The shoddy streetlight barely pierces the darkness as I stumble down the old sidewalk to the east side of the deserted warehouse. It is nearly midnight, and I am still searching for the illuminated door. Beneath my shoes, I feel the sidewalk give way to loose gravel as I continue past more boarded up windows and shadowy interiors. As the darkness continues, I wonder if perhaps I am at the wrong rendezvous point. Or if perhaps Carmen came to her senses and abandoned our tryst before it could ever fully begin. And as these thoughts creep in, I feel a disappointment settling itself behind my rib cage as I continue on into the dark.
But, wait! What is that ahead? I feel my heartbeat skip as I quicken my pace, anticipation flooding my veins. A faint yellow glow is seeping behind a cracked door. I brace myself as I approach and inch the door open. As I peer down the corridor, I see a makeshift table with a lantern sitting atop it. And, leaning against the makeshift table, I set eyes on the most exquisite woman I have ever seen. Carmen is all legs in her strappy heels and short, clingy black dress. As I approach, I watch a slow smile splay across her painted red lips as her blond hair tumbles in waves over her bare shoulders. Her lips meet mine with insistence, sparking instant desire as her arms wrap around my neck. She deepens the kiss as she trails one bare leg down my side, my arousal fully evident between us. As her tongue forces its way into my mouth, I feel a slight pinch and a tingle at the side of my neck. I then feel Carmen slowly disengage herself from the kiss and step out of my arms. My confusion at her sudden halt is consuming my mind. Yet, my eyes are having trouble focusing on the smeared red lipstick on her face. As I try to read her expression, I feel my limbs become heavy, and the room begins to spin. Then my whole world goes black.
***12 hours earlier***
"This is such a nice little place. I can't believe we have never been here before. Jenny from my book club mentioned it the other day, saying we should definitely stop in sometime." My wife prattles on as we sit in a booth at Grandma's Cafe on the corner of 5th finishing our lunch. "The food and the coffee have both been excellent," she continues, still sipping from her mug. On a spur of the moment whim, my wife decided we should venture out for lunch. I'm finishing my turkey club and inserting the appropriate "Mhmm's" and "Yes, dear's" to keep the conversation flowing. Yet, I can hardly focus on any words leaving her mouth.
Across the room, Carmen is sitting alone, sipping coffee and flipping through a magazine. It's taking most of my willpower not to stare at her long legs stretched out under the table in those shorts. Our eyes met when my wife and I entered the cafe, and the ghost of a smile that graced Carmen's lips sent my pulse racing. Carmen and I have actually ate at this cafe before. Earlier this month, I met up with Carmen twice for dinner here while my wife believed me to be working late. We have never ventured beyond dinner, a few lingering kisses, and many inappropriate text messages, but I feel we are approaching a new transgression. Last night, Carmen sent me a message with a photo displaying her full cleavage. Attached to the photo was the one word text of "Soon."
My wife has finished her lunch and excuses herself to the restroom. After my wife disappears from sight, I watch Carmen slowly rise from her seat. As she saunters to the door, she swings by my booth with a smile and a wink as she slides a folded napkin across the table. My hungry eyes watch her leave the cafe before I open the napkin and read, "Tonight is the night. Meet me at the old warehouse on Lincoln, east side, at midnight. Look for the illuminated door. Love, C."
***In the warehouse***
My head is groggy and my neck aches. As my senses slowly drift back to me, I realize I am sitting in a upright position. I attempt to move my arms and legs to a more comfortable position only to find I cannot move them. My eyelids are heavy as I force them open to stare down at my hands, which are bound with rope to each side of a chair. I cannot see my ankles, but I think it's safe to assume that they are bound to the legs of the chair. The panic from my restraints forces me into a more wakeful state as I slowly take in my surroundings and attempt to remember what happened. As I gaze around the room, realizing I am in a warehouse, the pieces slowly fall into place. I was meeting Carmen. I was kissing Carmen. Then I passed out? I must have. But I am still in the warehouse, tied up and groggy. Why?? And where is Carmen?
The room I am restrained in is relatively well lit. And now that I remember where I am, I take slower stock of my surroundings. Across the room from me is another chair, empty, with a small black suitcase sitting next to it. A small bit of rope is coiled next to the chair, and next to the rope is an ash tray with several cigarette butts. The smell of cigarettes linger in the air as if one was recently smoked. To my left, I notice a large table with many photographs spread out across it. And in the far corner of the table, I notice long, wavy golden locks of hair, the exact color of Carmen's hair. The exquisite locks are piled at the corner as if they were a wig...
Yet, my eyes are drawn from the wavy locks to the photographs on the table as I glimpse what appears to be my face. My eyes then move slowly from one photograph to the next, realizing I am in each picture. And each photo depicts me locked in a damning embrace with a different woman. I recognize Miranda in one photograph, and Anna in another. They are my more recent affairs. I recognize Heather from a drunken one night stand around a month ago. I continue to peruse the photographs and recognize Amy, Diana, and Rachel from several months ago. And as I continue to scrutinize each photograph, I realize there are many women who's names I cannot remember. Where did all these photos come from? And who has been taking them?
