Chapter 1: Part One
The ugly barren countryside on either side of the bus made Miguel ache with a sorrow he'd never reveal to anyone. His last glimpse of the outside world, and all he could see through the safety wire imbedded in the windows were empty hillsides and a few scrawny cows. He'd barely been out of the barrio, but even he knew these cows were scraggly.
He cursed his fate, because what else could it be? Fate loved to play cruel games with his family. How else would he end up here, on his way to Oswald Penitentiary, to join his father and his grandfather in three generations of failure? His Mina would hate that he called her Ricardo that, but the man had spent the last thirty-five years of his life in solitary confinement. If that wasn't failure, what was?
Miguel had been the first passenger on the blue and white bus, so he was in the back and had a good view of the others as they came aboard. Some barrio kid he'd never seen before was next. Trying to act all tough, he sneered when he caught Miguel's eye on him, then pulled up the hood on his red sweatshirt and turned his back, dropping into the seat the guard pointed out to him. He looked even younger than Miguel, barely old enough to end up in a maximum security prison.
Next was a tall homeboy, uglier and meaner-looking than Red, wearing a black sweatshirt and some kind of floppy hat on his head. The man after Hat-guy was at least interesting; shoulder-length, light brown hair and stringy blue jeans, thin angular face and a glint of something in his eyes that made Miguel look twice. He'd like to know that one's story. Stringy stood in the aisle and stared at Miguel until the guard yelled at him.
"Sit the fuck down, Groves!"
The guy after Groves was the strangest of all, though. Wire-rimmed glasses on a pale, round face, sandy blonde hair and frightened eyes; his navy blue pinstriped suit and red tie looked bizarrely out of place on a bus bound for prison. Suit-guy followed the guard with his eyes, looking at the others in brief, darting glances, like a spooked rabbit about to run. Miguel laughed at that. The rabbit could run all he wanted, but there was no where for him to go except Oz.
Oz. Home sweet home for the next fifteen years. If he could keep his shit together, he could be out on parole in two, but he had a feeling it wasn't going to be that easy. It seemed like his whole life he'd been on a course that took him straight to Oswald. Fucking fate. His family was cursed, of that much he was certain, and now that it had its claws in him, he wasn't sure Oz would ever let him go.
He should have never listened to Huberto. Family or not, the man always seemed to be riding the sharp edge of trouble. He thought about his cousin's visit, right before they shipped him out. If the things Huberto told him were true… It hurt to think that O'Reily had betrayed him. He'd trusted the man. But Huberto said O'Reily turned Alvarez in for a lighter sentence, and that burned.
They'd agreed that if one got caught, the other would never sing. Miguel had taken O'Reily at his word. Of course, just because Huberto said so, didn't mean O'Reily'd actually done it. The only thing Alvarez had been tried for was cutting that guy's face and the damage to his property. But Huberto would know if O'Reily had jabbered, and he'd warned Miguel to be wary; O'Reily would be gunning for him, hoping to keep all their money for himself.
Miguel sighed and turned back to stare out the window. Nothing made sense anymore.
Ryan ducked inside the pawn shop, hoping like hell it was still run by the same guy. He hadn't dealt with the Latino in years, but he'd been pretty reliable, and if he was still around, Ryan thought they could do business. He couldn't remember the guy's name, but he'd recognize his face. Speak of the devil, there he was, talking numbers to a guy looking at rings in a display case. What the hell was his name? He'd come here when he was a teen with stuff to pawn that he hadn't wanted his father to know about.
His dad had been on a first name basis with the owners of every pawn shop in the neighborhood, and two or three neighborhoods over in ever direction. The bastard was notorious for buying shit when he was flush, then pawning it every time he needed money for another bottle of booze. So if Ryan wanted to offload merchandise, he had to practically leave the fucking state to find someone who'd buy it.
At first, he tried to leave Cyril at home, but somehow he always knew where Ryan was headed, and followed him to the shop. Finally, Ryan gave up, and stopped trying to lose him; it was easier on them both that way. It felt strange coming here without Cyril – he kept thinking if he turned around, he'd see his little brother trailing after him, trying to keep up, his blond hair flopping around his shoulders as he jogged up the steps to the shop's front door.
He'd never had much in the way to interest a big time fence like Huberto – yeah, that was his name – but the pawn shop did a good business on it's own, despite the fact that it was just a cover for the main fencing operation. Huberto gave decent prices to Ryan considering the fact that he was just a kid from the wrong neighborhood. Although now that he thought about it, that may have actually been why he got such good prices – he didn't belong in that part of town, which meant the chances that his merchandise would be recognized as stolen were lower than if he was from the next street over.
Huberto was a shrewd businessman, and Ryan had a healthy amount of respect for the guy. Ryan had never tried to cheat him, and as far as he knew, Huberto had treated him the same way. He wasn't sure Huberto could help him this time, but he needed the cash. They'd been putting everything they had into hospital bills, and he was hoping he and Huberto could make a deal. If he knew what Huberto was looking for, he'd promise to deliver the goods, then figure out how to get what he needed. It wouldn't solve his problems in the long run, but it would definitely help buy them some time.
The guy who'd been checking out the rings left without making a purchase, and Huberto's eyes narrowed as they tracked him to the door, a frown bringing his bushy brows down over his heavily lined face. He obviously wasn't happy with that guy. Hopefully he'd have something better to say to Ryan. He forced a broad grin on his face, ready to launch into his spiel, but Huberto beat him to the punch.
"I remember you." He looked around curiously, and his next question brought Ryan up short, unable to answer as a wave of pain swept over him, like he imagined it must feel when you woke up in the morning and remembered that you were missing a limb. "Where's your shadow?"
Ryan didn't mean to tell Huberto that Cyril was lying in the hospital in a coma. He didn't mean to explain to him how important it was that he get the money for this operation that could save Cyril's life. But he found himself talking to the guy honestly, telling him things he hadn't even told Shannon, yet. And Huberto said that he could probably help Ryan in the short-term. But he agreed with Ryan that it would be a stopgap measure. It would never solve the problem.
What surprised Ryan the most was that Huberto suggested a different solution – one that could take care of everything Ryan needed. A risky solution, but not as risky as it could be, considering the outcome. If he was careful, and played his cards right, Ryan could come out of this deal comfortably in the black, no matter how big Cyril's hospital bills. Hell. Ryan could come out of this a rich man, the kind of rich that could buy a round-the-clock nurse for Cyril, or a permanent home in a private institution, if that's what his baby brother needed.
He'd have to look more closely at all sides of the situation before he made his final decision, but Ryan thought that Huberto had his shit together. It looked like this might be what he needed. No way was he telling Shannon, she'd smack the shit out of Ryan if she knew he was setting himself up as a thief. Not that he was, because it was a one-time deal, never to be repeated. It wouldn't ever need to be repeated.
Jesus. That would be such a relief. With everything else he was facing right now, Ryan needed this. Hell, he deserved to have things go his way for once in his fucking life. And this was going to work. He knew it.
Sitting on a gray metal bench, staring at the puke-yellow walls of this huge-ass room as they waited to be processed was getting old. Miguel sighed, there was nothing to do aside from stare at the fucking hacks. They were everywhere you looked: hacks stomping around going nowhere; hacks standing behind a long counter trying to look like their job was more important that the ones stomping around; hacks sitting behind glass, punching buttons and moving gates, looking down on all the rest. It was all bullshit. He'd been to Oz before, to meet his father. He knew what Oz was all about. The hacks were nothing. It was the inmates you had to watch out for.
Huberto said that O'Reily was being transferred here. Miguel wondered what O'Reily would think of Oz. Was he here already? This wasn't O'Reily's first time in prison, he knew that. Had he been here at Oz the last time? If so, he might already have contacts here. Miguel would have to be careful. If he believed Huberto, that is. And he had a hard time believing that O'Reily would be after him, not after everything they'd said and done.
A hack released a lock on the chain that hooked Miguel's cuffs to everyone else's, then walked down and started fiddling with Suit-guy's chains, at the other end of the bench. He hoped that meant they were being separated. Red was getting on Miguel's nerves. He kept bending over and reaching for the floor or something, which pulled on all their chains. The bastard couldn't sit still for anything, and the constant stream of Spanish curses was annoying – Huberto could teach him a thing or two about variety.
As soon as the chain slipped free of Red's cuffs, he bent over again, but since Miguel wasn't attached to the guy anymore, Miguel ignored him, concentrating on the hacks, wondering what was next. Red sat back up, then there was a sudden, sharp pain in the right side of Miguel's chest – intense and searing pain that made his eyes water and his breath catch in his throat. He jerked, falling forward off the bench and onto his knees, his bound hands breaking his fall. His only thought was to get away from Red, that the kid had fucking stabbed him, and that he needed to put as many bodies between him and that pendejo as possible. Miguel crawled away, his right side on fire with pain, his vision narrowing as he felt himself weaken.
He grabbed something that jerked in his hand, but he held on, afraid that if he lost his grip, he'd never get away from the pain. But his fingers were numb with shock, and he felt it slip though his fingers as he keeled over; the sound of someone shouting "No! No!" as the gate clanged shut rang in his ears as everything went black.
Maritza was curled up on the couch when Miguel got home, and he could tell that she'd been crying. He threw his jacket over the closest chair and sat down on the coffee table in front of her, pushing an empty tub of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie – her favorite flavor – to the side, the spoon rattling in the empty carton as it pushed up against a half-full bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and an almost empty bottle of diet Coke. ¡Mierda! This looked serious.
He grabbed the remote, and turned off the television. He was pretty sure she hadn't been watching it anyway. "What's wrong, baby?" Miguel took her hands in his, and she looked up at him with red-rimmed eyes.
"Would you still love me if I was as fat as a blimp?"
"What?" Miguel panicked, he knew if he answered this one wrong, he'd be sleeping on the couch for a week.
"Answer the question." She looked angry and determined, and he decided he'd be best off playing along until he could find out what she was talking about.
Miguel moved over to the couch, and pulled her into his lap. She resisted for a moment, but then collapsed into his arms, her own circling around him as she pressed her face against the side of his neck.
"Baby, there is nothing you could ever do that would stop me from loving you."
She sighed heavily, and he cupped his hand under her chin, pulling her face up to his, kissing her gently on the lips, then her cheeks, her chin, and the tip of her nose.
"What's this all about, huh? You been watching Lifetime again?" That made her laugh, and he sighed in relief. That was a good sign.
Maritza bit her lip hesitantly, staring at him as if she could see into his mind, and finally she spoke. "What if I told you I was pregnant?"
His breath caught in his throat, his mind spinning wildly. A baby? Was he ready for a child? They'd talked about children, but in a vague 'one of these days we might have kids' kind of way, and never in the present tense. What kind of father would he be? Could he take care of a child? Well, he and Maritza, since there was no way he could do it on his own. It was a frightening thought, that kind of responsibility; it was a big commitment. But to have a family of his own. He realized he wanted that.
He heard Maritza sob, and realized he'd zoned out for a moment. He focused on her, and there were tears running down her cheeks.
"You don't want it, do you?"
"No! I do. Maritza…" He pulled her to him and kissed her again, the kind of kiss she loved, romantic and full of passion, and she responded eagerly.
When they broke apart, she put her hand on his cheek. "You really do? You're not just saying that? This is a big thing, Miguel. A lifetime commitment – we'd have a child to take care of and protect. It wouldn't be just the two of us anymore."
"We'd be a family. I know. That's what I was just thinking of. It's a big responsibility."
Maritza nodded. "Yes, it is." He could see the determination in her eyes. "I don't want him to grow up here."
"Him?" She knew already that is was a boy?
She shrugged. "Or her. It's too early to tell yet. But I don't want our baby to grow up in the barrio. It's too dangerous."
Miguel nodded. That made sense. The kind of money he'd need to get them out of here was not going to be easy to come across. "Okay. I'll figure it out. I'll find a way to get us out of here. Don't worry, our baby will be safe. I promise."
Maritza smiled, that wide-eyed smile that had made him fall in love with her back in high school; a smile that was innocent and trusting, and full of love. He'd do anything, whatever it took, to take care of her and their baby. He wouldn't let his family down.
Healy dropped Ryan off at Gate 57, and Ryan made his way back to his mop and bucket before anyone noticed he'd been gone. It had been touch and go with Healy for the first several minutes because he'd wanted to talk about Cyril. Ryan knew he'd have to come clean about Cyril being in a coma sooner or later, but he'd feel better if he could firm up a business relationship with the hack before that happened. Who'd have thought Cyril's boxing would net Ryan a contact in Oz? Healy's nephew had boxed with Cyril, and he and Healy had gotten to know each other from the boxing program at the Y.
Ryan felt pretty good about how things were going so far. He'd made himself known to both Keane and several bikers on Unit B; and he'd established the fact that he wanted Ortolani dead and was willing to pay. Of course no one was willing to off a wiseguy, but that was okay. He hadn't really expected anyone to take him up on it, and this way, when Ortolani died at the hands of a hack, they wouldn't suspect him. Healy had agreed to get him into Em City as soon as there was an opening. The Wiseguys could watch him closely, and his hands would be squeaky clean when Ortolani died.
That slimeball dago had taken out his friend Casey, and come close to killing Ryan, too. Good thing the O'Reily brothers weren't that easy to kill. Making a deal with the DA had assured that Ryan didn't do time, but it had still taken him close to four months to heal from his wounds. A simple death was too good for a fucking prick like Ortolani. Maybe he could ask Healy to make his death something really painful and humiliating. Healy wasn't going to kill Ortolani himself, though, which was a problem. Ryan and Healy would be too easily linked, so he'd agreed that Healy should find a way to get it done by someone else.
He'd just have to be satisfied by knowing he'd outlived that scumbag. The fact that Healy could supply him with drugs from the outside just made the deal that much sweeter. Not only was Ryan getting rid of Ortolani, but he'd stand to make some money off the deal as well. Yeah, this was turning out to be a decent day. He grinned down at his wet floor as he mopped. Too bad he had no fucking clue where Alvarez was these days; he could really use another dance lesson about now.
Ryan heard Shannon's steps in the background, but didn't bother to look up, all his attention focused on the in and out of the ventilator that was keeping his brother breathing, his chest rising and falling in steady, timed breaths. It didn't look natural at all; it made his stomach turn watching it. Shannon came over to the bed, and took Ryan's hand.
"No. Nothing." Ryan's voice was shaky, but he refused to cry again - he needed to be strong. He was Cyril's big brother, and he'd take care of him until the day one or the other of them died, no matter when that happened. Jesus.
"You talk to the doctor?" She squeezed his hand, and he held on tightly, needing her sturdy presence to help keep the fear of loosing Cyril at bay. He wasn't sure what he'd do if he lost Cyril. He forced himself to talk.
"Yeah. " He cleared his throat. "He said the longer Cyril's in the coma, the less chance he'll come out of it. We have to go ahead with the surgery as soon as he's stabilized. Two days, maybe three at the most."
Shannon sighed. "We'll do what we gotta do, right? We'll get through it. He'll get through it. You'll see."
Ryan let Shannon pull him down onto an uncomfortable hospital chair, and then she draped herself over his lap, holding him tight. He pressed his face into the skin of her neck. He breathed in the faint scent of her perfume, almost overpowered by this time of the day by the stale office smell of her job and salty french fries from the greasy spoon where she ate her lunch. They were comforting scents when compared to the strong antiseptic smell of Cyril's ICU.
"I gotta talk to some people tonight. You'll stay with him 'til they kick you out?" His voice was muffled by the flesh of her neck, but he wasn't tempted to move.
"This is about that gig, isn't it? The one you won't tell me about?"
Ryan sighed, letting his head drop against the chair back. He should have known it would come back to this.
"I don't want you taking chances, Ryan. We'll use the money in our savings account. We may have to move into a smaller place or something, but we can make do. I don't care how much the surgery costs; it's not worth the risk of loosing you, too."
He pushed some hair behind her ear and ran his fingers down her cheek, wishing he knew the words that would make her understand. "Shan, there's no proof that this operation will even work. What if Cyril stays in a coma for months, years? We'll never get caught up, and we'll be struggling for the rest of our lives. I need to do this. For Cyril. For me. It's my fault he's here, and it's my responsibility to fix things."
"But the gang can help," she protested. "Didn't they take up a collection already? They can help us do this. You don't need to be taking chances like this. They can…"
He interrupted her, knowing where this was going. "They've all got their own lives to lead, and their own bills to pay. A couple of thousand dollars ain't gonna make that much difference when we're looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hospital bills. I gotta do this, Shannon. I don't have a choice." Ryan stood Shannon up, and got out of the chair, stretching, his muscles sore and stiff from the tightly held tension that he couldn't work out of his system.
"You eaten already?"
Shannon nodded. "Yeah, I grabbed a sandwich after work." She took Ryan's head in her hands, smoothing his hair back away from his forehead, and he knew the worried look on her face was as much for him as it was for Cyril.
He kissed her temple, then her lips. "Don't worry, baby. I got it covered. It'll be okay, you'll see."
He turned to the bed, and watched Cyril breathe for a moment, the hiss of the respirator loud in his ears. "Don't worry bro. I'll take care of you. That's what big brother's are for, right?"
He walked away without looking back. He'd make this right. He'd take care of everything.
Miguel glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was getting late. He'd hoped to see Maritza before the ambulance took him back to Oswald. He fiddled with his hospital gown, wondering if they'd transport him wearing it. It was one thing to get stabbed practically as soon as you walked into Oz. It was another to make your grand re-entrance in a flimsy hospital gown.
There was some sort of shuffling noise in the hallway. He wasn't due to be transported for another hour. Maybe he had company after all. Thatta girl, Maritza! But then he recognized the voice. Damn. Not like he minded seeing his mother, but it was Maritza he was jonesing for.
Carmen swept into the room with her usual flair, designed to make sure that every eye was on her. It was wasted this time, since Miguel was the only one here, but it was her style. He rolled his eyes. She'd been beautiful when she was younger, and though her looks had faded with age and hard work, she never let you forget she was someone to be admired.
"Oh, Migelito." She pulled him into a big hug. "What have you gotten yourself into now?"
Miguel pulled away and fussed with his hair before she could do it; she could always make him feel as though he was ten years old. "Yeah, I'm happy to see you, too." It was on the tip of his tongue to ask if Maritza was coming, but before he got a chance, she went on.
She sat in the chair by the bed, fiddling with her skirt. "You're gonna end up breaking my heart, boy. Getting yourself mixed up with some white boy…"
"White boy? What the hell are you talking about?" The only white boy he could think of was O'Reily, and he had no idea how his mother would have heard about him.
"'Berto told me all about it, baby. He says this boy's trouble. You've got to be more careful than that."
"Told you what?" There was no way Huberto would have told her about the diamonds, since he'd have to tell her about his own part in the plans.
"About the Irish boy, what was his name? O'Ryan or something. You know who I'm talking about. "
"Huberto told you about O'Reily?" Fuck. What the hell was Huberto thinking?
"He said you two been hanging out, but now this guy thinks he can't trust you anymore. If I ever find out who introduced you to that pendejo, I'll rip his guts out with my fingernails."
Okay. So Huberto obviously hadn't told her everything. Huberto would never mess with Carmen Alvarez; she was scary when she was pissed off. "You think O'Reily was behind this? Me getting stabbed?" The thought made his gut ache, but it wouldn't be the first time he'd been betrayed. He should be used to it by now.
"That's what Huberto said." She stood up and took his hand, and Miguel smiled down at her well-groomed fingernails. No matter how hard she worked, she always took care of her nails. If it ever got out that Huberto had been the one to bring Miguel and O'Reily together, he'd better run like hell from those sharp nails. "I thought I taught you better than this, Miguelito. Getting into trouble with strangers. You can't trust someone who doesn't know where you come from."
He laughed. "You better be careful, Ma. You're beginning to sound like Anita."
Carmen had played Anita in her high school's version of West Side Story during her senior year, and she still knew every line of the musical by heart. He'd heard that album a million times growing up.
She shook her hair back and sang in a throaty alto, "One of your own kind, stick to your own kind." She squeezed his hand. "Anita knew what she was talking about. Look what happened to Maria."
He wondered what his mother would say if she knew there had been more to him and O'Reily than just friends, even if it had only lasted for a short time. He shook his head. "Ma, the guy who stabbed me was Hispanic, I heard him curse the hacks in Spanish."
That stopped her for a moment, her eyes held comically wide. "Was he Cuban?"
That made him laugh, despite the pain in his ribs where the knife had gone in. "How the hell am I supposed to know? 'Excuse me, but could you stop stabbing me long enough to tell me if you have relatives in Havana?'"
She slapped his arm, trying to hide her grin. "Don't get smart with me. Berto says this O'Reily kid hired him. He says you need to watch your back, Miguel. You want to be more careful than this. You've got a baby on the way."
Well, there went his good mood. "Yeah, that's just what my baby needs, a third generation jailbird for a poppa. I think Maritza and the baby will both be better off without me."
He tried to turn onto his side, but it hurt too much, so he didn't fight when she pulled him back around.
"You can't say that, Miguel. You know what it was like growing up with no poppa." Her voice was harsh and Miguel could see the determination in her eyes. "If you keep your eyes open and your wits about you, you can be out in two years. Your baby needs you now, but he'll need you even more when he's older. Maritza doesn't want to raise this child on her own. She needs you. You've got to hang in there for her and your unborn child. You understand me?
"Yeah, ma. I understand." He sighed. He wasn't sure he'd ever believe the baby was better off with him in its life, but he knew Maritza needed him. Two years was a long time to wait, though. What Miguel wasn't sure of was if she'd still be waiting for him when he got out.
"Because I tell you to, O'Reily. That's why." Huberto was mad; his dark face turning a shade of red that Miguel hadn't seen since he'd been a child.
Miguel struggled to not let the laughter out, but it must have shown in his eyes, because Huberto gave him an ugly look before storming over to the old, rusty fridge tucked into the corner of the room. He kept up a steady stream of curses as he flung the door open, grabbed a beer and slammed the door shut.
Miguel listened to Huberto's monologue on O'Reily's dubious heritage fondly; when he'd been younger, he'd learned a lot of good curse words from Huberto. Who else did he have to teach him? Surrounded by women at his abuela's house, and with no strong male role models to choose from, he'd latched onto his mother's cousin Huberto whenever he came by.
"You think it's funny, Miguel? Then why don't you try talking some sense into him." Huberto plopped down into his chair, frowning as he glanced around the dusty office, and further out at the empty warehouse visible outside the dirty office windows, at the grimy floor – everywhere but at O'Reily.
Miguel got up to grab his own beer, snagged two from the fridge, and set one down in front of O'Reily on his way back. "I don't think you're gonna like what I have to say, 'cause I agree with O'Reily."
"The voice of reason! Finally. Thank you." O'Reily tipped his half-drunk beer at Miguel, and then drained it, setting it on the floor next to the scarred desk where they were working. He popped the cap off his new one before launching into his argument, and soon O'Reily and Huberto were lost in their discussion again.
Miguel listened half-heartedly, lighting up a cig and blowing the smoke up at the dingy ceiling. He knew he was the hired help in this arrangement; nobody would accuse him of being the mastermind of this heist. He was impressed with O'Reily, who was shrewd and careful, and could even keep up with Huberto, whose plans usually flew way over Miguel's head. His green eyes were sharp with intelligence and humor, and despite their being from different gangs, Miguel had warmed up to him faster than he'd anticipated.
Huberto had obviously expected to come in, tell them what to do, and have them say 'Yes, sir.'" But O'Reily had challenged Huberto's plans more than once, and his arguments made a lot of sense.` If Huberto had wanted a yes man, then he'd invited the wrong man to join them.
Eventually Huberto left in disgust, with a warning to Miguel: "Don't forget to lock up when you leave. And there'd better be beer left when we come back tomorrow night. Understand?"
Miguel just rolled his eyes and waved him away. O'Reily wanted to keep working on the blueprints, worrying over the details, but Miguel rolled them up, stuffing them inside the tube Huberto had brought.
"Sorry. I don't mess with details, that's for you and 'Berto. I'm just the muscle. Point me at the diamonds and say go fetch."
O'Reily grinned ruefully. "Yeah, I kind of got that idea. Thanks for backing me up, though. Hubert's like a broke record or something. He's got this thing in his mind, and nothing else will do. But it doesn't make sense."
"Who says it has to?" Miguel shrugged. "If you trust that he's got the facts right, then we're in and set to go. What do we need the details for?"
O'Reily shook his head. "Nah, that's not the way I operate. I have to look at all sides of the thing, and figure it out my way. I don't make a move until everything's set in place."
"You sound like Huberto. He's the planner, and his kids usually do the grunt work." He crushed his cigarette out on the floor and blew a stream of smoke out over O'Reily's head. "If you're the one who stands back and plans, then who does the dirty work for you?"
O'Reily's jaw clenched and his eyes dropped and Miguel knew he'd hit a sore spot.
Miguel knew the reason O'Reily needed this money, and he knew that nothing he could say would ease the pain in O'Reily's eyes. He wasn't even sure why he wanted to; they belonged to different worlds, despite their similarities. But he did want to help, for some crazy reason, so he stumbled on, trying to find something that would work.
"I always wanted a brother. My grandmother's house was full of women and girls, just one sister, but lots of cousins and aunts and nieces - and then there was me. My closest male cousin was Huberto's youngest, Angel, and when I was thirteen, me and Angel and my best friend Reynaldo got in trouble for stealing candy from the corner store. Huberto stopped coming around so much after that, and he never brought his kids over anymore. "
They sat in an uncomfortable silence for a moment, then O'Reily snorted, like he was trying to hold back a sneeze. Miguel glanced up from studying the label on his beer, and saw the pained laughter in O'Reily's eyes right before the bastard broke out laughing.
"What the fuck you laughing at, Irish?" Miguel didn't know whether to be pissed at being laughed at or happy that the mood had changed.
When he got his laughter under control, O'Reily finally wheezed out: "You are really fucking bad at the sympathy gig, man." He snickered again, and this time, Miguel had to join him.
"Fuck. Yeah, I guess that was pretty sad, huh? It's not my strong point, alright? I'm more brawns than brain."
O'Reily sobered, but the darkest pain was gone from his eyes. "Yeah. Cyril's the same way. He just does what I tell him to. He's a boxer, tough one. Nobody messes with him."
"Yeah? I used to do a little boxing myself."
O'Reily looked him over dismissively. "Bantam weight? Cyril'd knock you clean out of the ring."
He flipped O'Reily the bird as he stood and headed for the fridge. "Fuck you, Irish." Miguel held back his instinctive ugly remark about Cyril fighting him from his coma in the hospital. He didn't want to mess with the easier mood, so he changed the subject instead.
"You got any sisters?" That got him another dark look, but O'Reily brushed it off quickly.
"Nah, not anymore. She died when she was a baby."
Shit. Seemed like Miguel just couldn't win today. He handed O'Reily a beer.
"Yeah, that happened to my cousin Safia. Crib death." Miguel dropped down into his chair, about to give up on lightening the mood. "My girl Maritza, she wants us to go to parenting classes. I say fuck that shit. You learn that stuff when the baby gets here. It comes natural, right? She's all into names and baby clothes and I'm thinking the baby's too small to even know what it is, yet. How we gonna decide what to name it, if we don't even know if it's a boy or a girl?"
O'Reily was grinning, now. "You're gonna be a daddy?"
"You think that's funny, do you?" O'Reily just smirked at him around his bottle of beer. "What do you think I need this money for? You never wanted to have kids?"
"Hell, no. I don't need that kind of responsibility."
He had to laugh at that. "You run a fucking gang, man. If you don't want responsibility, you're in the wrong line of work."
"Yeah, but it's not like I run it alone. Me and Cyril…" O'Reily caught himself, and Miguel could see his good mood evaporating once again. Fuck this shit. Time to try something new. Miguel reached for his cigarette pack as O'Reily continued.
"You're right about one thing. Running a gang is like having a whole house full of kids, arguing and fighting, getting into trouble. Never doing what they're told."
He paused when Miguel handed him a fat joint. After a moment's hesitation O'Reily let Miguel light it for him, and he sucked in a deep lungful, a small smile twisting his lips up at the corners. He glanced at Miguel and nodded and Miguel thought he might finally have gotten something right.
O'Reily blew the smoke out while Miguel was sucking smoke in – a sweet, mellow herb that tasted just right on his tongue. Maybe he didn't know why it seemed important for him to offer O'Reily a little peace of mind, but it felt right, so he wasn't going to worry about it.
O'Reily's voice was low, and slightly rough, and it sent a shiver up Miguel's spine. He grinned over at O'Reily. "De nada."
Ryan spent a good five minutes with his head under the faucet of the sink in the utility closet they kept his mop and bucket in, scrubbing his face and his hair with the heavy-duty cleanser they usually used on the floors. He couldn't believe he'd let Ortolani get the jump on him like that. He'd been minding his own business, mopping the endless miles of hallways that ran through Oz like some kind of rat's maze, when he'd seen Ortolani making a dash for the men's room outside the AIDS ward.
