Disclaimer: Not Universal/no profit
Continuing to be ugly, warning: a little more than non-con this chapter
“I think I should take over,” Rome steeled himself for an argument and then deflated when he realized that Toretto was so far in his own head, he might as well have been talking to the car.
He snapped twice in front of Dom’s face and that got him a glare.
“What?” Dom snarled.
“Lemme drive for a while,” Rome said reasonably. “You’re running on empty.”
Toretto shrugged and went back to his thousand yard stare.
Rome put a little edge in his voice. “And that’s the third car that you’ve almost sideswiped but hey, if you don’t think that another wreck might slow us down a little, then whatevs…”
Toretto rolled his eyes a little and grimaced, but he pulled into the lot of the next filling station. A Mobil, Rome noted grimly as he jerked himself up out of the bucket seat. Toretto moved like he was still asleep, but they were soon settled again. Rome pulled out of the lot with a screech, but just a little one. He got a feel for the Honda quickly and if he hadn’t been so angry, scared and freaked out, it might almost have been a pleasant way to spend the morning. The sun was slanting up behind downtown’s towers, which looked almost pretty gilded in light.
Dom continued looking out the window like he’d seen one hundred years of carnage and expected one hundred more. Rome drove purposefully for a while, then considered that he didn’t actually know where they’d been headed. He passed a Denny’s without pausing.
Suddenly Dom said, “Another.”
“What?” Rome squinted. Cripes, now Toretto wasn’t even keeping the crazy to himself. Awesome.
“You said another,” Dom was scowling at him owlishly in the bright morning sun. “Another wreck.”
“Man, I told you what that psycho did to my car,” Rome started, aggrieved. “Told you and Han last night.”
Dom just blinked. And then blinked more rapidly. He rested his head back on the headrest and took a deep breath.
“Turn around,” he said. “I got an idea.”
Hours. Or maybe a few minutes before the doors creaked again. He could hear the clatter of footsteps in the quiet, below his heaving breath and the blood pounding in his head. It was so quiet; he could hear perfectly when Verone said, “Wait here.”
There was another bulky shadow up there. For some reason, Verone didn’t like to come and see him alone. Something to consider. He wondered what the anonymous person made of the ‘conversations’ they were having. What he thought about all this.
“Brian,” Verone purred from the foot of the table. Brian shifted his eyes unwillingly. He wondered if it would be better not to look, but then realized it was futile. He was as helpless to stop looking as he was in all the rest of this.
“Brian, Brian, Brian,” Verone repeated in a long sigh.
Verone tapped on the side of the table, in an elaborate rhythm for a moment. It put Brian’s teeth on edge, jounced his head just enough to make ache blaze up behind his eyes.
“Did you fuck Monica?” Verone asked unexpectedly, trailing two fingers down the inside of Brian’s arm. Brian had been holding it taut for so long against his bonds that Verone’s light touch made him shudder involuntarily.
Brian didn’t say anything. There didn’t seem to be a good answer.
“I know you did, Brian, I can tell by that look on your face,” Verone smiled, stood up and clasped his hands behind his back. “You look like you’re about to swallow your tongue. I hope you fucked her. I hope you both enjoyed it.”
Verone continued, “Man, she was one sweet piece. I thought I’d really hit the jackpot. Body was perfect, gorgeous face and she was tough, never clingy, all attitude, fearless.”
Verone smiled again and Brian tried not to shiver. “The perfect woman.”
Brian tried not to think about Monica, tried to keep her face from forming in his mind. Hopeless. Her eyes had always been so warm, not just beautiful, but kind.
“Of course,” Verone shrugged. “Last time I saw her, she wasn’t quite so perfect. I had to stick a tennis ball in her mouth, she got kind of…noisy…toward the end.”
“You sick fuck,” Brian burst out. He pushed all his weight and leverage out. Of course it did nothing but drive the thin plastic deeper into his skin and spread the numbness deeper into his extremities. This was the worst part about this, the idea that nothing much was being done to him; he was doing it all to himself.
“Why are you getting all upset now?” Verone drawled. “You left, right? You could have stuck around. Kept her safe, maybe.”
Verone looked up at the ceiling. “Or maybe just died with her.”
