John grabbed his head
with both hands and
pressed, like his head was in a vice. He shook it back and
forth violently. A
moment later the thrashing stopped. He stood looking at the
door, calm and still,
and instead of turning the doorknob he locked it.
Smith what is wrong?”
Max Sheehan turned around and faced her, smiling and tilting his head to
one side. “There is no
Mr. Smith, Mrs. Hawthorne; there never was.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
walked around her slowly, circling his prey and devouring it from
head to toe with his
demand you stop this behavior. You’re scaring me.”
grabbed her by the back of the neck and pulled her into his chest. The
more she wriggled to get
free the tighter his grip became. He whispered into her
ear. “Scared? You don’t
know the meaning of the word.”
released her. Gina ran two steps until the back of his hand smashed
into her face. She lay
horizontal in the air like a wrestler that just got clothes-lined,
and then she dropped,
her head bouncing off the marble tile, knocking her
The security system had been installed in the Hawthorne mansion at the
same time the house was
built—twenty-three years ago. The idea of updating the
system had never even
come up. The Hawthornes had never had so much as a
peeping tom on the
premises, and there was already security a mile down the road
at the guard shack in
front of the entrance to their subdivision. The private security
guards made routine
drive-bys throughout the rich neighborhood several times
around the clock. The
only problem of course was that John Smith’s truck was on
the list of authorized
vehicles because of his work at the mansion.
Heather stood in front of the keypad looking at the different buttons. There
was a red bell that she
took to mean “alarm”. Even if the security system was not
wired to the local
police via phone line a blaring siren might get the attention of the
houses nearby or even
the guard shack. Heather pushed it.
nothing happened after several seconds she pressed it again. And
when there was no sign
of life she pressed the other two buttons. One was a
musical note with a line
through it, which Heather assumed was for a silent alarm.
other was a flame for the fire department. Neither one of them produced a
response from the
plastic keypad on the wall.
Heather scampered down the hallway to her room, shutting and locking
the door behind her. She
pulled out her cell phone from her jeans’ pocket, flipping
it open and pressing
9-1-1. The display read “low battery” and there were no bars
left on the power meter.
The call dialed but never connected. Again she pressed
the green button and the
numbers dialed but did not connect. She scrolled through
her phone book on the
display and hit the name “Tony.” The call connected and
began to ring but there
wasn’t an answer, not even a voice mail. Back and forth
she went from Tony’s
cell to 9-1-1 until eventually the light from her display went
dark and the phone was
completely dead. She jumped across her bed, and found
the cordless phone
missing from her nightstand. She dropped down to the floor
and looked under the
bed. She ripped through the pillows and stuffed animals
propped up against the
headboard. She scanned her dresser, her makeup chair,
bookshelves—all in vain.
She ran to her bathroom, rummaged through the sink,
tore open the doors,
looked in the shower, the closet, the hamper—no phone. At
that moment the lights
in the house went out. Only the light from the moon came
in through the drapes.
John Smith had found the circuit breaker.
Heather slid back across her bed, stopped at the door in front of her, and
unlocked it. Slowly,
trying to avoid the softest creak of its hinges, she opened it
and peeked her head out.
Down the long now dark hallway at the top of the stairs
was the gray shadowy
outline of John Smith. She could see the bulkiness of his
bandaged left arm. Even
with the absence of light his eyes seemed to sparkle like a
cat. And they saw her at
only chance was to get the phone in her parents’ room. It was caddy-corner
from hers, a mere forty
feet to the left. John was at least a hundred feet
away but he was already
sprinting down the hallway. Heather took a deep breath
and bolted diagonally
across the hall, too scared to look at her pursuer’s location
and too full of
adrenaline to veer off course.
jumped through the doorway, feeling John’s fingertips swipe at the
ends of her blonde locks
and landed on her knees. She turned and grabbed the
doorknob, hoping to slam
the door and lock it at the same time. It wouldn’t shut;
the bandaged hand of
John Smith was grasping the doorjamb.
Heather jumped to her feet, pulled open the door slightly and with all her
weight and might slammed
it on the hand of her attacker. John let out an agonizing
bellow but still held to
the frame of the doorway. Heather repeated the maneuver
again and again, this
time in shorter strokes. Open and slam. Open and slam.
Finally, the hand receded, and the door closed. Heather tried to turn the
for good measure. It did
phone sat in the corner of the room on a nightstand. It was white with
gold trim around the
base, mouth, and earpieces. Her body was trembling and
when she ordered her
legs to run, but they only staggered. She could feel her heart
pounding against her rib
cage. Her fingers pressed the three emergency digits once
more as she put the
receiver to her ear. No ring. No dial tone. Only silence. She
pressed down the holder
and let go, only to hear the automated voice of a woman.
you would like to make a call, please hang up and try again.” Then it dawned
on her. John had taken
one of the receivers off the hook downstairs.
Heather slid down the nightstand as if she were melting, still holding the
phone, and now crying.
