The apartment in the city just didn’t feel right when I was there alone. This place didn’t feel right either, but it didn’t make my skin crawl. When I stripped and lay down on the bed Dovie had made the last time she was here, my mind quieted down enough that I managed to fall into a shallow and fitful sleep. My dreams were full of sad green eyes, the endless sight of iron bars and blood, the smell of gasoline, and a hollow ache that felt like it was going to swallow me up. I woke up in the early afternoon covered in sweat and shaking. I had always lived a fairly unpredictable life, never gave much thought about what it would mean for me to see the next day, and now that it was almost a certainty that I wouldn’t see it, I was starting to have regrets.
I regretted my mom was never going to be more than a drunk and never see this house I had bought for her. I regretted ever dragging Race into the darkness. Our friendship had started out based on violence, and it was going to end in violence, and that sucked. I regretted hating my brother for so long. Granted, I was never going to forgive him for arresting me that night, but I could see more clearly now that we were all the products of the choices we made, and for him, putting me in jail was the bad choice, but it was the only one he could make. Titus wasn’t my enemy, but he wasn’t on my side either, because my side was losing, and he saw it.
Then there was Dovie. I should be drowning in regret where she was concerned. I should be beating myself up for ever touching her, for pushing her into giving in to me. I should feel bad for turning her life upside down when I never had any intention of sticking around to help her when everything was over. My soul should be shredding from touching something so pure, so lovely, and knowing I left black smudges all over it. I didn’t feel that way, though. When I thought about her, all I could feel was light. The short time she had been a part of my life had given me room to breathe. She did more to set me free than walking out of those prison gates ever had. If someone as sweet, as careful with herself as Dovie, could see something inside me worth caring about, then there wasn’t only blackness. She was right; I was more than the sum of my parts.
I wished this knowledge could change the path that was already laid out before me. Just like my destiny had always looked like my options were very clear to me—jail because I would kill Novak, or the morgue because Novak was going to kill me. I hated that now there were so many moving parts and so many other lives at stake. But no one was going to get caught in the cross fire if I could help it. This was a showdown that had been brewing for far longer than I think anyone could really understand. I didn’t have a plan, any rhyme or reason to how it should go down. All I knew was that I needed to face off with the bastard and only one of us was going to make it out of the confrontation alive.
I spent the rest of the day hanging around the house. Titus called me twice, both times to tell me things were eerily quiet on the streets and it was making him nervous. I didn’t know what to tell him, so I told him he should go by and see Mom when he got a chance, which made him balk. I had only seen her the one time since I got released, and even with all her problems, she had never disavowed me or sold me out when it would have been so easy for her to do. One of us, Titus or me, needed to let her know we weren’t giving up on her, and since my future was so nebulous and uncertain, it was going to have to be him.
I tried to call Race and ask him what he was going to do about keeping an eye on Dovie that night, but the call went right to voice mail. Too restless to stick around, I did what I did best and drove. I got in the Runner, opened the throttle, and took off. I didn’t have a destination in mind, I just needed the growl of the engine and the feel of all that horsepower vibrating to keep me in check. I was not going to give in to impulse. I drove until I was almost out of gas, until I was lost and my mind was numb. I drove until the sun fell out of the sky and I needed to head back to the city and get to Nassir’s. I called Race again on the way in, but he didn’t answer and cold shards of apprehension slid down my spine.
I called Dovie because, really, she was the one I was ultimately worried about, and felt my heart constrict when her voice came across the line.
I just breathed out a sigh of relief and hung up on her. She was fine; that was all I needed to keep moving forward.
I parked the car in front of the warehouse and tried to give myself a mental pump-up. I didn’t need the money, no longer needed to feel the smack of bone on bone or feel the sting of fists to the face in order to get my head straight, so there was zero motivation for letting someone pound on me now. I hated that Nassir, in all his oily grandeur, ultimately profited from my rash decision-making process. He was just as bad as Novak when it came to pulling strings and treating people like game pieces. They all needed to go down. The Point needed to be burned and purged so people like Dovie and the kids she was trying so hard to save got a fair shot at making it out. I would burn with it in the end if that’s what it took.
I wound my way down the hallway that led to the open floor of the club. Had I not been so twisted up on the inside, I would have noticed something was off. There were no screaming bettors, no thumping electronic music, no smell of weed and booze, and the heavy desperation and greed that always seemed to perfume the air in the club was missing. By the time I made my way to the old factory floor, it was too late for self-preservation. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I came to a grinding halt in the center of the floor.
The lights were on, so a swirl of neon slashed across Nassir’s face as he grinned at me.
“Fight’s canceled. Something came up.”
I snorted and watched as the man standing next to him grinned at me. When the red neon light cut across the harsh contours of his face, it revealed the fiend that he truly was.
“Nassir told me you were looking for some action. I think you have enough on your plate without looking for a fight, Bax.”
When most people think about a crime boss, a master criminal, a cold-blooded killer, they think of a guy who looked like Benny. A slick suit. Some flashy jewelry to let people know just who they’re dealing with clad in a pair of five-thousand-dollar shoes with blood on the soles. Novak was anything but. He was big—bigger than me. He had wavy black hair that was too long and fell into eyes that were the same hollow and endless black as my own. I had never seen him dressed in anything other than jeans and a T-shirt with boots on. He had the city in a chokehold and he looked like as much of a thug as I did.