He identified three separate enemy shooters in front of them, positioned in an arc among the trees. All three were firing toward Rob and Jake. Where was the fourth?
And where was Rose?
As he turned to glance over his shoulder, a bullet whizzed by him close enough for him to hear its passage. He ducked down and returned his attention forward. The enemy was creeping closer. They outgunned him and the rest of his friends. He hoped his backup would make its appearance soon.
It should be coming any moment. He felt like he’d been in these woods for a year, but he knew it could only have been minutes. Soon he’d hear sirens. Maybe a helicopter. Tom would have called the SWAT team from Billings for sure, but they’d be some time coming.
Hang in there, he willed Rose and the rest of them. Just hang in there a little longer.
A man’s cry of pain ripped through the night air.
“Rob!” he heard Jake call. “Damn, he’s down!”
The gunfire cut off again when the men began shouting. Rose stumbled to a stop when she heard someone yell, “Rob! Damn, he’s down!”
Rob? Rob Matheson? Was that his brother, Jake, yelling his name? Were the rest of the Mathesons here?
“Come on!” Rose started forward at a run, still gripping Fila’s hand. A moment later, she heard bushes rustling, and Hannah spilled out of a thicket in front of them.
“Rose?” Hannah’s voice was strained. Rose could tell she was scared to death.
Rose gripped her hands in the dark and pulled her into a fierce hug. “It’s me and Fila,” she said.
“The men after Fila are here. But Rob and Jake Matheson are here, too.”
“Rob and Jake?” Hannah looked blank. “How did they…?”
“Come on,” Rose said. “We’ve got to get to them.” She took both Hannah and Fila’s hands. “Stick close to me,” she ordered. She began to inch forward carefully. She’d have to call out when they got close to the Mathesons. Warn Jake and Rob they weren’t the enemy.
“We can’t go toward the gunfire,” Hannah hissed, tugging back.
Somewhere in front of them, a man yelled, “Go—they’re getting around us.” Was it Rob? His voice was thick with pain and Rose’s breath caught in her throat.
“Damn it. Luke, cut them off,” Jake yelled.
There was a flurry of movement and suddenly a shot came from behind her. At the same time noise erupted in the direction of Carl’s.
“They’ve got past Cab,” Jake shouted. “Luke, where are you?”
Gunfire burst out again, bullets whizzed past Rose on all sides. “Down! Fila get down!” she yelled, dropping to her stomach and dragging Hannah and Fila with her. She pulled them close and lay as flat as she could, one hand gripping Hannah’s arm, the other holding Fila.
“We’re caught in the middle!” Hannah shrieked.
“Just keep down. They can’t see us,” Rose said. She pressed her face into the dirt and began to pray.
The gunmen had broken through on two sides and now there were no lines, there was no order to any of this. Cab returned the fire of the man who remained between him and the road, but Ethan now faced toward Carl’s, trying to stop the intruder who was circling around. Rob was hurt, he didn’t know how badly, and Jake and Luke were taking the brunt of the attack to his left. In a chaos of gunfire and shouting, he didn’t see how it could get worse.
“Down!” a female voice rang out. “Fila, get down!”
Cab spun around, trying desperately to locate her. She was back toward Jake and Luke somewhere.
A bullet whipped past close to his ear and Cab swore when he realized one of their opponents had made it past their line and circled around. Wherever those women were they were in the center of the gunfight now. With this kind of crossfire there was no way to get them out.
A shuffle of noise got his attention and Ned crawled up beside him. Cab grabbed his arm. “One of them has wrapped around behind us. Get as close to him as you can,” he shouted in his ear over the deafening noise. “Take him out. You have to take him out!” He hoped Ethan’s shots would soon find the one making his way toward Carl’s.
He ducked as low as he could manage and darted toward where Rob still groaned in pain. Jake was crouched over his brothers’ prone form. “Is he okay?”
“Don’t know. Nothing we can do until we take them out or get some help.” Jake waved a hand at the darkness, where gunfire still rippled out, keeping everyone pinned down.
“Where the fuck is that backup? They should be here by now,” Cab growled. He moved beyond Rob, positioned himself in a half-crouch and joined Luke in holding off the other two gunmen. Just a few more minutes. Just a couple more minutes, he told himself again and again. They could do this. They could hold the gunmen back.
Another man’s cry rang out.
Jamie. That’s Jamie, Rose thought fighting to hold back tears. She was sure of it. The sound had come from the side of the woods nearest Carl’s house. Beside her, Hannah cried out. Fila lay stiff and straight.
“We have to do something,” Hannah hissed, her voice breaking.
“What?” Rose hissed back. “We don’t have any weapons.”
“That was Jamie!”
“I know it was. Shhh!”
Another man shouted and the gunfire dipped. He called out angrily, a torrent of foreign words that seemed to go on and on. Rose bit her lip, her fingers tight on her friends’ arms. The gunfire slowed, but didn’t stop. Still the man shouted. Rose didn’t understand a word. Was that Arabic? Something else? What did they speak in Afghanistan?
“What is he saying?” Hannah hissed.
“I don’t know,” Rose said. She recognized the tone though—anger, righteousness.
Something shifted beside her. Fila.
Rose whipped her head around. “No! Don’t move! Whatever he’s saying, don’t you listen, Fila!”
“He’s saying they’ll let you go. They only want me. They don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Don’t believe him! You know it’s not true.” Rose let go of Hannah and clung to Fila with both hands.
“It’s the only way,” Fila said, pulling away from her. She was getting to her knees, Rose realized, preparing to stand up.
“No. He’s lying! He’ll still kill us all. He’ll start with you.” Rose scrambled up, too. Fila tried to detach herself but Rose clung on. “Get back down. You’ll get us all killed.”