21 We Can Be Heroes
“What the fuck is going on!” Dom roared as he stormed into the garage; with Amber inside the diner, he was no longer concerned that she would hear him yell. “And don’t you dare feed me a line of bullshit, either one of you. None of this need-to-know crap. It’s time to lay all this out, right the fuck now!” Dom’s finger stabbed at both Eddie and Brian as he barked at them, taking up a spot near the open bay doors. Arms across his chest, he blocked the way out of the garage.
Watching Eddie out of the corner of his eye, Brian prepared to intervene if he had to. This volatility in Dom was something that Brian had experience with, but Eddie was a wild card and Brian didn’t want to have to risk everything just because Eddie loved to push Dom’s buttons.
The beginnings of a cocky grin on Eddie’s face had Brian tense up, but just as quickly it was over. Running a hand down his face as he stood erect, dropping the slight slouch, the laid back appearance that he had worn like a coat since he had been at the garage, Eddie stood at attention. The image of seriousness. “Fuck it, we really don’t have time to play games. Maybe some other time, Toretto?” Stony and impassive, Dom glared back at Eddie; not in the mood for any sort of fucking around. “Guess not.”
They turned as one at the metallic click of tools pressed against the pegboard. Jim hadn’t left the garage, and he didn’t look like he was in a huge hurry to go anywhere, which was pretty standard for Jim.
Dom’s expression darkened even more as he looked over at him. “I don’t want you mixed up in this shit.”
“Little late, son,” Jim drawled out easily, as though they were discussing an engine on a sunny Sunday afternoon rather than crimes as serious as murder and theft that could end up with them all in prison. “M’already in it. Not goin’ anywhere.”
Huge fists knotted white and Dom’s expression hardened but he knew well enough that it was a waste of time. Arguing with Jim was a non-starter. Tilting his head back towards Brian and Eddie, Dom rested a hip casually against the fender of the car that he and Jim had been fixing, as though resigned to wait.
Brian watched Dom carefully, studying all the ways that this Dom was so different from the man that he had known before he had gone to prison. More patient. More dangerous. There were times when Dom still had the ability to scare the hell out of him and that said something after all the time that had passed.
About to start, Brian was interrupted by Eddie, who thought that what he had to say was more recent, if not more important. “Brightman attacked Heather; she just got off the cell with me as I left here.” Which explained why he had come back.
Near vibrating with rage, Dom came off the side of the car with liquid deadly speed, and pressed back again just as quickly, fists tightening in an effort at control. Watching Dom so carefully, mostly to keep him from killing Eddie, Brian had seen the guilt that washed across his face, that was hidden away again as surely as the anger. It didn’t surprise him; no matter Dom’s history with women, he had never hurt them, not physically.
“She called.” The sound of stones grinding beneath the earth. Dom said it like he needed to reassure himself that she was still able to call; like saying it back logically would make some sense of it. “She okay? Did he hurt her?” At this last, Dom’s knuckles popped in a string and Brian half expected the tendons in his arms to burst through the skin with the strain.
Eddie wiped a hand over his face, torn between being supremely pissed off and laughing. “To hear her tell it, she beat the everloving shit out of him.” Eddie paused again and took a deep breath so that he wouldn’t yell. Or laugh. “With a frying pan of fucking fried chicken no less. Can you believe it?” At the end, his composure broke, and Eddie got a hand up over his mouth before he burst out laughing, his lips pressed firmly into his knuckles.
“Always knew that woman was tough as a two dollar steak,” Jim got out before he burst out laughing, leaning back against the counter at the back of the garage.
Brian dropped his head, not wanting to laugh out loud, but the image of Heather going to town on Alan had him too. Dom didn’t laugh. Weight shifted slightly, his legs crossed again at the ankles as he leaned a little heavier into the side of the car, a studied casual air that Brian didn’t buy and that he was pretty sure no one else would either. Knuckles that had bled white relaxed, flexed again and that was the only sign that Brian got that it might be okay.
Snorting and fighting to get some control, Eddie grew deadly serious again as he contemplated the rest of what Heather had divulged. The pads of his fingers pressed into his eyes as though he could rip the image out and he sighed. “Supposedly she fucked him up pretty badly before she left. I couldn’t get a hold of the Sheriff, so I sent a couple of guys from the Bureau to babysit her until something better than staying with a ‘friend’ can be arranged.”
