Even with the heater on, Teller still sat shivering in the back seat.
“He’s not doing well,” Penn said to the driver from the passenger seat. “You got a blanket back there or something?”
“There’s one in the trunk,” he said after a moment. “Let me pull over.”
He flicked on his hazards and pulled over to the side of the road, about 20 meters before an off ramp.
“Where are we?” Penn asked as the owner of the Cadillac stepped out onto the dimly-lit freeway.
“North Vegas,” he said. He opened the trunk and pulled out an old army blanket. “He needs to get out of those wet clothes,” he said, tapping on the window by Teller’s head.
Penn turned around in his seat to face his partner. “Come on,” he said, tugging on Teller’s tie. “You used to do this all the time. No big deal. Just like old times.” He forced a smile, trying to make his partner feel better.
Teller nodded meekly and brought his shaking hands up to undo the knot in his tie.
“Here,” Penn said, unbuckling his seat belt. He climbed halfway into the back seat and slid the knot in the silk apart. Another perfectly good tie destroyed by Teller. “Hey,” he said as he began helping Teller unbutton his shirt. “You remember that time Marc and I left you at that gas station?” He chuckled, hoping it would lighten the mood. “How long did you sit there before we finally showed up for you?”
Teller tried to laugh through his chattering teeth, but the sound didn’t come easily. He shrugged slightly as Penn helped him pull his shirt off.
“T-shirt, too,” Penn said, grabbing the near-frozen hem. He pulled the cotton shirt over his partner’s head and dropped it on the floor. “Do I need to get your pants, too, or can you handle that?”
Teller shook his head and quickly undid his belt buckle. As he awkwardly slid out of his trousers, Penn took off his waistcoat and handed it to Teller.
“Wear this,” he said. As Teller slid into Penn’s waistcoat, the owner of the Cadillac passed the army blanket into the back seat before getting back into the car. Victoria unfastened her seatbelt and slid across the bench seat, getting as close to Teller as possible.
“I didn’t catch your name,” Penn said as he cranked the heater to the max.
“Brian,” the driver said as he pulled back onto the freeway.
Penn nodded and picked up Teller’s attaché case from the floor. He quickly opened it and pulled out a can of Yoo-hoo and quickly shook it.
“I snagged you a few after you climbed out of the window,” he said as he popped the top. He passed it back to his partner, careful to not spill the chocolate drink all over the upholstery. “I knew you’d need it.”
Teller smiled, his shivering already calming down.
“Where are we going?” Victoria asked, looking out the window behind Teller into the blackness that was the Nevada desert.
“Tommy’s got a house up in Ute,” Brian said. “He thinks you’ll be safe up there.”
“Ute?” Penn asked.
♣ ♣ ♣
Brian wound his Detroit tank along the black, winding highway, ignoring the speed limit as though it was only a polite suggestion. They rode silently, the only sound filling their ears was the heavy purr of the Cadillac’s engine. Forty-five minutes and almost eighty miles beyond North Vegas, Penn spotted an old, faded green highway sign stuck crookedly in the sandy ground.
“Did that sign just stay ‘no services’?” he asked, twisting around in his seat as though he was expecting the same print to be on the back of the sign.
“No,” Brian lied flatly.
Hardly slowing down, he turned off of the highway into what should have been the small embankment that lined the entire freeway. Instead, he had taken them to a small dirt road that turned sharply to a make-shift underpass beneath the 15. Even with the high beams cutting through the night, it was nearly impossible to tell the dirt road from the rest of desert.
“Hey, buddy,” Penn said, casting a quick glance into the back seat. “You mind slowing things down a bit?” He laughed nervously, trying desperately not to sound terrified out of his mind.
“No,” Brian repeated. Instead, he punched the accelerator and followed the road that Penn was certain was there somewhere.
