Rules of attraction, p.41
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       Rules of Attraction, p.41

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
 
Page 41

 

  “I don’t care that they’re highly trained. ” Tears well up in my eyes, and I think about all the things I want to say to Carlos that I’ve held back and all the times I should have told my dad how much I appreciate him. “I want a one hundred percent guarantee that they’ll all be fine. ” I tell Mrs. Garcia.

  She pats my knee. “Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in life. ”

  55

  Carlos

  I look over at my brother, his knuckles white as he grips the wheel of his car. The Professor spent all day going over the different scenarios, just in case Devlin or any one of his guys decided to go back on their word and start shooting at us.

  When we met last night, the Professor arrived at Alex’s place in a black turtleneck and black pants, as if he were Zorro. I think the poor guy misses whatever covert military operations he used to be involved in, because his raw excitement couldn’t be more obvious.

  Don’t ask me how Westford came up with the idea of making a deal with Devlin. I spent an hour arguing with him, telling him there was no way in hell I’d let him pay tens of thousands of dollars of his own money to get me out of trouble. I argued until my throat was sore, but Westford insisted. He said he’d negotiate with Devlin with or without my consent.

  Before he made the deal with Devlin, Westford and I sat down for a long talk. He was willing to offer to buy Devlin off for whatever it took . . . on one condition.

  I’d have to enter the military or go to college.

  That was it. The Professor was willin’ to take a shitload of cash out of his own bank account to buy my way out of Devlin’s chains, with rules attached. “It’s like slavery,” I told him this afternoon as we went over the plan in detail.

  “Cut the crap, Carlos. Is it a deal or not?” he’d said.

  I shook hands with him, but to my surprise he pulled me forward into a bear hug and said he was proud of me. It feels weird to have a guy who knows the truth about who I am and what I’ve done still care about my future and want me to succeed.

  Devlin gave the Professor twenty-four hours to come up with fifty thousand dollars to buy me out, but only after I showed up at some secret location in Brush and proved to have a united front with Rodriguez in front of allies of the Guerreros. I guess some big deal is about to happen, but the Mexican suppliers don’t trust Devlin. I wonder if the street war with the R6 has already started.

  We’re in the car on the way to meet with Devlin and Rodriguez in Brush. Westford has the cash in a duffel between his feet. I’m in the backseat, looking at the two guys who’ve become my posse. My heart is beating strong and hard at the prospect of bringin’ my brother and the Professor. I was supposed to be in this alone, without draggin’ anyone down with me. Devlin is my problem, and they’ve made him theirs.

  I remember when Kiara brushed her fingers over one of my tattoos. La rebelde. I’m not that big of a rebel if I need an old man and my big brother as my posse. And while havin’ them with me doesn’t sit well in my gut, I admit I don’t know what the hell I’d do without ’em.

  “There’s still time for both of you to back out. I can go in there alone. ”

  “That’s not happenin’,” Alex says. “I’m comin’ with you, no matter what. ”

  Westford pats the duffel filled with money. “I’m ready for this. ”

  “That’s a helluva lot of money, Professor. You sure you want to part with it? You can wipe your hands clean of me and keep the money. I wouldn’t even blame you. ”

  He shakes his head. “I’m not backing out now. ”

  “If one of us feels that somethin’ is off, get out fast,” I tell them. “Devlin makes sure he’s got numbers on his side. ”

  Alex drives slowly through Brush. The streets remind me of Fairfield, our town back in Illinois. We didn’t live on the richest side of town. Some people refused to drive through the south side for fear of being carjacked, but it was home to us.

  A bunch of guys our age are standing on the corner, eyeing Alex’s unfamiliar car suspiciously. If we look like we know what we’re doing and have a purpose, we’ll be just fine. If we act like we have no clue where we are or how to get where we want to go, then we’re toast.

  As Alex drives down a winding driveway and ends up in front of what looks like an abandoned ware house, chills race up and down my spine. Why did Devlin insist on us meeting him here?

  “You ready to do this?” Alex says as he puts the car in park.

  “No,” I say. Both Westford and Alex turn back to look at me. “I just wanted to say thanks,” I mutter. “But you think Devlin’ll take your money and run, or shoot us dead and take the money anyway?”

  Westford opens the car door. “Only one way to find out. ”

  We all pile out of the car, our senses heightened and on alert. As much as I made fun of Westford for wearing all black again today, he does look like a badass. An old, balding badass, but a badass nonetheless.

  “There’s a guy on the roof, two more at two o’clock, and ten o’clock,” Westford tells us.

  What was his nickname in the military, Eagle Eye?

  A guy is standing at the entrance, waiting for us. He’s probably in his twenties, but he’s got blond hair so bleached it’s almost white. “We’re expecting you,” he says in a gruff voice.

  “Good,” I say, taking the reins and stepping inside first. If anyone starts shooting, I’ll be the target, and Alex and Westford might still be able to get away. As the white-haired guy pats us down for any weapons, Westford is clutching that sack of money as if it’s too painful to part with. Poor Westford. He’s totally out of his league. “You know I don’t want you to do this, right?” I ask him.

