What do you do if your book isn’t selling?
As Walker placed each grainy black and white photograph in front of Megan for her to examine, she did her best to keep her facial expression static. Still a little drunk, tired, and craving a trip to the bathroom, she had not yet decided how to play her hand.
The first picture: Wiles and some men that Megan did not recognize. They were standing in an alley. Wiles’ arm was extended, passing something to one of the men. “Do you want to tell me how you got that black eye?” Walker said.
“How do you think I got this black eye?”
“Megan, it’s time to stop being cute. I don’t have to be here. I can just let you spend the night in a holding cell, and then you can get out in the morning with a court date. Do you know how much DUIs cost? Last I heard, it’s around ten thousand dollars, after all the court fees, lawyer fees, and everything else.”
The next photograph depicted Alex sitting in a car with a guy she did recognize, but whose name she had forgotten. “All I want is for you to look at these pictures and tell me which people you know, and which ones you don’t. If you have names, or anything else to tell me, I’m willing to listen.”
“And what if I ask for a lawyer?”
This outburst did not seem to faze Walker. “Well, of course you can ask for a lawyer. Right now, when it’s just you and me, the rules are different. You want to lawyer-up, well, in addition to DUI, how about drug trafficking? When we raid your house tomorrow, can you prove that the drugs we’ll most likely find inside aren’t yours?”
Megan lowered her head. She imagined a group of DEA agents standing next to the mounds of packaged weed, posing for a picture of their victory. Her move to take the upper hand had failed. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I want to cooperate.”
“I know you do,” Walker said, again with her plastic smile. The next picture showed Wiles and Alex with a tall, skinny man with a Mohawk. She recognized him, and she remembered the guy from the other picture as Dave. She pointed at the last picture. “That’s Mitchell. He works for Wiles. He’s been over to my house before.”
“Have Mitchell and Wiles ever discussed business in front of you?” Walker said.
“Not exactly, but I’ve overheard them from the other room. Mitch is Wiles’ crack guy.” She pointed at the picture with Dave in it. “That’s Dave. He’s the coke guy. Wiles has a different guy for each thing. He calls them his family.”
Crack, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine. Conversations that Megan overheard but allowed to drift away through her idyllic ignorance. All the things that Megan knew, but also did not know.
“There’s just one more photo I’d like you to see,” Walker said.
She removed the last picture from the envelope and laid it on the table. A photo of Brian, sitting in his car, with NCAR in the backdrop.
“Why do you keep looking at the door?”
Brian said nothing. Wiles walked to the front door and locked it.
Alex’s gun was an extra finger; a long metal digit connected to the flesh of his hand. He should not have taken it out, and under his breath, he cursed himself for doing so. Convincing Brian to take a drive probably no longer remained an option, unless they could force him. Alex had grown woozy, the edges of his vision full of fleeting points of light. The conversation in the room sounded distant, and foreign, like those first early-morning moments after waking.
Brian inched towards the fireplace. They now stood in a triangle in the living room. Alex reacted and shook the pistol at him. “Don’t you fucking move,” he said.
Everything is spiraling out of control.
“Britton, be cool, goddamnit,” Wiles said. Then to Brian: “now, if I were Tony Soprano, I’d probably cut your cock off and shove it down your throat. That’s what you deserve.”
Brian elevated his gaze to Alex. Brian’s bloodshot eye was unnatural and discomforting. Alex turned his head away from it and closed his eyes. With his eyes closed, the scene almost felt like a dream.
“Think about what you’re doing, Alex. This isn’t right. If you’d just hear me out–”
Wiles continued. “But that seems so nasty. I’d probably puke all over you. And with all that DNA testing and shit they do now… It’s just not worth it.”
A nervous reaction rose through his body and Alex giggled. He could not seem to stop it, but the snickering pleased him as ripples of anxiety escaped his body with the laughter.
“I never should have let you move back to Denver. Everything went to shit as soon as I you did that, and I can admit that was just stupid of me. Now,” Wiles said, “I don’t know what to do with you. Some price gotta be paid for this. I thought you would have learned a lesson from before. I mean, with all you lost.”
What does that mean? What did Brian lose?
Alex opened his eyes, which landed on the mantle, and the picture of Brian with Jimmy. Everything in the room froze for a split second as Alex’s eyes adjusted. Then he had an alarming idea.
