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Lina’s call came a few days later. I agreed to meet her again, choosing to take a car service into the city instead of tying up Tom’s day. I wasn’t going to share my first kill with her. I wasn’t sure I would share it with anyone. But I was prepared to walk her back through the day I began my second trip into hell.

“You are sure you want to hear this?” I asked Lina staring at her face looking for any signs of remorse.

Lina nodded yes in agreement, “I cleared my whole day.”

There were sodas and waters on the coffee table and an assortment of cookies and fruit on a glass tray. Some local menus were scattered at one end of the table. I took off my jacket and folded it over my purse and set my four dark little friends at the doorway and the windows. They would alert me to any intruders.

“Okay, then we are safe, surrounded by my little friends,” I explained.

Lina pulled a pillow close to her side as if it was made of kryptonite or some magical ingredient that would shield her from harm.

“I was taught to relive my memories, it just takes me a moment to access. A bit of breathing and relaxing. I won’t respond to your voice, but when you want a break, touch my hand and call my name. I will admit it looks a little weird. The man who taught me this, Carl, was like me and weird for us is normal.” Lina nodded in agreement and smiled while blinking rapidly. She was way out of her comfort zone.

I counted down from fifty in my head, the drive over was hectic, and my nerves were a bit frayed. One of my mist friends commented on a person that entered the building asked if they should kill it.

“No, no killing anything, just report to me,” I stated out loud by accident. “Sorry, someone walked in the front door,” I explained.

“Not a problem,” Lina answered. I heard her take a gulp of water and settle into the couch.

“Okay, here we go.” The room melted away from me. I could feel the rewinding of my catalog of memories scraping at the tips of whatever ethereal appendage I use to hold my grip on time. I chose a moment after the attack and started to narrate.

There was a moment of unease before everything went to shit. A moment where the air didn’t feel quite right and my skin felt cold and tingly. Nothing looked out of place but every fiber of my being told me to run for the door.

I willingly ignored the sensation, told myself I was being ridiculous and crazy, but then I saw the gun. There was no way to walk the moment back. The bell had been rung.

My husband, David, suggested we meet for dinner at the new steakhouse downtown. I went home changed my clothes and grabbed our son Matt before heading to the restaurant. My office was running the advertisements for the new place. The six-color art all but dripped with caramelized meat juices. I knew Dave wouldn’t be the only one in town with a craving for steak. As expected, the place was packed.

I parked in front of the building, taking the spot just as another car pulled away. After a busy day at the paper all, I wanted was to go home and relax, eat something simple, and watch one of my shows. David worked all weekend out in the sun, so I couldn’t deny his dinner request. I tried to check my texts but my phone was dead; I plugged it into the charger and tossed it under the driver’s seat before I got out of the car. Matt followed along behind me juggling his bundle of electronic toys.

“You know Mom if you charge that thing at night it will last all day,” My son explained things to me like I was the stupidest person on the planet but under his arrogant tone I could tell he was trying to be helpful.

“Yes, I know. I forgot to plug it in. It’s not all that important.”

“I don’t know what you are going to do while we wait for our food,” Matt scoffed.

“Conversation I imagine. You know talking to you and your father about my day and your day.”

“Oh come on. Just because you didn’t charge your phone doesn’t mean we should all suffer.”

A pretty, young hostess greeted us at the entrance. Matt stopped his whining and tried to appear as mature as possible while in her view. The hostess provided us with a quick tour of the newly restored building as we followed her through large groupings of round dining tables and high-backed booths. A sea of white tablecloths, shiny silverware, and flickering clear candleholders were arranged on stout wooden table tops.

I was amazed at the richly appointed decor. Carved wood paneling, thick dark carpets, and beautiful clear glass light fixtures complimented the dark brick walls. It was quite swanky for our tiny town. We arrived at our booth at the back of the room. Dave greeted me with a kiss.

“Doesn’t this place look nice. You would never know that it used to be the old printer’s warehouse.” David looked tired. His eyelids were rimmed in red and the water left on his collar from splashing his face told me he was trying to force himself to be more awake than he really felt.

“I know it’s amazing. The company that buys these old buildings must have a standard formula for their renovations.” I patted Dave’s hand softly. Matt rolled his eyes before shifting his full attention back to his game.

“Did you have any trouble pulling Mister Nasty off his computer?” Dave wrinkled his eyebrows in anticipation of an overly dramatic response from Matt as he switched off his cell phone and placed it face down on the table.

“No dad, there’s no need to get all huffy, jeez. Can’t you just....”

