On Coffee Shops

Today was another day in my tour of the city to find places to write. I generally don’t venture to coffee shops, primarily because, well, I don’t like coffee. I want to like coffee. Every time I go somewhere where they sell coffee I take a big whiff and think to myself, “Check out all this amazing coffee!” and then I order one and my face contorts in unattractive way. “This coffee tastes like coffee!” I grumble. I do this a few times every year. See Lewis Black and candy corn for reference.

I wandered into the coffee shop near my kid’s school because I was there anyway and the place always looks intriguing when I go by it. Coffee shops make sense in a way. When you think of writers, you often picture a grizzled man in a threadbare shirt sitting the corner working tirelessly despite the noise around him. Or at least I do.

So this is a nice coffee shop, I think, as far as coffee shops go. Or at least as far as my experience with coffee shops go, which is virtually nil.

Most of the culture of coffee confuses me, though.

“Do you want a ceramic cup or a paper cup?”

“Um. Do I want to drink out of a cup that someone else drank out of and that you may not have properly washed considering I don’t even see a sink around here? Is this a trick question? Paper, thanks.” (I am a polite person by nature and the only thing I actually said was, “Paper, thanks.”)

I’ll recycle it. But NO! It’s not recyclable; it’s compostable.

“I’ll compost it,” I say.

“You can’t compost it in a backyard compost.”

“Where, then?”

“A commercial composting site.”


Apparently no one knows for sure.

Strange. But anyway…

The place segregates itself almost naturally. The Macbook Hipsters congregate almost exclusively indoors at the few seating areas available there, as though going outside might cause them to burst into flames. They braver ones will venture out, begrudgingly, if all the indoor seats are taken, but they look angry about it and slightly confused by the bright dot in the sky. I imagine they are all working on their screenplays and they require the ambience of brick walls and threadbare thrift store furniture for insipiration.

The other more mainstream people pick the outdoor seats. They are a range, from people in scrubs to a man playing the violin. They almost all have laptops. I don’t know what they drink, but they do it slowly because they are doing actual work.

One younger male is having a conversation on his cellphone (do people do that anymore?) about his goals of becoming an investment banker. I’d take him for a budding Republican, but his khakis have teal plaid lining on the back pockets and I don’t know what to make of that.

Some Europeans show up and though they were speaking English, I guess they can’t read the signs posted everywhere because all three of them lit up as soon as they sit down. I’m not against smoking, having recently taken up the habit myself actually, but I am a goody two shoes and so had I desired a smoke I would have skulked to the back of the building where the pariahs are supposed to go.

No one said anything to the Europeans, though. Maybe the No Smoking signs are there for irony.

People should smoke in coffee shops. My God man, that’s the WAY IT’S DONE! Do none of you watch movies? They should just give you an ashtray along with your cup. This is destroying my romanticized vision of writing in a coffee shop.

I know there are underground restaurants where four and five star chefs secretly prepare gastronomic feats of wonder for small groups of select people. I wonder if there are underground coffee shops where people smoke Galouises (or Camel Turkish Golds like me) and scribble furiously into tattered notebooks (also like me- not because I shun technology but because this is Dirty Durham** and I don’t want to get jacked for my bag while walking back to my Jeep).

I can replace a notebook easier than a laptop.

Where can I smoke and pretend I like coffee while scribbling in notebooks? Nowhere anymore.

I am a woman out of time. This is the story of my life. See also: Art Deco interior design, Vincent Price movies, travel via ocean liner, and letter writing with fountain pens. All things I love.

I only managed about 250 words today (not including this writing exercise). The place was too fascinating and I also forgot my iPod to help drown out the noise. I think I’ll go back, though, another day this week. I’ll take my secret smokes (another thing my family doesn’t know about) and see if I can strike up interesting conversations with the people hovering next to the compost buckets.

Onward and upward.

** Durham’s slogan actually is “Keep Durham Dirty.” I didn’t make that up. See also: Keep Austin Weird.

By dahliawest

Faster (Stark Ink 3) Chapter One (raw, unedited)

She could stab him. She really could. Ava clicked the pen in her hand and glanced around the lobby of Stark Ink as she sat in the receptionist’s chair. The place was empty except for the asshole standing in front of her. His mouth gaped as he offered her a sleazy smile. “My name? Well, my name is Donny, sweetheart. Donny the Dude.”

