Justin was singing along with the radio – a pretty awful indie song off some college rock station. The shitty Honda that Chris was driving had a busted radio, and the only thing that had come on before was an NPR marathon of Shakespeare performances. They’d lasted through about twenty minutes of King Lear as performed by John Lithgow before Justin was jabbing at the presets rather viciously.
Chris stuck his elbow out the window, the sun hot and sizzling on his skin. It took him a few minutes to realize that Justin was just making up words to the rhythm of the music, and that they were as awful as the real ones. Chris was pretty sure he wasn't being ironic.
After a few more minutes of horrible wailing by Justin, Chris shoved at his head.
“Fuck you man, don’t touch my head.”
“Stop destroying my soul with that fucking music,” Chris said reasonably.
Justin slid down in his seat with a snarl. “Better than the bullshit we were listening to earlier.”
"It was classier"
Justin kind of barked a laugh, but didn’t further the argument. He was settling himself into a sullen mood, which he did from time to time. Chris kind of wanted to fight for nothing else than to ease the monotony of the drive, but he left on the indie rock station anyway.
There were times where Justin was an annoying little shit, when he was cocky and confident and acted like there wasn’t a single thing he could be taught. There were also times when he was a little crazy and a lot dangerous, when Chris knew he was all business. Then once in a while, there was something… very young. Chris didn't know what to make of that.
They had been driving the better part of ten hours. Chris had taken over a while back, but Justin didn’t seem inclined to sleep. He just continued to make stupid comments. Usually Chris bantered back, but he was always a little cold for a few days after the job. Justin was the opposite - he was high on it. They never got along well during that time.
The temperature cooled through the day, and Chris let his fingers drum on the side of the car. The station no longer became an issue after they passed through the town, out to quieter stretches of highway. Justin dozed in fits, and Chris liked the quiet. When the tank had about a fourth left and his eyes strained a bit, he figured it was time to pull into the next town. They didn’t need to be at the meet for another day, and there were only a few hours of road left.
Justin seemed to notice as Chris took the first exit off.
"Man, we could just haul it and get there by morning." Justin glanced down at his ridiculous watch. Chris had told him not to be stupid about things. Blending in was the most important job – when you weren't noticed, things went a lot easier. A big fucking Hublot did not represent discretion. Justin had said that Chris could eat his ass. Chris could win a lot of arguments when he set his mind to it, but that one he let go. Justin was particular about his accessories.
"We could use a break." Chris looked up at the crumbly looking Mobile, but the pumps looked in to be working order. "Maybe we could just stop off at the town."
Justin frowned at him. "I slept all day man, I can drive."
Chris just got out of the car, lifting the pump lever. Justin stuck his head out the window to watch, then decided to get out as well.
"We got time to kill. It’s better if we're not dicking around in the city. Andrejczyk wants us to be careful."
Justin spit at the asphalt, then ran both his hands through his hair. He leaned back on the car next to Chris. "You mean that he wants you to babysit me, make sure I don’t get into trouble." He flashed an unpleasant smile. "What the fuck is with him? He doesn’t think I can be professional?"
"Pretty much." The pump clicked off, and Chris replaced it on the tray. He went into the station, Justin still standing by the car. He grabbed some drinks and a few candy bars, paid the clerk that was busy watching the small TV behind the counter.
"What’s on?" Chris counted a few bills out of his wallet.
The guy shrugged. "Porn"
Chris leaned over to watch some woman with her ass in the air, panting to the rhythm of the guy reaming into her. The clerk just watched with a slightly bored look. He pulled out the cover to show Chris. A few naked women were badly photoshopped on a dark blue background with large yellow letters announcing it as "Ass Masters: 4".
"You seen the first three?"
"Yeah. This one isn’t as good. Can’t beat the original, you know?”
Chris nodded after a pause. “Right. Hey man, where’s the closest hotel around here?"
The clerk reached around blindly under the counter, and for a few seconds Chris was a little alarmed at what he might be doing, but he pulled out a pink flyer and handed it to him.
It was a little crudely made up - completely hand written in bubble letters.
Need a place to stay? Want a decent bed and some pretty OK food? The doors may not lock, but that’s half the adventure! Frank Fetlund Discount Motel.
It looked like the guy that wrote up the flyer ran out of room, so the word “adventure” bent down along the page. It was also bordered with stars.
"Well. That’s strangely honest." He glanced down at the address, then stuffed the flyer in his pocket. He went back to the shitty Honda, and Justin was still leaning outside. He’d found a cigarette somewhere, and it was unlit between his lips.
He looked at Chris, "Hey, found your stash. Got a lighter?"
"Wait ‘till we're not near ignitable gas fumes." Chris got in the car.
When they pulled up to Frank Fetlund Discount Motel a few minutes later, Justin was snoring, the lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. The neon sign expectedly had a few letters burned out, and another few flickering, so it spelled out “Frank fetus”.
"Are we gonna be murdered in our sleep?" Justin grumbled from beside him as he parked. Chris looked over at him for a minute. "This place looks like a fucking death-hole."
Chris grabbed the two duffels from the back seat as Justin continued to lounge, muttering variations on death-hole. "Not like you aren’t prepared, infant."
Justin growled a little at the nickname, and got out. "I told you not to fucking call me that."
Chris grinned at him, and threw one of the duffels at his chest.
The entrance to the motel had another pink piece of paper taped to it, saying "Welcome!" in the same bubble letters as the flyer. Justin stared at it. "This place is owned by a serial killer. Or a thirteen year old girl."
The pink paper didn’t look that threatening. Chris pushed through the door, into the lobby. Justin lingered for a few seconds before following and muttering "Welcome to your agonizing end, where I'll feed on your intestines. Love, your psychopath motel owner."
The inside didn’t look as ominous. It was run down for sure, but there was a nice colorful rug by the entrance, a few pots with small ferns. The check-in desk had a large tag-board with a few of those inspirational mini-posters of waterfalls, with stuff like "Dream" and "Live" written on them. The other side of the board was full of scraps of paper, under cut-out letters that spelled the word "Testimonials".
Best product I ever had.
Can’t be beat
I’ll be returning here, that’s for sure!
"I bet the nut wrote all those with his feet while masturbating or something. Lure you into a false sense of security by showing you that people like it here." Justin puffed at the last of his cigarette, then dropped the butt on the floor.
It was sort of creepy. But Chris knew Justin was just being annoying - he was probably thankful for anything to complain about. Chris rang the bell a few times.
"Just a sec, man. I’m like, almost at the end."
Chris and Justin looked at each other.
"Yeah! Got you, fucker!" There was an oddly high laugh, followed by a thump. A few seconds later, a tall skinny guy finally stumbled out from the door behind the desk, fumes of pot trickling in as the door swung open and closed "Sorry about that, guys. That was tense back there!"
