Troy slouched over the chaffing bar, cursing when wood chips clung to his forearms. Then he peered over his shoulder for the tenth time. Strangers played pool in a dim corner while lapping down beers. Others were enticed by the 80-inch flat screen that blared blowing whistles and a screaming crowd.
Troy dropped his face into his palms. Thoughts of Sheriff Brody hauling him off to prison in front of his patients made his stomach flip.
I’d get the death penalty for sure.
And no one would miss him. Troy’s wife left him, forcing him into a studio apartment. And their daughter, Haley, dropped out of medical school that he paid for in full. He cringed at the idea of selling his practice to a stranger. His family life had been disappointing, to say the least.
Troy kicked himself for being back at Freddy’s. But he couldn’t help it. It reminded him of that night when the timid man within him died.
That night, weeks ago, he’d hooted and hollered with bar patrons as his tab swelled.
Then she floated pass, leading a chattering entourage.
Her sweet hazel eyes glistened in the rainbow lights from the juke box. Her light brown skin reminded him of his morning coffee. Her long, straight dark hair caressed her petite figure. She could’ve been a super model.
Troy watched as she and her friends filled the worn-down leather booth in the far corner.
His heart thumped against his chest every time her squeaky laugh filled the bar. Nina was what her friends called her.
He wanted to approach her. But then thought better of it. His face was riddled with craters and dents. His head glistened brighter than Nina’s smile. Then there was his alcohol-laden breath.
Troy’s heart raced at the thought of sleeping alone again. He shouldn’t have to. Especially because of the things he’s done for others. Where was his prize?
He deserved Nina. And he was going to have her… no matter what.
Troy was sucking down another beer when Nina pushed through the heavy door and stepped outside, alone. He slid through the bar and followed. Being on the dead part of the highway had its perks. There was nothing but dark, flat desert.
Troy peered around the corner of the building and found Nina pacing alongside it. Her face illuminated as she fiddled with her phone and dragged on a cigarette. When she turned away from him, he crept up behind her. Nina flinched when he clasped her mouth. She threw her weight around, forcing them to topple over. Sand and rocks stabbed him as he wrestled for control, but she fought like hell. Finally, Troy managed to get a firm arm around her neck, incapacitating her with a choke hold. He shoved her unconscious body into his jeep and drove off into the night thankful that no one had seen them.
Nina’s petrified hazel eyes dripped tears. Her hands clawed and punched at his flesh. Her body quivered and her screams muffled underneath his handkerchief. That night, weeks ago, Troy was in control for the first time. And it felt good.
But there was nothing like the killing blow. Troy could still feel the rough sandy stone in his hands all these weeks later. And images of sand coating Nina’s lifeless body still made his heart jump.
And he had gotten away with it. No one in town mentioned anything about a missing girl. Were the cops even looking for her?
Troy nearly hopped up when four girls shuffled pass, bumping his stool in their haste.
“Sorry,” a blonde giggled.
Troy flashed a half smile.
The girls continued to the dingy mahogany booth under the wall light. Troy watched as their faces glowed through their laughter.
The girls were fresh, beautiful, and unsuspecting―just like Nina was.
Troy smirked. He hated to admit it, but he developed a sickening thirst and the opportunity to feed was presenting itself yet again.
All he had to do was wait.
Troy was barreling through a bottle of Two-Hearted when one of the girls rose from the table. Her pale face and deep red hair glowed, radiating her youthful and carefree spirit. She wrapped a white jacket around her petite figure.
“I’ll be right back. Tyler’s calling,” she giggled as her friends scoffed and snickered.
She glanced at Troy with those big gray eyes and flashed an apologetic smile.
He smiled back.
The heavy door slammed shut behind her allowing the wind to kick up the sand in the doorway.
Time to go.
Troy dropped a crumbled twenty and ten-dollar bill onto the sticky chipping bar. He lifted himself and followed her sweet scent.
Troy pushed through the door hoping to find her face planted in her phone. Whirls of sand rode the breeze. Insects and reptiles chanted their night songs. The road was dark and abandoned which was normal at that hour.
