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A twisted tale of lunacy, heroism, and sacrifice. How far would you be willing to go to save a stranger? Steve McIntosh is a very troubled man who devises a plan to come to terms with his life’s greatest failures. As his tenuous grasp on sanity begins to unravel, however, he quickly realizes that he may be out of his depth. Undeterred by mounting failures, he struggles to keep his plan on track, even as the circumstances spiral badly out of his control. Diane Edwards falls prey to McIntosh but refuses to play the helpless victim. Relying on her limited resources, and driven by her unyielding sense of hope, Diane fights against all odds to save herself from the delusional maniac’s increasingly horrific intentions. Will the bravery and sacrifice of a handful of strangers converge to overcome the evil lunacy of a desperate and deranged sociopath before his murderous endgame is realized?

Thriller / Action
Mark Laakso
5.0 4 reviews
Age Rating:

A Diverse Cast


Kansas City, Missouri

On the morning that would come to define his existence, Steve McIntosh awoke at 8:11, disoriented and drenched in sweat. Like the lingering embers of a recently extinguished campfire, remnants of his serial nightmare smoldered at the edges of his consciousness, almost mocking him. In recent weeks, the grisly scene played itself out in his dreams almost nightly…

He finds himself walking down a dim, unfamiliar corridor that seems to get longer yet narrower with his every step. From a curious pocket of pure darkness in front of him, it appears. The corpse is female. Somehow familiar. Its grey skin hangs loosely from its skeleton and its eyes burn red within the sockets of an evil, vengeful face. It grins, baring teeth sharp and yellow. He stops suddenly, his heart pounding within his chest. From within the tattered and rotten pieces of cloth hanging loosely from her bony frame, she produces a hatchet. Its razor sharp blade produces a brilliant silver gleam, despite the near total absence of light. She begins to laugh; a crazed, demonic sound that makes his skin crawl. Driven by a strong and sudden desire to remain alive, he spins and runs in the opposite direction, the corridor grows more constrictive with his every step. From behind him, the demonic laughter grows louder and the stench of death overwhelms his nostrils. She is on him. With astonishing speed and strength, the she-devil lifts him in the air and throws him to the ground. He attempts to scream, but is stifled somehow, as if the corridor had become a vacuum, devoid of all oxygen. She pins him, his back to the floor, her decaying thighs straddle his chest. She raises the hatchet above her head with both hands. Blood drips from the steel blade onto his forehead; blood that wasn’t there seconds ago. With a wicked, terrible smile, she leans in as if to whisper something in his ear. He gags at the overwhelming stench of her breath…

…and is violently jerked from restless slumber. Every time, he wakes just before those words are whispered. This morning proved to be no different.

After a brief struggle with his sheets, he rose from his bed and stumbled down the hall to the bathroom. After a cursory examination of himself in the mirror did nothing to ease his mind, he climbed into a hot shower. He hoped that this routine exercise would not only cleanse his body, but that it would also cleanse his soul and reacquaint him with reality, as if washing his body might somehow wash away the lingering residue of his unsettling night visions. But it didn’t work. It never did.

After he had showered and dressed, Steve put on a pot of coffee and perused the daily paper. His eyes danced idly from word to word, paragraph to paragraph, without any recognition as to their meaning. His mind was too preoccupied for new information. This morning marked the beginning of a week-long vacation from his job as night watchman at the electronics warehouse and he had much to do. But unlike the majority of the American workforce, he anticipated his looming sabbatical not with excitement or relief, but with trepidation and unease. The daily lack of a disciplined routine would certainly lead to trouble. It always had.

Operating on a theory he had spent the better part of a week formulating, today would be the day that Steve would seize his life back. Today would be the day that the long and arduous planning phase would end and give way to the execution phase. He intended to turn his pathetic life around, to regain control of his destiny. This would not be an easy task. Nor would it be done without collateral damage. He finished his coffee, set down the paper and went about the task of packing a duffel with a five day supply of clothing, toiletries and rations. And he went off to claim his destiny.

The vast expanse of Interstate 70 West through Kansas has been known to steal the sanity of countless travelers. The emptiness and redundancy of the open plains and rolling farm lands appear almost as a room in a Scooby Doo cartoon that continually recycles itself as Shaggy, Scooby and the gang race through it. Chair…lamp…door…chair…lamp…door. Silo…cornfield…farmhouse…silo…cornfield…farmhouse. And so it went. For hours. With only the mobile interactions with other travelers to remind one that there was, in fact, other human life on this planet. But fortunately for Steve, the loss of sanity was not a concern.

