Turn of Fortune Literary Crime Short Fiction By Terry Sanville

Turn of Fortune: Literary Crime Short Fiction By Terry Sanville

Terry Sanville, author of “Turn of Fortune”, writes full time, producing short stories, essays, and novels. His short stories have been accepted more than 500 times by journals, magazines, and anthologies including The American Writers Review, The Bryant Literary Review, and Shenandoah. He was nominated three times for Pushcart Prizes and once for inclusion in Best of the Net anthology.


White. White. Everything white. Windswept. Frozen. Snow-covered, a foot deep on the asphalt parking lot at the end of the high mountain road on the Rocky Mountains’ eastern slope. Only the wind’s occasional groan disturbed the silence. Ryan and Grace cuddled in the front seat of his Subaru. He kissed her on the mouth, his hands exploring her body. She responded to his eager touch by unfastening hooks, buttons and zippers. The car’s windows steamed opaque.

At the growl of engines the couple pulled apart. A Mercedes SUV and a Ford Bronco crunched into the far end of the parking lot. Four men dressed in parkas got out of the Ford. One of them swung open the rear gate, retrieved a duffle bag and walked to the Mercedes. A woman dressed in street clothes and carrying a briefcase got out of the SUV along with two bodyguards. The man opened the briefcase and examined its contents then handed over the duffle bag. The woman inspected its contents.

“What’s goin’ on?” Grace whispered as she hurriedly pulled her clothes together.

Four men dressed in parkas got out of the Ford. One of them swung open the rear gate, retrieved a duffle bag and walked to the Mercedes.

Ryan had cleared his steamed window and stared at the hooded figures. “I . . . I don’t like it. Looks like some sort of drug deal.”

“Maybe they haven’t seen us.”

“I hope you’re right. I’ve heard these cartel guys don’t leave witnesses.”

“Why? We’re not doing anything.”

“Yeah, but these boys don’t take chances.”

“How would you know?”

“Hey, I watch TV.”

The woman got back into the Mercedes and it tore out, spinning its tires on black ice beneath the snow. The four men climbed back into the Bronco. But the last one pointed in the direction of Ryan and Grace. The car backed up and drove straight at the Subaru, barely stopping before hitting its driver’s side door. The four piled out, guns drawn and pointed at the couple.

“We’re screwed,” Ryan muttered.

Grace let out a soft whimper and clutched his arm.

“Get out of the car,” the lead narco yelled.

They complied. “Hey guys, what’s goin’ on?” Ryan whined and clamped down on his urge to pee.

“You’ll never know.”

“But we didn’t see—”

“Shut up.”

“Listen, maybe we can work something—”

“I said, shut the fuck up.” The narco stepped forward and pistol-whipped Ryan who fell into the snow. Grace screamed.

“You shut up too or you’ll get the same.”

“What do ya wanna do with ’em?” another narco asked.

The lead guy paused, as if trying to solve an unexpected problem. “Take ’em up the trail. Make ’em disappear.”

The second narco brandished his Mac-10 and motioned toward the trailhead, “Move it.”

“Please, we didn’t see anything, won’t say anything,” Grace pleaded.

She helped Ryan to his feet and they moved along the bare trace of a trail that notched the steep slopes in a long upward sweep. In knee-deep snow they moved slowly. Ryan touched his jacket sleeve to his bloodied forehead and winced.

“Hurry the fuck up,” the lead narco called after them.

“Yeah, yeah,” their executioner muttered.

Grace led the way, followed by Ryan then their escort. All of them huffed and puffed by the time they rounded the curve of the peak. To their right the mountain dropped away, the slope near vertical with a dense Douglas fir forest at its base far below.

Along one straight stretch they paused to catch their breaths.

“Come on, man. You don’t hafta do this,” Ryan said, his chest heaving in the high altitude.

“Like hell. The last time we let some nosy bastard live my brothers did a nickel at Florence.”

“But we don’t care about what you’re up to,” Grace chimed in.

“Shut the fuck up, both of you. Now get movin’.”

Grace stared into Ryan’s eyes, her baby blues tearing up, either from the cold or from thoughts of their impending death. Ryan clamped his mouth shut, his mind racing. How the hell did we get involved in this mess? Talk about bad karma. But this guy’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. There might be a chance . . .

They continued climbing, crossing snow-filled ravines, their breaths white smoke in the frigid afternoon air. The trail narrowed and Grace had to kick the snow out of the way to move forward, the drop to their right dizzying. I bet this is where he’ll do it, Ryan thought and slowed until the narco was almost on top of him.

“Move your ass,” the narco said.

