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A Gentleman Beyond Reproach

30 July 2013 - 06:22 PM

Howdy, guys. Here's another little short story, this one's actually short I promise. Not a lot to say about this. I kinda sorta got the idea a little while back when I read Wolfy's two cents on the whole cursing thing. I thought: "Well what does she want us to do? Write drug dealers and thugs strolling about all posh and proper?" Just a little joke before anyone gets antsy, I get how rules work and why they're there. It just put that little thought into my head. And no, I didn't write this just to be a smartass and be cheeky. Well, maybe just a touch. =P The basic idea here was to create a story so dedicated to being prim and proper hilarity ensues where no hilarity is. An upend of society and its niceties Maybe I succeeded, maybe I didn't. You guys tell me.


If I had to nail down a theme and paint the picture for you I'd pick ignorance and inconsistency and the quantity that these two things issue forth in response to the changing times. Something like that. Anyway, reads. Oh, and there's also an incredibly obvious reference. Try and guess!


A Gentleman Beyond Reproach


So it was, perhaps a fortnight or so hence, I donned my finest fineries and decided to avail myself a stroll around my immediate environs. While it was certainly truthful that my family and myself have lived amongst this lovely township for generations (Brendelshires of Gilded Cummerbund avenue just off West Frobinchester Abbey, you've heard the name, I am sure) I still found it held some secrets available to those with fresh air in their lungs and perceptible eyes.


I whistled a jaunty and joyful tune to myself, though I was more than willing to increase my volume to the apparent delight of passerby. The tune, so I am told, is something of an anthem for the Brendelshire clan and was taught to me by my father, Crafton Draynard Brendelshire the Third. For those of you who lack or otherwise not committed to utilize gifts of cognition, I am Crafton Draynard Brendelshire the Fourth. A strong name awarded to men of only the noblest of bearing. Though I'd feel remised not to exercise my humility and inform you, that while our bearings and roots are quite incomparable, I would never be so bold as to presume nobility. That judgment I will leave to others.


In my youth I was known as CD, a moniker I may not have enjoyed as much as others, but now that my father has passed (an infection of the lungs, a business so nasty I feel the adjective may be quite inadequate) I have fully inherited my name. Though out of respect for him I will go by Draynard of simply Doctor Brendelshire the Fourth of Gilded Cummerbund Ave. when I delve into business or discussion with my venerable father's associates and acquaintances. Oh, and please do hold your condolences. It has been some years since his passing and his ascension was hardly a surprise. The writing on the wall, as it were, for months on.


I do admit to some difficulty recalling the third bar of my family anthem as I turned the corner where my lovely avenue met the aforementioned adjoining abbey. My nonexistent audience was hardly unforgiving and more than courteous enough to allow me to reassemble to the musings. Forgive my humorings, I can be a cheeky sort when the mood does strike. Though now I will inform that whilst I enjoyed my strollings, I had encountered very few other exercise and architecture enthusiasts.


Truth be told the only individual I had encountered on this outing was the former Mrs. Calderwood-Von Leeds, the creature blithe and vivacious in my experience though she was getting along in her years and mourning her hairs. That night, however, she hardly spared me the pleasantry of a nod in passing. Verily, she scooted on across the sidewalk in a manner I would be inclined to akin to a rodent had the relation between her family's and mine not been what it was.


It would be an offense worthy of condemnation if I did not mention that this anomalous occurrence gave me pause. I reach for the pocket watch my father had given to me as his father him as his father him as his father him and so on. It was a solid gold machination yes, indeed, no plating or tricksy paints for the Family Brendelshire. Though I am not surprised to hear you doubt its value, you are not the first. I find the inlaid sapphires to be the most pleasing to the eye, despite how miniscule they may have been.


It was still several minutes shy of nine o'clock though darkness had most decidedly fallen upon the municipality. It was hardly the hour for a gentleman such as myself to be wandering about. I shuddered to think of someone considering my travels to be cavorting in nature. The Brendelshire men have never cavorted or otherwise conveyed themselves in a manner that could be considered anything less than scrupulous. Moreover, what cavorter dressed in such a dapper and well appointed manner?


I decided to continue my stroll if only to convince myself and any peering eyes that I most certainly had no intentions of cavorting this night. With no one to enact discourse toward and my powers of recollection failing in telling me how the family tune went (my great-great uncle Tobias Callerbrent Brendelshire, our clan's sole musical entrant and composer of the music which I now fail to hum tonight undoubtedly rolled in his grave and cursed my larynx) I decided to occupy my mind with matters related to work.


I realize the contrariety of considering work and all the puzzlements therein whist enjoying a walk meant to relax my mind and I am archetypically a servant of congruity but the point of this relaxation was that it would jostle free some strands of inspiration that I may then apply to my study. So I am hardly defeating my own purpose. Now I'm sure some of you noticed an earlier comment in this tale I am unfolding in which I revealed my status as a Doctor. I shall make it clear now that I am no medical doctor but, rather, my doctorate was achieved in the biological studies. My purview mainly focusing on how the body and its cells react to stimuli rather than providing any solutions or deterrents for these interactions.


I am currently embedded and enjoying my tenure in a university so prestigious that I needn't share its name with you as you are already profoundly aware, I'm sure, and it would serve no purpose other than to bore you and caress my ego. Which is already well and truly stroked I assure you. Oh, forgive my tedious attempts at wit if you could summon the kindness. I could blame my uncle for instilling the dogma of making one's self laugh but I would never be so slothful as to shirk my shortcomings on the next gentleman.


My latest project presented to me by the university was an extensive study most bold and unusual. I was to work along with a team of scientists similarly educated and reared in assessing and, in some cases, recreating the events of the Bible. Why, yes, that Bible. There was much talk about Dr. Brendelshire IV as I'm sure you yourself took part in it when this news came to light. Citizens, allow me to make my intention clear. I do not wish to, I scoff at the notion even as I write, disprove any of the events depicted in this most holiest of texts. Though I know as a certainty many of my colleagues endeavor to do precisely that. We work to the same goal nonetheless.


Rather, I intend to gather irrefutable evidence, or at least evidence that cannot be so handily refuted, that our Lord's hand touches this world on more occasions than one. My true endeavor and goal here, as bold as it may sound, is to bridge this gap that the ignorant masses have created between science and Godliness. Help the people to realize that these sciences are merely our, humanity's that is, simple attempt to define the tools that God uses in his workings. Now these words are clearly not the words of a blasphemer.


Now I shall take a step out of my head and return you to West Frobinchester Abbey where I have made a discovery most unwholesome. Ungodly may be a better term but I wouldn't dare pontificate any such a curse on any portion of my city, regardless of how vile it may appear. I recall walking down this very street countless times in my youth, arms hooked through the arms of my parents, giggling and skipping hither and thither with the promise of ice cream forcing a grin on my face. Or roaming about with my brothers, doing the most menial of tasks in exchange for pocket change that we spent on travails I cannot precisely recollect here.


Now derelict and forlorn automobiles were unceremoniously abandoned upon the curbs or constricted in the most miniscule of alleyways. There seemed to be only the one functional street lamp on either side of the street. Everywhere one may care to look, and I shall not attempt mistruth by failing to inform you that I looked in every direction with a sort of listless fascination, there were shattered windows and graffiti of a nature so foul that my memory reels away from the thought of repeating them here. Several filthy and misshapen faces (this may have been my own mind altering my perceptions, distorting the gentry to suit their environs) stared at me from darkness.


Not wishing rudeness on anyone but having grown most decidedly uncomfortable and unkempt, I made haste in announcing parting pleasantries to these people and spun on my heel, eager to return whence I had come. It had been far too long since I'd set foot on Frobinchester, this thought I scarcely even considered previously. For years now I've been fairly conscripted into my study and otherwise socially obligated. I was driven home on a more direct route that bypassed West Frobinchester Abbey completely. I had heard people complain about the ghastly states of affairs in that particular district of my humble town but never heeded the words. I never imagined in even my wildest fantasies that such a sickening evolution could occur in such a number of years.


