No one believes they’re going to die until it happens, and then it’s too late. If Danny had been watching himself run, he would have screamed give up. Surrounded on three sides by men with guns. The pain in his side making it hard to breathe. Any minute now they’d release the dogs. He could hear them barking in the distance, straining against the leash. Pit bulls, six of them. Beams of light zig-zagged across the grass less than twenty yards away. He was running out of time. Danny had never been in the Army, never carried a gun, but he played a lot of video games, first-person shooters mostly. His sister always thought he’d outgrow them, but the endorphin release was better than exercise, even better than getting high. Sometimes he gripped the controls so tight his hands would ache, his thumbs flattened like pancakes from trying to make his character run faster or shoot the other guy first. There’s a moment in every game when your world gets turned upside down. You’re running along, dodging the obstacles, when suddenly you step on a land mine, a robot hidden in the shadows blasts you to hell, or some guy standing behind you blows your brains out. One second you’re invincible, the next you’re dead. No warning, no sound of a bomb whistling down from above. No chance to see your life flash before your eyes. As sudden and irrevocable as a car crash. He’d never given it much thought, but Danny suspected that’s how it would be in real life. You’d never get to see the end coming. The game would be over. Just like that. Danny’s hands clenched involuntarily as he ran, as if he held the controls to his life and could jam his thumbs to run faster, hit the right combination of buttons to fly away. He flew sideways before he realized he’d been hit. The pain in his right calf told him where as he landed on his side in a broken heap. He twisted in the mud as the air snapped—sharp sounds like breaking twigs—and Danny knew they must be using suppressors. Nobody would hear the shots, least of all him. He grabbed at his pants and his hand came away wet. Tears sprang to his eyes as he brushed the wound, but it felt like the leg was grazed, not blown apart. There wasn’t a slug in him yet. He wondered if they had night vision goggles. He could see the hotel lights in the distance, but everything close was black-on-black. Clouds obscured the stars, and there was almost no moon. They’d be on top of him before he could even see them. Danny felt the ground sloping as he scrambled backward. Maybe he could hide behind this low rise until they passed. He tried to ignore the pain in his leg as he slid on his belly, face pressed into the grass. His right foot suddenly cold and wet. At first he thought it was blood filling his shoe until he realized he’d touched water. Craning his neck he saw the dull sheen of the pond and felt a thrill of hope. Maybe the game wasn’t over, after all. Danny used to be a swimmer. He could hold his breath a really long time, and the dogs might not smell him in the water. All he had to do was lay low, then submerge if they came too close. He slid backward until the water enveloped his chest. He could feel the bottom under his knees and wondered how deep it was at the center, being careful to keep his arms loose so he didn’t make waves. The water was surprisingly cold, given the tropical climate, but Danny could feel the heat from his own blood as it streamed from his leg. That’s when he felt a tugging at his foot. Sudden, sharp, insistent. The water exploded and Danny felt himself lifted into the air. His first thought was grenade until his brain caught up with his nerve endings. Teeth. Something was biting his leg, and it was no dog. Danny’s scream was cut off in a riot of bubbles as he was pulled under, the surface of the water only inches out of reach. He sensed movement and twisted violently, his leg almost dislocating. He started to black out. Lights danced across the surface of the water, criss-crossing and breaking apart. His pursuers had reached the pond. Danny heard muffled voices arguing as he swallowed water. A burst of light, maybe the report of a gun. Splashing overhead. The sudden displacement of water, like a sailor falling overboard. Danny wondered if he was still alone but couldn’t turn his head. Spots flashed before his eyes. The beams of light drifted away as the voices faded. Danny smiled with the knowledge that they’d never find him now. And much to his surprise, Danny realized he was dying. He never expected to see it coming, but he did, right before his lungs filled with water and his vision went black. The game was over. Just like that.
