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Tango with a twist (smas.., p.1
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       Tango with a Twist (Smashwords edition.), p.1

           John Robert Mack






  Tango with a Twist

  John Robert Mack

  Published by Zen Monster Press



  Tango with a Twist


  ISBN: 9781310679582

  Copyright© 2014 John Robert Mack.

  Edited by Lauran Strait.


  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Please purchase only authorized editions. He’s poor as heck.


  Visit the author at

  email: [email protected]


  Contact the author for information regarding volume discounts for classes, studios and other organizations. Bring the author to your live event, in person or online.


  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s somewhat deranged imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead is therefore purely coincidental.


  Jacket design by John Robert Mack.

  Back cover photo by the author. Model: Christopher Tijerina


  Also in the Tango Triptych:

  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

  Buy it at Amazon here.


  Buy it at Amazon here.

  No Tengo Tango

  (coming soon)



  Coming soon from John Robert Mack:

  Third Testament: The Book of John

  Tales of Mystery and Woe: a comedy

  A Consequence of Folly

  Danny Decker and the Horribly Unlikely Adventure

  Zen Monsters



  Table of Contents























  about the author









  For Chris and Andrew.







  Take a deep breath.








  Dead people. Everywhere.

  The cemetery of my dad’s hometown was the last freaking place I wanted to visit. I waited quietly in the Texas heat to give him a few minutes to pay his respects and to stretch my legs after the long drive from Austin. Was it wrong of me to avoid the reason we were there by recalling all the nights my girlfriend and I had sneaked into cemeteries to make out? Ex-girlfriend. Monika.

  Grackles made that spooky sound grackles make while Dad stared at a rock. Cemeteries are weird. Not because of sparkly vampires or lacrosse-playing werewolves. They’re just so damn. . . peaceful. I mean, if not for all the corpses, it would’ve been the perfect place for a family picnic.

  “You can’t park that there!” A loud south-Texas accent hurried toward us, carefully avoiding the burial plots. He was built like a scarecrow and wore a police uniform two sizes too big. So much for peaceful.

  Our moving van filled the dirt road, everything we had left in the world collected inside it. For a moving van, it was tiny. In the cemetery, it seemed like a Sam’s Club hearse: Bury Them in Bulk and Save! The patrol car now facing it flashed red and blue lights.

  “What the hell are you doing with a moving van in a cemetery?”

  “Moving.” Dad peered at the cop’s name tag. “Palatino? As in old Sheriff Palatino? You his grandson?”

  Oh, my God, small towns freaked me out.

  Palatino adjusted his gun belt. “I’ll ask the questions here.” He couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than me. Twenty at the outside. The acne made him younger. He nodded at the moving van. “Planning on loading up?”

  “Loading what?” Dad waved at the nearest block of granite. “A lot of gravestones go missing around here?”

  I chuckled.

  Palatino squinted at me, then at Dad. I think the squint was meant to be intimidating, but Dad was a forty-something Conan the Barbarian. Except blonde and pale with a crew cut. He stared the guy down. “We’re moving here from Austin. We stopped to pay our respects before heading over to my sister’s place.”

  Again with the belt adjustment. “Who’s your sister?” The dude reminded me of that Barney Fife guy on some old show my dad had made me watch.

  “Macarena Davis.” Like the cop would happen to know who she was.

  The light of recognition sparked in Barney Fife’s eyes. “You’re the boxing coach?”

  “Ex-boxing coach.”

  Oh, my God. This was that kind of town? Note to self: stay away from anyone named Bates. Everything about the cop’s demeanor changed. He settled into one hip as if he’d channeled his inner Sheriff. “Had a little trouble with the law out there in the big city, didn’t you?”

  Dad took a breath. “It worked itself out.”

  Barney Fife squinted again, then turned his attention to me. “You’re a dancer, right?” He looked me up and down. “Your aunt told me you were moving here. She told me a-a-all about you.”

  I pulled my shoulders back. Dad might’ve been willing to let this pissant twerp play big man, but I wouldn’t.

  “You a hot deal up there in Austin?” the cop asked.

  I shrugged. I was a world champion. Well, ex-champion.

  “You got a name?”

  “Ethan Fox.” Speaking through gritted teeth was a challenge.

  More belt time. “Well, the family who runs the dance studio hereabouts? They’re close friends of mine, and if you do anything to mess with any of them, you will answer directly to me.”

  Dad’s hand lifted as if he were about to take my arm, just in case, but then it fell to his side. Yeah. Dad had stopped touching people six months earlier, after he’d had his “trouble with the law.”

