The first time Carrie Overton committed murder, she did it to save him. The second time she did it to save herself. Trapped inside his Chevy Impala, Carrie sat beside a man she didn’t love, a man she had mistaken for her savior.
She kneaded the stiff leather seat beneath her fingertips. The odor of stale cigarettes overflowing in the ashtray stung her nose. Outside the window, slices of sunlight channeled through the trees as the car raced toward its destination.
Frigid air whistled from the vents but failed to evaporate the sweat on Carrie’s skin. Underneath her short denim skirt, her thighs stuck together, but it wasn’t the Florida heat making her sweat. It was fear.
The engine rattled, strained, and then regained its rhythm. Carrie glanced at the man beside her. Travis’s long fingers cradled the wheel. He clenched his teeth, and she caught the click of his jaw. A familiar sound, it put her body on high alert.
Travis punched the gas pedal with the tip of his muddy cowboy boot. The car lurched forward. Carrie braced herself against the sharp turn. The tires on the right passenger side screeched and then lifted off the pavement. Her heart tripped in her chest as the Impala swerved into the oncoming traffic lane directly in the path of a tractor-trailer. The massive truck blasted its horn, veering toward the left just in time to avoid a head-on collision. Travis swore and cut the wheel steering back into the correct lane.
Carrie traced her finger along the door handle, wishing she had the courage to open it and hurl herself out of the speeding car. She turned, eyed the briefcase lying on the backseat, and, out of habit, twisted the gold band on her left ring finger.
“Travis, are you sure you want to go through with this? If something goes wrong—’’
“Open the glove box, Carrie.” The grit in his voice clipped the air like a pair of scissors, sharp and to the point. Travis never wasted words.
She pressed the latch. The glove box sprung open. Her stomach churned at the sight of the .45 revolver.
“Take it out,” he ordered.
“Why?” She asked the question even though she already knew the answer. This time, Travis was determined to push things to the limit.
“For Christ’s sake, don’t argue with me, girl.” He jerked the wheel and parked on the shoulder. “Go on, pick it up.”
Carrie bit her lower lip and attempted to steady her hand. She lifted the .45 out. The cold metal sent chills across her palm. The gun felt awkward, heavier than she imagined.
Travis taught her how to operate the weapon and check the safety mechanism. “It’s insurance,” he said. He finished with his instructions and made his way back out into the mid-day traffic. “If I need you to pull the trigger, you better do it.”
At his last words, her body heat soared. She dropped the revolver into her purse and flipped the visor down. She studied her face in the mirror. The violet in her blue eyes intensified. Trying to cool herself, she gathered up her long black hair and tucked it at the nape of her neck.
Travis adjusted his weapon concealed behind him in his waistband, then snatched up his cigarettes from the console. He slipped one out, motioning for her to light it.
Carrie deftly brought the lighter up and touched it to the tip. She took stock of Travis’s tall, slim build, a contradiction to the fifty-one years he carried. Only the subtle streaks of grey, running like silver threads through his brown hair, hinted at his age. Travis surpassed her by twenty years, but today, she felt a hundred years older.
He dragged on the cigarette and puffed out. The smoke swirled up and hung between them forming a veil—a moment’s division out of a lifetime of inseparable misery. It was difficult to imagine a time when Travis used to make her feel safe. After sixteen years, safety had deserted her, turning fear into her constant companion.
Travis cruised alongside the high chain-link fence surrounding the warehouse parking lot. An opening appeared, and he drove through. He stopped near the front of a red brick building.
Carrie peered out the windshield. Straight ahead, its engine silent, a shiny black Lincoln Sedan with tinted windows sat like a vulture, hunched over, waiting for its prey. The sun glinted off the dark hood, and she blinked to clear her vision. Her heart fluttered and beat against her ribcage like a trapped bird.
Travis parked across from the Lincoln. He lowered the front windows and shut off the ignition.
Carrie touched his arm. “Travis, be careful. Please, just give them the briefcase and get the money.”
