Wrote this whole chapter on tiny hotel stationary. The boys finally get to make out, though more's to come in the next chapter!
Jensen listened to his heels echo. Outside of Sheppard's house, the street was empty save for a fat woman pushing a cart full of scrap metal, and Jared walked alongside her to chat.
"How's the diet?"
She shook her head. "I been doin' that grapefruit thing, though some days it be hard on my stomach."
"You look great. It's hard I know, sometimes it'll be late and I'll see that candy bar in the freezer..."
They passed a row of vacant houses, post-war models with a chain of morning glories along the fence. Kids set off a firecracker in the middle of the street and ran back to the yard with their hands over their ears, the mortar leaving little black fingers on the concrete.
"Sheppard's got a nice set-up," said Jensen, as the woman turned the corner, "That why you stuck around? Hoping to take his place?"
Jared smiled. "Nah, he's got people pushing him from up top, making sure he meet his quota, flying back and forth to Columbia. I only have to answer to one guy, and I can go where I want."
Jensen could just make out the ocean from where they stood, the horizon cut in half by silent lightning. "Why don't you leave?"
"I wouldn't know anybody. Everyone in this neighborhood knows everyone else, names, birthdays... Cuz when your tire's flat or you need to run power from another house, you gotta be neighbors," he said, looking into his hat, "I don't see myself in a condo where nobody talks and I can't even open the window."
"It's Sheppard that's keepin' them poor."
"You kidding, he props up most of their jobs. All the bars on the waterfront, the tracks, the dance clubs, he's bitten off a little of everything in this town."
"That why everybody looks so chewed-up?"
Jared laughed, and Jensen looked away, wishing the sidewalk weren't so narrow. "It's not funny."
"You don't understand," said Jared, setting the hat low over his eyes, "No one tells jokes here."
"I get that impression."
They walked in the shadow of oak trees, stepping over yellow circles of streetlamp light like vampires as Jared plucked muscadines from over his head. He popped a grape in his mouth and offered some to Jensen.
He shook his head. "Those things are a pain, all those seeds..."
"Oh I don't spit anything out," said Jared, his teeth glowing faintly in the gloom, "I like that they're a mess to eat."
They arrived at Jared's car. The tower of St. Jude's rose above the trees, and crows flew off a dead animal as the bells tolled ten o'clock. Jensen worked up his nerve. "You can't kill a priest in his own church," he said finally, "It's a terrible place to die."
Jared opened the car door. "Didn't know there was a good one."
"Look, I know this great club that just opened," said Jensen, hoping to buy Misha some time, "Ever had a girl do a Chinese cartwheel on you?"
"What is that?"
"I dunno, been meaning to find out," said Jensen, leaning in as if the street were listening, "Come on, it's like five miles from here, my treat."
Jared tapped his thumbs against the steering wheel. "You wanna do something...really fun?"
Molino Road was a straight shot running parallel to the water, and any time after five p.m. you could have laid down in the street and not see any traffic. Jared sucked the remaining foam from a champagne bottle and tossed it from the convertabile.
Jensen gripped the door. With the hood down it felt like they were going a lot faster. "Can you slow down?"
For answer, Jared took Jensen's left hand and placed it on the steering wheel. "On three, okay?"
"What's on three?"
Jared unbuckled the seatbelt, pulling his feet up. "One..."
"What are you doing?"
"Get back here!"
On three, Jared pulled himself from the driver's seat and climbed onto the hood of the car, his back to the windshield. Jensen grabbed the steering wheel, the car still hurtling a good sixty miles an hour. After a minute, Jared stood upright and smiled over his shoulder, long hair whipping in the wind.
"This is fucking awesome," Jared shouted, "You should get up here!"
"Get back in the car!"
Jared laughed. Tires skidded thru the rain puddles, so fast they kicked up rainbows. And pulling a .45 from his waistband Jared began shooting out streetlamps, the glass tinkling in a fine, yellow spray. He was an excellent shot, and took no more than a moment to aim before putting each one out. By the time he finished, there was nothing but a faint electric hum, and Molino Road was completely dark.
"Are we done?" asked Jensen, as Jared dropped behind the wheel again.
"Got one more stop."
"Yeah. Come with me?"
"I don't like killing."
"It's Artie Manseaux."
Jensen bristled. "The cop killer?"
Jared laughed, headlights swiveling across the houses as he turned his car. "See? You learned to like it already."
Jared parked a few blocks down from Manseaux's house and paused to polish his glasses on his shirt. Jensen snorted. "You should get contacts."
"The glasses help," said Jared, checking his .45 for a loaded chamber, "It's important to appear harmless."