In a flash, Ryan whirled and grasped the guy’s gun hand and shoved it skyward. With his free hand he grabbed the man’s shoulder and pushed. The narco fell sideways, eyes wide, screaming, a finger pressed hard against the trigger of his machine pistol. Grace and Ryan hit the ground as a wild volley of rounds sprayed the mountainside. But in a few seconds there came a crunch from below, sounding like a watermelon being dropped onto rocks. The white silence settled in.

“Are you all right? Were you hit?” Ryan asked, carefully pushing himself up on wobbly legs.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. But I think I wet myself.”

They clung to each other for a long time, their bodies shaking, then turned and gingerly peered over the edge of the cliff. The narco must have hit at the base of the slope and rolled into the trees. They couldn’t see anything from their perch.

The wind picked up and they flattened themselves against the mountain.

“A long way down,” Grace murmured in a shaky voice.

“Yeah, that . . . that could have been us. And it still might be.”

“What do you mean?”

Ryan sucked in a deep breath, his body shuddered, then calmed. “The others will have heard the shots and think he killed us. But when he doesn’t return they may come looking. Sounds like this might be a family deal. The guy mentioned his brothers.”

“Where can we go?” Grace asked and groaned. “Another hour or two in this cold and we’ll be frozen like fish sticks.”

“We just keep going like we planned.”


“Yeah. Really. The Mountain Rescue shed will give us some shelter.”

“But what about those idiots back at the parking lot?”

“Just let me think – by the time we reach the shed I’ll have something worked out. Now let’s move.”

The pair hustled along the trail that gradually widened. In a few minutes they crossed one more shoulder of the mountain and turned into a side valley that sloped upward to a high ridgeline. The last storm had dumped tons of snow that covered the trail and filled the valley. At its upper end and off to one side stood the Mountain Rescue Service’s shed, partially hidden in the stunted trees.

“Be careful climbing,” Ryan warned. “The Service hasn’t cleared these slopes yet. An avalanche is possible.”

“Great. We’ll either get shot, suffocate, or freeze to death.”

“We gotta hurry. It may take some effort to break into the shed and set up what I want to do.”

“I’ve got yellow ice all along the inside of my leg. So I’m all for hurrying.”

“Follow me. I want to leave clear footprints for those fools to follow.”

Grace gave him a confused look but stayed quiet. They pushed up-valley, moving directly toward the shed, the snow hip deep. When they reached their goal, both slumped against the building’s front wall, heads between knees, the cold thin air burning their lungs as they tried to catch their breaths. Gradually the color came back into Grace’s face.

Ryan stood and moved to the shed’s padlocked door. “This lock’s gonna take some work. Look for something to smash it with.”

They moved under the trees and scraped snow from the ground. Grace found a head-sized piece of granite that Ryan took and hefted it above the padlock. It took a dozen blows before the lock fell apart and the couple pushed inside. Gray light filtered in from a barred window. They found folding chairs and a card table against the wall and a rack full of equipment and supplies used by rescue teams and the slope maintenance crews.

“Help me look,” Ryan said and began pawing through the supplies.

“What are we looking for?”


Grace stepped back and put her hands on her hips. “You want to tell me now what your grand plan is?”

“If the narcos follow us here, which they will, I wanna blow the snow pack and create an avalanche to take them out.”

“You mean . . . kill them?”

“Yes, Grace, kill them. It’s either them or us.”

“Well, when ya put it that way.” She smiled and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “How’s your head?”


“Take it easy. You could have a concussion.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t have time for that right now. Ah, here it is.”

Ryan pulled a box from the rack and set it on the floor. He removed a stick of dynamite with cord fuse attached, then checked his pocket and withdrew his lighter. “This sucker should shake something loose. Come on.”

The couple moved outside and crouched at the upper edge of the snow pack, peering down-valley. They didn’t have to wait long. Two figures clad in parkas and carrying guns rounded the corner and stared upslope. They followed the footprints in the snow left by Ryan and Grace.

“When?” Grace whispered.

“When they’re halfway here.”

Both of them shuddered in the freshening breeze. The narcos made slow progress, their guns pointing forward, stopping frequently to scan what was ahead. When they reached the halfway point Ryan lit the dynamite, stood, heaved it downslope then fell to the ground. The seconds ticked by, then an explosion that rocked them. The sound from the blast hadn’t faded before, with loud cracks, the entire valley floor downslope from the couple began to move, then gathered speed, a low rumble building. The two figures turned and tried to run, but the avalanche quickly overtook them and they disappeared beneath its smothering whiteness.

