Staring Down The Whisper--A Nitrous Racing Story

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Staring Down The Whisper--A Nitrous Racing Story

Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:22 pm

A Brief Explanation..........
Over on the social-networking site known to all as Facebook, there's an application(read racing-inspired RPG.........) known as Nitrous Racing. It's one of the more interesting apps' over there and after one of the countless plot-driven jobs was completed(if I recall, it was around mid-late Aug. 09'), I started thinking about writing a fan-fic story based a little bit off of the job. Little did I know as I started to write the first story, entitled "Staring Down the Whisper", that I'd end up writing a total of eight stories in all over a period of about 10 months or so(seven along w/one backstory). Most of the comments I got were positive; the stories were vastly different that what most had seen over on the Clipwire Games forum and I even had one or two comments along the lines of "you should do this for a living."

Anyway, 2 bits of background.............
(1)Most of my stories are set in the fictional locale of Velo City, Ca.(think Los Angeles and the Southland; as I explained to someone over on the CG forum, "Is not there a better place to use than L.A. as the backdrop for Velo City, what with Southern California's car culture, the thousands of miles of streets & highways and the non-stop, 24hr. hustle'n'bustle that is the Southland........
(2)A few movies provided some inspiration at various points of the story: To Live And Die In L.A., Heat and Ronin.

Staring Down The Whisper

As I continued to ride up Highway 7 after him, I thought, no way. No ******* way did he get away from me.......... It was then that I heard a loud boom and what sounded like someone crashing their bike, though it was hard to hear in the canyons north of Velo City. For several long seconds, I held my breath, wondering whether yet again the elusive criminal known as the Whisper had escaped. As I rounded the corner I could see skidmarks leaving the highway and a dust cloud off to the side, the mangled remains of a Ducati lying just along the edge of the road. Checking to see that the Bren Ten .45 I kept with me was cocked, safety off and ready to draw, I pulled to the side of the road, my heart beating almost audibly in my ears, loud enough to shake the ground asunder. Climbing down off of the bike I had taken back at the bar, I inched forward, .45 drawn. I began walking along a guardrail that apparently had seen better days, looking over towards the canyon, trying to see where he was. It was then that I caught a flash from below, a watch or maybe.........

“Stop! Stop, Whisper! Stop, *** ******,” I yelled at him; he looked beat up and hurt but I wasn’t taking any chances, crash or no; this guy had already cost me something very precious already. Keeping the pistol pointed right at him, I kept walking towards him, the anger bubbling up inside like a volcano ready to erupt. He finally stopped, slumping down next to a stump but he continued to look at me with a burning hate in his eyes. When I got to him, I looked right at him, pistol pointed at him. “Why? Just tell me why, Whisper?”

“Why, what?”, he said in a hoarse, spiteful manner.
“Why’d you kill her, Whisper?”
“Who?”, he said contemptuously.
“Stephanie Harrington, that’s who.” Grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, I laid the cold steel of the .45 right at his temple; if he had made so much as a twitch.......”You know damn well who I’m talking about, you son of a *****!” Off in the distance police sirens could be heard heading towards us, but they might as well have been on the other side of the world, all the good they would’ve done the Whisper right now. I asked him again, pressing the barrel ever harder into his head. Yelling at him like a possessed man, I kept asking, “Why, Whisper? I just want to know, you *******. Why her? Why come after me like this? Why?......”
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:25 pm

Chapter 1................

Growing up back east, my life seemingly revolved around cars; low-end, high-maintenance, luxury, muscle, imports......... it didn’t matter. If it had wheels, an engine and could tear-*** down the quarter-mile or any ole’ racetrack, chances are that I would be around somewhere, either watching them race, working on them or racing them myself. You could say racing was in my blood.

For years, my dad had crewed many championship USAC and CART teams over the years and upon the walls of his modest West Charlotte garage were pictures of legends like Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Lloyd Ruby, Johnny Rutherford, Parnelli Jones and Lord knows how many others. Trophies lined the walls of his garage office from his years wrenching' for the legends of the sport. When he wasn’t managing his garage or working on someone’s car or truck, he would take me and the rest of the neighborhood kids down to the local dragstrip or the speedway on the weekends. It was a tough life, but I relished as many of those moments as I could, living in that barrio neighborhood back in Charlotte.

Eventually, all of us grew up and went our separate ways; some of th kids I grew up ended up in various jails or prisons, others.......ended up six feet under. A few of us made it out over the years in our own ways, though. I know I did when a friend of mine, Griffin, invited me to move down to Velo City, the largest city on the West Coast and home to the largest street racing culture in the U.S. At the time I was living further up the Cali coast in San Francisco. After graduating from high school, I served for a few years in the Marine Corps and eventually made it out west, running a small luxury-car garage(and a few other things on the side as well........) but as they say, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. So I packed my bags and, to paraphrase the idea, followed Horatio Alger’s old credo of “Go West, young man!”

Once I made it to Velo City, I found like it was living in racing heaven; almost every week I’d win a couple of races or challenges, along with a a nice chunk of change, which I saved so that I could have a place of my own sometime. After about a year or so my racing talents got noticed and I started receiving invites from the three major street racing clubs in Velo City, Exotic Ice Customs, Musclebomb Motorsports and Rising Sun Imports. They dominated the street racing scene in the Southland and joining them was near a rite of passage; it gave you, depending on the club, the keys to the kingdom.

Now, to say that these three clubs were completely different from one another was like saying the sun rose in the east and set in the west.......why state the obvious, genius? Don’t get me wrong, though; I like muscle cars and there’s plenty of intrigue to the import tuner scene. Having grown up in the barrio and wanting to make something of myself, it wasn’t really much of a decision as to which club I’d join, so I put in the time and effort and built my rep up to the point where I could apply for membership in EIC, which was accepted almost immediately. One of the proudest days of my life(next to making it through Recruit Training at Parris Island) was when the club’s president, Othello Corvelle(a/k/a Scandalous) handed me the keys to a 2009 EIC Cadillac Escalade, ready to go and tricked to the nines’ as only a high-end luxury vehicle could be.

I musta’ spent the next couple of weeks in seventh heaven, cruising the city and thinking to myself, life is good. You finally got your own place, a nice bungalow-style home in Kensington Hills, a tricked out Caddy and you’re in EIC; what else is there? To celebrate my new found fortunes, I decided one night to head down to Zero Degrees, EIC’s headquarters/club, which was located in the Taravel District, a part of the city where the Velo City nightlife flourished nonstop. I got home, showered, shaved and got dressed to go to the club.

It was a surprisingly quick drive down Kensington Boulevard to the club; once there I parked the Caddy in one of the members’ spaces and headed into the club. Getting to the front entrance, I saw it was packed; bouncers out front were keeping everyone in check while others got in without hesitation. Heading up to the front gate, I slid my card in the reader and walked in, soaking in the luxurious ambiance of the club. Needing a drink, I ambled over to the bar and waited a moment for the bartender to walk over.

“Bourbon, on the rocks.” Before I could finish my request, he was already pouring some ice into a small glass before adding the bourbon. Sliding it over to me, he asked, “First time at the club?”

“Yeah; thought I’d come down and see what this place was like.” The sound system was blasting; everything felt good. Picking up the glass, I drank some of the bourbon, letting the smoky taste of the bourbon slide around for a moment before swallowing. Taking another drink, I looked around, watching everyone out on the dance floor when, for a moment, I thought I recognized someone from long ago. Glancing back around, I got another glance at her and thought, that cannot be who I think it is....... Turning around to the bartender, I asked him, “Who is that over there? The tall woman with the.....exquisitely graceful figure?”

“Stephanie.......oh, I can’t remember off-hand. She comes here often with some friends of hers’ but tonight it appears........” he said with a sly grin.

Sliding him a twenty, I said, “Another, make that two, if you know what I mean,” looking back over at her. It was right then that she caught my eye; a brief smile crossed her lips before she turned away. I looked back at the bartender. “Stephanie Harrington. I never woulda’ believed it.....”

“Her,” I said, pointing over at her.
“You know her?”, he asked incredulously.
“Yes, I do. We grew up in the same neighborhood back east but I never woulda guessed.......”, blowing a little air out in surprise. The air was both for effect and surprise. The last time I saw her was right after we graduated from high school back in '93. We both looked different then; I was a stocky fellow back then and as I remember, Stephanie had been near rail-thin for her height. I thought to myself, she’s probably just as surprised to see me here as I am to see her. As I was thinking that, I heard a cool, soprano voice behind me say, “Still causing trouble these days, Matthew?”

I turned to see her standing at the bar, the bourbon I had ordered in her hand. Tall, broad-shouldered with a dancer’s lithe frame, Stephanie stood next to me, dressed conservatively for the club scene but you could tell by the looks she was gettin’ that she could turn everyone’s heads. “If you mean am I the same person I was back in the barrio, then yeah, I’m still causing trouble, Stephanie,” I replied, giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “In fact, you’re free to come along and watch me in action, babe,” I added with a sly, cocky grin.

“Nah; if I did, I’d have to bust you and your friends, Matthew,” she replied laughingly, pulling her wallet out of her purse and flashing her credentials at me in a ‘look where I’m at now’ nonchalant way. Looking at her badge in a bit of shock and amazement, I had to ask. “You’re kidding, right? How long you been an FBI agent, babe?”

“Twelve years now; currently working here in Velo City with the FBI’s Street Racing Task Force-“

”I wouldn’t mention anything like that around here; some of the patrons’ aren’t too keen on cops, federal or local. Neither am I, for that matter, but........” Looking for an out, I angled in another direction. “Why don’t we go someplace quiet, Stephanie; we gotta’ lot of catching up to do it seems,” I said; she caught the drift and seductively held her hand out towards the club entrance. “Lead the way.” We walked out of the club; as we did, a valet drove the Caddy up to the curb. Holding the passenger door open for Stephanie, I got around and hopped in the driver’s seat. We pulled out from in front of the club and headed up Kensington Blvd. towards this diner that I had frequented often when I’d first arrived in Velo City.

Pulling into a space in front of the diner, I began to open the door when I suddenly turned to kiss her; after a moment’s hesitation, she returned it with equal passion. You could almost see the sparks fly between us for a moment before our lips parted; I was sure everybody had seen it but neither of us really cared. After a breathless moment she hooked her arm around my neck, pulled me back to her and kissed me even more passionately than before. Without even waiting for her to say anything, I pulled away from the curb and we drove back up to my place, breaking every speed limit in sight. Come to think of it, when we got back to my place, I don’t even think we made it to the bedroom, but I’ll leave that to the readers’ imagination. Suffice it to say, we shook the pillars of heaven that night!
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:26 pm

Chapter 2................

*next morning, 2212 Baker St., Kensington Hills*
The steady buzz of the alarm clock was what woke me up first; I’d been lying on my back in a sort of half-asleep, half-awake manner. Stephanie was asleep next to me, her arm draped over my chest. I could feel her warm body next to mine as I remembered our lovemaking the night before. I turned to hit the alarm, then thought better and simply turned the alarm off and listened to some music; KVLO, I think, the sounds of "To Live and Die in L.A." played softly in the background.

Eventually I looked over at the clock and thought to myself, time to get up, Jackass Flats. I got up out of bed and walked to the bathroom. Reaching over to the shower, I turned the water on and let it steam up for a moment or two then jumped in, letting the hot water roll down like a waterfall. I stood there, thinking both how lucky I was and about the day ahead. After a couple of minutes I turned off the water and began toweling myself off; I was just ‘bout finished when my cell went off. Wrapping the towel around my waist I ran to get it; like a lot of people in Kensington Hills, I didn’t own a land line so a cell phone was a necessity, both for personal and business reasons...... Nearly tripping over our clothes, strewn about the hallway, I grabbed it just as Stephanie was waking up: I walked out of the room and onto the porch; down below one could see almost into Velo City proper. “Hello?”

“Did I wake you, Matty boy?,” came the voice on the other end. It was Jon Browning, a fence I worked with on occasion who was as much of a smart-*** as he was as moving goods. I knew something had to be up if he was calling me this early in the morning. “No, I just had to answer the phone anyway. So, what’s up?”

“Any chance you can meet with me later today, say around three?”
“Where and with whom?

“Just you and me, Matty boy. It’s ‘bout those Krugerrands' you and your crew took from that armored truck a few weeks back. I found someone who can get them out of Velo City and out of the country, but he’s wanting us to do another job for him–“

”Another job? Jon, my crew’s been working on a major score for later in the week and you’re asking me to give that up for something sight unseen? I’d rather be out racing a bunch of neanderthal muscleheads or anime wanna-be’s in my birthday suit.........where do you want to meet?”
“Any place you want, Matt.”

“Okay. Ristorante Alfredo, on Alameda in Century City. You’re buying.”

“Why does that not surprise me, my friend. 3'o’clock.” He hung up and I thought to myself, that’s brilliant, Jon. My crew and I work on a major score, a medals depository we’re going to hit that's going to take a chunk out of a certain VestaCo.'s exec's rear, only to have you want to interrupt that, but........we still got those 100+ gold bars we took from that armored truck to wash down the line. After a moment’s thought, I walked back into the house; Stephanie was in the kitchen, having made herself a cup of coffee. I walked over, put my arm around her and kissed her. “My, we had fun last night, didn’t we?,” I said with a broad smile on my face.

“We did indeed,” she purred seductively, getting up to kiss me right back. At just over 6', she was a good three, four inches taller than me but most of her height was in her tanned, sexy legs, which stuck out from underneath one of my large polo shirts. I looked at her wantonly but knew I had things to do as she continued, “.........unfortunately, my car’s back at the club and I have to be at the office this afternoon........”