“Leave you alone?” We both mocked in unison. Matt became a stereotypical teenager seemingly overnight. Every word he uttered was defensive and every situation he encountered was painfully serious. Dave couldn’t seem to help himself; he goaded Matt at every opportunity.

An older couple seated across the aisle from us was having no problem hearing our conversation. They chuckled, mildly entertained with our situation.

At that moment I was entrenched in a world of my own making, morbidly content, and blissfully ignorant of the greater world around me. It was the last full and happy moment of the life I knew.

A hurried busboy delivered small, white, plates, and a bowl of gold-foiled butter pats. The silver serving tray he used to transport the items was highly polished. He pulled the empty tray flat to his chest revealing the warped reflection of a tall man at the entrance. The tall figure was oddly animated with long flailing arms. Raising his shirt from his waistband, he flashed the shiny barrel of his gun to the hostess. I sucked in a shocked breath of air. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Dave snickered. “You find something good on the menu hon?”

Then there was screaming.

The young hostess shrieked with all the lung power her petite body possessed. I looked over the booth just as the tall man pushed the girl from the top landing to the sunken floor below. The pleasant smile on her overly made-up face was replaced by agony. She lay motionless on the carpet whimpering like a wounded animal.

Looking around the room each patron was frozen in their seats. There were elderly couples on two sides of us. Across the dining room, a few men looked capable of putting up a fight, but women and small children grabbed them with trembling hands staking them to their seats. We were the low hanging fruit you hear about in crime statistics.

The tall thug’s gun was out in plain sight and a second man was coming through the door behind him. A thick, muscular figure dressed in loose dark clothes filled the entryway. Gasping and shrieking sounds came from all around the room as he closed the large, wooden entrance doors. He produced a crowbar from down his pant leg and shoved the long metal rod through the door handles before making his way into the dining room. The tall greasy thug headed into the dining area towards us.

Kitchen doors burst open with a loud bang of solid wood on the metal serving stations. Three young men dressed in white kitchen uniforms came charging out with purpose. The husky thug smashed his gun into the face of the first man through the door. The remaining employees put their hands up and fell to the carpet. The short-lived revolt by the staff only warranted a momentary glance from the tall thug; he remained focused on his mission.

The older couple across from us ordered the wildly overpriced braised fig and cheese appetizer. The empty plate sat on the edge of their table waiting to be cleared. The wood-handled cheese knife was pointed, thick bladed, and sharp looking. It was my goal to grab the knife off her plate. At that moment it felt important to have the knife in my hand. The older woman looked at me and turned the plate around slowly placing the knife closer to the edge of her table; she seemed to know exactly what I was planning.

The emergency exit was located across the aisle from Matt and led out to the back parking lot. That exit door was my second goal. Dave’s new truck was parked in the lot behind the building; the huge plate-glass windows on the back wall provided a perfect view of the lot. Matt could run to the truck and use the phone to call for help. The keys were on the table next to David’s water glass.

The older woman across from me looked at Matt with panic on her face. She glanced at him then moved the empty chair beside her creating space under her table. I knew what she meant for me to understand. Her plan was meshing seamlessly with my own. I ducked below the back of the upholstered booth and whispered to Matthew.

“Do what I say no arguing.” I pointed to the old couple across from me. “Hide under that table. If things get bad run to the truck, call 911 and stay there. One of us will come to get you.” I pushed my truck keys into Matt’s hand and nudged him off the booth.

Matt scrambled across the aisle, slid under the table, and stuck himself to the wall with a muffled thud. The phone in the truck gave him a goal but surely somebody with a cell phone called the police. Dave looked shocked. He put my iced tea on the floor, my bread plate under the bowl of butter pats, and slid Matt’s gear down on the seat. It now looked like a table for two. We stared at each other waiting for the taller thug to reach us.

I could hear the tall man barking instructions to the room. “Put it all in the bag; I want your phones, your rings, your wallets, your watches! All your shit goes in this bag right now!” There were whimpers and gasps as frightened patrons complied with the orders.

Both thugs were waving guns carelessly in the air as they grabbed valuables.

A well-dressed man a few booths away slowly pulled his wallet out of his pants pocket, took off his watch and wedding ring. He carefully arranged the items at the edge of his table. Once he was done, he sat back in his chair and placed his hand's palms down on the table. People seated around him noted his calm, deliberate actions. They gathered their valuables and arranged them on the edges of their tables as if copying his exaggerated movements in ritualistic fashion would keep them safe from harm.

I caught a glimpse of my son’s terrified looking face as he hid under the table across from me. I wanted to say something or wink, anything to console him, but I didn’t. I made myself turn away from his pleading expression and stare straight at David.

