The city that never sleeps.
Where dreams and opportunities come to life.
The city of solid concrete and never-ending traffic, of bright lights and dark alleyways.
The perfect place to get mugged, kidnapped or witness your first murder.
The taste of fresh blood splattering over my uniform, and partially into my mouth, hadn’t exactly been the expectation of a repetitious night shift.
I must have blacked out for a second because when I came to, another gunshot sent my ears ringing, followed by a deafening silence.
I could feel my heart beating out of my chest as I stood against the cold stone, hoping that my loud breathing wouldn’t give away my presence.
Watching dumbfounded as the events before me unraveled, Norman’s horrified eyes were engraved into my memory, moments before he was gunned down.
The act alone placed me in a catatonic state, afraid to blink away the tiny speck of blood that had lodged itself into my eyeball, the sting inducing a twitch.
I had been the last person he’d seen before the life was stolen from him. The thoughts that must’ve gone through his head when the bullet pierced through the bones and cartilage of his skull. A sight that I wouldn’t wish upon the worst of my enemies.
Norman had plausibly heard the second gunshot and Ramona’s bloodcurdling scream, seconds before she hit the solid ground next to him. For it is the sense known to die last.
The place I’d once so eagerly wanted to escape to for a fresh start had indeed turned into renditions of a pusillanimous nightmare. A new life with new surroundings was going to be good for me, or so, I had thought.
Six months in and I was yet to adapt to the fast lane and busy nightlife I wasn’t regularly accustomed to for the past six years. Therefore, I’d made a deal with myself to not let it get to me. I didn’t want to end up regretting my choices.
New York City was a giant.
It could easily chew you up and spit you out, just like it had done to so many my age. Although we no longer lived in the nineteen hundreds, when the Irish gangs terrorized the Lower East side or the Italian Mafia kept the little Italy district in a chokehold, there were still parts of the city that I steered clear of.
The party girl in me had taken the short way out, avoiding paths that could veer me into the hole I’d barely dug myself out of. My friends on the other hand, were extremely good at balancing between their daily jobs and partying lifestyle, and I was envious of that.
I didn’t come from wealth, so a nine-to-five was a sin qua non and working at this small diner was helping me pay the bills while searching for my dream job.
It had been the end of yet another tedious night shift, prolonged by my unyielding offer to help Norman and his wife tie a few loose ends, before locking up for the evening. It was an act of munificence that I would later come to regret.
I had been hoping for a long and uneventful weekend. But tonight, years of upholding an image that took shitloads of therapy and large chunks of cash out of my depleted bank account, would go down the New York City drain.
Here I was, crunched in between two garbage containers, silently praying that they were tall enough to block complete view of my petrified face and trembling demeanor.
A chill ran down the length of my spine when two tall figures emerged from the shadows. They stood motionless over the bodies as if observing their work. One of them knelt down, studying Ramona’s pale face. His remained expressionless, despite the blood coating the woman’s white collared shirt.
Her legs were sprawled apart, showcasing a small pistol tucked into a black garner underneath her pencil skirt. The man unhooked the metal, shoving it into the waistband of his pants.
Ramona’s brown locks were draped over her eyes with her mouth slightly ajar, her left arm thrown across her stomach. The other man who was slightly larger than the first, with a display of ink showing through the neckband of his black shirt, pulled out a plastic bag.
Neither was communicating with the other through the process of stuffing the bodies into the large bags. They remained silent, maneuvering around the corpses, with no sign of leniency or repentance of whatsoever.
The larger one who stood tall at over a good six feet, with hands that looked like they could snap a miniscule frame―such as mine―into four equal pieces motioned to his henchman, and they both effortlessly picked up the bodies.
Their boots splashed through the puddles of water, while carrying them to a black van. The bodies were tossed into the back of the van, landing one on top of the other, each with a hard thud.
The moon was casting its silhouette over the rooftop on the building across, allowing the large bins to be covered in absolute darkness.
The doors to the large van slammed shut, making me jump. I held my breath, squeezing further behind the reeking garbage bags; I had reluctantly brought out only minutes ago, as the van drove through the alley and straight ahead. It stopped shortly at the end, before making a swift turn to the right and onto the streets of the city.
This was my chance to make a run for it. I shuffled my way out of the waste mound and sprinted through the alley, my eyes fixated on the backdoor that led into the diner, mentally preparing myself for what would happen next.
Slowly, making my way around the puddles of blood, I tried not to think about Norman’s lifeless features again. The rain was picking up now and soon enough; the blood would be washed away at a perfect timing.