“No problem, darling’,” I replied, reaching over to where I kept a set of keys. Grabbing a set, I handed them to her. “There’s a Lotus Exige parked on the street; just drive down to Zero’s and let Bulletproof know who you are and he’ll watch the car while they get you yours’. Meanwhile I gotta’ take off; lot of places to go, people to see......”

***early afternoon, Ristorante Alfredo’s***
Back in the late forties’ and early fifties, the West Coast Syndicate ran Velo City with an iron fist; places like Ristorante Alfredo were their meeting places; places where they could fix anything.......ball games, fights, elections, even the street racing scene. Hollywood stars, local and state politicians, business execs'......they all came to Alfredo’s or other Syndicate-owned joints like Regiano’s in West Hollywood or Cosmo’s in downtown to do their bidding.

While the Syndicate's power had faded now that the racing clubs held sway over Velo, their presence could still be felt in restaurants such as Alfredo’s. It was owned by Michelle de Lucia, who ran the Syndicate from the shadows but with an iron fist. I walked in and looked around for Jon; I was wearing a light blue polo shirt w/a sport jacket and Dockers, not the best clothes for racing but since the races weren’t ‘til the evening, I could afford to dress casual, even in a place like Alfredo’s. Almost I soon as I walked through the door, the host walked over. “Do you have a reservation, sir?”

“No, but my friend,” pointing over towards Browning, “is expecting me.”
“Right this way.” I followed the host over to where Jon was sitting; he was drinking a bourbon, on the rocks and enjoying some cherrystone clams. After pulling out the chair, I said, “another bourbon, please.” I sat down and looked over at my friend. “I already ordered; veal marsala to your liking?”

Once our meals arrived, we ate, chatting about this and that as the waiter every so often poured some of what he said was the house special, a fine Paso Robles rose’. Finally, we finished our meals and got down to business. As a busboy cleaned our tables I looked at Jon and began the conversation. “Okay, Jon. What’s got you so concerned about those bars?”

“I found someone who’ll take the bars off of you for a mil-six, which is a lot more than what anyone will take for them on the open market. He’s also agreed to cut you and your crew a nice quarter-mil each—“

”250k each, after all we went through heisting that truck? The mil-six....”, waving my hand in a expression of “what the hell”.....”I can live with, but for the risks we took, especially getting away from the Feds and local PD, not a quarter-mil. 325 for me, 300 for everyone else each plus 10 percent of the cut from when the bars are delivered.”

“Matt, you know damn well I can’t move those bars on the open metals market right now; no reputable metals dealer would touch them and they’d likely turn around and drop a dime to the cops; you want that kind of heat on you?”

“Jon, I damned well nearly lost one of my crew–“

”I know; Frech took two bullets in the leg....”

“I know that, Jon........I had to use my contacts in Velo City to hide him before the heat got to him.” Looking away, I pinched the bridge of my nose in frustration. “Tell you what. Forget the mil-six; that’s yours. Frech gets 300k, regardless. 250k for the rest of us each and five percent of the cut from those bars.” I got up to leave; Jon beckoned me to sit back down. “Alright, alright; sometimes, Matt, you’re too damned paranoid–“

”You’re damn right, Jon; eleven months at Terminal Island will do that to you,” I said, emphasizing the last part. “Anyway, did I tell you I met someone last night?”

“You? Met someone? Aren’t you always talking about having to split in thirty seconds–“
”Yeah, yeah, yeah.....but this one, Jon. I don’t know, man; we hit it off last night. I can’t stop thinking about her,” I said. Drinking some of the rose’, I continued on, “she’s from the same barrio I grew up in, so yeah, I knew her but hadn't seen her 'til last night. Who knows.....”

“That’s good to hear; you need a woman in your life, my friend. All that wonder you don’t have–“
”Spare me the sex life lecture, Jon; like you’re one to talk. I’m single; I can afford to look around. How’s Elizabeth?”

“Fine; she’s heading to Denver for some teachers’ conference, which means I might come out and watch you race sometime. You as good as they say?”
“Well, I haven't been hooked for excessive speeding or any other reckless activity by the authorities, if that's what you mean......."

“Cute. What’s this I hear about you going the club route? You didn’t join one of them damn street clubs?”

“Yeah, a few weeks back. What’s it to you?” That was the only thing I detested about my friend, Jon.. You see, Jon’s a great fence and has been a sounding board for major scores-to-be over the past few years, but he has a tendency to stick his damn nose into things that it doesn’t belong. If anyone in Exotic Ice Customs had heard him say what he did..... “Why don’t ya’ come out to the club, Zero Degrees? You’ll have to pay a cover, you not being a member and all, but it’ll get you out of that tomb you call a house,” I said, chuckling for an instant.

“I might do that,” he said as his pager went off. Looking over, he rose, coming over to shake my hand and wish me a fond day. He was like that; taking markers, calling out favors, always looking for scores to pass along. “Sorry I pulled you away from whatever you were looking at, but I really want to get those bars out of Velo City, ya’ know? See ya’ around, Matty boy.” Jon walked out of the restaurant, his two bodyguards right behind him. Both of them looked like dead ringers for a couple of Blackwater mercs'. I sat back, finished the ‘rose, then got up and walked over to the host. “Check, please.”

“No need, sir,” the host replied in a cheesy Italian accent. “Madame' de Lucia said it was on the house. No charge.” With that, I walked out of the restaurant and headed back up to the house; there was a race up in the North Hills in the late evening and I needed to get ready.

***that night at Ascot Park***
If there was one thing I did not like about Velo City, it was driving to some of the racetracks around, especially Ascot Park, which was located about the same distance from Acceleration Point but to the northwest, which meant instead of taking the 205 up to the Point, you had to take the 110, which ran to the northwest, towards the Verde Canyons area. Speedtrap City, I call it; the whole stretch was crawling with Smokies and the last thing I needed was a ticket. But, as luck would have it, I made it up there without any hassles from the CHP. Finally I could see the lights of Ascot Park in the distance; there were hundreds of people there, from the gearheads to the tuner set. I looked around and found my crew waiting near the track; Stephanie was there as well, which sent my heart flying.

Parking the Audi R8 near the track entrance, I headed over to my crew, an eclectic bunch of EIC members that I knew and worked with on countless occasions. I walked over and gave Stephanie a kiss; she returned it, asking, “so this is where y’all race?”

“One of them, anyway,” I said, pointing towards the track. As tracks went, Ascot Park wasn’t much; just under ½ mile, it was wide and perfect for drifting, which tonight’s race was all about.........the drift.

In the background I could hear the track announcers announcing the night’s schedule; the air was surprisingly clear and looking back down towards Velo City, I could see the lights of the city’s skyscrapers shining like sentinels in the night. I started to prepare; off came the sport jacket and polo shirt and on went a bomber jacket, racing shirt, crash protector; I set the helmet aside for a moment as my crew stood close by, watching everyone file into the stands. Taking out the Bren Ten .45 I carried, I made sure it was unloaded before handing it to Marquis, who ran over to the Jag she was driving and placed it there for safekeeping while I was on-track. Looking around, I asked, “Looks like a full house, guys.”

“It is,” Frech replied, leaning on a cane he’d been using ever since the gold truck heist. “All the big-wigs are here tonight; Mayor Sunny, Deputy Mayor Baldomero, Paige Hastings, Lucy Swift, the whole breadth of upper Velo society. Who ya’ up against?”

“Couple of big-tuned gearheads and a few drifters,” I replied in a “what, me worry?” manner. “Shouldn’t be anything the Audi can’t handle.” Which was true; the R8 I was driving possessed a lot of high-end items, from a custom 5.2L V10 TFSI twin-turbo engine which could lay about 540hp to the wheels to the 19" custom sport tires(Pirelli Grand-Am Specials) to the car’s frame/chassis, ‘specially built for speed and handling. I didn’t have any worries; if anything, I thought my opponents ought to be the ones who should be worried.

As to the race itself...........after an abortive false start by one of the Horsepower Posse racers, we got the second start clean and green and we were all off to the races. It was a tough fight, everybody racing in a close-quarters, go-for-broke style befitting Velo City’s best racers but in the end nothing could stop me; I took the checkers holding off some broad-shouldered Musclebomb driver in a ‘87 Pontiac Grand-Am GNX that was tricked out as the Audi R8 I was pedaling around.

All-in-all, it was a good night’s work; $5k in cash, a trophy from the event promoter and handshakes from Scandalous and all the EIC leaders. Even the guy I had beaten to the line at the end of the race, Sandman[who I later found out was one of Musclebomb’s bosses] came over to shake my hand; I returned the handshake and wished him well next time around. Soon enough, though, it was time to leave. After making sure everything was good to go, Stephanie and I left the track and drove back towards Velo City.

The return trip down the 110 was uneventful to start; every so often, I kept glancing over at Stephanie and thinking to myself, how lucky can a guy be? I’ve got a good life here, I’ve got a beautiful woman by my side, I’m winning races and representing EIC. Life is good. However, all was not right with the world; back, several cars to the rear, someone was following us. I spotted the tail, got off the 110 and took to the surface streets for a little bit, not wanting to disturb Stephanie, who was catching a few zz’s while I drove. After driving around for a bit I felt certain someone had been following us; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, though and decided not to give it a second’s thought...........
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:26 pm

Chapter 3

............After driving around for a bit I felt certain someone had been following us; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, though and decided not to give it a second’s thought.............
After thinking about it a little while longer, I put it in the back of my mind and got back on the 110, eventually hitting the 10 freeway which ran straight out to Santa Monica and the PCH. “What was that all about?”, Stephanie asked, waking herself up after a brief bit of sleep.

“Nothing, I think,” I replied. “Thought I saw someone following us earlier. It was nothing.”
“We still on the 205?," she asked.

“Nah; the 10. You live out this way, right?”

“Yeah, 15th St. near Ocean Way.” After a little while longer I found the right interchange(after missing it twice......which brought a amusing smile to her face and an brief pang of embarrasment to mine......) and headed down Ocean Way ‘til I saw her residence out on 15th. It was an old Victorian-style rowhouse in what was a fairly average middle-class neighborhood. After what seemed like an eternity trying to find a parking space(even late at night, it was hard to find a street spot in Santa Monica), I finally parked the Audi just a few doors down from her place.

Getting out of the driver’s seat, I stretched for a second, then walked over and opened the passenger door; she stepped out and began to walk over to her place as I shut the door and walked over. “You know Steph, it was really nice of you to come out and watch me race tonight; I appreciate that,” causing her to blush. “Oh, look at that.....a blushing FBI agent,” I finished, chuckling for a moment.

She laughed in turn as we reached the door to her place. “Would you like a nightcap?”, she asked. I held my hands up in an expression of “why not”. Opening the front door, she turned around and turned on the lights. As I walked in behind her, she set her purse down, alongside her keys and sidearm. I looked at it for a little bit; it was a SIG-Sauer P239 chambered for a 9mm. “Nice pistol,” I said.

“Thanks; I carry it when I’m not on duty as a concealable,” she called out from the kitchen. “What would you like to drink?,” she called out. “Whatever you have’s fine,” I called back. A few minutes later, she walked back into the living room carrying two glasses of red wine, handing one to me before she sat down next to me. She had taken off her jacket and was wearing a low-cut silk blouse and pants which helped accentuate her curves. Leaning over with her wine glass, she tipped it towards me. “Cheers.”

“Cheers.” Our glasses clinked and we sat back, drinking the wine and enjoying a light conversation. “I have to ask, Steph. What possessed you to up and join the FBI?”

After a momentary pause, she set her glass down, leaned back and crossed her legs. “Well, you know we were some of the only ones to get out of that barrio–“
”I know; you, me, Griffin and a couple others.”

“My senior year at Charlotte; I was enjoying a rare day off from classes and decided to go for a walk down by Belk Tower and the Quad. Well, there was a job fair of sorts going on and I thought, why not look? I was majoring in criminal justice, so what the heck? So I did......I ended up spending about an hour talking to an FBI recruiter about the Bureau and its’ history, the various jobs and all. Hour after that, I was back in my apartment, filling out the Academy application........the rest, they say, is history. Graduated from the Academy late 1997, whereupon they shipped me to, of all places, Anchorage.”

Stifling a laugh, I motioned for her to continue. “Now let me tell you, I spent three years of my life working there and about the most exciting thing was watching the moose roam through the streets on occasion. Oh, we made some busts up there but nothing that made the news in the lower 48. Eventually, I got re-assigned to New York and began working witness protection and OC-related cases. Worked out of Brooklyn for 4 years; to this day, I still can’t understand Brooklynese.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone outside of Brooklyn can either,” I added nonchalantly.
She laughed then finished. “Where was I?.......oh, now I remember, Brooklyn. Anyhow, a few years ago, I was asked if I wanted to join the Bureau’s Street Racing Task Force? I asked them, street racing? Why is that a concern to the Bureau?......”

“Yeah, why is it a concern?”

“Smart-***,” she said, poking two fingers into my ribs; I gave an oof as she laughed. “Well, here’s an example. What’s the number one transit method for illegal drugs, weapons and other contraband into and out of Velo City? The; more specifically, all these tricked out cars you see around here.”

“So; doesn’t mean all of us are involved......”
“That’s one reason.....the other is........more political/cultural in nature,” she said, waving her hand back and forth for emphasis. You see, Inspector Carson, who commands the SRTF, believes that the street racing culture would be better served if it were legitimized. Brought out of the shadows and into the light of day, so to speak.....”

" 'Take it to the track, not to the street' ", as they say.“
”Exactly. That’s one of the goals of the SRTF, to keep the tensions between the clubs down as much as possible. The lower the tension is, the safer the streets of Velo City are.”

