By Deborah Rine
Chapter 1 Liam
It was pouring. He thought about driving back to the apartment complex and returning the car. It belonged to a woman in the building across from his pad. She always left the keys in the ignition. He’d driven it before, and she hadn’t had a clue.
But no, it had to be tonight. The guy had said he would be there to meet Liam behind the Taco Bell. The dude was going to pay six hundred dollars apiece. That would be five thousand four hundred dollars. Man, he’d be flush. Initially, the guy had offered only two hundred each, but Liam had driven a hard bargain. After this he’d head south to Panama City.
He took another swig of vodka and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he peered over the steering wheel. The windshield wipers were going a mile a minute. He could barely see the entrance to the parking lot. He almost drove right by. Damn rain.
In the parking lot he pulled into a spot under an enormous live oak. The car wouldn’t be visible to the camera at the corner of the office building. He took another swig to fortify himself. Then he got out and opened the back door of the ancient Chevrolet. The door swung open effortlessly because the hinge was rusted through. He reached in and grabbed the two boxes he’d bought at Home Depot, then kicked the door shut. Staying in the shadows, he approached the side entrance at an angle. The rain was coming down in sheets. He was drenched before he got to the door.
His employee pass and fob dangled from a cord around his neck. He swiped the fob and the door clicked open. He pulled the handle with one hand, balancing the boxes on his hip. The rain had soaked the cardboard too, but the boxes were pretty sturdy and ought to hold up. Once inside, he climbed the stairs up to the second floor. He tripped a couple of times because he couldn’t see so well carrying the boxes, and his long hair was dripping in his eyes. With a grimy hand, he pushed it back over his ears.
At the landing, he put down the boxes and swiped the fob on the door panel. When it clicked open, he pulled the door wide and pushed the boxes into the corridor. The hallway was dimly lit. He kicked the boxes to the first door on the right. Again, he used the fob to gain entrance into the lab. A panel of lights along the counter dimly lit the room.
There they were in a pen along the wall on the right side. Nine golden retriever puppies, sleeping in a bundle in one corner. Now that they were older, their mama was in a separate cage. She looked up and wagged her tail. Liam figured she’d spent most of her life in a cage. It didn’t seem right. They called her Goldie Number Four. There had probably been a Goldie Number Three, a Two and a One. He wasn’t real sure why she and her puppies were so valuable. It was all very hush-hush. He didn’t much care, though, as long as he got paid.
There was already plenty of pee and poop on the papers they’d laid down that evening before leaving. The puppies would probably make a mess in the boxes, too. He’d better hurry and get to work. He pulled back the flaps on both boxes, then reached into the enclosure, picked up two puppies, and placed them carefully in one box. They were still a little drowsy and flopped down. He picked up two more and laid them by the first pair, then grabbed a fifth one. Then he sealed the box with the tape he’d brought in his pocket. The other four puppies were moving around the pen. A big fat one stopped to pee. He let her finish and then he put her in the second box. She tried to climb out while he bent over and picked up two more pups, then the last one. Quickly, he folded the flaps over and sealed the box. He could hear scratching and whimpering from inside. Man, oh man, they did not like being in the boxes. Well, tough shit.
He looked back at Goldie Number Four. She was resting her head between her paws and looking up at him in that soulful way she had. It was too bad the guy didn’t want her, too. He stood for a minute looking at her. Why not let her out? She had been jailed since birth. It wasn’t right. He walked over and bent down. He felt a little dizzy and almost fell over. Blindly, he grabbed the edge of the cage.
“Hey, Goldie. You want to go for a run?”
The dog’s tail thumped on the floor of the metal cage.
He pulled up the latch and opened the door. “Come on, girl. You should be as free as a bird.”
Goldie acted a little hesitant, but then she stepped out of the cage. He gave her a pat on the head. “Come on, girl.”
Five minutes later he was in the car again with the boxes on the back seat. Goldie lingered at the edge of the parking lot, sniffing. He really couldn’t take her. Someone would come along and find her, take her home with them. He had to get going.
The downpour had ended, and it was only sprinkling now. He drove out of the parking lot, making sure the license plate couldn’t be caught by the cameras at the front of the building, and headed down the road. He was feeling tense and he took a couple of deep breaths followed by a long swig of vodka to settle himself.
The vodka did its job. He let out a whoop. He’d done it! No one would ever know who had taken the puppies. And he’d be leaving town real soon, with all that money in his pocket.
At the junction he turned left. The rain had picked up again. Slap, slap, slap, went the windshield wipers on the old car. They weren’t much good. He leaned forward, peering into the darkness. He knew this road was a series of curves. It was hard to see the yellow line. He had to really concentrate. In the back, the puppies were making a racket. He glanced at the clock on the dashboard. He had to pick up speed or he’d never get to the Taco Bell on time. He pushed down on the accelerator and rubbed his eyes with one hand, trying to see more clearly.
Up ahead, headlights glared. He squinted, half blinded. The car seemed to be coming right at him.
“Turn down your lights, asshole,” he shouted.
Was the oncoming car on his side of the road? Shit, it was almost on top of him. He wrenched the steering wheel to the right to get out of the way.
Then he slammed into a tree.