Disclaimer: Not Universal/no profit
OK, I was too lazy to post here last night. Sorry. Double dose in recompense
“Remember what I told you,” Dom spoke almost without moving his lips. “Stay cool. Whatever happens.”
“Man,” Rome shook his head, his guts felt full of snakes. “I don’t think I’m ready for this.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Dom was pulling into a lot of what looked like a chi-chi restaurant set in its own park. Rome noted the fountains dully. Statue of Confucius.
“Are we totally fucked here?” Rome asked.
“Guess we’ll see,” Dom said, not reassuringly.
“Any last code words for me?” Rome tugged at his pants, making sure his gun was still invisible. It itched.
Dom’s brow crinkled, “Uh…If I start talking about a woman named Sun He, it means I’ve given up hope and I want to die quickly? Save yourself?”
“Wow,” Rome let sarcasm pour off him in waves. “You give a hell of a pep talk, Toretto.”
Another gun barrel tapped the driver’s side window and they both pulled themselves out of the car in unison.
“Lance, I gotta say,” Toretto looked around, nodding to himself. “This place looks great. Business must be booming.”
Rome noticed, now that he wasn’t slung low down in the car and blinded by the size of the guy’s automatic assault rifle, that Lance Whoever was not a large man. Not a handsome man. Not very memorable at all until you happened to notice how hard it was to maintain eye contact with him. On his side, Lance seemed to look at everything very intently. But when Rome tried to stare him down, he found that his eyes really wanted to slide away, to be somewhere else. Lance’s gaze wasn’t just hard, it was actually…stressful.
Plus, silence didn’t seem to bother him at all. Rome flicked his eyes around. Man, they all had coordinated bikes and matching guns. And there were at least a dozen of them. And he didn’t really know where they even were currently. Dom had a knife and his fists and his wits, Rome had fists, wits and a gun he’d never fired nudging his junk. It was so incredibly freaky he was almost tempted to grin. After a second, he realized he was grinning.
“Toretto,” Lance took a few steps until he and Dom were standing a little away from the others. He limped a bit, Rome noticed.
“I always suspected that it was you with the head for business,” Dom didn’t appear to be concerned. “Johnny was a lot of things, but mostly just flashy and fast.”
“You were pretty fast too, Toretto,” Lance said softly. “You fast enough to catch bullets?”
Lance moved like a snake striking, he’d pulled a piece from his waistband and fired it at Dom before Rome had time to blink and take two steps. Dom took a deep breath and looked down at the thick graze on his left arm which started to drip instantly, black onto the pavement. Luckily, Dom hadn’t flinched.
Rome didn’t think Lance had missed.
Now he was surrounded by his own mini-arsenal, because Lance’s minions didn’t seem to want him moving much. Rome spread his hands a little, willing them to chill the fuck out. A gun barrel jabbed into his back.
Dom looked up wryly but his voice was steady. “You’re still mad.”
“You killed Johnny,” Lance intoned. He stepped a little closer, gun still drawn. Rome didn’t breathe. It felt like they were teetering on the edge of something.
Dom said something so softly that Rome strained to hear it. It was astonishingly quiet here; the only sound was the tick of the cooling engines and the soft cooing of pigeons.
Lance and Dom seemed to be locked in a circuit together, their eyes were so intense and intent that Rome wouldn’t have been surprised if both of their heads exploded. Lance looked tiny next to Dom’s hulking form, but danger and menace radiated from him like warmth from a flame.
One of the minions said something with a lot of musical vowels to Lance urgently. Lance held up his hand, stone-faced.
“Inside, Toretto,” Lance jerked his chin and the gun in Roman’s back poked harder.
Getting invited inside didn’t feel like the prelude to hospitality and good times. Inside felt like the place where gunshots and screams were muffled, but Rome moseyed like he didn’t have a care in the world, all the better to keep his gun undiscovered. Plus his armed escort had trouble keeping pace with him when he pimp-slid, so he did it to make them uncomfortable. He figured that was only fair. They’d patted him down, impersonally efficient, but like Dom had anticipated, they’d stayed away from where the magic happened.
