A bullet skimmed her ear. It was the noise of its passing that alerted her. She barely felt any pain.
Justin made no move to get out of her path. Still too drunk and stoned or whatever, she had no idea. And then he was out of time. She tried to brake too late. Nothing seemed to work right. The truck ploughed into him, punching him into the wall of the house. Inertia threw her forwards and pain filled her chest. Bricks and mortar flew.
Pete was waiting for Nick when he opened the bedroom door. The man sat on the dodgy old single lounge chair smoking a cigarette, yawning and rubbing his eyes. A shotgun sat across his lap. Justin had passed out facedown on the floor, not too far from the front door. The air stank of smoke from the fire, the cigarette, and the weed. It suffocated him. It felt like his heart and lungs had shriveled up inside his chest. But he wasn’t done yet. His pistol sat tucked into in the back of his belt, fully loaded.
“Hey,” said Pete with a slow smirk, looking past him for signs of Ros, no doubt.
Letting her go had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. Cutting off his hand would have hurt less. She needed to get away clean. And someone needed to finish these bastards. Beneath all the pain he felt strangely calm, knowing this was finally it. He didn’t kid himself. The likelihood of him walking away from this was next to non-existent.
With a dumb-ass grin Pete waved him forward. “How’d it go? Talking to her?”
He smiled back calmly.
Pete’s fingers slid lovingly over the barrel of the shottie. He didn’t doubt the threat. Sooner or later Pete and Justin would decide to get rid of him. Their playing nice was never really believable. That Pete hadn’t yet tired of Justin and taken his bowie knife to him came as a bit of a surprise. Pete had a nasty temper, and the only person he’d ever really been afraid of was Emmet.
Outside, the truck engine turned over.
“Stop her!” Pete screamed, his lips drawn back, exposing yellowed clenched teeth. He looked like a fucking animal, letting loose a roar that should have shook the building. To his left, Justin jumped up, making a dive for the gun on the coffee table.
Nick drew his weapon and fired. The bullets punched into the wall behind Pete’s head as the man threw himself aside, toppling the shoddy chair. Pete fell onto the carpet and rolled onto his back, unharmed.
Justin scrambled for the front door.
The front gates clanged and squealed as Roslyn crashed into them, tearing them apart. They were too late. She’d gotten out. The relief nearly staggered him.
With a snarl Pete pulled up the shotgun. Boom. Nick dived back through the bedroom door as the hallway erupted into smoke and noise. His ears rang. Boom. Again the shotgun discharged. The wide open bedroom door exploded into a mass of splinters, a big hole in its middle that continued into the wall behind it. Dust filled the air.
Nick rolled onto his back, pulling up his weapon, but too late. Screaming his heart out, Pete charged through the door and fell on top of him. The man straddled him and fists pounded into his ribs. Pete’s furious, bright-red face was beyond recognition. Nick blocked as many of the punches as possible, clawing at the fucker's face, trying to push him back. A sledgehammer of a hit landed below his ribs. Pain cramped Nick’s guts as he fought to get the leverage to throw Pete off him. His legs flailed uselessly.
Out of the corner of his eye he spied the silver of Pete’s bowie knife flying at his face. He grabbed the man’s wrist with both hands, muscles straining. Pete snapped and growled, spraying his face with hot, wet spit.
Fuck, he could hear gunshots outside. Justin shooting at Ros. Please let her be gone by now.
Pete put his weight behind the blade. The wickedly sharp point of the knife pressed down, only an inch or two from Nick’s eye. He pushed back, moving the knife a bare hand’s length from his face. He couldn’t move him. Not enough to count. A lunatic’s grin curled Pete’s lips.
The house suddenly shuddered and there was an almighty smash. His ears rang. The noise was deafening. Towards the front of the place, beams of timber snapped and the whole structure groaned. Plaster flakes rained down. For just a moment it distracted Pete. His brows jumped as he looked to the ever-widening crack spreading across the ceiling. With the last of his strength, Nick surged up, rolling the man. He reversed the blade, pointing it at his middle. Pete broke his momentum by putting out an elbow, bringing the turnabout to a halt. But it was too late. The bowie knife sunk deep into the man’s side. Blood flowed onto the dirty carpet and Pete’s eyes went wide and white. A high wheezing noise escaped him.
Nick pulled out the blade, fingers slipping on the slick bloody bone handle. In and up. Beneath the ribs and high towards the heart. This time Pete’s skin felt like old leather, impossible to cut through. But Nick was plenty fucking motivated. Blood swelled to the surface, spreading out across Pete’s gray T-shirt and staining it dark red.
