EXCERPT: THE BURNS FIRE

The Fire Salamander Chronicles Book One

Chapter 1

~ Zane Burns, a.k.a. Gunz ~
 

Modern days, South Florida

 

            The restaurant wasn’t anything special, just another tiny hole-in-the-wall located on one of the countless South Florida canals. There was nothing noteworthy about its limited menu either. The only thing special about this place was its relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant had an open porch with three tables on it, facing the canal. But the regulars were never sitting on the porch. They preferred to stay inside, leaving the romantic view to the tourists and lovey-dovey couples.

            Gunz discovered this place shortly after he moved to South Florida, and since then he became one of the regulars, visiting the place at least a couple of times a week. He liked the laid-back atmosphere and easy-going crowd. It was a place where he allowed himself to relax and drop his guard. To a degree.

            The inside room of the restaurant wasn’t big, just a few tables and a bar. A big screen TV was hanging on the wall behind the bar, next to a few shelves with liquor. The air was infused with the smell of alcohol and fried food, and a heavy curtain of cigarette smoke was hanging under the ceiling. The room was relatively dark. Out of six wall lights only three were on, but no one ever asked to turn up the light.

            Gunz walked through the room, quickly surveying every corner, and sat down at the bar. Tonight, besides a few regulars, there was no one new. A pretty young woman in her mid-twenties, approached him right away. Here, she was everything – the owner of the restaurant, a bartender, a waitress – all-in-one, cross-functional queen of Missi’s Kitchen.

            “Usual, Mr. Burns?” she asked smiling at him. Her skin, the color of dark chocolate, was smooth like silk and her large gray eyes framed with thick black eyelashes looked unnaturally bright on her face. Her long black hair was braided into countless thin braids and pulled into a ponytail on the back of her head, calling attention to her elegant neck.

            “Yes, Missi, thank you,” said Gunz.

            She put three small shot glasses on the bar table in front of him and filled them with vodka. “I’ll be back with your food in a moment,” she told him, heading toward the kitchen door.

            “Take your time, Missi,” muttered Gunz, picking up the first shot glass. “I’m not in any rush tonight.” He took a deep breath and downed the vodka without flinching. Placing the empty shot glass on the table, he exhaled and closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of the harsh burning liquid rushing down his throat.

            For a few minutes, he sat quietly staring at the TV. It was set to the local news channel, but he didn’t listen to the news, his thoughts far away. Then he sighed and picked up the second shot glass. He gulped the vodka and put the empty glass next to the first one.

            “Hard day, Mr. Burns?” asked Missi, placing a plate with a burger and a steaming pile of french-fries in front of him. “You seem to look broodier than usual.”

            Gunz smirked. He picked up a hot French fry with his fingers and nibbled on it. “You could say so,” he said finally. “Just one of those days… This day a couple of years ago, I lost… someone.”

            “Your friend?” asked Missi, gazing at him with sympathy in her bright eyes.

            “Yeah… friend. Vladislav Kirilenko,” he replied absentmindedly, taking the next burning-hot fry from his plate. “I lost him to the world of magic. He’s never coming back.”

            “The World of Magic,” she repeated in disbelief, her eyebrows rising up. “What is that? A fantasy novel? There is no such thing as magic. You’re making fun of me, Mr. Burns.” She shook her head, a soft smile tugging at her full lips.

            Gunz smiled tiredly and picked up the last shot glass, squeezing it in his fist. “Third one for the fallen,” he murmured and drank it quickly, returning the empty glass to Missi. “You know, Missi, I’ve been coming to your restaurant for over a year. Don’t you think it’s time you stop calling me Mr. Burns? I don’t think I’m that much older than you. You know that you can call me Zane, or even Gunz, if you prefer to use my nickname.”

            “I know. I don’t like nicknames. You’re a man, not a pet,” she said lightly, taking away the empty shot glasses and wiping the table top with a white towel. “Zane Burns…” She pronounced his name slowly, like she was sizing it up. “Sounds good, but I prefer to call you Mr. Burns. For some reason, it seems to fit you better.”

            Gunz felt someone’s hand on his elbow and a hardly noticeable wave of magical energy swept through him. He snapped his head to the right and found a fake blond sitting next to him. She was devouring him with her eyes, her lipstick-enhanced lips stretched in a sensual smile. Her hand unceremoniously traveled up his arm, following the shape of his biceps and stopped at his shoulder.

            “Yum,” she said, gently probing him with her magic. “I’ll call you anything you want, hon.”

            Gunz gave her a frosty once-over, turning his senses up. He had no doubt that she was something other than human. Her fingers softly massaged his shoulder, sending a stronger wave of magical energy through him. For a moment, his mind got clouded with desire and his body responded to her salacious magic with more eagerness than he expected.

            Succubus, concluded Gunz, channeling the Fire, burning the poison of her magic out of his body. Her hand traveled down his arm, landing on his inner thigh. He seized her wrist, prying it off his leg and sent some Fire toward his hand. Her skin blistered like from the touch of a hot stove and she yelped in pain.   

            “Who are you? What are you?” she whimpered, trying to free herself from his smoldering grip, but he didn’t let her go.

            Gunz glanced around, making sure that no one, including Missy, was watching. “I’m a man who is not looking for company,” he growled, sending some fire toward his eyes. The bright flames went up in the depths of his eyes, and she gasped. “Especially not the company of your kind.” He released her wrist, observing red spots of burns and blisters on her skin. “Leave this place and forget about its existence. You understand?”

            She nodded, fear making her every move jerky, and rushed out of the restaurant, nursing her burnt wrist. Gunz sighed, releasing the Fire and turned back to the bar.

