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Sacred-Prey_icont
Hannover House
Fiction, Literary Suspense
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Excerpt

FLOWER

PREJUDICE, n.

A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

 

Chapter One

THE BAYOU moaned in the darkness like a vast creature hungry for life to feed the voices of its dead. A dirt road, illuminated by bright moonlight, cut through the black swamp of southern Louisiana. It was completely still, except for the night sounds of the wooded area.

A low rumble began in the distance. Then, like a flash, a Pontiac sped past, leaving a tremendous dust cloud in its wake. Particles of clay clung to the humid air muffling the whine of the disappearing car. Just as the sound subsided, a rattling old Ford raced by in pursuit. Moments later, the headlights of a sleek Lincoln Continental cut through the increasingly thick dust cloud created by the two previous cars.

Adam Claiborne, seated on the passenger side of the Lincoln, stared intently ahead, trying desperately to see the taillights of the car in front of him. As he was carried deeper and deeper into the dense swamp, he felt a weight bearing down on his chest. He loosened his silk tie, but it was still impossible to breathe. The dust was becoming unbearable. His green eyes narrowed and then began to tear.

“Jesus,” he mumbled.

He looked over at his brother, Kyle, who excitedly steered the car. The speedometer light shone up from the dashboard giving Kyle’s sharp, rugged features a distorted appearance. Adam noticed that the chilling malevolence had returned to his brother’s eyes. Only moments earlier those same brown eyes were pathetic and near tears. Kyle was responsible for the mess they were in and had begged for Adam’s forgiveness.

When younger, the two brothers had often been mistaken for twins, but those days had long since disappeared. Adam had matured into a raven-haired, handsome man. He was refined, graceful, and prided himself on his self-restraint. Kyle, on the other hand, was long and wiry and his face bore two sides: one of a small disillusioned child and the other of a man obsessed with his own destruction and the destruction of all around him. As Adam looked into the dark face, he felt a sick souring of his stomach and looked away.

“Roll up your window for Christ’s sake,” he said quietly, reaching his hand to his sweating brow. He stared out at the black bayou as it whipped past.

Kyle obediently closed the window while easily maintaining control of the speeding car. “Those old babies can fly, can’t they?” he asked, looking anxiously over at Adam. He noticed the tiny beads of sweat forming on his brother’s forehead.

Adam felt Kyle’s scrutinizing gaze. “What the hell are you looking at?” he demanded.

Kyle quickly put his eyes back on the road. Just then a rock spit up from the car in front of them and popped against the windshield. A tiny crack appeared at the base of the window and with each jolt ran slowly upward.

Gradually, the dim taillights of the old Ford began to fade and then disappeared.

“We’re losing them,” Adam warned.

“I can’t go any faster,” Kyle said, keeping the gas pedal mashed to the floor.

Adam leaned even further forward straining to see through the dark cloud. He clutched down on the leather dash as if the repositioning of his body would pull the car forward. “I can’t see a damn thing,” he grumbled, rubbing his eyes.

The outside roared past as the two men stared tensely ahead in anticipation. Suddenly, the rear end of the old car was before them, completely still in the middle of the road.

“Watch out!” screamed Adam.

Kyle cranked the wheel to the side, narrowly missing the huge obstacle. He bore down on the brakes, but to little avail. The momentum of the Lincoln carried it forward. The tail end whipped around, and they were soon spinning in a cloud of gravel and dust. Finally, as if stopping by choice, the Lincoln came to rest about a hundred feet in front of the old Ford, facing perfectly forward on the road. Kyle looked back in amazement.

“Am I good or am I perfect?” he asked.

Adam, who was more concerned with the task at hand than Kyle’s luck at driving, looked back through the settling dust. The Ford sat eerily abandoned in the middle of the road with the passenger door left open.

“Why the hell did they stop here?” Adam asked, glancing around the surrounding swamp land. “There’s nothing around for miles.”

A shrewd smile made its way across Kyle’s face. He loved a good game of cat and mouse and the mouse seemed to be cooperating. “Pure stupidity,” he said with relish.

“Back up,” Adam ordered, annoyed by Kyle’s enthusiasm. It reminded Adam of the way their father was always in a good mood after disciplining them. Although he knew the couple had to be eliminated, he felt it somehow sinful to take pleasure in the undertaking.

Kyle put the Lincoln in reverse and slowly backed toward the stationary car, coming to rest twenty feet from it. As Adam removed a pistol from his finely tailored jacket, Kyle quickly untucked a gun from his belt at the back of his pants.

Adam looked over at his younger brother. “I fire the first shot,” he warned.

The two men slowly stepped from the Lincoln, guns drawn, ready to fire. Adam led the way as they cautiously began moving toward the Ford, the unnerving crunch of gravel beneath his feet making his pulse race. Even up close, the windows of the vehicle were so dusty he couldn’t see if anyone was inside. As he edged inward, the car buzzer set off by the open door grew to a screech. At last, he saw that the car was empty.

“Jesus,” he said under his breath, annoyed by the violent thumping in his chest. He hated those rare occasions when he wasn’t in control. “Pull out those damn keys,” he snapped.

Kyle grabbed the keys, immediately putting an end to the shrieking buzz.

