew. They’ll be riding into our corner of the world in a week or so.”

“Shit,” King cursed.

“I told you to fucking get out of town, dude. You knew he was coming.”

“Yeah, and when you told me that, I didn’t care if he came right up to my front door, guns-a-fucking-blazing.”

“But now?” Bear asked.

King nodded to me.

“Ah. I see. What do you want to do, man? Your call. You know I’m behind you no matter what.” Bear lit a cigarette.

“I think we go on the offense,” King said.

“Wait, what does all this mean? Who is Isaac?”

King ignored me. “I’ll get her to Grace’s before then,” he told Bear.

“King, who the fuck is Isaac? Who the fuck is Grace?” I shouted, jumping up and down to make my presence in the conversation known.

“Pup, when Preppy took you out with him, did he tell you that when he and I started the granny operation, we cut out our main supplier?”

“Yeah. He did.”

“Well, Isaac, was that supplier.”

“Shit,” I said.

Bear took a long drag of his cigarette and blew out the smoke through his nose, looking very much like the bird recently tattooed on King’s hand. “Yeah, that about sums it up.”

“What you heard was a warning,” King said.

“What kind of warning?” I asked.

Bear stubbed out his cigarette into the concrete of the retaining wall. “The kind that goes boom.”

“What was blown up?”

Preppy’s wail broke through the air like another explosion.

“WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO MY MOTHERFUCKING CAR?”

Chapter Seventeen

Doe

Any sign of the playful version of King from lunch were gone. He gave me ten minutes to get ready and get my ass in the fucking truck.

I didn’t know where we were going, and something about the way he’d barked it at me made it clear he didn’t exactly want me to ask.

We traveled together in a silence so heavy it had its own presence in the truck. Like an uninvited guest, it awkwardly sat between us on the bench seat. We turned down a narrow, dirt road. My curiosity piqued when King pulled over to the side of the road next to the gate of a yellow ranch style home with a short, white picket fence lining the front yard.

“Let’s go,” King said.

Getting out of the truck, he unlatched the gate and started up the cement walkway. I followed behind him, jogging to catch up to him and match his long strides. Several pinwheel lawn ornaments spun as we passed them, our motion creating the only breeze in the stagnant heat of the day. I thought that maybe King was making a pickup for Preppy, and that this was another one of their Granny Growhouses that I had not yet seen.

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