Jamie locked the bathroom door and slid herself inside the oval soaking tub, filled with scented, turquoise water. She leaned back against the bath pillow and faced the steam-glazed mirror that caught the glow from a cranberry candle. The thrum of steady rain against the bathroom skylight quelled the sound of distant traffic.
She let her thoughts drift on autopilot, reflecting on the simple life she’d enjoyed in her twenties. A time devoid of Alan Blanchart, uncluttered by a wife’s responsibilities and life’s unpredictable nature; a time with no one to care for but herself, when the world revolved around her own pleasures.
Unaccustomed to romance, she’d gained more experience from books than from personal knowledge. She shared her life with Alan Blanchart, and her commitment to uphold the vows of matrimony through the good times and the bad. Yet despite her promise, she couldn’t deny the rekindled sense of longing she’d felt in the presence of the handsome car wash attendant who stirred a dormant passion inside her.
She slid a wet washcloth from her shoulder to her naked chest, rubbing her flat abdomen in small circles to massage the area below her navel and north of her waxed pubic region.
She spread her legs in the moisturized effervescence, reliving the moment when she brushed against the rugged stranger and felt an instant, almost indescribable connection.
She closed her eyes and imagined a forbidden kiss. Her fingers traced along her erogenous zone, provoking sensations she hadn’t enjoyed for most of her married life. She moaned softly, her inhibitions subsiding in the sanctuary of her warm bath. Stimulated by a feather touch, she awakened a sensual craving induced by a guilty pleasure—abruptly ended by an incoming call.
She dried her hands on a bath towel and reached for her cell phone on the toilet lid. “Hi there,” she greeted Alan, his name prominently displayed on the caller ID.
“You sound out of breath,” Blanchart said through the speakerphone in his cruiser.
“I’m taking a bath. Are you coming home?”
“Not yet. Did you see the dermatologist?”
“I did. I’m on the schedule for next week.”
Blanchart typed a Web address on the laptop keyboard in his cruiser. “Did you get the car washed?”
Jamie thought about her answer. “I did, but it rained. I’ll have to go back again.”
“Did you get the mail?”
“It’s on the table.”
“Not today. A few bills came. I recycled the junk mail.”
“Samantha called again. She keeps asking to come down for my birthday.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her I’d have to talk to you.”
A long silence came over the phone. Jamie heard a voice in the background. “Are you still there?” she asked.
Blanchart spoke in a monotone voice, preoccupied with the Website content. “Samantha’s important to you, so she’s important to me. If she wants to come see you, let her come. Don’t let me stand in the way.”
“Really?” Jamie said incredulously.
“You’re my wife. It’s your birthday.”
“Thank you,” said Jamie. “It means a lot to me.” She pressed the phone against her ear to compensate for the weak signal. “You still there?”
“I have to go,” said Blanchart, tersely. “Make sure you set the alarm.”
“And don’t forget to blow the candle out. Those things will burn the house down.”
Jamie covered her breasts with the washcloth and slid beneath the waterline. She stared at the ceiling and felt her bath grow cold.
Leeland Marks drank Crystal at two in the morning, from a champagne flute in the back of a stretched Hummer limousine. Gold cuff links sparkled on the sleeves of his black Armani blazer. Grey whisker stubble outlined a budding goatee and mustache, adding chic with a pinch of sinister to the man who ruled a mounting empire.
An entrepreneur with the right connections to the right people at the right time, he built a thriving drug business from the ground up. Everything from manufacturing to distribution and sales came under his purview. Expenses were down with revenues at triple digits and rising steadily from increased demand for his methamphetamine product. Drawing from raw talent and years of MBA experience, he acquired new properties and expanded his market base from a single West Coast operation to a network of high-volume kitchens established in low-rent, high-yield locations across the country.
In less than three years, he emerged from the rubble of a Wall Street layoff to achieve unprecedented success. In three days, he’d negotiate the deal of the century and secure his position of power as the self-proclaimed CEO of a legitimate holding company laundering millions through private investment accounts.
