Hth (hth_the_first) wrote,
Hth
hth_the_first

Desert Rain (due South fic)


I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in pain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand
-Sting, "Desert Rose"

Slowly but surely, week after week, the apartment - just like Chicago, the United States of America, God's green earth, and Carl Sagan's Cosmos - was listing toward chaos. Every damn day, Ray woke up to find another wet towel on the back of a kitchen chair, another empty bowl with ice cream residue on the sofa, another window left open all night, and another day's mail still sitting passively in their mailbox, unless Ray himself went downstairs to get it. Hell, Kowalski sure couldn't be expected to pick up the fucking mail when he came home from work. Or put his clothes in the laundry hamper, or drink from a glass instead of from a gallon jug of orange juice, or notice when they were out of dishwasher detergent and go to the frigging store.

No wonder Kowalski's wife left him. If Ray had anything better to do with his time than pick up after Kowalski - say, a job or something - he'd leave, too.

Nah. Probably not. In fact, it was sort of vaguely in the back of Ray's mind that he hadn't always been this much of a neat freak. He remembered that Angela had been a packrat, messy and disorganized just like Kowalski was, and it hadn't really bothered him so much back then. It had been...sort of cute.

Maybe he had a little too much time on his hands. Things that by rights should have been trivial and ridiculous...well, alone in the apartment all day, you could think about them and think about them until they seemed like a Time Magazine cover article. Maybe he should just get the fuck over himself and hang up the wet towel.

The bathroom was the only bastion of control Ray Vecchio had left in his own life. It wasn't like he didn't realize that, or didn't find it sad. Christ knew, he did. But still, there he was every day, scrubbing invisible mildew out of the shower tiles, changing the blades in Ray's razor for him, folding the sides of the towels in toward the middle and hanging them neatly over the towel rack, emptying a few kleenex and a torn packet of Advil from the wastebasket.

Sure, it was a little obsessive-compulsive. Sure, he was bored and lonely and the place was too goddamn quiet, and sure, it would be healthier to go out and get a hobby or something instead of staying in and cleaning the same bathroom day after day. Sure, he was probably falling into some weird childhood pattern, replaying his memories of his mother and her endless rounds of housecleaning - she dusted the bannisters, for God's sake, and ironed the sheets. Goodbye, mio caro, have a nice day at work, leave the house to me. How fucking Desi and Lucy. Rayyyyyy, why can't I be on the forrrrrrce?

And it was the bullet and the hospital and the fucking shrinks and the voices in his mind, and the shots fired and the finger on the trigger and the way that it was never, ever, ever dark in Las Vegas, bright monotonous sunlight giving way to bright variegated neon colors, and yeah, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, he knew the buzzword, he watched George Carlin, too.

Fuck them. Fuck the doctors and the shrinks and the FBI rep who took his statement, sealed his file, shook his hand, and set him free to live the rest of his life.

His life. His life. His life. Ray Vecchio, the real Ray Vecchio.

He was staring right through his own reflection in the bathroom mirror, and the only thing he could focus on was the hunter green towel hung up against the spit-polished white wall behind him.

"Ray Vecchio."

His lips were moving. He was saying it. "I am. I say so."

"Ray Vecchio."

You're losing control, friend. I say this for your own good.

"Ray. Vecchio."

And today he'd lasted til almost two o'clock in the afternoon before he turned on the shower, setting it carelessly just over three-quarters of the way to full-stop scalding. Shower curtain pulled back, water splashing randomly, spattering off square tile and perfectly clean porcelain that Ray knew damn well he'd still end up scouring all over again when his shower was over, and he took a few deep breaths and tightened up his control, that little bit of fucking control he'd fought to get back over the last year, and it worked, sort of. At least he had it together enough now to strip off his t-shirt and belt and slacks and socks and boxers before he stepped into the shower. A year ago....

See, he didn't need the frigging police psychiatrist. He was handling it. Improving a lot. Just an ordinary guy taking an ordinary shower.

