by Mark Joseph Kiewlak
She was tied up on the seat next to me. Her legs were handcuffed. The car was moving fast. I think her name was Lily.
"Don't be afraid, Lily," I said. "I won't let them hurt you."
One of them smirked. The one on the passenger side. Outside, scenery flew past. Trees. Rocks. We were in the mountains.
"Don't go gettin' all heroic," the driver said to me. He was short and had all the cuddly warmth of a fireplug. He was smoking an unfiltered cigarette.
I struggled against the cuffs. Another layer of skin got peeled off my wrists.
"Ho ho ho," the passenger said. He was big all around. His head nearly touched the roof. He was wearing a pea green jacket that he couldn't have zipped up if he wanted to.
"What are you," I said, "the fucking potbellied giant?" "Watch your language," the driver said. "There's a kid present."
I looked over at her. She must have been all of eight. Her wrists were so small they'd tied her up with phone cord. Me, they used handcuffs. Rope on my ankles. Smaller cuffs on hers. No sense to it. No rhyme or reason. About what I'd expect from a pair like this.
"Where we're heading," I said, "my language is the least of her problems."
Potbelly half-turned in his seat. "You think you know where we're heading, smartass?"
"Can't be anywhere good," I said.
More scenery rolled past. My ears popped. We were heading downhill now. It was starting to snow.
"You guys got the money," I said. "Why not let the girl go?"
"What do you think, we're fucking stupid?" Potbelly said. "We let the girl go she'll tell on us."
"Look at her," I said. "She's terrorized. She's in shock. She's not going to remember any of this."
"They got sketch artists. They got hypnotists," Potbelly said. "She'll tell."
"You're not worth a hypnotist," I said.
The girl still hadn't moved. She didn't struggle. She didn't even look scared. I leaned over and narrowed my focus to just the two of us. "I got hired to find you," I said. "To protect you. And to bring you home. I'm going to do all of those things. You just don't be scared, okay?"
Her expression was blank. She had no coat but she wasn't shivering. Her Mickey Mouse sweatshirt was a little ragged around the edges.
"If you kill her," I said, "they'll never stop looking for you. If you let her go, all they lose is money. They won't be as interested in finding you."
"They'll be interested," Fireplug said.
"They've got all the money in the world," I said. "But only one daughter."
"We can't let her go," Potbelly said. "Not now."
I looked at Lily. There was a tear running down her cheek. She didn't seem to notice. I looked again. Her sweatshirt was way too big for her. Her pants were too short. Her socks didn't match. They weren't her clothes.
"You fucking scum," I said. "What did you do?"
Nobody in the front said anything. The air got thick.
"You fucking scum, answer me."
Potbelly was turned away. Fireplug held the wheel with both hands. "We can't let her go," he said quietly.
"Fuck you," I said. "Fuck the both of you bastards. I'm going to fucking kill the both of you."
No one else said anything. The snowfall was increasing. The car was picking up speed. All I could see was red. It's not that I never ran into this before. But you never get used to it. If you get used to it you're a monster.
I slammed myself against the door. It wouldn't open. I fumbled behind my back to grab the latch. There wasn't any.
"This used to be a cop car," Potbelly said. "Those doors only open from the outside."
"Shut your fucking mouth, you fucking pervert," I said.
The girl hadn't moved during any of this. The road was all hairpins and narrow. We skidded more with each turn.
"You don't care, do you?" I said. I addressed myself to the driver, Fireplug. "You don't care what happens to us. To any of us. You don't care if we crash."
"What are you talking about?" Potbelly said.
"He feels guilty," I said. "That's why we're out here in the worst possible weather on the worst possible road. You could've shot us and dumped us anywhere. Even that warehouse where I found you. This is something different. Your buddy wants us all to die."
Potbelly looked unsure of himself. He gazed at his partner. Fireplug kept his eyes on the road.
"That true?" Potbelly said. "You trying to kill us?"
"You trying to kill us 'cause we messed with that girl?"
"Just 'cause we messed with one lousy little piece of rich white ass? You trying to kill us for that?"
The car skidded heavily into a turn. My stomach dropped out. We sideswiped the guardrail a bit before he got it back under control.
"Stop the fuckin' car," Potbelly said. "Slow us the fuck down and stop the fucking car."
I moved as close to Lily as I could. I reached behind and got hold of her wrists. I started working to tear loose the phone cord.
"We shouldn't have done it," Fireplug said.
"Stop the fucking car," Potbelly said.
"We shouldn't have done that to her."
Potbelly had a gun out. It was pointed at his partner.