“Look here,” Adam said, pointing to the ground surrounding the passenger’s side of the car. In the soft soil were several footprints leading directly into the dark swamp.

Kyle smiled. “Unbelievably stupid,” he said, shaking his head.

“Come on,” said Adam.

With Adam in the lead, the two men began weaving their way through the dense cypress marsh as quickly as possible. They both hated the swampland and were not the least bit interested in sticking around. Having been raised in the city of New Orleans, they found the unfamiliar sounds and darting terrain threatening, especially in the dark of night.

Kyle followed behind his brother, jumping at every other sound, wheeling around with his pistol in hand. He was terrified of snakes and knew there must be one hanging from every tree and coiled under every rock, waiting to slither onto the back of his neck or wrap its winding body around his leg. His most recurring nightmare was that he was backed against a wall and someone was holding a snake inches from his neck. He would stare for what seemed like hours into the beady eyes of the creature as its scissoring tongue would come within a fraction of an inch of his skin. At all cost, he had avoided going anywhere that dream could possibly be realized. Now he found himself in a garden of reptiles where every hanging cypress limb was ready to coil.

“Jesus! Algiers is nothing compared to this shit,” he said as another shock of adrenaline shot through his body. “At least there you know what you’re shooting at.”

Ignoring his brother’s remarks, Adam continued through the woods. He never looked back to their days in the New Orleans ghetto. As one of the few who ever escape, he left his parents and that life when he was eighteen and had no intention of ever returning, even in his mind. Though Kyle went back often, Adam had not seen his parents in over twenty years and hated when his brother touched upon the forbidden subject.

 

...

MONIQUE SINCLAIR wondered if she would ever see her baby alive again. The thought was so terrifying that she felt too paralyzed to move. She was huddled in the upstairs attic of the old cabin with her husband, Charlie, at her side. They were crouched against a wall, periodically peeking through a clouded window to the outside. They had stumbled upon the abandoned structure about a mile from the road where they had left their dead Ford. While their clothing reflected poverty, it also spoke of the colorful culture found in the southern Cajun territories. Although Monique, who was in her early thirties, was older than her husband, the only sign of the six-year age difference was the hint of tiny lines around her beautiful emerald eyes. “Amy will be okay, won’t she?” she asked, even though she knew that he couldn’t possibly have the answer.

Charlie looked quietly at his wife. He was stricken with how childlike she appeared hunched in the corner with only the moonlight to form her features. For the first time ever, she needed him to take command of the situation, and he was terrified that he would fail. Whenever a crisis had arisen in the past, Monique was always the strong one, the one who took care of everything.

“She’ll be f-f-fine,” he stuttered, instantly disappointed with himself for not being able to speak clearly even when his wife needed him more than ever.

Monique saw the sadness in her husband’s eyes as he looked away from her.

“I love you Charlie,” she whispered, turning his face back to her and smiling gently.

“I love you too, Moon,” he said.

He took her strong hands into his own and held them as if they were the finest of crystal. He looked down at her ungroomed nails and once again felt a desolate sadness. He had wanted to give her so much.

Just then, they both caught sight of the two men outside, quickly approaching the cabin.

Monique’s breath instantly stopped. “Oh Lord Jesus,” she uttered.

Charlie took his wife’s face into his hands. “You s-s-stay here,” he said then gently kissed her soft lips.

“Don’t go down there,” she said. “If we wait here, they might not find us.”

“Trust me,” he said, looking into her eyes.

Having no plan of her own, she had to believe in his newfound assertiveness. “Be careful,” she pleaded as he kissed her once again. He smiled tenderly at her then disappeared into the dark attic in search of the stairs that dropped down to the floor below.

 

...

WITH DAYLIGHT less than an hour away, the moon dipped toward the horizon, sending long night shadows across the dilapidated cabin. It would have been impossible for the brothers to miss the oddly placed structure built in a clearing on high ground. It rose out of the swamp like a forgotten mistake abandoned by its unfortunate owners.

Relieved to be on somewhat safer soil, Adam and Kyle stood alongside one another surveying the cabin from a short distance. “Like sitting ducks,” Kyle said, cocking his pistol.

“I’ve got the first shot,” Adam reminded, raising his gun and motioning for his brother to follow.

The two men approached the house from the rear, their footsteps dodging rotted boards that lay all around the fragile structure, which had been picked apart, one piece at a time, by the torrential southern rains.

Adam turned the knob of the back door, unsurprised to find it unlocked. Rust ground inside the handle before giving way to his grip. He knew by the difficult turn that the handle hadn’t been used for years and if the couple were inside, they must have entered from the front entrance. In spite of its resisting hinges, he nudged open the door, which led immediately into the kitchen. The air inside was musty and thick. He kept his gun poised in front of him as he moved into the cabin, keeping a watchful eye for the young couple. Kyle crept behind him, also leading with his gun.

 

...

UPON HEARING the back door creak open, Monique made her way along the dark attic toward the ladder.

“Charlie?” she whispered out.

“Moon, stay there,” her husband answered quietly from below.

