This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
Portions of this novel are Copyright © 2020 – 2021 Author Wendell Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and or distributed without the author’s permission.
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Wendell G. Sweet 2021 all rights reserved foreign and domestic.
(Copyright 2015 Wendell G Sweet All rights reserved. Published here as a sample reference.)
When a man tells you he has the moral flexibility to include murder in his life if he deems it necessary this is probably not a man you should be hanging out with.
Jeff Johnson had reminded himself of this fact about Robert Biel more than once, yet every day he found himself hanging around, giving him lifts to do job searches, parole, where ever he needed to go: Even hanging around with him at night. Drinking, talking about the old days. Placing himself in jeopardy: They were both on parole. Both had 9:00 PM curfews, neither was allowed alcohol; but there was something about him that drew Jeff to him. Not a gay thing: He had wondered about that, but his first experiment had solved that for him. He was not bent in that direction, or predisposed, or whatever the fuck it was you had to be. He still did… Things for Robbie. It had started in prison and it had carried on once they were home, but it didn’t mean he was gay. No, it was something else. Like they were destined to do something some day: Some thing that would change everything, or be remembered, something that would jump out, make him famous; make them famous… Something.
Then again, maybe it was all bullshit. He thought that sometimes too. He thought it sometimes when they were apart, when things were still: Boring; when he was bored and Robby wasn’t around, but he never thought it when they were together. Never: Not once. At those times he would find himself asking how he could ever have thought that it could be bullshit. How? Why?
They had been drinking one night when Robby had come out with the murder bit. Jeff had been talking about other men he had met in prison, before he had met Robbie: Men who had reps of being a bad ass, or connected, or extreme: Killers, men who bragged about having bodies, more than one in some cases. Jeff had made the statement that he could never kill anyone. It wasn’t in him to do it. Robby had called him a pussy and told him the world didn’t work that way. The world, according to Robby worked this way: You did what you had to do to keep on being.
“Keep on being what?” Jeff had asked.
“Keep on being… Alive… You… Free… Whatever the fuck you got to be doing you do it to keep on going, doing, seeing, feeling, breathing,” Robby had told him. And hearing it that way it made perfect sense. Perfect.
That had been a few weeks ago and one of the nights when the drinking had gone on for a while. Something had happened that night. Robby had gotten the wrong idea months before, that one time, and so he thought it was that way. That Jeff was that way. He believed it, and so it didn’t matter what Jeff thought.
Jeff didn’t want it to be that way, it was just that he got a few beers in him and it didn’t seem to matter what happened. Someday he would tell him. He would tell him and he would understand it completely and it wouldn’t happen again. That night it had happened and he had let it happen and it had been okay. In fact it had seemed to make Robby happy, and so it had also made Jeff happy. A little happy. Sometimes he wondered if that was all life was, feeling a little happy sometimes; just a little.
It had been the same in prison too. Sometimes people just got the wrong idea about him: Completely wrong. In prison that could be a very bad thing. If he had been with Robby, Robby would have made them stop, but he had been on his own in the beginning and being on your own was one of those Robby sayings he did believe in: You did what you had to do to survive and he had for three years until he had been transferred to a medium prison for his last year and met Robby: Everything had changed then. No one messed with him at all. He and Robby had become friends and that feeling had begun to build inside him. That feeling that they were bound for something special, something unique and something that would make them famous.
Now he sat in his car in the municipal parking lot watching police cars pull in and out. The cops eyeballed him as they walked by. It was like they knew or sensed that he was a bad guy. And he was, but what bad guy would be up to bad shit in the police department parking lot? Only a dumb one, he told himself. He was here waiting on Robby who was doing his monthly parole check in. He had already done his own two days before. It was a pain in the ass to do the report, but it opened up thirty days of freedom. Doing as they pleased. Being able to drink, drug, and no piss tests.
Robbie hurried down the side of the car now, opened the door fast and fell inside.
“Oh my God! You are not going to believe it, just not going to believe it.” His head moved quickly around as if he were scanning the parking lot.
A guy stepped out of the parole entrance and Robby zeroed in on him, his head snapping around fast.
“That fucker… That fucker right there… He’s the one, Jeff, he’s the one.”
“Yeah? What one is he, Robby,” Jeff asked.
Robby turned to him and smiled. “Get this bitch warmed up. Follow that fucker, ‘cause I need to know where he’s going. Come on… He’s the guy that is going to make us rich, Jeff. Make us free.” His head was back to swiveling around once more, tracking the guy as he crossed the lot and climbed into a silver Hyundai that had seen better days.
