“So you can back out on our deal?” Craig yelled.

“Our deal was that I didn’t tell anyone that you were at my parents’ house that night. I’ve kept my word.”

Mercy winced. That wasn’t quite true anymore.

“And my end of the deal was that I don’t tell them where you buried the body. Sounds like we’re still even.”

“Hurting Rose will wipe out our deal,” Levi shouted.

Craig laughed. “Oh, she’s already been hurt.”

Levi was silent. Mercy could imagine his rage. Hurt, not dead. “We need to get upstairs,” she whispered. “He’ll be distracted talking to Levi.”

Truman nodded, and she led the way to the stairs. She stepped on the edge of each stair, close to the wall, praying they didn’t creak. The direction of Craig’s voice told her he was in the room overlooking the front yard. The one with the boarded-up window with the slit for spying on visitors. Where he’d shot Truman.

Does Craig really believe we left?

She glanced back at Truman. He’d recovered from his trip through the tunnel, but he hunched his right shoulder in a way that told her his ribs were in pain. His knees and hands were as muddy as hers, and she assumed she was covered with the same layer of powdered earth. He looked as if he’d been caught in a dirt storm.

They reached the top of the stairs and turned toward the boarded-up window room, where Craig continued his conversation with Levi. They paused before reaching the open door.

“If you’ve hurt Rose, I’ll tell them you confessed the prepper murders to me.”

Mercy recognized the escalation in Levi’s tone; he was nearing a breaking point.

“Sounds like you’ll be ratting me out then,” Craig hollered. “I can’t have that!”

“Where’s Rose?” Truman whispered. Mercy glanced down the hall. Every door was open. Was Rose locked up somewhere else?

A whimper made the hair on her arms raise. Rose is in the room with him.

Truman nodded; he’d heard it too.

“Goddamn you, Craig!” Levi shouted.

A shot was fired from outside, and the sound of wood splintering came from the room.

Her weapon leading, Mercy ducked her head around the door frame and saw Craig lunge toward the boarded window—which now had a fresh bullet hole—and fire back at her brother. Rose was at his feet, naked, curled up in a fetal position, blood staining the old carpet beneath her. His back is to us. She nodded at Truman, took a deep breath, and they both stepped into the doorway.

Craig leaned against the boarded-up window, firing at Levi.

Rose raised her head, nearly unrecognizable through a layer of blood. “Mercy?”

In a split second, Mercy realized Rose’s face was covered with cuts.

Craig spun around, his gun pointed at her and Truman.

Mercy emptied her magazine as Truman did the same, and her ears rang from the rapid gunfire.

Craig collapsed, and Truman dashed to Rose as Mercy lowered her gun, rattled by the sight of the bleeding man on the floor.

It’s over.

She’s alive.

Rose sat up and leaned on Truman as Mercy rushed to the window. “Levi, don’t fire! Craig’s down!” she shouted before she peered through the slit.

Her brother was on the ground. Motionless.

Mercy couldn’t breathe; she stood glued to the window, willing her brother to get up. “Levi!” she screamed. She couldn’t move away.

“Mercy!” Truman said sharply.

She turned, adrenaline racing. “Levi’s not moving! I have to get to him!”

Truman had put his thin jacket on Rose, and she batted away his hands as he tried to check her bloody wounds. “I’m fine,” Rose insisted. He turned his attention to Craig. He pulled off his shirt and pressed it against the puddle of blood on his chest.

Mercy tore out of the room.

Craig’s eyes opened, meeting Truman’s gaze.

“Hold on,” Truman ordered. “Help’s coming.”

“Fuck you,” Craig muttered, coughing.

“Yeah, well, I love you too,” Truman said, pressing harder on the shirt he’d balled up against Craig’s wounds. It grew wet beneath his fingers.

“You were always such an ass,” Craig mumbled. “Always doin’ the goddamned right thing.” Foaming blood came out of his mouth as he coughed.

Too much blood.

Rose’s hand touched Truman’s shoulder, and she reached out for Craig with the other. Her fingertips danced across his chest, noting the blood and holes. She touched his mouth, felt the red foam, and pulled back.

“It’s not good,” she whispered.

“You’re not gonna save me this time, Truman.” Blood flowed from Craig’s mouth, and he went still.

“Craig!” Truman shook his shoulder. The man’s gaze was unfocused.

“He’s gone,” Rose said softly. “It was too much.”

Truman sat back, his soaked shirt wet in his hand, staring at the dead man.

What could I have done differently?

FORTY-ONE

Mercy fought with the locks on Ned’s front door, her fingers fumbling, and finally flung open the door and launched herself down the steps. “Levi!”

Her brother was sprawled in the dirt, blood flowing from the side of his neck.

She slid to the ground, ripped off her jacket, and pressed it on the wound. She could feel the pulse of the blood as it left his body.

***

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