“Makes sense. That was always something my dad thought about when I was growing up; he always worried whenever I’d take off and cruise around Charlotte. He always worried I’d get the red mist and go street racing with some yahoo and get in trouble. But it does have its’ appeal, though....”

“It does, but there’s also the underworld element to deal with also. You see, so long as the Mob keeps tensions up between the clubs, there’s no way we can deal with that and them. So, if we can keep the tension down.....”
“In other words, its’ a ‘hearts-and-minds’ thing, huh?”
“In a word, yes.”

“Well, you got me convinced, Stephanie. Problem, though, isn’t going to be the three big clubs, or the smaller ones for that matter. The problem’s going to be the underworld types, the Mickey de Lucias' of the world. They’re the ones who would rather see the street racing culture remain marginalized and underground. I mean, who’s going to complain if that’s the case; what are ya’ gonna’ do if the Syndicate stiffs ya’, you know?" We continued talking about our lives and so forth; I don’t know how long we spent talking until I looked at my watch for the briefest of moments.

Yawning, I stretched back on the couch, Stephanie languidly laying down beside me. I looked over at the far wall, feeling her breath seductively blow across and around me. I continued staring over at the wall until my eyes began to flicker shut ever so slightly. Turning my head down to rest on her shoulder, I looked over at the front window; the lights were dimmer and you could see the reflections of the cars as they passed by on the street. Eventually, my eyes shut and I fell asleep; my jumbled thoughts were elsewhere, on a mysterious car and thoughts of what could be and what might be in, I thought, smiling for a moment as I slowly drifted to sleep........our future.

***next morning***
For a moment I wondered what the chirping sound was going off in my head.....then I realized, it wasn’t a chirping sound, it was my cell phone going on; the alarm was set for 6:30am and it was set for both volume and vibration. Which wouldn’t have bothered me until I realized Stephanie was still asleep......and laying on the same side of the couch as my cell phone!

A quick nudge awoke her; long days of surveillance and stakeout runs had taught her to wake up very quickly. Once she realized what it was, she chuckled in a quiet yet seductive manner at me. “Either that’s your cell phone or......” She sat up, allowing me to reach inside the front pants pocket where my cell was and hit the phone’s kill switch. “And all this time I thought it was something else,” I deadpanned, getting a poke in the ribs for my humorous wit. I sat up as well, rubbing my eyes in an effort to awaken. After shaking my head a couple of times, I got up; my clothes were a bit rumpled but still wearable for the day.

Getting up to use the bathroom, I saw Stephanie fixing some coffee, her back turned to me. Walking down the hallway, I felt my back twinge a bit; reaching back I felt the .45 I carried still where I normally carried it. My back’s gonna pay for that, I thought. After finishing up, I washed my hands, then reached down to grab a washcloth. Turning the sink’s faucet to full hot, I let it steam up, then wet the washcloth before leaning back against the cabinet and placing it on my face. I let it sit there for a few minutes, feeling the heat and liquid open up the pores. Finally, as it cooled down, I took it off my face and set it down, leaving it neatly aside the sink. Walking back to the kitchen, I could smell the rich coffee aroma wafting around; hearing my footsteps on the tile floor, Steph turned around. “You all right?”

“Yea; just needed to wake up a bit.” Handing me a large cup of java, I took a sip, setting it down on the counter. “So, how long you lived here? Santa Monica?”
“A few years; ever since I got reassigned to the SRTF.”

“It’s nice, very nice. Nicer than my place, come to think of it......”
“Come on; did we get to see much of it the night before?”

“Only the hallway, the bedroom......” We both laughed for a bit, then I looked at her while drinking some more coffee. “You know, I’m really glad I ran into you that night, Stephanie. I really am.”
“I know,” she said, walking over to me and giving me a brief kiss. “I know.”

We both finished our cups of coffee; after a brief moment I walked to the door hanger and grabbed my sport jacket; I had to meet Jon and that prospective buyer for the bars and time was short. “Can I fall by sometime?”

She thought about it for an instead. “Yeah, I’d like that, Matthew.” We walked to the front door; after another brief kiss, I ambled down the steps and walked to the car while she wistfully watched from the front stoop. Eventually she closed the door behind her; I knew she had a full day ahead of her........and so did I.
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:27 pm

Chapter 4

***the Harbor District***
They say every part of Velo City is different from one another, from downtown’s hustle n’ bustle to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the relaxing beauty of Kensington Hills........the Harbor District was no different. On a map, you’d swear the Harbor area was separated from the rest of Velo City by nothing more than string cheese at certain points, geographically speaking.

This was because of the fact that there were several small cities on either city of Velo’s southern reaches; Compton and Inglewood to the west, Easton, Fulton Heights and South Gate to the east. It was a slow trip down the 405 freeway, but eventually I found the exit and pulled off onto San Pedro, heading towards an industrial area near the docks. I kept thinking to myself, why out here, Jon, in the heart of Musclebomb country did you want me to meet with the buyer; why not downtown or up in the Valley?

I kept those thoughts to myself, though; if Jon had indeed found a buyer for the bar then that was good news in and of itself; 126 5lb. gold bars, Krugerrands, belonging to a South African industrialist, were sitting in a Valley warehouse and even though the heat had died down since the heist, I knew we had to get those bars out of the Southland.

Finally, I saw where Jon was parked, his blue Toyota Tundra w/the TRD striping parked in an abandoned lot. Next to it was a Hummer H2 which was parked catty-cornered from the Tundra. Pulling into the lot, I parked the Audi facing the highway, more for my self-preservation than for any other reason. Cutting the ignition switch, I sat there and got out of the car, keeping my jacket buttoned and walking over towards the Tundra. Browning got out of the Tundra, along with two individuals in the H2. One I recognized from the heist, the other one I didn’t know. I looked at Jon and thought, time to get this party started. “So, nice place, Jon. Come here often?”

“Wise-***,” was his reply. We shook hands and he introduced me to the two gentlemen standing next to him. “Matt, you already know the first one, David Young–“

”So we meet again, Whisper. I wondered where you were hiding after the heist.............”
The two of us shook hands, but you could tell there nothing but hatred between us and for good reason. It all went back a few months ago when we pulled off that heist...............
[flashback, -May 2009]
The plan was quite simple, really. A few days before, a friend of mine, Robby Dash, had asked if my crew and I were interested in a truck heist. What heist, I asked? A simple one, he said. There’s a big South African who’s got several million dollars in gold bullion, Krugerrands, located in Velo City. Rumor has it he’s getting ready to move a hundred or so of them out of the country, to avoid tax liabilities. If we could get ahold of those bars, he was thinking, me, you and your friends could split the profits. At around $850 dollars/oz., each Rand, which weighed around 5 lbs., carried a retail tag of over $60 thousand dollars each. A hundred or so.....well over $6 million, maybe $7 million.

I told Robby I’d think about it........that took only a few seconds, though. I said to him, “You’ve got me convinced, bro. Convince my friends and you got a deal.” So one night the two of us, joined by another friend of Robby’s(the Whisper, I later found out) talked to a couple of friends of mine about the job. All of them(Marquis, Frech, J.R., Slick) took combined maybe ten seconds to be convinced. One condition, Dash added..........Whisper goes with you. “No,” I protested. “My crew works alone, Robby. You know that!” “No whisper, no deal,” Robby retorted. That was the first bad mistake of the heist; if I had known what was going to happen, though, I would’ve never agreed to it at all.

Why? When you take down a score, you want to do it quick, fast, and without having to resort to violence. Anytime you have a use a weapon, it raises the stakes, big-time. If the authorities catch you during a score, just carrying a piece earns you a nickel in some of the Golden State's finest institutions; that's five years on-top of whatever else the authorities charge you with. The more people get involved, the higher the stakes.....the higher the chance that someone will use a weapon and escalate the whole thing. Which is precisely what happened, thanks to Mr. Bonehead(the Whisper).

The heist went off as planned........we got everyone in position; Marquis and I rode in one car behind the armored truck, while J.R. drove another car in front of the truck. No one would move until a third vehicle w/Frech, Slick, and Whisper in it would pull up just beside the armored truck. While Slick tried to make conversation w/the driver, Marquis would get out of the car we were in, sneak up to the truck and plant a shaped charge on it. Once she did that, we’d back up and away and let the charge go off. Once the charge did its' thing, we’d go in wearing masks to prevent anyone getting ID's of us, subdue the guards, grab the gold and take off, hopefully in less than four minutes. Why four minutes? Four minutes is the standard time it normally takes the VCPD to respond to a 211 armored car heist. With two freeways in close proximity, there were good escape routes all around.

Everything was going good........until Whisper thought one of the guards was mouthing off at him and bopped him in the head with the butt of his pistol. Slick, who was standing alongside Frech and me, saw him hit the guard and said to him, “Hey, Whisper? See that blood running down from their ears? They can’t hear a ******* thing you’re saying; cool it!” In the meantime, a second guard somehow got his revolver out of his holster and started shooting at us; two of the .38 rounds he let off struck Frech in the upper right leg. While Slick and Whisper were carrying Frech to their car, J.R. and I fired our M4s' at the three guards; it only took a few seconds before it was all over. What should've been quick and easy had all gone belly-up......very, very badly.

As we drove away from the scene in one of the getaway vans, I grabbed Whisper and punched him square in the stomach. He doubled over and coughed painfully as I hit him a second time. “Stop here!”

We pulled to the side of a building and got out.......except for the Whisper, who laid unconscious whilst the rest of us got into our cars and drove off. Moments later a loud whoosh could be heard behind us as flames spread out from the van. I thought at the time that’d be the end of the Whisper........was I wrong or what?........
***the Harbor District***
Not releasing my grip on his hand, Jon quickly introduced the second man. “Matt, this is Brandt Krueger, the buyer I was telling you about.” I shook hands with Krueger; it was a firm, clean handshake. “So, is this the buyer, Jon?”

“Yes; you want to hear the terms?” Nodding my assent, Krueger began to speak. I kept one eye on Whisper as Krueger spoke; Jon stood in the background, nodding quietly every so often. Krueger spoke with a thick Afrikaans’ accent, but I understood a lot of what he was saying. After all, we’re talking millions, right? Money’s a universal language. Finally, Jon spoke up. “Okay. So let me get this straight; 3.5 million for the bars themselves, along with 275k each for Matt and his crew for the risks they took securing the load?”

Krueger nodded; I was fuming......not at the money, but at the Whisper getting a cut of the money; after what he did and the result........but I didn’t let it show. We exchanged terms, cell numbers and another round of handshakes and that was that. As the pair walked away, Jon and I had a brief conversation, then we parted ways. Finally, I thought, we’re going to get rid of those damn bars! But that was another worry for down the road...........

***East Velo Dragstrip, 2 days later***
Now, there’s more to racing than just races. Every so often, all the major clubs will get together in a sort of a mass challenge event; $200,000 from the Velo City Racers’ Association went to the club that won the most challenges that day. As expected, my talents on the track earned me a spot on the boards.

The way the challenges went, each club entered 50 people; once all 150 names were collected, the VCRA people then paired them off, making sure not to put two from the same club together. The challenges went on for several hours.....I won my challenge, a very close 1/4-mile fight between me and some anime-looking dude from Rising Sun. It was very close; he actually got the jump on me in his Lancer Evo, getting the holeshot on me at the arm drop. But the start is only part of the the 600ft. mark, I had caught up to him. While the Evo has better front-end torque, the Pontiac Firebird I was entered with(brought straight to the track from Zero Degrees’ rearside garage) had better top-end speed and it showed.

Although I won, it wasn’t by much; VCRA officials spent several minutes looking at the finish-line photos before giving the challenge win to me. Tell that to Stephanie or my friends; they were yelling, “He won! He won!,” pointing at the timing boards on my side of the strip the whole time.

After my run, I went up to one of the luxury boxes as other challenge runs were being made. It was like a king’s court of sorts; Stephanie was sitting next to me, her arm lounged along my upper back. To my left sat Matt Frechette, a/k/a Frech, nursing a mojito, a long, wooden cane next to his seat. To his left in the box sat Michael Chevalier, a/k/a Slick, who was enjoying a Miller while his wife, Sarah, sat next to him engaged in a conversation w/Stephanie, over what I had no idea. Jason Ridenaur, J.R. to the rest of us, sat to the right of me and like most everyone else, was watching the challenge runs go on and on with interest. Finally, sitting demurely at the end of our little soiree’ sat Melissa Marquis and her husband, quietly chatting and each nursing a cup of coffee. After a moment, I reached over and picked up the bourbon glass I had and clinked a knife to it. Everyone looked over at me; I held up the glass in turn. “I propose a toast. To friends!”

“To friends!!” We all raised whatever we were drinking and cheered. Then Mike looked at me and asked, “Matt, who is that very gorgeous woman with you there? For that matter,” he added, leaning over to give Stephanie a brief kiss on the hand, “how did you two ever hook up?”
“Thanks for embarrassing me a little bit there,” I said, blushing ever so slightly. Gathering my composure, I began. “In case you didn’t know, this is Stephanie Harrington. Stephanie, these roustabouts’,” I said, pointing to everyone and bringing a laugh to the table, “are some good friends of mine with Exotic Ice Customs.”

Pointing at Frech first, I started, “Steph, this is Matt Frechette, Mike Chevalier and his wife Sarah, Jason Ridenaur and Melissa Marquis and her husband, Kyle.” After some introductions, we must’ve spent the next hour or so talking and carousing; part of the racing culture doesn’t just revolve around the revolves around the people you know and the people you hang out almost amounts to a surrogate family of sorts. As I was telling a joke I felt a small tap on my shoulder. A waiter from the catering firm that ran the block of luxury suites we were in was standing behind me. “Mr. Little, there’s a call for you in the lobby.”

