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Ex-Con Part 1
By Katana Collins
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Katana Collins
All rights reserved.
Four Years Later
Shane McGill knew fear. He'd seen it as a boy in his mother's eyes as his father had beaten her night after night. He'd felt it tighten his chest and squeeze his heart with every blow that he could do nothing to stop. That fear seared into his stomach stronger than any acid as he moved in front of his mother, taking the hits in her place. A tough guy; a "hero," his dad would tease with every strike of his belt against Shane's body. As he grew older, that fear morphed into something different, manifesting itself as rage. Even at a young age, he'd known that that man's genes were a part of him. His anger and his short fuse came directly from that piece of shit. For as long as he had suppressed that deep, dark side of himself it had been a constant simmer at the pit of his core. It's who I am.
And now, he'd pay for it.
A loud buzzer echoed in the hall as the officer behind the glass handed him a small bag of his personal effects. His wallet. A cell phone that had long since gone unpaid. A set of keys. And a silver chain with a small medallion on the end. He slipped it around his neck, giving the silver pendant a kiss before tucking it into his shirt.
Paola Vasquez, his newly appointed parole officer, waited beside him as he shoved the rest of the items into his pockets. Her silky black hair was pulled back tightly into a high bun that sat on top of her head. Despite the severe hair style, her face was soft and patient as she waited for him. "Our first appointment is Wednesday," she said. Her voice had an edge to it that he was pretty sure could cut through bullshit and reduce parolees to tears if needed. Though petite, she was hardened. Shane wasn't going to let her small stature fool him. "You cannot miss this appointment. I don't fool around. One missed check-in and it could land you right back in here."
"Yes, ma'am," Shane said. "I won't forget."
"I have you listed as living at your sister's address. If this changes, you must report to me immediately. Same with your employment status. Any changes, I must know about them within twenty-four hours."
"Drug testing will be administered at random as will surprise house checks. I'm allowing you to have alcohol; however, your blood-alcohol levels should remain below .07 at all times, regardless of whether or not you are driving. Alcohol consumption is a privilege and can be revoked by me at any given time."
"And lastly, because of your clean record with no prior arrests, and your good behavior while in the state penitentiary, we are not requiring a tracking device to be worn. However, you must remain within sixty miles of Boston. If you want or need to travel, or if you find a job more than sixty miles away, you must get prior approval."
"I understand, ma'am. I'll see you on Wednesday."
As Shane moved to step away, she moved with him, blocking his path. Dark brown eyes glistened like two stones beneath clear water's surface. "One final thing, Mr. McGill. I detest the term ma'am. I have my PhD in behavioral science from Capella University. I'm the department head at OCP. And though I understand it's meant to convey politeness, 'ma'am' was an endearment created to reduce a woman to only her age and marital status while lightly seasoning the title with condescension. You may call me Dr. Vasquez or Officer Vasquez — I prefer doctor. But never ma'am."
Shane didn't care what the fuck she wanted to be called. He'd waited four years and he just wanted to be the hell out of this prison. And doctor-officer-ma'am was prolonging his release. "Of course, Doctor."
She seemed appeased by that answer, despite the fact that she was sucking the inside of her cheek, and she finally stepped to the side allowing Shane to walk out of the confines of Massachusetts State Penitentiary for the first time in four years.
He paused, taking the extra moment to breathe the fresh spring air deeply. A breeze caught against his stubble, taking his long hair and blowing it off his collar, giving a much-needed reprieve to his sweaty nape. Shit, that feels good. But the moment of peace was fleeting — much like his freedom. He was basically stepping out of one prison right into another.
He walked slowly, his bum knee stiffer than usual that morning. The bus stop was only a couple of blocks away and would take him right into the South End of Boston where he'd lived his whole life. Growing up, Southie had always been rough, but he loved it. Even with the street gangs that crawled like roaches from bar to bar. Even with the dirty parks that never seemed to get any city funding for maintenance. But in the last five years, Southie had started cleaning up. There was a divide between the newcomers buying property and those who'd lived there for decades ... Shane had seen it beginning a few years ago before he went to prison, and he was curious to see what had changed. Because no matter what, it was still home.
But not for long. He had six months of parole he had to stick out. Then after that? He and his sister had to get out of Boston. She'd be reluctant to leave; he knew that. But if they wanted to survive without Sauceda putting a target on their chests or the Harrison Street Crew on their backs, they had no choice. He'd managed to avoid the Harrison Street Crew for thirty-two years, with the exception of a few years in his early teens. And despite their heavy recruitment of him in high school, after his father died, he never gave in to them again. Even as his best friends and cousins, one by one, got sucked into the life of crime, he'd managed to walk away from trouble. And once he got a job at the docks? Forget about it. They were on him constantly, pushing for him to turn a blind eye to illegal shipments. To get their shit onto his large cargo ships. But he never did.