Brian turned his face away from Verone’s toxic words. Verone kept it up, relentlessly. “I was faithful to her, I protected her. Until she betrayed me.”
“But you, you left her, came out here without a second thought…” Verone pulled a knife out of the drawer in Brian’s table and tested its edge on his thumb. “Took up with some other gal.”
He curled the knife in his fist and Brian tightened up around his breath. The sudden gleam flickered in the corner of his eye and a thin, tearing sound left him cool, almost cold, exposed. He looked down wondering if he was going to see his intestines sliding around, gushing out onto the beaten steel of the table. But Verone had just dug the knife into the hem of his t-shirt and sliced it neatly in two.
“Got a new chica, huh?” Verone tugged gently at the collar of Brian’s shirt. A tiny (snick!) sound and the sleeve was a rag. Brian shuddered involuntarily and his head bounced. Verone grinned and yanked at the other sleeve. The blade flashed when Brian flinched and a sudden sharp line of pain told Brian that Verone hadn’t been over-careful with his knife. The smell of his own blood was sharp in his nostrils. “This much hurt all over you, that’s more love than hate, man. Don’t try to deny it.” There was a little laughter in Verone’s voice.
The table directly underneath him was still warm. He tried to push himself back into it, to melt down against it.
In the semi-darkness, Verone’s eyes looked too avid, hungry and animal. They gave away the indifference in the curl of his lip. “Tell me: what’d you do to get yourself punched in the face?”
Brian grit his teeth painfully hard. He turned his chin away and caught a look down at his arm and shoulder. The glow and fluorescent hum washed him so pale that all the minor cuts and bruises he’d picked up tussling with Dom stood out like flashing neon. Thinking about that made his throat swell until he was light-headed from lack of oxygen.
Verone grabbed his chin, grinding the tender skin inside his mouth against his teeth.
“Your new chica, does she like it?” Verone’s breath was so hot. He let go and Brian bared all his teeth at him.
“Like what?” Brian snarled.
“Does she like it when you look at her and lie like you do?” Verone grinned to himself. “I know that you’re damn good. Liar, I mean.”
“Go fuck yourself," Brian breathed, pressing his lips together tightly. If Verone moved his wrist closer, he could probably bite him. He tried not to let that plan show in his eyes. Verone kept moving too fast.
“Figured I could strip off your cool,” Verone tapped fingers against his collarbone lightly. It still managed to hurt somehow. “Not too hard after all.”
Brian kept himself from flinching, and stayed silent.
“Huh,” Verone’s breath steamed on his chest. Brian had tilted his chin to see what Verone was doing, and now it put him far too close to Verone’s mouth.
“Interesting.” Verone was examining him very closely. “This is interesting.”
Verone started fingering the edge of his ribs. Brian had a second to wonder what was interesting before it came to him. He was marked down there, bitten and clutched hard.
Before Brian could even gasp a protest, Verone had unbuttoned Brian’s fly and jerked hard. Another quick flick of the blade exposed his hip and the flowering finger marks there. Verone was doing something that made him twitch involuntarily and he was almost afraid to look.
Verone was trying to line up the pads of his own fingers over the slight discolorations. Brian had to start breathing through his mouth and it was loud and panicky. His own breath was terrifying him now.
Verone leaned in close and muttered, “So not a new chica….an hombre.”
And Brian shivered at the breath suddenly over his ear and neck, he couldn’t pull away, not nearly far enough as Verone hissed, “That’s interesting.”
Dom had been on the phone non-stop since Rome had burned a U into the asphalt on Los Feliz boulevard. So when they got back to Leon’s, the garage seemed to be a humming hive in the peace of the morning.
Dom had made him stop at some drive-thru to order enough food to feed a couple of guys who could eat like Rome or six normal people. Rome was bracing himself to meet another crew of major- or minor-league thugs, thus it was a surprise when the first person he recognized was Jorge, Hector’s unassuming cousin, who waved at him, while he pressed the lever to angle Rome’s Spyder gently to the ground.
“Uhm,” Rome flicked his fingers in a way that meant what the fuck?
“They’re probably still watching over at our place, dontcha think?” Dom said mildly.