“Come on honey, get your wallet out and get ready,” Dave urged quietly.

Oh God, my ring. The jackass waving the gun was grabbing wedding rings. My ring didn’t come off. I meant to have it resized, but there was never any time in my busy life for such trivialities. I dumped my purse out on the table quietly, but still panicked the people seated around us.

“Calynn what the hell are you doing?” Dave rarely called me by my given name. The sound of it coming from his mouth startled me and my eyes welled up with tears so quickly that I couldn’t see.

“I don’t think my ring will come off. I need lotion or something,” I sobbed.

“Here use butter.” Dave squeezed a gold-foiled pat of butter between his fingers and pushed his arm out across the table. I grabbed for the smashed glob just as the tall, twitchy thug reached our table.

“What the fuck are you idiots doing? You hiding my shit?” The tall thug grabbed my wrist and twisted it around to get a better look at the diamond in my ring. “You’re going to give that rock to me bitch. That thing is going to fetch some serious dough-ray-me.”

“Yes, I’m working on it.” I managed to get a bit of the butter worked under the ring, it was moving, but the ring wasn’t past my knuckle yet.

“I don’t have all day. Take it off or I’ll cut it off your fucking finger.” The greasy thug reached in his front pants pocket, brought out a short knife, and flicked it open with a crisp click.

The tall man stood close, glaring over my shoulder. He was so twitchy the knife seemed to vibrate in his hand. He stabbed Dave’s wallet with the tip of the shiny blade and slid it into his bag of loot before tossing Dave’s cell phone on the ground and stomping on it.

The tall thug held the bag and his gun in the same hand. Something about this looked wrong. He wasn’t planning to use the pistol he was only waving it around like a prop. I struggled to force the wedding ring off my finger, but it wasn’t moving. The twitchy man was running out of patience. He moved his knife closer to my neck before finally resting it on my cheekbone.

Dave lost his mind. “Get that knife out of her face you piece of shit!”

“You’re stupider than you look, Old Man?” The thug threw himself at David.

The heavy wooden table was hopping up and down as Dave and the tall thug wrestled for control of the knife. I slid back to the center of the booth and pushed the table over. The water glasses, the bread plates, the silverware, all of it flew out in every direction. Dave was showered in iced tea as the table overturned making an unexpected barrier between Matt and the aisle.

“Now Matt, go now!” The shiny blade of the cheese knife was almost in reach. I snatched it off the plate just as the emergency-exit alarm started screeching. The patrons were yelling, the red lights on the exit door were spinning. I stood frozen in the frantic noise.

Please help me, please, please. I don’t know if I was begging God or the Devil, but I got an answer. A surge of adrenaline flooded my veins. A molten liquid electric shock raced inside my chest igniting my skin and dampening all the noise around me.

Dave was lying back in the booth his work boot planted squarely against the thug’s stomach. As Dave pushed the tall man back towards the aisle I could see blood on Dave’s shoulder. Furious I grabbed for the cheese knife with both hands and plunged it into the greasy thugs back. The blade slipped over something solid and then pushed easily into empty space. The tall man cried out in pain throwing his arms around trying to grab the knife sticking out of his back.

I held the blade too tightly and cut through the fleshy part of my palm; I clutched my hand to my heart. The tall thug swung his arms around hitting me hard across the forehead. The next thing I knew I was face down on the carpet in a pile of broken china. My right eye felt as if it was going to pop out of my head. Table debris crushed under the weight of my body and I felt the hot sting of sliced skin on my ribs. My eye would barely open, but I managed to find the edge of a booth and pull myself up to my feet.

The dark shape of the husky thug walked in front of the window blocking the light. The large man swiped at me, grabbed me by the shirt, and tossed me backward into a wood-paneled wall across from David. I caught myself on the thick window molding narrowly avoiding going through the huge pane of glass on the back wall.

Let me help you, let go, let me help you.” The voice in my ear was calm and demanding. I lost my mind or possibly my self-preservation was trying to keep my psyche intact, but I answered back out loud.

“Please. Help me kill them!”

The husky thug went to help his tall partner. His loose shirt fluttered in the wake of his quick movements and I saw his weapon. The black butt of a large pistol and a hint of the shiny barrel were visible above the waistband of his jeans.

That's where you keep a loaded gun.” The calm voice whispered.

I followed behind the large man and reached out for the gun, slid my good hand down past the waistband of his jeans, and squeezed the trigger. I held the weapon too long and felt the muscles in my hand tear as the large man writhed and screamed in pain.

