Better Choices
Chapter 4 - The House

Shane Ellis just wanted to get ahead for once. And if that meant breaking the law for a cool ten g's, so be it. What he didn't expect was a job offer...

Shane Ellis.jpg

The House

 

Shane stood over the small table, which was nestled up to the window. How he had gotten there was as much a mystery until his cell phone rang again. 

Dara was here and then I lay down and

The phone rang again, and he picked it up. “Yeah?”

“Ellis, you sound like shit.” Dave Eggers’ voice crackled over the phone. It was overly loud to Shane’s still half-asleep brain.

“Huh? No, I’m fine.”

“So you up for this job or not?”

The job. What job? Oh wait, that job.

His brain spun, struggling to wake up, to think. “I uh…”

“Jesus, Ellis, I’m not proposing marriage,” Eggers sounded exasperated. “I’m offering you ten g’s for a couple of hours out of your day. You interested or not?”

Shane thought of what ten thousand dollars could do, how much he would be able to pay off with that money. It would take more than two years for him to pay off that much debt at his current rate. Two years’ worth of scrimping and saving and paying the sky-high interest rates for an hour or two of highly illegal activity. 

As long as this doesn’t go south, it’s a no-brainer.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it.” 

He could practically see Eggers grin over the phone. “Excellent! I’ll pick you up next Thursday, say around nine p.m.?”

“That’ll work.” He gave Eggers his address and hung up, still foggy with sleep. The sun was getting low in the sky, the rich colors of the sunset were emerging. 

Screwing Dara, agreeing to doing a job with Eggers. I’m not just playing with fire, I’m playing Russian roulette.

The Thursday job was on Shane’s mind often over the next five days. A handful of times, he had reached for his phone, ready to call Eggers and tell him to find someone else. But ten thousand dollars was a lot of money. A lot of money. Before he knew it, it was Thursday evening and Eggers pulled up to the curb in front of Shane’s apartment building and honked. It was a black, sleek Ford Mustang and Eggers revved the engine as Shane approached.

“Whadya think of my new wheels?” he called, his voice nearly inaudible above the roar of the engine. “Got an advance on tonight’s job and figured it was time to get myself somethin’ nice. Besides, that crazy barmaid Gina tossed her cookies right after I busted a nut in her. Goddamn disgusting, I got it detailed, and they used an entire can of deodorizing spray in it and it still smells like chili cheese fries and Yager with a side of vomit.”

Shane winced. “Ah, man, that sucks. But your wheels look sweet, so I guess it’s a win, right?”

“Bitch did me a favor.” Eggers chortled, leaned over and punched Shane in the shoulder. “Glad to have you with me on this one, man. Mark my words, it’s gonna be a breeze! Easiest money you’ll ever make.” He slammed on the brakes at the intersection to avoid hitting a man dressed in rags and pushing a shopping cart. He threw up his hands as the man glared at him. Any words or epithets he might have directed towards the two men in the car were drowned out by the revving engine.

The old man, homeless by the look of it, took his time to cross and by the end of it, Eggers had inched the car forward to the edge of the crosswalk and the old man spat on the car and was off the street and onto the curb before Eggers could do more than give him the bird. He hit the accelerator and Shane was pushed into the bucket seat.

“Goddamn, just shoot me if I ever end up all decrepit and slow like that old fuck.” Eggers snapped, tense. Shane felt a surge of foreboding. Eggers was on edge, more than normal. Was it blow? Meth? Whatever it was, it had him amped up. 

This could go south real quick.

As they merged with traffic on Highway 110, Eggers drove aggressively, darting in and out of traffic, ignoring the car horns and shouting at the other drivers. He took an exit, moving onto Highway 10, heading west towards the beach.

“Where are we going?” Shane asked as Eggers cut off a semi and the driver lit up the inside of the Mustang with his high beams.

Eggers, distracted by the semi, hung out of the window to make sure the driver had a clear view of his middle finger. “Fuck you, asshole!” The car swerved, setting off other drivers and their horns. He turned to Shane, “What?”

“Where are we going?” Shane asked again.

“Bel-Air, baby!” Eggers grinned. “Old money and a rich asshole who is out of town.”

