Disclaimer: Not Universal/no profit
This part is where it starts getting kind of ugly. You are warned.
“You’re pretty hot shit, huh?” Toretto said, not like he was annoyed or anything. In fact, he almost sounded relieved.
“Man, when you got it, you got it and I got it,” Rome shook his shoulders out and examined his new gun.
“You know that thing is probably hotter than the sun and a total felony magnet, right?” Toretto continued wryly.
Rome flounced a little. “Man, I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night, got me? I know this! Do you see me fronting?”
“Yeah, well,” Dom returned. “Could you just keep it out of sight for now? Look at who we are and where we are.”
Dom paused just long enough for Roman to consider the deck stacked against them. To be young, black and male at 2 AM in LA was one thing, add a couple of guns and a barely street legal vehicle, that was something else.
Dom continued gruffly, “Deck is already stacked without you making like you’re Billy the Kid.”
“Whatever,” Rome mumbled, but he tucked the unloaded gun underneath his seat, while keeping a sharp lookout for LA’s finest. “What’s the next move? You got anymore drug kingpins to enlist?”
Toretto looked at him appraisingly.
“This shit is gonna get…” Toretto sighed. Rome waited.
“Some of the stuff we need to do…some of it scares the shit out of me,” Toretto said slowly. “But I kinda wanna see a friendly face before I do.”
“Man, I ain’t saying no,” Rome settled back in his seat and jerked at the seatbelt.
“Oh man, it’s been too damn long!”
Rome watched the guy hug Dom Toretto so hard that he lifted him off the ground. The fact that Toretto was chuckling, pressing their foreheads together and giving his own special handshake let Rome know this wasn’t some casual acquaintance for sure.
“You said it, man, but …you…know…the door’s always open down Mexico way, right?” Dom said slowly, trying to draw a deep breath. The guy kept squeezing him until Rome’s own ribs hurt.
“So what brings you back up here, D?” The guy leaned back and looked between Dom and Rome expectantly. “Can’t be real safe.”
Rome snorted a little. Considering the neighborhoods they’d visited, the company they’d been keeping and the speed at which they’d been traveling, safe was kind of in the eye of the beholder.
Toretto cleared his throat. “Leon, this is Roman Pearce.”
Rome volunteered a hand quickly, before he got hugged too. “Hey yo.”
Leon just slapped a hand in his with surprising force. “T’sup, guy, you a friend of Dom’s?”
He found himself eyeing Toretto who was eyeing him right back.
“Something like that” “Yeah, you could say so,” they spoke over each other.
Leon shrugged. “Well, c’mon in. My cuz’s gone home and I was just about to roll up outta here myself.”
“Hey, man…” Dom started but Leon just showed him an open palm.
“Ain’t nothing, D…what am I gonna do, go home and sleep?” Leon asked as if it were the most ridiculous proposition in the world. “Gimme the story: you up for a visit or just passing through?”
“I got some trouble, Neon,” Toretto said quietly. “I’m bringing trouble.”
Leon grinned as if it was a pretty good joke. “S’alright, man. Can’t be that bad.”
Dom looked like he’d say more, but then he just shut his mouth and quirked his chin.
“What do you need, man?” Leon ambled back into the hangar-like enclosure with his arms outspread. Rome whistled under his breath. Man, there were like a dozen cars in here, looking like glossy toys in a box. Whatever this Leon dude was doing, it was bringing in the cash okay.
Toretto didn’t seem to see anything. “Gonna need some clean phones. Place to get some calls made. And I’m going to need another car.”
“Not a problem,” Leon was already examining each of the gleaming beauties, all crouched on the floor like they were poised to spring. “Anything special?”
“One that’s not giving it up,” Dom said cryptically and Leon nodded.
Leon looked over at Rome and said, “You guys makin’ a play?”
Rome just shrugged and left it for Dom to explain. Dom sighed, “Nah, this ain’t business.”
“Don’t look like it’s pleasure,” Leon raised his eyebrows.
Dom chewed his lip, “You remember the snowman?”
Rome snorted again, out loud this time. That was his boy, for sure.
