Release Date: May 31st!
Sweat dripped down Alan Lowe’s brow and his heartbeat pounded in his ears. Seth’s pleading cries still rung in his ears, along with the sound of the gunshot. He’d used a silencer, but Seth had made enough noise that someone in the hotel may have been suspicious. Or maybe any casual passerbys would just assume they had been having rough, kinky sex? Either way, he had to move fast.
He had to get some distance between himself and—no, it would be easier not to think of his name—the man on the floor. The man who lay in a puddle of his own blood. Seth. His friend. Don’t look down.
As he struggled with his guilt, he still couldn’t believe what he’d done. He’d only come to New York to do a little business and unload one of his buildings. He had made all the arrangements to have the few people who worked in that building moved to another branch across the city so he could make some quick cash to pay off his debts.
Alan glanced down to the floor and swallowed hard, biting back the bile that had risen in his throat. He had to make sure he didn’t vomit. He’d already taken precautions not to leave any evidence of himself and knew that it was bad enough Seth’s sole purpose for being in New York was to meet up with him over the property.
After snapping the photo of his kill, Alan put his ear to the door and listened for any movement in the hall. When he heard none, he tucked the gun in his pants and opened the door. He looked both ways, and then hurried to the elevator. He was thankful it was empty, and even though he’d made sure the security company, which he owned, had rebooted the system, giving him a good hour of downtime to commit the murder, he still didn’t want anyone to see him.
He held on to the railing as the elevator moved down and held his breath that no one else would get on. He had one more thing to do. He found the previous thread of texts and added the photo, proving the deed was done.
As he hit send, his hands trembled, and he tried not to look too hard at what he’d done. It was no use. Seth’s head was turned at a weird angle, his mouth gaped wide, and that look of panic was a permanent death mask for him to wear down to the morgue.
Alan looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath. It was over now. Time to focus on what he had to do next.
Once he made it to the lobby, he kept his chin tucked low, popped his collar, and made a quick exit. As soon as the damp city air hit his lungs, with all the smells of smog and street vendors, he ducked to the nearest alley and puked.
How was this his life?
A month ago, things were fine. At least, they were his normal level of dysfunction, but then his daughter fell ill. He’d been spinning his wheels with how to make it all better since, and now, not only was his marriage, which he thought was indestructible, on the rocks, but he owed a thug named Benny thirty grand. To make matters worse, another criminal, some maniacal murderer, who apparently had a vendetta against him for something he’d done when he was just a kid, had taken his wife and forced him to kill Seth if he ever wanted to see her again.
Alan had put the woman through enough hell, and if they survived this, he would be shocked.
He stood upright and made sure that he didn’t have anything on his clothes, no blood, no vomit. Alan didn’t know what he would have done if he looked down and saw blood, and even though he seemed clean, he checked and rechecked a hundred times. He didn’t want to carry any part of Seth from the scene; the memory of his final pleas was enough to haunt him forever.
He took a cab to the airport and was careful not to make too much eye contact with the driver who seemed to mind his own business, thank fuck.
He was ready to get back to his city, to his home. He’d grown up most of his life there, from the time he was eight and his family moved from Virginia to Las Vegas, trading one V for another, as his old man put it.
Those were happy times until his mother met a con man who not only tried to ruin his father’s company but took his mother away from him. After that, he was left to watch his father struggle, not only to make his business, which took a big hit when his mom’s new lover took nearly all of their money, but the old man struggled with alcohol and being left alone with a kid to raise.
Alan arrived at the airport and realized that he’d brought the gun with him. Stupid, stupid. He wanted to kick his own ass. Why not just shout to the world what a madman he was? He knew better than to walk into the building and looked around wondering where he could stash a gun. There were some big planters near a group of benches, and one was completely empty. This time of night, there weren’t many people stirring, and that would work to his advantage. He had worn gloves, which he had taken off after he’d lost his dinner and shoved into his jacket.
He walked over and took a seat on the bench, close to the big, stone planter and looked over to see it did indeed have soil like he hoped. The soil was littered with cigarette butts and a few other things, but he looked around, hoping no one was watching, and didn’t even see a camera anywhere in sight.
He casually rested against the planter, letting his hand work the dirt, digging it nice and deep, and when he was sure no one was looking, he dropped the gun into the hole and covered it up. He even made sure to put some of the trash and a couple of cigarette butts there, just to make it look less conspicuous. He wiped his hand on his jeans and got up to go inside.