Wondering what it was, I set my bourbon down and got up, pausing only to say, “I’ll be right back,” brushing my hand along Stephanie’s back as I walked over to the lobby. In the background as I exited I could hear Michael’s wife say, “Stephanie, I never in my life have seen someone fall as head over heels for someone like that boy has,” referring to me. “You two are perfect for each other........” I smiled, hearing that, as I walked to the phone. “Hello?”

“Mr. Little, I’ve got a package for you. There’s a drive-in along Sawtelle Blvd. just off the 705. Be there tomorrow, 3pm.” The caller hung up, but I figured it was about the bars. The deal Jon and I had struck with the South African was they would pay us for the gold bars; we in turn would take them to the bars’ location. Once they had possession of them, that would be the end of it and things would go back to normal for all of us.

Handing the phone back to the waiter, I walked back to our table; right before I got back, I mimicked being quiet. Sneaking up behind Stephanie, I lightly began massaging her shoulders at the point where the muscles intersect the ones in the neck. Looking startled for a brief bit, she arched her back in the seat and purred quietly. “Keep doing that, would ya’? A little lower might help......” I kept at it for a few more seconds before sitting back down. “I could try that some more tonight, love; with some candles, white wine, silk sheets....,” I said mischievously. Swatting me away for a moment, I sat down as Mike asked, “So, how serious is it between you two?”

The question caught us both for a loop; I hadn’t thought of it, yet there was that persistent voice in my head that had been whispering to me the past few days, “She’s the one......” After reflecting about it, I looked over at him. “I’d say its’ serious. Its’ only been a short while, but if you’re asking if its’ just a short-term’s not. It’s not.”
He mused over it before tipping his glass towards me. “Cheers, Matthew.”

“Thanks, Mike. Now, as I was saying earlier.......” The rest of the day we spent talking, laughing, goofing around as young, professional-looking people are want to do, but even the best of times come to an end. As we gathered outside the boxes at Pomona, we hugged each other and bid farewell as we split off for the evening; unbeknown to any of us, someone was watching us from afar.

For the briefest of moments, I looked around, the hairs on my neck standing around but I thought better of it and opened the passenger door of the Audi R8 for Steph, then closed it, got in the driver’s seat and pulled out onto the seat. Maybe we are being watched, I thought to myself........but who was doing the watching? And........who was the one being watched? I didn’t know the answer to either question............but it would soon enough rear itself up.
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:28 pm

Chapter 5

Ever notice how time seems to slow down for you when you’re with someone special? Like it could go on forever? Well, that could describe the relationship Stephanie and I had the couple of months we were together. If we weren’t at Zero Degrees or enjoying the company of friends, the odds were good we were with each other, either at my place in the hills or her place down near Santa Monica, around Velo City or even at the races. All right, I’ll admit it.......I was in love. Head over heels in love with her.

Things were going great elsewhere.........those gold bars from the heist? We got rid of them and pocketed a couple of million for the effort. And how was the racing, you might ask? I won my fair share of them over the next two months(except for the three Sandman won and the one Buick the last case, it was classic racing 101.....You see, we were all the way out at Manzanita on the 3/4-mile oval there; I had the lead late in the race when we came up on some lap traffic. Using some skillful moves, Buick used a lapped car as a pick, got by me and that’s all she wrote.......) along with a bunch of challenge wins to boot. All in all, my life was going pretty good; how else could I describe it?

Yet I still couldn’t keep my mind from wandering off at times; it was my nephew, Chris, who summed up the jangled mess of emotions going through me quite clearly one evening over beers at my house. “You are lovesick if there ever was such a thing; tell me I’m wrong, Uncle Matt.” That was the thing about my nephew; he was as whip-sharp as he was smart and I couldn’t think of a comeback to his retort. A few awkward seconds later, I simply nodded; he cackled for a moment. “I knew it! You’re in love.”

“That I am, Chris..........I can’t stop thinking about Stephanie......”
“So that would explain the little box you’re trying to hide from view on the table there?”
“What box?”
“That little............what’s in it?”

“Just a nice, little ring........,” I said, handing it to him after a lot of nervous hesitation. I had bought it at a jewelers’ in Century City; I was so nervous at the time but the jeweler picked it out once I told him what kind of ring I was looking for......”What d’ya think?”

Now Chris, who was 23, worked in, of all places, a jewelers' down in San Diego, and it took him but a moment’s look at it before he looked right at me. “It’s an engagement ring. You’re going to ask her to marry you, aren’t you, Uncle Matt?”

I looked away for a long second before nodding; if one had looked at my reflection from the table, one might’ve very well seen a tear well up . “Yeah, I am. I tell you, Chris, there isn’t nothing I wouldn’t do for Stephanie; nothing at all. You know that voice......the one that keeps prodding you at times, whenever you see that special someone, telling you, ‘She’s the one.’ Well, Stephanie’s.......the one. I just.......I just haven’t found the right opportunity to ask her,” I finished; at that moment, I didn’t care if he(or anyone else) saw a tear or two.

“You want my advice, Uncle Matt? Don’t force it; just tell her how you feel about her, you know. You’ll know when the time is right, okay?” Chris sat back and another drag of his beer, then leaned forward and laughed. “I cannot believe it.....”

“I can’t believe I just gave my uncle marriage advice......” After a few seconds we both laughed hilariously over it. “I can’t believe you did either; what would your mother think, Chris?”

“She’d faint at the thought of her brother getting married, that’s for sure.” It was a comedic thought but one tinged with bitterness; there was little love lost between me and my older sister, Hope, who once, when she found out I had been sent to prison a few years back, had supposedly said to relatives, “Shame they couldn’t have made it 11 years instead of 11 months.” That animosity wasn’t lost on Chris, but you’d never know it at times. “No, I know what Hope would say,” I said.
“And that would be.......”

“My brother has finally started to clean up his act,” I said. “I might not completely on the straight and narrow, but I’m feelin' stronger every day, kid.” The only questions left were was I going to propose to Stephanie? Where, for that matter? When, come to think of it? But just as its’ always calm before the storm, little did I know that my life, and those not just around me but in all of Velo City, were about to take a very turbulent turn.
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:28 pm

Chapter 6

All day, I had never been more nervous in my life than I was that day. It was the beginning of September; the Santa Ana winds were blowing down the hills, providing a bit of relief to the early fall weather. All day, whether at the track or driving around, all I could think about was that ring.........her.......the paths our lives had taken to that point.

After a long workout at the house, I showered and went to the bedroom, where I got dressed for a night at the club. Twenty minutes later, wearing a black, button-down shirt, Dockers and a pair of black Sketchers, I walked out the door, keys to the Caddy in hand. Hopping in, I turned the ignition on, set the air to high and backed out the driveway towards the street. A few minutes later, I turned onto Kensington for the drive down; traffic was dense but not as bad as it could be at times.

Finally, I saw Zero Degrees off to the left; I slowed and turned into the main lot. Pulling up to the curb, I gave the valet the keys and a tip; as he drove off, I walked to the front. Like most evenings, there was a good crowd; Bulletproof spotted me and waved me in. Walking through the doors, I walked over to the bartender. “How’s it going, Kent?”
“Fine, fine. Expecting a big night tonight. You?”
“The same–“

”Listen, Stephanie’s already here; I got her a corner table near the dance floor, Matt,” pointing over towards the row of tables along the end of the club’s dancing space. I looked over and spotted her, nodding over to her, I turned back to Kent. “The usual, Kent. 2 bourbons,” sliding him a twenty in the process.

I walked over to the table, where Steph was sitting with a few friends and acquaintances. I leaned down and kissed her; she returned it instantly. She was wearing a long black silk dress w/a hunter-green top vest; the vest accentuated her upper body while the dress, long as it was, did the same for her hips and legs. As I sat down, Chris looked over and said, “Matt, I know you told me she was beautiful, but...........”

Taking a moment to reach out his hand to Stephanie, he introduced both himself and his wife. “Unless Uncle Matt hasn’t told you about me,” drawing a groan from me and a stifled laugh from Steph, “I’m Chris Shiflett and this is my wife, Holly,” ; both Holly and Stephanie said hello before I spoke. “In case I didn’t mention it, the little twerp here is my nephew, who at times could be mistaken for a younger version of me. Which almost never happens.......” Just then a couple more familiar faces showed up.

“What’s up, brother?,” said J.R. Right behind him were both Michael Chevalier, his wife Sarah, and another EIC member, Michael Smith. I beckoned them to sit and greeted both with, “Took ya’ long enough to get here,” I said.

“Well, we’re here, the night is young and all’s right with the world,” J.R. retorted. As they were sitting down, a barman walked over with our drinks; 2 bourbons and a couple of Bacardi & Cokes’. As everyone was chatting around, Chris looked over at me. “Hey, Uncle Matt......tell us the beer cooler story again? Just where did that guy....”

Chuckling to myself, I started, “Well, my dad could tell that story better than me, but here goes......y’all know, back in his prime, my dad was a crew chief, chief mechanic, head wrench, etc., etc., for a bunch of USAC and CART teams over the years. This one year at Indy for the 500, he was the head wrench for Jim Hurtubise and they’d entered an old, front-engine Mallard/Offy that woulda’ had no chance that year against the sleek, sexy rear-engined cars of the day. Cars, mind you, that were a lot better to drive then than the POS Dallaras’ they run at the Brickyard nowadays. Anyway, they get the car up to the tech line like they’re going to qualify the damn thing. Starter’s gun goes off, 6pm, field’s frozen for the Indy 500 that year and all the track officials, including ole’ Tony Hulman, I might add, are looking at Herk and going, ‘what the **** was this guy thinking?’ He’s already got one car qualified for the 500... Anyway, by now, there’s got to be a couple of hundred people around Herk, my dad and a couple other crewmen and the chief steward is losing it, absolutely losing it... He looks at my dad and starts asking, what is your driver doing, sir? Now, as he’s asking that, Herk gets out of the Mallard, opens up the front cowling above where the engine would be.........and there’s five coolers of Miller High Life where the engine’s supposed to be, chilled and ready to drink. He then starts passing bottles of Miller High Life around to everyone, including both Hulman and the chief steward, who, without missing a beat, pop the tops and start drinking 'em right there in pit lane......”

Everybody laughed; the thought of someone pulling that at a racetrack today would be enough to send the authorities after you in an instant. As we were talking, I thought to myself, now or never......”If you’ll excuse me a moment.....” I got up and walked over to the bar; everyone at our table, most ‘specially Stephanie, looked at me wondering, what is he up to? After walking over to the bar, I said a few words to Kent, pocketed the ring box with the engagement ring in it and walked back to our table. Leaning down, I whispered to Stephanie, “The floor’s to dance?”

“Lead the way,” she said. After a few steps onto the floor we were dancing, Steve Winwood playing over the speakers. As we were dancing, I made a quick flick of the hand; Chris saw it and motioned to everyone, ‘Get up...get up...’ Steph had her back turned as they approached; once they got up to us I pulled out the ring box and knelt on one knee before her. When she turned around, she was shocked to say the least. “Matt, what...what are you doing?,” she stammered.

All the nervousness that I had been nursing the whole day disappeared like water over a waterfall as I looked up at her, my hand holding hers’. “Ever since that first night I saw you, I’ve known you’re the one. I just have but one question to ask..........Stephanie Harrington, will you marry me?”

For a brief moment, she stood there, stunned at the question. It was only for an instant though as she began to cry tears of happiness. “Yes.” The instant she said it, everyone in Zero Degrees cheered; Kent and some of the bar staff began handing out glasses of champagne as Stephanie and I kissed for the longest time. Eventually our lips parted and I held her closely, wanting to savor every moment. Her engagement ring shone brightly under the lights; Sarah and several of the other members’ wives looked at it in awe. “It’s beautiful,” they all seemed to say. For the next hour or so there wasn’t a dry eye in the club as everyone celebrated; while they were enjoying themselves, Stephanie and I continued to dance, savoring the moment. As we were celebrating, though..............BOOM!!!!

A loud explosion from outside rocked the building; all of us stood there wondering what had happened. “What was that?,” Scandalous, EIC's president, yelled. As all of us stood there, frozen at what was happening, several security guards ran out to see what was going on. Seconds later, there came another loud explosion, followed by a third and a fourth. Looking over at Scandalous, I said, “My guys will check it out; cover us.”

“Go; Bulletproof and Ravyn’ll cover you guys at the door.” In the back, several members were pulling out assorted rifles and shotguns; whatever was going on, we weren’t taking any chances. While they were loading up and heading towards the door, my crew and I, weapons drawn,, ran to the door. Stephanie started to follow; at first, I said, “No, stay in here–“

”Matt, I can take care of myself,” she firmly replied as she looked over towards the bar. “Bronder, toss me my purse," yelling to who I later found out was another FBI agent w/the SRTF. Seconds later, she pulled out both her badge, placing it around her neck, and her P239; making sure a round was chambered and ready. “You were saying?”

Soon, several of us.....myself, Stephanie, Mike Chevalier, Michael Smith and Matt Frechette, were outside the club. Off in the distance several cars were burning, thick smoke obscuring them. We ran to where the cars were; spreading out, we looked for any sign that someone was around when Chevalier yelled, “Here they come!”

Several trucks beared down on our location; we dove for cover as a hail of bullets flew over us. The trucks kept going at us; back at the club, Bulletproof and Ravyn, both armed with M4s’, opened fire in an effort to give us a chance to move back to another row of cars. It kept like this for several minutes; they’d fire at us, we’d return fire and move to another location, etc., etc.. Eventually, we made it back to the last rows of cars in front of the club; for a brief instant we thought they were all of us made a run for the door. Suddenly another hail of bullets flew by........except for three which caught Stephanie square in the upper back, knocking her to the ground.