At around 3:00 that afternoon, Steve exited I-70 at the first Junction City exit to grab a bite to eat and to fuel up his Explorer. He was quite familiar with Junction City, Kansas. He had lived here with Diane five years prior. In fact, the only reason he had moved to Kansas City was to get away from her before their looming divorce destroyed his reputation. She had made it clear that she planned on remaining in Junction City and he could not stand the thought of having to ever see her face again. And he certainly wasn’t going to subject himself to having to cross paths with Clay, the bastard that had stolen her from him.

And then, as his mind obsessed with memories of failures past, and almost as if by habit, Steve found himself in the parking lot of Mabel’s Market on Conner Street, snuggled along the northeastern boundary of Fort Riley. He hadn’t seen Diane since the unfortunate events of that evening five years ago that had sent her to the ER, but somehow he was certain that she was still the Assistant Wildlife Director at Fort Riley. She had loved that job. He glanced at his watch. 3:20. He remembered that her workday had always ended at 3:30 on Mondays. And it suddenly seemed a lot less than a coincidence that his plan had brought him here.

He exited his Explorer and visually scanned the empty parking lot. Satisfied that the market would be nearly (if not completely) empty, he entered the building. Besides, he was here for a sandwich, a Coke, and some gas – not to see Diane. True, he had done his research last week and felt certain that Diane still resided in Junction City. And also true, during their days of married bliss she had stopped here occasionally before or after work for gas or cigarettes. But certainly, his running into her here was not part of the master plan. He was here because he needed gas and he was hungry. That was all it was.

Shaking off the notion that he was here – in this place, at this time – hoping (even subconsciously) to cross paths with his ex-wife, Steve roamed the window aisle and headed to the deli case at the rear of the building. As he examined the sandwich selection, he pondered his good fortune that no one was here who may recognize him. Anonymity was key to his success. He reached for a pastrami and Swiss on whole wheat when he heard it…

“The fuel on two, please. And a pack of Marlboro Lights. Could you please hurry?”

That nervous voice sent a shiver straight up Steve’s spine. Silently and swiftly, he turned from the deli case and took cover behind the magazine rack. After a deep breath, he raised his head slightly above the top row of magazines to steal a glimpse of the woman to whom that voice belonged. There she was. Diane stood at the counter, her back to him. She was wearing her state-issued light brown uniform. He recognized the way the pants hugged her thighs and caressed her rear end, presenting it as some sort of artistic centerpiece. Her hair had grown quite a bit, falling now to gently cover her shoulders. She was still beautiful, more so now than he had remembered. She seemed nervous, perhaps even frightened – almost as if she somehow sensed his presence. Instinctively, he lowered his head, once again taking cover behind the magazine rack.


Junction City, Kansas

Diane loved Mondays. She had come to view Monday as an extension of her weekend. Director Howard Young met with the base commander and his staff every Monday morning. This meant that she was not expected at the base until 11:00am. And the military brass held their weekly briefings on Monday evenings so the Division of Wildlife staff was required to vacate base property by 3:30pm. All told, it made for a four-and-a-half hour workday. A workday that was now over.

The cloudless brilliance of this afternoon’s blue sky seemed to serve as a sentry, trumpeting the imminent approach of summer. And the weather was perfect: warm (but not uncomfortable) with a slight breeze, pungent with the scent of blooming flowers. June was her favorite month. It invoked memories of fly-fishing on the Missouri River with her father during her adolescence. It had been her father that had kindled within her the passion for nature that had sent her down the career path she had chosen. She always smiled when she thought of him. She caught herself smiling when she pulled her Jeep Grand Cherokee into the gas pumps at Mabel’s Market on the northeast border of base property.

She exited her vehicle and began to fill the tank. Her thoughts shifted from past happiness with her father to current happiness with Clay. The fourth anniversary of their wedding day was quickly approaching and she had been struggling to decide how best to celebrate the occasion. A heartfelt card, a decadent dinner, a weekend trip…these were all good, traditional ideas and she would likely provide all three, but even combined these fell well short of what the occasion deserved. It wasn’t just a wedding anniversary. To Diane, it was the anniversary of a rebirth. Clay hadn’t just made her his wife on that day; he had made her whole again. How do I even begin to express my love and gratitude properly, she wondered. It didn’t seem possible.

As she pondered the difficulty of this situation, she began to glance casually around the parking lot. When she caught sight of the green Ford Explorer in the corner by the air pump, all thoughts of contentment were driven from her mind. Her pulse quickened and a dull, throbbing panic settled over her, clouding the edges of her conscious mind.