Nah. Probably not.

The shower spray hit right about where Ray's hairline had settled lately, back a little bit from the crown of his head. Hot enough to burn, loud enough over his waterlogged ears to drive him crazy - minute after minute of the same rush, splash, glitter sounds of the shower. Ten minutes. Twenty. More.

More. Who knew how long? Who fucking cared?

Ray repositioned a little, bracing himself on rigid arms against the wall, his head lowered to let the nozzle spray hit him high on the back of the neck instead. It tracked so fast down his neck, shoulders to sides, back to ass, that he couldn't focus on the way the water ran, just the fact of water, slippery and hot and raw and clean, soaking him and splashing all around him, each drop splitting a hundred yards or more below him, around his feet, and bursting back upwards in a mini-spray. Water, water everywhere....

"You need a drink, boss?"

"No. Fuck off. Wait - yeah. Let me have it."

"You gonna grease Salino?"

"Jesus, do you ever shut up? I thought you came to watch the fight."

"It's just, I got people on my ass, too, you know? Everybody's asking."

"What does Iguana say?"

"Iguana says you can handle it. Nobody wants to lose Salino, you know? He's a good guy. Our kids went to school together, you know? But - you draw the line, you know, Armando? Salino knew the score. A fucking
FBI agent, Christ! Salino knew how you are about killing cops. And you gotta right to be, you know? You're the boss. Salino decides the rules don't apply-"

"Would you
shut up?"

"Boss. People are just asking. What are you going to do about Salino?"

"What do you think I'm going to do? I'm gonna kill him. Now move your ass; I can't see the fucking fight."


"Move your ass."

"Jesus, Kowalski, what do you think you're doing?"

"What am I doing? Okay, well, let's, let's see. I'm bareass naked, I got motor oil and some kinda, some kinda industry-grade soot shit all over me, I'm standing in the bathroom, what do you think I'm doing? What the fuck kind of question is that, what am I doing?"

"I thought you were the one who hated sharing the shower."

"Yeah. Yeah, that's me - good memory you got there, Vecchio. For the gold, you know why I hate sharing the shower? Well, I'll tell ya! It's because only one guy gets the shower, and the other guy gets to stand over there, naked, wet, and freezing his nuts off, and today that lucky guy is you, cause you been here all day and I need a fucking shower! Capisce? So move your ass."

"All right, all right. Jesus. What happened to you, anyway?"

"I don't wanna talk about it."

"Okay."

"Okay, so if you were counterfeiting cash, would you do it in a warehouse? Because they always do it in some falling-down, roach-motel warehouse, and me, I'd rent a freaking Elks' Lodge or something."

"So you make the Morrison bust or not?"

"Yeah, we made it."

"That's good."

"I gotta say this, though, I just gotta say. I got nothing against a woman with a badge - hell, half the precinct would whack me for a chance to work with my partner. But I'm just saying, when you're hanging off a warehouse rafter, who are you gonna want holding onto your arm, two hundred pounds of Fraser or a hundred pounds of Elaine?"

"Back to sensitivity training for you."

"Fuck that. I'm a bona fide minority myself now. I'm allowed to say whatever I wanna say about girl cops."

"Right. Queers in uniform. Film at eleven."

"I'm outta uniform at the moment. In case you hadn't, y'know. Noticed...."

"This is a limo, in case you hadn't noticed, you fucking mook. Get your shoes off the seat."

"Sorry, boss. Shit, this is the life, though, isn't it? New York, L.A., Chicago, K.C. - I been there. And there ain't no place in the world like Vegas."

"You're just a sentimental fool, Rollo." He turned away again, staring out the window, watching the tracers of neon blow by. Casino, strip club, pool hall, video store, casino. Yellow and pink and turquoise, fake Southwestern colors that made fake tribal zigzags outside the limo window. Yeah, what a town. All the plastic you could eat.