Justin smiled at him. "Hey man, no problem."
"Freakin’ crazy zombie aliens. Very messed up."
Chris did not know what was going on, but apparently Justin had a very sudden change of heart as he smiled flirtatiously at the other guy. Chris stared.
The guy was wearing a purple t-shirt with a dark purple flower on it. He had on striped jeans that clashed alarmingly with the shirt, and his wrists were covered with leather cuffs and bracelets. He was currently grinning widely at both of them, his eyes scrunching up, hair long and curly. He was exuding mellow happiness from every pore. Chris disliked him instantly.
Justin was running his eyes up and down the guy in a disgustingly obvious way.
"Hey. We need a room."
The guy seemed to notice Chris for the first time. "Whoa! Hey, yeah. Didn’t see you, man. That’s nuts. You’re like three feet away.”
Chris frowned at him. "Room."
The other guy's eyes widened. "Ohh yeah yeah yeah. Okay. I'm JC by the way." He stuck out his hand, and Chris glared at it. That actually seemed to penetrate, and JC slowly moved his hand over to Justin, who shook it with that same grin he'd had on since he saw JC.
"Justin. That’s Chris. Yeah, we'd like two rooms."
"Sure man, sure."
JC turned around and Chris heard Justin say "nice" as he reached for two keys. "Here guys, we got two singles, 33, and 34. You payin’ separate, or together?"
Justin seemed to be in no hurry to do anything. "Yeah, I got it." Chris got out his wallet as Justin leaned forward on the counter and flashed his teeth.
Chris pulled a few twenties and paused, a thought occurring. "So, none of these rooms have locks?"
"You saw the flyer! My man, Joe." JC seemed to be talking to himself, and Chris couldn’t help but ask.
"The porn guy?"
JC laughed. "I lent him those, man. But yeah, Joe’s a cool cat."
Cat. Chris shook his head. "So, the locks?"
JC shrugged. "It sucks, but nobody really steals around here. We got an honor system."
Chris blinked. "Honor system? Are you fucking me?"
JC blinked back. "I don’t think so." He shot him a strange look and went back to grinning like an idiot. "Yeah, no, we don’t really get much traffic. The only room with a lock is the office. Even my room doesn’t have one. I think Frank bought all the doorknobs from this discount tire place down the street, which is odd that they'd even sell locks or doorknobs. Probably why they all broke."
Justin was nodding, but obviously not paying attention.
"But hey, so that flyer worked huh? Joe told me I was an idiot when I gave him those, but it worked, and here you are."
"Right." Chris shook his head, turning to go up to his room, shoving at Justin's shoulder as he did.
"Hey wait!" JC leaned past Justin to Chris. "Hey man, you guys want some pot?"
Chris looked at Justin. "No."
"It’s this great blend man, I swear, just got it sent in. It’s called Blue Balls - not really sure why it’s called that, I didn’t name it. Sort of detracts from the sale, I think, but yeah, it’s real good." He pointed up at the tag-board, “The reviews are through the roof!”
Chris raised his eyebrows.
JC bent over and disappeared behind the desk, popping back up like some jacked up rabbit. He shoved out his hand, dangling a baggie. "Free sample!"
Justin shrugged and grabbed it from JC, letting his fingers drag a little. "Thanks dude."
JC grinned obliviously and nodded. "Hey, I’ll be down here if you guys need anything."
"I’m sure we will" Justin followed Chris up the stairs.
"I’m sure we will" Chris mimicked, and Justin shoved him so he tripped on the last stair.
"He’s hot enough. I’d fuck him."
"No, you won’t.” Chris frowned, serious. "We stay low, we call for the check in, and we leave tomorrow. Fucking the pothead manager isn’t staying low."
Justin's eyes narrowed. "So what the hell else are we supposed to do, play fucking Canasta?"
"You don’t even know what Canasta is." Chris went to his room, and stared down at the key in his hand. What the hell was the point if there were no locks? He rolled his eyes and opened the door. "Go in your room. Go to sleep. Jerk off. Whatever."
“It’s a card game, asshole,” Justin sneered and opened his own door before disappearing.
Chris walked into his own room, closed the door. He paused for a second, then dragged a chair from the desk over, popped it up beneath the doorknob. It wouldn’t hold if someone wanted to get in, but it would alert him anyway. He went into the bathroom, looked around. It was neat but dingy, just like the rest of the place. He looked down at the happy yellow note card that sat behind the faucet. Enjoy your wash. Chris picked it up and threw it in the trash. At least it wasn’t in bubble letters.
Chris got into the shower and leaned against the tile wall. There was a pretty nasty bruise under his ribs where he’d been tackled by Justin almost 30 hours ago. The kid was fucking big. He’d hit the ground hard, another large bruise on his shoulder, the skin shredded by the concrete. He took off the makeshift bandage, hissing as the water hit the raw skin.
Not much longer now. Andrejczyk had what he wanted, Chris would be done, and Justin would be solo. His eyes stared down at his toes, blinking rapidly. Feet were so ugly. Chris shut off the water, stepped out of the tub. Grabbed another cotton pad out of his bag and taped it to his shoulder.
Chris stopped short at a small scraping noise from behind the door, followed by the sound of springs compressing on his mattress. Chris swore to himself – he had thought he’d be able to hear the chair from the shower. He hesitated a bit at the door, one hand on the towel at his waist. The other reached for the Glock .22 he had set on the sink.
Slow, steady. Chris let his mind focus to a sharp point, and with one swift movement, threw the door open and held out his gun.
Justin was munching on some chips, sitting on his bed. The chair was back in its place, no sign of anything misplaced.
“Hey.” Justin waved and Chris frowned.
“What the fuck. What are you doing?”
Justin smiled wide, and waved Chris over. “Man, it’s these Blue Balls. They’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Chris lowered the gun, even though he desperately wanted to shoot Justin. He walked over, quietly.
“You stupid fuck. You really think that’s such a good idea, to get fucking high. Of all times, to do that now. What the fuck are you gonna do when some asshole walks into your room, and you’re busy counting rainbows? “
Chris realized his hand was squeezing his gun, and he instantly clicked on the safety.
Justin’s eyes flashed, and he stood slowly, walking up to Chris. Chris was by no means a large man. It meant that he was forced to be more vicious. More violent. He had to be quicker, had to strike first.
Justin gave him ample opportunity to do so, but Chris stood still.
“A little pot isn’t going to do a fucking thing when it comes down to it.” He made every inch of his height matter as he leaned down over Chris. “I’ve done worse things on harder shit.”
Chris nodded, and Justin backed away, and like a switch, he was back to smiling. “Want some chips?”
Chris sighed. "Yeah."