“I think we should talk alone,” Dom made it just enough of a suggestion to be polite, but his tone had the usual pull. Lance didn’t seem immune, he just signaled to his crew and they faded into the woodwork. Rome took one deep quiet breath. For some reason, it was almost more un-nerving to be alone with just Lance’s coal black eyes. Dom was leaving little drops of blood wherever he stood, but neither he nor Lance acknowledged this.
“You killed Johnny,” Lance repeated again. “My first cousin.”
“I never did anything to Johnny that he didn’t start first,” Dom said low and got lower. “He always ran hot; that was his way. And he took one of mine.”
Dom’s voice caught on the last word. He paused.
“I always wonder what you’d do, out of his shadow,” Dom didn’t take his eyes off Lance, but he spread his hands, indicating the polished wood and silken sheen of the plaster walls around them. Rome couldn’t appreciate it fully, but it felt like it could’ve been a beautiful place.
Lance kept watching him intently. Dom said so low that Rome could only guess at the words. “Strikes me as I’ve done you a favor.”
Rome took several deep breaths over many silent moments.
Lance smiled then and it made eye contact with him ridiculously challenging. “Maybe,”
“You’re out of his shadow now,” Dom still spoke intimately low. “Your own man.”
“I still lost face,” Lance in turn was almost whispering.
“I respect that,” Dom practically purred. “I wouldn’t like that either.”
Dom tilted his chin down and said the magic words, “Let me make it up to you.”
“With what?” Lance made an expression which for him was probably amused.
Dom tilted his head down and shifted his weight. He tapped his lips like he was really thinking about it. “As I recall,” He held up his gleaming, silver-plate keys. “It started over a car.”
Lance shook his head shortly, “That might’ve been enough for Johnny. Not for me.”
Dom folded his arms, “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Lance paused, blank-faced. Rome thought desperately that Dom should just give it up now, get out while they were still upright, it was like negotiating with a reptile.
“I hear things,” Lance said and he sounded almost dreamy.
Dom repeated, “Tell me.”
He’d worked up to the first knuckle of his thumb, he was so close. He was concentrating on his freedom so hard that he almost didn’t hear the swish and thump of the door. Brian cursed under his breath and quickly slid back and tried to look docile and beaten. Then it occurred to him that that would be a dead giveaway, so he tried to look arrogant and unconcerned and it felt better. Of course, a person with two black eyes, two split lips and missing teeth couldn’t really pull off unconcerned.
Verone’s eyes were sparkling. That didn’t seem to be a good sign.
“Man, I just had a great dinner,” He leaned midway down the table and nudged Brian in the ribs.
“Grade,” Brian said flatly. “Dell me awww aboud id.”
Verone grinned. “It was out at a place called Two Oaks. Down in the canyon. Kind of an old-fashioned place. I’m an old fashioned guy. I had the steak.”
“Mmmmm,” Brian wiggled his fingers. He’d swallowed enough blood that the thought of food made him slightly nauseated now.
Verone pulled something out of his pocket, “Hey, I brought you an apple, you want it?”
Rome had fallen so far under the spell of Dom’s words that when Dom stopped talking, he almost had to shake himself. Dom had woven a web of money and guns out there under the mountains an easy score, just there for the taking. Rome almost believed it himself.
“And so he’s there, waiting,” Dom finished up almost casually. “With at least five big ones.”
“What else is there?” Lance said.
“He’s just passing through, he’s a fugitive right?” Dom said, “All he’s got is hired help.”
“And you’re just that ready to hand it all over,” Lance didn’t make it a question. “Sounds like a trap.”
Dom raised one shoulder, “I guess it could be.”
Dom returned, “We can negotiate how much I’ll be handing over later.”
“Certainly,” Lance cut his eyes over, “I just don’t think your negotiating position is very strong.”
Dom shrugged. “Ball’s in your court then.”
Lance eyes went blank and far-seeing again. Rome watched him consider while trying to keep his own façade sullen. Time stretched out, the silence got uncomfortably loud.
