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Pain, I was relieved to feel something real. The smell of disinfectant and bleach hung heavy in the air. Beeping and whirring of the machines around me brought to mind images of a hospital room. The events of my evening were playing on a loop in my head making it difficult to focus on anything else.

Dave suggested we meet for dinner at the new steakhouse downtown after work. I went home changed my clothes and grabbed Matt before heading to the restaurant. The newspaper I worked for was running the ads on glossy inserts. The six-color art all but dripped with caramelized meat juices. I knew David wouldn’t be the only one in town with a sudden craving for steak. As expected, the place looked packed.

I parked in front of the building, taking a prime spot just as another car pulled away. After a busy day at the office 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 hot 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 electronics.

“You know Mom if you charge that thing at night it will last all day,” Matt 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. The hostess provided us with a quick tour of the restored building as we followed her through large groupings of round dining tables and high-backed booths. There was a sea of white tablecloths, shiny silverware, and flickering candles arranged neatly on stout wooden table tops.

I was amazed at the richly appointed décor. 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 was tired looking, and I could tell he was trying to force himself to be more awake than he really felt.

“I know it’s amazing work. 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 attention to his game.

“Did you have any trouble pulling Mr. Nasty off his computer?” Dave wrinkled his eyebrows in anticipation of an overly dramatic response from Matt.

“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; every situation he encountered was so 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 second 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 moment I remember enjoying before everything went to shit.

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 hostess shrieked with all the lung power her petite body possessed. I looked over the booth just as the tall man pushed the young 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 they had women and small children with them. 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. There was gasping, and shrieking 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 was heading 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. 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 me 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. I never planned to use the knife but at that moment it felt important. 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 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 truck was parked in the lot behind the building; the huge 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. The phone in the truck gave him a goal but surely somebody with a cell phone already 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, and carefully arranged the items at the edge of his table. Once he was done, he sat back in his chair and placed his hands 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 just as he had shown them. People behaved as if copying his exaggerated movements in ritual fashion would keep them safe from harm.

I caught a glimpse of my son’s face as he hid under the table across from me. He looked terrified. 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 for such trivialities. I dumped my purse out on the table quietly, but I still attracted panicked attention from the people seated around me.

“Calynn what the hell are you doing?” Dave rarely called me by my given name. The sound of it 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 oily.”

“Here use butter.” Dave squeezed a foiled pat of butter between his fingers and pushed his arm out across the table to me. I grabbed for the smashed foil 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 am, I’m working on it.” I managed to get a bit of the butter worked under the ring, it was moving, but it 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 to me. 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 cheek bone.

Dave must have 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 thick 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 in my veins. A molten liquid electric shock raced inside my chest igniting my skin and dampening 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 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 what felt like 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 into 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 face. 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 pull myself up to my feet.

The dark shape of the husky thug walked in front of the window. He blocked the light as he passed. 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 was calm and demanding. I considered that I had 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 is where you keep a loaded gun.” The calm voice whispered.

I followed behind the large man and reached for the gun, slid my good hand down past the waistband of his jeans, and squeezed the trigger. I held on to 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. 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. I gave up.

The hard hit to my head blurred my vision. Strangely the pain went away. Only the sensation of hot liquid sliding down the back of my neck remained. 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 crawl to it.

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 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 of the weapon, 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 a few feet from his tall cohort. He 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 were just gibberish falling out of his face one incoherent syllable after another.

Forward, sweep, move, move.” 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 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 all black was standing in the middle of the parking lot. He was staring in the direction of our 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 fired out of it. 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 had only managed to clip the man in the arm, 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. “Those sons of bitches are all dead,” I announced proudly dropping the weapon on the floor in front of me.

My hearing faded right before my sight dimmed. I was certain that I was dying, but my objective was complete. I was happy to have killed them all.

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