They were sitting on the twin bed, a bag of Tostitos between them. The small TV was playing an episode of MacGyver, and they were watching it with far too much attention.
MacGyver was stuck in an elevator while a bomb was counting down. If he didn't get out in time, the building would be leveled with him inside. As the dramatic music indicated, it was a moment of great tension. Justin was holding the small roach between his fingers. His eyes snapped between it and the television.
Chris got up. It was almost 10, and he needed to call in for the nightly check. Leaving Justin, Chris dialed the number he knew by heart and moved out into the hallway.
Chris cleared his throat. "It's me."
"Ah. Cały jest dobrze?"
"Yeah. Are we still good for tomorrow?
There was a pause. “Gdzie są wy dokładnie??“
Chris paused at the odd request. He’d never really asked before. “Off the interstate, not too far. It’s called the Frank Fetlund motel.” He waited, then asked again. “Tomorrow?”
"Żaden. Tam były... Komplikacje."
Chris frowned. "What do you mean by that? What complications?" He could hear his voice begin to grow louder, and he calmed himself down with a few breaths.
"One poznają to było wy. Wy potrzebujecie zatrzymywać wciąż, nie przybywa tutaj. Nie jeszcze. "
Chris curled his hand into a fist. "I don't want to hear that." He looked around the hallway.
"Poznaję. To nie ma znaczenie. Pobyt gdzie wy jesteście. niewiele dni. JA będę sprawdzać w z wami kiedy JA jestem pewnne."
There was a dial tone, and Chris stared at the phone.
He went back to the room, and Justin looked over at him.
"All well with the Polak?"
Chris shut the door, replaced the chair. He was quiet for a while and Justin waited, uncharacteristically patient. God, he was tired. He looked down at Justin with his Blue Balls and sighed. "Give me that pot."
Justin's brows rose, but he sat up, pulling the plastic baggie from his pocket. "Wait. You're not going to flush it, are you? I mean, I’m sure that guy has more, but I don’t really want to move, and if you did that, I would be forced to fuck you up."
"Shut up, Justin." Chris grabbed the bag, reached into his own pockets, felt around. Pulled out the pink flyer.
He ripped off a strip, started rolling a joint.
"Oh, so now is a good time for pot?" His tone was light, but his eyes still held an edge.
Chris shrugged and stared down at the half rolled joint. Fuck it. “We got time to waste."
"What do you mean?"
Chris lit the joint, inhaled. Whoa. He held it in, slow release. Blinked. Whoa.
"Damn, this is good." He looked up to find Justin glaring at him.
"Chris, stop fucking around. What happened? What did he say?"
Things were lighter, airy. Chris felt himself smile, but he couldn’t help it. It was like there were strings attached to the edges of his lips and they were getting pulled up. He felt his face, grinning into his hand.
"Ahh nothing really. We just need to stay put a few days. He said he'll contact us."
The room felt foggy, and he took another hit. Justin was talking, but Chris didn’t really care. He went back over to the bed, sat down. On TV, the building exploded, and Chris wondered if MacGyver made it out.
"They know it was us. Andrejczyk wants us to stay here for a few days."
Justin nodded, but didn’t look happy. He leaned back against the wall, and Chris continued to smoke.
He could remember it clearly. He could remember the exact second he was done with all of it. He was in Germany, sitting at a bar, drinking thick beer. Waiting. Well on his way to being drunk, he was staring at a beer coaster with a caricature of a busty woman, and it just clicked.
He remembered thinking he was too old to do this anymore. But that wasn’t true. He was barely over thirty, and some of the older pros were pushing fifty. At least those that stayed alive.
He wasn’t old. He could be doing this for years, and he was good, and he made good money. His sisters, his mother - they were set. College tuition, new house. But god, he felt it. He felt every single year.
Ten years ago, all he knew was that he was angry and he wanted to push all of his hatred onto anyone he could get his hands on. If he made money off it, then even better.
But that was the type of motivation that sizzled after a few years. Staring at cartoon breasts on a wet beer coaster in Hamburg, Chris decided that he would tell Andrejczyk. He was out.
It would never be as easy as all of that though. Chris wasn’t deluded enough to think he could quit the business, and that his handler would smile and wave goodbye. So there was Justin.
The motel room was painted kind of a light yellowy color, and Chris thought it looked like a rotten milkshake. He told Justin as much, but he didn’t seem to care. The bolted TV was playing an infomercial, and Chris wondered how long he had zoned out. The roach was almost out, and Chris took his last hit.
There were patterns on the wall, shapes that moved like shadows. He smiled wider, recognizing them. The skeleton, the coy, the dragon. The words "NEVER". He pushed up the sleeve on his arm and stared at his tattoos, then up to the ones mirrored along the ceiling. He rubbed at the ink his arm a little. The dragon swirled a bit on the wall, its mouth opening and its tongue flickering in and out.
Chris looked down at his skin. Next to the letters, the dragon was wrapped around his forearm, up to his elbow. It wasn’t moving. Chris remembered getting it, 18 years old. His first roll of cash from working for Danny Thorne back in Boston. He pushed his other sleeve up, a black shamrock on his other elbow. That was the first one he’d gotten, and it hadn’t cost him a thing.
The dragon on the wall was slinking up onto the ceiling. Chris lay back and stared as it circled around. It looked like there were clouds painted into the chipped drywall. He closed his eyes, and saw them behind his eyelids. It was beautiful.
When Chris woke up, Justin was gone and the chair was under the doorknob. Chris frowned at it, and looked out the window. Somehow the night had passed him, and he sighed, rubbing his face.
As he went out into the hallway, he lightly brushed the gun holstered under his shirt out of habit. There was laughter coming from down the stairs. The smell of food trickled up soon after, and Chris followed it down past the lobby, into the back kitchen.
The manager, JC, was seated at a small wooden table. Another man was seated across from him, a cup of coffee between his hands. He was young and quite handsome, wearing a very cheap and rumpled suit.
“Hey man.” JC smiled at him warmly, and gestured for him to sit.
“Oh, that’s ok. I was actually just looking for my friend.”
The man snorted a little. “Do you mean the tall guy with the buzz cut?”
Chris felt a sinking feeling. “Yeah.”
JC laughed a little. “Don’t worry, he didn’t really do anything. Well, he kind of slobbered on Lance and invited him out for a drink.”
“9:30 is usually a bit early for me,” the guy replied, his voice dry.
Fucking Justin. “Did he say where he was going?”
JC shook his head. “Well, he asked me where the nearest bar is, but I told him it wasn’t open. He might have gone to the grocery store nearby.”
Chris hadn’t really wanted to wander around the town, but he knew Justin would be antsy. It wasn’t realistic to ask him to stay in his room for the next few days. Chris wasn’t even sure what he planned to do.