His dark eyes locked on hers. “Get ready.”
She watched two men emerge from the dark interior of the Lincoln, their eyes shielded from the harsh sunlight by dark glasses. They crossed the parking lot. Both dressed in expensive-looking suits yet were polar opposites. The short, heavyset one lumbered toward them. His skin was the color of almonds, and his round face sported a generous mustache. The second one, tall and lanky, moved panther-like, his physique in stark contrast to the other man. His slick, sandy-colored hair lay combed back from his pale skin and pockmarked face. Both men removed their sunglasses in unison and pocketed them.
Carrie focused on Travis as he exited the Impala. He flicked his cigarette butt onto the pavement, crushing it beneath his boot. The men stood several feet apart.
“Hey, Carlos.” Travis nodded in the direction of the short one first, and then the taller one. “Eddie.”
Carlos’s posture stiffened. He fingered his mustache. His lips formed a slow smile that leaked acid below the surface as he held out his hand. “The briefcase, please.”
Travis remained stock-still. “You gotta understand, fellas, from where I’m standing, I have to make sure things are right. Hand me the money, and the briefcase is yours.”
Eddie glanced at Carlos and then at Travis, but he remained silent.
Carrie wanted to scream. What was Travis thinking going up against these two men? She clung to the slim hope that he would stick to the plan and not get them killed.
Carlos held up his hand. “Okay, okay, there’s no reason for things to get crazy. Let’s be fair. I’ll get the money from the Lincoln, and you get the briefcase from yours.” Carlos stepped to the Lincoln, reached in, and returned holding a large plastic bag.
Carrie squirmed as muggy air drifted in the windows. Barely able to sit still in the heat, her insides wound tighter while she waited for Travis’s next move.
“I have your money,” Carlos said.
Travis shook his head. “Doesn’t look like fifty thousand dollars to me. What are you trying to pull, Carlos?” In less than a second, he reached around, drew out his gun, aiming it at the two men. “Toss the bag over here.”
Pushing against the seat, Carrie wished she could disappear beneath the leather, be anywhere else except here in this parking lot. Her insides shook, and she tried to calm herself.
Carlos and Eddie remained fixed. “Are you kidding me?” Carlos asked. “Do you know who you’re messing with?” He motioned toward the gun. “Don’t be stupid. Put that thing away.”
Carrie observed Travis’s stance. She’d physically endured his wrath on numerous occasions and was all too familiar with his body language. She knew he’d never back down.
Travis waved the gun at the ground. “I said, toss the bag over here, then both of you need to take out your weapons and drop them. Do it slowly, no fast moves.”
“Bullshit,” Eddie said, breaking his silence. “I ain’t dropping nothing.”
Travis cocked his revolver. “You have five seconds to do what I say, or else.”
“Or else what?” Eddie pointed his finger at Travis. “You’ll never get away with this. Think again, asshole. You don’t want to screw with the man we work for.”
“No, you better think again,” Travis said. “Talk about trying to screw someone.” He aimed at Eddie’s feet and squeezed the trigger. A bullet burst from the chamber, the sound ripping through the dense air.
The bullet grazed the top of Eddie’s shoe, and he jerked back. “Son of a bitch! You almost hit me.”
Carrie flinched. Her skin prickled as she clutched the purse in her lap. Any sliver of hope that they’d all end up alive vanished. Her worst fears became a reality.
Travis stood firm. “Do as I say, boys. I ain’t gonna repeat myself.”
Carlos hesitated and then tossed the bag in Travis’s direction. It slid across the blacktop, coming to a stop at his feet. Both men lifted their weapons out and threw them on the ground.
Holding his aim steady, Travis called out. “Carrie, come over, too, darling, and bring the gun I gave you.”
Blood rushed to Carrie’s head. Her mouth turned bone dry. She fumbled with the clasp on her purse and pulled out the .45. Her legs wobbled as she climbed from the car. She held the doorframe to steady herself. The consequences could prove deadly if she didn’t come to Travis’s aid. Gun in her hand, arm by her side, she rushed toward him.
