Oh. My. God.
My brother knelt in the middle of our crappy living room, bleeding and awaiting execution, and all I could think about was me and Horse. What the hell was wrong with me?
“I don’t understand,” I said quickly, looking at Jeff’s puffy, bruising face, silently pleading with him to burst out laughing at the big joke they were playing on me.
Jeff didn’t start laughing. In fact, his breath rattled through the room like a movie sound effect. How badly was he hurt?
“He’s supposed to be working for us,” Picnic said. “He’s pretty good with that little laptop of his. But instead of working he’s been playing at the casino with our f**king money. Now he has the balls to tell me that he’s lost the money and can’t pay us back.”
He punctuated the last four words with jabs of his pistol’s thick, round barrel into the back of Jeff’s neck.
“You got fifty grand on you?” Horse asked me, his voice cool and casual. I shook my head, feeling dizzy. Oh, shit, this was why Jeff had tried to get me to ask Gary for money… But fifty grand? Fifty grand? I couldn’t believe it.
“He stole fifty thousand dollars?”
“Yup,” Horse said. “And if it doesn’t get paid back right now, his options are limited.”
“I thought you were friends,” I whispered, looking from him to Jeff.
“You’re a sweet kid,” Picnic said. “But you don’t get who we are. There’s the club and everyone else, and this stupid f**ker is not part of the club. You f**k with us, we will f**k you back. Harder. Always.”
Jeff’s mouth trembled and I saw tears well up in his eyes. Then he wet his pants, a dark stain spreading between his legs pitifully.
“Shit,” said the guy with the mohawk and skull tats. “I f**king hate it when they piss themselves.”
He looked down at Jeff and shook his head.
“You don’t see your sister pissing herself, do you? What a little bitch,” he said, disgusted.
“Are you going to kill us?” I asked Picnic, trying to think. I needed to make him see me as human, they said that on all the TV shows about serial killers. He had two girls, I’d even seen their pictures. I needed to remind him of his family, of the fact that he was human and not some kind of Reaper monster. “I mean, would you really kill people you shared pictures of your daughters with? One of them is about my age, isn’t she? Can’t we work something out? Maybe we can make payments or something.”
Horse snorted and shook his head.
“You don’t get it, sweetie, this isn’t just about money,” he said. “We could give a shit about the money. This is about respect and stealing from the club. We let this pissant f**k get away with it, they’ll all start doing it. We don’t let stuff like this slide. Ever. He pays with blood.”
I closed my eyes, feeling my own tears well up.
“Jeff, why?” I whispered, shivering.
“I wasn’t planning to lose it,” he replied, his voice cracked and hopeless. “I thought I could win it back, make it up somehow. Or that maybe I could hide it in the wire transfers…”
“Shut the f**k up,” Picnic said, smacking the side of his head with his free hand. “You don’t talk club business. Even when you’re about to die.”
I whimpered, feeling myself start to tremble.
“There’s another way,” Horse said to me, still casual. “Paying in blood can mean different things.”
“He doesn’t need to die for that to happen,” I said, thinking quickly. “Maybe you could burn down our trailer!”
I smiled at him encouragingly. Fuck the trailer, I wanted Jeff safe. And me. Oh shit, if they killed Jeff they’d have to kill me too.
I was a witness. Fuckity f**k f**k f**k!
“Oh, we’re gonna do that no matter what,” he drawled. “But that’s not blood. I can think of something that is though.”
“What?” Jeff asked, his voice full of desperate hope. “I’ll do anything, I swear. If you give me a chance I’ll crack so many accounts for you, you won’t believe what we can accomplish. I’ll stop smoking, that’ll clear my head, I’ll do a better job…”
His voice trailed off as Horse laughed, and the mohawk guy shook his head and grinned at Picnic.
“You believe this ass**le?” he asked. “Seriously, douche, you aren’t making a very good case for yourself, telling us just how much you been slacking.”
Jeff whimpered. I wanted to go to him, to hold him and comfort him, but I was too scared.
Horse stretched his neck, dipping his head to each side, and then cracked his knuckles like he was warming up for a fight. Kind of made me think of an episode of The Sopranos, which would have been funny as hell if I didn’t happen to know how that episode ended.
“Let’s get a couple of things clear,” Horse said after a pause that lasted approximately ten years. “We’re not going to hurt you, Marie.”
“You aren’t?” I asked, not sure if I believed him. Jeff listened anxiously, blinking rapidly against the moisture in his eyes. I watched as a trickle of sweat rolled down his forehead, making a track through the still-oozing blood.
“Nope,” Horse said. “You didn’t do anything wrong, we aren’t pissed at you. This isn’t about you. You’ll keep your mouth shut about this if you want to survive, and you’re smart enough to know that. That’s not why you’re here.”
“Why am I here?”
“So you can see just how seriously f**ked your brother is,” he replied. “Because we’re going to kill him if he doesn’t find a way to pay us back. I think he might be able to pull it off with the proper motivation.”
“I will,” Jeff babbled. “I’ll pay you back all of it, thank you so much—”
“No, you’ll pay us back twice as much, f**kwad,” Picnic said, kicking him viciously in the side with his heavy leather boot. Jeff pitched to the floor, keening in pain, and I flinched. “That’s if we let you live, which is entirely up to your sister. If it weren’t for her you’d be dead already.”
My eyes flew to Picnic’s face. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I’d do anything to save Jeff. Anything at all. He was the only real family I had left, and while he was a dumbass, he was also a sweetheart who truly loved me.
“I’ll do it,” I said quickly.