"You leaving town again this weekend, Bookman?" There was a definite leer in the question, lecherous camaraderie.

"Yeah," he answered shortly.

"Must be some lady."

"Makes you think it's a lady?"

"What else, you know? It's not business. You gonna bring her around here someday?"

"No." Hell, no.
Hell, no.

Long pause. "She don't know. About the business."

"She knows."

"Well, why not, then? You used to bring Laura everywhere."

"That was Laura." Laura whose answering machine he'd broken up with. After the accident, after he got out of ICU. Laura whose big, dark eyes and tight-kinked red curls he could see any time he wanted to, in any of a dozen photographs around his house.

Laura that the Bookman had been in love with. Laura who'd probably never know how he died, or where he was buried....

That was Laura. This was Ray.

Ray.

He knew more about Laura Graham than he did about Ray Kowalski. There was a whole fucking file on Laura.

Ray. He was just some guy, some eleventh-hour fling, someone who was in the right place at the right time. Christ. Who knew back then that he'd
live this long in Vegas? Let alone still be meeting his goodbye-Chicago guy for weekend getaways in ski-bunny mountain inns?

No file. Just what they told each other in the darkness, bundled under the quilt together against the cold snow that seemed to hang omnipresent and invisible in the Colorado air.

My name is Stanley, but I always went by Ray. Yeah, my dad had a thing for Brando. Major crimes - work with gangs and stuff. Fucking cares? It's just work. Hey, do I look like I'm at work? Baseball. Pepperoni. Modern art. GTO. You, I guess.... Divorced. Couple of years. What the fuck's it to you?

And then the little things that could be observed. Fond of jewelry, in a macho way. Moody. Little bit of a temper, all bark and no bite. Nasal laugh, golden smile. Wet-dream inspiring skill at cocksucking. Tattooed. Old-fashioned under the urban gloss. Impatient. A little jaded, a lot tired. Always, always moving, until you fight him into submission, make him shut up and be still and just fucking rest for once. Older than he seems most of the time. More observant than you think. More perceptive than he thinks.

My name is Armando L'Angoustini, while I'm undercover. Mafia, yeah. No. Call me Ray, it's okay. Just - don't call me anything. Just shut up and kiss me.


Kissing Ray....

He was panting a little through his nose, taking in oxygen and water and not giving a fuck. He could die of thirst right now, in the middle of an endless spray of processed Chicago tap water; he could literally die of thirst without ever wanting to move his mouth from this hard, slick kiss long enough to take a drink.

Kowalski kissed like most people did heavy lifting; he put his back into it, his jaw, arms and chest and hands and skull. His kisses were so full of bone and muscle that it was always a triumphant little shock, when Ray slipped his tongue inside that mouth and touched tender, wet skin inside Kowalski's lower lip, and felt Kowalski's animate, vulnerable tongue come out of hiding and touch him back.
All Ray could do when he started inhaling more water than air was to swing them both around, so that Kowalski was standing right under the spray, and he was a little more outside of it, a little less likely to drown in his own, immaculately clean bathtub.

Graceless as ever, Kowalski immediately began to snort and choke. Ray tightened his arms around his partner's soot-streaked shoulders - the grime was becoming Impressionistic, running translucent down his skin - and held him hard, harder, kissed the soft inside of his mouth, latched onto that supine, surprising, irresistible soft lining of Kowalski's toughness.

Gasping and coughing, Ray pulled his mouth away. "Tryin' to drown-"

"Yeah. Fucking yeah." His hands pressed to the sides of Ray's head, fingers splayed across the thin matting of hair plastered to his skull - darker and silkier when soaking wet than it ever was in real life. Teeth on Ray's lip, on his chin, holding his head as Vecchio's mouth closed against the arch of his neck. Ray groaned once, his fingers sinking into the small of Vecchio's back, and then there was just the sound of the water.

