Friday, November 12, 2010

A 13 to Life Prequel Story: That’s What She Said

*Note: All the action that occurs in this story happens before 13 to Life and before the Rusakovas were separated from their parents.


Regardless of the numbing affect of the haze of cigarette smoke or the sharp scent of sweat and the stink of stale beer staining the worn and sticky carpet, Alexi sensed trouble just minutes before Max made it.

Alexi built an awkward open bridge on the green felt table with his left hand, lining up. Or maybe it was twenty-three hours after Max had...made it. He smirked, took three hesitant practice strokes and hit the cue ball, rolling out a curse in Russian when the balls went wide.

His gaze skated over the money stacked on the table’s edge and the man he was playing smiled. Alexi grimaced, straightening and shrugging. “It is still not so bad,” he said, playing his part. Dumb Russian was what they expected around here so dumb Russian was what he gave them, up until the moment he left the hall with their money. His balding opponent stalked around the table, strategizing in his worn t-shirt—a sharp contrast to Alexi’s crisp button-down shirt—and Alexi silently reminded himself he didn’t need the money.

Mother and Father were still doing better than making ends meet—he wanted for nothing of a monetary sort—but still. He watched his opponent sink his 2-, 3- and 5-ball in a slick combination shot. Horashow. Good. Maybe there’d be a challenge here after all. Alexi had already thrown one game out of their two out of three set.

The man tried for his 6-ball but it spun wide with too much english.

The bills fluttered as Alexi moved past them, skirting the table, looking for the shot he wanted.
He’d gladly take the money—needed or not. One never knew when things would take a sudden turn. Not when you belonged to the Rusakova family.

He cast a glance two tables over to where Max lurked just beyond the pale glow cast by the dusty faux Tiffany lamps, shadows clinging to him nearly as tightly as girls usually did. Alexi knew what he was doing immediately. He was waiting to be noticed by someone other than the pair of hot blondes leaning on the long bar at the pool hall’s far side.

He shouldn’t have let Max come along again. He drew too much attention even wearing his chain—what Cat called his collar.

Actually Alexi knew he shouldn’t have come back again himself. You never hustled in the same hall twice in one week. But Alexi never drew as much attention as his siblings. He adjusted his feet and lowered into his stance. A little tremble... He nearly scratched, but he sank both the 1- and the 3.

Grinning, the balding man swept his comb-over back.

Alexi pocketed the 2 and 4. He didn’t want to be caught hustling—small town “justice” could be fiercer than what his parents usually feared was breathing down their necks. So he usually pulled ahead slowly. But the three men heading in Max’s direction made him think he needed to speed things up. “Best two out of three,” he reminded.

Da, comrade,” his opponent drawled.

Alexi didn’t twitch. His breathing steady, he refused to acknowledge the jab. Now it would be even more enjoyable taking the man’s money.

Pietr would have created the same problem Max did—luring girls his way and angering their boyfriends. Pietr wasn’t the sort to sneak out and dive into the gutter with his older brothers; Alexi was comfortable in the gutter—it was easy to be once you knew you’d been thrown away before. If Alexi had to make a bet on what Pietr was doing right now…? He would bet he was reading. And Alexi didn’t make bets he couldn’t win.

He knew Pietr as well as he knew Max.

And as well as he knew Max was looking to pick a fight tonight. He tried thinking about the money riding on the game and not overhearing the conversation starting a couple of tables over as the three guys paused in front of his younger brother.

“Dude’s at our table.”

Three to one? The odds were still in Max’s favor as long as no one was packing. Simply adjusting his position at the pool table, Alexi appeared to ignore the way one man’s voice rose in volume and he chose a different set of balls to hit so he could watch the action better. He chalked his cue’s tip and squinted, examining his options.

“Who the hell are you?” one of them asked Max.

Three balls left to sink and then he’d still need to pocket the 8-ball. Maybe five minutes worth of work if he ran the table. And how long until all Hell broke loose?

His younger brother straightened and pushed back his shoulders, making himself as broad and tall as he could. “I’m Max. As in the maximum.”

Crap. It was about to get ugly. If he caromed his opponent’s 4-ball off his 6, it should take down both his 5 and 7. Creating a closed bridge, Alexi took a single, slow practice stroke and then took his shot. The balls smacked into each other with a crack, hurtling across the felt like he’d expected. “Finally I am feeling lucky,” he said to his stunned opponent. “My people must first warm up.”

“Warm up. Uh-huh.”

Alexi noticed how Max’s eyes briefly searched the smoky shadows behind the men, spotting the girl. He remembered her—well, what he had managed to glimpse of her nestled in the darkness made by Max’s broad body as they clung together last night in a dimly lit and seldom noticed corner of the hall.

Alexi eyed the table again. “6-ball in the side pocket.” This was not some emotional attachment Max was reacting to—he didn’t connect that way with girls. Alexi snorted. But the way his little brother did connect with them never got any complaints. At least not from the girls.

“Heyyy. How come I feel I’m getting’ hustled?”

Alexi shrugged, trying to pull his most innocent expression. “What is this—hustled?” The 6-ball went wide, slinging into the bumper. “It is your shot,” Alexi said, stepping back.

“Yeah,” the man muttered, his eyes narrow as he bent, took a shot and missed.

“6-ball, corner pocket,” Alexi said, seeing Max raise an eyebrow at the three men in challenge. Time was nearly up. He dropped the 6-ball in without hesitation and slid around the table to line up his last move and end the game. “8-ball, side pocket.”

“Damn,” one of the men near Max said, “You’re huge.”

Alexi snatched the money off the table’s edge. In a moment it wouldn’t matter if the man realized he’d been hustled or not. In a moment all that would matter was how fast he could get Max out of there and how much damage would be done before he could.

