If only he hadn't taken the wrong turn.
He found himself stranded on a country road, miles away from the main highway that ran east of the casino. He stopped his car and parked it, checking his GPS.
"Right turn," it had said in it's feminine robotic voice, "Destination dead ahead".
He put it on manual and re-traced his way. According to the computerized map, the highway shouldn't be too far behind. He decided to turn around. If he went back the way he came, he should be okay. It was only an hour until he had to be at the office.
Steve came to a fork in the road.
"Shit", he swore.
He checked the GPS map again, zooming out so he could see where the roads went. He zoomed out too far then had to zoom in again. His greasy fingerprint smeared the screen as his fingers moved rapidly, trying to get the map in the right size. It wasn't working.
"Damn it", he yelled. "What's wrong with this thing?"
There was no name on the road. He entered the coordinates again, trying to get back to the main highway.
"Two miles to destination", the robotic voice answered.
Steve checked the clock on the GPS, he had already wasted forty minutes.
He got out his phone to call the office but saw there was no service.
He swore again and took a left turn.
His eyes swiveled between the road and the GPS.
"Shouldn't be too long now," he thought.
For two miles or more he drove but the highway was nowhere in sight.
The farm houses he saw on the way were gone, only empty fields stretched before him now, fenced in by the looming foothills beyond the valley.
Finally there was a sign, "Historic Cemetery 5 km", scrawled in white paint on a dark wooden post.
Steve messed with his stupid GPS again, but all it showed was a road winding its way to a dead end before Mt. Lassone. The cemetery wasn't listed on there.
He checked his digital gas tank reader, and saw he had 3.5 mi. to go. Steve was almost out of gas and somehow, he hadn't noticed. The stupid digital reader had been alternating between 10 mi. and 20 mi. when he last checked his GPS, but wasn't that just 2 miles ago? How far had he gone?
If he didn't get gas soon, he'd be stranded out in the field with no houses nearby, no phone service and no way of getting back.
He was going to be late to the office but right now Steve only wanted to go back to civilization.
If only he hadn't made a wrong turn.
Steve soon found himself facing another sign, "Cemetery 500ft.".
"All right!" he shouted out, "Fine! You Win!".
He slammed his hand against the leather covered steering wheel of his Lexus and drove on. Hoping that someone would be at the cemetery to give him directions.
There was no one there.
It was a deserted plot of land filled only by tombstones and dead flowers. It looked like no one had been there in months, possibly years. Cemeteries were usually cleaned up by a care-taker but no one had bothered to remove these dead flowers and the gate was pried open with the loose chains hanging down the fence. This was not a good sign.
Steve checked his phone but saw no signal.
"I can't believe this!" He went back to his car and saw the low-gas warning light up when he turned the engine on. He wouldn't have enough gas to get back to the country road, let alone the highway. On top of that, it was getting dark. The sun was setting behind the great oaks that lined the deserted cemetery.
He tried dialing 911, in case he could get through.
There was no answer. His call hadn't even made it to the generic, "Sorry, you have no service" machine.
It just went dead.
An hour later Steve was still stranded.
The sun had set, now it was too dark to walk, and he was contemplating spending the night in his car.
He was hungry and all he had were some peanuts and chocolates from the casino hotel he had stayed in. He had some water left in his water bottle but that was it. Steve was facing a very uncomfortable night. It was the end of fall season, the temperatures were going to drop soon and he'd need a jacket to keep himself warm. He'd also have to crack his window for air and it would let in some outside moisture that would not be good for his car leather seats.
Steve resigned himself to the situation at hand, wishing that he had more food and water, and also wishing that he hadn't made a wrong turn and relied on his stupid GPS system that obviously wasn't working.
If only he knew how bad the night was going to get.
Sounds of eerie howling noises woke him up.
Steve sat up from his reclined position and listened intently.
YIP, YIP, YIP!
It was a coyote and the rest were joining in a raucous howl that sent shivers up his spine.
They were getting closer.
Steve started the car, forgetting that he was out of gas. The engine sputtered before going dead but the battery was still working. He figured he had at least a few hours before it also died. He kept the lights on but then saw the coyotes were more curious of the headlights than afraid. Their strange eyes lit up in the lights, making their figures demonic-looking. There were about seven of them and they slunk closer to his car. Steve killed the lights and instead turned up the radio, full blast.
