The burgundy disk emanated a sinister glare; the moon full, a monocle observing the night. Wind swished through the evening, behind schedule, hustling to reach its destination before reprehension.
In the distance, an auburn tail, fire hose thickness, disappeared into the overgrown Texas Sage.
“Did you see that, Daphne? Looked man-eater size. I didn’t bring the pepper spray.” Frank said.
“Seriously, Frank. It’s probably a stray cat. Please hurry. I don’t want to be late. It’s our first time going to their house, I want to make a good impression.” Daphne said.
Frank huffed and puffed his way back to Daphne, smiling proudly, displaying the black one-ounce canister for Daphne to see. He secured the can into his right jeans pocket. “Can never be too careful.”
“Must you bring a weapon everywhere?” Daphne asked.
“You won’t allow me to bring my nine, at least allow me SOME security. Don’t you watch the news? It is the wild west out here.”
“They are doctors, not human traffickers. Keep it concealed, please…You sure we shouldn’t drive to their house? It’s a little spooky out here.”
“Why? Because of the crazy-looking moon? I admit, it being red freaks is a little freaky. It’s Hollywood’s conditioning that tricks our minds to thinking terrible things occur when the moon is full. In reality, it’s full because it’s sitting directly behind the sun in its orbit around the Earth.”
“You know the most random stuff, I swear.”
“I googled it this morning.” Frank smiled as he slid his hand into Daphne’s. “It’s a few streets from our house—and no way are we driving. It’s a MURDER mystery party. Bathe in the moon’s deviancy, soak up the debauchery, tonight someone is getting killed. Not to mention, they are both medical personnel. If something happens, they can suture us up.” Frank snickered while making a sewing motion on his forearm.
“Speaking of Mike and Kim, where did they say they’re from?” Daphne asked.
“Shanghai and Shenzhen, I believe. They are both Chinese.”
“I know where Shanghai and Shenzhen are.” Daphne playfully tapped Frank on the back of the head. “They were gracious when we met them at Aaron’s. Super sweet couple…I investigated murder mystery parties this week.? What do you think the murder weapon is going to be”
“A knife, it’s always a knife,” Frank smiled as he made a stabbing gesture toward Daphne’s neck.
Daphne rolled her eyes as she shoved Frank’s hand away. The couple turned right at Villa Parka Drive and walked toward Ferdossa Lane. The neighborhood street gleamed except for the house at the far-left end of the cul-de-sac. Only the long hallway of flickering candles lent any hint human life existed within the four walls.
The couple tapped on Kim and Mike’s front door; the darkness of the porch concealed the couple’s anxious faces. No response. They knocked a second time, this time forcing the door to crack open. Cold air instantly slapped their faces.
“Now I see why they suggested we bring coats. It’s an icebox in here.” Daphne said, wrapping her arms around herself.
“It is a bit chilly, but I can smell the warmth of the roast. I wonder what kind of meat they’re cooking.” Frank said.
The couple called out to Mike and Kim; their voices faded into the emptiness of the home.
“Kim? Mike?...Anyone home? Daphne said.
Frank and Daphne wandered down the hallway. Clusters of candles revealed the crimson-painted walls. A long rectangular walnut table bridged the living room and the kitchen. Two name tags were placed neatly at the nearest end, Frank and Daphne.
“Looks like we have assigned seating, how detailed,” Daphne said.
“Where are the other couples, I thought eight more were attending?” Frank said.
“Not sure, maybe we’re early. I love their cabinet hardware. Looks expensive.”
Daphne guided her hand across the handles, the candlelight showcasing the shiny gold. She examined the kitchen hardware, accidentally pulling open a drawer. Empty. Curious, she peeked into the neighboring drawers, nothing in them.
“Frank…” She whispered, “Is it odd there is nothing in their drawers?”
“Can you not rummage thr—”
A muffled scream pierces the emptiness of the house. “Aaaaargh”
“What the hell was that?” Daphne said as she inched closer to Frank.
“Yeah, that didn’t sound go—”
“Frank, Daphne, my apologies. Someone is not cooperating tonight. That is our son, Miles. He’s autistic. Bath time can be a struggle.” Mike said as leaned in to give the couple each a one-arm hug.
“Oh, should we come back another time, we don’t want to intrude,” Daphne said.
“No, no. Not at all.” Mike made a calming gesture with his hands. “Please, make yourselves at home. Kim will be out in a minute. Are you two hungry? After all, these events can take a while.” Mike said.
“Whatcha got cookin’, Mike? Smells delectable.” Frank said.
“Greek lamb, believe it or not. It’s called kleftiko. Veggies, potatoes, Dijon, it’s got everything in it. We filleted it right before your arrival.”