            “Hey, Missi,” he called and waited a moment as she appeared from the kitchen. “Can I have everything to go, please? And one more before I leave.” He pointed at the bottle of Russian vodka that he usually ordered.

            She put a shot glass on the bar table and filled it with vodka. “That’s unusual,” she murmured, her hands quickly packaging the burger and fries into a take-out box. “You never drink more than three shots.”

            A lopsided smile crossed his face, making a single dimple appear on one of his cheeks. “I know. Usually three shots are my limit, but today I felt like I needed more.” He downed the vodka and got up, grabbing the take-out box.

            Missi shook her head, checking him with concern. “Do you want me to call you a cab?”

            “Thank you, Missi. I’ll walk. Take care.” He nodded to her and walked out of the restaurant.

 

***
 

            Gunz walked away from the restaurant and turned into a dark alley. He stopped and rubbed his forehead tiredly. Maybe Missi was right. I didn’t need that fourth shot, he thought smirking. It had been a while since he felt drunk and right now the world around him seemed to be unsteady. Possibly it was a combination of vodka with the residuals of the succubus magic. He surveyed the alley carefully to make sure that no one could see him and once satisfied, he waved his hand unfolding a fire curtain of a portal.

            He walked through the fire and ended up in the backyard of his house in Coral Springs. The house wasn’t really his. It belonged to his friend, but she was away and wasn’t planning to come back any time soon. In the meantime, Gunz had the full use of her house. Dizziness assailed him as he took a step forward. He chuckled and sat down heavily on the steps in front of the backdoor.

            He closed his eyes and leaned his back against the door of the house, still feeling a little buzzed. He was about to get up when he felt a soft touch to his leg. Gunz looked down and noticed a small kitten. It couldn’t have been more than a month old. The kitten was trying to climb on his lap, its tiny sharp claws catching the hard fabric of his jeans. 

            “Oh, hello, little buddy. What are you doing here?” said Gunz. He put the take-out box on the steps and gently picked up the kitten, holding it in his hands. The kitten turned on his engine, purring loudly and licked his hand. Gunz laughed, gently stroking the kitten’s thick gray fur with his fingers. “You found the wrong man, little buddy. I’m a dog person – give me a giant German Shepperd any day. Well, occasionally, I don’t mind dealing with lizards. But cats…”

            The kitten ignored his statement and climbed up his shirt, settling on his shoulder. He meowed into his ear and poked his cheek with his wet nose. Gunz petted the kitten leaving him sitting on his shoulder and picked up the take-out box. “Well, you’re taking your life in your paws, buddy… but if you’re sure that you want to adopt a man like me then let’s get going.” He unlocked the door and walked into the kitchen.

            Inside, Gunz put the kitten on the floor and opened the refrigerator. He poured some milk in a small bowl and placed it in front of him.

            “Sorry, little buddy, I don’t have any cat food or litter for you”—he quickly glanced at the wall clock that was showing past one in the morning— “and it’s too late for shopping. I’ll buy everything you need first thing in the morning.”

            The kitten ignored him, preoccupied with his milk. Gunz squatted next to him and softly stroked his back. The kitten moved closer to his bowl and growled defensively. Gunz laughed, rising. “I think, I’ll call you Mishka in honor of my good friend. You sure remind me of him.”

            He left the kitten in the kitchen and walked to the living room. His body was buzzing with exhaustion of this endless day and the incident with the succubus didn’t sit well with him. Missi’s restaurant was normally free of supernatural visitors. He was probably the only one. And the succubus’ behavior seemed a bit odd too. Until he used his power, she didn’t sense a creature of magic in him. Something didn’t feel right.

            His cell phone rang, making him flinch. He pulled it out and looked at the display. Jim. One o’clock in the morning? That can’t be good. He clicked the green button, answering the call.

            “Hello, Jim,” he said and fell silent for a few seconds, listening to Jim. “You want me to come over now? Can it wait till the morning?”

He lowered the phone down for a moment and sighed, bringing the shouting device back to his ear.

            “No, I’m not drunk. Just a little —" Jim interrupted him urgently, obviously not pleased and Gunz fell silent again, listening to his boss. “Yes, sir, I know the consequences of losing control of my power and I assure you, I’m in complete control.”

            Gunz lowered himself on the couch, rubbing the stubble on his chin tiredly.

            “Yes, sir, I know that my job doesn’t have weekends and days off,” he said, hoping to calm Jim down. “I’m sorry, sir, I needed to unwind a little… I’m not drunk…”

            He was working with Agent Andrews for over a year and he never heard him talking like this to him. Something serious was going on.

            “Yes, sir, I know what Code Shadow means… I understand the urgency of the situation… No, sir. You don’t need to summon me.”

            Jim didn’t have magic and he couldn’t use summoning spells, but his partner, Angelique, could. She was a witch and a seer. Gunz hated when they used summoning spells to call him. The persistent pull of the summoning spell on his mind was driving him crazy, giving him a pounding headache afterwards.

            “I prefer not to drive right now, so I’ll open my portal to your office right away, if you don’t mind… Yes, sir, to Angelique’s office… I’ll see you both in a few minutes.”

            Gunz hung up the phone and shook his head, biting his lip. Code Shadow. It meant an abnormally high level of supernatural activity, endangering civilian lives. Since he started to work with the secret division of the FBI, dealing with supernatural occurrences, it was the first time that Code Shadow was officially issued.

            “Fire Salamander – go,” he muttered to himself and waved his hand, opening the fire portal into Angelique’s office.

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