26 The Road Never Changes
“This doesn’t feel right.” Vince muttered as he trailed after Letty; she wasn’t listening, hadn’t listened, not once, not that he honestly expected her to. When they got to the kitchen, he reached out and grabbed her by the arm, pushing her against the wall where at least she would have to stay in one place, whether she listened or not.
Roaring, he finally barked out all of the anger that he had held in check as he saw things spiral out of control. “You can’t tell me this feels right? Who the fuck is this guy to you? You’ve never met up with him in person before, so why the fuck now?”
Gritting his teeth and trying to ease up on Letty’s arm, Vince pulled back and tried to be rational. Someone had to. “Fuck, Lett. This can’t feel right to you. Come on, open your fucking eyes. Why would he want to meet you this time when every other time, the money’s been dropped somewhere?”
It was a rare feeling for him, but Vince was genuinely scared for her. The meet was set for just across the Mexican border, and that had never happened before either; everything else had been done stateside, if barely. It felt wrong.
Before he had gotten hurt, that would have been laughable; a lot had changed since then. For one, living with Letty gave him a different view of her. She was abrasive, nasty, foul-mouthed and even more foul-tempered, but it hadn’t all been bad; they’d had good times as well, although not as often lately.
He didn’t know why he stayed, why he didn’t pack his shit and leave. Leon was long gone, had been for years; everyone was gone. There had been a few times when he had gotten close, a duffel bag full of dirty clothes and what few things he had stuffed into the backseat of one of the cars. Sitting out in the driveway staring back at the house. The first few times it had happened, he had no idea why he went back; it wasn’t for Letty’s charming personality.
It had taken a while, and it was something that he didn’t voice aloud. Not to himself, and definitely not to Letty; he was pretty sure she’d laugh right in his face.
Letty had no one else; even before, all she really could be sure of was Dom, and that wasn’t much of a sure thing. All the guys on the team knew that Dom had stepped out on her all the time; he never even made the attempt to hide it. Of course, Letty did her fair share, but it didn’t change things from Vince’s viewpoint.
The sex was good; it was a shitty reason to stay with a woman, Vince knew. He wasn’t some great gallant gentleman, but even he knew that. So he stayed and watched her back as best he could, just as he had stayed with Dom and watched his back. Tried to not think about the why so much, it only made his head hurt.
“Don’t you see what the fuck is going on here?” he pled, still angry but trying desperately to get her to see reason, to see what was so plain to him. That a change in plans always meant bad news.
“Yeah, I see what the fuck is going on here,” Letty spat at him, anger and viciousness etched into the lines of her face. Fighting futilely against Vince’s powerful grip, she sought to wound him in other, surer ways. “I see that you’re a fucking pussy, not even a man, afraid of your own fucking shadow.”
Dark eyes went darker as Vince tightened his grip on her upper arm; if she was a man, he would beat the shit out of her and make her listen, but there was no way he’d ever hit her. And she knew it; she probably would have pushed him even if she wasn’t sure of it. It didn’t matter to her. “Lett…,” a warning hiss, a wasted effort.
“Stay or go, I don’t give a shit, V. You decide what the fuck you want to do, but I’m collecting this payoff. No way I’m letting anyone get the drop on me, that fucker’ll…”
Vince shut her out; it was always the same, a stream of invective that had less to do with the matters at hand than it had to do with the underlying issue, the festering wound beneath. Being shrugged off by Dom.
He knew that he would go with her, just as he had gone along with Dom; it was a foregone conclusion. Still, there was this fight, every time; like he had to assert his own will, even a little, before he did what he did for someone else. “Fine,” he spat out, with equal bitterness as he shoved her hard against the wall one more time, already passing, heading for the front hall to grab his keys.
It wasn’t fine; he knew it, deep in his gut, he could feel it. It was all fucked.
El Centro passed by. Smaller clusters of buildings and homes that barely passed the test to be called towns. The miles slipped by, constant; Dom could drive with his eyes closed, just by the feel of the road alone. Instead, he watched every mile, hoping to catch another glimpse of Jim.
Only now, in the self-imposed quiet of the road, did it occur to Dom that Jim had never once spelled out what he would do, what his role would be. That he would be there when the time came, yes, but not what part. Between Dom and Brian, radio silence was easy, comfortable; he could hear the clicks occasionally as Eddie keyed the radio. Eddie never said anything either, and they rode in silence, reaching the outskirts of Lakeside just as the sun started to set.