“Don’t be such a downer,” he told the three-hundred-pound gorilla seated across from him. Leeland filled a second glass and pushed it toward the heavy-set bodyguard with a bald head, a diamond stud earring, and a canvas of tribal tattoos circumnavigating his bulging biceps.
“I don’t drink,” the bodyguard said in a grave voice. He carried a pair of Smith & Wesson SW99s in a leather shoulder rig decked out with magazines of hollow-point .45s.
Leeland downed the second glass himself. “For five grand a week you should squawk like a fucking chicken if I tell you to. My success is our success. I wouldn’t be here without your help.” He powered down the tinted window and tossed the empty bottle on the street. Then he pressed the chauffer intercom and said, “Turn at the flashing light.”
The Hummer scrubbed speed and hung a right at the three-way yellow, its massive tires crunching shrubs and fallen branches along the soggy road pummeled by an isolated thunderstorm. At the opposite end, the road opened to a pitch black clearing where an empty aircraft hangar sat near a private runway barely visible at night.
The bodyguard cocked his head back and forth. Tendons cracked and popped inside his massive neck. “They’re late.”
“They’ll be here,” said Leeland.
The bodyguard checked his watch. “It’s too quiet.”
“We’re on private property in the middle of jumbuck nowhere. It’s supposed to be quiet.”
The Hummer parked inside the hangar and the lights were killed.
Leeland dialed his cell phone and reached his wife’s voicemail. “Hey, baby,” he said. “Our flight’s delayed. Give the kids a hug for me. I’ll see you when I’m back.” He popped the cork on another bottle of Crystal. Foam drizzled down the glass and onto his lap. He turned to his minion. “Get me a towel.”
The bodyguard tossed a hand cloth at his boss and opened the door to get out. “I need a smoke.”
Leeland dabbed the cloth on his lap. “Don’t go far.” He poured his glass and set the bottle in the chiller. The party was over, but the night was young. A victim of his own temptation, he maintained a separate life on the road, fed by his desire for constant female attention and the lavish accoutrements his empire afforded him.
He opened a cocaine vial from his blazer pocket and snorted from the tip of his manicured pinky nail. The instant high jacked his energy level. Long on revelry and short on sleep, the bump kept him alert and on edge.
The plane’s delay clouded his head with paranoia. His patience waned. Everything was taking too long. Way too long. He’d doled out a lot of cash to secure reliable transportation. Transportation that failed to arrive on time. No one in a cartel family would stand for this treatment, he thought. Why should I?
He checked his watch.
The what ifs began to freefall.
Was I followed? Who else knew about the destination? Did I pick the wrong hangar? Why did Dutch leave the limo for a smoke? And what the fuck’s taking so long?
He pulled out a converted TEC-9 from a gym bag and tapped the chauffer window with the muzzle. “Stay here.”
Dirt crunched under Leland’s boots outside the Hummer. The smell of burned tobacco lingered in the humid air as he stepped over a pair of wheel chocks beside a grease stain embedded in the cracked concrete floor. An engine hoist stood inside a small workshop with a rolling tool chest and a pair of hundred gallon fuel drums. A chain and pulley hung from the rafters.
Leeland checked the empty runway and doubled back toward the hangar’s makeshift waiting room. He kicked the door open and charged inside, restraining his trigger finger from unleashing the TEC-9’s fury. A big screen television, wet bar, and plush leather chairs occupied the otherwise empty space. A chain and padlock secured the emergency exit.
The sound of footsteps brought him full circle to the workspace with the hundred gallon drums. He panned the submachine gun and signaled for the limo driver to stay put.
A shadow moved on the corrugated steel wall behind him.
A metallic clink made him jump.
“Jesus Christ!” he shouted at his bodyguard. “You scared the shit out of me!”
The bodyguard stowed his gold lighter and blew smoke. “Take it easy with that—”
“I nearly blew your fucking head off,” Leeland vented. He brushed a grease smear on his coat sleeve. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The Hummer revved loudly and sped away in reverse, leaving a patch of burned rubber in its tracks.
Greeted with the sound of police sirens, the bodyguard pulled the pair of .45s from his shoulder rig and fired at the flashing blue lights outside the hangar.