“Hey, seriously man, have a seat. I can get you some food, it’s complimentary. Do you like pancakes?”
He was on nothing but chips and weed, so he shrugged. Why not?
JC nodded, brightening a little.
Lance sipped his coffee, and Chris felt uncomfortable under his gaze. He wasn’t sure why. “So what are you in town for? Uh, sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Didn’t say it. Just passing through.”
Chris hated small talk. He didn’t really care about this guy, or what he was doing with his life. He should have asked JC to send his food up to his room.
Lance seemed to take the short answer as an invitation to talk. “Yeah, I’m here for my cousin’s wedding. They keep asking me to stay over there, but I don’t want to be an inconvenience.”
“That’s nice man. You close to your cousin?” JC turned from the stove, saving Chris from having to talk any.
“Not so much, no, but he’s family. And he invited me, so it would have been rude not to come, you know?”
“Oh yeah sure.” JC nodded, but Chris got the impression that he didn’t. The two of them continued their meaningless chit chat, and Chris tried to think of a way to leave without being obvious. But before long, JC brought over a plate stacked with slightly burned pancakes, and Chris was stuck.
He was watching expectantly, so Chris took a bite, and gagged a little.
JC frowned. “Hmm.” He turned back to the counter and looked closely at the box of pancake mix. Lance smiled a little.
“That’s why I asked for coffee.”
“I think that may have been the worst thing I’ve ever tasted.” Chris was a little amazed. How was it possible to ruin instant pancake mix?
JC turned back and took the plate away, taking an experimental bite. He paused mid-chew and threw it in the trash hurriedly. “Okay, so no complimentary breakfast.” He smiled apologetically.
Chris shook his head, and tried not to smile back.
Justin was pissed. He’d woken up that morning, completely fucking angry, and he didn’t even have any pot left over to soften the rough edges of it. He’d gotten directions to the bar from JC, but apparently they didn’t open until twelve. Well fuck them. In Jersey, he could go into a bar any fucking time he wanted, and so could anyone else. What kind of town was this?
Not even the local grocery store carried any alcohol. He’d had to settle for a six pack of Tekate from some local Mexican place. He didn’t care for the taste, but at least it did its job.
A few days, Chris had said. Justin hadn’t had the capacity to get as pissed about it yesterday, but today was another thing all together. He was just supposed sit there with his dick in his hand while that Polak asshole decided it was okay for them to move? Fuck that.
If there was one thing Justin hated more than being talked down to, it was fucking waiting.
He kicked at an ugly building as he passed, taking a sip of beer.
Chris had said that they were targeted. There was always going to be a chance of that – the job was done, even if the mark hadn’t exactly gone smooth. But that didn’t mean they should stay here. Wherever the fuck here was. Justin wasn’t even sure what state they were in at the moment. Somewhere lifeless and boring as fuck, that’s where.
Contrary to what everyone assumed, Justin did not need a teacher. Chris had his way of doing things, and Justin had his. They gave each other tips, but that was it. And while Chris wasn’t a bad guy, the sooner Justin was rid of him, the better.
Justin glanced around, finding himself in a park. A few kids were throwing around a football and skateboarding. He stood, watching them for a few minutes, and finished off his can, throwing it over his shoulder.
There was a pretty hot blonde girl sitting on one of the benches, and Justin went to sit next to her.
“How’s it going?” He smiled.
The girl glanced over at him, “Its going.”
“I’m Justin.” He put his hand out and the girl hesitated for a minute before shaking it.
“What, you don’t have a name?”
She ducked her head, and laughed. “Nope.”
“How about I call you gorgeous?”
She laughed out loud this time. “Wow. That’s… wow.”
“Yeah, a lot of girls say that to me.” Justin smiled his most charming smile, and the girl grinned back at him.
“You’re awful sure of yourself.”
He shrugged. “Shouldn’t I be?”
The girl lived down the street, and her roommate wasn’t home. After the third time they fucked, Justin rolled over and searched around on the floor for his leftover six-pack. There was one left, and it was kind of warm, but he shared it with her.
“So what is your name?”
She grinned. “Gorgeous.”
Chris was back in his room, this time watching a re-run of Perry Mason. The evil young punk was led away in handcuffs while Perry and some other elderly people clucked their tongues.
“Sometimes, ‘boys will be boys’ just won’t cut it.”
The credits rolled on a freeze frame of Perry’s wrinkled face.
That pretty much did it. Chris got out of bed and walked out into the hallway in search of his sanity. Maybe Justin had the right idea – some hard liquor would be divine right about now.
He had excused himself pretty quickly after breakfast and went back to the room. Chris thought he had gotten used to this part of the job, but with Justin around lately, he had forgotten just how monotonous things were most of the time. Four hours of the Hallmark channel were more than enough for the rest of his life.
Out in the hall, one of the rooms was open. There was someone humming softly, something catchy that Chris couldn’t place. He looked down the hallway, figuring the door was on the way downstairs, and headed towards it.
Apparently it was the cleaning person. There was a big trash can and a cart of toilet paper, towels, and other things. The humming started to get a few words thrown in, but they sounded nonsensical. Something about horses. Chris poked his head in.
The guy was bent over under the bed, and Chris couldn’t help channeling Justin a bit as he gave him a once over, but when he sat up, Chris couldn’t help the frown growing on his face.
“Hey man!” JC waved at him, and Chris didn’t wave back. “Just cleaning the room, there was a checkout last night and I didn’t get the chance.” JC sat up on the bed. Chris looked at him, trying to decide between making another excuse or dealing with JC. The fact that he was hesitating at all made him realize he was pretty desperate for company.
He walked in a little. “Don’t you have a cleaning lady?”
JC laughed. “Cleaning lady? Man, I barely keep this place running. Nah, I don’t have money for that.”
“I thought the pot dealing would have helped.”
“You would think that, but the sales pretty much depend on the customers stopping by. So, not too much of those means not too much of the other business.”
JC had changed out of the pajamas from earlier in the morning. He was currently wearing a light pink shirt with a dolphin on it. It looked faded and soft.
“You had any lunch yet?”
Chris didn’t answer for a minute, and JC must have read the growing unease on his face because he started laughing, which then turned into a full fledge gasping fit. Chris started to get a little alarmed that he was going to cut off his own oxygen supply.
“Man, your face! Dude, I’m not going to poison you. I ordered out, so you can stop looking all constipated.”
“Constipated? I thankfully avoided constipation. No thanks to you.” Chris was aiming for biting, but it came out amused.
JC smiled, that eye-scrunchy/nose wrinkling one that reminded Chris of a puppy. Chris frowned again, and reminded himself he did not like this man.