Nerves had done the talking, but as funny as the image was of brass-bitten Heather going to town on Brightman was, there wasn’t a man there that would see her hurt, so they were visibly relieved that someone was watching out for her. The nods died down around the garage, and Eddie continued.
Serious once more, Eddie lowered his hands, cracking his knuckles before he leaned against the edge of the back counter, feigning an ease that no one bought. “That’s not all of it. Aside from the burns, she said he took a knife wound to the arm…”
“So we could maybe catch him at the hospital,” Brian interjected. Not entirely hopefully.
Dom hummed before he spoke, “Don’t think so, I don’t think he’d risk it.” Eyes cutting to Brian, he spilled the rest from a history Brian knew. “Probably hop the border and get patched up in Mexico.”
Brian and Jim both spoke up at once, to be interrupted by Eddie, his voice raised to drown them out. “I don’t think that’s where he’s going,” Sure that he had their full attention, he pressed on. “At least not at first. He would have business to wrap up on this side before he left. Things haven’t gone well for him here lately.”
“Damned understatement of the year.” Jim muttered around the filter of his cigarette as he lit up.
“He probably go home first and patch it up as best as he could. He wouldn’t leave the country without tidying up his affairs on this side of the border, in case he couldn’t come back,” Eddie continued to spell it out.
Dom felt his blood grow cold at the casual mention of ‘tidying up affairs’. Amber was a part of that, he knew; there was no way Brightman would leave that be. Brian caught Dom’s rising tension like wild animals smell thunder. The other two men caught it too.
“Fucker’s not gonna come back for her, son. Not here, not ever.” Jim was so laid back, it was easy to dismiss him as an old man. It would be a mistake.
“No. He’s not.” Cold and clipped. Dom stood again, paced off a few steps and stopped himself, realizing that he was pacing his cell again. He felt helpless, caged. It took an effort to spin on his heel and walk back, knowing exactly how many steps he had reeled out because he had done the action so often.
Eddie was aware that something had played out before him that he should have caught, but he dismissed it just as easily. He was no longer here to figure out all the ins and outs of Dominic Toretto. His case was almost at a close he knew, it was just a matter of how it unfolded. “It wasn’t Amber I was talking about, or even Heather, although I’m pretty sure he hasn’t forgotten about them either. If Brightman wants out of the country, he isn’t going to do it on the cheap, he’s going to want out with a bankroll, or what’s the use of all this?”
“This isn’t just about money, asshole!” Dom roared out into the garage, restrained temper carving his jaw and throat into hard lines.
Eddie didn’t appear rattled by the anger, not in the least. “For the moment, yes it is,” he stated simply, as though explaining something to a child that wasn’t too bright. “For him, it is.”
Switching tacks, Eddie stood a little straighter, a stance Brian recognized from his days in the bureau; this was to be a debriefing. Brightman wasn’t Eddie’s case, but getting into a target’s head was what Eddie did, it was what Brian had done, when he was first assigned to the Toretto case as well.
“Hear him out, Dom,” speaking quietly, Brian commanded, one of the very few people in Dom’s life that could do so, that had the right to do so. A right Dom clearly acknowledged as his weight settled back against the fender of the car, to listen.
“Brightman burned a lot of bridges. A man like him doesn’t do that without a cut that’s going to make it worthwhile. Brian and I spoke earlier about this,” Eddie nodded towards Brian. “The thefts have been getting bigger, and more frequent. He’s getting careless. Part of that might be the fact that he’s coming unhinged, but I also think that he’s working up to something big.”
“Shit and run,” Jim interjected, taking in the whole flavor of the conversation and distilling it simply into few words.
The thought of Jim standing up in front of a room full of suits and delivering his simple and accurate assessment made Brian smile. He took up where Eddie ended. “I agree. He can live on a lot less in Mexico; he might not have wanted to, but he can. I think he’s counting on one last big score. I’m guessing he hadn’t wanted to leave in the first place, but it’s coming down around his ears.” Brian focused his attention on Eddie. “What we were talking about earlier, did you find anything out?”
