“Wake up, ass**le. You’re late for church. No excuses.”
Shit. Had he slept in?
Horse opened his eyes, blinking rapidly, trying to focus. Not his room…hospital. Had to be a hospital. It came back to him in a rush—he’d been with Marie and then somebody shot him.
“Did they get Marie?” he demanded, but it came out in a whisper. Fucking pu**y, he couldn’t even talk. He hated feeling weak.
“Marie is safe,” Picnic said, stepping into Horse’s line of sight. Horse studied his face to make sure the man wasn’t lying to him. “She’s in jail right now. Our guy’s arranging bail. He says that if the ballistics match her story, they probably won’t charge her with anything. She’d be out already but they’re pissed that she’s stonewalling about why her brother and Max were fighting.”
“Jail?” he asked, confused.
“Marie shot Max,” Picnic said, his face grim. Horse wrinkled his forehead. “Ruger’s in there too. Hands covered in blood so they arrested him. He had to tackle your girl to get the gun away from her. She’d gone all Pulp Fiction on us, ready to defend you by killing all of us if she had to. Crouched over your body like Wonder Woman. Gives me a boner just thinking about it.”
“You’re the ass**le. Why would she shoot Max?” Horse asked, every word grating against his sore throat. Had the bullet hit his mouth, for f**k’s sake? Why couldn’t he talk right?
“Max shot you in the back,” Picnic said shortly. “And then he shot Jensen. Marie was probably next—she told our guy that Max was getting ready to finish you off when she took him out. Kid is like a f**king commando, never saw that coming. Shot him seven times.”
“Fuck,” Horse muttered, feeling himself smile. “Damn, that’s amazing. My girl’s a one-woman army.”
“No shit,” Picnic said, shaking his head. “Took care of business, no question about that. Hey, gotta ask you something important.”
Picnic leaned over and spoke softly.
“Cops found all kinds of papers,” he said. “No idea what was in them, but Marie told the lawyer they were talking about money transfers. Jensen said it was all set up. Could we be in trouble?”
Horse wrinkled his forehead, trying to think.
“I changed everything after we found out about Jensen,” he said. “New accounts, the whole thing, a lot more than just passwords and shit like that. Shouldn’t have been traceable.”
“Wonder what he was talking about?”
Horse searched his memory, which was way too hard. Must be on drugs, he realized. Something hovered just out of reach, something he knew was important. Then it came to him.
“We’re good,” he said, smiling.
“Max was in the office the last time I printed out a list of the overseas account numbers and contact information,” he said. “Told him I was making dupes for the lockbox. Probably left to take a piss or something and he copied them. Bet he thought he’d hit the jackpot.”
“Tell me that isn’t as bad as it sounds, bro.”
Horse tried to shake his head, but it didn’t work.
“They were dummies,” he replied, savoring the moment. “You know I like to f**k with the cops. Couple times a year I update my fake accounts and ledgers, make ’em realistic enough that if we ever get raided they’ll be chasing their tails for months. I never told Jensen, and Max sure as f**k wouldn’t know. Max gave him accounts with about five grand in them. Just enough to trick someone trying to do a test transfer, you know? Little game I like to play, extra insurance…guess it worked out.”
“Jesus Christ… Thank f**k for that,” Picnic said.
“Nope, not Jesus, just a man,” Horse whispered. “Although when women see my dick for the first time, they’ve been known to fall down on their knees and worship me.”
“Yeah, you’re gonna live,” he said. “Ego’s too big to die. Cops’ll want to talk to you at some point. Tell ’em you can’t remember anything beyond being at the party, lawyer says a traumatic head injury can make you forget the hours right before it happened. Yours hit the ground when he shot you. That’ll get you off the hook and drive ’em crazy at the same time. I’m gonna call the nurse now, let them know you’re awake.”
“Wait,” Horse said. “Tell me about the Jacks. I miss anything?”
“Nothing yet,” Picnic replied. “We’ll keep an eye on them, this is just getting started. War’s coming. Doubt your girl’ll be their target though. Not worth their time to range this far out of their territory if they aren’t getting paid.”
Horse heard the room door open, and the sounds of a busy hallway behind it.
“Hey, Picnic, I just went down to grab a drink,” Dancer said as she walked in. Horse managed to open his eyes again and look at her. She froze, eyes wide, then her face exploded in a huge smile as she rushed over to him. She leaned over to give him a hug, pulling back at the last minute with a grimace. Thank god for that, a hug right now and he’d probably need another gallon of whatever painkiller they’d given him. “Horse! I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up. How do you feel? Can he talk?”
“You look like shit,” Horse said. “What’s wrong with you?”
“My brother got shot, you douche,” she said. “I thought you were going to die. Marie saved your life, did he tell you that?”
“Yeah,” Horse said, closing his eyes again. Damn he was tired.
“Fuckin’ pansy,” Picnic said, and Horse heard him laugh, as if from a distance. “Damn woman had to protect him, lazy ass**le wouldn’t even get up off the ground. Dripping blood, making a mess…”
Horse opened his mouth to tell him to f**k off, but before the words came he was out again.
Yakima Valley, eastern Washington
Five months later
I drove past our old elementary school on the way to the church. Jeff and I loved that playground—in the summer Mom would drop us off there before heading in to work a block away. We’d check in with her every couple of hours, feeling very mature. The familiar ache of sorrow and loss hit me, a stealth attack.
I missed him.
Jeff’d been messed up, way more messed up than I’d realized, but that didn’t change that he was my brother or that I’d watched him die right in front of my eyes. At least the nightmares were getting better. For the first few weeks I’d been terrified to sleep because he’d visit me at night, accusing me of killing him while his brains dribbled out his mouth. Thankfully, I hadn’t had one of those nightmares for two months now and most days I didn’t even think of him.