He'd followed automatically. Maybe he could get a laugh at Ortolani's expense, or get in a dig or two about his being such a bad shot. But it hadn't turned out that way. The bastard had sucker punched him, and then bashed Ryan's head against the wall hard enough to split the skin just above his hairline. Ryan had gotten in one good kick as Ortolani charged into his stall, but that was it. The fucking greaseball had shoved Ryan's head in the toilet before he'd had a chance to do more. That was the final straw.
He understood Ortolani's trying to kill him; you do what the big bosses say, and if they say take out the head of the 112th Street gang, then that's what you do. He even understood that Ortolani was pissed at Ryan for turning State's witness and testifying against him at his trial. But now it was personal. Ryan O'Reily didn't take this kind of abuse lightly. The man was going down, and soon.
He'd planned to get established in Em City before Ortolani died, making sure that the Wiseguys were watching him, so he'd have an alibi for the bastard's death. But it looked like he needed to step things up and get this prick offed before Ryan blew his temper and tried to do it himself. He scrubbed at his wet hair with a handful of paper towels, frowning when they came away bloody. He really hadn't been hurt that badly, but head wounds always bled heavily. He turned around and leaned against the edge of the sink, pressing the towels to the wound on his hairline.
Fuck. He'd been too cocky. He should have knows better. He was used to having Cyril at his back. Every time Ryan's big mouth got him into trouble, Cyril was there to beat the crap out of whoever Ryan managed to piss off. But not this time, and he felt a pang of sorrow for his loss. It was times like these that he really missed his brother. Not that he wanted Cyril in here too, but for that matter, Ryan wouldn't be here in Oz if Cyril weren't stuck in the hospital, wasting away.
That was Ryan's fault, too. He was the one who was fucking an ex-girlfriend in the bathroom of a goddamned funeral parlor full of wiseguys. Cyril tried to protect Ryan from a jealous boyfriend, and got a wooden fucking flower stand slammed into the back of his head by some asshole dago for his trouble. What was it with him and Italian people, anyway?
Well, there'd be one less greaseball in the world after Ryan was though with Ortolani. Too bad he couldn't do it himself; he'd love to kick that bastard in the balls a couple of times just for Cyril. But Ryan didn't get his hands dirty if he could avoid it. He would do things his way, and he'd remember Cyril every time he laughed over Ortolani's death.
Alvarez shook his head at the roach Ryan offered him, so he crushed it against the edge of the desk, and set it next to the can they'd been ashing into. He leaned back in the rickety wooden rolling chair Hubert had been sitting in earlier and put his feet up on the desk, listening to Alvarez talk about growing up with Hubert.
"See, if you want to get on Huberto's good side, you got to say yes whenever he wants to hear it. Then you wait 'til he leaves, and do whatever you want. 'Cause he always leaves. He comes back six months later and acts like he owns the place and all the women make fools of themselves trying to make him happy, and get his favorite drink and cook his favorite foods and all that bullshit.
"But you know that he'll come by regular for a week or maybe a month, then he'll disappear again. So after a while you get used to saying 'Yes, Huberto', 'Anything you say, Huberto.' It don't mean shit, 'cause you know he'll be gone again before long."
Ryan lit his cigarette, then blew his smoke at Alvarez on the other side of the desk. "But I thought you said you lived with your father's family. So these women weren't even related your uncle, and they still kissed his ass every time he came to visit? What the fuck's that about?"
"Nah, he's not my uncle. He's my mom's cousin. What's that make him? My second cousin? But tradition runs strong in Cuban families. He was a man, and that made him important. His wife's a bitch, though. She didn't let him get away with shit, so he came over to my grandmother's house 'cause he knew they'd treat him like a king. My mom thought he was good for me, so she always pushed him to come around."
Ryan stopped, his beer halfway to his mouth, and asked, "Was he good for you?"
Alvarez laughed at that – a short, barking sound. "Hell, no. The only good thing I ever learned from him was how to cuss. In Spanish and in English. Oh, and my knife. For my twelfth birthday he gave me this knife - all silver and inlaid mother of pearl. It was beautiful. He told me to hide it from my mother, because she wouldn't understand that a boy needed to have a good knife. I took such good care of it. My best friend Reynaldo used to try to trick me into giving it to him, but I never did. He's the only one who ever knew where I hid it."
"You still have it?"
Alvarez shrugged casually. "Yeah. It's around somewhere. But I ain't been twelve for a long time, man. Huberto don't impress me no more."
Ryan grinned at that. He had a feeling Alvarez knew exactly where that knife was today. "You're doing his dirty work for him, though."
"Well, yeah. But I'm getting paid for it. I'm telling you though; tomorrow night will be easier on all of us if you just stop hassling him. And stop calling him Hubert. He hates that shit." Alvarez crossed to the radio, turning the volume up high. Ryan guessed that meant Alvarez was through talking for the night.
The music had a strong Latin beat, and Ryan rolled his eyes. "What the hell is this shit?" He had to raise his voice to be heard over the music.
Alvarez lowered the volume slightly. "Best dance music around, man. You've never danced until you've danced to this." His hips swayed to the music, his eyes half-closed, and he wore a sultry smile.
"I don't dance."
Alvarez' eyes popped open. "What?"
"I can't do that shit. I always feel like a fool." Ryan felt embarrassed admitting it, but what the hell, it was just the two of them. Who gave a fuck?
"Of course you can dance, man. Everyone can dance. All you have to do is feel the music." He motioned for Ryan to join him. "C'mon. I'll show you how."
Ryan shook his head, toasting Alvarez with his beer bottle. "You go ahead. I'll sit here and drink my beer."
Alvarez looked Ryan over, a challenge in his eyes. "You know how to fuck?"
Ryan stared at him. "Of course I know how to fuck. What's that got to do with anything?"
"See, the thing you don't get is that dancing is just like fucking."
"No," Ryan laughed. "I think I would have noticed that." He reached for his smokes, to give him something to do and to avoid letting Alvarez talk him into something stupid. His lighter flared, and he pulled the smoke into his lungs.
"The only difference between fucking and dancing is that when you dance, you usually keep your clothes on."
The song segued into a slower, even sexier beat, and Alvarez smiled, adjusting his movements to the slower rhythm. His shoulders swayed in time with his hips and his hands moved into position, as if holding a woman's hand aloft in his left, while he held her tight to him with his right hand in the small of her back.
His smile widened slightly. "And depending on where you're dancing, the clothes might be optional."
Ryan blew a heavy stream of smoke at Alvarez, caught up in the sultry movements of his body. He could see what Alvarez was saying. When he rolled his hips like that, swaying forwards and back, it was like he was pressed up against another body, give and take, push and pull. It was sexy and fascinating, and he was stunned at how strongly it affected him.
"Mmmm…that's right, mama." Alvarez' voice was soft; Ryan could barely hear him over the music. Alvarez moved his hand, running it across his abdomen, stroking his stomach and then hiking his shirt up, revealing a strip of hard muscles and brown skin. Ryan caught his breath, jerking back in his chair, shocked at the intensity of the feelings that charged through him.
Holy shit. That was one of the most erotic things he'd ever seen. Ryan chugged the rest of his beer, and stood. He dropped his bottle to the desk, breaking Alvarez' musical trance.
"I gotta go. Shannon's expecting me."
Alvarez smirked at him. "The little woman gave you a curfew?"
"Fuck you, Desi." Ryan sighed with relief. There was no way he could explain what was going on in his head right now even if he'd wanted to, and this was as good an excuse as any to get him out of there. He took one last drag off his cig and dropped the butt to the floor, crushing it under his shoe. "You just wait and see. It'll happen to you, too. Sooner than you think."
On the ride home, he banged his head sideways against his window, hands clenched tight around the steering wheel. What the fuck was going on with him? He hated to wake Shannon up at this time of night, but obviously he needed to get laid. He'd deal with the fallout of her being tired at work tomorrow, when his brain wasn't overloaded with the image of Alvarez' lean body swaying to a seductive Latin beat.
Miguel was staring out through the wire mesh on the window by his hospital bed when he heard his name. He took one last hit off his cigarette and crushed the remains against the window ledge before dropping the butt to the floor. He hated hospital gowns, they made him feel too vulnerable, but he wasn't going to show that to whoever this was; he always stayed cool under pressure, and anyone who said his name like that was sure to be someone to whom he didn't want to show any weakness. He was surprised to see an Asian guy in a priest's collar.
"Miguel Alvarez. I'm Father Ray Mukada. I'm one of the prison chaplains."
He laughed. Like he couldn't have figured that one out on his own. "No, shit." He eased onto the bed, trying to ignore the pain from the knife wound.
The priest had a brown folder in his hand, and he opened it as he spoke. "According to this file you're about to be a father. You've got a girlfriend -" He had to pause to look up her name. " - Maritza, who's about to give birth."
That was none of this fucker's business. "So?"
"I can arrange for you to be there for the birth."
Yeah, right. "Man, I don't give a shit about shit like that." What, he was supposed to hold Ritza's hand and tell her to breathe? She could manage that just fine all on her own.
"Miguel, you'll probably be paroled in two years." Mukada looked so fucking sincere. What the hell did he want from Miguel? "When you get out you'll wanna be a father to your kid."
What the fuck was it with everyone trying to tell him what he needed to do? First his mother, and now this pendejo. "Is that right?" He pointed to the left, where he could see Eduardo in his blue orderly's uniform writing something on a file. "Yo, that's my father. You know, and up in some cell block somewhere is my grandfather, man, so don't be giving me none of this shit."
"I get it. You had a miserable childhood. Tough. But let me tell you something. You're still responsible for bringing a new life into this world." He pointed his finger at Miguel in emphasis. "You are responsible. The same way that I'm responsible for you, for your soul. So get ready, Miguel Alvarez, because I'm gonna be over your shoulder. Comprende, mi amigo?"
Mukada turned away and left the ward, leaving Miguel staring after him. The bastard had balls, that much was for sure. No, he was staying far away from 'Ritz and the baby. He wasn't taking any chances, getting attached to a kid, because he knew how things went here in Oz. He remembered how his father had wanted to see him, but Miguel had hated every time he'd been forced to come to Oswald. He'd always felt awkward and unsure of himself, unable to communicate with his own father, feeling like an outsider, never understanding why he was there.
Miguel had seen the grief in his father's eyes when he'd pull away, frightened of the stranger they called his father, but he hadn't been able to understand until much later that he was the one putting that pain there by his actions. He wasn't going to put his own child though that. He didn't want to put himself through that. If Maritza brought his child to Oz, he'd refuse to see them. The pain would go away if he didn't feed it with hope. He didn't believe in hope any more.
Huberto left the warehouse after issuing his usual gruff reminders to leave his beer alone, even though it could be argued that the beer was O'Reily's, since he'd shown up with a case of long necks, which had considerably eased Huberto's usual grouchy mood. For that matter, their second meeting had gone much smoother, all around.
O'Reily winked at Miguel, his eyes sparkling as he grinned widely. "I have to admit, Alvarez. The beer was an inspired move. Thanks for the suggestion."
Miguel grinned back at him; O'Reily's good mood was infectious. Miguel had been riding the wave of it since he walked through the door an hour ago. "Well, it didn't hurt any that you didn't argue with every damn thing he said, either. Once he realized you were listening to him, he was much more willing to compromise on shit."
O'Reily was pacing again. He'd been behaving like a pogo stick all night: standing up and sitting down, up and down, up, down. "Nothing big, though. He only compromised on things that didn't really matter. He's a slick bastard." O'Reily paused, giving that idea some thought before grinning again. "He reminds me of me. But there is no way we are doing this his way."
"What?" Miguel grabbed O'Reily's arm as he crossed back in the direction of the desk. "But you agreed to follow his plan. You said…"
O'Reily held up one finger, stopping Miguel's words. "I said I'd do things just the way he wanted tomorrow night."
"Exactly. Now you're gonna back out?"
"No. Tomorrow, it won't be a problem. You'll see." He grabbed his beer of the table, and chugged the last half of it, while Miguel tried to find the flaw in his logic. Something here wasn't making sense.
"I'm not liking this, man. You don't agree to something as important as this and then fuck with us at the last minute. I thought you said…"
"Alvarez. Listen to me." O'Reily put his hand on Miguel's shoulder, emphasizing his words. "You and me, we are going to get those diamonds and bring them back to Hubert, just like we told him we would. We're not screwing anyone over. We're not taking chances. We're doing the right thing here. I know it. You trust me, don't you?"
Miguel had to laugh at that. "I just met you, Irish."
"You do trust me. I felt it last night. You told me things you don't tell a stranger. And I told you things, too. You trust me to do the right thing. I can feel it in my bones." Ryan paused for a moment, dropping his eyes briefly. When he looked back up, Miguel could see pain in his eyes, and a fierce determination. "You know what's at stake here for me. I need this money – my brother's life is riding on this. I'm not going to take chances with that."
Alvarez shook his head. This didn't make sense to him, but he could feel the sincerity in O'Reily's words. "Huberto…"
"Hubert is an asshole, and you know it. If we do it the way I say, we'll come out of there with every single one of those diamonds. If we do it the way Hubert says, we'll be lucky to even see the diamond at the fucking Little League baseball field. We can do it if we do it together, as partners. We'll both get what we need. But you have to believe in me."
O'Reily stepped in and wrapped his hand around the back of Miguel's neck, bringing their faces close. His bright green eyes burned into Miguel's and he felt like he was falling away, swallowed up by O'Reily's intensity. He obviously believed he could trust Miguel, and Miguel wanted to be worthy of that trust.
He wrapped his hand around O'Reily's neck, mirroring his stance. "I must be loco, man, but I do. I do believe in you."
In an instant, that overwhelming intensity was gone, replaced by O'Reily's excited grin. "Good. Let's get ready then."
"Get ready? Get ready for what?"
"We are going to steal those diamonds, we're just not doing it on Hubert's schedule. We're gonna steal them tonight."
Ryan paced back and forth in his pod, running his options through his head. He didn't like any of them, but he was the one who'd pushed Healy to get someone to let Post in the Hole long enough to burn Ortolani. He'd lost his temper and let his anger run his business, and now it was coming back to haunt him. Not that he regretted the wop getting crisped – that made his day, but that hack Burrano had told him he knew Ryan was the one who was pulling the strings, and now Ryan was going to have to do something he really didn't want to do, if he wanted to keep his head above water.
If Burrano ever traced Ortolani's death to Post, there was no way Ryan's name wouldn't come up. Post might not betray his homies, but he had no loyalty to a white boy. The fucker would sing like a bird about Ryan's complicity in the crime. Post had to go before that could happen. If Ryan went to Schibetta with Post's name, then the dagos wouldn't believe Post if he ratted Ryan out; they'd think he was trying to get even with Ryan for squealing on him. That was definitely the best way to go.
Ryan would still have to worry about Keane. He'd tried to convince Keane to give Post up once already, so he was sure to suspect that Ryan was behind this. But honestly, Ryan worried less about the gangsters than he did the wiseguys. They had the real power in Oz, especially in Em City. Ryan couldn't afford to get on their hit list. Besides, if he worked the situation right, he might be able to worm his way into a gig with them.
He wouldn't want to make a commitment or anything, but maybe he could do some work on a contract basis. He was sure he could make a profitable arrangement with them, if they'd let Ortolani's death go, that is. One thing he'd learned from that greaseball, was that wops had long memories. He could do it, though. He could make this work for him if he was careful.
Miguel sighed. Finally the bastard was answering his phone. "Where the fuck are you, Huberto? I've been calling you for twenty minutes now." He watched O'Reily as he prowled around the warehouse, 'Just checking things out, man.' They were both so wired after the heist that he didn't wonder that O'Reily couldn't sit still for more than a minute at a time.
"Miguel? ¿Qué demonios quiere?" Huberto was such a grouchy bastard. ¡Dios mío!
"What do I want? Money! And lots of it. We got what we went in for, and now we're ready to see the green." He didn't think anyone would tap Huberto's phone, but there was no reason to be stupid about it and announce that they'd stolen the diamonds.
Miguel covered the receiver long enough to shout to O'Reily. "Turn the fucking radio down, man. I can't hear shit." O'Reily gave him the finger, but jogged over to the boombox to turn down the music.
"Miguel? You went in? Tonight? You're supposed to go in tomorrow night. What the fuck! What about the cops?" Huberto sounded confused. Miguel didn't get the chance pull Huberto's chain very often, so he just grinned and played along.
"Cops? I didn't invite any cops to this party. Did you, O'Reily?"
O'Reily was checking out the selection of CDs by the boombox. He looked up from them long enough to grin at Miguel.
"Fuck no. No cops. Tell him to get the fuck down here before we drink all his beer."
"Nah, man. The cops must have lost their invitation in the mail or something. Are you gonna meet us or not?"
"But I don't – I mean, I can't…" Huberto sounded pretty strained, like he couldn't talk. Maybe he couldn't speak freely right now.
"Hey, man. You got company or something?"
There was a pause on the other end, "Yeah. I can't…" That was definitely relief he heard in Huberto's voice.
"You can't talk, right? You got trouble? You need help?"
"No! I just can't see you tonight, is all. It will have to be tomorrow. I'll have to call you."
"Yeah, I guess we can wait. You sure you don't need help?" Miguel was watching O'Reily, as he shifted from foot to foot, moving with the music. Damn. He could teach O'Reily to dance, he knew it.
Huberto's voice brought him back to the matter at hand. "No, it's complicated. I'll explain when we meet. I'll be in touch tomorrow, all right?"
"Right. Talk to you then." Miguel turned his cell phone off, and grinned at O'Reily. "Looks like it's just the two of us, O'Reily. You think we can party enough for three? Turn that music back up, I'm gonna teach you to dance."
Miguel glanced at Mukada out of the corner of his eye. The padre was deep in conversation with a hack at the door to the nursery visiting room. This was such a crock of shit. As if he'd ever get the chance to use his newly learned skills of diapering a baby. His kid would be two years old before Miguel got out of prison. He stared down at the baby doll wondering what the fuck he was doing here. The doll looked like it was wearing prison blues, the same color as his shirt.
"Wait. Don't tell me," he murmured around his cigarette, "you're innocent. You got a bum rap. Yeah, well, that's what they all say." He picked up the baby, looking around the room at the brightly colored murals and posters, the toys and books on the tables. This wasn't the room he'd met his father in, but it might as well have been. He held the doll by the arms, and tried to figure out what he should do with it next. He remembered cousins and his sister moving babies around easily, flipping them over and handling them so casually as they'd talked together, feeding them and burping them and…
Wait. That was something he could handle. He dropped the baby doll onto his shoulder and patted its back awkwardly with one hand. See there, Mukada? He could do this. He looked over, but the padre had closed the door, leaving Miguel inside with the doll, as he talked to the hack on the other side of the glass. Miguel shrugged. What the hell. Babies needed lots of sleep, right? Time to put this one back in the crib. He settled it in, covering it with two or three miniature blankets.
His cigarette had burned out, so he dropped it in the trash. He hadn't found an ashtray when he came in the room, so he guessed that the ban on smoking went for visitors, too. But since part of the agreement for Miguel's coming here in the first place was Mukada's promise he'd get a smoke out of the deal, he'd lit up anyway. He'd burned the thing down to the filter, getting every bit of tobacco he could squeeze out of it before it gave up the ghost. Maybe Miguel could pry another one out of him before Mukada took him back to Emerald City.
He sat down at one of the miniature chairs at the child-sized round table, and picked up a book from the pile in the center, flipping idly though the brightly colored pages. It had been a strange day. He'd barely gotten settled in his pod in Em City when he'd been pulled out to meet with his grandfather. His grandfather. His father was there, too; there wasn't much he could add to the conversation, though, so it had mostly been just him and his abuelo.
Ricardo was like a legend around his grandmother's house. Mina had spoken of him reverently, like he'd been a saint or something. No, not a saint. He knew Ricardo had a short temper and a mean tongue when he drank, so it wasn't like he was Jesus Christ or anything. But his grandmother's whole life had been centered around that man, and despite the fact that Ricardo had spent most of his life in prison, she still made his presence known to them all.
He'd never even met the man, but as soon as he'd walked in the door of the visitation room, Miguel had known who he was. He'd smarted off, of course; no one had ever accused him of being smart. His grandfather's response hadn't surprised him either and Miguel could still feel the sting of Ricardo's heavy hand across his cheek. But what felt even stranger were Ricardo's hands holding him in a tight embrace.
He looked up at the sound of the door opening. Mukada sat down in the chair across from him, his knees in the way as he tried to scrunch in enough to scoot his chair up to the table. He handed Miguel a cigarette and lit it before pulling one out for himself. Miguel watched him curiously. He'd never met a priest who smoked. He'd seen some who ate too much and even a few who drank too much, but he'd never known a priest with a cigarette habit. One vice was pretty much like another, he guessed.
"What was it like? Seeing your grandfather?" Mukada looked at him openly, like there was no ulterior motive in his question, and maybe there wasn't. He got the idea the padre was pretty much an open book; he honestly wanted to help, and didn't have any plans to sell Miguel out, or rat on him for a lighter sentence, or even just hurt Miguel because he could. It was a good feeling, not having to worry about speaking the truth, and knowing that the man you were talking to only wanted what was best for you.
Of course that didn't mean he always knew what was best. Sometimes he probably stuck his nose in where it didn't belong, but that didn't stop him. He just kept trying. Miguel admired that, although he'd never let the padre know.
Mukada was still waiting for an answer, and Miguel was surprised how much he wanted to find an answer that would satisfy him. Besides, the longer he kept the padre talking, the longer he could smoke. Miguel ashed into the trash can and then started to talk.
Alvarez leaned against the office doorjamb, a smug smile on his face.
Ryan grinned at him. "So what did Hubert say? He blow a gasket? Tell me!"
Alvarez crossed his arms over his chest and shrugged. "Nah, he had company and couldn't talk, but I could tell he was pretty freaked."
Ryan felt like he could fly, he was so hyped. He always loved it when a plan came together just right. "I wish I could have seen his face when you told him. That must have been beautiful." He finished off his beer and ducked back into the office for another. He grabbed two and swiped one of the cold bottles across the back of Alvarez' neck as he walked past.
"Hey!' Alvarez spun around and Ryan twisted off the top before handing him the beer. He opened his own then held it up for a toast.
"To our successful partnership."
Alvarez nodded and tapped their bottles together, "Our successful partnership."
They drank to that, and then Alvarez kept going, chugging a good portion of his drink. Some beer trickled out the corner of his mouth and slid down his chin, and Ryan watched as it slipped down his neck past his bobbing Adam's apple, until is was absorbed by his shirt. Alvarez lowered his bottle with a sigh of appreciation, his dark eyes bright with excitement. "We should have gotten some champagne. That's what you need at a time like this."
Ryan agreed. "Maybe we should get Hubert to pick some up on his way over."
"Nah, he can't come tonight. He's gonna call us tomorrow and set up a time to meet." Alvarez turned away, heading over to the boom box.
"Shit." Ryan hadn't thought about that, but now that he did, he realized Hubert wouldn't be prepared to hand over that kind of cash without advance notice. "We'll just have to celebrate again tomorrow after we split the money. That works better anyway. We can pay for the champagne with our hard-earned cash."
"Sounds good to me, man," Alvarez called over his shoulder.
The music cut out, and Ryan could hear Alvarez changing the CD. "Hey, I just put that on!" He walked over to the boombox as the CD started to play some kind of fast Latin dance beat that pounded through the speakers so loudly Ryan could feel it in his bones. Alvarez grabbed his arm, then pulled him away from the shelves and spun him around in a circle on the warehouse floor.
"Whoa! Hey!" Ryan almost lost his beer as he tried to grab hold of Alvarez, who jerked the bottle out of Ryan's hand and chugged the rest of it before tossing it into a big metal barrel where it shattered. "What the fuck, you crazy spic, that was my beer!"
Alvarez let go of Ryan's arm to spin around in a circle laughing, head thrown back, arms thrown wide. Ryan couldn't help but laugh too. He came to a stop facing Ryan, eyes wide with wonder. "We're millionaires, man. Fucking millionaires!"
He had to shout it, the music was so loud, but Ryan knew what he was saying. It was the same thing that had been running through his head all night. There was a big fucking bag of diamonds sitting over by the boombox that was both of their tickets out of this place.
"I know! We did it, didn't we?" Alvarez' good mood was contagious, and Ryan laughed loudly as he was spun around again, Alvarez' hands grabbing his wrists, pulling him around in a circle, both of them yelling and hooting like demented hound dogs or wolves or something.
He thought he'd fall when Alvarez let go, and he staggered some but stayed standing. Ryan turned to find Alvarez dancing, the same way he'd spun around minutes ago, with his head back, arms wide, and his eyes closed. He looked otherworldly like that, like some kind of angel.
Ryan was startled when Alvarez abruptly reached down and pulled off his black t-shirt, revealing a white wifebeater underneath. He turned, throwing his shirt in the direction of the boombox and Ryan watched his hips move as he danced, synchronized with his shoulders as he swayed from side to side. He had a tattoo on his right shoulder blade – some kind of tribal design with spiny, sharp lines, and Ryan wanted to push Alvarez' shirt out of the way, so he could get a better look at it. He was nodding his head to the music, following the heavy beat, when Alvarez turned around and shook a finger at him.
Alvarez moved in his direction. No, he danced in Ryan's direction, grinning slyly. "I knew you could dance. See? You've got the rhythm."
"No. I can hear the rhythm up here." Ryan tapped his temple with two fingers. "But I can't translate it to the rest of my body. Shannon says I look like a spastic chicken when I try to dance. So I don't do it. Ever."
"The problem is no one has ever shown you how it's done. That's all. You get any complaints about the way you fuck?"
There was a challenge in Alvarez' eyes, but Ryan couldn't figure out his angle. "Fuck you, Desi!" Ryan poked him in the chest, pushing him back a step. "I never got a complaint, yet."
"That's what I'm talking about, man. If you can fuck…" He rolled his hips as he ran his hand across his shirt, the wifebeater molding to his body, showing off the muscled abs underneath his hand. "…you can dance, papi."
Ryan laughed. "You're fucking crazy, papi."
"No, c'mon. I'll show you." He turned Ryan around, so his back was to Alvarez' chest, then put his hands on Ryan's hips, pulling him close enough that Ryan could feel his body, all along Ryan's.
"Just let your body feel the rhythm, move with me." Alvarez spoke into his ear, his lips brushing the curve, sending hot air ghosting over the skin.
Ryan closed his eyes and tried to focus on the way Alvarez' body felt pressed close, the way it swayed and rocked against him. Just as Ryan was getting the swing of the way his upper body moved, Alvarez added his hips into the mix, grinding and rolling against Ryan's ass, the sensual pulse of the music pushing Ryan into the beat.
Jesus fucking Christ. He felt like he was on fire. His blood, his whole body, pounded to the rhythm and he leaned back against Alvarez, pushing back into his heat, reveling in the feel of the hard body pressed tight against his own.
"Now you're getting it. That's it." Alvarez slid one hand from Ryan's hip to his stomach, holding him even closer. "You can feel it, can't you? Feel it in your head and your heart, your gut and your ass and your cock. Pushing you higher and higher, 'til you feel like you can do anything you want."
"I feel it." Ryan whispered. He didn't think Alvarez could possibly hear him over the music and the pounding of his heart, but it didn't matter. He knew Alvarez could feel it, because he could feel it in Alvarez. That's when he got it. It really was like fucking. If you did it right. The shock of his revelation brought him to a halt, and he twisted around to tell Alvarez. But what he saw on Alvarez' face shocked him, and the words died in his throat.
The pupils of Alvarez' eyes were blown wide, his face flushed and sweaty and so fucking sexy that Ryan's breath caught. He took a step forward, bringing them close enough that he could feel the puff of Alvarez' breath on his lips. A bead of sweat rolled down Alvarez' cheek, and without thought Ryan's tongue darted out and caught it, the salty slickness making him moan as Alvarez gasped, jerking his head back. Ryan blinked, coming out of his daze. He wondered what the hell had come over him, and if Alvarez was going to punch him now, just before Alvarez' hands grabbed Ryan's head and pulled him into a kiss.
He'd never felt anything like this - such a strong connection that it felt like they were being electrified even though the only parts of their bodies that were touching were their mouths. It wasn't enough, and as Ryan opened his mouth to Alvarez' questing tongue, he took another step forward, bringing them closer, so that he could press up against the heat of Alvarez' body.
That got a reaction. Alvarez moaned into Ryan's mouth, one hand sliding around to the back of Ryan's neck, the other moving down to the small of his back, like he could force their bodies tighter together. Alvarez rolled his hips, grinding against Ryan rhythmically, like his body couldn't stop moving to the music even now. Ryan pushed one leg between Alvarez', hissing at the exquisite pressure that put on his cock.
Alvarez's tongue slipped out of Ryan's mouth and followed the line of his jaw, his lips brushing against Ryan's ear and sending a shiver down Ryan's spine when he whispered, "Oh yeah, Irish. That's it."
