“Never bring stones to a grenade fight,” Ty advised sagely.
“I’m serious,” Zane whispered.
Ty turned his head to look at Zane warily. “I’d have to get closer,” he finally decided with a sigh. “It’s not the aiming; it’s the line of sight in the woods. Trees are too dense.”
“How big a rock do you want?” Zane asked seriously as Deuce’s eyes swung between them.
“You’re going to throw stones at grenades,” Deuce said. “And hit them.”
Zane shrugged. “I’ve got better than average aim. Maybe if we set several off, they’d go ahead and come looking earlier, not expecting us to be ready for them.”
Ty nodded. “Or,” he said emphatically, “we could just lay here, take a nice little rest as shit explodes a safe distance away and then shoot them as they come over the rise,” he offered with a flick of his finger that mimicked pulling a trigger.
“You are definitely having flashbacks,” Deuce told him wryly. Ty nodded, unapologetic as he admitted it.
“That’s a good idea too,” Zane agreed without commenting further. “They’d be easy targets, even between the trees.”
“Are you two seriously discussing shooting people?” Deuce asked, appalled by the nonchalance.
Ty turned his head to look at his brother with a frown. “Is that bad?” he asked with complete sincerity.
Deuce looked at Zane, who had the same expression on his face. “Yeah,” Deuce concluded. “It is, Ty.” Zane shrugged helplessly, though he didn’t look particularly remorseful either.
Ty sighed heavily and raised his head just enough to look past his feet. “Dad,” he hissed. After a moment, he tried again. “Hey, Dad!” he said in a harsh whisper.
There was no answer. Either Earl was too far away to hear them or he was ignoring them because he could hear them.
Ty sighed again and rolled, shifting his body into Zane’s without comment as he slid around to his belly. “I’ll be right back,” he told them in annoyance before carefully slithering into the thick underbrush.
Zane swore colorfully under his breath. “We shouldn’t be here,” he tacked on to the end of it.
Deuce agreed with a firm nod as he looked over at where his dad and brother probably were. In Deuce’s professional opinion, Ty needed to get off the mountain, and fast. Ty knew it too. No matter how grounded or well-adjusted or well-trained a man was, when things started exploding, anyone who’d been through battle was going to start losing their grip on their sanity.
“DAD,” Ty tried once he was only a few feet away from where he thought Earl had hidden himself.
“What?” Earl responded in the same low hiss.
“Do we ambush, or do we go on the offensive?” Ty asked quietly as he pulled himself toward where Earl hid and hunched beside him, their backs to the same tree and their shoulders together.
Earl was silent for a moment. “I don’t know,” he finally answered. “Too many unknowns now.”
“We’ve got to think of them,” Ty said without pity, edging a shoulder in Deuce and Zane’s direction.
Again, Earl was silent. Ty waited unhappily, holding his breath. He glanced over his shoulder to see Zane staring in their general direction impassively.
Finally, Earl answered. “Yeah,” he said in a low voice. “We go for help.”
Ty deflated, his eyes closing as he breathed a sigh of relief. Another grenade went off, much closer to Zane and Deuce than the others had been, almost like it had been lobbed at them. Ty jerked his head and saw Zane pulling at Deuce and scrambling for new cover, putting more space between them. Ty frowned and looked back at Earl.
Earl met his eyes briefly before nodding. “We go,” he said more definitively.
Ty started to shift, to get them moving again, but Earl placed a hand on his shoulder and stopped him. “You were right, Ty,” he said softly. “I’m sorry.”
Ty blinked at him in shock for a moment before nodding curtly. “Yes, sir,” he responded almost soundlessly. It took him a moment to compose himself, and when he finally did, he realized Deuce and Zane were even farther away.
He was about to give a low whistle to get their attention when three men with shotguns broke through the undergrowth just feet from where Zane and Deuce hunched. Ty jerked to rise to his feet, but Earl’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. They watched together helplessly as the other two men were surrounded.
THE leader of the three men was middle-aged and average in appearance, a man Zane wouldn’t have looked at twice in passing. He wore glasses, a heavy red jacket, and a plain black ball cap to hide his receding hairline. He stood at the foot of a trail that led down the mountainside away from the camp they’d been led to. Zane took note that the path was well-traveled and marked with two ruts made by a vehicle of some sort. Probably the four-wheeler they’d seen sign of.
Swizzlestick jabbed Zane in the back with the barrel of the shotgun, forcing him forward. Zane took a stutter-step to keep from falling and kept his hands up in front of him as they were marched into the center of a clearing near the messy little campsite. He glanced at Deuce, who was also edging forward.
In front of them was a small clearing in the midst of the thick, overgrown forest and what looked like a satellite work site. There was the ATV, sitting off to the side. There were shovels and picks, a few sticks of dy***ite, tarps, metal detectors, a single tent, and other equipment Zane didn’t recognize. It did sort of look like they were hunting for buried treasure, though.
“Who the hell are they?” Redjacket demanded of his two lackeys, and he anxiously rubbed at his beard.
“They had to be the ones that set off the can,” Swizzlestick offered.
Redjacket shook his head, walked over, and rifled through Zane’s pockets none too gently. Zane gritted his teeth and suppressed the urge to first, knock him on his ass, and second, lean away—because the ass**le smelled terrible. He knew what the man would find in the inside pocket of his jacket. Hopefully he wouldn’t check the back of his waistband underneath the jacket.
Redjacket pulled out the badge when he found it and flipped it over. “Fucking FBI?” he asked in renewed outrage. Zane felt the muzzle of the shotgun dig harder into his back as Swizzlestick tensed with the news.
“What do you wanna do?” Earflaps asked as he gestured toward Deuce in distaste.