Not a happy thought.
He crept through the darkness and I followed him like a good girl. Then I tripped on my own shoelace, somehow doing an elaborate dance and shuffle to stay upright without making a sound.
When I was stable again, I dropped down into a crouch to fix the lace. Puck kept moving ahead, oblivious, and there was no way I could stop him without making a sound. Which was worse? Making noise or getting separated?
Making noise seemed more likely to get us killed.
Sucked to be screwing things up less than five minutes into the operation. Kneeling down gave me a whole new perspective on the situation—specifically a perspective low enough to see through a gap in the pallets that was only about two feet high, and maybe eighteen inches wide. On the other side of the gap I could just make out a … Oh shit. That was a body over there—not one of the bikers, he wasn’t wearing the right kind of clothes.
There was dark black crap puddled around him on the floor.
Yeah. Had to be blood, and way more of it than had come out of Em. This guy was deader than dead, no question. Wow. This was really happening—London Armstrong from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was in the middle of a gang war and people were dying … I backed away, looking ahead to see that Puck had almost reached the end of the row, still clueless that we’d gotten separated. Wasn’t that just perfect? I’d just started rising to my feet when I heard the noise.
A snuffling, whimpering cry … High-pitched, like a child or maybe a young woman. My mom radar went on point, because I recognised that cry.
She was somewhere on the other side of these pallets, which meant I could either run to the end of the long row and go around, or I could try crawling through that narrow little gap. But running around would take time and possibly make noise … Not only that, if I caught up to Puck, he might not let me go look for Jess, not when he had an assignment of his own to accomplish.
I’d just have to crawl through.
The only downside was Mr. McDead over there, which I had to admit was a major strike against my plan. Then I heard Jessica whimpering again, and she sounded weaker this time—no more playing around. I dropped back down and started slithering my way through the gap. It wasn’t particularly fun or comfortable, but deadly raids against notorious cartels rarely are.
The first thing I discovered when I reached the other side was that Mr. McDead’s blood was still warm—something I figured out by accidentally putting my hand in it. I could smell it, too. Metallic, with a hint of sweetness. I started to wipe it on my shirt, and then stopped, because ewww. Wondering faintly if God would strike me for defiling the dead, I leaned down and carefully wiped my hand on his shirt.
My fingers brushed a hard lump.
I froze. There was something solid under his shirt, something that had fallen down toward his left side. Giving another quick glance down the row, I didn’t see anyone, so I tugged up his shirt to look.
It was a gun.
The whimper came again, and I looked around for the source. Along the wall stretched a series of doors. They were all shut, like they were offices that’d been locked up for the night … Except for one clearly marked as a bathroom—that door had been propped open. Was she in there, hiding?
I decided to check my new gun before going in, because I didn’t want to get caught out without any bullets this time. Oh-so-carefully, I let the little bullet holder-thingy slide out of the bottom. Yup. Full of bullets, all right. Then I pushed it back up and wrapped the bottom of my shirt around the whole thing, muffling the sound as I carefully cocked the weapon.
Now I was locked and loaded, ready to go rescue my little cousin like Lara Croft herself. All I needed was Angelina Jolie’s body and I’d be set. Make that Angelina Jolie’s money—then I could outsource the rescuing and screw Brad Pitt. I felt an inappropriate little laugh try to bubble its way out of my throat, which I swallowed down brutally. Too much tension rattling around in my head.
Stop making jokes and go rescue Jessica.
Okay, then. I took a centering breath, edging toward the bathroom door. The shattering crackle of gunfire suddenly echoed through the building, scaring the hell out of me. Men shouted in English and Spanish, followed by more shooting. I scuttled across the floor and through the bathroom door, into total darkness. Then I tugged the door shut behind me—it might not provide much in the way of a barrier, but it had to be better than hanging with a dead body right out in the open. Trailing my hand along the wall, I made my way deeper into the room, around a corner.
The gunfire died down outside.
Now I heard someone else breathing in the tiny room. Jessica? Murderous cartel thug? How the hell was I supposed to tell them apart in the darkness?
“Can you help me?” a voice whispered, and I nearly started crying because my mama instincts had been right—I’d found my girl and she was alive.
Silence, then a sobbed attempt at speech. “Loni? Is that really you?”
“Yeah, baby, it’s me. I’m here to save you. You’ll be happy to hear I left the minivan home this time.”
“Am I imagining this?”
“No, Jess. I’m real, but the warehouse is full of dead people and I touched one of them, so I think we should get the hell out now, okay?”
“They’ve got me handcuffed to the pipes,” she whispered. “I’m on a toilet, so I won’t make a mess.”
Jesus Christ. I suddenly wished Mr. McDead were still alive so I could kill him again—given his position outside, he’d probably been guarding her. I assumed the bikers had taken him out, but who knew? Whoever it was hadn’t found Jess, which was the only thing that mattered. Now I just needed to get her out of the cuffs, then sneak her out of the building without getting both of us killed.
“Still here,” I said quickly. Another round of gunfire filled the air—time to get her loose and out the door before someone came in here and started killing us.
Speak of the devil …
Footsteps thudded outside as someone ran down the long canyon between the wall and the pallets. Then the door banged open and bright white light flooded the bathroom, blinding me. Jessica screamed as shooting seemed to explode all over the building. I scuttled backward frantically, away from this new threat, more screams filling the air. Jessica’s, but also from men outside. Men in pain, or dying.
This shit was getting real.