Prologue – Dead Dreams

Sweat stung his eyes. Breathing proved laborious. His stomach churned faster each minute. Donald Nuss leaned his fatigued body against the bank’s exterior brick wall. Hidden by the building’s shadows and a nearby maple tree, he could see the entire parking lot. The bank, which sat in the corner of the large lot, shielded him from a nearby security light, but the temporary safety could not last.

All of the stores in the shopping plaza had been closed for hours. The large home-supply store that anchored the shopping plaza, the quilt shop, a pet store, a bicycle and skateboard shop, and the other retail outlets which seemed to come and go every few months, all closed by 8 p.m., if not earlier. Customers and employees alike possessed the good sense to be in bed at this now-late hour. Inside the home-supply store, a security guard likely made his rounds- if he were still awake. Outside, nothing and no one moved, except the desperate young man who abandoned the idea of caution.

The parking lot lights obscured the starry sky above. Donald was oblivious to Jupiter, the various constellations, and the infinite number of stars which floated overhead. He was also oblivious to the occasional car which drove by on the main road below, down the gentle hillside from the bank. Passing cars could not see the parking lot because of this hill. Only Donald and his pursuers knew of the life-and-death struggle playing out in their own little world.

The young man looked toward his favorite possession: his red 2015 Mustang. Escape was impossible without it. Parked next to Donald’s car sat a blue Ford Taurus. Though he could not see for sure, he believed Kenneth waited inside. Kenneth knew Donald would return, understanding- as did Donald- that the car served as a lifeline.

Distracted, Donald gazed at the skid marks to the side of the Mustang. He could not remember when or why he slid his car sideways to a halt and fled on foot. He could not remember why he faced this pursuit. Donald could only remember that he was about to die.

The twenty-six-year-old caught his breath as he mulled over a plethora of ideas- some good, some bad, and some outright foolish.

It seemed that Carl had different ideas. Unlike Donald, the broad-shouldered fifty-two-year-old huffed and wheezed, in no physical condition for the arduous activities this night presented. He looked as though he had run a four-minute mile. Minutes earlier, Carl ditched his pickup three blocks away under the belief that one shot would end the pursuit.

Donald heard the stout man’s desperate gasps for air and immediately made the decision to conclude the mad attempt to murder him. He could not see Carl’s Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol, but he knew that the man’s sweaty hand clutched it. Donald sprinted out of the darkness and into the open parking lot. Because Carl closed in and the front end of Kenneth’s car pointed toward the bank, Donald knew that being spotted was imminent. He had to hope that Carl was too winded for a good shot and that he could find a way to avoid Kenneth.

The intensity of the moment continued to pump blood through Donald’s body at an unhealthy rate and pour endless sweat over his skin. The emotions, the thoughts, the fear- it all seemed so vivid, but more than once the thought entered his brain: maybe this is all a dream.

The blue Taurus’ engine fired up, shattering the silence, and the car lurched forward. Carl saw his opportunity and dropped to one knee. Donald instinctively understood the meaning of the action as he leaped to avoid both the bullets and car. The first bullet streaked by a second later.

Tires screeched on the asphalt. The car raced toward Donald, on a collision course. He leaped out of the way. Kenneth’s foolish move increased Donald’s hope of escape. Two more gunshots from Carl.

The car spun to reverse its course. The short race unfolded as Donald sprinted to the Mustang, but the car covered the final forty yards before he could on foot. A fourth shot rang out, this time passing close enough for Donald to hear it rocket by his head.

In a blurring of sounds, images, and pain, Donald leaped away from his car just as he reached for the door handle. Rubber scraped asphalt. Metals crashed together. A fifth shot blasted into the night. What felt like a ball peen hammer crashed into his arm. Glass shattered. He heard his own voice scream. There was a thud as his back smacked the asphalt. Silence.

Donald felt the pounding throb of pain as blood oozed from his left arm. Reflexively, he grabbed his left triceps with his right hand, but pulled it away, surprised by the amount of blood. With great pain, he climbed to his feet in one last attempt to open the door of his Mustang.

