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THE TRAITOR IN US ALL

By Robert S. Levinson

CHAPTER 1

The three high school girls waltzed into Dino’s Pizzeria as they had twice a week since he arrived in Eden Highlands, Mondays and Fridays, never later than fifteen minutes after their last class, no way of knowing what made today different, but—

 

He knew.

 

Today, one of them would not be leaving.

 

He checked his wristwatch and smiled at their punctuality.

 

He lit another cigarette, soaked his lungs with a heavy hit, and pushed a fat jet trail of blue smoke out the driver’s window of the delivery van, reciting to himself the words he had made his mantra since pulling into the parking lot five minutes ago:

 

Whatever will be will be.

 

Words he remembered from a song in an old Hitchcock movie.

 

Whatever will be will be.

 

He drew an approximation of the tune from memory and hummed the lyrics to the light breeze infiltrating his beard as he eased from the van and took his time covering the twenty-two steps to the entrance.

 

He killed the butt under his boot heel and pushed open the swinging door, inhaling the smell of pizza freshly pulled from the giant bake oven.

 

A few feet to his left was the order counter, past the arch to his right two lines of wooden picnic tables and benches in a narrow, windowless sitting area whose austere white walls were decorated in cheaply framed movie posters. The sitting area was empty.

 

The three girls stood at the counter, giggling and arguing among themselves over what toppings to choose. Mushrooms and sausage appeared to be winning out, although a debate over anchovies kept the final selection inconclusive as he stepped up behind them, within arm’s reach.

 

He answered a nod of recognition and a Just a minute smile from the guy behind the counter with one of his own while reaching for the snub-nosed .22 tucked under his Hawaiian shirt, inside his belt.

 

He revealed the weapon, nozzle pointed at the fiberglass drop ceiling, causing the counterman to widen his eyes in confusion, wider with alarm, then dodge his head like he was looking for ducking room.

 

The counterman held out his palms and backed away, inching left toward the pizza chef whose back was to the counter, flinging dough by second nature while watching a soap opera playing out on the small TV mounted above the double oven.

 

“Fuh Cri’sake,” the pizza chef said, taking a hard bump. Turning, he saw the .22, knew what it meant, and threw up his hands. The motion sent the raw dough wheel flying. “Fuh Cri’sake,” he said again, his Hispanic accent more pronounced this time.

 

The three girls swung around to see what had caused the clerk and the chef to act as they had. The snub-nose was now aimed at the girl in the middle. Amy was her name, Amy Spencer, who looked like she’d already eaten a million too many slices of pizza in her lifetime. She was the one who had been lobbying loudest for sausage.

 

Fear registered on their faces in equal measure and he wondered who’d be the first to muster enough courage to say something to him.

 

Just as he’d have guessed, it was Betsy, Betsy Wheatcroft, who as usual had led the threesome inside. She said, “I know you. You’ve been here before, when we’ve been here.”

 

The third girl, Tracy Collins, clutching her arms in a way that accentuated her well-developed breasts, her thighs pressed hard against an accident, hypnotized by the .22, said through spurts of breath punctuating every word, “Are you going to hurt us?”

 

He answered her by squeezing the trigger.

 

* * * * *

Betsy Wheatcroft looked surprised when the bullet hit her, like she was too good to die, especially since he’d been aiming the .22 at Tracy Collins. What she was was too smart for her own good, showing off that way: I know you. You’ve been here before, when we’ve been here. Like Betsy was hankering for an A in Memory I. The problem he’d always noticed with all self-anointed leaders, the need to be one step ahead of everyone else. Only now she was taking a step back, grabbing for the counter with one hand while her other gripped the hole in her chest that was spilling blood and staining her white lambswool cardigan a lusty burgundy.

 

She whimpered, said a word that sounded like “Mommy,” slid to the floor and into a sitting position against the counter wall.

 

Amy Spencer threw her chubby hands over her face and began crying.

 

Tracy Collins gave him a look as deadly as one of his bullets. She dropped to her knees to minister to Betsy, although anybody with half a brain could see the girl was gone for good.

 

The counterman and the pizza chef had turned their heads away, either to let him know they’d seen more than they wanted to remember or to blind themselves to the bullets that might be coming for them. The counterman, his hands still reaching for Heaven, said something about God. The pizza chef crossed himself.

 

Neither meant anything to him or they’d already be heading for that Great Pizza Kitchen in the Sky. He awarded himself a smile for that one: Great Pizza Kitchen in the Sky.

 

Tracy was easing Betsy down onto the ceramic tile, as if to make her friend more comfortable in death, indifferent to the blood staining her hands. He ordered her to her feet. When she hesitated, like she was about to confuse brave with stupid, he said, “You get on up by the count of one or I shoot your other friend.” The count of one. Another good one, he thought. His sense of humor always seemed sharpest at times like these.

 

Amy Spencer howled and her body broke into a spasmodic dance strong enough to register on the Richter Scale.

He said, “We’re out of here, the three of us,” and told the counterman and the pizza chef, “I see or even think one of you is doing something stupid like grabbing the phone for a 911 before I disappear from the lot, the police will find two more bodies parked outside when they get here.”

 

“I hear you,” the counterman said, shouting the words to be sure he’d been heard.

 

The pizza chef crossed himself again and said, “Me, toome, toome, toome, too,” turning the words into a stutter still running at mach speed while he ordered the two girls out ahead of him and to his van.

 

* * * * *

 

The van was used and bruised, a ghastly white no wash and wax could ever correct, the plates obscured by a thick layer of mud he’d lathered on earlier in the day, so it would be crusted long before he drove into Dino’s. A sliding rear door. No side doors or windows to worry about.

 

He moved on Amy, burying the .22 between them, pressed hard against her spine as an incentive for Tracy to obey his order: slide the door open and get inside. She did so, and at once Amy tried stepping forward to follow her.

 

“No,” he said, restraining her, digging the gun into her spine. He jammed a key into her hand. “I need you to shut and lock the door, then give me back the key.” She gave him a look that put fear to shame. “You’re going to be riding up front with me,” he said, letting go of her.

 

Amy nodded and did as she was told.

 

She turned from him to head for the passenger door on legs that verged on collapse. Before she’d taken a third step, he had stashed the key in a pocket, pressed the .22 against the base of her skull, and put a bullet through her brain.

 

At once, there was banging from inside the van, Tracy Collins’ voice, a series of indistinct screaming demands.

 

He stuck the weapon back under his Hawaiian shirt, climbed behind the wheel and pulled out of the parking lot, Tracy Collins pounding on the cabin wall like it was going to make a difference to him.

 

The smell of fresh pizza lingered in his nostrils. He wished there’d been time to down a slice or two. Double-cheese and pepperoni, with the extra-thick crust. That’s what he called real pizza pie. None of those fancy trimmings for him.

 

After a few miles he trained his thoughts on Shane Vallery, wondering what she might taste like now, so many years later.

 

Delicious, of course.

 

Absolutely delicious.

 

He had never heard anyone say less of Shane, so why should now be any different?

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