There was a pounding sound from the middle of the door
and Heather could see it
jarring violently with each blow. It was not if John’s
shoulder could bust down
the door, but when. Roman was right, there were only
two choices, and now she
was down to the last of them. Through her tears she
could see her mother’s
purse lying on the bed. She could either sit there and die, or
do something and have a
chance to live. Struggling to regain control of herself,
Heather walked over to
didn’t lie. He drank only one beer. Me and Carl had no problem
guzzling down the other
eleven. With each beer the conversation slowed and by
the end of the twelve
pack, the stadium crew shut down the lights of the stadium.
It was our cue to go
home I guess.
Pinto fired on the first try. Carl sat in the front seat because the Tavern
was the first stop.
Roman sat in the back seat looking out the window at the night
sky, probably reciting
names of stars and constellations in that restless brain of his.
Halfway to Carl’s watering hole—as he called it—our odd but astute friend
noticed my cell phone
under the console. “Say guy, I think your phone is trying to
tell ya something.”
picked it up, noticing the blinking display—4 missed calls. Secretly I
wished at least one of
those calls were from Sally, even if it was just to tell me
good game. But they were
all from Heather’s cell phone. I clicked on her number
but it went right to her
voice mail. “Huh, that’s odd. Four missed calls all from
she leave a message?” Roman asked.
“No message.” I scrolled to the call time and noticed that all four calls
occurred in the same
minute. “She called four times in a row, but didn’t leave a
you mind if I take a look?” Roman asked.
handed the phone back as we pulled up in front of The Tavern.
thanks fella. Carl owes ya.”
don’t owe me anything Carl, that’s what partners are for, right?”
Roman got out of the back and sat in the passenger seat. Carl shut the door
but leaned in through
the window. “Aye partners, and I’d just like to say how
lucky Carl is in having
you fellas as such. Probably wouldn’t been around this
long if it weren’t for
the two of ya.”
stuck his hand out to shake. “You’re all right yourself Carl.”
fellas take good care of yourselves now. Stay away from the crack
Any other night Carl would be hopping out of the car in a beeline for the
Tavern door. But
tonight, as I drove off, I could see him in the rear mirror view
standing on the sidewalk
with his hand up, as if he were saying one final goodbye.
“Heather’s house line is busy,” Roman said. “Why would she call four
times in a row unless it
“Maybe she didn’t call. Maybe the phone was just in her pocket and she
bumped it or something.
You know how those cell phones are.”
Hawthorne’s have call waiting. The only way the line would be busy
is if there was trouble
with the phone lines or the phone was off the hook.
Something is wrong. I
just have a feeling.”
“You want me to take you up there?”
“If you don’t mind.”
fifth ram of John’s shoulder broke the lock and the door burst open,
through the air. A glance in front of him, then to his left. He
looked behind what
remained of the door hanging on its hinges. He didn’t have
time to react. The mace
hit his eyes at point-blank range and stung immediately.
This was probably the
first time Heather was thankful for Gina’s disregard
for the feelings of her
fellow human beings. On her mother’s key chain was
always a tiny bottle of
the eye irritant, and while Gina always talked of using it on
the would-be thugs and
thieves of lower class society, Heather was grateful to be
using it on John Smith.
She sprayed the contents of the small can into the killer’s
face until it blew
nothing but air.
John lunged at her with closed eyes and managed to grab hold of her.
Without one thought,
Heather kneed him in the testicles. And when he grabbed his
crotch she planted her
knuckles in an upper cut directly to the bottom of his nose.
Blood sprayed through
the air. John’s groan was the only sound until the dull thud
of his knees hit the
Heather stood with her fists clinched, ready to go to war with him. But
when he made no effort
to get up, the voice of reason crept back into her head. It
was that voice she
listened to as she ran down the hallway to the staircase, yelling
for her mother. There
was no response.
scouring the entire first floor eventually she found her mother on the
sofa in her relaxation
room with mouth, wrists, and ankles duct taped. Heather
ripped the tape from
Gina’s mouth. Her mother’s eyes were filled with tears but
she was conscious.
dear, are you all right?” Gina whispered.
“We’ve got to get out of here mother. He’s still up stairs.”
“I can’t move.”
Heather tried to rip the tape from her mother’s ankles but it was wound
around tight several
times. “I’ll be right back.”
“No don’t leave me, I beg you, Heather!”
Heather left without
arguing, bypassing the staircase and running for the
kitchen. She found her
way in the dark by feeling for the refrigerator, then the
counter top, stove, and
finally the rack of knives. She felt for the thickest handle
and pulled the butcher
knife from its sheath. She heard water run upstairs, no
doubt Mr. Smith washing
the mace from his eyes in one of the bathrooms.
Heather sprinted back to
the relaxation room with knife in hand. She could
hear the voice of her
kindergarten teacher telling her to never ever run with
scissors in your hand.
Miss Joyce would have to forgive her.
