Another Excerpt—Meet Luki and Sonny

June 20, 2011

Straits of Juan de Fuca (Where Sonny Lives)

Washington State, 2010

BRIGHT clothes, sunburns. Summer had arrived, and Port Clifton was awash in tourists. Since Juan de Fuca Boulevard constituted most of the town, they had nowhere else to go. They chattered and milled about, and Sonny Bly James wasn’t in the mood for chatter or milling because he was worried about his nephew, Delsyn, who always stayed gone for days, but who should have come home by now. Sonny quickened his long-legged strides and slid through the crush, trying to disturb the air as little as possible on the way to his truck.

Then he saw a man.

Which in itself wasn’t unusual, but this man, an islander, maybe Hawaiian, by the look of him, lounged cool and beautiful in loose summer whites, half-sitting on the fender of an ice-blue Mercedes, a strip of sand beach and the blue straits for a backdrop. Dark chestnut curls shining; straight, white teeth softly teasing a lush, plum-red bottom lip. His eyes, startling pale blue against brown skin, roved all over Sonny; the islander made no effort to pretend otherwise, and besides, Sonny could feel them. Their touch trickled over him like ice water, exciting every nerve he had, even those he’d never heard from before.

Which scared Sonny, a recluse by choice—and, he knew, because he’d always managed to be socially… well, clumsy. So, he turned to the weapon that had been his first line of defense since adolescence, when all the reservation had noticed that their star young grass dancer didn’t mind being gay: a smart mouth.

“What are you looking at?”

Even though the islander had responded by looking away, Sonny knew he hadn’t—couldn’t have—intimidated him. The stranger might have been a few inches shorter than him, but judging by his physique, and despite his laid-back manner, Sonny guessed the man could have dropped him with a cold look and a slap. It would have been less of a blow if he had. Instead, he freed his lower lip from his teeth and spoke.

“I beg your pardon.”

Sonny wanted to let a whole raft of words spill out, starting with “I didn’t mean it,” and ending with “so kiss me, now.” But the man’s attention had turned away. A baby in a stroller dropped a floppy brown bear at his feet. The young mother looked frazzled, at her wit’s end, carrying another child and trying to keep a third from making a dash down the boulevard. The islander squatted down—a graceful move—and picked up the bear. Right before Sonny’s eyes, his icy exterior melted, and though he didn’t smile and couldn’t pass for cheerful, he somehow seemed kind. He handed the stuffed creature back to the baby, who seemed to like him. She expressed her gratitude by spouting a number of syllables that all sounded a lot like “da.”

Sonny, angry with himself for blowing his chance to meet this chill but beautiful stranger—who might be trying to hide a kind heart—pretended he hadn’t seen. He turned his faux-stoic shoulder and walked away. A little shaky, perhaps; already sorry. Three strides and he heard a voice, unexpectedly scratchy, even hoarse.

“Hey.”

Sonny turned.

The man took a deep, lovely breath, flashed his cold-fire eyes at Sonny, and said, “I have coffee most mornings at Margie’s. In case you’re interested.”

MARGIE’S it was, then, the very next day. Sonny had weighed the wisdom of that, thinking it might be better if he didn’t seem so anxious. But hell, he thought, I am anxious. Nothing about me is un-anxious.

He took the truck—which his Uncle Melvern had left him when he died a year ago and which functioned as a good luck charm. After he pulled over to the curb a half-block from Margie’s, he forced the clutch to cooperate, wrestled the column shift into first, and shut the engine down. Sort of. It kicked and spluttered, backfired, and groaned to death. He really, really hoped that the man he had come to meet had not heard that. He wanted to make a good impression. He crashed his shoulder into the door to get out, slammed the door twice to shut it, then paused to look in the side-view mirror. Some other person spoke out of his mouth—or at least that’s how it felt. “Sonny,” it said, “here’s your chance. Don’t blow it.”

Great. A confidence builder.

The wooden sign attached over the arched brick entry said “Margie’s Cup O’ Gold,” but nobody ever called the cafe anything but just plain Margie’s. The elegant door—leaded glass set in oak panels—had been pushed open and held there with a shoe. All that stood between Sonny and whatever fate awaited him inside was a wooden screen door, the old-fashioned kind; it might have been there since the block was built in the 1890’s. He crossed the threshold wearing a smile for Margie, then reached back just in time to stop the screen from slamming behind him. “Hey, Marge,” he said, maybe not quite as loud as usual. He glanced around lazily, as if he weren’t looking for the man he’d come to think of as “the islander.” He didn’t see him. He let out a long breath that he must have been holding, wondering if he felt disappointed or relieved. He walked, casually he hoped, across the expanse of black and white parquet floor.

