"Into The Woods" - Part Thirteen

While Cutter checked on Kyle, Mac sent the other Claw members back to French Gulch so that only her Humvee and ours remained.

A few minutes after the last convoy vehicle disappeared around the bend in the road, a dark blue ChrysFord Bison appeared and rolled to a stop near us.

Tina jumped out, saw Cutter kneeling next to Kyle, gasped, and ran toward them.

Mac looked at Dylan's body, then at Kyle, then at me. "What next?"

"One last thing," I said to Mac.

"Okay," she said.

I gestured toward the Humvee. "Have a seat. Passenger side."

"What for?"

"Explanations," I said. "Trust me."

Her brow furrowed and she looked at me for a moment, then nodded and got inside the vehicle.

Heard Mouse come up next to me.

I gave her instructions then went over to the front of the Humvee.

Cutter was closing the lid on the first aid kit while Tina helped Kyle to his feet.

"He gonna live?" I said to Cutter.

Cutter nodded, brushed off his knees, and stood up. "Flesh wound. Went straight through. Patched him up some and gave him a pain hypo."

"Clear head?"

"Should be. Wasn't a sedative."

"Good." I told him to help Mouse then turned to Tina. "You have it?"

Tina nodded, fished her cellphone from her hip pocket, keyed some buttons, looked at the display, then handed it to me.

I checked.

It was there.

"How?" I said.

Tina told me.

"Nice," I said.

"Told you it was solid," Tina said.

"You did," I said, then motioned Kyle toward the Humvee. "Get in. Gonna need you for this."

* * *

The late afternoon sun was beginning its drop toward the horizon as we headed up Iron Mountain Road at a crawl, crunching across gravel and dirt.

I drove. Mac sat in the passenger seat, focused intently on Tina's cellphone. Mouse and Kyle sat in the back.

Dylan's body was draped across the hood and lashed in place with rope.

A hundred meters up the road, we reached an intersection and I stopped the Humvee and cut the engine.

"You two stay here," I said to Kyle and Mac. "Do nothing but watch."

They nodded in agreement.

I got out of the vehicle.

Mouse followed.

I left my door open.

"Ropes," I said to Mouse. Then stepped two meters in front of the Humvee and looked around.

Trees and ground shrubbery lined the sides of the road in all directions. The main road went ahead while two other roads curved to the left and right.

The air was quiet and humid and thick with the smell of leaves and grass.

"I know you're there," I said. "Might as well come out."


Then the foilage directly ahead of us parted and he emerged.

The secman from the Airpark Cafe. He held an M4-A assault rifle at his right shoulder, muzzle pointed skyward.

"You two," he said.

"Us," I said, signaled to Mouse, then stepped back toward the Humvee.

We grabbed the ropes holding Dylan's legs and arms, yanked him off the hood, and tossed him onto the ground in front of us. The body landed a meter away with a wet thud.

Mouse and I stepped back.

The secman looked down at the body. "That's inconvenient," he said.

"Guess he didn't work out so well," I said.

He looked back up at us. "The others are gone?"

"They are."

"Shit outta luck, pal," said Mouse.

"Shame," he said. "First good lead on them."

"Must've been a good price," I said.

"Money beats rhetoric every time," he said.

"So I've heard," I said. "How much did it beat it by?"

"Two million."

"Not bad."

"Could be yours."

"No thanks."

He cocked his head to one side. "Ronin saying no to two million? That's a new one."

"For wholesale slaughter?" I shook my head. "We don't do mass wetwork."

He grinned. Toothy. Feral. "Who said anything about wetwork? These are security actions."

"Nice try. But no thanks."

"Money beats rhetoric every time," he said.

"Not this time," I said and turned toward the Humvee.

"We could end you both here," he said. "Save us the money."

I stopped and turned back toward him.

He had leveled his rifle at us.

"People know we're here," I said. "They're not the kind of people you want to piss off."

"You could be lying."

"I could. You willing to chance it?"

We locked eyes for what seemed like a long time.

Then he raised his rifle back to his right shoulder.

"Good choice," I said, and Mouse and I got back in the Humvee.

I gave the secman one last look through the front windshield before starting the engine, turning us around, and heading back toward the highway.

(to be continued...)

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