“See him right there, Jeff? See him?” he asked. “His name is Simpson.”
“Yeah… Yeah, I got him,” Jeff agreed. “Simpson… Whoopee.” He shifted into reverse, backed out and turned toward the beat up Hyundai, following it out of the lot.
“Slow… Slow, man. Slow the fuck up… Way up,” Robby told him. “Better… Now,” he turned to Jeff and smiled again: A smile that lit his entire face, “this dude? This dude is a dealer… Big time… So, see, I was sitting there in parole, right? They’re packed so both Grimes and Patterson are doing interviews at the same time, you know like running them through. So I’m up and this fucker… Whoa, stay back a little… This guy is paranoid, probably… I would be… So… So look I’m sitting there, trying to tune his shit out… He is getting his ass reamed… Reamed! Patterson is ripping him a new one. Called him a wannabe, said he’d violate him right there and send him straight to county. Let him sit there for a few months until he scheduled a hearing.”
Robby motioned as the Hyundai slowed and pulled into a parking lot and Jeff followed him in, cruised down a long line of open spaces and parked beside a large truck.
“Don’t look at him,” Robby said. “Indirect… Look off to the side or pretend you are watching something else.”
They both watched as the guy looked around the lot quickly and then made a beeline for the payphones on the side of a drug store.
“See… Dude ain’t stupid. Parole can take your phone at any time. This place is one of two that I know of in the whole city that still has payphones..”
“Weston’s?” Jeff said.
“Weston’s ain’t got them no more… No; Simpson Drugs, and that grocery down there on State Street, that what the fuck is it called place there…”
“Oh yeah… Harrow’s…” Jeff said.
“Yeah, That’s it. Been there a few times too…” He fell silent watching the guy as he stood huddled against the side of the building. Robby turned, looked at Jeff and then began speaking again.
“Anyway the dude works there… Harrows’ I mean… So, Patterson, she says… Look! I know fuckin’ well what you’re doing… You know that monkey-dick Clayburgh you sold to a few days ago? … So Simpson says, who? Like he don’t know. And Patterson just laughs and reminds them they work together at Harrows’. He don’t say nothing, or I couldn’t hear it if he did, so then she says, He’s locked up in county… County and he’s mine so I went and talked to him. He told me he got the shit they caught him with from you at work… It’s just a matter of time before they come for you and once they do, or even if they just want you locked up and ask me to violate you, I will in a fuckin’ minute so help me, so if you are some way wrapped up in this shit, and I know you are, you better lose that shit,” Robbie said.
“Whoa, she warned him,” Jeff said.
“Yeah… Yeah, I didn’t think of it that way, she did, but the real deal is he has the shit there right now. All the shit we need to make it good. Money, who knows what kind of drugs and he don’t know we know. He don’t know I was listening. We can get…” He broke off suddenly as the man slammed the phone back against the cradle and headed back to the Hyundia. “Don’t lose him, Jeff. I don’t got the address. I need it, so you got to follow him, except be cool. Don’t freak him out…”
“I know… I know,” Jeff told him, “So follow him to the place and then what?”
“And then what… Hey, does your old lady still have that hunting rifle that was your step dads?” Robby asked.
“Hey, man they can trace them rifles, they can,” Jeff complained.
“Yeah… But we ain’t gonna use it, just flash it… For real, and also we don’t give a fuck because we’ll be long gone. All we need to do is flash it, get the money and the drugs and step… Okay pay attention now; let that car get between you and him… Okay and watch him because he might turn… Good… Good… There it goes… Turn slow, let him get a little ahead… So, what say? We got to have a gun. We can take that rifle and cut it down, like a sawed off or something. It will look bad as fuck, bad as fuck. We can cut down the stock and shit, I can get some tools at work and do it up.”
“Yeah, but you said; that she said the cops were coming, might not be time for all that shit, you know,” Jeff told him.
Robbie looked at him and nodded… “Yeah, yeah I see that. So you got some tools? Your stepdad’s shit from when he died?”
“Yeah… A whole workshop, bench down there. I don’t know what the fuck it is though, or how to use that shit either,” Jeff said.
“Don’t matter ‘cause I do. While you were doing mess hall duty I was working in the shop. I can run them all,” he laughed turned his eyes forward again and watched the car slow and then turn into a broken concrete driveway. “Drive right by, Jeff, drive right by like it ain’t shit.”
“Circle back?” Jeff asked.