The road ran parallel to an old set of train tracks. Off in the distance, twinkling like the thousands of stars that hung in the cold sky, a small yellow light sat nestled against the looming black rock formations that dominated the landscape. With no warning, Brain once again turned sharply, crashing over the tracks they had been following. The car lurched into the air and just as quickly fell back to earth, sending Teller and Victoria crashing into the seat backs in front of them.
“You alright?” Penn asked, reaching back to help Teller and Victoria situate themselves. He grabbed Teller by the arm, recoiling slightly at the icy temperature of his partner’s skin. “Jesus christ, Teller,” he said quietly.
Teller pulled the waistcoat tightly around himself and wrapped his arms around Victoria’s shoulders, holding her closely to his bare chest.
“Okay,” Penn said as the Cadillac bucked over countless dips and scrub in the hard terrain. “Seriously, slow down.” He reached out and braced himself on the dash board, not quite trusting his seatbelt to keep his face from smashing into the hard plastic in front of him.
“Almost there,” Brian said as he tore through the desert toward the glimmering light in the distance.
As they neared the small yellow light, it became clear that their salvation wasn’t a house at all. The nut behind the wheel had driven them half way across the state to an old mining shack. The car skidded to a halt in front of the small wooden structure, spitting up rocks and dust. Before the engine was off, Penn unbuckled his seat belt and lurched himself from the car. He quickly wrenched his seat forward, allowing Teller and Victoria to scramble out to the cold desert; an oddly welcome alternative to the death trap they had just escaped from. As Penn snatched Teller’s attache case and wet clothes from the seat of the car, the shack’s only door swung open, crashing against the dry cabin wall. Tommy stepped out, blocking the wash of light coming from behind him.
“You made it,” he said as he stepped out to the car. He and Brian walked to the side of the shack, leaving their already terrified guests to stand in the settling dust.
“Teller, here,” Penn said as he took off his blue work shirt. As Victoria tool the waistcoat and blanket, Penn helped his partner dress into the over-sized shirt. “I think your jacket might be dry,” Penn said as he threw everything onto the hood of the car. He opened the attache case and fished out Teller’s jacket, crumpled and stained by something unknown that had spilled inside the case. “If I would have known you wanted to go for a swim, I might have grabbed your sweats from your room.”
Teller shrugged, knowing full-well that he had been lucky. He tried to walk toward the cabin, but Penn stopped him, grabbing his shoulder.
“Man, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said quietly. “We have no way of knowing what these creeps are up to.”
Teller looked up at his partner, hoping one of them knew what they should be doing. As he stood half naked in the cold Nevada night, Teller’s thoughts drifted to his shoes, which just a week before had been brand new. Once more, the intricate, swirling design of his wingtips was damaged beyond repair. Shaking his head at himself, he leaned backwards against the hood of the car, the heat that was still radiating from the engine acting as a warm iron against his still-damp boxer shorts.
“Don’t worry,” Penn said, misinterpreting Teller’s actions for the first time in years. He wrapped his arm around Victoria’s shoulder and led her to the car. “I’m pretty sure somebody’s on to… whatever’s going on over there. We just have to wait it out here until…”
Teller shot his gaze up to his partner, not sure he wanted to hear the rest of the thought.
“Oh, my god,” Penn said slowly. He quickly glanced around, making sure their hosts were still out of ear shot. “That rat bastard son of a bitch.”
Teller shrugged and shook his head, not following where Penn was going.
“There was no fucking party,” Penn realized out loud. “There wasn’t even a goddamn kid.”
Teller blinked a few times and looked out to the desert. He knew Penn was taking this somewhere, but he still couldn’t follow.
“Man, think about it,” Penn went on, sounding like the conspiracy theorist nuts that showed up on public broadcasting. “When was the last time anyone actually insisted that we do a fire routine? No one does. It’s fucking dangerous.”
