The Killing Rain
Our Noir Publishing
The road in front of him was empty. Just as it had been behind him for so long now. Straight and flat, it cut a cruel slash across the gut of the Florida Everglades. No curves, no hills, nothing to relieve the tedium of the journey. He had never minded driving Alligator Alley during the day. Then, the harsh sun bleached out the swaying saw grass and the sky was huge and white-blue. During the day, it was easy for him to imagine he was somewhere else, maybe traveling across some Western prairie, like Shane riding in to save someone who needed saving.
But at night, like now... Alligator Alley was empty and black with only the thin beams of his own headlights to show him where he was going. He reached down and turned up the volume on the tape. Marty Robbins had been keeping him company for the last hour, ever since he had passed the toll booth back near Naples. Ride, cowboy, ride. Don't go too slow. Ride, cowboy, ride. You've a long way to go. He knew all the words by heart, but he wasn't singing along with them now.
He was concentrating, watching the odometer, calculating how many more miles he had to go. The instructions had been simple. Drive exactly forty-two miles east of the toll booth. Pull off into the boat ramp parking area, turn out your lights and wait.
He picked up his orange soda and took a drink, feeling a nub of excitement in his belly. He had waited a long time for this, a long time to feel part of something important like this. It was a simple job. All he had to do was to deliver a FedEx box and pick up another package in return. Two grand for his trouble. Simple. Easy.
He glanced down at the big FedEx box on the seat. He knew what was in it. He had pulled over as soon as he was into the dark cover of Alligator Alley and carefully pried opened the box's flap. The box was stuffed with stacks of money, held by rubber bands. The stacks were all hundred-dollar bills. He counted twenty stacks. One hundred thousand dollars, he guessed. His hands were sweating so much he could barely push the stacks back in the FedEx box. For a second - just one - he had thought about turning the Cadillac around and disappearing with that FedEx box. But he knew that wasn't right. He would stick to the plan. Go to the boat ramp pull-off, put the box on the trash can and pick up the package. It was probably drugs, but hell, what did he care?
Marty started in on "A Half-Way Chance With You." He didn't like the love songs. But this one wasn't too bad. He kept time to it, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. The headlights picked up a green road sign. The turn-off for the boat ramp. He checked the odometer. This had to be it.
He slowed, easing into the parking lot. He pulled the Cadillac to a stop but kept the motor running. He rolled down the window and scanned the empty lot. No lights, no moon tonight, just his headlights piercing the endless black expanse of the Glades beyond the low wood barrier surrounding the lot. The dashboard clock read just after four, so he knew he was only a couple minutes late. Unless the damn clock was wrong. He felt a nervous tug in his stomach. Then, he picked up a small glow over on the far side of the lot.
He squinted and made out something parked over against the /push, some kind of fancy black car, maybe a BMW. The motor was off and he couldn't see anyone inside through the tinted windows. The glow grew brighter. Probably a cigarette.
This had to be the guy. No one else would be out here this time of night sitting by themselves on the side of the road.
He pulled his car forward, stopping about twenty yards away. He killed the Cadillac's headlights and turned the tape down to a whisper.
Marty Robbins was still singing his love song, harmonizing with the frogs and crickets. The window of the other car came down and the glowing butt was flicked out. He caught a glimpse of the guy, his face shadowed by the brim of a hat. The guy was waiting for him to make the first move. He picked up the FedEx box and opened the door. The second he was out of the Cadillac, the BMW's lights came on.
He blinked in the glare and averted his eyes, spotting the trash can, fully illuminated now over by the boat ramp. He went to it and carefully set the box on the rim of the can. He backed away, edging toward the Cadillac, shielding his eyes with his hand to look back at the BMW.
The guy sitting behind the wheel still hadn't moved. He waited. A minute, then another. No movement from the BMW. He heard a door open.
A shadow of a figure emerged from back seat. He couldn't see him in the glare but then the figure moved toward the front of the BMW. Small with long dark hair.
Wait...was it a woman?
The figure moved into the beam of the headlights and he could see clearly now that it was a woman. Her long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Then, suddenly, there were two more with her. Women...three women. He could tell now for sure that they were women from the way they stood there, huddled and scared like kittens, their long black hair swirling around their faces.
"Go. Go on now."
It was the guy behind the wheel who had spoken. He was waving a hand out his window, waving toward the Cadillac, and the three women were looking back at him, like they didn't understand what he was saying.
"Over there! Go on...over to that car. That's your ride. Go on now."