“Sandwiches. Nothing hard to digest, scouts honor. Come on.” He led the way back down the kitchen, and Chris followed. He was hungry, that was the only reason.
JC pulled open a few paper bags, grabbing a bag of chips. He set the food in front of Chris, and leaned on the counter. There was no reason for him to stay in the kitchen, but Chris took a seat first anyway. JC smiled and sat across from him.
The sandwiches were good, dripping with spicy mustard and jardinaro.
“You struck me as a spicy kinda guy.” JC said, straight-faced. Chris had no doubt that Justin would have had some clever kind of response. There were only two extra sandwiches sitting on the counter.
“Uh, don’t the other guests get food?”
“Well, Lance is at his cousin’s place. And I got one for Justin.”
Chris chewed for a bit. “We’re the only ones here?”
JC nodded and went to the fridge, grabbing a bottle of water.
Chris found that odd. How was it possible that JC ran the entire motel seemingly by himself, and almost never had any guests? It did seem kind of serial-killer-ish. Well, aside from the fact that the supposed serial killer was probably too high to kill anyone efficiently. He imagined JC running after a busty coed with a butcher knife, then getting distracted and wandering off to water his fern. Chris hid a grin, and JC smiled at him for no reason, happily quiet for once.
“Ask the question, man.” JC said casually after a minute or two. Chris blinked.
“You look curious about something. Just ask, it’s cool.”
For a guy as flakey as JC seemed to be, he was awfully perceptive at times. Chris shook his head.
“So, does the owner ever come around here?”
JC looked at him blankly, then said “Oh! You mean Frank. Well, he’s not really around. I haven’t seen him in months actually.” JC looked thoughtful, as if this just occurred to him. “I’m sort of the acting owner, you could say.”
“Where did he go?”
JC shrugged, and there was a sudden, closed-off look that Chris thought was oddly out of character. “Don’t know. He just left me a note, told me to look after the place. We weren’t really friends or anything, I sold him pot now and then, so it’s kinda weird. I just tried to look after the place while he was gone.”
“So what, before this you were a full time drug dealer?”
JC laughed at that. “I guess. Well, I was in school for a while, had to drop out. My foster dad died, so I was helping out my foster mom when I could.”
JC didn’t seem uncomfortable talking about seemingly personal things. Chris wondered why he was going out of his way for foster parents when the guy was in his mid twenties.
JC did that mind reading thing again, and shrugged. “They were good people. I kept in touch after I turned 18.”
They both finished their sandwiches, and JC started into a rambling story about one of his customers being a cop and how he had bribed him out of a traffic ticket. Chris realized throughout the entire time they had been talking, JC never once asked Chris anything about himself. Chris could have taken it as JC just being self-absorbed, but he knew it wasn’t that. He remembered JC asking Lance all sorts of questions about his family and his business.
He didn’t know what to think about that.
“…so if you want, I could show you. You know, since you seem kind of bored and all.”
Chris had tuned out most of what JC was saying, and only now realized that JC seemed to be waiting for a response.
If Chris thought JC smiled brightly before, right now he was beaming. “Great! Let me just go into the office and finish something and we can go right after!”
Chris stared blankly, and remembered to nod. JC flashed him another grin and got up, clearing away the wrappers.
Chris had an odd feeling that JC had just asked him out.
Justin was outside the motel near their shitty Honda. He had smoked the rest of Chris’s stash of cigarettes and was staring at the “Frank fetus” motel sign. The red neon didn’t look any less alarming in the daytime.
“I think JC mentioned something about fixing that.”
Justin looked up to find the green-eyed blonde from the kitchen this morning. He grinned. The rest of the day might not be so boring after all.
“Personally, I think he’s putting it off ‘cause he thinks it’s funny.”
Justin looked back at the sign. “I dunno. I just keep imagining dead fetuses.”
“Morbid.” The guy, Justin was trying to remember his name, walked near him and took out a cigarette of his own. “You just missed your friend.”
Justin stopped short from taking a drag. ”Really?” Chris had actually left the motel room?
“Yeah. He went somewhere with JC.”
“Really?” Justin counted himself even more surprised. Why that wily fucker – all ‘no fucking the help,’ and then stealing his booty call. Justin laughed.
“Hm.” The guy nodded and grinned. “Probably not smart of JC to leave the motel unsupervised.”
“The guy didn’t strike me as the smart type.”
Green-eyes shrugged. “Looks can be deceiving.” He took a long drag of his cigarette. “My name is Lance,” he smiled at Justin slow and a little dirty, “since you probably forgot.
Justin grinned. “I won’t forget this time.”
Lance smiled. “We’ll see.”
Justin threw the cigarette butt on the ground and put it out with his shoe. He let his eyes linger a little on Lance, who just raised an eyebrow.
“So did you ever find that bar you wanted?”
“Nah. Just wasted some time.”
Lance seemed satisfied with that. He finished off his own cigarette, and nodded at Justin before turning to leave.
Justin cleared his throat. “So, since the bar is probably open now, you want to go get that drink?”
Lance gave Justin a long and steady look and Justin flashed another charming smile. “Sorry man. I don’t like sloppy seconds.” He leaned close to Justin, his voice low and soft. “You reek of sex.”
Justin stood very still and Lance stood back. Well, that was unexpected. He watched Lance turn around and go inside without another backwards glance. Okay, he was impressed.
Chris was trying to figure out how he ended up with JC in his old beater, driving through the small roadside town. When he saw the rotting wooden sign that said “Welcome to Glenley”, Chris realized he hadn’t even known what town he was actually in.
“We probably could have walked through town to the trail, but it would have been pretty late by the time we got back. The view is fantastic, trust me.”
JC had the windows rolled down and was driving very slowly. It had taken a few tries for the car to start, and it was making a constant rattling noise. JC assured him it always sounded like that, but Chris didn’t bother asking anymore.
The town looked pretty dead. There was nobody walking anywhere, and he only saw a few cars parked in the street. They passed through the main commerce district and the little suburban square houses. He saw a kid on a bike and JC waved at him as they drove by.
“Did you grow up here?”
“Nah,” JC glanced at him. “I grew up in Maryland mostly.”
“Seems like a strange place to move to.”
“Yeah.” He shrugged. “There’s stranger places.”
They drove in silence and the road started to become a little less defined as they made it to the very outskirts of the town. There was nothing but desert and sharp cliffs. JC parked the car at a small embankment and got out, grabbing his satchel out of the backseat. Chris got out as well, leaned by the door.
If he put his hand over his eyes, he could see the highway stretch up north across the town. Further east there were the cliffs, red and pink rock glinting in the sun
They followed a small trail that headed up into a sharp incline. The path curled back up and around the town, climbing higher. At times, it was so narrow that Chris and JC had to walk pressed up against the side of the cliff wall, the edge of the path dropping off to their right. Chris wiped the sweat off his forehead and when JC finally stopped, he pulled a bottle of water from the satchel and handed it to Chris. He sat down, dangling his legs off the edge.