My most beloved Gilded Cummerbund Ave was in view (I must confess many distressing thoughts wondering how long my avenue had before it joined the abbey) when four gentlemen stepped from around the corner. They were all younger gentlemen as I recall dressed in finery, point of fact. Silk and embroidery, well-fitted leggings and strapped shoes. Though I couldn't help but deduce from the way these lads carried themselves that their manner of dress was meant to be perceived as purely ironic in nature. Even so, I bowed my chest and waved at them with my top-hat.


"Salutations, my young masters." I said. "And how does this wondrous night find you? Are the stars and the crisp air to your liking?" I'll admit to a mild and pleasant annoyance at their response. It was laughter not unlike the noises that could be heard issuing from the jaws of hyenas or other such scavenging mammals.

"Ohn wazis mah dingly-winglies?" One young fellow, walking a step or so in front of his other compatriots asked. "Look ta mes dat this honor-warner biz a footing so 'way from homey-sweet, dunnit?"

"Yah!" Said another fellow, far louder than what I'd deem necessary. He was quite the large young lad I will confess. I couldn't but notice that, rather than a belt, he had made do utilizing a length of chain fairly stuffed into his belt loops. Most peculiar. The other two lads joined the chorus of affirmation.

"Why, yes, good sir, your presumption is not unfounded." I said. "I am Doctor Crafton Draynard Brendelshire the Fourth of Gilded Cummerbund Avenue. I was actually on my way homeward but I would never deny the opportunity for scintillating conversation. Who might you all be?"

"Ooie-oho-oh! A bonesawer izzitzen?" These lads apparently found my status to be quite amusing. I, on the opposite end of the spectrum, did not find any aspect of these lads' behavior, their degradive attempts at speech particularly, amusing. "Bez yuz a ritprop womb-tomb boom-doom, wizwaz, yah?"

"Begging your pardon?" I pleaded, hoping I had misheard this man's allegations that I was some many of unchaste sycophant.

"Ay, alz not. Cal mah Allen. Ese dingwings be Terrence ohn Mavlin. Dingliest of winglist, prop terrear har yuz cal Rot."

"Nothing short of an absolute pleasure, lads, and what, if I may be so bold to inquire, brings you gentlemen out into this street at so late an hour? Surely classes will be in session in the morning?"

"Cert thisso." Said either Terrence or Mavlin. I don't want to appear inconsiderate but I honestly couldn't say which was which. The haste of the introductions, coupled with the fact that the pair could have very well been brothers doomed such a distinction from the start. Rot was an easy one to spot, no doubt. "Buz wez paingain employ, rit?"

"Truthfully?" I said. "Oh, how honestly and truly pleasant it is to come into contact with a group of lads such as yourself. Choosing employment over your own childish wants. an act truly commendable." Terrence and Mavlin chuckled like hucksters at my statement.

"Mah dings ohn mez out fa lil ole righty-footy, lefty-footy, alzat." Said Allen. I couldn't help but notice that he'd slipped a hand into his pocket and had yet to recover it. He was also eying my father's walking stick (a rare blend of snakewood and ivory, thank you as much) along with the chain to his watch most direly.

"Wonderful night for an exercise and spot of an adventure, isn't it just?" I turned my gaze heavenward to enjoy the celestial sights. When I turned back to my young conversationalists they had all moved some steps closer. "Alas, as pleasant as the night air and the chatting has been, I simply must return home this minute. I pray none of you will take offense."

"Aye, wut a willy-silly noshe yuv thar. Mah dingly-winglies'n'is nar speck sorrisome or mornworn." Allen said, smiling. "Dose wez consid kindful yuz spare time?"

"Oh but of course, gentlemen." I presented my pocketwatch and checked the time. "Looks to be nine forty-seven, my fellows." I had just closed the device when Allen's hand lashed out and seized it. "What is the meaning of this behavior, I implore you?!" I exclaimed my grievances even as I wrestled with the lad's grip.


Rot and Terrence stepped forward and pushed me back. The chain came undone and the Brendelshire family watch slipped from my grasp. As if that wasn't horrific a reality as it stood, I heard the seamings of my jacket tear in a most upsetting manner. These lads were far from done. Allen admired the small spherical wonderment in his hand before stowing it in favor of brandishing a knife with serrated edgings. Rot had begun slipping his chains free of his trousers, the other lads reached into their pants but I paid them little mind.


It became fully apparent to me then that these young gents intended to make off with my belongings and possibly even cause my bodily self to sustain no small measure of bodily harm. So I reached into my pocket, retrieved my father's service sidearm and preceded to shoot them right in there well manicured vestments, what. Two holes sprang up in Allen's chest and he fell into a heap. Terrence took one in the dead center of his chest, around and about the diaphragm if I had to guess. Mavlin and Rot had decided to run but the larger fellow had tossed the other back behind him. Mavlin caught the round in his skull. Do not fear, I shot Rot three times in the back as well. I must have hit a lung, simply must have.


With that I returned the firearm to my pocket and retrieved my gilded watch. Terrence was still wheezing onto life when I maneuvered him away from Allen's body. He made sounds not unlike pleading as I recovered my watch from his friend's pockets. I paid him no heed, he'd be well and truly dead sooner than soon enough. Thus it was that I strolled the remainder of the way to my property unmolested. I had just had something of a breakthrough about an apparent inconsistency in a tale involving our Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul.


untitled fanfiction

26 July 2013 - 10:31 PM

Howdy, guys. Not much to say about this little short here other than I woke up with the case of the feckarounds and channeled them into this. And no, I'm not going to tell you what it's a fanfiction of because that would ruin the surprise. And yes, that's why I oh-so cleverly didn't think of a name. So read, enjoy, have a laugh.




Rubber squealed and metal crunched. Something rattled in the background, drowning in the noise. Concrete grinded beneath them and they were in the air. One one-thousand, two one-thousand. And they returned to the earth. His body surged against the seat belt, knee cap hit the steering wheel just hard enough to send a ghost of pain through his shin and into his feet. Stayed clamped to the accelerator all the same.


Stanley's body had shifted in his seat during the hop over the curb. Made him feel his dark jeans stick to the upholstery, hear the sick suctiony sound of fabric pulling away from fabric stuck together by blood. Reminded him that Les Jenner had been sitting there. Should've still been. Stanley had just met him that morning. Had breakfast with him, gave him a hard time for being named Leslie. Didn't mean nothing by it, just needed a laugh. Told him that his middle name was Curlington to make it even.


Next time he saw Les' face all the most important parts of his brain were flying through the window. The bullet had gone straight on through, shattered it entire. Made the sirens sound so much closer. Right beside him, in the car with him. But they had to have still been a good distance behind them. Someone would've started shooting otherwise, Heth definitely would have. Stanley glanced up at the mirror and angled it slightly to see into the backseat. Heth was sitting in the middle seat, assault rifle and seatbelt across his lap.


He was far too calm. True, Stanley couldn't see his face through the mask but he was perfectly still. Whether it was sense of humor or staight arrogance was beyond Stan but Heth had decided to cover his face with Batman's cowl. The flimsy kind volunteers wear when they go to children's hospitals and such. Stanley wondered if those kids knew the Caped Crusader dangled people off rooftops and broke bones with his bare hands but figured they didn't.


The vehicle and everyone therein winced as it lost its driver's side mirror to a mini van. A SUV was not the proper vehicle to navigate the dense hell that was traffic in this city. Heth should've known that, out of town or not. He seemed to know everything. Hank had actually said those exact words when he came to Stanley weeks ago. "This guy here knows everything there is to know about this, literally. It ain't gonna be a thing."


