Road Trips and Recruiting
A Pink Dormouse Production
The hotel room was empty when El returned to it. He had expected that Sands would get back first, since the man El had followed had led him to the opposite side of town. But he knew little about how long it should have taken to find a cab at this time in the evening; for all he knew walking and public transport could be the faster way to travel. He settled himself on the bed to wait, listening carefully to the noises outside his room.
One set of footsteps seemed to pause outside the door. El reached for his gun and started to get up, but then he heard the person walk away again, seemingly back where they had come from. Which was not right, now that he thought about it. The elevators were at the opposite end of the hall.
El got up and walked to the door, treading lightly, alert to any sounds from outside. He paused, gun ready, then opened the door slowly. No one to be seen in the hallway, in either direction. The corridor continued beyond where he could see, taking a right turn and then linking to more rooms before ending at the fire escape. The fire escape, it was obvious now he thought about it.
Keeping close to the wall, El edged down the corridor. At the corner he glanced quickly towards the far end before ducking back out of sight. The door had been open, and he had seen someone beyond it. Someone who had not had seen him. Someone who could not have seen him, El checked again, because it was Sands. Leaning back against the rail and talking to another person, who was out of sight, further down the steps.
El tucked his gun back inside his jacket, keeping his hand ready to draw it again. Sands appeared relaxed, it was true; but without knowing who he was talking to, El left nothing to chance. He walked down the corridor, then stopped as the other man turned towards him.
"El. I was just on my way in to see you." Sands turned back to the person on the steps. "Okay, kid, you can fuck off now."
"See you in Miami," was the reply.
El drew closer, just in time to see a girl, surely too young to be smoking that cigarette in her hand, run down the steps. She dropped the cigarette, then swung off the end of the fire escape and disappeared.
"And that little squirrel-monkey," Sands said unconcernedly, "was Mathilda." He stubbed out his cigarette, drawing El's attention to Sands' fingers.
"You have blood on your hands."
"Metaphorically, or literally?"
"Right now? Literally."
"Gee, thanks. Remind me to always carry disposable gloves, just in case I have another body to get rid of unexpectedly."
"You killed someone?"
"No, I had a body to dispose of. The two don't always go together." Sands looked thoughtful. "Why are we discussing this here? I want a shower, a drink and you to tell me what this," he produced a folded wad of paper from his back pocket, "has written on it. In that order."
"And the body?"
"I'll tell you about it later. Maybe."
"She says 'No can do on your sniper. Everyone's out of town or busy right now.'"
"I got us a sniper now. What else does she say? There's enough writing on those pages to justify the money we're paying and I'm sure Rachel wouldn't write nonsense, no matter how much she hates me."
El wanted to ask what the story was with Rachel, and who the sniper was that Sands had found. Someone connected with the girl-child, he assumed for the latter. Why else would she have mentioned Miami? But he saved his questions for later; Sands had waited long enough for the contents of the note and would not appreciate being distracted from it right now.
"There are two lists of names and addresses."
Sands smiled and sipped from his glass of tequila.
"The first is headed 'Dealers', the second 'Private Collectors'. What aren't you telling me?"
Sands took a larger swallow from his drink.
"A plan to get us a little extra income from this project. Enough that we don't have to work again if we don't want to."
"Got it in one." Sands finished his drink. Then he set the glass aside and reached out for the case holding his laptop.
"Going to tell me about it?"
"Maybe later. What I need right now is for you to read those names and addresses out to me while I look them up." Sands seemed a little too focussed right now. El knew that mood though, and it was not one that responded well to intensive questioning. He would just have to give Sands a little time to deal with whatever was on his mind, then maybe his partner would give him some answers.
El was up early the next morning. The only information that Sands had thrown to him the night before had been that it was time to move on, and that their current car was too well known. He did not say who the car was known by, or how he knew this.
Sands was quiet throughout the drive that day, responding to all El's questions with an abrupt 'later - I've got thinking to do'. He kept one hand against El's leg or arm the whole time though, so it seemed that he was not distancing himself. They stopped for the night when El realised that he would be seeing white lines in his sleep unless he took a break.
