It takes eight and a half hours from Tahoe to Vegas, if you heed the speed limits. No one ever takes eight hours to cross that god-forsaken stretch of boring, unless they're dead.
He's pretty sure he's not dead. Happy not to be driving, either way.
It had taken Dupree six to get them to Tahoe, and they'd stopped twice for Deeks to piss. He's never going to have to listen to Deeks tell him to sack up, ever again. Who's taking the big risk now, motherfucker?
“I used to be a cop,” Hollis says once they make it off the surface streets and onto the highway. In case the sweatsuit reject from the '80s and the three missing fingers don't make his résumé obvious.
“I know.” Dude seems utterly unconcerned by the company he's keeping, but then he just walked out of a casino bathed in gunsmoke, blood, and plaster. It's not like Hollis had blinked, either.
“You're a fed?”
The guy fishes his badge out to hold up to Hollis's face. Either the pain or the pills make the words a little swimmy, but when Hollis squints they clear up well enough: FBI, looks legit if you don't mind the bloody fingerprint on the edge of the shield. Been a long time since he'd seen one of those badges in person, working just on the shady side of recovery, like they do. Like they did. But still, no reason to doubt him, and he doesn't seem to be in any hurry to make trouble. If the guy had wanted to make him dead, would have been easy enough to do it right there in the open, in all that chaos. If the guy had wanted him put in cuffs, probably would have done that already, too.
He's pretty sure he hadn't done anything strictly illegal. Well, up until the the murder, but that hardly seems to count.
Israel had holed up right on the state line, casinos on his side of the street, straight low-end hotels on the other. Come to think of it, Hollis's got no idea which side of the street he caught up with Tremor on. Maybe he has done something the feds would book him for, transporting whatever might be lurking in the trunk over state lines. Best not to say anything about it, anyhow.
Hollis feels like he's doing a fair bit more squinting than he's used to, and the asphalt's a little wavier than it probably should be, but the fed seems unconcerned. “You from Vegas, too?”
“D.C.,” he says, and then after a beat. “Agent Messner. Richard Messner.”
Richard seems a little formal for a man who's had the kind of day they've both had, like he should be tucked in an office, with two kids in prep school. Richard, Rick, Dick, Rich, Ricky. None of the options seem to fit any better than the others. “You got friends in Vegas, uh, Sir?
Messner's fingers clench on the steering wheel with a sudden tension that shoots straight up his forearm.
“Don't call me sir,” he says. “Please. Sirs get people killed.”
A lot of things get people killed, Hollis thinks, but that's neither here nor there to argue now, so he lets it sit.
The mile markers can't fly by fast enough for Hollis's liking, and even on good road the ride isn't quite smooth enough to lull him to sleep.
Radio doesn't work either, as it happens, but maybe there's just a trick to it that he hasn't worked out yet. He could have sworn that the Tremor brothers' appearance had been accompanied by a fanfare of death metal.
Now there's just a fucking lot of silence filling up the car, even if it's the windy sort. Every once in a while he catches a bug in his teeth or maybe some road grit off a passing car, but the bugs out here are nothing to the ones he used to catch on his bike in Florida. Hardly any taste to them them at all, not worth the saliva to spit back out. Or worth the coordination to make sure the spit doesn't just loop back in the wind and hit him in the face.
“You have friends waiting for you in Vegas, Messner?”
“You know what you're lookin for?”
“Maybe,” he says. Doesn't take his eyes off the road. Blinks a bit, after, like he's finally noticed that the wind is doing its best to scour him to the bone.
Maybe, for 500 miles in a nazimobile that smells like urine and God-only-knows what else. Odd answer, but understandable. Hollis was having a maybe kind of day, himself.
They have to stop for gas less than an hour out of Carson City, but whether that's the engine's intake or the Tremors' inability to buy gas more than $5 at a time is anybody's guess. Hollis considers it lucky that the gas gauge works at all, that they didn't just get stranded somewhere with no cell reception, to place the cherry neatly on top of the shit sundae.
