A wince. Mike lay still, crumpled close to the door where he had fallen, trying to see just how bad it was. The hangover was pretty bad all by itself; he expected that, and so moved slowly. There was aspirin in his desk. Nothing stronger; he couldn’t trust himself with anything stronger.
From his place on the floor, he opened his eyes, slowly; there was no way to know how long he had lain there. Reaching back slowly, his arm feeling sluggish and disconnected, as if it belonged to someone else, he tentatively touched the lump on the back of his head, wincing again.
Nausea swirled and blurred his vision, but it was a familiar feeling and he rode it out. Slowly, eyes closed, Mike sat up and pushed himself across the office floor, out of the patch of sunlight that fell through his office window, up against the desk, where he waited again.
Sunlight. Which meant that he had been out at least overnight. The booze had likely helped with that. Groaning, he pushed off the floor, half stumbling as he tried to lean against his desk and losing his grip. Papers were scattered everywhere. A pool of cold coffee had soaked a litter of files into a sodden mess. This is what Mike put his hand in, sliding across the surface and banging his knee; he hardly felt it.
Mike needed to move, to act. Someone had ransacked his office, either before he had sapped him in the back of the head, or while he lay on the floor, out cold. Guilt was a smothering blanket over his pain. If he had been sober, there’s no way that whoever it was would get the drop on him. If he had been sober, he likely would have been in the office, asleep on the couch or, as had happened frequently, with his head on his desk.
The front drawer of his desk hung open, pulled out like a Columbian necktie, pens and paperclips littering the area around his chair. The aspirin bottle wedged the drawer in place, and Mike had to shove the desk drawer back in with his foot, struggling with it until the plastic bottle shattered and the drawer shot closed with a bang.
Closing his eyes against the stab of pain, Mike opened the drawer again, and fished out two aspirin from the mess, picking up a third. Two wouldn’t cut it. Nothing to wash them down with, he chewed them, shuddering a little at the bitter taste.
Pain was an old familiar friend, and this was another habit that came back easily when called upon. Acetaminophen for the pain, chewed, not swallowed, it acted faster. There had been other substances, those better forgotten, lest they call on him again. Drugs to help with the sleep, when the explosions and living, hunting, at night, a life of war which had destroyed his body’s natural sleep cycle. Drugs to wake up again. He had managed, over time and to varying degrees, to drop most of the old habits. The booze was one that he had fought off and on for the longest.
A few moments of stillness, and then Mike opened his eyes again, making a more clinical assessment of the destruction in his office. He had a few cases that he was working on at the moment. Divorce cases, guys stepping out on their wives, wives getting revenge by doing the same. A bland economic espionage case, but Mike dismissed that out of hand. People got angry about money, that was true, but the level of anger usually resulted in court cases and lawyers getting rich.
This was different; this required anger. A lot of anger. Which meant domestic. It was always the domestics. Mild mannered accountants that seethed with rage beneath.
There were other cases. Cases where the husband had spoken to him from their jail cells, or screamed and raged in his office, but it was Brightman, with his overly composed expression, his desire to sound like he cared, that settled over Mike like a fog.
The desk had been forced, its contents scattered over the surface, cascading across the floor. Mike didn’t keep paperwork like that, the important stuff, in his desk. He didn’t keep it in his office at all, which Brightman, and it had to be Brightman, must have discovered, when he had trashed the place. The contents of the file cabinet were strewn across the floor, where Brightman had likely stood, flicking through files and tossing them to the floor when he didn’t find what he wanted.
He wouldn’t find what he came for, because it wasn’t in the office. At least it wasn’t until Mike came in and got a blackjack across the back of his head. Mike leaned his elbows on the desk, dropping his head into his hands. A half of a breath later, he reached into his pocket, looking for the wire coil notebook that he kept in his breast pocket. Not that he expected to find it.
Brightman had his wife’s address.
Eddie stopped at a deserted stoplight and tilted his rearview mirror down to get a look at his face. The small trickle of blood was mostly dry, and flaked off easily enough, but if he didn’t hurry up and get some ice on his face, it would swell and bruise. For an old man, Jim packed a hell of a punch; the less said about Mia, the better.
“Fuck.” It would have been a hell of a lot easier if Dom had just flattened him. A messy bust, but a bust that would hold. Rubbing his jaw, he moved forward through the intersection, absently. He could probably have Jim charged with assault, but it wouldn’t bring him any closer to Dom.