It was a motel, but better quality than most. When El returned from fetching take-out Sands was curled up on the bed, wearing a fresh T-shirt. El crossed the room to the bed and sat down next to Sands, who shifted nearer but gave no sign of being awake. El ran a finger over Sands' hair - slightly damp, he noted - following it to where it curled under his jaw line. Sands tipped his head from the pillow and smiled. And it was a genuine smile of pleasure, not one to conceal what Sands was planning next, or to convince someone to do something wholly inadvisable. El stared at him, entranced.
"'S all right, I'll put my shades on."
"No need, I like the way you look." Maybe he should say it more often, but Sands was vain and demanding enough already, without any more encouragement.
Sands smiled again. But this time there was a hint of his usual cynicism behind it.
"And you accuse me of being a freak." He stretched one arm out towards the side-table, located his sunglasses and put them on. "So," he continued as he sat up, "what did you find to feed me on?"
"Here's the deal," Sands said, setting the remains of his food aside and licking his fingers thoughtfully. "We're getting paid well for this job, well enough to live quite happily in retirement for the foreseeable future. But it's not going to leave us much for contingencies." He paused, giving El time to think things over.
Sands' idea of contingencies obviously differed from his own, since the sum they had been promised, even after paying all these people that they and Lorenzo had recruited, still seemed more than he could ever imagine spending. He wondered if Sands knew that he still stood to inherit control of a considerable business empire on top of that. Or if he had been told, and had turned the offer down. Personally, El would prefer not to have the inheritance hanging over Sands; it came with obligations and the danger that others might try to take it away by force. So maybe it was better that they had a backup plan.
"So the art theft?"
"Precisely. I've found two women - let's call them Team C. While Team A, that's us, and Team B, Lorenzo's people, are blowing the holy crap out of the two compounds, Team C will sneak in and lift Cartel Boss A's collection of valuables. Team C split the proceeds with the two of us and everyone walks away happy. Except the cartels, but they're going to be no more unhappy - and no less dead - than if we left the treasure in its safe for the compound to burn down around it."
"And the girl from yesterday?"
"What about her?"
"She is the daughter of one of these women?"
"No," Sands said, as if patiently explaining something that should be obvious. "She's the sniper who's going to keep Cartel Boss A from interrupting Team C by going for the escape route through his office."
"She's the sniper? You can't hire someone so young."
"I can, and I did. Hear me out," Sands said before El could add a further protest. "If I didn't hire her, someone else would. She's good, she's got two years experience behind her, and I kind of owe her."
"You owe her?"
"Yeah. That body I had to dispose of yesterday. Jackass tried to lift my wallet; she killed him. Which reminds me..." Sands dug a strip of capsules out of his pocket, popped two, and washed them down with the last of his drink from their meal.
"You got hurt? Or was the body a little heavy for you?"
"Both probably." Sands dropped his paper cup to the floor then shifted around on the bed, curling round on his side with his head on El's thigh. He twisted one of the chains on El's pants through his fingers. "Nothing a couple of days' rest won't fix."
"Want me to take a look?"
"Probably nothing to see. But," Sands sat up again and pulled his T-shirt over his head, "if you want me to get naked for you, then I don't have a problem with that." He lay facedown on the bed, pillowing his head on his hands.
El removed Sands' sunglasses before starting to feel around his shoulders. Sands tensed, then relaxed, in an obviously forced manner. El started to run his thumbs over the area, which was, as Sands had predicted, unremarkable to look at. That, and the fact that Sands had been trying to hide that something was wrong, explained why El had not spotted anything the previous day.
"So this girl?" El asked pressing with his thumbs just beyond where Sands seemed to be sore.
One good thing about Sands was that not only did he like to be touched, he liked it enough that he would respond to questions while being touched that he would normally evade. El learned that this girl-child had asked to join the team, and none of his perfectly reasonable objections were going to sway Sands from taking her on. Apparently there was some unwritten rule that if someone proved themself in a fight, then it was expected that one hired them. Even when that someone should be in school, or at home with the family that Sands swore the girl no longer had.
El also learned a few more details of Sands' plans for the main raid, but it was obvious when the other man felt that he had said enough. Then El gave up talking and concentrated on smoothing the hurt from over-stretched muscles. For all Sands liked to give the impression of wanting to be treated roughly, he responded equally well to gentleness, arching up into El's caresses and whimpering that he wanted more.