He stood silent, waiting for Teller to catch up with him. After a few moments of trying to force his brain into high gear, Teller covered his mouth with his hand. He knew something had been terribly wrong with the whole situation, and suddenly felt like a complete dolt for thinking that it was just paranoia. Of course Tommy had picked them up at the airport. He’d been working for Candella since the first time they met him. Teller suddenly remembered where he had seen the 702 area code that was on Tommy’s card. The hotel’s phone number had the same prefix.
Teller shook his head, silently denying the entire situation.
“We have got to get the hell out of here,” Penn said quietly. He looked around the area in panicked desperation, hoping to find a way to get away from the situation. Sick with himself for even considering it, Penn turned around and peered in the car window, somehow believing that Brian had left the keys in the ignition.
“Looking for something?” a voice said behind him.
Penn spun around on his heel, nervously trying to concoct a believable cover-up.
“Uhhh,” he said, knowing he had just blown whatever microscopic chance he might have had.
Brian held up the keys to the car and waved a pistol toward the Coleman-lit shack. “Get inside,” he demanded.
He led the three of them into the tiny cabin, holding the door open for Tommy. “What did you tell them, Thomas?”
“I didn’t tell them nothing,” Tommy growled as he locked the door. He glanced over to the small group of three, noticing for the first time that Teller was without trousers.
“Well, somebody talked,” Brian snapped before Tommy had the chance to ask what had happened between the telephone call and their arrival. “Somebody talked, ’cause they sure know a lot for people who weren’t told nothing.” He stepped up close to Tommy, making sure the wise guy knew he meant business. “When Dad finds out that you’re the rat–”
“I ain’t no rat. Do you hear me, you little half-breed?” Tommy spat. He edged along the wall toward Penn, keeping his gaze on Brian.
“No?” Brian closed the gap between the two of them as he reached down the back of his trousers. “Then you’ll have no problem doing it.” He offered his pistol to his brother, not breaking the intense stare between them.
As Tommy reached slowly for the pistol, Penn took a step backwards, leading his friends toward the rear wall of the cabin. Teller and Victoria were both probably small enough to fit through the empty window frame by the door, but there was no chance of either of them ever making it that far.
Tommy sighed, dropping his hand just before he could wrap his fingers around the cold black steel of the horror-movie sized hand gun.
“That’s what I thought,” Brian scoffed. He bounced the pistol in his hand lightly, feeling the weight as he turned toward the frightened trio behind him.
“Ya know, the little one can’t even talk,” Tommy reminded his brother.
Penn started to defend his partner, but before he could make a sound, he noticed Tommy reaching into the back of his own trousers.
“What are you talking about?” Brian said. “Of course he can–” He turned around, finding himself staring down the barrel of Tommy’s equally scary pistol. These things were nothing like the cap guns the thugs back in New York carried with them; these men had anti-aircraft cannons in their fists. “I knew it.”
“Put it down, Brian,” Tommy said, circling back around to the other side of the cabin. Not letting the trio out of his sight line, he continued to slowly circle around, forcing Brian to reposition himself. Tommy circled wide, nearing the front door as he forced his brother’s position.
Quickly, Tommy spun around toward the door and fired two rounds into the lock, nearly disintegrating the the old, weather beaten wooden frame. “Go!” Tommy shouted over his shoulder.
Brian turned his sights to Penn, but before he could squeeze the trigger, Tommy rushed him. No time to look back, Penn lead his motley crew deeper into the endless desert. Something exploded in the cabin, its report echoing off of the ghost-like mountains that surrounded the valley. Teller looked over his shoulder to see what had happened behind them, compromising what little visual he had in the moonless night. He tripped over something prickly that stuck out of the ground like a thousand shards of broken glass, and crashed face-down in the dirt.
“No time for screwing around, Teller,” Penn said as he pulled his partner back to his feet by his jacket collar. As he regained his footing, a dark figure burst out of what was left of the cabin door, madly waving his pistol around. He fired blindly into the desert, coming close enough to Penn’s head that he could hear the shriek of the round cutting through the air. “Never mind,” he said. He quickly dove to the ground, pulling Teller and Victoria down with him.