The desert looked huge. The highway was now just a tiny sliver, the town small and nestled beneath them. The sky had become cloudy and looked heavy and gray.
Chris had been to a lot of exotic places in his life. He had seen some beautiful sights. The long flat planes of the land before him felt intimidating, and he looked to his side where JC sat. He hadn’t spoken much since they had set out.
“So, is the tour through town bundled into the price of a room?”
JC grinned. “No, I’m charging you extra when you check out.” He kicked his feet slightly. “You just seemed like you needed to get out, that’s all.”
He did. They traded the bottle of water back and forth. Chris looked up to find JC watching him. He saw him lean forward, and Chris let him. The kiss was soft and gentle and Chris lifted his hand to JC’s face, licking lightly, deepening it before pulling back.
He cleared his throat. “Did I look like I needed that?”
“No.” JC gave him a level look. “I did.” He stood up and put out his hand, pulling Chris to his feet. Chris sighed.
“This. This has the potential to be complicated.”
“Okay.” JC put his hands in his pockets and looked at his sandaled feet.
Or it had the potential to be very easy. He could take JC back to the motel, they could fuck like madmen, and tomorrow he could leave. Justin was sure to make himself scarce, even if Chris would have to hear about it for days afterward.
Chris studied JC, with his dumb hair and his girly shirt. God, he wanted to keep it easy. Fuck the pothead manager and get on with his life. He shook his head.
JC wasn’t as simple as that.
Chris leaned into him and kissed him hard and sharp, and JC rolled with it, his hands on Chris’s shoulders. Chris let his own hands run up JC’s back, under his shirt, his skin slick with sweat. He stopped, and leaned back, licking his lips.
JC was flushed, and he was biting at his own bottom lip.
JC nodded, and stepped back, grabbing his satchel.
The sun was low in the sky by the time they made it back to where they had parked. The car made some low keening noises and sputtered to a start. There was a weird tension between them, and Chris wondered what to say. When they turned back onto the main road into town, the car started to lurch a little.
“Um,” JC squinted down at the steering wheel, then back up at the road.
“What?” Chris frowned a little.
“Yeah, that wasn’t a good sound.”
“For the love—we could have taken my car, JC.”
“I know. But I like this car. It’s like, old as hell, but it’s still kicking.” JC grinned at him, and Chris felt himself smile.
The car ran for a few more miles, then sputtered a lot more. JC pulled over and got out, opening the hood and starting at it.
“I have no idea what I’m looking at.”
Chris rolled his eyes and got out as well, standing next to JC. He leaned down and peered at the engine. It was getting darker now, and it was a bit difficult to make out.
“It probably just needs a jump.”
They both looked around at the silent streets and lack of cars. JC smiled sheepishly, “The motel isn’t too far a walk.”
Justin was in the motel room, bored out of his fucking mind. He had heard one of the doors in the hallway open and caught sight of Lance leaving. He had just grinned at Justin before walking down the stairs.
He began wandering around the motel, and found JC’s office unlocked. He laughed. The only door in the whole place that worked, and the guy didn’t even remember to lock it properly. He went inside and flicked on the lights.
A game controller was lying on the couch next to a bong, and Justin glanced at the game, which had a picture of a scary looking alien thing. Trippy.
There was a bookshelf along one of the walls, and Justin wandered closer, curious. They looked like textbooks. Various titles on music and art, some old ratty notebooks. He grabbed one and looked around before opening it. The pages were filled with class notes, and at the end of each dated entry, there were what looked like poems. Maybe lyrics. He saw a few bars of notes underneath, and started to hum the melody. Catchy.
He shut the notebook and put it away. A small square fridge was in the corner of the room, and he opened it only to find a half full bottle of beer. Justin considered trying it, but figured he shouldn’t bother.
Chris had been gone for a while now. Justin figured he was off getting lucky somewhere, and suddenly wished he hadn’t thrown out the number of that girl from earlier.
Another few minutes of snooping, and Justin figured JC’s pot stash was somewhere else. He left the office, locking it behind him.
Justin had been on a good many jobs, but this was something he could never get used to. Before a hit, there were plans and contingencies - bribes to be made, weapons to arrange. The excitement continued to ramp up as the day grew closer. Then there were a few minutes of his heart racing, the plan being set in motion, moments of controlled chaos.
New York was like that. It had gotten a little hairy, but that was half the fun.
He sighed and left the motel. It was as good a time as any to get a few beers.
The bar JC had shown him was finally open. The neon bud sign in the window was the only evidence of the building actually being a bar. He opened the door, and found a few guys slumped over their drinks. They looked like working types, grabbing a beer before they went home to their wives.
Justin sat on a stool and gestured at the bartender. “Whiskey, straight.”
The bartender looked at him for a minute. “You got ID, kid?”
Justin glared. For fucks sake, he hated this town. “Yeah, my fucking fist if you don’t just get me my drink.”
The bartender was old and frail, and he shook his head. “Do you want me to call the cops?”
Right. Low profile. Justin clenched his teeth. “No. C’mon man, it’s been a long day.”
The old bartender gave him another look, then shrugged and poured out his drink. “You just travelin’ through?”
Justin knocked back his drink, and hissed at the burn. “Yeah. Not staying long if I can help it.”
The bartender nodded.
“Keep ‘em coming.”
Chris felt JC brush his fingers against his own as they entered the motel. He wondered where this was going to go. Whatever it was that was going on, it felt almost chaste. Like he was in grade school, going steady with the girl in his algebra class. Chris knew it was up to him, whatever happened. JC had made his first move, and he let Chris decide what came next.
There were three guys standing at the check-in desk. They were all dressed in dark clothes, black pants and long jackets. One of them had on an expensive looking ring and matching gold chain around his neck. JC greeted them with a smile. “Oh, hey guys. Sorry about that, hope you weren’t waiting too long.”
One of the guys shook his head. “No, not that long.” His voice had a thick Russian accent, a blank tribal tattoo running up his neck. His eyes flicked up at Chris.
Chris didn’t have time to think. He grabbed JC’s arm hard, pulling him back and shoving him aside as the man drew his gun. Chris dove after JC behind a wall that jutted out near the entryway to the waiting area. The crack of the gunshot was deafening. The other two men fanned out on either side, one jumping behind the desk and another taking cover at the other end of the room near the stairs.
“Oh my fuck,” JC breathed, his hands held tightly over his ears. Chris turned to him and smiled grimly.
“Stay near me. When I tell you to run, go.”