The dare, the push in Brian’s tone couldn’t be mistaken, at least not to Eddie. Brian had pushed as hard as he was able, to get information that his own contacts either didn’t have, or wouldn’t give him. Brian pushed, not just for information, but because it was a place to check for soft spots. Could Eddie be trusted.
Quieter; tentative and, while not unsure, Eddie was less sure when he answered Brian. Eddie hated going into something without knowing the ground he was going to work; it always made him uneasy. Airing that in front of others was something he had never been comfortable with. That he did so now was a measure of just how important the matter at hand was and not solely as a matter of his own career. There was no way to know who Brightman was selling the dual use equipment to, or where it would end up. “I’ll need access to a computer; I didn’t have time to get to one before I got here.” He looked at Brian first and then up at Dom, when Brian’s eyes shifted to the side, to the bigger man.
Dom was still in the dark about what Brian and Eddie had spoken about earlier but he knew that yelling about it wasn’t going to answer his questions any sooner. Brian, Jim and Eddie followed Dom into his now tiny bedroom and gathered around the makeshift table by the window, with Eddie in the chair before the computer. Brian and Dom stood behind Eddie’s chair, looking over his shoulder.
Jim had never been a man that was interested in technology he couldn’t touch with his hands and, like others that echoed that thought, he had a superstitious dread of it. Not that anyone said a thing to him about it, they wouldn’t dare.
Sitting on the end of Dom’s bed, Jim looked out the window, right across to Amber’s open window, cutting a quiet look up to Brian first, and then Dom. For a second Dom looked caught. A brief flare of red at his ears that was gone as soon as it had arrived, and then he was staring intently at what Eddie was pulling up. The old mechanic could curse a blue streak, Dom knew, but he wouldn’t say a single crude word, although it was pretty clear that Dom had sat where Jim was now and watched Amber’s bedroom.
“Everything I could track had been based on what had been stolen before, so most of it was after the fact, already too late,” Eddie droned, as his fingers flew over the keyboard. Encryption and more encryption, until Dom’s head hurt to watch it. Jesse would have known in a heartbeat what the FBI agent was up to and probably could have done it faster but Dom really had no clue; he was out of his league. In his younger days, that would have pissed him off.
Tapping the screen, Eddie nodded. “Thought so. ‘Express America’.”
As Eddie tapped a few more keys, Dom leaned in, his interest sharp. This was something familiar and he once again felt that rush low in his belly, something he loved and now hated in equal measure. Brian’s knuckles bumped his, a brief pass that, if it was anyone else, it would have been an accident. A near imperceptible shake of the head and Dom pulled back, just enough. No one else had noticed a thing.
“How’d you come up with a name?” Brian asked; it had been one of the harder things to trace, Eddie had explained, because there was no apparent rhyme or reason to the truck thefts. At least until Brightman. With Brightman came International Trade and its interesting array of intelligence ties. Cutouts upon cutouts. Front companies upon front companies. Which had done nothing but make the job of searching for a single company at the right time all the more difficult, especially as the same company wasn’t used twice. Eddie shouldn’t have known of a name to look for.
“Heather said that Brightman talked. A lot. And that he talked in his sleep. One of the things that he mentioned was the name of the trucking company.” Eddie brought up and discarded a few more pages, discarding some, scanning others. “Thought so. Look down here, tell me what you see.”
Brian and Dom leaned in and peered at the screen jammed with plain text. At almost the same time, both muttered, “International Trade.”
“That’s not something we didn’t already know before though….wait, just a fucking second, go back…no, there.” Dom snorted in frustration, pushing Eddie’s hand out of the way on the mouse and scrolling down the page at what had caught his eye before. “Cowling, Rowland and Howe. I dropped Amber off there earlier today.”
Now Eddie was hemmed in on both sides as Brian leaned forward, “Consultancy, my ass.” He recognized the name from looking into the intelligence ties of International Trade.
“Why’d those fuckers hire her; they’d have to know she was Brightman’s ex, wouldn’t they?” It had bothered Dom from the moment he had seen the plaque, putting together what Brian had mentioned about the company Brightman had worked for.