"We must be right under the fountain," Armando L'Angoustini commented to no one in particular. He could hear the steady rush of the water above them, on the casino's main floor, a hundred gallons, a thousand gallons a minute? Plenty; the fountain itself was ten feet across and almost as high, the pride of the Waterfront Hotel.

There was the sound of the water, and a few creaky footsteps as his men moved around him. Bodyguards. Witnesses.

There was the ragged inhale of breath as someone pulled the gag, finally, out of DiMatteo's mouth. There was the utter noislessness of the gun in Armando's hand as he finished fitting it with the silencer. "Last words?" he asked, clipped, bored already.

Donny DiMatteo just looked at him, just as impatient, just as stoic. Maybe listening to the Waterfront's fountain, or to his own heart as it hammered out the last seconds of his life.

Rollo punched his head from behind. "Mr. L'Angoustini asked you a
question, you little punk. Didn't your mama teach you any respect for your elders?"

He narrowed his eyes a little, his contempt for being treated like a little punk at twenty-five, a made man for seven years now, plain on his face. But he stayed quiet on his knees.

"What's the matter, Donny? You got nothin?"

"Nothin," he gritted out.

And what just a moment before had been business, only business, was suddenly, terribly, not. L'Angoustini's flash of wanting to
break this stupid fucking kid's nose sped right past his brain and into his arm, and his knuckles hurt, and DiMatteo was knocked onto his side, hands still bound, blood running over his lip. There was blood on Armando L'Angoustini's right fist, a silenced gun in his left.

He was going to put a bullet in this boy's brain. Over $40,000. Did anyone get that except him? Did anyone else get that this
boy was going to die for forty thousand dollars?

"Don't you get it, you little fuck? I'm gonna
shoot you! I'm standing here with a gun, and I'm gonna kill you. This is it! This is the end. Everything you haven't done yet, you're never gonna do! Everyone who ever gave a fuck about you, they're never gonna see you again!" He stayed silent, his eyes down on the floor. "You stupid little cocksucker - say something!"

He looked up, blood dripping down his chin. Defensive, bitter eyes. "You want me to beg, Bookman?"

"Yes! Of
course I do!"

Donny grimaced at him, almost a smile. "Just get it over with. I'm not gonna beg."

"Why the fuck not? What's the matter with you - you gotta be a tough guy? You gotta impress somebody, big man? You know something, Donny? If you weren't such a fucking moron, you wouldn't be here. And if you weren't such a fucking moron, you'd beg for your fucking life like everybody else does."

"Didn't do 'em any good, did it? Just get it over with!"

And he wasn't angry anymore, but exhausted, all the strength hissing out of him like steam, like cold water pouring over something hot. Extinguishing him. "At least you wouldn't be spitting on your own grave, Donny. At least you'd show us that somebody in this goddamn room thinks his life is worth something."

Armando L'Angoustini rolled the kid onto his back with the toe of his thousand dollar Italian shoe, and aimed toward the mess of his face, somewhere between the red-washed mouth and his swollen black eye.

Ray Vecchio pulled the trigger.

All the things that had been worth something died long ago.


"Fucking job's not worth it anymore."

Damn him to hell for talking, for making Ray try to figure out whether it was better to focus on the weight of Kowalski's hard-on pressed up between their stomachs or on the complicated internal weight of worry, jealousy, relief, curiosity that those words stirred up. "Shut up," he mumbled into Kowalski's collarbone, knowing all along that it was locking the barn door long after the horse was history.

"I mean, come on. Come on...." His fingers scraped bluntly down Vecchio's back, and for a second he thought that the conversation had mercifully lagged. Come on, come on...yeahhh, babe...oh, yeah... But then there was that voice again, competing with the sound of the shower. "Come on, I'm getting kinda old for the heroics, you know? The rafter-style, y'know, heroic type...things. Even Fraser's working a desk now."

"You wanna work a desk?"

"I dunno. What I want. I dunno."

"You never did."