“Smells fresh. Good-sized lamb you have there, that could be a human leg.” Frank said.
Mike gave Frank a wink. “Guess it could be, huh.” Mike patted Frank on his upper back. “Come on, let us have a drink. Red? White? We have a great wine collection.”
“Two glasses of red, please.”
Daphne scrunched her face at Frank, confused, knowing he didn’t touch alcohol. She knew Frank struggled with people’s perceived perception of grown men who didn’t drink alcohol. He worried he came off lame. Daphne always played along, knowing severe hypertension was the true reason for Frank’s sobriety.
Mike turned his back to the couple as he poured two glasses of merlot at the wet bar. Kim appeared from the rear hallway, perspiration noticeably dripping down her temples as she greeted Frank and Daphne. Frank found that odd seeing how cold the temperature felt.
“I see you found the place. We are glad you could make it. Welcome.” Kim said as she hugged the couple.
“Seems it’s just us four tonight, everyone else canceled,” Mike said.
“All the more intimate I suppose. Do we have enough for the murder mystery?” Daphne said.
“Absolutely. Speaking of, cell phones in this basket. A good detective isn’t glued to their phone, they’re head down, solving the case.” Kim grinned at Daphne as she collected the couple’s phones as Mike set the wine glasses on the table.
“Black wine glasses? That is new.” Daphne said. Daphne assumed fine wine was served in clear glasses so people could admire the hue.
“We ordered them online. Apropos for tonight’s mood. Dark. Mysterious. We love these events…Drink up. By the way, the wine is compliments of our friend, Charlie. He and his wife own the vineyard the merlot was cultivated at. It’s to die for?”
Daphne glanced at Frank as her hand concealed the gulp in her throat. Frank tried to keep her calm and gave her a reassuring “it’s ok” look with his eyes.
Kim placed the dinner plates in front of Frank and Daphne as Mike centered the massive piece of meat on the table.
Daphne inhaled her wine, caught her breath, and took another swig, downing her drink in two gulps. Meeting new people triggered anxiety. Formally educated people made Daphne nervous, especially a pair of highly successful surgeons. Neither she nor Frank graduated college but found work in real estate. Selling houses paid the bills. She always felt like college graduates looked down on people who took a different route than them. She always wondered whether this assumption was baseless or factual. Right now, she felt like four eyes were monitoring her every move.
“Frank, is the wine not to your liking? You haven’t touched yours.” Mike said.
“I’m a slow drinker. Can you three excuse me for a second? I need to use the men’s room.” Frank said.
Mike directed Frank to the restroom and returned to where Kim and Daphne were sitting. Mike slid a large butcher’s knife from what appeared to be a hidden slot inside of the tabletop.
That’s why the drawers were empty, Daphne thought.
“How thin do you like your meat sliced? Mike asked Daphne as he pointed the blade in her direction.
“Umm, thinner is fine. We are not picky peop–.”
Slam. Daphne’s head smashed onto her empty plate causing the silverware to leap off the table.
Kim raced to Daphne and placed two fingers on the side of her neck. “She’s still breathing. How many milligrams did you give her? They need to be alive to transplant their organs,” Kim said.
“I must have switched their doses by accident. I didn’t know she was going to treat her wine like a tequila shot.”
“Change of plans then. Get some zip-ties. We need to hurry, I’m not sure how long the IV is going to sustain our other patient.”
“She’s still alive? I thought you were wrapping up the organ extraction.”
“I had to improvise. The organ removal took too long. Let’s get these two sedated and we can wrap all three up at the same time.”
Mike returned with the zip-ties, stretched Daphne’s left and right arm around the back of the chair, and tightened the zip-tie around her thin wrists. Zip. Click. “This one is sec—"
“What the hell are you doing to my wife?” Frank said as he sprinted to where Daphne was zip-tied.
Wham. Frank’s body crashed to the floor as Kim set the baseball bat against the kitchen wall. “Get zip-ties on his wrists, Mike. We don’t have all night.” Kim said.
Mike reached into his back pocket to grab the zip-tie. Frank lay face down, his hands slumped to his sides. Mike bent down to secure the zip-tie around Frank’s wrists when two million Scoville units blasted Mike’s face.
“Aaargh. My eyes are on fire. I need water.” Mike gasped for air as he desperately wiped the pepper spray off his face, blindly trying to find his way to the sink.
Frank intercepted Mike’s path with a closed fist to the back of his skull. Frank snatched the zip-tie off the ground and fastened Mike’s wrists together.