The house was a cookie-cutter two-story with a fenced-in pool and the smell of menudo. Jared picked his way through the back door, while Jensen studied the surrounding apartments, waiting for dogs or a face at the window. But if they were being watched, he did not see any sign of it.
Upon entering the kitchen, Jared lay his hat down on the counter and listened for a while, trying to decide between the dining room and the hallway. Finally, he fired three shots into the wall to his right, sending up a cloud of plaster dust, and waited. Someone spoke in the next room, and he eased open the door with his fingertips.
Manseaux lay in bed reading, a gun on the nightstand, one hand trying to hold his wound shut. His Bible lay open, freckled with blood.
"Please..." he begged, blood bubbling in his throat as Jared pressed the hot barrel to his forehead.
When it was finished, Jared moved toward the rest of the house. Jensen clutched his arm. "Where are you going?" he whispered.
"I have to clear the house."
"But he's dead."
"Sheppard's orders. Anyone who's with Manseaux, I get an extra fifty thousand per hit."
Jensen's heart sank at the thought, but released his grip anyway. As Jared took the stairs, Jensen followed the sound of a TV, angling his body against the flowery wallpaper. A strip of light shone at the end of the hallway, while upstairs he heard furniture breaking.
He toed open the door. Curtains wafted from an open window. Tom & Jerry played in one corner, the mouse grabbing the end of the cat's shotgun and stretching the barrel around the house until it pointed at the back of the cat's head.
Eye watched him from the slats of a closet door. He opened it, and three boys, the dead man in miniature, sat Indian style on the floor, the oldest pointing a gun at him. He couldn't have been more than eight.
Jensen put a finger to his lips and showed them his wallet. "I'll give you five hundred dollars for that gun."
The children eyed the money, and listened to his offer.
"The main road's three blocks from here," he whispered, "Put on your shoes, hail a cab, and go to Southside Tavern. Ask for Bob, tell him Ol' Green Eyes sent you. He'll find you beds."
They hesitated, preferring the solid weight of the gun. But then, hearing more shots through the ceiling, they tossed it at his feet, snatched the money, and clambered out the window. He waited until their footsteps faded, then turned off the TV.
Back in the kitchen, Jared placed his hat on his head, his right jacket sleeve dark with blood. He'd sustained a long cut, and insisted they return to his house for first aid before hitting St. Jude's.
While he searched for iodine in the medicine cabinet, Jensen sat on the edge of Jared's bed, hands dangling between his knees. He should have done this earlier, before the house call.
"I can't sleep now," said Jared, his arm newly bandaged, "I mean, that last guy was really close, jobs like that you either wanna sleep for a week or run laps in the parking lot."
Jensen stared at Jared's hat on the dresser. "Jared..." he croaked.
Jared's brow knit. "What is it?"
Jensen stood, pulling his gun in front of him. A gangster was one thing, but he had to keep Misha out of harm's way. "You have been charged with the deaths of Tony and Edith Snow..."
Jensen knew from the get-go he couldn't arrest Sheppard, it would bring down the entire local economy. Hundreds of people in this neighborhood were bankrolled by the drug market. But he could take out Jared. Enforcers were easily replaced, but an arrest would send a sharp message to the right people.
Jared said nothing, laying his bloody towel aside. He must have seen this coming. The Snows been his first kills, an age ago it seemed.
Jensen set his teeth. "Stay where you are."
It was a small room, barely six feet between them, and Jared was steadily closing the gap. Hadn't they been here before, laughing in their fathers' suits some hot summer day?
"Is that aftershave?"
Jensen blushed. "Yeah, I swiped it from my dad's travel bag."
"It's nice," said Jared, putting a hand to Jensen's cheek, "You smell like a kiss."
Jared shaped his hands around the back of Jensen's head, thumbs pressed into the soft flesh beneath his jaw. Jensen still had his gun in both hands, now right up against Jared's heart.
"Step back..." he whispered, voice trembling, afraid the gun might jump in his hands. Jared tilted his face, pushing Jensen's head away to one side.
You never forget your first kiss. Jared had been wearing a hat back then, and Jensen, eyes open to study young Jared's eyelashes as he closed in on him, watched the hat fall to the floor. He'd lost most of the details of that day, how long the kiss had lasted, whose house they'd been at, but the hat stayed with him.
Jared pressed a warm, wet mouth to his throat, breathing him in. Jensen tried not to move, one knee between Jared's legs and the other pinned against the edge of the bed.
The bells of St. Jude's rang in midnight, soft and at a safe distance. When the gun hit the floor, Jensen felt Jared smile against his skin, and allowed himself to be pushed gently onto the bed.