Loafers and stiletto heels seemed like the right choice six hours ago. Dancing, drinking and gambling the night away along the Las Vegas strip. Now as the sun reached its pinnacle over the Nevada desert, Andrew’s loafers seemed to liquefy beneath his feet, while Sandra’s heels pierced the sand with every step. As if the trek across the dunes wasn’t hard enough.
The couple stumbled forward, each step a trial. Dressed in a tuxedo and cocktail dress - That six hours ago made them the envy of the strip - they felt every movement of their limbs, the process of walking no longer instinctual, but a calculated series of actions. Their momentum had long since dried up in the blistering heat, and they felt as if they were in the process of falling. Falling forward like a drunk, the collapse postponed by tiny staggers.
They would stop if they had the choice. As Andrew looked over his shoulder at his girlfriend, he noticed her makeup run from her face, sweat glazing her freckled skin. Her mascara trailed down her checks in an unmistakable way. She’d been crying, and as she felt the metal of a gun barrel prod her spine once more, she let out another tear. Surprised that there was any moisture left in her body.
A young man, barely out of his teenage years, held a crudely sawn-off shotgun against Sandra‘s back. Standing immediately behind her, and she, immediately behind her lover, the trio hiked the desert in single file. The man had arranged it so that Sandra was closest. He figured that she would be less likely to swipe at the gun at a moment of abstraction. It was also a technique passed on from a predecessor of his; to control the husband, control the wife. In his experience chivalry still existed. Men were willing to lay down their lives for their spouses, it was a macho thing. Women not so much.
Their captor wore a baseball cap - pulled half way down his face - a black, sleeveless t-shirt - with a The Killers band logo printed on it - jeans and sandals. He seemed to have no problems with his choice of footwear in the sand. Shotgun in one hand, his other clasped an electric cigarette, that he constantly sucked.
‘Where are we going?’ Wheezed Andrew.
Their captor exhaled a breath of apple flavoured vapour.
‘Please, what is this?’ Begged Sandra.
Their questions seemed to fall on deaf ears, and once again all that could be heard was the crackle of heat and a gentle, unsatisfying, desert breeze.
Finally the youth made a sound.
‘It ain’t much further.’
‘What isn’t much further?’ Asked Andrew.
Their captor nodded his head, not to anything in particular, it was just a gesture to keep them moving. His frown was their cue to shut up.
‘Stop here.’ Said the man with the gun.
The group halted, Sandra falling to the ground. She didn’t stay down for long on the burning sand. Andrew helped her to her feet, all the while watching the shotgun that remained trained on them.
‘Are you going to tell us what this is about?’ Grunted Andrew, as he steadied his lovers stance.
‘You’re not gonna like this, but in my haste, I forgot the shovel,’ The word shovel rang alarm bells, it laid certainty to their doom. ‘I’m afraid that you’re gonna have to use ya hands.’
‘For what!?’ Andrew shrieked, as if he didn’t already know.
‘Start digging.’ The youth ordered, with a swipe of his gun.
‘Why? What have we done?’
‘Don’t know, dig!.’
‘You don’t know!?’
‘Dig I said!.’
He pushed the gun barrel into the side of Sandra’s head, it made a hollow crack, and she let out a small yelp. It was enough. The duo begun to dig, their hands shovelling at the sand, the sand burning their skin.
‘You keep going till the sand is cool, ya hear?’
Andrew paused to examine his captor, searched for an emotion, but there was none.
‘G’ on!’ Said the man. Nodding towards the small ditch that Sandra was in the process of excavating.
It took an hour for Andrew to give up. He dropped his blistered hands to his side and gave the gunman a defeated look.
‘That’s it! I’m done!’ He snapped.
‘Andy?’ Whispered Sandra.
‘No! I don’t care anymore, why are we helping this bastard? He’s going to kill us either way!’
Sandra wept uncontrollably.
The man sprung up, straightened his legs.
‘You do what I tell ya, for one reason and one reason alone.’ He waved the shotgun. ‘I, have, the, gun!’ He pronounced each word.
‘So you’ll shoot us! What difference will it make shooting us now or later? At least now, you’ll have to dig your own fucking hole!’ Explained Andrew.
The gunman took a moment to construct his next sentence.
‘Now, that would all depend on where I shoot ya, and who I shoot first! Don’t it?’
He pulled Sandra to her feet by her long blonde hair. Wrapping it around his fist, he held her firm against his chest. As she squirmed, he pointed to various parts of her anatomy with the gun, each time saying ‘huh?’ and nodding at her lover with a smile worthy of the devils. This terrified Andrew, and he immediately dropped back into the hole, digging like never before. Tossing sand left and right, each stroke a plea for Sandra’s safety.