Where are you, sweetie?
Troy flinched when a shuttering motor crashed the space around him. He smiled to himself as he crept along the brick wall using it to hold him upright.
He peered around the corner. In the dark parking lot sat four vehicles including his Jeep. The engine of a classic Dodge Challenger roared right next to it.
I guess, if that’s what the kids are into these days.
Troy’s penny loafers crunched against the gravel as he inched closer. He squinted, failing to make out the silhouette in the driver’s seat.
Suddenly, a blow came down on the back of his head. A surge of pain shot down his spine as he lost his footing. Troy’s face smacked the gravel ridden ground.
Then it went dark.
Troy could barely move as pulsating pain throbbed in harmony with his speeding heart. He lay on his stomach with his arms and legs hog-tied with a hemp rope. Duct tape gripped his mouth.
Troy’s body bounced, slamming down into the carpeted trunk. He hoped he could hold his vomit.
“How’d you find her in four days? I’ve been searching for weeks!” a man’s stuffy voice rose over the screaming engine.
“She wasn’t that hard to find,” replied a man with a softer voice.
Then there was silence.
Troy’s heart rate picked up. His breath got heavy. Sweat trickled down his face.
Were these guys cops? No. Cops didn’t knock out and transport criminals in trunks. Were they robbers? Troy was the only doctor in town after all. They’d be sick when they found out he was broke.
“What makes you think he buried her out here?” said the stuffy man.
“Because I know what I’m doing.”
The stuffy man chuckled. “You’ve never been one for conversations.”
“Exactly what I always say. But people don’t get it.”
“No. I just hate small talk.”
“I wouldn’t say this is small talk. It’s more of―”
“Stop here,” blurted the man with the calm voice.
Troy’s head screamed as the shovel slammed into him when the car came to an abrupt stop.
When the trunk shrieked open, Troy was staring down the barrel of a shotgun and a tall pudgy figure lurched over him.
Troy squinted to make out the silhouettes that hovered over him, but his piercing headache blurred his vision, smudging out all details against the dark sky.
The pudgy figure lifted Troy by the rope that bound his arms and ankles and sent his face and chest slamming into the ground.
Troy let out a muffled howl as the man’s boot slammed into his back.
“Didn’t think we’d find you?” The fat man slammed his toe into Troy’s chest. Troy grunted up a mouth full of blood. He merely passed out from the pain and the warm metallic tasting liquid trapped behind the tape. Though nauseating, he forced himself to swallow it.
Troy braced himself for the slender man to join in on the assault. But he was busy buffing a pistol with the sleeve of his black hoodie.
“Why’d you do it?” The heavy man asked as he kicked Troy in the stomach. Troy screamed as the jolting pain took his gut.
The slender man with the pistol grunted. “He can’t answer because there’s tape on his mouth.”
“I know that!” The fat man marched over to the man with the gun. “I don’t even know why you’re here, Wade. This is personal.”
“Well, Marvin,” Wade began, “If you were doing your job then I wouldn’t have to be here.” Wade kept shining his pistol while leaning against the Challenger.
“I can’t be in a million places at once! I’m not his kid’s babysitter!”
“Isn’t that what Frank was paying you to do?” Wade asked finally looking at Marvin. “Your boss has enemies from here to fucking Bangkok. You can’t blame him for hiring someone to protect his kids.” Wade scoffed. “Look, I was hired to find out what happened to Nina. And I did. Now, I’m assisting you with recovery. If you have a problem with me doing my job, take it up with Frank. Until then, fuck off.”
Troy’s heart sank. How did they find out about what he’d done? Who was Nina besides the beautiful girl he abducted, humiliated, and murdered? His breathing grew hesitant as Marvin peered down at him.
“Let’s get this over with.” Marvin spat. Then he looked back at Wade. “I’ll deal with you later.”
Marvin grabbed the shovels and slammed the trunk shut. Then he crouched next to Troy. His long silky black hair and silver nose ring glinted. “We know you buried her out here. You’re going to show us where. Understand?”