Rome paused, then shrugged. Our place? He stroked the edge of her hood sadly. Between him and Dom, Leon, Jorge and Luis, they got her on a lift relatively painlessly. Dom and Leon bent over her, looking as grave as surgeons doing a biopsy.
After a long ten minutes, Dom stood back and gave Luis the nod. Rome watched his baby float up, looking like a scrambled metal omelet. Then he thought about Brian and had to turn away for a second. When he turned back, Dom and Leon were trading significant looks.
“You seen something like this before?” Rome grunted hopefully.
Leon just shook his head disgustedly and Dom clicked his cell phone open. When he spoke, the darkness and inevitability in his voice took some of the gleam out of the morning light, “Han, you think you could find Zac Fortune and bring him here to me?”
Whose hand was that? His hand. His knuckles were still slightly bruised, fingernails bitten down. He squinted as the back of his own hand came into focus. Fingers kind of blue-ish. Something in his eyes stung and he tried to raise his fist to wipe at it. His brain started to feel like it was trying to bust out of his skull. He snorted a little, trying to breathe and the blood started to bubble out his nose. His vision was grainy, like he was watching everything filmed on Super 8.
His hand moved clumsily, it skidded out from under his weight and when his thumb twitched it was suddenly agonizing. Both his hands burned like they’d been dipped in acid. Suddenly, everything snapped back into focus and he remembered the last five minutes, before Verone had slammed his head into the table.
“Better brace yourself, Brian,” Verone still had an iron grip in his hair. “I know you wanna stay on your feet.”
Oh Jesus, it was real.
When Verone had cut him free, he’d felt a moment of sheer joy, he’d been almost weirdly grateful until he realized that he still could barely raise his arms and couldn’t move his legs. Plus all of his extremities were quickly in excruciating pain.
He’d lashed out at Verone with all his strength, for all the good it had done him. Verone had parried him easily and punched him back so hard that it made his vision grey out.
After that, awareness only came to him in flashes. Being jerked off the table onto his feet made him howl out loud. Pins and needles weren’t quite what he felt as blood returned, more like daggers and knives. The cold steel of the table’s edge bit into the warm flesh of his stomach. He’d struggled up onto his throbbing hands, only to have Verone bounce his head off the table a couple of times. And things just got worse from there.
“You enjoying this?” Verone whispered in his ear. Brian grit his teeth so hard they nearly cracked.
“Didn’t think…that you…would,” he panted. Sarcasm was kind of a blunt blade, but it was all he had at the moment. The heat ripped at him, fullness in the back of his throat. His vision was going again, or just more blood dripping into his eyes.
“Well you’re on the table,” Verone snarled. “I guess that means you’re on the menu.”
“Dom,” Leon looked hunched and troubled. “Been listening all morning.”
For the first time, Rome noticed Leon’s police band radio. The high pitched beeps and crackles had just blended into the background. Dom had sunk back into a quietly menacing brood that seemed to suck all the light and most of the air out of the room. He was coolly helping Rome detach the rest of the tires from the Spyder, but the way he jerked the crowbar wasn’t exactly serene.
“They found that Navigator.”
Rome’s ears pricked up. “Yeah? Are they sure?”
Dom asked quietly, “Where?”
“Up at the hospital. Verdugo Hills by the Foothill freeway,” Leon rocked his head to the side.
“Wait a second, how’d that make it onto the band, them just finding the car?” Roman asked quickly. He had a bad feeling; it prickled on the backs of his arms.
Leon took a deep breath. “Cause when they tried to tow it, it exploded. Killed the tow driver and the security guard at the lot. That’s how.”
Dom’s stone face didn’t crack. He shrugged a little. Rome looked at Leon who looked back, hardening his face. He shrugged in unconscious mimicry of Dom.
Rome ground his teeth, catching the flesh on the inside of his mouth, tearing himself up on the inside. Toretto seemed to have taken his injunction to stay cool a little too much to heart. Rome felt like a pulsing, infected wound. The crew had eaten mechanically, only Jorge and Luis seemed to get any pleasure from the food. Now it felt like a rock in Rome’s stomach. Dom caught his eye, shook his head and then looked up at the rumble of an engine.