Lance turned back to Dom, “You know I can’t let you walk back out there as easily as you walked in.”
Rome stiffened, that sounded even more ominous than anticipated. But Dom seemed to understand Lance perfectly, he was showing his teeth in something approximating a grin.
“You know what they say,” Dom murmured. “First one is free.”
Lance struck like lightning. It was almost like watching a ballet or a hip-hop move. He took two steps and kind of leaped but at some point it turned into a punishing kick to the inside of Dom’s thigh. Rome could practically hear Dom’ knee crack. Dom staggered sideways and half collapsed. He was up again in a second, holding up a restraining hand for Rome’s benefit.
“Good one,’ Dom’s voice was a little thinner and now he was limping.
Lance smiled his intensely creepifying smile. “Let’s go.”
One of Lance’s minions opened the door to a glossy black Nissan and since no one seemed to want to go first, Rome made to slide inside.
“No,” Lance cut three of his minions out of the herd with a two fingered gesture. They surrounded Rome “He stays here. He’s…collateral.”
A muscle in Dom’s jaw clenched, but he just said mildly, “I knew it was you with the head for business.”
Rome watched the car drive off, watched the bikes rip and roar around it and turned back to his armed escort.
“You guys play poker?”
“Not like you to do this kind of business, Toretto,” Lance spoke softly to the other windshield while they were in the car. “Not with these kinds of people.”
“What are you saying?” Dom spoke lightly and didn’t look at the gun. “Accusing me of losing my principles?”
The corners of Lance’s mouth turned up.
Dom continued, “We don’t have to do business with him.” He colored the words just enough for Lance to know what he was implying.
Unsurprisingly, Lance didn’t even flinch. “I’d prefer not to.”
Dom relaxed back on to the seat. Now he had Lance just as committed to destroying Carter Verone as he was.
The very qualities that made Lance a dangerous and unpredictable enemy made him perfect for this venture. Dom had no doubt that Lance intended to kill him in some bizarrely Byzantine way as soon as Lance had gotten what he wanted. But having no doubt was kind of comforting.
It meant that all bets were off, no holds were barred, he could act and react with complete freedom. He watched the lights outside shift and flicker and dazzle. When they faded, he looked over at Lance and nodded. They were almost there.
Lance pulled out a cell phone and made a call, all long vowels and curt consonants. Under cover of rubbing his injured leg, he liberated his knife.
They didn’t play poker.
They didn’t seem to do much of anything except stare at him over the pointy ends of their guns. It got pretty old after five minutes, after thirty, it was freaking unbearable. Then one of them took a phone call. They had a quick conversation around him and then the tallest one started herding him toward the far side of the parking lot, flanked by the other two. Rome looked up at the sky, which was covered with a thick marine layer, almost mauve from all the reflected light. He looked at the streetlights at the edge of the lot. Nothing down there but the dumpsters.
Just then he realized what they were planning to do. His steps stuttered and he realized what he had to do.
Power came from knowing things with certainty, Rome decided. And he most certainly was not going to die like this. Like some dog, put down. The next time the guy on his left side nudged him with the long barrel of the TEC-9, Rome grabbed it. He felt the surprise, the spasm of weakness through the brushed steel. He kept the barrel pointed well away from him as they struggled and he pulled Lance’s minion lover-close. The voices of the two others went up like an alarm siren. Rome grinned to himself. They couldn’t jerk off a spray of bullets as long as he kept his human shield.
Just then a roar and a blinding light blindsided all of them. One of the minions had time to yelp and the other managed to run a few steps, but suddenly they were heaps of clothes on the pavement and Rome and the tall minion were gawking at a guy on a Harley who was glaring at them both. He looked like Rome’s worst nightmare: a bored, drunk, pissed off redneck.
The guy slung his leg over the bike and looked at Rome, “Keep a grip on that thing, right?”
Rome nodded and tightened his grip on the gun. The minion was just realizing that his plan was flawed when Harley dude hit him in the back of the head with a baseball bat.
“Uh,” Rome looked from the groaning bodies of the three minions to his new automatic assault rifle. “Thanks?”
