Danny Witt loosened his tie, undid the top two buttons of his shirt, and let loose a huge breath. He had done it, and now he was going to celebrate. His car, a beat-up hand-me-down, started up, the engine roaring loudly.
“This time next week it’ll be a Lexus, by damn!” he said, his foot heavy on the accelerator as he pulled away from the curb and headed out of the city, west towards Denver.
Blackmail was a delicate thing, but Danny had handled it with a light touch, never giving an ultimatum, just reminding his boss of how much he had to lose if the information went public. Dirty deals and fraud. Danny had found the tip of the iceberg and dug in, discovering a laundry list of inflated real estate, payoffs, and irregular cost expenditures. Even a sorry tale of investors swindled out of their money. He had taken his time, realizing the gold mine at his fingertips. Right about now, Danny was sure that his boss was ruing the day Kurgen Real Estate had hired him for the accounting job.
And at a fire sale, by God. That measly $50k a year he made at Kurgen was barely enough to cover expenses, live a little, and pay the minimum on his student loans. Those damned student loans. The college tuition, books, and campus housing had taken up the bulk of the $167k. Sure, he had taken an extra year to finish college after spending most of his first-year guzzling beer at keggers and frat parties. Hell, that’s what college is for, right? Party all night, drink a couple of V8s and sit in the back of class and hope to God the professor doesn’t pick on you.
He had lived off that government-backed loan money. Now it had come due and it cost more than his basic living expenses combined. And that was just the minimum payment!
The briefcase on the front passenger seat included a banded stack of Benjamins that he was going to make use of, living it up while spending a weekend on the slopes with several of his buddies from his alma mater, Denver University.
As he settled in on I-70, he set the cruise control and turned up the volume on the aging radio. Maybe a Beemer instead of a Lexus. I could handle making some payments, build up my credit.
The road was clear; he’d gotten a late start, and most of the folks heading out of town for the weekend were well on their way. The cars left on the road were sparse and well-spaced, yet Danny didn’t notice the white van following at a discreet distance. His mind was busy tallying the costs for a case of Grey Goose vodka and the huge bag of weed he was planning to splurge on. That would show his frat brothers that he wasn’t such a loser after all.
His buddy Zach had started a business during college that mined data for the big-time online retailers and ended up selling the company for millions last year. He had lorded it over them, and given half a chance, he told them over and over how his new company was going to sell for quintuple his investment in a few years.
Jonesy wasn’t financially well-off, but he had a goddamn alpaca farm and a baby on the way, way up in some Podunk town in the Colorado mountains. He grew some fine weed on the side since alpacas didn’t pay squat. The weed was in better digs than Jonesy and his woman were in. They said they loved living in a yurt.
Yeah, sure they do.
Deep in a stand of trees, well covered and hidden from prying eyes, was a large barn, outfitted with the latest in lights. Jonesy had gotten off to a rocky start, but the week before had seen the biggest harvest yet, four friggin’ pounds of Sour Diesel. That asshole was in fucking hippie heaven, a friggin’ off-grid paradise on earth.
Then there was Mal. Mal hadn’t ever graduated, disappearing halfway through their fourth year, dropping out to travel the world and write a bestseller, by God, that everyone was talking about and reading. Mal had described the book as the biggest pile of monumental horseshit he could have possibly written. But now he was a friggin’ millionaire who lived out of hotels and couch-surfed his way through Europe. And, most recently, Australia and New Zealand, while writing about the folks he met and making an ass-ton of cash. And the load of pussy that dude got put them all to shame. It seemed that, short of being a brooding songwriter, writing a book and looking all melancholy and literate netted you more tail than you could shake a stick at.
Danny shook his head. Until the last few weeks, he had been in a depressive funk, alternating between hating his dad for insisting that he become an accountant all because I was good at Monopoly at age fucking ten and himself for letting the old bastard win. But following that trail of money, labyrinthine and hidden as it was, had been like winning the friggin’ jackpot. He might be in a “stifling, boring job working for The Man” - as Jonesy had so aptly described it - but he was going to be fucking rich.
“Ten percent of the take, that’s all I’m asking for,” he said out loud to the empty car, the words lost in the roar as the car hurtled down the highway. His lips moved silently as he ran the numbers again. It would turn his salary into chump change in comparison. Hell, I could get both a Mercedes and a Lexus. And fuck staying in that cruddy old apartment in Northeast; I’ll move to a loft in downtown instead.
