Chapter: 1 (of many)
The sign was still up. Brian shoved his hands in his pockets and peered up at it. The blue had faded a little, maybe.
“See, check out this lot. Nice, huh? Just the right size.” In one smooth motion, Roman rattled the gate back. It only hitched for a second, like someone had kept it oiled. Brian looked up and down the street, half-expecting Vince to come boiling out of a doorway and ask him just what the hell he thought he was doing. But the street was quiet except for a couple of kids sharing a battered skateboard. Brian wondered vaguely what had happened to the trailers. Still out in the desert, probably.
“I like the brick-stucco combo myself,” Rome confided. “Gotta lotta style.”
Brian nodded slowly, like he was taking it all in for the first time. He looked away from the ‘Contractor’s Pyramid’ feeling slightly queasy. After a quick fiddle with the lock, Rome hitched the door up.
“C’mon, brah…check it out, it’s already got all the big stuff.” Rome had spread his arms, already prepared to emcee. “Check out that side, man, scissor lift. Old school.”
Brian leaned on the row of lockers by the door, picking idly at a Black Magic sticker.
“Look, it’s already got an office built in.” Rome went over and tapped the glass. “This is cool, man, you don’t lose any light.”
Brian had a flash of Jesse’s cigarette tracking the dust motes in the early morning. He pursed his lips and nodded.
Rome was still talking, “Look, this is what’s really incredible.” He jerked open a wide locker and gestured. “Look, tools. Snap-on, man. Quality stuff.”
A beam of sunlight caught the silver edge of the socket wrench Rome was holding. “It’s kinda weird that this shit’s all here. Like they just left it ready for us to move in.”
Brian bit the inside of his mouth hard enough to make himself grunt.
Rome raced up the orange staircase and stood on the landing like a preacher addressing his flock. “See we got storage space up heeeeere.” His voice echoed a little in the deep silence. “I bet you could stick some cots up in here and stay, in a pinch.” He leaned over and regarded Brian expectantly.
“Wow.” Brian tried to make his face look appropriately enthusiastic. The happiness he’d felt here appeared to have dried up like dust. Just breathing this air was like punishment. He took a deep breath. Maybe a little punishment wasn’t out of line.
“Jesus-is-Lord, what does it take to get a little enthusiasm around here?” Rome flounced back down the stairs. “What is up with all this hateration? This place is awesome at the price and you’re acting like I just shit in your mouth.”
“It’s awesome,” Brian deadpanned. “I love it. It’s perfect.”
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” Rome looked at him closely. “Starting your period?”
Brian flicked Rome’s nipple hard enough to make him curse. Dom was probably on another continent by now, a million miles away. It had been a long-ass time. Dom had probably sold this place once already and all this anxiety was for nothing.
“It’s great.” Defiantly, Brian raised his voice enough to hear it echo a little. “Let’s make it happen.”
“Hey, that smells great!” Mia tossed the stack of mail onto the counter before lowering her bags more gently. “You should have called me, told me you were taking off early.”
“Wash your hands,” Dom started ladling sauce into bowls. “You’re just in time.”
“What a treat,” Mia leaned around his shoulder and took a deep sniff. “You been working on this all afternoon?”
Dom shrugged. He’d been on autopilot. Happened a lot lately.
“Anything interesting in the mail?”
Mia started sorting through, “Bills, bills, junk. What is this?” She brandished a box emblazoned ‘Camberwell’ at him.
“Piston rings.” He pointed with his elbow. “Put it over there.”
She set the box on the counter, put the envelopes beside her plate before dabbing her hands under the faucet.
Dom did a quick scan, grabbed the salad bowl and sat down heavily. “Your turn.”
Mia looked at him while she sat down and waited until he’d folded his hands. She murmured at her plate, “Lord, this food to our strength, our strength to your service. Amen.”
“Amen,” Dom said dully and jammed a forkful into his mouth.
Mia glanced at him occasionally as she ate, sorting through the mail while she chewed. He stared at the table and thought vaguely about how he could fit an intercooler into his latest project. If it was worth taking the time to cut down the intake valve.