She immediately crouched down where she stood and waited. Through the slats of the floor, she could see the main room of the cabin situated below her. As she heard the men making their way through the kitchen, the boards beneath her began to creak as if to break. She looked down at the fragile old planks she rested on and saw that they were bowing. Just as she started to shift her weight to a more stable part of the floor, she saw Adam and Kyle enter the room and stop directly beneath her. Frozen in terror, she stared down at the top of the two men’s heads as they stood in silence surveying the cabin. They were so close to her that she held her breath for fear the faint sound would give her away. Praying they wouldn’t look up, she watched in anticipation of the worst.

“Check behind that stove,” she heard Adam mutter. Just as Kyle began moving toward the potbelly stove, she was horrified to feel the boards beneath her give further. The sound of the splintering wood rang out like a death toll imposed by a ruthless judge.

“What the hell was that?” Kyle asked unaware of the floor above his head.

Through the cracks, Monique saw Adam turn his piercing eyes up toward her. The handsome gaze locked with hers, but only for a second before the flakes of rotted wood misted down into his eyes. He instantly turned away in pain and began rubbing them in an attempt to clear his vision.

Monique started to run, but the very movement thrust her downward.

Kyle looked up to see the ceiling above his brother rip apart, and Monique’s leg break through. “Holy shit!” he exclaimed. He rushed forward and grabbed the foot and began yanking downward.

Monique shrieked, holding tight to a pillar that supported the roof, but her grip soon weakened under the forceful weight of Kyle’s tugging. Abandoning her in the fight, the pillar burned across her hands as the floor beneath her gave way. At once, she was screaming in agony as her body was ripped through the floor, the shredding wood abrading her back. With a brief freefall downward she was met by the rigid floor beneath. Stunned by the impact, she looked up in terror at the brothers standing over her.

As the two men stared at the dazed young woman, a board came smashing into Adam’s face, seemingly out of nowhere. He fell back against the wall, his gun dropping to the floor.

“Grab the gun!” Charlie shouted, slamming the board into Kyle’s head.

Monique spotted the gun on the floor and began scrambling toward it, but Adam was quicker. He reached the gun first, looking up just in time to see Charlie poised with the board in hand, again ready to strike.

Monique was horrified to see Adam raising the gun, the anger in his face directed toward Charlie.

“Noooo!” she howled, moving with all her might to knock her husband out of the line of fire. Just then, Adam’s gun rang out and the bullet pierced into her chest, sending her body back against Charlie. As she slumped into her husband’s arms, she looked up at Adam, first with confusion, then disbelief.

Momentarily stung by Monique’s incredulous stare, Adam faltered a moment, his gun falling to his side. “I didn’t . . .” but the words were not there.

Monique fell to her knees and then collapsed on the floor as Charlie retrieved the board once more. Kyle, still on the floor, looked up to see Charlie ready to strike Adam again.

“Shoot him!” Kyle screamed, searching for his own weapon.

Adam, once again in motion, fired a barrage of bullets into Charlie’s collapsing chest.

Monique, who lay helplessly on her stomach, screamed in agony as her husband hit the floor beside her, his face within inches of her own.

“Charlie?” she said softly, her eyes fixed upon him. A prickling sensation crept through her body as she watched a stream of blood trickle from his neck toward his collar. Desolation came over her as she searched the still eyes for her husband. She had been left behind to face the darkness on her own and she felt so alone. More than anything, she wanted to touch him, to hold his hand so he could be with her, but her fingers wouldn’t move. Just when the tiny red river reached the cotton of his shirt, the tingling inside of her slipped her into a deep sleep.

 

...

A MUTED orange glow fingered through the lace curtains, long since eaten away by time and countless moths. Adam could not believe the sun was already coming up. He hated dealing with this part of his business in the daylight. The night seemed to render things less complicated, less confusing. He looked over at Kyle who was busy pulling Charlie’s wallet from his pocket.

“You’re not going to find fifty-six thousand dollars stuffed in his wallet for God’s sake,” he snapped.

“Do you want to do this?” Kyle asked, matching his brother’s impatience.

Adam smoothed his hair and turned back toward the window, anything to avoid looking at the lifeless bodies. He loosened his collar, the smell of blood smothering him. He reached down to open the window, but it was jammed, sealed shut by years of lack of use.

“You said you already checked them for the money,” he argued, keeping his back to Kyle.

“Yeah, well they may have picked it up after we left them in the Quarter,” Kyle said.

Adam shook his head. “They’re not going to be stupid enough to carry that much cash.”

“Well just don’t be blaming me,” Kyle asserted.

Adam turned to him with a vengeance. “Who the hell else am I supposed to blame?” he demanded. “You’re the one who let them walk away with the money in the first place. Now I’ll never get it back.”

“Well if you hadn’t killed them, we could have asked where they put the money,” Kyle countered, knowing full well that if Adam hadn’t pulled the trigger, he would have killed them himself.

Kyle was relieved to see Adam turn back to the window with no response. Discussion closed, he thought, feeling satisfied with the way things had turned out. Now that the Sinclairs were dead, Adam would never know they didn’t have his fifty-six thousand dollars.

“Cheer up brother, you’ll make your money back when Marshal delivers the little angel,” he said with a smile.

A shot suddenly rang out in the distance, echoing through the bayou.

“What the hell was that?” Kyle asked, looking toward his brother.

