Soon as I see the police cruiser in the rear-view mirror I know we’re fucked. Friday morning, fifteen miles out from Bloomington, Illinois and pouring with rain. Bouncing back up off the grey tarmac in the early dawn light. The cruiser holds back — must be running a check on our out-of-town number plate. I
Henry’s sitting beside me in the passenger seat. He hears me swearing and turns to stare out the back window. The cruiser’s lights swirl red and white through the rain. The cop wants us to pull over. “God-damn it, Mark,” Henry says to me. “What did I tell you?”
“Hey, don’t look at me, I been driving like an old lady all the way from New Jersey. No speeding, no nothing.”
For Henry, that’s pretty mild.
He runs a hand through his long, grey hair and scowls at Jack in the back seat.
“Listen up,” he says. “You don’t do shit unless I tell you. Understand?”
Jack isn’t listening. He’s checking his Glock nine mm, making sure it’s loaded and ready to blow some poor bastard’s head off.
Henry glowers at him. “I said, do — you — understand?”
Jack shrugs, then winces. He looks like shit with his nose all broken and two black eyes, but he’s a fucking super-model compared to Brian, the guy he’s sitting next to.
Henry reaches a hand back between the seats as I pull over onto the hard shoulder.
“Give me the gun.”
Jack doesn’t look at him. “Fuck you.” He doesn’t sound nowhere near as cocky as he did when we started this thousand-mile-long road trip. But he’s still trying to be the hard man. He peels back a chunk of torn seat cover and slips the gun in under the dirty-yellow padding. “Happy now?”
Henry looks at him. “You and me going to have another problem?”
I kill the engine — now the only sound is Jack’s wheezy breathing and the rain drumming on the roof. I look in the mirror again and see the State Trooper climb out into the storm. He’s on his own — no partner sitting in the car. Maybe we can talk our way out of this after all?
He clumps his way through the rain till he’s standing at my window, water dripping from the round brim of his big brown hat.
“Mornin’, officer,” I say, keeping it light and friendly, “horrible weather, eh?” I give him my best smile.
“Long way from New Jersey,” he says in his shitkicker drawl. The guy looks like death warmed up. Bags under his eyes, blue-grey stubble on his chin. Maybe on the way home after a long shift — that’s why he’s alone.
He sticks out his hand. “Licence and registration.”
I tell him it’s in the glove box, then lean across nice and slow to open it and pull out the bits of paper. Maybe we’re going to get away with it? Maybe he’s not going to ask too many questions. Maybe. . He’s leaning on the car door, peering in at everyone and I get that fucked feeling again.
What the hell’s he going to think? There’s me behind the wheel. Henry’s in the passenger seat — fifty-eight, V-neck sweater on over a shirt and tie, like a retired door-to-door salesman. In the back we got Jack, with his leather jacket and fucked-up face. And sitting next to him, there’s Brian, the eighteen-year-old, pale, shivering blob that used to be Laura’s boyfriend, both hands clutching his groin. Thank Christ he’s wearing black trousers so no one can see the blood.
The Trooper stares at him. “What happened to your friend?”
“Brian here got himself a dose of something off this girl in Ohio,” I say, trying on my smile again and lying through my teeth. “I told him you gotta use a condom, but you know what kids are like these days.” My face hurts from all the smiling — let’s face it, there’s been damn all to smile about these last couple of days, I’m out of practice — but the Trooper seems to be buying it.
“You got a tail light out,” he says, then steps back, hooking his finger at me. I open my door and step out into the pouring rain.
It soaks right through my shirt, plastering my hair to my head as I follow him round to the trunk. He points at the offending light.
“Sorry, officer,” I say, hoping that this will be it. That he’ll get back in his patrol cruiser and fuck off to wherever the hell it is he’s going. “I’ll take care of it first chance I get.”
“Uh-huh.” He writes me a ticket, making me stand there in the rain while he copies down the car’s registration and my licence details. And then he stops. Frowns. And checks the documents again. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck — he knows they’re forged. Fuck! I told Henry we should have used someone more reliable.
The Trooper says, “Open the trunk.”
“Look, officer, maybe we can — ”
He places a hand on the gun at his hip. “Open the trunk.”
“Sure thing. Not a problem.” Fuck, fuck, FUCK. I slip the key into the lock and twist. The trunk pops open and Mr State Trooper steps up to take a look. Then swears.
I can’t blame him, it’s not every day you stop someone for a busted tail light and find a dead FBI agent in their trunk. The Trooper’s almost got his gun out when Henry smashes him over the back of the head with an empty bourbon bottle.
We stand over the fallen man, watching the blood wash away in the rain.
“He dead?” I ask.
“Will be when I’ve finished with him …” Henry pulls out the Trooper’s handcuffs, drags the guy’s arms round behind his back and snaps the cuffs on. Then we haul him into the trunk alongside Special Agent Mills. It’s a tight squeeze — bleeding cop and dead agent — but we make it work.
And believe it or not: this time we’re supposed to be the good guys.
Ten in the morning and it’s still raining like a bastard. We’re parked outside a small 7-Eleven clone on the outskirts of Bloomington, waiting for Jack to get back with breakfast, while Henry puts in a call to our boss, Mr Jones. “Yeah,” he’s saying, the cellphone jammed against his ear, “morgue’s still shut. . Uh-huh. . Uh-huh. . We’re going round to see him soon as it opens. . Yeah. .”
One of them big minivans pulls up on the other side of the parking lot. Mom, Pop, and two kids. Pop hops out into the rain while Mom stays put to keep an eye on the brats. The guy hurries between the puddles towards the store, stopping when Jack pushes out through the front door. Arms full.
Pop nods a hello, but Jack just gives him one of those shitty looks he’s been working on since yesterday lunchtime, when Henry rearranged his face for him. Pop backs up a couple of steps, then waits for Jack to limp past, before going inside. He looks back over his shoulder at this thug in the leather jacket.
Way to keep a low profile, Jack.
“What?” says Henry, sticking his finger in his other ear. “Oh, right, the kid.” He peers over his shoulder at the pale, shivering thing that used to be on the local high school football team. “He’s doing OK. . Uh-huh. . Will do. You