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Lela Marie De La Garza
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nexttolast.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2013

NEXT TO LAST

 

Lela Marie De La Garza

 

     Jeff Brionnes sat in a back booth and studied his latest prospect.

      Jackson was a circumspect man, not given to much activity. Once every two weeks he went to see Mr. Lopez. He spent the rest of his time at home or here, at Lou’s Lounge.

     Taking him out in a crowd of people wasn’t an option. Of course, he could blow up the entire building, but that would mean not just killing Jackson but a bunch of other people. Jeff prided himself on killing only his target, never anyone else. Taking out civilians was sloppy and unprofessional.

     The easiest thing to do, of course, was to break into Jackson’s house, kill him, take enough stuff to make it look like a burglary and leave. He had a wife and three children, which might mean witnesses… but that wasn’t the real problem.

    The real problem was that Jeff insisted in making all his killings look natural, whether the contract stipulated it or not. He didn’t want any of his jobs to look like simple murder. Jeff enjoyed the feeling of power that came with creating “accidents”. It made him feel like a puppet master, cutting the final strings of a life.

     He looked down at his newspaper and read the column once more:

     “Alfred Lozano fell to his death from the old Sacramento Bridge at or around two A.M. Thursday. There were no witnesses. Police surmise that he lost his footing on a crumbling stone at the top of the arch and went through the guard rail. It is not known what Mr. Lozano, a lawyer with Briggs, Briggs, and Martin, was doing on the bridge at this hour of the morning. Suicide has not been ruled out, but is an unlikely motive.”

     Jeff smiled. He’d made a phone call telling Alfred that Mr. Lopez wanted to set up a meeting on the Sacramento Bridge at two in the morning. Alfred must have thought it was strange, but he didn’t dare refuse. He hadn’t seen Jeff come up behind him; could barely have felt the hands pushing him over the rail. It marked Jeff’s 57th kill.

     He had no reason to feel guilty. The people he took out were people who needed it. Alfred Lozano had said the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time, and he had continued to do it. Eventually this would have led to his death anyway, and it would have been a hard death. This quick killing had actually been merciful.

     Jackson, on the other hand, had said the right thing to the right people, but he had said it at the worst possible time, upsetting plans Mr. Lopez had been putting in motion for a year. Extremely annoyed, Mr. Lopez had called in his best operator to deal with the situation.

     Now Jeff sat in Lou’s Lounge and pondered what to do about the problem of Henry Hadley Jackson. You could step on a live power line, he thought. I could arrange it. You could be jostled in a crowd and fall under the wheels of a bus. You could go fishing and fall off the boat…if you ever went fishing…if you had a boat.  You could be kicked in the head by a maddened horse…if you had a horse…if you rode. But you don’t go anywhere, you don’t do anything….

     But gradually a plan evolved. Jackson never went anywhere, but he could certainly be taken somewhere. To the railroad tracks, for instance, a mile from town. Chloroform, always reliable, was easily accessible to Jeff. Grab Jackson in the parking lot, knock him out with the gas, get his keys and get him into his car. Drive it to the train crossing. Jackson never left the lounge until midnight, which meant little probability of witnesses. And the dark made good cover. Park Jackson’s car on the tracks just before the gate came down. He could be well away before the crash. Of course, it meant a walk back to town, but he’d walked further than that.

     Several dry runs would have to be taken. He needed total familiarity with the train’s schedule. This job would require split second timing. But he was good at that. In fact, he was the best. This was his profession.

     It wasn’t done in a week or even in a month. But this contract didn’t call for a quick kill. He had time. And he used it to perfect every detail. Finally the plan was ready.

       Jackson came into Lou’s Lounge right on schedule. Jeff left at eleven o’clock so the two of them wouldn’t be seen leaving close together. Probably no one would notice. But it was one of those niggling points that he always wrapped up neatly. He waited in the parking lot until Jackson came out, again right on schedule…

*     *     *     *     *

     Jackson climbed sluggishly back to consciousness, not knowing where he was or how he had gotten there. He saw an incomprehensible bright light bearing down on him and heard a train whistle. Dazed as he was, his instincts forced him to grab a handle and get himself out of there just before a train pulverized the car.

           Jeff scanned the paper looking for a car/train accident, but he didn’t find it. Puzzled, he went to Lou’s that night. Right on schedule, Jackson walked in, obviously unhurt. Jeff’s timing had been off by just a few seconds—but those few seconds were enough.

      He went to see Mr. Lopez the next morning.

     “Don’t do this to me,” the portly man pleaded. “You’re still the best I’ve got. Everyone makes a mistake once in a while.”

     “I don’t,” Jeff said grimly. “You’re only as good as your last kill. And I messed it up.”

     Mr. Lopez knew when a mind was made up. He said no more.

     Jeff walked away without regrets. He’d had a good run. He’d always known this day would come…and what he’d do when it did. Everyone makes a mistake once in a while. That was true. And there’d be no more.

     He hadn’t been quite honest with Mr. Lopez when he spoke of his “last kill”. That was yet to come.

     Jeff almost smiled, thinking of all the ways he could plan his own accidental death.