“Fuck no… I got it… 826 Smith… 826, let’s get to your place and get that rifle.”
“Yeah… What the fuck else would we do?”
“I don’t know… It’s like … Permanent, you know? Like a serious thing.”
“It is… It is serious, permanent change. Means we get the fuck out… A different life… Skate, step right the fuck out of this place.”
“Yeah, except I keep thinking about all of those pictures on the walls at parole,” Jeff said.
“What?” Robby asked.
“You know guys who stopped reporting? All those pictures of guys they’re looking for?”
“Oh yeah… Okay, all those pictures, but they’re all the same right? Same pictures… Been there forever,” Robbie said. He turned from watching the streets slip by. “That should give you hope. I mean, they ain’t caught them. So why would they catch us?”
“But they ain’t the same… I see them change. I pay attention. That one, far right on the bottom is the longest… I always wonder about him, Fredrick something or other… Is he in some other country? How come he stayed out so long now? Is he dead maybe?”
“Holy shit, you’re talking about the posters on the wall at parole? How can you know that?”
“Because I read them every time while I’m sitting there waiting to go in. Sometimes almost all of them have changed in the month. Some hang on a little longer… One guy was on there for three months, I thought he was going to be there all the time. It was a bummer when I come in the next time and his poster was gone,” Jeff finished.
“That is crazy… I had no idea about that, but you know what? That ain’t us. That ain’t the way we roll, right? ‘Cause really, our posters will be up there ten years from now… And you know what? I bet those posters come down for a different reason. They don’t want us to know how many are gone, run off, so they only leave them a little while and then they pull them down, otherwise everybody would be running off and they’d have a fuckin’ wall full of posters and nothing else,” Robbie said.
“Never thought about it like that,” Jeff said. He pulled into the driveway of his mother’s house and shut down the car. The engine ticked and cooled. Robbie spoke and he turned toward him as he did.
“So look… You trust me, right? We did time and I watched out for your ass, right? And I will watch out for your ass now too…” He turned and stared out at the dark street. “Okay… We need some back-up… I got to call some of my peoples… Let’s get this done, okay?” Jeff nodded and he levered the door open and stepped out onto the pavement.
The old Chevy idled roughly at the curb across from Harrows market. Robbie told Rosie to shut down the Chevy and looked around at the others in the sudden silence. Jeff sat in the back with his wife Marva. She had been automatically recruited when she had come down into the basement, saw what they were doing and knew they were up to something. Next to him in the front seat was another guy they had done time with, Cappie. He had finished his parole time, but he was always up for a quick buck. They had both heard Cappie’s story more than once in prison. He had done the time because he had kept his mouth shut about a murder that had occurred. A guy that had that kind of street-cred was perfect for their plans. His plan, he corrected himself. No sense kidding himself over who was running this. But a guy like Cappie was no worries. He would keep his mouth shut, and that was important because everything had changed in the last few hours. Murder was one of Cappie’s boys. Robbie had never heard of him. He was up from some place down south… Looking for some action. Cappie had vouched for him. Cappie had dug up three hand guns and two shotguns. All the serial numbers were filed off like he had done this sort of thing before.
Alice, a thin pimple faced girl that lived next door to Jeff and Marva. She had been hanging out with Marva. Always smiled at him. Probably a bad choice, but Robbie had been thinking about making a move on her for a while and what better time could there be than now. Especially since they would be on the run after this.
Murder was connected. Gang affiliated. If there was a lot he could help them get it gone for a good price. It all mattered.
They had finished the gun and then cruised by Simpsons place. They had intended to do it right then. It would be easy. Simpsons car was gone, at work they had agreed and so they had killed the lights on Jeff’s old Chevy, coasted up into the driveway and piled out of the car. The motor clicked and the smell of hot gasoline came to them as they stood around in the cold blowing on their hands. A few seconds later they had forced the back door and made their way inside, leaving Marva and a few others to watch out. Two hours had turned up nothing at all. They had made their way back to the car, cruising the nearly deserted streets to the market. They sat outside in the semi darkness of the parking lot now. Robbie turned to the back seat.
“Murder…” He waited until Murder gave him his full attention. “I want you to go in… See what’s what… Buy some beer, make sure he’s in there. When I see you walk out I’ll know it’s all good. We’ll go back in and do it,” Robbie finished. He turned more fully to the back seat. “Marva, Jeff” he said after a slight pause. “You and Cappie outside on the sidewalk” He levered his handle and met them on the sidewalk. Murder walked away and disappeared into the front entrance. Robbie looked down at his watch, 3:00 AM. Shouldn’t be cops hanging around close by at 3:00 AM. They were also on an earthquake watch. It had been on the news. Even more reason that the cops wouldn’t be around.
