Authors: Keisha Orphey
“They’re coming! They’re going to get you!”
Dawn moved as quick as her legs would carry her around the growling carousel creatures, stumbling over severed limbs, straining to make her way through the fog amidst fading lights.
“Where are you? I don’t see you—“
“They’re coming! All of them! You must run!”
“Who is coming?” she was losing her balance, could feel her knees buckling. She was so tired. So very tired. She felt like she’d been running for days. Every muscle in her body ached.
She collapsed to the ground, her hands scraping across a forest floor, searching. Mud oozed through her fingers and something slithered beneath her wet palm. Regaining her footing, she could see light peering through the grove of a dark wooded area. Frantically, she tore through a thicket of vines and when she made it through, sunlight shined brightly, blindingly, but she could see the back of a young girl. No older than ten, the girl had big bushy black hair brushed into two plaits on either side of her head, and she wore a cast on her left arm. The girl walked slowly down the center of a street grasping the handlebars of her bicycle.
“What happened to your arm?”
The girl turned around slowly, her hair flowing surreally about her face like snakes in the midst of flames. What Dawn would see next, made her fall back in horror. The girl was towering above her, at least eight feet tall, with sunken black eyes. She lifted a massive arm and in a horrific voice, through the black hole in her face, she roared: “You better
Dawn startled awake, blinking against the intruding light from the table lamp. She panted wildly, struggling to catch her breath. Her eyes stung like tiny shards of broken glass floated on the surface of her eyeball.
A beam from the streetlight shone through the horizontal blinds and the wisps of air from the fan above her stirred strands of hair about her face.
Dawn woke in her new home in Las Vegas. Exhausted.
She’d forgotten the nightmare by the time she awakened, but she could feel a headache coming on. Her heart still raced. All of sudden she remembered the carousel and the grotesque fiberglass horse coming to life, its hot breath on her neck…the blood gushing from its belly...
Too much television, she thought and sat up in bed.
She’d worked all night at the world-renowned Ritz All-Suite Hotel & Casino. And the night had been one of the busiest thanks to the start of the World Poker tournament. Poker enthusiasts had traveled to Las Vegas from countries worldwide for their chance at the $7-million-dollar jackpot. Anyone with the courage to sacrifice the $10,000 entry fee was welcome. There had been over 6,200 entrants to test their skills against some of the world’s greatest, including Daniel Negreanu, Chris Moneymaker, Phil Helmuth, and Doyle Brunson; many of whom Dawn recognized walking through the casino like zombies. Players toiled at the tables for 20 hours each day over the last week.
As Dawn had through the last five years of her life.
I’m never getting married, she’d had said only ten years before. And I am not having any children. Dawn married Philip Barron on January 15, 2000. Four months pregnant, Dawn waddled beside her father down the aisle of Greater Faith Baptist Church. Christopher was born on the Fourth of July that same year. Mason came two years later on New Year’s Day and Sierra on Father’s Day weekend the past year.
“Are we tying your tubes?” Dr. Sorenson had asked handing the eleven-pound baby girl to the waiting nurse.
“Yes!” Dawn and Philip had replied in unison, laughing.
Dawn had gestational diabetes during her last pregnancy. She’d suffered miserably physically and emotionally, but more so, socially. Just as her mother had felt like an outcast in her marriage, Dawn had felt the same in her own. She recalled sitting on the toilet straining to pass feces so large and hard, she'd sat there two hours. The hired help didn't provide much support either simply checking on Dawn every thirty minutes after she'd attempted contacting her mother-in-law who lived a mere 5 minutes away, but ignored Dawn's plea for help; a memory Dawn would carry the rest of her life.
Sierra weighed ten pounds, ten ounces at birth, a week early. She would've weighed 13 pounds 4 ounces had you been able to carry the entire term, the doctor had claimed. Dawn weighed 215 pounds when Sierra was born by cesarean at 6:45 AM. She’d been forced to drive herself to the hospital when Phillip uttered: “I'll meet you there.”
Dawn lay stretched out in bed, listening to Philip rummage through the boxes in the tiny dining room. He was the father of her kids, and the love of her life, but when she thought of all he’d put her through, she wondered why they had lasted this long.
The kids. Of course. Could never think of putting their children through a divorce.
You’ll be with your father this week. You’ll be with him for Thanksgiving and me for Christmas
. No. Never that. She’d deal with the ignorance and hate from his family, and even from him.
She could hear him moving boxes around, stripping tape, and unpacking the contents. Mason’s three-year old lisp echoed through the floor. He wanted to put on his Spider Man costume and fly around their new house. She chuckled. So innocent, she thought. That kid swears he’s a superhero.
Christopher entered. “Momma, daddy wanted to make sure you were getting up. He said it’s seven-thirty. You’ve been sleeping all day. Do you want something to drink?”