“Well,” Margie said, hand on hip and scolding in ringing tones. “Hello, Sonny. You’re here awfully early.”

“Margie, usually people don’t give other people a hard time for being early.”

“Shush, Sonny Bly. So what do you want? Never mind, I already know. You and your fancy coffees. What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned cuppa, eh? Now that young man that came in a little earlier—real nice looking fella; I think you’d like him—now he just ordered coffee, black and sweet. There’s a man that knows what he likes, I say.”

She’d nearly finished making the latte by the time she stopped. That was one thing about a conversation with Margie. Sonny never worried about what to say, because he was pretty sure he’d never get a chance to say it. But this time she had him a little dumbfounded. She’d said, “that nice fella” with a sly glance out of the corner of her eye. Sonny figured she was on to him, but he couldn’t decide whether that was good or bad.

She cleared up those muddy waters as soon as she handed over his latte. “He’s around the corner, dear. The last table. Don’t worry, you look fine.”

Which left Sonny absolutely certain he should have worried more about how he looked.

There he was, the islander. Same skin, same lips, eyes, even hair. Of course. But the rest of him was dressed in a posh business suit, a light gray, summer fabric so finely tailored that he might have been born in it. “So why the getup?” Sonny asked.

“Ah,” the stranger remarked. “A way with words.”

He didn’t have to say that. Sonny was already giving his forehead a mental smack. He stared at his coffee for what seemed like, maybe, a hundred and twenty-four years. He’d all but decided to bid an embarrassed farewell and beat a retreat, when the islander spoke.

“I have to go to work in a while,” he said. When Sonny looked up he added, “That’s why the getup.” No smile went with the words, but his eyes danced, like they were laughing—or maybe teasing. He reached halfway across the tile-topped table, holding out his long-fingered, manicured hand.

Sonny stared at it.

The islander said, “I thought maybe introductions would be a good place to start. I’m Luki. Luki Vasquez.”

Embarrassed again, Sonny blushed, which—he knew from experience—made his off-brown skin look purple. But in an act of sheer bravery, he put his own dye-stained and calloused hand out and took hold of Luki’s. Somehow, what felt like gibberish came out sounding like his name. “Sonny James.”

Luki leaned back when the handshake was done, draped his left arm casually over the back of the chair… revealing a bit of leather strap that might be part of a shoulder holster and something sort of gun-shaped half-hidden under his jacket.

“Is that what I think it is?”

Luki pulled his jacket back and showed him what was under there. Or some of what was under there, and not necessarily what Sonny wanted to see.

“Is that what you thought it was?”

“I’m afraid so. Police?”

Luki shook his head. “Used to be, sort of—ATF. Not anymore.”

“ATF?”

“Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms.”

Sonny said, “Oh.” Thinking he’d probably heard of such an organization, sometime. “What now?”

“Security.”

Security? Sonny’s mind raced. Luki couldn’t possibly have meant he was one of those people that walk around the factory at night. That wouldn’t make enough money for a man to feed himself, never mind buy a suit handmade by the angels of heaven. What kind of security work might be so lucrative? He imagined Luki running alongside royalty as they headed for the limo, staving off the paparazzi.”What, like bodyguard?”

Luki’s voice, low and raspy but sweet, tightened a bit. Apparently he hadn’t expected to be quizzed about how he paid the bills. “Yes, from time to time. And property—gems and what not. Investigations, sometimes. What about you? What do you do?” The look he shot Sonny was almost a glare.

The most honest response would have been, “Please, don’t look at me like that,” but belligerence is a tough habit to break. “I play with yarn.”

“Yarn?”

“And string.”

“String.”
“Yep,” Sonny said aloud. Silently, he told himself he’d probably gone too far. He wasn’t sorry that Luki’s cell phone, attached to his belt in a stylishly businesslike manner, buzzed just then.

Luki glanced at the number, looked up, and caught Sonny’s eyes with an entirely unreadable gaze. He set his hand on the table, preparing to rise. “Sorry,” he said, “I’d better go.”

“Alright,” Sonny responded, his voice faint. A wish that he’d spent this time with Luki getting to know him a little, rather than engaging in subtle verbal warfare hit him so hard that it took his breath. Heart pounding, acting on either bravery or desperation, he put his hand on Luki’s where it lay on the table. Luki’s hand turned and grabbed hold. His thumb washed across Sonny’s knuckles; his fingers promised Sonny’s palm a kiss, which struck remote bits of anatomy like lightning. Sonny tried to put some of his chagrin into a smile. His lips had gone dry, and he licked them. “Luki—” He stopped, surprised at how the name filled his mouth with something sweet. He laughed a little and went on. “Maybe we can try this again?”

