Sweat streamed down Rick’s forehead, running along his aching back. He smashed his shovel once more into the hard dirt, then took a few seconds to recover, looking over at the three other holes he had dug. Graves.
As instructed, all of them lined up perfectly with the indicated tombstones and reached no deeper than the coffins. Whatever the client’s intent, Rick wanted nothing to do with it. He would get paid and take his shovel elsewhere, as he had done all his life. With that thought in mind, he shoveled out the last of the dirt and clambered out into the night.
Upon hearing the soft shuffle of footsteps, the digger swung round and saw three silhouetted forms approach. Each one of them seemed to be carrying something long and heavy. It was not long before they stood before him.
“You’re done?” the middle man asked. He was the shortest and broadest of the three.
Rick nodded. “Four of them, as requested.”
The man regarded Rick with dim brown eyes, then gestured to his companions. As one, they walked to the first three graves and deposited their loads, then glanced back at the digger. Rick, standing on the edge of the fourth, instantly recognized the predicament he was in. He tightened his grip on the shovel.
The short one read him like a book. “No tricks now,” he said in his soft voice. “You know what will happen. No changing it.”
The tallest of the three reached into his coat, taking out a revolver. He took careful aim, while Rick measured his chances. The digger wanted to live.
The shot bounced off the shovel’s hard metal blade. Rick had jerked it up with all his speed, and now brought it down on the gunman’s hand. Bones snapped, the man screamed, a second shot rang out, a bullet clipped an edge of a tombstone, and the cold metal hit the dirt.
Rick realized he had the element of surprise. One man was out of action. Two remained. He swung with all his might, a sickening crunch indicating the end of the middle man, then turned towards the last, only to receive a heavy blow to the temple.
He went down, tumbling head-first into one of the occupied graves, hearing the distant sound of sirens before losing consciousness.
Rick woke up surrounded by thick darkness. A sickening headache fogged up his ability to think. He felt a large, wriggling form, his senses registering the texture of thick canvas. Alive. The person in the bag was alive. And so was he. But not for long. They had been buried.
Rick tried to move his limbs. With success. Whoever filled up the grave hadn’t done a proper job, or had been in a hurry. Rick remembered the sirens. He desperately kicked and punched, gasping for fresh air, until his hands finally felt a soft breeze. He climbed out, took a few deep breaths, then mustered all his strength to drag out the heavy canvas bag.
He ripped it open. The person inside was a small, set man in an expensive business suit. He gasped for breath. “My associates!”
Rick wasted no time. He jumped back into the grave, pulled out his shovel and set to work, pulling out the other two men. One was alive. The other had already been dead, a small round bullet hole set in the middle of his forehead.
The two men were scared out of their minds, unfocused and unsure of what to do next. Rick was sure. He had seen the fourth grave, had seen that it had been covered up. And he had a pretty good idea of who might be occupying it. He started digging.
“What are you doing?” one of the men demanded.
Rick ignored him. He felt around in the dirt and got hold of a long trenchcoat, still worn by the middle man’s cold body. Moments later it was swung over the digger’s shoulder.
“Remember him?” he said.
The businessmen nodded.
“Can you lead me to the other two?”
“Good.” Rick used his free hand to shoulder the shovel as well, taking particular care to let it crash into the dead man’s skull. “They owe me.”