Last Roll of the Dice by Trevor Nelson

Danny Nolan drummed his fingers on the motel balcony railing and stared at the crumbling Minneapolis neighborhood below. Mustafa al’Absi stood next to him, scratching the crown of his narrow head. Inside the motel room, a sitcom laugh track roared from a TV turned up loud enough to muffle screams.

“I’m surprised the kid ain’t going apeshit,” Danny said, nodding toward the room. “How’d you keep him quiet?”

“Dalmar trusts me,” Mustafa said. “We’re like family. He’s Somali. He knows the business of kidnapping: people are taken; money is paid; people are released. It’s not like the movies. He accepts his fate. You’d be surprised at how calm people are when they know they’re trapped.” Mustafa smiled. His teeth looked like chips of dried seaweed. Too much qaat, Danny thought.

Leda sashayed through the sliding door. “Bahdoon called,” she said and stuffed a TracPhone into the back pocket of her skintight jeans. She adjusted the strap on her stretch halter top, her nipples shifting with the fabric. “They dropped the money at the ice rink.”

This was Danny’s last roll of the dice: using a supposedly loyal henchman of an ex-warlord from Mogadishu to help kidnap his boss’s son, the same ex-warlord who owned the backroom gambling spot where Danny had sunk himself $60,000 in debt in six months. It seemed to be paying off.

“I’ll grab the cash,” Danny said. “Leda, stay here. I’ll be back in an hour.”

“Be careful,” Mustafa said. “Bahdoon kills anyone who threatens him or his family.”

“We’re way beyond threats.”

“Exactly.”

Danny stepped inside. A lamp burned in the corner. A hacksaw, duct tape, and twelve contractor-grade garbage bags lay on the bed. The bags reflected light like black mirrors. Danny pictured himself dismembering Dalmar in the bathtub. His scrotum tightened. It’ll take six bags. Twelve to double them up for strength.

Danny cracked the bathroom door. A slice of light hit Dalmar, a laundry bag covering his head, baling wire binding his arms and legs to a chair. He was big for a seventeen-year-old, as tall as his old man.

Danny exhaled. He thought about the money, closed the door, and waved at Leda. She bit her bottom lip and raised her right hand. Mustafa grinned like a green-toothed hyena.

***

Back at the motel, Danny hauled a hockey equipment bag from the trunk of his ’98 Corsica and slung it over his shoulder. The weight of $250,000 wasn’t enough to quell his roiling stomach.

One thing left to do. Fill twelve trash bags. Toss them in dumpsters. Then he and Leda would take their $150,000 and sit on a beach for a while.

A muffled sitcom laugh track filled the hallway. Danny wondered if Dalmar would scream when he recognized his fate. He wondered if the TV would cover the sound of sawing. Sweat beaded his upper lip. He unlocked the door and shouldered it open. The room smelled metallic, musky.

Mustafa stood at the window. A smile spread across his reflected face. He glanced over his shoulder and turned off the TV. A chair sat at the foot of the bed. Danny shut the door and dropped the bag on the mattress next to the twelve trash bags.

“You got the money?” Mustafa said.

“Piece of cake,” Danny said, wiping sweat from his lip with his sleeve. “You want your cut before I get rid of Dalmar?” He frowned. “Where’s Leda?”

Mustafa turned, a 9 mm in his right hand. He pointed at the balcony. Six packages wrapped in black garbage bags and duct tape lay by the railing. Four were stacked like cord wood. One looked like a small suitcase, one like a bowling ball. Danny groaned.

“Cousin Bahdoon,” Mustafa said.

The bathroom swung door open. Bahdoon walked out, his hands and face flecked with dried blood, his wrists and ankles welted from the baling wire restraints. He gripped a machete as long as his arm.

“Hello Danny,” Bahdoon said, his voice as deep as a 55-gallon drum.