“Brian?” Leon wrinkled his brow, looking pained. “Sure, dawg, I remember….” Leon made a sweeping gesture that seemed to encompass the whole world.
Dom was nodding grimly. “Yeah, well, would you say you owe him?”
Leon’s jaw worked, he suddenly looked as fierce and serious as a hawk. “What’re you saying?”
Dom beckoned him down to the side of an acid-green Maxima. Rome stretched out his exhaustion, trying not to listen to their urgent, low-voiced conversation. Hearing the story repeated just made it seem more hopeless. Looking for one person in SoCal was looking for a needle in a needle stack.
They seemed to come to some agreement, Leon vanished momentarily and Dom sighed and stretched himself. “You tired? Hungry?”
“Nah, man,” Rome shook his head firmly.
“Good,” Toretto wiped his hand over his face. Leon came back with two fistfuls of cell phones.
“These’re new,” Leon grunted. “Numbers on the back.”
Rome studied the back of the phone where the number had been helpfully affixed with a label-maker. Very efficient, if a little sketchy. He wondered what Leon’s game was. He bet whatever it was, Leon was good at it.
Dom picked up a phone and squinted at it tiredly. “OK, just pick one for a red phone and get cracking.”
Roman opened his mouth and then it occurred to him that he didn’t really need an explanation. He thought to himself: mobilize. Leon was already yakking away into one phone while punching numbers into another. Dom slumped down at Leon’s desk and start dialing with his thumb. Rome sighed, started pacing and calling everyone he knew.
“How we feeling this morning, O’Conner?”
Brian’s eyes snapped open. He’d held them open for so long against the darkness that they hurt now, they were glazed with ache. He hadn’t really been sleeping; it felt like he’d moved into some sort of suspended animation strung up between terror and helplessness. He blinked up at the flaking, black-painted windows. Morning? He might as well take Verone’s word for it. His hands and feet felt coated in a thick layer of plaster.
“Fantastic,” he croaked. All the yelling had started to make his throat swell.
“You look it,” Verone chuckled. “Actually, my boys tell me that they did that knot on your head, but you showed up already sporting the shiner.”
Brian blinked, slow and lizard-like.
“Didn’t really notice the bruises yesterday,” Verone paused, leaning on the table and grinned. “Still making friends and influencing people, huh?”
Brian pulled his lip up off his teeth. Being supine gave everything an odd dreamlike feeling, all the shadows looked odd since he was looking up at Verone’s face, the underside of his chin.
“So I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to do this,” Verone drawled lazily.
Brian didn’t say anything, he just drew a deep breath in through his nose. Even though he filled his lungs, it still felt like he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. His vision started to pulse.
Verone paced around his steel table with one hand in his pocket. He was, Brian noticed, smoking another fucking cigar.
“Kind of…debating with myself. How to start. How to finish.”
Brian stayed silent. The urge to pee had slowly dissipated, leaving an odd distant ache in his groin. His mouth was dry. A day without water would do that, he supposed. He focused on Verone’s movement, not his words. Deep breaths.
“You know when you’ve got a lot of time to think about it, you can come up with some pretty elaborate shit,” Verone mused. “But I’m a big believer in the simple way.”
The silence stretched. Verone half-sat on a corner of the table and slumped, watching the smoke filter up in the faint light. Brian kept breathing.
“I mean,” Verone leaned and reached to pick up a mallet off the far counter. He hefted it. A meat tenderizer. “I guess I could a few swipes at your kneecaps with this.”
Brian stopped mid-breath and cut his eyes over at Verone.
Verone grinned at him. “Bet you’d feel that when it rained.”
“Or,” Verone picked up an ice-pick. “I could always turn those baby blues into baby blue.”
Brian couldn’t help blinking rapidly. Verone was brandishing the point in his peripheral vision, he couldn’t tell how close or far away it was. His sweat had glued him to the table at strategic points, it prickled with the sudden chill.
“You know, it’s funny,” Verone said softly. “I thought it would be like an egg yolk breaking…but it’s not. The color in the iris doesn’t shift, it just turns into a mess. Just bloody.”