She sawed first through the tape on her mother’s ankles and then on her
wrists. She pulled her
mother up and caught her around the waist when Gina’s
knees buckled beneath
her. “I’m so dizzy. I hit my head on the floor earlier.”
hold on to my waist and I’ll lead us out.”
There was a loud thump at the top of the stairs and then several smaller
ones, like the low roll
of a bowling ball. Heather proceeded anyway, holding the
knife out away from her
body. And though it shook with the tremors in her hand,
there was no doubt she
would cut John Smith’s throat if it came to it.
they passed through the doorway to the stairs, John jumped from the
seventh step and knocked
them to the floor. Heather lost her grip and the knife slid
across the marble tile
into the room from which they had just come. All three of
them wallowed on the
floor for a moment, dazed from the crash.
was first to his feet and went for the knife. Heather helped her mother
up and dragged her to
the door. Heather went for the lock but John charged, knife
in hand. Having no
choice she veered away from the door.
took several swipes but missed. Realizing he had easier prey, John
pulled Gina up from the
floor and stood behind her holding the steel blade to her
throat. “Move into the
room.” John nodded toward the relaxation room.
“Don’t do it Heather,” Gina said as she gasped for air. “If you go in, he’ll
kill us both. If you
run, you’ll live. Leave me.”
Heather saw the tears in her mother’s eyes and they started to flow once
again in her own. It
would be easy enough to open the double doors next to her for
freedom. But there was
no way she could get to the guard shack or anywhere else
for that matter in time
to save her mother. John would kill her before he fled, out
of spite if for nothing
Heather walked into the room in front of John and her mother. She now
knew what fear was, what
people thought moments before they were to be tortured
or killed, what Roman’s
mother must have felt six years ago in her basement.
Numbness went through Heather’s body—some sort of defense mechanism the
brain produced when it
couldn’t accept the atrocity of a situation.
John pushed Gina down on the sofa. He stood behind the couch with the
knife still at her
throat. “Take the tape and tie her wrists, ankles, and mouth,” John
Heather obliged. Her motions were slow and deliberate, emotionless from
shock, thinking all the
while that every second she obeyed bought more time to
keep her and her mother
alive. Maybe her father would come home from his
business trip. Maybe the
security system did send out a silent distress and the
police would come
crashing in. Maybe Roman would somehow know she was in
trouble and save her
cut the cord of a lamp next to the window and fashioned it around the
duct tape surrounding
Gina’s wrist. He pulled it tight, strung it over the back of
the sofa, and tied the
other end to one of the sofa legs. Now, Gina could only
off your jeans,” John said.
Heather unbuttoned them, and slid them down to the floor. “You don’t
have to do this. You
could turn and leave and nobody would follow you. Nobody
would stop you. You
could drive off and disappear and start somewhere new like
none of this ever
down on the floor.”
then I could be a normal teenager. I could go to the Prom and
graduate with my
friends, go to college and become a doctor and help people.”
up!” John walked up to her, stopped only a few feet away and
gestured with the knife.
“Get on the floor.”
Heather lay down on the floor. “I could marry some day and have kids of
my own. I could take
them for bike rides to the park. I would hug them, kiss
them, and love them. I
would make them feel warm and safe, like my parents did
for me. I would tell
them everyday how much they meant to me, how special they
were. How I would never
let anything happen to them.”
wiped his swollen eyes with his bandaged hand, trying not to listen.
He looked at the
half-naked body at his feet. Her eyes were unafraid.
can rape me and kill me. But you can never take my heart. You can
never feel who I am. You
can’t take my memories. You’ll never erase my father
taking me for ice cream,
my dance lessons when I was three, the games I cheered
at, the songs on the
piano, the hugs and kisses, shooting basketball in the driveway,
lunch with my friends,
running in the morning with the sun along side me,
laughter.” Heather had
gotten to her feet now and was face to face with the
monster. “You can kill
me but you’ll never take my life.”
stood there staring at her. Never had he encountered one such as her.
The rest of them had
begged and pleaded for their lives at one point or another. He
could see the fear
shiver through their skin and echo in their eyes. It was the fear
that fueled him, that
fed the black hole in his empty soul and satisfied it at least for
a short while. But not
this one. She stood in front of him and spoke the wishes of
a child, wishes like he
too once had. And now he could hear John Smith in his
head, praying and crying
to let her go.
Heather could see the battle going on behind his teary eyes. The knife was
no longer pointed at
her. It hung down to the side and shook as it had when she’d
held it. At that moment
there was pounding on the front door.
“Heather!” Roman’s voice called.
head snapped toward the noise and then came back to her. He
walked briskly toward
the door, hobbled by the staircase, and disappeared toward
the back of the mansion.
Heather cried she ran for the front door.
The door opened and
immediately she was holding onto him, sobbing on
his shoulder, telling
him between gasping breaths of her awful encounter with the
monster that six years
ago had killed his mother.
passed off the part about the man being his parents’ killer as the
hysterical talk of
someone who had just been through a traumatic event.