Danny collapsed into the chair. Mustafa clicked on the TV. Danny felt himself drowning in the laugh track. He could almost see his reflection in the black mirrors on the bed.

Stupid Sonofabitch by Trevor Nelson

“What do we got?” Detective Reid Pierce asked the rookie guarding the corral of yellow crime scene tape. A bloodless moon hung low in the gluey August night.

“The boyfriend stopped over after the bars closed. He found her.”

“Okay,” Pierce said. He dug in his pocket for a notepad and pen. His spare keys and change jingled. His watch said 3:17 a.m. He hadn’t been to sleep yet. When the phone rang, he’d been searching for something he’d missed.

“Who’s been inside, besides the boyfriend?” Pierce asked. He plucked a silk handkerchief from the pocket of his houndstooth sports jacket and patted sweat beads from his clean-shaven head.

“Just me,” the rookie said. “I saw her.” He glanced at his shoes and cleared his throat. “In the bed. As soon as I saw it, I called dispatch. It’s the Creep.”

Pierce grinned and shook his head. Rookies, he thought. “You knew it was the Creep from looking at the body?”

“By what he did to her.”

“That’s his trademark, kid.”

The Crestview Creep had been murdering prostitutes and defiling their corpses for two years. This made victim number eight. And still no clues. No mistakes. Not bad, Pierce thought.

An unmarked cruiser slid past, parting a gaggle of patrolmen murmuring and staring at the bungalow inside the tape. The car parked. The driver’s door opened. When Detective Sean Burke climbed out, the shocks creaked with relief. In Canada, Burke could’ve passed for a lumberjack. He raked his sausage fingers through a wild nest of brown hair. His shirt hung askew, buttoned in the wrong holes.

 

“You look like shit, Burke,” Pierce said. He thought Burke was a moron. That’s why he liked having him as a partner. The idiot would never steal the spotlight.

Burke grunted, slung a tie around his stump-like neck, and fumbled the tie into a knot. He paused, sniffed, and looked up, his brows knitted together. “You wearing cologne?”

“Polo.”

“You showered, slapped on cologne, and still beat me here?”

“I was up already.”

“What the hell were you doing up?” Burke yawned, his mouth gaping like an open manhole.

“Couldn’t sleep. I’m obsessed with this case.”

“Aren’t we all,” Burke said. He finished knotting his tie. “Let’s go.”

Pierce led Burke into the house. The dead air reeked of scented candles and stale beer.

Pierce strolled through the rooms with the confidence of a man who’s made murder his business. He scanned the walls, furniture, floors. If the Creep made a mistake, no matter how small, Pierced had to find it. Burke trailed behind, taking notes. In the entire house, only three things looked out of place: the slashed screen in the bathroom, the cut phone cord in the kitchen, and the exhibit in the bedroom.

Pierce froze in the bedroom doorway and examined the display. Burke stood behind him in the hall. The girl’s corpse lay on the bed, spread-eagled, nude from the waist down. A toilet brush jutted from her vagina. Coagulated blood colored the jagged lips of the spine-deep smile carved into her throat.

“You sure it was the Creep?” Burke said.

“Look how she’s posed.” Pierce swept his flashlight beam across the bed. Something metallic winked from a heap of filthy clothes on the floor. Keys. He clicked the light off.

“I can’t see. You’re blocking the door.”

“Let’s go. We don’t want to contaminate the scene.”

“Good call. Maybe forensics can find a print or a hair. Anything to catch the stupid sonofabitch.” Burke spun and clomped down the hall.

When Burke turned the corner, Pierce strode into the bedroom, scooped the keys from the pile of clothes, and tucked them in his pocket. You shit the nest this time, pal, he thought as he left the house.

At home that afternoon, Pierce tossed his keys onto the kitchen table. He hung his suit in the bedroom closet, placed his wallet on the dresser, and dropped his spare keys into the sock drawer. Crawling into bed, he mumbled, “You stupid sonofabitch.”