“I don’t know,” Adam said, noticing for the first time that there were two bedrolls lying in the corner, along with a backpack.

Kyle followed his line of sight. “Oh shit.”

“They must be hunters,” Adam said. “We’ve got to get those bodies out of here.”

“What the hell are we supposed to do with ’em?” Kyle asked, not enthused with the notion of bloody hands.

Adam nodded toward the door. “Let’s look around outside.”

...

FOR ONCE in his life, Adam was grateful for the sticky air of the swamp. As he exited the back door of the cabin, he breathed a momentary sigh of relief. Even the stagnant air of the outdoors was better than the sweet smell of blood looming inside.

“Hey, take a look at this,” Kyle called out, holding open a flat cellar door only twenty feet from the house.

Making his way over, Adam looked down into the dank hole that barely qualified as a cellar. Large stones held back the impending marsh, water having formed at the bottom of the enclosure.

“A cellar in the swamp,” Adam said, amazed.

“Built by one imaginative boozer,” Kyle said with admiration, his eyes fixed on the old wine jugs that hung by ropes from the jutting stones.

A rickety ladder led down through the pit to the murky water.

Kyle’s smile widened. “Couldn’t have dug a better grave myself.”

“Well, let’s get on with it,” Adam said, turning back toward the cabin. Aside from not wanting to be there when the hunters returned, he intended to make it home in time for breakfast. Just the mere thought of rewarmed eggs and gravy caused his stomach to send a new batch of acid to his throat.

Adam winced upon entering the room where the bodies lay motionless. “How are we going to get rid of that smell?” he asked.

Kyle looked at him strangely. “What smell?”

“The blood,” Adam replied.

“Since when did you get so squeamish? I can’t smell anything,” Kyle said. “Besides, those hunters will probably be so covered in it themselves that they’ll never know the difference.” He looked down at Monique’s lifeless body. “Boy, she’s a beauty,” he said licking his lips. “It’s too bad I’m not into necrophilia.” He reached down and picked her up. “You should’ve let me have some fun before you shot her.”

The smirk on Kyle’s face, combined with the sight of the limp young woman dangling in his arms, hit Adam forcefully in the gut. “Put her down,” he said in disgust.

Kyle looked at him a moment, as if wondering if his brother were serious.

“I said, put her down,” Adam warned.

“Jesus, I was only joking,” Kyle said, still clutching the dead woman. Adam suddenly made a move toward him so he quickly laid her back down.

“Don’t you have any respect?” Adam demanded. “We’re not rapists for God’s sake.”

“I said I was only joking,” Kyle said. “Where’s your sense of humor?”

Adam said nothing as he reached down to pick up Monique.

“Oh yeah, I forgot. You never had one,” Kyle said. “What’s the deal with you and that chick, anyway?”

Adam turned his dark eyes up to his brother. “What are you talking about?” he asked, his heart suddenly thudding.

“I’m talking about the way you stood there like a zombie after you shot her. If I hadn’t yelled at you, Mr. Stutter Man would have played baseball with your brains,” Kyle said.

Adam stood back up and looked his brother straight in the eyes. Did he know? No, he couldn’t possibly have known that he slept with her the day she came in for the loan. “What’s your point?” he asked, pushing to see what Kyle would reveal.

“Well, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think maybe you had something going with her,” Kyle ventured, not sure how far to push the limit, knowing well that his brother was a devout Catholic and abhorred adultery.

“And what are you basing this on, Einstein?” Adam asked.

Kyle hated it when Adam made reference to his intelligence, or perceived lack thereof. “Oh, I don’t know . . . a feeling,” he said, suddenly feeling less confident.

“Well, you obviously don’t know any better, so I won’t bust you in the mouth for accusing me of cheating on my family,” Adam said. “But just so you have peace of mind, little brother, I shot her, didn’t I?” he pointed out, momentarily getting used to the idea that he had killed her. Things always had a way of working out for the best, he told himself, trying to find strength in the fact that the young woman was dead. “Need I say more?” he asked, comforted only by the finality of the situation. “Now can we please get this over with?”

Adam reached down for the last time to pick up Monique. After a moment, Kyle reluctantly hoisted Charlie over his shoulder and followed his brother outside.

As Adam carried the limp woman toward the cellar, a strange feeling came over him again, one of panic that his world was slipping out of control. He sped up his pace to reach the cellar more quickly.

He looked down into the dark dank hole and wondered what to do next. Just then, Kyle dropped Charlie’s body down into the cellar without a moment’s hesitation. There was only a slight splash when the cadaver hit the bottom, the water only a few inches deep. Kyle looked over at Adam.

“Well?” he asked.

Adam, not wishing to raise any more suspicion, dropped Monique as nonchalantly as possible. In spite of his effort to be casual, he felt a pang at the sight of her hitting the bottom of the pit. She landed face up on top of her husband, the black water working its way through her long golden hair like dark slithering worms crawling toward her porcelain skin.

The heavy lid slammed shut, sealing the tomb in darkness, the two motionless bodies left behind to be forgotten with the old jugs of wine.

 

 

FLOWER

PREJUDICE, n.