Eventually we got Heather and her mother calmed down to a point where the tears
had stopped and we could
understand what they were saying. Max had left the
butcher knife on one of
the steps as he escaped, and Roman used it to free Gina
from her bonds. Heather
put her jeans back on and found a quilt to throw over her
shoulders even though it
seemed to be a hundred degrees in the house. Sometimes
being cold had nothing
to do with the temperature. I found my way through the
dark and turned the
circuit breaker back on. Now the four of us sat in the living
calling the police,” I said and flipped out my phone.
is all my fault,” Gina began as she sipped from her water glass. “I
should have never
worried about those steps. The dining room was beautiful the
way it was.”
“You could have never have known, mom, that the guy you hired just
happened to be a serial
know better than to deal with Mr. Flowers though. His employees are
often far from the salt
of the earth.”
Flowers?” Roman asked surprised.
the one that recommended that horrible man. John is rebuilding Mr.
Flowers’s warehouse that
shot me a glance.
Heather stood up from her chair and walked over to Roman. She put her
hand in his trying to
dull the blow she was about to drop on him. “Roman, this
John Smith had the
brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen and…” She hesitated.
“And…on his right forearm there was a tattoo of a woman in a spider web.”
can’t be.” Roman paled, falling into the chair next to him, deflating like
someone had ripped his
soul out of his chest. He put his hands on his knees and
looked at the floor,
trying to put a mental rope around the rock that had just
crushed his mind.
began to sob. “I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mistake, Heather. A
few months ago I tried
to persuade Roman to leave town. Here I was plotting to
break the two of you up
and thinking of ways to ruin him. I even had him
suspended from school.
If it weren’t for him showing up and knocking on the door
when he did, we wouldn’t
be alive right now.” Gina walked over to Roman and
hugged him as she
continued to cry. “I was wrong about you, Roman. Please
said nothing, only continued to stare into nowhere.
Heather ignored her mother as well; she worried only for Roman now, and
what he might do.
are on their way,” I said.
got to find him,” Roman said. “I have to face him.”
what?” Heather objected.
not sure.” Roman got up and walked into the foyer, his mind already
entrenched in the
business of finding this so-called John Smith. He noticed three
little droplets of blood
on the marble and then every few feet more splatters. He
followed the trail
through the to the lower level and then out onto the stone patio.
minutes later Roman was on the other side of the Hawthorne property,
standing at the tree
line and staring into the woods. I caught up to him there.
“There’s only one place north of here for him to run to, Tony,” Roman said.
knew exactly what Roman was thinking. Besides the Hollow and more
forest, the only thing
that lay in the direction John Smith was heading was The
Flower’s property about
five miles away through the woods. “Look, the cops’ll be
here any minute. They’ll
catch him in no time.”
I have to catch him first. Give me your keys.”
I don’t think this such a good idea. I mean, so what if you catch up
to him, then what?”
want answers. Just answers.”
matter what you do to him Roman, or what he tells you, it’s not going
to bring your parents
“Either you give me your keys, or I’ll run there through the woods.”
My granddad always said that if you leave a loaded gun laying around long
someone is going to fire it. Roman’s anger was no different.
Calm was an
understatement in describing the way he’d handled the last six years.
All the bullshit that
he’d put up with, Ed Pentoch, the NN—all because a man
decided to walk into an
Iowa farmhouse and kill his mother. Roman was a loaded
a gun—and John Smith had
just picked it up.
was going no matter what I said or did so I decided to drive him to
the warehouse that
housed Extravaganza. Or at least I thought I was going to drive
him. At the Pinto Roman
took my keys but didn’t stop me from entering the
passenger side. It was
only the second time I’d ever seen him drive. Roman had
his foot to the
floorboard and the Pinto was wound out at a depressing seventy-five
miles an hour. Roman did
not speak on our short journey. He didn’t seem to be
nervous or angry. His
eyes were on the road almost nonchalantly, as if we were
going to school or
Scotty’s house for a party. I thought about how differently I
looked at my life now:
how many strange twists and turns had come my way since
meeting my talented
friend, how in a million years I never thought I’d be in a car
traveling to confront a
serial killer. And as we pulled up in front of the warehouse,
secretly I hoped that
the man we sought would not be there.
warehouse was dark gray—primer I’m sure for the upcoming pink
coating that the Flower
would insist on. Part of the roof was still not complete, and
it stood out like an
open wound to the sky. The front door was wide open—not a
good sign depending on
your point of view.
made our way up the steps to the walkway in front of the grandstand.
There was no electrical
lighting; only the pale blue light of the moon shone in
through the missing part
of the roof. In the middle of the arena floor was a new
addition to The Flower’s
circus: silver chains hung from ceiling to floor, sparkling
like diamonds. It was
dark in the grandstands, but I could hear John Smith. He sat
near the top, talking to
himself and laughing like a mad man.
followed the cackle, walking up the aisle one step at a time, as if he
were going to talk to an
old friend. John Smith made no attempt to run and never
even acknowledged our
presence. I went further down the walkway until I could
see the man’s blue eyes
and part of his face. And then I froze—unsure of what
was to happen next.
sat on the top row smiling and crying at the same time. Roman
stood a row in front of
the angel of death?” John Smith asked.