"Well, hello Martin. So glad to finally see you're awake." I jump at the sound of Carmen's voice coming from the doorway to my right. "I was worried you many never wake from the tranquilizer dose I gave you. You went down a lot faster than the usual, but I believe I injected you straight into the jugular. Intravenous rather than intramuscular. It has a faster, yet more deadly effect."
I watch, dumbfounded, as Carmen steps into the room still in her black dress, yet with her feet bare as her heels dangle from one hand. Her smeared red lipstick has been wiped away. And her hair is clipped short and brown. I glace from her face back to the table with the golden locks.
"Ah, yes. Those golden tresses are a wig. Elizabeth told me you had a weak spot for blonds, as many of these photos on display for you would indicate." Carmen saunters into the room and takes a seat in the empty chair across from me, crossing her legs and lighting up a cigarette. "Now, where should we begin?" she asks, as a takes a slow drag from the cigarette.
A whole string of questions and curses fill my head as I sit bound across the room, but very few words make it past my lips. "Why are you doing this? I have done nothing to you! Let me go!"
"Oh, Martin. Don't you know?" Carmen asks, a glint in her eye. "Your wife Elizabeth asked me to do this. And she can be rather convincing. She actually hired me a couple years ago to follow you, confirming her suspicions about your affairs." Carmen lets this revelation sink in as she takes another slow drag from her cigarette before continuing. "After I confirmed her suspicions, I became her regular contact. Every time she believed you might be having a new affair, I got a call. You both have kept me very busy. She paid me extra to frighten away a few of your lovers that she believed you might be getting too serious with. But the straw that finally broke the camel's back, as they say, was your last affair. I believe her name was Miranda, yes?" In the following pause, Carmen takes my silence for confirmation. Miranda was my most recent affair...
"Yes. I thought so," Carmen continues. "Well, Miranda was a member of your wife's book club, and her seeing Miranda every week was the true breaking point. It was then I got a very different call from Elizabeth." A sinister smile stretches across Carmen's lips as her next words roll off her tongue with foreboding, "And here we are!"
As I stare at Carmen, I realize she hasn't divulged whatever my wife has hired her to do. But I think it's safe to assume I will not like it. "I will pay you!" I blurt desperately. "Whatever my wife has promised you, I will double it if you let me go. And no one has to know about this. Nothing has happened here that we can't take back."
"Martin, Martin..." Carmen muses as she finishes her cigarette and leans over to put it out in the ash tray beside her chair. She then rises from her chair, with the black suitcase in hand, and advances to the table with the photos. She sets the black suitcase upon the table as she gathers up the photographs into a neat pile. "This is a rather shady part of town for you to be out in so late at night, Martin. I believe you probably gave Elizabeth some lie about not being able to sleep and needing to take a drive to clear your head."
I watch with building fear as Carmen opens the suitcase and dons a pair of gloves before she again continues. "A lot of bad characters prowl these streets at this hour. And one of these bad characters has been selling some questionable drugs to kids around town. I have been hired to deal with him also."
My dread keeps building as I hear Carmen assembling something behind the opened lid of the suitcase. "I discretely lifted this from our drug dealer for tonight's special occasion," Carmen states matter-of-factly as she flashes a pistol in her right hand, silencer attached. "As it turns out, this gun can be directly linked to our neighborhood drug dealer through ballistics. And I happen to know he will be closing a deal approximately a block over very soon. Such a shame that you had to witness the deal on your evening drive. Your untimely demise will be quite the tragedy. And our sleazy dealer will find himself off the streets and behind bars for murder in the first degree." Carmen moves from behind the table and positions herself directly in front of me, a sly glint reflected in her eyes. "Two birds with one stone," she states, smiling.
"Please, please, please..." I beg. "Don't do this! I'll do anything! Please!" Yet, at my pleading, her smile only broadens.
"HELP! PLEASE! SOMEONE HELP ME!" I scream. "HELP!!!'
"Your screams are useless Martin. No one will hear you here. And even if they did, they would not dare venture into these shady streets at this hour." Even as the words leave her lips, I know this to be true.
"You won't get away with this! You will go to prison!" I yell, tears stinging the corners of my eyes in a mix of rage and terror as I struggle futilely with my bonds.
"Martin, darling, I have been getting away with this for years," Carmen purrs, her words sending shivers down my spine. I watch as she levels the gun at my forehead, terror fully seizing me as my bladder gives way, the acrid smell of urine filling my nostrils.
"Please..." I plead, tears spilling down my cheeks.
"It's nothing personal, Martin," Carmen states, gun in position. "But your wife has quite the impressive life insurance policy on you. And, as it turns out, you are worth more dead than alive."