Propelled blindly through life, dropping towels and jumping to conclusions and having wrong-headed affairs that somehow turned into just the right thing, just the thing to stick with and see through to the noticeable lack of end. Setting cars on fire and going on arctic adventures and falling off of fucking rafters and fooling around in the shower after he'd refused flat-out to fool around in the shower at least a hundred times. Changing his mind, his spots, his name, his course.

What do you want? What do you want?

You want to quit bumming around the streets, quit the job you always wanted more than anything, to push a pencil and get your balls kicked in every day by some bureaucrat somewhere? You want to stand here naked and wet and cold and touch me like that - oh, Christ, fist tight and soaped-up and moving lightspeed up and down my cock - when you used to say you hated sharing a shower? You show up, you seduce me, you make yourself the one clean thing in my life, you take a swing at me, you run away from me, you come back for me, you throw yourself at me, you take me in, you love me and you drink out of my orange juice cartons and you tell me you're gonna quit your fucking job - who the hell are you, Stanley Ray Kowalski, what do you want? What do you want?

And Ray's legs couldn't hold him anymore, not with Kowalski's hard, unevenly shaped hand working him over that way, sharp twists of wrist making droplets of water splatter off his knuckles. Desperately, he put up an elbow, bracing against the wall, but it wasn't enough, Jesus, Kowalski was gonna kill him, short-circuiting his brain while he was trying to stand up in the tub.

As a kid, Ray had lost some respect for God after learning that rainbow story in Sunday school. I mean, you don't make it rain for forty days and forty nights and then just...change your mind. Not that he'd wanted the world destroyed, but what kind of God was that, anyway?

What kind of life was that? Where things just changed - a shot fired, a car burned, a promotion here, a trip to the Yukon there, Ray Vecchio, I'm the real Ray Vecchio, it's my name, that doesn't change.

That shouldn't change. They shouldn't be able to make a file on you, give you a secured code number, and make you someone else.

What do you want? What do you want?

Control. Get a little fucking control, Vecchio....

He slipped, but Kowalski caught him around the ribs, and the sudden warm contact with Kowalski's chest, Kowalski's cock against his hip, Kowalski's lips parted in that way that made him think of two years' worth of awesome blowjobs and stupid fights and invitations and admissions and curses and midnight confessions and French kisses - the pure contact, the touch and sight of him, made Vecchio go off in a rain of sparks, like a toaster dropped into the bathtub, orgasm like the inevitable explosion of electricity meeting water.

And he slipped, not too hard or clumsy at all, onto his knees, Kowalski's hands still supportive on his shoulders.

A hand on his shoulder, supportive and friendly, but just a shade too timid. Frightened of him. He was frightened of himself. So that was fair.

"Back off, Rollo." For your own good, asshole. Just fuck off, go home.

"Boss. You're gonna keel over; it's a hundred and five in the shade. C'mon, you got people to do this."

He paused when he felt the sting of sweat in his eyes, wiped it away with his forearm. His arm was already sizzling with the beginning of a burn, unprotected by the shoved-up sleeves of his expensive green-and-gold patterned shirt, which would undoubtedly be ruined by the sand and the dirt and the sweat and the sun. "Go to hell," he said, but almost kindly, like advice more than an order.

"It's too fuckin' hot out here-"

"So wait in the car!" He swung with the shovel, inefficiently, chopping into the ground instead of digging, just
breaking, ruining, stabbing at it. Fuck. Son of a bitch, fuck, fuck, fuck you, fuck, fuck me, fucker, go to hell, going to hell, fuck, fucked....

He didn't have people to do this. He didn't want people to do this. Armando L'Angoustini had people who buried bodies in the Nevada desert for him, but he. Was. Not. Armando. L'Angoustini. And what he started he finished, what he did he lived with, when he fucking killed Salino, Christ, Salino was his
friend, Salino gave him Cuban cigars and bet on KU basketball games with him, when he fucking killed a friend, he buried him. Not his goddamn people.

