Allison and her brother Miles have been on their own as long as they remember, but they’re not doing badly— they’ve got two million in an overseas account. The downside is that how they make their living is illegal.
The second drawback is Reid.
A lie seals her death warrant when Reid decides it’s high time for house-cleaning. She escapes with the aid of an unlikely partner, but Miles isn’t as lucky.
Bobby—Allison’s savior—tells her to run. It’s what Miles would have wanted. He’s right. But she can’t leave and allow her brother’s murderers to carry on with their business.
Murderous vengeance isn’t healthy, Bobby says. It’ll lead her to a very dark place. Maybe she’d pay his advice more mind if he weren’t enforcement for a drug kingpin.
She doesn’t know when she’ll feel whole again or if it’ll ever happen, but there’s one thing she wants before worrying about the healing process: blood.
EXCERPT FROM THE
The same tired song kept playing on the radio, but I didn't want to change the station and mess up my brother's presets. He was touchy about his things. I didn’t blame him. I was too.
“I know what you're thinking, and forget it. I like this song.”
“I did too, before they played it a thousand and five times every hour.”
I felt Miles roll his eyes, though I couldn't see him.
“How much longer?” I knotted my arms over my seatbelt. “It's been goddamned forever.”
“It's been twenty minutes. Relax.”
I scowled. He knew I hated being told to relax, but it didn’t stop him saying it. “You should tell these assholes to be on time for once. This is bullshit.”
“They make the rules. They can be three hours late. Nothing we can do about it.”
I puffed out a sigh, jiggling my knee. “Nobody believes in punctuality anymore. When I say I'm gonna be somewhere at eight, I'm there at eight.”
Miles switched off the ignition. “Shut up.”
“I'm just saying.”
“Pardon me for laboring under the delusion that you didn't believe in anything.”
I had to grow up way too fast. We both did. There was nothing for me to believe in except rules dictated by common courtesy. Like punctuality.
I’d have told him as much, but a car rounded the corner into the parking lot we’d been stationed in for the last twenty minutes. The headlights flooded our Chevy’s interior, and through my own slitted eyes I saw Miles flinch as well.
The car pulled up beside ours and killed the lights.
Miles didn't move, and when I turned to face him, he gave me one of those, 'well what are you waiting for?' expressions. He looked pathetic with that black eye, and I wondered when it’d fade. He'd gotten it nearly a week ago.
“I thought you dealing with him this time. Bryan's an asshole. He likes you better since he's a perv.”
I heaved a melodramatic sigh, grabbed the plastic container by my feet, and wrenched the door open. “You're a real crybaby sometimes,” I told my brother, before slamming it shut.
Miles was right. Bryan was an asshole. And it pissed me off he drove a car worth a hundred K when we were in a run-down Chevy. We could have bought a decent car since we had enough money but Miles quashed the idea as soon as I'd uttered it. He thought nice cars were pretentious, screamed LOOK AT ME, and he didn't want to draw attention to ourselves. He was probably right.
I shifted the container on my hip and stopped at Bryan's door. He rolled the window down and peered out at me.
A smile split his face. “I haven't seen you in a while.”
“Yeah, well, I've been busy.”
I rustled the container's contents. “What the fuck do you think I've been doing? It doesn't make itself.”
“We got a scale in the backseat.” The man in the passenger’s seat elbowed Bryan. “Check the weight.”
“You wouldn’t lie, right?” He asked me with a steely smile, a quiet menace slithering through his voice. Bryan looked jolly, like an overgrown teddy bear, but I knew better. I’d seen him plunge a screwdriver into someone’s eye a week ago, the same day he’d given my brother that beautiful shiner.
“I don’t have any reason to. It’s just business. Never lied to you before.”
He chuckled and turned to the man beside him. “Get the lady the case.”
Bryan dug in his breast pocket and unearthed a piece of paper as Felix came around with a suitcase.
