Jeff laughed, the tone high-pitched and more than a little crazed.
“I showed her the evidence,” he said. “She knows all about what you did in Afghanistan to those kids. And now you’re going to die for what you did to her.”
Horse ignored his words, focusing on reading his tone and body language. No clear shot, obviously. How could he get to her? He’d been in tighter situations but never with so much at stake.
“I’m going to put down my gun,” he said, setting the gun very slowly and carefully on the floor. Then he held his hands up, showing Jeff they were empty. “Max will do the same. Then you can take the gun away from her head. I don’t want any accidents. We’ll let you get in her car and go, sound good?”
Jensen laughed again, something new and ugly on his face…honest glee, with a hint of gloating.
“I want you out in the center of the floor,” he said. “No tricks.”
Horse stepped forward, hands up. The gun trembled in Jensen’s hand as he pulled Marie backward, deeper into the barn’s open central floor. Fuck.
“That’s good,” Jeff said. “Your turn,” he added, looking at Max now. Horse heard Max shuffle behind him and then Marie’s eyes went wide. She opened her mouth and screamed at him as a bullet tore through his back, pain exploding as his vision started going dark.
He hit the floor, seeing his blood flowing out onto the ground next to him. He couldn’t move but he could feel, the pain beyond anything he could have imagined. This is how Bagger went, he realized. Alone in a pool of blood, knowing that he failed his woman. Then he stopped thinking and everything stopped.
Horse hit the floor and my world ended. I think some part of me had doubted whether our love was real. Not anymore. I hardly noticed as Jeff let me go, I just ran over to Horse and felt his neck for a pulse. It was there, and while the blood was pooling beneath him it wasn’t spurting out.
I still had a chance.
I stood to see Max and Jeff greeting each other, guns lowered. Holy shit.
“This was a setup,” I said. Jeff glanced over at me.
“Max is my inside source. He knew I’d be here tonight and planned to deliver you, but it made things a lot easier when you gave Cookie a ride home.”
“Too much talk,” Max said, narrowing his eyes at Jeff. “We can’t trust her.”
Jeff nodded, looking sad.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “Marie, I know this is hard for you but you’ll get through it. You’ve only known him a few months and it was all fake anyway. You’ll see.”
“Everything ready?” Max asked. Jeff nodded.
“All set up,” he said. “Haven’t pulled the money from the accounts yet, didn’t want to do that and tip them off until we got her out. Marie, grab your purse, we gotta go.”
He picked it up and tossed it toward me, then pulled Max away, talking with him quietly. Both men seemed extremely excited and agitated as they pored through papers on one of the work benches. I didn’t care about that—I needed to find something to stop the bleeding. I saw a pile of rags that looked pretty dirty, but figured we’d worry about infection if he managed to survive. It wouldn’t matter if I kept the wound clean if he bled out.
Once I had the rags on him and started applying pressure, I tried to think of the next step. I definitely wasn’t going anywhere with Max and Jeff. I’d finally grasped the reality—I’d already lost Jeff. There was something really, really wrong with him and I’d never be able to fix it. Even if I did, I didn’t want him in my life anymore. Not after he killed Horse. Tried to kill Horse.
He wasn’t dead yet. Gotta keep the thoughts positive.
Max and Jeff were engrossed in whatever they were studying—apparently I wasn’t a threat to them. I could use that. I glanced down at my purse and realized I had two very powerful tools in there. My phone and my gun. I couldn’t call and say anything though, because they’d hear me. I guess I could’ve called 9-1-1 in the hope they’d find me, but considering it was a cell phone that wouldn’t happen very fast.
I’d call Picnic and hope to hell he answered. Maybe he’d hear something useful.
I scooted around Horse’s body, turning my back to them. That felt wrong, but I needed some cover to dig through my purse. I also needed to keep up the pressure on his wound, so I leaned down and across him, holding down the rags with the weight of my body as I searched quickly through the bag. I found the phone first, turning down the sound and hitting Picnic’s number. It rang forever. Nothing. Shit. I heard their conversation shift and realized I was running out of time. I hit Maggs’ number and set the phone on the floor behind Horse’s arm, hoping she’d answer and hear something. I couldn’t do more than that, not right now.
Now for the gun.
Horse had given me a really cute leather purse that had a little compartment in it designed especially for a handgun—crazy, right? I was damned thankful for it at the moment though, because my .22 slipped right out when I pressed the latch. Now all I had to do was c**k it. I got ready and then coughed loudly as I chambered a round, sliding it under his arm.
“You should leave him,” Jeff said behind me. “He’s going to die, no way you can change that. Grab your shit and let’s go.”
I lifted my chest and pressed against Horse again with both hands. Then I scooted around to find Jeff standing over me.
“I’m not going with you,” I said, meeting his eyes. “You guys should get out while you can. Leave us. I won’t even tell them who did it, I just want you gone.”
Max laughed and came up behind Jeff, holding up a paper. He smiled and shook his head, studying whatever it said.
“I can’t believe it’s this simple,” Max said, shaking his head. Jeff turned back to grin at him, the maniacal gleam coming back into his eyes. “You’re a genius. We’ll be set, even after we pay off the cartel.”
“It’s only simple because I spent so much time setting it up,” Jeff said, looking pleased, although I noticed his hand had started twitching again. Of course, he kept his finger on the trigger. Just what I needed.
“You did a hell of a job,” Max said, shaking his head ruefully. “It’s a thing of beauty, man.”
Jeff grinned at the compliment.
“I’m really glad they didn’t listen to me back in September,” Max continued. He looked at me and smiled almost fondly. “Gotta thank your old man for that, Marie. I wanted to kill you months ago, Jeff. Figured you might expose me on the skim. Never figured on a payoff like this. Damn. I’m actually sorry I have to do this. It’s not personal, okay?”