ASHLEY - CHRISTOPHER GRANT
Seven in the morning, the sun’s been up for thirty minutes and it’s already closing in on eighty degrees. The air is dry and dusty. The desert. I hate this fucking place and I don’t even live here.
She could never have expected this.
It’s four weeks since we met. In that time, we’ve become friends and lovers and now I’m going to kill her.
At least I’m dressed for the weather, with my Daisy Dukes and my cut-off, tied-off denim shirt.
Ash is laid out on the desert floor, fully expecting to find me laying next to her. She’s in for a horrific surprise.
I’m sitting on the edge of the hood of my rental car, in the exact same place I made her moan and scream my name last night. The rifle I hold in my hand, the muzzle pointed skyward, is in case she decides to make a run for it. The gun in the ankle holster around my boot is in case she doesn’t.
Ash shifts on the blanket in the sand and makes a face as she continues to dream. If she’s dreaming of me, she’s making a big mistake. The pink skirt she’s wearing takes me back to the first time we met.
Four weeks ago.
Arlen’s gotten a call from a guy named Lincoln (first or last name, Arlen doesn’t say). Arlen is my go-between. I don’t just take jobs without someone watching my ass. If something were to happen to me while I’m on one of these things, something like, I don’t know, I were to be double-crossed, Arlen’s the guy that’s going to knock at your door next. Then he’s going to put a slug in your fucking head. If your old lady gets in the way, she’s going down, too.
Anyway, this Lincoln guy’s got a problem, Arlen says. About a year ago, Lincoln had an employee take a shitload of blow and cash off of him, Arlen says. Arlen says that Lincoln can get more coke, it ain’t the problem. It’s the money that she took that Lincoln finds unforgivable. You can replace cocaine, you can’t never replace the money.
Lincoln wants to hire me, says he hears good things about me, wants me to go to Phoenix (where Lincoln says this employee has been spotted) and he wants me to put her in the ground.
Arlen says the price that Lincoln’s willing to pay is something you don’t pass up.
“How much?” I ask Arlen.
“Fifty thousand,” Arlen says.
“Book a flight,” I tell him.
In the five hours before my flight, I get myself a tan worthy of the appearance of having lived in Phoenix for longer than the zero seconds that I’ve actually lived there. I cut my hair, dye it black, purchase some of those contact lenses that change your eye color and a pair of cheap plastic sunglasses.
If Lincoln has a picture of me, if he’s planning on having me followed out in Phoenix or he’s planning on setting me up so he doesn’t have to pay after the job is finished, he has no clue what I look like now and neither do his cronies.
It’s like I always say: the customer is always right...except when he’s a psycho fuck.
My plane lands in Phoenix. I walk through the terminal, gather up my baggage and rent a car from Enterprise. Armed with the 411 about the ex-employee of this Lincoln guy, I do what might seem stupidly easy and grab a phone book in one of the booths in the terminal.
If she’s smart, Ashley Tinsdale has changed her name, her look, her everything.
She’s changed her name but it’s not going to keep me from finding her. Tinsdale is now simply Ashley Francis. Francis is her middle name. I rip the page out of the phone book and go get my car.
I find her loft in downtown Phoenix and park down the street. I scope out the building on foot, looking for entrances and exits, any way she could get out of the place without me noticing. Fortunately, there are only two possible exits and I have both of them covered from where I’m parked. I head back to the rental car.
The most tedious part of trailing someone is the stakeout. It can drive you fucking insane waiting sometimes.
Ashley Francis isn’t the kind to leave you waiting.
Almost ten minutes after I return to the car, she’s out the front door and heading for her own vehicle. I wait until she’s inside and several car lengths ahead of me before I start the car and pull out.
She’s nothing like a pro at this and I’m thinking that she probably doesn’t even expect retribution coming her way, she’s so at ease in this situation. She doesn’t bother looking for tails, doesn’t even pick me up when I’m directly behind her, without a car separating us.
I follow her into the lot of a Wal-Mart and eventually inside. Not only has she not changed her name enough to throw off the scent, she’s kept her overall look.
About twenty minutes after we enter the store, I approach her. She’s fingering a pink skirt and I make some sort of comment to her that I don’t remember. She smiles and I say that she should really get the skirt, that it would look perfect on her.