“Oh, hey,” Mia brandished a large manila envelope at him. “Maria sent on the last of the paperwork.” She slit open the edge muttering to herself, “Hope they didn’t screw us.”
“This for the garage?” Dom had been thinking about it without really thinking about it since they’d talked about it. Selling the garage had become a constant low-grade hum in the back of his mind. Hopefully, the feeling would fade once the deed was done. “I trust her. That’s why she’s got that power of attorney.”
“Yeah,” Mia extracted a sheaf of paper that was still dotted with tiny ‘sign here’ flags. She started scanning it, looked up abruptly and offered it to Dom. “You wanna read this?”
“Nah, nah, you’re better at that stuff.” He took another bite and chewed dispiritedly. He couldn’t help staring at the papers while she read. Going, going, gone.
Suddenly, she blinked and recoiled a little, as if she’d discovered a dirty joke in the paragraphs of legalese. She put her fork down. Dom stared at her. More accurately, she dropped her fork.
“What is it?” He wondered if they’d moved a decimal place or two on the price.
She swallowed before she looked up at him. “Nothing.” She looked back down quickly and traced her finger along a line of type. “This just…”
“What?” He tried unsuccessfully to keep the annoyance from his voice.
“This just can’t be right,” Mia whispered to the page.
He reached over and spread his hand on the page, pulling it away from her. She resisted for a second and he locked eyes with her. She seemed to quail under his heavy regard. He scanned the page impatiently, ignoring all the ‘whereas’ clauses, wondering what could have…
His mind skimmed over some words at the bottom of the page and stuttered to a halt.
He blinked and held the page up, a foot from his face. There. In black and white. A name.
A name. A name and a signature.
“What the hell is this?” He asked the page.
Mia’s voice came faintly, like she was speaking over a deep roar. “Maybe it’s not him.”
Dom set the page down carefully on the pile. He raised his head and spoke carefully around the sudden tension in his mouth. “Oh, it’s him.”
Something about this feeling, this familiar feeling, was good. He felt more awake than he had in days, as if he’d slept deeply and woken to a bright morning. He stood up and rolled his shoulders back, feeling his strength crackle to the tips of his fingers. He took a deep breath and felt the joyous rage swell within him.
“Dom,” Mia had shrunk in the chair. Her eyes were huge in her face. “Dom, please.”
She sounded scared. The thought came to him vaguely as he left the kitchen. He heard her chair clatter backwards as she rushed after him. He grabbed a jacket on his way out the door. The tank was full, he was ready.
“You can’t do this, Dom.” Mia caught at his arm. “Think for a second. Are you seriously going back there? Going to risk another border check on the strength of that crappy I.D?”
He didn’t bother jerking his arm out of her grip; he just kept walking.
“Don’t do this, please, don’t do this. Is this worth…” She choked a little. Her eyes shone, oil-black in the evening light. Her voice grew stronger, surer. “Is he worth your freedom? Has vengeance ever gotten you one good thing?”
He jerked his keys from his pocket and slid down into the Spyder. It was as low-slung as the Mazda, the thought just spurted a little more fury into his veins. He twisted the key and felt the engine ignite with satisfying vigor. He jammed into gear and paused for a second. Mia was blocking his exit.
“This is the third time you’ve left when I’ve begged you not to.” Mia stood in front of the Spyder. Her hair streamed around her face and over her bare arms. She looked like a strega, bruja, a witch about to curse him. “I can’t take this shit anymore. You leave now, I won’t be here when you get back. That’s a promise, Dominic.”
Somewhere deep in the rational part of his brain, he knew he was going one step too far. Her eyes reflected his, dark and implacable. But rage foamed and frothed within him, threatening to burn right through until he quenched it. He took one long look at his sister and slammed the car into reverse.
Brian shivered a little. He’d forgotten Los Angeles winters, how the temperature dropped like a stone after the sun set. His sweat drying felt like someone had dropped ice down his t-shirt. The Honda’s alternator clicked at him in a chiding way.
Three weeks in and business was booming. Rome had quit complaining and thrown himself headfirst into the scene. He’d sniffed out races nightly from Eagle Rock to the O.C. Win or lose, he came in the mornings all smiles and stories. By midweek, the trickle of his referrals had become a flood and now Brian was pulling his third twelve-hour shift.
