Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen -

Surprisingly, it was easier to grab the truck than I thought. I thought for sure they would be staking out the entire motel and a five block radius. Then I saw the amount of cops surrounding the motel and I suddenly understood the reason. From my place across the street, I can see the entire front of the motel is destroyed. The window busted out and bullet casings littering the ground. There are local cops and out of state patrol man around the area. I even spot a stretcher and a body bag. A feel nausea rises in my stomach which I shove away. Hopefully it’s some mystery person and not Mick in that body bag. But, I know how the cartel works after only being with them six months, I know them.

Shaking my head, I toss the bag into the passenger side and leave the area. I can feel my hands shaking as I drive back to the diner hoping Brooke is still where I left her. Seeing the aftermath of the situation at the motel makes me wonder how much longer can I avoid them. I was hoping the cops would catch me first, at least, but now I’m thinking maybe that was naive of me. After all, all I’ve done is manage to piss them off and bring Brooke into the cross hairs, the last thing I wanted.

When I pull back into the diner, Brooke is sitting outside on a bench, a scowl on her face. She leans back, jacket over her, clothes sitting beside her. She glares at me shaking her head. “I should have known. You didn’t have the guts to say goodbye last time.” She rolls her eyes, grabs her clothes and walks around the truck before I can step out. She climbs in the truck, buckles her seat belt without even sparing me a glance. “How was it? Did they see you?”

I shake my head, pulling out of the parking lot. “Nope. The motel was covered with cops, both local and out of state. That was a ballsy move, shooting up the place like that in my opinion.”

“Probably trying to make a statement. Maybe you’re not the only one doing this to them. It’s a pissing contest, they have to pull rank sometimes.” Brooke shrugs glancing at me over her shoulder.

“Sounds like it. As much as I hate to have that smug look spread on your lips.” She flushes but lets the exact smile I’m talking about take over her lips.

“Anyway, you never did tell me the rest of the story last night. Why are you really back in town? Why are they after you, what did you do?”

My fingers tighten around the wheel. The moment the words leave her mouth, the sky opens, unleashing a thunderstorm of rain. It covered the windshield instantly, blurring the road. I knew I should have replaced the wipers weeks ago. I turn them on but they make a squeaky noise as they run over the windshield.

When I look over Brooke, she’s watching the rain cover the truck in a flood of rushing water. “I didn’t know it at the time,” I spoke lowly but loud enough to be heard over the rain. Brooke looks over at me, completely focused on what I’m saying, “but it all started the night that I told Julio I wanted out. Out of the cartel only happens two ways. Either you’re locked up, or you’re killed.”

---

Julio sat across from me one of the back rooms of his business. Julio was born and raised in the states but his family still had connections in Mexico. It was almost a family legacy to be involved in the Mexican Cartel. Julio knew that his parents only lived well enough in the states because of the cartel, they owed them everything. Yet, Julio got in even deeper with the cartel than his parents. Addicted to the money and the lifestyle, Julio always knew he’d never leave.

Julio passed out the cards between us, placing his cigar in the ashtray on another table. The smell in the back room always turned my stomach. I tried to ignore the bloody stained knife hanging on the wall or the white power that traced the counter.

“So, you’re telling me, you want out?” Julio looked at me, eyebrow lifted.

I nodded, licked my lips, grabbed the cards he sorted. “Yeah. I told you before, I don’t want to do this forever. I’m sure you can find another body guard soon enough. I can stay on until you do, but then I’m out.”

Julio sighed. “You know as well as I do that I won’t find another like you. Not everyone is willing to risk their lives for me.” He paused to cough and wave the smoke from his face as well as mine. “Hell, half of my employees and clients want to kill me instead of protecting me. How am I supposed to find someone like you?”

I chuckled grabbed the shot from the table. “Maybe if you actually treat them worth a damn, they might.” Julio gave me a look before sipping his own glass. I laugh before downing my shot yelling a bit before I hit the table. “Julio, you not once treated me like I owed you something. You actually let me get to know you on a different level. Try that with someone new, get to know them.”

Julio rolled his eyes, finally finished passing out the cards. “You know you’re the only one that I can even talk to like this. You won’t use it against me.”

“That’s because you’re my friend, Julio.” I laughed at the idea of friends with Julio. He didn’t get close to many people. Myself and Meruis were the only ones that actually saw a more vulnerable side to Julio. In the clubs he was the boss, the man people came to for more supply, and a man that could have any woman he wanted. Yet in his own place, in his business, behind the scenes, Julio was just a man up to his eyeball in illegal activity.

