Disclaimer: Not Universal/no profit
Continuing to be ugly….very, very ugly. Read at own risk.
After Dom had explained just what he planned to do and Leon had stalked off in disgust, Dom turned to Han, “So can you start some rumors?”
Han rolled his toothpick from one side of his mouth to another. “Rumors have already started. You haven’t exactly been keeping a low profile. But I’m sure I can…refine ‘em a bit.”
“Good, s’all we need,” Dom nodded. Han looked dubious.
“Hope you don’t hold it against me,” Han shoved himself out of the booth and looked down at Dom speculatively, “If I don’t play Tonto to your masked man this time.”
Dom cast him a tiny smile and sketched a salute.
“What did he mean by that?” Rome arched one eyebrow after Han had rocked off.
“Essentially that it’s my funeral,” Dom looked at Rome, “You down?”
Rome blew out all his breath, “Where’s Leon gone again?”
Dom shrugged, “He’s getting used to the idea. Do you need some time to get used to the idea?”
“Shit, man,” Rome shrugged. “Bring it. I obviously don’t know enough to be freaked.”
Dom grinned infectiously, “That’s one of your best qualities.”
If he could get one of his thumbs out of the loop, he was golden. He jerked at the cable ties fiercely. If he kept pulling with all his strength, it seemed like there was a little give, whether in his hands or in the ties, he couldn’t tell, but it was enough.
Plus, when he stopped pulling, he started shivering uncontrollably and that wasn’t good. His hair was sticking to the table in the blood from his head wound and the niggling hurt of it made his eyes tear up: also not good. He kept freezing, imagining that he could hear someone coming.
From a great telescoping distance, he recognized his reactions for what they were. He started talking to himself in a low voice, like he’d been taught. What’s your name? May I advise you to seek medical attention? Could we contact any family members for you? Could you identify the person who attacked you?
He blinked up at the ceiling. God, if someone actually asked him questions like that right now, he’d punch them in the face. They didn’t tell you that in the handbook.
“Let’s go,” Dom said. “Recon.”
Rome stood up so quickly that he knocked over a water glass.
“You can drive.” Dom tossed him the keys.
They went back and borrowed a generic white van and a couple of tool belts from Leon’s place. Rome would have spent an hour objecting and sulking, but Dom pointed out that the neighborhood up there was pretty Republican, so it was best to downplay as much as possible to keep the rent-a-cops at bay.
Dom navigated them up to a cul de sac one street over from the cluster of buildings that Han had identified for them. The road was empty in the early afternoon, they had no problem pulling up to the curb between two good-sized houses. The canyon dropped down between them and the restaurant which had obviously been built to take the maximum advantage of a potential scenic overlook. Rome wrinkled his nose against the sharp scent of eucalyptus and dog shit.
They could lean against the shadowed side of the van and be nothing but a hulking shape to the casual observer.
“See what I mean here,” Dom spoke out of the side of his mouth. “Hard to approach without being seen.”
“Fire road down there,” Rome pointed with his chin.
Dom looked and then grunted in acknowledgement. “That looks like the way out.”
“Looks quiet,” Rome put a wheedling note in his voice. “We could just get a little closer and look…”
“How many cars up there?” Dom was toying with a clipboard and he acted like he hadn’t heard Roman’s suggestion.
Rome squinted, “Looks like six….no, there’s…Seven. Seven total.”
“Might not stay quiet,” Dom quirked his lip wryly. “Let’s go.”
The quiet, moustached guy pushed through the swinging doors abruptly, startling him. Brian flinched and hoped that his steady pull on his wrists hadn’t left any instantly-identifiable marks.
The guy didn’t stop to stare at him this time, just jerked the tablecloth off him, shoved it in a trash can and vanished out the way he had come, holding the doors so that they didn’t swing.
Brian took a deep, measured breath. He pushed his shoulders back and braced himself. He was not going to start shivering. Sure enough, the next time the doors swung, it was Verone.
He’d changed clothes at some point and he looked smooth and perfect again.
“How’re you doing, Brian?” Verone sounded, as usual, pretty jovial. Brian imagined sticking the ice pick into the side of Verone’s neck and that helped him focus his breathing.
Brian gave an abbreviated shrug, “Been better.”
Verone smiled lazily. “I’ll bet.”
“We having a barbecue?” Brian practiced his own drawl. He jabbed an elbow at the collection of tanks.
Verone chuckled and walked over to caress one of the gas canisters. “Not exactly.”
Brian just waited. As he suspected, Verone couldn’t take the silence.
“You gotta lot of folks looking for you,” Verone paused. Brian schooled his face, he knew Verone was watching him carefully. “A real alphabet soup. LAPD, FBI…”
Brian made a show of blinking very slowly and deliberately.
Verone seemed to lose interest. He shoved his hands in his pockets and walked back over to look down at Brian, “So I just wanna make sure the welcome mat is out when they come for you.”
