This story is by Kyle Brown and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Nat’s instincts are never wrong.
She had one this morning–her first thought, crystal clear, cutting through the haze–a warning that had to be heeded: ‘Play hooky. Don’t talk to Claire or anybody. Claire’s gone to that meeting. Pack. Take advantage. Go get a nice, big breakfast and take a nice, long drive. Get as far away as you can. Use your secret account, go get a hotel room for a few nights, finish that book you’ve been reading. Keep traveling. Buy more books. Don’t even go to see Uncle Felix tonight. Just get away from here.’
But Nat didn’t listen. She made the drive to Colmin Transportation Services, dug into her files, spoke only to the associates she had to call and the lady at the drive-thru.
And Nat was fine, until Mister Adler came at 2:46 p.m. to stomp on her good feeling with a simple request.
. . . Nat cannot allow him to know the violence of her initial response.
This word (this idea) that Nat has loathed ever since Uncle Felix first shared his knowledge of it–NEPOTISM–screams in her head.
How could Mister Adler condone this act of charity–to help an heiress who tried so hard to destroy him?
How could he ask Nat–his good and loyal employee/friend, the one person who hates Rebecca Verger née Colmin more than he does–if she would mind paying a visit to the mansion to lend Rebecca a helping hand?
Mister Adler’s a consummate professional, a beacon to imitate, but Nat cannot live up to his example. She must explode, go into a tailspin–lots of expletives, throwing whatever she can get her hands on–feeling the momentum needed for a mean right hook building in her shoulders.
Rebecca’s been relegated as a joke, an imbecile, a loon, the one horrendous mark on this building’s history.
Loathed . . . for not knowing what it’s like to struggle, to go without, to face bullies; for being a bully; for taking money under the table (as of the past few years, anyway); for lies, the callous reaction to her own mother’s death, the appalling managerial style she took on when she stole the position (when she wanted more than just the money handler’s job).
Loathed by newbies who’ve only heard eyewitness accounts.
Banned from the property for framing Adler for a small but significant loss.
Adler hasn’t changed the position of his feet, hasn’t scratched, only blinks once in a while, reeks of cologne.
Okay–maybe Nat can take this crummy assignment.
Thirty minutes later, during the long ride in the company’s stretch limousine, going for the vodka, Nat texts Uncle Felix to inform him that she has to cancel their plans for the evening. While waiting for his response, she thinks of her lover and contemplates sending a message, since (now that it dawns on her) she hasn’t given her sweetiepie a single thought since before her drive to work.
. . . but now, reality living up to its full potential, she feels that any sentiment of that sort would not be sincere.
‘God, I must be stupid for doing this,’ Nat thinks, taking another gulp when that thought suffocates, turning her head towards the screaming.
She has to put up a fight, get ruthless with herself, in order to focus.
‘Gotta remember your training, can’t be irritable, can’t be prone to make mistakes, can’t be an embarrassment, can’t let your passionate side get you in trouble like it used to.’
The nerves in her right foot go crazy, seeming to tear the appendage down its center, but she ignores it; ignores it as she walks from the limo, a few yards of the red brick of this circular driveway, to the imposing door. She goes for the little button, for the four bells that chime for a few seconds at varying speeds, turns to see the limo drive off; waits for a woman in a French maid’s uniform to answer.
Nat’s escorted without words, left alone. She stands in the long hallway, six doors down from the only one that’s open, listening: crying time–one middle-aged white woman louder than the rest–Southern Baptists.
Nat hesitates to look at her watch. The pain in her foot goes away. Five minutes go by–and she can’t help but think that just standing here and staring at the large bay window at the hallway’s end is proof that she’s dumb and only adding to the creepiness and should’ve listened to herself this a.m.
Footsteps–someone approaching from behind. Nat, arms still folded, turns to see Claire, the only one she’ll ever love, in her small blue Oxford t-shirt and short denim skirt, much too occupied typing a message on her phone, coming this way, huffing and puffing, not looking up until Nat clears her throat.
“Jesus. I can’t believe they called you in,” Claire says, using her library voice, moving her phone from her right hand to her left, using the now free fingertips to touch Nat’s outward left wrist.
“I’m a little shocked to see you, too. I didn’t see you at the office today. What the hell’s going on?”
Claire’s hand moves along Nat’s forearm, quick, releasing and landing above the elbow. “Jesus. Didn’t you hear? Two of Rebecca’s kids were murdered last night.”
Nat can feel her body break apart, her spirit drowning in a well of empathy. Her heart and mind tell her to turn, run to that room, hold Rebecca and cry.
“I was shocked to get the call. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I left the house this morning, y’know, on my way to–” Claire stops, takes her hand away, brings both feet back a step, looks down toward that room, gets a little quieter. “I didn’t wanna piss you off. I mean, I know you hate her.”
