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“I’ll be all right. I just didn’t get any time to decompress after the ambush. It’s easier to deal with this stuff then and there.”

“You’ve had issues before?” Mac sounded surprised.

Grant struggled for the words to describe how senseless killing, cruelty, and horror left their imprint on man. He settled on, “nobody goes into combat and comes out the same.”

Mac leaned back into his seat, his face thoughtful. “I’m sorry. I always thought you loved what you did.”

“No one could love combat.” Grant thought of all the good men he’d seen maimed and killed, all the flag-draped coffins he’d saluted, the crying widows and shock-faced children.

“Then why do you do it?”

“Duty. The country needs soldiers. I’d been groomed my whole life to serve. To protect American citizens and their way of life.”

“People like Lee and Kate,” Mac added.

“Ironic, isn’t it? I was protecting them thousands of miles away from where they were being murdered.”

“Whoa.” Mac raised his hands. “Even those Mr. Clean shoulders of yours can’t bear guilt over this. Or at least not any more than me and Hannah. None of us were paying attention. None of us knew anything about what was really going on in Lee’s life. If any of us failed him, we all did. Don’t think for a second that me and Hannah aren’t feeling plenty guilty, too.”

“I have no intention of failing him again.” Grant drove the rest of the way without speaking. Mac’s revelation about their shared guilt shouldn’t have come as a shock. Of course they felt remorse and regret. None of them knew Lee’s life was in shambles. Were the three of them so wrapped up in their own lives, so disinterested in Lee, that he felt like he couldn’t share his troubles? The answer was an obvious and resounding yes.

Ambition would be the Barretts’ downfall.

The trailer park occupied a field in the middle of fucking nowhere. Forest surrounded an open space the size of two side-by-side football fields. Dirt roads bisected a grid of small, square lots. Grant turned at the ingress, where white script on a faded green sign proclaimed they were entering Happy Valley Trailer Park.

He drove up and down multiple rows, the muddy road grating and squishing under the tires.

The sedan lurched over a deep rut. Mac grabbed the chicken strap hanging above the door. “We should have brought my truck.”

“I didn’t anticipate going off-road.”

“Over there.” Mac pointed through the windshield. “I see a pig.”

“Son of a bitch.” Grant kept driving past a white trailer outfitted to look like a miniature farmhouse. Black shutters flanked the windows. A two-foot picket fence surrounded a patch of weedy lawn adorned with decorative pig silhouettes. The pig flag waved from its bracket next to the door.

“No car out front.” Mac scratched his chin. “How do we sneak up? There’s no cover.”

“No.” Grant spotted an empty space two spots down the lane and parked the sedan. “Sneaking doesn’t appear to be an option. Any ideas?”

“Yeah. Let’s talk to the neighbors. I suddenly feel interested in this empty lot.” Mac reached for the door handle. “Try not to scare the piss out of anybody.”

“I’ll do my best.” Grant rolled his eyes. “Unless we find Donnie. Then all bets are off.”

“Fair enough.” Mac opened his door and got out. “I’ll do the talking.” He pointedly scanned Grant from boots to jacket. “No one would believe you were interested in a trailer park.”

Grant looked down at his clothes. “What’s wrong with my clothes?”

“Nothing. You’re just too . . . ironed.” Mac’s attire leaned toward scraggly. His hiking boots were scuffed from use, and the holes in his jeans weren’t a fashion statement, but a lack of interest in shopping or his appearance.

Mac walked past a dinged pickup truck to the trailer between the empty lot and the pig house. The unit was neat but basic. He knocked on the door.

A thin, middle-aged man in a flannel shirt, jeans, and tan work boots answered. His Bee Gees beard was neatly trimmed but made him look like he stepped out of the 1970s. “Yeah?”

Mac backed down the step, giving the guy some space. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m interested in the lot. Can I ask you a couple of questions?”

“Sure.” Tugging a Mets cap over a salt-and-pepper shag cut, he locked his door and walked down the steps to join them on the square cement landing. “I’m leaving for work. I only got a couple minutes.”

“I’m Mac.” He held out a hand.

The Mets fan shook it. “Bob.”

Mac crossed his arms over his chest. “How is this place?”

