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“He can write his own ticket after this campaign, but yeah, I think he may stick around.” Shaun was already halfway out of his formal wear, shedding it with the ease of long practice. “He knows he can work with us.”


I was doing up the last of the buttons on my shirt when I heard the shouting. Shaun and I exchanged a wide-eyed, shocked look before we both went running for the trailer door. I made it out half a beat ahead of him, just in time to see a shell-shocked-looking Rick come staggering up the path with Lois cradled against his chest. I didn’t have to be a veterinarian to know that something was horribly wrong with his cat. No living animal has a neck that bends that way or hangs that limply in its owner’s arms.

“Rick ?”

He stopped in his tracks, staring at me, the body of his cat still clutched against his chest. I ran the last fifteen feet between us, and Shaun ran close behind me. That was probably the part they didn’t figure on: those fifteen feet.

Those fifteen stupid little feet saved our lives.

“What happened?” I asked, putting out a hand, as if there were a damn thing I could do. Seen this close, it was even more obvious that the cat had been dead for a while. Her eyes were open and glazed, staring blankly off at nothing.

“She was just I got back to the trailer and I almost tripped on her.” For the first time, I realized Rick was still wearing his formal clothes. He hadn’t even had time to change. “She was just inside the doorway. I think even after they hurt her, I think she tried to get away.” Tears running down his cheeks. I’m not sure he was even aware of them. “I think she was trying to come and find me. She was just a little cat, Georgia. Why would anyone do this to such a little cat?”

Shaun stiffened. “She was inside? Are you sure this wasn’t natural causes?”

“Since when do natural causes break your neck?” asked Rick, in a tone that would have been reasonable if he hadn’t been crying so hard.

“We should go to the van.”

I frowned. “Shaun—?”

“I’m serious. We can talk about this in the van, but we should go there. Right now.”

“Just let me get my gun,” I said, and started to turn toward the trailer. Shaun grabbed my elbow, yanking me back. I stumbled.

The trailer exploded with a concussive bang, like an engine misfiring.

The first bang was followed by a second and larger bang, echoed in the distance as another trailer—probably Rick’s—went up in a ball of blue-and-orange flame. Not that there was much time to make estimates about where the blast was coming from. Shaun still had my arm and he was running, dragging me in his wake as he rushed toward the van. Rick ran after us, clutching Lois’s body to his chest, all of us bathed in the angry orange glare of the blast. Someone was trying to kill us. At this point, I didn’t even have to wonder who. Tate knew we knew. There was no reason for him to play nice anymore.

Once he was sure I’d keep running, Shaun let go of me, dropping back as he tried to cover our retreat toward the van. I quashed the urge to worry about him, keeping my focus on the running. Shaun could take care of himself. I had to believe that or I’d never be able to believe anything else. Rick was running like a man in a dream, Lois bouncing limply in his arms with every step. And I just ran.

Something pricked my left biceps when we were about halfway to the van. I ignored it and kept going, more focused on getting to cover than on swatting at some mosquito with shit for timing. No one’s ever been able to tell the insects of the world that they shouldn’t interrupt the big dramatic moments, and so they keep on doing it. That’s probably a good thing. If drama kept the bugs away, most people would never emotionally mature past the age of seventeen.

“Rick, get the doors!” shouted Shaun. He was hanging about five yards back, still moving fast. He had his .45 drawn, covering the area as we retreated. The sight of him was enough to make my heart beat faster and my throat get tight. I knew he was wearing Kevlar under his clothes, but Kevlar wouldn’t save him from a headshot. Whoever blew up the trailers might be out there watching, and once they saw us scattering into the open, there was every chance they’d decide to finish what they’d started. And none of that mattered, because someone had to watch the rear, and someone had to open the van, and if we clustered together to make me feel better, neither of those things would happen, and we’d all die.

Knowing the realities of the situation didn’t do a damn thing to make me feel better about leaving Shaun to twist in the wind. It just meant I understood that we didn’t have a choice.

Rick put on a burst of speed, reaching the van a good twenty feet ahead of me. He finally seemed to realize he was carrying Lois because he dropped her body, reaching out to grab the handles of the rear doors and press his forefingers against the reader pads. There was a click as the onboard testing system ran his blood and prints, confirming he was both uninfected and an authorized driver before the locks released.

“Got it!” he yelled, and wrenched the doors open, motioning for us to get inside.

He didn’t need to tell me twice. I sped up, breath aching in my chest as I raced to get out of the open. Shaun continued moving at the same pace, swinging his gun unhurriedly from side to side as he covered our retreat.

“Shaun, you idiot!” I yelled. “Get your ass in here! There’s no one out there to save!”

He glanced over his shoulder, eyebrows rising in apparent surprise. Something in my expression must have told him that it wasn’t worth arguing because he nodded and turned to run the rest of the way.

I didn’t start really breathing again until he and Rick were both inside with the doors closed behind them. Shaun flipped the dead bolts on the rear doors, while Rick moved to do the same on the movable wall that shut the driver’s cabin off from the rest of the vehicle. With those latches thrown, we were effectively cut off from the rest of the world. Nothing could get in, and unless we opened the locks, nothing could get out. Barring heavy explosives, we were as safe as it was possible to be.