Episode 1 – A Hard Day’s Night
“Everyone on the floor!”
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Cheese curls arc through the air like miniature, corn-fried missiles; Oreos burst their cellophane prison and roll away. I watch them disappear beneath the check stand of Gertie’s Gas & Go, and the anger I’ve done my best to ignore for the last three weeks swells within me like a monstrous tide, so blistering and overwhelming, it feels like wildfire.
“Everyone means everyone!”
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Chunks of ceiling tile land next to me. Someone screams.
“On the floor. Unless you would like your brains to decorate the bakery display?”
“All the way down. And pull up your fucking pants. That is not a fashion statement, it is a cry for help, and it needs to stop. Really. Just stop.”
The individual who owns that voice is close, just a few aisles over, and I have a pretty good idea who he’s talking to: the kid who walked into Gertie’s just ahead of me, hat to one side, pants belted just below his butt cheeks.
“It is in no way ‘cool’,” the voice continues. “It is not attractive; it is stupid. Are you stupid?”
I wiggle my way to the end of the snack aisle. My ears are ringing, and adrenaline surges through me, wild, heady. Drunk on endorphins, I nearly stand. I’m fast; I might be able to take him by surprise. I’m angry enough. But then Gertie peeks at me from behind the check stand, her eyes dark with terror, and I force myself to stay put.
I fire my index finger at her, but she only shakes her head frantically.
Armed man? Check. Pacifist store owner? Check. Totally screwed? Check.
The Universe is laughing in my face. And because my pajamas have no pockets, I have no phone and no weapon.
No gun, no blade. The expandable baton I bought myself for Christmas is in my Jeep, and the only sharp object I can lay claim to is the safety pin currently holding up my pants.
“Everyone just stay put. If I see you dial your phone, you are dead. If the police are alerted, you are dead. If you do anything I do not expressly tell you to do, you are dead. Now, Eleanor Rigby, I know you are here. Come out now, and no one else gets hurt.”
Right. Because the elderly matriarch of one of Las Vegas’ most powerful families—whose sons are known for turning people into Swiss cheese when crossed—is hanging out at a gritty, inner-city convenience store at one o’clock in the morning.
“I’m here,” says a reedy, female voice, and I turn to see a tiny form step out of the magazine aisle, Soap Opera Today in hand. “Right here.”
What the ever-loving fu—
“Good girl.” Footsteps sound; booted, with a slight drag. The voice is cultured, refined, and touched by an accent I can’t place. “I appreciate you coming forward.”
I don’t appreciate it. What in God’s name is the woman doing here?
“Your cooperation will make things easier,” the voice continues. The floor vibrates beneath my knees, and then he steps into view: tall, lean, and wrapped in a surprisingly expensive navy blue suit. Swarthy, sun-kissed skin, black hair slicked against his skull. Late thirties, maybe early forties, armed with a gleaming black SIG Sauer, which he holds with comfortable, familiar ease. Confident and calm.
The realization does nothing to shut down my rage. Going off half-cocked against a man who kills for a living is a death sentence; I know better. And yet, all I can think is: fuck you, you fucking fucker.
A shit day on top of a shit month, heading toward a shit year. Gertie looks ready to have a coronary, and I’m really sick of the assholes of the world. Always taking what doesn’t belong to them; always hurting others; always winning.
Well, fuck that. And fuck them. Not today.
“What do you want?” Gertie demands, half-standing behind the counter. “You leave her alone!”
The man doesn’t respond. He’s staring down at Eleanor, who only blinks up at him owlishly. She wears a long cashmere coat the color of raspberries over what appears to be Hello Kitty pajamas. Her hair stands up in tufts of magenta-tinted gray, and on her feet are fluffy white bunny slippers. She doesn’t look like a matron of Sin City. She looks like a grandma.
Fury flares like a blowtorch within me; the flush that fills my cheeks is hot enough to emit steam. So much anger. At many, many things. But all of the other atrocities fall away, and I focus my wrath solely on the man who stands only a handful of feet away, aiming his SIG at a woman forty years his senior.
And fucking smiling at her.
I’m going to make him eat it.
I look around for something to throw. He’s close enough to hit; I just need something pointy and sharp, something with mass. The only sight that greets me is a corn chips display, a bakery case filled with day-old donuts, and a carefully constructed pyramid built of diet cola two liters. Gum, candy bars, batteries and lip balm. I can’t see anyone else, but I know there are others. Two men who were standing in front of the beer cooler when I walked in; a woman in the toilet paper aisle. The kid in sagging pants. That puts us at seven including Gertie.
“What do you want?” Eleanor asks, her eyes wide. She clutches the Soap Opera Today to her chest.
“Just you, darling,” the Professional tells her, his smile turning hard.
