A Night in the Snow - Short Story
© 2019, Jori Hanna
The snow had nearly blanketed the ground completely when my target finally left the shop. I watched from the parking lot as the neon open sign flickered off along with the rest of the lights sharing their warmth with the world through the shop windows, filtering out past the mannequins displaying the “season’s hottest looks.”
By the dim glow of the emergency lighting above the register, I watched her clock out and disappear into the back to grab her coat and set the alarm. I cracked my car window a smidge and fished a cigarette out of my pocket. I lit it, put it to my lips, and took a slow drag as I watched her check everything one last time. Smoking before a job had almost become a sort of ritual for me, calming my nerves just enough to go through with it.
Jamie Kendricks, the resident it girl of this sleepy little town, promoted to shop manager as a high school senior, set to graduate with a 4.0. Everyone knew it. It hadn’t taken me long at all to learn everything about her. This was the sort of town where everyone knew everyone else’s business and loved talking about it, including their peers’ work schedules, and the gossip about the family net worth.
There were downsides to picking a well known target like Jamie, but most of them were worth the risk. After all, it was a small town. That meant the police department would be involved, but it was usually a small team. The townspeople might remember my face, but none of their stories would connect, since I’d used a different accent and changed up my look every day I went out. A hat here, glasses there, changing my sweater for a hoodie in the car, walking most places if I needed to get anywhere.
I’d been smart, and I’d covered my tracks. Taking Jamie wouldn’t be hard, and it would definitely have a high payoff assuming I could get in touch with her family.
She walked outside and I started my car, heading closer to the only other car in the parking lot. I’d done my research. Eleven AM was the busiest time of day. At exactly 11:05 I’d cut the ignition fluid so she’d be stranded here. Everything was going according to plan.
She locked the shop doors and pulled her scarf tighter around her face, defending against the Indiana wind.
I watched and waited, noticing as she glanced over at my car. She made her way across the snowy parking lot to her car, getting inside and putting in the key. Once. Twice. Three times. She rested her head against the steering wheel and glanced back toward the shop. Why wasn’t she pulling out her phone?
Oh well. Now was my chance. I drove my SUV closer, stopping a few parking spots over, and rolled down my window. She pushed her door open.
“Car trouble?” I asked.
“Yeah . . . It won’t start. My dad’s going to kill me. You don’t happen to have jumper cables, do you?”
“Unfortunately no . . . Do you have anyone you can call?”
“Yeah, but my phone’s dead and it’s late. Why are you out here anyway?”
I waved the cigarette at her. “I needed a quiet place to smoke. Need me to drive you somewhere?”
“Don’t you have a phone I could borrow?” She seemed hesitant. No matter. I’d just have to convince her.
I shook my head. “Dropped it in the toilet the other day and haven’t gotten my replacement in the mail yet.” A lie, but believable enough for a teenage girl.
“That’s rough. Did you try putting it in rice?”
“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure I was too late. Nothing happened. Lost all my contacts in one go. See if I trust technology ever again,” I scoffed.
She glanced at her car, back at the shop, and then back at me. “I’d hate to be a nuisance.”
“It’s no trouble at all, so long as you don’t mind if I smoke.” I gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile.
She took a deep breath. I could almost see her thoughts as she tried to convince herself that it was fine, that this was a small town, that bad things rarely happened here, that she could trust me.
Then she grabbed her purse, closed and locked her car door, and walked around to the passenger side. She settled inside and buckled her seatbelt.
“Where to?” I asked, shifting my pick-up into drive.
“Just go back to the main road and take a left . . .” I followed her instructions, heading out of the parking lot and turning on my turn signal.
“So. What’s your name?” I asked.
“Jamie. And yourself?”
“Lucas,” I said.
“What do you do for work, Lucas?”
“All sorts of things. Mostly I’m a deal negotiator, though.”
“Oh! What kind of deals?”
She seemed relieved to not have to talk about herself. I decided to humor her. “Contracts, mostly. I try to make sure my clients get what they want and need.”
“Interesting. How did you get into that? Oh, take a right up here . . .”
I switched lanes to take the right but “missed” it. “Shoot . . .” I murmured, glancing back toward where she’d said to turn.
“That’s okay, there’s more than one way in . . . Just take the next right.”
“Sure,” I said, slowing down and turning.
“I got into negotiating through my family. My brother did it for a time, until he died. Too young if you ask me.”
“That’s horrible . . . What did he die of?”
Gotcha. I kept driving, straight, though I was probably supposed to turn somewhere. But she was distracted. And that was the goal.
“It was an unfortunate accident.” If you can call getting shot by cops an accident. They wouldn’t take his deal. That wasn’t his fault.
“I’m so sorry to hear that . . .”
I took another turn, one that would eventually lead me out into the main road again.
She looked around. “Oh! I completely forgot to give you directions . . . You went too far. We’ll have to go back.”
I sped up. This road opened up onto a back country road. God bless Indiana.
