Damnation Code (William Massa) - William Massa


THE BLADE PRESSED against Steve Delaney’s neck, drawing a line of blood. He swallowed hard, tasting the salty beads of perspiration trickling down his face. How the hell had he gotten himself into this terrible ordeal?

His day had started off innocently enough. He enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast then, around ten o’clock, he found himself behind the wheel of his Toyota Camry and cruising the bustling streets of San Francisco. In his old life as a restaurant manager his schedule was dominated by a soul-deadening seventy-hour workweek. Stress defined his life.

Nowadays, as an EasyRides driver, Steve made his own hours and worked only when he wanted to. There were bills to be paid — God, they never seemed to stop — but at least he wasn’t a slave to his job anymore. The successful professionals among his friends all frowned at his latest career move and hoped that it would turn out to be a case of temporary insanity. To hell with them! Steve was enjoying the freedom and peace of mind that came with his new occupation.

Steve’s dash-mounted iPhone, which was running Google Maps, lit up. A pin flashed onscreen, indicating the location of a nearby rider. Immediately a countdown kicked in. Being the driver closest to the potential fare, Steve had exactly fifteen seconds to accept the ride or it would be assigned to another driver.

He tapped the ACCEPT button and twisted the wheel, heading east on the next street. A few minutes later, Steve slowed to a cruise and scoped the sidewalk for his pickup. When he reached the address given, he pushed the ARRIVE tab. This would signal to his rider to be on the lookout for his car.

A woman in her mid-twenties suddenly strode up to his vehicle. She wore jeans, a blazer and geek chic glasses. Steve figured her for an employee of one of the many tech-sector upstarts in the Bay Area. Her look seemed carefully designed to downplay her sensuality. With the right dress and makeup, though, this gal would be a real looker, he thought.

Steve flashed the lady a big smile as she got in the car. “Evening. How are you tonight?”

“Good, thank you.”

“Lean back and enjoy the ride. If you’re thirsty or hungry, help yourself to a bottle of water and an energy bar.”

Refreshments lined the back of the car. They went a long way in winning those all-important favorable reviews from his customers. Good reviews led to more work and in turn, more dollars in his pocket. Managing a restaurant had taught him a thing or two about the importance of online feedback in the Digital Age.

The woman closed the door. Steve floored the gas. According to the destination on his app, they were headed to Fisherman’s Wharf. Turning down Lombard Street, Steve continued to study his passenger in the rearview mirror. Like everyone else in this town, she seemed married to her smartphone and oblivious to her surroundings.

Upon closer inspection his initial impression stood confirmed — under the geek-girl veneer was a real hottie. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem like the chatty type, unless you counted instant messages. Steve searched his mind for a funny icebreaker but lacking inspiration, he decided to concentrate on traffic.

They soon reached the top of Russian Hill and turned left onto Hyde. Fort Mason, Aquatic Park and Alcatraz Island stretched out before them, offering a panoramic view spanning from the Golden Gate to the Embarcadero.

Just ahead, a cable car clanged its way down the hill. Steve adjusted his speed and followed the rumbling tram at a safe distance. Tourists dangled camera-phones from their seats in the trolley, marveling at the stunning view while taking pics. Steve didn’t blame them. No matter how many times he took this final plunge down the hilly Hyde Street to the Bay, it never got old. Once again he thanked the lucky stars that had steered him away from his old job.

His good mood came to an abrupt end when he felt fingers grab his hair and violently pull his head back. Cold metal bit into his throat. A terrified glance in the mirror revealed a hunting knife pressed against his bobbing Adam’s apple.

Oh my God… this can’t be happening…

“Keep driving,” the woman hissed. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Fighting back his mounting terror, Steve did as instructed, his hands clammy despite the air conditioner.

“What are you doing?” he croaked.

“Shut the fuck up and keep your eyes on the road.”

She dug the razor-sharp point into his neck,