“You’re fired!”

            TJ didn’t believe his boss, who was also his brother-in-law because his voice lacked conviction.  Dressed in jeans and a casual shirt, no one would take Lincoln Adams for the owner of one of the largest security companies in the country.  The black patch over his left eye was firmly in place and a narrow leather strip secured his black hair in a queue at the base of his neck.   

            “Why are you busting my balls?  I’ve been working my ass off the past 3 years working undercover with a bunch of murdering, drug running Columbians.  I got home two days ago and moved into the garage apartment in the back of your house.  The only time I left was to get something to eat at the Spoonful.”

            “Yeah, and you mirror the trash you worked with.  Women and children would purposely cross the street to avoid getting close to you.  When I stopped to get a cup of coffee this morning at the Spoonful Cafe, Sallie Mae blistered my ears off about how I mistreat you.  The owner’s set down made me look like the bad guy.”

            TJ pressed his hands over his unshaven cheeks and covered his ears. “Stop talking so loud.  My head feels like the drummer from a rock band has taken up residence in my head.”

            “And whose fault is that?  You’re drinking too much and I’m far from done. Your niece saw you going up the stairs to the apartment yesterday when she got off the school bus.  Edith said uncleTreig’s face looks dirty with his beard.  My wife is disappointed you haven’t stopped by the house to see Noah.  Your nephew is quite a handful.  You better clean up before you face your mother.”

            Getting reamed by his best friend was one thing, but facing his mother took things to a whole different level.  “People should stop worrying about me.”

            “We’re not just “people” but your family.  Constantly working undercover with bottom feeders has caused you to distance yourself from normal human beings.”  Lincoln drew in a deep reflective sigh.  “I’m part of the blame since I hired you away from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission three years ago.  Your assignments were all undercover, working with a different caliber of scum.  Since then, you’ve taken on risky assignments we’ve coordinated with the FBI and DEA.  You’ve made some powerful enemies.  It’s time to step back into normalcy.” 

             I don’t know remember what normal is. “You know I need a challenging job,” he offered as a poor excuse.

            “Living with low-life’s can change a person. We’ve got a psychologist on retainer that will be glad to talk to you.”

            TJ suffered the invisible punch in the gut. “Psychologist!  Now you think I’m messed up in the head?”

            He shoved up from the silver-framed chair in front of his bosses’ sleek desk and walked across the thick gray carpeting to pause in front of the wall of glass.  His eyes were drawn to the restored train station across from the vast parking area.  From the amount of cars, it appeared the six specialty shops were doing a good business.  If memory served him right, the old Baldwin train, the prize possession of Northrup Whipper, the owner of the local hardware store, ran excursions to bring in additional tourism to the small town.

             He shoved his hands in the back pockets of his jeans.  “Busy place.” 

             “You were always good at quickly changing the subject,” Lincoln added with a short laugh.  “You should see it on the weekends. We have a trolley service that takes the tourists to my grandfather’s house since it’s been declared a historical landmark.  Visitors are given a tour of the Buford Adams House and have the option of walking through the tunnel that was used as part of the Underground Railway that ends near the train station.   We’re currently looking for a second trolley driver.  You’d get to wear a nifty cap. It would certainly be a change of pace.”

            TJ caught the hint of sarcasm in his friend’s voice and returned to his chair. “Thanks, but no thanks,” he sneered, running his hands through his overly-long hair in frustration.

            “All kidding aside, you know I like to hire Veteran’s and understand what they’ve gone through because I’ve been there myself, dealing with physical as well as emotional trauma.”

            “But I wasn’t in the military.”

            “No, you weren’t, but you’re part of an elite group that fights the bad guys who threaten the American way of life both on and off the home turf.”

            “Jeeze, I’m nobody’s hero.  I’m just doing my job.”

            “You don’t see yourself that way, but I do.  We’ve been best friends since junior high school and I know you better than you know yourself.”  Lincoln put the tip of his finger to the corner of a silver picture frame and turned it in TJ’s direction.  “Jessie is worried about you, too.”

            His sister had a beautiful smile on her face, standing next to a golden stallion on the carousel in Central Park.  She loved carousels.   

            “I know what my sister looks like.”

            “Mr. I’m Invincible, nothing can touch me, has a vulnerable side and that trash you worked with has tainted your well-being.  You just turned forty. You don’t have a permanent residence, no woman in your life, no direction.  You don’t own a vehicle because you’re never home long enough so you’re driving my truck.” 

            “So now you resent loaning me your pride and joy?”

            “Don’t be such an ass!”  Lincoln thrust out an arm and pointed toward the parking lot. “If I got an undercover assignment right now, you’d grab your duffle and be out of the house a half hour later. When we were teenagers you were always the one to push the envelope and you’ve continued to live your life on the edge. What the hell are you searching for?  Or maybe I should ask, what are you running away from?” 

            Lincoln summed up his inner turmoil perfectly. What am I running away from? Hell, I don’t know.  How could he say to his oldest friend that working for him instilled a sense of purpose and tethered him to a form of stability, one that always had his back.  If he couldn’t sink his teeth into some kind of risky situation, what would he do?  His mind came up blank. 

            “Are you really firing me?”  

Excerpt

A Kiss at Sunset

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