“Maybe they do know.” Matter of factly, Eddie went where the information led him, without thought as to the particulars. “If Amber does work for this company, she could get find a way to get tracking numbers off the equipment on that truck. Anyone with an RFID reader could find out not only everything about the contents, but where it was….”
“No,” Dom barked with finality.
“No! No fucking way. I won’t allow it! That’s she’s there is bad enough!” Dom stood and took a step back from the computer, his back against the door. For a moment it looked as though he was preparing to fight, backed into a corner.
Just as quickly, Brian stepped forward, hands raised to placate Dom as best he could. “No one’s said anything yet, Dom, okay? But…”
“Hasn’t she had enough already?” Frustrated, Dom began talking with his hands. It might have made Brian smile, in other circumstances, the similarities between Dom and Mia, but it was a little more dangerous where Dom was concerned. Dom could go from talking with his hands to killing with them in fractions of a second, if pushed enough. Amber was enough, he realized.
Eddie had barely moved from the chair where he sat, just turning to look back over his shoulder, and Brian wondered if he was incredibly brave or incredibly stupid, settling for the former. “If you two are done.” He scraped the legs of the chair against the floor as he turned back to the computer. “I never said she had to do anything that would put her in any sort of risk. She might not have access anyway, depending on why the company would hire her in the first place. Do you even know what she does for a living?”
Dom sucked in a breath, his hands still for a moment, fisted again. Brian stepped into Dom’s circle of motion and physically put himself between Dom and Eddie. Even Jim tensed; the sound of his heels clicking hard against the wooden floor loud in the room. That Eddie said it pissed Dom off, even if it wasn’t said with the bite Eddie reserved for most of his not so casually flung comments. What really pissed Dom off was that he didn’t know what Amber did, he had no clue. That, aside from knowing that she was some sort of secretary, he didn’t know, and he hadn’t bothered to ask. It made him feel like a moron. Made him look like an asshole.
Anything but stupid, Eddie watched the interplay between Dom and Brian in the reflection of the computer screen, kicking himself. Always had to push; there was no time to fuck around with Dom and now was definitely not the time. For once, he took a step back; he could apologize if it would move things along. A sort of apology anyway. “Not what I meant. You said she has to drop stuff off for the company, so I’m guessing she has to pick up work as well. If…”
Raising his voice over Dom’s objections, Eddie continued. “I said IF, Dom.” Diffusing the previous cutting remark, Eddie included everyone with the next. “No one here knows what she does or what she has access to, but IF, if she has access to those records, or can get them, then it may make it easier for us to track that truck.”
Pressing his palms on Dom’s chest, Brian could feel Dom take in a deep breath, letting it out slowly as he tried to get his temper under control. “Just ask, Dom. That’s all. She doesn’t have to get involved. No one here wants her hurt either, okay?”
“You said one a the things.” Jim now stood behind Eddie’s chair, looking shrewdly at the computer screen; no one had heard him move at all. He spoke quietly, but Brian, Dom and even Eddie all turned to listen to the slow commanding drawl. “One of the things Heather said. What else d’she say?”
It actually made Eddie smile, though he made sure to cover it up quickly. “Heather said Brightman might have mentioned a location as well.”
“Shit, that narrows it down.” Brian turned and leaned over the chair again. “Where?” If they had a company name and a place to start looking, they could stop the truck theft. They could stop Brightman.
“Lakeview, Lakeside, something like that. Heather said…”
All of them jumped as Dom bellowed, swearing as he spun to drive his fist into the door, leaving a large hole in the wood. “That stupid fucking son of a ….”
Eddie got up from the chair and turned to face Dom. Brian and Jim also got to their feet but no one intervened. Eyes black with imminent violence, Dom flicked his wrist, sending drops of blood off his knuckles from where he had punched the door.
Surreptitiously, Eddie looked at both Brian and Jim, to gauge exactly what sort of danger he was in, if any. Neither of the two men made a break for the door, so Eddie stayed put, watching Dom pace across the floor and, with his back turned, take a deep breath.
“Fuck.” It was quieter, and Brian heard the raw hurt in Dom as he spoke, his back turned to the others.
“What…” Eddie began, only to be shoved by Brian, which brought him up short.