Ava tried not to roll her eyes. Donny watched far too much TV. “I need it for the appointment,” she grumbled as she scrawled into ledger that sat open in front of her. Like she really cared what this guy’s name was.

Donny the Douche, she wrote with a flourish. He couldn’t see it anyway. He was too busy craning his neck to look down the front of her black tank top.

Ava’s scowl deepened. Stabbing him would be bad for business, certainly. Plus, she’d get blood all over Adam’s beautiful black and white tile floor. She could fantasize, though. And, oh, she did.

“What’s your name?” Donny drawled. “I might could squeeze you in.” He grinned, a little too wide and slid one large arm across the counter casually. The ripped t-shirt revealed an assortment of ink in various shapes and colors. It ran from his wrist all the way up his arm and disappeared under the fraying hem of his sleeve. Ava was unimpressed. There was no flow, no cohesiveness to it. It was obvious they’d been done at random times, by different artists. Possibly even while ol’ Donny was under the influence, because though she’d never smoked it, Ava was pretty sure cannabis wasn’t spelled with a ‘u’. Poor Donny showed a lack of judgment in a lot of areas. Ava had taken more time with her ink, especially since Adam had made her wait so long.

Immediately after graduation, she’d made a beeline for the shop and gritted her teeth as Adam had outlined the sleeve on her arm. It had hurt like a bitch but it was so worth it. Like wearing your soul on the outside. Ava liked tattoos. God knew she had enough of them herself. Trouble was, she liked teeth, as well. And this guy was missing more than a few. He was also jawing on a particularly nasty wad of chew. His biceps were starting to sag and his belly was starting to protrude just a bit.

His cocky grin and confident swagger hinted that at one point, probably in high school, this guy had been hot shit. He’d probably had a muscle car and spent his free time lifting, with Skynyrd blaring in the background. But those days were obviously long gone. All that was left was for Donny to get the memo.

He leaned closer, hovering over the counter. Way too far into Ava’s personal space. “So,” he said with a grin. “What time do you get off?” He stressed the last two words just a little too hard, making Ava’s stomach turn.

As if.

Ava’s hand flexed on the pen again but she kept her cool. It was probably bad for business to stab customers. “Doesn’t matter,” she told him. “I’m not allowed to date the customers.”

Donny leaned back on his heels and jammed his thumbs into his sagging pants. “It’s a free country baby girl, you can saddle up and ride any stallion you want to. Not allowed? Who says?”

“I say.”

The voice came from behind Donny the Douche. Both Ava and Donny turned to look. Adam loomed in the doorway between his workroom and the lobby, looking particularly pissed off. “Unless you want to wake up with a pretty pink bow tatted on your fucking forehead, you’ll back up off my sister.”

Donny stepped back and held up his hands. “Oh, hey. Okay. It’s cool. I didn’t know. I had no idea she was your sister.”

Adam glared at him. “You knew she was a kid. That much is obvious.”

The guy grinned. Adam’s jaw clenched. Possibly this douche nozzle just couldn’t help himself. Possibly being a perv was in his genes. “She don’t look like a kid,” he countered.

Ava’s heart skipped a beat as Adam tore his gaze from The Douche to her. He frowned but said nothing. They’d talked before — or Adam had talked, anyway, for a very long time— about just how much skin he was comfortable with his baby sister showing in public, especially in the shop. Ava had listened, she really had, the trouble was her closet just happened to be full of items that Adam despised. She shrugged at her older brother. He rolled his eyes then turned back to The Douche.

“Did you make an appointment?” Adam demanded.

The Douche nodded. “Sure did. Just now. With her.”

“Cancel it,” Adam told Ava.

Ava clicked the would-be shiv and scratched out Donny The Douche in black ink.

“Hey!” The Douche protested.

Adam was nonplussed. He jerked his head toward the front door. “Get out.”