We had just made it to the door when I saw Sarah’s horrified expression; she was pointing back towards the parking lot. I turned around......and all the color drained from my face; Steph was lying, facedown, a pool of blood beginning to gather around her mid-section and chest. Running back out there, I turned her over; she was alive but dying. All three rounds had hit her in the upper back and the frothy bubbles percolating from her lips meant her lungs had been shredded.

As Ravyn and several others ran out to secure the parking area, I sat down beside her and held her tight; her back was soaked wet with blood and tears began streaming down my face as I tried to comfort her. “It’ll be alright,’ll be alright.......,” I said, rocking her back and forth, brushing a stray hair from her face. Her almond-colored eyes were darting every which way, like she was looking for something or someone but couldn’t see.

“Promise me, Matthew.......,” she said weakly, in between coughs. I looked down at my beloved, the tears falling from my face unabashedly down onto her. Off in the distance, sirens could be heard but I had no illusions about them; I kept rocking back and forth, holding Stephanie to me.

I could see her face was very pale, the color draining from her as she moved her lips again. Very faint sounds came from them........”Promise me..........,” she said; I could see from her expression that she wasn’t long for this world. “Avenge me, my love..........avenge me..........”. Looking right at her as she said that, I nodded, burning those words into my mind...........”Avenge me.” Moments later, her eyes lost all focus and she slumped, dead in my arms. For a brief instant, I couldn’t think, couldn’t focus.........then I looked upward and with all of my strength, cried out like a wounded animal. I didn’t care if anyone saw or heard me crying.

For the longest time I held onto her lifeless body, swaying gently back and forth, not wanting to let go.........not wanting to release her. As the first ambulances arrived, I looked back up at the night sky; for a brief moment I saw a shooting star flicker by. As paramedics and police arrived onscene, I quietly said to myself, “I’ll avenge you, my love. This I swear........I will avenge you.”
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:29 pm

Chapter 7

***several hours later, Zero Degrees***
Outside the club, the lights from dozens of strobes reflected throughout the parking area; dozens of cops were around, some manning checkpoints along Kensington Blvd. to keep people away. Others were walking slowly, methodically, through the parking lot, counting shell casings and taking measurements while a few more stood around towards the front of the club.

Not all of them were VCPD, either; a dozen or so FBI agents were around also. They were easy to pick out, with the slick-back cars and button-down suits. Meanwhile, I was sitting inside the club, still in a state of shock and anguish over what had happened. Everyone was trying to console me but I felt as though I were on the far side of the moon, I was that out of it. My thoughts were a jumbled mess of emotions, mixed with memories of Stephanie from our time together.........but if one could’ve seen into my heart, there was a huge hole in it full of anguish, heartache and sadness. For the first time in a long while, I really didn’t know what to do............

***brief flashback***
...............for the longest time I held onto her lifeless body, swaying gently back and forth, not wanting to let go.........not wanting to release her. As the first ambulances arrived, I looked back up at the night sky; for a brief moment I saw a shooting star flicker by. When the first paramedics arrived, it took three of them, along with Mike and Sarah Chevalier, to get me to release her; Mike kept saying to me, “She’s gone, Matt.......she’s gone; let her go, let her go......” For several agonizing moments I didn’t want to; I still couldn’t believe it.

Stephanie was gone....the same woman whom I had proposed to not just an hour before was now an empty vessel; I kept swaying back and forth like a maimed animal, not knowing what to think or do. He kept talking to me, Sarah adding her voice to the mix as well.......eventually, I let go; there was nothing I could do. I got on both knees next to her and brushed some hairs away from her eyes, now vacantly staring out. Holding me in their arms, they helped me to my I began to walk back into the club the paramedics had lain a yellow sheet over Stephanie’s body. Ashen-faced, I walked back into the club, not really wanting to believe what had happened had happened.....the walk back to our table was the longest walk I had ever taken in my life. I sat down, almost automaton-like, as everyone else scrambled around.
***back to the current***
After sitting in the club, still anguished and in shock, someone turned on a television kept near the bar, along with a second one near where I was sitting. I looked over; there was a breaking news item on one of the networks............”.....tragedy in the Southland tonight. This is KVLO Late Night with breaking news; we go now to David Pollack with the latest. David?”

By his location, he was standing along the sidewalk of Kensington Blvd. near one of the club’s parking entrances. Behind him one could see the ubiquitous yellow police-tape, a common sight in Velo City. I shut out what he saying and leaned forward, head in my hands, when Ravyn walked over to where I was sitting. “Matt? Matt?,” he said, trying to catch my attention. I looked over blankly for a moment before I caught what he was saying. “Yeah?”

“Matt, these people want to talk to you,” he replied; behind him stood a tall man with a bald head in a black suit. With him was another gentlemen, slightly shorter in height but wearing an almost carbon-copy of the suit the taller man had on. “You Matthew Little?”
“Yeah,” I said, my voice cracking up.

I’m Inspector Rich Christensen, FBI, head of the bureau’s Street Racing Task Force here in Velo City; this is Special Agent Nate Pritchett. We’d like to talk to you if its’ possible about what happened tonight.” I nodded; the two sat down. Looking over at Ravyn, I mimicked drinking; he ran over to the bar and got a glass of water for me. Taking a long drag of it, I looked over at the two federal agents; they looked about as weary as I felt anguished. For over an hour, they asked me question after question about what had happened; Christensen asked most of the questions while Piersall took notes on a small notepad. Now, normally, the last thing I normally want to do is talk to any law enforcement officer.....there were exceptions, though.

“So, Mr. Little, what was your relationship to the deceased?,” S.A. Pritchett asked.

That word stung as he said it. Deceased. Not flinching, I replied,
“She was my fiancée: I had just proposed to her tonight; I still can’t believe this is all happening–“
”Is there anyone you can think would want to have done harm to her? To you, for that matter?”
“No; no one comes to mind off-hand.” It wasn't the whole truth but at that time, what were they going to do?

“Okay.” He placed his pen back inside his suit pocket; he then handed me his card.. Christensen spoke again. “If we have any more questions, is there a contact number we can reach you by?”
“Yeah; my cell number or the club’s number here,” giving them both. He wrote them both down, then joined Pritchett as they left the club. As they were leaving, I stood up, still in a state of anguish, fished around for the keys to the Caddy and began to walk towards the door.

Seeing me, Kent ambled over and reached for my arm. “You all right, Matt?” Shaking off his arm, I kept walking. Kent stayed right near me, continuing to ask. Mike and Sarah saw me and joined in. I still looked the color of a ghost and it scared everyone in sight. Mike looked at me and asked if he could drive rather than let someone who looked as I did drive.

Holding my composure, I said, “I’ll be all right......I just, just need to be alone, okay?” He looked at me for a moment then slowly backed away. “I’ll see if they’ve cleared the area where your Caddy was,” he said, calling one of the club bouncers on a rover. Seconds later, he nodded. “You sure you’re going to be alright?”

“I’ll be alright....” Truth was, I was close to losing it, of breaking down right there in the club. I had every right to, but like I said, I needed to be alone. I walked slowly to the Caddy, my eyes catching the blood-stained pavement to my left for a brief moment. The local PD were still doing there work, but I paid them no attention. Finally, I reached the Caddy and jumped in the driver’s side. I felt someone had sucked all the life out of me; as I made that long drive up Kensington, I kept glancing over at the empty passenger seat.

After what seemed like forever, I turned onto a side street which led to my house, turning into the driveway and shutting the engine off. I sat there, hands trembling, trying to keep it together. Mustering what strength I had left, I walked to the door and entered what now seemed to be a barren place. It just seemed empty. Setting my keys on the counter, I walked into the living room, sat down........and just lost it.

All the emotions of the past few hours welled outward and wave after wave of tears sprung up. I don’t know how long I cried, but the time didn’t matter; counting the minutes and seconds would’ve cheapened it. Looking over, I saw the picture of Stephanie and me that had taken up at Big Bear Lake a month prior; picking it up, I held it close to my chest, thinking about her last words.......”Avenge me.” As I slowly gathered my emotions, I looked at our smiling faces and pressed it even tighter to my chest............

***two weeks later***
What is it now, I thought?, as my cell phone rang. I was still feeling emotionally drained and really didn’t want to talk to anyone. The first few nights were the worst. I got maybe three hours of sleep, period; most nights I simply laid in bed, staring at the ceiling or at the empty space next to me, but as the days went by, I started slowly returning to my usual, knife-edge sharp, composed style and manner. Reaching for my cell phone, I opened it and spoke. “Hello.”

“Matt? Is that you?” It was Mike Chevalier, calling as he had the past few days each morning to check up on me. “How you holding up?”
“Better; just taking things day by day, I guess....”
“Matt, can you meet me down at the club?”
“Yeah, thirty minutes sound alright?”

“Sure; I’ll meet you there.” As he hung up, I grabbed my jacket and .45, placing the pistol in the small of my back where it wouldn’t be seen or noticed at first glance.

Grabbing the keys to the Lotus, I headed down to Zero Degrees. It was the first time since her death that I had driven the Lotus, but I needed to drive it as a reminder of what I’d lost. The drive down to the club didn’t take very long; traffic was surprisingly light and I was grateful for it. Pulling into the club, I saw that repair crews were hard at work repairing the outside of the club, which had taken by most counts, over 150 bullet holes from all the shooting. It looked like a patchwork of spackling, but I knew that it wouldn’t be long before the surfaces were covered to hide the....damage the club had taken that night.

Most of the parking spaces were blocked for the repair crews; I found a space near the sidewalk and parked the Lotus. Exiting the car, I walked over to the front door; even though it had been a week or so, you could still see where the bloodstains were on the pavement. Although they’d been washed away, the faint outlines where it’d been. Entering the club, I took a deep breath before heading to the bar. Seeing him approach, Kent grabbed a large shot glass and filled it with some ice, then poured some Jim Beam into the glass. Handing it to me, he asked, “You holding up alright, Matt?”

“I am; I’m just taking it day by day, brother.” We talked for a few minutes before Chevalier arrived. Seeing where I was, he strode over and grabbed a beer from the bar’s fridge. “We gotta’ talk, Matt.”
“About what–“

”Not here,” he said, pointing to one of the upstairs tables. Knowing I wasn’t going to win this argument, I simply pointed to it and followed him up the flight of stairs. When we got to the table, I asked as we were sitting, “Why the rush?”

Mike looked over towards the upper-level windows for a moment, then turned back towards me. “Matt, a couple of days ago I ran into this Vice sergeant I’ve had on the take the past few years. During the course of our conversation I asked him if he knew anything about what happened here........”

“And, he said he’d heard a couple of things of interest.”
“Such as?”

“Well, for starters, he’d heard from someone in Robbery-Homicide that the Whisper’s put the word out on the street that he wants you dead.”

“So that son of a ***** wants me dead? Big ******* deal, Mike! I shoulda’ capped him after that armored heist—“

”That’s not all........apparently the RHD detective told my friend that someone paid the Whisper to go after you.......”
“Did he say who?”

“He didn’t know and my friend didn’t press him......I’ll see if I find out who it was.” He paused for a second before adding, “it gets worse, though, Matt.”

“Well, my friend in Vice asked him some more about what the Whisper said. The Vice sergeant told me that whoever paid the Whisper to try and kill you.......specifically told him to go after Stephanie also, preferably before he went after you.”

There was a long, palpable silence before I spoke. “So what you’re saying is that someone paid that ******* to kill both of us?” I said it just loud enough that it silenced everyone down below.

“Yeah, both of you. But whoever paid the Whisper wanted him to kill Stephanie first, then you. Assuming you didn’t try to go after him in return.......”

“Who knows? Maybe Whisper thinks you’ll be so full of rage, anger, grief and bereavement that it’ll cause you to lose your focus, leave you vulnerable and unsure of what to do.” I sat back and thought about what my friend had said.

“See what you can find out, Mike. Especially try to find out where the money the Whisper got came from?” As I said this, I was getting up. “Where you headed to, Matt?”
“To see an old friend.”
“Lee Brinson. Name ring a bell?”
“Not immediately, no.”

“Lee works down in the Harbor District; runs sport-fishing tours above board. On the side, he has an extensive network of eyes, ears and ratlines throughout Velo City–“
”Rat lines?”

“Smuggling networks that don’t use major roads or high-watch air traffic to get things in and out of the city.”
“How good is he?”

“Back when I was at Terminal Island, he was on the same tier that I
was. Supposedly, when Customs popped him for smuggling Cuban contraband into South Florida, they wanted him to teach them how he did it....”

“What’d he say to them?”

“He told them to go **** themselves.......that alone got him a couple of extra months.” I finished my drink and headed for the stairs. I had a lot of things to do; as I bounded down the stairs, I pounded one hand, balled into a fist, into the other. I thought to myself, you don’t know what you’ve started, Whisper. If I have to tear this city apart, I will find you, Whisper.........and I will avenge Stephanie’s death, no matter the cost. As I grabbed my jacket, I walked out the door. My grief and anguish were gone, replaced with a steely resolve. I got into the Lotus and headed back onto Kensington for the trip down to the Harbor. There were still parts of me that wanted to continue grieving but I thought to myself, you can grieve later. First things first......find the Whisper before he finds you and make him pay for he had done. It was the least I could do for my beloved.
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:30 pm

Chapter 8

***the Harbor District, early afternoon***
The trip down the 405 to the Harbor District took longer than I had thought, but that was to be expected in a city that seemed to stretch forever on a map. Practicing my skills on the trip down, I kept the Lotus around 90mph, slipping through holes in traffic and enjoying the beautiful sounds the Garrett twin-turbo made. Exiting the freeway, I made my way down San Pedro towards the marinas’ that lined the west-central end of the district.