“So what are you after?” Second thoughts were invading Shane, setting his stomach on end with dread. Why had he agreed to this in the first place? How was Eggers so sure that the owner would be out of town and what if he wasn’t?

Eggers gave him a sideways glance. “Don’t you worry about it, man. This is easy money. I got the codes to get in, and confirmation of the guy’s flight info. He’s gone for three days. I’ll be in and out in less than ten minutes. I just need you to keep a lookout, make sure no one drives by or nothing, and stay in the car. It’ll be a breeze.”

“No dogs? No staff?” Shane persisted, images of sharp-nosed Dobermans surrounding them showing their sharp canines. 

“Nah, man. No dogs.” Eggers laughed then, “Man, you shoulda seen me on this job two weeks ago. Two of those Doberman fuckers came at me. I kicked one in the head and had to bail into the car quick. I got out of there, but not before one of ‘em took a chunk out of me.” He raised his shirtsleeve and showed a healing scab on his right arm. “Still fuckin’ hurts.”

Traffic grew sparse as they turned onto Highway 405 and headed north into the hills. The homes they passed became fewer and farther between, but also increased in size. Tall walls, heavy gates, and shrubbery that hid the buildings became more commonplace. Shane began to see tiny gatehouses appear, usually manned by security guards. 

As they turned off of 405, moving along a winding dimly lit road, Shane could see that the night sky, brightly lit by a full moon just moments before, had become overcast and dark to the west, the clouds moving fast. Soon they would completely blot out the light of the moon. 

They slowed, taking another turn, and Shane was relieved that Eggers had slowed down and appeared more calm. 

Definitely blow. I just hope he’s going to be sane coming down from it.

Eggers had always partied harder than everyone else when they were in school together. It was no surprise he was still in that world. The car slowed, turned onto yet another dimly lit road and the sky darkened as the clouds blanketed the last of the sky, obscuring the moon’s bright light. The wind had kicked up a notch and the trees overhead swayed and danced, their leaves fluttering. Shane had his window cracked and he could smell the rain approaching. A curl of lightning flickered through the clouds, promising a rare experience, a lightning storm in California of all places. Again, he felt a surge of anxiety rush through him. A storm, this job. It was no good. Fate was knocking on his door and he wasn’t listening.

The road forked, and they took the one to the left. It was covered in a thick canopy of trees, one side climbing into a high rock face of a cliff, the other disappearing into a chasm, a jumble of trees and scrub. The increasing strobes of lightning in the distance showed a deep valley, with scattered groups of lights, homes most likely, in far intervals, miles away from the road. It was remote, isolated, the perfect place for those who had money and wanted a solitary existence far from the melee of the city, yet with the ease of a short drive back to civilization. The car slowed and Shane could see that the road dead-ended, the beginning of a private drive just beyond a set of solid metal gates set in a stone fence that extended out of sight on either side.

“This is it,” Eggers sounded tense, excited. He dug in his pocket, pulled a small card out, and slowly typed the numeric code into the keypad. The rain reached them then, a slow pitter-pat quickly increasing into a heavy downpour. Lightning flashed again, and Shane could hear the thunder grumble high above in the sky. The metal gate swung open, emitting a metallic groan. “Yes!” Eggers hissed and rolled up his window, fumbling for the window wipers as he accelerated through the gate and down the private drive. 

It was dark, a level of darkness that Shane rarely saw in the city. The sky only occasionally illuminated by the flashes of light. In the distance, the drive opened up, and they could see a large house, all the windows dark, obviously devoid of life. The rain hit then. A solid, relentless downpour that obscured most of the detail of the home past the landscaping lights set low on the paths and the bulb that lit the front entry in a dim wash of yellow. 

“Damn storm just couldn’t have waited another hour, could it?” Eggers muttered and stared at the water washing down the windshield faster than the wipers. They rolled to a stop, the headlights illuminating the door. Shane peered through the gloom, looking for cameras but finding nothing.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t there, just that I don’t see them.

“Right, well, shit. Wanna come in with me then?” Eggers reached between the seats and grabbed a small bag. 

Shane fought down the wave of unease. This was a bad idea. He knew it was. But here he was and the sooner they got in, the sooner they got out. Maybe it would be better to just go in with Eggers, keep an eye on him and then get the hell out of here.