“Jeff you take the lead when you go in… Cappie you’re on the bag. Register to register… Get the fuckin’ money and get out fast. When this all gets done the cops will think it’s just a robbery and maybe we’ll get a good haul from that too. The rest of you stay out here with me in case.”
“In case what?” Rosie asked. Rosie was someone that Cappie had dragged along. Supposed to be a genuine bad ass. Gang affiliated.
“In case it goes balls up… It gets bad,” Robbie told her. “You got me, Cappie?”
“Yeah, but what if…” Cappie started.
“What if my ass. There are no what ifs. You don’t shoot nobody, unless. You don’t talk, unless. In and out,” Robbie told them.
“Yeah, but I’m sayin’,” Cappie said again.
“Look. Why don’t you just get back in the fuckin’ car, Cappie. I don’t have time for your bullshit questions,” Robbie told him.
Cappie looked hurt. “Okay, Robbie. Okay I got it. I was just askin’ is all.”
“Yeah? Well you ask too fuckin’ much.” He turned to Marva and Jeff. “Anything?”
“Nothin’,” Marva said in a low voice.
“Good,” Jeff agreed.”
“So you and Marva head to the back and find that fucker and relieve him of whatever the fuck he has… If it wasn’t in the house it has to be on him.”
Robbie had turned away as he spoke and was looking over at the grocery store where Murder had just walked out and waved at him.
“Retards… It’s all I have,“ Robbie said. He shook his head as Murder walked over to them.
“It’s all good,” Murder told him as he offered Robbie a beer. Robbie debated and then shook his head. “Get in the fuckin’ car, Murder. You three,” he turned to the others. “Get it done fast.”
Jeff nodded, pulled a black ski mask from his coat pocket, slipped it on as the others followed suit and then pushed a cheap pair of mirrored sunglasses onto his nose that he had pulled from the same jacket pocket. He said nothing, looked around the nearly empty lot and then walked across the wide, empty sidewalk into Harrows the others following.
“I don’t give a fuck what you think, girl. Get that fuckin’ money in the bag and get it in the bag now.”
The floor of the market suddenly trembled, seemed to lurch and then stopped. She waited. The man shifted away, leaning back from her, but with the mirrored sun glasses it was hard for her to tell whether he was still looking at her or away from her. Young, scared, trying to sound tough. The shaking passed and so she picked up her cash drawer and dumped it into the green plastic garbage bag he held. She paused… Waiting…
It was not even her shift. It was three A.M. and Nicole had not shown up. Ten minutes ago three people had walked through the front door: All dressed in military fatigues; all wearing the mirrored sunglasses and some sort of scarves or bandannas tied around their heads and below their noses. Hair, eyes, all the features you could look for and remember were gone. They would probably never get caught; there was nothing to remember. Never mind the fact that they were in a bad part of the city, the cops hadn’t been seen for hours, and they were robbing the supermarket in the early morning graveyard shift during an earthquake. Anna only hoped they made it fast and didn’t hurt anyone. The oldsters, her nickname for the older folks that lived in the area, couldn’t handle a lot of shock. Already some of them were overly frightened and shaking.
Her eyes swept around looking for the other two. The one guy seemed slightly heavier through the upper body, but the fatigues were out sized so it was hard to tell. The other had a deep booming voice that he had only used once when they had come into the market, kicked the plug out of the socket that ran the juice for the automatic doors and announced the robbery. None of the three had spoken since then. The other two were standing toward the back area where the meat department was. They had Jerry, she didn’t know his last name, who worked back there up against the wall and were yelling at him. She couldn’t hear what they were yelling clearly enough, but they weren’t happy.
There were twenty eight people in the market, mostly the oldsters from the downtown neighborhood who had come to the market area to do their shopping. The downtown area contained many older buildings that had been converted into housing. Some young couples lived here, but getting into and out of downtown was sometimes too much and before you knew it a face you had gotten used to seeing was gone. The oldsters with their pensions and fixed incomes stayed. Driving as rarely as they had to it meant nothing to them. Crime was usually low: There was a small satellite police station down on the square itself, closed at midnight, it wasn’t a bad place to live. The oldsters did their shopping in the early morning hours. Who knew why. She had thought it was strange the first time they had come in, but since then it had become normal to her. They had also come in tonight because there had a been a few minor quakes and there had been some talk about the big one as there always was with any quake.
