The bullet dug a fiery trench across her thigh and she stumbled, catching his arm.
“Godammit,” she hissed. He pulled her around the corner and they leaned against the wall breathing heavily.
“Jesus, Tess, you’re really bleeding.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” She poked at the wound.
He held the Glock, in front of his face, two-handed, took a deep breath and swung around the corner letting off a few rounds before retreating back to her.
“Does it hurt?” he asked.
“Not as much as the Brazilian I got last week.”
He wasn’t convinced and as confirmation, she grimaced against the pain.
“Can you run?”
“Then start running.” He let off another burst and followed her, reloading as he ran.
“You’re leaving a trail…”
Crimson splashes dotted the hallway behind them. They rounded another corner.
“Hold ’em off for a minute,” she said.
He nodded and Tess moved further down the hallway, picked a door and rubbed her injured leg against it leaving a bloody smudge. Crossed the darkened room and yanked open the window, smeared blood on the ledge. Pulled her pearl handled knife (a gift from her father) from a back pocket and coaxed out the blade. Used it to slice off the bottom four inches of her ribbed T-shirt. More shots. She quickly wrapped the makeshift bandage tightly around the tear in her leg, hoping the layers would be enough to temporarily staunch the bleeding. Or at the very least, prevent it from dripping.
“Tess,” he whispered through the door, “we gotta go. Now.”
She joined him in the hallway. “Let’s hope they’re as stupid as they look.”
He looked from the soiled door to her leg. Gave her a little smile. Sent a few more bullets in the direction of their pursuers for good measure. Tess slammed the door loud enough for them to hear and they were off.
The motel room smelled rancid. Bathed in neon, it was skanky and dated like a whore that had been on the streets for too many years, the thin walls barely concealing the highway rumble.
Tess leaned her back against the door and exhaled heavily. She pulled the blond wig off her head and shook out her dark hair.
“Still hurts?” he asked, dropping bags to the table.
“Like a bitch.”
“Was it worth it?”
“Oh yeah. Definitely.” She broke into a huge grin.
He smiled back and pulled out a bottle of Stolichnaya. The paper bag crackled, unhappy to lose its prize. He dropped it to the bed.
“Come here,” he said, sitting on the edge of the mattress.
She came to him. Stood between his knees. Swung the small messenger bag over her head and dropped it to the floor. He ran his right hand up her thigh stopping short of the wound. The fingertips of his left hand followed the exposed path of taut, pale skin over her stomach, along the sharp ridge of her hipbone and around the soft flesh of her hip. Slid his fingers into her back pocket and retrieved the folding knife. Opened it with his teeth. Slipped the blade under her bandage and tore through the fabric. It hung impotently, clinging to the dried blood. She watched closely, nervously.
The Stolichnaya lay prone on the bed beside him. He picked it up, twisted off the cap, and offered it to her. She took a long swig, took a second and handed it back. He followed suit. Then he lifted the torn hem of her T-shirt and kissed her pale skin. Her head rolled back and Tess moaned. For a second. Until the pain hit.
“Motherfucker!” She hopped back, her leg soaked in liquor. She glared at him and he grinned innocently.
“Come back,” he encouraged.
“Fuck you, John.”
“We need to get that cleaned up. It’ll get infected.”
Her jaw clenched as the vodka soaked bandage reluctantly gave up its hold on her leg; he peeled it off and tossed it towards the plastic lined trash can. Missed.
“Closer,” John said.
She stepped forward and he reached for her jeans, slowly undoing the button, the zipper. She shifted uneasily as he slowly pulled them past her hips.
“Careful,” he whispered, rising to stand behind her.
She leaned back against him and John reached around, inching his hand down her pants, along her leg, holding the denim away from her wound as he slid them down. She tensed expecting it to hurt. It did.
She dropped to the bed and lay back on her elbows, lifting her feet a few inches off the floor so he could finish. The jeans landed beside the discarded bandage.
“Seems like an excuse to get into my pants.”
“Do I need an excuse?”
He turned his attention to her injury, probing the skin around it, suddenly serious.
“Jesus, that was close.”
He dumped the contents of a plastic drug store bag onto the bed.
“This is going to hurt,” he warned.
“Be gentle, baby.”
John leaned on the bathroom doorjamb, drying off his hair with a stiff, grey towel, taking in her sprawled form. The yellowed sheet tangled around her good leg, her hair fanned out around her head, mascara smudged. Bandage soaked through. She reached her arms lazily over her head and stretched. Looked up at him with a wolfish smile like she might devour him. Again. He sat down on the bed beside her and she gave him her mouth.
“I’m going to have to fix up your leg again. We should have waited.”
“Well worth it,” she sighed.
“Not if I have to take you to a hospital with an unexplained, infected gunshot wound.”
She kissed him again and then lay back as he tended to her leg.
“Is it gonna scar?”
“Probably. Don’t worry about it. Scars are hot. Especially on you.” She unconsciously rubbed her fingers over the ragged, white mark around her neck. “You know, I wouldn’t have agreed to this little plan of yours, Tess, if I’d thought you might get hurt.”
“How was I supposed to know he’d come back early?”
“He’s gotta be majorly pissed.”
“He deserves it, bastard-piece-of-shit. He owes me. Besides, what’s he going to do, go to the police?”
“He’ll come after you.”
“Let him. We’ll be long gone.” She pointed to the messenger bag with a smirk. “Far away from here.”
He attacked his hair with the towel again.
“I wish I could take a shower,” she said.
“You should wait. Let this heal. Besides it’s kinda gross in there; mildew has set up permanent residence.”
“You smell good.” He kissed her belly. “Musky.”
She snorted. “I smell like you.”