“Sure.” Roman hit the man, knocking him into the aisle that ran down to
my walkway. Roman
grabbed the bandaged hand of Heather’s attacker at the same
time kicking him in the
stomach. John toppled down the stairs of the aisle head
first, his bandage
unraveling like a streamer in the wind and his hairpiece
shredding itself against
the aisle. He came to a stop halfway down, but Roman
kicked him again. This
time he tumbled all the way to the walkway, ending just
shy of my feet. I moved
back in a panic.
were no grunts or groans, only thick mucous-filled laughter of a
sociopath. Roman came
down the stairs to the walkway as well and stood waiting
for his parents’ killer
to make the next move.
struggled to his feet, holding his side, wheezing as if one of his lungs
was punctured. “You’re
not the angel of death,” he managed to say. “You’re just
answered by clotheslining him over the railing to the arena floor.
John hit the dirt,
knocking his wind out. Roman jumped over the rail and landed
on his feet. I climbed
underneath it and hoisted myself down. Roman waited
patiently for the man to
regain his breath and get to his feet.
do want with me?” John asked, hunched over in pain.
Roman kicked him in the
face, snapping him back to an upright position.
moonlight turned the blood spray from his nose into black mist. Another kick
to the stomach planted
John in the dirt again. Roman waited for his enemy to get
slowly to his feet.
are you?” John asked.
the angel of death, remember?”
John took a swing at Roman, only to have his face elbowed, his scrotum
kneed, and his body
tripped back to the dirt. He got up more quickly this time
though and charged.
Roman grabbed him by the arm and smashed him into the
fuck are you?” John cried.
grabbed John’s right ear and yanked. It tore from his head with a
soft popping sound like
rubber tearing. Roman shoved the severed ear into the
serial killer’s mouth.
John grabbed the new hole in the side of his head and began
to laugh again, spitting
out his own ear onto the dirt. Roman hit him in the neck,
using the angled space
on his hand between his thumb and index finger.
worked their way across the arena floor until they were under the
chains of The Flower’s
crude new circus device. Roman watched as the broken
John Smith gasped for
air. The right side of his face was covered in blood and his
left eye was swollen
shut. John had given up with the questions and now stood
there waiting for Roman
to attack him again. Instead Roman grabbed one wrist
and locked it into the
chain, and then the other. John did not try to test the chain’s
is your name? I know it is not John Smith.”
just stood there.
kicked him as hard as he could, snapping the monster’s leg between
the knee and ankle. It
sounded like a branch of a tree breaking under its own
weight. The bone poked
through John’s skin and his jeans. He let out a scream of
pain that echoed
throughout the arena—a noise close to that of the people who’d
been eaten alive by the
starving dogs four months before. Roman waited for his
wailing to end.
Sheehan,” he answered, breathing hard.
me try and help you remember who I am. We met briefly six years
ago in an Iowa
farmhouse. You raped and killed my mother. I shot at you only to
hit and kill my father
his head. “I remember. I am sorry.”
Sorry is not going to get it done. I want to know why.”
his head back and forth slowly. “I don’t know. I don’t know
reared back and punched him in the face. He repeated the action
until there was no
energy left in the muscles of his arm. He grabbed Max by the
shirt collar and brought
him eye level.
took my life from me!” Roman screamed into his face. “You tortured
and killed my mother!
Because of you I see myself blowing off my father’s head
every time I close my
eyes. I don’t sleep. You’ve altered my existence forever
and you don’t know why?
Because of you I endured nightly beatings from the
man who replaced my
father. Because of you I know only loss, only pain. You
took everything from
me.” Roman ended his tirade by spitting in the blood-soaked
face in front of him.
something inside of me that’s different from normal people,” Max
began. “It’s been there
since I was a boy, a void in the middle of me where my
heart should be. And no
matter who I kill it only satisfies the void temporarily.
With every rape it grows
larger and wants more. It’s like the hunger you feel in
your stomach. Only I can
never make it full. I can never make it stop. I pray
every night for Jesus to
take the darkness out of me.”
ironic?” I’ve prayed every night that He would deliver you to
me. That He would just
give me fifteen minutes alone with you in the dark. Who
says He doesn’t answer
could see the medallion around Max’s neck reflecting the
moonlight from above. He
grabbed the gold piece and thumbed off the blood. “St.
saint of lost causes,” Max mumbled.
but do you know why he is the saint of lost causes?”
sounds very much like another prominent name in the Bible doesn’t
it? Early Christians
were scared to pray to Jude and used him only as a last resort
because they were afraid
Judas might be on the receiving end instead. Maybe all
along your prayers have
realized their greatest fear.”
not, I am saved by the risen Jesus.”
