THE STALKER 3 (The Dickens Challenge)


Soren Buchanan pulled his Jeep into the first available parking spot nearest the Agat Marina’s clubhouse and dragged a hand through his windblown hair. Saw dust rained down on his lap. He was liberally coated with the stubborn stuff, having spent all morning cutting plywood. His eyes were gritty with it and he needed a shower.

He shouldered the old Jeep’s creaking door open and contemplated not for the first time to just forgo the door altogether. Or weld it shut. He reached into the backseat to get his tool box and watched more saw dust join the sand already covering the Jeep’s floorboards. Christ, the car was a mess. He hesitated. The last time he’d gotten the glorious idea to deal with the trash he drove around he’d washed his seat covers. They’d promptly disintegrated in Mrs. George’s washing machine, making Mason’s mother wonder if they might have been covers the Jeep’s first owner had bought in 1956. Soren wouldn’t have doubted it.

He sat his toolbox down, stripped his dusty T-shirt over his head, and went to get one of the parking lot’s garbage cans. He dragged it to the passenger side of his CJ-6, wrenched the door open and started pulling junk from the interior. Crumpled ATM print-outs and drive-through receipts, two or three empty water bottles, newspaper carcasses, Starbucks cups, a bag of pretzels he’d forgotten about, his work schedule from three weeks ago, and an assortment of junk mail. He rummaged under the passenger seat for his tennis shoes when his phone clattered onto the sandy floorboard.

He muttered a curse under his breath and retrieved the phone along with his shoes. The laces of the right shoe looked suspiciously like they’d been chewed on by the stray cat that had taken a liking to his Jeep, but Soren’s attention had already been caught by the small plastic baggie tucked into the shoe. He immediately recognized what looked like colorless ice shavings.


“Hello to you, too.”

His heart hammering against his ribs, Soren whirled. He shoved the crystal methamphetamine in the front pocket of his cargo shorts and managed a smile. “Hey.”

Since the marina’s liveaboard population was made up mostly of retirees, Soren basically lived in a floating retirement village. But the girl standing on the sidewalk wouldn’t have to worry about Social Security for at least another forty years, if she lived that long—she looked in dire need of a sandwich.

“I was on my way out”—she jiggled the car keys in her hand—“and thought I’d say Hello.” She pulled her wheat-colored ponytail over her shoulder. “I’m Halley. Like the comet.”

Soren recognized the predatory gleam in her blue eyes. Still, he did what she so obviously expected him to do and let his gaze follow the line of her hair to where it rested between her breasts. Nice boobs, too, but his recent brush with death at the hands of a female predator had him turned off women for a while. “Soren. Don’t let me keep you.”

“Oh, I’m in no hurry.” She twirled the ends of her ponytail around her finger and cocked her head to the side, unabashedly raking her gaze down his bare torso. “I’m on the The Pacific Sun. You live here, too?”

“The Sea Sprite.”

“Sweet.” She lowered her voice. “I was worried only old people lived here.”

Soren couldn’t help but grin. He understood completely. “Watch out for Salvatore, the old guy on the pink sailboat. He’s a bit of a pervert.” He was also paranoid and quite possibly off his meds, but she’d figure that out for herself. “Well, I need to get going. Nice meeting you.”

Soren tossed his tennis shoes back into the Jeep, slammed the door shut and pushed the garbage can on the sidewalk. He gave Halley one last smile and turned to get his T-shirt and toolbox.

She pouted, clearly in the mood to talk some more.

“Adios.” He fled in the direction of the clubhouse. A few months ago he wouldn’t have minded being dragged into a conversation and a flirt. He probably wouldn’t have had too many scruples about taking advantage of the found stash of meth, though pills were more his thing. But his instincts, set off by the look in her eyes, had his scalp prickling. He knew from experience that trouble could come in petite packages, and he really, really didn’t need any trouble right now. Besides, he was going to be late for work.

He showered, didn’t bother to scrape two days worth of stubbles off his cheeks, and stuffed his dusty clothes into the locker he shared with Mason. He pulled on his work clothes, the green polo with the Tradewinds logo emblazoned on the chest pocket and a baggy pair of Jeans that would soon have holes across both knees if he kept washing them, then rushed out to the Sprite to drop off the toolbox.

He didn’t notice the brown paperbag on the bench that hugged the aft sundeck until he rushed back out on the deck. Someone had taken a black marker and written “Mason” on the bag, but that didn’t keep Soren from taking a peek inside. A well-used paperback in decent condition. He frowned at the book and pulled it out. Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden. Out of curiosity Soren thumbed through the pages. The dedication scrawled across the title page was barely legible. Something like “Rangers, lead the way.”


Soren took the book with him, thinking he’d return it to Mason over dinner. The man was an avid reader. Still in need of a Christmas present or his lover, Soren thought about buying a book, but dismissed the idea for the nth time. A book was okay for a friend, it wasn’t good enough for the guy you lived with. Unless it was a priced and signed first-edition.

Soren managed to avoid any head-on collisions with Japanese tourists driving on the wrong side of the road and find a parking spot in the alley behind Tradewinds in record time, which meant he was only fifteen minutes late by the time he swept through the back entrance of his place of employment.

Tradewinds was a fun hang-out, serving up alcohol, live music and the occasional embarrassment during karaoke night. On a quiet side street that had never existed on any map, the bar was within walking distance of the Chamorro Village public market, a popular spot for the lunch crowd, that twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, transformed into a lively night market.

“Oi, over here.” Eddie Aguon, Tradewinds’ owner, stood in the door to his office, waving his newest bartender inside.