He had copied all the data onto his laptop, and as a backup to the backup, he had also saved it to an SD card and his home computer. He had reassured his boss that the details of the corruption at Kurgen didn’t need to be aired. Oh no, he was happy to be included in the Ponzi schemes and more; he even had suggestions on how they could better hide these corrupt transactions so that their financial misdeeds were not only nearly impossible to find, but they could be multiplied exponentially. More money for both of them. He had smiled, charmed his flustered and tense boss, and told him that this wasn’t a bad thing, it was an opportunity.
Danny laughed out loud, the wind carrying it away. Hell, I was born for this. Dear old Dad had no idea how perfect of a career this would be for me. His dad had just wanted him out of the house. The teen years, followed by the endless college years of parties and smoking weed and playing video games had been a little too much for the old man. But he was from a different generation, after all, the generation that worked their fingers to the bone instead of making a few clicks on a computer and sitting back to rake in the dough. Dad wasn’t a bad guy; he just wasn’t very forward-thinking. Ya gotta make the money work for you, Dad, not sweat all day for a dollar.
As the hours passed and the radio stations faded into the distance, crackling with static and hiccups of voices, Danny shut the radio off, the mountains slowly rising around him, cutting off cell phone service completely until he reached a plateau of sorts. Ahead in the distance, in the thick darkness, he could see the lights from a car. It was pulled over on the side of the road.
Danny wasn’t the type to stop and help. Hell, he couldn’t even change a tire. But the sight of the scantily clad, hot-looking chick waving her arms at him had him hitting the brakes. He pulled over, his dented and worn Civic kicking up dust as he rolled to a stop. A friggin’ IROC with a flat rear left tire was attractive enough, but the girl, with her skimpy skirt and skin-tight shimmering metallic top, barely left anything to the imagination. The Lycra hugged every tanned curve, and she bounced and smiled at him with kohl-rimmed blue eyes. Her legs were encased in boots with stiletto heels and her dark hair fell in cascades of curls past her shoulders. She walked over to his window.
“Oh my God, thank you so much for pulling over!” Her hair spilled over, brushing his side mirror, as a wash of Juicy Couture perfume filled his nose and he became eye-level with her tits. Those cannot be real. They were huge and stood out like two missiles. He leaned forward, trying to catch an eyeful of her round ass.
Danny smiled. “Hey there.” Let me just bend you over that hood there. “Got a flat tire?”
She smiled at him, a pink tongue moistening her lips. “I do! I can’t even get a tow truck to come fix it.” She waved a cell phone in her left hand. “No service. I can’t get a single bar up here! Could you help me?”
Danny nodded, “Uh, sure, let me see if my phone has any service. You never know, sometimes the different providers have a wider reach and all.” He powered it on, checked the bars. “Well, shit.”
“Maybe if you get out of the car the grade goes up a few feet.” She suggested, wiggling her ass a little. Damn, but this girl was smoking hot. He stepped out of the car.
How hard could it be to change a tire? I’ll bet if I did, she’d let me tap that sweet ass.
A few steps up didn’t make a bit of difference. He tried his phone again, getting no love, not one bar of service. By then, bright beams from another vehicle lit the road up.
The headlights were set higher; perhaps it was a truck. He waved his arms and the vehicle slowed, pulling over next to them. Nope, it wasn’t a truck, but a plain white van instead. The side door slid open and the dull dome light inside lit up two men, crouching on what looked like a plastic covered floor.
“Hey, would you guys be able to help change this tire?” he asked, walking towards them.
There were two loud pops like the sound of a backfiring car. Danny heard them, but didn’t understand why his steps were slowing, faltering, as a bloom of red filled his shirt and searing pain obscured all rational thought. He looked down, his fingers shaking as he pulled them away from his shirt, covered in blood. He didn’t understand. His legs buckled beneath him and he crumpled to the ground in a heap, legs twisting underneath, head slamming into the gravel.
He lay there, the sharp gravel digging into his back. He could see the hot chick approach, a dull gray handgun in one hand. She wasn’t smiling anymore. She tilted her head, eyes assessing him, saying nothing.
Danny heard shoes crunching on gravel. “Shit, Zella, now there’s blood on the ground. We needed this to be a clean hit. You couldn’t wait for five more seconds, could you?” One of the men stood over him now, his eyes as cold as the woman’s. “You saw the plastic was all laid out, for fuck’s sake.”
Above Danny, the night sky was filled with stars.
“I didn’t like the way he looked at me,” she said, her voice barely showing emotion.
One of them was red-hued and seemed bigger than the rest. That had to be Mars.
“Well, how did he look at you Zell?” the second man asked, appearing in Danny’s line of sight.