The tail that had stretched out behind Dom closed in as he slowed, turning down one street and then another, first Brian and then Eddie. The signal for Brian’s radio came up first, followed by Eddie’s; Dom didn’t answer. Both would be asking the same question, asking where the hell he was going. Where and why. Brian would know the where as he had given Dom the address, but the why was another matter altogether. The scribbled map to Vince’s place on the seat beside him wasn’t much of an answer, not one he could explain in a few words over the radio anyway. Not to Eddie; Brian would understand, then again, Dom knew that Brian would never ask.
Gravel bit as Dom pulled the Chevy into the driveway. Way deep, he had hoped to block in Vince’s car before he managed to leave but it was a small hope. The moment the light had started to fade, Dom had just known Vince would be gone, like being in the vicinity of the Coyote had put him back in tune with him.
Dom had the edge of knowing exactly when the trailer would be at the weigh station and that wasn’t for at least another half hour. When the first thefts had gone down, it had been Vince that he had sat outside on the porch and planned with, talking about all the scenarios, all the ways something could go wrong. Vince would plan this just as carefully, he knew; he would leave earlier than he had to.
Still, Dom sighed out a hard exhale when he didn’t see a car in the driveway. That there could have been a place to park in back was just wishful thinking and Dom didn’t bother with it; Vince was gone. Vince and whatever team he had assembled. Letty would be with him.
“What the fuck are you thinking!?” Eddie barked as he slammed his car door and crossed the driveway; Brian said nothing, standing uneasily with his arms crossed. He didn’t like the situation either but knew Dom well enough to know that there had to be a purpose.
Slowly, Dom turned to face Eddie which had Eddie come up short, shooting a sideways glance at Brian, looking for backup and not sure he would get it. “The trailer won’t hit the weigh station for another half hour or so. Vince won’t take it there.” Dom offered as explanation before he turned back to the house, shutting Eddie out.
Dogs barked in the back yard, a deep sound; they were big dogs. Without turning back to Brian or Eddie, Dom made for the broken pavement walkway down the side of the house, looking over the wooden fence before he jumped the top rail, disappearing into the back of the house. The dogs barked louder. Dom had a bark of his own, telling the dogs to be quiet; a quiet whimper of protest and then silence.
“We don’t have time for this shit!” Eddie stabbed a finger at Brian as he walked up beside him.
While Brian tended to agree, he also knew that Dom would have his reasons and that trying to sway him from them by arguing would waste even more time. That Dom would finish what he started, no matter what either one of them said. Walking up to the fence, he addressed Eddie without looking back at him, knowing the agent was following.
“You ever steal a trailer?” It was rhetorical; grand theft hadn’t been on the curricula when he had been with the Bureau and Brian doubted that had changed. “Ever hang out of a car doing 120 and have to rely on someone to be there? I didn’t think so.”
It was all the answer Eddie would get. Boiled down to its base elements, Dom had done those things, and Brian had taken part. Eddie had done neither so he would have to shut up and wait his turn. It pissed him off but he knew that neither of the other two men gave a shit about that. In the end he had no other choice as Dom and Brian were all he had that he could rely on. Any backup he called would never show up on time.
Looking over the fence for the dogs, Brian spotted them at the other side of the yard in the shade of a barren tree; Dom had looped the chain twice over a post in the back fence, keeping them from crossing into the yard. They yipped but another shout at them from Dom, now at the back door of the house, was enough to silence them again.
“We’re breaking in,” Eddie flatly stated the obvious as he eyed Dom near the back door.
Glaring, Dom turned and produced a key. “Under the planter. Don’t they teach you FBI boys anything?” That Brian was – had been – FBI meant nothing; Brian wasn’t included in the backhanded slap. “Wipe your feet.”
A smart ass remark died unsaid on Eddie’s lips; it was another in a long list of contradictions in Dom that kept him just off his feet, unsure. He wiped his feet and stepped into a kitchen that stank of stale beer. Empty cases lined the back wall of the small kitchen; several singles were on the counter next to pizza boxes and old takeout containers.
No one pressed as Dom looked around; Eddie had no idea why but he felt that saying anything at the moment would be intruding. On what, he could only guess; Vince and Dom had been tight. Once.
Edging past Eddie, Brian took a position beside Dom. “We don’t have much time.” He ignored Eddie’s muffled snort of derision. Eddie moved through the kitchen, opening the occasional drawer. Opening and closing the fridge. Eddie searched carefully, not overly disturbing the contents of drawers and cupboards, as though Dom’s previous warning about wiping his feet automatically extended to other parts of the house. To be respectful even if the place was a dump.