If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas, Ava thought as she watched Donny the Douche slink toward the door. A Pop-ism, the old man had an endless supply. Ava wasn’t entirely sure what that one meant, since they’d never received candy or nuts for Christmas.

“Candy and nuts,” Adam muttered under his breath and turned back to the workroom. “And change your shirt,” he called out over his shoulder.

Ava bristled. “I have boobs, Adam!”

“No, you don’t,” he replied without looking back. “You’re permanently six years old with pigtails and filthy knees.”

Ava snorted. Before graduation, she would’ve argued more. But since she’d been out of school, Adam’s rules had loosened considerably. Doubtless he’d realized she was 18 and he could no longer control her comings and goings. Though apparently his opinions on her wardrobe were less evolved.

The bell above the door jingled again and this time Jeannie, the shop’s other receptionist strode through the door. She had on thigh high black leather boots and a skirt that could double as a headband. Ava was willing to bet that her oldest brother never got on Jeannie’s case about her clothes.

“What’s up, girl?” Jeannie called out with a smile as her heels clicked sharply on the tile floor.
Ava grinned back. “Not much.”

Jeannie peeled off her leather jacket while balancing a coffee in one hand. Ava glanced at the clock on the wall behind her. Shift change. Ava’s eyes darted instinctively to the computer screen in front of her. Her fingers twitched with impatience as she waited for the older girl to settle in. As Jeannie slipped past her and into the storeroom to hang up her jacket, Ava quickly turned back to the reception desk. Her heartbeat sped up considerably as she punched the keyboard.

With a furtive glance toward Adam’s workroom, she waited for the screen to maximize. The file she was downloading before Donny the Douche walked in was now finished. Pulse roaring in her ears, she double clicked the map with the red pin marking a location to the east of Rapid City. Fingers flew furiously over the keys as she emailed a copy to her phone. Seconds before Jeannie emerged from the storeroom, Ava closed the window and deleted the browser history on the shop’s computer. With the tap of a final key, the innocent-looking logo of Stark Ink once again lit up the screen. She pushed the rolling chair back from the desk.

“Busy today?” Jeannie asked as she came up behind Ava.

“Steady,” Ava replied. “Almost booked solid for tonight.”

Jeannie nodded and glanced over the appointment ledger sitting on the desk. She frowned. “Cancellation?” she asked, tapping the black scratches covering Donny’s name.
Ava grinned. “Yep.”

“Okay,” Jeannie replied.

Ava liked the slightly older girl who also answered the phones for Adam. Jeannie’s short, spiky hair was always dyed some showstopping shade and apparently Jonah had gotten some practice in after Adam had hired him, because young Jeannie seemed to have quite a few more piercings than Ava remembered. They got along great, despite the close quarters, mostly because Ava and Jeannie’s taste in clothes were fairly similar and Jeannie had nothing but compliments about Ava’s personal style. The hair was a problem, though, Jeannie thought. She had been begging Ava to let her “go to town” on Ava’s long, blonde locks. Ava was tempted but showing up at the house with pink (or blue or purple or green) hair might give Pop a heart attack.

The old man had given in to the bike Ava had begged for when she approached him about selling Mom’s car and getting a bike instead. Considering that just a few months after Adam hire Jonah, Jonah had gotten his own Harley, it was hardly fair for Ava to be the only Stark without two-wheels. Pop had, reluctantly, agreed that Ava was the odd man out in that respect. And Pop also know how much Ava hated feeling anything less than a full-fledged Stark. Pop had almost changed his mind, though, when Ava took him to the dealer and instead of fingering a Harley for her first real ride, she’d sidled up to a Honda CB1000R. Pop’s jaw had clenched, his eyes had darkened.

The bike in question went right up to the line of being classified as a racer, but didn’t quite go over. “The first time you get a ticket Ava, the very first time, that bike is gone,” he’d sworn.
So, he’d caved on the bike as a graduation present to his only daughter. Ava thought rainbow hair might be pushing her luck. Technically, she was 18 an adult, but she still lived at home for the time being. And she’d never disrespect her Pop.

