Thirds Beyond the Books: Volume 1 Excerpt
Prompt: I’d love to see Dex with his parents and Tony when he was younger.
TONY DIDN’T bother knocking on the door. He knew exactly where to find the two mischief makers. He used his key to unlock the wooden gate next to the old house and locked up behind him. In this weather, John and Dex would be playing in the backyard, and considering Tony hadn’t spotted Gina’s Camaro parked out front, it meant the two were probably doing something they shouldn’t. He chuckled at the thought. Like father, like son.
Being as quiet as could be, Tony peeked around the brick wall and bit down on his bottom lip. Dex was peddling furiously around the garden in his Big Wheel while John hopped after him on a pogo ball. If Gina saw him, she’d have his ass. John was the most uncoordinated guy to walk this earth. The last thing he should be on was a bouncing ball. The man could shoot the wings off a fly without batting an eye. Put him in a pair of roller skates and he became an insurance claim waiting to happen.
“Tony!” Dex squealed when he saw him.
He stopped his Big Wheel, and Tony cringed as John stopped bouncing, lost his balance, and fell face-first into the grass. Tony tried hard not to laugh, but he failed. Miserably.
“Bite me, Tony,” John grumbled as he rolled onto his back before spitting out blades of grass. Dex ran over and patted John’s head.
“You okay, Daddy?”
“I’m okay, big man. The grass tastes like your mom’s vegetable casserole, but don’t tell her I said that. Go say hi to Uncle Tony.”
Tony crouched down and opened his arms wide as Dex came running, a toy car clutched in his little hand. He threw himself into Tony’s embrace.
“Hey, kiddo. That was some serious driving you were doing.”
Dex beamed proudly. “I’m gonna be just like Daddy when I grow up.”
Tony arched an eyebrow at John, who narrowed his gaze at him.
“Sounds good. But maybe we’ll try to bring the property damage down a notch.” He laughed after John flipped him off when Dex wasn’t looking. “Your daddy’s personally responsible for sending our sergeant’s blood pressure through the roof.”
John got to his feet and brushed himself off. “You blow up one convenience store—by accident I might add—and everyone gets all bent out of shape about it. The place was condemned. I saved the city money on demolition.”
“No, the place was under renovation. Big difference,” Tony replied, standing up with Dex in his arms.
“Look! Look what Daddy got me for my birthday!”
“Wow, is that the doc’s DeLorean?”
“And look!” Dex patted the silver visor on his head. “Great Scott!”
The kid was just too adorable. Tony placed Dex on his feet, watching as he ran around making car noises. “He’s growing up so quick. Five years old already.” Tony shook his head and followed John to the two lounge chairs. He took a seat beside his best friend. “Poor Gina. When Dex becomes a teenager, she’ll have two teens on her hands.”
John gave Tony’s arm a punch. “Wise guy.”
“So you finally took him to see it?”
“Yeah, I didn’t think he’d like it or understand a lot of what was going on, but he loved it.”
“He’s like you. Of course he was gonna love it.”
“And he remembers all the lines. He’s only seen the movie once. Watch this.” John called out to Dex playing in the grass with his car. “Hey, Doc, we better back up. We don’t have enough road to get up to eighty-eight.”
Dex jumped to his feet. “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need….” He put his visor down. “Roads.”
Tony threw his head back and laughed, John soon joining in while Dex ran circles around them with his DeLorean, quoting lines from the movie. Dex might have his mother’s looks, but underneath all the sweetness was definitely John’s humor.
“Where’s Gina?” Tony noticed how John’s expression became troubled.
“Dropping some paperwork off at the CDC. Things are still crazy over there.”
“I bet.” Tony was right there with John, worrying for Gina. When she’d decided to work for the CDC, they never would have imagined what would happen. As a medical officer with a passion for helping others, she was the first one to volunteer, working exclusively with Therians and Therian health. She’d been getting shit for it from anti-Therian assholes ever since, and that included from some of her own coworkers. “Things are getting rough out there. When the hell is the government going to step in and do something?”
“Soon, I hope.” John turned his gaze to Dex lying on the grass on his stomach playing with his car. “Do you know they’re having Therian drills now at Dex’s school? My son shouldn’t be taught how to run and hide from Therians. This situation can’t be ignored, like it’s all going to go away. These are people. People who our governments infected, and now they need help.” John fidgeted in his seat. He dropped his gaze to his fingers. “I um, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“With everything going on, Gina and I have been thinking about Dex’s future, of where he’d end up if something were to happen to us. There’s no one I trust more with my son than you. You’re my best friend, Tony.”