Stanley looked over to Hank in the passenger seat, clinging to his compact machinegun with white knuckles and maybe muttering under his breath. He had just went with a simple ski mask like Stan. The kind they always used, that could be found just about anywhere with no identifying marks or anything like that. They had known each other for a long time, Hank was there in his earliest memories. Some of the more distant ones of two nine year olds sneaking candy into their pockets and running like hell, laughing all the way, echoed in his mind.


It was a natural progression from there really. Broke into a few houses, mostly old folks with far too much as is. Then a few convenience stores, liquor stores, pharmacies. Pharmacies were always good money, especially now with the demand for pills being what it was. It got hot once or twice but nothing they did ever seemed to catch up and past experiences defining perception as they did a bank didn't seem like such a bad idea. Hank was the only reason Stanley would entertain the notions of a fellow like Heth.


Heth. That's all he went by. Stanley didn't know if it was his first or last name or if it was even his name at all. Hank didn't seem to know either but swore that they went back. Had met in jail once upon a time. Jail: where they send criminals to meet other criminals and work together to better themselves as criminals. Heth didn't look like a hardened criminal, though, well, who did, but he didn't fall into the public perception Stanley thought. He was a pretty boy, really. Dimpled chin, cheekbones, almond eyes, thin but not scrawny. Even wore his hair all spiky and feathery.


He made it sound good, though, he was good for that. Knew a lot about the armored car company in particular. Schedules, policies, even knew the guards on duty. Said he'd done work with the company before. Heth never went into detail about what he did at any point in his life, not around Stanley, at least. Made some comments here or there, some more unsettling than others, but Stanley knew better than to ask a guy like that about his personal life.


Heth had Stanley and Hank stake out the place. They were at it for near three weeks and in that time they never earned a second glance. It was rare they got the first. Hank even sprayed on a tan and put on a pretty damned good wig, walked in and acted like he was interested in an account, maybe a safe deposit box as well. Drew a map of the interior. Hank had a talent for that sort of thing, took drafting classes in high school. Was told by more than one person he had the makings of an architect or engineer.


They must have seen the guy walk in there a half-dozen times Just a normal guy. A bit chubby, cheap haircut maybe even cut it himself, more days than a few he'd neglect to shave. Always drove the same crappy old rabbit. But that day he walked into the bank in his uniform. Heth saw him first. They locked eyes. The cop jumped behind one of those small counters with the brochures and the pens on the chains. Immediately started into his radio, didn't even reach for his gun.


Heth kept his assault rifle at his hip, grabbed the handle under the barrel, and let out a long burst. The bullets ripped through that wood and cop like paper. If paper splattered blood everywhere when you ripped it and wheezed and gagged and sobbed quietly as it dies. People screamed and cried and cursed but Heth calmly explained that he didn't like noise. Showed them the grenade in his hand and they covered their mouths with their hands, bit their tongues, whatever they had to. Stanley still couldn't believe the guy had a full belt of grenades.


Hell, he wouldn't be surprised to hear Heth had raided an armory. He'd never seen a rifle as flashy as his outside of a video game or movie. His body armor looked like what our troops should be wearing with pockets upon pockets of ammo, a compact machete of a knife on one thigh and a pistol just as decorated as his rifle on the other. They should've left right then and there, better part of valor, live to fight another day, any cliche would've been fine by Stanley but Heth needed to get into the safety deposit boxes. Wouldn't hear any other option.


The bank manager was a woman on the wrong side of middle age, covering up spidery and discolored veins with expensive pantyhose and an empty scalp with a wig far too colorful to be natural. Heth tightened the strap on his rifle so he could grab the back of her neck with one hand and pull his knife free of its sheathe with the other. He spoke directly to her as he led her into the back. Stanley couldn't hear what was said but he recognized the tone. Calm and polite and rational, telling her how it was and what would happen.


Hank shouted for Stanley's attention and told him to watch the crowd while he went through the tellers. Called him Dan, though, for their benefit and he was John. Stan-Dan kept his breathing quiet and regular despite screaming inside. He'd practiced this a thousand times in his head but he was beginning to think his head was biased. He tried not to move too fast as he swept the customers, now lying on their bellies on the floor. Tried not to seem so jumpy. Tried to remember if he took the safety off but didn't want someone to catch him checking it.


Heth was back with a smile on his face before Hank had finished clearing the drawers. Stanley didn't see the manager. Told John not to worry about paper and told Dan to get the door. It took Stan a second to remember who was who. The first patrol car pulled up when they were halfway to the SUV. Hank fired blindly in their direction, made the car swerve. Gave them time to throw everything into the backseat. But when the police returned fire Les was gone and Heth made Stan throw him on the ground and hop behind the wheel. Les' blood and something else fairly covered Stanley's boots, his sleeve.


And here they were. Praying to God to find an opening to get back in their lane before they slammed head on with a wrecker. Stanley jerked the wheel right into the back tire of a Fiat. Poor little thing spun like a top into a parked Hyundai. Stanley didn't keep watching to see if the driver made it.

"Okay." Heth had leaned up to speak in Stanley's ear. "You're going to want to take this left up here and then keep on straight and- Well, wait a minute. Just go ahead and turn into that strip mall. Yeah, their lot loops around and you'll miss the intersection. Hard left, Stanley. Come now, hard left. Okay, and now you just bank around here. Don't worry, they'll get out of the way if they want to live otherwise it's out of our hands. Know what? Go ahead and hop the curb there, get us back on the street. Yeah, those bushes are hideous. And it'll be the first parking lot on the right hand side."

Heth was leaned into the front seat the whole time, pointing the way over the windshield. Never once raised his voice or paused or moved. Like he was showing Stanley the way to the airport. Another hop and jerk and they were back on the road. Stanley saw the sign. School Zone. They skidded over a colorful crosswalk. Thankfully empty.

"Where are you leading us?" He asked but Heth had settled back into his seat.

"On the right." He reminded.


Stanley looked to see what was on the right and saw a bland, blocky U of a building. Built with bricks of a mellow cream color with a green roof, large windows on the side facing the street. A parking lot on each side of the U, though one was filled with buses, with a large lawn in between dotted with small trees, bushes, and a boulder smeared with every shade of paint there was.


"A school?!" Stanley shouted, he pumped the brake.

"Yeah, park by the main door if you will."

"Like hell." The sirens caught up with Stanley's terrified mind. Then he remembered the assault rifle sitting in the backseat.

"C'mon, brother," Pleaded Hank, "we gotta get out the road. We can't just be debatin' here in the middle of traffic."

"Debate? What the hell are you talking about?!" Yet still, God forgive him, Stanley smashed back down on the accelerator, dodged an Eclipse, and veered into the parking lot.


They came to a screeching stop by a wide sidewalk that seemed to surround the entire building. Heth was out of the vehicle before it had fully settled. Walked to the boot like a man just looking for a leisurely form of exercise. Grabbed his bag of ill-gotten gains and looped it over his neck. Grabbed a duffel bag that was heavier than he remembered and hoisted it over a shoulder. Went to push his fingers through his hair and felt the mask. Thought what was the point and pulled it off.


"What are we doing at a school?" Stanley demanded as Heth walked back around the vehicle.

"Hold this for me, would ya?" Heth tossed him the bag. It hit Stanley's side hard enough to leave a bruise and he heard metal shift.

"The hell is this?" Sweat stung Stanley's eyes. "The hell are we doing here?!"

"First, calm yourself. Dramatics have not and never will resolve anything. The answer's simple but we need to walk and talk." Heth hadn't broken his pace for Stanley's inquiries, leaving his accomplices to jog to catch up. Either that or wait for the sirens. "Now how often do you hear of robberies turned hostage situations? Outside of movies?" He didn't give them time to answer. "That's right. Because it never works. They either give up or get taken down before they clear the property. Negotiations and such are all for show. Just empty words to give the schemers on that side of the law time to outsmart the schemers on our side. The whole cliche of a getaway car or a fueled jet is just nonsense. They don't entertain notions like that. Maybe they send in a pizza. No what it all comes down to is how much are these people's lives worth against the reputation of law and order? Law and order wins. They figure these civilians can handle a dose of tear gas and that the city can handle a few lawsuits so long as criminals know the law cannot be trifled with." He opened the door to the school. "So what do we do? Give them lives whose worth cannot be measured. The city can take a lawsuit but what about a national tragedy?"