Easing off now, The man allowed Sandra to join Andrew in the pit, her hair unfurling from his palm. He took a step back, and glanced the Las Vegas skyline in the distance. He took out his electronic cigarette, placed it between his lips and fixed it there for the duration.
The first cooling breeze signalled the approaching night, much to the trios relief. The captives had been digging for so long that they had forgotten everything else. Their captor watched. His stoic poise hadn’t faltered, the hours seemed to brush past him like so much sand in the wind, and his devotion remained unflinching, a true professional.
The sound of the desert changed as the sun gave way to the moon. It sprung to life, as the overbearing heat took a respite, and another desert creature took this as his cue to act.
‘Stop there.’ Said the man, as he stood and approached the hole.
The burrowing pair ceased, and starred wide eyed at the man in charge, the man holding the gun. Andrew begun to climb out.
‘Don’t bother.’ Said the man.
‘Please, you don’t have to do this.’
The man was taken back by the sudden appeal. Using his foot he pushed Andrew backwards - more a gesture than any kind of force - and then lowered his hand towards Sandra. She took it, hesitantly, and was lifted with some ease out of the pit.
‘I wonder, why’d you wait till now to beg for ya life?’
‘Please, don’t do this!’
‘You knew that this was gonna happen hours ago, and you beg now?’
‘What do you want? Anything, it’s yours!’
‘Is it something I did? The way I look? Do I strike you as unprofessional?’
‘No.! What? I don‘t know what you want!’ Andrew shook his head. ‘We have a child, do you know that?’
‘I don’t care about that.’ The man paused. ‘Is it my accent? I know that there can be a certain, stigma attached.’
‘Please!’ Sandra interjected. ‘We have a boy, he’s only four years o-’
Before she could finish her word she felt the cool metal of the sawn-off on her face. She didn’t have a chance to consider that the crudely, splintered metal against her skin would be the last sensation that she was ever to feel. With a flash of powder, and a thunderous boom, a child lost it’s Mother. Andrew had lost his lover.
There was no echo, the flat land offered no reverberation. The shot was followed by utter silence, pure solemnity. For Andrew this was a lifetime, he’d lost the will to breath, to think. To believe that Sandra’s face - once the epitome of beauty - was now a mess of crimson and yellow in the middle of the Nevada desert was ridiculous, absurd. A voice brought reality cascading back down.
‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ The man reloaded his gun. ‘I shouldn’t have done that, there. Not when you‘ve dug a perfectly good grave. That’s a strange thing, a grave.’ The man edged forward as he spoke. ‘Right now it’s a pit, a hole. But with a pull of a trigger, and the addition of yourself all lifeless an’ festering an’ all.’ He paused, ‘That’s a point, do you have to be dead for it to be a grave? I could bury you now, still breathing. Would it still be just a hole?’
Andrew didn’t comprehend a word, but he heard the sounds coming from the killer’s mouth.
‘Now look at you, I know it’s tough buddy, but what I’m about to do now, you could consider a - a kindness! You don’t want to go on now anyhow, I can see that.’
Andrew didn’t move as the man knelt to meet him. The hole that he and his love had dug was deep, and the killer felt obliged to lower himself to his victims level. He lifted the shotgun and placed it against Andrew’s head. He didn’t flinch, even as the heat of the recently fired barrel met with his clammy brow.
‘Goodnight, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.’
This was to be it, he felt the trigger resist against the pull of his finger, and before he felt the satisfaction of a pop he felt the ground fall beneath him. Andrew had tugged at the sand in front of him, allowing his assassins feet to fall through. The pair ended up on top of each other in the grave, the man weighing more than Andrew had expected, though it could have been his exhaustion that gave way to gravity.
Andrew didn’t know what he was doing, he was not a fighting man. The pair rolled and sand clouded the grave, so much so that neither man could see the other. They just felt for each other, finding any fleshy parts that they could dig their fingernails into. Andrew found an eye, the man fish hooked a mouth. Indecipherable screams filled the night, and then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped.
‘Motherfucker!’ Screeched the man, as he rubbed his eye.
‘Fuck you.’ Snapped Andrew, slightly slurred, his mouth numb.
‘You probably thought that this was your story for a minute there, I bet you thought yourself, the pro-tag-o-nist? Well I ain’t to be now is it!’
A flash of light and a mess of sand and blood, turned the hole into a grave. The man climbed out and dusted himself off. Finding his cap, he slapped it onto his head. Finally he took out a pack of real cigarettes out from his pocket. He deserved a real smoke. He found one that wasn’t snapped or crumpled and ignited it.
It took a few minutes to reunite the couple, and a few more to kick in enough sand to cover them. The man remained in character until the final grain found it’s place, when he was satisfied that the job was done he exhaled and clasped his knees. Exhausted, he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and then said the words ‘Every time!’.
© Copyright 2016 Daniel Mullaney. All rights reserved.