“No, no, no…” she murmured. “It can’t be.”

There had to be dozens of Explorers in Junction City. And certainly a handful of them were green. This wasn’t Steve’s Explorer. It couldn’t be. Could it? She examined the license plate – Missouri. Had he moved to Missouri? She had never known where he had gone when he left their home on that fateful night almost five years ago. She had never even wanted to know. Could he actually be here? What possible reason could he have for being here, of all places? You’re being silly. She didn’t believe that, but she tried to convince herself. As irrational as it seemed, somehow she knew that this was Steve’s Explorer. He was here. And that singular realization scared her to death.

The fuel pump clicked off, startling Diane back to reality. She hurried around to the passenger side of her Jeep, opened the door, and fumbled clumsily though her purse for her cell phone. She knew that Clay was busy in briefings and would likely be unable to answer his phone but she dialed him anyhow. It rang once…twice…thrice…voicemail.

“Damn!” She waited for the beep. “Clay, honey, it’s me. I know you’re in a meeting right now, but I think we may have a problem. It could be nothing, but…it’s Steve. I think he’s here. Please call me back as soon as you get this. Okay? I love you.”

She ended the call and stashed her phone in her front left pocket. She took a deep breath in an attempt to bolster her resolve, then made her way to the entrance of the market.


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kevin Gates dropped his red marker on the desk, took off his glasses and rubbed his temples. He drew a deep, deliberate breath then exhaled slowly, contentedly. This was it. He had just finished grading the last final exam of the spring semester. It was actually the last exam he would ever grade at the University of New Mexico. His days as an associate professor in the Criminal Justice Department were now officially over. The finality of this moment and the promise it represented made Kevin smile so broadly that he could not keep it silent. It spilled over into a soft, satisfying laughter. He was about to embark on a very exciting and promising future.

As he finished packing up the last of his personal effects, a welcomed visitor graced his doorway for what would certainly be the final time.

“Hey, Kevin. How’s it going?” Jack Benson had become his mentor. He looked more like a box office icon than the head of the Forensic Science Department. His rugged good looks and wavy blond hair seemed more suited for a summer blockbuster promotional poster in the local Cineplex than a university faculty directory. Yet Jack did not even watch movies. He was a man completely dedicated to his work. And his free time was absorbed by the sole pursuit of expanding the knowledge that it required. An investigator by nature, he had once forsaken a high-level analytical position within the Justice Department. So highly respected was Jack Benson, in fact, that the head of the Santa Fe branch of the FBI (Jack called him Parsons) reached out to him for his expertise in forensics from time to time. But, the lure of the lectern had apparently been too strong for him. “When you have something in your blood, you simply cannot walk away from it,” he had once explained to Kevin. So Jack taught – and he did it well.

“Good, Jack. It’s good to see you. Please come in.”

“So this is it, eh? Your travel plans are finalized, I assume.”

“You bet. I leave tonight. Here you go,” he said, handing Jack a file folder full of papers, two CDs and a flash drive. “This semester’s results. Everything’s in order.”

“Thanks, Kevin,” Jack said, grabbing the stack from him. “It’s truly been a pleasure having you in the department. You know, your vision and determination will not be easily replaced around here, although I’m quite sure that the students at Colorado State will benefit greatly from your tutelage.”

“I can only hope,” Kevin responded with a grin. “Thank you, Jack. For everything.”

Jack smiled and nodded.

“You know,” Kevin offered. “There are a number of beautiful golf courses up there if you ever get an inkling.”

“So I’ve heard,” he responded with a wink. “I suppose you’ll need some strokes?”

“Of course I will, Tiger.”

They shared a chuckle and then shook hands.

“Do you need a ride to the airport?” Jack asked as he turned to leave.

“Thanks, but no. I’m meeting Angela for dinner. She’s taking me after.”

“Okay. Too bad she won’t be going with you, buddy. Give me a call after you get settled.” And with that, Jack Benson was gone.

It was 3:00 that Monday afternoon when Kevin returned to his apartment in Tingley Park. He had spent much of the previous week packing up all of his worldly belongings and had already shipped it all off to his new rental condo in Fort Collins, Colorado. All that remained at this point were two large suitcases that now sat prominently in the middle of the barren living room. As he conducted a final walkthrough of his desolate living quarters, he was struck for the first time by the tremendous sadness of the occasion. Although he was on the brink of setting out upon a life for which he had spent years preparing - one that offered the promise of his dream job, a very healthy salary and compensation package, and residing in the most beautiful region of this great land - he would be doing so without his beloved Angela.

