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Just Another Outlaw
About the Author: Nick Kolakowski is the author of "Boise Longpig Hunting Club," "Love & Bullets," and other grim delights of horror and crime fiction. He also co-edited the Anthony-nominated anthology "Lockdown" with Steve Weddle.

Kevin Turner pulled into the muddy driveway of his cousin Bobby’s rural compound at eleven fifty on Monday night. He knew Bobby only stayed there on weekends, which meant five days to figure out his next steps. If the police discovered his identity and tracked him down, they would probably kill him, but not before they made him give up the fifty million dollars in diamonds he’d stolen from a secret vault in New York City.

And if the owners of that secret vault tracked him down … well, he’d be lucky if they just killed him.

The diamonds sat in a duffel bag in the cargo area of his stolen SUV, along with an industrial drill and his other vault-busting tools. The gear weighed enough to make the vehicle’s engine whine as he pushed it up the hill to Bobby’s property, which consisted of a farmhouse, a converted barn, a guest house, and a pool lined along the ridge, all of it screened from the road below by a row of trees. Kevin and Bobby didn’t share a last name, and they’d never connected on social media; it would take any pursuers a little time to figure out the relationship, if they ever did.

Kevin steered the SUV off the driveway onto the wet grass, parking behind the barn. He shut off the engine and clenched his hands on the steering wheel and took a deep breath and wondered if he could survive this getaway. What choice did he have? His daughter needed the operation. His ex-wife needed the mortgage payments. And he needed to balance out his karma a little.

The key to the farmhouse was tucked beneath a rock in the ornamental garden beside the front steps, just like he’d remembered. He unlocked the front door and stepped into the darkened kitchen. It had been at least ten years since he last visited, but as his night vision adjusted, he realized nothing about the space had changed significantly. Aside from the ancient iron oven, everything in here was sleek, shiny, and ultra-modern. Framed etchings of steam engines and other equipment lined the walls, a nod to Bobby’s successful career as a chemist and engineer.

He was about to flick on the lights when he heard a thump from upstairs.

He paused. It could have been the heating system, except it was too warm outside. Maybe it was the house’s ancient bones shifting in the late hours.

Or maybe there was someone here.

He hadn’t survived a twenty-year career as a thief without some functioning brain cells in his head. He placed a hand on the doorknob, ready to leave the house, retrieve his gun from the SUV, take a safer position outside, evaluate. But the lights in the hallway beyond the kitchen flicked on, revealing Bobby, and he knew things had just gotten more complicated. And that was before he saw the rolled-up carpet at his cousin’s feet, its blue fabric splattered red.

Bobby’s jaw dropped open.

Kevin raised his hands. “Look, cuz, I know this is short notice, but I need a place to crash for a few days.” As he spoke, he stepped to the right for a better view of that carpet. Based on the humps and curves—not to mention the stains—there was a body tucked in there. He hoped it didn’t belong to Jill, Bobby’s wife, who Kevin had always liked.

“I …” Bobby said, glancing at the darkened living room behind him, like he was tempted to run away in his own house.

“It’s okay,” Kevin said, trying on a smile. “It’s good to see you.”

“Kevin?” Bobby said. “What are you doing here?”

Kevin glanced at Bobby’s hands, the fingers crusted with drying blood. “I needed a place to lie low,” he said. “Nothing more, nothing less. What’s in the carpet there?”

Bobby startled and looked down. “Nothing. Listen, I, ah …”

The pieces of a solid plan collided in Kevin’s mind. “It’s okay,” he said. “Look, how about I help you out with whatever this situation is, and you let me stay here a couple days. Deal?”

Bobby wavered on his feet.

“It’ll be just like college,” Kevin said, even as the rational part of his brain told him to slow down, he was selling this too hard. “Remember, I helped you with literature exams, you helped me with the records stuff?”

“Yeah, just like college.” Bobby shook his head and laughed. It sounded like a truck engine dying in the cold, humorless and a little sad. “Just like.”

“I’m serious.”

“I am too.” Bobby shook his head harder, like he wanted to break his own neck, and a single tear rolled down his left cheek. “Oh, Kevin, I messed up here, I messed up so bad …”

This story appears in our DEC 2023 Issue
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