“Really. I wonder what all the women you’ve killed are telling Jesus.”
stepped up and put his lips to Max’s good ear. “Do you think they’re
whispering into His ear
on your behalf? Do you think my mother wants to spend
the rest of eternity
with you? Do you think she is praying for your immunity?”
hung his head.
walked away from him and out of the moon’s spotlight. In the
darkness of the arena’s
north wall Roman rummaged through the toolboxes and
equipment of Max
Sheehan’s workers. He returned with a knife—something that
would’ve been held in a
holster on a carpenter’s belt.
fanned the blade out, running it gently along Max’s throat and then
down to just above his
belt line. “After you raped my mother, while she was still
alive, you slit her from
the waist to the neck. I want you to know how that feels. I
want you to feel the
life empty out of you.”
uh Roman? Maybe this is isn’t such a good idea,” I said.
raised his head and looked into Roman’s eyes. “End it all then.”
Roman pressed the blade
to Max’s stomach and held it there without
breaking the skin. After
a moment he hurdled the knife end over end through the
air. It stuck in the
arena wall and vibrated like a javelin. “It’s too easy an end for
you. I can’t do your
shadows in the front of the arena came a rustling—the soft
padding of shoes walking
on the dirt of the arena floor. It startled all three of us.
As the man walked toward
the light and the darkness receded from his face,
although I had never met
him, I knew exactly who it was. He stood at least six and
a half feet tall, had
enormous shoulder width, and wore a suit.
passed by he pulled a gun from his suit coat, placed it against the
head of Max Sheehan, and
pulled the trigger. I could hear Max’s brains drip out and
hit the dirt long after
the silenced bullet exploded the back of his head.
too much Roman. Just let God sort them out,” the man said.
Johnson stood in front of the limp and now lifeless body that hung
from the chains of
Extravaganza. He re-holstered his weapon and turned toward
watching you for about a week now. Quite a life you’ve made
here for yourself Roman.
Nice cozy little house. I especially liked the baseball
card wallpaper. You’ve
got good friends like Tony here. And then there’s
Heather, what a
knockout, maybe a little out of your league but very impressive.
a hell of a game today, except for the two hit batsmen of course.”
done talking to him yet,” Roman nodded over at Max’s body.
overrated. You of all people know that. Besides I heard the
entire conversation and
I think you handled it quite eloquently.”
has his breaking point they say. And Roman’s wasn’t far off I
imagined. His whole life
had just come to a climax in the last two hours. And
now he just stood there
shaking his head and smiling. It was not a good smile.
caught me on a bad day, so to speak.”
“You’re never short on wit, are you?
charged the Agent with a flurry of kicks and punches, moving his
pursuer across the arena
floor. Agent Johnson blocked or ducked everyone of
them. It was only when
Roman backed him into the arena wall that Johnson
showed any offense. His
punches and kicks moved Roman back to the middle of
the floor. For as big as
he was and the strength he possessed, Johnson was every
bit as quick as Roman.
But like his former mentor, Roman avoided the attack
orders are to bring you back or eliminate you, plain and simple. It’s
up to you which one
takes place,” Johnson said.
“Eliminate me? I don’t think you’ve got in you.” Roman started his
onslaught again. Johnson
countered as before, but every time he blocked, Roman’s
attack only quickened.
The amount and velocity of Roman’s fight began to wear
the agent down, and now
fists and feet were landing on him unabated.
tried to think of what Roman would do if he were me. The word
“insurance” popped into
my head, and I ran over to the construction equipment,
knocking over a gas can
as I went. I fumbled through the dark, running into tables
and feeling carefully
for anything that would help Roman. I returned with a mop
handle, a two-by-four, a
hammer, and a knife. I ran my finger down the blade,
feeling in the darkness
for a way to shut it. I closed it and stuck the weapon down
in my belt.
though Roman looked to be winning, I knew this was no time to take
chances. I was
witnessing something that most people would never see and could
never imagine. The
fighting was so fast and ferocious that the tide could shift in an
instant. I opted for the
two-by-four and set the other potential weapons on the
ground. I guess in my
imagination I could see myself sneaking up behind Agent
Johnson and smashing the
board over his head. It felt like a good plan.
the agent turned his back to me I swung. While blocking a punch
from Roman—as if he had
eyes in the back of his head—Johnson caught the wood
under his armpit. He
swung it to the left as I held on. Seconds later I smashed into
Roman, and we both flew
to the dirt.
