Tod Maroney started to put his classic Cadillac sedan in gear. Then the muzzle of a compact .380 touched his left cheek through the open window in a cold surprise.
“Move over,” came a woman’s whisper behind the gun. Her soft voice failed to echo in the empty parking garage. She reached with her free hand to open the door.
As Tod moved over, the passenger-side back door opened. Then, with coincidental precision, both doors closed quietly with simultaneous clicks.
Another cold gun barrel poked the back of his neck. A man’s voice, low and hard, told him, “Just look straight ahead.”
The woman, her long thin face shrouded in shadows, held a delicate palm toward Tod. “Parking card,” she said.
“On…on the visor,” Tod replied quickly, his mouth suddenly dry and sticky.
Nimble, feminine fingers pulled the lever into drive. The car surged with a squeal of tires toward the exit gate. A few moments later, the car pulled into the night.
Tod’s nostrils flared in short rapid breaths. Her perfume smelled like flowers–roses maybe. Then, the throbbing pulse in his temples shifted his thoughts back to his plight. “What’s this all–”
The gun at his neck pressed with emphasis. “Quiet,” snapped the man.
Three blocks later, the car pulled onto the relatively desolate expressway.
“Relax, Mr. Maroney,” the woman said.
Tod buckled his seat belt. “You know my name. Do I know you? Am I being kidnapped?”
“We’re stealing your car, Tod-baby,” she answered with a snicker. “We know your brother-in-law.”
“If–if you just let me go, I promise I won’t call the police until tomorrow–or however long you say.”
Silence answered his feeble offer.
Oncoming headlights splashed a brief dash of harsh light across the woman’s hard features. Tod glimpsed a slender, thirty-ish otherwise non-descript woman, not ugly nor particularly attractive.
All at once a cloth slipped over Tod’s eyes. Then strong hands cinched a knot in the blindfold.
“Please,” Tod said, pausing to feel if the gun barrel behind would prod his neck again. It didn’t. “I can pay a pretty good ransom.” He thought about the $53,000 he’d embezzled so far from the real estate office he managed; the phony invoices were all paid and banked to the three inspection companies his crooked brother-in-law lawyer set up for them. Then, in the moment Tod realized what a deal his brother-in-law had. Tod took all the risk but only got half the take.
“I mean, I can get my hands on ten-thousand right away.”
The woman shook her head. “The parts are worth more than that.”
“Yeah.” She jerked a glance at him. “I operate chop shop.”
“Oh.” Tod’s voice trailed off. He’d heard about those things–rings of car thieves who didn’t sell the whole car but disassembled it to bring higher overall prices on parts with less risk of detection. “I guess that’s pretty profitable.”
“Not like it used to be,” she said, with a sigh. “Competition is worse than ever. It’s hard to keep an edge.”
Tod tried another tack. “Look. The car’s yours. I have insurance. Just drop me off anywhere, please?”
The woman ignored him. “And I really hate working nights so much, too. Pain in the butt. A lot of good having a degree does.”
Tod’s mouth dropped. “Degree?”
“Uh-huh. Business major,” she answered. “MBA actually. Oh, I guess it has some value. My revenues are up this quarter. But that’s only because I started to diversify eight months ago. ”
“Oh,” Tod said. “But you should still make a nice profit on my car. It’s been fully restored just as if it rolled off the showroom floor new.”
“Not enough.” She slowed and made a hard curve on an exit. “That’s why I diversified.”
Trying to keep being conversational, in hopes of eventually talking her into his freedom, he said, “How did you diversify?” Just then, a hypodermic needle pierced the back of his neck. Before the needle withdrew, he felt his consciousness starting to slide away as the feeling began to fade in his hands and feet.
“Well,” she continued, “you combine a secondary but easily compatible sideline with the main business. So, with my shop, it was a natural.” Then she hesitated, as if thinking. “Your car’s worth maybe fifteen to seventeen thousand. But you? At your age and good health, your parts should bring at least an additional fifty-thousand.” She pressed the brakes for the exit to her shop.
“Diversification works. You see we also now deal in organs for transplants.
When I say we’re a chop shop, I mean that’s truly what we are.”
Her last words echoed in Tod’s ears as if echoing down a long, dark tunnel.
Rick Witherow has had short stories published in Midnight Zoo and The Best of the Midwest’s Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Vol. 3.
Image by Kris Sage