Cell phone safely stowed in an inside pocket, Ava retrieved her own leather jacket and zipped it up. The red leather gleamed and fit her like a glove. Her jeans were tight, as well. Adam couldn’t argue about it because she’d pleaded motorcycle safety. Baggy pants and bikes didn’t mix well. Ava’s calf-high boots had one an half inch treads which didn’t make her as tall as Jeannie in her stack heels, but gave Ava some height, none the less. Ava tucked her disappointingly blonde hair up into her helmet and with a flick of her wrist, brought the visor down.

No matter how many times everyone lectured her on the rules of the road, Ava always felt safe once she was fully clad in her leathers and helmet. She waved goodbye to Jeannie and headed, not out the front, but down the back hall. To her left were the wooden stairs that led up the small apartment Jonah was now occupying. Straight ahead was the back door. Stepping through it, Ava saw that the sun was only just setting. Her Honda looked almost dwarfed next to Jonah’s large soft tail Harley, but Ava didn’t care. The Honda was hers, her ride. And she adored it.

Hiking her leg up over the seat, she turned the key and the engine roared to life. Her gloved hands revved it just a bit as she enjoyed the feel of all those horses between her thighs. She had no time to waste, though, as it would be full-on night soon and she had somewhere to be. She left her phone tucked away as she’d already memorized tonight’s route. She pulled out of the back parking lot, headed down the alley, and signaled a turn onto the street that fronted the tattoo shop. As she waited at the light, a large Mustang pulled up beside her. Ava turned to look.

Apparently Donny had stop at the burger joint on the corner after Adam had tossed his ass out. Maybe he was soothing the sting with onions and ketchup. He jawed as enthusiastically on a patty as he had his tobacco. Ava’s stomach turned as she wondered if he’d even bothered to spit out the chew first. Donny took another bite, glanced over, and paused.

In her jacket and helmet, he couldn’t possibly recognize her as the receptionist from Stark Ink. In fact, unless they recognized the bike and helmet, it wasn’t unusual for Ava to be mistaken for just another teenage boy if you didn’t look too closely. Her boobs, sadly, were a tad on the smaller side and completely dwarfed in her jacket when it was zipped up. Donny had no clue who he was looking at.

He didn’t seem to care, though. He ditched his burger and laid on his accelerator. The Mustang’s engine roared loudly, muffled only somewhat by Ava’s fully enclosed helmet. She rolled her eyes. It wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last. There seemed to be some unspoken war between the good ol’ boys with their American muscle cars and the local kids with their crotch rockets. Racing was a bit of a problem in downtown Rapid City. Especially in the summer. Ava’s hand flexed on the grip of her bike. The hot June sun couldn’t disappear fast enough, as far as she was concerned. Donny revved his engine again. When she turned to him, he jerked his chin.

She should have ignored him. Street racing would eventually earn her a one-way ticket to walking everywhere she went. Pop would be livid. But the image of Donny the Douche slobbering over Ava’s B-cups as he made his tattoo appointment came unbidden into her mind. Donny was irritating and too full of himself. Plus, he was a Douche. And Ava could handle a douche like Donny.

No problem.

She twisted back to her bike and squeezed the grips. She kept one foot on the pavement and the other jammed onto the peg. Ready, steady. The light on the cross street switched from green to yellow and Ava revved her bike. She let her back wheel spin a bit, kicking up some smoke as the rubber made contact with the blacktop. Not too much, though, she cautioned herself. She needed those tires for later.

Ava held the gas and the handbrake simultaneously as the cross light went red. One second later, her own light gave her (and Donny) the all-clear. Ava let go of the handbrake and the Honda leapt forward into the intersection. Donny’s own tires squealed almost gleefully as he rocketed past the crosswalk, which for their purposes, doubled as a starting line. They both made it through the intersection and down the street in seconds flat. The distance to the next light was actually slightly less than a quarter mile, which was better for Ava since her bike was more agile and faster off the start than the Mustang. As she was about to let off the gas, right after she won, she noticed dumbass Donny wasn’t conceding.

Well, of course he wasn’t. He was, after all, a Douche.