Without using his hands, Roman jumped to his feet, dodging the swings of
lumber from Agent
Johnson’s hands. I crawled out of the way and ran back to my
pile of makeshift
weapons, grabbing the mop handle and the hammer.
was too quick and Johnson failed to hit him with the board. But
every swing backed Roman
up. It would only be seconds until Roman was against
the arena wall with
nowhere to go. Johnson held the board horizontally between
both hands now and
charged in an attempt to bulldoze Roman into the wall. With
one quick swipe of
Roman’s foot the board broke in half, sending the agent back a
couple of steps. Johnson
stood there for a second in shock. I tossed the mop
handle to Roman. He
snatched it out of the air and broke it over his knee in one
motion, creating two
weapons to combat the two pieces of board now in Johnson’s
you ever heard a drum line tap their sticks together in the middle of a
routine? That’s what
this fight sounded like, only faster. And there was a rhythm
to it—some unexplainable
poetry of sound between offense and defense, between
lumber and mop-handle
sticks. Johnson’s two boards packed more of a punch, but
Roman’s sticks were quicker and easier to handle. Roman simply ducked or
jumped over Johnson’s
swings, while the NN Agent used his blunt wooden swords
to block the
never-ending taps from Roman’s sticks. They were dancing in a way,
like tennis players
volleying the ball back and forth in a never-ending duel. And
like those graceful
athletes of the court, the warrior that made the first mistake
would lose this contest
Tat-a-tat. Thump. Tat-a-tat. Tat-a-tat. Thump.
Eventually Johnson missed one of his thumps and Roman capitalized. His
stick caught the Agent
the wrist sending Johnson’s club spiraling through the air.
was a second of hesitation from Johnson and Roman seized it, kicking the
agent in the chest and
sending him crashing into the wall. Johnson bounced off
only to have his leg
buckled by a kick from one of Roman’s quick feet. Johnson
was so tall that even
with one of his knees on the ground he was still nearly eye
level with his former
protégé. Roman beat the giant down, landing punch after
punch to his face. Roman
alternated swings of his arms and as each fist connected
Johnson’s head snapped from one side to the other.
Johnson fell back to the dirt. Roman jumped on his torso and straddled
him immediately. Like a
magician whose secret was known only to the artists of
combat, Johnson produced
his gun from its holster and stuck it against Roman’s
dropped his sticks, and as I ran to help my friend he held up his
hand telling me to stop.
Both warriors’ chests pumped hard from exhaustion.
badly I wanted to throw the hammer in my hand at the gun being held against
Roman’s head! Who was I
kidding though? I’d probably miss and hit Roman.
Johnson spoke first. “While we’re here destroying each other, the people
that we should be
fighting are hard at work plotting our demise. Every government
agency from every
country in the world, rogue or sovereign, is looking for Dr.
Sebastian Jesup. The
world is a big place to hide in but not when the entire world
is looking for you. It’s
not a matter of when he’s found, but by whom. If it’s
someone other than us,
it’s checkmate for America. Everything you know and
love will cease to
exist. None of this frivolous fighting and bickering will mean a
take no pleasure in fighting you or anybody else,” Roman said. “I just
want to be left alone. I
want to play baseball and help my team. I want to go to the
Prom with Heather. And I
want to graduate from high school like a normal
person. I don’t want to
be mixed up in the fate of the world. Let God sort it out as
told you at the beginning of this fiasco that you were coming with me or
you were going nowhere,”
“Fine.” Roman took the end of Johnson’s gun and put it in his mouth, his
voice muffled as he
shouted at the Agent. “Do it. Pull the trigger. I’m not going
to spend my life running
from the NN and I’m never going to work for them. You
may as well kill me. Do
Johnson’s hand was unwavering as held the pistol with a firm grip. Less
than a pound of pressure
was all that was standing between life and death for
Roman. There was no
doubt in my mind that Johnson had no problem killing if it
was a means to an end.
Take poor Max Sheehan for instance. But the Agent was
fired this time wouldn’t just kill some scumbag terrorist or
demented serial killer.
It might be the most expensive bullet the NN ever used.
several moments, Agent Johnson pulled the weapon away.
it,” Johnson said.
jumped off the horizontal agent and immediately helped him to his
can’t kill you, you’re too valuable.”
that’s what you have to keep telling yourself,” Roman said.
no mistake young Roman, if it weren’t for your extraordinary
abilities and potential
you would be nothing more than crimson splatter on my
door to the warehouse slammed, and up the east walkway opposite us
walked six men—five of
them dressed in varying degrees and shades of black
leather, and one in a
fluorescent orange suit. One of the thugs lit a cigarette as if it
were business as usual.
Boochie Anderson stood next to the Flower, jewelry-less,
with ten or so scars
decorating his face where the metal rings used to be. I walked
slowly backwards, trying
to be discreet in my attempt to find cover in the darkness
that covered the
construction equipment on the north side of the arena. Roman
backed up as well, a
couple of paces in front of me.
“Who’s the dude in the orange?” Agent Johnson whispered to Roman.
story. In a nut shell he’s bad news,” Roman responded.
night just gets better and better doesn’t it?” I said.
“Are they carrying?” Johnson asked Roman.
certainly,” Roman answered.
Roman,” I whispered. “I’ve got a hammer and a knife on me.”
He did not respond, his mind busy with better solutions.
Flower slithered up to the railing above the arena wall with his
arrogant strut. His
black hair was slicked back in his trademark ponytail and he
stood with his hands on
his hips, surveying the odd scene in front of him. Most of
his attention focused on
the dead man hanging from the shackles in the middle of
boss,” Boochie Anderson started . “I think that’s the janitor down
right,” The Flower shouted. “Who thinks they can come on my
property and kill
somebody in my arena without my permission? Nobody dies in
this town without my
of us responded.