It was a wonder he hadn't had death threats sooner. "Everyone has a price," his high-school best friend, Patrick, had said. At the time he'd disagreed. I can't be bought, he'd thought. But he was wrong ... he just couldn't be bought with money.
He settled onto the bench at the end of the road, stretching his knee out in front of him. For all he knew, the bus could be there in a minute or an hour. In this neighborhood, the damn schedules meant jack shit anyway.
A red Firebird screeched to the curb, stopping short just in front of him. Shane's grip on the bench tightened. He'd anticipated that word had gotten around Javi's gang that he was out of prison. He just hadn't expected retaliation so soon.
The tinted window rolled down and there behind the wheel, grinning like an idiot, was his cousin Ryan. "Get in." Of course. His cousin had driven the same red Firebird for years. Annoyingly, Shane had allowed his panic to get the best of him. And he'd only been out a matter of minutes.
"Nah, I'm good."
Ryan exhaled slowly, his grip around the wheel tightening. "Are you fucking stupid? The bus goes right through East Boston. And in case the prison food has rotted your goddamn brain, lemme remind you, that's Javi's territory. You trying to make it easy for them?"
Yeah, he knew this already. But up until Ryan pulled up, Shane hadn't really had a choice as to how he got home. And even though Ryan was a part of the exact crew Shane was hoping to break ties with ... at the moment, he was also the better of two evils. He was also family. If he took the bus, he might not even make it home to his sister. What good was surviving almost four years in prison just to get a bullet in the brain on your first day of freedom?
He pushed to his feet, the sharp pain shooting from his knee up his thigh, momentarily robbing him of his breath. As always, the pain faded by the time he had exhaled, and he slid into the passenger seat with Ryan being none the wiser about his agonizing cramp.
"Good man," Ryan said. "Roll the window up. These are new tints. Last thing I need is a bullet hole through them."
Shane rolled up the window. "If we keep the windows down, they won't need to shoot through them."
"Yeah, yeah. But then I'll have to clean your brains off my dashboard. At least with the tints, they won't see your ugly-ass face inside." Only these guys could take something so dark and laugh about it. Ryan sent him a wink, and what the hell did it say about himself that Shane couldn't help a raw chuckle? He barely recognized the sound and his smile, though small, creaked across his face like an unused hinge. "You still got that Corvette?" Ryan asked. "Man, she was a beauty."
Eve. Shane's apple-red 1976 Corvette Stingray. "Hopefully. I doubt she's running these days. Unless Kelly was out joyriding with her."
"Bring her into the garage. We'll get her up and running again."
Shane stiffened. Bringing his car into the HSC shop was like delivering the biblical Eve directly to the serpent. "I'll manage."
"Just wait until you see the new girl who opened up shop blocks from you. Goddamn, she knows her shit." He tapped his steering wheel with a palm, gently. "Every now and then I bring Birdie here in for an oil change or something just to watch her work. It's like she intentionally wears these skin-tight jeans, man." Balling a fist to his mouth, he bit the knuckle.
"What happened to Dec?"
"He retired. Couldn't afford to keep the business going with the raise in taxes. Fucking middle-class cunts coming in. She's renting his old garage from him."
Shane nearly snorted, but managed to hold his derision in. He didn't need to go to some grease monkey's mechanic shop to get his rocks off, even if it had been years — literally — since he'd been with a woman. Even still ... blocks away from his Mom's house ... well, Kelly's house now ... was important to keep in mind. He was going to need a mechanic, and he sure as shit wasn't bringing his car into HSC. Shane was good with cars, but the sort of work that Eve was bound to need was likely well beyond his knowledge.
"You're gonna need a car, man," Ryan said, as though reading his thoughts.
"I know. I'll take care of it my way."
There was a pause before Ryan cleared his throat. "I know what you're thinking. Letting the HSC get your car running again isn't gonna cost additional favors. But as a gesture? That shit will go a long way."
"I'll think about it." Yeah, and his thought was no way in hell.
"HSC's been changing for the better. You'll see. The crew's not what it used to be." When Shane didn't respond, they rode in silence for a while. Silence that Shane was grateful for. For the four years he'd spent in prison, even in the middle of the night, it had been loud. The walls echoed with every footstep. Every murmur. There was no peace. There was no silence. Not even in your own damn head.
"Where'm I taking you? Kelly's?"
"Yeah, that's fine."
"Need help getting a place of your own? I talked to Mr. Sleiney about you going back to work at the docks again tomorrow night once you're settled." Ryan chuckled. "He said it was fine as long as I stayed far away from you and him."