When he had been offered the Colorado State professorial position back in April, he had accepted it almost immediately, admittedly without so much as the hint of a conversation with Angela about it. Wanting so badly to embrace everything this opportunity offered, he actually convinced himself that, should it become necessary, he would be able to persuade her to embrace this new chapter with just his charm. She loves me. How could she not be in favor of this, he had reasoned. Her love for him was real. He knew that for a certainty. Wasn’t that enough? Recently he had become quite wary of all those love clichés: “love conquers all,” “all you need is love,” “love knows no boundaries.” What a bunch of absolute bullshit. Greeting card bullshit. The real world does not work like that. And in reality, neither love nor the promise of a wonderful future had been enough to sway Angela. Now, here he was, alone in a completely empty apartment preparing to see, eat dinner with, and then say goodbye to the only woman he had ever truly loved.

As he exited this apartment for the final time, he dialed Angela to let her know that he was on his way to the restaurant. Her line rang three times then went to voicemail. That came as a bit of a surprise. Angela always had her cell on her and always answered it. Kevin used to tease her that she would make a great 9-1-1 operator because she never let a phone, any phone, ring a third time. Even that unfortunate time at the movies, Kevin suddenly remembered with a chuckle.

He waited for the beep, trying to mitigate his concern about the fact that she didn’t answer his call.

“Hey, baby. It’s me. I’m finished for the day so I’m heading out early. I know you’ve probably still got stuff to finish up, but I’ll be there whenever you get done. Call me when you get this.”


Junction City, Kansas

The counter clerk was a frumpy, older woman with gray, curly locks and was wearing the ugliest brown and orange flower print sundress that Diane had ever seen. Despite Diane’s request, she was certainly not moving very quickly. Actually, she didn’t appear capable of moving quickly. Diane’s frustration was palpable. She very badly wanted to leave this building.

“Please, ma’am,” Diane said firmly but politely, “I’m in a bit of a rush!”

“I’m a-comin’, sweetie.” She stood up with the assistance of a walker. And step by labored step, she made her way to the register. “What brand of cigarettes did you say you needed, dear?”

“Marlboro Lights,” she answered, more firmly and less politely.

Unable to attain a feeling of well-being with so much space at her back, Diane spun around to survey the interior of the market. Oddly, there seemed to be nobody here but the frumpy old lady behind the counter, a middle-aged man stocking the dairy case on the far wall, and her. That struck her as only a mild relief, though. The fact remained that a green Explorer that looked very much like the one Steve McIntosh owned when they were married sat in the corner of the parking lot, though it had Missouri plates. Diane very much doubted that either one of these employees commuted from Missouri to work at Mabel’s. She supposed that the fact that one of them had recently moved here was a possibility. But still…

“Slow day today?” she asked, turning back around to face the counter, perturbed to discover that the old lady had not yet retrieved her cigarettes.

“S’pose so,” the old lady answered. “Only a handful of customers since lunch. Marlboros, right?” She produced a red and white pack from the overhead cigarette racks and placed it on the counter.

“No!” Diane spat back, her patience now totally abated. “Marlboro Lights. They are in a white pack! Please!!”

“I’m sorry, honey.” She returned the red pack and produced a white one. “Are these the right ones, sweetie?”

Diane nodded brusquely. “What do I owe you?”

The answer to her question came as a stream of long, piercing alarm bursts that split the surreal silent serenity inside the market as subtly as Paul Bunyan’s axe would split a box of toothpicks.

Diane jumped like a chimp on Adderall. Her heart was hammering within her chest. “What the hell is that,” she shrieked, trying to be heard over the commotion.

“It’s okay, Missie,” the clerk answered loudly. “Otis must’ve forgot to deactivate the alarm on the back door again. You know, he’s getting on in years. The deliveryman rings that bell an’ ole Otis just throws the door open. Must happen twice a week anymore. Nothin’ to be jumpy about, though.” She slid the cigarettes across the counter. “Now, includin’ the gas, that’ll be $26.60.”

Diane tossed three tens on the counter and turned for the door. “Keep the change!”

When she reemerged into the parking lot, she instinctively glanced in the direction where the Explorer had been parked. It was still there. And apparently still unoccupied. Still unsettled though only yards from her own vehicle, Diane quickened her pace. As she reached the door of her Jeep, she glanced quickly from the Explorer to entrance of the market and back. Nothing.