  “It’s probably not much compared to those fancy Austin places,” the cop said, “but Mrs. Montez throws a heck of a Saturday Social, and you need to treat her people with respect.”

  Kill me, now. Please. Barney Fife needed to be taken down a peg or two—

  “Look, deputy. . .” Dad might have been adrift in a world of guilt, but he could still read my mind. “I’ll get the van out of here in a few minutes. I wanted to say hello. . .” The sorrow and defeat in his voice pissed me off. “We don’t want any trouble.” He was a fighter, damn it. “I just wanted to say hello.”

  The people in the ground, at our feet, were strangers to me, but “Beloved-Wife-and-Mother” had been his sister and “Beloved-Husband-and-Father” had been his best friend.

  Palatino pushed his hat back an inch and squinted down his nose at us. He nodded as if he were doing us the world’s biggest favor by not running us in. He moseyed back to his car. “Welcome to Dumass, Texas, Ethan Fox.”

  No, really, that was its name. He’d tried to pronounce it Doo-mahs, but get a grip.

; When the cop climbed into his car, Dad sighed. “You okay?”

  I engaged my fake enthusiasm on supernova. “They throw a helluva Saturday Social!” Birds leapt into the air and flew off. “This place fucking sucks.” If you notice the number of things in my life with the prefix “ex” you might have more sympathy for the attitude. A shrink would say it was a defense mechanism.

  Dad returned to his silent contemplation of granite. He was so depressed, he didn’t even bitch me out for being rude.

  Deep breath. It’s a dance thing. If you’re getting wound up, take a deep breath and it’ll relax you. Deep breath.

  The folks in the ground were my biological parents. Dad had adopted me after his sister and her husband died in a fire when I was only a few months old. I didn’t remember them. At all. Well, Dad had told me tons of stories, but I had no actual memories, no flash of an angelic smile with an over-saturated sunny background. No mementos either. No baby blanket with my name on it.

  To be honest, this visit was probably harder on Dad than it was on me. He’d been “Dad” for nearly all of my seventeen years, so he was my dad, you know? What was I supposed to feel about these strangers who’d brought me into the world?

  A concrete angel looked down on me disapprovingly. It was exactly like a statue in the cemetery where Monika and I used to make out.

  I missed making out with Monika, and, just so we’re perfectly clear, “making out” is a euphemism. Feel free to google “euphemism.” Most of my friends were adults and anything lower than a B+ meant Dad kept me home from dance practice, so my vocabulary rocks.

  I stared out across the trees. Dad wasn’t going to say anything about my snide remark. “I’m sorry,” I told him. “I’m a douchebag.”

  “I was going to say, ‘little prick.’”

  “Now you know that’s just not true.”

  He chuckled. Good. He’d always been that dad.

  A year earlier at the gym, this guy named Jimmy Russo knocked me out. When I’d come to, Dad was holding me. Paternal worry covered his face. “You okay, son?”

  “Dad, I’m fine.” With all the guys watching, I felt kinda dorky held in my dad’s arms. “Let me up.”

  He tried to kiss my forehead.

  “Dad! How old am I?”

  “What? Too grown up to kiss the old man?” He pushed his face into mine. “That’s it. I want a kiss on the mouth.”


  I fought him off, much to the amusement of the guys watching. I fled to the locker room to check for a black eye. When I saw myself in the mirror, I groaned. A penis drawn in Sharpie decorated my cheek. Yeah. He was that dad.

  Well, he used to be that dad. I missed it. A lot.

  The call of a grackle brought me back to Dad. . . and the cemetery. . . in Dumass, Texas. The sun beat down on us like it wanted us dead. September in Texas? Fucking hot. He didn’t throw a fatherly arm around me the way he would’ve six months before.

  He’d killed a man. It was an accident, but he held himself responsible. That’s how we lost everything and why we left Austin to move in with my Auntie Mac. It was the reason he didn’t touch anyone anymore, and it was “that thing we didn’t talk about.” We used to talk about everything. Seriously. Everything. Certain people had called him a monster enough times he’d ended up believing them, I guess.

  He stared at the rock for a long while. He laid down some flowers.

  I tried to feel something and failed.

  No, that’s not true. I wanted my dad back, but I didn’t mean the guy in the dirt. For the first time in my life, I felt like an orphan.

  “You okay?” he asked again.

  “I’m fine, Dad,” I lied. “I’m fine.”

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