“Then let me say this, make sure this is what you want.” Julio turned his gaze on me, growing more solemn. “You can’t change your mind once you get out. We both know you’re addicted to the cash and the lifestyle these past few months. Don’t think that apartment of yours will suffice.”

I shrugged, tracing the edge of the card before I placed it down. “I’ve done enough, gotten enough. This was never going to be long term.”

Julio looked at me when I raised my head. His eyebrows rose and a smirk covered his lips. “Ah, I get it now. There’s a woman involved.”

My cheeks darkened as I shook my head. “Of course not.”

Julio made scoff sound in the back of his throat. “Yeah, keep telling yourself that. Just when I thought I had you pegged.”

I waved him off shaking my head. Julio sipped his drink and the silence became almost deafening. “Is it that obvious?” My voice was low toward the table, as I stared at the shot glass. This time it wasn’t the pain in my shoulder that craved the numb feeling but the past.

“Not to many. You’re just easy to read for me. You know I’ve got to know people inside and out. The way you switch between women gave me a clue. Only a man scorned would do something like that so much. So, what happened, she break your heart?” Julio gave me a smirk, he knew before I even answered.

“Other way around. You know, we’re kind of idiots in high school.”

“Oh tell me about it.” Julio grabbed his glass turning it as he stared at the amber liquid. “There was this girl that I could have easily seen myself with. I dropped out before it could get any deeper, but I think she could have changed this man into someone else. Sometimes I think what would have happened if I let her get close. Probably wouldn’t even be sitting across from you now.”

He lifted his glass and handed me the bottle. I poured another shot and we touched glasses. “To our stubborn, selfish younger selves, and the woman we let get away.”

I chuckled dryly to the toast before downing the drink. Popping it back to the table, Julio sighed as he looked at me. “I’ll start looking for your replacement. Damn, kid.” He looked at me, a flash of remorse coloring his eyes. “I’m gonna miss you.”

“Don’t start getting all emotional on me now, old man.” Julio rolled his eyes, picked up his cards.

“Oh, I’m gonna show you, old man, in a minute.”

~*~

Two weeks later, the club was loud and I was on the verge of a migraine. Meruis had taken a sick day so I was even more on edge. Julio had me out in the club instead of at his side. Tonight seemed to be a more intrusive night as more clients and big shots showed up to see Julio. More than half were in regular clothes, dealers either needing more supply or complaining about territory. Julio always gave them a time and date to pick up their shipment at his warehouse.

I looked over at the VIP section to see Julio waving toward me. He looked a bit solemn but I also saw a trace of annoyance in his gaze. When I approach, he pats the seat next to him. I enter the dimly lit area with the large table sitting in the center. I try to ignore the razors on the table used to cut some of the product along with the white residue left behind.

“I’ve got a problem, Ash.” Julio grabs a cigar box from the table. He uses a match instead of a lighter to light the tip. “One of my dealers got caught with a whole lot of product. The biggest problem is the area he’s in. He also deals with my other guys in the same area. Instead of coming all the way here, taking the chance of getting caught, they all go to him. Do you see my problem?”

“Alonzo is on your case about keeping them supplied in that area?” I chanced a guess. Bringing up Alonzo in this kind of conversation could be best or worst thing.

Julio’s eyes tighten as his frown deepens. “Exactly. The entire section is out. I need someone to carry the product to the other side of town.”

“How much product we talking?” I asked. It was the first time Julio had asked something like this of me. By asking me, I knew what he was trying to say. He trusted only me to do this one thing for him. Plus, I knew something like this could be my out of the situation.

“About two hundred grand worth.” I swear under my breath. They would make the profit off that in over a week. I could understand why Julio didn’t trust anyone else with this kind of job. I risked my life for his, he could trust me better than anyone else.

“Are you asking me to do this?”

Julio looked down, making sure the cigar was lit before leaning back. “You could make another ten grand in one night doing this for me. Do this right and you’ll be one step closer to getting out with my blessing. I won’t even wait until I have another body guard.”

My eyes are wide. With another ten grand with what I already have it was too good to be true. I trusted Julio, however, because I knew he wouldn’t put me in a difficult position not after what I did for him.

“Yeah, sounds good. Guess I could do that.”

Julio patted my shoulder. “Excellent.” He lifted back up to the table, removed his cigar, placed it in the ashtray. With a pen handed to him by his partner, Julio wrote down an address. “You’ll pick up the product here.” He tapped the first address. “You’ll take it here. They’ll have a duffle bag waiting for you.”

