“Line them up,” Amadeo orders.
Soldiers move into action, and a few moments later, eleven men kneel before us in various states of distress, all with their arms bound behind their backs.
“Where’s the twelfth?”
A soldier gestures to the corner where a body lies unmoving, flies already buzzing as they feed.
My stomach turns, but I swallow that down too. I’ll swallow it all because what doesn’t kill me has to make me stronger, or I’m finished. And it’s not just about me anymore. There’s my little sister to consider.
But I shudder all the same at the memory the words conjure.
Amadeo and Bastian walk along the line of kneeling men looking at each one, remarking on some. When one of them, the one who’d pulled the beer out of the cooler, spits at Bastian’s feet, Bastian backhands him so hard that the man topples backward, and a soldier has to haul him upright. The next time he spits, it’s more a drooling of a bloody tooth.
Amadeo starts at one end of the line. Taking his pistol out of its shoulder holster, he presses it so hard against the first man’s forehead that his neck is forced back at a painful angle. “Who ordered the attack?” he asks.
Without hesitating, Amadeo pulls the trigger. I jump as the man drops, and Amadeo moves to the next one like this is the most natural thing on earth to him. Bastian’s eyes burn into me, but I can’t drag my gaze from Amadeo’s broad back. His merciless justice.
He asks the next man the same question. The man looks terrified, and his eyes meet mine momentarily. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. He said—”
A gunshot cuts him off, and my heart beats double-time.
It’s the third one’s turn. Same question. This one looks at his two dead buddies, then up at the brothers and me. Then into the barrel of Amadeo’s gun.
“Who ordered the attack?” Amadeo repeats. I hear the impatience in his voice.
“I don’t know. He said... he said…” The butt of Amadeo’s gun across his temple stops his stuttering. He shakes his head, clearly dazed. “I don’t know. He said you did.”
Amadeo’s gun goes off again. Three down. Eight to go. Should I be feeling sick at this display of power and violence? This death? I don’t. I feel calm. Peaceful almost. What does that say about me?
Amadeo turns to me. “Do any of them stand out?”
I swallow as I scan their faces. Remembering the one who pulled me onto his lap and began tearing my dress, I point at him. Bastian goes to him, aims his weapon, and shoots him in the shoulder. The man screams as he falls backward. He’s righted almost immediately by one of their soldiers, and Bastian shoots the other shoulder before targeting his knees. He leaves the man moaning in agony on the ground.
“Anyone else?” he casually asks me.
Oh yeah. There’s one other. I walk up to that one. The one who called me princess. Who dragged me into that room and threw me down the stairs.
The brother’s watch, Bastian coming to my side as the kneeling man glares up at me. I look him deep in the eyes because I want to remember him. Remember men like him. They all have one thing in common. Every last one of them. Their eyes are flat. Dead. Like Sonny Caballero’s eyes.
Like my brother’s eyes.
I block the thought as soon as it manifests, and without a moment’s hesitation, I snatch the gun from Bastian’s hand and shoot. I aim for the kneeling man’s stomach, and I shoot and shoot and shoot until no bullets remain. I shoot until the weapon simplyclicks, clicks, clicks.
The man lies at my feet, his body riddled with bullets, his blood staining my face, my clothes, my hands. It’s in my mouth, and I swallow it, taste his death. I stand watching until I’m lifted off my feet and dragged away from that barn, out of the room of the massacre that follows my departure.
And as I’m loaded into an SUV, my wrists bound, I think how Amadeo was right. I will never forget this day. This violence I’ve done.
“Have you lost your fucking mind?” I climb into the driver’s side of the SUV. Bastian unlocks the cuff tethering her to the handle above the window. He locks it around her other wrist and takes the passenger seat. His phone is ringing, but he doesn’t answer it.
“Get these off me,” she says, tugging to get free of him.
Bastian easily keeps her bound wrists in one of his hands.