“A glass of ice water please.” Dawn ran her fingers through her long flowing hair. Puffy rings swelled under her eyes, as if she hadn't slept in days.
As Christopher exited, Mason and Sierra poured in. “Momma, you up?” Mason asked.
“Mom-ma.” Drooling, Sierra struggled to pull herself up against the side of the bed. Dawn reached over and scooped Sierra in her arms.
Mason climbed up, sitting beside her. “You gotta go to work again, Momma? Why you gotta leave every night, Momma? You gone all the time, Momma. We never see you. You tired, Momma?”
“Momma's gotta pay the bills, baby. It's the only way I'll keep that lil' tummy of yours full—“ Dawn tickled Mason as he rolled on the bed like a little ball, bending his knees to his chest.
Sierra giggled, rolling on the bed beside Mason.
Christopher entered and placed the glass of ice water on the night stand and jumped on the bed between Mason and Sierra. ”Tickle me! Tickle me!” Dawn tickled him, too, then one-by-one, she kissed the kids on their heads, and climbed out of bed.
Dawn splashed her face with water and blotted with a towel from the rack. She used the toilet, and then brushed her teeth. As she put the brush back in the holder, she paused looking at her reflection. She saw tired eyes and pain. She took a deep breath and exhaled as if forcing negativity from her inner core. “If anybody can do this, you can—“
“You okay?” Philip’s reflection appeared in the mirror.
“I’m so exhausted.”
“Your mom called while you were asleep. Your dad started chemo today. She was curious about the meds the doctor prescribed.” Philip met Dawn’s gaze in the mirror and she felt a wave of love for him. He was indeed her husband, but the constant arguments and painful memories she carried made her question their marriage many times. “He’s gonna lose both of his legs—“
There was a gentle knock on the door. Christopher and Mason entered and stared with puppy dog eyes. “Are you going to work
?” Christopher asked innocently.
Dawn sat on the floor. Sierra crawled up and sat in her lap. ”You know I love you, right?” Christopher nodded. “Mommas have to do whatever it takes to care for their babies.”
“I ain’t no baby.” Mason mumbled, and as grammatically incorrect as his response was, Dawn couldn’t help respond with love: “You’re
“Am I your baby, too?” Christopher begged for the same affection.
“Of course. You’re all my babies.” Dawn hugged Christopher and Mason and kissed Sierra on the top of her head. Her face winced. “Somebody needs their diaper changed.” Philip immediately gathered Sierra in his arms and headed out the door, blowing at her stomach making her laugh.
“Ugh, Sierra stink!” Mason blurted. Dawn couldn’t help but laugh. “Go watch TV while I get dressed for work.” Christopher and Mason raced away, as if in competition to gain the first step on the stairwell. Dawn stood in the doorway, watching them trample carelessly down the stairs, then closed the door.
Somewhere in Mexico
Dripping with sea water, the half-naked man had just splashed his way onto the beach through crisp blue waves and settled onto a hammock in the shade when the call came: “This better be good,” he ate from a silver tray of strawberries and took a swig of scotch. The ice clang musically against the crystal as he chugged every drop.
“She’s relocated again — “William said in a thick and nasally Ukrainian accent. “—to Las Vegas.”
How convenient, Emilio thought. Such a twist of fate. He always knew it’d only be a matter of time before she moved again. But this time, she’d moved into his playground.
Dawn Miles knew the minute she testified she’d have to watch her back until the day she was buried. She had done a great job moving from Lafayette to New Orleans under the watchful eye of the DEA, and when she married long-time friend Philip Barron and moved to Lake Charles, Emilio thought it an award-winning performance. He’d watched her like a hawk the past decade and had waited patiently for her to slip up.
The chase was over. He wanted Dawn’s head—literally.
“Didn’t you say her parents were still living?” he asked. “Where are they?”
“Lafayette, sir…where they’ve lived the last thirty years.”
“We’ve waited long enough. It’s feeding time…”
“I’ll call Miguel and Consuelos—“ William offered.
Miguel. Consuelos. Born savages. Emilio’d watched them behead a mark and bathe in his blood. They’d fed his limbs to animals and shipped his head to his mother. If anyone needed a statement made, these men would make it loud and clear. Sending such maniacs to Las Vegas would certainly cause a stir and likely refresh Emilio’s existence in the minds of federal authorities.
“No. You will not.” he ended the call. A wave of uncertainty came over him; he’d never settled matters personally. He had people for that.
His gaze shifted to the men stationed tactfully about the property, their machine guns slung over their shoulders as they stood in protective stance like guerillas prepared for ambush. Everyone around him was so evil and quick to kill.