Whatever Rome had been expecting from a guy with a name like Zac Fortune, he was a little disappointed by the man himself. Zac Fortune, far from looking like a video-game avatar as his name implied, was a heavyset guy with curly hair so thick, it almost looked like a ‘fro.
Even though it looked like he’d dressed in the dark and in a hurry, he rolled out of Han’s Nissan so full of attitude that he practically bounced, but by the time he’d gotten a load of Dom and Rome, he’d slowed down a bit. When the guy got a good look at Rome’s crowbar and Dom’s expression and the wreckage of the Spyder, his eyes started to roll around like marbles.
The silence grew. Leon dropped a socket wrench with a clatter and Zac shifted his weight back so abruptly, he nearly fell on his ass.
Dom pointed up to the Spyder. “You do this?”
“C-C-Christ, Dom, no,” Zac was shaking his head emphatically. “I don’t know what you’re t-talking about.”
Dom started wiping his hands with a rag. He cut his eyes over at Rome. Rome tightened his grip on the crowbar. “I’m unconvinced. Looks like your work.”
“I s-swear, Dom, I would never…not one of yours…” Zac was now wobbling almost as much as his voice. He looked like he was trying to be cool but he didn’t have enough eyeball to keep an eye on both Rome and Dom.
“Sure about that now?” Leon asked softly. Han leaned on his Nissan, eating something out of a bag, looking out at the parking lot, bored.
“I’m s-sh-sure,” Zac nodded like a bobble-headed doll.
Dom dropped the rag and before it hit the ground, he’d switched Zac’s perspective from the vertical to horizontal. Zac gasped like a fish on the floor, writhing as Dom slapped him twice, before letting him sag back onto the concrete. Dom followed up with a fist an inch above his face, “I don’t have time for this, Zac. I’m more than ready to hurt someone, you really want it to be you?”
Zac blinked twice, wide-eyed. He started talking almost without taking a breath. “DomthisguythisguyImeanIdidn’tknowhimata
“Slow down,” Dom growled and Zac took two gasping breaths, nodding. “You have his number?”
“Did he say who he was?” Rome poked at Zac with the crowbar and the guy nearly hyperventilated while he was shaking his head.
“AllIgotwasthecarandthegarage, man,” Zac’s eyes rolled from Dom to Rome. “HesentmethecashafterandIneverheardfromh
“What was his number?” Dom asked softly and Zac stuttered it out while Leon wrote it down. Dom pulled him half upright. “How much cash?”
“Three Gs,” Zac blinked like a doll. Dom dropped him suddenly and almost stuck a boot through his ribs, “Five, five, OK, five, sorry, really sorry, I forgot.”
“Give it to this guy,” Dom jerked him up to his feet impatiently and indicated Rome. Zac patted his pockets ostentatiously and Dom growled at him. He quickly extracted a wad of bills and shoved it at Roman hurriedly. “That’s about half of it, man, I’ll get the rest by Monday. I swear, I had no idea you were one of Dom’s guys, man, I am so fucking sorry. Really. Sorry. Very sorry.”
“Whatever,” Rome took the money, but kept his hands on the crowbar. “Ain’t gonna do much to fix that.” He gestured up at the Spyder.
Zac looked like he’d just swallowed a whole billiard ball. Dom shook his head and gave him a not-unfriendly shove. “Jorge’ll give you a ride back out to Alhambra, Zac. One thing…if this guy calls you again, your next call is to me. The next call. Hope I don’t need to explain that in greater detail.”
Zac shook his head in rapid, birdlike jerks. Rome tossed the crowbar on the ground peevishly and Dom gave him a sympathetic look.
Someone was moving beside him. Not trying to be quiet about it at all. Someone heavy. Brian listened vaguely to the screech of metal on metal. Then the thin scrape of metal on tile. He blinked at the shadows nearest his head. Two shuffling shapes trying to lug something heavy between them. A couple of Verone’s heavies.
They weren’t carrying another body, so he had trouble forcing himself to care.
He wondered if he should be worried about the thin pool of blood that was getting sticky around the left side of his face. Or the fact that he’d been bound back on the table with fresh cable ties. Or the fact that he was mostly naked now.
