by Mike Sullivan
Rattler nudged her at gunpoint up to the lip of the shallow grave. Moonlight shook a soft golden powder onto her small, diminutive body covered by a red, frilly dress. A mouth covered by red lipstick quivered in fear inside her lean, brown, unblemished face. Long strands of loose raven hair blew over her shoulders in the chilly desert breeze.
“What are you waiting for, Rattler? Let’s do ‘er.” It was Fat Tony, Rattler’s friend. He was a large ponderous man but very impatient. Kate Wiley had met him a few months ago inside the club, but she cringed at the sound of his voice, “Let’s do ‘er,” ringing in her ears.
Let’s do ‘er. My God she was only twenty-three years old, working her way through the final year at NU, a small liberal arts college in Southern Nevada on the outskirts of Las Vegas. The lights from the city of sin shimmered off in the distance five miles away.
“Nah, I wanna finish my smoke first,” Rattler huffed.
Rattler’s voice knifed through her as she heard Fat Tony fuss and fret behind her.
“Why you wanna wait?” said Fat Tony. “We got cold beer back at the club…and girls wall to wall, so why you wanna wait and screw up the rest of the night?”
The impasse, momentarily sparing her life, left her with time to think. Was there any way to make a run for it to get out alive? A cold, calculated act of revenge set up by Rattler was the reason she was here. He claimed she had cheated on him with the hedge fund manager at the gentleman’s club where she worked.
The night closed around her. Darkness penetrated her skin. How could she ever have thought she and Rattler could share a life together? He was rough, scrawny, dark, and secretive. His slick, bad-boy image was what had attracted her. Yet so many mysteries ruled his life, and he was part of the mob. She had no proof, but the signs were there. Loyalty, male bonding, being with the guys most of the time when he wasn’t with her, left her with the impression Rattler was a gangster to the core. The sly, masculine smile, the dark, probing eyes excited her.
The day he noticed her inside the club was like one of her many fantasies. An older guy paying attention to her sent the pin pricks of excitement and desire rushing all over her young body. As she pole danced in front of the crowd, she took in enough money in one night to cover her monthly expenses living alone in a one-room apartment off campus. She tingled as she gyrated on the pole in front of him. She remembered her movements were sharp and crisp, well timed to trap and hold his interest, while his entourage poured drinks and lit his long, slender Cuban cigar.
Now it was over, all of it gone like a puff of white smoke blowing out to sea.
The good times, the money, the fun they’d had until a few nights ago when he’d ignored her altogether inside the club. She should have known better, but she was still too young and naïve to realize she could be discarded for another woman like a soft toy.
“Okay, I’m done now.” Rattler’s voice broke the silence. The valves inside her heart opened and closed, forcing blood through the chambers in a thudding, pounding sound. Footsteps came close behind her. She smelled the odor of stale smoke, and she smelled the smell of whiskey in the air at her back as she stared down into the shallow grave. Fat Tony had dug it while she and Rattler waited inside the air-conditioned car.
Was this it? The way she was going to die? The law of self-preservation was definitely against her, out here miles from nowhere in the remoteness of the Mojave Desert.
She began to cry. She began to pray like she had as a child. She stopped. Then started again concentrating carefully on the words, “Oh, Almighty Father in heaven, please take pity on me.”
The sound of footsteps snapped her head back. Her eyes moved to left straining inside their sockets.
“Don’t look back. I don’t want to see your eyes.” She recognized Rattler’s, harsh voice. “Look down… at your new home.” Haha. He chuckled amusedly. Then shouted, “Damn it, Tony. Where’s the shovel? You ain’t gonna bury her with your hands, fool.”
It was more instinctual, a dark feeling of dread poured over her at a life cut short far too soon. She heard the revolver click and then the barrel pressed up to the back of her head.
“Sorry, babe,” she heard Rattler’s voice mocking her, sending out a clear signal her life was over. She held her breath. She blinked twice as her body stiffened.
Then she heard the sound rush through her. A loud, thwacking sound, so loud and violent it it seemed almost nightmarish like the horrid, ugly sound of a large cleaver in a butcher’s shop cutting through a large slab of raw, red meat.
Within seconds the stone cold image of Rattler’s body hurled past her down into the grave. She jumped to the side and turned around.
“You had me worried,” she said to the man barely visible in the flashlight beam. “One more second, I would’ve been lying in the grave instead of him.”
Fat Tony laughed. She was aware of his penchant for understatement. “He goes. I survive.” Rattler had become one less rival ahead of him in the hierarchy of organized crime.
“I ain’t gonna bury him,” he told her in a laborious tone. “I dug the grave. You bury your boyfriend.”
“He was never my boyfriend,” she insisted.
“Yeah, right,” Fat Tony waved her off.
He went back and sat inside the car while she finished the burial.
When she was done, they laughed and hugged inside the car. Within several minutes he switched on the engine letting it purr for a moment before he slammed the gear into place, swung the car around, and sped off down the dirt road.
They drove back to town. One less voice in a cold, impersonal universe was left to clutter up the night.