Him. Ray. Fucking. Vecchio.

Through the heat haze across the long, empty desert, he made himself see the mist on the lake, made himself see Lake Michigan and the cool colors of Chicago, greys and rusts and dark, wet greens. His home. Where he had to go back, had to live long enough to get back to, and
fuck, he'd bitten off more than he could chew, he thought he was God's gift to undercover work but this was too much, too fucking scary and sick and bad, he was gonna die out here. He was digging his own grave in the desert, and they'd never know where it was, not Benny or his mom or Frannie and Maria or Ray. They'd never come with flowers, he'd be alone, he'd die alone and he'd burn in hell forever because Salino was dead even though he'd begged and cried and asked them to remember his kids, his fucking kids, and it didn't matter, because he'd been shot in the back of the head. Shot. Bullet. Shot. Fired. Shot. Executed. Killed. Shot. Murdered.

I killed him. I killed him. I killed him.

I can't do this. I'm not tough enough. I'm gonna freak and blow it, and these swell guys who are so frigging worried about me getting heatstroke are gonna shoot me and bury me under six feet of four-hundred-degree Nevada sand, and it's so fucking hot and oh fuck, oh fuck, I need help, I need to get home, I need a drink, I need a goddamn shower, I need to say so many things I never got to say.
Need a drink, need some shade, need a shower, need a little fucking rain, need a break, need my name back, need you, Ray, Jesus
Christ, do I even have enough time left to get to you and tell you that I think I'm falling-

Losing it.

Falling-

Apart.

Falling-

In-

Out of-

Control.

Falling-


"-in love with you-"

"Hey, shut up, hey, shut up, it's okay, hey, Vecchio, it's okay." He wasn't buying his own bullshit; there was fear in Ray's voice as his hand half-skimmed, half-patted over Vecchio's chest and shoulder. The noise of the water changed suddenly, the shower shutting down into a harder, heavier rush from out of the tub faucet, and there was no more water coming down on top of him, just swirling gently down around his heel as he lay flat on his back in his bathtub, eyes clenched shut, fists clenched shut, his body tense and breathless with the futile attempt to control this hostile, unexpected fit of something.

"Falling in love with you. I'm in love with you."

"Yeah, I know, I know. It's okay, it's all good. In love with you, too. Ray, c'mon. Ray, yer okay. Look at me."

He was aware of his hands, still on the damp mat of Kowalski's hair, and he let them trace down the back of his head, finding the back of his neck - bowed, Kowalski's head down low over him, his flat, muttering voice vibrating off of Ray's chest - and the curve of his spine - tense, the muscles unfamiliarly stony through his shoulders and down through his back. "Look at me. Open your fucking eyes, Ray, I swear to fucking God, I'm gonna kill you, open your eyes!"

And he did, because Ray was yelling right into his skin, kneeling between his legs and touching his sides and bent over him with his lips right over Ray's left nipple. When Ray saw his eyes flicker open, the tension poured immediately out of him, and he slumped there, his face over Ray's chest, over his heart. Ray laced his fingers together behind Kowalski's head. "You son of a bitch. You scared the fuck out of me. I thought you were having some kind of stroke."

No, just falling apart. Fucking finally.

"I should never have gone. I should never have fucking gone, I should never have gone. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, Kowalski. I'm so-"

"Hey. Hey. Shut up. It's not worth it, okay? It's over, it's done, it's kaput, ancient history. You're here now."

"Where? Where am I? What am I doing here - cleaning the goddamn bathroom and losing my mind and going nowhere?"

"You're here. You lost your mind about twenty-five years ago, according to your sister, something like four years ago, according to you, and according to your mom, you were either never right in the head or you can do no wrong, kinda depending, uh, on her mood at the time. And if you bitch to me about going nowhere, I'm gonna kick you in the head. What's so great about going somewhere, you know? What if...people just...want you to stay right...here?"