 


itsallrelative.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2014

IT’S ALL RELATIVE

 

By Lela Marie De La Garza

 

     “Please don’t kill me,” the man begged. “I’ve got a wife…kids…I won’t tell anybody…”

 

     “You sure won’t,” Camden said, and fired.

 

     Now there were five corpses on the floor, and Camden had one bullet left for anyone who came nosing around. He killed people; that’s how he worked—never left witnesses. Women and children were like anybody else. If they got in the way they were dead.

 

     Camden rifled the desk drawers and was disappointed. There was probably money in the safe, but he didn’t have time for that now. He went through the pockets of the men he’d shot and was disappointed again. What am I going to do with credit cards? Doesn’t anybody pay cash these days? He could have taken the meth, but he didn’t use, didn’t sell and didn’t know dealers. He stole valuables and killed if he had to. That’s what he did. Now he had to kill Sylvan.

 

     Sylvan had told him about this lab (not as a tip but in casual barroom conversation—he’d been too drunk at the time to know what he was doing). It’s a small operation, but real sweet…easy…

 

     Well it hadn’t been either, and when Sylvan read the morning headlines about a meth lab and five corpses, he’d know who did it. And he’d talk; he couldn’t help talking.

 

     Sylvan wasn’t at home, and he wasn’t at his girlfriend’s apartment. He wasn’t at Casa Rosa or the Blowout. I’ll get him tomorrow, Camden decided, before he has a chance to sober up.

 

     He didn’t have to, though. When he started his search the next morning Camden discovered that Sylvan’s body had been pulled from the Brazos River, a bullet through his head.

 

     Good fucking deal, Camden said to himself. Saves me the trouble.

 

     But now he had to find something more lucrative.

 

    There was an easy-looking bank on South Main, but Camden didn’t like banks.  Guards, too many people, silent alarms. Convenience stores weren’t worthwhile. How about the Dominion? It was a rich, gated community, and he’d hit it once before. Maybe he should do it again.

 

     Camden went to his computer and pulled up a list of family names that weren’t supposed to be published anywhere. Albertson…Bazaldua…Carstairs…Cartier…

 

     Cartier. That name sounded familiar, but Camden couldn’t quite place it. However, that would be as good as any.

 

     Killing the guard and getting through the gate was no problem; nor was cutting the alarm and bypassing the lock. The problem started when Camden entered the house and found himself facing a small boy standing behind a big gun. He pulled out his own weapon and began raising it. “Put that away, Kid. Before you hurt yourself.”

 

     “I’m not the one who’s going to get hurt.” Suddenly Camden’s right hand exploded in pain and his gun went flying. “Don’t call me Kid. My name is Johnny. You killed my uncle.”

 

     Sylvan. Sylvan Cartier. Of course. That’s why the name had sounded familiar. “I knew your uncle, yeah. But I didn’t kill him.”

 

     The gun didn’t waver. “My Uncle Sylvan taught me everything. He told me everything about you, and he was afraid for his life. He told me to get ready, because you might come here. So I did.”

 

     Camden swallowed, licked his lips. He’d never been on the wrong end of a weapon before. “Honest to God—I didn’t kill your uncle.”

 

     “Maybe not. But he’s dead, and someone has to pay for his life. It might as well be you.”

 

     “Please J-Johnny,” Camden begged. “I’ve got a wife…children…” And those were the last words he ever spoke.

 

     Johnny looked down at Camden’s dead body and felt a pleasure he’d never known before. His first corpse. But not his last.






oftheblood.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2017

OF THE BLOOD

 

Lela Marie De La Garza

 

     “Are you sure he wasn’t in a bar?” Mr. Tuttle asked. “What exactly did Brody say when you called?”

     “Not much,” Alice answered. “Just that he was all right, and that he was with friends.”

     “That sounds like a bar to me.”

     “No,” Alice said. It sounded like the surf.”

     “What would Brody be doing at the beach, when he’s supposed to be in the office, working?” Her husband’s boss sounded impatient. “I still think he’s at a bar.”

     “I don’t,” was all Alice could say. “I know what the ocean sounds like. I heard gulls.”

     “Well you’d better find out where Brody is. And he’d better be at work tomorrow.” The receiver went dead in her ear. She called her husband’s cell phone again, but all she got was voice mail. She kept calling, until finally there was no signal at all.

     The nearest surf was Paloma Beach, a hundred miles away. But Alice didn’t know what else to do. She drove to Paloma Beach.

     Once there she had no idea where to look. Walking every foot of the shoreline was impossible, and she couldn’t drive her Subaru down the sand. There were dune buggies for rent, but the prices were ridiculous. The gas to get here had already cost a fortune. This was turning out to be a very expensive trip. But Alice didn’t know what else to do. She rented a dune buggy.

 

 

     Alice drove the length of the beach, past shrieking children, sunbathers, people building sand castles. Some waded in the surf, and some gathered shells. But none of them was Brody. People swam, jet-skied, played volleyball—but where was her husband?