As he stumbled, he saw the two damaged cars. The driver’s side fender of his Mustang caved inward, leaving the tire tilted inward at an odd angle. The Taurus’ entire front end was smashed. Steam spewed out from the crumpled hood. The pinkish-red of transmission fluid and green of anti-freeze flowed underneath and around Donald’s tennis shoes. Motor oil joined the pool of chemicals. The car was of no use to him.

Kenneth raced up and pointed a .38 caliber revolver at the injured young man. “Stay there, Donny.”

Energy drained from Donald’s body. All remaining hope flowed away. The desperation that he felt during his entire ordeal magnified. Before his pain-wracked body could veto the thought, his brain sprung him into action, but too little strength remained as Kenneth easily stepped aside and avoided Donald’s desperate rush. As a defensive reaction, Kenneth karate-chopped him on the back, knocking him to the ground.

Escape was impossible.

Sounding more like a broken-down steam engine train than a human, Carl huffed toward the pair. He looked as though he just finished playing in the sprinklers with his grandson. As he stopped his forward momentum, he nearly fell to the ground. Wheezing replaced words when he tried to speak. Instead of further tries at communication, he gave up the attempt, dropped to his knees, and leaned against Donald’s Mustang.

With Carl’s arrival, Kenneth became nervous. He eyed Donald while shooting quick glances at Carl.

“I thought,” Carl growled. “I told you to stay where you were.” His heavy breathing slowed enough to allow a gruff expression of dissatisfaction.

“He was getting away!” Kenneth protested.

“You idiot! He couldn’t go anywhere without the car!” Carl pointed to both cars. He could not muster the strength to express his anger boiling inside his gut, so he settled for repetition. “You idiot!”

Donald sat, incredulous. He could not believe they would torture him with an argument before completing their murderous task. “Get it over with!” he shouted.

“What are we gonna tell Mom?” Kenneth asked Carl.

“I had it all figured out ’til you bashed your car.” He paused as he surveyed the damage. “And his!” Carl snarled, his strength returning.

Embarrassed and angry, Kenneth looked at the ground and gently kicked a small group of pebbles toward Donald’s car.

Donald wanted to flee, but given his physical condition, that was out of the question. Instead, he waited, with great impatience, for the impending bullet while Kenneth spread around more pebbles with the bottom of his shoe.

“Don’t ya think we should get out of here?” Carl asked after a few seconds of silence, sarcasm dripping from every word.

“We have to think of a cover story first, don’t we?”

Carl could not hide his amazement. “Why first?”

“All right, all right,” Kenneth responded.

Donald was struck with the thought that Kenneth still acted like a weak little boy. He never seemed to fully mature into a man. He always whimpered about something, particularly in front of their father.

“Shoot me!” Donald barked. Blood covered his bullet wound. His strength and patience were long gone. He trembled visibly from the combination of pain and lack of blood. He would rather die- now!- rather than listen to Kenneth whine.

Carl flashed a stern look at Kenneth and nodded.

“Here?” Kenneth asked.

“No! In friggin’ Aruba!” Carl snapped.

“All right. But I’m not moving the body.”

Donald managed a small, warped laugh. “Just give me the damned gun so I can get this over with! I promise I won’t shoot you!”

Kenneth turned to his brother, paused as he looked him in the eyes, and pointed the revolver at Donald’s forehead. The end of the barrel bobbed up and down, three feet from Donald’s head.

Click.

“Well, crap!” The elder brother studied his weapon. “I was hurrying and forgot to load.”

Carl closed his eyes and dropped his head.

Kenneth reached into his front pocket, pulled out two bullets, and loaded them into the empty cylinder of his revolver.

“I’ll never have to hear your whiny trap again,” Donald said, forcing a smile. His defiance knew no bounds in his final moments. He wanted to laugh. He wanted to slap his brother. “The last thing I’ll ever see is your incompetence.”

Kenneth’s eyes narrowed.

Donald only saw the brilliant white flash.