A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

 

Chapter One

THE BAYOU moaned in the darkness like a vast creature hungry for life to feed the voices of its dead. A dirt road, illuminated by bright moonlight, cut through the black swamp of southern Louisiana. It was completely still, except for the night sounds of the wooded area.

A low rumble began in the distance. Then, like a flash, a Pontiac sped past, leaving a tremendous dust cloud in its wake. Particles of clay clung to the humid air muffling the whine of the disappearing car. Just as the sound subsided, a rattling old Ford raced by in pursuit. Moments later, the headlights of a sleek Lincoln Continental cut through the increasingly thick dust cloud created by the two previous cars.

Adam Claiborne, seated on the passenger side of the Lincoln, stared intently ahead, trying desperately to see the taillights of the car in front of him. As he was carried deeper and deeper into the dense swamp, he felt a weight bearing down on his chest. He loosened his silk tie, but it was still impossible to breathe. The dust was becoming unbearable. His green eyes narrowed and then began to tear.

“Jesus,” he mumbled.

He looked over at his brother, Kyle, who excitedly steered the car. The speedometer light shone up from the dashboard giving Kyle’s sharp, rugged features a distorted appearance. Adam noticed that the chilling malevolence had returned to his brother’s eyes. Only moments earlier those same brown eyes were pathetic and near tears. Kyle was responsible for the mess they were in and had begged for Adam’s forgiveness.

When younger, the two brothers had often been mistaken for twins, but those days had long since disappeared. Adam had matured into a raven-haired, handsome man. He was refined, graceful, and prided himself on his self-restraint. Kyle, on the other hand, was long and wiry and his face bore two sides: one of a small disillusioned child and the other of a man obsessed with his own destruction and the destruction of all around him. As Adam looked into the dark face, he felt a sick souring of his stomach and looked away.

“Roll up your window for Christ’s sake,” he said quietly, reaching his hand to his sweating brow. He stared out at the black bayou as it whipped past.

Kyle obediently closed the window while easily maintaining control of the speeding car. “Those old babies can fly, can’t they?” he asked, looking anxiously over at Adam. He noticed the tiny beads of sweat forming on his brother’s forehead.

Adam felt Kyle’s scrutinizing gaze. “What the hell are you looking at?” he demanded.

Kyle quickly put his eyes back on the road. Just then a rock spit up from the car in front of them and popped against the windshield. A tiny crack appeared at the base of the window and with each jolt ran slowly upward.

Gradually, the dim taillights of the old Ford began to fade and then disappeared.

“We’re losing them,” Adam warned.

“I can’t go any faster,” Kyle said, keeping the gas pedal mashed to the floor.

Adam leaned even further forward straining to see through the dark cloud. He clutched down on the leather dash as if the repositioning of his body would pull the car forward. “I can’t see a damn thing,” he grumbled, rubbing his eyes.

The outside roared past as the two men stared tensely ahead in anticipation. Suddenly, the rear end of the old car was before them, completely still in the middle of the road.

“Watch out!” screamed Adam.

Kyle cranked the wheel to the side, narrowly missing the huge obstacle. He bore down on the brakes, but to little avail. The momentum of the Lincoln carried it forward. The tail end whipped around, and they were soon spinning in a cloud of gravel and dust. Finally, as if stopping by choice, the Lincoln came to rest about a hundred feet in front of the old Ford, facing perfectly forward on the road. Kyle looked back in amazement.

“Am I good or am I perfect?” he asked.

Adam, who was more concerned with the task at hand than Kyle’s luck at driving, looked back through the settling dust. The Ford sat eerily abandoned in the middle of the road with the passenger door left open.

“Why the hell did they stop here?” Adam asked, glancing around the surrounding swamp land. “There’s nothing around for miles.”

A shrewd smile made its way across Kyle’s face. He loved a good game of cat and mouse and the mouse seemed to be cooperating. “Pure stupidity,” he said with relish.

“Back up,” Adam ordered, annoyed by Kyle’s enthusiasm. It reminded Adam of the way their father was always in a good mood after disciplining them. Although he knew the couple had to be eliminated, he felt it somehow sinful to take pleasure in the undertaking.

Kyle put the Lincoln in reverse and slowly backed toward the stationary car, coming to rest twenty feet from it. As Adam removed a pistol from his finely tailored jacket, Kyle quickly untucked a gun from his belt at the back of his pants.

Adam looked over at his younger brother. “I fire the first shot,” he warned.

The two men slowly stepped from the Lincoln, guns drawn, ready to fire. Adam led the way as they cautiously began moving toward the Ford, the unnerving crunch of gravel beneath his feet making his pulse race. Even up close, the windows of the vehicle were so dusty he couldn’t see if anyone was inside. As he edged inward, the car buzzer set off by the open door grew to a screech. At last, he saw that the car was empty.

“Jesus,” he said under his breath, annoyed by the violent thumping in his chest. He hated those rare occasions when he wasn’t in control. “Pull out those damn keys,” he snapped.

Kyle grabbed the keys, immediately putting an end to the shrieking buzz.

“Look here,” Adam said, pointing to the ground surrounding the passenger’s side of the car. In the soft soil were several footprints leading directly into the dark swamp.

Kyle smiled. “Unbelievably stupid,” he said, shaking his head.

