“We have plenty of time.” said Angela as she loaded her bag up into her brother’s 2001 Ford Mustang. The black-in-color car blended into the nighttime landscape as she begrudgingly got into the passenger seat. Tommy fell into his sun-worn leather seat as he rolled his head over and annoyingly stared into his sister’s discontented face. He sighed, turned the key and the roar of the engine started up.
“Why can’t we just leave tomorrow?!” she beckoned.
“It’s Vegas! We can hit the casino early! I’m feeling lucky!” exclaimed Tommy. “In six hours, we’ll be in the glowing lights of the strip. I’m the one driving anyway! Just relax.”
“You and your ‘gambling issues.’ You better not leave me at the wedding alone! Even though Shannon is our cousin, I can’t stand that side of the family.”
“Don’t worry sis! I’ll be around and when the ceremony is done, we can jet outta there.” Stated Tommy as he lit a cigarette with the car’s lighter.
They breezed through the late-night traffic of their Salt Lake City suburb community. Traveling south on I-15 alongside weekday rat-racers that yearned for their weekend camping and hiking expeditions with traffic fading as they moved further away. The two remained quiet as they listened to music and passed through the night, exiting the illumination of their hometown.
Tommy broke the silence, asking about the girl that Angela was dating. “It fizzled; she wasn’t what I thought she was.” proclaimed Angela. Tommy saw a glowing figure walking down the side of the highway. “Well maybe SHE is.” Tommy hooted as he gestured to the hitchhiker, gliding away with her thumb out. The hitchhiker’s 5’8” frame was hugged by blue jeans, black sneakers, and a red jacket. She perceived the approaching car’s headlights and turned around; her brunette hair whipping as she covered her eyes from the light to view the good Samaritan that would stop to help.
“She’s cute, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to be picking up anybody now, Tommy. Doesn’t this interfere with your blackjack time?” asked Angela.
“Like I said, I’m the one driving.” Snapped Tommy.
The hitchhiker came up to the passenger window as Tommy lowered it. Her brown eyes scanned the vehicle and its passengers as she complimented its style.
Tommy lowered his head for a better view as he asked where she was going. “Cedar City, the university there – S.U.” She said. “Hop in,” said Tommy, with a smirk. “I’m Tommy, this is Angela, the little sister.” The hitchhiker giggled and introduced herself as Gina. Angela smiled and got out to let Gina in the back seat, as she got in, Angela couldn’t help but admire her physique as she entered the car. As Angela sat back down, Tommy gave her a knowing look and they drove off.
Tommy sat back as they drove and eyeballed his rear-view mirror. Gina caught his stare and glanced away. Angela suspiciously asked why she was walking so late to the university. Gina replied, “I was just visiting here, I was heading back for a class thing and my car broke down.” Angela snapped up, curiously. “Why didn’t you call anyone that you knew to pick you up?” Gina snarked back, “It was easier to hitch a ride from someone heading that way anyway than to bother my friends.”
Tommy spoke up, “Let’s relax to some music, ehh?” as he turned up the radio dial. The radio announcer came on “…authorities looking for information involving the shooting at a local…” Tommy turned the dial to switch stations to the closest pop station. Tommy anxiously readjusted in his seat as Angela sat back in hers, arms crossed, and looked out at the passing nighttime rural landscape as they silently traveled along on their route.
Angela broke the hour-long silence as they passed a sign that read Beaver 47 Miles. “Can we stop in Beaver? I’m going to need to pee.” Tommy agreed, “Yeah, I need to fill-up too.”
As they approached the gas station, Gina asked if they wanted anything from the shop, Tommy and Angela declined. As Tommy was pumping the gas, Angela came out and was at her door tidying up her area of the car when she looked at the back seat and saw Gina’s phone. Angela looked up at Tommy who was still working the station and at Gina who she could still see browsing the shop aisles. Angela grabbed the phone and hoped there wasn’t some sort of security code for her phone. Angela easily made access and tapped on the photo album icon, curious for more pictures of Gina and any other information about her. Angela looked at Tommy again, at the shop then back at the phone. As she swiped, she saw selfies, group photos of friends, food and drink images and pictures of dogs. There were also a few of Gina in her poolside bikini outfits which piqued Angela’s interest.
Satisfied, she was about to drop the phone, with the last picture she was looking at of Gina in a restaurant with a group of friends and Tommy sitting right next to her. “What the fuck?!” Angela thought.
“What are you doing?!” scowled Tommy. Angela playfully laughed, “Ahh haaa!! You caught me! I was about to look for pics of Gina, you’re right, she’s cute!” Tommy glared at her as he got in the car. “You’re weird. You don’t say anything the whole time she’s with us, now ‘she’s cute’? Better put it back cause she’s coming.” Angela tossed the phone back onto the backseat and let Gina get in.
As they drove, they chatted about random subjects which Angela used to gather as much information about Gina as she could. Despite Angela’s looks, Tommy didn’t say much. An hour later, they were in Cedar City; they passed through Highway 56 where there were a handful of hotels, restaurants, and gas stations still open at that hour. They stopped for a few coffees in the McDonald’s drive-thru lane. As they waited for the attendant to complete the transaction, Gina screamed “oh shit!” Tommy and Angela looked at her and saw the color leave her face. Her mouth dropped and her eyes widened, staring across the street. Tommy and Angela whipped around and saw a man, dressed in all black, pulling a pistol from the holster on his waist and took aim at the car. “Oh shit!” shouted Tommy. He threw it into Drive as the man fired two shots, cracking the windshield and narrowly missing Angela’s neck.