“Where’s this coming from?” Tony didn’t like hearing his friend talking like that. The Daleys were like family. When Tony had been all but disowned by his mother for becoming HPF shortly after his father’s death, his best friend had been there with him to pick up the pieces. He’d known John and Gina since high school, and they’d been there for each other since.
“You’ve seen how things are out there. It’s like a war zone, and our job is dangerous enough already. I just want to be prepared. Please, I know it’s asking a lot—”
“You don’t even have to ask, John. Where Dex is concerned, you never have to worry. Of course I’d take care of him.”
“Thank you. It means the world to us.”
John smiled at him, but there was something in his gaze. What wasn’t John telling him? Before he could ask, John spoke up.
“The lawyer’s finished up the paperwork. I’ll get a copy over to you tomorrow.”
Why was his friend moving so fast on this? They sat quietly, each lost in his own thoughts. Tony knew John better than anyone. There was something heavy weighing on his best friend’s mind, something more than his last will and testament.
It was true their jobs were getting more dangerous by the day. Fending off bullets and knife-wielding criminals was one thing, but none of them stood a chance against a feral Therian. The HPF wasn’t equipped to handle those situations. How had they reached a point where John was worried about leaving his little boy behind? Still, something nagged at Tony’s gut.
Out in the streets, on the news, the radio, newspapers, wherever he turned it felt like the world was burning down around them. Innocent people were getting mauled to death because the poor infected souls who’d become Therians were helpless to stop what was happening to them. There was nowhere and no one for them to turn to. Gina’s voice brought Tony out of his thoughts. He stood and held his arms out with a smile.
“Hey, girl. How are you?” He hugged her tight, aware of the stiffness in her shoulders. Gina was always so full of enthusiasm, always affectionate and playful. It worried him. “You okay?”
Gina shook her head. “I just heard something upsetting.”
Her voice was quiet and her expression stricken. Tony released her so she could take John’s hand. She sat in her husband’s lap. Before she could speak, Dex came running, his cheeks flushed from playing and his little face filled with joy.
It was amazing, a mother’s love for her child. All at once Gina’s face transformed. It glowed radiantly, her smile wide and reaching her sparkling blue eyes as she picked up her precious little boy. She cuddled him close and rained kisses all over his face, making him giggle. He looked just like Gina when he laughed. Then again, Dex shared so many of his mom’s features. They had the same blond hair, same pale blue eyes that shone bright, and a smile that brightened up any room.
“What’s my little superhero been up to?”
“I went to the future!” Dex exclaimed happily as he showed his mother his time machine. “I was all grown up and helping Daddy and Tony put the bad guys away. And you’re a princess! The most prettiest and important princess, and you help all the Therians be free and happy.”
Tears welled in Gina’s eyes, and she hugged Dex close. “That sounds like a wonderful future, baby.” She gave him a kiss and put him down. “Why don’t you listen to the mixtape Daddy made you while you play? Your Walkman is on the dinner table. Come right back, okay?”
Dex ran off into the house. Whatever was bothering Gina, it was big enough for her not to want Dex to hear it. She waited until Dex was back, his earphones over his small ears. Tony chuckled as Dex hopped and wriggled his butt to his pop music. If there was anything Dex loved more than movies, it was music. Something else he inherited from his parents. As soon as Gina was satisfied Dex couldn’t hear, she turned her attention back to them.
“What is it, sweetheart?” John asked worriedly.
“I was dropping off some documents in the director’s office when I overheard him talking to someone. The government’s opening a research facility to scientifically study Therians, hoping to further advance Therian medicine and help those infected.”
“That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Or am I being naïve?” Tony muttered. Things were never that simple. Not where the government was concerned.
“It’s not the helping part I’m worried about. You know these programs are never as innocent as they’re made out to be. For the research they want to conduct, they’d need Therians with stable versions of the mutation. First Generation Therians.” Gina’s big blue eyes filled with distress. “First Gen Therians are just children. The oldest First Gen is nine years old.”
Tony swallowed hard. They were going to experiment on Therian children? “Maybe they’re going to wait. I mean, these things can take years to put together, right?” Tony looked from Gina to John’s somber expression and back.