At least his hands were tied together this time. Like he should be praying.
“Mira,” A deep voice next to his head. “Le sonrie la fortuna.”
Another voice grunted, it could have been a laugh. Reflexively, Brian’s eyes snapped open. Two men, linebacker-sized in ill-fitting suits were looking down at him. One of them was grinning; it turned his eyes into piggy little slits. The other one looked vaguely disgusted. His lip curled slightly, underneath his moustache. Brian just looked at the one who was grinning, stared at him directly until the smile slid from his face.
The piggy guy said something off-hand, a quick jeer. He poked at Brian’s face. The other one said something shorter, darker, more dismissive. He turned away quickly and pointed up to the door. The other one shrugged, seemed to almost whine for a second. They went back to shoving their noisy burdens around and Brian tuned them out. Until they left he couldn’t re-start his liberation campaign. He focused on a single point on the ceiling and pushed all his emotions through it.
Piggy guy left, calling something in Spanish to someone outside. Quiet, disgusted guy stayed and unnervingly, he came back over to stare at Brian for a while. His eyes were completely shadowed under his heavy brows and he still looked at Brian like he was about to spit on him. Brian kept watch in his peripheral vision as the guy watched him and smoked a cigarette.
After about three minutes, the guy snorted a little, turned and dug around in a cabinet on the far side of Brian’s head. Subtly, Brian tightened up; he couldn’t imagine that this much scrutiny meant anything good.
Surprisingly, the man flung a hand out, casting a thick cloth over him like a net. It covered him up to his chest. Stuck to him where he was bloody. It was thick as canvas. Maybe a tablecloth. Brian snapped his eyes up and the man said gruffly. “’s okay, güey. El jefe suele trabajar muy tarde.”
Brian blinked at him. The man frowned hard and spoke hesitantly. “The boss…usually…work late.”
Brian swallowed. Nodded. The guy nodded back and moved out the door, oddly silent for such a big man.
Brian squinched his eyes shut, then opened them, focusing on the dark corner beyond his feet. It was full of bullet-shaped shadows now. He squinted at the nearest one.
An industrial-sized propane tank. As his eyes adjusted back to the low light, he saw that it was one of many.
“So where’re we at?” In the absence of Dom, who hadn’t spoken for almost 20 minutes, Rome figured he was chairing the meeting. The four of them were stacked up in a booth in some diner next to the highway that either really captured a ‘60s retro look or hadn’t been renovated in 40-odd years.
“Lots of good photos of this dude on the ‘net,” Han said. “Got my guys out there right now, talking.”
“Talking to who?” Rome asked.
Han shrugged and explained. “All our sketchiest institutions up here. Anywhere he might go for money, guns or property. Spanish and English-speaking I’m going out on a limb and cutting out the Asians. For now.”
Han grinned self-deprecatingly and Rome almost grinned back.
“Cell number will help a lot,” Leon said and Han nodded seriously. Han had called someone with the number an hour ago and he kept checking his phone reflexively, like he could answer it before it rang.
“If he’s smart, he’s ditched it,” Han shrugged again. “But we might always get lucky.” He shared a private grin with Leon. “It’s been known to happen.”
Dom was bent over some copy of the Thomas guide map which Leon had conjured up from somewhere.
“They stayed on the 2,” Dom said softly. “They left the car up by the mountains.”
“Yeah, that’s a little weird,” Leon frowned down at his coffee.
“It’s significantly weird,” Dom said still almost to himself. “All the roads out of here, they gotta take the one that doesn’t really go anywhere?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Rome asked, in what he thought was an imminently reasonable tone. Dom shifted the map over to him, so he could look at the odd snaky road through the Angeles Crest.
“Why’s this got your panties in a wad?” Rome grunted.
“It’s just weird,” Dom grunted back, eyes tracing the map.
“Yeah, weird, we got it,” Rome snapped. “Weird isn’t getting us there. Or even close.”
One of Dom’s phones rang and he fished it out of his pocket slowly. “Roberto, como esta?”
The table went silent. Dom listened, still looking out the window abstractedly.