“That’s what she said,” Max countered, unrolling a brash grin. He winked at the girl standing behind them and they spun to face her. Her sudden blush explained everything and managed to condemn Max more than her.

“You son of a--”

That would be it. No matter what else was said about the Rusakovas—their family, their lifestyle, their heritage, no one questioned their mother’s worth by calling her a bitch—even in a round-about method.

Max dropped his pool cue to take the first swing. The thud that sounded when he connected rocked the man back into his buddies. “Shii--”

Max watched, amused, as they got the guy back on his feet, cursing in surprise as he cradled his face.

Alexi pushed through the gathering crowd.

“Go, go,” the guy’s buddies urged, shoving him forward again.

“Nobody comes at me...” the man snarled, dropping into a fighting stance.

“Nobody calls me a son of--”

The guy’s fist connected with Max’s mouth and Alexi paused, blinking. Now Max would get angry.

Max’s grin only broadened, his split lip no hindrance, and they both went at it, fists flying.

“Max!” Alexi shouted, grabbing him. Shaken off, he was shoved back by the momentum working through Max’s muscles. “Max!”

The other men stepped forward, hesitant to join in.

But the girl—Max’s latest makeout partner—pushed them forward. “He’s hurting Billy!” she protested.

Alexi shook his head. Women. Was it any wonder Max would burn time up with one who’d turn on him? He judged them on things other than morality and intellect... Making sure his winnings were secure in his pocket, he stepped in to join his brother.

And while they fought, Alexi peppered his punches with words meant to shake some reason into Max. “She’s not worth it--” only made the fighters redouble their efforts. “What are you trying to prove?” was answered by an insanely fierce punch that threw Max’s opponent onto his ass. Alexi took another route. “Put the pool cue down!” What did they cost now? Alexi sighed, doing the mental math, as Max snapped one across an attacker’s back and sent him sprawling. With one down they were now in clean-up mode...

With Alexi giving the fight almost everything he had and Max holding back their mixed abilities almost seemed normal.

Above the clamor of the crowd Alexi’s pool opponent shouted, “Hustler!” Alexi closed the gap between his back and Max’s watching as the man struggled through the crowd to challenge him. He swayed, ducking and weaving and keeping his face out of the path of the man’s punches. Body bruises he could handle—those he could hide—but a strong hit to his face would leave him bruised and aching—and obvious—just enough to raise questions in his sibling’s minds. And that was unacceptable.

Out of the corner of his eye, Alexi saw someone pick up one of the chairs that lined the hall’s wall and mentally added it to his tally of expenses, watching how it splintered when it impacted with Max’s shoulder. It didn’t seem expensive.

With a growl, Max grabbed the man by his shirt and waistband and heaved him past Alexi—

“Not the pool table...” He winced as the man landed and balls scattered and skipped onto the floor.

The table held.

Alexi let out a breath. His fist skimmed combover’s face and he pulled back sharply, nailing his elbow into the man’s jaw with an impact that sent him to the floor.

“Let’s go,” Alexi commanded, grabbing Max’s arm. Max spared him a glance and the last man standing clocked Max in the side of his head.

Max inhaled sharply and with a swing of his powerful arms sent the man crashing into the chairs.

Alexi counted as they splintered under the force. One, two, three became twenty, forty, sixty.
“Now,” he demanded, seeing the hint of red sparkling in the depths of Max’s eyes. “We go now.”

Max nodded, dazed, and Alexi led him past the bar, where Alexi paused long enough to dig out his winnings and pass them to the bar’s manager with a look of apology. He wanted for nothing of a monetary sort, he reminded himself. He grabbed a handful of napkins and dragged Max out of the hall, into the night and to their car.

“In.” He shoved him into the passenger’s seat and slammed the door. Starting the car, Alexi pulled out of the parking lot and drove a few minutes before finding a quiet side road to pull onto. “What the hell were you thinking?”

Max rubbed his jaw, fingers careful near his swelling lip. Still dazed, he was still grinning. “She had a mouth on her...”

“You have quite the mouth on you, too.”

“Yeah, well she was one hell of a kisser.”

“And you got hit in your kisser.”

“Quit being clever,” Max growled, snapping back into the present.

“It’s my default setting.” Alexi withdrew a handkerchief and pressed it over a gash above Max’s eye. “We both know it’s not about the girl. Crap. What will Mother say?”

Max looked away and took the handkerchief from Alexi, pressing it so hard against his brow bone he winced. “What does Mother ever say?” The pitch of his voice changed. “Oh, Max, what trouble did you get into this time?”

Alexi shoved his thumb into Max’s wound.

“Owww!”

“That is for disrespecting our mother.”

“You can be such a bastard sometimes,” Max grumbled.

Alexi paused.

“Face it. She dotes on them.”

“Who?”

“As if you don’t know. The twins.”

“You’re jealous.”

Max tipped his chin up, beyond denial. “Aren’t you? You’re the oldest. It should mean something.” His eyes narrowed, implying more than simple age suggested. “Just because they’re so smart and talented... I mean... I’m--”

Alexi stared straight out the windshield, focusing on the glare the convertible’s headlights threw across the road. One eyebrow still rose at his brother’s tone. “You’re what?”

“I’m — I deserve attention, too,” he grumbled, shifting in his seat so he faced out the window.

Alexi nodded in silent agreement and pulled the car out, turning toward home. They didn’t want for anything, he reminded himself, thinking of the money he’d won and just as quickly lost—not anything monetary at least.

1 comment:

smiletime said...

does no deserve 0 commets! it should totalllyy be the prequil! and im not saying that just becouse iheart max ;)