Ryan and Grace stood. The quiet returned. “I’m gonna go check. You wait here,” Ryan said.

“Why? What are you gonna do?”

“Make sure neither of them pops up and shoots us?”

“Can’t we just wait?”

“They may still have their guns. I’m not taking any chances.”

“You’re . . . you’re becoming just as bad as them.”

He moved downslope, struggling across mounds of broken snowpack, stopping to listen. From behind one mound he heard groans. He crept forward. At a nondescript patch of snow, the surface moved and the stubby barrel of a Mac-10 poked through. A hole formed and widened until an arm holding the gun protruded. Ryan rushed forward and snatched the gun from the hand. He stared downward. A bearded face stared back, lips trembling. Ryan checked the gun then pointed it down into the hole.

The narco’s eyes widened. “No, please, I wasn’t gonna—”

Ryan closed his eyes and gave the trigger a quick squeeze. Not looking down, he pushed snow with his boot into the hole and tamped it. He stared upslope at Grace. She stood open-mouthed, looking like she’d just witnessed a violent scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie. Ryan moved across the field of jumbled snow looking for the second narco, but neither saw nor heard anything. He stared at his watch, waited twenty minutes, then rejoined Grace.

“Did you really have to—” Grace started, her whole body trembling.

“Yes. Now come on. Let’s grab our stuff and get the hell outta here.”

“Yeah, this . . . this was supposed to be easy.”

Ryan went inside and collected an avalanche shovel from the rack. Outside, the couple moved to the rear of the shed. Ryan dug into the snow and the hardened ground beneath and uncovered a backpack. Inside the pack they stared at $20,000 neatly wrapped in plastic that they had left there six months before. The bank job had gone smoothly. No one had gotten hurt. No one had identified them as the culprits. But the take had been small since the real money had been in the vault that was on a time lock and couldn’t be opened. Ryan and Grace had fled and decided to wait it out until the heat died. Then they would retrieve the 20K, combine it with the rest of their nest egg, and escape to the South Pacific where they’d never see snow again and the only ice would be in their cocktails.

“We still have a problem,” Ryan said. “There’s one more bad guy back at the parking lot.”

“You really think he’ll stick around after hearing that explosion?”

“I hope so.” Ryan grinned. He shouldered the backpack, grabbed the Mac-10 and they headed downslope where they picked up the trail and descended the mountain. As they rounded the last shoulder, they caught a glimpse of the Ford Bronco, sitting obediently in its space, its tailpipe smoking. The last narco sat in its driver’s seat, his machine pistol resting on the dashboard, country music blaring from its sound system. Crouching low, the couple left the trail and hotfooted down the slope and into the trees.

Ryan removed the backpack and told Grace to wait there. He circled around the parking lot and came up to the Bronco on its blind side. Crouching low, he crept to the passenger side front door, sucked in a deep breath, then stood.

The narco stared at him for a moment, open-mouthed, before reaching for his pistol. With eyes wide Ryan squeezed the trigger until the magazine emptied. Opening the Bronco’s door he laid the Mac-10 on the front seat after wiping it down with a gun rag he found there. He reached for the briefcase and opened it. Inside were neat bundles of bills, mostly fifties and hundreds.

Ryan yelled to Grace, “Bring the backpack and come here.”

She joined him, trying not to stare at the narco’s bloodied body, a hand over her mouth in case she barfed.

“Check this out,” Ryan said, grinning.

“Jesus peaches, how much is there?”

“I haven’t counted it. But it looks like about a half million, probably more.”

“Holy crap.”

“Yeah, and it’s old stuff with non-sequential serial numbers. It’s clean money and nobody’s going to call the cops and report it missing.”

“Hey darlin’, Tahiti, here we come!”

“Just one more thing,” Ryan said. “Give me the twenty grand from the backpack.”

“Why?” Grace asked and took a step backward.

“We’ll leave it here in the briefcase. When the Rangers finally find this guy, they’ll think he’s involved somehow in our bank job.”

“But Ryan, it’s twenty grand for Christ sake.”

“Yeah, I know but we probably could never spend it anyway. The feds keep track of the serial numbers of new bills. Sooner or later they’d trace it to us.”

“It’s just . . . we worked so hard for that cash.”

“And now we have a whole lot more.”

Snow began to fall, whipped by a stinging wind out of the west. The couple crossed the parking lot to their Subaru and motored away, the cold whiteness erasing any trace of them ever being there.


If you’ve enjoyed “Turn of Fortune”, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

For online archive of short fiction (longer pieces) on Mystery Tribune website, you can visit here.

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