From the corner of his eye Brian watched as Dom took a look around, wiping a hand over his face, like he could wipe away the squalid little house with the gesture. The old place where he had lived with the rest of the team had been hard lived in and it was difficult to keep it clean with so many people, with so many guys, so many parties. It had been hard, but it had been done. After a party, everything was cleared away no matter how everyone felt the next morning. Not spotless, but it was as clean as could be expected for a house full of mechanics.
“We got time,” Dom asserted simply, striding into the living room. He didn’t know what he was looking for, what he had came in for; if he had simply wanted to see how Vince had lived, how he had been. The living room was in worse shape than the kitchen. Desultorily, Dom leaned down and moved some shit off a low side table where the phone was, but there was nothing to be found there; he hadn’t expected to find anything. Behind them, Eddie performed a more careful check, looking through a slim address book that had fallen behind the table, a stack of papers on the coffee table.
The place was tiny, even smaller than Amber’s house in the desert. Bathroom down the hall, a couple of closets which Dom ignored. “Vince’d never be stupid enough to leave anything out here,” Dom called back for Eddie’s benefit and walked down the hall towards another couple of doors that could only be bedrooms.
“Dom,” Brian reached out, tugging Dom’s elbow. It was one thing to know that Vince and Letty had ended up with each other; it was another to have it confirmed, even if Brian knew that Letty had never really mattered to him. Vince had. “You don’t need to see this, man,” he whispered, closing the distance.
“Yeah, I do.” Dom didn’t know why he had to know, to see for himself. That Letty had cheated on him when they were supposedly together hadn’t really bothered him, not the way it was supposed to bother him. Only the first time had it hurt him, after that it just pissed him off. It didn’t piss him off because he loved her, it only pissed him off that Letty was so obvious about it and it made him look bad. It all looked bad, especially in the hard light of hindsight.
What had really got to him was that it had been Vince. Vince should have known better, should have wanted better and it bothered Dom that maybe Vince hadn’t. Then again, who was Dom to judge Vince when Dom had settled for less, when he knew he wanted better, had wanted more with his life.
The first bedroom looked like storage. Several stereos still in boxes, clear bins of what looked like women’s clothes, a few pieces of furniture that were even uglier than what was out in the living room. Closing that door, Dom took the last, ignoring Brian’s hand on his arm.
The shared bedroom was no cleaner than the rest of the house. An overflowing closet spilled out onto a dresser and over the back of a chair, the floor. Letty had always had a thing for clothes. It wasn’t a picture most would have of Dom, King of the Streetracers, but he had spent an inordinate amount of time picking Letty’s shit up off the floor when they had lived together. Apparently Vince hadn’t taken on that chore or at least hadn’t kept it.
“What a sty,” Eddie muttered, toeing a pair of pink panties out of the way, stepping into the room.
It was an accurate statement and didn’t bear answering. Eddie slipped past Brian and opened a few more drawers, pawing through Letty’s things.
“Better wash your hands,” Dom shot back over his shoulder at Eddie. In other circumstances that might have earned a laugh or a crude comment; given the state of the house, it seemed more like concern.
Eddie looked up at the cruelty, barely hidden, in Dom’s tone before he closed the nightstand drawer and wiped his hands on his pants. “There’s nothing here.”
“I could have told you that.” All of the original plans for the heists had been made verbally, they talked it out, they didn’t dare write notes or leave anything lying around. Dom knew that he wouldn’t find anything relating to the thefts inside the house; it wasn’t why he had wanted to see where Vince lived.
What had caught his attention in all the mess was the duffel bag on the other side of the bed; he knew that it belonged to Vince. Beside it was another open box that it looked like Vince was living out of. Letty had settled in, it was something she was good at, but Vince hadn’t. Or he had been prepared to split. Dom kept coming back to that, that Vince was ready to leave. There might have been nothing else in the house that could help them, but Dom had everything that he needed.
Brian hung back while Dom locked up the house as they left, stowing the key back under the planter where he had found it. “Vince would never leave anything here. So why are we really here.”
Surreptitious, Dom shot a look up the walk, as Eddie vaulted gracefully over the back fence. Honesty was easier with Brian and Dom sighed, running a hand over his head. “If all this shit hadn’t happened, maybe I’d be living like that.”
“Doubt it.” Brian knew that Dom would never have accepted that life, that he had done everything he could to try to provide Mia at least with something good, something normal. That it hadn’t always worked like that didn’t change that it was what Dom had wanted. “You’d never live like that.”
They were at the fence and both went quiet, as they watched Eddie getting into his car. Brian had wanted to say more but there wasn’t time and there was no way that Brian would air Dom’s dirty laundry, especially not in front of Eddie. They shared a nod before Brian trotted off to get into his car and pulled out of the driveway. Aggressive, Dom pulled out into the street, gunning the engine before he roared down the street with Brian and Eddie in tow.
