Fantastic fantasy adventure with strange creatures.
Barnes & Noble.com
John Hennessy | Author
On a world once devastated by deadly climate shifts, war threatens a continent in turmoil. The scorching heat of old is returning, and whispers of a Southern plague cross the Bordergrounds, spreading fear into the fanatical hearts of the North, who prepare themselves for one final holy conquest. At the edge of the conflict lies Tom Navo, a man who has lost a life, only to rise again. But his life spirals into chaos once more when he learns that his memories have been tampered with. Hope and revenge are all that remain after he meets Shakara, a woman who has also been shattered by grim secrets, secrets of missing families, brainwashed soldiers, and a warmongering king. Yet, among these bleak forecasts resides a hint of possibility, a chance to extinguish the coming darkness, with a clue to the location of the ancient Impermeable Suit, the lost enchanted armor of legend, surrounded by tales of triumph and glory of its former bearer. Now, Tom and Shakara seek its power, but others, dangerous and determined, including the zealous King of the North himself, have deciphered the clue and race to find such a potent weapon. In a realm full of deception and disloyalty, lust and malice, corruption and tragedy, stands a story of lords and servants, assassins and soldiers, and extraordinary beings aplenty, whose future teeters perilously on the brink of doom, as all life descends into shadow.
The Descent. Two Voices. A Witness To Death.
Another step: Tom Navo’s right foot hung over the edge of the rooftop. He scanned the open square far below. Trees and cars blurred, the people walking by mere specks. The jacket of his beige three-piece suit flapped around as if he stood in a violent storm. Inch by slow inch, the wind shoved his loafers forward.
“What have I done, what have I done?” Tom murmured.
You have done well, a malevolent voice intruded into Tom’s thoughts.
“I’ve killed my boss,” Tom stuttered. “One hit, and I killed him.” Sweat stung his eyes, as he gasped, dizzy, and his head began to throb. Under the clear sky, light reflected off the circular mirror-top surface of the plaza below, blinding him; he closed his lids, completely disoriented. His right leg was shaking violently, his foot slipping, as his nerves edged from tremulous to convulsing.
You killed him with good reason. He fired you. He deserved it, the strange voice insisted.
Tom realized the voice was not his own, not his own thoughts. Alarmed, he yelled, “Where are you? How do you know this?”
Come to me … I need you … Jump now!
Tom swiveled his head around in panic, searching for the untraceable speaker. The voice was right, though. It was time to end it. “Okay,” he replied.
The wind thrust, his nerves jolted, and without a pause for hesitation, he felt his foot fall forward, tilting off the raised lip. In an instant, he was flung into the warm air that pressed against him as he plummeted. He became horrifically aware of the doom below, and within moments, its appeal lost hold. Screaming, with the agility of a cat with no lives remaining, Tom frenetically turned his body in the air so that his arms and head faced the building. Arms outstretched, they hit the first balcony directly two floors down from where he fell. His right wrist made a sharp cracking noise, and another a scream of anguish escaped.
Tom had missed seeing the balconies somehow when he had peeped over the side of the skyscraper. They did not exist on the bottom half of the building, and from the street below, they were tough to make out.
Why does he want you? What does he need you for? Don’t listen to the fool, a second voice interrupted Tom’s concentration. The new speaker whispered in a softer tone, kinder in its force. Focused on his pain, he paid no attention to the new speaker, yelling as he descended.
Grasping for the next railing, he gripped the solid bar with his left hand and squeezed as tightly as he could, straining his shoulder while he desperately tried not to let go. Tom recovered some of his breath, though in shock, still hanging from the ledge of the balcony. His strength began to waver. Feeling his fingers moisten in sweat, loosening his grip, he tried to grab the rail with his right hand, but immediately the pain shot from his wrist down to his shoulder. He let his arm fall back to his side at a comfortable angle.
His left arm and shoulder began to shake with the effort. Now it was time. Time to die. Tom examined his options in haste. He did not have the energy or brawn to lift himself up with one arm, and more than likely, not even with two. He hung on to the bar, but he had nothing left worth holding on for, and his desire to live declined yet again.
Loosen your fingers and bring yourself to me! the first voice returned.
It was comforting at this point, even welcome. Tom wanted to die, wanted to let go.
“I can do it, I can let go,” Tom mumbled to himself reassuringly. Death, dying, he contemplated the words.
Don’t listen to the fool, you don’t know what his intentions are, the second voice argued.
