I’d never hated the cartel more than I did in that instant.
We might not have the full story here, but didn’t take a genius to see they were using Jessica to manipulate her. Was that an excuse? No. London should’ve come to me, let the club handle things.
“She’s got no fuckin’ clue what she got herself into here,” I muttered. Bam grunted.
“That’s how they work. Nobody sets out to get controlled and used by a fuckin’ cartel. They’re like parasites, workin’ their way in and then taking over until you can’t pull them out without killing the host. Lost cause at this point, Pic. She’s made her choice and it wasn’t you. Those weren’t blanks I pulled out of her purse—so far as she knows, that gun is still loaded and she’s obviously plannin’ to use it.”
I sighed, torn between wishing he wasn’t so damn blunt and thankful my brothers weren’t afraid to give it to me straight.
“So why are we still waiting?” Gage asked. “We go in and find out what’s going on—she won’t be able to hold out on us long. We can make a decision about what to do with her after that.”
“Because he’s hoping she’ll change her mind,” Duck muttered. He sat on a shop stool, eyeing all of us cynically. “Fuckin’ pussy thinks that maybe true love will conquer all, and then she’ll climb onto his bike and they’ll ride away into the sky on a rainbow while we all throw rose petals at them.”
Puck snorted, quickly turning it into a cough.
“Just ’cause you’re old doesn’t mean you can talk to me like that,” I told Duck, my voice like ice. He shrugged.
“Call it like I see it,” he said. “Whatever you do, let’s do it soon. If you want it to go all the way to the end, that’s fine with me. Just get moving because I’m hungry. Whether she tries to shoot you or not, that food she’s cookin’ will still taste good.”
“Jesus, Duck,” Painter muttered. Then he caught my eye. “If this is really goin’ down, I should grab Melanie. She’s upstairs, and I don’t know what London’s planning to do about her witnessing things. We don’t need her seein’ this shit. No more collateral damage than necessary, right boss?”
“Go get her,” I said. “Take her to dinner and a movie, or some such. Make it a date. That’ll be a good alibi for both of you if anything happens. I’ll keep you posted and if things go to hell you can dump her with one of the girls, sound good?”
“Yeah,” Painter said. “I’ll take her out and then tuck her in safe once you give the all clear. Good luck, Pic. Hope it works out okay.”
He leaned over and gave me a rough hug. I slapped his back, and the rest of us settled in to watch as he drove his bike around the back side of the hill, pulling into the driveway like he’d come directly from town.
“So, you find anything interesting in her purse besides that gun?” I asked Bam.
“Well, there’s the phone they’ve been usin’ to talk to her, but that’s nothing new.”
“Still fuckin’ pissed about that,” Ruger muttered. “Shouldn’t be so hard to crack the bastard, but still haven’t been able to tap it. Ninjas or something.”
Despite everything, I had to smile. Ruger wasn’t used to being beaten by technology.
“Finally met your match,” Duck grunted, his voice satisfied. “I keep tellin’ you, we can’t just count on electronic shit to cover us. Nothing like human intel combined with real firepower. Beats one of your little bugs any time.”
“Without my bugs, we’d have no idea what we’re walking into,” Ruger said. Duck rolled his eyes.
“You still got no idea,” he muttered. “We know she’s got a gun somewhere and we’re pretty sure she’s planning to shoot Pic. Has somethin’ to do with that kid of hers. Hard to know more without hearin’ both sides of the conversation, but it doesn’t really matter. We haven’t learned one damn thing about the cartel that’s new or useful in all of this, and I’ll bet she can’t tell us shit, either. This is the sideshow—the main event’s gonna be in Cali, not here.”
“We know they want Pic dead,” Ruger said.
“Yeah, ’cause that’s a big fuckin’ surprise,” Horse said. “And here I thought they loved him, up to this point. Who knew?”
“Christ, you’re like two-year-olds,” I muttered, glaring at him and Ruger. “You need a fuckin’ time-out?”
“Painter’s in,” Gage said quietly. We watched on the tiny screens as he went upstairs to talk to Melanie, who apparently needed some time to get ready. This wasn’t a huge surprise to me, seeing as I raised two daughters. Painter went down to the kitchen and chatted up London while Mel was primping, then guided her gently out of the house to his bike.
“I think Painter’s got a little crush,” Horse said. “Isn’t that sweet? We should all congratulate him on that, make real sure he knows we’re pullin’ for him. He’ll love that.”
Puck snorted again.
“Shut the fuck up, prospect,” Duck said. “No respect.”
“I’ll take that as my cue,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. “Horse? You come with me, along with Puck and Bam. Ruger, I want you keepin’ an eye on things until we finish with her. Then get your ass down to the house and tear it all down. Tonight. No more fuckin’ cameras in my shit. And I want everyone ready to leave for Portland by midnight, got me? No point in makin’ things easy for the bastards if they’re spying on us.”
“You got it,” Ruger said. “Sooner we get this done the better. Make our move before someone in the Devil’s Jacks decides they don’t want to play nice with the rest of us.”
“Unlikely. They’re fucked,” I said. “So are we, come to think of it. This is it, brothers—we either smack these cartel cocksuckers back now or we get ready to start followin’ their orders. Not a whole lot of ground in between.”
For once, neither Horse nor Ruger had a joke.
“Ready for a beer?” London asked brightly as she opened the door for me. I studied her face for a hint of something—guilt, evasion … Hell, even hostility.
Nothing. She was like a pretty, blank blow-up doll going through the motions. Completely checked out.