Better When He's Bad (Welcome to the Point 1) - Page 53

He tossed his head back at the ceiling and looked up at the peeling plaster while Bax shifted restlessly next to me.

“I was all set to turn the footage over to Titus when my idiot father decided to let me know that he had been laundering all of Novak’s money for the years I had been gone. I didn’t keep in touch with my parents too much until Dovie and I came back to the Point. I didn’t know how tangled everything had gotten. I didn’t know how to take Novak down without dragging my dad through the quicksand with him.”

Bax grunted at that and asked coolly, “What does your old man have to do with anything? He tried to put a hit out on Dovie so what do you care if he gets swallowed in quicksand?”

Race swore.

“Not the old man, but my mom. She probably wouldn’t survive having all of this unravel on her. Dad in jail for RICO and Dad’s illegitimate kid shoved in her face. Not to mention Novak would probably kill her just to keep me in line.”

“Why did you bring Dovie back here? Why risk it if you were safe in another city?”

“I was never going to be safe. Novak was always going to use me to hold over your head. He’s not stupid, Bax. He knew the first thing you would do when you got out of jail was try and find out answers. He knew you would come after me. I came back to show him I wasn’t scared, no matter how awful this place is, it’s still my home. I wanted him to know his time was running down and I wanted to be closer to Titus because right now he’s the only person I trust.”

He looked at the bed and then glared at me. “I couldn’t leave Dovie alone, so she had to come with me. I was just waiting until she was older, out of high school. I wanted her to have enough time to find her footing here before the shit hit the fan. I feel like everything has been stuck in suspended animation, everything just on pause waiting for you to get out of prison. It’s like time has been standing still and everything comes down to you and Novak, to this moment.” He gave Bax a really pointed look, which had him shifting uncomfortably. “Plus I knew that if something happened to me, you would be here, Titus would be here. She doesn’t need to be alone in her life anymore. There is family here in the Point, as hard as you might try to forget it.”

“What do you mean you didn’t want Dovie left alone? You left her alone after Benny kicked the shit out of her.” Bax sounded furious about it and Race had the good grace to flush and look at me with remorse. I knew how my brother’s head worked. He was always trying to pull things apart and figure out what made them run. This situation was no different. To Race, I was a cog in the wheel of whatever Novak’s big picture was. It should offend me, make me mad, but by now I was getting kind of used to being a means to an end for men playing dangerous games I didn’t fully understand.

“I know and I’m sorry. But something strange happened when I marched into Novak’s compound, something that changed the course of what’s going on here.”

I could feel Bax stiffen even with the space between us and could feel the heat of anger blazing off of him. “What happened?”

Race’s green eyes flashed between the two of us and then landed heavily on his friend. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing happened. I walked in there yelling about a hidden tape with an execution on it. Threw around words like ‘feds’ and ‘lifetime behind bars’ and Novak just looked at me like I was an annoying fly buzzing around his head. He knew I was confident moving back here, that I felt like I had leverage. And I thought they roughed Dovie up to find out what I had because you were getting released, but then I walked out of the compound without so much as a scratch. It didn’t add up. We both know I should’ve ended up with a bullet between the eyes.”

I gasped at the graphic image and Race shifted his gaze to me with a wince. “I only meant to stay away for a day or two, to see how things were going to play out. I crashed with Carmen for a few nights, paid Lester a few bucks to be on alert, and imagine my surprise when there was no Benny, no Novak. It didn’t make sense, so I wanted to dig further into it. Something else is working and I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out what it was. It’s like a giant game and the only person with the rules is Novak.”

His gaze went back to Bax and he sighed heavily.

“I feel like you’re the prize right in the center of the game board, Bax. I just don’t know what moves Novak is making to collect you.”

I gulped and wanted to lean against Bax’s side, but didn’t want to set either Race or him off again. I was just going to have to comfort myself. Just like I always did.

I rubbed my arms up and down the soft fabric of the sweatshirt and looked back and forth between the two men. “So what now?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I came to find Bax. I can’t stay hidden, because sooner or later Benny is going to come after you to get me to make a move one way or the other. They’ll grab you to get me to come out of hiding; whatever Novak’s plan is, he wants me to be part of it. They know about the tape now. I told him if he ever came near you again after they knocked you around, I would send it to the feds. I thought that’s why they have been looking for me but now I’m not so sure. No one knows where the tape is besides me. Novak has cops on the take, he has eyes everywhere. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out where his reach ends.” His blond head dropped a little and his shoulders slumped. “I don’t know who we can trust beyond Titus.”

We were all quiet, the weight of having to deal with any and all of Novak’s machinations heavy in the room around us. I could hear Bax’s steady breathing, could see the fear and anger stamped on Race’s face, and I thought Bax was right, I did deserve more than this in life.

Bax pushed off the counter and scraped his hands hard over his scalp. He looked at me and then at Race. “Give me the tape.”

I winced and Race scowled.

“No!” I screamed it out of fear for Bax’s safety, Race barked it out of indignation. Bax just shook his head.

“What other option is there? Novak already has a hard-on for me. He never would have involved you or Dovie in any of his machinations if he didn’t want to have me over a barrel. It’s my fault. I break the law. I steal shit and end up tied into guys like him. Neither one of you needs to suffer for it anymore. This is my mess, I’ll clean it up. Whether it’s about the tape and blackmail or something else altogether.”