He could hear Roman, pottering around outside, talking on his cell phone. At dinner, Brian had mentioned that if this kept up they were going to need to hire someone and Roman’s laser-like focus had taken the idea and run with it. Roman loved nothing better than ringing through his cell directory of newly-made friends, dredging up the guy whose girlfriend's cousin's ex-wife's brother knew a dude who could tune.
Edwin had come sniffing around first. He’d traded his cornrows for a fade that suited him a lot better. He'd talked metric tons of bullshit, spiked with a few subtle questions that Brian had managed to evade. A much harder test had come yesterday afternoon when Hector's compadres had shown up en masse, the roar of their engines drowning out the rest of the street. They'd come in like a small, smiling army, dressed in a uniform of blinding white t-shirts, oversized jeans hemmed at the knee, tube socks and white BKs. Hector himself was in Texas, they said. Putting la raza back in the NHRA. Brian shot the shit with them for a while, both sad and grateful that Hector was living the dream. Sad because it would have been good to see ol' Hector. Grateful because Hector wouldn't have hesitated a second before asking him straight: Hey snowman, where's Toretto?
No one knew and no one could seem to come out and ask. It should have felt good. The fact that no one knew the exact story of what went down was the best proof that Dom had gotten clean away. Which was what he’d wanted, right?
But Brian couldn’t seem to shake the foreboding that followed him around like a shadow. Why had he done this? No one was watching him in Miami, no one had anything in particular against him. Here, he'd come back to live in a hornet's nest of people whom he'd hurt and actually betrayed. The thought of seeing Sergeant Tanner made him feel almost sick to his stomach and the thought of seeing Dom...
He was gonna see Dom. He'd put them on a collision course as soon as he'd signed that paper under the beneficent eye of the realtor. It was no longer a question of if, just when.
Another part of Brian's head chimed in, he doesn't care. He imagined Dom on an empty beach, lolling on a towel, cupping his head in the V of his crossed arms. A sarong-wearing Letty walked toward him on the edge of the surf...
Brian suddenly remembered Hector saying, "Words, homie, they float in the air." L.A. was a huge playground, a megatropolis, but the serious street racers were a pretty exclusive club. News passed through them like a virus through a body. Dom was gonna know.
Dom was gonna know, and knowing Dom, Dom was gonna care. A lot. That had been part of it, Brian thought, the possessive and proprietary way Dom treated the people and things he wanted was...
Brian blinked at his diagnostic computer and shivered again. He needed to concentrate on work. Otherwise he was going to be here all night, getting nothing done except turning all of Dom's vices into virtues. Dom wasn't here, Dom didn't know, he didn't care, Brian was never going to get to see him again...
"Dude here to see you." Rome was smacking his gum and leaning on the doorjamb.
"Rome, this is what I mean, could you be more specific?" Brian didn't look up from the overtaxed alternator. "I mean, is this a customer dude, a delivery dude or..."
"How 'bout a big, scary dude?" Rome continued, unimpressed. Brian looked up just as Dom seemed to loom out of the darkness behind Rome's shoulder. Brian pulled his hands away from the alternator like it had shocked him and stood up too quickly, knocking his stool back with a loud, metallic screech. Dom pushed past Roman, who stiffened and eyed him dubiously. Brian straightened his shoulders and unconsciously wiped his hands on the hem of his shirt.
They stared at each other for a second and Brian found his breath coming a little faster. He could feel his heart beating in the back of his throat and an odd liquid feeling rolled through his stomach and the base of his spine. He'd imagined this so many times, so many different versions of this same moment, even down to the shade of rage in Dom's eyes. Dom's face was caught in its usual scowl, almost impassive except for the muscle in his jaw that jumped occasionally. In the silence, Rome's gum-smacking seemed to echo. Rome cleared his throat, but it was Dom who spoke.
"Brian." Dom's voice seemed to bubble out of his chest. "What. The. Fuck."
"Dom, I...don't..." Brian started.