Woosh. Frank ducked as a gust of wind zipped over his head. The momentum of the bat swing forced Kim to stumble towards the kitchen table. Frank cocked back his right fist and smashed his hand into Kim’s sweaty temple. Her body slumped as she lifelessly collapsed on the floor.
Frank hurried over to Daphne and slit her zip-tie loose with the butcher knife.
“Are you ok, sweetheart?” Frank said.
“Ughh,” Daphne replied, still groggy from the sedatives from the wine. “We need to get out of here, but I think they have someone else trapped in the house.”
Frank headed toward the rear hallway as he noticed Mike trying to wriggle out of the zip-tie. He seized his throat with his hand and forcefully set him upright on the kitchen floor, Mike’s back shoved against the lower kitchen cabinet.
“Who else is in here you piece of sh-t? And why the hell are you doing this to us?” Frank said.
Mike twisted his back to adjust himself from toppling over.
“This isn’t personal, Frank. We’re just following orders.”
“Following whose orders?” Frank pressed the butcher knife to Mike’s neck; cherry red began to drip where the blade pressed against Mike’s collar.
“Who else would be so arrogant to think they have to right to people’s organs? The elites, the corporate and bank execs. Prominent politicians. They harvest organs in case their family runs into an emergency. And if they don’t use them, they sell them on the black market for a king’s ransom. Common folks, the working class, they mean nothing to rich and powerful. You’re nothing more than a vote…or a means to a profitable, exploitative end. We’re paid to handle their dirty work, Frank.”
“You’re a surgeon, why would you need money…or throw away your career for that matter?”
“We don’t need money. The fact of the matter is we don’t have a choice. The super-rich solicit the best surgeons, most of whom practice as their family doctors. They threaten their children, loved ones, even mistresses, anyone that means something. Blackmail gets used when necessary. Anything to force doctors to farm organs they think they’ll need. It’s that simple. They’re ruthless.”
“Why us? What’s so unique about me and Daphne?”
“Nothing. Nothing other than you’re young and in shape. That and you don’t have children. And you’re not one of them. Nobody is going to care once you go missing. A half-heartedly written, six-to-eight sentence run-of-the-mill memoriam is all you’ll get.” Mike said.
“You’re a lowlife. I should rip your f-ing heart out of your chest.”
“Kill me. It doesn’t matter. You’re on the list now. They know who you are. They know who your wife is. If me and Kim don’t do it, there is a laundry list of surgeons contracted to finish the job. And don’t try reporting this to the authorities. Who do you think covers it up for them? They’re all in on it. Law enforcement. Corporate Media. Greed and fear run the world. The rest are pawns.” Mike said.
Frank inched the knife deeper into Mike’s neck before pulling it off. “You’ll suffer for this,” Frank said.
Frank grabbed Daphne’s hand and surveyed the rest of the house.
“Stay close to me, Daph. We need to step on it and get out of this shithole. Did you see where they put our phones? We need to call for help.” Frank said.
“I don’t know. I ca– can’t remember.” The sedatives clouded Daphne’s brain. “We don’t have time to look for the phones. Let’s find the other people and get out of here.”
Daphne and Frank scurried down the rear hallway and thrust open the last door on the left. Handcuffed to a makeshift gurney was a middle-aged woman. An intravenous pole stood adjacent to her bed, multiple IV bags dangled from the hooks. Tubes crisscrossed into the woman’s arms, a road map of narcotics and saline solutions. Gauze encased the woman’s midsection, and the dullness of the drying blood escaped through the bandages.
“We need to move her quickly. I’ll push the bed; you grab the IV pole. Make sure we don’t disconnect any of the tubes. I am not sure what type of condition she is in. They did a number on her from what it looks like…and we were next.” Frank said.
Frank and Daphne retraced their way through the house, escaping down the endless candle-lit hallway, and out the front door.
Frank and Daphne delicately rolled the injured woman and pushed the gurney up the walkway of Mike and Kim’s neighbors. Frank hit the front door with the side of his fist. Thud. Thud. Thud.
“Help! Please hurry. We need medical assistance,” Frank said.
An older couple opened the door, their mouths falling to the walkway.
“Oh my god, are you all ok?” The woman said.
The man assisted pulled the gurney inside their home and then helped Frank and Daphne into the house. “Come in, quick. You look like you need some help.” The man said.
“Please call 9-1-1. Your neighbors tried to kill us. I-I-I think they’re organ farmers. I know we sounds cr—” Daphne said.
“What? What are you talking ab—?” The man said.
“Your neighbors are—” Frank was interrupted by the slam of the front door.
The deadbolt clicked into the door mortise. The glacial brisk greeted Frank and Daphne when they noticed the deep ruby hue cloaked every wall, devoured by a vintage bottle of pinot noir.