He maintained his excessive speed even as they approached the next intersection. Asshole, thought Ava. Everyone knew an impromptu race was only between crosswalks. “Sonofabitch,” she muttered. Her head told her to let go of the gas. Her pride wouldn’t let her lose that easily. “We can play this way,” she half-whispered as parked cars zipped past her peripheral vision, mere streaks of black, red, and gray. “You’re not gonna win.” She leaned forward, stabilizing her grip on the gas.

Few things were as pulse-pounding as barreling down a city street on two wheels. Except maybe crashing, which Ava realized she was about to do. She cursed. The epithet got lost in her helmet, never making its way to its intended target. The rear fender of Donny’s Mustang came within inches of her leg. She hit the handbrake and fell back, just behind the bumper of the car. Sixty feet, maybe a bit less, until the next light, so little and still so far with 2,000 pounds of Detroit steel blocking her.

Ava moved left along the guy’s rear, inching toward the double yellow. He tried to nudge over, box her out, but only just a bit of his left side tires crossed the line. A sedan screeched by going in the opposite direction, horn blaring. The Mustang jerked back toward the right. Ava smirked. He was afraid. She could sympathize. The paint job on the muscle car— flames licking everywhere, competing with the shiny chrome— must have cost about as much as Ava’s Honda.

But to win big you had to risk big. And even though there were no stakes in this particular race— just some asshole redneck who’d challenged her at the light— Ava took racing seriously. Any kind of racing, every kind. She’d only been doing it for three months, but it felt like longer.

She pulled left, way over the center line, and shifted into the next gear. Leaning over, back rigid, she gunned the Honda. Up ahead there was an SUV turning into the lane and another car approaching the intersection beyond that. The SUV’s headlights flashed in Ava’s eyes. The Mustang fishtailed a bit, as though the driver had panicked and hit the brakes too hard. The road was dry as a bone but at this speed, handling could still be an issue.

Ava turned in just a tiny bit, narrowly missing the SUV’s front bumper as it swung wide, too wide, to make such a simple turn. She caught a glimpse of long hair, hoop earrings, a gaping mouth red-ringed with lipstick. Women drivers, Ava huffed and shook her head. She kept on the gas and ducked back into her own lane, now ahead of the Mustang, and sailed under the traffic light just as it ticked from yellow to red. The Mustang was at a standstill in the intersection, rocking on its chassis.

In a fit of anger, he laid on the horn. The blast was high-pitched, almost whiny. Ava glanced back to see him giving her the finger. She laughed as she signaled her lane change and took the ramp for the interstate. Two minutes and two gears later, the lights of Rapid City fell away. Long shadows cast by the full moon fell across the hills and blotted out the silhouette of the trees in the distance.

By dahliawest


is available now on all platforms. My formatter finished early!

Hope you like it!

By dahliawest

On Continuity Errors and Release Days

If you read Burnout closely enough, you’ll notice that there are A LOT of errors in it, specifically continuity errors. Couples meet months earlier or later than they should have given what time of year it is in the following book. Babies are born (or not born yet) at the wrong times.

This is because I would work on one book at a time. I would finish one book with complete disregard for what would come after, often forgetting that in the last book it started off in a chilly spring so how could it be Christmas now if only five months have passed?

I also missed a lot of opportunity for foreshadowing and better storytelling. I could have hinted that Awseome Thing was going to happen in Book 4 while I as writing Book 3 but since I didn’t know it was going to happen until I sat down to write Book 4, that opportunity was missed.

Also, if you read Burnout while I was writing it, you’ll notice that it only took one month for Tex to come out after Shooter because it was mostly already written when I published Shooter and then it took anywhere from 4-6 months for another installment to come out in the series. The release days were pretty willy nilly.

I didn’t like that and neither did you.

So, to create an overall more cohesive series that has release dates that seem more planned rather than scatter shot, I’m writing most of Stark Ink BEFORE I start releasing it. I feel overall this will make the entire series better as well as a less annoying customer experience for you.

Yes you have to wait a considerable amount of time for me to make some good headway, HOWEVER I will be releasing the Stark Ink books consecutively, one a month. So there will be no waiting months at a time for the next installment. You’ll get Harder in one month (I’m aiming for February) and then Better will be released in March (again an approximation) and so on.