El paused only when he was convinced that Sands had relaxed as much as he was going to. Sands wriggled onto his back, then walked his hands up El's thighs and beyond to hook into the waistband of his pants.
"All better now." Sands hauled himself up to a sitting position, then hooked his arms around El's neck and fell backwards, pulling El on top of him. It seemed that he had forgotten about his earlier need to hide his lack of eyes, and his disbelief that El should look at his unshielded face with anything other than pity. Instead of reaching out for the sunglasses, Sands began to kiss El's neck. Then he hooked a leg around the back of El's leg and began to grind against him.
Exquisite as he found the friction of cotton against flesh, El found the strength of will to pull away.
"Patience." He stripped methodically and efficiently, knowing that Sands would get irritable if he thought there was any kind of show that he was missing out on. Then he sat back down on the bed, and leaned down to unfasten Sands' jeans.
Sands pulled El down on top of him again, then twisted suddenly, rolling them both over so now he was on top. He pinned El's wrists to the pillow.
"If you have any plan at all," he said icily calm, "to back out of this. Or betray me in any way, tell me now." Sands was deadly serious, and no longer aroused. El could feel his own desire ebbing away.
"I'm not -" No, he would not say that name, not now. "I'm not going anywhere without you. And I'm not going to let you go anywhere without me."
"Promise?" Sands whispered.
"Promise," El said firmly. In the past he had never been so quick to give his word, but in the past he had never had to deal with anyone quite like Sands. "You think I would do such a thing? You think I could do it?"
"I don't know. The last time I told someone my whole plan, she - well, let's not go there."
"How long did you know her? How long have you known me?"
"Point taken." Sands released El's wrists, then rolled off and away from him. "I found a great way to screw the mood up there."
"We can start again."
"Maybe. There's just so much information I need to keep track of in my head right now."
"A distraction would do you good." Maybe he would be better playing Sands at his own game. "How about if I pinned you against the wall?"
Sands rolled back towards El, slinging an arm across El's chest and nestling his head into the curve of the other man's shoulder.
"When you've gone to all that trouble to fix me up?" Sands ran his hand up and down El's ribs. "You could tell me about it though."
Some days El could figure Sands out in seconds, but others the man was just one contradiction after another. The crisis seemed to be over though, so he thought back to the images he had pictured the last time he had been away from Sands for the night.
"You, standing against the wall. Arms stretched wide." He sat up, rolled Sands onto his back, and straddled his thighs. "Like this." El took one of Sands' wrists in each hand and positioned him, just so.
Sands smirked, and El knew that they were both imagining the same thing.
"Head bowed," El continued, "so your hair falls over your face." He stroked Sands hair, leaving some strands half-covering the man's eye sockets.
"Shades off?" Sands asked.
"What we need," Sands said thoughtfully, "is two red silk scarves. I could twist them around my wrists and pull the ends across my palm."
"Stigmata," El whispered, shocked at the effect the imagery was having on him.
"Precisely," Sands said and gave a most self-satisfied smile.
El leaned down for a kiss, and Sands pulled him close, grinding against him again, but this time with the friction between them that of flesh on flesh. He crushed their mouths together and felt Sands murmur something against his lips. El could not make out the words, but he was not going to pull away and ask about it now. He reached out to the side-table and, for once, put his hand on what he needed straight away.
Keeping up with Sands' unpredictable mood swings was not easy, but it was worth it. They both needed this. Now that El had given his word to stay, it was more important than ever that they be in tune with each other. He slid one hand between their bodies, letting the back of his hand brush against Sands' cock as he made his own ready.
Sands was biting his lower lip. His arms were still outstretched, and he was twisting the under-sheet in his clenched fists. He hissed when El entered him, wrapping his legs around El's back, then releasing the sheets to grab at El's arms.
Maybe this was love; maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, it felt right. And El knew that whatever happened, he would keep his word to Sands. Not just because it was a matter of honour, but because what he had promised was what he wanted, perhaps more than anything else right now.
Afterwards they lay tangled together, El stroking Sands hair, and Sands once again running one hand up and down over ribs. After Mexico, El decided, they would make more time for moments like this. At least until Sands got bored and demanded they go looking for trouble again.
