A day goes by. I crawl out of bed to a gray morning, wander out into the kitchen, flick on the stove, tick-tick-tick-whooomp, and throw a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster. Outside the snow has stopped, but the clouds hang like a promise over the skyline. I read a few pages of a trash detective novel while I wait for the water to boil, turn on some jazz, because it’s that kind of morning, and do my best to shake off the thunder of my latest belt-fed chain of nightmares. I was thrown out of the army for killing too much. I was mad at first, but I think that they were probably right. I do it in my sleep now. The water finally boils while I’m chewing on that, and I fire down some toast with my off-brand coffee, and then into the bathroom. Turn the shower to hot and stand under it. Steam hangs thick against the windows and in my lungs. The tattoo on my left forearm says: SI VIS PACEM, PARA BELLUM, which means: “If you wish peace, prepare for war.” I wash my balls with that arm. Out of the shower, I shrug on my underwear, some Levi 514s, a T-shirt, thermal, and a Carhartt jacket I only wear when I’m carrying concealed. Which is all the time. Boots at the door, paddle holster with my Glock .40 in it at my lower back, and I’m out.
I pass my neighbor, April, in the hallway of my fourplex. Sweet lady, about 55, teaches high school English, walks her duck (Carlisle) up and down the block once a day.
“Good morning, Sebastian,” she says in the soft voice reserved only for librarians and English teachers.
“Morning, April. How’s Carlisle?”
A brief smile, then, “He’s doing well, feeling a little cooped up with all the winter weather.”
At first I think it might be a pun. Do ducks live in coops? I don’t think so. I don’t know. I opt for, “Huh.” Derp.
She says, “Well, have a nice day, Sebastian,” which is a nice teacher way of saying: “derp.” I smile, retreat down the stairs to the front door and into the gray.
My breath hangs in clouds that I pass through, eyes squinted against the bitter cold of the morning. My shoulders hunched, hands stuffed into the flannel-lined pockets of the Carhartt. The snow from the day before has mostly been shoveled or burned off the concrete by salt, but the lawns and rooftops and barren trees are still caked in it. I pass my car, a rusted-out black Xterra, and think about hopping in and driving to my destination, but with all the snow and ice, traffic on 12th is gonna be a bitch. People sliding off the roads, spinning their wheels in parking spots; I decide to just keep walking, brave the cold. The old Victorians in my neighborhood mesh well with the freshly fallen snow. There’s something timeless about the winter. I can picture people sitting on these porches 100 years ago, warming their hands on wood stoves, dying of infected splinters. I moved in here about four years ago, right after my dishonorable discharge from the Criminal Investigations Division of the U.S. Army. Back then the neighborhood was a little bit rougher, notorious for it. Crack heads wandering up and down the alleys like stray cats, homeless people arguing over the dumpsters. Used to be when I was pissed off or depressed I could walk out onto Colfax in a nice coat and pretty much guarantee myself a fistfight with a strung-out mugger. Last few years, though, the area's become gentrified. Pawn shop’s a Starbucks now, I shit you not. The neighborhood’s lost some of its grit, but some damn fine restaurants have gone in down the street. April had been living in her downstairs studio with Carlisle for five years when I moved in, which says something about what a bad ass April is. To live off Colfax and teach high school students English (a language teenagers barely speak anyway) while wearing T-shirts that say things like “I before E except after C? That’s Weird.” Eat your heart out, Chuck Norris.
I cross 14th at a run, jump a crust of snow plow runoff, almost bust my ass on a sheet of ice, jog to get clear of the traffic. When I’m out of the street, I reach back and look over my shoulder to make sure my jacket hasn’t ridden up over my coat to expose the pistol at the small of my back. The motion is as natural and habitual as checking my watch, and almost anyone who carries a weapon concealed does it. In the FBI training they put us through before I deployed to Afghanistan, they taught us all to recognize the body language associated with carrying a weapon: hand hovering unnaturally near a pocket or the waistline, arm pinning something down while running. I paid attention during the class, a few of the other guys didn’t. I didn’t get shot, a few of the other guys did. On 12th I sidestep a Volvo as it slides into the curb doing 16. Inside the car, the driver, fat guy in a LSU sweatshirt, spills his coffee into his lap, turns purple, and flicks on his emergency flashers. Not sure what else to do, so I laugh and use his car as a shield to peek out and check the traffic. Clear. So I cross.