No one else, I think. He said no one else will get hurt. Which means that he either capped someone on his way in—or he’s planning to cap someone before he leaves. And judging by the look in his eye as he stares down at Eleanor—
Well. Mystery solved.
To hit her so openly…in front of witnesses…and Gertie’s security cameras…
We’re all going to die.
My heart speeds up. I take another look around; nothing. I slide my knees beneath me and carefully push myself up to peek over the counter of the check stand. Again, Gertie shakes her head. I ignore her. Next to the cash register is a plethora of items: beef jerky, lighters, phone jacks, liquid speed—screwdrivers.
A square cardboard display filled with them.
Winner, winner. The anger surging within me careens to a halt and goes cold, focused utterly on the man who stands no more then six feet from me. He hasn’t even looked my way; but then, why would he? I’m harmless. A tiny blonde in Wonder Woman PJs, a purple sweatshirt, and bright yellow rain boots. I probably look like an escapee from a mental ward.
I feel like one.
“Are you going to kill me?” Eleanor wants to know. Her chin quivers.
“I am afraid so, darling.” The Professional’s smile is somewhat apologetic. “But if you do not fight, I will not hurt anyone else.”
Eleanor stares at him for a long moment. Then she looks around. Her gaze meets mine, and fear stabs through me.
“Okay,” she says softly. “If you promise.”
I can’t stop myself: I stand.
Corn curls fall from my hair; cookies crunch beneath my boots. Gertie gasps; someone snarls in protest. Outside the large glass windows, traffic slides past, oblivious.
“Oh no,” Eleanor whispers, staring at me.
The Professional and his SIG follow her gaze.
“Nope,” I tell him and reach for the screwdrivers. I grab two, one for each hand. “Not today.”
The Professional laughs at me.
I amuse him. How special.
But his eyes watch closely as I weigh the tools—they are cheap and light, and I’m going to have to make up for mass with speed—and adjust my stance. His gaze narrows when I flip them over and wrap my hands around the slender steel ends and their sharp, four-pronged tips.
They are not ideal, but they will do.
They will definitely do.
“She is the only one who has to die today,” he murmurs. His eyes are caramel brown, thickly lashed. Beautiful and ice cold. “I have no wish to make more of a mess than necessary.”
“You won’t,” I reply. I widen my feet a little more; the sharp tips of the screwdrivers stab into my palms.
His smile fades. “You are being foolish. Put down your toys, and get back on the floor.”
My heartbeat echoes in my throat; my blood is cold. I am unmoving. Eleanor takes a small step away from him.
My eyes meet hers.
Just one more step and I can—
A man suddenly materializes beside me, as if solidifying from mist. I start, and my heart lurches violently.
He is as big as a mountain, as dark as a storm. Towering above me and cloaked in black, scarred and tattooed; menace boils from him, an aura of ferocity and brutality that spills into the space around him and slaps me with vicious, primal awareness.
Death. The thought punches through me, and I can’t move. He is death.
A vast, cold, barren darkness I have stood within before. And while the Professional has sparked rage within me—and the hunger for blood with which I struggle—this man….this mountain frightens me at the most basic level. He is the monster beneath the bed; the unknown darkness that stalks the night.
That which I fear most…other than myself.
And the look on his face is terrible.
“Run,” he tells the Professional, and his voice is even worse than his face. Grated and harsh, more growl than word.
The Professional stares at him, unmoving, but I see his fear, like lightening flaring behind his eyes. For a long moment, he does nothing. Then he grabs Eleanor and thrusts her in front of him; the barrel of his SIG swings to the Mountain.
“No?” The Mountain begins to walk toward them. “You’re a fucking idiot.”
Eleanor whimpers and closes her eyes.
I tighten my grip on the screwdrivers. Time draws taunt and slows. Lights flash outside—red, blue, red, blue—and sirens scream into being. Inside, there is only the chilling silence of terror.
The Professional tenses as the Mountain stalks closer. That fear again lights his gaze, and he tightens his grip on the SIG; readies to fire. The Mountain is closing in, but he is too far away to stop time, and I can taste the future, bitter with death.
So I lift my arms and let both screwdrivers fly.
They whip past the Mountain, so close he probably feels their wake, and sink deeply into their target. The Professional dies instantly; he topples backward, the screwdrivers protruding obscenely from his eye sockets.
The Mountain plucks Eleanor Rigby from her feet and sweeps her away as though she is an errant, disobedient child, and the Professional’s shiny SIG, still in hand, hits the floor. It fires, and a 9mm bullet explodes from the barrel. It shoots past me, but carves a deep groove into my left thigh as it passes.
“Goddamn it!” I snarl and fall back onto my ass.
Copyright 2021 Hope McKenzie