Luki stayed silent, worrying softly at his bottom lip—again.

Sonny stopped breathing.

“Yeah,” Luki said, with that already familiar something in his eyes. “I’d like that. Tomorrow?”

Sonny’s confidence underwent significant restoration as a result of that promising end. He smiled a farewell to Luki and sat a few minutes longer to contemplate and sip the last of his tepid, but still delicious, raspberry latte. Getting ready to leave, he stood, slid his feet more firmly into his flip-flops, and patted his back pocket, as always, to make sure that indeed his wallet was still there. He took a step toward the door, but stopped when he heard conversation around the corner. He’d thought Luki must have gone out the back door to the parking lot, but there was no mistaking his voice.

“The man plays with string, Margie.”

Step one, Sonny thought, deflate ego.

“Oh, yes he does,” Margie said. “And he does it better than anyone I know. Would you like to see?”

Step two: remember who your friends are.

“Not today, Margie. I have to go. Some other day, maybe. I’m sure it’s spectacular.”

Step three: write off potential romance as a loss for tax purposes.

Footsteps. The back door opened, closed. Sonny came out of hiding to find Margie standing with arms crossed and a raised eyebrow.

“Well?” Margie made words like that into whole dissertations, having a talent for saying more when she spoke less.

“The man plays with guns,” he mumbled.

“Quite competently, so I’ve heard. Any word from Delsyn?”

Sonny didn’t mind changing the subject, but thoughts of his too-long-absent nephew hardly cheered him up. He shook his head.

“Don’t worry so, dear. He’ll come home.”

This time Sonny nodded, wished Margie a good day, and started for the door.

“He wants to see your work sometime.” Which, of course, did not refer to Delsyn.

“Don’t bother, Marge.” Hoping to convince himself that he didn’t care, he added, “He wouldn’t know crimson from scarlet if they jumped up and shouted their names.”

THE next day, Sonny talked himself through some considerable misgivings and went to Margie’s as arranged. Luki didn’t show. After an hour and 2.8 lattes, he left. He didn’t say a word, but Margie did. Of course.

“His work is unpredictable, Sonny. He should have told you that.”

“No big deal, Marge.”

“He doesn’t live here, you know. Leases one of those condos up the street, temporarily.”

“Luxury, I’m sure.”

Margie raised her eyebrows. “I expect so. Anyway, he said he lives in Chicago, has a business there, but he can run it from anywhere. It takes him all over the world, I guess, and right now, he has a job here.”

Sonny remembered how closemouthed Luki seemed. “You got him to say all that?” But of course Margie could get a signpost talking if she had a few minutes to spend. She didn’t answer, but she did keep talking.

“He likes it here, said he’s tired of Chicago, tired of always being on edge. Decided he’d stay a while, maybe not work so hard.”

“Why are you telling me all this, Margie?

“Because you want to know.”

LUKI glanced in the mirror for a minimal look before leaving his condo. He’d dressed more casually than he generally did when working—which in the past had been always—but today his face looked even more grim than usual. He didn’t like to see it, anyway. The scar that ran straight down the left side of his face from scalp to chin made him ugly, and he knew it. And he knew that, try as he might to distract people with perfect clothes and beautiful curls, that scar scared people and turned them away. Everyone except kids.

And Sonny James, maybe.

Which explained the grimmer look.

He’d been working, a nasty job that involved a wife trying to get her jewels back from a former trophy husband who, it turned out, had full access to a lowlife but dangerous security force of his own—exactly the kind of job he hated the most, though it paid well. He couldn’t help missing his date… sort of date with Sonny, but Sonny had no way of knowing that. He’d called Margie late that first day and asked for Sonny’s cell. She didn’t think he had one, she said, for practical reasons. That left Luki baffled, and then before he could ask for his landline, things started happening outside. “Tell him I called,” he’d said. Three days ago.

“Maybe I’ll be lucky and have a chance to explain,” he told his reflection.

He walked the four miles to Margie’s for exercise. And because he didn’t think Margie’s would be open this early anyway. Not being someone who could remotely be called a “morning person,” he’d never paid much attention to what time things opened. They were always open before he got there, except when he had to get up for work, in which case he didn’t go have leisurely coffee with a beautiful… exceptionally beautiful man.

