sticks & stones (cut & run 2) - Page 46

“I told you they was trouble,” Earflaps answered, unperturbed by the yelling.

“Well, no shit,” Redjacket snapped. He looked around, his eyes landing on Earl. “What’s your business up here, old timer?” he asked. Earl stared back at him wordlessly. He didn’t even blink in response. “You FBI too?” he demanded. Earl just looked at him, betraying no expression.

“What about the other’n?” Swizzlestick asked as he gnawed nervously on the tiny, thin piece of plastic he had managed to salvage after Zane attacked him. “You want us to get after him?”

Redjacket turned away and looked out into the woods without answering.

“If he ain’t smart enough to hightail it outta here, the mountain’ll kill him before we could,” Earflaps offered as held his shotgun at his hip. “Ain’t none of ’em too bright, following us like they did.”

Redjacket shook his head slowly, his eyes darting back and forth amidst the trees. He turned back to Earl and knelt in front of him. “You get sent up here or was this just your unlucky day, huh?” he asked Earl quietly. He stared at Earl, waiting for any sort of response, but all he got in return was another blank stare. Earl would be damned if he answered any questions while they held guns at their heads.

“That boy out there know the mountain?” Redjacket tried, getting nothing but silence in answer.

Zane groaned softly and tossed his head as he lay flat in the dirt. Earl’s eyes flickered to check on him, seeing Earflaps shift as he stood over him, the shotgun pointed at the ground beside Zane’s thigh. Zane would be awake very shortly, and God knew what that man would start saying once he was. Boy had a mouth on him to rival Ty’s, just not the brains to put behind it. Earl moved his chin slightly so he could check on Deuce, who was kneeling, wincing in pain as he was forced to put too much pressure on his bad leg.

Redjacket watched him closely, following his gaze to rest on Deuce. “You’uns got a bit of family likeness to you,” he murmured, and Earl’s eyes darted back to glare at him. “That your boy?” the man asked knowingly with a nod at Deuce. Earl’s jaw tightened, and his lips compressed against the words he wanted to say. Redjacket nodded. He stood and lifted his gun, pointing it in Deuce’s direction.

“Stop,” Earl said quickly as his heart stuttered and his stomach plummeted. He closed his eyes and breathed out heavily. Redjacket lowered the gun and looked at him expectantly. “We weren’t sent here,” Earl answered through clenched teeth. “We took a wrong turn on the trail, that’s all.” Swizzlestick snorted heavily. Earl didn’t look away from Redjacket. “We don’t want nobody hurt,” he told him firmly.

“I bet you don’t.” Earflaps laughed as he nudged at Zane’s hip with his shotgun. Zane shifted in the dirt and groaned again.

“So,” Earl continued as if he hadn’t heard the big man speak, “y’all just surrender now, and we’ll see that you get back down the mountain in one piece,” he offered charitably.

Redjacket looked at him oddly, then huffed a laugh and turned away. “Tie ’em up, we’ll deal with this shit later,” he ordered no one in particular as he walked away. They went about binding Earl and Deuce quickly, leaving Zane mostly unconscious in the dirt without bothering to restrain him. Earl prayed that would be a mistake as his arms were jerked behind his head and bound tightly.

Once they were bound, Redjacket stepped up to Earflaps and murmured to him at length. Earl watched them carefully, trying and failing to see a way out of this that didn’t end with someone dead.

Once they’d formulated their plan, Redjacket kicked Zane’s hip hard.

TY WINCED as he watched Zane contort in pain. Crouching further into his hiding place, Ty tried to slow his racing heart and think clearly. It had taken more discipline than he’d expected to restrain himself when he’d seen the man in the red jacket pistolwhip his partner and send him crashing to the ground.

But he had to be careful. He had to focus, despite his heart beating in his throat and his fingers shaking with adrenaline and absolute terror. Three of the people he cared for most in the world were in danger, and there was very little he could do about it that wouldn’t involve bloodshed. The probability that at least one of them was going to get badly hurt was too high for Ty’s liking. There had to be some way to do this without the guns, without violence.

He just wasn’t seeing it.

He wasn’t even seeing a way with violence that didn’t end up with at least one of the three prisoners dead or dying by the end of the shootout. He wasn’t even sure that he could get off three accurate shots—and they would have to be kill shots—fast enough to keep one of the treasure hunters from firing off one of those shotguns. It was too much of a risk to take, even if Ty didn’t have serious issues with killing random ass**les in the mountains. He’d offered covering fire when he thought Zane might have a chance to fight his way out. Now he regretted not taking the one kill shot he’d had.

Ty looked around the quiet woods with a hint of desperation. He was alone now, outgunned and out of options. There had to be another way.

AFTER the second kick, Zane jerked, and his eyes snapped open. Before he could move, though, a shotgun barrel appeared in his line of vision—lined up right between his eyes. He blinked up at it and remained still and silent, his hands limp at his sides. This was unfortunately a more common occurrence in his past experiences than he would have liked. Then the pain came crashing in. His face burned like it was on fire, emanating from the right side but causing his entire head to ache. It was nearly overwhelming, and he had to close his eyes and swallow hard as the nausea welled up and the agony washed through him.

He distantly heard men talking, and he knew on some level what must have happened. He shifted a little where he lay in the dirt, hissing slightly as his head protested angrily. He tried to carefully shift his jaw, but damn, it hurt. At least it didn’t slide, which meant it wasn’t broken. Thank God for small miracles.

Redjacket was standing over him, pacing, looking at Earl in annoyance. Zane rolled slightly to his side both to quell the nausea and to check on Earl and Deuce. He relaxed a tiny bit when he saw them both kneeling, looking relatively whole and unharmed even though they were heavily bound with rope and bungee cords.

“What’s his name?” Redjacket demanded of Earl. Earl narrowed his eyes and looked at Zane. “The feller out in the woods,” Redjacket snarled. “What’s his name?”