After a few minutes of searching, I pulled into a parking lot outside a non-descript dockside quay; the sign out front read Brinson Pacific Tours. Along the dockside behind the building were several large sport-fishing vessels tied to the docks; just down the road a distance was a nearby lighthouse. Getting out of the Lotus, I began walking up to the building, the ocean breeze gently blowing around. Opening the front entrance, I walked up to the desk; a small, wiry girl of 16 was at the front desk. “Is there anything I can help you with, sir?”

“Yeah, is Lee Brinson around?”
“Let me check.” Picking up a phone from the table, she dialed an extension and spoke to someone on the other end. Placing it back down, she said, “Lee’s in his office; he’ll be right out.”

Moments later a tall, trim gentleman wearing a sport shirt, chinos’ and boat shoes walked out of the office. Seeing me, he walked over, hand extended. “Well, if it ain’t Webster himself! Matt, my friend, how are you? Still raising hell?” I shook his hand in return; he was still the same wiseacre that he’d always been.

“Can I talk to you for a bit, Lee?”
“Sure; hang on a second.” After turning to the girl at the counter, he turned back around. “Let’s go to the docks; there’s no one out there right now.”

For about thirty minutes we spoke; I told him what had happened, to which he commiserated, “I heard, Matt. That was brutal, what happened; you have my condolences.” Then he continued, “So, what brings you down here?”

“You still got your networks up or are they dormant?”
“They’re still up; can’t guarantee they’re all available–“
”You think you could find out who paid the Whisper to off both me and Stephanie?”
“I can try, but......”
“But what?”

“Steph was FBI, right? There’s about 50 or so Fibbies’ now in the city, looking for whoever killed her.....rumor has it they want to bigfoot the case from the locals–“

“Whenever you have two competing agencies working the same ground, it’s often common for whichever has the more power to appropriate, or ‘bigfoot’, a case from the weaker. And there’s no love lost between the FBI and the VCPD. The Feds’ think the VCPD are nothing more than nightstick-wielding brutes’ wearing badges, while the locals look at the Fibbies' as nancy-boy prima' donnas'... Usually the FBI wins. With what happened to Stephanie, however.....they’ll want their hands on this case, my friend.” As he spoke my cell rang again. “Hang on, Lee,” I told him, flipping it open.

“Matt, its’ Mike; I just got off the phone with my Vice contact. We now know who put up the front money to get both you and Stephanie–“
”Who, Mike?”

“That South African fellow, the one who bought the bars from us, Krueger. Turns out, those were his bars we took that day. He was hiding them form the IRS, of all things---”
“That’s understandable. His bars, but why the hit money, though?”

“My contact didn’t say. He did said, however, that Krueger put the money up after the truck heist back in May. Apparently Krueger didn't like the way the heist went down and put the contract on you out. Then the Whisper heard about it and decided to pay Brandt a visit. After he told the guy who he was, Krueger upped’ the contract money and specifically put the contracts out for both you and then added one to Stephanie, the stipulation being her first. How cold is that, my friend?”

I stood silently, right hand holding the cell to my ear, left hand tapping out a note on my leg, but I wasn’t paying attention to anything in particular. I was thinking of only one thing......avenging what I had lost. I said bye to Chevalier and hung up the phone; Brinson had walked back to where I was standing. “Everything all right, friend?”

Not wanting to alarm him, I shook my head back and forth. “You say your contacts are still up, Lee? Find out where the Whisper hangs out; his haunts, his dives, every move he makes on the street, okay? Also, see what your networks can find out about a South African named Brandt Krueger and let me know, a’right?” I gave him my cell number as I was speaking. Lee nodded; if his rat-lines were still operational, he’d know soon enough. “Anything else, or should I call out the National Guard also?” We both laughed; Brinson still had his irrepressible sense of humor. “You ever been to the races, Lee? I gotta’ run in a few nights out at Fontana.....come out and watch.”

We walked back to the building where his sport-fishing business was located; I got my back in the Lotus and soon was headed back up the freeway. My mind was running as if it were full of burning nitrous, thinking, Krueger set all this up? Those were his bars.......why would he have his own bars stolen? It was becoming more and more apparent; the time for talking was quickly ending. Oh, I’d still be doing some talking...........just not verbally, if you know what I mean.

My mind was doing cartwheels as I headed back up the 405 when I noticed a car following me, shadowing my every move. I’d make a lane change, the Spyker would make a lane change; if I slowed down or sped up, it’d do the same thing. Without hesitating I goosed the Lotus as fast as it could take me; the cars began flying past as I weaved skillfully through the freeway traffic, heavier than it had been earlier.

The Spyker kept up but was slowly, imperceptibly, losing the little battle we had. Seeing an opportunity, I jerked the steering wheel hard right; the sport’ tires on the Lotus gripped the road, squealing in protest but holding on for dear life. As I made it off the 405, I looked behind me and watched as the Spyker couldn’t make the turn, flipping over as its’ tires had caught too much grip and had flung the car over like a dog’s chew toy. As I made my way onto Manchester Avenue, I could see the traffic begin to back up on the freeway; the Spyker ended up cartwheeling a bunch of times before resting on its’ roof........only to have a semi nail it flush on the driver’s side as it attempted to slow down and avoid it. Ouch, I thought to myself, but then thought...........whoever wanted to play with me just got a nasty lesson in how not to play with others.

The rest of the drive back up to the club was on surface streets; while the trip took longer, it gave me time to think. Think, Matthew..............why would Krueger have his own bars stolen? He was trying to avoid having the IRS breathing down his neck, hence the reason for the theft. But why me and my guys? Why not have his own people do it? Furthermore, why the contract on both him and Stephanie?.......

That last part stumped me; throughout our relationship, most everyone knew Steph had been an FBI agent; she had been open and honest about her work with the bureau’s SRTF and everyone in EIC had respected her immensely for it. Did Krueger not realize what a can of worms he was opening? It was one thing for someone to come after me; as many heists and scores my crew and I had accomplished in Velo City, that was expected. It was another to go after a Fed.

It was a lot to digest, but I thought, I now know who to go after. It was said that whenever I got my hands on something, I didn’t rest until the job was completed; same thing for whenever I was out on the racetrack; all-out, 10/10ths’ each lap. As I began heading up Kensington to the club, I thought to myself, I hope Krueger and the Whisper are enjoying themselves..........for they’ll be dealing with me soon enough.
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:31 pm

Chapter 9

***Zero Degrees, late afternoon***
Returning back to the club, my mind kept going back to the chase on the 405. Was that one of Krueger’s henchmen trying something.....could it have been the Whisper himself? No, he thought. The Whisper’s too smart to try something on the open freeway, but who was it? Was he paying outside muscle to do it? He had his doubts. For one, there was plenty of muscle inside Velo City, especially amongst the smaller clubs, such as the Horsepower Posse, whom I had embarrassed badly some time back, taking a bunch of their pinks’ and walking away with a boatload of cars for the effort. They, however, were allied with the Syndicate and there was no way Mickey de Lucia would ever sanction a hit on a Fed.

Even less likely was the idea of a rival street club being involved. Granted, there was no love lost between Exotic Ice Customs, Musclebomb and Rising Sun, but neither of the other two clubs would be that stupid. As I pulled into the club, I got out and headed inside. Seeing my arrival, Kent motioned over to me, looking a bit nervous. “What’s wrong, Kent?”

“There’s someone here to see you, Matt. She says......she says she was the here the night Stephanie was killed. That’s all she told me; I had one of the barstaff take her to one of the upstairs tables.” Before I headed up there, he asked, “How’s the search going?”

“Getting closer; I can feel it, brother. I can feel it.” Heading upstairs, I saw a woman sitting at one of the upstairs tables. She looked to be in her late thirties’ with short-cut brown hair that accentuated her face and upper body. She was wearing a dark blue pantsuit and seemed pretty nervous. Walking over to her, I offered a handshake. “One of the bartenders said you needed to see me about something?”

“Oh, yes; it’s about what happened that night.” Pulling something out of her purse, she opened up a small wallet, showing her badge and credentials. Looking at it for a moment, I returned it to her and spoke. “So you’re FBI; why doesn’t that surprise me? So, what brings you to our club?”
“You probably don’t know who–“
”That’d be correct. But you knew Stephanie.....”

”That’s true. I was a colleague of Stephanie’s within the SRTF; I was here that night.......” As she spoke I remembered something Stephanie had said as we were running to the front gate......she had turned to someone at the bar and yelled over to her, “Bronder, toss me my purse”. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. Now it hit me.........”You’re the one Stephanie was yelling over at!”

“That’s right,” she said. “Special Agent Erica Bronder, FBI Velo City office. Officially assigned to the bureau’s Street Racing Task Force. And yes, I was the one she yelled over to that night.” Looking away for a moment, she turned back around. “The bureau’s got over a hundred agents right now in Velo City, looking for whoever killed her. Recognize this character?” she asked, pulling out an 8x11 from a folder and sliding it over to me.

“Yeah, I do," I said. "Calls himself the Whisper.”
“His real name’s David Young; 47, from Chicago with a very checkered past, especially when it comes to the Bureau. Did Stephanie ever tell you about her time at the Academy?”

“Some, but there were moments where I think she was........either hiding something from me or very afraid to tell me. I couldn’t quite decide which......”

“That’s what I thought. Young used to be an agent himself, assigned to the Academy’s staff. Anyway, Stephanie and I graduated from the Academy the same time, so we both had had Young as an instructor. About five, six weeks into our training at the Academy, I came back to the dorms one night to find Stephanie crying, huddled underneath a couple of sheets. I asked her what had happened, but she wouldn’t say anything, she was too shook up. I called one of the academy doctors’ and managed to get her to a nearby clinic at MCB Quantico without anyone seeing her like that. She wouldn’t tell me what had happened other than “....why?.....” The docs’ did a full-up physical exam, then called Academy officials, including Deputy Director Alexander. They must’ve spent several hours trying to get her to talk. When she did.....”

“What? What happened?”
Taking several deep breaths, Agent Bronder continued. “What happened was that Young, for years, had been making advances towards several women who were going through training back then, including Stephanie. Especially her. She rebuffed him at every opportunity, which must’ve made Young very angry......”
“Why do I not like where this is going, Agent Bronder?” I said, a hint of anger beginning to build in my voice.

“Well, one night after she had finished working out in one of the academy gyms', Young tried to sexually assault her in one of the shower areas. However, Young ended up getting the absolute **** beaten out of him by Stephanie. Several of Young's co-horts dragged him to the hospital at MCB Quantico; he spent several days there with a cracked skull and multiple contusions." Bronder paused, took a deep breath and continued. "Unfortunately, no one could convince Steph to file criminal charges against Young; his family's got connections in Washington and Steph was afraid they'd tear her life to pieces in court."

By now, my blood was beginning to boil, but I remained outwardly calm as Bronder continued on. "That's not the worst of it, Mr. Little. When word of what happened reached FBI headquarters, they put the clamps on everything. All Alexander could do was ask for Young's dismissal for conduct unbecoming, which they got. On the other hand, the Bureau had a potential PR disaster on its' hands. We're only, what, four, five years post-Tailhook? Had this made the national press, the Bureau would've been crucified. So when we graduated from the Academy, most of us got assignments to the lower 48 or to overseas postings. Not Stephanie; the poor girl found herself shuttled off to some Godforsaken post–“

”Anchorage,” I said, spitting out the word as if it was a poison. “But how does this.......”, pointing to Young’s picture and everything Bronder had said, “explain what’s happening. I mean, why does he want me dead?" Stunned at what I had heard, I pressed Bronder for more information. “So, whatever happened to Young?”

“They fired him from the Bureau for conduct unbecoming over what happened; for what it’s worth, they should've charged his *** with attempted rape at the very least. Stephanie......she was a good friend of mine over the years and I want to see justice done,” emphasizing the justice part.

“You do, huh?”, I replied, thinking, maybe there’s a way here to help both of us........” Tell you what, Agent Bronder. You want to help?” Scribbling down an address in the Harbor District, I said, “Meet me there this evening, say around 6pm. Just look for a slate-black Lotus Exige in front of a sign saying “Brinson Pacific Tours”. Be there if you want to help me.” As she walked away, my cell chirped. “Hello?”

“Matt, its’ Lee; I found out about Krueger and it ain’t pretty, Webster.”
“Listen, Lee, how late ya’ going to be down there?”
“Till around six, anyway. Why?”
“Wait there; I’ll meet you down there. We can talk then.” Hanging up the cell, I hadn’t had a moment when it chirped again. “Hello?”
“Matt, it’s Mike. Where ya’ at?”
“Zero Degrees. Find out anything?”
“Bunches; want to hear?”
“Yeah, but not over an open cell, Mike.” I gave him Brinson’s address, adding, “Meet me there, 6pm.”

“Gotcha.” As he hung up, I kept feeling the anger roiling inside me. Young was an even lower person than I could’ve imagined; it was all I could do not to pound my fists into the table right then and there. I thought to myself, there’s going to be hell to pay from him when I find him. Getting up, I left the club and drove up to the house, parking it so that the smallish trunk of the Lotus was nearer the door.