Shit. Cell phone. He needs to call Deeks's ex-wife.
Hollis opens the glove box and finds at least a hundred dollars in crumpled singles and fives, and a little tiny piece of him is sad that he didn't find that out while one of them was still alive to be taunted about what their mama did for a living.
The catch-all store pinned to the gas station doesn't have any cell phones on offer, but sells him a can of black spray paint that's somehow managed to rust right on the shelf despite the dry air. He uses it to tag out the worst of the abominations on the chassis and then pitches the can into the garbage where it'll be someone else's problem if it explodes. When it explodes.
The way his day has gone, it's the one bright spot that it doesn't go off like a firecracker in his hands and take off the rest of his fingers.
Messner raises an eyebrow at the wet paint, but not in disapproval. He's got a plastic bag full up with bottles of water and Combos, and a bottle of ibuprofen marked up to $10. He breaks the seal on the pill bottle with the tip of a knife that he found God only knows where, and pulls out the cotton before handing it over to Hollis with one of the bottles of water. Hollis swallows six in one go, gives himself a nice permanent-feeling lump in his throat. They peel out of the gas station in a cloud of dust and tiny gravel that sticks to the fresh paint, gives it that lived-in feel.
“Do You have a friend waiting for you in Vegas?”
That gets a look, at least, but still no words. Hollis lets it go for a good three, four mile markers until the terrain gets to him again.
“Any of that your blood?”
“C'mon, Agent Messner, what's waiting for you in Vegas that's so important you couldn't take the time to find your own damn car?”
The sun sets as they're coming up on Tonopah, bright as anything in the mirrors. After a few minutes of squinting, Messner damn near wrenches the rear-view off, trying to shift the angle. For all that the rest of the car seems held together with rust, spit and baling-wire, the mirror's stuck fast, permanently adjusted for some poor bastard who's never going to sit in the driver's seat of a car again.
When the sun's all the way gone, Hollis rolls his window up to keep the chill out. Messner doesn't do the same, and it's hard to imagine that his shirt's any warmer than it looks.
“You okay, Messner? Because if you don't mind my saying, you don't look okay. And now that it's dark and cold and lonely out here in the desert, I'd rather not crash and die, if it's all the same to you.”
“Just thinking,” he says.
The car runs low on gas again 20 miles out of Vegas, probably not low enough that they wouldn't make it, but Hollis never liked going into an unknown with insufficient resources. Apparently Messner is of the same opinion, because he pulls into a nice, well-lit truck stop right off the highway.
Hollis puts his arm on Messner's sleeve before he has a chance to get out of the car. “Maybe this time, I should go inside,” he says. “With the blood and all.”
Messner's eyes get a little less vacant for a second, and he nods, so Hollis pulls another $40 out of the glove box and goes to put it on pump number seven.
He brings back beef jerky and gatorade, and swallows down another handful of pills with his first red-flavored sip.
In not too much longer, Vegas is going to be a lot more than a giant bright spot on the horizon, and someone is going to have some decisions to make.
By the time Messner pulls the car into the Provident Mercer parking lot, Hollis is seriously feeling the lack of opiates in his system and debating the merits of qualified medical attention versus the attention of qualified law enforcement.
Messner pulls the car into the emergency room lane and puts it in park, but leaves the engine running. “You want the keys?” he asks.
Frankly, the idea of this car being the one familiar thing to survive the day gives him the willies. “Nah. Got my own car three miles from here. Leave 'em. Whoever gets to it first can have it if you don't want it.”
He probably owes something to Messner for getting him home alive, or close enough to it. He definitely at least owes him finder's rights to a shitty car.
“Hey, man, good luck. See you on the flip side.”
Messner rubs at his forehead, and it's the first sign he's made of being human in hours. A little of the blood flakes off with the motion.
“Yeah,” he says, "you too," and finally makes a move to get out of the car. “See ya'.”
When Messner slams the door behind him, Hollis watches long enough to see him flash his badge at the door, and then closes his eyes. Can't hurt to rest here for a bit, just in case.