Ryan grabbed his face and fit their mouths back together, letting his tongue explore Alvarez' mouth, moaning into the kiss. The rolling pressure of Alvarez' hips wasn't enough, even with his thigh pressed against Ryan's half-hard cock, so Ryan slid his hands down Alvarez' back, feeling the tremble of strong muscles, and further still until he could cup his palms over the globes of Alvarez' ass.
The pulsing beat of the music ended abruptly, and in the silence, Ryan heard the shrill buzz of a cell phone.
Alvarez' head fell back, and he shouted "¡Mierda!"
Ryan didn't let that stop him. He sucked a line of kisses down Alvarez' neck as the music started up again, but Alvarez shook his head as if to clear it, and pushed Ryan away from him, breathing heavily.
"That's my phone, man."
"Fuck that. Let it go to voicemail." Ryan grabbed his hand, trying to pull Alvarez back into his arms. "We got business to take care of here."
Alvarez shook his head, taking a step backwards. "What if it's Huberto? If he was able to get away from his company, he might be on his way over. We need to check, okay?"
Ryan sighed, relinquishing Alvarez' hand. Usually he was the practical one, but right now he wanted Alvarez so badly that he just didn't give a fuck. He thought Latin lovers were supposed to be the hottest in the world.
Alvarez shrugged awkwardly, "Sorry, man." He turned and ran for his cell phone that was sitting on the shelf beside the boom box. He hit the off button and the music died, then flipped his phone open. "¿Hola?"
In the silence, Ryan could clearly hear Alvarez' soft "Hey, babe," before he stepped into the office and his voice was muffled.
Ryan took a deep breath, blowing it out nosily. Fuck. He might as well go home. Ryan was used to screwing around on Shannon, but he'd gotten the idea that Alvarez didn't usually do that. He loved Maritza and was so excited about his baby – he wasn't going to cheat on her like this. If he'd been able to keep Alvarez in the moment, it could have happened, but not now, not right after Alvarez had listened to her voice, and had her fresh in his mind. Damn.
He adjusted his hard cock, crossed to the shelf where he'd tossed his jacket what felt like a million years ago, and pulled it on, checking his pockets to make sure he had his phone and keys. He could hear the conversation now, despite Alvarez' low voice.
"No, I just got caught up in something. No, that's cool, don't worry. I'll be home soon, 'Ritz. Yeah. Te lo prometo. Te quiero."
Te quiero. Ryan had picked up enough Spanish at his high school to know 'I love you' when he heard it. It was definitely time for him to head home.
Alvarez slipped his phone into his pocket as he stepped out of the office. Ryan didn't give it time to get strange; he knew the deal. "Hey man. I gotta go, too." He grinned crookedly. "Guess I'm not the only one hen-pecked around here, huh?"
Alvarez smiled at him awkwardly, but played it up, getting all cocky and smart ass. "I don't know what you're talking about, man. I rule the roost in my home."
Ryan's grin was less forced this time. "Sure you do, stud. You just keep thinking that." He slapped Alvarez' shoulder good-naturedly as he passed by. "You'll let me know tomorrow when Huberto calls?"
"Sure man. I'll bring the champagne."
"Sounds like a deal."
Back in his car, Ryan had his keys in the ignition by the time Alvarez locked the warehouse door, the one stark light over the entrance creating strange shadows on Alvarez' face. Ryan turned the car around, and pulled out onto the street without looking back.
He sighed heavily for the lost opportunity. He'd never done anything with a guy before, so he had no idea how it might have turned out, but shit, that was some nice tongue action Alvarez had going there. He could imagine that mouth running over the length of his cock, those plump lips soft and smooth against his skin as he swallowed Ryan down. He could suck like a fucking Hoover, Ryan thought as he pressed the heel of his hand over his cock. Maybe it was because he was a man – bigger lungs, more suction power? Too bad. That could have been a really nice blowjob.
Half-formed thoughts of reciprocation didn't do as much for him, so Ryan concentrated on the image of Alvarez on his knees instead. He suddenly changed course, pulling into the parking lot of a convenience store, easing around to park in the back where it was dark enough to pull his cock out without getting into trouble. This wasn't gonna take long, anyway. He eased the zipper down, reaching down into his boxers to grab his cock. He felt the dampness of his precome on the cotton, and slid his fingers down, cupping his balls while fumbling with the little bottle of lube he kept under the driver's seat. You never knew when it might come in handy.
He dribbled cool lube down the shaft of his cock, then slicked his hand with it, getting right to business, jerking fast and hard, massaging his balls with his other hand. If that last kiss had gotten any more intense it would have blown the top of his head off. Jesus. He'd practically been ready to come just from the friction of his erection on the hard muscle of Alvarez' thigh – come in his pants like he was some fumbling schoolboy. That would have been embarrassing, except for the look on Alvarez' face. He'd looked close to doing the same thing.
That was what ended up taking Ryan over the top – the fact that Alvarez had been just as turned on. He pictured Alvarez on his knees, humping against Ryan's shin and coming in his jeans as Ryan came all over his face, his jizz landing in Alvarez' open mouth. Jesus, Mary and Joseph! He came to that image, spattering the steering wheel and console lights with the force of his orgasm.
He sat there gasping until the cooling come on his hand reminded him he needed to clean up and get moving. The handi-wipes were under the passenger's seat and it didn't take long to get himself and his car cleaned up. He tossed the used wipes out the open window and tucked the rest back where they belonged. The lube went back under the driver's seat, next to the box of condoms. Shannon never looked under there, since she had her own ride. They had fucked in his car before, but since she couldn't get pregnant, he'd have a hard time explaining the presence of condoms in his car.
It was too bad about tonight. That would have been fucking fantastic. Alvarez had been so tightly wound, like a spring ready to explode into action. Ryan enjoyed having that intensity focused on him, even for such a brief time. Well, there was always tomorrow night. Not everybody had a head for champagne; maybe he could sweet talk his way into Alvarez' pants tomorrow.
He'd have to be careful; he didn't want to alienate Alvarez. Ryan liked having him around, and could imagine the two of them going to a ball game, or playing a game of hoops or something. He didn't want to scare the guy off. He could wait. Ryan was good at planning. He'd get what he wanted, sooner or later.
Ryan left the library with a grin on his face. He had no real expectations that Beecher would get anywhere with his appeal - there were too many witnesses and with his blood alcohol level and all the coke in his bloodstream, there wasn't a court in the land that was going to say he was innocent. That wasn't the real reason for introducing himself to Beecher, anyway. The appeal was just the bait that was gonna hook him yet another informant, and an important informant, at that.
He had no interest in getting anywhere near the Aryan Brotherhood, those guys were bugfuck crazy, and he knew better than to mess with them. But if he could get friendly with the head poobah's prag, Ryan should be able to get the inside scoop on whatever those assholes had going on without actually having any contact with them. He'd offer Beecher some sympathy, let the guy think he had a friendly ear for all his woes, and he'd have the guy eating out of his hand in no time.
It hadn't taken long for Ryan to figure out that the most important contraband item you could get in Oz was information. He intended to have the best information network in the entire prison set up within the next six months. He wasn't going to rush, 'cause that led to making mistakes, and he'd made enough of those to last a lifetime. He'd do things right this time.
Plopping down on his bunk, he looked around carefully before lighting up a fat joint. Healy had given him some confusing news today, and he hadn't had time to concentrate on it and figure out what the fuck was going on. Alvarez had moved into Em City that morning, which should be good news for Ryan, since he could keep an eye on the man better here. He might be able to talk Alvarez into feeding him info on El Norte. The Hispanics were a tight group, and you had to work hard to win their confidence.
But the word was out that Alvarez had a grudge against Ryan, and that didn't make any sense. Healy swore it was true, though, and warned Ryan to watch his back, that the spics were gonna be gunning for him, and that they couldn't be trusted. It didn't fucking make sense. Alvarez knew Ryan was on his side. How could he doubt it after everything they'd done? He didn't mean the kissing and shit. That had been hot as hell, but it wasn't something you took to the bank. Alvarez had to know that they were partners. Why else would Ryan have left him that key?
He needed to talk to Alvarez. Ryan knew that if they could just talk, they could sort this out.
Miguel didn't realize how anxious he'd been about seeing O'Reily again until he strolled into sight from behind the public restroom in the center of Hawkins Park. He heaved a sigh of relief, though he'd had no doubt that O'Reily would show up. He hid his almost instant smile, since grinning like a fool wouldn't do anything except embarrass him; especially in front of Huberto, who had already called Miguel ten kinds of a fool for letting O'Reily hold onto the diamonds. It had been Miguel's choice, and now that O'Reily had proved him right, he smirked a bit at 'Berto, relaxing his tense stance.
The park was mostly deserted at this time of night, 'cause the kids either went home at dark or had more interesting things to do than get caught on the swings after curfew. When Miguel had arrived a few minutes ago, Huberto was pacing, clutching a large, obviously heavy gym bag, and looking nervously around him. He had immediately started to give Miguel shit for not obeying his orders to the letter, but Miguel hadn't put up with that. He'd threatened to leave and find someone else to take the diamonds, which had just made Huberto angrier, but had shut him up for the moment.
At first, Miguel had prowled around the area, but Huberto has assured him he'd checked everything out before he got there. So Miguel sat on a graffiti-covered picnic table and just kept his eyes open.
O'Reily had been a sight for sore eyes. He looked cool and collected as usual. He nodded in Miguel's direction. "Alvarez. Hubert."
Huberto growled in response, literally growled, and Miguel bit his lip to avoid laughing out loud. He stopped himself from saying "Nice kitty," with difficulty. He knew it wouldn't help matters, and besides, Huberto was more like a bulldog than a cat anyway. Once he got his teeth into something he almost never let go until it was shredded to bits. He could just see Huberto shaking his head angrily, trying to pull Irish apart at the seams like a chew toy.
"So. We ready to do business?" O'Reily was supremely casual, and Miguel had to grin.
He jumped off the table and brushed off his hands. "Let's get to it. I got things to do tonight that don't include growing old under the fucking trees."
"I can't believe you pulled this shit on me, O'Reily." Huberto's voice was rough with anger. "I told you it had to be tonight!"
O'Reily blew Huberto off. "Well, it is tonight now, isn't it? You get what you want, and we get what we want, and we all go away happy, right? So shut the fuck up and get on with it before Alvarez and I go find someone else who wants them. I'm not here to listen to your crap; I've gotten enough of that in the last couple of days to last me a lifetime."
"I trusted you to do things my way." Huberto was getting angrier, stomping around like a little kid who hadn't gotten his way. Well, that was pretty close to the truth. But they'd gotten what he wanted and he needed to get over this. "Did you ever think that my contact on the inside could be compromised by your goddamn impatience?" He spit on the ground at O'Reily's feet. "¡Pendejo! ¡Puto bastardo!"
O'Reily got right up in Huberto's face, and didn't back down, despite the fact that Huberto had a good three inches on him and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. "Hey! I may not know a lot of Spanish, but even I know a 'fucking bastard' when I see one. So if you want to keep it up, we'll go at it, and when you're lying in a pile at my feet, I'll walk away and leave you with nothing, or we can do this the polite way and make the exchange we all agreed on. It's up to you."
Huberto looked to be contemplating his options, so Miguel stepped up to stand next to O'Reily, and that seemed to be enough to convince Huberto to take the cooler-headed approach. He threw the bag on the picnic table and said "Give me my diamonds," in a low, tightly-controlled voice. Miguel knew from experience that he was just this side of exploding, but it looked as though he could keep it under wraps if O'Reily didn't push him any farther.
Miguel intentionally stepped between them, hoping to diffuse the situation and crossed to the bag that Huberto had thrown on the picnic table earlier. Unzipping it, he whistled at the stacks of money packed inside.
O'Reily glanced at the bag of money. "Check it out, Alvarez. Make sure it's all there. And check the bands, make sure he didn't plant any ringers in the middle of the stacks, okay?"
That got another growl from Huberto, but he didn't say anything, just stared at O'Reily like he wanted to rip his head off. Alvarez' hands shook as he rifled through the bundles of hundred dollar bills. ¡Puta madre! He'd never even imagined seeing so much money in one place before. Two million dollars.
"It's all there," Huberto snarled. "Just as we agreed."
A loud beeping noise brought all three of them around to focus on the public bathroom behind them. It sounded like someone's cell phone had just gone off. Miguel looked at Huberto accusingly. "I thought you checked the bathrooms."
Huberto nodded nervously. "I did."
Miguel exchanged a glance with O'Reily, who gestured toward the bathrooms and Miguel headed toward the men's entrance. He noticed that both Huberto and O'Reily took a step closer to the money as he left. Slipping inside, he checked out the sinks area. No one was there, but he could see in the mirror's reflection that one of the stall doors behind him was closed. He stepped up, and kicked hard at the lock. The door gave way, revealing a frightened-looking man crouching on the toilet seat, holding a laptop and a cell phone in his trembling hands.
Miguel grabbed him by his cheap-looking suit jacket and pulled him out of the stall. The man stumbled and fell to his knees on the dirty floor as he came out head first. He shouted, and tried to scramble away from Miguel, but there was no place for him to go as he hit the back wall by the sinks, underneath the battered paper towel dispensers. Both Huberto and O'Reily appeared in the entrance way, Huberto holding onto the bag of money with both hands.
"Miguel. !¿Qué diablos está mal?!" Huberto's voice rang out loudly in the small room.
"It looks like we have some company." He was pissed as hell at Huberto, but until they had that bag, he couldn't really let it show, so he took it out on the trembling man before him, kicking him in the ribs and stomach a few times before crouching down and pulling out his switchblade. He flicked it open, and the man's eyes widened and he shook his head.
"¡No! ¡Por favor! Yo no he hecho nada!"
O'Reily grabbed the cell phone that had landed on the floor under the sinks, and checked the last call. "Shit. He dialed 911. We need to get out of here.'
Miguel leaned over the man and put the switchblade up to his face. "You called the cops on us? Is that right?"
The man glanced over at Huberto, and spoke in a jumble of Spanish and English, still frightened, but angry as well. "You're working with him, taking hard-earned Hispanic dollars and giving them to some gringo. You should have some pride in your own people, but instead you get them hooked on crack and steal their money to make yourselves rich."
Miguel laughed sharply.
"What the hell is he saying? I can't understand more than one word in three." O'Reily stepped back towards the door, obviously nervous about being trapped in such a small space.
"He thinks we're drugs dealers."
"He's seen us, now." Huberto shouldered past O'Reily who had crowed in behind him, walking out the door. "Get rid of him."
O'Reily stepped back to the door, his eyes tracking Huberto. "We need to get out of here, now."
Miguel nodded. "I'm almost through here."
O'Reily stayed in the doorway, splitting his attention between Miguel and Huberto. Miguel looked back down the man, who had pissed himself. Miguel grinned. "You should have left while you had the chance."
"Are you going to kill me?" His voice had lost all its defiance, and all that was left was a shaky whimper.
Miguel shook his head. "I don't think I need to do that. You're not going to tell anyone what happened here, are you?"
The man shook his head desperately. "No. God, no! I won't say a thing!"
"No, you won't. But here's something to remind you." Miguel sliced the man's cheek open with his knife, watching the blood run down onto his white button down shirt, clashing with his ugly green tie. "If you rat on me and my friends, I'll come back for you, and then you'll be dead. Got it?"
The man nodded frantically, tears running down his cheeks. Miguel stood up, grabbed the laptop that had landed on the floor near his feet, and smashed it against the sink a few times until he was sure it was broken, then took the phone that O'Reily had set on the counter and crushed it under his shoe. He turned away from the sobbing man and walked out of the bathroom.
Outside, sirens wailed in the night air. Huberto was cursing at O'Reily who had the gym bag in one hand and was trying to pull it out of Huberto's grasp. He had a paper bag in his hand, pushing it toward Huberto, but Huberto was panicking, rattling on in Spanish, his eyes wide.
The sirens weren't that far away. "Give him the diamonds, O'Reily, and let's get the hell out of here!"
"I'm trying to, man! He's freaked out. What the fuck does ¡Todavía no! mean?" O'Reily jerked wildly at the strap. "Get him to let go of the bag, and we can leave."
The cops were almost there, and Miguel realized with a start that someone was shouting from the trees behind them.
"Huberto. Let go." Miguel pried the strap of the bag out of Huberto's hand, and then grabbed the paper bag from O'Reily. "This is all of them?" O'Reily nodded, and jumped back to avoid Huberto from grabbing the bag of money again. "Huberto! ¿Qué carajo te pasa? What the fuck is wrong with you?"
He pulled Huberto away from O'Reily. He could see the blue lights from the cruisers now, and stuffed the diamonds in Huberto's pocket and grabbed his arm, pulling him along behind him. "Go on, man. I'll get Huberto home, then we can meet later to divide up."
O'Reily was running fast in the opposite direction. "I'll call you tomorrow!" Miguel was too busy trying to get Huberto to run to respond, but he knew he'd see Ryan again. He could trust him; he felt it in his gut.
Miguel watched O'Reily through narrowed eyes as the mick cruised the room, stopping here and there, but always back on the move again after a brief moment's conversation. He kept glancing in Miguel's direction, but never came too close to the table where Miguel sat playing cards with his compadres. Resentment sat heavy in Miguel's gut and clenched at his chest; he'd trusted O'Reily, and this was his payback. Stabbed in the chest by some nameless kid, just so O'Reily could keep all their money for himself. Cabrón.
"Wake up, man. What the hell you staring at?" Pulling his focus back to the game, Miguel realized he'd totally lost track of what was going on around him. Carlos smirked at him, pack of cards in his hands. "I know you think you're that important, Miguel, but we won't wait on you all day. How many cards you want?"
He glanced down at his hand, where a pair of deuces was the high point. He might as well throw in the towel now. He shrugged, and threw down the other three. "Gimme three." He picked them up, adding them to his hand. ¡Mierda! More shit to add to the shit pile. When he looked back up, O'Reily was just a few tables away, his eyes boring into Miguel's. "Maldito comemierda."
Carlos glanced O'Reily's way, then back to his hand. "Dealer takes two." While Vargas and García were deciding whether to ante up, Carlos leaned over to Miguel, speaking in Spanish to keep any unwanted ears from listening in. "So, he's a shit eater, huh? What did he do to you?"
Miguel never took his eyes off O'Reily as he spoke. "Just don't ever trust the bastard. He'll stab you in the back, the first chance he gets."
"You want us to take care of him for you?"
Miguel glanced over to Carlos. He'd known him for years back in the barrio, and he knew Carlos was as good as his word, but what was between O'Reily and him was personal. He shook his head. "If anyone puts that motherfucker down, it's going to be me."
Carlos nodded, glancing back at O'Reily with a sneer as García threw his ante into the pot. Miguel didn't even bother looking at the mess in his hand. He threw down his cards. "I'm out."
He got up and walked back to his pod, feeling O'Reily's eyes on him the whole way.
Ryan took another swig from his flask as he watched the respirator push oxygen into Cyril's lungs. The doctor had been particularly unhelpful today. Cyril wasn't stabilizing fast enough, so he couldn't determine when they'd be able to operate. "Dammit, Cyril. Cooperate, for once in your life. You need this surgery, man. Please. I can't do this shit on my own."
He fingered the key in his pocket. The money was in a safe deposit box, and it would stay there until he could split it with Alvarez. He'd used a false ID, and then tucked that away where no one would find it. He felt uncomfortable about the whole thing, which was why he'd taken so many precautions with the money. Something was off, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
Huberto had been acting awful itchy, even before they'd found the guy in the john. Then some asshole had wandered out of the trees and tried to mug Ryan before he could get away. Ryan was looking back over his shoulder, checking to make sure Alvarez had gotten away, and he'd barreled into some goon before he'd even realized that he was there. The guy's gun had gone flying and Ryan had hightailed it out of there.
Alvarez had come to him with the place already selected, but he should never have agreed to meet someplace as conspicuous as a public park. Ryan hated public meetings, because there were too many variables, and too much was left to chance. What the hell was wrong with the warehouse they'd been meeting in for the last week, anyway? He took another slug out of his flask, draining it dry. "Shit."
He needed a refill, it must be time to hit the liquor store. Fuck. What he needed was something stronger. Sometimes a little buzz was all it took to help him see things clearer. He looked around cautiously, making sure he was alone, then took a piece of foil out of his back pocket and laid out a line on the back of his hand. This should do the trick.
The problem was that now he was jittery, and needed to move, and there was no place in Intensive Care to pace. He squeezed Cyril's hand before he left. "C'mon, bro. I'm counting on you."
The only answer was the hiss of the respirator, and he couldn't stand to hear that for another second. He needed someone to talk to. He needed to find Alvarez. As he got into his car, he noticed some guy watching him from the next row over. He looked vaguely familiar, but Ryan couldn't place him. As he turned out into traffic, he saw a car pull out behind him in his rearview mirror. Shit. He was being followed. Could his day get any worse?
Ryan slid into a seat in front of the bank of TVs, one that gave him the best view of the entire quad. You always had to be on your toes in this place. Some stupid-ass game show was playing, and Ryan ignored it in favor of keeping tabs on the room. Miss Sally was on in fifteen, and there were already guys making their way over to the TVs, trying to get a seat up front, close to those bouncing D-cups.
There were a bunch of Aryans on one side, with Beecher sitting hunched over in his chair next to Schillinger, looking like the victim he was. Ryan thought his plans in that direction were going well, but he'd only talked to the guy the day before; he'd give Beecher a day or two before approaching him again. A couple of queers walked by, obscuring his view of the Nazis, which suited him fine, since they were a bunch of ugly sons of bitches, anyway.
That Fiona-thing winked at him, and Ryan rolled his eyes. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He couldn't imagine ever being that desperate. He preferred women to men, but if he was gonna fuck someone here in Oz, he'd stick with someone that looked and acted like a man. That in-between shit was creepy.
He never really thought about men that way - well, not before Alvarez, and once he landed here in Oz, Ryan had put a stop to thoughts like that altogether. Okay, so he tried to, anyway; he didn't always succeed. But in here, being queer was considered weak, and without Cyril to back him up, he couldn't afford to be seen that way. Even if you were the one doing the fucking it was still way too risky. Besides, there wasn't anyone in Oz he wanted.
Alvarez came out of his pod as some other Spic walked up, and they weaved their way through the chairs and tables to the one where García was sitting playing checkers with some other Latino. Okay, so there was one guy he'd fuck; too bad the bastard was acting like such a dickwad lately. He'd tried to approach him a few times this week, but every time, Alvarez had walked away from him, like he had some kind of disease or something. He had no idea what was going on, but he was going to get to the bottom of it, one way or the other.
Ryan caught the movement of Beecher slipping down onto his knees and buffing Schillinger's boots vigorously. Oops, looked like the prag had been a bad boy. Then Beecher leaned over and – oh shit. Ryan had never seen anyone licking someone else's boots before. That had to be nasty. He grinned. At least Beecher knew the boots were fairly clean, since Ryan had seen Beecher cleaning them a couple of days ago.
Jesus. All those Aryan fucks leaning over and laughing at him, the bikers hooting at him like that… Beecher was ripe for some sympathy and a kind word. Maybe it was time to step up the program with Beecher, after all. Plans were well and good, but Ryan wasn't going to let an opportunity like this pass him by. Schillinger and his pals joked around, pushing the prag as far as they could with the hacks around, and Beecher just took it. He ducked his head and kissed the tip of the Nazi's boots before Schillinger finally approved his prag's cleaning job.
Beecher stumbled toward Schillinger's pod, tripping up the stairs, not looking around at anyone, his face red, his lips thinned out as if he were biting them to hold back his tears, or maybe his screams. What a mess. Ryan couldn't help but feel sorry for the guy, but hey, it was business. He'd give him a minute or two to stew, then he'd step in to act like a friend in a time of need. Ryan knew just what kind of bait to use to hook this fish.
Ryan threw his cell phone onto the seat of his car in disgust, then grabbed his flask for another drink. He'd given up on leaving messages for Alvarez after the first dozen times his calls were sent straight to voice mail. What the fuck was that asshole doing at this time of the day? He'd cruised Alvarez' neighborhood for the last hour, but had found no sign of him, or even his car, and he wasn't about to stop and ask some gangbanger for directions. His skin tone was a little too light for that. The guys hanging out on the street corners were giving his car funny looks already, as many times as he'd driven by the same spots.
He started widening the search area, moving randomly from street to street, getting into a nicer neighborhood. The kids playing on the sidewalks were still Hispanic, but the apartment buildings weren't as run-down, and despite the presence of those roll-down security gates, the storefronts seemed less likely to take a hit from the neighborhood toughs. Of course the tradeoff for that was that there were cops everywhere. He wasn't going to be able to hang out here for too long.
He turned down another side street in order to avoid a cruiser and after a couple more turns, discovered the Hispanic suburbs. That made him laugh. He wasn't likely to find Alvarez here, this was where people like Hubert lived. Kids in the streets playing stick ball before their moms called them to come in for supper. Men mowing the grass of their postage stamp-sized lawns. It was still too close to the mean streets for the real money, but the small yards were all neatly tended, and there were even some decent-sized trees around some of the older houses.
"Well, I'll be damned."
There it was. Alvarez' car. He'd recognize those spiky hubcaps anywhere. Ryan pulled up to the curb a couple of houses down the street from Alvarez' car. He wasn't going to be able to park here for long. Maybe he could just leave Alvarez a note: "Answer your fucking phone, dammit!"
Ryan felt a strong need to see Alvarez. Fuck. He wanted to try more of those brain-sizzling kisses. They had been about as powerful as anything he'd ever felt before. He'd wondered in the past what kissing a guy would be like. Just curious, of course, because he loved the chicks. But Alvarez' heat had seared him, his kisses had been so intense. Ryan cheated on Shannon all the time, but nothing had ever meant anything to him before. It was just fucking, having some fun, a way to relieve the tension. But he'd forged a connection with Alvarez.
That's why they needed to talk. Searching for something to write on, he finally pulled the paper bag off his spare bottle of booze. He reached for the pen he kept in the glove compartment, and grabbed his foil while he was in there. Fuck it. He was coming down, anyway. He needed the buzz, he'd had a hard-ass day. He was still worried about that tail, which been easy to shake, but still, the fact that someone was following him was not a good sign.
He tossed the used foil back into the glove compartment. He was almost out. He usually didn't dip so deeply into the merchandise, but since Cyril had been hurt, occasionally he'd needed the boost. He had a sudden inspiration, sparked by the coke cranking in his brain. If that guy tailing him had something to do with the diamonds, they'd be better off to split up the evidence. He took the key he'd been fingering all day and dropped it in the bag, quickly scribbled a note on it and headed for Alvarez's car.
When he got there, Ryan had to laugh. Sitting there on the seat was Alvarez' cell phone. No wonder he hadn't answered it. He looked at the house Alvarez' car was parked in front of, wondering if he should walk up, knock on the door and ask for him. But then kid walked by on the sidewalk across the street, staring curiously at Ryan until he rounded the corner of the block. No, he'd just leave this before he attracted any more attention.
He tried to open the driver's door, unsurprised that it was locked, then glanced around to make sure the coast was clear before kicking in the glass. Staggering, he hopped on one foot, until he got his balance, then ducked down, keeping low, in case someone noticed what he'd done. The street stayed quiet, and Ryan breathed easier. Minding the jagged edges of glass, he opened the door. He hesitated, unsure of where to leave the bag. If someone else came across the car before Alvarez …
He reached under the seat, feeling around, wondering if everyone else hid their important stuff in the same spots he did. He encountered something metal, long and thin, and pulled it out.
Ryan grinned. "Oh, yeah. 'It's around somewhere,' my ass."
He examined the knife. It was small in Ryan's hand, but he could imagine it fitting perfectly in the palm of a twelve year old boy, bright polished silver and gleaming mother-of-pearl inlay. "Nice." He wrapped the key chain around the knife, dropped them both into the bag and then stuffed the whole thing back under the seat, confident that Alvarez would find it.
Beecher stepped out of the pod O'Reily shared with half a dozen other men, looking around nervously before heading upstairs to his own. His hand played over his face, wiping over his mouth as he smacked his lips a few times. Miguel shook his head. What the fuck was O'Reily thinking getting Schillinger's prag high? He had to know those Nazi bastards didn't approve of that shit. He was gonna end up in a lot of trouble if he kept that up.
Miguel frowned, pissed at himself for caring what trouble O'Reily was getting himself into. The bastard had turned his back on Miguel, and if he was about to get his ass kicked by the fucking Aryans, then that was all for the good. He crossed over to the sink, taking a big gulp of water right out of the faucet, then splashed the water over his face and neck. He got water all over his shirt, so he peeled it off, and hung it on a hook.
Scrubbing his face with a towel, he turned back to face the quad, and there stood O'Reily. Standing ten feet away from his pod, the only thing between them a layer of smudged Plexiglas. He'd been watching O'Reily for days now. He'd seen O'Reily's anger at being dismissed out of hand by Schibetta, his frustration at Keane, the way that hack Healy caught O'Reily's eye when they passed one another. Miguel hadn't been around for Ortolani's death, but the word got around, O'Reily's fingerprints were all over that one.