The music pounded his ears but managed to startle the oncoming canines and they ran off into the brush near the creek that ran along the cemetery.
Steve lay himself back down and closed his eyes. He turned the radio volume down, listening to the soothing rhythms of the music, until he fell asleep.
Unfortunately for Steve, he hadn't thought to lock his door.
The car door opened.
There was a heavy whack-thud sound.
Steve's body was dragged out, while his head was bleeding, and his arms were flailing as he weakly tried to fight off whoever was attacking him.
His assailant's face was in shadow. Steve couldn't see who he was, only that the man was large and strong enough to drag his one-hundred-sixty-pound body across the dirt road from where he was parked and into the cemetery.
"No," Steve gasped, "Don't hurt me...". But it was too late. The large man hit him over the head again and Steve blacked out.
If only he had locked his car door.
If only he hadn't made his way to the cemetery.
If only Steve hadn't made that wrong turn.
He might've lived just a bit longer...
Steve's car was later seen five miles away, on the highway he had turned off of, stuck in a ditch near Yellow Creek. His body was never found.
"Cheryl, get in here!" Tony yelled across his office to where his secretary sat in the other room. He had just read the Herald newspaper and found that his number-one sales manager, Steve Warren, had gone missing. Steve's family had offered a five-thousand-dollar reward for any clues but nothing had come in.
This was the last straw. He needed to complete the last sales this month before the next tax season. Tony was also facing a possible audit, thanks to some leaks in his business contacts, but hopefully he could bribe it off like he did last time. But only if he completed the last sales. Now he wouldn't have a chance.
Tony checked his bottle of pills in his desk. He had forgotten to renew his prescription of high-blood pressure medicine and now he was out.
His secretary came into the office. She was a pretty, blond young woman, fresh out of two-year college and had been recommended for the job by her father, Tony's friend and golfing buddy, Sam. She was wearing a knee-length black skirt and high-heels. Her white shirt was a bit small and the pearl buttons bunched together near her waist and bosom. She wasn't smart, Tony thought, but at least she brightened up the office.
"I forgot my pills, go by the pharmacy and pick some up. Andy knows me there, just put it on my account." He slipped her the company credit card which was also used for personal expenses. "Oh, and get me a copy of the Daily News. I want to know what they're saying about my company in there, along with Steve's disappearance." The girl nodded and was about to leave but he stopped her. "Hey before you go, heat me up that bagel sandwich you got there-I'm hungry." She nodded and smiled again while Tony was left to fume and fuss about his next tax audit.
What right did the government have to audit him? Tony was an honest guy and ran a straight business. So what if he spent a few expenses on the business card? It was necessary for the business to run and a business couldn't run without a boss, right?
Cheryl brought his bagel sandwich before she left, something he wasn't supposed to have due to his diet restrictions, but just this once Tony deserved to have something good to eat. He bit into the sandwich, thinking how dry it was, and yelled for Cheryl to get him a bottled water.
He inhaled, "Cher-", then he started coughing.
Tony had accidentally inhaled a chunk of his bagel sandwich, which was now lodging itself into his throat. Tony coughed again, pounding his fist on the table, before he doubled over and fell out of his chair. He was still coughing but couldn't get the chunk out of his throat. The sandwich lay forgotten on his table as he crouched on the ground, hammering both fists to his stomach in an attempt to give himself the Heimlich maneuver. Black flecks appeared before his eyes and the blood in his head was pounding through his skull. Tony was losing oxygen and now his blood pressure was rising. He crawled on the ground. He had to get help...
The phone was on the desk and Cheryl had left. There was no one else in the office.
Tony made it half-way from his desk to the door that Cheryl had closed on her way out. Before he could reach the knob, Tony blacked out.
If only he hadn't eaten that sandwich.
If only he hadn't sent Cheryl out.
If only Tony hadn't forgotten his pills...
Cheryl got the prescription from the pharmacy, putting it on the company card which she knew wasn't allowed. But she wasn't the boss, Tony Logue was, and who was she to bring up the fact that it was illegal? Sure, she was a Criminal Justice major, with a Political Science minor, but what did that matter?
When she got out of college there were no jobs for her after she had wasted four years at an accredited college only to find that she was deep in debt with no jobs available for her Bachelor degree that she had worked so hard for.
