CHAPTER ONE

In which Danny gets fashion advice and a new case from Mikey.

Danny flashed a smile and twirled the serape draped over his shoulders with a flourish of his hands.  “Hey, Jace, whaddya think? Awesome, right?”

Jace looked up from his phone long enough to spare the outfit a quick glance. “It’s racist.” He bowed his head back over the phone, long black hair blocking his face from Danny’s view.

“Racist against whom?”

Jace pushed his hair back with a sigh, and stood up, shoving the phone into his back pocket. “Mexicans. To everybody. Anybody with taste. Wasn’t that your Halloween costume from a hundred years ago?”

Danny clutched the brightly-colored serape to his body. “Maybe.”

“And didn’t I tell you it was racist then, too?” Jace’s eyes narrowed.

Danny didn’t actually take a step backwards because that would be ridiculous. He wasn’t scared of Jace. Ten years out of high school and Jace still only weighed a hundred and fifty pounds. Plus he probably hadn’t kept up with the kick-boxing, right? There was only a seventy-five percent chance Jace could still kick his ass.

“Maybe.” Danny looked at Mikey for support, but he was face down on the bed, only the spikey black tips of his hair visible. The huge white comforter swelled over him, concealing most of his slim body. His scruffy Converse hung over the edge of the bed. No help would be coming from that corner. “Fine.”

Danny tossed the serape onto the bed, aiming for Mikey. It drifted down over his head. He didn’t budge. From the way he was dressed, he’d come right from last night’s Mr. Right Now to his house.

He reached for Jace’s hands, grasping both of them in his. “Jace. Kwanjai. Babe. Why were you bringing me down? There are going to be cowboys. Cowboys. I gotta have some style. Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

Jace rolled his eyes then laughed, dimples on full display.

Yeah, there’s the smile Danny had been going for; that ‘you’re a dork, but you’re my dork’ look. It warmed the cockles of his heart.

Danny dropped down onto the bed. Mikey rolled against his back as the mattress sagged. “Okay, seriously. What should I pack? It’s not like I’ve got a whole lot of choices. I’ve got plaid flannel, and, um…” He stared into the small walk-in closet, “plaid. And jeans.”

“I vote for plaid flannel and jeans. Stay in your comfort zone.” Mikey’s voice was muffled by the pillow.

Danny snorts. “You would. And look who’s talking, you haven’t changed your style since high school And stop making out with my bed.”

“Your bed loves me.” Mikey gathered the pillow against his head. “Besides, isn’t plaid like a mating call for you people?”

“Don’t mock the traditional clothing of my people.”

“Plaid and jeans are fine, Danny.” Jace could afford to be smug, his bag was neatly packed already and waiting in the trunk of the car. Plus dressing was easy for him. He was five foot nine and slim., everything looked good on him. At six foot, Danny was normal-sized in the real world, but hanging with Jace and Mikey made him feel like a giant.

“You both suck.” Danny tossed the serape in the bottom of his duffle anyway. And some chaps. You never knew. He threw some underwear in the bag, socks, t-shirts. It’s not like he had a huge wardrobe. Serviceable was a generous description of his style. He shouldered the bag, kicking Jace’s foot as he passed and smacking Mikey on the ass. “C’mon, losers. We’re gonna be late for ro-day-o school.”

 

The Roadmaster’s chassis shined in the sun, flashing white arrows of light into the other cars. The hum of the engine vibrated through Danny’s bones as they drove down the road, Jace rode shotgun, Mikey sat the back. Just like they’d done it in high school but with less pot.

Danny reached over and squeezed Jace’s knee. “Music, Ton. Pick something good.” He gave one more squeeze for emphasis, smacking Jace’s thigh as he pulled away. Jace didn’t move, and Danny was afraid he’d pushed too far, too fast, but the old name had just slipped out. He’d called Jace Ton for years before he’d found out that was wasn’t actually his legal name. Heck, he hadn’t even known it meant ‘leader’ in Thai until Jace’s mom, Khun Honey, mentioned it in passing when they were in fourth grade. Jace started insisting on being called Jace in middle school, but at home, he was still Ton.

“I got it.” Mikey sat up. A few seconds later the sound of something horrible came from the back seat. A broken synthesizer, Danny thought. Or some new atonal Asian band maybe? Jace looked as confused as Danny. “What the hell?”

Mikey smiled when they caught his attention in the rearview mirror. “I thought we’d try something new?”

Jace laughed.

Danny backhanded him on the thigh, rattling the cracked pleather box of cassette tapes on his lap. “Don’t make me stop the car, Michael.” Danny threatens. Jace grabbed his hand, holding it in place. It was distracting.

“But, but, new music!” Mikey held up his phone. “Endless, streaming music. No hiss.”

Danny reached over the back seat and rattled the box of tapes at him. “Rare bootlegs. Tapes off the original vinyl. Tapes painstakingly compiled with all the songs in the right order. Barbarian.”

“We made those in high school.”

“Give it up, Mikey.” Jace took the box back from Danny. “Danny’s wardrobe wasn’t the only thing that atrophied in the nineties.” Jace dragged a finger down the rows plastic boxes with handwritten labels until he found one he liked. He slapped the tape into the hand he knew would be there.

Danny slipped it in, turning the volume up on general principle. He was right. Bikini Kill still sounded awesome, and despite their bitching, Jace and Mikey still remembered every word.

 

They sang every song with varying degrees of skill as the cruised the side roads to the highway. Jace pointed out the turns, even though Danny knew exactly how to get there and Jace knew he knew. It’s how they did it. Fort Collins, Colorado was 350 miles straight South of Rapid City, even if they drove the long way through Custer State Park. Which they would. Jace always made Danny take the scenic route even if they were only going to 7-11. Danny could do the drive with his eyes closed. Hell, he didn’t even need a case, he’d do the drive for the beer and the music alone. He’d spent quite a few happy hours in that town a long time ago. You have to love a college town.

In the backseat, Mikey was stretched out, feet up, shoes off, which Danny appreciated, absorbed in clicking through his phone.

“Hey.” Danny met his eyes in the rearview.

“Yeah?”

“So, tell me about you and the cowboy.” He turned the music down. It wasn’t often Danny found out something he didn’t know about Mikey. Jace, of course, was another story. The seven-year gap in their friendship held secrets that conversations in the last few months had only begun to touch on.

“Where’d you guys meet?” Jace asked.

“Well, you know, this ain’t my first gay rodeo.” Jace groaned. “Oh c’mon, you know somebody had to say it.”

“Oh, I’m sure it will be said several times over the next few days.”

Danny tapped on the back of the seat. “So,” he repeated. “You and the Sweetheart of the Rodeo?”

Mikey pulled himself up, crossing his arms on the back of the seat and leaning his chin on his forearms. “His name’s Karl, and we met in L.A. I was a sweet young thing working the concession stood at the fairgrounds. He was a sexy cowboy working the circuit. He was a roper.”

Danny rolled his eyes over to Jace. Jace didn’t even try to hold a smirk. “Awesome.”

“You have no idea.”

Awesome, Danny mouthed at Jace.

Jace shook his head.

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