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The characterizations are, as usual, flawless. The prose and dialogue are exceptional, with smart and snappy repartee between our two protagonists interspersed during the action sequences.

Wave for Reviews by Jessewave
Happy Birthday, Taylor! Taylor has pretty well recovered from his shooting, but not everyone is happy to see him reach his next birthday.

OR

(Included in the print collection Armed and Dangerous)

Taylor stared at the receiver in its cradle and then got ready for bed.

If he was spending the night by himself, he’d have preferred to be between his own sheets. Somehow it felt lonelier in Will’s bed without Will. And it was hotter and smoggier here than in Ventura, and the street outside Will’s place was noisier than his own neighborhood.

He left his .357 SIG on the nightstand within grabbing distance.

Even Riley seemed uneasy without Will, jumping up and growling at phantom shadows a couple of times during the long night.

“Easy, Riley,” Taylor muttered, and each time the dog curled up next to the bed, grumbling under his breath. He lay, head raised, panting softly in the gloom, ears twitching at every sound.

Taylor wasn’t much better. He wasn’t nervous, but every time he started to relax into sleep, he’d remember something and jerk back to full consciousness. At first the memories were good: Will saying he loved him. Not that he didn’t already know this, but if Will was saying it out loud, saying it so casually, acceptingly, they had turned some corner.

The laughter, the affectionate exasperation in Will’s voice was…well, the best birthday present he could have received.

But then the memories grew darker. Things he had forgotten, tried to forget, came back to him. His shooting. The subsequent trip to the High Sierras when Will had been taken hostage. When he’d feared Will was dead. Other memories, older memories. Other friends, other losses and failures.

Japan.

A long time since he’d let himself think about Japan, let himself remember. No point to it. Nothing productive was going to come out of raking over those memories. Better, healthier, to forget.

Not that there weren’t good memories too. A lot of good memories. Even if he wasn’t ready to face them yet.

It was the cobra in the bottle that had started him remembering. Old poison.

Weird.

There couldn’t be a connection. It was nearly a decade ago.

But equally he had trouble believing that the Orange County Phu Fighters were still gunning for him. He couldn’t even picture them coming after Will, let alone him.

And that note: Old poison slays as swiftly as new. Vietnamese gangbangers were not going to leave notes in Japanese kanji. If they wrote anything at all, which would be doubtful, it would be in their own Romanized national language — or English. But the fact was, they wouldn’t leave notes; they wouldn’t send cobras pickled in rice wine or try to set booby traps with Japanese fireworks. They’d shoot him when he walked out his door one morning.

By the same logic, he dismissed the idea of the punks in the Red Dragon parking lot. To start with, the cobra in the bottle had been sent before the altercation in the parking lot. And that little dustup couldn’t have been staged, because no one but Will knew where they were headed that night. Secondly, Mexican gangstas were even less likely to leave notes in Japanese than Vietnamese gangs. Thirdly, this whole complicated threat scenario was out of character. Out of character for both the Latino and the Vietnamese gangs. Wine with cobras? Cryptic notes? Bombs made out of fireworks? It was just too involved.

Convoluted.

Personal.

Granted, he and Will pissed people off in the normal course of their duties, but Taylor just couldn’t see the forgers and counterfeiters they typically went after lashing back with this kind of scenario.

It was sort of, well, theatrical. Like those Noh dramas Inori had dragged him to see.

Taylor was tempted to dismiss it as a joke, but there was no reason anyone would be joking about Japan to him. Ninety bucks for a giant firecracker and another ninety bucks for a bottle of imported rice-and-cobra wine was a fairly expensive joke.

No, there was something not right.

Nothing he couldn’t handle, but maybe he did need to talk to Will about Japan. He didn’t want to. He could think of few conversations he wanted to have less. But Will had brought it up, and he deserved to hear the truth.