Going into the house, I took a quick shower then fixed a ham sandwich, eating quickly as I tried to absorb what I’d been told. It ends tonight, I said quietly to myself as my eyes fell to the picture of Stephanie and me from Big Bear Lake. Looking at our smiling faces, I said to myself, It ends tonight. Either I will avenge your death, my love...........or I’ll be joining you myself up there amongst the clouds. Either way, it.....ends........tonight. After getting a few items, I walked out of the house and hopped back into the Lotus. As I drove back down Kensington towards the heart of Velo City and the 405 for the drive down the Harbor, I felt a strange peace come over me, as if a guardian angel had landed on my shoulder. Then I realized, it wasn’t a guardian angel that was with me; it was her spirit that was with I drove, I felt invincible. I thought to myself, no one can stop me. No one.
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:32 pm

Chapter 10

***Harbor District, 6pm***
Pulling into the parking lot in front of Lee’s sport-fishing business, I looked over at the center console. 5:49pm. I made great time coming down the 405, I thought to myself. Of course, you’ll always make great time going on the freeway when your averaging 85+ mph while everyone else is traveling 65-70mph. Mike’s truck, a early 90's Chevy S-10, was parked in front alongside a dark red Lamborghini Murcielago that could only have belonged to Lee Brinson.

While I waited for Agent Bronder to arrive, I turned on the radio; Rage Against the Machine’s “No Shelter” was playing and I could feel the sound waves asa they bounced around the car’s interior. How appropriate, I mused, after tonight there might not be any shelter in Velo City. I sat back and let the music infuse itself into my mind and body. While I listened, I watched the traffic flow along San Pedro Blvd. when a Dodge Challenger with California plates pulled into the parking lot. That must be Bronder, I thought. The Challenger looked, for all practical purposes, like a VCPD detective car. It wasn't though; the reason being Mayor Armin Villareal, a/k/a Mayor Sunny, was too cheap to let them use any decent cars. Sure enough, Agent Bronder got out of the car and began to walk towards the Lotus. As she approached, I got out of the vehicle. “Glad you could make it down here.”

“Sure, and you didn’t break the speed limit coming down here also, I’ll bet.” This got a chuckle from me. She looked around. “So, who else is here?”

“A few friends of mine. When we go in there, Agent Bronder, let me do the intros first. If you announce you’re FBI before I can introduce you to them, they’ll wonder what’s wrong and might panic. If I introduce you, both as an FBI agent and as a friend of Stephanie’s, they’ll likely relax and welcome you in. Now, let’s go find out what they know.” We walked over to Brinson’s main building and entered; standing there in the main lobby were both Brinson and Chevalier.

Mike spoke first, asking me suspiciously, “Who’s this?”

“Gentlemen, this is Special Agent Erica Bronder, with the FBI’s Street Racing Task Force here in Velo City. She was a close friend of Stephanie’s and she’s agreed to help us find the Whisper. Agent Bronder, the tall gentleman here is Lee Brinson, and the stocky guy with the crewcut over here is Mike Chevalier,” I said as everyone greeted each other. Once the intros are completed, Lee spoke up. “Let’s go to my office; it’s large enough to accommodate all of us.”

The four of us headed over to Lee’s office, where he offered all of us a cup of coffee, which all of us accepted in turn. Lee grabbed himself a cup and sat back behind the desk; I sat on the left, Mike sat in the middle and Bronder sat to the right. Let’s get this dance started, I thought. “Okay, Lee, what did you find out about our friend Krueger?”

“First off, my.....friends,” he began, trying to hide who his friends were and where his friends worked, “tell me that Krueger definitely isn’t someone you’ll sing hosannas’ with at Sunday Mass. Krueger’s been a member of several major Afrikaner groups which don’t like--; no, scratch that, which hate the post-1994 South African government; back in the mid-1980's, he brought over several hundred gold bars–“
”Krugerrands,” I said.

“Several hundred and deposited them in various banks around the country. Now, that much gold imported into the country had to raise red flags, especially with Customs and the IRS.”
“He’s right,” Bronder added. “That much gold......why didn’t anyone spot it?”

“Who knows? The thing is....every so often, he’d get wind of IRS criminal audits concerning the gold and voila, the gold disappears. He then writes it off as a tax loss, while the IRS goes away, looking like a bunch of fools. Now, a couple of months back, he gets a summons from the U.S. District Court here in Velo City that the IRS wants to audit him again.....”

“Which is where Mike and I come into the picture,” I finished. Bronder looked over, wondering, “What do you mean?”

“Don’t ask,” I said, shooting Bronder a look. Lee continued. “Anyhow, he used you guys to hide the bars; unfortunately, that’s where our Whisper comes in. You see, Krueger didn’t like the way the bars vanished, so he decides to put the word out that he’s looking to put a contract on our friend Matthew here,” pointing over at me. “By this time, though, Matt’s fallen for a very beautiful woman, one Stephanie Harrington, so Krueger decides to add her to the list. out of spite” As he continued, I thought, had I known, I would’ve killed Krueger right there in that lot a few months back along with the Whisper. Instead....”Just out of curiosity, Agent Bronder–“
”Please, call me Erica,” she replied.

“Okay. Anyway, Erica, did the FBI know about the contract on Harrington?”
“We knew but we weren’t able to get anything specific other than CI information that a contract was out for Agent Harrington’s life. We did what we could, though. We reassigned her to support and headquarters’ duties. In addition, we kept at least three pairs of agents in a revolving tail near her from late June to.....that night, we had five agents besides myself in the club; Harrington, of course, along with myself and Agents Cardones, McKeon, Wolcott and Carano. When it all happened, all of us inside the club helped with security and tried to keep everyone calm.”

Then Lee spoke up, “Anyway, back to the gold bars. After he puts the contract on both of you, that’s where the Whisper comes back into the picture. He agrees to take the contract but on one stipulation......that he gets to kill Agent Harrington first, then our friend Matthew after that.”
“And the money?”

“Remember the money you guys paid Krueger’s people to get rid of the bars, Matt? Well......Krueger turned right around and paid the Whisper the entire amount, 6.2 million dollars.”

Digesting all this, I turned to Mike, “What about your sources?”
Mike shrugged. “My info jibes with what Lee just mentioned." I sat back and thought about what we were going to do. It was very risky, but.....”Okay. Here’s what we’re doing to do.......” I spoke for about ten minutes, both Lee and Mike nodding every so often while Bronder sat quietly in the background. “You sure this is going to work, my friend?” Mike asked.

“Mike, it either does or I’m going to get a one-way ticket to the next world,” I opined. “Anyhow, Mike, go get however many people you can from EIC and get them out on the street; give them a description of the Whisper and tell them if they see him, they’re to call either you, Frech or me.” Looking at Lee, I continued. “Lee, put the word out on the street that Krueger’s turning state’s evidence concerning what happened that night.”

While Lee was staring at me a “what the **** are you smoking?” look, I added, “As far as the Whisper knows, Krueger’s still a free man. If we can put the word out that Krueger’s ratting out the Whisper, the Whisper might come out from whatever rock he’s under.” Turning to Agent Bronder, I continued on. “As for the Feds, whenever you guys conduct surveillance, is it always ground-only or....”

“Usually, unless the target’s on the freeways, in which case we usually add a helicopter or two to the chase.”
“Can you get one of those choppers to help us or does Inspector Baldy have to know about it in advance?”
“Usually, Inspector Christensen has to approve but.......”
“Besides being a crack shot and an expert in tae kwon do, I’m also the bureau's lead chopper pilot in Velo City,” Bronder said with a confidence I really hadn't noticed before; it reminded me a lot of how Steph spoke at times.

“Good. You’ll fly high cover for us.” Turning back to the others, I concluded. “Let’s meet back at the club, say around 10pm.” Everyone nodded; outside, the sun was beginning to set in the west and nightfall was approaching. We had plans to make and not a lot of time to make them in.
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:32 pm

Chapter 11

***Zero Degrees, nighttime***
As I drove into the parking area in front of Zero Degrees, the usual crowds were in front ambling to enter the club. Not wanting to enter that way, I drove around to one of the back entrances; there next to the door sat a couple of cars I recognized, a dark red Lambo, a light blue Chevy S-10, a slick-back Challenger. As I got out of the car, I looked up and though it was hard to see. there was an OH-6 sitting on the club’s rooftop; the “Little Bird” had a sleek appearance and looked as though it owned the night just sitting there.

Sliding my card through the reader at the door’s entrance, I opened the door and walked in. The door led open to a hallway near the ground-level dance floor; at the end of the hallway was the stairs that led up to the second-floor tables, bar and dance floor. Near one of the larger tables sat everyone from our little meeting earlier today: Mike Chevalier, Lee Brinson, S.A. Bronder. There were a few others as well; J.R., Marquis, Mike Smith, for starters. All of them had tense expressions on their faces but nothing out of the ordinary.

Grabbing a chair from another table, I sat down as Mike hit an intercom switch and ordered a bunch of drinks. Looking around the table I spoke up. “Alright, thanks for meeting here on short notice. Before I start, I want to say this......if we don’t think this can be done, we take off now. No hesitation, no going back home to pack,; if we back out, thirty seconds afterward we are headed for points unknown. Pointing to Agent Bronder, I continued. “You see her? She’s risking her job and, possibly, her life, being here helping us. So don’t give her any **** about being FBI, okay?” This was more for J.R., Smith and Marquis that for Chevalier or Brinson’s benefit, but at this point, I didn’t really worry about it; I’d go after the Whisper alone if I had to. After a few pained moments, I spoke again. “Okay. Now we have two ways to get the Whisper.... Lee?”

Brinson spoke. “Alright, my ratlines haven’t found out where he’s hiding, but they did uncover one interesting note. Three days ago someone under the name Diskant purchased a small Cessna from a general-aviation facility near Palmdale,” pointing it out on a map. “One of my sources asked who bought it; all they got was a description of him and it just so happens to match one....,” he continued as Bronder pulled out a photo of David Young, a/k/a the Whisper. “My guess is he’s going to try to leave sometime tonight, maybe tomorrow evening.”

“Why that way?” Marquis asked.

“Simple; we've got enough evidence showing that Young’s the one who killed S.A. Harrington,” Bronder said. “We’ve got BOLOs’ up throughout the Southland, at every airport, train station, bus stop, etc. But even in this post-9/11 world, if you have enough money you can go to a general-aviation type airport, buy a small plane and leave and no one would ever know.”

“Wouldn’t he have to file a flight plan before he took off?,” J.R. asked.

“Technically, yes. However, all a flight plan tells is where and how you plan to go, not where you're actually going,” Bronder replied. As the conversation continued, my cell chirped. Flipping it open, I spoke. “Hello?”

“Matt, its’ Frech. Good news, buddy. The Whisper’s on the move.” As Frech spoke I snapped my fingers very quickly; everyone looked over. “Matt Frechette just spotted him.” Turning back to the cell, I added, “I’m putting you on speaker, Frech.” Seconds later his voice came out through the cell. “I’m on Slauson, heading east towards the 405. He’s in a silver Porsche, about five, six cars ahead.” As he spoke, Smith got out a GPS and quickly looked for where Slauson and the 405 met. “He just got on the 405, guys; we’re heading northbound now.” As Frech spoke, I got up and began to put on my jacket. “Where are you headed off to now, Matt?”

I ignored him for a moment. “Slick, what does the Whisper normally drive?”
“Don't know, but I can find out.” I got my jacket on, then turned to Bronder. “Start the chopper up; we’re leaving.” As she got up, I noticed she was wearing a light brown flight suit rather than the pantsuit she wore earlier in the day. After letting my eyes drift imperceptibly for a moment, I spoke into the cell again. “Frech, keep up with him as best as you can; Bronder’s heading for the chopper and we’ll leaving for our cars this minute. Let us know if the Whisper gets off the 405, alright?"

As we walked outside, I heard the whirling of the rotor blades above; I gave a thumbs up and headed to my Lotus. Pulling out on the street, the cell chirped again. “Frech?”

“Yeah, Matt, I’m still on him,” he said. “He’s picked up speed; we must be doing 80, 85mph. Don’t think he’s spotted me yet, though.”
“Alright,” I said, heading south on Kensington towards the heart of Velo City.

“Keep on him; chances are that's how he’s going to try to get out of Velo City. Still on the 405?”
“For now, at least.”

“Stay on him. He leaves, I want to know where.” Cutting the cell off, I kept heading down Kensington, hitting the Inner Loop which ran around the heart of Velo City. Getting off the Loop and onto the 101, I kept thinking about everything that was going on, wondering if I’d still be around to see the next sunrise. My mind was still turning when the cell went off again. Looking at the incoming number, I flipped the cell. “Mike?”
“Yeah, Matt, I’m here.”
“What d’ya got?”

As Chevalier spoke, I got a sense of foreboding; if what he was saying was true, Frechette was following a decoy and not the Whisper. “Mike, are you certain?”

“Yeah, I’m certain. We got the call in a few moments ago; Young was seen climbing off a Ducati near a bar just outside Altadena.”

“Tell Frech to back away and meet, tell him to head for Altadena.” Turning off the cell, I got out a 2-way rover which had air-to-ground communications capability. “Bronder, you in the air yet?”
“Yeah, just flying through downtown.”

“We just got a sighting on the Whisper. He’s at a bar near Altadena, off of Hwy. 7.” I thought for a moment about what to do next. “Just head for Altadena; I’ll see how fast this Lotus can go on the ground.” Tossing the cell into the seat next to me, I goosed the Lotus up, past 80, past 85........past 90mph. Weaving between cars and from lane to lane, I flew past Dynasty Point and through the eastern Valley. I thought to myself, I’m not stopping for anything; traffic, accidents, CHP........what normally should’ve taken about an hour or so took less than 40 minutes. Finally I saw the exit for SR-7(Ca. State Route 7) come up, far on the right. Slowing down(which for a racer is hard to do.......), I hit the exit right on cue, timing the move perfectly to avoid slowing down too much. Now I could really put the Lotus to its’ paces; SR-7 ran through several valleys and canyons on its' way through the Angeles Mountains.