She climbed into her Jeep, sank into the driver’s seat, started the ignition, and let out a huge sigh of relief.

“Thank God,” she whispered under her breath. She threw the transmission into drive and took off. Her tires squealed as she pulled out of the lot.

Back inside Mabel’s Market, the alarm was still blaring wildly as the impatient lady in the beige Jeep squealed out of the lot.

“Hey, Max,” shouted the frumpy counter clerk at the old man in the dairy aisle. “Tell Otis to shut off that damned alarm!”

“Otis ain’t here today, Florence,” Max shouted back. “He don’t work Mondays!”

“Oh, right,” Florence whispered. Then what the hell had set off the alarm? “Well, don’t just stand there,” she shouted. “Turn it off!”


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kevin arrived at Mariachi’s just after 4:00 that afternoon. He was over an hour early for their dinner reservation, but there was no way he intended to pass the time in his apartment. Too many memories…and not enough furniture. Plus, he very much wanted a drink. He had tried to reach Angela again on the cab ride, but once again got her voicemail. He hung up without leaving a message this time. They had made these plans a week ago and he was certain that she would be here. After all, this meal promised to be relationship-defining; a sort of “make or break” type rendezvous that he had never believed (until now) that he would ever experience. These sorts of things only happened in the movies.

He strolled to the bar and set his two suitcases down on either side of his bar stool.

“Buenos noches, señor. What can I get for you?” The bartender was the spitting image of Cheech Marin. With a wry smile, Kevin looked around curiously, half-expecting to find Tommy Chong’s doppelganger stocking beer somewhere.

“Hola. I would love a martini, dry, two olives please.”

“Certainly. And for your friends?”

Kevin stared quizzically at the bartender for a moment before realizing that he was referring to his two large suitcases. Apparently, this guy thought he was Cheech Marin.

“They’re fine, thanks,” Kevin responded sardonically.

His martini was not dry enough (it never was). The proper use of vermouth seemed to be a dying art these days. When had bartenders become so damned pampered? Too many “fluff” drinks, microbrews, and draft beers now shadowed the fact that mixology was a science, plain and simple. It was a noble pursuit that required intelligence, talent, and touch. These days, there were not enough “beverage scientists” left in the world - at least not in bars that he tended to visit. The thing that really cheesed him, though, was an incompetent bartender who also considered himself a comedian. Mix, don’t pour. Listen, don’t assume. Speak, don’t espouse. Most importantly serve, don’t entertain.

As he sat, trying to enjoy his subpar martini, his mind wandered to thoughts of Angela.

His fondest memory of their thirteen-month relationship was from the night they met. It was finals week during the first year of his two-year internship as an associate professor at UNM. One night, after a meeting of the Criminal Justice Department at Dean Delaney’s residence, he and Jack Benson decided to stop for a drink. For Jack, it was a social release; his fourteen-year marriage to Suzanne had ended in a messy divorce just six days earlier. For Kevin, it was research – yet another step in his lifelong quest for the perfect martini.

“You’re obsessed with this, aren’t you?” Jack had asked him once.

Not exactly. Obsessed was not the right word. A more apt description would be that of a long-suffering optimist holding firmly to the belief that somewhere, in a world of poorly prepared swill, there existed a perfectly prepared martini, and a bartender capable of producing it. As he explained to Jack, he was but a simple man seeking to maintain his struggling conviction that the joys and beauties of life truly existed and were just waiting to be discovered. A bit melodramatic, perhaps, but everyone needed a quest in life. This just happened to be his.

On that particular evening, the quest had brought him and Jack to a faculty bar called Hootenannies. Kevin had been there a couple of times before and enjoyed the feel and atmosphere. It resembled a nineteenth-century watering hole, sans the jukebox, plasma screen TVs, and computer-based cash terminals, of course. The décor had a colonial feel, from the hardwood floors to the sofas in the lounging area, and the cherry and mahogany bar that ran down the entire length of the south wall. In fact, several of the paintings that adorned the walls were impressive reproductions of important works by such early American artists as William Sydney Mount and Fitz Hugh Lane. Candles graced every table and a wood-burning fireplace quietly crackled in the northwest corner of the long, elegant room.