You’d never live like that, but Dom had his doubts. Mia had been a driving force for much in his life. To make sure that his little sister was cared for, had a decent life. He owed it to her, to the memory of his family, to himself, but knew that it hadn’t always been the way it had worked out, not for any lack of trying. But Mia couldn’t live with him forever, even if everything had gone perfectly, if he hadn’t ended up in prison. Twice.
At some point she would go on with her own life and, as much as Dom hated how Vince appeared to live, he accepted that it very easily could have been his life. Fights every day, day after day, with Letty, or whoever he replaced Letty with. Probably a woman like Heather. The parties, the endless trail of people through his house, through his life. It dawned on him that it wasn’t just meaningless now, it was meaningless then as well, a waste.
I’ll never go back.
It was an ache and more than anything he wanted to sit out on Amber’s low porch, the weathered wood smooth beneath him, sharing a bottle of tequila, maybe watching as it rained. He missed her, missed her company, missed her smile. Missed that she was nothing like the life he had left behind. Just missed her.
The sky turned that strange shade of green, the air cooling, just as the sun slumped heavily against the horizon, taking forever to set. That it was almost night lifted a weight from Dom’s chest; it was almost done; no matter which way it went, it was almost done.
“We missed them!” Urgent, angry, Eddie’s voice blared out of the radio. Brian gritted his teeth, knuckles white on the wheel trailing just behind Dom as they swept past the now empty weigh station.
“An’ I told you. There’s no way Vince’ll take that that truck so close. Keep it together.” The last said for Eddie’s benefit, the radio clicked off again. Conversation over.
Brian shot a look back at Eddie in the rearview mirror. Brian trusted Dom, trusted in his ability and his intentions. It was harder for Eddie, who was playing angles; so busy looking at shining up his badge that he couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen if it all fucked up. Brian had been there, so he knew. Then, during that last job, it had changed and Brian had said fuck the badge and did what he had to in order to save the people he was with. The people on his team. Brian didn’t know if Eddie would, or even could, make that choice if it came but he hoped the agent had the sense to trust Dom. He would have to trust somebody before it was through.
Like invoking the devil, the mirage of a trailer-laden semi emerged far out in the distance as Dom crested a rise a couple of miles outside of the weigh station. Behind it, four black insectile shapes tore from their hiding places beside the road, screaming after the trailer in a swirl of rising desert dust.
Mike couldn’t sleep anyway; he hadn’t felt this clear, this on edge since the old days, the bad days. Hunkered down in some festering jungle stink hole waiting for death to come. He felt alive. Alert. Possessed of the same crystal clarity that had infused him since he left all that he had behind and drove out into the desert with the name of a dead woman foremost in his mind, in his heart.
He felt Brightman before he saw him, like he had been meant to. That’s how it felt, like a thing ordained, fated. What he had wanted to do was gun the engine and ram the fucker’s car right there in the middle of the intersection. Provided the crash didn’t kill him, it wasn’t a stretch to see himself stagger, bloodied and studded with the deadly shrapnel of the front windshield, to kill Brightman with his bare hands. That had a beauty all its own but it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough.
Instead, Mike had ghosted his car out behind Brightman’s as he pulled away from the convenience store and slipped into what meager traffic there was. He had expected Brightman to turn down side streets, heading for Vince and Letty’s place but instead Brightman’s dark car made its way out into the desert.
It was harder to hold a legitimate tail the further they got from Lakeside proper. Cars thinned out until there was nothing else, no one between him and Brightman. And still Mike held back, the black shape of the sedan shimmering, a mirage against the slowly darkening road.
There was nowhere for Brightman to turn, not unless he had picked up a penchant for off-roading and his car wouldn’t take him far even if he did. If Brightman tried to turn off, he would bog down in the loose sandy soil and the scene would play out much like it had earlier in Mike’s head.
Far from the city, all pretense was dropped and Mike crept closer. He didn’t rev his engine or slam into the back of Brightman’s car, just followed at a discreet distance. Brightman saw him but Mike wasn’t hiding. The black car ahead sped up and Mike paced him, not getting any closer but not falling behind.
Mike wondered briefly where Brightman was headed. If he was headed to a meet with the truck thieves, with Vince and Letty, or if he was going to meet up with a fence on the other side of the deal. In the scheme of things it didn’t much matter to him. Wherever Brightman stopped is where it would happen.
Far up ahead lay the border of Mexico.
Copyright © March 2008 xxxevilgrinxxx