“Did you hear me? You went too far—“
“I know a short cut.”
“But you don’t know where I live . . .”
“This road loops back around.”
“Oh, okay.” She seemed to relax for a moment. I kept going straight until the road ended. That was when she realized what had happened. I could hear it in her voice. She was trying to stay calm, but the slight tremor gave her away.
“When are we going to turn around?”
Poor thing. Is this the first time life hasn’t gone your way?
I stayed quiet.
“What?” I snapped.
She flinched. “My parents will know something’s wrong when I don’t show up at home—“
“Oh, I’m counting on it,” I said, driving faster still. She gripped the door handle, but not out of
desire to get out. My speed was going to keep her glued to that chair.
“What do you want from me?”
Her voice came out as a small little squeak.
“From you? Nothing. From your family? Everything. For you? Well, Jamie, I suppose you’ll just have to wait and find out.”
Too far. She started crying, small at first, then a blubbering mess like all the others from the past. Her mascara ran black down her cheeks and pooled around her eyes, making her look very much like a sleep deprived panda.
I pulled off the road and headed deep into the countryside. We were far from town now. If I was right, and I was rarely wrong, no one she knew would be where we were going. It would be a perfect place to lay low and wait for the inevitable ransom.
I finally slowed the car to a stop at the end of my temporary driveway where my two german shepherds came running to the car.
Glancing over at Jamie, I almost felt remorse. Almost. But as soon as it was there, it was gone again as I remembered her perfect life.
At some point, everyone had to learn that life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies and good times. Friends are fake. Parents lie. Teachers can’t be trusted. The world is so much bigger than this tiny little town, and boy was it cruel.
The sooner she learned that life wouldn’t always go her way, the sooner she’d be prepared to function in the world.
“I’m doing you a favor,” I muttered, getting out of the driver’s side and whistling low to my dogs. Immediately they sunk into herding stances, muscles taut, teeth bared. Jamie sat in the car still, staring straight ahead. I grabbed her door handle and she promptly locked the door. No matter. I could unlock it without problem.
I hit the button on the key fob.
She locked the car from the inside.
I unlocked the car.
Back and forth we went, for at least fifteen minutes before I put my hand on the door and pulled the door open immediately after unlocking it.
“P-please . . .” she whimpered, her eyes searching my face, flicking back and forth as she gazed first at one of my eyes and then the other. It was a tiny, imperceptible movement for her. She wouldn’t realize the movement at all. But me? I knew. That’s how everyone’s eyes moved when they were thinking hard, processing, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
“Get out of the car,” I ordered, keeping a firm grip on the door but stepping back so she could get out.
“Or I won’t let you talk to your parents.”
She swallowed hard, glanced at the dogs, and took a careful step out.
With my Shepherds guiding her, I marched her to the barn. The drifting snow covered our tracks almost immediately, the freezing air cutting into my legs and forcibly reminding me why I was doing this.
With the money, I’d be one step closer to moving out of my car and into a house, not unlike this one. I’d love land, and space for my dogs to run free all the time. I’d love to not worry about how I’d feed myself or them.
But that wasn’t the case now. For now, we trespassed on some stranger’s land, a stranger that had been gone on vacation for a while, probably a snow-birder who traveled to Florida for the winter. None of the neighbors would think anything of it, since the neighbors were miles away.
I opened the doors to the barn and gestured to the corner. Jamie obediently sat.
“I-is your name actually Lucas?” she asked, shivering from the cold.
I laughed. “Oh, honey. How naïve are you? Of course not.”
A resigned calm settled over her despite the hopelessness in her eyes. “Why me?”
“Why not you?” I muttered, walking over to the wall, past plowing tools and sharp instruments, and grabbing a length of rope. I heard one of my dogs growl and there was a soft thud as she flinched against the wall.
I couldn’t exactly tell her that it was because she’d never faced hardship in her life. Her car had been paid in full, she’d never wondered where her meals would come from, she lived in one of the fanciest houses in town. I couldn’t very well explain that one way or another she had to learn how life really was, how nothing ever went according to plan, and how people couldn’t be trusted.
So I didn’t.
And instead of saying anything else at all, I pulled her arms behind her back and tied her wrists together, making sure it was tight and there was no way she’d get out of them tonight.
“You’re not going to get away with this . . .” she said, although it sounded like it required more courage than she actually had.
“Oh Jamie. I don’t have to get away with it any more than I already have. Now,” I pulled my phone out of my pocket. “What’s your family’s best phone number?”
As she spoke I typed in the numbers but waited to press call until I’d tied one of the dirty bandanas from the barn’s workbench around her mouth.
I waited as it rang, watching my dogs circle her. I checked my watch.
A sleepy voice answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Is this Mr. Kendricks?” I asked, keeping my voice calm and collected.
“ . . . Yes. Who’s calling?”
“I have your daughter. And before I give you the location where you’ll find her, I need confirmation that you’ve wired $200,000 into bank account 89204 by midnight tonight.”
