Mia Voss needed a fix. Badly.
On a normal day, she would have stood strong against the temptation. But nothing about today had been normal, starting with the fact that it was January seventh and ending with the fact that for the first time in her life she’d actually been demoted.
Her stomach clenched as she turned into the Minute-Mart parking lot and eased her white Jeep Wrangler into a space near the door. Her cheeks warmed at the still-fresh memory of standing stiffly in her boss’s office, gazing down at his weasel face as he sat behind his desk, meting out criticism. At the time, she’d been stunned speechless, too shocked to defend herself. Only now— six hours too late—did all of the perfect rejoinders come tumbling into her head.
Mia jerked open the door to the convenience store and made a beeline for the freezer section. If ever a night called for Ben & Jerry’s, it was tonight. For the first Thursday night in months, she wasn’t stuck at the lab. For the first Thursday night in years, the only items demanding her attention were a sappy chick flick, a cozy blanket, and a pint of butterfat. Tonight was for wallowing. Mia slid open the freezer door and plucked out a tub of Super Fudge Chunk. She tucked it under her arm, then grabbed a pint of Chunky Monkey as well. As long as she was sinning, why not sin big? That motto had gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion, but she continued to follow it.
She jumped and whirled around.
A bulky, balding man in a brown overcoat stood behind her. He crouched down to pick up the carton that had rolled across the aisle, then stood and held it out to her. “Good stuff, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks.” She stared at him and tried to place him. He was a cop, she knew that much. But he wasn’t someone she’d seen recently, and she couldn’t pull a name from her memory banks.
“Not as good as mint chip, though.” His droll smile made him look grandfatherly. “My wife’s favorite.”
She noticed his shopping basket—two pints of mint chocolate chip and a six-pack of beer.
His gaze drifted down to her fur-lined moccasins and a bushy gray eyebrow lifted. “Slumber party?”
For her quick trip to the store, Mia had tucked her satin nightshirt into jeans, pulled on a ratty cardigan, and slipped her feet into house shoes. She looked like an escapee from a mental ward, which, of course, meant that she’d bump into a cop she knew. Nothing like rein-forcing that professional image. Yes, it was shaping up to be a banner career day.
Mia forced a smile. “More like movie night.” She glanced at her watch and stepped toward the register. “It’s about to start, actually. I’d better—”
“Don’t let me keep you.” He nodded. “See ya around, Doc.”
Mia watched his reflection in the convex mirror as she paid for her groceries. He added a couple of frozen dinners to his basket and headed for the chips aisle.
The name hit her as she pulled out of the parking lot. Frank Hannigan. San Marcos PD. Why couldn’t she have remembered it sooner?
Something hard jabbed into her neck.
“Take a left at this light.”
Mia’s head whipped around. Her chest convulsed. In the backseat was a man. He held a gun pointed right at her nose.
“Watch the road!”
She jerked her head around just in time to see the telephone pole looming in front of her. She yanked the wheel left and managed to stay on the street.
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. Her hands clutched the steering wheel in a death grip. Her gaze flashed to the mirror and homed in on his gun. It was big and serious-looking, and he held it rock-steady in his gloved hand.
The command snapped her attention away from the weapon and back to him. Her brain numbly registered a description. Black hooded sweatshirt pulled tight around his face. Navy bandanna covering his nose and mouth. Dark sunglasses. All she could see of the man behind the disguise was a thin strip of skin between the glasses and the bandanna.
He jammed the muzzle of the pistol into her neck again. “Eyes ahead.”
She forced herself to comply. Her heart pounded wildly against her sternum. Her stomach tightened. She realized she’d stopped breathing. She focused on drawing air into her lungs and unclenched her hand from the wheel so that she could shift gears and turn left.
Where are we going? What does he want?
Her mind flooded with terrifying possibilities as she hung a left and darted her gaze around, looking for a police car, a fire truck, anything. But this was a college town, and whatever action might be going on tonight was happening much closer to campus.
How was she going to get out of this? Cold sweat beaded along her hairline. Bile rose in the back of her throat.
The engine reached a high-pitched whine. She’d forgotten to change gears. Her clammy hand slipped on the gearshift as she switched into third.
Think. She glanced around desperately, but the streets were quiet. The nearest open business was the Dairy Queen two blocks behind them.
“CenTex Bank, on your right. Pull up to the drive-through.”
Mia’s breath whooshed out. He wanted money. Tears of relief filled her eyes. But they quickly morphed into tears of panic when she realized that his wanting money didn’t really mean anything. He could still shoot her in the head and leave her on the side of the road. She, of all people, knew the amazingly cheap price of a human life. A wad of cash. A bag of crack. A pair of sneakers.
She could be dead before the ATM even spat out the bills.
The cold, hard muzzle of the gun rubbed against her cheek. Her breath hitched, and her gaze went to the mirror. She remembered the police sketch of the Unabomber, a man in a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses who spent years on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Mia once met the artist who had drawn that sketch. As a forensic scientist at one of the world’s top crime labs, Mia had connections in every conceivable area of law enforcement—but at this moment, they were useless to her. At this moment, it was just her and this man, alone in her car, a gun pointed at her head.
Stay calm. Make a plan.
She maneuvered the Jeep up to the teller machine, nearly scraping the yellow concrete pillar on the left side of her car. Too late, she realized she’d just ruined a potential escape route.
She closed her eyes and swallowed. She thought of her mom. Whatever happened, Mia had to live through this. Her mother couldn’t take another blow.
Not on January seventh.
She turned to face him with a renewed sense of determination—or maybe it was adrenaline—surging through her veins. “How much do you want?” She rolled the window down with one hand while scrounging through her purse for her wallet.
“Five thousand?” She turned to stare at him. She had that much, yeah. In an IRA account somewhere. Her checking account was more in the neighborhood of five hundred. But she wanted more than anything not to tick this guy off.
She gulped. “I think my limit is three hundred.” She tried to keep her voice steady, but it was wobbling all over the place. She turned to look at him, positioning her shoulders so the camera on the ATM could get a view into her car. It probably couldn’t capture him from this angle, but it might capture the gun. “I can do several transactions,” she said.
The barrel rapped against her cheekbone. She would have a bruise tomorrow. If she lived that long.
She turned to the machine and, with shaking fingers, punched in her code and keyed in the amount. Three hundred was the most she could get. Could she get it twice? Had her cable bill cleared? Mia handed him the first batch of twenties and chewed her lip as she waited for the second transaction to go through.
Her blood turned to ice. Seconds ticked by as she waited for the man’s response. Despite the sweat trickling down her spine, her breath formed a frosty cloud as she stared at the words flashing on the screen.
That’s it, she thought. I’m dead.
She reached a trembling hand out and pulled the receipt from the slot.
She could make a break for it right here. Except that her doors were pinned shut by the concrete pillars on either side of her.
She could speed to the nearest well-populated area, which was a Walmart three blocks away. Could she get there before he shot her or wrestled the wheel away?
“Back on the highway.” The command was laced with annoyance but not quite as much disappointment as she’d expected.
She put the Jeep in gear and returned to the highway. As she shifted, she glanced at the familiar Mardi Gras beads hanging from her rearview mirror. Somehow they steadied her. This was her car, and she was in the driver’s seat. She could control this.
“How about Sun Bank?” Her voice sounded like a croak. That bank was past Walmart. Maybe she could swerve into the lot and make a run for it.
“Hang a left.”
Mia’s hands gripped the steering wheel. Her gaze met his in the mirror. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she could read his intent—it was in his tone of voice, his body language, the perfectly steady way he held that gun.
Left on the highway meant out of town. He was going to kill her.
© 2010 Laura Griffin