“Honey, raise that gun and take aim. Make sure they don’t move,” Travis said.
Carrie lifted up both of her arms. The butt of the .45 rested between her palms. She aimed the gun at the two men and fought to control the trembling in her body. Travis had given her no other choice but to stand by him. She sensed his confidence grow with her by his side.
Travis bent and reached for the bag just as Eddie dove for his gun. Carlos lunged at Carrie, and she squeezed the trigger the same moment Travis fired a shot.
The crack of multiple gunshots reverberated off the sides of the warehouse. The bullet flew from her chamber and hit Carlos dead center in his neck. Carrie staggered backward from the recoil. Carlos’s body jolted from the impact. He reached up and clutched his throat. Blood spurted from the open wound and streaked down his hands, turning them red. His airway blocked, he gasped and choked on his own blood. His arms fell limp, and he collapsed to the ground. Rivers of blood streamed across the pavement, seeping into the tiny cracks.
Carrie looked to her right. Eddie lay on his side. Blood oozed from his head wound. Bits of brain matter and tissue stuck to the hot blacktop. The coppery scent of blood and gunpowder lingered in the air. Her ears rang, and a wave of nausea washed over her.
Travis spun around and faced her. “We need to go now.”
His voice, muffled from the ringing in her ears, barely penetrated. Her legs threatened to give way.
“Carrie, did you hear me? We gotta go.” He snatched up the plastic bag.
Terror consumed her, and she couldn’t move. Travis’s fingers wrapped around her arm. He steered her toward the Impala and shoved her inside. Carrie took one last look at the dead men lying in pools of blood, not wanting to believe what she was seeing.
Travis got behind the wheel and crammed his weapon underneath the seat. The keys in his hand shook as he started the car. He jammed his foot on the gas. The engine swelled, and the tires squealed in protest across the blistering pavement. The stench of scorched rubber wafted in. He hit the gas a second time causing the engine to buck and falter. The automobile rolled to a stop, and he slammed his hand on the steering wheel.
He cursed under his breath and turned the key. The engine whined, hesitated, and then caught. He nudged the gas pedal, and this time, the car charged ahead.
Her fingers still clamped on the butt, Carrie stared in horror at the gun. She swallowed hard and let the .45 fall from her lap. Her stomach rolled. Vomit surged up toward her throat, ready to spill out. She clamped her mouth with her hand and gripped her middle with the other.
“Pull over, Travis,” she moaned.
“Are you crazy, girl? We can’t stop now.” He pressed the pedal harder and picked up speed. White-hot wind sailed in the open windows.
Her stomach coiled again, ready to pour out its contents. “Pull over. I’m going to be sick.” She gulped, pushing saliva back. “Please.”
Travis drew the wheel sharply to the right and stopped on the shoulder. Carrie bolted from the Chevy and rushed down the embankment. Her shoulders curled, and she dropped to her knees, arms cinched around her waist. Hot liquid burned her throat as she spewed the contents of her stomach.
Dry heaves surged through her, bitter bile stinging her tongue. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, she collapsed onto the grass. She kneaded her temples to ease the growing ache inside her head.
Jumping at the blare of the car horn, she struggled to stay erect, as she climbed up the embankment. She shuddered as her knees almost buckled. At the top, she watched Travis toss the briefcase into the trunk along with the plastic bag. She got into the car, and without saying a word, he drove back onto the highway.
Tears welled up, and she focused on the traffic outside the window. Their instructions from Carlos were clear. Make the drop, hand over the briefcase, and get paid. A simple task. Why hadn’t Travis followed the plan?
She weighed her own sanity against his madness and became determined to escape.
As the car sped down the highway, she became sure of one thing. As much as she feared him, her hunger to be free of him outweighed her fear. Carrie dropped her right arm and grabbed the .45. She slipped it into her purse. Travis was too preoccupied to notice.