"Don't make me shoot you, Lonnie. I don't wanna fucking shoot you."
The car slowed down a bit. I had Lily's arms free. She didn't try to move them. I needed her attention but she was blank. Just blank.
"What's wrong with you, man," Potbelly said to his partner. "It was just fun. It was just a little fucking entertainment to pass the time. Christ."
The car was almost at a stop. Outside was nothing but swirling white. A few bare tree trunks told me we were still on the mountain.
Lonnie the Fireplug put it in park and turned to his partner. "Put the gun away, Francis."
"I can't," Potbelly said. "I can't trust you no more."
"Put the gun away right fucking now."
The larger man, Francis, did as he was told. I tried to get Lily's attention on my ankles. On the rope that was keeping them tied. She wasn't looking. At anything.
"Now get out of the car," Fireplug said.
"Here?" Potbelly said. "We're gonna do them here? Right on the side of the road?"
"Get out of the car," Fireplug said.
Potbelly opened his door. Both men got out. An arctic blast of air swept through the car. Lily didn't react to it at all.
"Now get them out," Fireplug said.
Potbelly opened the door on Lily's side. When he took her by the arm he noticed her hands were loose. He didn't seem to care. And she had no reaction to his touch.
"You fucking twisted scumbag," I said. "You fucked her up good, didn't you?"
"Get him out too," Fireplug said.
Francis the Potbellied Giant took out his gun and pointed it at me. "Slide out of there," he said.
I climbed out of the car and stood in front of Lily, shielding her between myself and the car. We were all on the same side with the car between us and the road. Over Fireplug's shoulder I could see the shiny gray guardrail and how the land dropped away from that point.
"Give me your gun," Fireplug said to his partner.
"My gun? What the fuck's the matter with your gun?"
I felt something at my ankles and looked down. It was Lily. She was trying to untie the rope.
"Just give me your gun, Francis."
"I don't trust you, Lonnie."
"Give me the gun."
"I don't trust you no more."
The wind was whipping flakes into my face. I could barely keep my eyes open. My cheeks were numb.
"What, Lonnie? Fucking what?"
Francis the Potbellied Giant reached over and handed his gun to his partner. Fireplug took the gun and shot Potbelly six times in the chest. The sound of the shots seemed to echo forever on the deserted mountaintop. Potbelly landed on his back near the guardrail. He wasn't moving. Fireplug still had his back turned to us. Lily had loosened the rope enough so that I could kick one leg free. I charged at Fireplug through the snow with my head down and my hands still cuffed behind me. I hit him at full stride with my shoulder just as he was turning. The force of the impact drove him backward toward the guardrail. I kept pushing with my shoulder and he stumbled backward over the railing taking me with him. I hit the snow and slid on my back, picking up speed until I slammed headfirst into a tree and caught myself on one of its broken branches.
I tried to catch my breath. I looked for Lonnie the Fireplug. There was nothing but a deep groove and a trail of broken branches disappearing out of sight down the mountainside.
I turned over on my back. My hands were still cuffed. I began very slowly to push myself upwards, digging my sneakers into the snow as best I could, steering toward tree trunks and upturned roots whenever I could. My hands were useless and numb. My wrists were scraped raw.
It took a long time. When I reached the guardrail I saw that Lily was still standing by the car right where I had left her. Francis the Potbellied Giant was dead. The snow had turned red all around him. I crawled over to his body and ordered my hands to search his pockets for the key to the handcuffs. I couldn't feel the key but I saw that I was holding it. I dropped it once. Then again. It disappeared in the snow and I started to lose consciousness. Then Lily was there beside me. She took the key and unlocked the cuffs. I looked down at her ankles. They were bleeding from where the cuffs had scraped her. I searched Potbelly's pockets again but I couldn't find the key to her ankle cuffs. I got to my knees. Then to a wobbly stance. I lifted her in my arms without feeling it and carried her toward the car. It was still running and warm inside. I got the door open and tried to place her down on the front seat. She wouldn't let go of me.
"Home," she said.
I got in the passenger side and pulled the door shut behind us. I turned the heat on full blast and held her to me until feeling returned to my body.
"That's right, Lily," I said. "I'm taking you home."
Mark Joseph Kiewlak has been a published author for nearly twenty years. Recently his work has appeared in more than thirty magazines, including A Twist of Noir, Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher, Thuglit, Crimespree, The Bitter Oleander, Mysterical-E, and many others. His story, "The Present," was nominated for the 2010 Spinetingler Award: Best Short Story on the Web. He has also written for DC Comics.