Anna had grown up on a council estate in London. When her mother had died she had come to the United States only to find herself in the projects on the north side of the city. From one pit to another. Just different names; she liked to tell herself. Up until a few weeks ago she had still made the trip back and forth every day, but she had found a place, a small walk-up not far from the market. It seemed extravagant to have her own space, but living in the downtown area suited her, or had. She didn’t know how this was going to change the equation.
The man that had been in front of her moved down the line to the next register; bag in hand, the other two still at the back of the store arguing with Jerry; watching the front area, Anna supposed, through their mirrored lenses.
The man with the bag had reached the end of the line when a much heavier earthquake hit and things began to tumble from the shelves into the aisles. Above her she watched the ceiling lift from the painted cinder block walls and then slam back down once more. One second she had been looking outside at the massive limbs of the trees that lined the other side of the street and the next she had been looking at the backside of the corrugated panels that made up the roof of the market. It had happened so fast that she wondered to herself if it had really happened at all.
Her eyes swept quickly around the inside of the market. Most of the oldsters were screaming, cowering where they stood, trying to melt into the floor, but a few were standing stoically; watching parts of the ceiling begin to fall. Anna held the side of the suddenly dead conveyor belt of her checkout lane as the floor rose, and shook. The robbers scrambled to stay on their feet, the stock tipped and tumbled, spilling across the floor. The lights blinked out all at once and then she heard the generator at the back of the store kick on: A second later the emergency lights flickered to life bathing the interior of the store in dim light.
The looks on some of the oldsters faces said, “I knew this is how it would end,” and Anna believed in that split second that they really did know all along that the world would come to an end in Harrows market just like it was right now. They had been children playing in the school yard, young lovers chasing after one another through the tall grass, parents watching their first born go to school on that first day: Pensioners walking to the box to get their check as the little girls that lived next door played hopscotch on the sidewalk; old folks coaxing the cat into the house through the back door; and they had known. They had known all along. Her eyes swiveled back to the front of the market and that was when the roof at the front of the store collapsed. The robber, the one with the bigger upper body, screamed and jumped back and Anna understood then that he was a she. It seemed like a signal to everyone and a fraction of a second later they were all, oldsters, employees and robbers running for the back of the store as the ceiling of the market collapsed onto the tops of the aisle shelving.
The doors to the back stock area slammed open and the crowd poured into the rear storage area, coming up against the stacks of boxes and crates and stopping: Just that suddenly the situation had changed. They were no longer running for their lives, they were being herded like cattle by the three and their waving, motioning rifles, holding the doors open, motioning the last stragglers, cut and bleeding into the area as the shaking stopped. Clips depended from those rifles, Anna noticed: Shot guns; she had seen similar ones before. They were in their hands, but they also had other weapons, handguns, knives, shoved into their waistbands that looked every bit as capable as the weapons they held in their hands. The one with the thicker chest, the one who at least screamed like a woman, kicked the doors shut and they stood choking and sneezing as the thick clouds of dust swirled and billowed in the emergency lights.
The Parking Lot
The old Chevy began to rock on its springs lunging first right and then left. It took a harder lunge to the right and then jumped forward and slammed head on into the side of the building.
“Fuck, Robbie. Fuck,” the woman screamed. She held a shotgun that slammed into the ceiling. Her finger squeezed the trigger tightly for just a brief second and spat a burst of bright white light and noise, a jagged hole appeared in the roof of the car.
“Bitch! What the fuck?” Robbie screamed as he tried to roll with the shaking car, hanging onto the dashboard. The others in the back added their own comments and in a second the entire car erupted in to cursing and yelling. The ground movement tossed the car once more, picking it up and slamming it sideways into a truck that had slid over three spaces. The screech of grinding metal and breaking glass silenced the screams and yells from the car. The car bounced away from the truck, jiggled from side to side and then settled onto the ground, one tire flat; the nose bent upward.
“Get out… Get out of this motherfucker,” Robbie screamed. Bricks and pieces of concrete block began to tumble from the roof line as the main wall of the market bulged out and the false roof structure that fronted the store titled backwards and tumbled into the store space. A few of the huge glass windows that fronted the market cracked with loud audible clicks: Spider webs running like bolts of lightning top to bottom and shooting off to the sides. Huge walls of glass that were now held together only by the aluminum frames they rested in.