Watching for any sign of the Ducati, I drove past a large biker bar that had mainly Harleys’ and Buell bikes in the parking lot. Suddenly, as I drove past, I saw a bike that definitely looked out of place...........a Ducati Desmosedici RR, one of the rarest model Ducati bikes in the United States. How a two-bit thug like the Whisper got his hands on one of those bikes I’ll never know, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Driving past the bar, I slowed and stopped on the side of the road about 50 or so yards past, out of sight of the bar. Traffic flowed past in both directions as I grabbed the cell phone out of the passenger seat. “Yeah?”

“Mike, I found him. I found the Whisper. He’s in a bar just off of Highway 7 near Altadena. I’m going to try to look for him; I’m leaving the cellphone on so that you can trace the signal, get the authorites up here pronto.”

“Alright, Matt. Good luck.” As he spoke I got out of the Lotus, locked the doors and began walking towards the bar. As I walked down the road towards the bar, I couldn’t help but think of everything that had happened the past few months. Meeting Stephanie that night at the club had been the best thing to ever happen to me. She had awoken in me a sense of purpose, of the eventual fact that I was going to have to choose either the straight-and-narrow of the street racing life or the criminal life; I couldn't continue doing both.

I had already made my decision. The aborted metals heist notwithstanding, the gold heist was going to be my last score, no matter what else happened. I had enough money stashed away that, when the heat finally died down following the truck heist, I was going to finally walk the straight and narrow; joining EIC had given me another sense of direction, a sense of 'this is where I belong.' Of course, fate has an uncanny way of getting in and gumming up one’s plans; Stephanie’s death had forced me to walk on the dark side once again, to dance on the razor’s edge.

As I thought about that, I thought to himself, time to walk the razor’s edge one more time. As I continued walking, I reached back and made sure the Bren Ten .45 I kept was still there; hidden underneath his sport jacket, no one could see it unless they felt for it.....and woe be to anyone who tried.

Finally, the bar came into view; it was large for a biker bar; most every space in front was full of bikes. Why someone like the Whisper would park a fancy sport bike like a Desmo RR in and amongst the Harleys’ and Buells’ was a mystery, but it didn’t matter to me. The Whisper had taken someone very special from me and if I had to fight every biker in there to get at him, I would.

Walking through the throngs of bikes, I glanced over and noticed something even stranger........someone had ridden a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 sport bike up here. It was bright green in color, although that could’ve been more from the lights in the parking lot that from the bike's paint job. Reaching the front door, I took a deep breath and walked inside. It was crowded, no doubt; the bar was packed with bikers everywhere; the jukebox was playing Metallica. Not seeing the Whisper, I walked over to the bar. The bartender looked at me suspiciously for a moment before speaking. “What can I get you?”

Laying down a ten, I said to the man, “Shot of bourbon.” He filled a shot glass full of Jack Daniel’s and set it down in front of me; I knocked it back in one fluid motion. Setting it down, I said, “Hit me again.” As he poured, I asked, “I’m looking for a friend of mine, David Young,” showing him a picture of the Whisper. “He once told me he hangs out here a lot; I thought I’d come up and visit.”

Looking at the picture, the bartender said. “He was here earlier; said he was heading for Palmdale and didn’t want to take the 5 up there.”
“Is he still here?”

Shrugging his shoulders, the bartender walked off, leaving another shot of bourbon in front of me. Downing it in one motion, I looked over at the people shooting pool and playing darts when one of them must’ve noticed and began walking towards the exits. Quickly glancing back at the photo, I thought, that’s him, that’s the Whisper. Suddenly, I heard the crack of a gun as the Whisper fired a 9mm at me; I ducked to avoid it and pulled out the .45 I carried, firing a round at him in turn. He broke for the door and ran to the Ducati, hopping on it in one fluid motion and throwing up a shower of dirt and gravel back into the air as he rode off.

Running outside, I fired another shot at him, missing him by several feet as he began riding up Hwy. 7. Putting the gun back under my belt, I began to run over to where the Ninja was located. Looking at it, I noticed someone had left the keys in the ignition. That was dumb of them, I thought, as I hopped on and took off after him. Of course, it was also dumb of me to get on the damn thing without a helmet, but I had no time for such thoughts. All I knew is that the Whisper was getting away from me and I was determined to catch him, even if it meant giving my own life up in the be it.
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Postby mlittle » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:33 pm

Chapter 12

As I took off after the Whisper, I kept thinking to myself, hope you know how to ride this damned thing! It was well-known my disdain for motorcycles, having once said that “anybody who willingly rode a motorcycle had serious issues......” Then again, if I ran back to my Lotus, he might get away from me, so I had no choice; either chase after him on the Ninja or let Stephanie’s killer get away from me. As I rode after him, I gunned the throttle as hard as I could, feeling the power pulse through me as I headed up the narrow highway. It was hard to see him, as he had gotten a head start and, although there weren’t very many lights on this stretch of SoCal highway, traffic was light and I made the most of it, putting the skills I had learned all these years racing to the test.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I began catching him, remembering a quote my dad had often told me when I first started learning the racing ropes........”Son, when you’re out there on the road or the racetrack, you’ve got to imagine that whatever you’re driving..... You've got to imagine that it is like a suit of armor, an iron eagle that nothing can stop.” As I kept catching up to the Whisper, I saw off in the distance the canyons that lined this stretch of Hwy. 7 and knew the road ahead was going to get very sharp-curved very quickly.

If we’d been in cars chasing up this road, I’d have caught him in no time......on bikes, though, neither of us had an advantage. It was then that I felt that same spirit with me as I had earlier in the day. A tear pricked from my eye when I felt it; it was Stephanie, with me in spirit as I kept after the Whisper. It was as if she was saying, “Go get him. Go.”, to me as I rode ever onward. Pretty soon I was beginning to catch up to the Whisper; he must’ve seen me, for he took off even faster, daring me to test my luck on the narrow, sharp road. Knowing that nothing was going to stop me now, I thought, “to hell with it” and gunned the throttles as far as I could, nearly yanking the throttle past the stops on the handlebars.

Soon I was hitting over 80, then 85, then 90, on the bike, knowing one little slip, one tankslapper moment would be the end for me; not hearing a helmet, I wouldn’t likely survive any bike crash this far from Velo City. Whatever I was doing must be working, for the gap was closing...........then the Whisper got even more desperate as tried to get away from me. Seeing a flash in front of me, I ducked as sparks flew up from the asphalt. He had decided to pull him 9mm out and started firing at me, not paying attention to the road up ahead.. Big mistake on his part, for as he kept firing at me, I did the unexpected.......I laid off the throttle ever so slightly; it must’ve have looked weird. Why was I slowing down? Looking ahead, I saw where the Whisper was headed..........and then it happened; off in the distance a loud semi's foghorn could be heard, followed by what was a loud crashing noise.
It was then that I heard a loud boom and what sounded like someone crashing their bike, though it was hard to hear in the canyons north of Velo City. For several long seconds, I held my breath, wondering whether yet again the elusive criminal known as the Whisper had escaped. As I rounded the corner I could see skidmarks leaving the highway and a dust cloud off to the side, the mangled remains of a Ducati lying just along the edge of the road. Checking to see that the Bren Ten .45 I kept with me was cocked, safety off and ready to draw, I pulled to the side of the road, my heart beating almost audibly in my ears, loud enough to shake the ground asunder. Climbing down off of the bike I had taken back at the bar, I inched forward, .45 drawn. I began walking along a guardrail that apparently had seen better days, looking over towards the canyon, trying to see where he was. It was then that I caught a flash from below, a watch or maybe.........

“Stop! Stop, Whisper! Stop, *** ******,” I yelled at him; he looked beat up and hurt but I wasn’t taking any chances, crash or no; this guy had already cost me something very precious already. Keeping the pistol pointed right at him, I kept walking towards him, the anger bubbling up inside like a volcano ready to erupt. He finally stopped, slumping down next to a stump but he continued to look at me with a burning hate in his eyes. When I got to him, I looked right at him, pistol pointed at him. “Why? Just tell me why, Whisper?”

“Why, what?”, he said in a hoarse, spiteful manner.
“Why’d you kill her, Whisper?”
“Who?”, he said contemptuously.
“Stephanie Harrington, that’s who.” Grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, I laid the cold steel of the .45 right at his temple; if he had made so much as a twitch.......”You know damn well who I’m talking about, you son of a *****!” Off in the distance police sirens could be heard heading towards us, but they might as well have been on the other side of the world, all the good they would’ve done the Whisper right now. I asked him again, pressing the barrel ever harder into his head. Yelling at him like a possessed man, I kept asking, “Why, Whisper? I just want to know, you *******. Why her? Why come after me like this? Why?......”
As he continued to hatefully stare up at me, I thought, I could kill him right now and no one would ever question my decision.........[/i]but as my mind continued thinking about what to do, the sirens grew ever louder. Maybe the trucker had called it in; looking over, down towards the city, I could vaguely make out the lights of a chopper against the backdrop of the cityscape. It was then that he spoke. "Want to know why I killed her? Huh? Is that what you want to know?"

Slowly, I pulled the gun away from him and sat back on another stump, glaring at him just as much as he did in return. "You got an audience of one, Whisper. I just want to know why."
"Money," he said. "Money. Remember that gold heist? The one where you nearly beat me to death afterwards? Well, when that Afrikaner put the contract on you, I had to jump on it, try to get you back--"

"That still doesn't explain why you killed Stephanie, though. I mean, why her; she didn't have anything to do with it, you *******."

"Still naive about the world, huh? After what you did to me that day, it was all I could not to repay you in kind. Of course, I didn't know back then you were dating that Eurasian *****....... I shoulda' gotten rid of her at the--"

Remembering what S.A. Bronder had said about Steph's time at the Academy, I dragged the Whisper up to his feet and punched him hard in the gut. He doubled over with a loud groan. I threw him back to the ground in disgust; the sirens were getting closer and closer now.

Looking at him with an unequivocal look of disgust, I said to him, "Talk about Stephanie in that manner again and, so help me, you won't live to see the sun come up." Grabbing his arm, I dragged him up to his feet. "Come on, Whisper. Up on your feet!"

Keeping the Bren Ten pointed at him, I motioned with it for him to start walking up the hillside towards the road. By the time we made it back up to the road, there were several cars parked near where both the Ducati's remains and the Ninja were at; most were CHP, but there were a few other cars, including a couple of slick-backs and a few cars from Zero Degrees. Several people jumped out of their cars; Mike Chevalier was the first to reach us. "Matt, you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm okay. Can't say the same for him, though," nodding towards the Whisper. It was then that we felt the rotorwash from a chopper nearby; it was the Cayuse that Bronder had flown from the roof of Zero Degrees earlier. As the rotors slowed to a stop, she climbed out of the chopper as another man climbed out from the other side. They walked over as Chevalier, Smith and a few others gathered around me and the Whisper. "What took you so long, Agent Bronder?"

"I had to pick up Inspector Carson on the way here," she said, motioning to the other person. Shaking his hand, I said, "Well, you've been looking for the Whisper. Here he is," shoving him forward. Carson motioned to a couple of CHP troopers, who cuffed him and began walking him towards one of their patrol cars. He then turned around and looked at the bunch of us. "I should be chewing Agent Bronder out for not following procedures and for bringing in civilians on a case like this......but under the circumstances, I think I can excuse this breach of protocol. Besides, she's filled me in on your relationship with Agent Harrington, Mr. Little. Stephanie..........was a fine woman and a great field agent; her loss hit us hard, very hard indeed." Turning to Agent Bronder, he continued. "Unless there's anything else, Erica, head back downtown with one of the CHP officers and book Mr. Young for the murder of FBI Agent Stephanie Harrington and for any other related crimes." As they walked away to a nearby CHP vehicle, Chevalier looked over at me. "You alright, Matt?"

I looked at the others and thought, I've avenged her's over. I looked at Chevalier and said, "Yeah, Mike, I'm alright. Unless they," pointing to the CHP investigators, "want to talk to us, I just want to get away from here."

"Amen, brother," Chevalier said. After talking to the lead CHP officer, the bunch of us began to walk away from the roadside, heading for our respective vehicles. Mike and I walked over to his S-10; getting in, I sat back and relaxed for a moment, thinking to myself, I'm out of one life......and into another. Starting up the S-10, Chevalier looked over at me. "Where to now, partner?"

"Back to my Lotus," I said. "Then...........I'll probably see you at the club tomorrow, Mike. I'm going home to get what sleep I can."

"I hear you, Matt; you know, you could use some shuteye." I chuckled as he pulled away from the side of the road and headed back down towards Velo City. Off in the distance the lights of the downtown skyscrapers shined like distant sentinels, but my mind wasn't focused on them. My mind was thinking of the woman I had loved. As I thought of her, I could feel her spirit leaving my side, as if she was saying, "Goodbye, my love." I thought about the good times Stephanie and I had and the love we shared; if you could've seen it, you would've noticed a tear in the reflection of the passenger window. I looked out at thought to myself, "you're at peace now, Stephanie."

Rubbing the bridge of my nose for a moment, wiping the odd tear away, I looked back over at Mike. "You know, I was just thinking.....there's always going to be a place for private eyes' in Velo City, right?"
"What?", was his reply.

"You heard me, Mike. As much as we know about the criminal life, surely we'd make great P.I.'s. Surely we can fit in some work between our busy racing schedules......." Inside the truck we both laughed at the idea. "We can even base it from Zero Degrees.......wonder what Scandalous would say about it?"

That brought more laughter from both of us, but an idea had been born.......would it work? I don't know, but after years of living both sides of the life, it was certainly worth a shot.
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