Beneath These Chains (Page 70)

“You shoulda been thanking me,” Mathieu said, his words slurring. “’Cuz you know that’s how things work on the street. We got each other’s backs. Can’t let someone disrespect you or we’ll be weak. You gone soft, Lord. Didn’t expect that from you. Thought you still knew the code. Lived the code.”

His ramblings were punctuated by the swinging gun and bottle. My only option was talking him down.

“I know you did it for me—and for Elle. You were protecting us, and I get that.” Even as I said the words, they rang false in my mind.

Mathieu shook his head. “No. You don’t know. You’re just sayin’ that shit so I won’t eat a bullet. Too fuckin’ late, man. Too fuckin’ late. I saw your face last night. I ain’t getting locked up for this shit. I’d rather be in the ground than a cell.”

“There’s no reason for that.”

He lifted the gun to his head again. “There’s every fuckin’ reason. You ain’t the brother I thought you were. I got no one. I got nothin’.” His thumb flicked the safety off. “I’m done. Made my peace. Time for me to cash out.”

Footsteps thudded down the stairs, and Mathieu’s eyes widened.

“What the fuck is taking you so goddamn long?”

The gun swung toward me as Mathieu registered Hennessy’s voice.

“You brought the fuckin’ cops.” His arm shook as his finger closed over the trigger.

My chest ached as I yelled the words that would give Hennessy a fighting chance. “Stay the fuck out of here!”

But Hennessy had already come too far—putting himself directly in the line of fire.

“Sorry, cop. You’re done.”

Mathieu pulled the trigger, and the deafening percussion of the shot filled the basement as I dove toward Hennessy.

Heat lit across my arm as I missed my target and three more shots rang out. I hit the concrete floor and slid toward where Hennessy had dropped to a knee and taken aim.

Static filled my ears, and I lifted a hand to my shoulder. It came away with only a slight smear of red.

“Fuck. He got you.” The words sounded muffled as Hennessy holstered his gun and lifted the sleeve of my T-shirt away from the wound.

“Barely,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”

Because I wasn’t worried about it. It wasn’t my first close call, but God-willing it’d be my last.

No, my eyes were on Mathieu’s crumpled body. Blood already pooled around him on the cement. I swallowed back bile as the reality of what had just happened hit me hard.

Hennessy caught the direction of my gaze. “I’m sorry, Lord. I didn’t have a choice. He fired first—”

The buzzing in my ears was starting to quiet. “Don’t. I know. He didn’t intend to leave this basement alive.”

Shock held my eyes on Mathieu, and I barely listened as Hennessy called it in.

The absolute madness of yesterday was crushed by the events of today.

Part of me couldn’t stop thinking I’d failed Mathieu on every level, and the other part of me recognized what Hennessy had said earlier: some people were just wired wrong. The crazy in Mathieu’s eyes hadn’t been the boy I’d thought I’d known. Somehow I’d looked right past it to the good that had always been there.

My thoughts were interrupted by Hennessy holding out a hand. “Come on. Let’s get the fuck out of here so the techs can preserve the scene. They’re on their way. There’s a bus coming to check out your arm.”

I took his hand and stood. “I don’t need an ambulance. It’s just a graze.”

Hennessy shrugged. “Your choice. I’m just doing my job.”

I could almost hear the unsaid: And some days I fucking hate my job.

“I’ll be investigated for this, so I’d appreciate you giving a full statement about what happened before and after I came down the stairs.”

“They’ll get the truth. He fired on you first. Fuck—he fired on me.”

I climbed the stairs behind him, thinking that for as long as I lived, this basement would always be tainted. I’d been so proud of my set up—the firearms ID equipment and the range. And now … now I never wanted to set foot down here again. It was a fucking crime scene.

Chains wouldn’t be opening today … or probably anytime soon.

My numbers would run into the red really fucking fast, but that fact paled in comparison to what had just happened. Swallowing my pride and admitting to my brother I couldn’t swing the payment next month was nothing compared to this. My customers would get over it. Life would go on.

For most of us.

When we stepped into the alley, we had another visitor.


“Came to get my car,” he said in greeting. “Decided on the Charger.”

Mother. Fucker. Of all the shit timing on the planet.

“This isn’t a good time.”

Rix looked closer at my arm.

“The fuck happened to you?”

“Nothing you need to worry about. But if you don’t want to be surrounded by cops, you’re gonna want to get a move on.”

Hennessy stepped out of the back door and into the alley. Rix’s eyes landed on him.

“Seems like you’ve already got one here.”

“Good to see you too, Rix,” Hennessy said.

“I’ve never said it was good to see a cop,” Rix tossed back.

“Then you best be moving on, because there’s about to be a whole lot more of us.”

“The fuck happened here?”