“Guess you’re Roman Pearce,” Mean-looking dude looked like he wasn’t impressed. He went back to his Harley, grabbed a rag out of the saddlebag and wiped off the bat. Rome noticed suddenly that he wasn’t alone, another four guys on choppers were pulled up in the shadow of the streetlight. “You know where they took Dom?”
“I can guess,” Rome said hesitantly. “But who’re you again?”
Mean looking dude was busy handing off the weaponry to his guys, but Rome could still hear him snort disbelievingly.
“I’m the clean-up crew. We gotta scoot,” He gestured for Rome to get on the back of the bike. “Call me Vince.”
Brian tongued reflexively at the gaps in his jaw. It felt like his entire face was swelling up like a basketball. They were both on the left side, one upper and two lower, reflecting that Verone was right-handed. Plus Brian hadn’t made it easy for him; he had flopped around like a fish out of water. Brian wondered if he could work up that much energy right now…he could actually feel the limits of his strength shrinking while Verone talked aimlessly at him.
He supposed adrenaline would supply what he needed when Verone pulled out his next party trick and he wasn’t disappointed. Verone reached into the drawer of the table and pulled out something that looked like a cross between a bottle opener and a pair of gardening shears.
“Your mom cook for you, O’Conner?” Verone held the whatever up to the fluorescent light.
“Zhumtaamez,” Brian tried to breathe deeply through his nose. It was actually getting hard to keep his eyes open, they were so swollen. Verone had left the drawer open.
“Mine did,” Verone smiled at the tool, like he was awakening some pleasant memory. “She used something like this to bone a chicken.”
Adrenaline was high-octane fuel. Brian let it flow through him.
As Dom had anticipated, Lance’s team understood the value of stealth. They swiftly and silently made all the vehicles in the lot undriveable with the solo guard taken out with barely a yelp. They also seemed to have an instinct about the layout of the building which was very valuable. Lance had briskly dispatched two teams of three to each side of the sprawling complex and the one from the north side worked through to let them into a side door.
It was eerie inside, the abandoned tables and chairs in the faint light looked like a perfect set for the start of a horror movie. The broad windows looked down on the sea of sparkle that was LA. But the building was empty. Or it seemed empty.
Lance just looked at him. Dom took a deep, silent breath and tried to move like he’d been here before, like he was a welcome guest bringing friends. He listened for any helpful clues to indicate where the trouble was going to come from.
He rounded a corner into what was probably meant to be the bar and found two guys sitting at a table, smoking. They looked up at him almost comically surprised.
“Hey,” Dom tried to sound normal. “Where’s Verone?”
One of them cursed creatively in Spanish and the other one stood up, fumbling at his waistband. Lance stepped out from behind Dom and shot both of them, one in the neck and the other in the eye. The silencer made a sound almost like a delicate sneeze, the only noise was the bodies collapsing.
Dom sucked on his teeth. “Guess they didn’t know.”
Lance just looked at him with almost insectile curiosity and raised his gun again purposefully to Dom’s waist. Just then, one of the dead men’s cell phones shrilled out a loud ringtone and two more meatheads rounded the corner, guns already drawn. Lance turned and Dom took the opportunity to exit, stage left. Which was directly through a pair of glass French doors, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.
Verone was stroking the side of Brian’s foot with the edge of the blade when they heard the first shots.
Verone grinned widely, “Guess your friends are here. Party’s kicking off.” He toyed with the shears for a moment longer. Brian wondered if Verone’s apparent total lack of self-concern was as shallow as his. It occurred to him, that he was about to find out.
“You know if you begged me,” Verone offered slyly. “I might make this quick. And you wouldn’t have to burn.”
“Thass naahss,” Brian made an effort to tighten his busted lips and swollen mouth and be intelligible. “Wah doan u come m’uh heeere an we’ll taak aboud id.”
“You got so much heart, kid,” Verone shook his head, as avuncular and sincere as a football coach. “It’s almost a shame.” He strolled around the table, pocketing the shears.