When he stopped to think about it, Cecil was glad they’d found a dead body. Anything that made his brother Bud speechless was a welcome distraction, even if it looked like something out of a coroner’s nightmare. They were just shy of the tenth green, working their way through the back nine of the Pete Dye Signature golf course in Puerto Vallarta. Bud was playing the best game of his life, Cecil the worst. According to the rules of scratch golfers everywhere, this gave Bud permission to spend the entire day ragging on Cecil’s swing. Bud used his lucky seven-iron to reach the green, the ball rolling tantalizingly close to the hole. He had a jaunty gait as he approached the pin. A day like this, he could probably sink that ball wearing a blindfold. “Must be that spicy food we ate—put a little kick in my swing.” “Must be.” Cecil tried to ignore the bastard and get his stance right. A thirty-foot water hazard sat between his ball and the green, uphill from where he was standing. He’d been slicing everything all morning, which put his ball on the opposite side of the hole from Bud. Within taunting distance but far enough away for a chance to regroup. At twenty dollars a stroke, he could not afford to lose his concentration. “Use your seven-iron, Cece.” Bud didn’t even try to mask his delight. “You see the way I stroked that last one?” “Stroke this one,” said Cecil, grabbing his crotch. Jesus, the guy sinks a few putts and now he’s Arnold-fucking-Palmer. Pretty soon he’ll start designing courses, pushing rental cars in his spare time. What an asshole. Cecil squinted across the water and lined up his shot. He twisted like a corkscrew, elbows high. Held it for a second then snapped forward. As his head whipped around, the ball vanished from his line of sight, only to reappear as a white streak hitting the far bank of the pond like a rubber bullet. It held fast to the muddy shore just long enough for Cecil’s heart to skip a beat, then rolled backward into the water and disappeared. Bud fell to the ground laughing. Cecil cranked his arm to hurl his piece-of-shit five-iron after the ball but caught himself. He’d never reach the water and just have to pick it up again, giving Bud one more reason to laugh his ass off. Cecil looked over at Bud doubled over on the grass and considered practicing his swing on his brother’s head. Maybe he’d switch to a seven-iron first, get a bit more lift in his stroke. See how Bud felt about his club selection then. Screw him. Make up the lost strokes on the green. Cecil trudged toward the edge of the water, wanting to make sure the ball wasn’t just out of sight. Maybe it was stuck at the bottom of the far bank and he could climb down and chip it out of there, avoid the penalty. Like that French guy at the Masters who took off his shoes, ended up looking like an idiot. But Cecil wasn’t French, and hope springs eternal. He leaned into his stride as the ground rose slightly, revealing hidden contours of the fairway designed to torment golfers. As he got closer, Cecil lost sight of the water completely until he crested a small ridge and found himself looking straight down the embankment. That’s when he saw the body. There was no question in his mind. Though it bobbed just below the surface and wasn’t exactly the right shape, it was definitely a human body. You didn’t see fish that big in a water hazard, and fish almost never wore khakis. Cecil stared at it for a minute, not sure what to do next. Bud couldn’t see a thing, just Cecil gawking at the pond. Maybe Cecil was suicidal over his pitiful game, thinking about drowning himself. Bud shouted as he hopped into their golf cart and drove it toward the small footbridge. “Hey Cecil, you gonna swim to the other side?” Cecil glanced up from the body, noticing for the first time eyes staring back at him from the water. Yellow eyes, with slits for pupils. Staring without blinking. Two, no—three pairs of eyes, all looking right at him. A family of alligators, looking at Cecil like it was time for dessert. Cecil unconsciously took a step away from the bank. He looked toward the body, understanding why it was such an odd shape. He forced a deep breath as he shifted his gaze back to the alligators, unwilling to let them out of his sight. They didn’t move. They didn’t blink. Bud was leaning across the passenger side of the cart, trying to see what was taking so damn long. “I said, are you gonna swim?” Cecil answered slowly, without taking his eyes off the water. “I don’t think swimming’s such a good idea.”