One thing is for sure. I’m doing this one job and then I’m done. Hard work beats B&E any fucking day. You don’t end up in jail for working two jobs. Breaking and entering is a completely different story.

“Yeah, sure.” The anxiety was taking his dinner and tossing it around his stomach like a rollercoaster. The minute he stepped out of this car and into that house, he was in it. He swallowed down the indecision. 

Ten grand takes my debt down by two years of busting my ass.

They opened their doors simultaneously and ran for the front door through the downpour. There was a wide overhang, which reduced it from a soaking shower to a fine spray, thanks to the wind. Shane huddled there, holding a flashlight that Eggers handed to him, and watched Eggers pick the lock. 

“You’ve picked up some skills, I see.” Shane The door swung open and Eggers grinned.

“You’ve got no idea what you can learn during a four month stretch at Lompoc.” The door was wide, an enormous slab of carved wood. The lightning flashed and Shane could see a small village cut into the rich wood, with tall grass surrounding it. 

An hour later, miles away…

Shane parked down the street from his apartment building, pulled off his shirt, and used it to run over any parts of the car he had touched. First the passenger seat and armrest, along with the wheel and all the handles. His breathing had evened, calmed, but he didn’t have much time. Hell, he’d hit Eggers hard and knocked him out, but he’d be awake by now and the rich dude, Benton, he would have called the police. 

It was dark, and the rain was falling heavily. Fewer people out. It was windy, wet, and generally miserable. Still, Shane might have minutes before the cops came knocking. Time to get anything he wanted to keep and get the hell out of Dodge.

 

Where the hell am I going to go? 

His mind spun, and he was far too busy looking for the bright police lights to notice the outer door was ajar and the hall light was out. A rushing sound and he had milliseconds to react, to avoid the swift attack that came out of the darkness. He moved instinctively rather than with purpose. Temporarily blinded by the transition from the lighted street to the dark apartment building, he felt rather than saw Sarith Prak coming towards him. Despite his quick reaction, the impact of Sarith’s kick carried past Shane and slammed into the far wall with a tremendous crash. He could hear some of the residents of the building begin to move about and upstairs a light turned on, giving him a better view in the gloom of Sarith leaping towards him again, murder in his dark eyes.

Great, someone’s going to call the cops any second now.

The cops would take their time. 

You could call in that someone was being murdered and it would be a solid twenty minutes before anyone arrived. 

As he dodged another kick from Sarith, Shane thought about his luck so far. 

Then again, I might have two minutes tops to get the hell out of here.

He took a deep breath and then lunged at Sarith, clocking him hard behind the ear. Sarith paused, then dropped like a stone.

 

Holy shit, that worked?!

 

He ran upstairs, taking the steps two at a time, and didn’t bother to unlock the door. A solid shoulder thrust to it and the thin, cheap frame gave way with a crunch of wood. He scanned the room, grabbed a backpack and shoved a change of clothes in it, and slipped a photo of his mom out of its frame and into his pocket. He shoved his folder of documents, and the book a pretty librarian had given him years ago, into the backpack, and slung it over his shoulder. Outside, he could hear the police sirens approaching. 

No time, no time. 

He ran out in the hall, down to the back of the building and hit the emergency back door at a run, popping it open with his shoulder. There was a small landing outside of the door and then a metal ladder that descended to street level in the dark alley behind the building. He slipped on the wet rungs twice, catching himself with a jerk on his already aching right arm and shoulder, and was relieved when his feet finally found the ground. Two police cars screeched to a halt in front of the apartment building and he ran through the tall grass, exiting out of the broken section of fence in the far corner before he could be seen. 

Shane could hear the officers shouting at Sarith, who had apparently been making his way back out of the front of the building, and he was relieved their attention was fully on the gangbanger and not on him. It was too dangerous to try to drive away in the IROC. It was close, but the motor was loud, and who knew if it had been described by the homeowner as the getaway car in the botched robbery. It wasn’t safe to use it. He ran down the length of the alley, then intentionally slowed his pace to a ground-eating stride and turned away from where the officers had come from. It was too hot for him to get in his car either, especially with it parked in front of the apartment building. 

 

Gotta get out of here. Greyhound station.

The rain soaked him as he headed for the nearest bus stop.