Travis chuckled and then noticed the folded sheets, blanket, and pillow on the couch. “Oh,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Better than your night, brother. Should I, uh…should I come back? The front desk left me a note, saying you needed me to come here at six.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Have a seat, Trav.”
Travis walked over to the couch and sat down, looking up at us with wary eyes. “What’s going on?”
I sat down on the corner of the bed, keeping my shoulders relaxed and trying to seem generally nonthreatening. “Travis, we need to talk to you about your involvement in the March nineteenth ESU fire.”
Travis furrowed his brow, and then he laughed once without humor. “What?”
I continued, “The FBI has been investigating the case, and Thomas has been able to strike a deal in your favor.”
Travis clasped his hands together. “The FBI? But he’s an ad exec.” He gestured to his brother. “Tell her, Tommy.” When Thomas didn’t respond, Travis’s eyes narrowed. “What is this?”
Thomas looked down and then back at his brother. “I’m not in advertising, Trav. I’m a Special Agent of the FBI.”
Travis stared at his brother for a full ten seconds and then cackled. “Oh my God, dude! You were beginning to freak me out. Don’t do that to me! What do you really need to talk to me about?” His laughter faded when Thomas didn’t crack a smile. “Tommy, knock it off.”
Thomas shifted. “I’ve been working with my boss for a year now, Travis, trying to negotiate a deal for you. They know you were in Eakins. Abby’s plan didn’t work.”
“For the wedding in Vegas to provide you with an alibi to keep you out of prison,” Thomas said, trying to keep his expression relaxed.
“Abby married me to keep me out of prison?”
Thomas’s eyes fell, but he nodded. “She doesn’t want you to know.”
Travis jumped up, grabbed Thomas’s shirt, and shoved him all the way to the other side of the room against the wall. I stood, but Thomas held out his hand, warning me away.
“C’mon, Travis, you’re not stupid. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know,” Thomas grunted.
“Take it back,” Travis seethed. “Take back what you said about my wife.”
“She was nineteen, Travis. She didn’t want to get married until you were at risk for going to prison for organizing the fight.”
Travis took a swing at Thomas, but he ducked. They scuffled, and then Thomas got the upper hand, pinning his younger brother to the wall with his forearm.
“Knock it off! Goddamn it! She loves you! She loves you so much that she did something she had no intention of doing for years down the line just so she could save your stupid ass!”
Travis was breathing hard, and he held up his hands in surrender.
Thomas let him go, taking a step back, and then Travis swung, catching Thomas hard in the jaw. Thomas gripped his knee with one hand and clenched his jaw with the other, trying to harness his temper.
Travis pointed at him. “That’s for lying to Dad.”
Thomas stood upright and then held up his index finger. “That’s your one. Don’t make me beat your ass. I feel bad enough.”
Travis looked at me, sizing me up. “You’re really FBI?”
I nodded, eyeing him warily. “Don’t make me beat your ass either.”
Travis laughed once. “I’d have to let you. I don’t hit girls.”
“I hit boys,” I said, still on guard.
Thomas rubbed his cheek and raised his eyebrows. “You hit harder than you used to.”
Thomas worked his jaw back and forth. “Abby gets points for creativity, Trav, but the records show that you purchased the tickets on your credit card well after the fire started.”
“I’ve also been working on a case involving a money-laundering and drug-smuggling ring in Vegas. It’s run by a man named Benny Carlisi.”
“Benny?” Travis asked, clearly confused. “Tommy, are you fuckin’ serious right now? You’re in the motherfucking FBI.”
“Focus, Travis. We don’t have much time, and this is important,” Thomas snapped. “You’re in a lot of trouble. My boss is expecting an answer today. Do you understand?”
“What kind of trouble?” Travis sat back down on the couch.
“You’re looking at the same counts of manslaughter that Adam was charged with. You’re looking at prison time.”
“How long?” Travis asked. He seemed like a scared little boy when he looked up with his big brown eyes at his brother.
“Adam has ten years,” Thomas said, trying to retain his stoic expression. “I don’t see your sentence having a different outcome. The media has been all over this. They want retribution.”
Travis looked down, and his hands touched his head. “I can’t be away from Abby that long.”
His words tugged at my heart. He didn’t care about going to prison. He just didn’t want to be separated from his wife.
“You won’t have to go to prison, Travis,” I said. “Your brother has spent a lot of time and effort making sure that won’t happen. But you have to agree to something first.”
Travis glanced to Thomas and then back at me. “Like what?”
Thomas returned his hands to his pockets. “They want to recruit you, Trav.”
“The mob?” he asked. He shook his head. “I can’t fight for Benny. Abby will leave me.”
Travis laughed once. “What do they want with me? I’m a college kid…a fucking part-time personal trainer.”
“They want you to use your previous contact with Mick and Benny to gain intelligence on the inner workings of their illegal operations,” I said.
“They want you to work undercover,” Thomas clarified.
Travis stood and began to pace. “He’ll want me to fight for him, Tommy. I can’t do that. I’ll lose my wife.”
“Then, you’ll have to lie,” I said matter-of-factly.
Travis looked at me and then at his brother, crossing his arms. “Fuck you both. I won’t do it.”
Thomas narrowed his eyes. “You don’t have a choice. You can either lie to Abby and keep her or go to prison and lose her.”
“I won’t lie. Can’t I tell her? She grew up around men like Benny. She won’t blab.”
Thomas shook his head. “You’ll put her in danger.”
“She’ll be in danger if I fuck with these guys! You think they’ll shoot me in the head and be done with it? People like that take out your entire family. We’ll be lucky if they stop with Abby. They’ll probably move on to Dad and Trent, Taylor, and Tyler, too! What the fuck have you done, Tommy?”
“Help me take them down, Travis,” Thomas said.
“You sold us out. For what? A goddamn promotion?” Travis shook his head.