"This is crazy." Stanley said and yet he still followed Heth into the building. The air conditioner felt like God's own mercy. "I'm not- we can't... Christ, Heth, we can't kill any damn kids."

"Whoa, feller, you've got a sick mind and I love it but keep your spurs checked, cowpoke. We aren't hurting any kids. Not hurting anyone if we can help it." Heth paused to look into the main office, a wall of windows set around a steel door. Locked eyes with a chubby cheeked secretary. Her's widened to saucers and Heth held a finger to his lips before resuming his pace.


The entry hall was what you'd expect. Main office on the right as soon as you walk in, entrance to what Stanley assumed to be a gymnasium on the left. A lengthy and ornate trophy case lined the left hand wall, interrupted twice by bathrooms. Doors to smaller offices fairly covered the right wall before it turned a corner to rest of the building. The walls were white, the floor tiles brown and green with multicolored specks.


One of the doors on the right hand side, marked resource officer, opened and out stepped a block of a man well into his fifth decade. He wore the brown and khaki uniform of a Sheriff's deputy, side arm at his hip. He was laughing to himself until he saw a man staring at him with a lopsided smile on his face. Saw the two men behind him in ski masks, the guns in their hands. He became completely still. Hand on his belt, not even an inch from his weapon.


"Hey, guy." Heth said. "Want to slide that thing out for me? Two fingers, you know how to do it. What's your name, deputy?"

"Riggs, Denton Riggs." He replied, assessing Heth with narrow eyes. He gingerly raised his left hand but kept his right where it was, by his gun.

"Well, Denton, I am Heth and if I have to be I will be your murderer this afternoon. That doesn't sound pleasant at all does it?" He paused until Denton shook his head. "Right. And I am a really pleasant guy. I really am, unfortunate you have to see me in this light. So howsabout you don't make me step outside of my own nature and just pull out your pistol there." Denton undid the strap holding it, pulled it out gingerly and just as requested. "Now hit the mag release."

Denton stared at Heth for what seemed like far too long. Looked over the man's shoulder and caught Stanley's eye. Stanley looked away, distracted his mind by wondering why this school was so damned quiet. Had no one in the office thought to hit the alarm? Had the cops still not caught up? Had they really only stood here half a minute and not a hour? The deputy adjusted his grip on the weapon, though he kept his index and middle fingers far from the trigger, and thumbed the release.

"See? Pleasant." Heth relaxed his rifle slightly, pointed the barrel down and slightly to Denton's side. A very subtle motion but one Denton saw plainly. "Know what? Pop the chamber, if only to set my mind at ease."


Now Denton stared directly into Heth's empty eyes, blacker than black, and realized what he had done. He had a round in the chamber, he always did. Most resource officers didn't. What was the need? But Denton had given twenty-five years of his life to the Marine Corps. He'd killed men before. From a couple hundred yards away, from the inside of a tank, but never a handful of meters away. It'd never been just him, another man, and their guns.


Would've been easy just to pull that slide, jog out that door and to the other side of the barricade. But what about those kids? Those stupid, cocky, disrespectful little asses. He remembered being hailed as the best shot in his company. Despite his age he was still good enough to put that round between this pretty boy's eyes. Slowly, he moved his gun hand to meet his empty hand. As the gun crossed his chest he tightened his grip, extended his arm, and felt three holes open in his chest.


Heth was already walking before the deputy's body hit the ground. "And we keep it moving." He turned to the dumbstruck pair, twirling his free hand in an impatient circle. "And we keep it moving." Stanley wasn't even sure he knew what had happened. The silencer on Heth's rifle turned a clap of thunder into a pop. He tried not to look at the cop's body and cringed at the little splashing sound of his boot in the man's blood.


"I thought we weren't hurting anyone?" Hank asked Heth.

"If we can help it, that's what I said." Stanley stared at Hank's back with pleading eyes but he didn't turn around.


They walked to the end of the hallway and reached a pair of double doors. Heth walked through one while Stan and Hank walked through the other. They were outside now, standing on a walkway composed of old cement tiles with a metal awning overhead. Directly in front of them was another set of doors that led to the other side of the U, Heth turned to the left instead, leading them down the longest part of the walkway toward a mishaped triangle of a building with flat points that Stanley hadn't seen from the road.


A fire alarm sounded. About damn time Stanley thought, relief he didn't understand entirely sweeping over him. Heth quickened his pace slightly but only slightly. Stanley noticed Hank was talking and judging from his tone had been but it was mostly incoherent. The triangle had a single set of double doors, steel doors painted dark green opened with a simple pull. Heth pulled it open and held it for his accomplices before stepping in behind them.


They stepped into a hallway not unlike the entrance hall with a smaller hallway lined with doors branching off to the right, ending in a dark auditorium.

"Stanley, the bag." Heth said. It took Stan a second, he'd forgotten all about the bag over his shoulder. He let it fall to the ground with a clang and unzipped it. Inside was a length of chain with a thick padlock, key in the hole, some handcuffs, and two grenades that were just loose in there. Something else he didn't recognize hid beneath the coil of chain, like a black box with some numbers printed on it.

"What the-" Heth interrupted Stanley, pushing him aside and grabbing the chain. In a manner of seconds he had it wrapped double tight around the door's handles, turned the lock and slid they key into his pocket. "You were planning this weren't you? You son of a bitch. Rob the bank and make our getaway to a wonderfully blessed by Sully's mustache SCHOOL?!"

"Okay, now. This is not the first time you've raised your voice to me. It's going to stop. Have I raised my voice to you?" Heth paused, actually looking for an answer. "Have I? At any point in the time that I've known you have I raised my voice? Ever?"

"No." Stanley fairly mumbled. "But I've never led you on an armed occupation of a damn elementary school!"

"It's a middle school. Well, they do have some elementary school classes. And, yes, that's the section of the school we're in. But I've told you, we aren't hurting any kids. But we need them to think we will. Especially the cops and the teachers. We don't need any heroes, right?" Heth said. "Right?" Stan nodded. "Yes, I did have something in mind but how odd would I have sounded if I told you I chose a target for a robbery due to its proximity to a school? Very odd, that's how. But my plan was just to get my things, get the money, maybe even some jewelry, but things didn't work out like that, did they? So we need a plan B." Stanley blew out a long breath, Heth put a hand on his shoulder. "It's easy to yell and kick your feet, isn't it? Harder to be a big boy."

"Heth!" Hank turned their attention back to the hallway. Three teachers, a black man who clearly loved his sweets, a blonde woman just a triscuit away from being a broomstick, and a homely little toad of a redhead, led a long line of students toward the door. Heth gave them time to close the gap before taking a few steps toward them and aiming his rifle at the blonde.

Laughter died abruptly. A scream was caught in the redhead's thick throat. The black man raised his hands and started muttering a prayer. The blonde's eyes widened and she opened her mouth but didn't scream. She started breathing heavily, near hyper-ventilating. Some kids shouted and cried, others just stared either out of fear or pure ignorance.

"Stay calm." Heth said gently, looking into the blonde woman's eyes. "You wouldn't want to start them panicking, would ya? They scatter and I'm going to hold down this trigger until I hear a click. Do you understand what I am saying to you?" A sob creeped out of her mouth and tears streamed from her eyes as she nodded. "Good." He looked past her. "Hey, kids!" His voice took on a new quality. Something almost like laughter or Heth's imitation of laughter was in it. "We're just going to take a break from class today, how's that sound?" Some kids nodded, some kids stared at their feet, one or two cheered. "So what's your teacher's name here?" He gestured to the broomstick with his rifle.

