City of the Lost Page 119

Nine

We’re heading through town when Dalton joins us.

“All done with the council?” I ask.

He makes a noise under his breath, one I interpret to mean he’s annoyed at the interruption to his day but yeah, it’s done.

“Meant to run the pre-flight check earlier,” he says. “You okay with hanging out? Or do you want to rest at the station?”

“I’d like to see how you do it. Not that I’m going to be a pilot anytime soon, but I’m interested.”

That pleases him, and he nods. He talks to Anders for a moment, before the deputy takes off to run an errand. He’ll bring Diana after that, something I’m in no rush for.

We’re on the edge of town when we spot four of the militia, armed and on horseback, heading for the woods.

“Hey, boss,” Kenny calls with a wave.

Dalton eyes them and veers in that direction. “What’s this? Don’t need four guys for patrol.”

“Hunting mission,” Kenny says.

“Nothing on the schedule.”

Kenny grins. “This is a different kind of hunt. We know you’re busy, so we’re going to find the bastard who cut up Casey.”

Dalton tenses so fast I swear I hear vertebrae snapping.

“Whoa, no,” I say. “We are nowhere near that point, guys. I haven’t even been able to provide Eric with a description, it all happened so fast. I appreciate that you want to keep the town safe, but for now, we can best do that by staying out of the woods and posting a couple of extra guys on border patrol.”

“It’s not about safety, Casey,” Kenny says. “You got cut up by some psycho out there. We’re going to make him pay.”

The other three nod. While it’s sweet that they want to go after the guy who hurt me, I feel a bit like the wide-eyed maiden in a spaghetti western, the local gunslingers mounting up to go hunt down the villain who sullied my honour.

I look at Dalton, waiting for him to jump in with a loud and profane diatribe about exactly why this is a bad idea. But he’s frozen in panic, and I know all he’s thinking is that four armed men are hell-bent on riding into the woods and shooting his brother.

“No,” I say, as firmly as I can. “I appreciate the gesture, guys. I really do. But what we have out there isn’t a killer who’ll descend on us in our sleep. It’s a guy with a problem, hopefully temporary, and—”

“So he’s a psycho, like I said.”

Okay, not the right tactic. “Eric and I will deal with this when we get back. We need to find this guy and see what happened to him or it could happen to others, and then we’d have a real problem.”

Kenny’s hands move on his rifle. “We’re ready for it.”

“No. The people in those woods have as much right to be there—”

“They’re a threat. They’ve always been a threat. If we have the opportunity to wipe them out, for once and for all—”

“Do you actually hear what you’re saying? We have a name for that, Kenny. It’s called a massacre, and if that’s what this town has come to, then some of us really need to get back south and get civilized fast.”

His mouth works. One of the others says, “We didn’t mean it like that.”

“The answer is no,” Dalton says, stepping forward, chin up, jaw set, the sheriff back. “Hell, no. Fuck, no. I-cannot-goddamn-believe-you’re-suggesting-it, no. If you have a problem with the way I’m handling this situation—”

“Course not, Eric.”

“If you have a problem with the way I’m running this town—”

“No, we just … For Casey,” Kenny says weakly. “We wanted to find him for Casey.”

“And Casey doesn’t want you to do it like this. So get your heads out of your asses, put those horses away, and find something useful to do, like cutting wood or hauling water. We need that. We don’t need a bunch of yahoos in the forest, shooting anything that moves and hitting the folks cutting wood and hauling water.”

“Okay. You’re right. But …” Kenny lowers his voice. “We’re not the only ones who want to find this guy. People are talking. Whispering about heading off while you’re away.”

“What? If anyone sets a foot outside this town while I’m gone—”

“They won’t. We’ll make sure of it. I’m just letting you know …” He looks up at Dalton. “Something has to be done, Eric. You know how people get.”

“Then make sure they don’t get that way. Not while I’m gone. Or I’ll fire the whole fucking lot of you. Got it?”

They get it.

We continue to the hangar in silence. I want to tell Dalton it’s okay, they won’t dare go into the forest behind his back, but I know that doesn’t matter, because all he’s thinking about is Jacob, out there and messed up, with a whole town gunning for him. And the one guy who gives a shit is leaving town.

Dalton starts his pre-flight check. When he notices me at his shoulder, he remembers I’d wanted to see, so despite the fact that instruction might be the furthest thing from his mind, he explains, because that’s what he does.

He’s checking some wires and telling me their purpose, and I ask what happens if they’re loose or damaged.

“Then we don’t get off the ground,” he says.

“Important stuff, then.”

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