No more movement. No nothing. Everything was quiet apart from the occasional death rattle from the house.
Where was Ros? What the fuck had she done?
He wiped off his bloody hands and grabbed his gun. Looked out in the mess of what had been the lounge room. Sunlight streamed in, lighting the clouds of dust and debris floating through the air. Fucking amazing. Half the roof seemed to have caved in. He could just make out the front of the truck, buried in rubble.
He raced to the bedroom window and pushed it open. Climbed out and ran toward the front. Bricks and roof tiles and fuck knew what else covered the crumpled hood of the truck. Blood covered the shattered outside of the windscreen and one of Justin’s hands was just visible, still clutching a pistol. The rest of his body lay buried beneath the rubble.
Oh, holy fucking hell. What she’d done.
At the first sight of her bushy red hair his heart nearly gave up. She was slumped in the driver’s seat, almost out of view.
“Ros.” He wrenched the door open. “Ros!”
Her eyelids opened and she blinked repetitively, giving him a stunned look. Slowly, she smiled. “Nick.”
Above her left breast, her shirt was covered in blood. Justin had hit her in the shoulder. More blood dribbled down from a small wound on her ear.
“It’s okay. I’m here,” he said, trying not to lose it. He tore off his shirt and held it against her, putting pressure on the gunshot wound. There was a med kit in the glovebox. He remembered it now. The compartment had popped open during the crash and its contents were spread across the floor.
“Hey,” she croaked, her eyes glazed. “You got your shirt off.”
“I know. Don’t move.” He grabbed up the bright red kit and tore into it. Gauze and pads. Tweezers and cream. A bottle of antiseptic. With his teeth and one hand he ripped open a packet of pads. Lifting the shirt for a second, he placed the pads over the bloody little hole in her shoulder. Fuck. So much damn blood.
“I drove a car into a building. Cool, huh?”
“Yeah, I noticed. Don’t. Move.”
“I’m fine,” she said with an awkward giggle. Pain suffused her face and she grimaced. “Though that hurt.”
“You’ve been shot, Ros.”
“Yeah, my ear.” She frowned and stared at her left arm lying uselessly beside her. “What? Why won’t my arm work?”
“It’s okay,” he lied, biting open a packet of gauze. There was a roll of tape too. Amongst all of it he should be able to put together a decent enough bandage to get her to Blackstone. He had to. “Stay still for me.”
“I couldn’t leave you.”
Everything in him squeezed tight. “I know. How do you feel?”
“Okay. Are you okay?” she asked, her voice slurred.
“I’m not the one who’s been shot. You’re going to need to sit forward for me.”
“Just a little,” she said, breathing heavy.
She whimpered when he carefully pulled her forward and he almost fucking burst into tears. Her skin felt clammy and her face was too pale.
“More than a little. You’ve been hit in the shoulder. Fuck, sweetheart. What were you thinking?” He pressed his balled up T-shirt against her, hard, and started working the gauze around her. “I was trying to keep you safe.”
She didn’t answer.
Her eyes were closed. She’d passed out.
Nick stared at the remodeled dump truck that now served as Blackstone’s front entrance with grim acceptance. It they killed him, then so be it. Whatever happened next was out of his hands.
He turned off the ignition of Pete and Justin’s shiny green Camaro.
Roslyn’s breathing was shallow. She hadn’t stirred since he’d bundled her into the vehicle. Blood stained the makeshift bandage he’d tied around her shoulder. He’d never been so fucking scared in his life.
If she died …
A couple of men slipped out from between the truck and wall, rifles in their hands. Everything possible made up the wall surrounding Blackstone. A tipped train, bulldozed buildings, cars and trucks. Almost a hundred people lived inside the barricade of rubble surrounding the town’s main street and a block or two in either direction. The only haven he knew of for her. The only place that could help.
Nick threw open the car door and climbed out, hands held high.
“Shit,” muttered one.
“It’s that bastard,” said the other.
“She’s hurt. Please.” Nick stood still, empty hands stretched above his head. “Help her.”
“Get on your knees,” said one of the men while the other started talking rapid-fire into a walkie-talkie. “Slowly.”
Walkie-Talkie Man moved around to the passenger-side door and looked in at Ros through the open window. The other guy kept his rifle pointed at Nick’s head as he sunk slowly to the ground. Beneath his knees the bitumen felt like ice, as if the whole world had frozen. It had rained here recently and the damp soaked into his jeans. He hadn’t bothered to find a shirt. Every second counted.