On 11th and Downing there’s a used bookstore with no name on the outside of the building. The story of how I found it goes like this:
When I was 17 years old, my parents got divorced, which was fine with me at the time because they hated each other and had no business raising a child. After the split, I lived with my mom for about a year in a shitty two-bedroom in Santa Monica, until my terrible grades and teenage angst conspired against me. I dropped out of high school and ran away from home, and since both my parents were already getting started on new families, no one really came looking for me.
At 12th and Vine I pass an old white guy sleeping on a bench in a faded Broncos jacket, and dump a handful of change into his jar. The wind bites down hard on 12th, sweeping down the avenue like voltage. That bum’s gonna buy booze with my change and die of cirrhosis of the liver, and if the weather keeps up like this, I might join him.
At 17 I hopped trains from California to Montana, hitchhiked from there to Wyoming and basically walked to Colorado from there, living under overpasses, on stranger’s couches, in abandoned buildings. I collected books along the way. Read Hemingway, Melville, Neruda, and every trashy detective novel I could get my hands on.
Grant and 12th and I cut left, check my six while fucking with my collar. Clear. Eyeball every parked car and alleyway on my way to 11th. Clear. An empty cup dances down the street and my eyes burn sharply against the wind that carries it.
The books brought me in. I finally got arrested breaking into this very bookstore, which, in my defense, I thought was abandoned and full of books ripe for the reading. Went into the justice system as a John Doe, spent three days in jail, and when I got before a judge he basically gave me a choice between jail time or the military. I passed my GED test straight out of the gate without studying and scored a 98 on my ASVAB. They told me I could have whatever job I wanted in the army and I went with Infantry, because I wanted to burn out my anger in a different country, one 5.56 round at a time.
Snow has started falling lightly again, swirling in the gnawing wind, and I shoulder the door open with my head down. The smell of old books is intoxicating. Musty oak and old perfume. Books are my sanctuary. A quiet, gentle place inside of me on the opposite side of the sea wall that holds out the nasty. I wipe the snowflakes out of my hair and work the kink out of my neck while my eyes adjust to the light inside. Shoulder-high bookshelves, bulging with yellowing paperbacks. Random assortments of Goodwill chairs gathering in the corners of the room. Posters that say things like Open your mind to a world of imagination! and Reading gives you the key; April would have a bookgasm in here. The Middle Eastern guy behind the counter looks over his glasses at me, sets his softcover down, and comes out from behind the counter to shake my hand. I take his, nod, smile, say, “Ehsan, sir, how’s the family?”
Ehsan is bearded, stocky. He emigrated here from the Gaza Strip 10 years ago. As Hemingway would have said it, when he smiles, it starts at the core of him and works its way out. All teeth and eyes.
Ehsan says, “Good, Mr. Parks, good! My son, Majdi, is attending Denver University next year!”
I give his hand a good pump, say, “That’s fantastic, sir. What’s he studying?”
He motions around the tattered volumes, a glowing firefly of pride, says, “Literature! My boy wants to write!” I make him promise to send me a copy of the first book. He says he’ll have him sign it for me.
Four years ago I wandered back here to apologize (in uniform) to the old guy who pressed charges on me for breaking in. The old guy had died, and instead I found Ehsan. He greeted me the same way he has every time since, like I saved him from a dragon. He picked out a Tolstoy and a Bruen for me, and refused to let me pay. I’ve never bought a book anywhere else since.
Ehsan wanders back to his book, and I pick out a couple of Lehanes that I don’t own yet, a Deaver, and a Kerouac. Back at the counter I slap a $20 down on the table. Ehsan asks me if I’ve heard anything about the murder in Aurora. I tell him I haven’t.
“Nice Muslim boy,” he says, sadness creeping into his eyes. “God rest him.”
I nod despondently. Bad at this. He asks how business has been, catching bad men.
I say, “Bad men will always be out there.”
“Then you will always have business. Don’t forget your change.”
I thank him and pretend not to hear the second part, leave the money on the counter, and wander out into the wind.
Sebastian Parks is drowning in a flood of his own creation. Dishonorably discharged from the Army, he's wracked with night terrors and an anger that he can't abate. Unemployable and uninterested in anything resembling a normal job, Parks makes his living in fugitive apprehension, finding wanted felons on Facebook and thumping them into custody with his ex-military buddies John Harkin and Eric "Etch" Echevarria. When the body of a teenage Muslim boy is found in front of a downtown Denver nightclub Parks, Harkin and Etch are called on to do what they do best: Find bad men and make them pay.
First-time author Kellen Burden serves up edgy humor, brutal action and characters you can't get enough of. Flash Bang will keep you turning pages until the end.
Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Thriller, Mystery
Rating – R
More details about the author
Connect with Kellen Burden on Facebook