I originally would have liked to release them ALL AT ONCE ON THE SAME DAY, but I discovered that I’m not a fast enough writer at this point to pull something like that off. So I adjusted my expectations based on my workload and abilities.

As soon as I get my edits back for Harder (Stark Ink 1) I will have a good idea of when Stark Ink will be ready to start releasing.

If you’re not on my mailing list (Over there to the right) feel free to sign up and I’ll email you when the series is about to begin. Or you can check back here or on Facebook to find out.

I suspect that on January 1st I will be able to make an official announcement regarding release dates for the series.

Thanks for your patience as I try to write and deliver the best stories I’m capable of producing.

Happy Holidays!

By dahliawest

Stark Ink Update

Harder (Stark Ink 1) is out for edits. While that’s going on, I’m hard at work on Better (Stark Ink 2). I’ll have an announcement for the release date for Harder sometime at the end of this month!

Thanks for being patient!

By dahliawest

Better (Stark Ink 2) Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Dalton Stark had tried to sell his soul to the devil once in a room smaller than this one. As blood seeped from his thumb he remembered trying to make that deal. At the time he’d assumed the Father of Lies was on vacation, because no lesser demon had appeared with a pen and a piece of parchment paper. Now he was beginning to rethink that assumption. Perhaps the deal had gone through and he was living it now.

“Stark,” Stephens said from across the room.

Dalton glanced up. “Not a big deal,” he insisted.

Stephens looked at the blood. He seemed unconvinced.

“Really,” Dalton insisted. For good measure he picked the nail gun back up. “It’s fine.”
He pressed the guide sight flush against the wooden window frame and pulled the trigger. There was a slight hiss before the sharp crack of the finish nail being fired by thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch. This time the tiny metal projectile embedded itself into the wood and not into Dalton’s skin. Nowhere to go but up, he figured.

Half an hour later, the job foreman called for a break. The filed out of the work site and onto the packed dirt of someone’s future front lawn, a rich someone judging by the size of the other homes in the area. Dalton himself had only worked on these kinds of houses. He was from a different neighborhood altogether, far on the other side of town.

Stephens, Donaldson, and two Hispanic floorers that Dalton didn’t know stood in a huddle, blocking themselves from the cutting wind by strategically locating themselves near the row of port-a-potties. Dalton was thankful he didn’t have the urge. He’d pissed in front of enough strangers lately. They all lit up at once. Dalton was tempted to join them even though he didn’t smoke. What kind of greedy asshole worked a crew nearly round the clock in late November? But the question already contained the answer.

The foreman lit up his own cig and glared at Dalton through a haze of blue smoke. Dalton ignored him. He’d skipped lunch, yet again, but he wasn’t skipping break. He climbed into his beat up Toyota pick-up and stretched out in the cab. He pulled a bandanna out of the glove compartment and wrapped it around his throbbing thumb. The last thing he saw before he closed his eyes was the jagged, white scar on his hand.
Dalton supposed he could live without food, but the lack of sleep might actually kill him.

A few minutes later a loud bang on the side of the truck startled him awake. By the time he sat up, the foreman was already walking away. Dalton sighed and opened the lid of the small cooler sitting on the passenger side floorboards. He popped the top off a can of Coke and took a large gulp. He still had four more hours left on his shift that had started before dawn. None of the houses in the new subdivision were occupied yet, so there was no one around to complain about the noise.

Dalton slid from the cab and shut the driver’s side door. As he crossed the lawn, his watch beeped signaling the end of the break.

He worked gingerly around his still-throbbing thumb. It wasn’t that he couldn’t take the pain, but it brought back old memories and reminded him of what could go wrong on the job. He worked slowly, cautiously, ducking the disapproving looks being thrown at him by the foreman.

Fuck him, Dalton thought. His good will could only stretch so far. Dalton was grateful to have a job, but if he wasn’t careful, it would be his last.

He finished framing the window, setting the last nail just as the call sounded for the end of the shift. Dalton said a silent prayer of thanks. If it’d been a weekday they’d plug along until well after dark using tripod lights and a generator to see. But it was Friday and the boss man wanted to get his drink on.
It was strange how alcohol still affected his life in certain ways.