A deputy sheriff rammed the runaway limo while a second patrol car screeched to a stop. Cops scurried for cover like roaches in an all-night diner. Flash-bang grenades bounced inside the hangar and exploded.
Leeland fired a long burst from the thirty-six-round clip, stitching holes in the car blocking his exit.
The bodyguard ran sideways and shot at anything that moved. Bullets ricocheted through plumes of caustic smoke that followed him through the lethal mêlée. Empty brass clanged against the floor.
Leeland fired wildly, hitting everything but the human targets in front of him. “Kill them all!” he shouted without any inclination of how badly the odds played out. He ran toward the back room and slammed the door behind him. He propped a chair to block the entrance and turned his attention to the emergency exit.
He emptied the TEC-9 at the padlock and rammed his body at the exit door. He tossed the weapon and sprinted for the dense tree line a hundred yards from the hangar.
Out of breath and out of immediate danger, he glanced over his shoulder to glimpse at the chaos he abandoned. He ventured deeper into the woods before a round from a silenced .22 pierced his thigh muscle and lodged inside his femur.
Leeland dropped to the ground and pressed his hand on the burning wound. He crawled sideways on his good leg, pawing at the dirt with his free hand, his pants soaked in urine.
“Your flight’s been canceled,” said Blanchart, who emerged from the darkness wearing night vision goggles and a backpack with a folding shovel.
“Who are you?” Leeland asked.
Blanchart removed the goggles and let his eyes adjust to the natural moonlight. He compared the photo from his pocket to the suspect on the ground. “You’re a hard man to find.”
“I need a doctor!” cried Leeland. His heart raced from the drugs and adrenaline in his system.
“You need a lesson.” Blanchart waited for the sound of gunfire to subside. He kept his radio on mute. “You’ve been stepping on my product,” he said. He pressed his boot on Leland’s leg. “Who do you work for?”
“I need a name.”
“Fuck you!” Leeland hissed, the initial pain from the gunshot obscured by the mixture of alcohol and cocaine in his system. “You’re a dead man. I’ll kill your wife. I’ll kill your children. I’ll kill your fucking dog.”
Blanchart shot him in the kneecap.
This time the pain dropped a bomb on Leeland Marks like an ax split his leg in half.
“I need a name,” said Blanchart.
Leeland cowered at the base of a tree, his leg on fire from the bullet lodged between his bone and tendons. “I want a lawyer!”
“That ship’s sailed. I can’t help you unless you let me.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?”
Blanchart aimed the silencer at Leland’s good leg.
“Who hired you?” Leeland asked in desperation. “Whatever they’re paying you I’ll double it. I’ll triple it!”
“I need a name.”
“There is no fucking name,” Leeland cried. “I run the operation myself.”
Blanchart fired at Leland’s other kneecap.
Leeland moaned in agony, his body incapacitated from strategically-placed shots to his lower limbs. “He’ll kill my family if I talk. I have a wife and kids. I’ll give you everything I have. Twenty million dollars. Cash.”
Blanchart knelt down beside his victim and pressed the silenced muzzle to Leland’s groin. “I need a name.”
“Uri Costa… He—he financed the operation. He has Columbian connections.”
“Where is he?”
“He works out of LA. I never met him face to face. That’s all I know. I swear…”
Blanchart aimed the gun at Leland’s head. “What else?”
“Give me your right hand,” said Blanchart.
Blanchart pressed the muzzle at Leland’s temple. “Give me your hand.”
Leeland let go of his wounded knee and extended a shaky arm to Blanchart.
Blanchart grabbed the arm and twisted sharply to lock the joints in a straight position. With control of the limb, he slid the gun in his holster and said, “Hold still.” He retrieved a pair of pruning shears from his zipper pocket and pressed the scissor blades to the base of Leland’s thumb. He squeezed hard to snip off the manicured digit in one cut.
Leeland screamed in agony.
“Almost there,” said Blanchart. He touched the blades to the base of the index finger and clamped down again, lopping the digit like a piece of dried kindling.
Leeland screamed as he clutched his three-finger hand. “You said… You said you’d help me.”
Blanchart pressed the muzzle to Leland’s forehead and pulled the trigger twice. “I just did.”