”Jesus… Jesus, those bitches will go… I know it,” one of the men that had been in the back seat muttered as he tumbled from the car and staggered away. One tall window groaned, splinters of glass shooting out onto the sidewalk and the front passenger side of the car and then collapsed in a small pile onto the concrete as if to prove him right. Screams surged out from inside the store, mixing with their own. A thick cloud of dust billowed out through the opening. The glass glittered like gemstones in the sparse light from the interior of the market.
“Out… Out!” Robbie yelled. A small section of brick bonded to concrete block fell over and crushed the nose of the car pinning it to the ground. Steam erupted from the buried nose of the car and rose into the cool morning air mixing with the dust as it did. Robbie skipped backwards, the hard heels of the boots he wore getting a good purchase on the asphalt. He fell backwards with the momentum; his hands splaying behind him immediately cut on the glass and other debris that covered the asphalt. He wrenched himself forward and began to pluck at the pieces embedded in his palms. His eyes rose and swept across the others as his fingers worked. “Who?“ he asked. His quick head count had come up short.
“Rosie,” Alice, the thin girl with the shock of kinky pink hair said. The name was picked up by the other two.
Rosie had been in the front with him. She had been the one that had shot the car. She was nowhere to be seen. Robbie stood, dusted his bleeding palms against his fatigues and walked around the edge of the car. Rosie’s feet protruded from under the car. Not moving. A pool of spreading blood, seeping past the wheel that rested partway onto her body and out into the lot. He stopped.
“Rosie’s finished,” he said aloud. He raised his eyes from the pavement. “Better see what’s happened inside.” He trotted toward the front entrance with the others, his pistol in his hands; safety off.
The Stock Room
Things moved fast after the doors swung shut. The one that had robbed her pulled off his face mask, young she had been right. He scrubbed at his pale gray complexion with brown fingers that seemed out of place: Choking on the dust, tears streaming from his reddened eyes. He was too scared, he couldn’t be the one running things here.
The one with the thick chest tore off her bandanna and shook her head as if to get some of the dust out of her hair. White-blond hair flew about her dark face. She bent over a second later and vomited. Anna smelled it on the air instantly and fought the gag reflex that started in her own throat. A few of the oldsters didn’t make it and the small floor area was covered with sprawled and bent double bodies a second later as more became sick. Anna kept her eyes on the three. A second later the other one tore off his bandanna and Anna’s heart sank.
The one with the deep voice spoke again. A tall pimple faced white boy, Anna saw. “Marva… you okay?”
The white-blond nodded and tried to look okay. “I’m okay, Jeff. I’m Okay.”
The young black kid looked up and nodded.
“Good,” he said. “Good. You get the shit?”
Jeff grinned. “Oh yeah… Says it’s out in his car… We’ll have it in a few… Get these.” He passed long pieces of plastic to the other two. The plastic made no sense until a few seconds later when the other two began slapping the zip ties around one of the oldsters wrists and tugging another through the first before pulling them tight. Jeff had a few pairs of steel handcuffs that clinked and jangled from a chain around his waist. He began to handcuff those closest to him. The cuffs produced a low ratcheting sound as he closed them tight. The chrome finish glinted in the emergency lighting. Dread settled into Anna’s chest and she felt panic begin to rise within her.
“Oh, God don’t do that to me,” Rachel, one of the new clerks screamed. She bolted forward as if making a break for the now closed stock room doors, and Anna watched as the one called Jeff raised his rifle and squeezed the trigger once. Rachel collapsed to the floor in mid stride, like a sail that had spilled all of its air at once. One leg spread before her the other at an angle behind her. Her body skidded along the floor an inch or two and then stopped. She sighed loudly as her upper body sagged forward across her leg to the floor. You could almost believe she was doing some sort of a stretching exercise Anna thought. Her mouth was closed tightly in a grimace, but her eyes were open and for a second Anna thought maybe she was seeing, but then something in them shifted and she knew she was gone. A few of the oldsters began to mutter between themselves a few others began to cry. Jason, the new assistant manager, stepped forward.
“Listen,” he began in a loud voice. “I don’t know who you people think you are, but you’ve killed someone now… Killed someone!” He stopped and looked incredulously at the three who stood closer to the doors. His eyes cutting down to Rachel and then up once more. Jeff raised the rifle once more, Jason opened his mouth and he shot him in the chest before he could say another word.
