Excerpt: Dark Side of Sunset Pointe
[6:47 PM – Tuesday, August 24, 2010]
A blazing sun still high above Phoenix’s western horizon. One hundred nine degrees in the shade. Those with the wherewithal and accumulated vacation time have fled north to the cool pines or west to the balmy California coast weeks ago. Only the dregs of humanity, conscripted company workers and hardcore entrepreneurs are left to bake in the Valley of the Sun’s August heat. Yet beneath the surface layer of superheated atmosphere and social veneers there is another, more subliminal furnace raging—its fumes stoking the fires of Hell.
Just off the intersection of Greenway and Tatum a white stucco box of an office building squats under a clay tile roof, heat rising off the reddish tiles in shimmering sheets. Mounted on the wrought-iron entry gate, the building directory announces the tenants: Suite 101 – Whiting Realty & Development. The office is closed for the day yet the overburdened air conditioning units grind away, sheltering the last remaining occupant from the sweltering heat.
Bloodshot eyes stare at a spreadsheet, the monitor’s image glares with the harsh reality. Too many negative numbers expose an ugly truth. Anxiously perched on the edge of his high-backed leather executive chair, Gary Whiting waits with the phone to his ear. Dreading the final ring, Whiting lets it go to voicemail, again. He needs to talk to his partner, Rodriguez. He loosens the knot in his power tie and hangs up. This time, without leaving a message.
The four Excedrin have knocked his headache down to a dull throbbing at the base of his skull, but his eyes still ache. He’s been crunching numbers for their Sunset Pointe development project, staring at the monitor all damn day. He rubs at the knots in his stomach through his rumpled white dress shirt, thinking maybe he should eat or maybe he should just shoot himself. He taps the return key with a jittery thumb, hitting it too many times, trying to put the numbers out of his mind. His pulse pounds in his temples. Shit! Got to get ahold of that asshole, Rodriguez.
Whiting runs a trembling hand through thinning hair, his scalp hot and moist. They’ve got to do something about these numbers. Short stubble on raw cheeks twitches as he anxiously works his jaws. They could lose the whole damn project. Thirty million! He can’t believe it, he’s bet everything on this project. And with the hard-money loan, they’ve got a bigger nut than ever. Shit! Those hard-money bastards, they’re Rodriguez’s contacts. Of course they had to have the money to finish—all the construction cost overruns. Fucking Rodriguez. His fingers manically drum on the hardwood desktop, their nails ragged, bitten to the quick. They’re in way too deep to quit now.
Chewing his bottom lip, Whiting redials Rodriguez’s cell.
“Damn Gary, whaddaya want?” Rodriguez sounds out of breath, frustrated.
“Mike, we need to go over some numbers. Ya got a minute?”
Rodriguez gives a short chuckle then lowers his voice. “I’m kinda in the middle of somethin’.”
“Yeah, but . . .” Gary hears a thump, then a woman’s muffled words. “Hey, are you at the office? Who’s with you?”
“Yeah, like I said, we’re kinda in the middle of somethin’ here.”
Whiting hears giggling in the background.
“Stop that,” Rodriguez says to Diane. To Gary, he says, “Diane’s never done it on the desk before.”
Whiting can almost hear Rodriguez’s leering grin.
In the background Diane laughs. “Do I get overtime for this?”
Now they’re both laughing.
“Damn . . . Mike, you guys . . . in the office?”
“Hey, don’t sweat it. It’s almost seven, no one’s around, yard gates are locked, lights are off. No one’s gonna know.”
Whiting hears Diane coo . . . more giggling.
Rodriguez speaks closer into the phone. “That is, as long as you keep your mouth shut.”
“Hey, no problem. I don’t care what you do with Diane. She’s your bookkeeper.”
Diane lets out a short yelp. “What was that?”
“Shit,” whispers Rodriguez. “Shit.”
“Mike, what’s going on?”
“Hold on, I think someone’s here.”
Whiting hears grunting, rustling, probably scrambling for clothes, the metallic snap of window blinds.
“Who’s that?” says Rodriguez under his breath. “Get your panties on.”
Whiting hears Diane whine. “I’m trying.”
He hears Rodriguez whispering to himself. “Who is that? Is that . . ? I’ll get that bastard.”
“Gary, hold on, I gotta take a picture with this thing, hold on.”
“Okay.” Whiting hears the blinds clacking.
He hears Rodriguez talking to himself. “Damn, it’s dark . . . but I think I got ‘em.”
“Mike . . . Mike?”
“Yeah, I’m back, hold on. Gotta check this out.”
Whiting clutches the phone in a sweaty hand, pressed hard against his ear. He hears a loud bang. A door slamming the wall? Too weird. He needs a Valium.
“You, you asshole!” yells Rodriguez. “What the fuck do you want!?!”
Whiting hears POP, POP! Screeching, a low grunt, loud thumps . . . POP, POP, POP! “Uh, uh, uh . . .” Guttural gasps. A long wail. High-pitched keening, its otherworldly echo raising every hair on goose flesh. Whiting drops the receiver, horrified. The plastic handset bounces off the desktop as it sinks in. They’ve been shot!