“This is the stupidest fucking thing,” Leon said flatly, but he was still sorting through a box full of bullets, trying to find the right caliber for Rome’s new piece. “I mean, we’ve always been riding the edge on risk management, but this is fucking dumb, man, even for us.”
Dom didn’t even shrug. He was doing something to his Honda, but his voice echoed up from under the hood. “So you got the number…you call that Fed if things go too far.”
“And that’s another thing, bro,” Leon addressed this to Rome who was closer. “Why the hell is the FBI on the case? Already? This is so. Fucking. Stupid. I mean, Brian’s a great guy and all, but is he, like, some Senator’s son or something?”
Rome half-smiled. “That’s pretty funny. Nah, it’s just like….kidnapping, you know. Federal.” He knew that explanation wouldn’t hold up to much scrutiny, but maybe Leon would be too annoyed to pay attention.
No such luck. Leon frowned, “Thought it was only federal if you cross state lines, dawg. I don’t think it…”
“Forget it!” Dom thundered. “We’re doing this!”
Rome rolled his eyes and shrugged at Leon like ‘what can you do?’ Leon frowned, but just shook his head. He handed a handful of sweaty cartridges to Rome; Rome slotted them into the small revolver.
He walked over to Dom who looked up at him, assessing. Dom stood up and wiped the sweat out of his eyes. “Can you put that someplace that someone wouldn’t find it if they patted you down?”
Rome broke off a laugh, “What like my crotch?”
Dom raised his eyebrows and nodded.
“For serious?” Rome looked at the gun. It was not very large.
Dom politely looked away while he tried to situate it. Luckily, his boxer briefs were new.
“That gonna work?”
“Uh, maybe?” Rome tried a few steps, gingerly.
Dom groped over the table until he found a roll of duct tape which he handed over wordlessly.
“For serious?” Rome repeated and Dom just looked at him.
“Shit, man,” Rome tore off a strip. “Gonna be a long-ass night.”
Surreptitiously, Brian poked his tongue into the side of his cheek. The inside of his mouth was so torn up now, it tasted like raw meat. The rips in the smooth membrane tasted metallic. Verone was still talking, but he’d concentrated so hard on appearing to ignore Verone that Brian didn’t actually notice when he’d started ignoring him for real.
After a minute, Verone picked up on the fact and stopped pacing. He grabbed one of Brian’s ears and twisted it until Brian gasped.
“At this point, you might think that you don’t really have anything that I can take from you.” Verone rocked on his heels a little, philosophically. “But y—“
“Whatever,” Brian grit out. “Just don’t fuck me again.” Brian waited until Verone had paced between his feet. “I can stand anything except boredom.”
Verone stood still for a second and then he grinned broadly. “Funny guy. That’s good.” He turned his back on Brian and moseyed toward the cleared space in front of the stacked propane tanks. “I’m glad you still have some fight in you…”
Verone picked up something from the shadowy corner. It clinked dully like nickel against steel. “It makes it more fun.”
Brian squinted one eye shut. Like an ostrich shoving his head in the sand. He wondered if that would make any difference in the scheme of things.
But Verone was already brandishing the item he’d found in front of Brian’s battered face.
A pair of pliers. Apparently, his heart could still sink
The sun was setting.
When the number beamed up from his gently buzzing phone, he flinched. He wished he had just a little more time to prepare, more than four rings. But she wouldn’t call back. He took a deep breath and flipped the phone open.
He could hear her breathing. She wasn’t going to talk first.
“How are you?” he started awkwardly.
She snorted, “Like you care.”
“C’mon,” He crushed the phone into the side of his head. “That’s not fair.”
After a long silence, he asked, “You called just to breathe at me? Kinky.”
“True what they’re saying?” As always, it sounded like a dare.
“What’re they saying?” he imagined her face. Leon had said she’d cut her hair.
“That you’re being an idiot. Again.” She sighed into the phone.
“Letty, I can’t really explain,” He gripped the phone even tighter. “But it’s kind of important that you tell me exactly what they’re saying.”
“Saying that you’ve got some huge thing going with some drug dealer from the East Coast who’s got more money than sense,” She sounded truly aggravated. “Going down tonight, even. Mucho dinero. You wouldn’t come back up here just ‘cause I ask you to, right, but for some skeezy deal that’s just gonna go south…”
“Let,” he cut her off before she could really get going. “It’s not quite like that, okay? I’ll explain later.”
He said a quick prayer, asking for the chance to really explain sometime.
“You’re an asshole,” she said firmly.
“I know,” he sighed. “Where are you?”
“My grandmother died,” she said shortly. When he started to make noises, she interrupted, “Yeah, you know, she never liked you anyway, so chill with the sympathy card. I’m cleaning out her house, out in Palm Desert. Then I’m going back to Vegas.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, hoping she would figure out that it wasn’t just for her grandmother.
Another long silence told him that she knew. “Dom, could you tell me what’s really going on?”