He watched a flash of light fill the sky. He had never seen a shooting star before, but Danny was pretty sure he had just seen one now. He watched it light a path down, down, down before disappearing behind a mountain in the distance.
“Like he wanted to fuck me.”
Maybe if he made a wish, it would be granted. And he would wake up and realize this was all a bad dream.
Both men laughed.
“What’s so funny?” she asked, narrowing her gaze, her long, slender fingers tapping out a rhythm on the gun.
Coldness was spreading, radiating from his chest, to his arms, creeping up his fingers.
“Zella, everyone wants to fuck you,” the other man said. “We just don’t wanna get fuckin’ murdered afterward.” He turned back towards the other man. “What are those damned insects, the ones that bite off their mate’s head during sex?”
He snapped his fingers. “Yeah. That. You’re a fucking praying mantis, Zella. Or a black widow. It’s a wonder you ever get laid.”
Zella stared at him impassively. “Whatever. He stared at my tits too long.” She aimed the gun at Danny’s head and pulled the trigger.
The stars turned to black.
“Damn it, Zella. You clean that shit up. Fuck if there aren’t brains to clean up now. That’s on you. We weren’t supposed to leave any evidence. Hank and I will get the meat.” He picked up Danny’s legs and motioned for Hank to grab his arms. Together they hauled Danny Witt’s corpse into the van and slammed the door shut.
“Heads up.” the third man, still in the driver’s seat of the van, said, as headlights flashed in the distance.
The first man turned to Hank. “You’re up. Inflate the tire, take care of dumping the car, and then catch a ride with Zella.”
“’Long as that crazy bitch don’t try to waste me too,” he muttered, grunting as he straightened up, checking for blood spatter on his clothes.
“I heard that.” Zella was rinsing her fingers with some water from her Contigo, having tossed several handfuls of bloody gravel and a piece of skull over the edge of the precipice a few feet away. She smiled at him, her teeth gleaming in the gloom. It was a predatory and dangerous look. “Wanna see my tits?”
The man resisted a shudder even as his dick jumped in his pants at the thought of Zella’s pair of perfect tits. If he ever did get to see them it would probably also be the last thing he saw before he died. Zella was like a black widow and far too crazy to mess with. “Nah, I’m good.” He avoided looking in her eyes.
She grinned, baring her white teeth. Her incisors looked sharp in the moonlight.
The beams of light sliced through the night; the car was closer now. The van pulled away, a shower of gravel in its wake as it sped up, matching highway speed.
Hank turned to the business of re-inflating the IROC’s tire as another car slowed down and stopped. Inside were a young couple, with two kids in the backseat. The wife rolled her window down, a bright smile on her face, “Hi there, need any help?”
“Nah, we got it handled.” Hank could see Zella’s hand twitching, her fingers busy caressing the handgun she held just behind her slim, muscled back.
The husband leaned forward, ogling the IROC, and Zella.
Hank closed his eyes, oh buddy, you do not want to do that.
“Almost got it. No worries.”
“Daddy, Daddy!” a small boy yelled from the back, “Deer’s blood on the ground, Daddy! See all the red?”
Zella stepped closer to the car, a predatory smile painted on her face, her even white teeth gleaming. “There was a deer. It ran off.”
“Oh Benny, don’t look at that!” the kid’s mom said. “Poor little deer.”
The dad persisted; his eyes focused on Zella’s tits. Her hand caressed the gun now tucked in her waistband. “I got a decent jack in the trunk.”
Hank stepped forward. It was one thing to waste the target, but a whole family? Zella was itching for another round. “I got it,” he said with a little more force. “Almost done.”
“You heard the man, Patrick,” the woman in the passenger seat said, her mouth pursed in disapproval at how her husband was staring at Zella. “He’s got it. Let’s go, or we won’t get to my sister’s until after midnight.”
Hank breathed a sigh of relief when the small car, at the urging of the wife, finally pulled away.
Far from Colorado, a phone rang. The room was dark. “What is your status?”
“It’s done. I got another guy taking care of the files at his apartment,” Hank updated the voice on the other end.
“Excellent.” The voice was smooth, emotionless. Hank could hear keys clicking in the background. “Your fee has been paid in full.”
“I appreciate it.” He listened as the phone line clicked. The boss didn’t waste words. He nodded in Zella’s direction. “Time to go.”
She smiled at him. It made his skin crawl. “I’ll drive.”
Hank nodded and said nothing. Next job, I’ll be damned if I’m getting stuck with this crazy bitch. He settled into the car and cinched his seatbelt into place as she accelerated, wheels spinning, engine screaming, onto the dark highway.
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