“We dumped our phones. You can reach me at this number now. Might be a good idea to ditch yours too. Avoid whatever fallout might happen.”
“Fallout of what?” I asked as Felix thrust the suitcase at me.
“Cops been cracking down harder than normal. Can’t ever be too careful.” His engine roared to life and his car rolled forward a few inches. He smiled again. It looked pretty phony in my professional opinion. “Tell your brother I said hi.”
I dropped bags of groceries onto our kitchen table. The microwave clock ticked over to ten p.m. About time for the weirdos to come out and play. Scottsdale was chock-full of freaks.
I shrugged out of my jacket and slung it over a chair. “We need to get out of this. I’m sick of Bryan.”
Miles took his sweet time unpacking cartons of yogurt. He didn’t meet my eyes, standing there separating my flavors (strawberry and chocolate) from his (key lime pie and lemon meringue). “We will soon. Whatever he meant by ‘fallout’ can’t be anything good.”
No kidding. ‘Fallout’ meant getting caught. Getting caught would land us in jail, and I doubted I’d survive a prison sentence. I had a hard time knowing when to shut up, and I didn’t think I’d be able to handle being separated from Miles.
He unscrewed the cap off a jug of milk and drank from the carton. A trickle slid down the dimple in his chin. There was a reason we bought two different jugs each trip to the grocery store. My brother was a pig. Most people thought we were twins, but I was glad we weren’t. If he was a pig outside the womb, I didn’t want to know what he was like inside one.
Miles wiped the residue off with the back of his hand. “We’ll figure something out. I’ll try to talk to Reid. Find out what’s happened. Bryan’s not exactly brilliant.”
I chewed my lip. “Let’s move to Aruba. You can fish all day.”
“You knew there’d be some consequences. There’s repercussions with everything, especially in this business. We’ll get out when we can. And you don’t eat fish.”
More complications. It wasn’t something I’d planned on since we’d been doing well as of late, so all I could do was shrug half-heartedly. He was probably right. He usually was. I turned my back and upended another grocery bag.
“I want you to visit Mom with me tomorrow. It’s almost her birthday.”
I chucked a container of cottage cheese into our refrigerator so hard it burst open, the plastic film splitting down the middle and vomiting curdled milk.
“You go. I’m staying home.”
He sighed and sank into a seat. “When are you going to let it go? She’s different. I can tell.” The kitchen lights bore down on his chestnut hair, auburn strands morphing into crimson.
I pushed my sleeves to my elbows and retrieved a sponge from the sink. “She’s always been a good actress.”
“That’s not fair. Drugs screw people up. You know that, seeing what we see every day.”
“I was never stupid enough to use in the first place. Neither were you, and we had plenty of opportunities. I don’t want anything to do with her.”
He let me win. Miles knew when to accept defeat. Plus I screamed louder than him, and my raised voice gave him eye twitches.
“One day she won’t be around. And you’ll wish you’d gone to see her.”
“When that day happens,” I told him, aiming a vicious swipe at a sludgy trail of cottage cheese, “I’ll give you my cut.”
I heard the smile in his voice, even with my head stuck in the fridge. “An extra three hundred thousand’s nothing to sneeze at. Deal.”
When I slumped into the kitchen at seven a.m., Miles was mysteriously absent. He normally didn’t make it out of his bedroom until noon when I turned the thermostat to HELL to smoke him out from underneath those Star Wars bedcovers. He’d never make it to night classes otherwise.
He left a note on the kitchen table, but only half of his cramped scrawl was decipherable. Something about visiting Mom. Maybe he still thought of her as ‘Mom’ but the tamest thing I’d called her was Vicki.
He’d propped a photograph against salt and pepper shakers. A yellowed one depicting our family when we were solid, unblemished. Before Vicki started using, when she looked happy, and when my father was alive. Miles and I were chubby toddlers in near matching attire, born sixteen months apart. He was older, which I supposed was the reason he thought he was Head Bitch in Charge.