So Cheryl Lane did what her other friends had done, gone to a two-year college for a secretary job prep-course. She finished with a 4.0 G.P.A and was in the Phi Theta Kappa Society of the Two-Year College. When she got out of the two-year college, no one would hire her.
"You're over-qualified," one job coach had said to her at a hiring fair.
"You don't have enough experience," said another counselor at a job recruitment center.
"What are your references?" quipped one middle-aged woman human resources interviewer, at a potential para-legal job.
"Just my Dad..." She had answered. He worked for an insurance agency, selling life insurance to elderly people over the phone.
Cheryl did not land the job.
Then her father spoke to his friend and golf-buddy, Tony Logue, Franchise Head at Consumer Sales, Inc., an online-marketing sales database that sold residential information to other businesses-namely, people's addresses, e-mails and phone numbers (often without their knowledge).
It wasn't a job she particularly wanted. But in this economy it was the only one available.
She was hired within the week after a phone interview with Tony's last secretary, a fifty-five year old woman who was retiring. It turned out she retired early to get health benefits, before they were cut. Cheryl later saw her working as a hostess in a local restaurant.
It wasn't until she got into the car that Cheryl remembered that she was supposed to get the Daily Newspaper. She got out of the car again and scanned the pharmacy building for a newspaper vendor. There was one at the back of the building, scrawled with graffiti with one window bashed open. The only paper available though was the USA Today, and no other local paper besides the "Evangelical News" was stocked.
Cheryl decided to drive to the next shopping plaza, which was several blocks away. Hopefully Tony wouldn't be needing his medicine anytime soon.
By the time she found the next newspaper vending machine, she was thirty-minutes past her lunch time.
"Well, it's lunch time." Cheryl sighed. Why not? Tony gets his lunch whenever he wants, doesn't he? She thought of the bagel sandwich, the one she had brought for her lunch to the office and tried to hide but Tony had seen.
"Hey, you brought me lunch!" Tony took the sandwich from her and opened it, his fat fingers fingering through her food, before he gave it back to her. "I love pastrami! Put it in the fridge for me later."
Needless to say, she wasn't about to eat it after that.
Cheryl stopped at the local salad bar.
Tony would have to wait until she finished her lunch.
It was two o'clock by the time she got back.
"I stopped for lunch. Here's your paper!" She yelled to the other room but there was no answer. She knocked. Maybe Tony was on the phone.
Still no answer.
She tried opening the door, just a crack.
The last time she opened the door without announcing herself, she saw Tony doing something very inappropriate with an equally inappropriate magazine that was definitely not job-related reading material.
All she saw was the bagel sandwich on the desk, the one that had been hers until Tony stole it from her. She closed the door with a sigh. He was probably in the bathroom. She also knew not to disturb him while he was in there.
At three o'clock she clocked out, noticing that the bathroom door was still closed.
"Okay, I'm leaving! Bye, Tony!"
Cheryl Lane left the office and got into her car.
It was the same routine, day after day.
She never thought twice about Tony's absence.
If only she had opened the door a bit wider...
If only she hadn't taken such a long lunch...
If only Tony hadn't sent her out...
Tony's body wasn't found until after the weekend, since Tony had laid off the cleaning-lady.
Cheryl had taken the day off, since she wasn't feeling well the whole weekend, after getting a bad stomach virus from the salad bar.
Oddly enough, it was the auditor who came to the office, which was unlocked. Upon going inside, the man had noticed a horrible rotting smell and had gone into Tony's office. When the auditor saw the dead body, he vomited all over the floor then after a brief fainting spell, called the police.
It was determined that the cause of Tony Logue's death was asphyxiation and loss of oxygen, due to a bagel sandwich, that he wasn't supposed to have eaten because it belonged to Cheryl, who didn't want the job at Tony's office because she wanted something better, because she didn't want to be stuck in a job like consumer sales which ran against her ethics, and become someone like Steve Warren who had gone to the Casino on company funds, which alerted the IRS who alerted the local auditor, who found Tony's dead body and vomited all over the floor, which wasn't cleaned up until later because Tony laid off the cleaning-lady, who lost her job and couldn't support her adult son, who had special needs and lived near a cemetery, five miles away from where Steve Warren's car was found, when Steve Warren went missing.
If only they had seen all the little details that connect their lives together...
If only they had thought about the consequences of their actions...
If only they had known better...
Then maybe this story would have had a different ending.