“It’s OK.” Bob shrugged. “Folks mostly mind their own business. Some people have been here forever, but there’s a fair amount of turnover.”

“Is it quiet at night? I get up early for work.”

“I hear you. I hate first shift.” Bob huffed. “Broad next door and her boyfriend are into some weird shit. They go at it till late some nights. Pain in the ass. Some nights I got to put on fucking headphones. Forget leaving the windows open.”

“Have they been here long?”

“She has, but he’s pretty new. I’m hoping he moves on. She goes through boyfriends like napkins. Seems like a lazy piece of shit to me. Probably an ex-con. Mean-looking dude.” Bob touched his face just below his eye. “Got one of those blue ink tats right here.”

“Huh.” Mac made a noncommittal sound of interest.

“Three kinds of people live in a place like this.” Bob held up a hand and ticked them off on his fingers. “Broke seniors, hardworking people trying to scrape by, and scumbags. The boyfriend is a scumbag, freeloading on a lonely woman.” Pure disgust colored his voice.

“Maybe I’ll knock on the door and see for myself.”

Bob glanced over at the pig-adorned trailer. “She ain’t home. Must be at work. She runs a register at the Walmart on the highway.”

“Hmm. I really need my sleep.” Mac scraped a toe on the concrete. “Maybe I should come back at night and listen for myself.”

“Probably.” Bob nodded. “Hey, I gotta get to work. Can’t afford to get docked.”

“Thanks for the info, man.”

“Anytime.” Bob got into his truck and drove away.

“Well, what do you think?”

Grant scanned the area. There was no one outside. “Can you work your magic on the lock?”

“Sure. Kind of ballsy in daylight though.”

“I’m feeling kind of ballsy.”

“OK.” Mac followed him to the trailer, raised his hand, and pretended to knock. Grant crowded him, using his body to block Mac’s hands from view. Two seconds later, Mac cracked the door. Grant nudged his brother out of the way and took point. His Beretta was in his hand as he crossed the threshold. He inhaled. Something smelled off. Raw.

Dead.

Mac sniffed and handed him a pair of latex gloves. “Not good.”

“Do you just carry those around?”

His brother shrugged. “Thought we might need them. I like to be prepared.”

“I feel like we need hazmat suits.”

The door opened into the living area. Nothing interesting in sight. Grant moved through the empty kitchen. A door led to the single bedroom. Grant gestured toward the assortment of BDSM toys scattered on the bed: handcuffs, whips, a spiked collar, something that looked like one of the dog’s Kong toys with straps on it. “Is that a ball gag?”

“You are asking the wrong person.”

Five minutes later, Grant pulled a manila envelope out of the bottom of a drawer. He opened and tilted it. A picture of Lee and Kate fell into his other hand. They were walking out of their house. Lee’s arm curled around Kate’s waist as he spoke in her ear. Her head was tilted toward him. The address was written on the bottom of the photo. “Shit.”

Grant turned the picture over. Notes were scrawled across the back. Locations of both of their employers, license plate numbers, e-mail addresses, and their daily schedules. The login information for their online calendars was scrawled in the middle of the page. That explained how he knew where to find them. Grant’s gut went sour as he focused on the last note: $5,000.

“Look what I found.” Mac said across the room.

Grant used his cell phone to snap a picture of the photo and the notes on the back.

Mac was holding a pricy laptop. “What the hell is a lowlife scrounging off a cashier doing with a machine like this?”

“Probably stole it. McNamara said Donnie had done time for ID theft.”

Mac returned the computer to the closet and crossed the floor. He sucked air when he looked at the photo. “Someone paid this guy to kill them.”

Instead of the hot rage Grant expected, ice flowed through his body. In front of him was evidence that Donnie Ehrlich had been hired to murder Lee and Kate. Grant didn’t want to call the cops. He wanted to lie in wait for this guy, then ambush and kill him after he beat a confession from his lips. Grant wanted Donnie’s blood, and the blood of the person who’d hired him, on his hands. But he wouldn’t do it. He’d do the right thing. As a soldier he’d sworn to protect his country, and that included all the laws that comprised her. Going vigilante wasn’t defending democracy.

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