The woman looked at each other, then slowly, moving as if they were one, they started toward the Cadillac.
He stared at them. What was this? What was going on? Was this the package he was supposed to pick up? Women? A slight grin came to his face. Okay, he could deal with this. He would make the delivery and not ask any questions. Just like he had been told to do.
The woman who had come out first was barely a shadow against the trees but he saw something in the movement of her body, a small jerk of her head, that told him she was going to run.
And she did, bolting into the darkness.
Shit! He ran after her, feeling the ground shift from asphalt to grass. He was quicker and stronger and he caught her easily ten or fifteen feet from the BMW.
He wrapped an arm tight around her neck and started to drag her back. She was light, and he could almost carry her but she was fighting, her screams screeching in his ears.
"Shut up!" he yelled.
Her nails tore into his forearm. She started kicking, her legs flailing in the air. The screams grew louder. And louder until it was all he could hear. He tried to put a hand over mouth, but she bit him, her teeth sinking into the black leather of his glove. When he jerked his hand away from her mouth, the screaming started up again. He almost had her back to the pavement when her foot smashed into his crotch. He doubled in pain, letting out a groan, trying to hold onto her with one hand. Her screams were piercing now.
Shut up! Jesus, shut up!
He yanked her back, throwing her against the hood of the BMW. His eyes flicked to the other two women huddled by the truck and then up to the windshield to the faceless man in the hat behind the wheel.
The BMW's engine's revved and he felt it vibrating against his body. He knew the guy was going to pull away and that the whole thing would be messed up. And the woman pinned beneath his body was still screaming.
Shut up! Oh god, just shut up and keep still! But she wouldn't.
He threw his body over her, his right hand groping behind, around to his belt, around to the knife.
Shut up! Stop it! Stop that screaming!
He cut her throat. Her body went limp. It was quiet now.
He looked into BMW through the blood-splattered windshield. He could see only the wide eyes of the driver.
The BMW jerked into reverse with a roar, tossing him and the woman's body to the asphalt. It lurched forward, swerving around him and the woman, and almost hitting the Cadillac. The other two women jumped aside, and the BMW raced back onto Alligator Alley.
He looked at the knife in his hand and at the woman lying on the ground.
The two women were standing there staring at him in horror. Oh God, he was in trouble now. He stuck the knife back in its sheath, his hands trembling. His eyes darted back to the Cadillac. For a second, he thought of jumping in and heading east, not stopping until he got to Miami. But he couldn't do that, couldn't just leave. He looked down at the body. He had to hide her.
But where? The parking lot had no cover and he would get cut to pieces by the razor-like blades of the saw grass if he tried to drag her out there. The canal? He could throw her in the water and maybe a gator would find her and pull her under. But she'd probably just float and he knew the fishermen would be out soon. They always got out here by dawn.
He grabbed her under the arms and dragged her over to the grass near the boat ramp. A boat...someone had abandoned a boat. It was old, beat up, but made out of aluminum, so maybe it would still float. That's where he would put her.
He dropped her into the boat. She lay wedged against the seat, her head at a weird angle. He hesitated, then grabbed her blouse, ripping it open. He jerked her slacks down around the thighs. He paused then gently spread her legs. A rape gone wrong...
The boat was sitting in some weeds and he had to push hard to get it to slide down into the black water of the canal. Once in the water, it moved easily, and he gave it a hard shove. He let out a breath of relief as it began to glide away. He looked back toward the trash can where he had left Fed Ex box, thinking at least he could return the money since he had lost one of the packages.
But it was gone. Somehow the man must've gotten it while he was struggling with the woman. The other two women were huddled by the Cadillac, holding each other. He went to them. They started backing away from him, their eyes wide with terror.
"No, don't," he said, holding up his hands. "I won't hurt you. Don't run."
He opened the back door of the Cadillac. "Get in," he said.
The women didn't move.
"Get in, please," he said. He tried to make his voice sound gentle. He couldn't afford to lose another one. The women got in the backseat. He closed the door, locked it, and slid in the driver's side, closing his eyes for a moment. Marty Robbins was whispering in his ear.
They say that just before the dawn That night is as black as can be-e-e.
One of the women was weeping. A wind was coming up from the north, rippling the black water of the canal and swaying the saw grass, making the tall blades sound like knives scraping on stone.
He pulled out of the lot. At the edge of Alligator Alley, he stopped.
He looked right, across the flat grass to where the first thin edge of gray was shading in from the east. He turned the Cadillac west and headed back into the darkness.
© P.J. Parrish