The hot, heavy gun dropped from my hand. I stumbled away catching my balance on the booth beside me. Dave and the husky thug struggled between the overturned tables as the other patrons took the opportunity to escape.

Let go damn it. Let me help you.” The order was clear and loud, it sounded like it came from right behind me this time.

The alarm was wailing, the thugs were yelling, the patrons were screaming. A sharp pain rolled across the back of my head as my legs buckled underneath me. I was down on the floor again. The tall greasy thug was lying next to me. His face was turning shades of blue and teal, but the cheese knife was gone. I felt defeated. There was no hope, and I remember clearly giving up.

The hard blow to my head blurred my vision. Strangely the pain went away. At that moment nothing mattered more to me than seeing the large thug lying dead on the ground at my feet. It was like watching a movie on a life-sized screen with the sound muted. Time stood perfectly still. A tingling rush covered the skin on the top of my arms and legs. It was exquisite, like when you see a gruesome wound and your skin crawls in protest only this was powerful.

The husky thug landed a solid punch on David’s face knocking him into a nearby table. The weapon was on the ground only a few steps away. The husky thug spotted it too and even limping he retrieved it before I could. A thick violent rush of adrenaline rolled inside my chest as he stood above me with the shiny barrel of his weapon pointed at my neck, but he hesitated.

He who hesitates is lost.” The voice rang through my mind like a bell of clarity. My eyes, my brain, something was heightened. There was a glowing yellow smear showing me where I could inflict the most pain. I kicked in his left knee with all the force I could gather. The thug went down to his knees on the carpet cursing and yelling.

I grabbed onto a tabletop and pulled myself off the floor.

Grab the weapon.” The timely command whispered in the core of my brain causing my injured fingers to react. I grabbed the gun in the thug’s outstretched hand, pivoted sharply on the blood-soaked carpet, and kicked back onto his exposed throat Crack.

The gun went off shooting a bullet into the high ceiling. I felt the recoil and a sting on my hand, but I heard only the sound of the husky thug’s slowing heartbeat. It was the sound of death, honest and real. The husky thug fell flat a few feet from his tall cohort, grabbed at his throat and gasped for air.

I pulled the weapon to chest height exhaled and squeezed the trigger.“One shot stops the beat, clean and neat.” The deep voice sounded pleased.

This was the first time I looked back to find David. He was holding his arm, his face and hand dripped blood down to his pants leg. He looked exhausted and wore a horrified expression on his face.

“Put the gun down sweetheart. Come sit with me.” David’s pleading tone held my attention, but his words sounded like gibberish falling out of his face one incoherent syllable after another.

Forward, sweep, move, move,” The voice commanded. I couldn’t help but obey.

“Hold your position there, I’ll be right back.” I felt the vibration in my throat as I spoke to David but didn’t recognize the words as my own. I looked back at the tall greasy-haired thug lying on the floor. He looked dead, but I needed to make sure.

A job worth doing is worth doing well.” floated into my mind. I pointed the weapon at the tall thugs head and squeezed the trigger.

The sound of the bullet was surprisingly wet and full as it went through the man’s forehead and halted in the concrete slab beneath him. The delightful sound sent jolts of electricity up the back of my legs to the base of my neck igniting all the skin in its path.

The weapon was heavy in my hand; I thought to set it down when a glint of amber light shimmered through the room. Chrome trim on a car door reflected the setting sun catching my attention. The people seated near the back window ran off providing a clear view of the parking lot.

An unremarkable-looking man dressed in a black suit was standing in the middle of the parking lot staring in the direction of our new truck. I could see Matt’s light brown hair turn orange as the glow of the evening sun reached the cab. He was an easy target bouncing up and down yelling at the speaker in the headliner.

The man began walking toward the truck. I didn’t recognize the weapon he was carrying. The barrel was huge and I guessed so would be the ammunition that it fired.

I raised the weapon in my weakening hand and squeezed the trigger. The large glass pane in front of me shattered and fell to the floor in guillotine-like shards. I only managed to clip the man in the bycep, but I grabbed his full attention. I adjusted my grip and squeezed the trigger again as the man recovered his balance and turned to face me. This time I shot him in the throat, and he crumpled to the pavement.

My vision was blurry, my adrenaline was waning, and my side was wet with blood. I turned to look for David and found him standing right behind me. “They are all dead,” I announced proudly letting the weapon slide down my leg and onto the floor in front of me. My hearing faded right before my sight dimmed. I was certain I was dying, but my objective was complete. I killed them all.

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