Twenty miles to go. Twenty miles and then Evan Weaver was done with this shit. That was his mantra as he sailed down the road to the target’s hiding place. Last one, last one, last one, I promise it’s the last one, just do this last thing and you’re free. This was the last godawful piece of shit gig he would ever have to take, and then it was just golden beaches until the end of his days.
He gripped the steering wheel harder, flexing his fingers. His hands felt tired these days, worn-out, like they’d seen and done too much for one lifetime. Sometimes he felt like an old man even though he was still in his thirties. He was tired of running. He was tired of fighting. He just wanted to rest.
Ten miles to go, he thought as he passed another exit on the highway. A little spark of heat ran up his spine, and he pressed his foot down harder on the accelerator. For some reason a little knot of anxiety had formed at the bottom of his stomach. It was like it was his first time all over again, even though it was his last. In the past, whenever Salvatore or any other mob boss had given him an assignment, he’d haggle with him until he hiked the price up. Evan was a businessman that way. But this time Sal had told him, “Name your price. Anything.” So Evan named enough to finally get out of the business and head down to South America. He had a boat ticket already, just waiting for him inside his pants pocket.
Evan took the exit to the motel, feeling his abdominal muscles tighten in anticipation. He parked across the street, in a dark corner where nobody would notice him right away.
That was the first rule of killing: do not be seen. Ever. Don’t screw yourself out of the element of surprise.
Most of Evan’s targets were dead before they’d even realized what was happening. Not this time, though, Evan thought to himself. This time, it would take several long minutes to do the job. He didn’t have to strangle her. He could have just decided on a gun or even a knife, but when the idea had struck him earlier it was too sweet to let go of. As Evan shut off his engine, he looked to the backseat, where the Christmas lights were waiting for him. That’s how he’d do it, with the pretty lights around the woman’s neck.
Okay, he knew it was sick, probably sicker than any other hit he’d ever carried out. But it was too perfect. Christmas was the reason he was in this business in the first place, right? That one Christmas long ago, when his dad walked out, had set everything in motion.
Evan locked his car, carrying the Christmas lights under his arm, before crossing the parking lot to the girl’s motel room. The contents of his stomach squirmed like worms trapped under a boot. Why am I so fucking nervous? Evan wondered. He’d done this hundreds of times. Usually he did it with a cool head, hands steady and focused on the mission. But right now, he couldn’t seem to calm down. His blood rushed inside his veins, faster and faster with each step he took toward the girl’s room. Kill the girl, get the boy. Kill the girl, get the boy. Kill the girl, get the boy, get out, get free.
Evan sighed deeply as he finally approached the door of the motel room. In his mind, he was already a thousand miles away, on a beach somewhere where the sun blazed down hard on his body, where there was always an ice-cold drink in his hand and a scantily clad woman by his side. That’s what he’d do after this. He’d get a drink at a bar somewhere and find a girl for the night. It’d been so long since he’d spent the night in a woman’s arms. His body ached for it.
He pulled out his lock-pick, ready to go. All the blood in his body seemed to rush to his hands. He clutched the Christmas lights harder with his free hand, wrapping the cord around his wrist. Evan was ready. His life was about to begin.
Hannah was about to die. She was certain of it. Her hand paused in midair, just about to put the crowning touch on the Christmas tree, when she heard it. A scratching noise from outside. Her eyes darted over to Alex, but he was still asleep, looking as peaceful as ever. Oh, baby, if you only knew, she thought. All of this: getting away from Salvatore, going on the run, staying in shitty motels in the middle of nowhere—all of it was for Alex. If she hadn’t had him she would probably still be under Salvatore’s thumb, doing whatever he wanted.
For a second she was unsure if she’d imagined the noise out of paranoia. But then she heard it again. A slight little jingle, right outside her door.
