Authors: Carmen Faye
All in all, this was the biggest mess I could ever be in. Not just because I’d been sloppy and gotten caught doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, but also because Rip had gotten me in a situation that wouldn’t only compromise my reputation, but my life.
I wasn’t going to be delusional about this. There was a good chance Antonio was going to kill me if he didn’t get what he wanted.
It was night again by the time I finally got back to town, and it didn’t feel amazing to be back. The urgent need to keep looking over my shoulder pressed on me. Every shadow held danger now, I saw Stone Cold Club assassins in every stranger that even glanced in my car’s direction.
A thin sheen of sweat shone on my skin. I drove through the roads until I ended up in front of Alex’s house again. The porch light was on, the house quiet and empty as if she wasn’t home. I walked down the path to the front door and rang the doorbell anyway. Just in case.
I pulled out my phone and found her number in my contacts. I held the phone to my ear. It rang until it rolled over to voicemail.
I tried again. The call was ended on the other side.
On the third try, it went to voicemail straight away. Either she was hard up on avoiding me, or my calls were being rejected because she was in trouble. I was hoping for the former, but I was willing to bet my life on the latter. I’d done this, I’d put her in danger, and I had to make sure that she was safe again.
On the small chance that she was still home, I rang the doorbell another time, but my mind was already whirring with possibilities. They could have gotten here before me. It had been twelve hours since I’d been here. They could have done anything to her, and knowing the kinds of people that were usually on my case, they would get creative.
I tried the door, and it was open. I stepped into the house, feeling like an intruder. Of all my years of thieving, I’d never felt like I was imposing as much as I felt it now. This was her space.
I worked through the house, room by room, looking for her, and found nothing. I didn’t find signs of a struggle either. Her bed was neatly made, her makeup arranged, her closet doors closed, and most of the lights off like she’d planned not to be home.
I returned to the den area and stood with my hands on my hips, trying to figure out what my next move was. If anyone had come to get her, there would have been some clue. The people I knew didn’t tidy things after taking lives. I took a deep breath and prayed to God that it hadn’t gone that far.
I turned my mind back to the problem at hand and tried to think like her. Angry and betrayed. I could imagine that that was how she’d felt. And if she had all those emotions to deal with, I doubted she would sit home with them. I knew very little about who she was as a person, but I doubted she was the kind that closed herself off when she was stuck with something.
That meant a night on the town, and seeing that gambling was her game, I was willing to bet on one of the casinos.
The question was which one.
Lady Luck was out. Not because she didn’t like it there, but because I figured it would remind her of me. We’d done our first job there together, after all. Harlan Gold was her favorite. It was where I’d met her, and where I was going to start looking.
When I walked back out of the house, I took care to leave it as I’d found it in case she’d only gone out to get carryout and she was going to be back soon, and I checked the garage. Her car was there. It ruled out carryout. She only took a cab when she was going to drink.
I felt proud of my sleuthing abilities and got in my car, turning toward the city. The streets were full of people walking around and laughing. I hoped I wasn’t too late.
Harlan Gold was teeming with gamblers. Smoke hung in the air like an artificial sky when I walked through the doors, and it felt to me as if there were more people than usual. Maybe I was just feeling crowded.
The throngs of people made it harder for me to find her. I worked through the casino, starting at the poker tables. I kept my eye out for Jerrill. If he caught me now, I was screwed. It was going to be damn difficult to save Alex if I was dead, and I doubted he would spare me after my little run in with John at the warehouse.
I worked my way around the casino, hoping that she wouldn’t move around and make my attempts futile. When I turned away from the blackjack tables with still no sign of her, I bumped into someone.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, and then recognized the man.
“Ted,” I said, surprised. “Long time.”
He looked around the casino, eyes darting across the room before he looked back at me.
“Rip,” he said. For a second, I was suspicious until I remember I’d given him my real name. A mistake I hadn’t come to regret yet, surprisingly.
“Where have you been hiding?” I asked.
He chuckled nervously and put his hand in his pocket to retrieve a handkerchief like my grandad used to have. He wiped his brow. The collar of the dark blue shirt he wore was darkened with sweat.
“Are you alright?” I asked him. My back was up. Something was wrong, Ted looked like he was going to have a breakdown, and I doubted it was stress with the Missus that was eating at him.
“I have to go,” he said and turned, but the crowds were too thick to walk away. They pressed against us and pressed us into each other so that it wasn’t hard to grab Ted’s hand and force him to turn back to me.
“Where is she?” I asked.
He stared at me for a moment with a look that suggested he was thinking of trying to bolt again, but I clamped my hand down hard on his wrist, pressing my fingers into the tendons so that he winced.
“I don’t know what they did with her, I swear,” he said.
He whimpered like a girl. “They took her to the back,” he said. “That’s all I know.”
I pressed even harder, and Ted bent at the waist to curl around his wrist.
“You’re lying to me,” I said. Anyone that swore to something before they were pushed into any kind of corner was lying about what they were saying. “What else?”
Ted swallowed hard and squeezed his eyes shut, his mouth open as if he was screaming except no sound came out of it. I knew I was hurting him. That was the point.