“Thanks,” Brian swallowed and slipped his left hand free. “But Verone…I’m not gonna beg.” He thrust his free hand into the drawer and twisted on the cable tie, gripping it for leverage as he thrust the knife he’d grabbed deep into Verone’s thigh.
“Ah,” Verone blinked down at his leg where the blood was beginning to flower and then stumbled back as Brian freed the knife with a squelching jerk and attempted to gash a hole in Verone's chest.
Brian twisted his right hand free and sat up. His blood rolled from one end of his body to another, but he grabbed the sides of the table and managed to stay upright. He looked down at his hands. He still had the knife, it was scraping against the smooth steel of the table. Just a quick flick and his feet were free. He was free.
He turned to look at Verone who was clutching his leg. Verone had pulled back almost to the stairs. He wondered why Verone wasn’t pulling out a gun and shooting him. Blood pounded in his head, but he kept his eyes steady. The adrenaline kept the knife in his hand from wobbling.
Above the pulse in his brain, he could hear someone shouting his name. He’d been hearing it for a while, but he’d thought it had been his imagination, a hallucination born of pain, fear and exhaustion. The sound was getting closer and more familiar. More gunfire sounded, but it was muffled and distant.
“BRIAN!” Someone was just outside or just above the kitchen. Brian tightened his grip on the sticky knife and yelled tentatively, “Dom?” He slithered off the side of the table and jerked the blood-soaked tatters of his pants back on.
There was a crashing, smashing sound, and one of the black-painted windows exploded like a fountain of dark water. Dom dropped through, feet first and ended up in crouch on the floor. He straightened when he saw Brian but kind of crumpled when he tried to take his first step.
Brian wanted to drop his knife and rush toward him, but he had training trying to override his instinct so he shot a quick glance back at Verone. Or where Verone had been. Brian blinked at the swinging doors where Verone definitely was not. Huh. That’d been about the last nasty trick he’d been expecting.
“You okay?” Dom was panting, very close, looking like he’d been hit by a car and only shock was keeping him upright. “What did…?”
“Aader,” Brian let Dom pat his shoulders and chest before shrugging free. “Wee need do ged oud uh here. Nahd thad way.” He pointed with the knife toward the swinging door. Dom nodded once and started fumbling along the walls for more light. Brian had a sudden fleeting thought for electricity, Verone’s sadism and the oceans of propane they were standing in.
“No laaadts,” Brian jerked at Dom’s wrist. Dom whirled on him, confused and they stared at each other. And somehow they were close, inside each other’s guard and leaning into each other’s heat. For a second, nothing hurt.
The roar of the Harleys didn’t completely drown out the staccato flashes of gunfire. Rome leaned forward, willing Vince to go faster, if it were possible. His eyes were streaming and his whole body was freezing because Vince had pushed his touring Harley like it was a performance Ducati for the last 20 miles. Riding without a helmet was completely overrated as far as Rome was concerned, but it least it meant he could see and hear unobstructed. As they pulled up to the lot, Rome’s eyes caught a flash of movement.
“SHIT, that’s….!” Rome trailed off, not believing what he was seeing. Carter Verone looked almost exactly like he had when Rome had seen him last, arrogant, pissed off and bleeding freely. Verone was limping quickly, pulling his bloody jacket off and getting settled on one of Lance’s boys’ Kawasakis. Rome fumbled frantically for his gun, while Vince cursed and tried to keep his Harley on an even keel with Rome squirming like a puppy.
Verone ripped open the throttle of the bike and was roaring out of the lot before Rome could even take aim.
Vince pulled to a stop and Rome pounded him on the shoulder. “What the fuck, man, we can’t just let him get away?”
Vince looked after Verone dubiously, “That’s your guy?”
“FUCKING A,” Rome bellowed, staggering free of the bike, “That’s OUR guy. We. Need. To Go. Get Him!”
“Dom wants that dude?” Vince looked back down the mountain road with a little more interest.
“Dom wants that dude’s head on a plate!” Rome bounced with frustration. Then he thought of Brian and hesitated.