The man was wily and dangerous, and he could scheme like a motherfucker. What Miguel didn't understand was why he'd made a move against him. O'Reily had the money. Did he think Miguel was going to try and get it back? Sure, he'd like his cut, they'd had a deal. But they could have worked something out. It was his off-hand manner of treating Miguel that pissed him off, dismissing Miguel as casually as Schibetta had dismissed O'Reily. He didn't deserve that, not after what they'd been through.
The door opened, and Groves walked in, turning and standing next to Miguel, joining him as he stared at O'Reily through the glass. O'Reily's frown deepened, and he turned away, crossing to sit at the bank of TVs with his back to the two of them.
"What's up with him?" Groves jumped up onto his bunk, swinging his feet back and forth like a kid, playing with his fingers in his lap.
"Who knows, man. The pendejo is as loco as you are." Miguel felt closed in all the sudden, as if Groves had sucked up all the air in the room. He started to pace. There wasn't much room to move, but it made him feel better, somehow.
"I want to learn Spanish. Can you teach me?"
Miguel stopped and turned to him with a smirk. "Now why would I do that? I can't talk about you if you know what I'm saying."
Groves shrugged. "That's okay. Everyone talks about me. I'm used to it. I know what loco means. What's a pendejo?"
He pronounced it pin-dee-hole, and it made Miguel laugh. "Pendejo."
He sat down in the chair at the desk, leaning back until the back legs and his head against the wall were the only things holding him up; it was a balancing act he'd always gotten in trouble for when he was in school. He grinned up at Groves. Why the hell not? He had nothing else to do with his time. "You gotta say it right, man, or everyone will laugh at you. Pen-day-ho."
Groves nodded his head solemnly, trying the word on for size. "Pen-day-ho. Pendejo. Pendejo. Pendejo. Is that better?"
"That's it, papa. You got it."
Groves smiled brightly at the praise. "Yeah? What does it mean?"
"It means asshole." Miguel pointed his finger at Groves to emphasize the seriousness of his words. "So use it carefully. Unless you like getting beat up by Latinos, that is."
Groves shook his head, sending his long straight hair swinging. "No. That's okay. I'm not into pain."
"No? Then why the hell did you burn 'Mom' onto your hand? I mean, shit. That had to hurt." He hesitated to ask, but in the end, he was just too curious. "I thought you ate your mom. Isn't that why you're here?"
"Yeah. This is my reminder."
"Reminder? Reminder of what?"
"That my mom is inside of me now. Just like I used to be inside her."
Alvarez shivered, and tried to head the conversation in a different direction. "But why burn it on your hand?"
"You got tattoos. Did they hurt?"
"Yeah. I guess so."
"But it was worth it, right? For what you got at the end?"
"Okay. I see what you're saying. But shit."
"I can never forget her now. She'll always be with me."
The front legs of Miguel's chair landed heavily as he pushed himself away from the wall. "That's fucking creepy, man." He stood up and crossed over to the door, staring out at the quad, and at Ryan O'Reily's fucking back.
"What's that tattoo? The one on your shoulder?"
Miguel sighed with relief. A change of subject was a good idea.
"El Salamontes." He headed back to his chair. "Your next Spanish lesson. El Saltamontes means the grasshopper. It's supposed to bring you good luck."
Miguel relaxed as he shut the door, leaving his grandmother's house behind him. His Mina might be an old woman these days, but she could put him though his paces. She never quit until she was satisfied that things were just the way she wanted them. He never argued with her anymore. It never did any good. He grinned. In that regard, she was a lot like Huberto. His mother told him his grandfather Ricardo was the same way. Maybe that was why Mina had gotten on with Huberto so well.
It was late. He probably had half a dozen calls from Maritza, wondering where he was. But Mina had been ill, and that made her cranky, so he stayed longer to try and cheer her up. His mother had made the meal, since Mina wasn't feeling well, so she'd had plenty to fuss about. No matter how long they'd lived together, his ma had never learned to cook the way Mina preferred. He thought it was on purpose. It gave them something to do, fussing at each other all the time.
Miguel came to a stop halfway across the lawn, staring at his car in shock. The driver's seat window was shattered, glass scattered everywhere.
"Fuck!" He couldn't believe it. "¡Puta madre!" He ran to his car, cursing fast and furious, a constant flow of Spanish and English, mixed together in a style that would have done Huberto proud. His baby had been shattered, and he felt the same way. The seat was covered with glass, the little bits scattered over the entire floor of the car. His phone was still there, covered in glass, and when he checked the glove compartment, it didn't look like anything was missing.
"What the fuck?" He walked around the car, but couldn't find anything wrong. The tires were fine, the engine looked fine. He even got underneath front and back and checked for something hidden – what he didn't know. He couldn't imagine that he was important enough to warrant a bomb or anything like that. But who would smash the window of his car, and then not steal anything?
Miguel brushed the glass off the seat and sat down to think. He had insured his car, of course, but he was careful about turning in claims. Something like this would have to be called in to the police before the insurance would pay, and the last thing he needed right now was to bring himself to the attention of the cops. No, he'd be better off just paying for the replacement himself, and keeping the fuss to a minimum.
It hit him there was one place he hadn't checked, and he reached below his seat, fumbling for his favorite knife. He pulled a bag out; it was in his way and he wanted to toss it aside, but when he saw the writing he stopped to examine it. In scribbled writing were the words: "This is important. Don't lose it! Call me ASAP."
The bag was heavy. He upended it, and out fell his knife. Wrapped around it was a tightly coiled plastic key chain with one key on it. He had no idea what it would fit. It looked smaller than a house or car key, but too big for a bike lock or a small padlock. Whatever it was, it must be important, or Reynaldo wouldn't have broken into his car to leave it for him. And there was no doubt in his mind that it was Reynaldo that had left it. Who else knew where he hid his favorite knife?
Miguel weighed them in his hand for a moment while he thought, then put them both the knife and key in his pocket and walked around his abuela's house to the backyard. He stuck close to the side of the house, ducking down under the windows so no one would notice him. Then he went quietly down the basement stairs. He jimmied the door open, relieved that his grandmother hadn't listened when he told her to put a deadbolt on that door.
Slipping inside, he listened carefully for a few minutes to see if he'd been heard. When he felt safe, he went into the back room, walked around the new water heater his grandmother had told him about, and knelt behind it. He felt around for the right brick. Finally, he found the one he was looking for, and using his favorite knife he pried the loose brick out of its spot at the bottom of the wall.
He hadn't used this hiding place in years, but it had been the spot that he could always trust would never be discovered. His sister and cousins found every other place he'd ever hidden anything, but they never liked the basement. There were too many spiders and bugs, and occasionally even a mouse, although his abuela had sworn that the cat brought those in from outside. He used his knife to poke around inside, until it hit when he was searching for.
Inside the hole was a large kitchen-sized matchbox. He grinned at the memories it brought back, and opened it carefully, wary of spiders. There were a few cobwebs, but nothing recent, so he blew them out of the way, and pulled out a collection of baseball cards. There was no way they'd be worth any money to a dealer, as they were too well-worn by young boys' hands, traded back and forth as he and Reynaldo's allegiance to their favorite players changed. Underneath the cards was a strange assortment of odds and ends: a green plastic soldier, a Pontiac Fiero matchbox car, a dried-out starfish he found at the beach and the silver dog and car from Monopoly, his Mina's favorite game.
He ran his fingers over the trinkets, sighed nostalgically for simpler times, then tucked the keychain and key into the bottom of the box, placing the cards on top. He slid the box back inside the hole and carefully replaced the brick. Then, he blew dust from the floor around the brick, disguising the hiding place. When it looked enough like the surrounding area, he ducked back out from behind the heater and scuffed the floor to hide his tracks. There were plenty of marks there already, from the men who installed the water heater, so he wasn't worried that his footprints would stand out.
He stepped back into the laundry room and stood there, breathing in deep the smell of laundry detergent and dryer sheets, remembering the story of how hard his grandmother had protested using the brand new dryer her brother had bought her, and how his father and his aunt Estelle had convinced her by tearing the laundry off the lines and running through the backyard playing superman with her favorite sheets for capes. By the time she'd finished scrubbing the grass stains out of them, she'd decided she never wanted her sheets near the backyard again. He always loved it when she told him that story. Life was simpler then, but there was no way to get that innocence back, so he might as well get on with the life he had.
He slipped out the back door, and headed to his car. He'd find Reynaldo tonight and find out what the fuck was going on. Then he'd make the bastard pay for a new window for his baby.
Ryan cursed when he saw Alvarez walk into the gym with his hermanos all around him, laughing and joking. This was the perfect place to push the matter, and find out what the hell had crawled up Alvarez' ass and died - but not with all his buddies around. He needed to talk to Alvarez one on one.
He needed to get to the heart of his attitude problem of his, and soon. It was beginning to interfere with business. Ryan and Carlos had worked a deal or two already, but when Ryan had approached him earlier today, Carlos had said no way. There were always bumps in the road when you started out someplace new, but the last thing Ryan needed right now was to run into an obstacle that had no business being there. Alvarez should be on his side, not throwing roadblocks in his way.
The moment Alvarez spotted Ryan, his whole demeanor changed, and his body tensed as if preparing for a fight. The look he threw at Ryan was deadly, and Ryan suppressed a shudder. He'd had no doubt that Alvarez could be a dangerous opponent the first time they met, and he hated the thought of that vicious intensity aimed at him. He flashed on the warehouse and the night Alvarez taught him to dance, his hands on Ryan's hips, his body pressed up tight against Ryan's back as they moved in time to the music.
Dammit. He needed to stop thinking about that shit. It was obvious that it had meant nothing to Alvarez, so Ryan needed to forget about it and focus on what was important, like making sure Alvarez still had the key, and that he knew they were still partners. They could move on from there.
He left arm ached, and he realized he'd totally lost count of his reps as he watched Alvarez spar with one of his buddies, showing the guy his moves. Switching arms, he concentrated on counting this time, only glancing over at Alvarez occasionally. He tried to lose himself in his exercise, and how to deal with Keane, now that Post was out of the picture.
When he heard Alvarez' voice behind him, he jumped, feeling stupid for getting so caught up that he lost track of his surroundings. He and the guy he'd been sparing with had moved over to the hanging bag, and Alvarez was pounding the hell out of it, like he had a grudge against the damn thing. Ryan sat down on the weight bench and reached for his towel, wiping himself down and catching his breath, surreptitiously watching Alvarez out of the corner of his eye.
He heard his name and looked up to see Alvarez and his pal standing there watching him, and the sneer on Alvarez' face was the final straw. Ryan jumped up and crossed the floor, knowing he was taking a stupid chance, but refusing to put up with any more of Alvarez' bullshit.
"You got something to say to me, Alvarez?" Ryan wasn't stupid enough to get within reach of his fists, but he got as close to Alvarez as he could without giving him a clear shot. "What the hell is your problem, anyway?"
"My problem?" He sneered at Ryan.
Alvarez stepped up close, but Ryan refused to back down. He was relieved to see a hack headed their way. He didn't like the idea of hiding behind a hack, but he knew his strength didn't lie in his fists, and he wouldn't be able to protect himself against Alvarez in hand-to-hand combat. Alvarez' hermano saw the hack coming, and motioned to Alvarez, who glanced over before turning back to glare at Ryan angrily.
"My problem is that you're still alive." His voice was low, but the hate shone out in every word. "But don't worry, I'm good at taking care of my problems." He shoved past Ryan, and headed back toward the rest of the Latinos, who were all watching intently.
Shit. This was worse than he thought. He needed to find a way to get Alvarez alone. That was the only way they were going to be able to talk this out with him. He glared at the hack, turning his back on all of them, determined to figure out a way to solve this problem once and for all.
Ryan took the corner on two wheels, feeling the moment the car started to settle back again, thankful that it was going down in the right direction. He'd never driven like this before, and it was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. He couldn't believe he still hadn't shaken this asshole of a tail. He'd been so easy to lose earlier in the day. What he hadn't expected was to find the little bastard waiting in his car outside Ryan's apartment.
That's when he'd recognized the bastard, though. So now Ryan knew this was about the diamonds, 'cause he'd seen this same guy in the park right after the sirens went off and everyone scattered. Ryan wondered if he was working with Huberto, or if there was a third party involved; he disliked not knowing all the players, and it was pissing him off.
If he could get away from the guy, he might be able to turn the game around and tail him back to where he came from. It seemed doubtful at this point, though, since a quick peek into the rearview mirror showed the bastard coming around the corner, and okay, he might even have managed the turn better than Ryan did. He took another drink from his bottle, and sideswiped a bench and a mailbox as he bumped up onto the sidewalk while taking the next corner.
"Oh, shit. Where did that come from?" His laugh had a manic sound to it, but he didn't care. It took too long to get the car back under control, but when he did, he couldn't see his tail anymore. "Hey, maybe that worked!" He'd have to try that maneuver again sometime.
That's when he heard the sirens.
Yep, there were flashing lights behind him. A bunch of them. He was in trouble now. But he was flying so high at this point that all the revelation did was make him laugh some more. He took one last drink out of his bottle, before throwing the empty fifth out the window. He wondered when he'd stopped drinking out of his flask, and fumbled around the seat, hoping there might be some booze left in it. He saw the 'Men at Work' signs too late to do anything about them, so he just put the pedal to the metal, and plowed right on through with a loud shout. If he was going out, he was gonna go out in style.
Miguel watched as Carlos circled back in his direction, taking the long way back to their table. He set his tray down with a sigh, all the men sitting around him looking at him expectantly as he sat. He shook his head.
"No luck, man."
The table full of men all started talking at once, a buzz of Spanish and English; angry voices demanding action against the man who had killed one of their own. Miguel glanced over at Torres, who called for their attention, quieting the group down, not wanting to draw any more attention to themselves than they already had.
"That's enough!" He spoke in Spanish, to limit the number of outsiders who could understand their conversation, speaking as low as possible as the voices died down. "We'll get him, don't worry. There will be a way. Martinez' death will not go unpunished." Torres motioned at the hack headed their way, and the members of El Norte reluctantly changed the subject, some getting up and leaving, now that Carlos had delivered his news on the latest attempt to get to Keane while he was in the hole.
Miguel played with his food, not really hungry. He knew what Torres was going to say next, and was not looking forward to that conversation. They waited until the hack had moved on, then Torres leaned his elbows on the cafeteria table, putting into words what Miguel had been avoiding for too long.
"Miguel. I know how you feel about O'Reily, but I don't see any other options, now. If we're going to get to Keane, we're going to have to go through the mick. We can't let this insult go any longer. It weakens El Norte to have this hanging over our heads."
Carlos nodded. "I've worked with him half a dozen times already. He's solid. I've never had any trouble with O'Reily. He does what he says he's going to do, and he doesn't get in the way. I know you don't trust him, but we need him, man. He's pretty much our last resort."
"We need to get to Keane while he's alone. Once he's surrounded by his gang it would take a full-scale war to kill him, a war that could cripple El Norte. We don't have the power to take them on right now, and I refuse to allow our hermanos to die needlessly."
Torres reached over, his hand on Miguel's arm to emphasize the importance of his words. "I need to know that when I get my parole, El Norte will have the strongest leader possible, and that means that you have to show me you can rise above a personal grudge, and do what's best for all of us."
Miguel felt the dread in his stomach, but he knew what he had to do. He raised his eyes to Torres'. "All right. Do it. But I think we'll be better off if I'm not involved. He's tried to kill me once already, so if I'm there, he may say no just to spite me."
Torres nodded slowly. "And you have no idea why he turned on you like this?"
"None. We had an arrangement. Things got a little complicated, but everything was working out the way it was supposed to. We both ended up in prison, but it had nothing to do with our arrangement. Then suddenly, he's sending some kid after me with a shank."
"This is the kid who stabbed you in holding, when you first got here?" Miguel nodded, caught up in remembering the betrayal he'd felt when his mother had told him Huberto's words, still unable to understand why O'Reily would hate him so much.
"Are you sure it was O'Reily that sent the guy after you?" Miguel glanced up at Carlos' words. "I heard the kid was in Unit B. You want me to ask around? Maybe your informant got it wrong."
Miguel shook his head. "I don't think so." But the thought sat heavy on his mind. How had Huberto know that O'Reily was behind the attempt on his life? He trusted Huberto, but he had to admit, the man had his faults. He wasn't perfect by any means. If there was a chance he was wrong, Miguel needed to know.
Torres nodded to Carlos. "Go ahead and talk to O'Reily. Let him know what we need." He turned to Miguel. "We can't let this interfere with our revenge against Keane, but Carlos has contacts in Unit B, if anyone can sort this out, he can. We'll find out who was behind this stabbing. And if it was O'Reily, well, after we've taken care of Keane we won't need him any longer. We'll take care of it, one way or another."
Miguel's stomach growled at him loudly, and all three of them laughed.
"Feed that monster, man, before it gets angry enough to attack one of us!" Carlos elbowed his in the ribs, then shoved meatloaf in his mouth.
Miguel took a big bite of his mashed potatoes, grinning around his fork. He felt hungry for the first time in days. He'd have his answers soon, and then he could settle this problem with O'Reily once and for all.
Miguel stood in the bedroom doorway, smiling at Maritza, who lay on the bed, eyes closed, one hand resting protectively over her belly. Kicking off his shoes, he climbed onto the bed and lay down next to her, slipping his hand over hers. He loved this spot on her body; she often complained about her gentle curves, but he always thought that the really skinny models you saw in the media every day were ugly – skin stretched over bare bones. He liked a little meat on those bones.
It amazed him that there was a baby under her hand, somewhere deep inside Maritza's body, but he cringed when he thought of what she was going to be like when it started to show. She thought she was fat now. He was not looking forward to that. He leaned over and kissed her on the nose, and she opened her eyes and smiled up at him.
"Hey Ritz, how's my baby?"
She batted her eyes at him innocently, joining in on their long-standing joke. "Which baby?"
"You know… my other baby."
She grinned and bit her lip in confusion. "Which other baby?"
That was new, but then, so was Maritza's pregnancy. He laughed. "My other other baby."
Maritza laughed. "Oh, you mean that baby."
"No, I mean this baby." He leaned down and kissed her gently, and she sighed into the kiss.
"Oh yeah, I remember now."
"But speaking of my other baby, have you seen Naldo around today?"
"Wait a minute!" She slapped his arm. "Reynaldo? How many babies do you have?"
"Don't worry, only the three of you. But somebody broke into Baby Number Two today, and I think it might have been Naldo."
"What? Why would he do that?"
"I don't know. But who else do I know that would leave a note in my car wrapped around my favorite knife?"
"What's it say?"
"The note? Not much…" The doorbell rang, interrupting his explanation and Maritza sighed, pushing Miguel toward the door.
"You go get it. It's probably Reynaldo come to apologize for breaking into your car. Besides, I'm pregnant, and you have to treat me like a queen. Now go." She brushed him away playfully with her hands and he laughed, climbing over her to get to the door.
"Oh, yes, Queen Maritza. Anything you say." He called back to her as he walked to the front door. "Shall I come back and kiss your feet after I beat up Reynaldo for breaking the window out of my car?"
"He didn't!" She sounded righteously indignant on behalf of Baby Number Two, and Miguel had to agree. He was pretty unhappy about it himself.
"Yes, he did. Or somebody did anyway." He opened the door, but it was definitely not Reynaldo on the other side.
"Are you Miguel Alvarez?" Two uniformed police officers stood in the hall, and he blinked at them in surprise.
"Who wants to know?"
"Mr. Alvarez, we have a warrant for your arrest for the assault on Luis Felipe Sanchez."
Ryan watched as Carlos and some other Latino walked up to Alvarez in the shower room, talking and laughing together. He needed to get Alvarez in a situation he'd have trouble getting out of. If Ryan included him in the conversation with Carlos, he might feel the need to stick around and help Carlos out. Then maybe Ryan could finally confront him over the way Alvarez had been avoiding him.
He stepped into the shower room and up to the half wall that separated him from the sinks. "Carlos, Alvarez. I hear you guys have been looking for me."
Alvarez glanced quickly over to Carlos, then to the door behind Ryan. He frowned and leaned back against a sink, looking everywhere but at Ryan. Well, it was a start.
Carlos crossed over to the wall, leaning on it. "Yeah, can we do a little business?"
Ryan grinned at him. "Always." Huh. Looked like Carlos had changed his mind. He'd said no the last time Ryan had spoken to him, but here he was, asking Ryan to work with him again. This was definitely a step in the right direction.
"All right. We need to get in Keane's cell."
Shit. Well this was bad timing. He really wanted to help them out, to give Alvarez a chance to see he was as good as his word, but there was no way he could help them with this at the moment. Things were too crazy, what with the FBI doing an investigation into all the deaths that had been plaguing Oz lately.
He tried to bluff his way out of it. "So? Why you guys coming to me?"
"We hear things, papa."
Ryan shook his head. "You hear the wrong things, papa."
Carlos looked back at Alvarez for a second, but Alvarez just frowned at him, which didn't make any sense to Ryan. Carlos looked back to Ryan. "Oh, you're not in tight with a couple of hacks?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Ryan sighed. He didn't want to do this, but he couldn't think of an alternative. "Look. I'd really like to help you guys out. I'd like the members of El Norte to believe that I can be counted on." Alvarez looked up for the first time, his dark eyes boring into Ryan's. He spoke directly to Alvarez, ignoring the other two, determined to make the most of this chance. "And I have no reason to doubt that you are worthy of my trust, as well."
The look of surprise on Alvarez' face was almost comical, but he held his laughter back and kept talking. "There's nothing I can do, though. Things are too crazy right now. The governor has called in the Feds, and my contacts aren't willing to do anything that might get them noticed by the FBI."
Ryan laughed at the look on Carlos' face. Even he knew 'shit' when he heard it, even if he didn't speak Spanish. "Sorry, man. I understand why you're in a hurry, but it ain't happening right now."
Carlos opened his mouth to say something, but just then the door behind them opened, and the Padre came barreling into the room. "Miguel, the hospital just called. Maritza just went into labor!"
Alvarez jumped. "Shit. Oh, shit!" He ran out of the room, a flurry of Spanish curses following behind him as he raced toward the gate, Mukada in his wake.
Ryan had forgotten about Maritza and the baby, with all the crap going on at the moment. He listened to Carlos and the other Latino, realizing that Mukada had managed to get permission to have Alvarez there for the birth. He hopped that Alvarez would remember what Ryan said when all the excitement died down. He didn't want to have to go through that again.
Chapter 2: Part Two
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Miguel took the Polaroid of Maritza and his baby back from Rebadow and stared at it again. He just couldn't hide the huge-ass grin that burst over his face every time he looked at it. Rebadow smiled at him sadly, and Miguel wanted to ask him what was up with that look of his. But then he noticed O'Reily leaning up against a pole. O'Reily was staring at him with an expression Miguel couldn't read, and he totally forgot about the old man. O'Reily turned and headed to his pod, so Miguel followed him. After the things O'Reily had said that morning, Miguel thought maybe it was time for them to talk.
O'Reily was standing in the door of his pod, but when Miguel walked up to him, he turned and stepped inside, inviting Miguel in with a quick jerk of his head. Miguel followed him, checking it out. He hadn't been in one of the big pods that held more than two people before, so he glanced around curiously.
"That's your kid?"
O'Reily was leaning against the foot of one of the bunk beds, so Miguel crossed to him, and held out the photo. "And Maritza. She had the baby right after I saw you this morning." That seemed like a lifetime ago, now.
O'Reily took the picture, nodding. "She's pretty. I wondered what she looked like. Should have known you'd land a looker." He looked up at Miguel for the first time, and Miguel was surprised when he felt a yearning in the pit of his stomach at the look in O'Reily's eyes. The look said that O'Reily cared, and Miguel wanted to believe that.
"Boy or girl?"
Miguel could feel that oversized grin take over his face again, but he couldn't fucking care about that. This was his baby, after all. "Boy." He leaned against the edge of the bed and looked at the picture in O'Reily's hand. It was like he had to keep reminding himself that it was real.
"What'd you name him?"
Miguel rolled his eyes. "Oh man. You had to bring that up, didn't you? Maritza has about ten names she keeps juggling around, but I don't give a shit. I kind of like Ricardo, for my grandfather, you know? That would make my grandmother happy, at least. But we have until next week for the christening, so we'll figure out something before then."
O'Reily handed the picture back to Miguel. "I can't believe you were out in the real world, and came back with nothing but a fucking picture."
"Right. Like I could tell the hacks, 'Hey, can you take a right, here? I just want to pop down to the 'hood for a couple of kilos of heroin. I'll only be gone ten minutes.'"
O'Reily laughed. "Hey, if you gave them a cut, I'm sure they'd have been glad to help you out."
Miguel grinned back. "That would have gone over real well with the fucking padre along for the ride."
Ryan snorted with laughter. "You could take him with you, like on a field trip or something. I get the feeling Mukada could use some street-savvy. He's kind of on the naïve side, if you ask me."
"Yeah, you're right there." Miguel felt like he was being disloyal to the padre, after all he'd done for him. "But he tries hard. He got me to the hospital for Maritza, anyway."
"So you watched your son being born?"
"That's some freaky shit, man."
Miguel could agree with that. "Yeah. It was. I've seen people die before, but I never saw one being born. It's just as bloody and painful-looking coming as it is going. Not something I'll be in a big hurry to see again."
O'Reily shrugged. "Well, you've got two years before you can get parole, anyway, so it'll be at least three before she'll have to go through childbirth again. Just hang onto that key, man, because Maritza will be talking about college funds and shit like that by the time my parole comes up."
O'Reily turned to face Miguel, a worried look on his face. "Shit. You never found the key? I left it with your knife, under the driver's seat of your car." He started to pace in the small space available to him, distress obvious in his stiff movements and troubled eyes. "Damn. Where's your car? Is Maritza driving it now?"
The memory hit Miguel all at once: the broken car window, finding a key ring wrapped around his favorite knife under the seat of his car. So much had happened since then that he'd forgotten all about the key he'd hidden in his grandmother's basement.
"That was from you? I thought – how did you know where my knife was? I never told you that."
O'Reily stopped pacing and gave Miguel a disgusted look. "You didn't have to, Alvarez. Everyone hides shit under their car seat. I wasn't looking for the knife in particular, but when I found it there, I knew you'd check it sooner or later. So you did find it. Did you put it somewhere safe?"
"Oh, yeah. No one but me knows where it's hidden." He blushed at the eye roll he got at that comment. Okay, so maybe he'd come up with a really lame hiding place for his knife, but no one would find that key. "And before you ask, it's not under my mattress. It's in a very safe place where it won't be disturbed 'til I come back for it." It hit Miguel suddenly why O'Reily was asking. "Wait a minute. That key has something to do with the money?"
"Of course it does. You've got the key to open the safe deposit box, but only I can get in to get the money out. We're in this together, Alvarez, just like I told you before. Partners."
"No." What the fuck was going on? Suddenly everything he thought he knew about O'Reily had been turned on its head. It was Miguel's turn to pace. "That just don't make no sense, man. Why the fuck would you try to kill me, then? You can't get the money out without me, so why send that pendejo to airhole me?"
"What the hell are you talking about, Desi?" O'Reily sneered at him. "I haven't sent anyone after you. Why would I do something stupid like that?"
"But Huberto said…"
"Hubert told you I was trying to get you killed?"
"Yeah, he did." This wasn't making any sense to him. "Something screwy is going on here."
"You got that right. Look, you do believe me now, don't you? I have no reason to kill you. That would be pretty stupid, and I may be a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them."
Miguel shook his head. "No. I believe you. I'll talk to Huberto. I don't know how he got that idea, but I'll find out what's going on. Okay?"
The door opened and some biker walked into the pod, glancing at them curiously. Miguel tucked the Polaroid of his son in his shirt pocket, nodded at O'Reily and left the pod. He felt a strong sense of relief, and only realized how upset he'd been at the thought of O'Reily gunning for him when he discovered it wasn't true.
He'd wanted to believe that O'Reily had told him the truth, that they were partners, but he'd believed Huberto instead. Obviously, Huberto was wrong, and it felt like a weight had been lifted from his chest. He had to get to the bottom of this. Huberto wouldn't lie to him, Miguel was family, so Huberto had just gotten some bad info. Miguel hoped that was it, anyway, because he didn't like to think of the alternative.
Ryan lay in his bunk, his thoughts running in circles. Alvarez had actually thought that Ryan wanted him dead. Those ugly looks he'd been shooting Ryan, all the times he'd avoided talking to him, the things he'd said when they'd gotten close enough to speak – it all made sense now. Yet at the same time, it didn't make any sense at all. How could he have imagined that Ryan wanted him dead after they'd agreed to be partners? He didn't give his word lightly, and it irked him that Alvarez could be that easily swayed.