Charging Mia might piss off Dom into some sort of a reaction, but there was something distasteful about that; it didn’t sit quite right with him. And he probably had the slap coming. That wouldn’t stick against Dom anyway, which is probably why Mia and Jim, even that new woman, Amber, had intervened. Mia at least knew for sure that a charge would send her brother back to prison.
He could do that, but he wasn’t about to. The charge wouldn’t last and it would never touch Dom anyway. A woman and an old man; the charges would get laughed out of court, no matter how much he nudged it along. Dom would be even more unreachable afterwards. Eddie hated this case with a passion, but he hated even more to have the black mark in his record; that he had failed. That was something that would stick with him, something that he wouldn’t tolerate.
“If you’re smart, you’ll find some other fuckin’ way to end your fuckin’ assignment.”
Dom’s parting remark kept coming back to him; perhaps it rang true because Eddie had felt that way for a while. That the way the FBI was going about the case was all wrong.
Dom really was clean. Or at least he wasn’t directly involved in the current rash of thefts. There was no way that his boss was going to buy that, however; he was absolutely positive that the way to stop these thefts was to keep an eye on Dom, and that Dom had to be related to the thefts, he had to be involved. Had to know something.
Gravel bit and crunched as he pulled alongside an ancient ice machine outside a convenience store. He pulled out a bag of ice, resting it on the hood of his truck, emptying some into a dirty tee shirt he had in the cab. Tossing the rest of the bag into the truck, he walked into the store, to the back, to get a case of beer. On the way, he passed the magazine rack, and stopped cold. It was a pretty ordinary cover. A racing magazine, with brightly colored cars and scantily clad women, but it made him stop anyway.
Eddie had the feeling that he could stay at Dom’s sad, shitty little garage in the middle of nowhere for the next ten years and never get any closer, not to Dom, and not to the thefts. But that didn’t mean that Dom didn’t know his shit when it came to racing. He would always be the king of the street racers, whether he wanted the title or not.
The FBI had been looking to bust Dom outright for the thefts; always the simplest option, something nice and clean, by the book. While Eddie would love to have the case fall into his hands like that, he wasn’t stupid enough to sit out in the middle of the desert and simply wait for it. He had been hoping to put Dom between a rock and a hard place; get him into a position where his parole would be revoked, and use that as a lever.
To do what exactly? That’s where the magazine in his hands came into the equation. Even if he got sent to prison, what good would he be when he was there? The conventional thinking was that, once back in prison, Dom would somehow do the one thing he hadn’t done. Not once during the two times that Dom had been sent to Lompoc had he talked, at least not about the racing. So what did the FBI really hope to get out of him?
Eddie rolled up the magazine in his hands, tightening it, lost in thought. An old man eyed him carefully from his place behind the counter, but Eddie was somewhere else, following the train of thought. No, Dom wouldn’t talk; his pride would never let him. Begrudgingly, Eddie acknowledged that Dom’s sense of honor wouldn’t let him. Dom would be of no use in prison. He would clam up. The thefts would continue, most likely, and Dom would eventually be released.
Turning, Eddie tapped the magazine in his hands, and turned towards the counter, pulling out a few bills for the magazine, the beer, and the ice. He had been going about this whole thing all wrong.
In a way, Dom was involved in what was happening, if for no other reason than he had a skill that Eddie could use, he had contacts that Eddie could spend years trying to reach and never be successful. To do that, Dom had to stay out of prison.
Dom pressed his thumbs into his temples, jamming his eyes closed, in the now quiet driveway. Jim had slapped him hard on the back, before he had followed Mia and Amber up to the rear door of the garage, where he stood for a while. He could picture Mia clearly, standing by the open door of her tiny office, pulling first aid supplies out of a kit that was at least as old as the diner. She had done the same for him countless times, to patch him up after a wrench slipped and he had injured his hands.
Taking a deep breath, he interlaced his fingers and pressed the back of his head into them, stretching out the tightness in his shoulders. From afar, it would seem a position of defeat, surrender, and it wouldn’t be far off. Dom had never hurt a woman before, at least not physically; he was pretty sure he had hurt them in other ways, but it wasn’t the same. Not by a long shot. The bloom of bright red blood on Amber’s white blouse was something that would stay with him, probably forever.
“Looks a lot worse’n it is, son.” Jim stepped out of the lengthening shade of the doorway just as Dom reached the bottom step, lighting up a cigarette, his hands cupped against the breeze that had kicked up as evening fell.
Dom turned and pressed his back into the side of the diner, looking out towards Amber’s house, not looking at Jim. “Still feel like shit.”
Quietly, Jim walked by him, on the way to his tow