'We can't take the chance that they might have bought friends.'
Men in the Pen get to talking, because besides busting their asses in the copper mines or breaking up the salt rocks on the roads leading out of the state, there ain't much they're gonna do until the bondsman gets paid. Grafton was the youngest of the bunch, not too bright, easily led. He befriended Gregor, told him a few things. His older siblings were more circumspect. The whole damn family were grunts, pulling small jobs in the night and then returning to their long-barren hidey-hole in the Sands when sun came up.
Finally, a hunter posse had nailed them all in one place, and Grafton and his boys looked set for the long haul until a mystery donor put up their bond. That man's name? No-one remembered, and all of Carter's paperwork had gone up in smoke. Right then and there the trail went cold - until they turned up again at the same station they left from, ready to set the world on fire.
Whatever their reasons to for stepping up, them boys had had their fun. Now they were about to get a taste of Hole Town justice. Bring 'em in alive, Carter had said. If you can.
Gregor had offered to program the location of their farmstead into the GPS, but Jayci was having none of it. We needed more than just his handy gadgets for this particular sting - we needed numbers, and we needed a plan. The latter was left to Jayci herself. Before we set out, she'd stopped into the shop and come out with a bag nearly as big as herself strung across her back.
'Little insurance policy,' she explained. 'Now, let's do this.'
It was no short journey, and twilight was settling in when we settled in beside a ridge half a mile from the farmhouse. Gregor fished into his toolbelt. Among the handy-dandy things he'd found on his travels through the old world were lenses, and cut down and inserted into copper tubing, they made a serviceable telescope.
That girl hadn't been wrong about movement. The windows were already mostly boarded up from outside, and it was no easy job to tell just how many men were in there. Those we could see were all wearing dark trousers and shirts, and moving from room to room. I couldn't tell if they were expecting us, or maybe someone else entirely.
Kill or be killed was a rule I could deal with, but this was something else. Taking bads alive was the business I was in, but bringing in a single gangbanger wasn't the same as bringing in a whole gang. Jayci had lost her taser at the building site, meaning I had the group's only one, and Gregor still refused point-blank to carry a gun. Instead, he'd procured a sizable piece of lead piping that would leave any would-be assailant with a serious headache.
Three down. 'If you went round that way, that would explain why Jayci's stopped firing. She wouldn't have wanted to risk hitting you.'
I tiptoed over towards the hallway, trying to ignore the general devastation around me. This room was a living room with a sofa and a radio in the corner. The dial on the box was shattered and the back hissed. Damn shame, I thought. We could have taken that back to Gregor's.
Gregor called from the front. 'Did you get him?'
'We got two alive out here, and two dead in there. Four down. That's the lot.'
I was all ready to follow him out when I glanced at the end of the corridor. Right there, where I hadn't been looking, was another doorway. The door itself was missing, but the curtain across the space was light blue, the colour of ice.
For just a moment, I was seeing myself through Piano Man's eyes. He'd done a better job of counting numbers than the rest of us.
Them Southern boys are oh-so-dim...
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