“Is the one
that calls himself the janitor down there?” The Flower shouted
again from the walkway.
boss, I think that there dead guy hangin’ in the chains is Mr. John
Smith,” Boochie Anderson
Flower pulled out a pair of bifocals, placed them on the end of his
nose, and tilted his
head down. After a quick glance at Max Sheehan, he took them
off and put them back in
his suit jacket. “The goddamn janitor killed my
carpenter,” he whispered
Flower grabbed a hold of the railing in front of him and jumped up and
down like a kid throwing
a tantrum. A few seconds later he stopped, adjusted his
tie, and slicked back
his hair with both of his hands. “I thought our paths were
never going to cross
again janitor. I thought we had a deal.”
broke the deal when you hired a serial killer.” Roman yelled back.
“What’s he talking about?” The Flower asked his men.
Boochie shrugged his shoulders.
have a nasty habit of killing my employees, janitor.”
“Actually, I killed your carpenter,” Johnson said.
who are you?” The Flower asked.
Johnson hesitated for a minute. “I’m an old friend of the janitor’s.”
Kill them now,” The Flower ordered.
five soldiers next to The Flower began to pull out their guns.
Johnson was quicker. He crossed his arms under his suit coat,
unsheathing two guns
from their respective holsters.
Roman ran for cover behind the lifeless Max Sheehan and the
The hail of gunfire was simultaneous, and while their
Johnson’s five to two, they were still the underdog. Johnson
walked sideways, his
fingers working their magic against the triggers, his guns
moving only inches to
find their next target.
man smoking the cigarette caught the first of Johnson’s pointed
projectiles, and he fell
over the railing to the arena floor. A second later the dirt
and excess lumber were
ablaze next to us, no doubt from the man’s cigarette
coming in contact with
the gasoline I’d spilled earlier.
Johnson’s last bullet ended in the forehead of Boochie Anderson. The fat
man teetered and wobbled
with a surprised look on his face. The Flower tried to
move out from behind
him, but it was too late: Boochie fell backwards, ass first,
eclipsing any sight of
Freddy The Flower. The impact splintered the first two rows
of bleachers. There was
a low wheeze of his Boochie’s last breath, like air brakes
on a semi-trailer
decompressing. There were no gasps or calls for help from The
Flower beneath. He may
very well have spent his last minutes on earth as a
walked out from our cover against the arena wall, and I followed.
passed by, Max’s body began to smolder from the heat of the blaze. I
imagined his soul was
doing the same thing right about now. Flames had found
their way to the north
wall as well.
Johnson walked a couple of steps toward Roman and then sprinted; the
agent was on him in a
second, throwing roundhouse rights at high repetition.
blocked and ducked, but his back was to the wall. One of Johnson’s big
rights caught Roman on
the cheek and knocked him to the ground. The Agent
picked him up and
slammed him into the arena wall. I heard Roman’s shoulder
pop. He grabbed it as
his back slid down to the dirt.
Johnson stepped away and produced a pair of handcuffs, locking one of
them around his own
wrist and letting the other dangle, then stepped back and
grabbed Roman by the
arm. I charged with the last of my weapons—the
hammer—held high over my
head. Johnson kicked me in the chest and the
hammer flew out of my
hands. He grabbed it out of mid-air and threw it into the
wall of flames on the
north side of the arena.
his free arm, Roman grasped from behind him the knife he had
thrown earlier at the
arena wall and jabbed it into the thigh of the giant. Johnson
let out a cry of pain
and released Roman’s arm. Roman got to his feet, grabbed the
handcuff dangling from
Johnson’s wrist, and snapped it around the railing above
the arena wall. Roman
hit him with a left for good measure.
owe me at least until graduation. You owe me,” Roman said.
As we walked toward the exit, I saw Max Sheehan’s body burst into flames.
Smoke filled the arena
and I could hear what remained of the roof start to snap and
buckle under its own
weight. The once-dark confines were now bright from the
fire. Johnson pulled the
knife out of his leg and let out a deep roar.
reached the door, his voice came again. “Roman, the next agent
that comes for you will
have no problem pulling the trigger.”
did not reply.
sat down in the passenger seat as I started the Pinto. He held his
shoulder and winced in
pain. The slam into the wall may have done more than just
popped Roman’s shoulder.
I noticed it was his right arm, and although I knew I
shouldn’t be thinking
such thoughts at a time like this, the selfish part of me
wondered if the Silver
Streak title run had just come to an end.
Pinto shot rocks from under its tires as I floored it out of the crude
parking lot. Eventually
we reached a paved road. “Where to?”
“Take me to
Carl,” Roman said with the pain still on his face.
came over me as I looked in the rearview mirror. Once again the
turned the night sky orange. I kept looking for someone
headlights of Agent Johnson’s vehicle—and I knew now how
Roman felt every time he left his
home to go somewhere.