“Come on,” said Adam.

With Adam in the lead, the two men began weaving their way through the dense cypress marsh as quickly as possible. They both hated the swampland and were not the least bit interested in sticking around. Having been raised in the city of New Orleans, they found the unfamiliar sounds and darting terrain threatening, especially in the dark of night.

Kyle followed behind his brother, jumping at every other sound, wheeling around with his pistol in hand. He was terrified of snakes and knew there must be one hanging from every tree and coiled under every rock, waiting to slither onto the back of his neck or wrap its winding body around his leg. His most recurring nightmare was that he was backed against a wall and someone was holding a snake inches from his neck. He would stare for what seemed like hours into the beady eyes of the creature as its scissoring tongue would come within a fraction of an inch of his skin. At all cost, he had avoided going anywhere that dream could possibly be realized. Now he found himself in a garden of reptiles where every hanging cypress limb was ready to coil.

“Jesus! Algiers is nothing compared to this shit,” he said as another shock of adrenaline shot through his body. “At least there you know what you’re shooting at.”

Ignoring his brother’s remarks, Adam continued through the woods. He never looked back to their days in the New Orleans ghetto. As one of the few who ever escape, he left his parents and that life when he was eighteen and had no intention of ever returning, even in his mind. Though Kyle went back often, Adam had not seen his parents in over twenty years and hated when his brother touched upon the forbidden subject.

 

...

MONIQUE SINCLAIR wondered if she would ever see her baby alive again. The thought was so terrifying that she felt too paralyzed to move. She was huddled in the upstairs attic of the old cabin with her husband, Charlie, at her side. They were crouched against a wall, periodically peeking through a clouded window to the outside. They had stumbled upon the abandoned structure about a mile from the road where they had left their dead Ford. While their clothing reflected poverty, it also spoke of the colorful culture found in the southern Cajun territories. Although Monique, who was in her early thirties, was older than her husband, the only sign of the six-year age difference was the hint of tiny lines around her beautiful emerald eyes. “Amy will be okay, won’t she?” she asked, even though she knew that he couldn’t possibly have the answer.

Charlie looked quietly at his wife. He was stricken with how childlike she appeared hunched in the corner with only the moonlight to form her features. For the first time ever, she needed him to take command of the situation, and he was terrified that he would fail. Whenever a crisis had arisen in the past, Monique was always the strong one, the one who took care of everything.

“She’ll be f-f-fine,” he stuttered, instantly disappointed with himself for not being able to speak clearly even when his wife needed him more than ever.

Monique saw the sadness in her husband’s eyes as he looked away from her.

“I love you Charlie,” she whispered, turning his face back to her and smiling gently.

“I love you too, Moon,” he said.

He took her strong hands into his own and held them as if they were the finest of crystal. He looked down at her ungroomed nails and once again felt a desolate sadness. He had wanted to give her so much.

Just then, they both caught sight of the two men outside, quickly approaching the cabin.

Monique’s breath instantly stopped. “Oh Lord Jesus,” she uttered.

Charlie took his wife’s face into his hands. “You s-s-stay here,” he said then gently kissed her soft lips.

“Don’t go down there,” she said. “If we wait here, they might not find us.”

“Trust me,” he said, looking into her eyes.

Having no plan of her own, she had to believe in his newfound assertiveness. “Be careful,” she pleaded as he kissed her once again. He smiled tenderly at her then disappeared into the dark attic in search of the stairs that dropped down to the floor below.

 

...

WITH DAYLIGHT less than an hour away, the moon dipped toward the horizon, sending long night shadows across the dilapidated cabin. It would have been impossible for the brothers to miss the oddly placed structure built in a clearing on high ground. It rose out of the swamp like a forgotten mistake abandoned by its unfortunate owners.

Relieved to be on somewhat safer soil, Adam and Kyle stood alongside one another surveying the cabin from a short distance. “Like sitting ducks,” Kyle said, cocking his pistol.

“I’ve got the first shot,” Adam reminded, raising his gun and motioning for his brother to follow.

The two men approached the house from the rear, their footsteps dodging rotted boards that lay all around the fragile structure, which had been picked apart, one piece at a time, by the torrential southern rains.

Adam turned the knob of the back door, unsurprised to find it unlocked. Rust ground inside the handle before giving way to his grip. He knew by the difficult turn that the handle hadn’t been used for years and if the couple were inside, they must have entered from the front entrance. In spite of its resisting hinges, he nudged open the door, which led immediately into the kitchen. The air inside was musty and thick. He kept his gun poised in front of him as he moved into the cabin, keeping a watchful eye for the young couple. Kyle crept behind him, also leading with his gun.

 

...

UPON HEARING the back door creak open, Monique made her way along the dark attic toward the ladder.

“Charlie?” she whispered out.

“Moon, stay there,” her husband answered quietly from below.

She immediately crouched down where she stood and waited. Through the slats of the floor, she could see the main room of the cabin situated below her. As she heard the men making their way through the kitchen, the boards beneath her began to creak as if to break. She looked down at the fragile old planks she rested on and saw that they were bowing. Just as she started to shift her weight to a more stable part of the floor, she saw Adam and Kyle enter the room and stop directly beneath her. Frozen in terror, she stared down at the top of the two men’s heads as they stood in silence surveying the cabin. They were so close to her that she held her breath for fear the faint sound would give her away. Praying they wouldn’t look up, she watched in anticipation of the worst.

