I had to trust that everything was going right.
I had to trust that Josh and Ben were safe, that Sanctuary was looking after them. I had to trust that they knew about Ryder and the fact I had to earn my way back into the good books of the bad guys. I hoped to hell they knew what I had to do, and that they had a plan in place. I had to believe that I could pull this off, even if the thought of pointing a gun at one of my best friends was incomprehensible. This was all my fault. I was the one who’d asked Ryder to keep track of every mission we ran for Danvers, as team leader it was me that said we needed backup in case we were burned, but I know Ryder had dug a lot deeper than he should have.
Because I asked him to do it—I sanctioned it.
I knew every single word and plan and image he had, and it was all wrapped up in memories of our team, of the orders we’d followed at first until we realized things were wrong, of the camaraderie we had… the friendships. Ryder and I had put our lives on the line for each other, hell neither of us would even be alive now if it wasn’t for each other.
“It’s easy,” Danvers cupped my shoulder and squeezed, and I had to hold myself still and not do what I wanted to do, which was take the fucker down and break his hand. “You fucked up on the skin job with that Josh guy, which could have netted me half a million. I think you’ll choke, but hey…” he placed the gun in my lap, “do that, take Ryder out, retrieve the information he collated, and I’ll think about smoothing things over and taking you back.”
“And get me off-book jobs that pay?” I forced a little desperation into the question, but kept my expression as impassive as I could. I wanted him to think I was trying hard not to lose my shit.
Danvers shrugged. “After you've worked off the five hundred, you owe me.”
“That wasn't the deal.”
“Deals change. It's not like you're in the place to bargain. So, show me. Show us.”
“Us?” I prompted.
He smirked, but I’d already read into his words—other people would watch this stream from my body cam. “Do it right.”
It was time to show a small amount of hesitation and remorse. “Ryder was the best second I ever had… he was—”
“He’s your past and if you wanna be the guy who makes it in this world, then you’ll do this. FYI, I have money on you choking. The others are split with whether the great Ethan will actually do the job.” He gestured out of the window of his dark tinted SUV, and I followed his hand to where a pinprick of red wavered in a tiny circle. There was a weapon on me, but I knew that. I was half expecting to get a bullet in my head the second I stepped out of the car and I sent up a small message to everyone I loved… sorry.
I wanted to see Josh again, but I couldn't think about him now—I had to focus. Knowing Danvers, he’d have a plausible story in place of how dangerous I’d become to excuse me being shot. I was still on the wanted list with the FBI after kidnapping Josh, and he knew one phone call to anyone like the cops, and I’d be done. I wondered who else was out there—who else was part of his team? Was it a shadow squad the same as we’d once been? Our replacement maybe?
I didn’t even believe he’d carry through with the agreement, but I had to play the part—I had to be vulnerable here and show him my belly—act the role of a desperate man. “If you try to take me out after I retrieve the information, I have steps in place,” I said.
He huffed a laugh, but there was no humor in it. “I’m not stupid enough to think you don’t have bargaining chips, Ethan.” He tapped the steering wheel.
“Then we have an understanding,” I warned.
“A dead man walking doesn't have room to bargain for anything.” He grinned at me, but there was no madness in his eyes, just icy control.
“Fuck you,” I snapped, and he rolled his eyes.
“Fuck you back,” he said. “So you genuinely think he’s holed up around here?” He peered out into the darkness beyond, at the old warehouse district, and seemed puzzled. “Dark warehouses is a bit too obvious, if you ask me.”
“I know he’s here.”
“And the files he has?”
“On our encrypted server.”
Another shrug from Danvers. “Kill him. Destroy the information.”
I picked up my weapon and opened the door, watching the red dot move—one last look back at Danvers and I slipped out of the vehicle and headed into the maze of buildings. My body cam would show everything, and I knew I was being tracked, so I didn’t delay in getting to where I needed to be, I climbed in through the back window that never shut properly and landing softly on my feet in a bathroom stall. I edged quietly out of the room, and sticking to the wall, I headed for the main room, the familiarity of training exercises in this same building helping my muscle memory.
I turned the last corner and came face to face with Ryder and I pointed my gun at his face.
“Ethan? What are you doing here? Why are you… what the fuck?” A hundred messages passed between us, his gaze flicking down to my chest, and abruptly he held up his hands in self defense. “No. Don't—”
“You or me,” I said, and shot him through the heart. I watched him crumple. I saw the moment he died, and for a moment I bent at the waist over him, my breath catching in noisy gulps. I stayed in character as I logged in with one of our old team passwords and deleted all the files on our encrypted server. Then I shoved everything I could from Ryder’s desk, files, folder, photos, into his familiar computer bag and slung it over my back, and finally I set the charges that would destroy everything here.
Picking my way over Ryder’s body, I left.
And the explosives I set to cover up the death of my friend filled the sky with fire.