"People?"

"Yeah. People, like...you know. Me."

The overall wetness of Kowalski's back was turning into warm, damp skin beaded with hundreds of individual droplets of water. He moved his hand up and down, smearing them into each other. "I feel like I'm here by accident. By all rights, I should probably be dead."

"The hell you should. Freak."

"I'd be dead if I hadn't...done what I did...really fucking bad things, you know, Kowalski? And don't tell me it's over, it's not over, I can't deal with it, I can't get on with my life! I was that guy. I did what he would've done."

"You had to."

"There was no gun to my head, Ray! I wanted to. I wanted to...prove that I could hack the...heroics. I hadda fucking impress somebody. Big man." He shot it at himself in contempt, punishingly, and Kowalski stroked his chest instinctively, trying to distract him. "People died so I could be the fucking hero. I'm so - fucking - selfish, Ray. I coulda died. I coulda skipped out on you right when you were - right when someone was starting to need me. If I weren't such an asshole, I'd have been a nobody and come...back here. Been here. Been here."

"We gonna be here all night?"

Rollo passed the younger man his cigarette. Anything to shut this kid up. Desert sure was pretty at sunset, all purple sky and brown sand, and they were pretty far off the highway, but you could see the light change as headlights passed by. He guessed Armando was liking it, too - Armando had always been kind of, well, deep, that was why they called him Bookman, because of all that reading and thinking he liked to do - but ever since the accident, he'd been even moodier, taking long drives by himself, these weekend retreats, standing around looking at stars and sunsets, all wrapped up in himself. It was kinda...nice, real
Armando, but privately Rollo still thought he'd be better off maybe settling down, having a family, a real life, that you could see and touch. Too bad about Laura. She'd been something else.

He leaned back against the car, mopping his forehead with a handkerchief. Shit, just standing out here all afternoon had been a little slice of hell on earth, let alone digging like a crazy person the way Armando had been. Well, you know. Jerry Salino.
Everyone was a little shook; you never expected guys like Salino to go that way.

But he'd just been so screwy since Armando's accident, fronting all the time, yanking the Bookman's chain, talking about how he didn't have it anymore, how Armando had changed, didn't have the balls to run the Vegas operations anymore.
Stupid, of course. Armando wasn't the type to put up with that shit; the fact that he'd let Salino get away with it for so long was only because, well.... Because everybody
liked Salino. Hey, even a sonofabitch like Armando L'Angoustini had friends, and Salino had coasted on friendship. For a while. Until the ride was up.

Rollo jerked at what sounded like car wheels, and then he realized was thunder. That's why the sunset was so nice, because of all those clouds rolling in, all the textures and colors. Christ knew they could use the rain.

"...sense to come in outta the rain...."

Rollo shot him a look. Kids today; this clown would never have made it so far up the chain in Rollo's day. Nothing was what it used to be, not even the Family.
But back in Rollo's day, there was still such a thing as friendship, and loyalty, and fine, so Armando had changed since the accident - so what? The man almost died, for Chrissakes. He was still Armando, still a friend, still Family. He wanted to stand out here half the night, wait for the rain to roll in across the desert and cool him off, wash the dirt off him, so what? He wasn't
crazy, just a little...you know. Just his own guy. A guy had a right to have his own shit, you know, his own private shit.

He'd just buried a friend. Done it himself, outta respect. Rollo was more than willing to cut the guy a little slack. Hell of a thing. Hell of a day.

Even though Rollo himself had sense enough to get into the car before the clouds opened up, something in him that never much had a need for words understood completely when his boss didn't follow along. The storm blew in, and he could look out the window and see Armando lifting his face up into it, scanning the sky for lightning as the wind tore at his shirt, and the rain sounded to Rollo like little chips of metal falling onto the hood of the car, like shell casings hitting tile or cement or something.

Hell of a night. Hell of a rainstorm.
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