This story is brought to you by FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: THE DEAD BODY at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. This is the 4th Jade Leporidae story (preceded by Fall Girl, Holding Pattern, and Take Out. Hope you like it! — FY

Jade drew a rattling breath as she found herself forced once more into the world of the living. She wondered about the condition of her lungs as she struggled with the inhalation. She didn’t remember Caporelli knives near her chest this time, but she couldn’t account for the time between passing out and her heart finally stopping. Still, her lungs felt fine, just heavy, like something was pressing down on her. Sticky blood covered her face, too moist to be her own, to dry to be from a fresh wound. She gagged as the right nerves reattached themselves and the smell of death flooded her nose. The weight had to be a body. Jade gathered all of her strength and pushed the corpse off with a grunt.

She staggered to her feet, taking in her surroundings as her eyes healed enough to see. By the look of things, her captors dumped her in a janitor’s closet. She knew it was only a matter of time before the hunt started again, the punishment for her treason, a death sentence carried out over and over again.

The body confused her. Being around death stopped frightening her ages ago, and Caporelli knew it. Why would he bother, unless… Jade froze, as the cuts in her cornea finally healed and the room and its inhabitant snapped into sharp focus.

“Jesus, Murph. I knew I should have tied you up. Why didn’t you leave like I told you to?” She fought down a hysterical sob. “Why didn’t you let me protect you?”

Her young driver didn’t answer, staring silently at the ceiling.

Jade leaned against the wall, allowing herself a moment to grieve for her only friend and confidant. She cried, unashamed. Still sniffling, she cleaned his wounds as best she could, fighting down the wild notion that somehow, if she hid the damage, he could somehow wake up. Inside the pocket of his jeans, she found a cracked cell phone that still held a sliver of a charge. Not that could do her any good, the only person she could trust lay at her feet. Out of options, Jade spent a few minutes concocting elaborate fantasies against the mafia dons and their brutal lap dogs.

Unfortunately, every plan started with a daring escape, one that she had no clue how to manage. Even if she got out, the building was deep on the Nevada desert. Frustrated, she plopped down carelessly, wincing when she heard the loud pop beneath her. She’d missed the floor, landing hard on Murphy’s foot, probably cracking a few bones. She froze, mid curse, the memory of a man in a cheap suit rushing back to her, the smirk on his face as he said “Break an ankle.”

Jade fumbled through the tattered remains of her clothes. Miraculously, the grunts somehow missed the business card tucked into the pocket of her coat. With trembling fingers, she dialed the number embossed beneath the logo.

“Thank you for calling the Athanasia Institute.” A woman’s clipped voice came through the speaker. “Our regular business hours are seven am to five pm, Monday though friday. If you would like to leave a message, press three now.”

A recording. “Shit.” Jade fought down a wave of disappointment. It had been a long shot. Silly.

“If you are Jade Leporidae,” the voice continued, “please stay on the line and follow my instructions precisely. We are en route to collect you.”

Jade stared at the phone in bewilderment. Maybe Murphy’s death had destroyed her already fragile grip on sanity.

“Ms. Leporidae, I assure you, you are not insane. Your call has been expected. You have three minutes before the guard checks this room. You must be ready by the time he arrives.”

“And if I’m not?” Jade mumbled to herself, her eyes scanning the shelf for a weapon.

“We will not be able to save you unless you exit the building.” The voice warned her, leaving unsaid the suffering that awaited her if she failed.

Jade smiled as she spotted the large jugs of bleach and drain cleaner, a plan already forming in her mind.

Twenty minutes later, she staggered out of the building, her breath coming in short spurts as her lungs struggled to heal the damage she inflicted. Three foot soldiers emerged, only seconds behind.

At the end of the long driveway, the man she knew as Bartholomew stood by a luxury sedan with an older woman wearing a grey suit.

“Kneecap, headshot, groin.” Jade recognized the woman’s voice from the recording.

Bartholomew grunted. “Headshot.”

The woman nodded as they brought comically large handguns to bear. Jade yelped, diving forward beneath their line of fire.

The sharp sounds pierced the air. Jade’s pursuers dropped, one clutching his leg, the other his crotch, the third never clutching anything again.

Jade scrambled to her feet, slightly comforted as the pair holstered their weapons.

“Greetings, Ms. Leporidae. “The woman’s voice seemed borded, almost detached. “I take it you have reconsidered my job offer.”

Jade glanced over her shoulder at the thick clouds of smoke pouring from the windows of the nightmare hotel. Murph’s funeral pyre. She froze mid-nod as she noticed the thick cataracts covering the other woman’s eyes. “Yes, ma’am.”

Her new employer climbed into the passenger door of the car, Bartholomew took the wheel, leaving jade the back seat entirely to herself.

“Feel free to nap,” the military looking man spoke to Jade for the first time since their meeting at the police station. “We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

Jade curled up in the seat, willing sleep to overtake her, wondering just what she had gotten herself involved in.


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