Soren cringed. He liked his job. He wanted to keep his job. He could and would kiss ass to keep his job.

“Man, Eddie, I’m—“

Eddie held up his hand to forestall any explanations. “Don’t want to hear it. Not interested. Sit. Sit. We need to talk.”

Soren’s ass wasn’t quite in the chair yet, when Eddie went on. “I know you’re no the punctual type. I’ll deal with it. I’m still happy that I found someone who closes up every night, so you’re cool. Once my happiness wears off, you’re in trouble.”

“Got it.”

Eddie nodded. “Remind me again how we’re related.”

Of all the things he’d expected to hear … Soren took a minute to visualize his complicated family tree. His father’s four marriages had produced six-half siblings and enough cousins to lose track. “Cooper’s cousin Rosalie is your sister-in-law.”

Eddie scratched his chin and puzzled over the names and connections. “My brother’s mother-in-law is your father’s sister-in-law?”

It took Soren another minute to follow the link backwards. “Right. First marriage.” He relaxed back into his chair. If he was being fired, he didn’t see it coming. “What brought that up?”

“Your father, James called. The man obviously doesn’t know the first thing about this business or he wouldn’t have called me at 8 o’clock in the freaking morning.”

Soren’s stomach clenched. The hope he’d built on the foundation of his father’s indifference toppled like a house of cards. Four months. He’d been allowed a four-month reprieve. He should have known that his father’s disinterest in his new life would only last so long. The man wasn’t known to forgive and forget.

Eddie held out a glossy magazine. “He must have seen this.”

Soren knew he wouldn’t like whatever this was. He took the offered weekly. It had been folded open to an article titled “Guam’s hottest bartenders.”

“Shit, I forgot about that.” Soren’s eyes flew over the listing of bars, nightclubs and lounges to settle on his photo and its caption: “Forget all the nicknames you’ve ever heard. We call this redhead ‘intoxicating.’”

Eddie’s grin widened as Soren read on. “Gorgeous guys mixing your cocktails. Tempting waitresses on endless legs serving them. Local talents live five nights a week. What more could you want? This neighborhood bar is popular with locals and visitors alike. There’s something special offered practically every night of the week, and two words you’ll never hear here are ‘last call.’”

“We’re only sixth,” Soren mumbled. His eyes homed in on another mention of his name. “He may flirt, but he won’t date. Sorry, ladies. Soren Buchanan, 23, is tall, feverishly cute and gay. James Buchanan’s youngest son came out rather spectacularly last September.”

“Shit.” Soren winced and dropped the magazine back on the table. If anything could motivate James “The Smile” Buchanan to check up on the son he’d disowned, this would be it. “So what did he want?”

“He told me to fire you.”


“Suggested that you working here wasn’t such a good idea. Mentioned that he was real friendly with the ABC board admin guy.”

“He’s going to have your liquor license yanked?”

“And yours.”


Eddie shrugged.

Soren pushed a hand through his tousled hair. “So, uh, I’m fired?”

“You’re kidding, right?” Eddie shook his head. He pulled the magazine closer and tapped Soren’s picture. His wide grin threatened to unhinge his jaw. “This is great advertisement. You’re an asset now. Matter of fact, James wasn’t the only one who called. The Rainbow Coalition expressed an interest in coming by and doing a similar article,” he rushed on. “I did some research. The gay population is woefully underserved. There is a market to tap into.”

Soren wasn’t sure he liked the glint in Eddie’s eyes and the enthusiasm in his voice. In his experience, only fools disregarded his father’s threats so completely.

“I ordered one of them rainbow decals. Starting today we’re a gay friendly bar. I’m thinking about doing a gay night. You know, drag and stuff. Bring your boyfriend, get a second drink for half off. No way am I letting you go.”

Soren stared. A minute ago he’d feared losing his job. Suddenly, he was Tradewinds’ gay posterboy. “What about lesbians?”

“Yes, yes, I thought about that. We’ll have a girl-on-girl night. You can bet we’ll have flyboys and sailors kicking down our doors.”

“You’re not worried about James?”

“No. Are you?”

“Yes,” Soren insisted. A man who had no qualms about delivering his son into the hands of disgruntled terrorists wouldn’t lose sleep over talking the alcohol control board into revoking a liquor license. James was as ruthless as he was well-connected.

Eddie pursed his lips and frowned. “Well, I guess I could fire you and find me another gay bartender. It’s not pc to ask for sexual orientation, but, you know, maybe they’re more obvious than you.” He scratched his chin again. “I’d rather keep you. In fact”—he bent to retrieve a large book the size of a New York City phonebook from the floor—“I want you to study this. There’s a bartender competition in April. I think it’s time Tradewinds was represented.”

His disbelief must have finally been visible on Soren’s face, because Eddie reined in his enthusiasm and sobered. “He’s a bully. And like all bullies, he’s a coward. Am I afraid of him? No. Can he stir up trouble for us? Sure. Will I have this joint be the newest, hippest gay hang-out before James can take the ABC board admin guy out for a round of golf? You betcha.”

Soren felt his crushed hope stir. Eddie’s confidence and enthusiasm were contagious, but Soren had been inoculated by James himself. Still, his anti-authoritarian streak Mason swore was as deep as the Mariana Trench shoved past his reluctance and instincts. “April, huh?”

Eddie’s face-splitting grin returned. He pushed the tome of cocktails in Soren’s direction and waved his bartender to work. He waited till Soren was at the door. “Oh. One more thing.”

Soren grimaced.

“Get a tighter shirt.”

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