Halfway to the Grave

Page 45

"Sixty grand each, that's nice, but split up how many ways? It's not a lot of quid if you're splashing it over a big pond."

Charlie relaxed as much as he could while being pronged. "Naw, it's not much if it's only a few dozen cooches, but tally that number up against hundreds. There's only 'bout twenty of us in this, and Hennessey's expanding his treats. Going global with 'em. Hell, the Internet's opened up a whole new client base for us, know what I'm sayin'? But he wants to keep his inner structure small. Just enough to keep those wheels movin' over that sweet track to happy land. Aren't you tired of scratching out a livin' from job to job? Residual income, that's the key. We've run through our last batch of gals, and it's roundup time again. Few months of shoring up, and then it's just sit back and watch the bank account grow. It's sweet, let me tell you. Sweet."

"Indeed. You paint a tempting picture, mate. However, there are a few chaps of Hennessey's where there's no love lost between us, so tell me-who else is on this quid train? Can't sign me up if I've shagged one of their wives or shriveled their brother, right?"

The smile was wiped from Charlie's face. Something cold settled over his expression and his voice lost that Deep South twang.

"Fuck you."

With those words, Bones straightened from his easy slouch.

"Right." His tone became crisp as well. "Knew you'd figure it out eventually. Well, thanks anyway, mate. You've been moderately helpful. Only twenty of you, you say? That's less than I thought, and I've a decent inkling who the rest of them might be."

Relief slammed into me with such force that my knees trembled. Oh God, for a second, I hadn't thought he was faking. I thought I'd been played in the worst way possible.

"Kitten, I don't feel anyone else, but take a look around this building anyway. Break down the doors if you have to, but make sure no one else is here."

I gestured to the girl, who hadn't moved. "What about her?"

"She'll hold a bit more."

"If you kill me, it won't only be Hennessey who'll come down on you. You'll wish your mother had never been born," Charlie hissed. "He's got friends, and they go higher up on the pole than you can handle."

I left, but heard Bones's reply as I started on the closest unit.

"As far as Hennessey and his friends go, I thought they wouldn't miss anyone stupid enough to get dried by me? Your words, mate. I suspect you're regretting them."

A quick sweep if the complex turned up nothing. There were only four separate units and they were all empty. This building was a front, was my guess. Only one unit had been inhabited by the late Dean and the soon-to-be-late Charlie. Still, to the casual observer, it had been another typical small rental. One day I'd like to actually see something typical. I hadn't come across it yet.

When I came back ten minutes later, the girl was still lying on the floor, but Bones and Charlie were gone.


"Back here," he called out.

Dean's room. I approached with less stealth than before, but couldn't bring myself just to trot in without caution. Untrusting. Yeah, that was me.

The sight that greeted me widened my eyes. Bones had Charlie in bed. Not lying on it, but in it. The metal frame was wrapped around him and twisted together to form clamps. That silver knife was still in Charlie, wedged with a bent beam holding it in place.

Bones had three jugs near his feet. Their smell, even with my nose, told me what they were.

"Now, mate, I'm going to make you an offer. It only gets extended once. Tell me who these other players are, all of them, and you'll go out quick and clean. Refuse, and..." He hefted a jug, emptying out its contents over Charlie. His clothes soaked up the liquid and the harsh scent of gasoline filled the air. "You'll live as long as it takes for this to kill you."

"Where'd you get those?" I asked irrelevantly.

"Under his kitchen sink. Thought they'd have something like this on hand. You didn't think they'd just leave this place and all of its forensic evidence behind when they were through, did you?"

I hadn't gone that far in my thinking. I'd been a day late and a dollar short all night, it seemed.

Charlie gave Bones a look filled with chilling hate. "I'll tell you in hell, and that'll be soon."

Bones struck a match and dropped it on him. The flames sprouted instantly. Charlie screamed and started to thrash, but the bed frame held. Or the fire incapacitated him too quickly.

"Wrong answer, mate. I never bluff. Come on, Kitten. We're leaving."

Chapter Fourteen

WE ONLY STAYED LONG ENOUGH TO MAKE sure Charlie didn't get out. Bones trailed more gasoline to the other units on the upper floor, and they lit up the sky as well. The girl had yet to speak. Her eyes hadn't even really focused when I carried her out of there.

Bones gave her a few drops of blood. Said they'd tide her over until he got her somewhere safe. We couldn't hang around here for many reasons. The fire department would be on their way. The police, too. And any of Hennessey's goons who'd soon find out that one of his residences had been torched with his people inside.

I was surprised when Bones went over to Charlie's car and popped the trunk. "I'll be right back," I murmured to the girl, and left her in the backseat. She didn't seem to even hear me.

I went around to the back of Charlie's car, curious. Bones was bent over the trunk. When he came back up, he had a man in his arms.

I gaped. "Who the hell is that?"

The guy's head drooped into view and I sucked in a breath. The obnoxious jerk from the bar!

Even though I didn't hear a heartbeat, I had to ask. "Is he...?"

"Dead as Caesar," Bones supplied. "Charlie took him 'round the back and snapped his spine. Bloke would have felt me, too, if he'd been paying more attention. That's where I was hiding."

"You didn't try to stop him?"

It came out with all of my residual guilt over the unknown man's death. I hadn't tried to stop him, either. Maybe that's what sharpened my tone.

Bones fixed his gaze on me, unblinking. "No. I didn't."

I felt like beating my head against a wall. Technically, we'd won tonight, but the victory was hollow. An innocent man killed. A young woman traumatized beyond comprehension. No names of who else was involved, and the knowledge that now it would only get worse.

"What are you doing with him?"

He set him in the grass. "Leave him as he is. There's nothing more to be done. With this fire, he'll be found soon. He'll have a proper burial. That's all he's got left."

It seemed so callous just to leave the man there, but Bones had a practical, if not cold, point. There was nothing more we could do for him. Dropping him off at a hospital with a note wouldn't make his family hurt any less.

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