JC’s eyes were very wide, and his voice was hesitating, “Chris, what—“
“Fucking listen to me, JC!” Chris’s voice was hard and JC flinched a little. He nodded.
Chris leaned out slightly over the wall. The tattoo guy let out another round and Chris drew back quickly as the bullet hit the drywall, forming a large crumbling hole. He took a quick inventory. The exit was covered by one guy, the check in desk hiding another. The main Russian with the chains was standing out near the stairs.
Chris had been in many types of situations. Ones where he came and went, completely unseen, his mark found dead hours after he’d left the country. There were other times Chris was in a large crowd of people, able to lose himself with ease. Then there were the shit situations where he’d had to improvise.
Normally, this wouldn’t be as big a deal. He looked back at JC. Well, this was slightly different.
When outnumbered and surrounded, things usually look grim. But the adrenaline rushing through Chris’s veins were skewing things. He got that rush that came with the pull of the trigger, and yes, he fucking liked it. There were some things he’d never be able to change about himself, no matter how normal he wanted to be.
Chris rang out some blind shots and popped a quick look as he saw Jewelry Guy by the stairs duck down and away.
“JC. When I say, run back into the kitchen. Leave through the back door and take my rental. The keys are in the dash.”
JC nodded. He hesitated. “And you?”
Chris shook his head. “The kitchen, JC”
Chris grabbed a nearby stool, threw it down on the ground hard. The wood splintered, and he pulled off one of the legs, edge jagged and sharp. He counted to three, and hefted the wooden stake. He stepped out from the wall and hurled the wooden leg at Jewelry Guy. It hit him hard in the neck, and he threw his hands up as he choked a little. Chris turned quickly and shot Tattoo Neck cleanly between the eyes.
Chris started emptying his clip over the desk, forcing the Russian hiding behind it to stay down. The tag-board came crashing down, papers flying everywhere. He didn’t look, but out of the corner of his eye, saw JC running. The gun clicked, empty, and he threw it on the ground
The Jewelry Guy was clutching his neck, and with one hand raised his gun as best he could and fired. Chris ducked, and dove over the check-in desk, straight on top of the third Russian that was taking cover.
They both went down hard, and the Russian let off a few rounds. Chris grabbed his hand and pushed, kneeing the guy’s arm until he heard a crunching snap. The Russian screamed and dropped the gun.
Chris grabbed the gun, and with two shots to the chest and one to the head, took care of him.
Jewelry Guy was still by the stairs. JC must have made it to the kitchen- he couldn’t really see him anywhere. Chris panted and checked the clip. He only had three rounds left.
He had a random thought, and wondered where that Lance guy had gone. He probably heard the noise and kept to his room. The neighbors would probably call the cops, and Chris laughed to himself. This was probably the most excitement they’d ever have here.
There was no noise. Chris leaned around the desk, not being able to see the guy. A bullet zinged past his head, and he quickly snapped back to where he was and shot blind. Shit. He didn’t know which direction the bullet had come from, but the guy obviously had a clean shot.
There was another shot, followed by two quick ones. Chris was surprised, not feeling the bullets impact anywhere near him. He froze. Only two left rounds.
“Well, you just seem to keep getting into trouble, huh? No wonder you’re retiring. Without me, you’d be dead twice over.”
Chris slumped back against the desk. For fuck’s sake. He stood slowly, looking out to see Jewelry Guy sprawled on the floor, pooling blood. Chris stood.
Justin was standing there looking a little amused, the smoking firearm in his hand. “All clear,” he called out, and JC hesitantly came out of the kitchen entrance.
“What the hell JC, I told you to get out of here!”
JC looked offended. “I know that. But I saw Justin come in, and, you know.” He trailed off, and then looked around at the three bodies. He started turning a bit green.
Justin holstered his gun and sighed. “That’s not gonna be the last of them.”
Chris shook his head. “How did they even find us?” In fact, they knew exactly where to look. Both times.
Chris and Justin had been in New York two days ago. They had a clear vantage point of their mark. Chris had been on point, and he had taken the shot. It was supposed to be quick and quiet. They were set up at a building across the street, and one high powered sniper shot later, they were on the move.
But the Russians had known. And they’d taken their own shot at Chris.
He’d hit the asphalt as Justin had tackled him. The shin had shredded on his side through his thin shirt, his ribs bruised.
“This is all wrong.” Chris shook his head. He looked up and found JC now pointedly not looking at any of the bodies. Chris knew he should explain, but he didn’t know what to say.
Chris had a sudden dawning realization. There was no way they could have known. And why were they supposed to wait at this motel? Why had Andrejczyk asked for the exact place he was staying?
He had thought it was because they needed the heat on them to cool off. That they needed to lie low, keep off the radar.
Justin ‘s cell rang and he raised his brows as he looked at the number. “Huh. Boss is calling.” He looked up at JC and then Chris. “I’ll take it outside.”
Chris turned to JC. “You okay?”
JC cleared his throat and nodded. “Uh, sure. I could really use a hit right now, though,” he laughed shakily.
Chris slumped and let out a deep breath. There was nothing to say. He had told JC he wasn’t a very easy guy to know. That there were… complications around him. JC looked up at him, and his eyes were very determined.
“Okay. So you kill people. Which, is, you know, not that good. But you told me you were retiring, didn’t you?”
Chris sighed. “JC-“
JC raised his hand and cut him off with a look. “You’re retiring. You just had some.. uh.. setbacks. But you get to your boss and you check in, and that’s it. You’re done.”
Chris didn’t think it would be as easy as all that. He looked up as Justin returned, holding a metal briefcase. Justin’s face was drawn tight, and the cell phone was held loosely in his hand.
“What is that?” Chris looked at it and up at Justin. “What the fuck is that?”
“It’s what I need to deliver to Andrejczyk.”
Not one single time had Chris been in the dark about an assignment. He knew every mark, every plan, and every errand, inside and out. He did not like that the first time he didn’t know something was now, minutes after almost being killed.
“Where did you get that?”
Justin looked a little guilty. “I was told not to tell you about it. The mark was transporting it in his car. He needed to be taken down – Andrejczyk said that this one was personal. And it was. The Russians were starting to cut into the Polak’s business.” He opened the case, and there in a small velvet box were glittering stones. Diamonds.
“I take it to him as proof. I get half.”
Chris didn’t like where this was going.
“I’m sorry Chris.”
And he did look sorry. But there was a coldness slowly seeping into his eyes, and Chris thought, no. No.
Justin lifted the gun and Chris shook his head.
“Andrejczyk called me. I didn’t know you were supposed to get that bullet back in New York.”
Chris thought back to the impact of his body hitting the ground, Justin landing on him hard.