We had the same hair, a wavy chestnut. Exactly the shade of Vicki’s, but life in jail had likely turned it gray. Not that I cared. She ruined her chances with me the day she got so twacked out she decided to stab our father forty-seven times with a steak knife.
Miles remembered the incident better than I did. He was five, and had been the one to dial 9-1-1. I was four, and did nothing but stand there whimpering at the ocean of blood on our kitchen floor while our mother stood at the sink, humming Pop Goes the Weasel as she rinsed the knife off.
Understanding his unconditional love for that woman was something I doubted I’d ever be able to do, though I figured males—normal ones anyway—always had a soft spot for their mothers. I only had a soft spot for Miles and iced peppermint lattes.
I turned the snapshot face-down and plunked the salt shaker over it. Miles would have gotten mad if I’d torn it to shreds, the way I’d done with all the other old pictures.
“Fuck you,” I said, and turned to brew some coffee.
The counters were piled with thick wads of cash Miles unpacked the previous night. I hated math, anything to do with numbers, so he’d nominated himself treasurer of our little family operation.
My cell phone buzzed, connected to its charger beside the money. I turned it sideways to view the caller I.D. Bryan.
He didn’t wait for my ‘hello’.
“Your product was light yesterday,” he told me over some horrific techno song in the background. “I don’t like being lied to.”
I cradled the phone between my shoulder and ear. “It wasn’t when I weighed it. Maybe some of your co-workers have been dipping into the stock when you’re not looking. Terrance looks pretty shady.”
“It went straight from your hands to mine. Either your scale’s broken or you’re a liar.”
I dumped a scoop of coffee grounds into a filter. “Look, if it’s light—and it’s not, because I checked—then it was an honest mistake. We’ll make up for it next time.”
“Mistakes are still mistakes, and I think you know pretty well Reid doesn’t give out many second chances.”
“I think he’d make allowances since it’s not likely you’ll find much better. Everyone else’s shit sucks. And they’re tweakers.”
“I’ll be in touch. Reid’ll decide what to do about this.”
I pressed the power button, and the coffee maker puffed to life. “When am I gonna meet him, anyway? Miles has.”
“He won’t deal with women. They’re too emotional.”
“I think I should sinceI keep hearing his name thrown around. When can you make that happen?” It was hard to keep the pent-up frustration from my voice. I knew we couldn’t meet everyone involved; it was for our own protection, but it didn’t stop me from being annoyed I’d been kept in the dark on certain aspects.
His laugh was a soft, secretive one I was long used to hearing. “Probably sooner than you want to, honey.”
“I’m not your ‘honey,” I spat, but Bryan had already disconnected.
Miles wasn’t back by the time I needed to hit the road, so I left without him. He took the train when he visited Vicki, so the piece of crap Chevy was still in our assigned space, baking under Arizona heat.
“I hate you,” I told it, before climbing inside.
Miles and I based our operation in a storage facility owned by a guy he’d met at some bar. We rented the north block of units to keep the smell at a minimum, and Jimmy falsified records so they reflected renters of different names.
The storage facility sat in an industrial center, next door to a factory that belched foul vapors morning, noon, and night. The odor was disgusting but helpful when it came to masking the acrid steam Miles and I made while cooking.
Jimmy lounged in a swivel chair when I swung into his office. He didn’t lift his gaze from the television mounted on the wall. “It’s pay day.”
I rolled my eyes, slapping a few belted wads of hundreds on the counter next to his phone. “Don’t I know it. You remind us every day how long it is till pay day.”
The constant reminders were one of his more annoying habits, but we paid him to look the other way and go about business like nothing illegal took place right under his nose. In the event he got incarcerated, we’d agreed to shell out a flat one hundred thousand as hazard pay so he wouldn’t decide to spill his guts to a pushy cop about who he worked for. But even if he did, all Jimmy had were our first names. Miles and I were the only people he dealt with.