“I asked you what you aren’t telling me. You don’t want me to make a scene in front of all these people.” It was just a threat. I wanted to avoid any attention on us, and his little whimpers and squeals were already drawing eyes to us, but I had nothing else to threaten him with, and if he managed to get away and disappear into the crowds, there was going to be no way to get him back. I had to get what I needed to know out of him now.
As if the powers-that-be were against me, the place got even fuller. It was as if everyone streamed through the door and caked around us like bees. The hum of conversation in the air was almost deafening.
“Talk to me, Teddy,” I said.
“I told them your name,” he said. He sounded like he wanted to cry. “I’m sorry. I have a wife, and I didn’t want them to get close to my life, so I told them before it got ugly.”
Great. My name was out there. I knew it was a mistake that I’d told him the truth. One small slipup, and everything was going to shit.
“Who did you tell?” I asked.
“Antonio Jerrill,” Ted said without hesitating. “But that’s all there is.”
I let him go because I believed him. Jerrill would leave him alone for that information. I had no use for the two-faced son of a bitch. He didn’t pass up the opportunity to disappear. He pushed through the crowd, and a moment later, he was gone as if he’d never been here.
I shook out my hand. It was stiff from clenching him so hard. I looked up at the security cameras and doubted that they’d missed me. They knew I was here, and now they knew who I was. And they had Alex. If what Ted said was true, and I was willing to believe it was, they had her back there where they’d taken me. And she was a woman. I shuddered, thinking about what they could do to her. She was a woman. She was weaker than I was and not in a position to take hits or threats. And she had all my mistakes to answer to now.
Good God, I really was a bastard, getting her into this mistake. I had to do something to get her out of there, assuming she was still alive.
Which I had to bank on, because thinking that she might be dead, another life on my conscience, was too much to handle.
I stood in the crowd of people with all those hot, sweaty bodies pressed up against me and tried to wrack my brain. I was brilliant at getting out of tight spots. Why couldn’t I think of something now?
The answer was easy. I’d only ever had myself to look after. The only other time I’d really had someone else in a place where they’d needed my help was with Emmett, and look how that had turned out. But I couldn’t let that happen to Alex.
Not this time. I couldn’t run in there with guns blazing; that would be suicide.
But I could let someone else to the running and the blazing. I just had to play my cards right. And I couldn’t lose another minute.
I went back to the hotel and found my bag of money under the bed. The green was heavy, there was so much of it. And that wasn’t even what was in my account. I’d work so hard for this, but it wasn’t worth losing Alex over.
Nothing was worth losing Alex over. I hadn’t known her for a long time, but in the short while I’d known her, she’d come to mean more to me than most other people. She reminded me of Emmett—and the kind of friendship I’d had with him. She reminded me that there was hope for a better life in the world, and I never felt judged around her because her life wasn’t perfect.
I could be myself around her.
There were so many people out there who looked at me as if I was a waste of space, a loser, because of how I came across. There were so many pure lives that were on the right track, lives I could never compete with.
Emmett had understood who I was because he’d had infractions on his name, too. He’d been in trouble with the law.
And Alex was the same. She understood that no matter how much the legal system despised you, you were still worthwhile as a person.
How long had it been since I’d felt like more than just a moving target? And that was all because of her. And that was exactly the reason why I needed to save her. Not just because it was my fault that they had her, but also because I was starting to fall for her. Dammit, I didn’t want to admit it, but it was true.
I wanted her back, even after we were safe, I wanted her in my life. And I wanted her to want me, too.
I took out my phone and searched for a number in my contacts list that I hadn’t dialed in years. I stared at the phone’s screen for a long time before I finally pushed talk.
He answered on the third ring as he always did. Time didn’t often change anything.
“Mickey,” I said, making my voice deep and powerful, not small and scared the way I felt. “It’s Rip.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. I could just imagine his face, the blond stubble on his chin, the messy blond hair and the green eyes that had girls saying “yes”—even when he hadn’t asked yet. “I thought you were dead by now.”
I shrugged, knowing he couldn’t see it, and laid out my proposition.
“You still in contact with Benmore?”
“You really asking me that?”
“I need to know.”
Mickey sighed. “You’re looking for trouble picking up the phone, bro. He wants your blood, and he wants it bad.”
“I know.” Philip Benmore was the one who had arranged all the jobs for Emmett and me. He was the one who had fought to get us out, and he was the one who had decided who to pull out when he’d only been able to get the money for one person.
He was the person I’d blamed for so long. And my punishment was not to pay him back. The fact that I’d really just punished myself by doing that was beside the point.
“I have the money,” I said. I would have rather died before doing this before, but this was about Alex now.
“Are you fucking with me?” Mickey asked.
“You know my word’s good,” I said. The only other person that had been hit by Emmett’s death was Mickey. He’d been a good friend. He’d done everything he could, too.
“What are you playing at?”
That wasn’t something I was willing to share, so I ignored the question.
“I’m wiring Benmore seventy-five percent of the cash tonight if you guys can be in Cali by tomorrow morning. Harlan Gold casino, you heard of it?”