“Like us. Tell you what, let’s get out of this dump and, if you behave, I’ll take you somewhere really nice and wash your hair. And any other part you’d like.”
She rolled out of bed and stood, testing her leg. Winced.
“It’s worse today.”
“Yesterday, you were pumped full of adrenalin.”
She nodded, stooped to pick up the messenger bag and her backpack, headed for the bathroom. John wondered vaguely why she’d taken the bag with her. Didn’t she trust him? Shrugged it off; it was her show. Tess came out a few minutes later, dressed and grimacing, the bag over her shoulder.
“Might need to pick up some looser pants.”
“That’d be a shame.”
She put her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. “Let’s blow this popcorn stand.”
They were waiting at the car.
Rough hands grabbed Tess by the neck and pressed a cold muzzle to her temple. John was relieved of his gun. Hands tied behind their backs, they were unceremoniously dumped into the back seat. John felt cold fear deep to his core. He knew where they were headed: the quarry. Beneath its chalky water lay a mass grave worthy of the nastiest, genocide-oriented warlord imaginable.
It looked particularly perilous, John thought, perched on the edge of the pit as he was, hands tied behind his back, a gun in his ribs. Like looking into the festering swamp of his dark, overactive imagination.
Marcus was there, face flushed with simmering anger and a vicious smile. Ignoring John, he approached Tess. Squeezing her forearm tightly he walked her to the very edge of the quarry and shoved until she was dangling precariously, his grip the only thing between her and a very long drop. He hauled her back.
“After all I did for you. After all the fun we had, you pull this shit?”
“You have a strange definition of fun, asshole,” she said.
He looked her over in a strangely detached way. Noticed blood seeping through her jeans. Pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “I think, deep down, you liked it.” Pressed his knuckle into her wound.
She screamed for all she was worth.
John struggled against the man holding him, desperate to get to her.
“Kill him,” Marcus said.
“No!” Tess screamed. “No, I’m sorry. I’ll give it back.”
“Yeah, you will, you ungrateful bitch.”
“You need to untie my hands.”
He circled behind her and ran his hands lazily around her neck. Pressed hard up against her ass. Squeezed her throat. “This seems familiar,” Marcus whispered.
He squeezed tighter until she whimpered. Then smiling to himself, he untied her wrists. She turned and stepped back away from him.
“Don’t even think about running.” He looked pointedly at John.
She nodded and slowly pulled the messenger bag strap over her head. Tossed it to him, keeping her distance. He opened it up and rooted around.
“Where is it?” He held up bundles of twenties. There was over a hundred grand in the bag. “I don’t give a shit about this. Where is it?”
“Take it easy. I’ve got it right here.” She reached into her shirt and pulled out a small, suede pouch hanging from a leather cord around her neck. Tossed it. It hit the ground and skidded over the ridge, out of sight. Marcus scrambled after it, too late. In unison, everyone leaned over the quarry pit. The pouch hung about fifteen feet down, on a gnarly root, swinging back and forth like a hanged man.
“You did that on purpose,” Marcus said.
“No, honestly, it was an accident.”
He backhanded Tess and she fell to her knees, lip bleeding.
John moved toward her without thinking and was rewarding with a crack to the head, the gun sight ripping the skin on his temple. He dropped to the ground with a heavy thud, out cold.
“Well dumbass, I was going to send him after it,” Marcus said. “Now you’ll have to go instead.”
The thug grumbled to himself, bent down to his hands and knees, joints cracking loudly, and backed up to the edge. Sent Tess a glowering look and slowly lowered himself down.
Marcus grabbed a handful of Tess’ hair, hauled her to standing and hissed into her ear, “That’s not the only thing going over the edge today.”
John stirred and Tess gave him a wink. She pressed up against Marcus, practically humping his leg, hand on his chest.
“Baby,” she cooed, “you still have it, it’s right there. No harm done. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
She slid her hand down to cup him. He closed his eyes and moaned. The moan turned to a gurgle and John watched wide eyed as Marcus staggered back, bloody hands around his throat. Tess stepped back gripping the pearl handle. She raised her foot and kicked Marcus hard in the gut. He hung suspended for a moment, arms circling like a crazed whirlybird, his neck gaping. Then he fell. Was nice enough to take his thug with him.
“John, are you alright?” Tess asked, dropping to her knees beside him.
“Yeah, remind me never to piss you off. Mind untying me?”
She flashed the bloody knife and John rubbed his bruised wrists. They crawled to the pit and looked over. One abandoned brown shoe sat on the shore. He turned to her and she gave him a strange, little smile. It was unsettling. The smile turned to a wince and she inhaled sharply.
“You’re bleeding again,” he said.
“So are you.” She gently touched the gash on his temple, kissed him, soft at first and then hard like she needed an outlet for all of her adrenaline.
“Let’s go,” she said.
They drove for a long while in silence and then she turned to him and quietly asked, “Where should we go?”
“Let’s just drive for a while longer, get some distance.”
“No, I mean, where should we go long term? Europe? Bangkok? Tahiti?”
“What are you talking about? You threw it away.”
She gave him a dirty look. “Do I look like a complete moron?”
“It’s safe.” She still looked pissed off.
She stared straight ahead, quiet for a moment and then her lips curved into a treacherous half smile. She reached out and took his hand in her own. Brushed her lips to his knuckles.
“Tell you what, let’s get out of this dump and, if you behave, I’ll take you somewhere really nice and let you wash my hair. And any other parts you’d like. And maybe, if you’re very thorough, you might find it.”
T. S. Mallow is currently snowed under in the Great White North, actively looking for an agent for her newly completed thriller, Butterflies in a Hurricane. She fills her days finding creative outlets for her dark and twisted imagination (usually involving green tea, a quiet room and her laptop computer).