She smiled at me like a perfectly normal person, rather than a woman who’d had sex with five men in a row the night before. How could she even walk? I shook my head, and she gave me a quizzical look. Of course, she didn’t realize I’d seen her.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” I said, and we started downstairs. She led me through the lounge to the far end of the building, where double doors opened to reveal a dining room with a serving bar separating it from a kitchen. Not a full-on, modern industrial one, more like the kind you’d find in a church. Several big fridges, big dishwasher, that kind of thing. Empty platters and bags of chips littered the counters, debris from the night before, I assumed.


“I’ve done a lot of parties for them,” she said, flipping on lights and going to the fridges, opening them and checking out the contents. “I give them a deal, they take good care of me. A few years ago my ex decided to use me as a punching bag. I knew one of the girls who likes to party here and she passed the word along to Ruger. He and a couple others offered to take care of the problem for me in exchange for some help in the armory kitchen and things grew from there.”

“Horse beat up my ex,” I said, feeling a sudden sense of sisterhood with her.

“It’s a relief when it stops, isn’t it?” she replied, with a sad little smile. She started grabbing food wrappers and tossing them in a big plastic garbage can. “He’s a real good guy. You’re lucky to have him.”

I nodded, not sure I wanted to go there. Everyone seemed to think he was so great—did they know the real man? Did I? I felt my phone vibrate and I pulled it out to find a text from Em. Cookie is home again. They gave her some drugs to help her sleep. Maggs asked if you can stay on top of things at the armory, some of us will be over in a couple hours to help. ((Hugs))

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Already on it, I sent back, relieved I could tell her something positive, no matter how small. Candace and I finished cleaning up and sat down to plan food for the day. Then I sent her to the grocery store with my debit card, which still had about five hundred dollars on it and another hundred in cash. I was torn about that—if I had to get away, I’d need the money. But I wanted to help, and the realization that Horse had already spent fifty grand on me still floated around in the back of my head, waiting to be processed.

It seemed like the least I could do.

By the time Horse took my hand and pulled me upstairs to bed that night I was exhausted. The day had been endless, a blur of people crying, yelling and worst of all, just sitting in silence and staring into nothing.

Candace had been amazing. She’d gone from gangbang hoochie to kitchen goddess apparently without need for transition. Around noon she came back with a ton of food, so much I couldn’t imagine we’d go through it all yet it disappeared almost entirely by the end of the day. The party girls worked hard to clean the armory before melting away when the old ladies started showing up—a club dynamic I still couldn’t wrap my head around. Surprisingly, Serena and Candace stayed. They kept to themselves back in the kitchen, but every time I turned around they were quietly serving people, bringing them drinks or food, helping the few remaining guests find a place to sleep.

Most of the visiting charter members left, although I got the impression they’d be returning for the funeral. At one point Horse cornered me and told me that the situation with the Jacks was under control, but that I’d still need to stay in the armory.

We waited for news on Bagger’s body.

Cookie stayed at her house, but Maggs brought Silvie over after her nap. I took her up to the game room and we played for a couple of hours and ate dinner together. I gave her a bath in our room and dressed her in jammies before Maggs took her back home. The poor girl didn’t have a clue what was really going on but she obviously felt the tension in the air.

Now Horse and I were finally alone in our room and I wasn’t sure what to say. Some of the guys had been visibly broken up, while others were stoic. Horse was just blank. Nothing. No concern, no sorrow, nada. He’d found me a few times during the day, asking if I’d heard from Jeff. I hadn’t, from either email account, which made things easier. I wasn’t sure if I could pull off a lie tonight. I watched as he stripped down to his boxers mechanically, then sat down on the side of the bed. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, just looking toward the window. I went to use the bathroom and get ready for bed. When I got back he hadn’t moved. I wasn’t sure what to do.

“It’s bad over there,” he said softly. I went and stood in front of him, reaching down to run my fingers through his soft, silky hair. I didn’t know where this was going, but I wanted to be close to him, absorb some of his pain. “You have no idea, nobody does. They’re crazy, they kill little kids and women and entire families. Every day, Marie. At one point my team set up shop in some town and there were these two boys who liked to come and play with us. Probably about ten years old. They were cute and we liked them, would kick a soccer ball around with them, give them candy, that kind of shit. It was my buddy’s ball, but we let the kids take it home, figured they’d enjoy it more than us. Just a ball. One day only one of them came back, threw the ball at us and he took off running. We found out later his friend and his mom were shot in the street for being friends with the Americans. It was just a ball, babe, and he died for it and because we gave him candy. That’s so f**ked up. And shit like that happened all the time. You wouldn’t believe how many civilians are dying over there.”

I massaged his scalp, feeling the tension tying him in knots with every touch. I wanted to ask him about the article but I couldn’t do it. Words seemed so incredibly trite compared to the pain that radiated off him.

“Another time we found an entire village massacred,” he said, voice rough. “Whole damn place shot to hell. Kids. Women. Men. Fucking donkeys. Goats. All of them dead, houses burning, you name it. You know what’s totally f**ked up? We go in there and find this, call it in, but the next day we’re the bastards under investigation. Apparently there’s all kinds of people saying we did it. You know how f**ked that is? You go to a country, you try to help the people there and they spend all their time and energy either trying to kill you or set you up.”

I stilled, wondering if I could believe him. Horse had no reason to tell me about this. Not unless he’d found my email account. But I’d been careful, really careful, clearing out my phone’s cache and cookies and browsing history. I’d never put the address into my email app, I only checked it on the website. Could he trace that?

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