  “Don’t argue,” Westford says. “ ’Cause that would be a waste of time and get you nowhere. ”

  The white-haired guy leads us to a small office off to the side. “Wait here,” he orders.

  Here we are, two Fuentes brothers and one ex-military guy clutching a duffel bag filled with fifty thousand dollars of freedom money.

  Rodriguez comes in the room and sits on the desk. “So what do you have, Carlos?”

  “Money. For Devlin,” I say. I guess The Big Guy didn’t show up.

  “I was told you had a benefactor to buy you out. You know people in high places, huh?” he says, eyeing the Professor.

  “Sort of. ”

  He holds out his hand. “Give it to me. ”

  Westford grips the duffel tighter. “No. Devlin and I made the deal together, and we’re going to see it through together. ”

  Rodriguez gets in his face. “Let’s get one thing straight, Grandpa. You’ve got no leverage here. In fact, you should be kissin’ my ass or you might find yours on the ground with a hole in it . . . or two. ”

  “Oh, but I do have leverage,” Westford says. “Because my wife has a letter she’s been instructed to give to the police if we all don’t come home safely. Believe me, a well-respected professor won’t easily be forgotten. You and Devlin will be hunted down. ”

  Westford doesn’t release the death grip on the duffel.

  A frustrated Rodriguez leaves us again. I wonder if next time he’ll just shoot us and take the money for himself.

  “What, do you think Devlin’s gonna give you a receipt for it?” I ask the Professor. “I don’t think you get a tax break for payin’ someone off. ”

  He shakes his head. “Even in the face of danger, you’re still a smart-ass. Do you ever give it up?”

  “Nope. It’s just part of my charm. ”

  “How do you know Devlin’s even here?” Alex asks.

  The Professor doesn’t bat an eye. “If there’s a guy on the roof and two more monitoring the comings and goings, the Boss is here. Trust me. ”

  Sure enough, Devlin himself comes sauntering in a half hour later. He obviously made us wait on purpose, to make sure we knew who was in charge. Devlin glances at the duffel. “How much is in there?” he asks.
>
  “The amount we agreed on . . . fifty thousand. ”

  Devlin walks around the room, eyeing us skeptically. “I checked you out, Professor Westford. ”

  For half a second, Westford looks nervous. He masks that nervousness an instant later. I don’t know if my brother or Devlin noticed, but I sure did. “And what did you find out?” Westford asks.

  “That’s the strange part about it,” Devlin says. “Not much. Makes me think you’ve got some kind of intelligence connections. Maybe you came here just to set me up. ”

  I can’t help but laugh. The Professor doesn’t have intelligence connections. Maybe in his glory days he was some covert special-ops soldier, but now he’s just Kiara and Brandon’s dad. The guy gets a hard-on for Family Fun Night, for God’s sake.

  “The only connections I have are with the psychology department at the university. ”

  “Good, ’cause if I find out you have any connections with the cops, you and these kids will regret you ever met me. Rodriguez told me your wife has a letter for the cops to ensure your safety. I don’t like threats, Professor. Open the duffel. ”

  Westford opens it and takes out the money. When Devlin is convinced all the money is there and isn’t marked, he orders me to pick it up and hand it to him.

  “Now we’ve got one more piece of business,” Devlin says, gesturing to me. “You and Rodriguez are going to be meeting some very important friends of mine. In Mexico. ”

  What? No way.

  “That wasn’t part of the deal,” Westford says.

  “Well, I’m changing the deal,” Devlin says. “I have the money, a gun, and the power. You’ve got nothing. ”

  As soon as he says it, the ground starts shaking as if we’re in the middle of an earthquake.

  “It’s a bust,” someone yells through the door. Devlin’s men have all scattered, giving up their duties to protect their boss to save their own skins.

  DEA agents in blue jackets burst in the warehouse, guns at the ready. They order everyone to the ground.

  Devlin’s eyes are crazy-wild as he pulls a . 45 from his waistband and aims it at the Professor.

  “No!” I scream, then lunge forward to knock the gun out of Devlin’s hand. Nobody is gonna kill Westford, even if that means I end up in the morgue. I hear the gun go off and feel like my thigh is on fire. Blood drips down my leg and lands on the cement floor. It’s surreal and I’m afraid to look at my leg. I don’t know how bad it is, only that it feels like a thousand bees have clung to my thigh with their stingers. Alex rushes Devlin, but Devlin is too quick. He turns the gun on my brother, and a deathly panic washes over me. I scramble toward Devlin to stop him, but Westford holds me back just as the white-haired guy bursts into the room with a Glock. “Police! Put the gun down!” he orders.

  What the—

  In a flash, Devlin turns his gun on the guy and they exchange gunfire. I hold my breath but let it out when Devlin is down, clutching his chest. His eyes are open and blood is streaming on the floor under him. The biting pain at the prospect of losing my brother or Westford at the hands of Devlin makes me squeeze my eyes shut.

 

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