Of course it wasn't just anyone who'd told him Ryan had double-crossed him. Huberto was important to Alvarez, despite his denials. The man was family, after all, and Alvarez had explained how important that was in Latino culture. Family was everything. Unfortunately, Ryan was starting to wonder just how important family was to Huberto. He couldn't approach Alvarez with his suspicions, at least not yet, but Ryan was beginning to think ol' Hubert might not be as trustworthy as they both thought.
Ryan didn't like to think he'd been duped, but the possibility was there. Had he been set up by Huberto to take a fall? Had Huberto planned for Alvarez to escape the trap, or had he intentionally placed his own cousin in danger? It didn't make sense, but his gut feeling was that Huberto had been holding something back from them, and something wasn't right. He'd have to dig deep to find out what was going on.
At least Alvarez believed Ryan, finally. It burned that he'd doubted Ryan to begin with, but now that Alvarez understood, Ryan didn't have to worry about El Norte putting the heat on him, and maybe the two of them could work their way back into the easy friendship that had been growing while they'd been on the outside.
He could use the link to the Latino community, but even more important was their relationship. He didn't expect any more than friendship at this point. In prison, being connected sexually to another man held all sorts of baggage he wasn't sure he was willing to deal with, and besides, Alvarez would have even more to deal with. There was a strong bias against queers in the Hispanic community, and with Alvarez second-in-command of El Norte, he probably had no interest in getting involved with another man. It would lead to too much trouble.
Too bad, though. Those five or ten minutes they'd spent sucking face and rubbing up against each other had been goddamned hot. He wasn't queer or anything, but taking an occasional walk on the wild side wasn't something he worried about. Shit, sex was sex, no matter who it was with.
Ryan ran his fingers over his half-hard cock, glancing around the room at the other men in his pod. It looked like no one else was awake. Fuck it. Even if they were, who the hell cared? They all jerked off from time to time, no matter who was watching. Not much you could do about it when you had glass walls.
He slipped his hand down under the covers and into his boxers. This wasn't gonna take long anyway. Just a few minutes spent concentrating on how Alvarez' cock had felt as it rubbed up against Ryan's, their tongues sliding against each other, teeth grazing lips. In his mind, Alvarez slid down to his knees and sucked Ryan's cock into his mouth, his fingers rolling Ryan's balls.
He fisted his cock faster. Oh yeah, this wasn't gonna take long at all.
Miguel paced the dark pod, keeping one eye out for hacks making their rounds and the other on that crazy guy Groves, snoring softly in the upper bunk. He didn't want to talk, so it was best that Groves kept sleeping, even though Miguel wanted to scream and yell and punch the fucking walls. He could grab his trunk off the floor and throw it through the glass walls. That would satisfy his need for violence for a moment or two.
The last thing he needed was to get locked up in the Hole right now, though. He had to be here, in case Maritza called with news about his baby. But ¡Santa Madre de Dios! how could he stay in here a moment longer, without some way to take out his frustrations and his anger? His little boy was dying in some hospital while Miguel rotted here in this goddamned prison.
A hack came by, shining his light into the pod, staring at Miguel. The flashlight was blinding, and Miguel closed his eyes against the glare. He got the hint and returned to his bunk, sitting down like he was going to go back to bed. The hack moved on, and Miguel watched him for a moment, making sure he kept going. Once he was gone, Miguel pulled a pack of cigs out from under the mattress, taking out a smoke and the book of matches he kept inside the pack. He lit up, hiding the flare of light with his hand.
Smoke curled up towards the ceiling of their pod, and Miguel watched as spread out and slowly disappeared into the air. The cigarette helped calm him, taking the edge off his urge to hurt something – someone – just to get the frustration out. The problem was there was no one to blame for this, no one to take his anger out on. No one but himself. And that was the whole problem, wasn't it? He was to blame for his baby's illness.
He'd been so positive that nothing could hurt him, nothing could harm their baby; and now when he looked back on it, he couldn't remember why. How did he know they were safe? He had talked Maritza into partying with him, despite the fact that she didn't want to take the chance of hurting their baby. But he'd been so sure that nothing could harm them. He'd known it. Just like he'd known that he'd never end up in prison like his father and his grandfather. He'd been so sure.
Tucking the matches back in the cigarette pack, he slid them back into the hole he'd cut into his mattress to hide his valuables. His fingers hit the hilt of the shank he hid there and he pulled it out, staring at it. Miguel took a deep drag off the cigarette, the cherry glowing in the dark shadows of the pod, casting a glow that made the blade glint bright red.
It wasn't a big shank, it had a short handle wrapped in black tape with a thin, two inch blade sharpened along both edges. It wasn't intended to dig deep, this blade was built to slice into flesh, the way a scalpel would. If only he had a target, someone he could blame this on, someone he could take out his anger on. It might satisfy him for a moment, but in the end it wouldn't help. It wouldn't save the life of his child. The only one who could do that was God.
Standing, Miguel crossed to the sink, staring at himself in the mirror, shadows and light in the dark pod. He took one more hit and threw the butt into the toilet, the hiss as it hit the water loud in the quiet of the room. He was to blame, his pride and his arrogance had led him here, and his boy was going to die because of him. What a fool he'd been, believing he was invincible, like some comic book hero; nothing bad could ever happen to him.
The stab of the shank into his hand happened so quickly that Miguel had barely acknowledged the thought before the blade sank into his palm. The pain was dim, much less than he'd expected, the sharp edges of the thin blade pushing through flesh and tendons and bones with almost no resistance. The shock of the blow, and the adrenaline running through his body made him tremble, but not with pain.
Punishing himself wasn't enough, though. He needed to satisfy God, to prove to Him that Miguel had learned his lesson, and was worthy of forgiveness. If he knew exactly where his sin lay, would he be able to cut it out, rid himself of his pride? Would God accept that as an appropriate penance? He needed to show that he was willing to sacrifice his pride for his baby's sake. He had to prove that nothing was as important to him as the life of his child. Then God would understand, and he'd spare Miguel's son.
He thought of the crime that had brought him here. The arrogant way he'd sliced open the man's face as a reminder that Miguel would be back to finish the job if he talked about what he'd seen that night. He looked up at his reflection, and saw the boy that had done everything just right - the fastest runner, the best boxer, the most handsome man, the best lover. Miguel looked upward, and made his promise to God. Then he raised the bloody shank to his face, running the blade down his cheek, cutting away his pride as the blade bit deep into his flesh, for the life of his son.
Ryan was pissed as hell to find out Beecher had talked to Keane even after he'd told the guy to forget about it. He thought he'd been getting somewhere with Beecher. For the most part, he was, but it turned out the bastard had a stubborn streak Ryan hadn't taken into account. That was okay, though, since in the end it had worked out in Ryan's favor. Schillinger had caught Beecher in his lie, and showed his prag that there were some things over which he had no control, and he might as well get used to it.
That left Beecher ripe for Ryan's offer of comfort, and he slid right into the taste of heroin Ryan offered him as if it was home. And maybe it was. He was already an alcoholic when he got here, heroin just offered him a different way to hit that slope down into Never-Never Land. He left Beecher lying on his bed, a stupid grin on his face, and a new monkey on his back. Okay, so he wasn't hooked yet. But an addictive personality was an addictive personality, he knew Beecher would be back. And Ryan would be there to show him the ropes.
It's not like it was a hardship, hanging out with Beecher. The guy had a sharp mind, and if he hadn't been so easily sidetracked with the booze and shit, he could have gone far. Ryan bet he was one hell of a lawyer before he hit rock bottom. It was good to have someone who could understand what Ryan was talking about. Someone who was sharp enough to get it when he made a joke, or talked about things he'd read, or places he'd like to go.
Ryan may have never made it past high school, but that wasn't due to his being stupid. It was just the way shit happened when you grew up in the streets. Maybe he and Beecher didn't have much in common in the way of their upbringing, or their education, but he learned a lot talking to Beecher. Even better, Beecher didn't think it was strange that Ryan read a lot or knew more than how to hotwire a car or sell drugs on the street. Sure, Ryan knew those things, too, but there was more to him than that, and it was good to have someone around who thought that was a good thing.
Cyril always made fun of him when he went to the library, and Shannon hated it when he tried to talk to her about shit she didn't understand. His dad, well he knew better than to talk to Dad about anything that didn't come out of a bottle, or off a sitcom. His dad's way of putting Ryan in his place was by using his fists until Ryan was too bruised and broken to make anymore of a fuss. Besides, he wasn't interested in formal education, anyway. He just wanted to know things, and Beecher was good for that. Beecher's family was rich, so he'd traveled, and he loved to tell Ryan about his vacations to Paris and Italy, the Bahamas and India and Egypt.
Ryan just had to remember one thing – that Beecher was a mark. Because if he forgot that, he could get himself into a lot of trouble. He'd grown up with a drunk; he knew what an alcoholic would do to get his fix. Beecher was no different than his dad in that way, and Ryan would do well to not forget that. No matter how much he enjoyed Beecher's company, and it was true that he did, he couldn't be relied on to be a strong ally as long as he was getting high. Yeah, okay, so maybe it was Ryan getting him high, but that didn't change the facts. An addict was an addict, and not to be trusted.
He found himself wishing once again that Cyril was here. He wouldn't wish the hell that was Oz on anyone, but it was hard not having someone to count on. He needed someone who could watch his back, someone he knew would be there for him when things went crazy. Now that Alvarez knew Ryan hadn't set him up, he had hopes that Alvarez might fit into that spot, but it would take time and cultivation to get them to that point.
Speaking of, he needed to find out what was going on with Alvarez, the hacks had taken him out this morning before count, and he hadn't seen him since. He wandered over to the table where Groves and Rebadow were in the middle of a game of checkers, and plopped down in an empty chair.
He was tempted to tell Rebadow what move to make next, but he needed Groves for information. No sense in getting the freak pissed off at him. Besides, the old man had God on his side, he didn't need Ryan. They played in silence for a moment, and just as Ryan was getting ready to break it, Rebadow turned to him.
"You're fishing for information, aren't you?"
Ryan spread out his arms to show how empty they were. "Do you see a fishing pole on me?"
Groves shook his head. "He doesn't need to see it. God tells him what he needs to know."
Ryan crossed his arms over his chest and stretched his legs out to the side, striking a relaxed pose. "Yeah, well, he doesn't know what I want, unless you've been talking to him about Alvarez."
Rebadow smiled. "He has. But I knew Alvarez was on the brink of something bad anyway, as soon as I saw his son."
"His son? You saw his son?"
"He showed me the picture yesterday."
"Oh, right." Ryan had thought for a moment he was going to tell them God had shown him a vision or something. "Yeah, I saw that too. What about him?"
"The poor tyke isn't going to last long. Alvarez is just devastated. He's so proud of that baby."
"It's going to die? How the hell do you know that?" Rebadow raised one eyebrow at him. "Oh, wait. God told you." Rebadow nodded serenely. Ryan guessed it was handy having God as an informant.
Groves jumped one of Rebadow's checkers before he spoke. "Alvarez told me last night that his girlfriend said it has a bad liver, and the doctors say it's only got a few days to live."
"Jesus." Rebadow moved a checker while Ryan digested this information. He felt a flare of sorrow for Alvarez. He'd wanted that baby so much. That was the whole reason he got into their heist in the first place, to have a better home for his baby. This was going to crush him.
"Is that why they took him out before count this morning?"
Groves' eyes sparkled with excitement as he spoke. "He cut up his face and hand. There was blood everywhere. I wish I'd seen him before the hack did. I would have liked to take a closer look, but they rushed him out to the infirmary before I was barely awake." He looked so disappointed. Ryan suppressed a shudder. This freak really creeped him out.
Groves moved another checker. "There was blood all over the sheets and the mattress. It was really cool."
"I suppose. If you like that kind of thing." Rebadow shook his head at Groves, then jumped three of his red checkers, landing with a satisfied smile. "King me."
Groves frowned down at the board as Rebadow collected his captive checkers. "Shit."
Ryan got up, headed for the bank of TVs. Yeah, shit about covered it. It sounded like the insanity was catching. This really fucked with his plans. He needed Alvarez sane and sharp, like he'd been when they first met. If he could room with Alvarez, maybe Ryan could help him stay out of this kind of trouble. But Ryan was stuck in one of the larger pods, they'd never get any kind of privacy there.
He wondered what it would take to get Groves to give up his two-bed pod. Probably something completely disgusting. He'd already gotten into trouble for sneaking into the morgue. He'd told everyone who'd listen about what Post had looked like without a cock. Maybe he could get Hanley to fix Groves up with a job in the morgue. That might do the trick.
Ryan watched Alvarez as he and the Padre spoke. The dejected slump of his shoulders told Ryan all he needed to know about what had happened. Hanley told him McManus had taken Alvarez back to see his baby despite Sister Pete's replacement's refusal to sign off on the trip. Fucking asshat. He missed the Sister. She'd been real and you felt you counted when she talked to you. Too bad Glynn had fired her for protesting the death penalty. He headed Alvarez' way as soon as the Padre left, but stopped outside his pod, unsure of his welcome.
Alvarez looked so lost, sitting on his bunk, his knees pulled up and his arms wrapped tight around them. Jesus. There was nothing Ryan could say that would make him feel better. Why did he even want to try? He couldn't explain the way he was drawn to Alvarez; he just knew that they shared a bond, and that Ryan wasn't going to let that go without a fight. Alvarez looked up and saw him standing outside the door to his pod. Well, hell, it was too late to back out now.
Opening the door, Ryan stepped inside. "Hey." He cleared his throat, and tried again. "How ya doing? You okay, man?"
Alvarez shrugged. "So everyone knows already, huh?"
Ryan could bullshit with the best of them. He looked at Alvarez in surprise. "Knows what?"
Alvarez looked down at his bandaged hand, flexing the fingers stiffly. "My baby's dead."
"Shit." He'd known it was coming, but it still hit him hard to hear it like that, Alvarez' low voice filled with pain. Ryan sat at the bottom of the bunk, not touching him or anything, just being close, as if that might help somehow. "I heard he was sick. I'm really sorry, Miguel. Damn. That's too bad."
"I feel so empty, now that he's gone, you know?" Alvarez sucked in a deep breath, biting his lip, like he was trying to push tears away. "He was here for such a short time. He was mine, and now he's gone. I didn't even have time to get to know him."
"Jesus. I'm so sorry, man." It didn't feel right not to be touching him somehow, so Ryan put his hand on Alvarez' foot, his high-top sneaker being the closest thing he could touch without getting too personal, and it was definitely not the time for that.
"What happened with Cyril?"
Alvarez' question threw him, it was so unexpected. "Huh?"
"Your brother." He looked up, his dark eyes searching Ryan's face. "Is he still in a coma?"
"Oh. Yeah." As usual the thought of Cyril made his chest feel tight, and he fought down the pain that came with it. "No change. They did the operation, but he hasn't recovered. My dad wants us to pull the plug, but Shannon and my Aunt Brenda are fighting it. I don't know what to do. The doctors say he's gone. But there's still some brainwave activity, so Aunt Brenda says he's still in there. I'm not so sure."
"That must be hard. You had him for twenty years, and now he's gone, and he's never coming back."
Put so bluntly like that, it hurt like hell, and he felt his anger rise. What the fuck was Alvarez up to? Before he could speak, Alvarez went on.
"I can't imagine what that would be like. I only had my baby for days, and it feels like my chest is going to explode from grief. I couldn't live with having him for so long and losing him."
He felt his anger burn away in the wake of Alvarez' confession. "No. I think it's easier this way. I had my brother for all those years. I got to see what he was like, and know what he was capable of, and we went through so much together. We grew up together. So yeah, it hurts. But at least I got to have him for a while. You only had your baby for nine months, and most of that time you couldn't even touch him. I feel selfish that I got to have that time with Cyril, and you didn't."
Alvarez laughed, a crooked, half-sob of a laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. "We're a pair, aren't we? Trying to figure out who's had it worse." There was a bit of a glint in Alvarez' eye that looked like mania, and Ryan realized he needed to stomp on that right now.
"Yeah, alright. Maybe we've had our share of bad luck recently," he was interrupted by Alvarez' snort of laugher, but kept on going. "We're not going to let that stop us, man. Bad luck can go fuck itself." He glanced quickly out at the quad to make sure no hacks were around, then pulled a vial out of his pocket. "I'm gonna get high." He took a big hit and handed it over to Alvarez.
Alvarez took the vial, and turned it around, studying it from all sides, like he thought it might bite him or something. Ryan rolled his eyes. "Heroin. High grade shit, man. This is the good stuff. Go on, take a hit."
Alvarez held it up to his nose and sniffed, letting the powder enter his system, his head rolling back against the wall as it hit him. "Damn." He shook his head. "Whoa. Now that's a nice buzz."
Ryan took the vial from him and took another hit, then offered it back to Alvarez, who didn't hesitate this time. The blissed-out look on his face was just what Ryan was hoping for. "Oh yeah. That's more like it. That's what I call the cure for the blues."
He remembered the time that Alvarez had tried to keep his spirits up, back when they'd first met, and there was still hope that Cyril could escape the hospital with his mind intact. What was that phrase Beecher had told him about? Quid pro quo. He'd needed what Alvarez had offered then, and now he got to return the favor.
"Thanks, man." Alvarez' voice was soft, but loud enough in the quiet of the room.
Ryan scooted back, leaning against the wall, his crossed ankles hanging out over the edge of the bunk. He smiled at Alvarez and nodded. "De nada."
Miguel curled up in a ball on the floor, laughing so hard he could hardly catch his breath. "No more Spanish lessons for you tonight, man." He was surprised that he managed to get the whole sentence out before he burst out laughing again. The liquid LSD that Groves offered him had kicked in about an hour ago, and he hadn't been able to stop laughing since.
Groves threw his hand up, waving it like he was in grade school, trying to catch the attention of the teacher. "Wait, wait, wait! Miguel! You have to tell me what 'córtate el pelo' means first! Don't just leave me hanging." He visibly restrained himself from laughing again, taking a deep breath before continuing. "What if I say it in front of your ése? I need to know what they're beating me up for."
Miguel shook his head. "First off, if you're talking about more than one guy, the word is ésos, not ése."
He stretched out on the cool floor. The concrete wasn't very comfortable, but it was cooler than the rest of the pod, and besides, he was feeling no pain at the moment. He grinned at that. He'd felt a lot better since he'd started hanging out with O'Reily. He always had plenty of drugs on hand, and was willing to share, so Miguel'd been doing plenty of tits lately. He wasn't really a tit head, he could take 'em or leave 'em, but it was nice to have a steady supply. But getting stuck in a fucking lockdown with nothing to do all day but stare at your loco podmate got old fast. Thank God for LSD, and the loco men who thought of putting it on the back of postage stamps.
Groves was mumbling ése, ésos, ése, ésos over and over in the background. That was getting old, so Miguel went back to their lesson. "Right. So I'll use córtate el pelo in a sentence. Maybe that will help you figure it out."
He spoke in his best imitation of Huberto. "Córtate el pelo…" he paused for a second before adding "…hippie!" He snorted in laughter. He could just hear Berto yelling at him when he'd been about twelve years old, and his mother hadn't wanted him to cut his hair. Groves giggled in a high-pitched voice that made Miguel want to join in. "What?"
"That sounded like my dad, when he wanted me to clean up my room, or shut up, 'cause he was watching TV or something." He lowered his voice, made it gravelly and gruff. "Have you taken the trash out yet, young man?" Groves lay down on the floor too, mirroring Alvarez' pose. "He even called me a hippie sometimes. Especially when he wanted me to cut my hair."
"Hey! You got it, man. Now just put it all together." Alvarez looked over at Groves, who was staring at him confusedly.
"What? Put what together?"
Miguel sighed. "Think about it, tarado. What were we just talking about?"
Groves raised his head at the insult. "Hey! I'm not a dumbass."
"You are if you can't figure this one out. What were we talking about?"
"Córtate el pelo." Groves paused for a second before adding, "Hippie."
Miguel moved his hand in a circle, trying to convince Groves to keep going long enough to connect the dots. "And what did your dad call you a hippie for?"
He saw the moment the lights came on, and Groves finally got it.
"Get a haircut, hippie!" He laughed happily. "I got it!" Then he leaned up on one elbow, frowning down at Miguel, eyes narrowed. "Hey, you've been telling me to get a haircut all this time?"
Miguel couldn't help it; he burst out laughing, and it didn't take long for Groves to join in, falling back to the floor as they howled and hooted at each other. A hack came by and knocked on the Plexiglas, and they lowered their voices. Groves covering his mouth with both hands in an effort to get himself under control, laughter hiccupping out of him in occasional bursts.
Miguel wrapped his arms around his ribs. "Oh, man, Groves, my sides hurt from laughing so much."
Groves nodded, his elbows waving in the air. Miguel snickered at that sight, but fought back the laughter that tried to bubble up out of his chest. Groves sighed, his laughter finally dying down. His hands flopped down onto his chest as if he were too tired to hold them up anymore. "Shit!"
"You can say that again." Miguel held up his hand to stop Groves before he could open his mouth. "But this time, say it in Spanish."
Too tired from laughing to speak any louder, Miguel murmured, "I knew you could do it."
Ryan walked another circuit of the dank concrete room, careful to avoid the corner he'd designated for his "bathroom." The bucket of piss and shit gave off a nasty stench, and he sure as hell didn't envy the poor fool that got stuck emptying those things. He had no doubt that it was an inmate. There was no way they'd make a hack empty all that crap.
He hated being out of the loop like this, but when Schibetta told him to give up Healy, he'd had no choice but to do it, despite the bad position it put Ryan in. He was just one man, in a hierarchy based on numbers and alliances. His only connection was Healy, and it was an important one, but he couldn't survive on that alone. He needed allies, and though he doubted that he could trust Schibetta to do anything but look out for his own interests, if Ryan could get close enough to that power structure, he could make it work for him, without letting his allies know what he was doing.
There was very little chance that Healy's low-level drug smuggling operation was really a threat to Schibetta's thriving tits trade, but he wanted Healy gone, so Ryan set it up. Getting Polkewaldt to turn in both Ryan and Healy together took care of the possibility that the hacks might think he'd had anything to do with the bust, but since McManus was a fuckwad, he'd left Ryan to rot in here unless he testified against Healy. Yeah right. The hacks would love that. Ryan liked his insides on the inside, thanks much, so he wouldn't be jabbering anytime soon. After all this, Schibetta had better make it worth his while.
He sighed, and made another circuit. Damn, he hated The Hole. He'd lost all sense of time in the first few days; doing the whole cold turkey thing really wreaked havoc on his body and his mind. Not like he was a real addict. But he'd done more tits in the last month than he ever had, what with keeping Beecher company and spending time with Alvarez.
The detox had really screwed with Ryan. He shivered just thinking about it. Sweats and cold chills, diarrhea and vomiting – that was when the bucket got its own corner of the room. The restlessness and anxiety had been bad. Oh man, he'd screamed his voice hoarse and thrown himself up against the walls until he was covered with bruises. Now he knew what that phrase "kicking the habit" was all about. The muscle cramps in his legs had made them jerk uncontrollably, waking him out of whatever small amount of sleep he could get.
He never wanted to go though that crap again. He'd be more careful when he got out of The Hole, Ryan's ability to out think all the doofuses around him was what kept him going. He needed to stay sharp to keep his head above water. Beecher wouldn't need much more pushing, in any event. Ryan'd picked up a few choice bits of info from him already.
Alvarez worried him some. He was beginning to show signs of turning back into the guy he'd first met – funny, sexy and deadly, but there were times when Ryan caught glimpses of something else, like he was just on the edge of slipping off the deep end. He wouldn't allow that to happen, though. There was too much at stake. Not only did he have the key to Ryan's safe deposit box, but having Alvarez around was good for him. He laughed more, he talked about shit he'd never discussed with anyone before, even Cyril. He was going to keep Alvarez around for both their sakes.
Ryan didn't see Alvarez in his pod, but that lunatic Groves was there sitting on the top bunk, so he stuck his head in anyway. "You seen Alvarez around?"
Groves looked up from his book. "Oh, hey, you're back! Am I glad to see you!"
Ryan frowned at him. "You are?"
"Oh, yeah. Miguel, he's been really anxious for you to get out of The Hole." Groves closed his book and set it aside, jumping down off his bunk and looking around to see who might be listening, like he had some kind of big secret.
Ryan reluctantly closed the door behind him, shutting himself in the pod with Groves. He wasn't all that comfortable being in an enclosed space with the guy. He ate his own mother, for Christ's sake, there was just something wrong with that.
He concentrated on what Groves said to block out those thoughts. "Anxious?"
Groves nodded and stepped closer, his voice low, like he was afraid someone might overhear. "He thinks his baby is still alive."
Groves' eyes were wide with worry, and Ryan fought back a sharp jolt of jealousy. What exactly had Alvarez and Groves been up to in this pod? He pushed that to the back of his mind, he'd deal with that thought later.
"What do you mean? He thinks they just pretended to pull the plug or something?"
Groves shook his head, his stringy hair flopping around his shoulders. "No. During the day he knows his baby's dead, but then at night, he starts talking to it, and rocking it in his arms. I tried to tell him it's dead, but he won't listen. It's weird. Like he's seeing his baby's ghost or something."
Ryan sat down in the chair in front of the desk, trying to take all this in. "What's that got to do with me? You said he's been waiting for me to get out?" He knew that Alvarez could get tits without Ryan there to hold his hand, so that wasn't why he was looking for Ryan. If Alvarez was slipping off the deep end, he wasn't sure what he could do about it.
"He likes having you around. He says you're easy to talk to." Groves frowned at him. "I don't think he really likes the guys in El Norte, you know? Not much anyway. He hangs around with them, but he never talks about them the way he does you."
"Yeah?" Ryan smiled at that, then covered it up with a cough. Jesus, he was acting like a silly teenage girl. 'He like me!' He shrugged casually. "Yeah, well, we're buds." Groves lifted one eyebrow at him as if to say he knew what Ryan was thinking. Ryan cleared his throat. "So you know where he is now?"
"He's talking to Sister Pete. I sure am glad she came back. That other guy was a real pendejo."
Ryan laughed. "Pendejo, huh? Alvarez been giving you Spanish lessons?"
Groves nodded, a big grin on his face. "What else is there to do after they lock us up at night?"
Ryan tried not to look too relieved at that comment. "Good point." Getting up, he moved to the door. "Thanks. Let him know I'm back, if you see him before me, okay?"
Groves nodded, "Will do." He headed back to his bunk, calling over his shoulder. "¡Adiós!"
Ryan grinned and shook his head, "Yeah, whatever, Groves."
Shutting the door behind him, Ryan started a circuit around the quad, seeing who was talking to who, what alliances had changed since he'd been gone. It was important to keep up with this stuff. He was going to have to keep a closer eye on Alvarez, but that was okay, he didn't mind spending time with him. It was thoughts of Alvarez that had kept Ryan sane in The Hole.
He'd tried to avoid the memories of the night they'd kissed, but time and again it had come back to him. Ryan was going to have to do something about that; either do it again, talk about it or bury it. He didn't like this in between stuff. Ryan found himself inclined to do it again, he'd spent many hours in The Hole jerking off to the thought of holding Alvarez' body close to his. But if it was going to be a problem, then he'd find a way to bury it. He needed to get Alvarez alone so they could talk, and then they'd figure it out.
He saw Adebisi sitting with Schibetta, arguing with him about something. That looked promising. He wandered closer to hear what they were saying.
"Look, what is this fucking pinocchio? I don't play games." Adebisi threw down his cards in disgust.
Ryan could tell Schibetta was frustrated. "How do you keep that hat on your head, velcro?"
That suited Ryan just fine. He plopped down into the chair next to Adebisi. "Deal me in."
Schibetta cocked one eyebrow in his direction. "You play Pinochle?"
Ryan shook his head, "No, but I can learn."
"Adebisi, I'll see you later." The dismissal in his voice was obvious, and Adebisi got up, scraping his chair across the floor, glaring at Ryan ominously. Both Ryan and Schibetta ignored him, and Schibetta started dealing out the cards. "OK, each player gets four cards. One card, face up, that's the..."
Ryan listened closely as Schibetta explained the rules. Pinochle turned out to be a complicated game, but he was a fast learner, and this was a good move for him. Being accepted by Schibetta like this would set a precedence. He'd be Schibetta's main go-to guy before either the wiseguys or the homeboys figured out what was going on. Now if he could just figure out Alvarez, he'd be all set.
"They found him in his cell, sitting on the floor, totally naked and drooling." Miguel paced the small amount of empty space of the storage closet, too restless to settle down. "Doctor Nathan told me about Alzheimer's, but it seems like they should have figured out something was wrong earlier than this, you know? I mean he acted normal the first time I met him."
O'Reily agreed, "Yeah, that was just a couple of months ago; that shit must move fast."
He handed the roach to Miguel, who took a drag before falling gracelessly to the floor and leaning back against the wall next to O'Reily. "It's been such a weird week, you know? Groves has some kind of nasty toothache that's driving him up the wall, and he's all upset 'cause his buddy Rebadow is in the hospital. I think he's decided to take revenge on Wangler for beating Rebadow up."