"I should smack that look off your face right now," Dom's shoulders swelled as he clenched his fists. "I don't even know why we're talking."
"We're talking?" Brian said, and almost winced at his own smart mouth. Dom's lips tightened at that and his eyes practically shot sparks.
"Hey look, big homie, " Rome cut in. "In case it's 'scaped your notice, there are two of us here and I'm not..."
Dom turned his chin to his shoulder and eyed Rome for half a second. "Suits me, player, you wanna be the appetizer or the main course?"
"Look, who the fuck are you?" Rome widened his eyes theatrically and let the muscles in his own shoulders bunch.
"Dom, we're not gonna fight." Brian shot back quickly.
"You're that sure?" Dom turned his full attention back to Brian and showed his eyeteeth.
"Yeah, I'm sure." Brian kept himself braced for a punch all the same.
"Why not?" Dom's voice seemed to have dropped an octave. Brian would bet that Rome had to strain to hear Dom and he lowered his own voice too.
"'Cause at the end of the day, it's not worth it. You won't feel better and it's not worth your freedom." Brian said softly. He'd thought about this moment for so long that suddenly he knew just what to say. "And I paid too much for both those things for you to throw 'em away, Dominic."
Dom's eyes got bigger for a second, the skin around his lips went white. For one moment he looked down and seemed to be casting about for words. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"Why do I have to be doing it to you?" Brian asked reasonably. "Maybe I'm doing it for me ."
"All the garages in all the cities in all the world," Dom said even softer. "And you have to have mine?"
"Shame to let it go to waste," Brian murmured back and for a split second, he was sure that if Dom had had a gun, Brian would have been severely perforated.
Dom's nostrils flared when he let his breath loose. He shook his head slowly. "This isn't over."
"I know," Brian nodded, fleetingly feeling like he was back in the academy: Hostage Negotiation 101. He felt like he was watching everything happen from about ten feet up. Dom seemed almost back to rational, until he stepped forward and jabbed at Brian's face with a pointing finger.
"This is not your place. You don’t belong here," Dom's index finger was so close to his mouth that Brian could have licked it, if he were so inclined. The veins in Dom's temples pulsed angrily as he repeated. "You do not belong here."
Brian nodded again, fighting the deja vu. In the blink of an eye, Dom was gone with no more evidence that he'd ever been there than Roman's raised eyebrows. Rome let out a low whistle. "You are going to tell me just what the fuck was going on there, right?"
Brian let his spine soften a little and slumped back down on the edge of the table. It was so quick; it felt like a sucker punch. "Long story, Rome." He didn't have to strain to hear the twin shrieks of an engine erupting and rubber being laid.
"Not to say that we couldn't have handled big dude six ways from Sunday," Rome cracked his knuckles. "But I'm kinda glad we didn't have to, knowwhatImean, bro?"
"Yeah, for sure." Brian tried to make himself relax. Something inside him was jiggling like it was loose. Like Dom had tapped him and made parts vibrate. "When he's not so mad, he's actually a pretty cool guy."
"Holy shit, that was...." Rome's teeth flashed as his mouth fell open. "That was that dude from L.A.! Holy shit....How the...what the...?" Rome looked from Brian to the door as if he was half-tempted to follow Dom in his car.
"Rome," Brian sighed. "I should have said something before. When I left L.A. a lot of people were pretty pissed off at me." Brian raised a shoulder indicating the vanished Dom. "That guy's just one of many and not nearly the worst of the bunch."
"Shit, man..." Rome shrugged a little "How's that different from any other town? I mean, Monica Fuentes nearly snatched you bald-headed when you left Miami and I can't even count the number of folks back in Barstow..."
"I'm not joking, Rome. I mean this. Listen to me."
Rome shut up and made a 'listening' face.
Brian sighed again. "Ah fuck this, I'm just being paranoid. I was actually...I just expected that to go a bit differently."
"Guess it's good I was here," Rome grinned.
Brian tried to grin back. "Yeah, I guess." He ducked out of the office and leaned on the garage door, looking out into the yellow glow of the streetlights. The street was quiet this time of night and the lights of downtown towers smothered the stars.
This story can also be found at my site, if that's easier