“Vince.” When Dom spoke, it was barely above a constrained whisper, his fists clenching and opening against the side of his thigh. Brian watched a fat drop of blood roll over a knuckle and hit the floor in the time it took Dom to breathe and speak again. “You asked me earlier to dig up the last address I had for Vince. He lives in Lakeside now. I can’t believe that stupid fucking coyote could get involved with someone like Bright…”
“He probably doesn’t know anything about Brightman.” Brian cut in, but Dom wasn’t listening, didn’t stop.
“..man. Should have known. Not too many guys could have pulled this off. Fuck.”
The room was quiet and still for a couple of minutes; they waited for Dom. Even Eddie waited, although he wasn’t entirely sure why. Fingers interlaced, Dom pressed the back of his head into his palms, neck and spine cracking with the strain he had been under, and then he was walking out of the back of his room into the garage beyond. Eddie made to go after him, to be pulled up short by Brian’s fist knotted in his shirt. “He’ll be back; just needs something for his hand.” Brian wasn’t entirely sure that was the case, and he listened for the telltale sound of Dom’s car.
It never came. A couple of minutes later Dom came back through the door with a towel wrapped around his knuckles and took up his position behind Eddie, who was again in front of the computer. If not for the hole in Dom’s door, it was as if nothing had occurred.
“So, we’ve got an ‘Express America’ truck, and the possibility that it’s going to get pinched near Lakeside,” Dom leveled, eerily calm and determined. “Vince wouldn’t be stupid enough to shit where he eats, though, so it’s not going to happen there.”
Eddie’s skin crawled at his nape, feeling Dom right behind him. “Heather mentioned Lakeside, it doesn’t mean that’s where the theft will occur. We don’t know the context he used it.”
It pissed Brian off, but Eddie was right; without context, there was no meaning behind Brightman’s muttering of the name Lakeside in his sleep. That they couldn’t know for certain only set his nerves on edge.
“This isn’t ‘xactly something Brightman planned on happening,” the others looked over as Jim spoke, looking out of the window at Amber’s bedroom beyond. “So how exactly does he intend to get paid? It’s not like he’s going to walk into a bank here all beat to shit and ask for a bag of money. He’d have a contingency plan.”
A look passed between Brian and Dom, partly at a phrase like ‘contingency plan’ coming out of Jim, and they spoke at almost they same time. “He’s going to meet them in person first.”
“There’s no way to be sure, but it’s what we’ve got to go on,” Eddie got up, turned the chair, and sat with his arms crossed, resting on the back. It was a show of ease that Eddie didn’t feel but he’d be damned if he’d show anything else. “Brightman’s not likely to get paid then and there, not until the buy takes place, but considering his situation, it’s not a stretch to say he’d want to stay close to that truck, to be there when the money does change hands. He’s got too much riding on it.”
Dom paced again. “The buy wouldn’t happen in the country. You think Brightman’d follow them across the border to wherever the sale took place?”
They faced off. Dom stock still in the middle of the room, and Eddie, his body tight and compact, not-relaxed in the chair. “He wouldn’t follow them, I get the feeling he’s not a real tag along kind of guy, it’d be like hanging out with the help.” Dom glared at him for this, and Eddie blandly looked back; facts were facts and if Dom didn’t like the looks of it, that was too bad. “I think Brightman would meet them wherever the buy took place and clean up the rest of his loose ends.” Eddie didn’t flinch at the black wave that washed over Dom’s face.
Spinning on his heel to walk across the room, Dom paced the close space once more. Away and back. “But he’d go there first, to Lakeside.” It wasn’t lost on Brian that Dom avoided mention of Vince; it was what he needed to keep his head.
“It’s what I’d do.” Jim hadn’t moved and, once again, he was looking out of the window. “If all my eggs had to be in the same basket, I’d make damn sure that deal went smooth. This fucker Brightman’d meet up with whoever he was gonna meet up with. In Lakeside if that’s where he was goin’. Offer them a bigger cut, do whatever it took to get them to change their plans ‘cus you know this shit ain’t what he planned. Then, he’d slip across the Mexico line and wait for them on t’other side. Tidy up his loose ends.”
For not the first time, Dom wondered at just how much he didn’t know about Jim. No one else asked. Dom thought he might ask him, when it was all done, but not now. “I could be in Lakeside before tomorrow,” he looked at the clock at his bedside.