The blast was amazingly loud in the closed area. Louder than the other shot had been and a large section of Jason’s smock turned instantly red puffing out behind him. He sank slowly to the floor, his mouth working as though he had one last thing to say, but he said nothing. He reached the floor, tipped sideways and a flood of dark blood spilled from his mouth. After that no one spoke; the other two went back to tying the others wrists with the zip ties and time seemed to jump forward in quick little jerks as Anna watched them do her own wrists and then move on.
They would kill her now she knew it: Eighteen years of living through the violence of the Council Flats, the projects here: Making it out; all to die in the back of some market stockroom over a few dollars that didn’t even belong to her. And they would do it. There was no reason not to. No reason to tie them. No reason to remove the bandannas. No reason at all.
A sharp banging came from the side of the stockroom and Anna twisted her head quickly. The door that lead out to the sidewalk, she knew. A voice calling and Jeff raised his own voice in answer; turning toward the sound.
“We’re good… We’re good,” he yelled in that voice that didn’t seem capable of coming from him. He turned back, his eyes scanning the crowd; they stopped on Anna.
“Where is that fuckin’ door?” he asked. “Where’s it go to?”
She motioned with her head. “Behind the boxes… There at the end of the aisle. Goes outside… Out front.”
“Show me, bitch.” He moved forward and his rifle barrel dug into her stomach and then upward across the edges of her ribs as he lifted the barrel and motioned with it. She stifled the urge to cry out. She could feel blood trickling downward across the flat of her stomach under the smock she wore. She walked the short distance to the door and found herself suddenly falling as he shoved her hard to one side and slammed down on the door width bar; flinging it open.
Anna’s forehead hit the concrete hard and she slid forward on her chest, rolling into a skid of cereal boxes. She was out cold before the boxes tumbled to the floor around her.
“What the fuck, Jeff?” Robbie said as he stepped into the room. Jeff held up the bag of money as he stepped forward to go through the door, the other two behind him. Robbie caught the edge of his shirt and shoved him backward hard.
“Why’d you kill some? Why’d you do that? Didn’t we talk about it? Didn’t I make it clear? What the fuck?” His eyes swept from Anna over to the two bodies that lay on the floor; blood running away in small rivulets toward the floor drain near the swinging doors that lead back out into the store area.
“The cunt on the floor tried to rush us… No choice!” Jeff’s frightened pale blue eyes stared up into Robbie’s own. A small smile played at the corners of his mouth.
“The other guy played hero, Rob” Marva said. Her face was slicked with sweat, making it seem even darker than it was. She stepped forward slightly, trying to hold Robbie’s eyes with her own. Robbie’s hand flashed to his waist and a second later he bought it up in a sharp thrusting motion. Jeff gasped, his mouth opened and a small trickle of blood ran from the corner and across his cheek. Robbie watched the life begin to bleed from his eyes before he released him. He slid to the floor as if in slow motion. Robbie sheathed his knife: Marva stepped forward as if to catch Jeff and Robbie raised his rifle.
“You got something to say?” he asked.
She wagged her head; tears glistened at the corners of her eyes. She stared down at Jeff’s body on the floor.
Robbie motioned to both of them and they stepped through the door out onto the sidewalk and the cold air. There was a mist in the air and the sidewalk was wet. Marva started to walk away, but Robbie curled his fist into her hair and dragged her back. She cried out involuntarily as he pulled her around to face back into the stockroom.
“Can’t leave it like this,” he told her. “Your man fucked it up. Unless you want to be in there with him you better take care of it.”
“The shit’s out here in the dudes car… We got to get it and get out of here before the cops get here,” she told him. Her eyes pleaded, but he pushed her away, turning loose of her. He raised his rifle holding it on her.
“And we will get it. The cops don’t care about this area on a good day. Today? Probably half the city is fucked up… Get back in there and take ’em out,” he said quietly. “Take ’em all out.” She turned to him once more, briefly and then turned back raised her own rifle and began to fire into the stockroom. Things happened fast after that.
The Man With The Pin
Robbie turned at the sound of tires screeching on wet pavement: A kind of low grade squalling as a vehicle slid to a stop, muted by the wet roadway. He turned, fully prepared to flash the rifle and show whoever this was that it might be smarter to take off. He wasn’t prepared for the sight that greeted him.