"Missus Leften." A curly haired girl hiding behind a giant pair of glasses supplied immediately.

"Missus? Just had to go and break my heart?" Heth licked the points of his teeth. "Now, Missus Leften, why don't we lead the kids out of the hallway? We shouldn't teach them to loiter. It's unbecoming and sometimes even illegal." Mrs. Leften nodded tersely and started moving back to the front of the line. "Heh. No, you stay right back here with me." He tapped the space between her shoulder blades with the barrel, making her whimper. "You too, Mister?"

"Green." The man said.

"Mr. Green, want you right there." Heth said. "You." Pointed to the red-headed toad. "Walk up there very slowly and do everything I say the second I say it. Or I will kill her." Another whimper. "Then him. Then a few of these kids. And then? I'll let you go. You can be a survivor. Write a book about how you let children die. Sound good?" Every inch of the woman was shaking. "Keep an eye on this one." He told Hank and Stan.


Stanley looked to his partner in crime but all the man did was shrug and point his machinegun at the back of Mr. Green's head. Stan asked someone, anyone, to forgive him under his breathe before raising his gun though he didn't point it at anyone in particular. Heth pulled out the little black box, pushed somethings on it, and ran a thin wire from it to the chain on the door. Left it sitting where it could be seen plainly by anyone on the other side of the door.


"Alright, let's move along." Heth said, turning back to the group. Ms. Toad slowly moved to the front of the line, tripping over her own feet. What a day to stuff herself into those heels. When she stood in the front she told all the kids to turn around one at a time. They moved down the hallway as one, Mrs. Leften setting their pace and Heth's assault rifle setting hers. They walked past bulletin boards littered with various projects, classroom doors covered in drawings, a wall that displayed the school's "Shining Stars."


Heth led them directly to the other side where he said the only other entrance was located. Three separate doors, older ones with chipped paint and push bars, with only a thin strip of wired glass to serve as a window in each. To their right was another decorated hallway of classrooms. On the left were bathrooms, a boy's and girl's. They didn't have doors but open hallways that made you turn a corner.


Heth locked all three doors. A flimsy defense, he knew, but he also knew they would check the other door first. They'd see the landmine he'd left for them and they'd assume this door was similarly fortified but they just couldn't see it. The power of ignorance.

"Sad to say this is where we part ways." Mrs. Leften sobbed and a few kids joined her. "Don't get dramatic now." He whispered against her neck. "All I'm going to do is leave a few of your charges with my friends here. Let the rest of us get to know each other better. Keep it cozy. That sound alright?" He pressed against her back and leaned his head over her shoulder. "Alright?" She sniffled and nodded.


Hank kept his gun on the group while Heth walked down the line. When he found a kid he wanted. he put his hand on their head and pulled them away from the pack. Reminded Stanley of watching duck-duck-goose. He noticed Heth was picking the older kids, the tall, gawky, generally less adorable. He chose a dark-haired boy in a red shirt to lead the line down into the boy's bathroom.


"Now you two stay here and watch them and these doors." Heth said, looking directly at Stanley when he said it. "Oh, yeah, before I forget." He reached into the seemingly endless pockets of his knee-length coat. "Take a grenade." He handed one to each of them. Stan didn't want to touch the thing but then Heth tossed it underhand and took want out of the equation. "If there's any trouble, I'll give you the word and you pull out the pin, count to three, and toss those into that bathroom." Ms. Toad started to cry quietly.

"What?!" Stan couldn't help himself.

"Stanley." Heth gave him an even look. "The rest of the class and I will be right down that hall. In shouting distance. Now I need both of you to be calm and know that I trust your judgment."


With that Heth pushed the rest of the class down the hall, leaving the pair of would-be bank robbers to stare and wonder. Their destination was the largest classroom in the building. It was a science lab. The teacher's desk sat just to the left of the door in front of a pair of dry erase boards. A black topped counter covered in a nearly impossible amount of containers and broken in places by sinks lined the left hand wall and turned the corner before giving way to large windows opened by the twist of a handle. Dark green cabinets covered every bit of available wall space. There was even a chemical shower in the corner by the door.


"Perfect." Heth said, enjoying the view. "Alright, kids you all go sit against the counter. Indian-style, you know how. Be neat about it, don't make Missus Leften worry." It took a minute for the kids to get sat and settled against the left wall. Some kids that truly didn't understand their situation complained about having to sit next to this kid or that kid. "Now I'm guessing both of you have a bad back." Heth said to Mr. Green and Ms. Toad. They nodded. "Get a chair and sit in that corner right in front of the kids. Keep your hands on your knees and don't move them for any reason. I mean any." They immediately complied.


"This is cozy isn't it?" Heth asked no one. He hopped up on a desk and let his rifle sit across his lap. Mrs. Leften kept her spot standing in front of him. Her chest heaved and occasionally her entire body shuddered. "I get that you're scared so I'm going to explain the situation to you. Understanding vanquishes fear, right? My friends and I have run into some trouble and we need a little help getting out of it. You guys don't mind helping, do you? You all look like good helpers." He watched the kids stare and a few nodded. "So what we're going to do is wait for the police to get set up and then I'm going to show them something. All you have to do to be good little helpers is sit right there. Then a few of us are going to go on a little field trip. Missus Leften will chaperone this trip. Now I'm not going to lie. You guys don't lie, right? No, you're all good boys and girls. This may be a long ride but after you get to go home and tell your mommies and daddies all about your adventure."

"You sick bastard." Mr. Green didn't even know he was saying it. He had thought it so loudly that it slipped out of his mouth. Heth looked into his eyes. Held the contact longer than strangers should before looking down at his rifle.

"I realize how inconvenient all this must be. I do, sincerely. And I realize I have no right to impose all of this upon you but," he stroke the trigger ever so gently, "this rifle holds fifty rounds. Rounds chambered in seven-sixty-two, full metal jacket. Now I spent six rounds on a police officer not a whole ten minutes ago. Another three can be found in the chest of your Deputy Riggs."

"You shot Denny?" Ms. Toad asked. Her voice was hoarse from silent crying. Heth thought it more befitting her appearance.

"I killed Denny." He corrected, her crying grew hysterical.

"He was a good man." Mr. Green said, staring at his hands.

"Everyone was a good person, no one ever is." Heth looked back to his gun. "So that leaves forty-one rounds. Enough to shoot all of you. Some of you twice. Full metal round will go straight through bone. Straight through a body sometimes, I've seen it happen."

"Do you really think you're going to just walk away from this?" Mr. Green demanded, eyes still on his hands.

"But, aside from shoot you, here's what I'll do if any of you try anything I find unseemly." Heth paused and looked around him. He walked over to the desk and picked up an ancient and clunky microscope. "I'll take this and cave one of these kid's skulls in and I'll make sure you live long enough to see every second of it."

"I have to go to the bathroom." A tiny black girl pleaded.

"Hold it or wet yourself."

"But it's a number two."

"Second verse same as the first."


"Ever play the quiet game?"


What had to be the most intense round of the quiet game in this school's history ensued. The only non-participant was Heth who was humming to himself. Mrs. Leften wasn't sure but it sounded like the tune to "The Sweet By and By." He watched the cars speed by on the road, smiled slightly when he saw another squad car pull into the lot. He could faintly hear the sirens. Checked his watch and decided now was as good a time as any. Pull out his prepaid and dialed the number to the main office, put it on speaker.


"Yes?" A man's voice, deep and scratchy, answered.

"That's no way to answer the phone, officer." Heth reprimanded. "I'm right, right?"

"Who is this?"

"This is a well-armed man sitting in a classroom filled with kids." He winked at the students. "Who is this?"