This voice gave power to Tom’s muscles, he felt lifted and guided, and his body became lighter. But even with these words of power, his muscles were too exhausted. His grip held no longer. Once more, he plunged toward the concrete below. He closed his eyes. The conflicting voices swayed back and forth in his head, as he envisioned his splattered entrails over the unavoidable sidewalk below, his blood shining across the entrance of the building.
Another crunch as his body landed on a cushion that rested upon a flat tanning chair. Snapping, it collapsed the foot and a half to the floor. Tom had forgotten that every third floor had extended balconies, about three feet longer than the two above him now. He had never been invited out onto one of the balconies and barely knew they existed. Now his body stretched out on the pillowy cushion while he lay on his stomach, unmoving, as bruises bloomed all over his wrists and kneecaps.
Tom shifted his body slightly. His last howl echoed off the city buildings, down streets, through alleys. They were screams of a dead man, or at least an almost dead man. He lay still for a long while, resting on the cushion. Eventually, he rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes to view the balcony railing.
“Well, at least I’m done falling.” He laughed, enduring the pain. He stared up at the sky, but with blurry and unfocused vision, so he shut his eyes again.
No, you must come to me, the first voice insisted.
Tom ignored the speaker as he tried to lift his arms toward his head; a pop came from his shoulders that made him writhe in agony, settling the damaged limbs back to the sides of his waist. The pain subsided after a minute of two, and he decided to test his legs instead, but also failed at this attempt, for they cracked and burned in the movement. He recuperated, lying on the cushion, then opened his eyes once more, and this time he could see a few passing fluffy clouds as they formed into different shapes.
Tom, you must come meet me, the first voice resounded in his head.
“Why? Why must I meet you? Where are you? Even better, who are you?” Tom asked. Questions upon questions piled in his mind.
I need your help … freedom can be ours, with each other’s help.
“I can’t help you, I can’t even help myself.”
Withdrawn again, the voice gave no reply.
Time crept slower than a slug sliding across a sidewalk, as Tom tried to breath through the pain. He wished and yearned for the idleness of death and all its numbness. Numbness refused to come.
The clouds disappeared. Assessing his left arm again, Tom squinted at his hated sumptuous watch, the faceplate broken, but he could still make out the different arrows and where they pointed. It had only been fifty minutes since he had entered through the lobby doors. He calculated that the meeting with his boss had taken about five minutes, maybe less. He assumed that he had been lying there for a little while, but forty minutes was not nearly long enough, the trauma lengthened time to feel like decades had passed. His body pulsed in torment while his mind pounded against his skull like a drum being smacked repeatedly by relentless hands.
How had he managed to survive the fall? The balconies were apparently part of a design aesthetic he would have called a flaw. Pulling his upper body off the cushion, bending from the waist, Tom managed to cling to the railing with his left hand, and brought himself upright on two unsteady legs, leaning against the enclosure. He spotted a metal deck chair and sat down, pain resurging.
Jump again, we must talk face to face, the first voice entered his thoughts, desperate and treacherous.
Panic struck Tom as he surveyed the balcony, hunting with his eyes for the concealed speaker. “I don’t want to meet you, I don’t want to meet anyone who encourages my demise,” he responded.
But we have to meet, Tom.
We must, for both our sakes.
Don’t listen to the fool, the second speaker said. He is against you; I am with you.
“No one is with me, no one has ever been with me,” Tom spoke to the hidden voices.
Tom, you must jump, the first voice pressed.
“NO,” Tom screamed. “Go away. Go away!”
No response came.
Tom caught his breath. Suicide drifted out of his thoughts, replaced with the idea of escape. Resting his right hand on his leg, he buried his face in his left, wiped the tears away, and groaned. He pinched his nose between his thumb and index finger. More tears burst from his closed eyes and rolled down his face, eventually soaking the collar of his shirt and spots on his chest. “Oh thank God,” he whispered to himself, brushing his fingers through his hair until he reached the top of his neck. He let out a sigh, one that lasted a while, drew in breath and let out another long sigh.
The entrance to the office was a sliding glass door that opened from the inside and glided from right to left. The door, made of sturdy thick glass, reflected its strength back at him.
He stood and leaned forward, touching the glass that blocked his passage into the building. The vertical blinds hung folded back, making the inside visible. Peeking through the glass, Tom realized that the rod, which normally blocked the door from sliding, was missing. He lifted the upright chair, letting the unfastened cushion fall to the concrete floor. Holding the metal chair with one semi-damaged hand, he threw it against the glass, but it only bounced off, breaking one of its legs.
