Terminal - Prologue: Amateur Hour


The Prius idled in total silence. The hybrid was so damn quiet that even when it was barreling down the road a pedestrian could barely hear it coming.

Which, of course, was part of the plan.

Bruce Bower angled the driver’s seat so he could lean back and look through the moon roof. Not much moon to be looked at — just a sliver of white that did little to light the quiet suburban LA street. That too was part of the plan.

He stared heavenward and thought about his life — the fifty-one years that had gone by and the four to six weeks Dr. Spang said he had left. He smiled.

“What’s so funny?” Claire asked.

He adjusted the seat so he could see her face in the faint glow that came through the windshield. Thirty-one years since he fell in love with her, and she was still beautiful, still sexy, still everything he ever desired.

“I was just thinking how I spent my entire career dispensing brilliant tax advice,” Bruce said, “and now your entire financial future rests on where some dog decides to take a crap.”

“Dogs are creatures of habit,” Claire said. “Last night was a fluke. Tonight he’ll get it right.”

It all hinged on a five-year-old Yellow Lab named Maverick.

Bruce and Claire had done three test runs. Every night between ten and eleven, Wade Yancy would open the front door of his house at 476 Comstock Avenue, and Maverick would come bounding out, a flashing blue LED safety light hooked to his collar.

Three out of three times the dog headed for the opposite side of the street, stopped at the bend in the road, and did his business directly in front of somebody else’s four-million-dollar home.

Yancy would follow with a glass of wine in one hand and a pooper-scooper bag in the other. He’d crouch down to pick up the shit, because that’s the kind of thoughtful neighbor Wade Yancy was. But half drunk and with his back to the oncoming traffic, he was an accident waiting to happen.

All Bruce had to do was put the car in gear, come around the blind turn doing forty, and the deadly silent Prius would do the rest.

Last night was supposed to be the night, but the dog never crossed the street. Maverick had opted to take a quick piss up against a tree on Yancy’s property and went back into the house for the night.

That might be the kind of setback a professional killer could deal with, but not Claire. As soon as Yancy closed his front door, she started to cry. Bruce did his best to comfort her, but in the end, he cried along with her.

They went home, drank wine, made love, and did the only thing they could do. They pushed the murder off another day. Again, not much of a setback for a professional, but Bruce didn’t have that many days left.

It was now 24 hours and 15 minutes since the aborted attempt, and Bruce reached for the pack of Luckies sitting on the dashboard.

“Do you think that’s such a good idea?” Claire said.

“I thought it was,” he said, picking up the cigarettes, “but judging by the verbal topspin you put on the words ‘good’ and ‘idea,’ you think it’s anything but.”

“Very perceptive. I’ve got Nicorette gum in my purse. You want some?”

“Nicorette is for people who are trying to quit smoking. I’ll quit for good soon enough. Until then, I have Dr. Spang’s blessings to smoke like a Chevy Vega. I am no longer a gum chewer, Claire. I’m a Stage IV smoker.”

“You’re also a Stage IV asshole,” Claire said. “Do you really think I’m trying to stop you from smoking? I’m only afraid that if you light up, somebody could see us sitting here.”

“Oh,” he said, putting the cigarettes back on the dash.

She reached into her purse and pulled out a square of Nicorette. “Chew this. You can smoke all you want when the cops get here.”

“This reminds me of our third date,” he said, chomping down on the mint-flavored wad of nicotine-infused rubber and resting a hand on her thigh.

She covered his hand with hers and kissed his cheek. “Don’t get too horny, lover boy, because there are things I could do in the front seat of a car when I was twenty that I can’t do now.”

“I’m not talking about the sex,” he said. “Third date was the first time you started bossing the shit out of me, and you haven’t stopped since.”

“Have I told you lately that you’re an asshole?” she said, punching him gently on the shoulder.

“Stage IV,” he said. He was about to return the kiss when she sat up straight.

“The door’s opening,” she said.

They watched as the flashing blue light loped across the street and headed for the curve in the road.

“Good doggie,” Bruce said.

The light stopped moving, and the dog circled, looking for the perfect piece of Holmby Hills real estate to leave his mark.

“Poop is in now progress,” Claire said in a mock robotic voice.

Bruce had one hand on the steering wheel, the other on the gearshift. “Get your cell phone ready,” he said.

Claire removed the phone from her purse, never taking her eyes off the flashing blue light that was the only insurance policy her dying husband had.

The dog finished and scampered off to piss in the bushes, leaving the pile of shit for his multimillionaire owner to deal with.

“Mr. Yancy has had a few,” Claire said.

“More than a few,” Bruce said as the big beefy man weaved his way across the street.

As soon as Yancy squatted down, Bruce put the car in gear and hit the gas.

“Be careful you don’t hit the dog,” Claire warned.

“The dog doesn’t deserve to die,” Bruce said as the Prius accelerated from zero to forty in 5.3 seconds. “Yancy does.”

They had done their research. Thirty was the speed limit on Comstock, but a pedestrian who might survive being hit at thirty would be roadkill at forty.

The headlights were out, but Bruce had no trouble honing in on the 250-pound target. And then, as if God had decided that Claire and Bruce Bower had waited for closure long enough, Yancy stood up, and the front bumper of the Prius struck him at knee level, pummeling bones, blood vessels, and tissue.

As soon as he heard the thud, Bruce hit the brakes, but the laws of kinetic energy were still in control. The forward motion continued, and the hood of the car connected with Yancy’s pelvis, and his body went airborne, landing on a lawn sixty feet away.

Bruce turned on the headlights before the Prius even came to a stop.

“Oh my God,” he screamed. “Claire, I hit somebody, I hit somebody.”

They had decided that scripting a story wasn’t enough. Acting it out and living it in real time would make the lies much more believable.

Claire immediately went into character and dialed 911.

Bruce sat behind the wheel, dazed, numb. “I never saw him,” he said. “He came out of nowhere.”

“See if he’s okay,” Claire yelled. She turned to her phone. “My name is Claire Bower. We just hit someone with our car. I don’t know — just a minute. Bruce, where the hell are we?”

“Comstock Avenue,” he yelled. “Somewhere between Beverly Glen and Sunset, but closer to Beverly Glen. It wasn’t my fault. He came out of nowhere.”

Bruce threw the car door open and ran toward the body yelling, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I never saw you.” He was immersed in the part now, and by the time the paramedics arrived, he was confident that his blood pressure would be through the roof.

The dog was on all fours, whimpering, nuzzling Yancy’s face, trying to get a response.

Bruce knelt down in the grass next to the body. “I’m sorry,” he said, first to the broken, bloodied man on the ground, and then again to the dog.

“The police will be here in three minutes,” Claire yelled, getting out of the car and walking toward him. “Is he okay? Please tell me he’s okay.”

“I don’t know,” Bruce yelled back. “Hold on.” He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and turned on the flashlight. Yancy’s eyes were glazed over, locked in the thousand-year-stare.

Bruce made the official pronouncement. “He’s dead.”

“Are you sure?” Claire said, real tears streaming down her cheeks. “Maybe he’s still breathing.”

She dropped to her knees and pressed an ear to the dead man’s chest.

A wet, gurgling moan erupted from Yancy’s throat. Claire bolted backwards and screamed.

Yancy struggled to speak. “Call…nine…one…one,” he implored.

She didn’t have to. She could already hear the sirens in the distance.

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