Shane smirked at that. Sleiney hated Ryan. And all the HSC members. But Shane didn't need help getting his own place because he sure as fuck wasn't staying in Boston if it meant working for the Harrison Street Crew. "Yeah. I don't have money, though. It'll have to wait until I can save a bit."
"We'll help you with that," Ryan said, waving away Shane's concerns. "Give you a loan or whatever."
"I don't take charity."
Ryan's attention shifted from the road to Shane's face for brief intervals. He swerved onto the shoulder, the tires screeching, and Shane clutched the edge of the door as smoke burned off the rubber in the rearview mirror. "What the hell is the matter with you?"
The car lurched forward as Ryan threw it into park. "Shane, listen to me. Everyone is watching you at HSC. We're your friends and really, we're your only hope in hell in making it through the next few years alive."
"I don't know what you're talking about —"
"Don't shit on a plate and tell me it's rib eye, man. I grew up with you. You hate HSC. I get it. I would've been pissed too if they killed my old man. You went from being a recruit to resenting the crew. I respect that. But we saved your ass in that prison. Without us, you'd be dead or breathing through tubes. Me, Patrick, Jimmy ... we can protect you from the other members for a bit. But not if you run. Half of us love you, but no one trusts you."
He didn't understand a damn thing. HSC could have killed his old man a hundred times over and Shane wouldn't have given two shits. His father's soul was dead long before that bullet pierced his chest. "Who said I was runnin'?"
"It's not just your life on the line," Ryan said, ignoring Shane's question. "I vouched for you. If you run, I'm in deep shit. Patrick and Jimmy, too."
Shane balled his hand into a fist, chewing his cheek to keep from cursing aloud. Even with his cousin's suspicions, he couldn't let it be known that he was right. That he was going to run and force Kelly to join him on the lam. "What sort of fucking brotherhood would kill you for shit that's out of your control? These are the men you consider your family?"
"They won't kill us. But there's things that are worse than death, you know. It won't be a fucking issue anyway — not if you just do what's asked of you. Keep your head down. It won't be forever."
Yeah, right. "I'm not killing anyone," Shane said.
Ryan pulled the car back onto the road, speeding up to meet traffic. "No one's asking you to."
"Not yet."CHAPTER 2
"He's the one. I can feel it." Charlize "Charlie" Wakeman could feel the flush in her cheeks and the grin on her face as she reclined in her office chair.
"You say that every time, Charlie," Michelle, her best friend since kindergarten, said.
Kicking her feet onto her desk at back of the garage, Charlie cradled her cell phone between her ear and shoulder. The Tiffany-blue accents created a peaceful work environment against the stark white walls. Most people would think she was crazy to have sleek white furniture in her mechanics' shop office, but to Charlie? It was calming and a much needed reprieve from the greasy garage. Not that she didn't love the grease. But just because she could kick ass under a hood didn't mean she didn't love her more feminine side as well.
"No, Michelle, this is it. I'm telling you. He's perfect."
"You do this every time. You tell yourself things are perfect and within a week you're threatening to remove parts piece by piece."
"It's different this time." Charlie stood, peering out into the front of the garage where Rick waited. She stared, her mouth watering. Needing, wanting. "He needs a little work, yeah. But a few tweaks here and there —"
"See? That's how it begins."
"I'm gonna go for it. I need to at least try. No regrets, right?"
"Charlie, no —"
She hung up before her friend could talk some sense into her, and stole a quick glance in the mirror. "Shit," she muttered, grabbing a tissue and wiping a bit of grease off her temple. The black oil streaked her red hair and she sighed, flipping her part to the other side to cover it. It would have to do. Nothing short of a hot shower would remove that black smear from her hair.
Reaching for her checkbook, she took a quick glance at her balance in the business account. Eight thousand. Sure, that seemed like a lot, but for a garage, it was barely enough to make rent, electricity, and water; pay for supplies and parts; and pay off her monthly business loan. Not to mention her personal bills — rent for her house and little things like, you know, food. That number was low. Too low for her liking. Especially since she'd missed her last three months of the loan payment. That damn interest was killing her. Sucking in a sharp breath, she tossed the checkbook back down onto her desk beside the stacks of overdue bills.
"One thing at a time," Charlie whispered to herself before shutting her office door behind her.
"Rick," she said, entering the garage. Her eyes flicked to the 1971 AMC Hornet and her whole body purred at those sleek lines. Oh, how she wanted that car. Needed him. She could see herself riding it late into the night, windows down during the balmy Boston summers. "I crunched some numbers and I'll be honest with you, it's a great car. He's in rough shape, though. Despite that, I'm interested in him." Interested? Ha. That was the understatement of the year. She was wet for that car.
Excerpted from Ex-Con Part 1 by Katana Collins. Copyright © 2017 Katana Collins. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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