There was silence on the other end. Then, slowly, I heard him wake his wife.
“Honey, wake up . . .”
“Do we have an understanding?” I asked.
“I want proof of life,” he said.
Muffled from distance I heard his wife ask, “Proof of life?”
I put the phone on speaker. “Jaime, be a dear and say hello to your father.”
She mumbled around the rag in her mouth. “Da—! Hel— ee.”
I switched the phone back to it’s normal settings and held it up to my ear again. “So. Mr. Kendricks, what will it be? $200,000 or finding your daughter in a ditch somewhere, frozen after weeks of searching? You have until midnight.”
I hung up and switched off my burner phone, removing the SM card. Then I sat on the work bench and called one of the dogs over. She came and sat, resting her head on my lap. I stroked her head and her tail thumped softly on the dirt floor.
To her credit, Jamie stayed still. She hardly fussed, though I could see her squirming against the rope and cringing as the rough material cut into her wrists.
This was the hardest part. The waiting.
Snatching a person was no problem. Most came without problem. They trusted the world to be kind to them and got in my car willingly.
Making the ransom call was also easy enough. Sometimes they gave me the number for the police department instead. But that was easily avoidable by programming those numbers into my phone before I took them in the first place.
Funny enough, I’d never had to follow through on my threat. Either the police showed up and still got me my money and left me with my freedom, or the parents caved and everything went according to plan.
But this waiting. These hours of sitting here in silence, staring at each other.
The doubts always crept in. After all, it wasn’t necessarily her fault that she was popular and well-liked. It wasn’t her fault she stemmed from a family of means. She couldn’t have chosen her lineage.
But it wasn’t really her life I aimed to ruin. No. It was that of everyone around her. She was just a bonus.
How could her parents maintain their lifestyle when they’re broke? How could her father maintain his honor when his coworkers found out he’d been blackmailed into emptying his bank account? How long until their family couldn’t pay their mortgage or couldn’t buy the newest phone or car? How long until her mother was known around town as the woman whose daughter had been kidnapped?
Town like this? I expected it to take a couple days. And they’d try to hide it. They always did. But there would be rumors. Jamie would tell the friends she thought were the closest. They’d tell their closest friends, someone would overhear. And the story would spread until everyone and their mother knew of the tragedy that had struck the Kendricks family in one night.
The worst part was that they’d make the money back fairly quickly. In time, maybe a year, they’d be back to normal.
My eyes met Jamie’s.
But she would never be. This night would haunt her forever. She’d never be able to leave work alone at night without wondering who else was in the parking lot waiting for her. She’d never be able to see another stranger without wondering if they had malicious intentions. And even once she got over those initial gut reactions, the fear would linger.
Someday, she may have children of her own.
But this fear would linger.
The effects of my childhood splashing into hers and on into her children’s. Maybe it would stop there. But it was just as likely that the anger that drove me would become the fear that ruined both her life and the lives of the rest of her family until, finally, through lies and deception, a member rose up who’d forgotten the trauma.
Or maybe Jamie would become like me. A skilled “negotiator” in her own right.
I pulled my smartphone out of my pocket and checked the bank account. Still empty. Still waiting.
I glanced at the time. 11:00 PM.
“The clock is ticking, Jamie. One more hour before either I leave or we get back in the car and drive until we find a nice cold ditch.”
A shudder ran through her body and I watched tears well in her eyes. Poor thing. But it was almost over. This ordeal that wasn’t even as bad as it could have been. Others had ruined lives in more ways than I ever wanted to. Honestly, she was lucky to have gotten me and not someone else.
My smartphone binged and I smiled. 11:52 PM, and her parents had come through. I stood and Jamie flinched.
“Are you warm, Jamie?” I asked.
She shivered, but otherwise didn’t reply, though her eyes followed me unswervingly.
I glanced around the barn until my eyes passed over a tarp. I brought it to her and wrapped it around her. She was trembling, and not, mostly, from the cold.
I gently cupped her chin in my hand and tilted her face up toward mine.
“I guess your parents do love you. I’m sure they’ll be here soon. Oh, and Jamie, I don’t think I have to warn you about the consequences of describing me to the police.”
I didn’t have to say anything more than that. The fear in her eyes was enough to keep her quiet. Not that it really mattered. For every town I used a different set of facial prosthetics. I had mastered the art of disappearing.
And it was time to do it again.
I whistled and my dogs joined me at my side, hopping into the car with fluid ease. I drove until I was a few miles away before turning on the burner phone and texting the address to her father. Then I wiped the prints and tossed the phone out into the snow, heading off to the next town.
There was always someone who needed to learn.
And I accepted my role of being their teacher.
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in anyway. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real life events is unintended by the author.
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J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her cuddling with a cat, drinking a caffeinated beverage, and watching one of her favorite shows. Go find her on social media @authorjjhanna to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up to date news on all things publishing.