It started with a ping off the dutch oven. A musical note, it startled Cascabel as she was about to crack an egg. A few feet away, Macy looked up from the coffee grinder with a frown.
The second bullet zipped past Cascabel's arm like a bee. She dropped the egg and clutched her shoulder.
“Get down!” Paloma shoved Cascabel to the ground while Macy shrieked and scurried behind a donkey cart.
There was a rustle in the nearest tent and Ikea poked her head out the flap. A bullet punctured the canvas inches from her face. With a gasp she ducked back inside, but her action had given Paloma and Cascabel enough time to hurry to the shelter of Macy’s cart. Ikea fired some warning shots, sounding the alarm.
In a tent at the edge of camp, Will sat up with a start. He grabbed the rifle he kept by his side and scrambled to his feet, stepping into his moccasins as he ran outside. Diana tried to follow, but Amalia grabbed her arm and jerked her back.
Will heard them arguing as he zig-zagged toward the shelter of a crumbling wall. He hoped Amalia would keep Diana away. Although he trusted his adoptive sister’s aim, it made him crazy when someone took shots at her, and bringing down a sniper would require he keep his cool.
He stopped to collect his thoughts as bullets chipped harmlessly at the other side of the wall. How the hell had someone gotten close enough to fire on their camp? And was it a loner, or part of an advance group for an enemy unit?
A few feet away, Sachi waved to him from behind the shelter of a metal drum. She made hand signals that Will thought he understood, then fired in the direction the shots seemed to be coming from. Her distraction drew the sniper’s fire and Will made a run for it.
It took only a few minutes of ducking and dodging to get out of the line of fire, but it felt like hours before he was safely scrambling up the hillside behind the cover of some creosote and mesquite. Although he couldn’t make out the marksman’s exact position, he suspected he was hiding somewhere along the ridge of flattened space where a road used to wind through these sand hills.
He was almost over the spot when he came upon Boeing taking temporary shelter behind a rock. “What the hell’s going on?” Will asked.
“Seems to be just one. Got past the Javelina somehow.”
“He better have shot him,” Will muttered. “’Cause if any of our people get killed, I’ll slit Javelina’s fucking throat.”
The two young men advanced slowly, sometimes crouching, sometimes dragging themselves through the brush on their bellies, until they finally made out their target—a dark-hatted figure in bandoliers taking aim at the camp from behind a rusted pickup truck.
Just as Will and Boeing raised their guns to their shoulders, a shadow rustled the nearby scrub. They cursed and were about to fire when they realized it was only Javier. “We were hoping you were dead,” Will said. With a snort of disgust, he turned back to the sniper
It was never clear whether it was his shot or Boeing’s that laid the sniper flat against the rusting metal, but what neither of them doubted was that Javier’s shot was an afterthought, punctuating the body with a superfluous hole after the real work had been done.
It was Javier who was first down the trail to the sniper’s perch, where he shot the marksman a few extra times with his pistol.
“Quit wasting ammo,” Boeing said.
“If you’d done your job and kept proper watch—”
“Me? He came up on your side, asshole!”
While they shouted at each other, Will turned the body over. “Shit. He’s just a kid.” He started checking the boy’s gear and clothing for signs of group affiliation.
“What’s he got?” Javier forced his way forward and shoved his hand in one of the boy’s pockets. With a pleased smile he withdrew a few silver coins.
“That belongs to the group,” Will said.
“No, it belongs to me. For the trouble I had to go to to kill the little bastard.”
Boeing lunged toward him. “You didn’t do jack, Javelina—”
Before he could say any more, Will’s fist connected with Javier’s gut, knocking the wind out of him with a gasp. “You’re such an asshole.” He picked up the coins where they had spilled on the ground, then returned to the matter at hand. “I don’t see any evidence the kid had affiliation,” he told Boeing as Javier lay wheezing at his feet.
“Probably a lone troublemaker.”
Will examined the sniper’s face, the blunted boyish features innocent in repose. “We’ll take him down to camp and make sure he gets a decent burial.”
From where he was still trying to catch his breath, Javier gasped, “Let the fucker rot. He wanted to kill us.”
Boeing kicked Javier in the ribs, then helped Will pick up the body. “This kid wasn’t a half bad shot,” he said as they stumbled down the trail. "I wonder why he did it.”
“Maybe he had something to prove.”
Will adjusted his footing in a patch of loose gravel. He thought of Macy and Cascabel and wondered if there would still be coffee and eggs. “He only proved he could shoot at women making breakfast. That’s nothing special.”
“And it's a dumb way to die,” Boeing added.