Fuck. “How the hell did they find me?” she whispered to herself, slowly walking forward to the front of the motel room, trying hard to avoid making any noise. She’d been smart. She’d paid only in cash, for everything, terrified of leaving a paper trail for Salvatore to trace. She knew he had cops in his pocket, so there was no limit to what he could do if he put his mind to it. She’d even broken into different, anonymous-looking cars every other day to keep Salvatore’s goons from tracking her physically. When she first moved in with Salvatore years ago, she thought her days of crime were far behind her. She never thought she’d be in this situation ever again. But things changed.
There was another scratching sound at the door. Jesus, fuck, no, please, no, Hannah silently begged God or whoever else could possibly be listening. What could she do? Dash through the window and scream for help in the parking lot? There was no guarantee that anyone in the area was even awake, let alone willing to help her. And besides, how could she get through the back window quickly enough with Alex in her arms? He was still a baby. He couldn’t even walk on his own yet.
So she’d have to pick fight over flight. But how could she fend off the intruder? She didn’t have a gun. She didn’t even have a very sharp knife in this motel room. All she had was a couple sentimental objects. She hadn’t had time to pack very much when she ran off. Hannah quickly surveyed the room, looking for anything she could use as a weapon, when her eyes landed on it.
Her dead grandmother’s frying pan.
That would have to do. Hannah grabbed it and walked over to the door, trying to control her breathing. Her heart was pounding so loudly in her ears she wondered if the intruder could hear it through the door. The doorknob rattled again, louder this time, and then there was a clicking noise. Shit. The door was unlocked. Any second now. Hannah’s palms were sweating, threatening to make her drop the frying pan. She breathed as deeply as she could and screwed her eyes shut. I can do this. I can do this. For Alex.
The door swung open, and Hannah brought her arms down, crashing the frying pan down on the intruder’s head as hard as she could.
Evan’s mind emerged from the fog, a huge throbbing pain attacking the back of his skull. Where am I? All he could tell was that his arms were bound behind his back, probably with duct tape, and there was something else tying his legs together.
“Waaaaaaaaaah!” A high, shrill cry pierced Evan’s ears. He fought the urge to cringe. For now, whoever had captured him thought he was still knocked out. He had to gather as much information as possible without opening his eyes or revealing that he was awake. Then, he’d find a way out of his restraints and attack at the right moment.
So, clearly a baby was crying. Very fucking loudly. “Waaaaaaaaaah! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
“Shh, shh, it’s okay, it’s okay,” a woman’s voice whispered. The woman, Evan realized. The target. He’d seen a picture of her before. There was no way she could overpower him on her own. Was there a man hiding in here with her?
But no matter how hard Evan strained his ears, he couldn’t make anything else out. Goddammit. He opened his eyes a little bit, just to stare through his eyelashes. He could see a figure walking back and forth, back and forth in front of him. Evan quickly shut his eyes all the way again, since he was clearly being closely monitored. Okay, so he’d just have to break out of the tape holding him before opening his eyes.
Evan flexed as hard as he could, digging his nails into the edge of the duct tape, trying to pry it off his skin. But it barely budged. He pulled harder, but then the tape made a loud scratching sound. Evan heard the pitter-patter of footsteps in front of him come to a halt. Dammit. There goes the element of surprise. Oh, well. He’d have to handle it another way.
Rule two of killing: be adaptable. Each target was different. Each one demanded a different approach. This one would need to be head-on.
Evan blinked his eyes open, taking in his surroundings. The woman had resumed pacing back and forth around the small motel room, the baby in her arms. “Shh, shh, little one, it’s okay, it’s okay,” she murmured into the kid’s head. Evan took the opportunity to look down at his own body and see what was restraining him. His arms were wrapped around the back of a wooden chair, bound in the back with tape, but his feet were restrained with something else. He pulled his head forward as far as it could go to stare down at his feet and what was binding him. It was the Christmas lights, wrapped around his legs so tightly he could barely move. Trapped by Christmas. How poetic, he thought.