I can’t believe it, he thought. I’ve got freaking butterflies in my stomach. Cigarette.

He had one in the first mile and hoped the next three would blow away the smell of smoke. I should quit. Not knowing why he thought St. Christopher might help in a situation like this, he touched the medal he always wore on its chain. Let him be there.

Right. Because I’d certainly be there if someone stood me up without a word and didn’t show up for three days….

Sonny didn’t appear at Margie’s that day, nor the next, nor the next, despite Luki getting there early—though admittedly later each day. Margie said he hadn’t been in after that first day, and when he asked where Sonny lived, she laughed. He hadn’t expected a laugh, but he hadn’t really expected an answer, either—other than the usual, “It’s not my business to tell you that.”

Instead: “You’d never find it, Luki.”

“I’m a detective.”

“Well, if you can detect yourself around the forest, through the bog, and over the back roads, then you’ll do fine. He lives about an hour out of town—not because of distance, because of the roads. Hardly ever comes to town, to tell the truth. One of those reclusive artist types, you know?”

No. He didn’t know. When would he have had a chance to know what “artist types” do with their off time? “What about his phone, then?”

“Well, I don’t know….”

“I’m sure you have it.”

“I do, and I’ve got your phone number too. Do you want me to just hand it out to any looker that asks?”

“If the looker is Sonny James, yes.” He meant it, but it didn’t look like Margie even heard it. She’d already walked away, heading for a table newly filled with four tourists.

Luki left, resolving not to come back with his hopes in the air again. Why he had done it in the first place mystified him. He never pursued relationships. Went out of his way to avoid them, in fact. He liked a tryst as well as the next guy, had honed his skills at sex the same way he perfected his marksmanship and tai chi. But relationships? No; single instances, adding just enough class to keep them from being sordid. He found the idea of a relationship dangerous.

Sonny James threatened his well-being. Better left alone. So he told himself, but after he walked out Margie’s door, he turned around and walked back in.

“You said you’d show me some of his work sometime. Can you do that now?”

10 Responses to “Another Excerpt—Meet Luki and Sonny”

  1. That’s a pretty picture. Is it near where you live?

  2. Lily Sawyer says:

    I love this story! I love the setting. one day I hope to get out west.

  3. Lou Sylvre says:

    It is a beautiful place, isn’t it. It is a place I have loved to visit, actually probably less than a hundred miles north and west from my home, as the crow flies, but the way to get there is twisted because of Hood Canal and Puget Sound, and the Olympics. Incidentally, the area through there is one of the few remaining temperate rain forests in the world, and it’s amazing—especially when you find a patch of old-growth. In the book, the town of Port Clifton is fictional, based more or less on a couple of towns in the area, Port Townsend and Sequim. The back-roads forest where Sonny’s place sits, right up against the straits, exists only in my imagination because I’ve twisted the geography around so that an area called Chimacum ends up on the water. I took liberties! Still, the place “feels” like the area in which it’s set. I know that’s more info than you asked for. Hope your don’t mind.

  4. Oh I think that is very cool and imaginative.

  5. Lou Sylvre says:

    Thank you, Elizabeth! (taking bow). LOL

  6. Lily Sawyer says:

    I like the setting. I’m not a city person (though I like in the ‘burbs’

  7. Lou Sylvre says:

    I actually more or less live in the “burbs”, too Lily, except that they’re not attached to any big city. The “city” I live in is attached to Washington’s Capitol city (Olympia), but the Capitol isn’t much bigger. Still, I live in a residential condo. I have lived in “the woods,” though, and when I was young I lived in Los Angeles. Guess I’ve run the gamut. But I do love the wilder places, and that’s one good thing about living here—it’s all close, even desert.

    Now, as far as the book goes, I like that Sonny’s a country man, and Luki’s all city (as an adult, anyway), and when he comes to the slower pace of Port Clifton, it pulls him a little off balance.

  8. Lou Sylvre says:

    Thanks, Lily. It is a great place to live or visit, and despite the reputation we have it really doesn’t rain all the time. Unless you’re in Forks, and truthfully, there is little reason I’ve ever been able to find to be in Forks. But there are so many places in the US I’ve never been or only passed through. I’m using the Vasquez and James series as an opportunity to visit some of those places, at least virtually. In this book, they go to Nebraska. What happens there isn’t really a vacation. (Hope that sounds intriguing?)

  9. Tj Klune says:

    This just went on the must buy list. Congrats on the release!!

  10. Lou Sylvre says:

    Wonderful. Thank you, Tj.

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