Jimmy Connelly? He didn’t run away.
“I don’t get it,” Brian said.
“Of course you don’t,” Wiles said. “How stupid are you? Whatever. Look around, son. Britton here has a motherfucking gun pointed at your head. This is really happening. You did this. No more excuses. If you’ve got some plan to make it right, now’s the time to tell me.”
“Derek, think about what you’re doing. This is crazy. We’re in the middle of an apartment complex. You can’t shoot me, there are people everywhere. The cops will be on you in minutes.”
Wiles spoke to Alex while pointing at Brian. “I’m giving him a chance to explain himself and he’s just standing there, spouting this stupid shit.”
Alex, formerly driven, now veered back towards indecision. The pistol grip shifted in his sweaty hand. More than anything, he wished he could go back in time and not pull out the gun. Maybe they could have talked through it.
“I met her at the laundromat,” Brian said. “She never told me she was married, and she was so young, who gets married while they’re still in college? I–”
Brian paused, then dashed to the fireplace, grabbing the poker. No sooner had he wrestled it free from the cradle than Wiles leaped from his spot, grabbing Brian by the shirt. Wiles pushed Brian backwards against the fireplace. The picture of Jimmy came crashing down to the floor. “What did I just tell you? I don’t want to hear your excuses!” Wiles closed his hands around Brian’s throat, pressing his thumbs into Brian’s Adam’s apple while lifting him higher on the wall. Brian looked at Alex again, terror in his eyes. Helpless.
Nothing I can do. Snitches have to go. Kevin Werner had to go. Brian has to go. Black and white. But is Brian a snitch? Wiles seemed to be only upset about Megan. He had not even mentioned that they saw Brian with a cop.
Wiles held firm. Brian swung the fireplace poker against Wiles’ arms and side but he did not budge. The veins on Brian’s temple pulsed as Wiles applied increased pressure. Brian raised the poker high and forcefully swung it against Wiles’ lower back, causing Wiles to grunt and release him.
Wiles pushed Brian back against the wall with one hand while wrestling the poker away with the other. Wiles jabbed Brian in the ribs with it and Brian emitted the most ghastly mewling that Alex had ever heard. Horrendous. He sunk to the floor, gripping his side, the look of pain on his face something more appalling than anything Alex thought possible. Worse than the terror on Tyson’s face just before Wiles cracked his nose with the bicycle. Spit dribbled from the corner of Brian’s mouth as he whimpered.
Wiles flexed his hand. “You’ve got me so pissed off I can’t think straight.” He hurled the poker against the wall. “I’m running out of shit to throw. I tried tried to be calm with you, goddamnit, but you brought all of this on your own motherfucking head, you know that? Fuck this. I’m just about done with you, but I’ll give you one more chance. If you have a plan, I’ll listen.”
A flash of light out of the corner of his eye alerted Alex to the TV, as the security feed displayed a car stopping at the gate. The car looked familiar, but he could not place it. A large Hispanic man leaned out and entered a code on the keypad. Alex thought he may be looking at Miguel, but the blurry wall-eye view provided no clarity.
Brian tried to scoot back towards the fireplace, grunting in pain. He reached for a sliver of glass from Wiles’ broken beer bottle, but Wiles leaned over him and plucked it from his hands. Wiles tossed it to the side. “C’mon now, Connelly. Stop trying to be brave,” he said.
Brian barely spoke above a whisper. “Derek. You’ll never…”
“That’s it?” Wiles said, stomping his foot on the floor like a petulant child. “After every chance I’ve given you to explain yourself, that’s all you have to say?” Then, to Alex: “fuck the plan. Shoot this piece of shit. I don’t care anymore.”
Alex did nothing at first. He had just been told to shoot someone; actually to pull the trigger. He looked at Wiles, then back at Brian. Wiles lifted up his shirt, placing a hand on the butt of his own gun sticking out of his waistband.
“What are you waiting for? You said you were in. Shoot this motherfucker!”
Alex glanced at both of them, his brow wet with perspiration. His head vibrated with each breath and he thought he might pass out any second now. A droplet of sweat trickled into his eye, forcing it shut.
Wiles pulled out his own gun. Alex tensed up his arm.