A police van had skidded to a stop halfway across both lanes of the street and cops seemed to boil out of it. A half dozen: All armed; all dressed in riot gear and bulletproof vests, Robbie saw. He fully intended to keep turning, but at nearly the same time he saw them his legs seemed to be pushed out from under him and he felt himself falling as an eruption of noise and smoke seemed to fill the air all around him. The others sprinted for the only shelter, the stockroom, but the soldiers were on all of them just that fast. They fell even as they made the doorway, sprawling on the heap of bodies already there. The rapid shots fell off to single blasts and then stopped. Two heavily armored cops ran forward flanking the door hesitated only briefly and then jumped through the doorway into the room beyond. The silence held for a brief second longer and then one called back.
“Toast… Done up.” The one that had called out turned; a silver pin affixed to his armor glinted in the market lights. A small cross looking both out of place and completely at home on his black body armor. He started for the door when his eyes fell on a thick padlock hanging next to it. He grasped it as he leapt through the doorway; another man, shorter, broader across the shoulders followed. They both bent and picked up the few scattered weapons that lay on the sidewalk; tossing them into the darkness of the stockroom and then the first one slammed the door shut; ran the padlock through the welded plates on the door and snapped it shut.
“Come on, come on, come on!” This from one of the cops crouched back by the van were it idled on the roadway: Vapor curling from the exhaust pipe and lifting into the air. The two men jumped into the rear of the van; holding the doors partially shut with their hands and the van roared away. It turned two blocks down and disappeared onto one of the side streets. The motor could be heard screaming on the still air for a few moments longer and then it was gone. Silence held the street and then a cold rain began to fall a few moments later.
She came awake in the darkness and tried to focus her eyes, believing at first she was still sleeping and her eyes were simply refusing to open. A slight tilt of her head told her a different story as pain flared and raced across the side of her face searching out her temples: Once there flaring and throbbing with her heart beat. She tried to move her hands and realized they were bound behind her. She vaguely remembered the kid… Some kid? Someone binding them, but she could not recall any more; any reason why…
She forced herself to move once more and tried to rise to her feet. Something stopped her, but it fell away as she forced the issue; sounding extremely loud in the darkness as it tumbled away from her. She made her feet and stood swaying in the darkness, waiting for the pain to subside: Waiting for the dizziness to pass.
Eventually she realized that she could see a thin line of light directly ahead of her. The more she stared at it the clearer it became: The bottom of a door… Light seeping through from the other side and the other side was the market, had to be… She stumbled forward; hands bound behind her and immediately fell to the floor; tripping over something soft. The sharp smells of vomit and blood came to her as her cheek came into contact with something wet and the hard floor. She gagged, fought the impulse to empty her own stomach to get it under control and made her way crawling and twisting back to her feet. She stumbled forward; hit the doors that led to the market and they flung open before her banging off the walls.
The market was a mess. The ceiling was down to the tops of the aisles. Here and there bodies were sprawled or pinned by wreckage in the aisles. Some aisles were so packed with debris she could see no way through them. The florescent lights dangled from the ceilings in places held by wires yet still working sporadically: Others were dead and dark. She took several deep, cold breaths to help clear her head and then stumbled to the nearest aisle end cap. The end cap’s metal shelving had twisted and buckled under the weight of the ceiling. Several inches of raw steel lay exposed the edge ripped and sharp. She backed into it and began to work at the plastic that bound her wrists.
It was slow: Her hands were numb; whether from the cold or lack of blood flow she didn’t know. She took her time, but even so she cut both wrists during the process of freeing herself and never even felt it. She was surprised at the small trickles of blood as her hands were finally freed and she bought them around to the front of her body to rub some feeling into them. The bleeding stopped, but the rubbing and movement brought a flood of pain as feeling raced back into her hands and the color returned. She choked back a sob and stumbled off down the end caps looking for a way to the front of the store and the doors that would mean freedom.
The last few end caps were standing free the roof curved down, but as yet not completely resting on them. She made her way slowly down one aisle, kicking damaged cans and boxes aside as she went and watching the ceiling: Positive it would fall at any second. As she neared the front of the store the cold air became more dominant and she felt the first stirrings of air against her overheated face. She made the registers and stared at the front windows. All gone: Blown out when the roof buckled, or the frames they sat in; something like that she thought. She walked slowly to one twisted frame and looked out onto the pre dawn street that fronted the store: Rain fell softly.
The street was empty in both directions: Nothing moved. The world seemed skewed; buildings were twisted and on the brink of collapse; nearby cars crushed beneath the brick facade that had separated and fallen from the building. She looked up and down the silent street, took a deep breath and stepped over the twisted aluminum frame to the walk outside. She stood feeling the soothing cold the rain bought with it as it hit her face and then walked off down the street.
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