O'Reily whistled. "I wouldn't mess with Wangler if I was him. He's got his homeboys on his side, and besides, the bastard killed a kid over a jacket, man, he's gotta be some kind of crazy."
"That's what I told Groves. But if you think about it, who's crazier? The guy with the gun who killed over a new jacket, or the guy with the ball peen hammer who killed both parents and ate his mom for breakfast? I'm not sure who I'd bet on if it came down to a match, you know?"
O'Reily laughed and pried the roach out of Miguel's fingers. "Gimme that, I think you've had enough. " He took one last hit, then pinched the cherry off and tucked it in his pocket. "So you like it in the Infirmary? Aside from all the dirty bedpans?"
Miguel shrugged, "I guess. I've spent more time with Ricardo and Eduardo in the last few days than I have in my whole life. That's weird, you know? But seeing my abuelo like this makes me wish I'd seen more of him before all this shit happened."
"What the fuck's an abuelo? That mean grandfather?" O'Reily frowned at him. "Remember, Groves is the one you're teaching Spanish to, not me."
Miguel rolled his eyes. "Get over it. You're smart; you figured it out easy enough." O'Reily shrugged but Miguel ignored him. "Sister Pete gave me a book on sign language today."
"Sign language? Jesus Christ. You're already one language up on me. You gonna be doing all sorts of weird signs and shit with your hands now?" O'Reily moved his hands in a weird tangle of fingers that obviously meant nothing to anyone, especially Miguel, who'd only looked at the sign language alphabet yet, and hadn't even gotten to the gestures.
Miguel gave him the bird, a universal sign that needed no translation, and O'Reily laughed. "Yeah, okay, I got that one. So she wants you to talk to your father?"
"My pop can write in English and Spanish, so I don't know why we need sign language, but it made him happy when I showed him the book, so I guess I'll learn some of it, and see what happens, you know?"
"He gonna give you quizzes and shit, and put stars on your papers if you do a good job?"
Miguel elbowed O'Reily in the side, and he fell over, snickering, pretending to be injured. Miguel laughed. "Poor baby." He intentionally changed the subject, 'cause he was tired of thinking about his family. "So who'd you get a visit from today?"
"Shannon." O'Reily sighed, sitting up again, crossing his legs so he was facing Miguel, but he didn't look up, instead playing with the sole of his shoe where the rubber had started to come loose.
"She says Cyril's case worker is urging her to pull the plug again. Aunt Brenda is still saying no, but there's been no change since they moved him to the nursing home. It's been a year since the accident. At least Shannon doesn't have to pay for his upkeep anymore, but it's hard on them all." He took a deep breath. "Every day he doesn't wake up, his chances of ever waking up go down."
"Oh, man. I'm really sorry." Miguel put his hand on O'Reily's knee and squeezed it, knowing how hard it was to see a family member go downhill like this. O'Reily pulled his knees up, resting his forehead on them, and Miguel could see the tremors in his shoulders as he fought back tears. Miguel scooted up until they were next to each other, and then reached out, wrapping his arms around O'Reily's tense shoulders, holding him close.
At first it seemed that O'Reily would fight him, but then he relaxed into Miguel's arms, letting himself be held, and Miguel sighed in relief. He'd wanted to hold Ryan like this for a long time, ever since their first kiss. That seemed like a lifetime ago, but he knew this felt right to him. When Ryan reached out and wrapped his arms around Miguel's waist, something tight in Miguel's chest unwound and relaxed as they held onto each other.
He felt Ryan's hot breath against his neck, and he struggled with his feelings. What they had here was comfort, something difficult to find in prison, and not to be taken lightly. Ryan nuzzled his face into the crook of Miguel's neck and shoulder; a bolt of heat shot down his spine, making him dizzy with want. The attraction was there, had been there from the beginning, but he worried that he'd destroy what they already had if he acted on it.
He loved Maritza, but it was hard to focus on that in a place like Oz. The outside world was so far away from their reality. This was immediate, and it tugged at him, making him ache with need. He felt Ryan's lips on his throat, tracing a line up to his ear. He shivered, and gave into his desire, and turned his face to bring their lips together, opening his mouth to Ryan's questing tongue.
It felt like a surge of electricity; that shock you felt when you got too close to a live wire. Miguel moaned into the kiss, his hands coming up to run through Ryan's hair, and to hold his head in place. Ryan pulled him closer, his tongue darting in and out of Miguel's mouth, swirling around inside and drawing Miguel's tongue into his own mouth. When Miguel felt light-headed, he finally broke away from the kiss and the two gasped for air, their foreheads pressed together as they panted.
"Oh, man. I've been wanting to do that forever." Ryan's voice was low and husky, and it made Miguel shiver again.
He pulled back far enough to look into Ryan's eyes. "You have?"
"Oh, yeah. But I wasn't sure you were still interested. I mean, you thought I'd betrayed you, so you had a reason to be pissed off, but that didn't mean you still wanted me. Like this, I mean. That was a long time ago, though, we've both been through a lot since then."
Miguel smiled. "Yeah, we have. But I do." He wrapped a hand around the back of Ryan's neck and pulled him forward, but Ryan leaned back, shaking his head.
Ryan held up his arm, his watch glinting in the light. "We have the worst fucking timing, Miguel. Lockdown is in ten minutes."
"Yeah." Ryan touched Miguel's cheek, sliding his fingers around to linger on his lips. "It'll keep until next time, right?" Miguel nodded and sighed, and Ryan stood up. He offered a hand to Miguel, pulling him up before heading for the door. "I'll go first; follow me out in a few, okay?"
Miguel grinned at him. "I'll be thinking of you tonight."
Ryan's smile lit up his face. "Not as much as I'll be thinking about you."
"I had a full month with nothing to do but think about that night last year, when we kissed, and I was so hard I had to jerk off in the parking lot of some convenient store before I could drive myself home."
"You did not."
"Yes I did."
Miguel smirked at him. "I can't help it if I'm good-looking."
Ryan stepped into Miguel's space, getting as close as he could without touching. "And you felt damn good pressed up against me." Ryan's eyes were dark, and Miguel had to fight the urge to grab him and kiss him again.
"Get the hell out of here, now, or it will be too late."
Ryan opened the door and checked the hall, then winked at him and disappeared.
Miguel shook his head and thumped it softly up against the back of the door. "¡Mierda!" This was probably a really bad move, but he didn't give a fuck. He wasn't giving up on a chance to find a bit of pleasure in this hellhole. He'd do whatever he had to do to make this work. Now if he could figure out how to get this stupid grin off his face, he'd be all set.
Groves slipped a vial of Morphine to Alvarez, who wandered casually upstairs to pass it on to that biker with the scar on his face. Morphine seemed over the top to Ryan. Shit, anything that went directly into a vein was over the top for Ryan, but what the hell. He set the guy up with Alvarez when he told Ryan what he was looking for, 'cause who cares what the idiot killed himself with, as long as Ryan got his cut of the profit.
That new guy Ross passed a whole fucking pack of cigarettes to some Latino sitting in front of the TVs. He watched carefully as Ross palmed the wad of bills the Latino passed back in exchange. He needed to figure out how that bastard was getting those inside Oz. The way he was selling them, he obviously had a regular supply; he was raking in the bucks. Ryan had seen an increase in sales since Beecher had taken Schillinger out. Maybe that Nazi fuck had been slowing Ross down, or something.
He missed having Beecher around, but in the long run Ryan knew he was better off without him. Hanging around with a prag could give you a reputation that he didn't need, especially after Schillinger forced him to wear makeup and dress like a slut. That was when Ryan had started pulling away from him, distancing himself from the fallout he knew was headed Beecher's way. The Variety Show was the last straw, Beecher all tricked out in drag, singing about 'loving his man' – it made Ryan sick just thinking about it.
That was why when Beecher had come to him, wearing Schillinger's 'gift' of a Confederate flag emblazoned on his t-shirt, Ryan had cut the ties, and sent Beecher out in style. And what a way to go. The only thing that would have been better was if Beecher had actually made it off the rail after he broke the glass out of Schillinger's pod and put the Nazi in the hospital with glass in his eye. That would have been a fitting end for Beecher. Ryan had a feeling that when he got out of The Hole, Beecher would end up prag to some other Aryan, or maybe a nigger. Either way, it would be a much less satisfying conclusion to Beecher's rise and fall.
He glanced back over to Schibetta, who was frowning over his cards. The bastard was trying to hide it, but Ryan could tell he was in pain. Yet another plan coming together just the way it was supposed to. When Schibetta had put him in charge of the kitchen, it was inevitable that he and Adebisi would butt heads. But once Ryan had convinced Adebisi that they had a mutual goal, taking over Schibetta's drug trade, everything started to slip into place.
He pulled a card out of his hand and slapped it on the table. "Nine of Spades."
Schibetta leaned forward and grimaced as he laid down his card. "Trump."
Ryan manufactured a concerned look. "You ok, Nino?"
"Yeah, just a little…agita." Schibetta turned to Adebisi, who was leaning up against a pod, listening to his headphones. "I told you, you're making the red sauce too spicy. I don't know what the fuck you're putting in it but it's too fucking spicy." He turned back to the game and pulled a card out of his hand to drop onto the table.
Agita? Ryan didn't know Italian, but he bet the ground glass he and Adebisi were feeding Schibetta might be contributing to whatever agita was. He glanced up at Adebisi as he pulled the jack of clubs out of his hand, dropping it onto the pile of cards. "Trump."
"Shit." The look on Schibetta's face was priceless.
Oh yes, Ryan loved it when a plan came together.
"That Mershah character may have gotten everybody all stirred up, but it's Said we need to keep our eyes on, you can count on that." Ryan paced the small space, touching boxes and buckets and everything else he could reach, moving restlessly, as if he were trapped in a cage, not taking a break from the reality of Oz in a small storage closet.
Miguel watched, mesmerized by his prowling. "You think he's trying to start a riot?"
Ryan turned and pointed at Miguel. "I know he is. It's just a matter of when he'll strike. That shakedown turned up weapons everywhere. The Muslims have something planned; they're waiting for the right moment to attack. It will be harder now, with all our privileges taken away, but as soon as they have weapons again, Em City is going up like a powder keg."
Miguel fell back against the wall, disgust in his voice. "Fucking McManus." Taking away their gym, TV and phone privileges had put everyone in a foul mood. Unless you got a visitor, reliable news from the outside was in short supply.
Ryan threw him a dirty look. "Yeah, well don't fuck him too hard – who's the one responsible for him doubling our punishment, Mr. 'Gee, Dad, I hope I can still make it to the Prom'?"
Miguel cringed. He'd gotten a lot of heat for that comment, but that's what it had felt like to him. McManus had essentially grounded all of Em City like some overzealous parent, and Miguel's smart mouth had gotten the best of him. Torres had sat him down for a long talk on learning to keep his impulsive nature in check. He had listened to the man, and tried to understand his point of view, but honestly, he'd be glad when Torres was gone and he could take charge of El Norte without anyone watching over his shoulder.
Miguel stepped into Ryan's path, stopping his restless pacing. "Some people got no sense of humor."
Ryan stepped up until they were face to face, just inches apart, his voice low and husky. "You talking to me, Miguel?" His body swayed closer to Miguel's, a smirk gracing the sharp lines of his face.
Miguel grinned. "Oh no, not you. You've got a vicious sense of humor."
"Vicious?" Ryan's green eyes were sparkling with laughter.
Miguel ran one finger across Ryan's neck, caressing the spot where the blood pulsed beneath the skin, "You always go for the jugular." Ryan's grin was so sharp it was dangerous, but that didn't stop Miguel. He moved his fingers back, sliding around to grasp the back of Ryan's neck, pulling him closer until their lips met. Ryan pushed forward aggressively, his tongue in Miguel's mouth, mapping him out like he was claiming it.
Miguel was surprised at how much he liked this, having a man's larger hands on him and stronger arms wrapped around him. He'd never kissed a man before Ryan, never held one close to his body except during the heat of a fight. This was different: the aggressive bulk of a man; hard, angular surfaces that surprisingly fit together as easily as a man's and woman's did.
They were both panting when they broke apart. Ryan rested his forehead against Miguel's, his eyes closed as they stood there, wrapped around each other. "Oh, god. I don't think I'll ever get tired of that."
Miguel chuckled. "Yeah?"
Ryan pulled back so they could see eye to eye. "You like it too, right? I'm not the only one getting my rocks off here, am I?" His voice was casual, as if the answer didn't matter much, but Miguel could see the uncertainty in his eyes. He found it reassuring to know that he wasn't the only one unsure of himself.
Miguel offered up a breathless, heartfelt "Oh, yeah."
Ryan smiled, relieved, then shrugged casually. "I thought so."
Miguel took the initiative and rubbed his body against Ryan's, revealing his growing hard-on. "Can't you tell?"
Ryan closed the inches between their faces, and took another kiss. "Mmmm."
Miguel wanted to laugh at the way Ryan hummed into his mouth, but he was too busy dueling with Ryan's tongue to comment. Slipping together, slick, firm and determined… Oh yeah, he could definitely see the attraction of this man on man thing. When Ryan sucked hard like that, he could just imagine what Ryan could do to his cock. His hips bucked forward, the idea of Ryan's mouth hot around his cock making his body move, rubbing and grinding against Ryan's cloth covered hard-on.
Ryan pushed him back against the wall until he couldn't move anymore, slipping one muscled thigh between Miguel's. He circled his hips, bringing their cocks into contact, rubbing them firmly together. The motion sent a thrill through Miguel, and he gasped.
Ryan's grin was fierce and sexy, and his voice husky as he spoke, "Like that, do ya?"
Miguel responded with a hip roll of his own, his hands clamping down on Ryan's ass and holding them close together as he tucked his face into the crook of Ryan's neck and grazed his teeth across the tender flesh there.
It was Miguel's turn to grin against Ryan's skin, and he sucked hard on the sweaty skin under his lips as Ryan's hips jerked uncontrollably. He set a quick pace of thrusts against Miguel's hip, and Miguel felt his balls draw up, signaling that he was about to come. With the last threads of his self-control, Miguel pushed Ryan away.
"¡Todavía no! ¡Todavía no!"
Ryan stumbled back a couple of steps, confused, his eyes glazed with lust. "What?"
Miguel grabbed the waistband of his pants, fumbling them open and pushing them down his hips. Ryan got the idea and got his own unbuttoned before Miguel attacked him, ripping open the zipper of Ryan's pants, pushing them down far enough to grab his leaking hard-on, and pulling him closer using Ryan's cock like a leash.
As soon as they were close enough, he wrapped his hand around both their cocks and started to pump, squeezing them together, the slick feel of Ryan's thick cock making him gasp as they rubbed against each other.
"Oh, yeah!" Ryan pumped his hips into Miguel's tight grip, pushing his own hand between their bodies to add his fist to Miguel's, holding them tighter as they thrust together. He kissed Miguel again, open-mouthed and panting, teeth clashing and bruising lips, crying out into each other's mouths as they came, Miguel first, with Ryan not too far behind.
Miguel shuddered with the aftershocks of his orgasm, his face slipping back into the hollow of Ryan's neck as Ryan sucked on the lobe of his ear, hot breath cooling rapidly as it flowed across Miguel's skin.
"Holy shit!" Ryan's voice was hoarse, like he'd been shouting, and Miguel smirked into the sweaty skin of Ryan's neck. "Miguel." Ryan's hand pulled his face up and into another kiss, but this one was different. Still sexy and bone tingling, and full of emotion. Miguel returned it, feeling the need to say something that couldn't be explained in words. He thought Ryan got it though, when he saw the soft smile on his face as they pulled apart.
Ryan glanced down and shook his head. "Man, we are a mess." Their cocks and balls were wet, and they each had one hand covered with come. There was a long streak of white dripping down Ryan's pants from his knees to the hem. Miguel laughed.
"Hey, it could have been worse. If I hadn't stopped us, we'd both have come in our pants, man. That would have been hard to hide, you know?"
Ryan shuffled over to the janitor's sink and washed off his hand while Miguel grabbed some paper towels and started wiping down his cock with his clean hand. Ryan was quiet as they cleaned up and Miguel could tell he had something on his mind. When he finally spoke, his question surprised Miguel; it wasn't the content, necessarily, but the intensity with which he spoke.
"What was it you said earlier? Todias no? Was that it?" He was staring at Miguel, his eyes narrowed in thought.
Ryan's face lit up, "Yeah. That's it. I know that from somewhere. I just can't make the connection right now. What's it mean?"
Miguel smirked. "What, you mean I messed up your mind?" He wiggled his eyebrows comically. "I have been knows to have that effect on people."
Ryan snorted with laugher. "Oh, that's what that was. I thought you fogged my brain with your exceedingly bad breath."
Laughing as he stalked closer, Ryan pulled Miguel in for a knee-weakening kiss. "Don't worry. I'd never kiss you if you really had bad breath. As a matter of fact, you taste really good to me." They grinned at each other, and just when Miguel thought the moment might slip into something too sweet and girly for him to deal with, Ryan broke the mood. "So? What's it mean? Todavía no?"
"It means not yet."
Ryan cocked an eyebrow.
"I thought I was going to come in my pants, and I didn't want to have to go back to Em City looking like I'd messed myself. It's embarrassing, man."
Ryan grinned, looking very proud of himself.
"I thought you didn't want Spanish lessons."
"Nah. I just thought I recognized it from somewhere. It sounds familiar for some reason." Ryan kissed him again, his hand on Miguel's throat, thumb brushing against his skin. When he pulled back, he ran his thumb across Miguel's lips, and Miguel licked the tip of it before he could draw it back. That made him shudder and Miguel smiled.
"Wanna meet again tomorrow? Can you make it?"
Miguel nodded. "Same time?"
"Yeah, see you then." And then Ryan was gone.
"¡Dios mío!" That had been hot as hell. Miguel smiled as he slipped out of the storage room. He couldn't wait until tomorrow.
"This thing between Glynn and Said, the Muslims aren't gonna put up with it much longer. " Torres leaned against Miguel's desk, stretching his legs out in front of him and watching the quad with narrowed eyes as Carlos paced in front of the pod, guarding the door. "Banning all their religious crap was just one more in a long line of bad moves. It's not going to take much more for them to break."
Miguel nodded in agreement. "And when they do, it's gonna be a holy war like you never seen before." He leaned against the side of his bunk, putting his foot up on Groves' trunk. "We gotta be prepared. That's why I think O'Reily is right. If we make allies now, when everything blows we'll have people to watch our backs."
Standing abruptly, Torres shook his head as he paced the narrow pod. "I can see talking to the homeboys, but the bikers? I don't trust them. They're too closely allied with the Aryans, and those bastards would as soon stab us in the back as look at us. We can't trust them, Miguel. You should know that."
"I'm not saying we hand over our firstborn children or anything, Jose. We just need to know that the Muslims aren't the only ones organized and ready to fight when things come to a head. It will be a lot harder for the Muslims to take control if we can stand together and make a united front. That's all I'm saying."
Torres sighed, his eyes on Carlos as Groves walked up and started to talk to him. "I'll think about it, okay?"
Carlos caught Torres' eye and motioned with his head in Groves' direction. Torres nodded, letting Carlos know it was okay to let him in.
Groves grinned at Torres as he opened the door. "¡Hola, Jose! ¿Qué pasa?" Torres rolled his eyes at Groves and Miguel fought to hide his smile. "Sorry, guys, I just need to get my cards."
"No hay problema, Groves." Miguel grinned at him as Groves grabbed the deck off his bunk and headed back to the door.
"Cool." Groves turned back, his hand on the handle of the door. "Hey Miguel, me, Hill and Rebadow are playing cards if you want to join us later. Rebadow says God gave him a message for you, so don't forget to talk to him, okay?" He gave a little wave. "¡Adios!"
Miguel couldn't help but laugh at the look on Torres' face.
"What the fuck was that, Miguel? You getting messages from God these days?"
"Apparently." He shrugged. "I'll talk to Rebadow; find out what that's all about. It's probably nothing."
"The man is loco. You shouldn't be seen with people like him and Groves. You're the next leader of El Norte; you got a reputation to uphold, man."
Miguel sighed and flopped down onto his bunk. "You sound like my mother. 'Stick to your own kind!'"
"She's got a point." Torres frowned at him, and Miguel could see him shaking his finger at him like some schoolteacher. It made him angry, and he couldn't hold back his sharp reply.
"No, she doesn't. A good leader has to keep his eyes open. He needs to know what's going on around him, and not get so caught up in his own plans that he can't see the big picture. I'm looking at the big picture, man."
He stood up and crossed to the Plexiglas wall, looking over the quad at Groves, Rebadow and Hill, who were sitting at a table playing a fast-paced game of War. "These people you think I should be avoiding, they're part of it. You've been around the block, man, and I respect your point of view, but I know I'm right about this. We have to keep our minds open, if we want to stay alive."
Torres was staring at him with something that might have been approval, but maybe that was his imagination. "You might be right, Miguel." He put his hand on Miguel's shoulder as he headed for the door. "Just don't get so caught up in outsiders that you forget who your first allegiance belongs to."
"Don't worry about that, Jose. I'm loyal, you know that."
Torres nodded. "I know." He opened the pod door and looked back with a crooked grin. "Let me know what God has to say, right?"
Miguel laughed as he followed Torres out of the pod. "Don't worry, you'll be the first to know. Unless he has winning lottery numbers for me, then you're on your own, man."
"I thought that FBI report would be the final straw. I was expecting the Muslims to start something when Mershah's death got brushed off like that."
Ryan took another toke off the joint they'd been sharing and handed it back to Miguel. He slumped against the wall, crossing his legs at the ankles as he considered Miguel's words. "You think it wasn't suicide? After the way everybody turned their backs on him like that, I think they got it right on that one. He killed himself."
"No, I agree with you on that. But with the Muslims spoiling for a fight I figured they'd take the moment when it got handed to them. You know?" Miguel waved the joint around for emphasis as he talked, his hands constantly in motion. It made Ryan smile; he enjoyed watching Miguel when he was riled up about something.
"Said has everyone all worked up. Even Groves is on the bandwagon now, talking about how there's got to be change, and we're the ones who've got to do it." He rolled his eyes. "I keep telling him this isn't some holy crusade, it's all about who's got the power, but he's got a definite crush on Said these days."
"I don't think the time is right, just yet." Ryan tried to take the joint back, since Miguel had obviously forgotten he had it, but Miguel pulled it out of his reach, taking a toke before finally relinquishing it. "Said has a good sense of timing. That press conference was a smart move; if he can get the press on his side, when things break loose it will be a lot harder to ignore what he has to say."
Miguel blew out his lungful of smoke. "Don't you go getting all starry-eyed over Said, too. I get enough of that shit with Groves."
Ryan laughed. "Don't worry. I don't have a political bone in my body. But you can't help but notice that the man has his shit together. He's definitely worth keeping an eye on. He's got his finger on the pulse of Oz, and when the moment is right, he's gonna blow this place sky-high."
"Yeah, well, I'll be glad when this whole thing was over. I'm getting tired of all the tension, you know?"
"You get in touch with your mom?" Ryan sucked in a big hit of smoke, ready for a change of subject. He was getting tired of Said and all the trouble he stirred up. Besides, he was beginning to think he and Miguel had trouble enough of their own. This thing with Huberto bothered him, but it was difficult to sort out what was going on when their usual lines of communication were lost to them.
"She hasn't written me back yet, but she never did like writing letters." He shrugged. "I'll probably have better luck with Reynaldo, anyway. Not like Huberto would tell her that he set us up to steal diamonds for him. He didn't even admit to her that he knew you, let alone that he was the one who introduced us."
"Yeah, but she'd be able to tell if there was anything strange going on with him, right?"
"Maybe. I guess." Miguel turned to Ryan, confusion sharp in his eyes. "What do you think is going on, then? You think he's in trouble or something?"
"I don't know, Miguel. But I've got a feeling something's wrong. Why the hell else would he lie to you like that? It's almost like he wanted you to try and kill me."
"That just doesn't make sense, man."
"No. It doesn't." He hesitated to say this, knowing how Miguel felt about Huberto, but it needed to be said. "Look, Miguel. I know he's your cousin and all, but I'm beginning to think we can't trust him the way we thought we could. We have a right to be suspicious after the way he tried to set us up against each other. Just keep an open mind about it, all right?"
"He's family, Ryan."
"Yeah, so's my dad. Don't mean I can trust him any farther than I can throw him. We just need to be careful. That's all I'm saying."
Miguel crushed out the roach, leaving it on the floor. "Yeah, all right. I'll keep it in mind, okay?" He turned, shifting over until he was sitting astride Ryan's thighs, then grabbed Ryan's face with both hands and took his mouth in an aggressive kiss. It looked as though it was Miguel's turn to change the subject, and Ryan didn't object to his method at all.
He liked the way Miguel kissed: all hot and slick and full of passion. It made Ryan think of that phrase he'd heard hundreds of times and never really understood. It seemed there really was something to this whole Latin lover thing, because he'd never had a lover who put their whole heart and soul into a kiss like this. It made him gasp for breath and his pulse pound in his veins. It made his dick hard as hell, too.
Miguel had his hands under Ryan's shirt, playing with his nipples, and damn if that wasn't fucking with his mind. He loved that shit; it was like Miguel knew just where to touch him to turn him on. He let go of Miguel's ass just long enough to tug his shirt off, then went for Miguel's shirt, too. He wanted to feel skin on skin.
Miguel stopped him when he tried to pull them back together. "Wait. Lemme do this, first." He climbed off Ryan and pulled a rubber doorstop out of his pocket, wedging it under the door.
Ryan grinned and nodded. "Oh yeah. Good move. Now get back here, I want to touch you."
The sly smile on Miguel's face as he stalked back over to Ryan was enough to blow most of the circuits in his brain. Jesus. He couldn't imagine being more turned on than he was right now. When Miguel slid back onto his lap Ryan groaned; the pressure on his cock and balls was intense, and he wondered how he'd keep from blowing his load before they even got past second base. Then Miguel rotated his hips, rubbing their cocks together, and Ryan couldn't take any more.
He pushed Miguel off him, and in one quick move he had Miguel on his back, their thighs interlocked as Ryan writhed over him. They kissed as much as they could, but it was hard to do when they were short of breath, and Christ, he'd never known anyone who could get him going faster than Miguel. He guessed it was working for Miguel, too, 'cause he was cursing softly in Spanish, interlaced with breathy cries and moans.
Miguel pushed against his chest, driving a wedge between their bodies, and Ryan leaned back. "Huh?"
"Get these off, man." Miguel's fingers were tugging at his zipper, and Ryan finally got the idea.
"Shit, yeah." He knelt up and pulled his pants off his hips, while Miguel fumbled with his own, pushing them down his legs and tangling them together with his shoes and his socks in a bunch by his feet. Ryan jumped up long enough to toe his sneakers off and slip his pants down before he was back on top of Miguel, gasping into his ear when their cocks rubbed up against each other, and sending a thrill down Ryan's spine.
Miguel laughed and bit his ear. "Like that, huh?"
"Damn, that feels good." He circled his hips again, linings their cocks up, and started to thrust leisurely, reveling in the sensations.
Miguel shivered violently, and Ryan pulled up onto his elbows so he could see him better. "You okay, Miguel?"
"This floor is cold!" He shivered again, and Ryan laughed, but suddenly Miguel rolled them over, and it was Ryan on the cold cement floor.
"Oh, fuck!" Miguel slapped his hand over Ryan's mouth – he'd practically shouted that – but there was no noise from outside the room, and they relaxed, laughing at themselves and each other. Ryan licked the palm of Miguel's hand, so Miguel replaced it with his lips, and they kissed again, soon caught back up in each other.
Miguel adjusted his legs until he was cradled between Ryan's thighs, and began to move again, thrusting their cocks together, and creating powerful sensations of pleasure that rushed through him like shock waves. Ryan let his head fall back to the floor as Miguel licked and sucked on his neck, gently biting his jaw and running his teeth along his collarbone.
He pushed back against Miguel, wrapping his legs around Miguel's thighs in an effort to get closer, and held on tighter as they rubbed against each other, the friction warming him from the inside, and making him forget all about his cold back. He realized he'd been saying please, that's it, just a little more, yeah, right there, but didn't remember when he'd started talking.
Miguel's face was buried in the crook of his neck, his hot breath sending shivers up Ryan's spine as he held on tight, his hands clamped on Miguel's ass, trying to pull him impossibly closer, begging him to hit the right spot – right there, yeah, right there. Miguel's muscles were tight and he could feel them bunching and flexing, trembling with tension as they both soared closer to their goal.
Ryan arched his back as he came, his ragged breath harsh in the quiet room as he stifled his instinctive cry against Miguel's neck. He held on for the ride, as Miguel pushed harder and harder against him, Ryan's come lubricating the space between their bodies. Ryan was still shuddering through the aftershocks of his orgasm when Miguel came, his head thrown back and his muscles straining with the effort.
