“Well, shit,” he muttered. Serena looked between them, eyes wide.
“I take it this is the old lady?”
I couldn’t get the window closed.
It was stupid to open it but I’ve got a bit of a claustrophobia thing. To be fair, I was stuck in a room alone all by myself, and it wasn’t a particularly big room. I heard the noise of the party below and I knew that Horse would be up eventually. But the bars on the window and the fact that I couldn’t make contact with Jeff and I couldn’t leave made me feel a little panicky.
So I decided to open the window for some fresh air.
Of course it was stuck, so I worked at it, rocking the old wooden sash back and forth until I got my fingers underneath. Then I braced against the floor and pushed up with all I had. Because I have shitty luck, it held for a second then burst free, sliding all the way up and getting stuck again, this time open. It took about ten minutes before I realized this might be a serious problem. The place was heated with one of those big old freestanding radiators that didn’t have separate controls for individual rooms, so I couldn’t turn it up. It hadn’t been too warm in here to begin with. Outside the night was cold and clear and perfect, the evergreens on the hillsides surrounding us dusted with a hint of frost like something out of a Christmas card.
Now it was becoming cold and clear but not-so-perfect in the room.
I tried to get it closed of course. And I put on my coat, but it was just my leather jacket and not particularly warm. I’d been looking for a winter coat but they all cost so much and I didn’t like spending money, so I’d been hunting in consignment shops for just the right thing. I started pacing, trying to decide what to do next. I dug in my purse, pushing aside my gun to find my phone. Not that I carried the gun all the time, but Horse wanted it with me until they dealt with the Jacks.
No voicemails or texts, but I decided I might as well check my email. There was a new message from Jeff on the webmail account. I start reading, a sinking sensation filling my stomach.
Sis, I’m glad they haven’t hurt you. You need to play along and do what they ask, don’t give them any reason not to treat you well. I’m sending a decoy message to your main account too, telling you that I’m thinking about getting in touch with them. But you need to know the Reapers are bad guys and they won’t hesitate to kill you. Neither will the Devil’s Jacks, but I’ve got things worked out with them so that you and I should be okay.
Couple of things you need to know. You say it’s good between you and Horse, and that scares me. He’s stringing you along, you can’t trust this guy at all. I’ve learned a lot about him. Did you know he was special forces in Afghanistan? His specialty was recon, which means they’d send him out ahead to get information and do their dirty work. He killed a lot of people and he got investigated for murdering civilians. Women and children, sis. They were going to court martial him, but then the witnesses either wouldn’t talk or disappeared. It was a cover-up, that’s the only explanation. They couldn’t even give him a dishonorable discharge, that’s how sneaky he was. Here are some links to articles about the massacre. I found other records too, but I can’t send them to you, it’s too dangerous.
Your boyfriend is a killer and if he finds out you know the truth, he’ll probably kill you too. Do what he says and play the good girl. Write to me on the other email account and I’ll pretend to cooperate. Play dumb and be ready. I’ll contact you again later this week when I have things set up. Remember, it’s not enough for you to just hop in your car and drive away. They may look like a club, but they’re like the mafia. We need an escape plan for all of us, you, me and Mom, and I’m working on it. Just hold on a little longer.
I love you and I’m sorry I got you into this. You’ll never know how sorry I am.
I followed the link to a news story from eight years ago. A bunch of Afghani families were murdered in their houses, located in a region under the control of US allies, but heavily infiltrated by Taliban forces as well. A Marine recon team was under investigation for war crimes. Included was a picture of a much younger Horse, in one of those standard military mug shots you see all the time.
I barely made it to the bathroom before I threw up.
Afterward I lay down on the bed, wrapping the covers around me and listening to the noise of the party below. An hour passed before I realized that no matter how depressed I felt, I couldn’t just stay in the bed. The room was bitter cold now, and the blankets nowhere near thick enough to protect me. I tried texting Picnic with numb fingers. No response. I thought about calling one of the girls, but with the party going on below I knew that was a bad idea. Jeff said to keep the Reapers happy. I ran a hundred different ideas through my head and then texted Horse. Nothing. Then I called him. No answer.
That’s when I ventured out of my room into the hallway. I knew there were other rooms up here, it’s where they put up guests or members when they needed a place to land. I could go to one of those and warm up while I waited. The doors were all locked, though. Now my teeth were chattering and I fumbled to hold the blanket around me. No getting around it—I needed to go downstairs and find Horse.
The third floor of the building was only about half as wide as the first two, just one long hallway running the length of the building with a single row of rooms on either side. There were stairwells on each end. The main stairs, which I’d come up with Horse, intersected the game room and the main lounge. But the back stairwell bypassed the game room entirely and let out down by the offices. I figured I’d attract less attention there, so that’s where I went. Unfortunately, the door was locked on the main level, which left me to go back up or out into the cold of the courtyard. Easy call. I climbed back up to the second floor, pushing through the door from the stairwell as quietly as possible. I heard voices and grunting and shouts coming from an open door on my left. I walked toward it slowly, hoping I’d find Horse in there.
What I saw shocked me.
There were five men standing around the room, none of them guys I recognized but all wearing Reapers’ cuts. They stood around a bed with one woman on it, and she was getting f**ked—seriously f**ked—by a man standing at the edge of the bed, pants just pushed down, hands holding her tight around the hips.
“Harder, baby!” she yelled, giving a little howl and arching her back.
“Jesus, can’t believe this bitch,” muttered one of the guys, and I recognized his voice. Max. I saw him now. He’d been turned away from me before. I couldn’t move. I just stood watching as the man at the foot of the bed finished with a grunt, then pulled out and stepped aside. Max stepped forward to take his place.