I quietly slithered to the door, cautious enough not to make the slightest noise and curled my fingers around the handle, giving it a twist.
I twisted again, this time applying more force but it didn’t budge. It had been locked from the inside.
Was someone else in the diner?
I could feel my hands beginning to shake with trepidation, as I tried the knob once more.
“Is anyone there?”
My voice was barely audible but somehow, it echoed throughout the empty alley, making the hairs stand on the back of my neck. I started banging on the door, calling out to whoever was on the other side.
“Please, I’m locked out here! If anyone is in there, please, help me!”
I was frantic, my heart pumping blood aggressively and threatening to burst through my artery. My breaths came out in erratic spurts, unable to control the shudders that had taken over my entire body.
I was at the point of losing consciousness from fear of experiencing what I only saw in the movies. I had watched too many goddamn murder documentaries to know that I wouldn’t stand a chance.
Any rational thoughts were blown into the wind, dissipating among the thick smog that enwrapped the cityscape into a tight envelope, masking any visible streetlights around the block.
I tried to remain calm as I listened for any sounds from the inside, but all I could hear was the dull music coming from Norman’s crappy record player and the fierce drumming of my heartbeat against my chest.
I had left him listening to that old thing before hesitantly making my way through the small corridor, to the back. Usually Norman did the disposing other nights, due to the late hour shifts but this particular evening, I had been eager to get things done and leave by two a.m.
My eyes darted from one wall to the other, expecting something or someone to come out and lunge at me. I made my way up the alley and to the front entrance of the diner. I was relieved to be under the pale moonlight again and out of the coal black darkness.
I heaved out a quivery sigh as the front door easily slid open, making the small bell above it ding and immediately shut my eyes, cursing myself for forgetting about the stupid thing. I stood still, perusing the poorly lit diner, my eyes scanning the empty space.
I tried to focus on my steps, while slowly pushing the door shut but the recently wiped floors caused my sneakers to make a screeching sound.
The neon light flickered above one of the booths, the emptiness and complete silence of the place giving it an eerie effect. This was the first time I had ever been in here alone. It was much different and creepier when utterly vacant.
Norman’s record player was no longer spinning. But hadn’t I just heard it from the back alley? My blood ran cold at the thought of someone hiding inside the diner, waiting to come out and grab me. I had to get to my purse. I needed to retrieve my phone.
As stupid as it may have sounded, that piece of electronic device was the only source of hope for survival at this point.
I stumbled around the empty booths on tiptoes, hitting the edge of a table with my hip. I froze again, sucking in a short breath. It was like the end of your sleeve getting caught onto a door handle, testing your already prickly mood. Except this time, clumsiness was the ultimate corrival.
Gaining the courage to start moving again, I shuffled my way to the final booth. Turning a left and entering the kitchen, I spotted my purse on the far end of the counter top, but froze abruptly to the sound of a door shutting.
Slouching down, I crawled under one of the counters, pressing my knees up to my chest, listening for any other movements. I bit my lip in anticipation, suppressing an unwanted cry from escaping my mouth.
This wasn’t really happening. It was just another one of my creative dreams where I was going to wake up, fully drenched in my own sweat.
Was this how I was destined to go?
I was going to die alone, and then be thrown in one of the large garbage bags. The very thought of being buried where they had disposed of Norman and Ramona’s bodies, made my scalp prickle. Nobody would ever find me.
For all I knew, these people would wipe every trace clean and no one would even suspect that anything had happened. No one would be looking for me.
The three friends that I had wouldn’t notice I was gone until they returned from their summer vacations, and that wouldn’t be for another two weeks or so. By then, I would be rotting into the ground.
My thoughts were interrupted by the lights completely shutting off. Now it was pitch black. Maybe if I just sat very still for the next three hours until the morning-
A gruff voice sent a vibrant chill through my body, covering my mouth to conceal the springing whimper. ”Vieni fuori, signorina, voglio solo parlare. Prometto che non ti farò del male.”
I heard the heavy footsteps closing in on me, the tip of a leather boot now visible, inches away from me. The smell of smoke reached my nostrils.
“Lo stai solo rendendo difficile a te stesso, tesoro.”
A cigarette bud fell near my hand that was rested on the cool tile, a flake of ash landing on my pinky.
“Bene, lo faremo nel modo più duro.”
The combats disappeared for a mere second and I let out a short flow of oxygen from my combusting lungs. The pitter-patter in the large sink above my head had ceased. It was silent.