The madman back at the cabin continued to fire blindly into the desert at all angles. Even after his clip had run dry, he still squeezed the trigger, the harsh click of the trigger carried across the flat ground as though he was right next to them.
“Penn,” Victoria whispered. She tapped his shoulder and pointed off to a new flicker in the distance. “What’s that?”
Before Penn had a chance to even speculate, the Cadillac’s engine revved to life behind them. As the steel beast spun around back toward the freeway, it kicked up a violent cloud of rocks and dust. It left a swirling rooster tail in its wake as it drove off into the night, taking with it the only hope of escape. Barely waiting for the red tail lights to become more than a twinkle in the distance, Teller snatched his attache case from Penn’s hands and ran back to the cabin.
“Son of a bitch,” Penn hissed. He scrambled to his feet and gave chase. “Teller!”
As he ran through the cold air, Teller could feel his socks becoming damp and sticky. With every step he took, the harsh stinging in his legs worsened, blurring his vision. He neared the cabin, slipping on the loose sand that carpeted the desert floor as he stopped at what was left of the cabin’s doorway. Staggering slightly, he dropped his case to the ground and covered his mouth with his hand. Penn caught up with him after a few moments, pushing the man out of his way.
“Jesus christ, Teller,” he said, forcing his way into the cabin. He dropped down to the ground next to Tommy, previously unaware that a person could lose so much blood and still be alive. He turned back to his partner and pointed at the tattered case by Teller’s feet. “The case,” he said. “Give me the case!”
Teller stood still in the doorway, the scene before him sending a rush of bad memories through his mind.
“Teller!” Penn shouted.
Teller jumped lightly before bending down to pick up the case. He started to walk into the cabin, but Penn stopped him, snatching the case out of this hand. “You’re bleeding all over the place,” he said. “Stay outside.”
Looking down at his shoes, Teller noticed that he was indeed bleeding from both knees. Whatever infernal vegetation he had tripped over in the desert had clearly gotten the best of him. He reached up to rub his eyes, stopping when he felt that his face was also much more sticky than it should have been. He looked at his fingers, fixed on the crimson mess that had smeared onto his hand.
“Tommy?” Penn said as he dug through the bottomless pit that was Teller’s attache case. “Tommy, man, you still with us?”
He pulled out an over-sized silk handkerchief from the case and folded it up into a small square. He tried to remember his first aid training from Boy Scouts, but a few courses nearly 20 years ago were easily forgotten in his state of panic. He looked over his shoulder at his partner, who still stood ashen in the door way. “Go find Vicky,” he said. “Where is she?”
Teller quickly snapped his head around, noticing that she was indeed nowhere near them. Again, he ran out to the expansive nothingness that surrounded them, the only light guiding his heavy foot beats being the dim light from the stars above him.
“Teller!” Victoria shouted from somewhere to his right. He stopped, hoping that she’d call out again.
“I think someone’s coming,” she said. Teller turned around to see a tall silhouette walking towards him. “Look out there.” She pointed out toward the horizon, where a small blue light twinkled against the black background.
Teller and Victoria both turned and started running back toward the cabin. As they neared the small wash of yellow light, Victoria squealed, stopping Teller in his tracks.
“Teller, look at you,” she exclaimed. “Did that happen out there?”
Unsure as to what Victoria was talking about, Teller shrugged slightly. He tried to make his way back to the cabin, but Victoria pulled on his arm, stopping him. She untied the purple handkerchief from around his hand, and frowning slightly, tried to clean up the cut above Teller’s eye. Wincing lightly, he tried to back away from Victoria, but she held tightly on to his arm. She soon gave up, shaking her head.
“Where’s Penn?” she asked.
Teller pointed to the cabin, which was completely silent. Slowly, they inched their way toward the door, uneasily peering in to see Penn sitting next to Tommy in a pool of deep scarlet.