“They’re starting next year.” Gina turned to her husband. “They already have a list. Honey, some of these parents don’t even know their children are going to shift. The lead doctor on this is just waiting for it to happen. Any calls to Animal Control Services involving Therian children are being put through to his office. One couple brought in their little boy. He’s just four years older than Dex. You should have seen him. He was so scared, wouldn’t let go of his mom, not even during his checkup. I was going to tell them their son was on the verge of shifting, but Dr. Shultzon wouldn’t let me.” Gina shook her head, her blue eyes blazing with anger.
“I demanded he tell me why he was keeping such vital information from the parents. The boy’s Therian form is a jaguar, for God’s sake. He’s lethal, and they don’t even know it. It’s going to terrify him when he changes. Prevention can mean the difference between life and death.”
“What did the doctor say?” Tony asked.
Gina let out a noise of disgust. “That bastard. He said the Brodie boy is going to be the first one they take. The next two on the list are twin boys.” A tear rolled down Gina’s cheek, and she brushed it aside. “God knows what they’re going to do to those children. And I don’t know what I can do to help them.”
“Gina, baby, you have to be careful.” John took hold of her hands and put her fingers to his lips for a kiss. “We’re dealing with serious people. I’d never forgive myself if something happened to you because you got too close.”
Tony had to agree with John. “This whole situation is growing volatile. You need to get out. Soon.”
Gina stared at Tony. “I can’t do that. I can’t leave those poor kids to end up God knows where.”
“I think Tony’s right. It’s getting dangerous. We don’t know who these people are or what they’re capable of.”
Gina hesitated. “We can find out.”
Tony jumped to his feet. “Oh no. No.” He knew that look. It mirrored John’s look when he was chasing a lead. The two were stubborn as hell. “Gina, get it out of your head now. Please.” He turned to John for help.
John seemed to think about it. His eyes landed on Dex, and his expression softened. He looked up at Gina. “Baby, we have a son.”
“Sloane Brodie is someone’s son, John.”
Gina got to her feet, and Tony could tell she was trying to rein in her emotions.
“What about the Keeler boys? They’re someone’s sons. What kind of example are we setting for Dex if we just let those bastards ruin those kids’ lives? We don’t know what they’re going to do to them. Science requires sacrifice. How far are they willing to go? We can do something about this. I don’t know what yet, but we can do something.”
She worried her bottom lip, and Tony shook his head.
“Sweet baby Jesus. You already did something.”
Gina looked uncertain, but she confessed anyway. “I made a copy of the list, along with all the top people involved. I hid it in one of Dex’s stuffed toys.”
Tony couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This was insane. And to top it off, his crazy as hell partner looked as if he was about to do something crazier. “John, think about what you’re about to say, because once you say it, there’s no taking it back.”
John nodded. He stood and kissed Gina’s lips before walking over to Dex, who threw himself into his father’s arms. John cradled his little boy, and Dex let out a fierce yawn. He closed his eyes and snuggled close to his daddy. In no time he was fast asleep. John met Tony’s gaze.
“Tonight, after Gina and I get back from the movies, we’re going to talk about how we’re going to help those kids.” He looked up at Tony. “I don’t want you getting involved.”
“You’re out of your damned mind if you think I’m gonna let you two do this alone.” Surely his friend knew him better than that.
John stood with Dex in his arms and gently handed him to Tony, his expression grave.
“He deserves to grow up in a world knowing there are people out there willing to do what it takes to make things right.”
“Whatever you need, you know I’m there.” Tony held Dex against his chest, his little head resting on Tony’s shoulder. His heart broke. Who knew the dangers they might be facing. This was meant to be just another date night where Tony babysat for his best friends. It wasn’t supposed to turn into this. He looked up at them, a lump in his throat. “Be careful out there.”
John and Gina took turns giving Dex’s cheek a kiss before they headed toward the side gate, leaving Tony standing there with Dex fast asleep. As he kissed the top of Dex’s head and watched his dearest friends go, he prayed the three of them found a way to help those poor kids before it was too late. Whatever happened, they’d have to be extra vigilant. There was no telling what lay ahead. On the job, he was fearless. Never hesitated. But this was different. There was so much on the line. Like the future of the innocent life in his arms.
Dex yawned and rubbed his eye. “Where’s Mommy and Daddy?” he asked through another sleepy yawn.
“They’ll be back soon, baby. Come on. Let’s go inside.”
“I want Brave Heart Lion.”
Dex always wanted Brave Heart when his parents went out. He said it helped him be brave. “You got it, kiddo.” Maybe Brave Heart could give him a little courage too. He had a feeling he was going to need it.