For a minute Evan thought the woman still hadn’t noticed he’d opened his eyes, and he immediately flexed every muscle in his body to attempt standing up, but it was no use. Fuck.
“Salvatore send you?” the woman asked without looking up from her child.
Evan didn’t answer, instead he just stared at the woman as she walked back and forth across the room. Hannah, that was her name. Was she really alone here? How the hell had she overpowered him? That had never happened to Evan in almost twenty years of killing.
“Did Salvatore send you or not?” Hannah asked, her voice higher and louder this time. She was pissed. And scared, Evan realized. The terror was coming off of her in waves. Good. Evan could work with that.
“You already know the answer,” Evan said, using his voice as a cover so he could mess around with the duct tape some more. Even as he pulled at it harder, straining all of his muscles and tendons, it didn’t budge. How the fuck did this random woman tie him up so well?
“Fuck, shit, fuck,” the woman muttered under her breath, hiking the baby up higher in her arms. “Did you track me or does Salvatore know where I am?”
“Listen,” Evan said, speaking as softly as possible. He wanted to seem likable now, trustworthy. “You need to think here. You’re in a rough spot right now. You need to be smart.”
Hannah clicked her teeth. “No shit,” she huffed under her breath. She began to walk faster, clearly getting more and more nervous as the seconds ticked by.
“I was sent here to kill you,” Evan said. “And I can still do the job. But if you let me go now, I won’t.”
She laughed and rolled her eyes. “Oh, boy, original,” Hannah said. “How’d you come up with that one?”
“I mean it,” Evan argued. “Believe me, it’s the smartest decision you’ve got right now. Untie me and we’ll talk.”
“I don’t—I don’t have time for that,” Hannah said, pausing to fake a smile at her son as he cooed softly in her arms. “I gotta think, I gotta get out of this…” She was muttering more to herself than to anyone else in the room, and Evan could see the panic on her face plain as day. It was weird, sitting here like this, watching her. He’d never spent this much time around a target in his entire career. Fitting that the last one would be such a pain in the ass to deal with. The life couldn’t just let him leave in peace, could it?
Salvatore couldn’t just let her go in peace, could he? He had to hunt her down like an animal, send hitmen after her until he got what he wanted. Now she had to be responsible for this idiot who was clearly still trying to murder her. There was no way she was letting him out of his restraints. She could tell he was trying to get out of them on his own, and if she weren’t freaking the fuck out right now she would have laughed at him. At least her Girl Scout training was good for one thing. That and growing up in a family of criminals definitely came in handy.
“Does Salvatore know where I am?” she asked, walking over to the crib she’d assembled earlier to put Alex down.
The guy just stared at her for a second before opening his mouth to reply. “Hannah. That’s your name, right?”
Hannah groaned. Did this guy actually think he was being slick, pretending to get to know her and acting all friendly? How dumb did he think she was?
“Okay, let’s try again,” Hannah said, turning back to face the guy head-on. “Does Salvatore know where I am or not? It’s a simple yes or no.”
“Look, listen to me. You wanna be smart in this situation, Hannah—”
Hannah grabbed the frying pan off the coffee table and whacked it, firmly but not as hard as before, right onto the intruder’s knee. “Fuck!” the guy cried out, his face screwing up in pain.
“Does. Salvatore. Know. Where. We are,” Hannah spat out, holding the pan above his legs.
“Yes, fine, yes, he knows where you are, exactly where you are,” the intruder replied.
“Shit!” Hannah hissed, smacking the coffee table with the frying pan. “Shit, shit, shit!”
“Yeah, so you’re pretty much fucked,” the hitman said. “Unless…”
“Shut up!” Hannah yelled at him. “Shut the fuck up. You speak when I tell you to!” She buried her head in her hands, her pulse pounding in her temples. “When were you supposed to have done it? Like, were you supposed to call him and tell him it’s done?”
“Am I allowed to speak now?” the guy asked sarcastically.