Troy lifted his face from the desert floor and nodded with whatever energy he could muster.
Marvin took out a pocket knife and cut the rope from Troy’s ankles. Troy wobbled as blood rushed to his limbs when he was lifted to his feet. The white sand illuminated as the full moon lit up the sky. Nina was buried straight ahead within a maze of sand dunes.
How did they know I buried her here?
Troy shivered as the chilly wind caressed his leaking face. He swallowed and choked on blood as he blinked away sand that clung to eyes. He grunted through the pain as he limped forward.
After a while of climbing dunes and maneuvering through weeds and wild flowers, Troy stopped. He mumbled through the duct tape while nodding at an obscure hump in the ground.
Marvin shoved past him, sending his bruised body pounding into the earth. Troy cringed as sand kicked up around him.
Marvin dug at the mound with a shovel, eating through the sand at high speed. Wade was nowhere in sight.
This is your chance. Run!
Troy winced as he turned onto his stomach. He dug his knees into the ground, lifting his sore body upward.
Gun fire smacked the air. A fiery, stinging sensation ripped through Troy’s ear lobe.
Troy let out a muffled scream as he belly-flopped into the sand.
“You missed!” Marvin said teasingly while digging himself deeper into Nina’s grave.
Wade crouched next to Troy and wrapped the rope around his ankles and arms hog tying him, again. Then he holstered the pistol and grabbed the other shovel.
After a while, Troy found himself resting face down in a sandy puddle of blood. He drifted in and out, but refused to sleep. With the blood loss, he might never wakeup. He whimpered as he watched the men dig into Nina’s grave.
Wade’s short dark hair and green eyes glinted in the moonlight as he rose from beneath the earth. He shoved the shovel into a mound of sand then turned toward the hole while patting sand away from his jeans.
“What’re you doing? We didn’t find her yet so keep digging, asshole,” Marvin bellowed from beneath.
Wade sneakered and then sighed. “She’s not here.”
“What the hell are you talking about? This prick said she was here!”
“I mean, she was here, but she’s not anymore. I took her to Frank a few days ago.” Wade drew the pistol and the crack of gunfire pierced the peaceful desert. Dark splotches of brain matter splayed from Marvin’s head before he fell out of view.
Troy winced as he squirmed across the ground. But he didn’t get far before Wade’s boot slammed down on his head. He was sure his skull had cracked.
Wade gripped Troy’s polo collar and dragged him across the sand. Troy choked and screamed as small stones ripped at his skin. Wade released Troy and kicked him into the hole.
Bits of sand hugged Troy’s wound and it stung like hell. His head howled as he tried to fight his way out. But all attempts failed. He lay helpless as his arms and legs were bound and wedged between Marvin’s corpse and the wall.
Wade pounded the shovel into the mound and glared down at Troy.
“Let me start by saying sorry about the shotgun. It was just for show. I was kind of pissed because I had to leave Puerto Rico to come to the middle-of-nowhere New Mexico. Excuse me if I’m a bit rough.” Wade scooped and dumped sand on Troy’s numbing knees.
“Have you ever been to San Juan?” Wade continued. “It’s awesome! The scenery and culture take my breath away.”
Troy huffed and squirmed as Wade dumped sand into his face.
“And the women. Man, let’s just say they are… um.” Wade chuckled as he dumped sand onto Troy’s chest. “And the beaches…”
Troy’s pounding heart drowned out Wade’s pointless banter. The excruciating pain that came with every breath made him wrench. He huffed and whimpered as grains of sand went up his nose and clung to the hole in his face.
The last shred of moonlight disappeared as the sand clung to the blood, sweat and tears around his eyes, pasting them shut.
Nina’s puffy hazel eyes and bruised light brown face haunted his conscience. He couldn’t imagine finding Haley’s battered body in the desert floor. And that was if he got lucky enough to find her. His heart throbbed and his stomach buckled as he choked on blood.
I’m so sorry, Nina.
Wade’s voice became muffled as the sand got heavier. And Troy braced himself as he sucked in his last ounce of air.