I’m flirting and she blushes. I wonder if she’s ever had another woman flirt with her before.
Before I scare her off, I ask her if she wants to get some coffee or something. She starts to say no but then changes her mind and holds out her hand.
“I’d love to,” she says. “My name’s Ashley.”
“Traci,” I tell her. It’s one of the names I’ve used before.
Over coffee, Ashley tells me about her life and I tell her some of my life story, too, leaving out all those assassinations, of course. It’s only fair; she doesn’t say a word about the theft of Lincoln’s blow or money.
We hit it off over the next two hours. She makes an excuse when she looks at her watch and I walk her to her car.
I want to kiss her, even though I’ve just met her, even though I’m here to kill her.
She’s too quick. Her hand goes to the back of my neck and her lips press hard against mine. It’s brief. And then she’s in the car and out of the lot.
This gun shop will give you whatever you want, off the books and without the wait period, if you flash enough cash.
Despite the kiss last week, I’m still planning on going through with this hit. Fifty thousand dollars tax-free can keep me off the circuit for a while. And Lincoln strikes me as a man you don’t fuck around with.
A little kiss isn’t going to stop me from squeezing the trigger.
I buy a rifle with a scope and a twenty-two. For the extra price I’m paying, the guy behind the counter throws in an ankle holster.
A week later, Ashley and I get dinner and take in a movie. We hold hands a lot. We make out in the movie theater. The flick is boring as hell and the place is nearly empty. Ashley goes up my shirt and touches my breasts, pinches my nipples. I respond by touching my tongue to hers. It’s electric.
We leave the movie halfway in and can hardly wait to get into the car where we can’t keep our hands off each other. Ashley’s wearing the pink skirt she bought when we first met.
Back at her place, the skirt hits the floor and is followed by the rest of her clothes and then mine.
She takes her time devouring me, moving across my skin with her tongue, slowly making her way down to my crotch. She touches me there with her tongue and fucking fireworks go off.
It’s when it’s over that I start to have second thoughts about why I’m here. When Ashley’s arm is around my waist and her body is pressed against my back. When I’m pretending to be asleep.
It’s blow and it’s cash, part of my brain tells me. Is that enough for a death sentence? There have been other women that I’ve killed but they deserved it far more than Ashley. The mother that killed her kids and almost got away with it probably ranks the highest.
Drugs and money are a complete waste of my time.
But fifty thousand dollars...
Ashley stirs behind me and asks me what’s wrong.
“Nothing, baby,” I tell her. “Go back to sleep.”
We talk on the phone.
I tell Ashley that I want to swing by, I want to pick her up and then I tell her we’re going to the desert, that I want to make love to her under the stars. She asks me to give her twenty minutes to get some things together.
Tears run down my face as I load both guns and place them in the trunk of the rental car.
We have a light dinner, watch the sun go down. Ashley is wearing that same pink skirt. I hike it up shortly after it starts to get dark and go down on her. I make her moan and scream my name, listening to her echoes chase themselves like a fleeting dream.
Ashley stirs and sees me perched on the edge of the hood of the car, the skyward-pointed rifle in my right hand, the twenty-two strapped around the ankle of my black boots.
“Traci?” she says, her voice still lost in sleep, though she’s waking up and coming alive rapidly. “What’s going on?”
My voice is somehow steady. “You fucked the wrong people, baby.” I guess I probably mean me, too, when I say that.
“What are you talking about?” Ashley still doesn’t follow.
Is she really this dense, I wonder.
“Remember Lincoln?” I ask. I watch her face, watch her mouth start to sag and her eyes light up as it dawns on her.
“Please,” she says. “You don’t have to do this. I can just give back the drugs.”
“What little you have left? What about the money?” I ask, knowing that she’s already spent it twice over.
Ashley’s answer is not to answer. She knows nothing she says will change my mind.
“I’ll give you a sporting chance,” I say, my voice still not wavering. “This rifle will hit a target a thousand yards away. I’ll give you to the count of one hundred. If you can make it a thousand and one yards in that time, you’re probably safe.”
“Please,” Ashley begs one last time.