Carmen and the boys were happy to see me and totally willing to help me salvage anything we could out of the trashed apartment. They grilled me about the damage, about Bax, and I had to promise Marco twenty times that I would remind him about the promised ride in the Runner. It took the entire afternoon, and most of my belongings ended up in the rusty Dumpster at the back of the building, but the place was somewhat habitable. I took the boys to McDonald’s for lunch while Carmen got ready for work. I still wasn’t sure about money to replace my books and stuff for school, but I decided I would just have to figure it out.
I was on the bus headed toward the community college when I finally heard from the boy who had been on my mind for the last two days. I wanted to ignore the message, knew I should call Brysen and ask her if it was okay if I just stayed with her until Race showed his face, but I couldn’t do it. The lure of that devil’s face with the star inked on it was too much.
I’ll pick you up from the school. I have shit to do tonight though.
That’s okay. I can stay with Brysen.
I said I’ll come get you.
Even though it was a text and not his voice, I could feel the irritation in his response. Maybe he hadn’t been up to no good when I hadn’t heard from him all day Sunday, or maybe he was just horny and keeping it in his pants was making him grouchy. I chewed on my bottom lip and contemplated the best way to handle the situation. I wanted to see him, wanted to be with him, but Reeve’s warnings about losing myself to him and the game were buzzing around under my skin.
Okay, but I have school stuff I have to do so whatever stuff you have to do needs to have me back at the house with time to do it.
You got it, Copper-Top.
That was it. No making fun of me, no arguing that there would be no time for homework because he would have me otherwise occupied, just you got it. I was never going to be able to predict what this boy was going to come at me with, and I wished that bothered me a whole lot more than it actually did.
YOU LOOK TERRIBLE, SON.”
I couldn’t argue with the grizzled old mechanic. My face was still a wreck, my side was healing, but slowly, and there was no refuting that I had repeatedly gotten my ass kicked in the last few days.
I grunted and reached out to shake Gus’s hand. Everything I had learned about cars I had learned from this old guy. He ran a shop that was the legal front for the chop shop that handled all of Novak’s hot cars. The Runner wouldn’t be half of the beast it was if it wasn’t for Gus. Well, for Gus and for Titus dragging me with him to the shop after school for years before I realized I hated my half brother’s guts. Titus was almost as good with cars as I was. It was really the only thing we had in common; that and we both always looked up to Gus.
“I’m glad you’re out. Nobody around here appreciates classic American muscle the way you do. I can’t let half the idiots that work for me touch the pre-’76 stuff coming in. They don’t know what they’re doing with it.”
I laughed a little and took a drag on the smoke that was dangling out of my mouth. I had spent all day Sunday running around trying to put a face to the elusive rich guy Race seemed so obsessed with. I’d had no luck, and I was irritated that I wanted to touch base with Dovie, so I purposely didn’t. I didn’t need some girl floating around in my head, not with all the booby traps and nasty stuff that was already constantly in there. She was just supposed to be fun, an easy way to get my needs met until I got my hands on Race. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a lie I could sell to myself and it was more than my dick that wanted to see her tonight.
“I ran into Titus, he told me to swing by. He said you might need my help.”
Gus rubbed his greasy hands on his coveralls and lifted a bushy gray eyebrow at me.
“You listened to your brother?”
“Half brother, and no, I was going to swing by and see you when I got a minute anyway. I’ve been busy trying to find Race. You hear from him at all?”
He grunted and propped his booted feet up on the metal desk in the tiny office. His eyes shifted away from my own. “You need to cut Titus some slack. Man’s gotta work, and just because he does it on the right side of the law doesn’t make your brother a bad guy.”
I blew out a puff of smoke and crossed my arms over my chest. “You say that until he shuts you down for running a chop shop. It doesn’t matter if we have long-term history and that you’re tied to his family or not . . . he’ll put your ass in jail.”
“I run a legitimate business, son, and no one can prove otherwise. If Titus could prove it, he would be well within his right to lock me up, just like he did with you. Plus, he saved your ass from going upriver for the rest of your twenties. Maybe you should thank him instead of swinging at him.”
I snorted. “He ratted me out?”
“I got eyes, Bax. Titus is a monster, he isn’t gonna get a shiner like that from someone he didn’t let put it there. You wanna get your hands dirty, all aboveboard? I got a Stang, a Nova, a Chevelle, and a Hemi ’Cuda all looking to be rebuilt and polished up. They don’t have a thing to do with Novak. It’s a car guy’s heaven and I’ll pay you well to get them up to your standards. Plus, it’ll be an easier paycheck than letting Nassir use you as a punching bag.”
I rolled my eyes. “I need to find Race, and I’m not even started on Novak.”
“That’s not smart, Bax.”
“It doesn’t need to be. I’m tired of him playing puppet master for the entire Point. Someone needs to take him down, and I don’t have anything to lose.”
He sighed and closed his eyes so he could rub them.
“You have a brother by blood and another by choice who would be turned inside out without you. And your mom. Jesus, Bax, what do you think burying you would do to her? She would follow you into the ground.”
I finished the smoke and put it out on the heel of my boot. I was going to tell him it wasn’t my job to worry about any of that when he went on.
“And Race, he has that little sister he’s all tied up in now. What about her? You’re gonna bring the house down around a bunch of innocent people, Bax? Not even you are that careless.”
I frowned at him and shoved my hands in the pockets of my hoodie.
“What do you know about Dovie?”
“Race was frantic about her. Seems like his pops let it slip he had a little accident and the mom wouldn’t keep her mouth shut about it. The rich bastard wanted to make the whole mess disappear; typical Hill attitude. Race went crazy. I had never seen the boy like that.”