Jack and Kevin chose a table near the door and were immediately greeted by a friendly, nubile young waitress named Bethany. Jack ordered a pint of Guinness and a shot of Maker’s Mark neat, as was his custom. Naturally, Kevin ordered a martini, dry, two olives. More often than not, the time that elapsed between ordering and receiving his drink was unpleasant for Kevin. Years of being served questionable martinis had taught him that these moments held no great promise for him. Yet that evening had seemed different somehow. Maybe it was Jack’s company (in which he didn’t get to revel very often), or maybe it was the atmosphere; but for some reason, Kevin found himself in the highest of spirits. So much so that he doubted that even another subpar martini could sour his mood.

Bethany returned with their drinks. She was a beautiful young woman – bright blue, smiling eyes, flowing blond hair, pouty lips. Jack had seemed to take quite a liking to her. She seemed flattered by his attention and intrigued by the possibilities that may arise. There was something unmistakable yet indefinable about the way they looked at and interacted with each other. Jack’s getting laid tonight, Kevin remembered thinking. Jack had always had the uncanny ability of attracting beautiful women. It was his super power. Babe Magnet Man is here to save the day! Although it was actually kind of fun to watch.

Bethany set their drinks on the table, winked at Jack with a sly grin and took her leave. Jack winked back, and then turned his attention to Kevin, who had just lifted the martini to his lips and sipped.

“Well?” Jack offered inquisitively, bracing himself for the inevitable tirade. “What’s the verdict?”

“Jack, my friend,” Kevin said, choosing his words carefully. “This is easily the best martini I have ever tasted. Singularly superior and without equal. Simply sublime.”

Jack paused for a moment, trying to measure the degree of sarcasm in Kevin’s reply. Then, apparently satisfied with the sincerity of the critique, Jack slapped the table and laughed uproariously. “Well, all right then!” he declared, raising his pint of Guinness in the air. “A toast: to the perfect martini!”

“Here, here,” Kevin answered, sporting the broadest grin Jack had ever seen. “And to the ‘scientist’ who concocted it.” Kevin rose from his seat. “I feel compelled to compliment the bartender. I’ll be right back.”

As he approached the bar, Kevin saw the most stunning woman he had ever laid his eyes upon. Suddenly, he felt like a sixth grader playing spin the bottle for the first time. His palms had become cool and clammy. His heart was racing; his face was flush. “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate began playing in his head. He stopped and stared for a moment.

I believe in miracles. Where ya from…

Was it possible? The best martini he had ever had and the most beautiful woman he had ever seen found their origins at the exact same point in the space-time continuum?

She was a tall, slender brunette. Her chocolate hair was pulled back in a ponytail that dangled gracefully between her shoulder blades. A few strands appeared to have escaped containment and bounced playfully against her cheek and shoulder as she moved about the space behind the bar. And, oh, how she moved! Kevin had never before witnessed such grace and presence. It was as if this was not a tavern, but rather a theater. And not happy hour, but Opening Night on a Broadway stage where she played the lead. She was the center of attention and she knew it. She actually seemed to thrive on it.

He sidled up to the bar and marveled at her countenance. Her green eyes shone like two emeralds, accentuating the beautiful sculpture that was her face; a face that neither wore nor needed makeup. This is how Helen of Troy must have looked - the face that launched a thousand ships. Kevin stood there, dumbfounded by her aura.

“Hey, handsome! What can I get for ya?” Even her voice was beautiful, lyrical.

“I…uh,” Kevin stammered. “I just wanted to compliment whoever made this martini.” He raised his glass. “It’s best one I’ve ever had.”

“Dry, two olives? With a Guinness and a Maker’s?”

Kevin nodded.

“That was me.” She smiled. “Martinis are my specialty. Glad you enjoyed it.”

He wasn’t usually very forward when it came to women, but he sensed a window of opportunity and decided to seize it. “My name is Kevin and I would love to take you out sometime.”

“Well, hello Kevin,” she answered. “My name is Angela. I get off at eleven and I would love to find you still here. Maybe we could grab a late bite. Now if you’ll excuse me.” She spun and hurried off to tend to other thirsty guests, leaving Kevin with the faint whiff of coconut from her dancing, departing ponytail.

Wow! What a night that had been. The perfect martini and the perfect woman. Three hours and three martinis later, Angela and Bethany had joined Jack and Kevin at their table. The four of them ate, drank, danced, laughed, and basked in each others’ company until the wee hours of the morning. He and Angela had been nearly inseparable ever since.

“I guess those days are over,” Kevin whispered to himself.

He took a sip of Cheech’s faux martini and glanced at his watch: 4:45. He and Angela had agreed to meet at 5:00 and despite two calls and one voicemail, he still hadn’t heard back from her. An unsettling feeling was beginning to rise in his belly.

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