“Yes, fucking answer me,” Hannah shot back, picking up the frying pan again. She wasn’t intending to hit him again unless she needed to, but it felt better to hold onto something than to clench her hands into useless fists. She saw the guy flinch, like he was preparing himself to be hit again, and for a second she felt guilty, but then she snapped out of it. This guy had come here to kill her, after all. He didn’t deserve any of her pity.
“No, there’s no signal. I’ve never failed before. As far as he’s concerned, you’re as good as dead.”
Hannah nodded, more to herself than to the hitman, before kneeling down and yanking a suitcase out from under the bed. She’d only arrived here the other day, but it was time to go. She and Alex had to get out of here as soon as possible. They had to take the opportunity when hopefully no other eyes were on them to get out of the country, somewhere where Salvatore had no power. She sloppily tossed shirts and pants and packs of diapers into the suitcase.
“Where are you going?” the hitman asked.
“Yeah, like I’m gonna tell you,” Hannah scoffed, throwing bottles of baby formula into the bag before rushing over to the crib to grab a sleeping Alex. In truth, she didn’t know where she was going yet. She had to get out of the country, maybe go to Mexico first before heading further down south, but she’d have to sneak in. For all she knew Salvatore had people waiting at the border for her.
“What are you—what are you gonna do with me?” the hitman asked, but for a weird reason he didn’t sound scared. He sounded…almost resigned. For some reason, it made Hannah feel sympathy for the poor bastard. He’s not a poor bastard, she argued silently to herself. He’s an evil murderous monster that does Salvatore’s bidding. He’s the enemy.
Still, she felt enough pity for the guy to answer him. “I’m gonna hit you over the head again and leave you here. Eventually Salvatore’s other goons will show up and find you.”
The hitman was silent a long moment, just watching her as she hurriedly changed Alex’s diaper. She glanced over at the crib, considering whether or not to take it in her stolen car. Hannah had more than enough room in her trunk for it, but it was a matter of time. She finally decided against it. She’d just have to steal another crib later. Hannah swung the strap of her bag over her shoulder and held onto Alex with her other arm. She was halfway to the door when the guy spoke again. “Wait. Stop. Please.”
Evan had to force the words out between clenched teeth. He’d never begged before in his life, but, hey, there’s a first time for everything, right? “Please. Just hear me out.”
His heart was pounding so hard in his chest he thought it might break through his body and land on the floor next to Hannah. Was this what all his victims felt like, all these years? Was this what it was like, to know that you were about to die? “Just…wait. Please.”
Miraculously, Hannah’s whole body turned to face him. “What? Talk.”
“If you leave me here, they’ll kill me. If they don’t, Salvatore definitely will.”
“You’re the best hitman he’s got, right?” Hannah said. “Never fucked up before. I’m sure he’ll forgive it just this once. Maybe even send you after me again.”
Evan shook his head. “No, come on, you know you’re lying. He’s gonna put a bullet in my brain just to prove a point to the other guys in his employ. You know him.”
Hannah nodded. “I do.”
“So, please, just…just untie me. I won’t do anything to you, I promise.”
She laughed and turned her face back to her son, staring down at him with warmth in her eyes. “Not a fucking chance. No way.”
“Think about it,” Evan said. “If they come up here and find me, they’ll know you’re alive, and they’ll keep looking. But if we’re both gone, there’s a chance they’ll think I killed you and went off to enjoy my retirement.”
Hannah shook her head. “No, they’re not that stupid. They’ll put it together soon enough.”
“But at least it’ll give you time to get away. If you leave me here, they’ll demand to know what direction you drove off in, what car was in the parking lot that isn’t here now, before they kill me. And they’re better at torturing people than you are. They’ll get it out of me. You can be sure of that.”
She didn’t say anything for a while, but she bit down on her lip, turning to stare at him as she considered her options. If he weren’t bound up, Evan would squirm uncomfortably under her piercing gaze. It was like she was trying to judge his soul, like she was weighing out all the good and bad and in-between things about him to determine if he deserved to live.