"This is Lieutenant Jimenez. And you should know we have the entire grounds surrounded and that if you walk out now-"

"I'll stop you right there, Jimenez, we've all seen this movie. And I know you don't nearly have the grounds surrounded or else I'd be looking right at you."

"There's only more cars on the way, along with best damn SWAT team in the state. How many men do you have?"

"It's how many children I have that you should be worried about."

"Now listen here you will n-" Heth rolled his eyes.

"Clearly you're more of a talker than a listener." The murderer said. "And I'll guess the negotiator isn't on the scene as you're still on the line, giving me the business. But that's just fine, we don't need one. Because, you see, this is not a negotiation. Your boys puzzle out where we are?"

"They're performing an extensive search of the grounds and they'll find you and what-"

"Okay, neato, but we're all cozied up in the elementary building."

"We already figured as much." Jimenez said in a tone that led Heth to believe he was meant to be impressed with the statement.

"Yeah, well, tell your boys not to jiggle those chains too much. Actually, it'd be best to knock first. But why don't we just get right on down to business? What I need you to do, Lieutenant Jimenez is-"

"That's not how this works." Jimenez barked. Heth took a long breath.

"That's exactly how this works." Heth's voice was the devil's itself. "Why don't you just ask Missus Leften?" He held the phone by her face. "Go on, don't be rude."

"Please, officer." The teacher said, her voice thick with tears she wouldn't let fall. "He has a gun. So many guns and he keeps looking at the children like-" She paused to take a shaky breath. "And he's going to kill us. He said it. Said he would b-ba..." she sobbed, "bash the kids' heads in." She started to cry and bit her lip.

"Got a comeback for that one?" Heth asked. "Thought you wouldn't. Now I need you to come over here and take a look at something. It's a surprise but don't try to guess, that just ruins it. Come over to the south side, that's the side facing the little two lane road back here, the one with the big windows, yeah. Oh, and keep a reasonable distance. I'm sure you know that but a reminder never hurt anyone. Call me back as soon as you're in position."


Heth hung up and led Mrs. Leften over to the kids. He scanned the line up and down a few times before settling on a cute little redhead with freckles and curls.

"I love My Little Pony." Heth said, nodding at her T-shirt covered entirely with colorful anime ponies. "My favorite one's Pretty Pies."

"You mean Pinkie Pie?" The girl asked.

"Probably. Want to lend me a hand, sweetness?"

"No, don't do this. I'll do anything you want. Anything, I mean it, just leave her alone." Mrs. Leften pleaded. Heth used his rifle to push her into her fellow educators. When she tried to step back he pushed the barrel into her cheek until she sat on the floor, indian-style.

"What do I need to do?" The girl asked.

"Not much." Heth tightened the strap on his rifle to keep it in place. He took the girl's tiny hand in his own and pulled out his sidearm. "Just walk with me to the other side of the room." He led her toward the windows. He turned his head to be sure the teachers saw him raise his gun and put it to the back of her head. He'd like to think he'd already made himself perfectly clear but some people had trouble keeping perspective where fear was involved.


He hopped onto the windowsill and opened it. He could see two squad cars cutting furrows into the lawn, turning sharply to a stop so that the driver's side doors were away from the school. Two fair-skinned officers stepped out along with a dark skinned mustache of a man whom Heth accurately guessed was Jimenez. Heth pulled the little girl into his lap, so that she mostly covered him and bounced his knee a little to keep her entertained. A second or so after the police squatted behind their cars, Heth's phone rang. He answered, put it on speaker and set it beside him.


"What is it?" Jimenez demanded, anger and other things fighting to control the pitch of his voice.

"Straight to the point and I commend you for it. So I know you haven't had time to get any snipers into position out there. Don't waste time denying it, this girl doesn't have any left to waste. But you have binoculars in your cruiser, yeah?"


"Well, pull 'em out, man, want to make sure you see every bit of this." Heth saw movement on the other side of the cars and watched it carefully. Retrieved his gun and put it against Red's ribs just in case.

"I've got them." Jimenez said. Heth could see him standing upright now, still on the other side of his cruiser, with glints where his eyes should be.

"Okay." Heth holstered his sidearm. "Don't blink." He slid a grenade out of one of the pouches in his belt. He held it high so it could be seen clearly. Then he pulled out the pin and threw it out the window, kept a tight grip on the rest. One of the women, couldn't say which screamed, and Mr. Green beseeched the Lord for mercy. "So there you have it. You try anything cute. Try to sharpshoot me. Try to breach. Any of that call of duty nonsense and I will drop this grenade. This lever with detach. Half these kids will be paste, the other half otherwise injured and scarred for life." Some of the kids finally caught on and started crying. "And if you decide these children do, in fact, deserve to die, I've got friends, also with grenades. They've got kids herded into the bathrooms. An explosion in a concrete box. Think about that." Heth wished he'd brought binoculars just to see the look on Lt. Jimenez's face.

"What do you want?" Heth smiled at the crack in the cop's voice.

"I want a school bus fully fueled and ready to go. I want traffic well out of our way so that we can make it to the one-eighteen. Before you get any bright ideas, these kids will be riding with us. And this grenade will still be in my hand. I won't be putting it down, right? If the bus so much as rattles I'll drop it. If a car that looks funny tries to merge, I'll drop it. You see where this is going right?"

"You expect me to believe you'll just kill yourself along with those kids?" A little cackle had returned to Jimenez. Heth imagined him saying I have you now in a James Earl Jones voice.

"I've never expected anyone to believe anything. That's how belief works, right? But I do expect you to understand that my perception of death and yours are two very different things." There were oceans shallower than the conviction in Heth's voice. "Now, if I was you, I'd go ahead and get a jump on that. You can wait for the SWAT or the federales, turn this into a proper standoff, but keep in mind that my grip may very well falter. Don't call us, we'll call you." With that Heth hung up and turned off his phone. "I think that went really well." Heth told the little girl. "How about you?"

"I don't know." She said.

"Sure you do." Heth said. "Alright, get up and go join you classmates."


Heth watched the cops spin their gears for a while longer before closing the window. He moved over with his hostages and pulled up his own chair. The teachers stared at the grenade in his hand, quickly averting their eyes when his would come around. They wondered how strong his grip was. Both on the grenade and his own damned sanity. The kids were whispering, some were crying, some proclaimed they were scared. Heth reminded them gently that they were playing the quiet game and that he didn't like rule breakers. Not a bit.


"It'll probably take them some time to get our little field trip ready." Heth glanced toward the windows. "How about a story? Silence is a terrible way to pass the time, right? You guys want to hear a story?" The teachers cursed and prayed under their breath. Most of the kids wouldn't look at him, the other half shook their head. "No? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway." He beamed at them without teeth.

"It really all started back when I was in Elementary School. Yeah, just like you guys. The school wasn't as nice as this one but my hometown is nowhere near as nice as this one, either. Actually, this whole elementary and middle school together bit is a new one for me. Must help with the transition, though, huh?" Nobody was sure who he was asking and so no one responded. "Anyway. In those days I was a very heavy child. I ate a lot of candies. Pop-tarts every morning along with the most sugary of cereals. Sometimes I'd even drop another scoop of sugar in there. You guys do that? Add a little sugar?" Red nodded. "My parents did not instill nutritional values in me. People say blaming my parents is just an excuse but I was just a kid. I didn't understand the concept of fat or insulin, all I understood was that blueberry pop-tarts covered in sour patch kids are delicious. They didn't instill proper dental hygeine in me, either. Truth be told my parents weren't around to instill much of anything in me. You couldn't cram me into a pipe and smoke me so I wasn't worth the time, obviously. But, yeah, my teeth were all yellow and crooked and jagged. I've got new teeth now, though, see." He smiled broadly to show them his perfect pearls.