Dom said softly. “I love you, but you need to stay the hell away. Please.”
“Love you too, D,” He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead hard into his palm. Her husky voice sounded like music. “I believe you.”
He felt like a piece of steel, of iron, he didn’t think it would be possible get stiffer and harder than he was right now. Steel with an electric current running through him. Verone tapped the pliers on the side of the table, a chiming little rat-a-tat-tat.
Shoulders back. Eyes forward.
“You still got a lot to lose, O’Conner,” Verone said softly. Brian tried to relax his hands which were suddenly claw-like, tried not to cut his eyes toward any favored body part accidentally.
Verone smiled at him widely, giving him just a second of hint before his hand clamped vise-like over Brian’s jaw and the pliers raked over his teeth. Brian vainly tried to jerk away, but Verone just punched him in the stomach again, his hand hardened by the metal grip.
Brian gasped and the edge was inside, cutting into him, cutting right through him and he almost choked on the blood. Verone tightened his grip on the pliers and Brian didn’t feel like steel, like iron at all.
“It’s time to go,” Dom snapped the phone shut on one of his interminable cell phone calls. Rome moved cautiously into the passenger’s side, trying not to dislodge his firearm.
“Han found out where they’re holed up nowadays?” Dom took the map from Leon who seemed to be perpetually mid-eye roll.
“Yeah,” Leon tucked a switchblade into Dom’s hand. “Sent it around.”
“You talked to the big guy?” Dom tucked the knife deep in his boot.
“He’s on his way, double-quick.” Leon looked like he would say more until Rome burst out, “Thought it was time to go?”
“We’re going,” Dom sighed and slid into the car.
The blood pool was spreading. Looking at it was making him feel weak. He comforted himself with the thought that it wasn’t all blood, there was a fair amount of saliva in there too.
He looked over to where Verone had left the ice pick, mallet and pliers. And the remains of three of his teeth. Jesus. If it hurt that badly to lose three, he wondered what he was going to do when Verone got really serious. He wanted to stop looking, to look up at the ceiling and away from the tools, but he had to keep his head tilted to the side so that the blood wouldn’t drain down his throat. It started dripping and pattering on the floor. Brian shuddered.
He felt the cool wet as some of the blood funneled off the back of the table, onto his wrists and hands. He stirred restlessly, how much more disgusting could this whole situation get?
His wrists twisted easier. He gave a hesitant tug. Blinked. He twisted his head and a little more of the blood and spit dripped down his forearms. He pulled hard on his bonds and they slid a whole inch further than they’d ever moved before.
Brian used all his remaining teeth to smile.
“What in the hell are we doing, cuz?” Rome asked for what felt like the millionth time.
Dom blew the breath out of his nose gently. “Could you maybe use the patience that God gave a five-year-old and just chill out? I told you what we were doing.”
“Man, I just didn’t realize how much of the plan was just driving around like a fucking lost tourist,” Rome snapped.
“You know, back in the day, none of my crew ever bitched non-stop like this,” Dom said quietly to the dashboard.
“Yeah, not my fault that you ran with a bunch of pussies,” Rome put his knees up on the dash until Dom shoved them down. “This is fucking boring as hell and not getting us anywhere.”
“Believe me, when this shit goes down, you will look back in nostalgia at the boredom,” Dom cut his eyes over at Rome. “I did mention there was a pretty high chance that we might both get killed, right?”
“I sorta took that as a given,” Rome snarled, unsuccessfully attempting to make it more comfortable to have a gun taped to his nuts. “I just wish it would be soon, tonight, before I die of…”
“Boredom, I get it,” Dom rolled his eyes. “Soon, now. He’s just gotta find us.”
“Are we even in the right neighborhood?” Rome asked grumpily.
Dom was stiffening up, the traffic noises were suddenly a lot louder and higher and there was a dazzling flash of lights beaming out of the sideview mirrors. “Yeah, I think we are.”
Rome opened his mouth and closed it. They were pulling up to a traffic light and they were suddenly surrounded by a swarm of gaudy motorbikes. They were glossy and stylized down to the rims, but handled with almost military precision. Rome eyed the rider nearest him, who nudged his kickstand down and indicated that Rome should roll down the window.
When Rome didn’t immediately comply, the rider flipped the visor of his helmet up and tapped on the glass with a TEC-9. Rome swallowed and glanced at Dom who nodded once.
The rider took a long searching glance in the car and Rome was almost surprised he couldn’t see his breath. Dom looked back at him, with a face as still and unmoving as a statue. The rider pointed the gun right in Dom’s face. Rome stopped even pretending to breathe. The barrel was inches from his ear and it never wavered.
After an interminable second, the rider shifted his weight back and shouldered his gun. He snarled, “Follow us.”
Dom tilted his head arrogantly as if he were considering it. He half-grinned and raised his shoulder as if to say why not, “Sure thing, Lance.”