“Yes,” Chef said. Liam stepped in, trying not to touch anything with his immaculately polished shoes. “What are you doing here? I thought I told you we were meeting at Skip’s house tonight.”
He crouched in front of Chef, looking at him as if it was the single stupidest thing he’d ever been asked. A hint of pity shined in his eyes as he looked Chef over. “You did,” Liam said, tucking his tie behind his belt. “I also know you well enough to know that you wouldn’t be smart; you wouldn’t wait a damn minute for some help.”
Chef struggled against his bonds. “Lecture me later. We have to get out of here. He’s going to be back any minute.”
“You see what I mean? You’re so hasty,” Liam flashed his best smile at him and pulled a wicked knife, with a blade longer than his forearm, from a sheath behind his back. “You’ve got to take time to appreciate things sometimes, you know?”
“We don’t have time to enjoy the little things, Liam. We’ve got to get out of here!”
Liam, still avoiding touching anything with his clothing, reached back and started sawing at the ropes that held Chef. “You could have, at least, waited until I was out of court, Chef. I told you I was with you.”
“I’m sorry I lied to you.”
“Oh, I don’t give a damn that you lied. Liz and Skip are a little hurt.”
“They’ll get over it. Are you almost done?”
“Yeah. Come on.” Liam stood, holding his hand out to help up his friend. He heaved on Chef’s blood-slick hands. “Can you walk?”
He nodded, biting his cheek against the pain.
“Good, let’s get out of here. Where are you parked?” Liam led the way out of the house, but looked back at Chef.
He gestured to their left. “End of the block.”
Liam drew a sharp hiss of breath. “I think he stole your car.”
“Wha – dammit. You do what you want to a person but you don’t mess with a man’s car. What a bastard, I had a good collection of CDs in there.” Chef found himself vaguely surprised at his sudden possessiveness over his music collection.
“Don’t worry about your CDs, Chef. Come on, I’m this way.” Liam walked back, stepping lightly over the broken remnants of the fence, through the yard of the house directly behind Ethan’s hideout.
Waiting for them was a yellow car with a man sedately sitting in the driver’s seat.
“Please don’t tell me you took a cab to a murder.”
Liam looked at his friend, begging with his eyes for Chef to never mention it to anyone. “The Porsche isn’t fixed yet.”
It felt good to laugh, even through the unspeakable pain flaring up in his chest.
“Oh, you’re very funny. Get in.”
Cringing, Chef levered himself into the car, taking much more effort than it ever had before. When he finally got himself into the seat and the door closed behind him, the cab slowly started accelerating. Hotel California was playing softly on the radio.
“Greg, could you do me a favor?”
“Sure, man, what’s up?”
“I’ve had a rough night, could you please change the station? I can’t deal with the Eagles right now.”
“What have you got against – Jesus!” The driver looked at Chef through the rearview mirror. “Man, you look like you’ve been through seven kinds of hell.”
“That’s just about the truth.” Chef attempted a smile but failed. Instead, he tried to smile with the eye that wasn’t swollen shut. He imagined he failed at that, too.
“Damn, that looks like it hurts.”
“Look, buddy,” Liam joined the conversation, trying to bring attention away. “Just get us out of here. I don’t know, let’s hit the Denny’s on thirtieth and Sycamore.” When he saw Chef’s scowl, he put on his most innocent smile. “What? If I were him, I’d take your car and skip town. He is long gone. Besides, I’ll bet you’re pretty hungry, as it is.”
Chef’s stomach growled loud enough for Liam, who flashed him a knowing smile, to hear.
Liam pulled the phone out of his pocket and swiped the screen. “I’ll even drop a text to Liz and Skip, have them meet us – oh shit.”
“What,” the driver asked, looking again in the rearview mirror.
“Liz texted me. Someone is at Skip’s house raising hell.”
“Hey, Greg,” Chef said. “Are you a good driver?”
The car still in motion, Greg turned around in his seat to give Chef a big-toothed smile. “Always wanted to be a racecar driver, ‘stead of this.”
“I’ll give you five thousand dollars if you can get us to Coolfire Street in the next fifteen minutes.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
“Clock’s ticking, Greg.”
“Chef, I know this is an emergency, but this is no time to panic.”
“This is a perfect time to panic!”
“You’ve got yourself a God-damned deal. Buckle up, you two; some shit’s about to go down.” There was an audible thunk as the gas pedal hit the floor. The engine roared and the taxi lurched forward.
“Greg, stop the car! Dammit, Chef, you’re going to bring every cop in the Tri-City area down on us!”
Greg let out a whoop, swerving around a car while blowing through a red light. He rolled down the windows. “Get some,” he shouted.
Chef half-smiled at Liam. “Just think about that for a minute.”
“I have! Do you have any idea – Oh.”
“There you go.” He tried to pat Liam on the shoulder, but his body was stiffening from the strain.
Liam laughed, rolled down his window, then stuck his head out the window and bellowed to pedestrians on the street until he was out of breath. The wind had ruffled his hair but, for the first time since college, he didn’t seem to care. “You are a special kind of bastard. Greg?”
“I’ll double it, if we can get there in ten minutes.”
“Man, I knew you spoke my language. You’ll bail my ass out if I get arrested, right?”
“I’ll defend you myself.”
“Let’s do this.” Greg’s grip on the wheel tightened, his knuckles turned white and the taxi sped up.
Cars whizzed by, as if stopped – and some were stopped at intersections, diligently following the law. With gentle corrections, Greg weaved in and out of traffic. Some cars passed close enough for Chef to reach out and touch. Instead of touching the quickly passing traffic, though, he found something in the car to grab and held on as his body was thrown back and forth with the motion of the cab.
“I see him.”
A red light was ahead, with a semi-truck slowly accelerating through it, toward the left.
“We’re not going to – ”
“Yes we will.”
The taxi aimed straight for the middle of the truck, gently correcting to the front.
“Shut up, shut up!”
Chef squeezed his eyes shut. He readied himself, for the second time that day, to die.