He tore off the piece of paper from the notebook. The paper made a ripping sound as it tore and shoved the paper into my hand. “You can take the car around back. Good luck.” Julio handed me the keys to his dark car behind the club.

I grinned, clutched the paper and the keys before making my way to the back entrance.

---

“Let me guess, it didn’t turn out so easily?” Brooke whispered as I turned the truck into the parking lot of a higher priced hotel.

I shook my head, sighing as I parked and put the truck in park. “Nope. Everything went off without a hitch as I picked up the bag of product. Though when I was about half a block away from where I was supposed to drop it off, I was tagged by a cop car.”

Brooke’s eyes are wide when I look at her. “You got caught with two hundred grand of cocaine?”

I nod, but then turned in my seat. “Cop caught me because of a back tail light. I remember perfectly well checking the car before I left the club. Yet when the cop pulled me over the back tail wasn’t just out, it had been hit. The entire light was out, including the bulb inside.”

“They must have done it at the warehouse,” Brooke concluded on a whisper.

“My guess. When I got to the warehouse, I knew something was up. I didn’t recognize anyone. My best guess is they were Alonzo’s men, closer to him than Julio. I guess my wanting out was a risk for Alonzo and he couldn’t have it. Julio might have considered me a friend, but with Alonzo...”

“It was either you or him. Right?” Brooke looks at me, her eyes glistening. The rain continues to pelt the hood of the truck.

“Pretty much. Anyway, I need you to stay here while I got get us a new room.” I reach over, trailing my fingers over her cheek. She touches my hand just barely before letting me go. The rain is cool, not as cold as it would be in winter. Thank goodness for summer with warmer rain. I shake off the water from my clothes as I enter the hotel. The girl behind the counter smirks at me as I rake my hand through my wet hair.

It takes twice asking her for a room, without her I might add, before she gives me the two key cards. I run back outside to the truck climbing in and driving the truck around the building where our room is located.

“So,” Brooke says looking over at me, biting her lip. “if you got caught, how are you here?”

I cut the engine allowing the sound of rain hitting the roof grow louder. Though it seems my heartbeat is in competition with the rain at this point.

“They arrested me, and I was given bail.” I swallow, tracing my fingers over the wheel. “I managed to get a bail bondsman to get the money for bail.”

“Did you jump bail?” Brooke asks, outrage in her voice.

I nod, but give her a sad smile. “I had no choice. When I got to my apartment, Julio knew where I lived. My placed was trashed, everything was ruined. They were looking for my stash of cash that I saved up, but couldn’t find it. I decided to leave town, jump bail. Better than getting killed by the cartel.” I try a bit at humor but Brooke doesn’t see it that way. She scowls at me but I can see, surprisingly, a bit of worry in her eyes. She moves toward the door to open it stepping out into the rain.

My eyes are wide as I quickly leave the truck to follow her. She’s getting soaked in the rain. Her blonde hair is immediately drenched by the time I get to her side. Hair sticking to her face, water trailing down her face, in her eyes. She looks even more beautiful.

“That doesn’t explain why you came here!” Brooke says as I stand in front of her.

“It was you, okay!” I shout, my gaze falling on her face. “I found the pieces of paper, which I kept, with your name written on them. All those years came flooding back to me. I never forgot you, Brooke. You followed me, more like haunted me. I thought about you every moment of every day. I tried to forget you but it was impossible.” I pause guaging her reaction. When she doesn’t say anything, I continue. “When I saw those papers, I thought that I could outrun them, maybe just until the cops caught me. They could catch me ahead of time, but all I could think about was you. Getting you to forgive me, spending my last days of either my freedom or my life with you, Brooke Baker.”

Brooke’s eyes are wide as she stares at me. Tears well in her brown eyes and I use my thumbs to discreetly wipe them away.

“You wanted to spend those last moments with me?” her voice is so low as if she can’t believe my words.

“Yes, Brooke, because whether you or I like it or not, I think I’ve been in love with you since the moment I met you.”

Brooke looks at me, gasp coming from her lips. There is no guess as she lifts on her toes and I meet her half away, our mouths touching between the rain. The warm of her mouth is a stark contrast to the cool of the rain. I shiver from the feelings and emotions coursing through by body. I could have dreamt of this moment countless times, but I never would have thought it would come true. Kissing Brooke is unlike kissing anyone else. She tastes almost sweet, with a hint of sour mixed in. I can even taste the sweetness of the syrup on her lips.

Teasing her bottom lip, she immediately opens to me as I step her back against the truck. My hands trail down her face ignoring the rain that covers our faces. With Brooke at my side, I know nothing seems impossible anymore.

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