sticks & stones (cut & run 2) - Page 41

“We got somebody, huh?” he whispered to his buddy, who nodded and looked around wordlessly.

“No body,” the smaller man observed as he chewed on what looked like a plastic swizzle stick.

Both men looked skyward, as if expecting to see a body in the trees. Ty caught himself almost rolling his eyes. They expected someone to have been blown up into the air?

“Must have been a lucky one,” Earflaps decided quietly. ”Got away,” he murmured even as he turned his head and peered around the quiet forest.

Ty closed his eyes quickly and mentally cursed himself. He should have been more thorough with his camouflage. He should have known whoever was up here wouldn’t be green city folks. He’d underestimated their opponent already, and he damn well knew better.

“Looks like he just got scared and ran,” the thin, cruel-looking man with the swizzle stick said with a sneer. Ty risked opening his eyes into slits, watching through his eyelashes as Earflaps nodded wordlessly and continued to look around suspiciously. “Should we follow him?” he asked after a moment.

Swizzlestick shook his head and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “No way he made it out without being hurt, and he’s four days’ hike from help. Mountain’ll kill him before we have to. Let’s get back.”

The bigger man nodded, and they both turned to slink back into the woods. They moved quietly, and Ty was impressed. They were speaking louder now, though, no longer worried about being overheard.

“Radio back, let him know,” Earflaps ordered. “He’s all tetchy about people gettin’ to his damn treasure before we do, he’ll probably go nuts if he don’t hear from us soon.”

Swizzlestick nodded and stopped moving again. He reached for a small radio at his hip. He pushed the button and called, but got nothing but static in response. He sighed in annoyance and waved the radio. “Still don’t work. Must be a tower washed out somewheres.”

“Let’s get goin’, then,” Earflaps said with a grunt. They pushed through the thick underbrush and disappeared into the forest once more.

Ty waited until he could no longer hear their progress. Then he waited some more.

ZANE lay still, breathing steady and low, eyes flickering about as he waited. More often than not, they moved to look about twenty feet to his right, where he knew Earl Grady was hidden. Zane gritted his teeth and forced himself to relax.

If he thought about what the man had said to his own son, Zane wouldn’t be able to stay still, because he’d be over there kicking some sense into him. What kind of man called his own son a coward? Perhaps more specifically, what kind of man would call Ty Grady a coward? Zane knew without a doubt that had those words come from anyone but Earl, Ty would have taken off his head.

Zane closed his eyes. Ty hadn’t been angry, though. The hurt he’d seen streak across Ty’s face had been heartbreaking. Zane knew he should have said more, done something, but once Ty had quietly agreed with Earl, Zane simply couldn’t contradict him.

And so Zane lay there, stewing, waiting for Ty to come back from a pointless recon to see who might have set that stupid trap. And while Zane thought Earl’s plan to protect innocent hikers was a lovely, shiny idea, it was also naïve and dangerous.

Zane’s fingers dug into the dirt, and he jerked in surprise when the underbrush stood up roughly five feet in front of him.

“Garrett,” Ty muttered as he wiped the leaves and dirt off his face and shook off the rest of his camouflage.

Zane squeezed his eyes closed for a second before looking at Ty. “How’d it go?”

“This is trouble,” Ty told him as he glanced around in the general directions of his brother and father. “They’re carrying shotguns. Talked about following and killing. And there’s another one somewhere.”

“All we’ve got is your Smith & Wesson and my Glock, unless there are more guns I don’t know about,” Zane said.

Ty shook his head and wiped at his cheek again. “They were talking about treasure,” he said with a wrinkle of his dirty nose.

Zane peered at him, incredulous. “Treasure?” He pushed himself up to kneel back on his heels. “Like from John’s story?”

Ty shrugged and met his eyes. “I don’t know,” he muttered. “That’s what they said. But I’m getting really f**king tired of hearing about treasure.”

Earl and Deuce slowly separating from the foliage drew Zane’s attention. “I don’t like this, Ty,” Zane said quietly, meeting his partner’s eyes. Ty just shook his head helplessly, and Zane curled his hands into fists, unable to hide his aggravation.

“What did you see?” Earl asked once he reached their sides. Ty related to them everything he’d seen and heard, down to what each man had been wearing and the brand of boots each wore. “Treasure,” Earl repeated in a flat voice after he was finished. Again, Ty just shrugged.

“Does it really matter?” Zane asked pointedly. “There are traps and men willing to kill us. Who cares what they want?”

“It matters ’cause money is a hell of reason to kill,” Earl answered thoughtfully.

“You really think there’s some sort of lost treasure up here?” Deuce asked doubtfully.

“Don’t matter what I think,” Earl pointed out. “Only matters what they think. And if they think they’re gonna get rich up here, then it’s trouble.”

“All the more reason to get out of here,” Zane said firmly, “before we get in trouble. We can’t do much to stop them if we’re dead.”

“So we don’t get dead,” Earl said to him firmly.

“Swizzlestick did say we were four days’ hike from help,” Ty muttered, still fussing with the dirt on his face. “Either we walked through a time warp, they have no idea where the f**k they are, or they were banking on scaring anyone lost and eavesdropping.”

“I vote time warp,” Deuce said thoughtfully.

“Would make the retelling more interesting at the water cooler,” Ty agreed in all seriousness.

Earl was rubbing at the bridge of his nose as he listened. “What’s your point, son?” he asked finally.

“I’m just saying, they might’ve known I was there,” Ty answered.

“Don’t you think they’d have just shot you instead of playing mind games?” Earl countered.

Ty remained conspicuously quiet, his head down and staring at the ground devotedly. Zane felt his chest tighten as he looked at his partner. He’d never seen Ty back down from an argument when he thought he had a case to make. Anger bloomed again in Zane’s chest and he turned on Earl to speak, but the older man beat him to it.