“You’re brainwashed,” he said. “But I told you, Horse isn’t who you think he is. I have proof, I’ll show you. Everyone’s busy, they won’t have a clue until it’s too late. At least come and see what I’ve found. If you still want to stay after that I’ll call off the Jacks and leave you alone.”
“Bring him,” Jeff said. “Tell him you need something in the house, ask him to come with you. I’ve got a gun. We can tie him up while we talk, lock him in the tack room. He’ll be fine.”
I felt my stomach sink.
“This is a really bad idea, Jeff,” I said softly. “Think it through. What if it doesn’t work? He could kill you. You need to stop doing crazy things and deal with this situation in a way that doesn’t make it worse.”
“You’re so damned naive,” he muttered, frustration clear in his voice. “Max is a violent criminal, all the Reapers are. You need to stop protecting them and think about your family. Now get your ass out here.”
He hung up on me. I turned back to the car, pasting a fake smile on my face for Max’s benefit. No way I would be bringing him out to Horse’s place. Jeff had lost his mind. But I still wanted to talk to him and see if we could figure something less crazy out together. I also wanted to look at this proof he kept talking about. There had to be an explanation.
“That was Maggs,” I said, climbing back into the car. “She wants us to stop by the grocery store and pick up some garbage bags. I guess they’ve run out and things are getting ugly. Let’s swing into Safeway, okay?”
“Sure,” he said and I kept my eyes forward, counting every breath as I drove to the store. As we pulled into the parking lot I chose my spot carefully, then stopped the car. Max got out and as soon as he shut the door I clicked the locks and hit the gas.
My phone rang at least fifteen times during my drive to the farm. I had no doubt that Max had called Horse within seconds of my little stunt, and Horse was mighty pissed.
I’d deal with that later.
Still, I didn’t want him to worry about me more than he needed to, so after I pulled up I sent him a quick text saying that things were all right but that my brother had called and I needed some privacy to call him back. Then I silenced the phone, planning to ignore his response.
The fallout from this was gonna suck, no question.
I grabbed my purse and walked toward the barn. No sign of Jeff. No sign of Ariel either, which made me really nervous. I pushed through the open door, noting the broken lock. Horse wasn’t going to like that either, I thought, biting back a hysterical giggle. Poor man would have a heart attack before the night was over at this rate. Jeff grabbed me as soon as I walked into the barn, pulling me to the side of the door with one hand and waving a gun around in the other. All of Horse’s training must have sunk in, because I hit the ground automatically as the barrel swung toward me.
“Don’t point that at me!” I hissed, and Jeff glanced down at the gun, startled.
“Oh shit, I’m sorry,” he said. “Did you come by yourself?”
“Yes,” I replied, standing up and dusting off my knees. “But they were lighting up my phone on the drive out here. We don’t have a lot of time. What’s the proof you were talking about?”
Jeff walked over to a work bench and pulled out a folder. I flipped it open and saw several articles about the massacre from different news outlets. None of them had any information I hadn’t seen already.
“Keep looking,” Jeff said. I flipped further, finding a copy of Horse’s discharge papers. Honorable. I found a memo stating that his unit was being cleared of charges based on a lack of evidence. Another newspaper article followed, this one stating that the killers had never been found and now several key witnesses had disappeared. That was it.
“You see?” Jeff asked. “It’s right there. Now do you understand?”
I looked at him, confused.
“This doesn’t say he did anything,” I replied softly. “It just says they never figured out who did it. Sometimes that happens during war, Jeff, especially in areas with competing guerrilla groups. This doesn’t prove anything.”
He shook his head, clearly frustrated.
“It’s a conspiracy, you have to read between the lines,” he said. “The witnesses disappeared. Why do you think that happened?”
“Probably because they were afraid they’d get murdered if they collaborated,” I replied, shaking my head. “Jeff, forget about this. You need call off the Jacks and stop working with them. Then you need to disappear. Otherwise I’m afraid the Reapers will kill you. I love you so much—I can’t lose you.”
Jeff’s face softened, and I saw a trace of the laid-back, loving brother he’d been most of my life. He pulled me into his arms but he didn’t feel right to me. His heart raced, he’d gotten far too thin and I felt and smelled clammy sweat coming off him. I pulled back and looked into his face, feeling indescribably sad.
“Jeff, what are you doing to yourself?” I asked. His features hardened and he jerked away.
“I’m trying to take care of my family,” he snapped. Outside I heard the roar of bikes and I froze.
“Oh shit, they’re gonna kill you,” I said, panicking. I started looking around, trying to find somewhere to hide him, which was ludicrous. The barn door flew open and banged against the wall. It was Horse and Max, holding guns. They froze as Jeff grabbed me and held his own weapon to my head.
“Don’t worry, sis,” he whispered in my ear. “I would never hurt you. I just need to get out of this so we can start over somewhere else. It’s going to be great, you won’t have to worry about anything.”
Horse saw red when he saw the gun at Marie’s head. Jensen stood next to her, trembling so hard he thought it might be enough to pull the trigger. The man was obviously tweaking hard on something, probably meth. Very bad news. Might even be hallucinating. It took everything he had not to charge Jensen and kill him with his bare hands, but he had to be smart.
“Hey,” Max said, sounding a little too casual. Horse glanced over at him and caught his play. “We’re just here to make sure Marie’s all right. We were afraid the Jacks got her. We know you love her and would never hurt her so let’s talk this through. Win/win, right?”