“Si,” Dom said very softly. Rome unconsciously pushed himself to the edge of his seat. Dom continued listening to Revolver Rivera’s dissertation blank-faced. Dom listened without interrupting for almost two minutes and to Rome it seemed to drag like the last few hours on Valium. Then Dom said various variations on the phrase ‘thank you’ for about a minute, then clicked the phone shut.
“What?” Rome wished he could reach into the man’s brain and just yank out what he wanted to know. Han’s phone trilled as he was holding it, his thumb fanned over it lightly as he read a text.
“I knew this would happen,” Dom squeezed the bridge of his nose. “Rivera’s got a cousin doing security for some heavy hitters, naturally he wouldn’t say who. Turns out it’s our guy. Cousin just called up to bitch about the job, said the commute was also shit because he was working out of…”
“…an old restaurant under the mountains called Mesón de los Reyes? On…” Han squinted at his phone. “Burning Tree Drive?”
Dom asked calmly, “Is that where the cell phone is?”
Han just raised his eyebrows. Leon grinned.
“So we got him. We’ve got him.” Rome sat up straight and tried to shove himself out of the booth, over Leon’s lap. Leon gave him a perfunctory shove, not taking his eyes off Dom.
“Yeah, that’s kind of what’s worrying me,” Dom stared out the window, his eyes hooded in a frown.
Rome flicked a glance around the table. “What?”
“I begin to think that finding him isn’t going to be the problem,” Dom shifted uncomfortably and glanced at Han.
“What the hell does that mean?” Rome snapped. “Why aren’t we moving, now-ish?”
Dom intoned slowly, looking straight at Roman. “Shouldn’t be this easy. So that means he wants to be found. He knows we’re looking and he knows we’re freaked out enough to be hasty.”
Rome wondered if he was going crazy. All his instincts said move, go, act, but Dom’s voice was hypnotically calm and it seemed to loop a net over his wild thoughts. He forced himself to sit still and listen.
Dom pointed at him, then down at the map. “He wants to take you out. He wants to take out cops. Look at this…it’s practically a dead end, no easy in or out. Wherever he’s got Brian, it’ll be a trap.”
Rome’s heart tasted bitter in his throat. All the more so, because deep in his gut, he realized that Dom was right, there was no way that it should be this easy. Unless Verone wanted it to be easy.
“How can you know all this?” Rome leaned back dubiously.
Dom cocked his head. He managed to sound only slightly ironic. “I got insight into the criminal mind. He wants vengeance, and more than what Brian can give him.”
“So what the fuck are we supposed to do?” Rome spread his hands up to the ceiling. “We can’t just not go.”
Dom just frowned at his hands, Leon looked troubled and Han looked as calm as ever. Rome wanted to slam their heads together.
“Tip off the cops?” Rome postulated. “Our favorite Fed?”
“Is that going to be enough for you?” Dom snarled, suddenly savage. “You want to see him on trial? You want him to be able to escape again?”
“No fucking way,” Rome growled back, slapping the table hard enough to make the cutlery bounce. They glared at each other over the table until Han cleared his throat.
“We’ll get him,” Han said smoothly, as if it were never in doubt.
“How?” Rome asked mulishly.
“Gonna need stealth,” Leon volunteered, looking speculative.
“More than that,” Dom rubbed the pads of his fingers over his thumb. “We’re gonna need some help.”
Leon whistled low under his breath.
Dom looked up at the ceiling, almost like he was praying. “I wanna hit this guy, I wanna hit him so hard. I wanna hit him with an army, but it’s gonna need to be one I can sacrifice.”
“So, I mean…what the fuck?” Rome leaned half over the table. “Unless you got a shitload more cash than I’ve seen, putting together a gang of thugs like some mercenary army in one day in LA’s gonna be…challenging. Not like you can just go online or check the Yellow Pages.”
“I don’t need cash,” Dom said vaguely. “I got leverage.”
Rome picked a piece of bacon off of Leon’s plate and chewed it angrily. He was not going to ask for explanations now.
“It’s like you said before…” Toretto seemed to be focusing on something a thousand miles away again. It was maddening.
“Shit, man,” Rome tried to sound cooler than he felt. “I said a lot of things before.”
Dom looked back at him and smiled. The sudden change in his face was like a lightning strike. It was like looking at a different man. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”