“Justin. Wait.” Chris raised his hands, then without hesitation, sharply kicked out and hit Justin in the ribs. Justin doubled over, and Chris dove over to the body of the Tattooed Russian, grabbing the gun out of his hand. He stood and fired, and Justin stumbled out of the way. Into the doorway of the kitchen.
He grabbed JC by his stupid curly hair.
Chris stopped short.
“Chris, don’t make me fucking do this. Put down the gun.”
Chris didn’t move.
“If you don’t put it down, I’m going to shoot him in the fucking head.” Chris met JC’s eyes, and they looked so blue. His face looked calm.
Chris didn’t put the gun down. He put slight pressure on the trigger. He looked at Justin, and his lips were pressed into a thin line.
He hesitated for a second. That was all it took. Justin shoved JC away and shot Chris in the chest.
Chris staggered, and his hand went slowly to the dribbling wetness he started to feel. He thought he heard JC yell. He fell over, and Justin came over to him. “I’m sorry.”
His face lost its stoniness, and he looked so fucking young. Chris closed his eyes. JC was pleading. The sounds were getting fuzzy, but he thought he heard sirens. Justin looked down at Chris. He lowered the gun, and turned to grab the briefcase.
“It’s just business, Chris.”
Justin walked back through the kitchen and out the door. Chris could feel hands on his face, and on his chest. He opened his eyes, and JC was looking at him, worried.
JC laughed, a little hysteric. “Nah.”
Chris blacked out.
Chris had a dream. He was in his old house, and his sisters were running around outside in the backyard. He looked down at himself, and his arms were bare, save one tattoo on each. The dragon on his left forearm writhed, its tongue slithering in and out. The clover on his elbow itched.
His mother was in the kitchen, and Chris stood up.
She smiled at him, distracted, and went back to the stove.
He went back into the living room, and Danny Thorne was sitting on his coffee table. He gave him his first gun. It was shiny and silver, and Danny mussed up his hair with a crooked smile. “You’re good, kid.”
Chris opened his eyes. Groaned and blinked rapidly. He looked around at the hospital room.
“Nice to see you awake, Mr. Kirkpatrick.”
Chris frowned, and turned his head to the window. The man was backlit by the sun, and he moved. Green eyes studied him carefully. He always knew there was something off about that guy.
Lance walked around to the side of the bed. “You are very lucky. The bullet tore though you pretty bad – it took three surgeries to repair. You might have died for a few seconds on the table, though.”
“Huh.” Chris licked his lips, desperately thirsty. “You don’t sound that happy I made it.”
Lance grinned, not pleasantly. “No, quite the contrary. You could be a very valuable asset.”
Chris snorted. “So what are you, FBI? CIA?”
“FBI. I’ve been tracking the Sirodov family for quite a while. I heard through our contacts that a hit had been put up by the Polish, and then before I know it, there’s a shootout in New York. The third head of the family had been killed.”
Chris didn’t know any of that. All he knew was the time, place, and target. “Interesting.”
Lance nodded. “Oh I thought so. Then I get a tipoff that Ivan Andrejczyk is having an important meeting, when its known that he has a beef with the Russians.”
“So you knew we were coming?”
Lance laughed. “Actually, no, not at all. Huge karmic coincidence. Didn’t know at all until you shot up three Russians at JC’s motel. All I knew was the meeting would be somewhere in the area. I was on my way to Phoenix, and stopped off here.”
Chris laughed too, then winced. Ten years without getting caught. Ten years of protection from the Irish, then the Polish. And now this.
“We could make a deal.”
Chris looked up sharply. “Where’s Justin?”
Lance suddenly had a strangely uncomfortable look on his face. “We don’t know. Both Justin and Andrejczyk dropped off the radar.” Then he seemed to shake it off, and went back to the whole G-man act. “Look Chris, you’ve got a price on your head now. The Russians want you dead, Andrejczyk dropped you.”
Chris guessed that Lance didn’t know about the thing with Justin. He must have figured Chris was injured in the fight with the Russians.
“You help us, we can help you.”
“The difference is,” Chris said, “that if I help you, my family is dead too.”
Lance got a pinched look on his face. “They’ll be protected, Chris.” He paused. “JC too.”
Chris looked out to the window again.
“Think about it. I’ll let you rest.”
Chris wanted to go back to sleep, but he couldn’t. The drugs were making him tired, but his mind wouldn’t rest. He must have dozed a little, though, because the next time he opened his eyes, JC was standing at the foot of his bed.
There were dark smudges under his eyes, but he smiled brightly.
Chris smiled. “Hey.”
JC lifted up a white paper bag. “Brought you some food.”
JC came over and placed the bag on the tray near the bed. He sat down, facing Chris. “So, that whole thing kind of sucked. Mob guys shooting at me, not the best end to a date.”
Chris grinned. “Date, huh?”
JC turned a little red. “Well, I never said it wasn’t.”
Chris sort of poked him in the side, and JC let out an involuntary laugh. “Shit, cut that out!” After a minute, JC quieted, looking down. “So what happens now?”
Chris shrugged. “I get better, then I get the fuck out of here.”
“Chris. If you don’t listen to Lance, you’re going to jail.”
“Who said I’m letting them put me in jail?”
JC frowned at him, and Chris sighed. “I haven’t lived this long without making some other connections. I’ll just call in a few favors.”
Chris didn’t know how to answer that. He took JC’s hand, and traced his knuckles. JC let it drop. He reached over and opened the bag of food, and pulled out some burgers. Chris dropped lettuce and mayonnaise on his shirt, and JC smiled at him.
Justin stared at the closed suitcase on the table. Andrejczyk stood across from him, his weathered face creased into a frown. Two big fuckers stood in the background, arms crossed. This was only the third time Justin had ever met the man face to face. Chris was usually the one who dealt with him.
“We have heard that Chris lives.” Andrejczyk’s voice was thick with a Polish accent, and Justin frowned a little, making out the words.
Justin didn’t say anything.
“We brought you in, as a replacement, poprawny? We thought you would be one to take orders correctly.”
“I did what you told me to.” Justin looked up, eyes narrowed. “Don’t fucking tell me I don’t follow orders.”
The old man’s lips twisted. “Taki brak szacunku.” One of the bodyguards nodded. “It is unfortunate about Chris. He was one of my best.” He looked at Justin. “Apparently irreplaceable.”
Fuck this. Justin stood quickly, and the two bodyguards took a step forward. Andrejczyk put his hand up.
“Next time, he is not to survive.”
Justin stared at the old man, then looked away. He nodded tightly.
Andrejczyk smiled. “Dobry.”
Ah. All is well?
Where are you exactly
No. There were some... complications.
They know it was you. You need to stay still, do not come here. Not yet.
I know. It does not matter. Stay where you are. A few days. I will check in with you when I am sure.