Nat’s arms remain folded. Maybe now she wants to have a little argument, maybe to work some aggression out. It’s tempting, since Claire’s so much fun to debate. “You think I don’t have it in me to be a little compassionate? I can lay off my hatred for a day.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry.” Claire points toward that room, twisting her hips with the gesture, speaking a little louder this time. “Do you wanna go in? I mean–”
Nat nods, feels her body going forward, turning, but turning back–
. . . feels the mean right fist’s sucker punch land between her lowest rib and waist. Nat goes down to the hardwood floor, dazed and angry.
Claire’s foot comes up and lands a blow.
Nat has trouble breathing.
. . . two pairs of tennis shoes coming; an itchy, warm black cloth for Nat’s head and a needle for her right arm–one big jolt for her circulation and nerves, while they pull her jeans off.
Another needle for her butt–a deep sleep.
. . . until she’s cognizant enough to recognize a certain kind of freedom, a life without the cover or clothes; with hunger, thirst, this blue padded floor, this chill in her bones.
Ten feet away, Rebecca Verger née Colmin, a forty-something barefoot blonde, paces back and forth in gray sweats, holding a bowie knife.
This room, sans any sort of smell, depends on artificial light (which appears in scarcity). There’s more light down by the open doorway, where Claire stands, arms folded, watching.
“What do you want?” Nat asks, getting up, rocking on her feet.
Rebecca stops, holds her ground. “I don’t like what you’ve become. Uncle Felix doesn’t like what you’ve become.”
“You don’t know him. Nobody does.” OH, GOD, TALKING WAS PAINFUL. Nat goes forward–slow, too slow to satisfy her spirit.
Rebecca chuckles. “No. He’s been mine for the past few years. He lied to you. Disrespected you.”
Nat goes running and gets so close, but the knife comes up to her throat.
“No. Not yet.”
. . . heavy breathing, two steps back, no will to see Rebecca’s face.
“I’ve been disrespected. Your uncle cheated on me.”
Nat’s head goes spinning, hurting (with the need to be a master martial artist).
“You disrespected me,” Rebecca says, pointing with her knife. “I needed you to defend me at the office when I wasn’t there to defend myself.”
Nat makes a slight turn in Rebecca’s direction. “Y-you didn’t have to do those things.”
Rebecca remains firm, the knife at her side. “No. I didn’t ‘do’ anything. I used WORDS. That’s all. Those people needed me. They need me now.”
Anger comes bubbling up into Nat’s windpipe. Everything tells her to CHARGE, to be a cannibal, to perish in the process. “You wanted to start with me? I’m honored.”
“I like you. You’ve got guts. I’m giving you an option, to let you pay off your debt.”
“. . . I . . . I’d do anything for you.”
They both smile.
Rebecca’s offer–kill or be killed–may take some getting used to, but Nat’s more than willing to make it work and go on smiling (as long as she can get more injections).
. . . it’s a week of traveling with Claire and Rebecca’s brother, the governor’s Number One–they go out with their list, with the protection of The System.
For Nat, it’s fun–paying off her debt, learning to love the act of taking life, learning to love Rebecca and how to make the most of what little time they have together.
It’s four more days–a severe drop in temperature, with twenty-mile-an-hour winds. It’s a company’s sudden shuttering; pretense: rising costs; effect: fifty souls laid off.
And Nat’s okay–as long as she can keep getting the drug (with the exotic name, with the big jolt) several times a day and the knockout thing at night–as long as this murderous foursome is headed off to Belize, soon. They all need a long vacation in light of the murder of Rebecca’s kids and the disappearance of good friends: Mister Adler and Colmin’s last money handler, two members of Nat’s family and–
It’s Uncle Jedidiah who calls at 7:52 on a Sunday evening to say that Felix, that no-good bastard brother of his that Nat has quite an affinity for, has been sent to The Pearly Gates–strangulation–ninth victim of this area’s first serial killer.
It’s the next morning when the bloodthirsty public is told that the pigs know the killer is Rebecca’s oldest son, who had a good head on his shoulders and a good first job at the transport company, who turned into an ill-tempered cunt and ran away near the end of his seventeenth year. The bloodthirsty public is given a few quotes of the letters left on the bodies and the name he’s given himself and the sketch provided by an unidentified witness, as well as the last picture known to be taken of him; they’re told to keep their eyes out for a dead man.
It’s the following morning when Claire comes clean–her reason for her initial betrayal.
Swearing . . . they’ll be able to be good again; they’ll be able to let go of the bloodlust and the drugs; they’ll get to Belize, get away together; they’ll go to Mexico, spend their severance on a beach house and booze; it’s just a few more days of killing–just a few.