Tommy veered the car right as he drove out of the parking lot, over the sidewalk and into the street. The man quickly sprinted and headed the car off, precisely jumping into the open driver side window, with half of his body hanging out. “Give it to me!” he yelled. With a quarter turn of his body, he raised his gun and aimed towards Gina. Angela quickly grabbed his arm and began wrestling the gun away from him. Tommy began punching the man’s face and maneuvered his position to reach for the door handle. As Angela wrestled with his arm, the gun went off causing a loud ringing in the car’s cabin. Gina shifted in her seat, brought her leg up and kicked the man in the face as Tommy opened the door causing the man to fall out of the moving vehicle.
The adrenaline surged and the three began breathing, looking around for anything else. Their minds trying to make sense of what just happened. Tommy drove into the incoming neighborhood streets, made a few turns to avoid any would-be followers and stopped at a park, feeling it would be a safe place for now. Angela jumped out of the car and yelled “What the fuck was that?! Who was he? How do you two know each other, Tommy?!... What’s going on?!”
Tommy threw a confused look on his face and Angela snapped, “I saw you in one of the photos in her phone Tommy!”
“Calm down Angie, I can explain!” Tommy beckoned. He looked at Gina as she got out. “We’re friends that…”
“It was drugs… for me;” Gina interrupted “I needed money for my family and was selling some pills. The deal went bad and someone was killed. I’ve known Tommy for a few years. My car died on the way here and you guys picked me up. It was supposed to be a quick trip. I knew you were going to Vegas so I called Tommy for a ride.”
Angela glared at Tommy, “This is why we left early?! You gotta be kidding me!”
“You weren’t supposed to know! It was supposed to be quick and easy.” Tommy replied innocently.
“So, what’s next?” Angela asked. “That guy is still out there, I doubt he’s dead; and who is he? Why is he trying to kill you just for pills?!
Gina and Tommy looked at each other as Tommy answered, “He was someone apart of the deal, just mad about it.”
Gina injected, “Just take me to S.U. and you can head out. It’s my fault anyway.” Tommy and Angela looked at each other. Angela looked into his eyes; they screamed an apology that only she heard.
“You’re lucky we don’t just leave you here, ‘Gina’”, retorted Angela as she made her way towards the car.
They loaded into the vehicle and headed for S.U. and Angela sat quietly, trying to review the night’s events. “Where are you supposed to go at S.U.?” she asked. Gina replied, “The library.”
They were on-campus in about ten minutes and looked around for anyone on the grounds. So far it was empty except for the random vehicle passing in the night, which they watched. Gina was meeting Dr. Forster, a university professor. They parked the car and cautiously moved toward the building. They silently crept, watching every moving branch and floating bug; listening as they heard the crunching of grass under their feet and the nighttime crickets chirping. As they moved toward the atrium, a figure opened the door and let them in, it was Dr. Forster, “quickly, come inside,” he whispered.
When they were all inside, Angela looked at the wiry man’s frame, nasally voice and thinning hair and blurted, “YOU sell drugs!?”
Dr. Forster looked at her puzzled, at Gina, then back at Angela. “What… No... I… Gina, do you have the sample?” She handed him a thumb drive and vial and he scurried to a laptop, set up on a nearby table, plugged in the drive and began typing away.
Angela became furious; “You better tell me what is really going on right NOW!” Tommy opened the floodgates he had been holding back all night. He told her about the deal that went bad was actually for information on, and a sample for, a strain of altered animal DNA that could be used as a bioweapon. The lab in Salt Lake is under a government contract and is conducting research on it. He and Gina met with an insider so they could get proof extracted and sent down to Dr. Forster to test and report it to blow the whole thing wide open. When they made the handoff, the man in black killed their contact and tried to kill them too. Tommy and Gina split up and planned to meet in Vegas but when her car died, she contacted him for help.
“I didn’t want you involved sis,” Tommy said. “I also didn’t want you to know about what I was doing. This is dangerous.”
Dr. Forster stood up and walked back to the group, “It’s all here, this is exactly what we…“ Blood splattered over Gina’s face and torso as Dr. Forster dropped to his knees and onto the floor. They looked back towards the dark bookcases as two more shots rang out and Gina fell backwards. Tommy and Angela snapped out of their shocked state and ran back to the car. As they reached the car, Tommy fell headfirst onto the hood and slid down, leaving a trail of dark blood lit by the moonlight. Angela turned saw him sliding down the hood and onto the curb. She looked at the figure walking toward her from the tree and felt the hot sting of a bullet hitting her shoulder as she fell to the ground. She stayed low and tried to crawl behind the car but before she could make it, she saw the silhouette standing over her from the streetlight, then nothing.
Tommy saw Angela from under the car and heard the footsteps meet with another set behind him, then listened as they both departed. He lay on the grass, feeling the life flow out of him. As he watched at his sister, he thought of the original reason he set out on the road this evening. The wedding and casino, the fortune, and memories he would have made; the plan and his intentions that lead to the darkness blanketed around him. The realization filled his mind and his heart filled with regret as he whispered his last words. “We were never going to make it.”