Unexpectedly, Vince grinned and for a second, he was almost good-looking. “Gotcha. That we can do. You gonna stay here?”
Rome remembered to take a breath. “Yeah, I’ll hold it down here. Check in with big D.”
“We’ll bring that dude back, one way or another,” Vince flipped the visor of his helmet down and made a gesture to circle his gang up. They whirled around the lot in a graceful curve, flashing chrome.
“Do your worst, brah!” Rome shouted after him, but Vince was already gone.
“They gotta have another door here,” Dom was muttering to himself. He was shoving at random things, pots and pans were clattering into avalanches every which way.
“Wah?” Brian was trying to rub feeling back into his feet without screaming aloud. Every one of his steps was a stumble at the moment; it felt like he was walking on superheated razor blades.
“Health and safety,” Dom grunted. “Health department doesn’t like food to…stay un….refrigerated….even for the time it takes…to haul it around….here we go.”
He heaved against a stainless steel cabinet that Brian would have sworn was built right into the wall. After a few long seconds when nothing happened, the metal groaned and started to skitter sideways. Dom strained against it and some bolt broke and the cabinet twisted away from the wall. Behind it was a wide-set door, which was very locked. Dom twisted at the knob, looking chagrined.
“Kig id daoun?” Brian volunteered hopefully.
Dom gritted his teeth, “I’ll try.” He looked down at his gimp knee wryly.
Just then the knob and bolt exploded outwards in a cloud of splinters, clanging off one of the legs of Brian’s table. The door swung outward and Roman peered in, leading with his gun hand. He gawked at Brian and Dom, wide-eyed.
Dom said deadpan, “Took you long enough.”
“Boy…” Rome opened his mouth and narrowed his eyes. After a second he just shook his head and asked “You coming?”
All the restaurant’s windows were now blazing with light as Verone’s bodyguards clashed with Lance’s warriors. They’d almost made it to covering darkness when gunshots peppered the ground to the edge of where they were standing and Rome dived for cover, yanking Brian with him. Dom was on their heels, Brian grunted in protest when Dom landed half on his back and they were half-snagged in a very spiny bush and still taking fire.
Rome darted a glance back and snapped off a few shots. His gun recoiled wildly, but their assailant stopped firing for a second and Rome had time for a longer look. Lance’s slim form was outlined by the glowing light from the kitchen door and he was coolly snapping another magazine into his piece.
“Rome, gimme zhat,” Brian tugged the gun out of Rome’s slack fingers, and then gave him a shove. He nudged Dom back as well. Dom shook his head mulishly and Brian socked him with the side of his fist and pushed him to his knees. Rome hunkered down next to Dom, shocked. Maybe Brian had gone all Stockholm syndrome-y. But Brian was zeroing in on the door, where Lance stood taking aim.
“Forget it,” Rome yelled. “You can’t hit him from here!”
“Doan haff to,” Brian shook Rome’s restraining hand off and turned around and fired twice. Rome just had time to hear the swelling roar, and then the black shadow of the door turned blinding orange-yellow and a shockwave, a heat wave pushed them down the hill.
A very innocuous car was waiting for them at the top of the fire road. Keys were in the sun visor. Rome gave a prayer of thanks for Leon, who was truly the awesomest guy on the planet. He turned to look at the two who were helping each other limp across to the car in the flickering shadows.
“Bri?” Rome hoped that his wheezing breath would be put down to the hundred-meter dash they’d just done. “You okay?”
Brian looked at him and grinned suddenly. His entire face was so swollen, he was barely recognizable. Blood trickled from the corners of his mouth. “Fee ahedlooad bedda zhan ah did an aaaaur ago.”
Rome coughed a little, wincing. He looked at Dom desperately. Dom tightened his grip under Brian’s shoulders and helped him into the car. Dom said grimly. “He says he feels a shitload better than he did an hour ago.”
Rome nodded and swallowed to keep from laughing hysterically. “OK, yeah, we’re outie.”
He twisted the key, shoved it into gear and the car lunged forward. Then the burning hillside was nothing but a reflected gleam in the rearview, molten orange, disappearing fast.