     She found him—or what was left of him—in a secluded part of the beach, behind a dune. There was an arm, head, and torso with chunks bitten out of it. Alice screamed and screamed and was suddenly surrounded by a crowd of people who’d been nowhere in sight ten seconds before, though most of them turned away as soon as they saw the reason for her screams. “I’m calling 911,” a voice said. Then a jeep with two security staff and a lifeguard came rolling up.

     They got out of the vehicle and approached Alice. The lifeguard put his hands on her shoulders and shook them slightly. “Ma’am,” I want you to take a deep breath and let it out slowly.” Alice had collected herself enough by this time to obey. “Good. Now do it again. All you people get back!” he warned. Then he spoke to Alice again. “Just try to calm down. Did you see what happened here?”

     “No I didn’t,” Alice sobbed. “But that’s my husband. He’s been missing since early this morning. I don’t know what happened to him.”

     “Most likely a shark attack. They—”

     “No, it wasn’t.” An elderly man stepped out of the crowd.

     “Sir, I’ll have to ask you to get back.”

     Ignoring him, the man said “There aren’t sharks in these waters; never a single sighting of one.”

     “Then what was it?” Alice demanded.

     He looked out at the ocean. “They’re after blood again.”

     The security guards flanked him. “Darnell, you need to leave this lady alone. She doesn’t need to hear your wild stories now.”

      “I might,” Alice said. Her husband was dead, in a horrible way. He hadn’t even said goodbye to her. She had no idea why he’d come here in the first place, and she didn’t know what to do. So, she decided she’d better talk to Darnell.

     “Ma’am,” the lifeguard said, “you don’t want to do that. “Darnell is delusional. He’s got some crazy notions about—”

     “Never mind,” Alice said. “I need to hear what he has to say.”

     The old man walked away and sat down on a rock. Alice followed him. “What do you know?” she asked. 

     He looked out over the ocean. “Mermaids are out there,” he said, almost to himself. “But not the kind you think of. Mer-creatures, yes. But lovely maidens, no. They may have a pleasing shape, but they’re monsters. When the moon reaches its zenith, they want sacrifices.”

     “But why Brody? Why not someone closer?”

     “Space doesn’t matter to them. They can toll someone from thousands of miles away.”

     “I don’t understand. What reason would they have to do this terrible thing?”

 

     Darnell sighed, looked out at the ocean again. “You know all life came from the water. The one-celled amoeba. More complex organisms. As the oceans receded, life forms found land. Plants first. Then animals. But human intelligence stayed in the water for a long time—until bipeds began to walk on the shore. The mer-creatures who stayed were very resentful of those who left. They considered that their home—what they considered the cradle of life—had been insulted. For a long time there was bitter war between the land dwellers and the water dwellers. But the bipeds could walk away, and the mer-creatures retreated further back into the sea. There was an uneasy truce.”

     The old man scanned the ocean once more, as if looking for something he didn’t want to see. Then he continued. “Every seven years, when the full moon rides high, there seems to be an upsurge of anger among the sea dwellers, a thirst for revenge.”

     Alice heard a siren and saw the ambulance stop.  A hand fell on her shoulder. “Ma’am, you need to come with us now.”

     She shook the hand off. “I will not!”

     The hand grasped her arm, more firmly this time. “You’re suffering from shock. We’re going to have to—” Alice whirled around, wild eyed, hissing. Then she felt the sting of a needle. A wave of dizziness rolled over her.

     Through it she asked “But my husband was just an ordinary man—why would they call him?”

     “Darnell shook his head. “Not so ordinary, perhaps. Most of the land people mated far and wide. So much variety thinned the blood. But some stayed together and bred true, and the line stayed strong. Enough to heed the call of those who stayed in the water. Tell me, do your husband’s mother and father look alike?”

     Alice recalled her in-laws through a haze. Both plump; both rosy—yes they looked enough alike to be brother and sister.”

“I guess they do,” she said.

     “What about his grandparents?” That was harder to remember. They were darker, thinner—but the eyes were the same, the features…the thick, blond hair… She nodded.

     “Some of them came to him in a dream,” Darnell mused. “Enthralled him. The next day he had no choice but to follow them here. At first they would have pretended to be his friends…enticed him farther and farther into the water…and then…”

     As the gray closed in on her, Alice realized she and Brody had the same aquiline noses, the same green eyes. “My husband and I have always looked alike,” she said, struggling to get the words out. “I must be of the blood too. Will they call me?”

     “No. For some reason they only want men. Like me.” Darnell stood up, gave Alice a half salute and walked into the ocean. She never knew what happened to him after that.

     Just before she lost consciousness, Alice felt the surge of the sea in her blood…

 

   

    

Lela Marie De La Garza had work published in Guardian Angel Kids, Passion Beyond Words, Black Denim, Yellow Mama, Bewildering Stories, Breath and Shadow, and The Western Online. Her novel, Mistral, was published in December of 2014. She was born in Denver, CO. in 1943, while her father was serving in WWII. She resided in San Antonio, TX. with three-and-a-half cats and a visiting raccoon.  Sadly, Lela passed away August 25, 2015, at the age of 71.

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