Snowy nature recedes, overtaken by stripes of copses mixed with green and brown fields. I keep my eyes on the road and she’s asleep next to me, her hands wrapped around her side.
This girl confuses me. It was yesterday night she fell asleep on that motel bed chuckling. How can she not care if she lives or dies? How, despite having a perfect chance, did she not kill me when I would kill me? How did she find the grit to wish me goodnight and then laugh about everything that’s happening?
Has she lost her mind?
Her murmur catches my attention. She woke and now a soft string of words I strain my ear to distinguish pours out her lips. The murmur is a prayer.
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…
I wonder if she’s religious, or just turned after I killed her sister.
I listen to her and, for some reason, it hurts. Hurts my ears. My chest. She hurts me.
She was supposed to plead for her life, not accept the demise.
…as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
“Who are you praying to?” I ask.
She shrugs. “God.” With disdain I tilt my head to the side and it gives me away. “You don’t have to tell me God’s not real.”
“You did, quietly.” She keeps her head forward. When I glance at her I can’t fail to notice longing stain her eyes and sun rays filter through her red hair, framing her face in light.
“It doesn’t matter what I say or think.”
“On your opinion, Mikey,” an exhale leaves her lips as if she’s having a conversation with a five-year-old, “depends my life. Or doesn’t rather.”
Stop calling me that, I almost grind out but figure if I want her to stop I best ignore her.
She touches her cheek and flinches. The bruise from my hit is impossible to conceal, as is the nagging feeling that I shouldn’t have done it. I’m not a torturer. Never was. I didn’t throw her into a corner unattended and starve her. She chose not to eat herself. I didn’t do many things I could’ve done to her.
I clutch the wheel, leather squeaking under my fingers, and try to convince myself I didn’t bring her pain but for that one hit. Yet deep inside something disturbing hauls otherwise. It unnerves me when I realize it’s been begging for attention my whole life.
“You okay?” She utters, her head turned to me. It irks me.
“Shut up and don’t talk.” The tone of my voice cuts and she turns away, curling into herself.
The sooner I get rid of her the better.
I drive all day and only stop a few times at the lonely gas stations for refills. For the night I tie her up in the backseat of my car and, to my dismay, she doesn’t protest or gives me any other signs that she cares to live.
The following day turns hotter as we near the border. I follow the road signs I know will lead me into a little town where Stewmaker hides out. When it comes to disposing of unneeded bodies this small organization is the best. The word goes it’s run by a mafia family, not even Mexican but Russian. Good for me, as long as they eliminate freckles here.
The girl. I should call her the girl. Not Hanna. Not freckles. Even though her face is dotted in quite a handful I resentfully admit them to be cute. Those dots were the first thing I noticed when I saw her up-close.
She begins shifting in her seat when we enter a dusty road into the town— a suburban kind with a dozen low and ruined houses, hardly residential. One or two pedestrians shuffle along the side of the road, their clothes tarnished and guns poking from behind the waistlines of their pants.
I take a right and pull up behind a complex of close-by buildings, resembling long shacks. I’ve been here twice with Jared when he had some bodies to dispose of.
“Turn around,” I tell her once I shut the engine. With a deep breath of acceptance, she pivots, placing her hands behind her back. “There’s nowhere to run if you try.” She doesn’t bother to reply or just keeps shut like I ordered her.
Once I tie her bandaged wrists I pull her out and, holding her in front of me, cross a dusty alley between the buildings, keeping a sharp eye on my surroundings. I have to squint as with approaching nightfall the coarse wind picks up, blowing dust through the narrow passage.
I rap on a metal door, an only entrance in a middle of a long windowless wall. A minute later it cracks and a scruffy man gives us a once over. “Why she not dead?” He asks in a thick Russian accent and freckles backs away until she bumps into me. “We don’t sell them anymore.”
“I need you to kill her,” I tell him.
Russian furrows his brows. “Oh, it’s you. Michael, right?” I tense at his words. “Jared called me.”
“Said you’re in trouble.”
I glare at him, squinting from the onslaught of blowing dust that gets caught in my eyebrows and hair. “So will you take her or not?”
Russian runs his tongue over his teeth. “Come in.” I push her into a dirty and small foyer with another open door that leads into the main part of the building. The man twists back and screams through the doorway. “Garry, bring the bag. The small one!”
“What?” She yelps. “No! Oh my God, no!” She presses herself against me, her wet eyes pleading. “Please, shoot me! Please! I’m begging you!”
I don’t say a thing when Russian pulls her away from me and throws her into a nearby chair. His partner, Garry, comes with a plastic bag which he swiftly pulls over her head.
I turn away, all but lifting my palms to clamp my ears shut. She trashes behind me, fighting for breath. Her suffocating gasps cut my head and I will myself to stay in place, fighting the urge to ask them to shoot her.
Three minutes isn’t that long, I repeat to myself. It’ll be over soon.
But every second drags and I can’t help but count them.
Two sturdy sets of footsteps step into the foyer and plastic rustles behind me. I swerve just as two men reach for me from behind, trying to grab me. One of the big Russians rams me back first into the wall and I pull my gun before another one snatches my arms. Barrel digging deep into his beer belly I shoot, then kick him in the groin and bend my arm in perfect time to shot another man through the chin. Before both of them drop I raise my weapon at Garry who’s holding the bag over Hanna’s head. His head jerks from the bullet and he slumps to the ground. The scruffy Russian, who stood next to Garry, backs off.
“Pull it off of her!” My ears ringing, I point the barrel at him. He pulls the bag off her head and steps away to the doorway. Freckles slides to the ground in a furious coughing fit. “What the fuck!” I spit at the Russian. “What did Jared tell you?”
“Jared has put you on radar,” he answers, his words thick. “A good reward for you, dead or alive. Preferably dead.”
Jared never would. Or I was being stupid and imagined he valued me more than he ever did.
Footsteps approach the doorway from within the house. Three armed men appear behind Russian’s back, about to enter the foyer, their guns raised at me.
With a corner of my eye I see freckles lift her leg at the open door. “Shoot him!” She kicks it closed in front of the three men.
I shoot Russian in the head and ram my shoulder into the door, click the lock, shutting us in the foyer. Shots pepper the metal from the other side, but the door holds firm.
I pull out my knife and cut her bonds. “Back to the car if you want to live.” I help her to her feet, but her legs wobble, and she lists like grass in the wind. Fuck, she hasn’t eaten for three days. I forgot.
Just leave her here, I tell myself. Save yourself. They’ll kill her, one way or another.
But I can’t. God save me, a murderer I am, but I hate torture.
“You have to walk.” I straighten her by her upper arms.
Before I know it she ducks down to Russian’s dead body. She snatches a small gun from behind the waistband of his jeans and extends her arm at me. I dodge on instinct, covering my head as the bullet hits the wood-paneled wall behind me with a creaky bam, and leap outside into the sandstorm. Voices echo from the nearby buildings, indicating the incoming reinforcements.
So, lifting my t-shirt to cover my mouth and nose, I leave her to her beloved God’s will and dash back to my car.