They made good time the next day, checking into another motel at an hour Sands assured El was still early to be calling on his Miami contact. Sands had been more open on this leg of the journey, actually telling El about his thoughts. He had, it seemed and that was contrary to anything he had said before, thought more about what they would do after Mexico than El had. Sands claimed to have no preference for any one of the ideas he mentioned, but it was obvious that he now trusted that El would be around, no matter where he happened to end up. It was also very clear that Sands needed something to keep his mind occupied, even if he was not directly involved in anything dangerous. A quiet village somewhere away from anyone who knew them would only work if there was a good communication network.
The weapons dealer worked out of a old warehouse in an area that was slowly being turned into a residential district. Adjoining buildings appeared to be empty and in varying states of disrepair. El kept a hand on one of his guns and noted that Sands did the same.
"This is it," El told Sands quietly. "Now what?"
Sands pulled out his cell. A puzzled frown crossed his face and he flipped it open, the light from the screen a worrying beacon in the shadows.
"Yes?" he hissed into it. There was a pause then, "oh it's you. You're where?"
There was a sound behind them and Sands closed the phone as he turned towards the noise.
"El, I never had the chance to introduce you to Mathilda before. El, Mathilda. Mathida, El." He opened the cell up again and punched in a number. He snapped it shut again after a few seconds, then the warehouse door opened.
A hand beckoned them in. El stepped through the doorway and looked around, taking in as many details as he could. There would be time later for him to assess the girl. The area they stood in had been partitioned off from the rest of the warehouse, although the makeshift walls reached only a little higher than a man and nowhere near as high as the ceiling. The area beyond the partitions was unlit, whereas this place was bathed in light from fluorescent tubes hug from the roof on long chains, and others affixed to the highest points on the partitions. Racks and tables of guns, boxes of ammunition, boxes of grenades, everything else to equip a private army took up most of the floor space.
The man standing before them was tall and skeleton thin. In his mid-fifties was El's first guess, although he could be ten years older or younger. Scars on the man's face and hands, missing and foreshortened fingers, and broken teeth all gave the impression that he had survived more battles than everyone else in the room together. He locked the door then stepped up to shake Sands' hand.
"Always a pleasure to do business with you, sir."
"What have you got for me?"
"I checked your list." The man pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. "I can do you everything except the rocket launcher. We had a rush on them last week."
"It was worth a try. How about we go over what you have and then talk prices?"
Kids given free-rein in a candy store were probably less trouble than this, El concluded five minutes after realising that Sands wanted to buy everything. Mathilda was more pragmatic, discussing specifications of rifles and sights with the warehouse overseer and asking Sands each time she found something better whether her budget would stretch that far.
"I'll dock it from your cut," was Sands' standard reply before he went back to careful examination of whatever he had in his hands at the time.
El's attitude was more straightforward than either of them. He wanted to ensure that he had weapons he could rely upon and that he was familiar with. He replaced a pair of guns, which had seen better days, stocked up on ammunition and picked up a few grenades just in case. Then he turned to see what Sands was doing. Apparently he was entranced by what appeared to be a false arm.
"You ready to go yet?" El asked.
"Almost." Sands turned his attention back to the overseer. "Send this to my mailing address, I'll get it sent on from there. Now if you could just show me to the flamethrowers again and that'll be all."
They eventually arrived back at the motel several thousand dollars lighter, the trunk of the car weighed down with purchases, and with Mathilda hitching a ride. El had taken one look at the place where she asked to be dropped off, then told her to go get her bag and let him find somewhere better for her.
"Okay, kid." Sands turned towards her and pulled several bills from his wallet. "Go get yourself a room."
"Sure thing." Mathilda grabbed the money and slid out of the car. She reached back in to grab her bag. "See you in the morning."
"Sure," Sands said. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do. Remember that killing civilians pisses El off. And no watching the pay-per-view channels. Especially not the ones with sex." He waited until Mathilda had slammed the door and run off towards the motel's reception, then leaned against El. "What say we find a proper sit-down place to eat? Could be our last chance for a while."
It could be their last chance period, but El decided not to mention that. He slid the gearshift into reverse and turned the car around to face the highway.
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