He collapsed on Ryan's chest, and they both lay there, limbs flopping loosely as they wheezed and gasped. All Ryan's muscles felt as though they were filled with Jell-O. Finally Miguel flipped over onto his back. "¡Dulce Madre de Dios!"
Ryan laughed. It didn't matter that he didn't know what the exact words meant, he understood the tone perfectly. "Oh, yeah. What you said."
"You saw the way Said acted when he woke up in the hospital. He almost died that night, and the next morning he got up and walked out like nothing was wrong. He was so strong."
Groves' eyes seemed to glow in the low light, as he paced in front of the Plexiglas wall, stopping from time to time to stare at Said's pod. He'd been following the man all day, not close enough to be in the way, but always in the background, listening to the Muslim's words. Lights out had been an hour ago and Groves said he could still see Said on his knees, praying in his darkened pod.
"Then that whole thing with the spoons. It only took one word from Said, and the whole cafeteria was banging their spoons against the tables, drowning out Glynn's announcement. When he dropped his tray on the table - boom! Everything got so quiet. It was awesome. Said's a great man. Anyone would be proud to follow his lead."
"You still want to murder Glynn?" Miguel propped his head up on his hand, his elbow digging into the thin mattress. "You ain't gonna find any ball peen hammers around here, you know."
"Oh yeah. I'll kill him. But it won't be murder. It will be my mission. My holy crusade for the whole Allah thing, you know? A-salami I-like-em. I wonder what that means?" Groves turned back to Miguel, leaning on the glass behind him. "Do you know?"
Miguel shrugged. "Not a clue. But I don't think you're pronouncing it right – I don't think it has anything to do with salami."
Ryan walked quietly down the hallway. He wasn't supposed to be here at this time of day, but fortunately, neither was anyone else, so as long as he kept quiet he shouldn't have any problems. He held his ribs as he stole down the corridor leading to the storage closet. He was late, but it was hard to move fast with cracked ribs.
Okay, so maybe Ryan had a smart mouth, what else was new? That didn't give Armstrong the right to beat the crap out of him. Fucking hack. The hacks were all pissed off after Groves killed one of their own, and they'd been taking it out on everyone for weeks now, ratcheting up the tension that was already been building, coiling it tighter and tighter. If the roof didn't blow off this prison within the next week, he'd be very surprised.
Ryan wasn't looking forward to this meeting. He was always happy to see Miguel, but he had news that Miguel wasn't going to take well. Still, he thought it would be better coming from him than from anyone else. Ryan had been doing his best to keep Miguel's spirits up since Groves' failed attempt on the Warden's life, but it hadn't been easy. Miguel really missed his friend.
The antidepressants Dr. Nathan prescribed had helped, but Miguel was lonely since Groves was gone, and the rushed trial and sentencing they'd given Groves for killing the hack that had saved Glynn's life hadn't helped any. That, combined with the tension he was going through due to taking over El Norte later this week, had put Miguel right on the edge. He was putting up a good front for the outside world, but underneath, Ryan could see he was hanging on by a thread.
He slipped inside the storage room to find Miguel already there. Ryan took the doorstop from its hiding place and dropped it to the floor, kicking it into place under the door with his shoe. He grinned at Miguel, but Miguel didn't smile back. As a matter of fact, he didn't look at Ryan at all. Ryan walked closer, running his hand down Miguel's arm, but Miguel pulled away. Shit. This was not good.
"What's wrong?" Jose Torres' parole should be approved tomorrow, and the changeover to Miguel's leadership would be final. What if someone was challenging Miguel for leadership at the last minute? "Something happen with Torres? I thought…"
Miguel didn't give him a chance to finish. "What were you doing with that little fag today?" He still didn't look Ryan in the face, and his voice was tense with restrained emotion that Ryan couldn't read.
"What?" That came out of nowhere, and Ryan felt like his gears were slipping as he tried to focus on the question.
"I saw you coming out from under the stairs with that skinny little freak, the one with all the tats. You handed him money. What was that all about?"
Ryan blinked at Miguel for a minute before he realized what was going on. Miguel thought he'd gotten a blowjob. "You're jealous! Of Kiki Faye? Oh come on, man. You're not serious, are you?"
"Kiki Faye?" Miguel spun around to face him, his expression finally revealing itself: anger and hurt and frustration. "What the fuck kind of name is that? All I know is he's supposed to give the best blowjobs in the whole fucking joint and you're coming out from underneath the stairs, handing him money with a smile on both your faces. What am I supposed to think?"
"You are jealous!" Ryan laughed with relief. He could work with this. "Of that little prick? I can't believe you think I'd get my cock anywhere near his mouth. Can you imagine how many men have come in there? Shit. Just the thought of it makes me shudder."
"Then what the hell were you doing?" Miguel was showing more of the hurt, now, and Ryan closed in again, pleased when Miguel didn't pull away when he touched his arm.
"There's nobody that hears more gossip around here than the queers. I get good info from them all the time."
"You pay them for gossip?" Miguel was only half convinced, but Ryan wasn't worried any longer.
"Oh, yeah. They have the best information system in Oz."
"Information." Miguel's tone sarcastic, one eyebrow raised in disbelief.
Ryan leaned in close and whispered in Miguel's ear. "Information is power. Don't you forget that."
Miguel snorted and slapped Ryan on the arm, the tension draining out of him all at once. "So what did you learn?"
Ryan sighed. He didn't want to tell Miguel now, since he'd loosened up, but he might as well get it over with. He put his arms around Miguel, and pulled him close, so they were leaning against each other.
"Let's see… Beecher is getting out of the Hole day after tomorrow, Glynn suspended two more hacks for beating up prisoners, McManus is bringing some famous cello player or something into Em City and Groves…" He hesitated, but Miguel looked at him curiously, so he went on. "Groves wants to die by firing squad, 'cause that's the way assassins are executed."
He wasn't sure what to expect from Miguel, but laughter wasn't anywhere near the list.
"What the fuck, Miguel?"
"Sounds just like him, don't it?" His voice deepened, making him sound like a TV or radio announcer. "Donald Groves: Assassin. He'd love that idea."
Ryan shook his head. "Man, you are as crazy as Groves."
Miguel smiled at him. "I know. Why do you think McManus put us in the same pod? He was trying to put all his crazies in one basket. You better watch out, it might be catching."
Ryan leaned up and kissed him, a quick kiss, but heartfelt. "I like you that way. Keeps things interesting, you know?"
"Maybe it's too late, man. I think you're already off the deep end." Miguel ran his fingers through Ryan's hair, taking care to avoid the gauze patch on his forehead and the lump on his hairline. "How you feeling today? Looks like the bruising is coming out. You'll be all purple and red by tomorrow."
Ryan shrugged, then cringed when his cracked ribs protested the move. "My ribs hurt like hell. That bastard Armstrong kicked me four or five good ones before they finally pulled him off me."
Miguel smirked at him. "Poor baby. Was the bad hack mean to you?"
"He was!" Ryan picked up the smirk. "I could sure use someone to kiss it and make it all better. Know anyone who'd be willing to volunteer?"
"Oh, I think I could come up with someone. As a matter of fact, I have someone all picked out already."
Ryan leaned closer. "Yeah? Who?"
"Adebisi's always had the hots for you." Ryan gave Miguel the hairiest eyeball he could manage, but Miguel just laughed. "No, huh? Well, I'll keep my eyes open for someone else, then." He slid his hand around to the back of Ryan's neck, pulling him into a kiss.
Ryan sighed into Miguel's mouth. Oh yeah. This was the stuff. When he was in Miguel's arms, he felt freer than he'd been since he came to Oz. Fuck that. Freer than he'd been for years. It was weird that he found freedom in prison of all places, but he wasn't about to complain. When Miguel was at his side, anything was possible.
Miguel followed Mineo to the holding area, surprised that McManus had picked him to sponsor the new Latino prisoner. They usually rotated the sponsors, so the same men didn't do it all the time, and he was pretty sure it was Carlos' turn, or maybe Vasquez. Taking someone out of order might mean something, but there was no way of knowing for sure. He'd given up trying to figure out McManus months ago.
When the gates opened and he and the other sponsors stepped through, Miguel was brought up short with surprise. His cousin Angel was sitting on the bench, glaring around angrily at everything and everyone. Miguel was pleased to see his cousin, but at the same time, he hated to see him in prison, especially Oz. He'd had an easy life, compared to some, and Huberto had treated his children like spun glass, protecting them from the world whenever he could.
But no matter how hard he worked at it, not even Huberto could save them from the realities of life on the edges of the barrio. They may have grown up in a nicer neighborhood, and had decent neighbors and friends, but they were still Latino, and blood called to blood. Besides, Huberto's line of work wasn't exactly legal, so if his sons followed their father into the family business, they'd still always be on the wrong side of trouble.
Miguel knew that Angel had been charged with manslaughter; his mother told him weeks ago that Angel killed a man who'd tried to murder Huberto in his pawn shop. But she was certain that he'd be acquitted, since he'd been protecting his father at the time. To see him here, in a maximum security prison was a surprise, and one that didn't bode well for Angel. The judge had obviously not believed his motive was pure.
He pushed down his excitement at seeing his cousin again. Keeping face was important in Oz, and he wouldn't make a scene in front of the hacks and other prisoners in order to protect both his own and Angel's reputations. He listened quietly to Whittlesey's welcome to Em City talk: no yelling, no fighting, no fucking. Clear cut and to the point.
"Angel Contreras. I think you know Miguel Alvarez, here."
"I know him."
Angel's voice was dark and angry, and Miguel looked more closely at him, surprised at the hostility he heard. He didn't say anything; they could talk it out when they weren't surrounded by strangers. He nodded at Angel, ignoring his attitude, and Wittlesey shrugged and moved on to the next person on her list.
When she was through, they all filed back to Em City, and Alvarez led Angel to his new pod. Since Angel was taking Torres' bunk, that put him in with Carlos, which pleased Miguel because Carlos would take good care of him. The pod was empty at the moment – Carlos was still at work – but that made it easier for Miguel, since he'd have a chance to talk to Angel before he met anyone else, and sort out what his problem was.
"What the hell happened, Angel? Ma was certain you'd get acquitted, since you were defending Huberto."
Angel shrugged, and dumped all his stuff on the lower bunk. "Judge didn't like my attitude." He turned his back on Alvarez and stared out of the glass into the quad beyond. "Is he out there? I heard he was here in Em City."
"Who?" Miguel found himself sympathizing with the judge; he didn't much like Angel's attitude, either.
"O'Reily. The bastard that got my father killed."
Miguel was stunned. He pulled out the desk chair and sat down heavily. "Huberto is dead? But you saved his life. Didn't you save his life?"
Angel's laughed bitterly. "It's hard to save someone's life from a jail cell, Miguel. They murdered him yesterday. Left his body on the front lawn for Mama to find."
"¡Dios mío!" Miguel's heart ached. He may have outgrown his childhood hero-worship of the man, but he was still family, and a major influence in Miguel's life. It hurt to imagine the world without Huberto in it. "Who killed him?"
Angel turned back to Miguel, his anger focused and intense. "O'Reily did - with your help."
"What the hell are you talking about? O'Reily didn't kill Huberto, and neither did I. We've both been here in Oz for months now, what the hell did we have to do with his death?"
"It never would have happened if you and O'Reily hadn't fucked him over the way you did." Angel's fists were clenched, and body tensed, as though he was holding himself back from attacking Miguel.
Miguel pushed the chair back forcefully as he stood, and it hit the Plexiglas wall with a loud clatter. "You're talking crazy, man. I would never fuck with Huberto. You know that."
"He had a plan. You listened to that fucking mick instead of Poppa, and stole the diamonds too early, before everything was set up. They traced the theft to Poppa, and now he's dead." Angel stepped closer, his finger poking into Miguel's chest. "Who else would you blame for that?"
Miguel brushed aside Angel's hand, pushing him away. "Before what was set up? Huberto didn't say anything about that. He said everything was ready to go. You mean he lied to us about it?"
Angel stepped back, but didn't change his tone, aggression and anger still radiating from him in waves. "He didn't lie. He just didn't think you needed to know all the details. How was he to know you'd screw him over like that?"
"We didn't screw him over. He told us we had all the details! He told us we knew everything that he knew. If he had something left to arrange, why didn't he say so?"
Angel glanced away, and Miguel remembered that move from when they were children. Angel had always been a bad liar. Miguel pushed him for more information. "What did he have to set up? How did they know it was him?"
"I don't know. He didn't say." Miguel was sure, now, that Angel knew something he wasn't saying.
"He lied to us, man. That's not the way you treat partners."
Angel looked back at Miguel, and it was obvious, whatever he was hiding, he believed what he was saying now. "He didn't know you'd trust some mick clown before you'd believe your own flesh and blood. And now he's dead, and you have to face your part in his death, because if it weren't for you and that Irish bastard, he'd be alive, and I wouldn't be in this shithole."
His angry words stung Miguel, and he sank back down onto the chair, shaking his head. "You're taking crazy, man." He'd never do anything to hurt Huberto, no matter what Angel said. The thought of Huberto gone filled him with sorrow, and his anger deserted him. "I'm so sorry about Huberto. He was a good man. I'll miss him."
Angel collapsed onto the edge of his bunk, suddenly looking lost and abandoned, his eyes on the floor. "Yeah, me too." He looked back up at Miguel, and this time Miguel could see his hurt and pain. "He trusted you, man."
Miguel sighed. "Yeah, well I trusted him, too."
"If you hadn't listened to that fuck O'Reily…"
"That just don't make no sense, man."
"It's true, though. Believe me."
Miguel got up slowly, his confusion overwhelming him. He needed to think this out, sort out the fact from the fiction. There was too much going on in his head for him to stay in the room any longer. He left without another word, and headed back to his pod, grateful that the guy they'd put in with him after Groves killed that hack wasn't around. He needed some time alone to think.
He didn't get it though. He'd barely settled on his bunk when Ryan came charging in, wired on something that made him buzz like a bee, his words tumbling over each other in their haste to leave his mouth.
"Hey, Miguel. I see Carlos has a new roommate. Torres is gone, then. Good. We should celebrate. The storage room in the hall that leads to Sister Pete's office is free after one-thirty, can you get there around two?"
It was hard not to smile at Ryan's obvious good mood, but there was too much on his mind, and he needed time to figure things out. "I can't meet you."
"Damn." Ryan paced the length of the room, hands reaching out to touch whatever he came in contact with. Sometimes he reminded Miguel of a hyperactive two-year-old. "Too bad. We'll just have to celebrate in our usual spot tomorrow."
Miguel shook his head. He needed some time away from Ryan, or he'd never get this straight in his head. "I can't meet you tomorrow, either."
"Why not?" Ryan turned to Miguel, his back to the door. "What the fuck is going on, Miguel?"
"Nothing." Miguel sat up, pulling his legs up under him and hugging his knees. "I just… I can't meet you for a while is all. Something's come up." He avoided Ryan's eyes, not wanting to get into everything yet.
Ryan sat down at the foot of the bed. "It have anything to do with Carlos' podmate, there?" He nodded in the direction of the door. Angel was standing on the other side, just a few feet away, staring intently into the room. "The one that's giving me the evil eye? He looks familiar. Where've I seen him before?"
"He's Huberto's son, Angel." Miguel could feel Angel's eyes burning holes into his skin.
"The one you taught to shoplift when you were like eleven years old?"
Miguel smiled faintly at that memory, Huberto had been so angry at them both.
"What happened to him? How'd he end up here?"
"He killed the man who tried to murder Huberto." That got Ryan's attention.
"No shit?" Ryan shook his head. "Well, you run with fences and money launderers and you're bound to get into trouble at some point. What happened? Did he try to cheat some thief or something?"
"No. He trusted you at his back, and you stabbed him in it, cabron."
Miguel started at the deep anger in Angel's voice. He hadn't even heard Angel open the door, now Angel was right there, murder in his eyes. Ryan stood up, obviously not wanting to be at a disadvantage with an angry man in the room, and Miguel followed suit, not really sure what he'd do if the confrontation turned violent.
"What the fuck are you talking about, asshole? I never did anything to Huberto except pick apart his lame-ass plan and make it work like it was supposed to."
Miguel doubted that Angel had managed to bring a shank with him into Oz, but he worried about Ryan anyway. He was an okay fighter, but Miguel knew that Angel was a better one. Huberto had given him boxing lessons and some kind of martial arts shit, so he knew what he was doing. Ryan would definitely be out-classed in a fight. He stepped forward, trying to get the two of them to focus on him, not on each other, hoping to defuse the tense atmosphere.
"We went in a day early, Ryan. Angel says Huberto had plans left to finalize before we stole the diamonds, and that because we went in early, they were able to trace the theft back to him."
His words didn't have the effect he'd hoped. Ryan focused on the same thing that had bothered Miguel.
"Plans? What plans? Everything was all set up, according to Huberto. We were just waiting for him to get the money to pay us for our part." He took a step in Angel's direction. "Are you saying he held back information?"
Strangely enough, Angel backed up at that, his eyes going down to the floor again. Miguel was certain he was hiding something now, and from the look on his face, Ryan was aware of it as well.
"He lied to us." Ryan's voice was full of disdain, and Angel looked back up, his anger back again.
"He trusted you and it cost him his life." He stepped up to Ryan, one finger poking in Ryan's chest. "I'm warning you, cabron. You better watch your back because one of these days, you'll turn around, and I'll be there, ready to do to you what you did to him."
Ryan shoved Angel back. His face was closed off, and his eyes were ice cold. "You gonna stab me in the back, Angel? I'm not worried. You'll never get that close. Believe me, you've got a hell of a lot more to worry about than I do. Watch your own back."
"I'm not afraid of you."
"You should be, cabron. I'll be watching you." Ryan stalked out of the pod, his back stiff. He took one second to glance at Miguel, then turned his back and walked away.
Ryan watched Miguel and Rebadow out of the corner of his eye, the checkers arranged between them as they half-heartedly shuffled the pieces across the board. Miguel had spent a lot of time with his fellow Latinos the last couple of days, firming up his ties with his compadres. He still found time to spend with Rebadow, though. Ryan thought their friendship an odd one, but he understood it in a way. It was obvious they both missed Groves, and for some reason, it was easier when they missed him together.
Ryan grinned at that, and forced his mind back to his game of poker. He couldn't win if he didn't pay attention, and his concentration had definitely suffered recently. It had been an eventful time, though, so he couldn't be blamed for that. Between Schibetta's death, Angel's death threats, keeping one eye on Adebisi - his new partner in the drug trade - and keeping his other eye on Said and the Muslims, there wasn't much time to worry about shit like a fucking game of cards.
He'd seen Schillinger earlier, moving into his new pod, black eye patch standing out against his pale skin. That should be interesting when Beecher got out of the hole. He hoped that happened soon. He needed a distraction; this fucking game wasn't working for him. Beecher was scheduled to come back today, and that was good, especially if he kept the "take no prisoners" attitude he'd had last time he got out. He'd admired Beecher's style in the gym that day, not even giving Schillinger a chance to react before he'd smashed that weight into the bastard's face, tied his hands together, and then shit on the fucker's face. Man, he and Miguel had laughed for days over that.
Damn. He'd managed to think his way around in a circle again. It seemed his mind always circled back to Miguel. It had only been a couple of days since Miguel had stopped talking to him, but Ryan missed him like fuck. Not just the way they touched, or even the way they could pleasure each other – no, he missed the whole package. He wanted to be able to talk to him about his problems and celebrate the way Schibetta had finally gone down, blood leaking out of every orifice of his body.
Hell, he wanted to hear Miguel's laughter, and the way he murmured into Ryan's ear after sex, when he was sated and happy, or the playful look he got when he had something funny to say. It hit Ryan that he'd fallen for Miguel, and he wondered when the hell that had happened. He'd always liked Miguel, always wanted to fuck him, but this was different. He wanted more, and damned if it looked like that wasn't going to happen, now.
It was a bitter thing to contemplate, but he was afraid he might lose Miguel over Huberto's death. It stung that Miguel trusted his cousin Angel more than he did Ryan. They'd already figured out that Huberto had lied to Miguel, so it frustrated him that Miguel would assume, now that he was dead, that Huberto had no fault in their dealings. Suddenly it was all Ryan's fault, and he resented that.
It burned that Miguel would turn his back on Ryan that way, but he wasn't going to go crawling to Miguel and beg him to believe it wasn't his fault. If Miguel didn't trust him, then that was the way it had to be. He'd turn his back, and not let it slow him down. He had too much else on his plate to worry about this right now. He'd take care of Miguel later.
Speaking of – Beecher crossed the quad on the way to Ryan's new two-man pod. He'd been worried when he'd first moved in and he realized he had no roommate, but when Wittlesey had told him Beecher would be his podmate, he'd wanted to kiss her. This was a perfect opportunity to firm up his friendship with the new Beecher. He was going to need all the backup he could get and Beecher was going to be a part of that, if Ryan could get him his corner.
He threw his cards down on the table, shrugging at the bikers who cursed at him when he did so.
"Sorry guys, I've got something I've got to do." Ross shot him a look as he left, but that was okay. He knew he could count on Ross, to an extent, anyway. But Beecher was a wild card, and if Ryan wanted that card in his pocket, he needed to start working on it now. He had a feeling time was getting short.
When Mukada pushed his way into the pod, Miguel wanted to strike out and show his brothers that he wouldn't back down to some little priest; but he knew that making a big deal of the padre's attitude might come back to bite him in the ass later. Besides, he liked the man, even if he didn't get the way things had to work here in Oz. So he kept his cool, motioning the gang out of his pod with a gesture of his head, and let the padre speak.
As soon as he started talking, Miguel figured out what this was all about. Mukada knew he was in charge of El Norte now, and thought he could influence the gang through his relationship with Miguel. He needed to make it clear that he wouldn't let Mukada interfere with the running of El Norte, or he'd lose control of his men before he even had them firmly on his side.
"Hey, Father, the only reason I didn't beat the shit out of you just now is because you been there for me. Don't push your luck, ok?"
Mukada nodded, "I see. Miguel…"
"No, I don't think you do." Miguel stepped up close to the father to emphasize his point. "I got a reputation to uphold here. You pushing me around makes me look bad and weakens my hold on the gang. You could get me killed like that."
"Killed? Miguel, they aren't going to kill you because you listen to your priest. I see most of those men in services every week, they all respect the church."
Miguel shook his head. The man wasn't listening to what he was saying. "But that don't mean they want a priest to be in charge of their gang. There has to be a line drawn, and you and me are on one side of that line, and me and El Norte are on the other."
He sighed. Mukada had that stubborn look on his face, the one that meant he would do what he thought was right, no matter who he had to step on to do it. He appreciated that stubborn streak; it had gotten him out of Oz to see his child being born, and again when they took away his son's life, but if Mukada couldn't understand this, he was going to have to break the tie between them. This was too important to let it go.
"Look, I respect you, and I know you want what's best for me and everyone else here, but there are some things you need to stay out of, and El Norte is one of them."
He could tell the padre wasn't convinced, but before he could reply there was a sharp rap on the door. Vasquez was there, motioning to him to pay attention to something. He looked out to see people running all over the place, shouting and throwing shit around. He forgot about the padre as he walked out of the pod, amazed at what he saw. It looked like the riot had finally begun.
Someone grabbed Mukada by the arm and pulled him away. He called out Miguel's name, but Miguel knew that to defend the padre now could cost him his life. Besides, this was what they'd been waiting for. His place was with his hermanos; it was important that El Norte keep together and protect their own in the face of the chaos that was upon them. He regretted abandoning Mukada, but he couldn't afford the distraction. Maybe this would wake the padre up to the way things worked in the real world. Either that, or it would be the death of him.
He sent Vasquez off to hunt down the rest of El Norte while he took in the damage, and tried to figure out where to begin. Beecher stood on the outskirts of the worst of the fighting, singling out the spectators and pushing them into people, inciting the crowd with manic glee. Miguel searched out Rebadow, but he had pulled the mattress off his bed and was tugging it into the corner to hide behind it. The old man had good instincts; he knew to stay out of this mess if he could.
He was looking for Ryan when Vasquez came back with half a dozen members of El Norte, so he abandoned his search and started barking out orders to his men, sending them out in pairs to watch each other's backs while they searched for their own and rounded up weapons; ordering them to stay out of the fighting as much as possible. Miguel may not be sure of how he felt about him right now, but he knew Ryan could take care of himself. He needed to concentrate on his own people.
Miguel cursed as Angel ran past him with a shank drawn, not looking either direction, focused only on his goal. He knew where Angel was headed and he groaned, because he didn't have time to mess with Angel's crap right now. Still, however torn he was about Ryan and their role in Huberto's death, he knew he couldn't let Angel kill him. Miguel darted after Angel, determined to get this over with and then get back to the business of keeping his gang in line.
He'd hoped Carlos would keep an eye on Angel, since that was what he'd promised to do, but Miguel hadn't seen Carlos since before the riot began. Who the hell knew where he was right now. The way that Angel was shoving people out of his way, Miguel was surprised he hadn't had the crap beat out of him already, but the chaos was spreading, and those he pushed his way past were too caught up in their own wild antics to deal with Angel.
Miguel caught up with him near the gate control room, as Angel practically tripped over the body of Armstrong. The hack was lying in a pool of his own blood. The large cut over his temple was bleeding heavily, and there were dusty footprints on his dark blue uniform directly over his ribs. Miguel was tempted to kick the bastard a few times himself, payback for the way he'd whaled on Ryan last week, but instead he grabbed Angel and pulled him into the laundry room, directly across from the control room.
Angel shoved Miguel away. "What the fuck do you think you're doing, man?"
There was a loud crashing noise and a desk crashed onto the floor of the hallway where they'd been standing just a few seconds before. They both stared at it in shock. Miguel found himself idly wondering if it had missed Armstrong, but he couldn't be bothered to check. Across the hall, he could see Ryan and that biker Ross laughing and high-fiving each other, then Ryan gave a thumbs up to whoever had pushed the desk out of what must be McManus' office window.
"Dead fucking mick." Angel's voice was low, but his intent was clear. He headed toward the door, but Miguel stepped in front of him, blocking his way.
"Don't do it, man."
"Why the hell not?"
Before he could answer, Vasquez burst through the door. "We found Carlos. It's not good, man. He's been gutted."
With his lieutenant out of commission, it was all that much more important that he concentrate on El Norte, and not get distracted by Angel's crap. He turned back to Angel, who was staring out the window at Ryan. Ryan stood in the middle of the Control Room, smoking a cigarette, his eyes cold and dangerous as he stared back at Angel.
"Listen to me, Angel." He put as much force and authority into his voice as he could. It was important that Angel see him as the leader of El Norte now, and not just his cousin. Angel's head snapped around to look at him, so he guessed that it had worked.
"This vendetta against O'Reily is going to have to wait. We need to protect El Norte's interests before we deal with revenge. You will come with me, and you will do nothing that will hurt El Norte while we're dealing with this. That includes O'Reily. He has powerful allies, and we cannot afford to have the bikers or the homeboys come down on us while we're disorganized and weak. O'Reily is off limits. Is that clear?"
Angel scowled at him, but nodded his head. "Yeah, I hear you. But once things calm down…"
"We'll deal with that when it happens. We've got other things to worry about now. Let's go." Miguel glanced back at O'Reily as they left the laundry room. He was still staring, but now he was looking at Miguel, and he could feel O'Reily's eyes on him as he walked away, the weight of his gaze like an itch between his shoulder blades. He resisted the urge to turn back, and instead followed Vasquez as he led them to where they'd stashed Carlos. He had work to do.
Ryan followed Hill back down the hall to the quad, staring at the destruction surrounding him. Tables thrown around and paper everywhere; the first time someone needed to take a shit, they were gonna regret the fact that all the toilet paper was strewn around the quad like ragged and torn bunting. Black scorch marks stained the sides of the second floor walkways that surrounded the quad, smoke hung in the air from the fire someone had started in the middle of the floor and although the fire had been put out, the stench of burning cloth and plastic was still strong.
There was blood on the floor, and Ryan stepped carefully to avoid slipping on the slick tile. Beecher was spinning around in circles, jumping and playing air guitar, and keeping everyone at a distance as he swung a stick around like a majorette. Ryan couldn't decide if it was camouflage or if Beecher had taken the final step over the edge into insanity, but whatever it was, it was working for him. He paused and winked at Ryan as he walked by, then turned and ran up the stairs like someone was chasing him.
Ryan moved out of the way. He had business in the Shower Room where the injured were being kept. He couldn't afford to get too far away from the Front Gate; he didn't feel comfortable leaving Adebisi and Ross alone for too long. The way that the gangsters and the Aryans were pushing at each other, there was no telling when tempers would flare up and blow them all to hell. The last thing they needed at this point was a fight.