He wanted the girl to suffer. He couldn’t possibly consider the task himself; he’d been a wanted man by the FBI since the eighties, but surgical procedures and skin bleach made him unrecognizable everywhere he traveled, especially Las Vegas.
Waves crashed ashore and retracted. With a leg lamped over the edge of the hammock, Emilio gazed at the setting sun, its rich red and gold colors mirrored across the miles of ocean. He felt safe here. He
safe here. Very few knew his location.
And that’s when he thought of Nicoli.
¤ ¤ ¤
Always some bullshit!
After being presented with the possibility of a pardon in exchange for his cooperation, William had spent the last six months liaising with the FBI to relinquish the location of drug lord Emilio Sal Chávez. He’d served the last ten years of his life in the Allentown Federal Penitentiary for the strangulation death of a federal prosecutor. He’d also been tried for the murder of a criminal defense attorney, but the state’s case against him was weak. There wasn’t enough evidence to convict him -- no witnesses dared to come forward, even though at least a hundred watched in horror as the man’s body was mutilated in the middle of the street – and the murder weapon, a black Mercedes, had been torched beyond recognition. But now, new developments were surfacing. Evidence linking him to the most dangerous drug ever created. A monster that could devastate America.
He was lying on a weight bench in a secured gated enclosure when Special Agent Vic Adams towered over him. He grasped the bar above his head, his white tee shirt stretching around bulging biceps and ripped abdominal muscles. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead as he grunted with a reddened face lifting the iron weights multiple times before returning the bar to the rack.
Anticipation beamed in Adam’s eyes. “I’ve got one word for you, ‘Kraine--” He ridiculed William for his ties to the former Soviet Union and paused as if the very mention of the monster’s name slipping from his tongue was poisonous. “Krokodil.”
He rose from the bench and proceeded toward the punching bag, jabbing furiously. Anger raged inside him with each blow. His federally issued jumpsuit draped at his waist. The empty arms flailed back and forth like a marionette. He knew that monster well. Created it. Perfected its poison. Codeine, red phosphorus and gasoline comprised its toxic mixture. It was deadly, but addictive. More addictive than any drug on the street, including its derivative heroin. Stronger than morphine and dealers were passing it off as heroin. While heroin sold for $700 a gram, Krokodil was a mere sixty bucks. A massive rush of euphoria overcame the abuser within minutes like a warm wave. But the side effects of intravenously injecting the substance into a man’s femoral vein or one’s muscle were the strangest any doctor had ever witnessed. Nerves were eaten away and the user’s flesh devoured from the inside-out, oftentimes exposing his bones.
“Gadyuzhka. It’s the poison of the devil.” His words were thick with saliva in the back of his throat.
Adams unclasped a brown envelope and removed a stack of 8x10 photographs, shoving them in front of William’s face. The first was a shot of a man’s forearm. The flesh was rotted to the bone. “His name is Joshua. He’s twenty-nine years old. Used to work as cook on an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico.” he flipped to the next photograph: a lady’s hand, blackened and crusted. Her index and middle finger tips rotten to the bone. “Linda Putnam. She was an elementary school teacher from Maine.
The United States
! What the
do you have to say about that shit?” He foamed at the mouth, spitting in William’s face, angry as a pit bull.
A moment passed, then languidly he spoke: “I’d say they’re fucked.”
“You sonofabitch!” Adams reached for him, but the armed agents standing around him held him back just in the nick of time. “You’re
gonna leave this place, you sick motherfucker! I’ll fucking kill you myself!” He exclaimed, being led out of the area.
“I’m already dead.” Sweat dripped down his forehead and to the tip of his nose. He pulled a blade from his pocket and began carving into his face the mark of the devil. The sign of the beast.
¤ ¤ ¤
Marian loved flowers, especially roses. She delighted in the velvety smoothness of the petal against her fingertips and the caliginous fragrance reminded her of romance. Of love. Of Emilio.
But now, as Emilio glanced past the garden of white flowers gently blowing in the ocean breeze, he pictured the dark splatters of crimson all over her when his home had been ambushed by rivals. When she'd been shot multiple times in the back...screaming and running toward him… To safety. Like scattered crimson petals from a lover's hand, the bullets tore through her flesh leaving red fronds in their wake. Petals of blood. Signs of her demise.
Emilio stood on the veranda and sighed, looking out across the ocean. He imagined her standing beside him, smiling, her beauty glistening in the sun.
My dearest Marian, I love you still.
“What a beautiful view.”
Emilio wiped a tear from his eye before turning to look over his shoulder at the handsome thirty-something walking across the terrace toward him. “Nicoli. I didn’t think you’d make it so soon.”
“You know I drop everything when you call.” Nicoli looked out across the sea. “I want to be just like you when I grow up, Emilio.”
They shared a laugh.