He went to the ticket counter. He tried to appear calm, taking a deep breath as the woman behind the counter typed away on her computer.
“May I help you?” She kept a blank face, which was fine by him. He had a feeling if she looked at him too closely or gave any expression, it would only make him more nervous. He didn’t need any more drama. All he needed was to go home.
“Yes, I need a one way to Las Vegas, and I’m not picky.” He listened to the rattle of her keys as he looked away.
“You’re in luck. The next flight is about to board in twenty minutes.”
Before she could say another word, he handed her his credit card, and she took it, and in another minute, he was walking away. He found the restroom and washed his hands and face. Then he raked his hands through his dirty blond hair and scratched his stubble. His green eyes were still wild, but he took a deep breath and tried to keep his hands from shaking. He needed a drink and planned to have a couple on the plane. Hopefully, that would calm his nerves.
Even though he kept seeing Seth on the floor of his hotel room, the blood pouring from him like he’d hit an artery, he couldn’t get his mind off of his wife. He had messaged the killer, and now he was supposed to hear word of Jamie’s whereabouts. That was the deal.
He had gotten the photo of his wife on his way to New York, and while he wanted to turn around and go straight back to Las Vegas, he knew he better follow the instructions to a tee. Besides, what good would it have done to head back? He would still be in debt, and he would still need the deal and the thirty grand to come through. He would not only be going back home not knowing where his wife was being held, but he would have a few cracked ribs and possibly a broken arm waiting for him, if not a bullet. And that was the easy way.
If only he hadn’t let his gambling addiction get the best of him. He could have just walked away from that table, but instead, he’d let Benny extend a line of credit. It wasn’t until he was in too deep, losing the hand that would ruin his marriage, that he realized what a huge mistake he’d made. That was after he’d woken up in his man cave at home with a massive hangover. Benny had given him time to find the money, but time was running out, so having a serial killing psychopath on his heels was the last thing he needed.
As he heard the call to board his flight, he wished he hadn’t ever met Seth or Bay or any of the other Zodiacs. It was a long road that had brought him to this point in his life, to the time where he had to atone for his mistakes and make up for the awful thing he’d done.
He let the events play through his mind as he made his way to the gate and boarded the flight.
The girl, Emily Johnson—a name that burned in his memory since—was no more than a child herself. It was funny how he didn’t realize it so much back then, but of course, he’d only been a child too. Fifteen years old is far too young to do something so sinister that it would haunt him the rest of his life.
But he and Seth and Bay and the others had taken turns carving up the poor girl and then tossed her aside like garbage, leaving her to bleed out and die. All for a fantasy; a foolish idea that Bay, their fearless psychotic leader, had designed in his twisted mind.
He had never killed anything before then, and his dad had sent him home to Virginia to the nearby camp to make a man out of him and to get rid of him. His father had hoped he would learn manly skills, or his idea of them, like cleaning fish and shooting deer. He had come home with a much more brutal accomplishment and a badge of shame to carry with him forever.
The Taurus symbol had been branded on the front of his left shoulder when he joined the Zodiacs, and if it hadn’t been for him wanting to be a part of something, to have that manly camaraderie, he would have never done it.
Alan remembered leaving the camp and being picked up by his father. He knew he would never be able to hide the mark, so he showed it off and told his father he had been initiated into a fraternity of sorts. His father had been proud of him for taking the hazing like a man, so proud that he’d let him drink a beer with him.
He’d been drinking ever since.
He took out his phone and silenced it. Then he looked at his messages, hoping one would have come through from the killer by then. He put the phone in his pocket and wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans. If he didn’t hear something soon, he was going to lose his mind.
After the flight attendant gave her announcements and the takeoff was complete, he called her over. “Could I get a drink, please. Bourbon?”
“Yes, sir,” she said, giving him a wink. As she walked away, he turned and noticed the attractive young woman next to him. She smiled a little too hard at him, giving him looks like she could sop him up with a biscuit, but for all his might, he couldn’t give one back. She was sexy, but he had nothing to be happy about. The only woman he’d been with since his wedding day was tied up in a chair with a gag in her mouth.
“Here you are, sir,” said the attendant, who wasn’t so bad herself. “Can I get you anything else?”
Alan hated to ask, but he had one more request. “Do you have something for a headache?” His head was screaming, and if he didn’t do something about it, he was just going to be miserable for the next three to four hours.
“Sure.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a blister pack. “Are you okay?”
What the hell? I may as well take up lying too. “Yeah, just fine.” If he didn’t hear something soon, he might never be okay again.