Bloodshot eyes stare at a digital spreadsheet. The monitor glares with a harsh reality. Too many negative numbers expose an ugly truth. Anxiously perched on the edge of his high-backed leather executive chair, Gary Whiting waits with the phone to his ear. Dreading the final ring, Whiting lets it go to voicemail, again. He loosens the knot in his power tie and hangs up. This time, without leaving a message for his real estate development partner, Michael J. Rodriguez.
An hour later, he’s still at it. The four Excedrin have knocked Whiting’s headache down to a dull throbbing at the base of his skull, but his eyes ache. He’s been crunching numbers for their Sunset Pointe development project, staring at the monitor all damn day. He rubs at the knots in his stomach through his rumpled white shirt, thinking maybe he should eat or maybe he should just shoot himself. Tapping the return key with a jittery thumb, he hits it too many times, his pulse pounding in his temples. Shit! Where is that asshole?
Whiting runs a trembling hand through thinning hair, his scalp hot and moist. They could lose the whole damn project. Thirty million! Short stubble on raw cheeks twitches as he works his jaws. He’s bet everything on this project. And the numbers don’t lie. His fingers drum on the desktop, their nails ragged, bitten to the quick. In way too deep to quit now. Fucking Rodriguez. Chewing his bottom lip, Whiting redials Rodriguez’s cell.
“Damn Gary, whaddaya want?” Rodriguez sounds out of breath.
“Mike, we need to go over some numbers. Ya got a minute?”
Rodriguez gives a short chuckle then lowers his voice. “I’m kinda in the middle of somethin’.”
“Yeah, but…” A thump, then a woman’s muffled words. “Hey, are you at the office? Who’s with you?” Whiting asks.
“Yeah, like I said, we’re kinda in the middle of somethin’ here.”
A woman giggles in the background.
“Stop that,” Rodriguez says to Diane. To Whiting, he says, “Diane’s never done it on the desk before.”
Whiting can almost hear Rodriguez leer.
In the background, Diane laughs. “Do I get overtime for this?”
Whiting hears Diane and Rodriquez laughing.
“Damn… Mike, you guys… in your office?”
“Hey, don’t sweat it. It’s almost eight, no one’s around, yard gates are locked, lights are off. No one’s gonna know.”
Whiting hears Diane coo. More giggling.
Rodriguez speaks closer into the phone. “That is, as long as you keep your mouth shut.”
“Hey, no problem. I don’t care if you do Diane. She’s your bookkeeper.”
Diane lets out a short yelp. “What was that?”
“Shit,” whispers Rodriguez. “Shit.”
“Mike, what’s going on?”
“Hold on, I think someone’s here.”
Whiting hears grunting, rustling for clothes, the metallic snap of window blinds.
“Who’s that?” says Rodriguez under his breath. “Get your panties on.”
Diane whines, “I’m trying.”
Rodriguez whispers to himself. “Who is that? Is that…? I’ll get that bastard.” To Whiting, Rodriguez says, “Gary, hold on. I gotta take a picture with this thing, hold on.”
Whiting hears the blinds clacking.
Rodriguez talks to himself. “Damn, it’s dark. But I think I got ‘em.”
Whiting says, “Mike… Mike?”
“Yeah, I’m back, hold on. Gotta check this out.”
Whiting clutches the phone, pressing it hard against his ear. A loud bang. A door slamming against the wall? Too weird. Whiting needs a Valium.
“You, you asshole!” yells Rodriguez. “What the fuck do you want!?!”
POP, POP, POP—pistol fire. Screeching. A low grunt. Loud thumps. More gunshots.
“Uh, uh, uh…” Guttural gasps.
A long wail.
High-pitched keening, its echo raising every hair on Whiting’s goose flesh. Horrified, he drops the receiver. The handset bounces off the desktop as it sinks in. They’ve been shot!