He looked down at Brian and grinned. “I did a little experimenting inside. Getting prepared and all.”
Verone stood like that for almost a minute, weighing the two implements in his hands. He jabbed the air with the ice pick and swung the mallet experimentally. Brian didn’t breathe until his lungs shrieked.
A cell phone rang out into the silence again. Verone sighed, dug it out of his pants and looked at the screen. He looked up and quirked his eyebrows at Brian drolly.
“See you later, O’Conner,” He set down the mallet and ice pick in Brian’s direct line of sight. “Duty before pleasure.”
It took Brian almost half an hour to breathe normally again.
Rome came awake very suddenly, a muscle in his back shrieked in agony. His hand had little grooves cut into it from the cell phone that he was still clutching. He stood up and nearly fell. The headrush nearly sent him bowling over into Toretto who was face-down at the desk. Toretto snorted awake suddenly and did the same stupid little pantomime, gawking down at his phone-imprinted hand, realizing he’d actually been asleep and attempting to leap to his feet.
The chair he’d been sitting in screeched back until it slammed into the wall. Toretto kept himself from tripping over his own feet by clutching at Rome. Rome let him find his balance before giving him a shove. Unfortunately, that put Rome off-balance again and they swayed together like drunks.
“Ah, fuck,” Toretto bent double and clutched his head in his palms. Rome winced as the headrush gave way to headache.
“Yeah,” Rome looked out at the faint light gushing in the windows. “Ditto.”
“Jesus, man,” Toretto gestured helplessly. “What the hell….time is it?”
Rome looked around the office for a second, then realized that he was still holding the damned cell phone. “Uh, it’s…” he squinted. “Seven thirty.”
“Motherfucker,” Toretto washed his hands over his face.
“Yeah, I get it,” Rome dug his knuckles into his eye sockets and grimaced. “We’re assholes.”
Unexpectedly, Toretto bunched both of his fists and slammed them, hammer-like, into his own chest.
“Hey,” Rome’s muzziness was starting to lift, but his eyelids still felt weighted. “You want me to do that?”
Toretto growled something unintelligible.
“Fuck it man.” Rome yawned expansively. “They were dead hours anyway.”
“Don’t,” Dom’s eyes were bloodshot, bright and hot. “Just don’t.”
“I feel you,” Rome tried to stifle a yawn, then gave up. “But shit, man… call between 3 and 5 in the AM and people’ll pay attention ‘cause it’s important. Call between 5 and 7, you know most of ‘em just roll over and go back to dreamland…”
“Whatever,” Dom cut him off abruptly. “It’s time to move.”
“What’re we gonna do now?” Rome checked the phone for messages and then tucked it into his pocket.
Toretto checked his own phone, scowled and rolled his jaw around peevishly. His fists were still clenched and the veins rose out his forearms angrily. Rome cleared his throat and started to cough, trying to clear the tight panic that clutched at him when he realized that he had no next step. There was nothing else to do but wait.
“’S go get some food,” Rome tried to make it sound more like he was telling, than asking.
Toretto folded his arms and tilted his chin down. His whole body scowled.
“We need to be strong, man,” Rome restrained himself from saying ‘dumbass’ but it was a near thing. “You need to be cool.”
Toretto shook his head, but he grabbed his keys.
If he reconciled himself to damaging the nerves in one of his wrists, Brian found he could twist himself onto his side, the better to gnaw at the ties cutting into him. He tried to keep all his fingers moving at intervals, but it got progressively harder. They felt as swollen as sausages. His legs had started cramping violently about two hours ago, enough pain to make him hiss.
It was wretchedly difficult to get a lasting purchase on the thin loop of plastic. After a while, his incisors and canine teeth ached like they were about to fall out. He couldn’t tell if he was making any headway, no matter how hard he chewed, it seemed like the loop got tighter and his blood got more sluggish.
He broke off, gasping. His left eye was watering uncontrollably. His whole body screeched when he tried to wipe it on his sleeve. He focused on the pain, the dimensions of it. It kept him from sliding into the hopeless hole in his head. The place full of whispers telling him that he wasn’t going to get out of this. Not in one piece.