FORTY

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"Checkmate," Bruce announced, surprised to have won his first game in the six weeks since he and Morris had started playing.

"Good one, Major," Morris said before downing the remainder of the amber liquid in his glass. He was drinking heavily this evening—the only reason Bruce had won.

"Everything okay with you?" Bruce asked, hoping this had nothing to do with Claire and some kind of petty jealousy. Up until now, no reference had been made to that day in the clinic two weeks prior, and Bruce wanted to keep it that way. Fact was, he didn't even like to hear Claire's name being mentioned in the bastard's vicinity.

Morris picked up the almost empty bottle and poured what was left into his glass. Placing his elbows on the table, he lifted the tumbler and twirled its contents. "I got word today that my son is dead . . . killed in the line of duty."

Bruce stayed silent, letting his body absorb the shock while his mind planned out a cautious path. If you only knew, he thought.

"We weren't that close. He was more his mother's kid." Morris snorted out a laugh and put down the glass before adding, "Half the time I wondered if he was even mine." His hand came up to draw circles in the air just above his head. "He had this thick red hair. There wasn't anyone in my family, nor hers, who had red hair."

"I've heard it's a recessive gene—can skip generations."

"Yeah? Well . . . I never trusted that slut."

She was lucky to get away from you, Bruce said to himself.

"It would have been nice if she'd contacted me right away instead of waiting for more than a month. The only reason she emailed was to see if I wanted any of his belongings before she donated them." He shook his head. "Still a bitch."

In life, you get what you deserve. "Damn. That's rough, man."

Morris straightened in his seat and met Bruce's stare, probably wondering whether the touchy-feely convo had overstepped the boundaries of their budding bromance. Bruce did his best to front a look of sympathy.

"I'd visit him from time to time when on leave. Walt, that was his name, was a pretty good kid. He was a little on the clingy side when he was young, but all in all, he ended up okay."

Just a murderer and attempted rapist. Bruce tried to keep it level, but his fury was building like a tornado on an open plane. He needed to get off this topic before it got out of hand.

Morris sighed. "Hell, I don't even know if the guy had a proper funeral."

"Wouldn't the cops handle that?"

Morris's head whipped up, his face toughened by a frown. "How did you know he was a cop?"

Bruce held back his curse, hoping the alarm didn't show on his face. "Sorry . . . I just assumed . . . you said 'line of duty' and—"

"No, no, you're right." Morris waved his hand with an apologetic shake of his head. "He was LAPD. Yeah, hopefully they came through for him."

Morris picked up the empty bottle and looked down at his watch. "It's early. Shall we start another game and bottle?"

Bruce nodded numbly, still working on slowing down his racing pulse.

Morris stood up, the feet of his chair scratching along the concrete floor. "I'll be right back."

When the outer door shut, Bruce sagged in his seat. "Dumbass," he muttered. Fast-forwarding through his recovery, he forced himself to his feet and went for the keys. Morris kept his stash of bourbon in his quarters at the end of the hall. That gave Bruce a few minutes to work with, but he didn't want to take any chances, not after all that blundering.

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