“No need,” Brian pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and walked towards the door. “Mike Anderson, the private dick, is in El Centro right now, and Brightman would have to drive right through there to get to Lakeside. Let him handle that end, we’ve got other plans to make.”
Brian pointed at Dom before he let the door close at his back; he could never get a half decent signal in Dom’s place, so he called Mike from out on the steps. The room behind him fell silent. Dom felt old, and tired. Hell, he was old and tired. Almost forty and he was planning on pulling another job like the ones that had ended him back in prison.
Staying put wasn’t all Brian had meant, when he pointed at him. Dom knew that he’d have to talk to Amber as well, as much as he didn’t want to; it was the fastest way to get the information that they would need if the job was to go smoothly. All he could think was that he was fucking up her life. Again.
No one spoke until Brian came back, closing the door again at his back. “We’re gonna have to go after him anyway; there’s no way we can let that truck get through,” Dom pressed. He hadn’t wanted this, didn’t need it, and could possibly end up in prison for it but he was in it now. With everything that had happened he didn’t think he had much of a choice; the truck had to be stopped and Brightman had to be stopped.
It wasn’t just the truck, Brian knew. He didn’t say anything. If it had just been the truck alone and nothing else was involved, Dom would have washed his hands of it. It was the thought of Brightman coming back, of him having the luxury of money and time to finish what he had started. Killing Amber, and possibly Heather.
Now it was about Vince too. Brian knew about Vince and Letty. Dom had been drunk one night when he talked about it, about how it pissed him off at how stupid Vince could be. Anyone else would have left it at stupid, but Brian knew Dom was hurt by it too; that Letty hadn’t even made a pretense at waiting for him.
Facing Brian as though no one else in the room existed, Dom spoke quietly, with an intensity that went deeper than the words. “I can’t race. If I get caught, I’m done, they’ll never let me out. I don’t want to do this, Bri. I don’t.” But he would, that went unspoken.
“Whatever’s on that truck is bad enough, but if he makes it to Mexico, Vince is dead.” ‘Probably Letty, too,’ Brian thought; he didn’t for one second think that Vince was pulling all this shit by himself. “Then you’re going to be watching your back for the rest of your life, because Brightman will come for you. For Amber, for Heather, and for you; I doubt he’s forgotten about you kicking his ass.” ‘Or falling for his wife. Ex-wife.’
“I’ll do what I can to keep you clear,” Eddie threw out casually, for once feeling a pang of guilt. They were rare, but he did have them from time to time. Toretto tore at him. Eddie wanted the case done, he wanted out. Wanted the commendation on his record and to get bumped out of the desert duty he had pissed someone off into dropping on him. And now he wanted to give Toretto a break, and he hated himself for wanting it, and for not having the guts to just say so. Instead he had to waffle, because he wasn’t sure if he could do it when the time came.
Brian had, he knew, and Brian’s withering glance back over his shoulder made him drop his gaze momentarily. “That’s all I can offer. I’ll do what I can.” With that, Eddie pushed past Brian and walked out into the now dark driveway, running a hand over his face as though he could wash the strain from it that way.
Inside, Brian kept a hand on Dom’s chest to keep him from going after Eddie. “We go to Lakeside tomorrow morning, with whatever cars we’ve got. If we meet up with Vince there, we can stop it there. If not,” Brian paused, looking over at Jim, who acknowledged with a quiet nod. “If not, we have to stop that truck from reaching Mexico. No matter what, Dom.”
Dom looked out through the broken hole in his door, as Eddie paced the wet driveway beyond. It had been so hard to trust Brian. It had been harder as he knelt on the hard ground as Brian betrayed him, and Dom wasn’t sure he could take that again. He didn’t think Eddie was half the man Brian was either.
Jim looked out across the driveway and what he said froze both men. “If it looks like it’s goin’ that way son, Eddie won’t come back neither.”
Brian waited until Jim had walked out into the garage beyond. “Talk to Amber tonight. The more we know about that truck, the easier this will be. Just talk to her.”
A hard sigh was the only answer.
Copyright © Jan. 2008 xxxevilgrinxxx