"But back then they were awful which means I deserved to be insulted, right? What else could it mean? On a daily basis. Hourly basis, half-hourly basis, whichever. Snaggletooth was a common one. I know, not very clever but we were just kids. Fatty, of course, and all the variations thereof." Heth paused for what looked like a silent laugh. "There was this one guy in particular. You all know this guy, you've known dozens of this guy. In fact I see a couple of him right in this room. He was the biggest and his parents were divorced so that gave him the right to do or say whatever he wanted, of course. His name was Taylor. He bothered everyone, guys like him do such things, but I was a special project. He was always coining new terms, at the cutting edge of being a bully. One he loved to call me was hunchback. All my excess mass really did a number on my posture, you see. Really I was just a bit more stooped than the others, quite a bit south of being an actual hunchback but he was very proud of it." This time Heth chuckled audibly. "The crazy part? He was just as heavy as I was. If not heavier. No, definitely heavier. His posture was also terrible, nigh-scoliosis, but he was just so much taller and broader. Evened him out."


"Needless to say I didn't have many friends. Or any. Even after I left elementary behind I'd built up such a guard that I hardly talked to anyone. Taylor was there year after year. Though I was granted a few reprieves in high school when he was suspended. Then, one day, he was just gone. Nobody said where he went. Nobody mentioned him at all. It was almost like he never existed. But he had. I was proof of that." Heth smiled the smile of a storyteller who knew the good part was coming up. "Years and years went by as they tend to. I shaved all that weight off, got my new chompers, cut my hair different, the whole nine as someone said. One night I was walking down the street. I remembered having a real skip in my step, don't remember why, though. And who would be walking down the street, heading my way? Why, it was Taylor, who else would it possibly be?"


"He wasn't half the giant he used to be. He was just another skeleton with skin pulled across, bloodshot eyes ready to pop out, scabs that had been picked far too many times dotting his fesh. He smiled when he saw me, called out my name, jogged up to meet me. I'll be honest it took me more than a second to process what was happening." Heth shook his head. "I realized, then that he hadn't thought about the way he treated me for a second. Not once in all this time. In his mind I was just another old acquaintance, a former classmate. But I'd thought about him. Every time I tried to start a conversation but couldn't find the words." He scanned the crowd to make sure no one was taking advantage of story time. He was surprised to find all eyes on him, though they immediately looked away. "We went through the usual pleasantries but he wasted no time asking me if I could find some horse. That's heroin, kids. I've never used drugs in my life and have no intention to. I could have told him that. Sent him on his way. But instead I said of course and follow me."

"I led him on a decent hike, his voice buzzing in my ear all the while trying to play catch up. I noticed he didn't mention my past as a snaggletoothed, hunchbacked, retarded, fatass. I waited until we were a few miles into the wrong neighborhood. I really can't think of a way to convey it to you tads. It was a very bad place filled with very bad people, including the two of us." Heth stared at his right hand for a time. "I waited until we were under a streetlamp then I turned around and shot him in the head. Hit him right here." Heth pointed to a space just above his left eyebrow. "Funny enough, he didn't die right away. He laid there for a few minutes just rattling around, eyes rolling back into his head, odd grunts that may've been supposed to be words. I squatted down beside him and covered his mouth and nose, just helped him along his way. He died with eighty dollars, a half empty pack of marlboro menthols and a gas station lighter in his pocket. I stayed there for a second, looking into his empty eyes and watching everything that once was Taylor ooze out of the back of his head."


"Then I was struck with an epiphany. From the very first second I met him, Taylor was dead. Our story, Taylor's and mine, had its beginning and middle and then its end. That first time Taylor made fun of the way my face looked, he was practicing to catch that bullet. As soon as something's beginning is determined, so to is its end. The middle is all just a comedy too clever to be funny. So I leave you with this thought, when I walked into this school today did I walk into your middle or your end?"


Stanley had to peel the damn ski mask off his face just about. The cool air turned his face into a sheet of ice but it didn't bring any relief. He tried to wipe some of the sweat off with the mask but it was far too soaked already. Couldn't imagine how it must have been for Hank with that thick beard of his and stringy hair that covered his ears, matted to his face now. They'd both reached the conclusion to pull off their masks without speaking. Tried to remember how to breathe.


Stanley didn't know what to say all he knew is that there was plenty to say. He found himself just staring at Hank, Hank avoiding his eye. Kept walking back into the bathroom and checking on the kids. They were all sitting in the floor, apparently as Heth left them. They would stop whispering as soon as they heard Stan's boot hit the tiles, making him nervous. The grenade was starting to feel heavy in his hand. Hank said it was safe, told him to put it in his pocket. But Stanley would be damned if he was going to put an explosive in his pocket.


"Stop looking at me like chat, God dammit." Hank finally said. "This ain't on me. You can't put this on me."

"This ain't on you?!" Stanley couldn't help but shout. Took a breath. "You said this wouldn't be a problem. All I've heard for the last two weeks was that when were going to get paid. Not just enough to get by but really live with. Remember that? Remember how no one was supposed to get hurt?"

"Well, both of those things was supposed to happen wasn't they?" Hank snorted and shook his head. "A cop in the bank. I can't remember any jackboy, meth-head or tweaker dumb enough to run into something like that. And, y'know what? We're lucky Heth ain't said nothing about it, yet. Be damn lucky if he never did."

"Heth." Stanley ground his teeth. He'd been trying to stop, felt like he was going to file the things down to nubs if he kept on. "How the fu-" Realized he was yelling again and caught himself. "Why would you ever even want to be in the same room as a guy like that?"

"Hey, now, Heth's always done right by me." Hank said. Stanley's expression could only be described as stupefied, felt like slapping the stupid out of that sentence. "Before all this, I mean. And, hell, he's doing right by us now. We ain't arrested is we?"

"No, we're in a school with grenades in our hands."

"Mine's in my pocket." Stan wondered what an annuerism felt like. "All I'm saying is if he didn't have this here plan we'd be in nine man playing spades for honey buns by now."

"If we'd left as soon as we saw the cop, we'd be home by now. Les'd be, too. What was in those boxes?" Hank shook his head. Stanley had a thought. "Did you know about this? Your boy Heth tell you plan B was a grade school massacre?"

"What?" Hank couldn't believe what he just heard. "How the- What? How the hell you gonna ask me something like chat? Like we ain't known each other our whole damned lives? You think I like this -BLAM!-? 'Cause I don't, not a squirt, but we've got to deal with it."

"Or we can dip out now." Stan said, Hank immediately shook his head. "The cops are busy with his crazy ass. Sneak out the side, run through the woodline, jack a car at the Target and we're gone."

"How you think Heth'll take chat?" Hank asked. "Hmm? Don't think he'll like it."

"Let the cops take care of him. -BLAM!-'s sake, guy like that probably loves prison."

"Well, he doesn't and what if this works?" Stanley was exasperated. "I know it's just 'bout unthinkable and before you say it, no I'm not throwing no grenade at no damn kids. But what kind of cop is going to risk that? More important, you want to risk crossing Heth? I know I damn sure don't. So let's just ride this out, see where it goes, and do what crazy ass says."

"Damn it, Hank. Just damn it, damn it, dammit, dammit."


They heard the sound of a metal door creaking open behind them, heard a girl shout for someone to stop. Stanley whipped around just in time to see a red shirt disappear through the threshold. His first instinct was just to let the kid go but the thought Hank planted in his head whispered, what if it works? How would Heth take it?

"Go, man!" Hank shouted.


Stanley wanted to ask him why he couldn't go but instead he cursed at the top of his lungs and ran through the door. As soon as he set foot on the cracked sidewalk, he heard, well, he heard a clap of thunder. Close, too. Close enough to make his ears ring, make all his hair stand on end. Like it was just around the corner. Was certain he heard a boy's wail drowned in the sound. Christ almighty did that boy just get struck by lightning? Looked up and didn't see a cloud in the sky.