“Check behind that stove,” she heard Adam mutter. Just as Kyle began moving toward the potbelly stove, she was horrified to feel the boards beneath her give further. The sound of the splintering wood rang out like a death toll imposed by a ruthless judge.

“What the hell was that?” Kyle asked unaware of the floor above his head.

Through the cracks, Monique saw Adam turn his piercing eyes up toward her. The handsome gaze locked with hers, but only for a second before the flakes of rotted wood misted down into his eyes. He instantly turned away in pain and began rubbing them in an attempt to clear his vision.

Monique started to run, but the very movement thrust her downward.

Kyle looked up to see the ceiling above his brother rip apart, and Monique’s leg break through. “Holy shit!” he exclaimed. He rushed forward and grabbed the foot and began yanking downward.

Monique shrieked, holding tight to a pillar that supported the roof, but her grip soon weakened under the forceful weight of Kyle’s tugging. Abandoning her in the fight, the pillar burned across her hands as the floor beneath her gave way. At once, she was screaming in agony as her body was ripped through the floor, the shredding wood abrading her back. With a brief freefall downward she was met by the rigid floor beneath. Stunned by the impact, she looked up in terror at the brothers standing over her.

As the two men stared at the dazed young woman, a board came smashing into Adam’s face, seemingly out of nowhere. He fell back against the wall, his gun dropping to the floor.

“Grab the gun!” Charlie shouted, slamming the board into Kyle’s head.

Monique spotted the gun on the floor and began scrambling toward it, but Adam was quicker. He reached the gun first, looking up just in time to see Charlie poised with the board in hand, again ready to strike.

Monique was horrified to see Adam raising the gun, the anger in his face directed toward Charlie.

“Noooo!” she howled, moving with all her might to knock her husband out of the line of fire. Just then, Adam’s gun rang out and the bullet pierced into her chest, sending her body back against Charlie. As she slumped into her husband’s arms, she looked up at Adam, first with confusion, then disbelief.

Momentarily stung by Monique’s incredulous stare, Adam faltered a moment, his gun falling to his side. “I didn’t . . .” but the words were not there.

Monique fell to her knees and then collapsed on the floor as Charlie retrieved the board once more. Kyle, still on the floor, looked up to see Charlie ready to strike Adam again.

“Shoot him!” Kyle screamed, searching for his own weapon.

Adam, once again in motion, fired a barrage of bullets into Charlie’s collapsing chest.

Monique, who lay helplessly on her stomach, screamed in agony as her husband hit the floor beside her, his face within inches of her own.

“Charlie?” she said softly, her eyes fixed upon him. A prickling sensation crept through her body as she watched a stream of blood trickle from his neck toward his collar. Desolation came over her as she searched the still eyes for her husband. She had been left behind to face the darkness on her own and she felt so alone. More than anything, she wanted to touch him, to hold his hand so he could be with her, but her fingers wouldn’t move. Just when the tiny red river reached the cotton of his shirt, the tingling inside of her slipped her into a deep sleep.

 

...

A MUTED orange glow fingered through the lace curtains, long since eaten away by time and countless moths. Adam could not believe the sun was already coming up. He hated dealing with this part of his business in the daylight. The night seemed to render things less complicated, less confusing. He looked over at Kyle who was busy pulling Charlie’s wallet from his pocket.

“You’re not going to find fifty-six thousand dollars stuffed in his wallet for God’s sake,” he snapped.

“Do you want to do this?” Kyle asked, matching his brother’s impatience.

Adam smoothed his hair and turned back toward the window, anything to avoid looking at the lifeless bodies. He loosened his collar, the smell of blood smothering him. He reached down to open the window, but it was jammed, sealed shut by years of lack of use.

“You said you already checked them for the money,” he argued, keeping his back to Kyle.

“Yeah, well they may have picked it up after we left them in the Quarter,” Kyle said.

Adam shook his head. “They’re not going to be stupid enough to carry that much cash.”

“Well just don’t be blaming me,” Kyle asserted.

Adam turned to him with a vengeance. “Who the hell else am I supposed to blame?” he demanded. “You’re the one who let them walk away with the money in the first place. Now I’ll never get it back.”

“Well if you hadn’t killed them, we could have asked where they put the money,” Kyle countered, knowing full well that if Adam hadn’t pulled the trigger, he would have killed them himself.

Kyle was relieved to see Adam turn back to the window with no response. Discussion closed, he thought, feeling satisfied with the way things had turned out. Now that the Sinclairs were dead, Adam would never know they didn’t have his fifty-six thousand dollars.

“Cheer up brother, you’ll make your money back when Marshal delivers the little angel,” he said with a smile.

A shot suddenly rang out in the distance, echoing through the bayou.

“What the hell was that?” Kyle asked, looking toward his brother.

“I don’t know,” Adam said, noticing for the first time that there were two bedrolls lying in the corner, along with a backpack.

Kyle followed his line of sight. “Oh shit.”