When he'd seen the riot explode into action, his heart pounded with adrenaline and excitement. Finally, things were starting happen. Then Armstrong had stepped out of the Control Room, and Ryan had only a split second to act. He shouted, and the hack turned directly into the path of Ryan's steel laundry basket. That had been a moment of sheer exhilaration as he got his revenge on Armstrong for the beat down that the bastard had given him last week. Unfortunately, he didn't have enough time to truly revel in the moment. Ross caught the door before it closed, and the two of them took the Control Room from Hunt before he even knew they were there.
Looking out of the control room window and seeing Angel staring at him with murder in his eyes had sent a chill down Ryan's spine, but it looked like Miguel had him under control. He wasn't sure why, but he had a feeling Miguel had stopped Angel from coming after Ryan. It didn't make sense, though. If Miguel thought his interference caused Huberto's death, why would he stop Angel from getting his revenge? Maybe he'd misunderstood Miguel's silence over the last several days. He hoped so, but he wasn't going to count on it, not until he heard it directly from Miguel.
That was why he was headed to the Shower Room. When Hill and Vayhue brought Dobbins to the gate, wanting to get the badly wounded man to the Infirmary, Hill had mentioned that Miguel was there with Carlos. It turned out that they hadn't needed Miguel's vote; Adebisi, Ryan and Ross all voted to let him out, so they'd had a majority without either Miguel or Said. Now that things had calmed down some, Ryan needed to find Miguel and find out what was going on.
Miguel was leaving when he got there, and Vasquez and that bastard Angel were with him. He turned to Vasquez and spoke quietly, then they left, leaving Ryan alone with Miguel. Angel glared at him as he walked away, but Ryan was used to that by now. Ryan ignored him waiting until Vasquez and Angel joined the other Latinos who were standing guard around the classroom where the hostages were holed up before addressing Miguel.
"We need to talk."
Miguel laughed, rough-edged and brash. "This isn't really the best time, O'Reily."
"And when is there going to be a better time, Alvarez? I don't see much chance of things improving anytime in the immediate future, do you?"
Miguel glanced behind him at the blanket draped body lying to one side of the wounded, then back to the classroom where his men standing guard over the hostages. His eyes were black with anger and pain. Ryan wondered if he was still mourning Huberto's death, or if this pain was from something new.
"What the fuck do you want from me, O'Reily?"
"I want to know why you've turned your back on me." Ryan took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. He didn't want to start the conversation in anger. The last thing he needed was to blow up at Miguel, even though Miguel's attitude made it clear that he obviously still blamed Ryan for Huberto's death.
He changed tacks. "I thought we had a deal. We'd back each other when the shit came down. Stand firm against the Muslims, so they don't try and take advantage of us all."
"Did you not notice me agreeing with you when we all talked about dividing up the responsibilities? I supported you. I said you were right, that we couldn't trust Said at our backs. What the hell else do you want?" He didn't raise his voice, but the anger came through clearly.
"Okay, that's true." Ryan backed down. Miguel had played his part when they'd met with the other leaders. It was hard to say what he really wanted, but he needed to know how Miguel felt about him. "I just… I feel like you don't trust me anymore. You won't talk to me, you can't even stand to be near me. I don't know what's going on, Miguel. I need to know I can count on you."
Miguel avoided his eyes, looking up at the C.O. Station where Said and his followers stood guard over the quad. "You can count on El Norte."
"That's not what I asked."
"I know." Miguel closed his eyes briefly, as if trying to find the words he needed. "I don't have an answer for you about that. I never…" He stopped and took a deep breath, swearing in Spanish before finally looking Ryan in the eye. "Look. Huberto was the closest thing I ever had to a father. He may not have been much, but he was all I had. I just need time to sort shit out, okay?"
"You believe Angel, don't you? You blame me for Huberto's death." Ryan's anger was getting the better of him; he couldn't believe that Miguel would place his faith in a prick like Angel after all they'd been to each other.
"I don't know what I think, O'Reily. I can't concentrate on that right now. I got too much going on to deal with that, too. It's just going to have to wait."
Miguel started to walk away, moving towards the classroom where Angel stood, his eyes focused relentlessly on Ryan. Those hate-filled eyes caused Ryan's anger to boil over.
"Oh, right." Ryan grabbed Miguel's arm and swung him around, his voice low, full of vicious resentment. "Well when you do get around to deciding if I'm good enough for you, don't expect me to be waiting, because after all we've been through together, if you can't trust me, then I don't want to have anything to do with you."
He pushed past Miguel, fighting hard to tamp down on his anger. He wanted to strike out, punch and hit anyone who got in his way, but he knew he had to control himself. He couldn't afford to alienate anyone at this point. The fragile peace they'd bartered would only stand up to so much tension before it fell apart around them. He felt Angel's eyes on him as he walked back to the front gate. Angel's time was coming, and when it arrived, Ryan was going to enjoy every second of that bastard's death.
Ryan was sick and tired of playing hall monitor for this bunch of assholes, but he didn't really have a choice. He needed both Ross and Adebisi on his side to keep the advantage when it came to dealing with Said. He didn't want to mess with Miguel right now, so he didn't really have a choice but to keep himself between the two groups and keep his eyes open. He wasn't getting anywhere with Adebisi. The bastard couldn't get it through his thick skull that they might be here a while, and when the drugs were gone they were going to be in a world of hurt.
He was actually glad when Miguel came striding down the corridor, since keeping Ross and Wangler apart was becoming a major hassle, and any distraction was a good distraction at this point.
"Yo, there's a couple of hacks in there in pretty bad shape, so Said and I wanna get 'em a doctor. How do you vote?"
"No." Adebisi's answer was not surprising.
For that matter, neither was Ross'. "Fuck that."
Miguel came up close to Ryan, looking up at him with those dark eyes, and the ache he thought he'd managed to bury broke out again, twisting his insides. "Yo, O'Reily, it's two to two. You gonna break the tie?"
"Yeah, break the tie." Ross' voice was smug.
He knew both Ross and Adebisi would expect him to vote with them. He actually thought it made sense to get help to the wounded hacks, and if they got a doctor or medic in here they could look after the wounded prisoner's as well. He'd heard Carlos was hurt, it was possible Miguel was thinking the same thing, but right now, he was having trouble caring. Miguel had fucked him over, and now he wanted to make Miguel hurt as much as he did.
"What's it worth to you, Alvarez?"
"What's it worth to me?" Miguel kept his voice soft, but Ryan could see the hurt and disappointment in his eyes. Obviously hadn't expected Ryan to make this personal. He had news for Miguel: everything having to do with Miguel was personal with him.
He dropped his eyes down to Miguel's chest, where the shirt he was wearing hung open, then trailed them slowly back up to his face. "Yeah. What'll you give me for my vote?"
Miguel's eyes hardened with his anger. "Nothing."
Ryan shrugged. "Then let the fuckers die." Ross and Adebisi closed in behind him, creating a united front against Miguel. Ryan should have felt satisfaction at that he'd gotten a chance to hurt Miguel the way he'd been hurt, but he didn't. His disappointment sat in his stomach like a lead weight as he watched Miguel walk away.
Miguel knocked on the pod door, peering inside at the bundle of mattresses and bedding in the corner. He knew the old man was in there; the bunks were turned sideways across the doorway, blocking the exit. There was no way for him to get out without moving them.
"Rebadow! Rebadow, open up!" He saw the mattresses move, and slowly Rebadow's head poked out one end, his eyes bright with fear. When he saw that it was only Miguel, he crept out from under his mattresses and moved closer to the door, looking around skittishly at the quad.
"You okay, man?"
Rebadow's laugh was high-pitched and nervous. "That's a silly thing to ask, isn't it?"
His voice was muffled by the glass, but Miguel was afraid he'd spook the guy if he got too close, so he just held up the bag and cup he'd brought with him.
"Sandwiches and juice." McManus had brought food to the prisoners in exchange for a chance to talk to the hostages, and Miguel had grabbed extra knowing that Rebadow wouldn't get anything otherwise. He set them down on the floor next to the door.
"You're gonna have to open the door a little to get them. Do you want me to push from this side while you pull? Or should I just guard the doorway while you do all the work?"
Miguel could see that Rebadow appreciated his concern. He understood why the man would be hesitant to trust him, no matter that they'd become friends of a sort in the last few months. Finally he nodded, more to himself than to Miguel, and obviously made a decision.
"I'll pull, you push. Once we get the door open a ways, you can pass them through. Maybe we could sit for a while, and you can tell me what's going on out there?"
Miguel grinned. "Sounds good to me."
Miguel took another drag from his cigarette, savoring it. Cigarettes were in low supply. He had only a few left, and there would be none to replace them. He wasn't sure how long the stalemate would last, but if it didn't end soon, this place was going to break apart at the seams when the last of the tits and cigs disappeared. He blew smoke out across the quad, watching as it slowly faded into the misty haze that hung over Em City.
It was fairly quiet at the moment; the food had gone a long way toward calming people down. Most everyone had found a place to hunker down and claim as their own, usually in groups to help protect their backs. He'd put his men in the large pod next to the hostages and divided them into three groups – one to guard the prisoners and the second group while they slept, giving the last group downtime for whatever they needed. They rotated every four hours, so everyone could get some rest and relax. He knew he should be asleep now, but he had a lot to think about.
He missed Carlos sorely. He missed his friend, but even more than that, he could use a lieutenant right now; Vasquez just wasn't suitable for the job, despite the fact that he was next in line. He could have trusted Angel at his back if he wasn't so obsessed with O'Reily. The way he was acting Miguel could never be sure if Angel would have El Norte's best interests at heart. Angel was so consumed with his need for revenge. Consumed. That was Rebadow's word for it. It was a good word, it fit Angel's state of mind perfectly.
Rebadow was a good listener. He'd talked to the old man for a long time, said things he never meant to say, but Rebadow wasn't fazed, not even when he'd talked about how torn he was between his feelings for Ryan and his loyalty to his family. Rebadow was convinced that God had deserted him, but he still offered good advice, no matter if it came from himself or some other source. He saw into Miguel's heart, and pointed out what should have been obvious all along.
He was in love with Ryan-Fucking-O'Reily. ¡Puta madre! He was such a fool. But facts were facts, and Miguel needed to stop second-guessing himself and doubting his instincts. Rebadow was right; he did trust Ryan. He had to find a way to fix things between the two of them, which would be difficult under the best of circumstances, and the way things were now, he wasn't sure it could be done. Still, he needed to try.
Leaning his arms on the railing, he looked down onto the quad. Beecher was wandering around aimlessly, kicking a burnt and soggy mattresses, knocking his stick against broken table legs and overturned chairs. Said stood in front of the TVs, watching a news broadcast, with two Muslims at his back, alert for any sign of danger to their leader. Miguel stubbed out his cigarette against the railing and dropped the butt over the edge, watching it's descent onto the floor below. He should get some sleep; it had been a long day.
When he got downstairs to the pod that El Norte had claimed for its own, Angel was standing guard at the door, staring in the direction of the front gate. Miguel sighed. He'd promised Angel a chance to talk, and maybe now would be a good time to get it over with. He motioned Angel away from the pod door, telling the others they'd be in the next pod over if they were needed. As soon as they were inside, Angel turned his back to Miguel, staring back in the direction of the gate again.
"You need to get over this shit, Angel. Right now, O'Reily is not the enemy."
Angel turned to face him. "Why the hell not? Why are you so bent on saving this cabron's live? What's he got on you, that you'd put his life over family?"
Anger welled up inside Miguel. "Why shouldn't I? Family screwed me over, why should I trust anything you say when your own father fucked me over twice?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." There was that shifty look again. Angel never could lie worth a damn.
"He lied to us about the diamonds, and he lied to me about O'Reily. He told me O'Reily was the one who tried to kill me when I first got to Oz, but he didn't have a damn thing to do with it. Huberto tried to get me to kill O'Reily, and he hadn't done a thing to either of us."
"How do you know that?" Angel sounded bitter and resentful. "You just believed him when he told you so, it that it?" He stepped up, getting into Miguel's face, and Miguel had to push him back before he did something he'd regret. Angel stumbled, shaking his head. "You can believe O'Reily, but you can't believe your own cousin?"
"O'Reily had no reason to kill me, and every reason to want me alive."
Angel laughed derisively.
Miguel wondered why he was still trying to prove anything to Angel, but he couldn't let it go. "I have the key to the money we got for stealing the diamonds. Why would he try to kill me? If he does, he'll never get his half of the money."
"He gave you the key to the money? The money Poppa gave you in exchange for the diamonds?"
"He knows where the money is, but I have the only key to the safe deposit box. A million bucks each, man. Would you give that up for some supposed slight?"
"Why would he do that?" Angel was obviously having trouble taking that in.
"We're partners, man. Partners trust each other. That money will be there waiting for us when we get out of this place."
"The money Poppa gave you?" Angel began to laugh a bitter and ugly sound. It sent a chill up Miguel's spine. "Good luck spending that, man. Dirty money don't spend that well."
"Dirty money? What the hell are you talking about?"
"That's money's dirty, man." Angel leaned against the wall, sliding down it as he laughed, the humor in his eyes dark and twisted. "It came from a bank robbery somewhere. Some pendejo bought a shitload of weapons from Poppa, and he paid with marked bills. You go flashing that shit around and you're gonna end up right back here in Oz."
"Huberto paid us off with dirty money?" Miguel grabbed Angel's shirt, ripping it as he pulled Angel back to his feet. "What the fuck? Why would he do that?"
The sound of shouting brought Miguel up short. Vasquez ran into the room. "Get out here, man, the gangsters are running wild!"
"Shit!" Miguel slammed Angel back against the pod wall and stepped outside in time to pull some homeboy off Vasquez's back. The guy had a shank and a big chunk of wooden table leg, so it took both of them to bring him down. When Miguel looked around, Angel was gone.
Vasquez was still kicking the bastard that had jumped him. Miguel grabbed his arm, pulling him off the guy. "I need you to keep things together for me, man. Get everyone to meet at the classroom, then count heads and make sure everyone is safe. Send people out in teams of three or four to pick up any stragglers."
"Where are you going?"
"I have to find Angel. I'll be there as soon as I can. Go!"
Miguel headed for the front gate. There was no doubt in his mind about where Angel was going. There was no doubt in his mind about that. Miguel just wished he knew what he was going to do when he found them.
Ryan ran up the staircase outside the front gate, chasing after Wangler. Ryan was too smart to try and take Adebisi down on his own, but although Wangler was muscular as hell, he was much shorter. Besides, he was too strung out to put up too much of a fight; Ryan thought he could handle the little bastard. He owed Wangler some payback, anyway, for all the crap he'd had to put up with between him and Ross. Separating the two of them had been the biggest part of Ryan's trouble since the riot began.
He swung around the corner of the stairs into the hallway outside McManus' office and stopped dead in his tracks. Shit. Angel was there, shank drawn, a look of pure hatred on his face. He grinned, and a shiver ran up Ryan's spine. This was not going to be pretty.
"Well, what do you know? Just the bastard I've been looking for." Angel glanced around him, his eyes wide and innocent-looking. "Looks like your guardian angel's not here to save your sorry ass this time." He took a step closer, muscles tensed and ready to attack. "You're going to have to deal with this Angel instead. And I have no mercy."
Ryan looked around the hallway, hoping to find something to use as a weapon, but there was nothing there, just papers strewn everywhere and the glass from McManus' window scattered on the floor. He would cut his hand to pieces on that before he could put it to good use. Then there was no more time to think as Angel came at him, and Ryan jumped back, out of the way, twisting to the side to avoid being caught between Angel and the railing at his back.
There was nowhere to go but back into the wide hallway in front of McManus' office, but he hated to get trapped there, with Angel between him and the only exit. He cursed Adebisi for letting his homeboys run wild. He'd counted on him and Ross to watch his back, but with the gangsters all jonesing for tits, the Aryans and the Bikers were left to guard the gate by themselves, and there was no one to keep an eye out for him.
Ryan let his anger get the best of him again. This was where Miguel should have had his back. If it wasn't for Angel, he and Miguel would still be together, and he was so tired of all the bullshit this bastard had caused.
"What the fuck is your problem, asswipe?"
Angel stared at him in surprise. He obviously hadn't expected that. It gave Ryan a second or two of pleasure to have brought the bastard up short like that.
"My problem? If you'd gone in for the diamonds when you were supposed to, the bastards that killed my father would have thought the police took the diamonds and the money, and my father would have gotten away free and clear. If it wasn't for you, Poppa would still be alive, and we'd be rich. Instead, I'm trapped in this hellhole and my mother will have to sell the house just to pay the fucking bills."
"The police? What did the police…?" Suddenly everything became clear to Ryan in a rush, and he cursed himself for a fool. "Fuck! Huberto was going to turn us over to the cops, wasn't he? He was going to trade his own family in for a chance to become a rich man. Your father was a fucking traitor!"
Angel charged him, obviously enraged by Ryan's shouted declaration. Ryan skipped backwards, but stepped wrong on a stack of papers, his foot sliding out from under him. He stumbled backwards, his arm flying out to block the shank headed his way, and he caught the blade on the side of his left arm in an effort to protect his chest. He felt the blade slice through skin and hit the bone, and he cried out with the intensity of the pain. Fortunately, Angel was too close to take another swing at him, and Ryan was able to push him back far enough to get away from the shank.
Feinting to the right, Ryan hoped that Angel would take the bait, giving him a chance to go on the offensive from the left, but Angel didn't fall for it. He caught Ryan with a roundhouse kick to his gut, knocking him into the wall, head bouncing off the cement. Ryan groaned, that had hurt like hell. He gathered his wits just in time to avoid Angel's rush, punching Angel soundly in the ribs as he slipped off to the side.
Angel caught himself against the wall and pushed off, using the momentum to hurtle towards Ryan, who stumbled backwards, catching himself on the railing, exactly where he didn't want to be. Angel came in fast, the knife aimed low for a gut wound, but then out of nowhere, someone tackled him, knocking him to the ground. The men rolled across the floor, and Ryan could see Miguel's face tight with anger, struggling with his cousin for control of Angel's shank.
He didn't want to get in Miguel's way, so Ryan approached carefully; when he saw the opportunity, he kicked Angel hard in the back, just above his left kidney, making the man howl in pain. Angel let go of the shank and Miguel pulled back, staggering to his feet, blade in hand, just in time for Angel to take him out at the knees. They fell back to the floor with the knife between them. When they stopped rolling, Miguel was on top, and Angel wasn't moving.
Ryan grabbed Miguel, pulling him off of Angel's body. There was a wide red stain on his shirt and the handle of the shank protruded from his chest. It was obvious that Angel was dead.
"No!" Miguel shouted, falling to his knees, his shocked eyes clouding with tears.
Ryan knelt beside him. "Miguel." He touched Miguel's shoulder. Ryan could feel him shaking as he fought his sorrow. He wrapped his arms around Miguel, and held him as he cried.
"One time, me and Reynaldo talked Angel into stealing a bottle of whiskey out of Huberto's liquor cabinet. The three of us sat around in the basement of my grandmother's house and passed it around until we were so drunk we couldn't see straight." Miguel sighed, glancing over at the door to McManus' office, where they'd laid Angel's body, hoping to keep it out of way of any looters. They'd seen the Muslims tie up the last of the gangsters, so hopefully that wouldn't be a problem, but Miguel didn't want to take any chances.
Ryan squeezed his shoulder, and Miguel smiled at the protective way Ryan was wrapped around him as they sat there, leaning against the wall. He appreciated the care and concern. He wasn't a delicate flower or anything. He would survive this, but it was nice to know that he didn't have to deal with it alone.
"Ryan, I need to tell you that I'm sorry for the way I treated you after I heard about Huberto's death. I should have trusted you, but I was all screwed up, and I didn't know what to do. I fucked up, man. I know that. And I'm sorry."
Ryan shook his head. "You're not the only one who fucked up. I should have trusted that you'd come around. I shouldn't have pushed you so soon, and I let my anger get the better of me. If I'd known Carlos was dead, I might have waited to talk to you, but there I was talking trash while you were trying to mourn. We both did some stupid stuff. I say we let it go, right?"
Miguel smiled at him. "That sounds good to me." He bit his lip, and almost laughed at the way Ryan's eyes focused on his mouth. Damn. He'd like to skip this part, and take advantage of Ryan's distraction, but he needed to tell him this, because Ryan deserved to know. Miguel didn't know how to break this to him, so he just blurted it out.
"Angel said the money we got from Huberto is dirty."
"He said Huberto gave us traceable money from some bank robbery. If we spend it, man, we're gonna hang for someone else's crime."
Ryan stood up, and started pacing the waiting area outside McManus' office. "Fuck. Well, at least it makes sense, now."
He wasn't sure what reaction he'd expected from Ryan, but this was definitely not it. "What does?"
"Before you showed up and saved my fucking life…" Ryan stopped in front of Miguel, and smiled down at him. "By the way, did I thank you for that, yet?"
Miguel grinned his best sexy grin. "Not yet, but I'm sure you will."
Ryan's breath caught. He cleared his throat before continuing. "I look forward to it." Ryan shook his head. "Anyway. Angel told me that we were supposed to get caught."
"What do you mean?"
"He said that we'd stolen the diamonds from money launderers, probably the ones you told me Huberto was working with. They were supposed to think that the cops had confiscated the diamonds and some money. Angel didn't say how much money, but I'm thinking it was probably the two mil Hubert was supposed to be paying us."
"I don't get it. Why would he want us to get caught? Besides there was no money in that safe, just the diamonds."
"I think that's why he wanted us to wait another day." Frowning, Ryan resumed his pacing. "He had two million dollars he couldn't use, right? So he needed to trade it for clean bills, but money laundering costs a bundle unless you're the one running the operation. Maybe if we'd waited another day, there would have been money in there, money that they were going to send through the system."
Ryan paused, looking thoughtful. "You know how it works. You arrange for legitimate operations to funnel your money into off-shore accounts, investments and foreign banks, and by the time it goes through two or three different accounts, no one can trace it back to you."
The information Ryan was throwing at him amused Miguel. Who the hell else would think this shit out? He bet Ryan could figure out how to get their money cleaned without losing half of it to money launderers and greedy wiseguys. He was really getting into it now, gesturing animatedly as he explained Huberto's real plan, the one he hadn't wanted Miguel and Ryan to know about.
"Say the launderers had money they were getting ready to feed into legit businesses, and Huberto slipped his marked bills into their safe in exchange for their nice untraceable ones, and took the diamonds with him when he left. Then we go in after the diamonds, not knowing he's already got them. When the cops catch us with our hands in the safe, they confiscate everything in there."
"But don't the cops report what they take?" Shaking his head, Miguel stood up and stopped Ryan's restless pacing with a hand to his chest. "If they don't mention the diamonds, then the launderers would still know there was a thief in the house."
"Not necessarily. All that could mean was that there's a cop smart enough not to report everything he found in the safe. What were they going to do? Complain that some cop was crooked and stole their illegal diamonds?"
Throwing up his hands in despair, Miguel complained, "This is giving me a headache, man. It sounds like something you'd come up with."
Ryan grinned. "It does, doesn't it? This guy is as devious as I am."
"Nah. A hell of a lot more devious." Miguel walked to the door to McManus' office, staring inside at the body of his cousin. "You'd never treat family the way he treated me. I went to him because I needed help, and he stabbed me in the back, acted like I was some stranger off the street. Like I was no one. Then he gave us the dirty money he meant to leave for the cops, in order to get the diamonds back. He was telling me to trust him while he was lying to my face."
"Yeah, he was." Ryan put his hand on Miguel's shoulder, reminding him that he wasn't alone. "I'm sorry, Miguel. I wish that it hadn't worked out that way. I know he meant a lot to you. And Angel, man. I hate that you had to do that for me."
"I don't regret doing it."
Miguel turned around, putting his back to his cousin's body. "I regret that it came to that. But Angel is the one who pushed it. It wasn't your fault. If he'd left you alone like I told him to, he'd still be alive. He was just as treacherous as his father. He knew the real story all along, and he lied to me too. I don't regret that you're alive, even if it came at the cost of Angel's life."
Miguel hadn't expected that kind of reaction from his confession. But it looked like Ryan's active mind was still running on overdrive.
"Now I remember where I've seen Angel before. When I was running away from the park, after we had exchanged the money for the diamonds? There was a guy in the trees with a fucking gun. I thought he was trying to mug me, you know? I never even slowed down, just rammed into him. His gun went flying and I hightailed it out of there.
"Then the next day, the same guy was at the hospital waiting for me when I left. And later, after I planted the key in your car, he was waiting for me at my house. I was trying to lose him when I crashed my car and the cops swarmed me. I think that's why it didn't register at first. Cyril was going downhill, and I'd been trying to call you all day, but you weren't answering your phone. I was drunk and high as a fucking kite, all wound up."
He laughed ruefully. "A good portion of that ride is a complete blank. So I guess it's not surprising that it took me this long to connect the two. But it's too bad, 'cause if I'd remembered when Angel first showed up, he never would have been able to get between us like that."
"Why was Angel in the park? Was he there to make sure nothing happened to Huberto?"
Ryan shook his head. "Nah, I don't think so. I think he was there to get Huberto's money back. Even if he had to run it through the launderers, Huberto would still come out with a good sized chunk of money. He couldn't keep the diamonds, since we'd screwed up his foolproof plan to focus the launderers' suspicions on the cops. If he didn't get his money back from us, he'd lose everything."
"I don't get it. If it weren't for the cops showing up, you and I would have left together, instead of me leaving with Huberto. So he couldn't have planned for Angel to get the money back, because I would have recognized him and known…" When the truth hit him Miguel closed his eyes in pain. "Shit."
"I'm sorry, Miguel." Ryan's arm around his shoulder was comforting. It wasn't every day you found out your father figure had set you up to be murdered by your own cousin.
Miguel looked curiously at Ryan. "Not yet? What the fuck are you talking about, Ryan? 'Not yet' what?"
Ryan grabbed both of Miguel's shoulders, grinning like a fool. "Remember what I told you? That I recognized the words 'todavía no', but I couldn't remember where from?"
Miguel flashed on the memory of the two of them kissing in a storage room as they both thrust their cocks through tightly joined fists. He blinked, trying to focus on the present. "I remember what we were doing when I said it."
"Yeah, me too." Ryan swallowed, focusing on Miguel's mouth before clearing his throat and continuing. "This is important, Miguel. I just figured it out."
"And sex isn't?" He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows, then relented. "Figured what out?"
"Todavía no. That's what Hubert was saying right before the cops showed up. He was so frantic over the money. Remember? Holding onto the strap and grabbing the diamonds at the same time? He was trying to get away with both of them. If we ran before the cops got there, Hubert could tell us he lost the money and the diamonds, and Angel wouldn't have to kill you."
"To the cops, or to that 'mugger' I ran into. He could have gotten away with it. And he would have saved your life at the same time."
Miguel puzzled it out slowly. "So he was telling Angel not to shoot us."
Ryan shrugged. "Well, you anyway. He probably wouldn't have cared if I died, especially not after I'd screwed up his plans. That's probably why Angel was so easy to bowl over. He wasn't sure what he should be doing – follow his father or go after me. That bag was heavy, too. I had no idea how much two million dollars would weigh. I was moving fast, and there's no way I could have stopped in time to avoid him."
"So Huberto didn't want to kill me." He shook his head. "But he was prepared to do it, if he had to. They both were."
"Yeah. It's not much, I know. But it's something, right?"
Miguel sighed. "Yeah. I guess it's something."
"Just remember, man. You're a survivor. You're still here, and they're not."
Miguel looked around at the wreckage of Em City. "And that's a good thing?"
Ryan walked up behind Miguel, wrapping his arms around him, and spoke softly into his ear. "You're alive, Miguel. And you don't know how glad I am about that."
With a loud snapping noise all the lights in the cell block went out at once.
"Shit! We've got to get down there." Ryan started for the stairs.
Miguel grabbed his arm. "Not yet."
He pulled Ryan into a kiss, and the two melted into each other's arms. Miguel moaned into Ryan's mouth; he was so glad to have this back. They pulled apart reluctantly, when the shouts of the prisoners grew louder. Em City was preparing for a fight.
"No matter what happens from now on, Miguel, we stick together. I know you have your responsibilities to El Norte, but you know always I'll be there for you, okay?"
Miguel laughed into Ryan's ear. "You're never getting rid of me again, O'Reily. That's a promise."
Ryan grabbed Miguel's head, pulling him into a fast kiss. They parted, grinning like fools, and ran down the stairs together.
Scene 11: All dialogue in this scene is from 'Visits, Conjugal and Otherwise', Season One, Episode Two, written by Tom Fontana.
Scene 29: Some dialogue quoted/paraphrased from 'God's Chillun', Season One, Episode Three, written by Tom Fontana.
Scene 37: Some dialogue quoted from 'The Straight Life', Season One, Episode Five, written by Tom Fontana.
Scene 47: One line of dialogue quoted from 'A Game of Checkers', Season One, Episode Seven, written by Tom Fontana.
Scene 50: All dialogue in this scene is from 'A Game of Checkers', Season One, Episode Seven, written by Tom Fontana.