Jimmy looked around when a commercial interrupted the Mexican soap opera. He didn’t speak Spanish so why he watched them remained a mystery, though I suspected it was because the women wore next to nothing.
“Why do you care? All that matters is you get your money. And you got it.”
“Miles is a little more nice.” He thumbed through wads of cash with lazy fingers.
“Miles is better at being fake.”
He waved an airy hand. “Tell him I said hi, then.”
“Tell him yourself next time you see him.” I pushed the swinging door open and headed for the northern block of units.
I held my breath upon entering because the smell made manure pleasant, and groped in my purse for a surgical mask. When I’d locked the door behind myself, I checked on the latest batch drying in baking sheets.
Smashing it to bits was probably my favorite part of the cooking nightmare. Thick, long shards were one of the things our meth was known for. That and its ice-white color. One of our foster brothers had been a cook, and he’d taught Miles the ropes.
Foster care was good for something. We wouldn’t have six hundred thousand dollars in the linings of our mattresses, beneath floorboards, and hidden our apartment walls without Foster Brother Eddy. When I aged out of the system I came to live with Miles, and our operation snowballed from there.
Eddy worked with us in the beginning until a meth lab exploded and gave him third degree chemical burns. He died in the hospital. Miles made us wear stupid hazmat suits from then on.
I tapped the mallet over the smooth surface, and the impact sent rippling cracks through the dried meth. When the bulk had been broken up, I slipped on a pair of latex gloves to examine it.
Miles insisted on gloves, too. Apparently you’d still fail a drug test if you handled meth with bare hands, since skin absorbed the chemicals. I always said the probability of our being subjected to a test was low because we weren’t involved in selling, rendering it unlikely we’d get caught in the middle of a deal. And then there was the fact that Miles and I hid under covers of being college students scraping by on our respective FAFSA grants and an inheritance from our grandmother.
I was dumping shards from the baking sheet when my ass started buzzing. I ripped the gloves from my hands, pulled out my phone, and answered.
“Take your mask off,” Miles said. “I can barely hear you.”
I peeled it off and balled it in my fist. “Where are you? When are you getting back?”
“Don’t you want to know how Mom’s doing?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
He sighed. “I should be at the train station in a few hours. I’ll call you when I’m pulling in. I’m gonna need you to pick me up.”
I threw the slanted metal scraper down on the workstation. “When the hell did I become Mary Fucking Poppins? I gotta clean the apartment since you’re a slob, break up this batch, pay off Jimmy the Idiot, and come pick you up? Call a taxi.”
“You’re a pain in the ass.”
“Takes one to know one,” I told him, though he’d hung up on me.
Why does everyone hang up on me? I fumed, snapping the mask back on.
The apartment was empty by the time I made it home. I dropped my purse on the counter and blew out a sigh. The job of stashing money and cleaning up had fallen to me, as per usual.
My call to Miles’s cell went unanswered, and I figured he was still irritated about our earlier conversation. For someone who claimed to be a burgeoning mixed martial artist, my brother acted more womanly than me.
I sprayed Windex over the counters and wiped the tile in lazy spirals, wondering whether I should be worried. Did trains get into accidents often? I’d never been a passenger on one since I’d eat my own face before visiting Vicki.
The clock struck eight p.m. by the time I started to freak. How likely was it something bad happened? Hadn’t I already reached my lifetime tragedies quota?
“You’re being an ass, you know,” I told his voicemail on the fifth unanswered call. “If you’re trying to teach me a lesson, fine, you win. I’ll come get you. Call me back, for Christ’s sake.”
The line disconnected me after a few more choice swears, so I slammed my phone on the kitchen table. Immediately after I did, it buzzed with an incoming call.
“Where the hell are you?” I yelled. “And don’t give me some line about no cell service.”
The voice on the other end laughed, and it sounded nothing like Miles.
“Who the fuck is this?” I demanded. “Put my brother on.”
“My name is Reid. I’ve heard a lot about you. Your brother’s sitting right here.”
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