Not sure what to think, Stanley hopped off the sidewalk and ran around the corner, nearly tripped all over himself. He didn't see the boy in the red shirt. What he did see was a man. A very tall and wide man. Easily six-six, with a sixty inch chest, and arms that made trees look tiny. He had dark hair whipped back and piercing eyes. Was dressed completely in red and gold, what had to be a lightning bolt was blazened across his chest. A short white cape covered one arm.


"H-ho-holy -BLAM!-." Stanley's mouth just dangled open. "Are," he swallowed, "are you Superman?" Captain Marvel grinned broadly and shook his head. "Well." Stanley tried to pull himself back together. "You get the hell out of here!" Raised his pistol. "If you don't I'll sh-" The World's Mightiest Mortal turned into a red blur. Stan felt something he wouldn't have doubted to be the hand of God grab the front of his coat. The next second he was off his feet, the schoolhouse shrinking beneath him.


The Speed of Mercury carried them heavenward. Stanley's scream was forced back down into his throat. He lost his gun and grenade somewhere in the ascension. Probably not long after he completely lost his wits. All he could see was the Captain's grin or endless blue swirling everywhere around him. They came to a sudden stop, just standing on nothingness. Stanley looked down and wished he hadn't. The school was at least ten stories below. He felt himself get light headed, forgot how to breathe, his heart was beating too fast.


"You were saying?" Captain Marvel asked, voice resonant yet somehow soothing. Stan stared at the hero, lip quivering like a schoolboy, chest heaving. He made a yelping noise that was meant to be a shout before his eyes rolled back into his head and he went limp in Marvel's hands. They were back on the schoolgrounds in the next second. Captain Marvel held Stanley's unconscious form in one hand like he was a pillow. With one firm press of his foot, the steel door fell completely off its hinges.


Hank turned his head just in time to see his friend flying through the air, felt Stan's bony shoulder slam into his chest. The impact knocked him completely off his feet and the gun from his hand. He landed flat on his back and his wind left him in a rush. Stanley's body pinned him down but he couldn't move regardless. Something was broken, had to be. The worst pain he ever felt echoed through his chest. It tripled when Captain Marvel put a knee in Stanley's back. Hank looked up at the hero with wide and helpless eyes. Watched him curl his index finger behind his thumb, lean down and hold it by his temple. Then, he let it go. The thump hit Hank like a crowbar and he lost consciousness on impact.


Marvel doubted they'd be getting up any time soon but grabbed their guns just to be safe. The Strength of Hercules made metal feel more like paper in his hands and he literally ripped the weapons down to the tiniest pieces he could. The Wrath of Zeus hammered in his chest as he flew down the hallway. The door to the lab was locked but Marvel gave it a light push with his palm and the mechanism immediately snapped, hinges groaned and the door just swung open.


Heth jumped out of his chair so fast it fell to the ground with a crash. He immediately stood in front of his hostages, grenade outstretched and ready to drop. Captain Marvel took a a long step in but stopped in the doorway, fists at his hips and chest swelled. As soon as Heth saw him he laughed. It wasn't anything mocking or manical or cold but a genuine, heart-felt belly laugh.


"The Big Red Cheese." He said, wiping a tear from his eye. "Did not expect to see any of your kind here. I should be flattered, I suppose. But." His smile faded. "I'm not."

"Just give it up, Heth." Captain Marvel ordered. "Hand me that grenade, drop your weapons, and step outside with your hands up."

Heth took a deep breath, made a face like he was mulling it over. Exhaled in a rush against his closed lips, making them flutter with a funny sound accompanying the motion. "No." And with that he tossed the live grenade onto the little MLP fan's lap.


Heth took off for the door. Captain Marvel turned into a red blur. They crossed paths in the middle and the momentum nearly knocked Heth off his feet. Caught himself on a desk and pushed off through the door. Marvel grabbed the grenade and jump through the window, shattering it. Lt. Jimenez dropped his binoculars and his jaw, staring at the World's Mightiest Mortal flying over his head. As soon as he was clear of the school he threw the grenade up as hard as he could. Didn't stay to watch the fireworks.


He flew back into the room and paused just long enough to make sure all the kids were unharmed. They cheered and laughed and applauded, the teachers thanked God. Captain Marvel didn't stay to bask in their praise, he was flying down the hallway the next second. Turned the corner a second later, just in time to see Heth tossing another grenade into the bathroom. He thought of Mary and Freddy. Followed the grenade while Heth ran through the doorway Marvel himself had emptied not two minutes ago.


The grenade echoed through the entire school as it hit the blue tiles of the bathroom floor. The kids all screamed and cursed and fell over each other trying to run away. Captain Marvel nearly slammed into the quickest of the children as he dashed in. The Courage of Achilles forced his hand. He seized the grenade with both hands, ran into the stall and bolted the door behind him. Held the explosive against his chest and tightened his body into the smallest ball he could, his back to the door.


The children screamed and gasped at the muffled explosion. The stall's door whined as it fell to the ground. The Stamina of Atlas preserved Captain Marvel, maybe a hair was out of place. He flew out of the building before the kids could even process what had happened. As much as he liked a good game, this was not the kind he liked to play. Decided to end it. He flew above the school and saw Heth sprinting off toward the woodline beside the school. Away from the parking lot, the road, and all the police officers waiting for him.


Captain Marvel landed directly in Heth's path and brought the murdering to a grinding halt. He didn't waste a millisecond grabbing another grenade and throwing it. Marvel caught and tossed it high, high into the air above them. Heth had shouldered his rifle as soon as the grenade left his hand. He fired a long burst at Captain Marvel's chest but the mighty mortal was at his side the instant the bullet left the gun. He seized the rifle by its silencer and put his fist through the side of its barrel.


Heth immediately let the destroyed gun go and jumped back, already drawing his sidearm. If you asked him, he wouldn't be able to tell you what his plan was for besting the Big Red Cheese. But he couldn't go down without a fight, right? The gun roared out two shots before Captain Marvel grabbed the barrel and gave it a squeezed, crushing it. Heth swore one shot had to've hit home in the hero's midsection but it didn't seem to bother him.


Heth let Captain Marvel keep the gun and reached for his knife. He was bested on the first stab, Marvel catching the blade between his index and middle fingers and twisting his hand to snap the blade clean off. Heth threw the hilt aside and reached for the pins of two grenades on his belt. Captain Marvel decided enough was enough. All Heth could see was red and gold swirling around him, felt his body getting pulled in a dozen different directions at once.


When the whirlwind stopped, Heth was standing there in just his t-shirt and jeans. Captain Marvel held all his weapons and explosives balled up in his big coat. "Not bad." Heth said, wagging a finger at the hero. Marvel responded by punching him in the gut. Saliva and a bit of blood expelled from his mouth as he bowled over. Hadn't meant to punch him that hard but he figured that Heth could take it.


"Just one more thing." Captain Marvel said, seizing Heth by the scruff of his neck and flying back into the building. He stopped in front of the chained door. The Wisdom of Solomon guided Marvel's hands as he disarmed the mine. Then he snapped the lock off with one hand and snatched the chain free. Dropped Heth on his belly and used the chain to hog tie the man. Took a second to double check his handiwork, standing in his typical pose, before flying out in search of a place to call down Zeus' Power. He had a lot of homework to do.


When Billy Batson returned to school the next day it was all anyone could talk about and would be for quite some time. The kids that had been in the bathroom asked him what had happened after he tried to run, told them a story about how the bad guys had caught him but Captain Marvel showed up just in the nick of time. Mary and Freddy grinned knowingly at him every time he told it. Captain Marvel occasionally got letters from the State Penitentiary, mailed to the Hall of Justice and forwarded to him by a disgruntled Bat. Heth seemed pretty sure he'd be free any day now and that he would find a way to kill him and soon.


All Billy could think to say to that was, "Shazam!"


So be honest with yourself and the internet, who saw it coming?


Warned for swearing.