Still, Nicoli refrained from looking at him. He didn’t want to be chastised for staring too hard, searching for any remaining trace of him. The plastic surgeon performed superbly. Born Mexican, but thanks to costly plastic surgery, Emilio mirrored the average American Caucasian male. He’d even changed his eye color from black to grey. And all distinguishing tattoos had been removed, including Marian’s name across his hairy chest.
It seemed like a lifetime since anyone looked into his eyes, especially his dearest wife Marian. Oh, how he’d missed her tender touch. The sweet taste of her lips and the way she’d make love to him on the beach under the moonlight…
“How’s Zora? Your baby boy should be here soon, aye?” Emilio asked with a slip of Spanish dialect.
“She’s seven months and bitchy as hell.”
Emilio removed his shoes and said, “Walk with me.”
Nicoli removed his own shoes and followed Emilio out onto the beach, just a hundred feet off the veranda.
“William’s found the girl,” he strolled along the shore within Nicoli’s earshot. “She’s moved again. To Las Vegas. But
time, we will get rid of her.”
Nicoli paused. A deadly interest sparkled in his gaze. His feet sank in the wet sand as he moved next to Emilio. “What would you like me to do with her?”
“Whatever you wish. And when you’re done, bring her to me. You’ll know where I am.”
Nicoli agreed. As he always had. Anything Emilio’s heart desired, Nicoli made sure the man received. He’d owed him his life and would spend it proving how grateful he was for rescuing him from destitution. Nicoli was a native of Vrae Valley in Peru. He and his family lived in a hut constructed of termite ridden wood planks layered with bamboo stalks and woven yellow palm leaves, a remiss brick wall, and a dirt ridden floor. A fire pit inhabited the ground’s center where his mother cooked Peruvian dishes over an open flame. As soon as he was able to hold a sack on his shoulder, he’d worked in the illegal coca fields gathering the leaves alongside his parents and older brother Yosef, although police and armed thieves could seize the operation at any moment. Raw coca leaves were valued at $5 per kilo, but the cocaine paste his family would create under the roof of their dirt-ridden shack in the middle of the jungle would bring $1000 per kilo – money he and his family desperately needed to survive. His little fingers worked tirelessly sun up to sun down. The family would only make money to feed themselves if they could avoid getting busted.
And one unfortunate afternoon, it happened.
Peruvian police were destroying illegal crops throughout the valley one by one. The family’s plantation burst into a fireball of flames, desecrating every bit of their hard work before his eyes. His mother attempted to harbor he and Yosef to safety, but before they could reach it, the enemy had torched their shelter and poured bullets into his father’s chest as he’d pivoted yielding a machete to guard his family from the ensuing mayhem.
Nicoli pushed through the jungle at Yosef’s heel, his mother’s cries reverberating in his ears as she was burned alive. With tears in his eyes and his heart pumping wildly, he continued to run. He’d taken this path with his father many times before. Knew it like the back of his hand, but when Yosef was killed at the hands of merciless thieves, he had no choice but to keep running and hiding. He was an impalpable prey in this jungle, ducking and dodging every threat in his way, including wild animals strong enough to take him alive. Forty hours and seventy miles later, after rambling over hills and tearing through thick vegetation, he’d reached a clearing across a river and saw a familiar truck and its driver sitting idly at the end of the beaten path as if he’d been expected. Nicoli remembered his father had placed a brick of cocaine paste in his sack for safe keeping and before he even spoke one word, he removed it from the satchel and proffered it to the gentleman, then merely collapsed at the man’s feet from exhaustion and hunger. Nicoli’s arms and legs were riddled with insect bites and his feet, splintered with miles of hiking through the treacherous terrain. A day later, he woke in a strange bed, hooked to an IV drip, in a room overlooking the sea on Emilio’s private island.
Emilio saw a desire to live in Nicoli’s fledgling eyes and knew he could mold the desperate boy into whatever he needed.
Even a cold-blooded killer.
And as the sun had begun to set -- casting its brilliant orange glow upon the turquoise ocean – Emilio thought of his dear sweet Marian and how much she loved this time of day. Admiring the clear water sweeping at his feet, he uttered softly, but audibly, “I want her to suffer, mijo. Physically and emotionally. Just make sure you bring her to me alive and in one piece. No missing arms or legs like the last one.” He patted Nicoli’s attractive face. “Amos’ll have his way, too.”
They walked a moment longer along the private stretch of beach soaking up the sun’s final rays of sunshine, basking in the glow of its golden light. Emilio reached in his pocket and pulled out an envelope. It contained twenty-thousand dollars. “For the baby.” He patted Nicoli on the shoulder. “Don’t you get too wild in Vegas.” He smiled and sent him on his way watching him as he climbed the short slope onto the veranda and disappeared past Marian’s garden of white flowers.
“Such a good boy, that one.”