They tied his hands behind him and left him sitting in a bare room that smelled like mold and urine. The chill from the floor seeped into his tailbone and made his back ache.
People kept walking through the wall to look at him. First it was Tyler, staring blankly, blood seeping from his arm stump. And then George Hyrand pulled up in his wheelchair, shaking his head slowly and chuckling without smiling. Alice showed up too. She sat against the opposite wall with her legs crossed, and didn’t look at him.
The whole time, there was this voice from somewhere, screeching for them to get out, go away and leave me alone. It wore on Decker’s nerves like steel wool, and he just wanted the guy to shut up so that he could close his eyes and get to sleep. And then he realized the voice was his own, but he couldn’t get it to stop.
He must have slept, because suddenly morning light poured in through the only window, burning his eyes open. Every bone in his body hurt like crazy. Especially his hands. It bugged him that he couldn’t look at his hands and see how bad they were.
The door opened, and three grimy-skinned guys with guns came in and stationed themselves around the room. Decker thought he recognized one of the gatekeepers from yesterday.
He wondered what they’d done with his jacket. He’d miss that jacket. Also, in a little more practical sense, he’d miss the EMP grenades he’d been keeping in there.
Two more people entered the room. One was a lean black man with a shaved head and an open vest that showed a chest criss-crossed with deep scars. He had to duck to come through the door. The woman that followed him was the same height, with nearly identical features. She looked at Decker with eyes that could have boiled lead.
Decker nodded at them. “Hey, Lamar. Jenny.”
“Decker, it’s been a long time.” The man spoke slowly, pronouncing each word like a crucial part of an incantation. “A very long time, during which my sister has brainstormed about fifty creative and lengthy ways to kill you.” He smiled without showing his teeth. “I must say, I never thought you’d show up and give us the opportunity to try any of them.”
“I didn’t either, quite honestly,” Decker said. “Your town sucks.”
Lamar bowed his head as if acknowledging a compliment. “Yes. Yes, it does. But we survive, Decker. Many towns find that difficult—I like to think we’ve perfected the art.”
Jenny stepped forward. Where her brother was chill, controlled, her movements were jagged and unpredictable. “But enough about us. We want to hear about you.” She walked a little closer, hands clasped behind her back, and stooped to look at him. She’d always had crazy eyes—back in the day, you’d see flashes of them every now and then. These days it looked like she kept them on full auto. “Drugs, Decker, really? You used to have strict policies about those things. Keeping a clear mind and all that stuff.”
“Clear minds are overrated.” His face itched. He shoved away the thought and held Lamar’s gaze.
“Says the man who walked into my town to buy drugs and then decided to beat up a local businessman,” Lamar said.
“How’s he doing?” asked Decker.
“He’s breathing. In a few months he might even be eating solid food.” Lamar studied Decker for a few moments, eyes narrowed. “Why did you do that?”
Decker shrugged, best he could with his hands tied behind his back. “Because I didn’t like his profession.”
Jenny snapped upright and gave a laugh like a gunshot. “See, that’s what we find hilarious, Decker. Everything you did, everything we watched you do, and you have a problem with Joseph Harkley for conducting a legitimate business with his daughter.”
Lamar’s voice rumbled grim. “We don’t actually find that hilarious.”
“No,” Jenny said. “We find that infuriating.”
“So that girl was his daughter?” Decker asked. He grinned, molars clamped together. “I was almost starting to feel bad about breaking his ribs.”
Her lip curled, and she looked like she was getting ready to break a few of Decker’s, but a look from Lamar made her stand down.
“Fascinated as we are by this sudden display of morality, there are other things we need to discuss,” Lamar said. He squatted, resting his elbows on his knees. “One of my scouts reported an abandoned jeep parked a couple of miles away, so I sent one of my best teams out for it. Only one of them came back, and he lived long enough to tell us about something pretty crazy out there. I would have called it the ravings of a lunatic, but then I heard about the one-armed man who got here yesterday. And then you showed up.” He smiled humorlessly. “And I figure, only way you’d come into our town is if something scarier than us was chasing you.”
Decker rolled his shoulders, trying to ease some of the strain. “So I guess you found Tyler.”
“We found several of your friends,” Lamar said. “Hadn’t seen Shonda in a while, she was trying to steal one of my cars.”
Well, there went that escape option.
Lamar stood back up. “I told you that keeping a town alive was an art, didn’t I? It’s not easy, Decker. And the reason we’re so good at it is that we follow a certain set of guidelines.” He held up a long brown finger. “Rule number one: If someone comes running into our town trying to hide from something, we give that person right back to whatever’s chasing them. No exceptions, not even for old friends. Or, as it would happen, old enemies.”
Jenny scowled. Lamar reached out and patted her shoulder. “This is quite a sacrifice for my sister, because she was looking forward to cleaning out your sinuses with a blowtorch. But we’ll take comfort from the idea that whatever slaughtered my favorite team and ripped your friend’s arm off will do a splendid job with you.” He smiled again, and for a second, Jenny’s crazy eyes glinted in his face. “And if anyone else in my town gets hurt because of you, at least I’ll know that this time you’re not walking away.”
Lamar’s thugs dragged him to a truck parked in the street outside. Shonda and Rosin knelt in the truck bed, hands tied to their ankles. Shonda leaned her shoulder against the side of the bed, gazing expressionless at the ground. A dark bruise swelled over her left temple and one eye.