“Right,” she finally whispered, tearing her eyes away from him. They’re beautiful eyes, Evan realized. They were multicolored when the light hit them, deep brown dissolving into deep greys and blues and greens and black. It was fitting, that someone so beautiful would put him to his death.
Hannah walked out of the apartment, shutting the door behind her. Evan felt his heart fall. He was going to die. He was certain of it now. He weighed his options. Stay here and rot, waiting for however long it took Salvatore to get suspicious and send someone to check on him. Or, he could find a way to struggle out of his restraints and go after her. Maybe if he killed her quickly enough, Salvatore would call it even and Evan could still get away from all of this relatively unscathed. He was scratching at any edge of the duct tape he could touch with his fingers, desperately clawing at it, when Hannah walked back into the room.
“You came back?”
“I had to put Alex in his car seat,” Hannah explained. “Come on, I’ll help you up.” For a beautiful moment, Evan thought his restraints were about to be cut, but instead she just untangled the Christmas lights around his legs, tossing them off into a far corner of the room before forcing him to his feet. For a second he was tempted to kick her in the face, knock her down and then force her to take the duct tape off his wrists, but he hesitated too long. A second later, Hannah grabbed the duct tape and bound his feet together more securely than before. Dammit. Next, she lifted the frying pan off the coffee table, her fingers clenched so tightly around it that her knuckles shone white. The silent message to Evan was clear: obey or get hit.
“Walk,” she ordered him.
Evan complied as best as he could, hopping forward in the general direction of the door. It took all of the coordination he had not to fall over. He successfully crossed the threshold of the motel room, hopping out into the cold parking lot. He considered, for a stupidly hopeful moment, whether he could just hop away, find someone to untie him and run out of the country as planned. But…in the back of his mind he was aware that Salvatore would never stop chasing him if he didn’t kill this girl. In South America, it wouldn’t be an issue. Salvatore didn’t have any power outside of the States, but it would take Evan a long time to make it down there.
Hannah shoved the edge of the frying pan into his back, urging him to hop faster. “Get a move on,” she demanded.
When they approached a blue SUV, he was left alone for another second while Hannah opened the door to the driver’s side. “How am I supposed to get in?” he asked.
“Hold your fucking horses, Mr. Whiny,” she said before popping the trunk.
The realization dawned on Evan ridiculously slowly, the way cold rain starts out as a sprinkle and transforms into a downpour. “Oh, shit, come on!” he complained. “I’m not going in the trunk.”
“I’m not sure why you think you have any other option,” Hannah shot back, walking back around the car to grab at his elbow and shove him into the open trunk. “In. Get in.”
Evan groaned but did as he was told. It made sense, after all. He had come here to kill the girl and take the boy. There wasn’t exactly a long list of reasons why she should trust him.
He crammed his body into the trunk, which on the bright side opened out into the rest of the car, so he could breathe at the very least. On the not-so-bright-side, there was a cage, a fucking cage of metal blocking the trunk from the backseat. So there was no way he could slither up on his hands and knees and get to her from the back. It was like she had planned for this very scenario. Who the hell was this chick?
Hannah shut the trunk’s door and walked around to the driver’s seat, quickly pulling out of the parking lot and onto the highway.
For a minute, Evan just concentrated on breathing. On the one hand, he’d never felt this defeated in his entire life. Never before had anyone made him feel so vulnerable, so weak. Well, not since my dad…Evan admitted to himself, but he quickly shut off that train of thought before it went off the rails. On the other hand, he figured, he still had a chance here. He breathed deeply, trying to anchor himself and stay calm. The longer he was with her, the more opportunities he’d have at finishing the job. Sooner or later, she would get tired of making him hop around, and if he could get her to cut the restraints, it was game over. I just have to wait for the right moment, he told himself, and I can still fix this. I can make this right.