Dalton slowly put his tools away as the foreman passed out the envelopes. There was no point in hurrying, he’d always get his pay last. The man liked to make him wait.

Union guys got their envelopes first, thin ones with actual checks with extra zeroes denoting the overtime. Next were the undocumented workers, guys who spoke just enough English between them to get the job done. As a former union man, Dalton had been irritated by their presence on work sites. Now that he was among them, below them, so it would seem, he couldn’t conjure up any animosity toward them. Their envelopes were fatter, though not by a lot. Cash was king on a job site these days, though Dalton didn’t have to compare totals to know who got paid more. He vowed never to complain about the dues if he ever got reinstated.

The foreman finally reached him and tossed the envelope into the open tool box Dalton was loading. Dalton didn’t say thank you or even bother to look up, but he supposed he had no real right to complain. He’d missed days, a lot of days, back when his pay came stamped with bank routing numbers and respectability. Somewhere in the hazy days of early summer, he’d been officially fired. He’d had to wade through a dozen voice mail messages before that last one telling him not to bother coming back. It had been Adam who’d gotten him his job back, Adam who’d gotten him cleaned up in the first place.

As Dalton watched the foreman walk away, he wondered what Adam had offered him to make him hire Dalton back. Free tattoos for life? Dalton doubted it. The boss didn’t seem to have any ink, nothing visible anyway.

Who knew? Maybe the man had “HOLE” written across his butt cheeks.

Dalton pocketed the envelope without bothering to open it. If he’d been shorted, he had no recourse anyway. The foreman, so far, had not stooped that low. Dalton was still the best worker they had on site and there were plenty of other construction outfits in the city that paid under the table. Dalton could probably make more money with them, but he’d rather make amends instead.

He headed back to his truck and his open can of Coke. At this rate, he’d need an IV of caffeine by Christmas. He was on hour fifty this week, or maybe more. He’d lost count and he still had tomorrow to work.
Come Hell or high water this cookie cutter house would be finished for the holiday— A true Christmas miracle!
Except that clinking sound wasn’t a bell, it was the extra change in the boss’ pocket that he saved by not paying Dalton time and a half. Dalton didn’t care much. He was still getting his wings. Maybe. Eventually. Maybe eventually. He refused to dwell on it, though. Jig had warned him to be careful about depression, especially around the holidays.

Dalton had a job and a place to lay his always-weary-lately head. Things could be worse.

He hauled his massive frame into the rusted out truck and cranked the ignition. It roared to life despite the weather growing increasingly colder. It didn’t look like much, but it was reliable, at least. He reached up and rubbed the two-day stubble on his face and hoped no one could say the same about him.

He was a decent looking guy when he was cleaned up, if he did say so himself. He was also built like a linebacker, which made sense because he was one in high school. A partial scholarship had come through even, to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but Mom and Pop couldn’t afford the rest.

They might have. God knows they would have tried for as long as they could scrape the money together to send him, but Dalton hadn’t let them. He wasn’t quite NFL material due to a slowly deteriorating left shoulder. He’d have made it through college, though, barring any serious injuries. But all Mom and Pop’s tuition money would have bought was a useless degree for jobs that didn’t exist in Rapid City for a guy like him and maybe a few more trophies to put on a shelf. In the end it seemed hardly worth it just for a few more years of gridiron glory. Dalton had let Mom and Pop keep their hard-earned money and enrolled in trade school after graduation.

As it turned out, he’d had a talent for carpentry. Mom had beamed and said, “You know who else had a talent for carpentry?” Dalton had never responded. He was a nice guy, but he was no saint. He’d had too many women and too many beers, even back then. That had been Mom, though. She had always seen the good in people. When Dalton and Adam had moved out, she’d adopted two more kids. Her philosophy had always been that everyone deserved a second chance. Dalton wasn’t sure about that yet.

Kids, yeah, because they were innocent, just victims of the shit hand life had dealt them. They didn’t deserve the short end of the stick just for being born to asshole parents. But Dalton had made his choices and none of them had been good after the accident.

If he was in Hell, which was debatable at this point, then it was one of his own making.
He turned down a side street and headed to a more humble abode across town, though not his own.

By dahliawest