“They must be hunters,” Adam said. “We’ve got to get those bodies out of here.”

“What the hell are we supposed to do with ’em?” Kyle asked, not enthused with the notion of bloody hands.

Adam nodded toward the door. “Let’s look around outside.”

...

FOR ONCE in his life, Adam was grateful for the sticky air of the swamp. As he exited the back door of the cabin, he breathed a momentary sigh of relief. Even the stagnant air of the outdoors was better than the sweet smell of blood looming inside.

“Hey, take a look at this,” Kyle called out, holding open a flat cellar door only twenty feet from the house.

Making his way over, Adam looked down into the dank hole that barely qualified as a cellar. Large stones held back the impending marsh, water having formed at the bottom of the enclosure.

“A cellar in the swamp,” Adam said, amazed.

“Built by one imaginative boozer,” Kyle said with admiration, his eyes fixed on the old wine jugs that hung by ropes from the jutting stones.

A rickety ladder led down through the pit to the murky water.

Kyle’s smile widened. “Couldn’t have dug a better grave myself.”

“Well, let’s get on with it,” Adam said, turning back toward the cabin. Aside from not wanting to be there when the hunters returned, he intended to make it home in time for breakfast. Just the mere thought of rewarmed eggs and gravy caused his stomach to send a new batch of acid to his throat.

Adam winced upon entering the room where the bodies lay motionless. “How are we going to get rid of that smell?” he asked.

Kyle looked at him strangely. “What smell?”

“The blood,” Adam replied.

“Since when did you get so squeamish? I can’t smell anything,” Kyle said. “Besides, those hunters will probably be so covered in it themselves that they’ll never know the difference.” He looked down at Monique’s lifeless body. “Boy, she’s a beauty,” he said licking his lips. “It’s too bad I’m not into necrophilia.” He reached down and picked her up. “You should’ve let me have some fun before you shot her.”

The smirk on Kyle’s face, combined with the sight of the limp young woman dangling in his arms, hit Adam forcefully in the gut. “Put her down,” he said in disgust.

Kyle looked at him a moment, as if wondering if his brother were serious.

“I said, put her down,” Adam warned.

“Jesus, I was only joking,” Kyle said, still clutching the dead woman. Adam suddenly made a move toward him so he quickly laid her back down.

“Don’t you have any respect?” Adam demanded. “We’re not rapists for God’s sake.”

“I said I was only joking,” Kyle said. “Where’s your sense of humor?”

Adam said nothing as he reached down to pick up Monique.

“Oh yeah, I forgot. You never had one,” Kyle said. “What’s the deal with you and that chick, anyway?”

Adam turned his dark eyes up to his brother. “What are you talking about?” he asked, his heart suddenly thudding.

“I’m talking about the way you stood there like a zombie after you shot her. If I hadn’t yelled at you, Mr. Stutter Man would have played baseball with your brains,” Kyle said.

Adam stood back up and looked his brother straight in the eyes. Did he know? No, he couldn’t possibly have known that he slept with her the day she came in for the loan. “What’s your point?” he asked, pushing to see what Kyle would reveal.

“Well, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think maybe you had something going with her,” Kyle ventured, not sure how far to push the limit, knowing well that his brother was a devout Catholic and abhorred adultery.

“And what are you basing this on, Einstein?” Adam asked.

Kyle hated it when Adam made reference to his intelligence, or perceived lack thereof. “Oh, I don’t know . . . a feeling,” he said, suddenly feeling less confident.

“Well, you obviously don’t know any better, so I won’t bust you in the mouth for accusing me of cheating on my family,” Adam said. “But just so you have peace of mind, little brother, I shot her, didn’t I?” he pointed out, momentarily getting used to the idea that he had killed her. Things always had a way of working out for the best, he told himself, trying to find strength in the fact that the young woman was dead. “Need I say more?” he asked, comforted only by the finality of the situation. “Now can we please get this over with?”

Adam reached down for the last time to pick up Monique. After a moment, Kyle reluctantly hoisted Charlie over his shoulder and followed his brother outside.

As Adam carried the limp woman toward the cellar, a strange feeling came over him again, one of panic that his world was slipping out of control. He sped up his pace to reach the cellar more quickly.

He looked down into the dark dank hole and wondered what to do next. Just then, Kyle dropped Charlie’s body down into the cellar without a moment’s hesitation. There was only a slight splash when the cadaver hit the bottom, the water only a few inches deep. Kyle looked over at Adam.

“Well?” he asked.

Adam, not wishing to raise any more suspicion, dropped Monique as nonchalantly as possible. In spite of his effort to be casual, he felt a pang at the sight of her hitting the bottom of the pit. She landed face up on top of her husband, the black water working its way through her long golden hair like dark slithering worms crawling toward her porcelain skin.

The heavy lid slammed shut, sealing the tomb in darkness, the two motionless bodies left behind to be forgotten with the old jugs of wine.

 

 

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“Having our own unique perspectives keeps the world interesting, yet it also keeps the world at odds. Nine times out of ten, given the perspective of our opponents, we will come to see and understand their position. The line between good and evil is never as delineated as we would like to believe. The truth is never the same for two people.”

—Vivian Schilling, Interview by Fiction Addiction

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