Coinciding with the decreasing blood flow that had abandoned my brain.
I shrieked against the leather hand, clasping over my mouth. Another one grabbed my ankle, dragging me from under the counter.
I gripped the edge of it with both hands, trying in defeat to hold on, but the marble slipped through my fingers.
It was almost pathetic how easy it was, because with one tug, I let go, struggling against the clawing grip around my waist, wriggling and squirming.
In what felt like two seconds, I was being carried down the hallway to the back door and through the wet alley again. On my way out, I grabbed hold of an empty beer bottle from one of the counters, smashing it over his bald head, which he shook off, dismissing the particles of broken glass.
My legs were kicking in the air with full force now as we approached a vehicle with tinted windows. The horrifying realization of being abducted was settling in at a rapid pace. I was shoved into the back seat, and the brawny masked man followed.
I lifted my left leg, running it into his face, causing him to let out a grunt as he staggered backwards out of the vehicle. I stumbled out, darting his attempt to grab my ankle by an inch and pushed forward, pumping my legs as hard as I could to get myself up the alley.
The streets were deserted. Aside from the occasional stray cat, chasing its furry prey, there wasn’t a single human to seek help from. I kept running, dismissing the sharp pain shooting up my legs that were on fire, the wet ground threatening to cause my pelt to slip.
The sound of tires scraping against asphalt made me pick up speed. The vehicle was close behind, mocking me as it maintained an equal pace with the burning soles of my feet.
The nearest passage stood ten feet away, but I feared that I wouldn’t make it. The muscles on my lower extremities cramped.
My lungs felt like I was under water, fighting for air.
I barely made the leap when another vehicle, black as the night, took me by surprise. I ran into it, face planting on its hood. I could swear I heard a deep chuckle from somewhere behind me as the first vehicle slowed to a stop.
My head jerked up, catching a glimpse of the driver who’d blocked my path to escape. His eyes were hidden in darkness, but the hint of a smirk was visible on a well defined jaw. The smile quickly vanished when I pushed myself off, reversing a rocky step before my back collided with solid.
Dodging the bulky arm that lashed out, I bolted into the alley. My heart crashed when it led me straight into a dead end. A pile of something rustled at my one o’clock, drawing my attention, and a head poked out from beneath the mountain. A pair of spaced-out eyes stared back at me.
“Please, you have to help me!” The stoned stranger didn’t even seem to acknowledge my desperation. The rugged man looked like he was about to drift off into another dimension any moment. I was fucked.
A whistle traveled through the thick fog, prickling my skin as it reached my ears. The tune was bone-chilling, matching the horrifying images that stood before me when I turned around, searching for another way to stay alive.
The same large men, who had taken out my boss and his wife, were now standing in the way of my freedom. Thick masks covered their faces while a blurry mass began to coat my vision as they moved in, taking long predatory strides towards me.
The vaguely smaller one came at me first, and I swung my fist but big foot was faster, catching my wrist midair. His partner snickered. I lifted a knee, aiming for the groin. The strike was swiftly forestalled, and I was rewarded with a blow to my left cheek. The speed of action allowed no time or space for processing.
I was lifted by the hips and body slammed head-first into the backseat of the car that I successfully fled from only minutes ago. I scrambled to the right side, and frantically tugged on the door handle but was held back by my hair. Placing my hands on both sides of my head, I screamed in pain.
He shoved my face into the leather seat, pressing it down, muffling the sounds. Music blasted through the stereo as the car pulled away. I struggled to break free from his weight but my strength failed me miserably. I was breath deprived and fighting for my life while being potentially smothered.
Just as I began to feel vanquished before the rim of passing out, he lifted my head, holding firmly onto my neck. I immediately gasped for air. That’s when I saw him.
The black mask was removed and blood was gushing out of his nose. I had hit him good. He lifted his finger up to his mouth, motioning silence. Wiping away at the few drops of crimson that had landed on his chin; he raised his left hand, holding a small cylindrical object, its nuzzle poking out from between his fingers.
Sinking further into the leather, my hands squeezed the edge of the seat when he jabbed the needle roughly into my neck. I felt a stinging pressure before a numbing sensation carried itself through my body.
A wave of heat hit me like a gust of wind in the middle of August, and I began to feel tired. The man tilted his head, watching me struggling to keep my eyes open but to no avail.
I felt myself falling, slipping in and out of consciousness, swaying from one side to the other until I lay back, involuntarily resting my head on the cool leather and fell into an abyss of darkness.