There was nothing that could be done about it. I didn’t want her to see me in convict orange, didn’t want her to fold and try and tell the feds she was really the one who had put the bullet in Novak. So even though it tasted like dust and ash all along my tongue, I refused to see her, and after about the fifth time, she stopped coming. So I lay awake at night, stared at a cement ceiling, and turned it over and over trying to think of all the ways I could have done better by her, could have prevented her from ever being a part of any of it. The answer was really simple when I broke it down. I should have kept my hands off of her, left her alone. That way, at least, had she gotten tangled up with Novak, it would have fallen on Race’s hands, on his conscience, not mine.
The feds had wanted to keep me locked up for a lot longer. My reputation was preceding me, and the fact that I had bad blood was not lost on them. Only I was way more useful as a witness and I had enough dirt on the rest of Novak’s operation that eventually, they had had to cut a deal that involved time served and probation. Titus was pissed. The fed he had turned the case over to was dragging his feet on getting me sprung, and Titus knew it. He said it was because I refused to go into protective custody. They wanted me to move, wanted me to go play house in some nice, quiet suburb and change my name until the case went to trial against the last of the crew, but I refused. I didn’t know how to live anywhere but in the Point, and I had never been the type to hide.
Really, now that Novak was gone, I was probably the scariest guy left on the streets, and I was still mad enough about Dovie getting hurt, about Gus getting murdered, about Race having to give up his life and taking a beat-down, that I didn’t think anyone was going to be brave enough to try and take me on.
I didn’t just think about all the ways I should have done better by Dovie. I thought about her mouth, her pale, freckled skin, and the way her hair twisted and turned like it had a life of its own. I remembered the way her eyes glowed from dark green to bright jade when I was inside of her, the way she called me “Shane” when she was turned on, and the way she used “Bax” to remind me that she thought there were two sides of me and one scared her on the regular. It sucked that she was right to be afraid of him, because he had caused her nothing but hurt and trouble. And it extra sucked because there was enough of Shane in me to know that now that I had been out for two weeks, the best thing was just to forget her and let her live a safe and happy life away from everything Bax brought with him.
Two weeks of freedom. Two weeks of spinning my wheels and trying to figure out what my next move should be. So far, all I had come up with was getting super drunk pretty much every night and blatantly looking for a fight whenever anyone so much as looked at me sideways. I was being reckless and stupid. I knew it and I couldn’t stop it. In all of my life, whatever had been handed to me, I had just accepted it as part of what living hard and rough meant. I was never dissatisfied, knew I had done my fair share of really f**ked-up shit that I needed to atone for, but I had never been unhappy or felt like I was missing something. Now I did, and I hated it. I felt carved out, felt wrong, and just on the fine line of keeping it together and not going all-out crazy.
I was at my shithole apartment in the center of town, and about halfway through a handle of cheap whiskey, when my brother walked in without knocking. Somewhere along the line I had subconsciously dropped the “half” every time I thought about him as my sibling. And considering he was the only real tie I had to what I wanted most, I tried to play nice as best as I could, even though I still had some issues with the way he had let the whole show play out with Novak.
“What are you doing here?”
At least that’s what I meant to ask, but I was pretty wasted and my tongue didn’t feel like it was working right.
Titus took one look at me and sighed. He walked over to where the giant handle of whiskey was sitting on the floor by the bed and scooped it up. I should have protested when he dumped it down the sink, but I didn’t have the energy or the fortitude to get into it with him.
“A lawyer contacted me today.”
“So what? Lawyers have been crawling all over my ass since I got out.”
“That’s because you’re a star witness, and if you go and do something stupid to ruin what little credibility you have, it can put Benny and the rest of Novak’s crew back on the street. They’re trying to make you keep your nose clean.”
I swiped a hand across my face and bared my teeth in a ferocious facsimile of a smile. “All clean, big bro.”
“You’re acting like a dumb-ass.”
“Whatever. What do you want, Titus?”
“Gus’s estate is getting closed in the next few days. He left pretty much everything he had to his wife. But the garage and the cars . . .” Titus’s blue eyes were sharp as he stared at me. “He left that to you.”
My head was fuzzy and I tried to sit up all the way, only to have the room tip on its side and my stomach start to roll in protest.
“The garage . . . it’s yours. You just need to get your stupid shit straightened out and go sign off on the paperwork. I guess the lawyer handling the estate has been trying to get in touch with you, but apparently, you don’t want to talk to anyone.”
I closed my eyes and threw an arm over my eyes. I smelled bad, I felt bad, I looked bad. I was bad.
“Nothing to say to anyone.”
“Really? Maybe a phone call to your best friend to tell him you’re happy he made it out alive? A call to your mom to let her know you’re out of lockup? A call to your girl to let her know you miss her and that you’re sorry for being an ass? Jesus Christ, Bax. You should see her. It was almost impossible to get her to agree to keep her mouth shut, and then you go and break her heart on top of it. She thinks you blame her, thinks you won’t talk to her because you had to go back behind bars for her. You need to make things right with Dovie. No one is ever going to love you the way that girl does. Go home, Bax. Fix this, make a life for yourself for once.”
“I almost got her killed.”
I wasn’t sure I said the words, but I felt them, tasted them, and lived with them like a lead weight on my chest every minute of every day.
Titus sighed and I heard the old chair creak as he lowered his body into it.
“Yeah, well, that was a perfect storm of bad timing. Yes, she is vulnerable because of you, because of Race, but isn’t it better to keep her close rather than let her face it on her own? Just because you aren’t physically around her doesn’t mean anyone, and I mean anyone, is going to forget the lengths you were willing to go to set her free. Pointing a loaded gun at your head sends one hell of a message, Bax. Everyone in that warehouse got it loud and clear.”