As they hoisted Decker into the bed, Rosin stared at him, mouth squeezed into a line, nostrils widening. His helmet of hair had deteriorated into a disheveled mop that covered one eye, but his one visible eye glared daggers.
Decker looked back at Lamar and Jenny, who stood watching in the street. Lamar quiet and tall, thin arms dangling at his sides. Jenny thumbs hooked through her belt and eyes smouldering.
They really hadn’t changed much.
The men who’d loaded him stood by the truck, waiting. Lamar stepped forward and tipped his head. “It’s been a brief reunion, gentlemen. But satisfying. I’ve enjoyed our time, and I look forward to never seeing you again in this life.”
He flipped a salute and turned to go. “Where’s Tyler?” Decker asked.
Lamar twisted back around. “He’s getting some medical care. When he’s well enough for me to make his acquaintance, I’ll decide what to do with him.” He smiled with the corner of his mouth. “I’ll tell him you said Bye.”
Lamar disappeared into the dome. The guards loaded into the truck, and the motor clacked and rattled to life.
Jenny stalked forward, swung into the bed of the truck, and squatted across from Decker.
“You along for the ride?” he asked.
She lunged forward and punched him in the face. Lights blazed through his skull, and he toppled to the side, into Shonda’s shoulder.
Decker worked his jaw and blinked through wetness. “Okay.”
She rubbed her fist, a smirk playing on her mouth. “I have a game. Every time the truck hits a bump, I’m gonna hit you.”
The truck lurched forward, and Decker scootched himself back to his knees. “You know, there’s a very good chance that everyone here could die as soon as we’re outside that fence. Sure you want to come?”
She looked upward, pondering for a moment, and then punched him in the stomach.
He lay on his side, gagging, and she turned her head sideways to grin at him. “Worth the risk.”
There were a lot of bumps.
Jenny picked her targets well, hitting hard in the soft places, then spending enough time on the hard places to cause maximum discomfort without messing up her own hands. And all while the truck rocked and rattled over bumps like a mechanical bull. Between gasping for breath and writhing on his stomach, Decker had to admire her technique.
Finally, the truck stopped and so did the punching. Decker lay with his face in the bed of the truck, drooling blood. He was pretty sure he’d lost a molar somewhere along the way. Pain rippled through his spine and pounded in his face.
He was okay with the pain, though. It covered up the itching, and the skittering in his mind that was the beginning of a terrified cry for more drugs.
Fingers dug into his shoulders and pulled him back up, sending new eruptions of agony through him. Jenny leered into his face. “Hey, you got some blood on your nose.”
“Do I.” He coughed, phlegm rattling in his throat.
She and one of her thugs dragged him out of the truck. Through the one eye that hadn’t swollen shut, Decker recognized the gas station they’d stayed at two nights ago. And there was the jeep, hood still up from Tyler’s operation.
About six bodies lay sprawled around the jeep, collecting clouds of flies. Day-old blood stained the sand in dark patches.
They hoisted Decker into the driver’s seat of the jeep, and jerked on his bonds to make sure they were still solid. Behind him, he heard scuffling as the other men squeezed Shonda and Rosin into the back seat. Rosin let loose with a profane stream of insults until a dull thwack cut him off.
“Hey,” said Jenny. “No hitting unless I’m doing it.”
“He’s gonna call that… thing,” said one of the men, his voice tight and nervous.
“They’re good. We need to get out now,” said another guy.
“No!” Jenny’s voice snapped cold. “Not until that bomb’s rigged. Get it under there.”
She came around in front of Decker. “Whatever that thing is, when it comes to get you, he’s blowing away right along with you.” She held up her hands and mimicked an explosion. “My idea, not Lamar’s.”
“Tell him he’s got a smart girl for a sister,” Decker said, and winced as pain jagged through his mouth with the words.
Jenny’s teeth flashed in a laugh. “You know it. And hey, I’ve got something for you.” She held up one hand, holding Decker’s cap. Funny, he hadn’t even noticed he’d lost it.
She plopped it lopsided on his head. “It covers up the bald spot. Did you know you were getting one back there? Getting old, Deck.”
Rough hands grabbed his arms from behind, twisting a thin wire around his wrists to join the rope already there. Wiring him to the bomb, probably. Clever. Too much struggling to get loose, and boom.
Psychotic killer Infect trying to pull them out of the jeep and rip their limbs off, and boom.
“Hey, Jenny. Bomb’s fixed. Let’s go.”
Jenny didn’t look up. She bent to peer Decker’s face, and her mirth vanished into hard murder. “Because of what you did, all those years ago, more than one girl had to sell themselves to survive. Girls younger than Kaitlyn. If you think you’re some kind of justice avenger for trashing Harkley, what does that make Lamar and me after we kill you?”
Once again, he was grateful for the pain that overrode his senses, overrode everything. “Drive safe, Jenny.”
Jenny backed away, and satisfaction danced in her eyes. “Seeing you like this, Decker, it’s enough to make me believe there’s a God.”
She turned, flipping her hand to her men. They needed no second bidding, and scrambled past her to the truck.
When they were in, Jenny turned to meet Decker’s gaze one more time, and waved. Then she heaved herself into the truck bed, and it took off.
A few minutes after the truck faded from view, the last few echoes of its clattering engine bounced and dissolved in the air.
“Well,” Rosin said, flat-voiced. “We’re dead now.”
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