“One of the biggest joints on the West Coast,” he answered.
“Right. Benmore is getting the rest, plus interest, if you guys can pull through by sunrise.”
“Rip, man, you know if this were up to me I’d be there in a flash, but this is Benmore we’re talking about. He’s got way more than sour grapes about the stunts you’ve been pulling lately, and this isn’t just going to be about forgive and forget, you feel me?”
I knew that he would say that. I’d been expecting it, and I’d prepared for it.
“Well, there’s a club here that is taking credit for a lot of things you guys have pulled,” I lied.
“Don’t do this,” Mickey said. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”
I should have known that lying wouldn’t work with Mickey.
“You know me,” I said. Mickey chuckled. Everyone knew me. Trouble was my mistress.
“What do you need? You know we’re good for it. We just want the cash, otherwise you’re our boy.”
I knew that. I’d known that all along. This had been a revenge story against my own people, people I considered blood.
“I played with fire, and now they’ve got my woman.”
Mickey whistled through his teeth. “I didn’t know you got close with people,” he said.
The answer was loaded and told Mickey more than he needed to know. He knew how I’d felt about Emmett. He understood what I was feeling now.
“I’ll tell you what. You wire that money through and we’ll be there. If Benmore’s not with us, it will still be me and the boys.”
I thanked Mickey and hung up, knowing that I could trust them. There were five others, and three of them looked like they used to be professional wrestlers. They could give ol’ Johnny boy a run for his money.
Mickey was a saint.
I got back in my car and drove through town, looking for an internet café. Time was killing me. Every second was a second I wasn’t with Alex, and they could be hurting her. But I had to do this with my club, or I wouldn’t get either of us out of there alive.
I finally found an internet café and paid for a time slot. The computer was slower than slow, and I swore under my breath, thinking they did it so that the surfing went so slow that I’d have to pay for another slot.
I logged onto internet banking and wired everything I had to Benmore’s account. I had the cash on me. My account was empty now.
There was nothing else left for me to do. I had to wait until the morning. The moment the money was in, Mickey and the boys would get on a plane, and it would take them only a couple of hours to get here, but a couple of hours was too many. Alex was in that casino, in the hands of a man I was starting to hate more than I’d hated Benmore for so long, and I felt completely helpless.
At five in the morning, I was dead on my feet. I hadn’t slept in almost forty-eight hours, and I was going crazy with worry and waiting. I still hadn’t heard anything from Mickey, and I had to assume that he was going to pull through because he’d given me his word.
His word was good, but there was so much on the line this time. When it was my life, it was one thing. When it was someone else’s, it was a completely different story. I could die any day, but someone else? Someone I cared about?
My phone rang, and I answered without looking at the screen.
“What’s the word?” I asked. I needed something to go by. Anything.
“What are you talking about?” Rat’s voice came over the speaker. I pulled the phone away from my ear for a moment and frowned at the screen. It wasn’t Mickey.
“I was expecting a call from someone else,” I said.
“You’re not stabbing me in the back, are you?” Rat asked. I put my hand to my head. The drugs. Shit, I’d completely forgotten about the deal with him that had gone wrong before I’d run. I’d left Rat in the dark completely.
“Of course not. We just ran into a bit of trouble is all.”
“What trouble?” Rat asked, and I could hear the suspicion in his voice.
“Nothing too serious.” Right. Alex was in the hands of Antonio Jerrill, who knew I was stealing his drugs because I’d been caught red-handed by his bodyguard, and now my old club was on its way to face off against my new club because I couldn’t sort out a mess by myself. Nothing too serious at all.
“Why don’t I believe you?” Rat asked. Why indeed.
“Look, I don’t know how to deal with this but—” I stopped in the middle of my sentence because a thought just dawned on me. I knew where the warehouse was. I knew where they were hiding all the drugs, and I knew where to hit Jerrill where it really hurt.
“On second thought… how many men do you have at your disposal?”
There was a stunned silence for a moment, and then he gave me an answer. “I have a couple of guys that can help me out. Why?”
“Are they the kind that will risk shit for you?”
He hesitated only a moment before he said, “Yes.”
“Good. Well, you need them. Something big is going down at dawn, and I have it on good authority that the place where they stash all the drugs won’t be under any surveillance. If you get in there, you can give Jerrill a run for his money and you’ll be rich.”
I didn’t know if it was the part about screwing Antonio Jerrill over, or if it was about being rich, but Rat was on board. I hung up and prayed to God that it all worked out. All of this hinged on whether Mikey arrived or not. If he didn’t, Rat was going to get caught and then get dead. Alex wouldn’t make it through. I was going to have to go through the whole death-guilt thing again.
Dammit, the suspense was killing me.
I paced for a while longer. When the sun colored the horizon to a pinkish gray, I made my way back to the casino. I parked and waited in my car. I glanced toward the casino every now and then, alternating it with the horizon. The sky was a brilliant orange, pushing the inky black of night further and further away.
I checked my watch. I checked the horizon. I checked the casino. I checked the parking lot. I rotated through those four actions until I felt like I was losing my mind.