“Damn cheap chairs,” Tom said in frustration. He laughed and sobbed simultaneously, wiping tears with his throbbing left arm. A stone glittered in the sunshine next to a pot full of daisies, and he blinked at the arranged pile of rocks of various sizes. He bent over to grab one larger than two fists, fingering the jagged edges. A few hard hurls cracked the sturdy barrier. Putting a foot up to the crack line, he pressed against the glass and broke it, forming a small hole by the handle that left barely enough room to reach into. He stretched his left arm through the serrated hole, flipped the lock switch, grabbed the handle, and slowly slid the door open.
Tom fled the balcony, bumping into a leather chair in the empty office. Pushing it aside, he swept through the door. The entire floor was a duplicate of his own level, which allowed him to break for the elevators, for he knew the route well. It was a barren landscape of cubicles, devoid of life, and since it was still early on a Saturday, he expected people to be scarce on all the floors. Even the hallway to the elevator matched identically, the same dullness plastered along the walls. When approaching the shaft, he extended his fingertips to hit the down arrow, fatigue settling in his mind.
Buzzing, the doors opened wide, and his thin, six-foot figure stepped into the vacant elevator. The doors shut. Tom lit up the big four on the key panel. Numbers counted down, 79, 78, 77, one after the other, with only the hum of the elevator sounding in the silence.
Tom’s eyes fixed on the metal mirror doors. He focused on his chalky face and started to appraise its qualities. A face still young in essence, but tired, with bags showing under his eyes, probably due from the lack of sleep and the aftereffects of the alcohol that crept through his veins.
But neither of those explained why his hair was turning pepper colored; Tom missed the jet-black it used to be. It was also thinning, with every day worse than the day before. He kept his hair cut short, never more than an inch on the top. He despised stubble: his neck and face were cleanly shaven, but he saw himself lucky, as his hair grew slower than a snail could inch its way across the world, so he did not have to shave every day. Wrinkles covered his brow and around his mouth where he smiled; he disliked the wrinkles and even thought about using cosmetic injections to slow the lines. Lately, he had started to age more rapidly; he hoped that no one would say anything, and so far, no one had.
Why was he aging so fast? Tom was only in his mid-thirties.
Droplets of sweat beaded into his ears, down to his collar. For the last four years, Tom had spent some time alone in the elevator, searching for a little red light, or anything else that might suggest that security watched over the multiple elevators. If they had security scanning the building with invisible cameras, they either did not know of the murder, or he was not yet suspected. In his mind, the former won as more logical.
The fourth floor greeted him kindly. Unlike on the other floors he visited, the walls were painted bright silver and popped with happiness, a break from the monotonous cement-gray color scheme. Tom stepped into the corridor and stopped, staring at a brilliant Hawaiian picture that hung centered in the hallway, placed in the exact location where he had suggested a painting should go years ago on his own floor. He had met icy rejection from his boss. The exit to the stairwell was a hard right, around the corner from the elevator shaft; and voices carried from down the hallway where the cubicles connected in a grand puzzle of hopelessness.
Tom did not dawdle.
Running down the stairs until he reached the first floor, he stopped briefly, scanning the entrance door to the lobby, and then the hallway to the emergency exit in the back. He briskly jogged on the concrete flooring, every step echoing noisily through the hall. Two cameras safeguarded the exit, one overhead from the door facing him, and the other watching the doors. He lifted his open palm to his face, blocking most of it from the camera. Titling his head up, he read the Emergency Exit Only sign that hung above the doors; next to the door handles, a mantled slot to slide an I.D. card waited for him.
With his injured arm, he carefully but quickly slid his Innovation Today I.D. card through the scanner; the red indicator light changed to green. Blurrily realizing that he had just revealed his identity, he lowered his arm and pressed one of the doors open. The alarm failed to sound, and for a second Tom’s mind wandered, switching to the image of Mr. Luther lying dead beside the overturned desk, papers scattered across the office.
The sunlight blinded him. Squinting into the alleyway, he spotted a blurry red cat running away. Tom followed the spec to the sidewalk, and from there, he stopped to let his eyes adjust to the brightness. The sun was too hot, and the light overwhelmed his senses. Nausea overtook him. His hands suddenly began to shake violently; he turned back into the alley, faced the wall, and bent over as his stomach churned. His stomach contracted, and a slight burning crawled up his throat, but nothing came out. In a painful burst, he retched up the contents of his stomach. The next few heaves were dry. He did not need a mirror to know that he looked like a mess, shirt stained, eyes swollen, bruises darkening.
Dazed, he walked down the sidewalk, aimlessly strolling for a few blocks until his stomach growled and rumbled, awakening all the rest of his dulled senses. He needed something cool for his burning throat.
“Ben-Barkley Market,” Tom whispered. He twisted his head to search for followers. A creepy feeling crawled up Tom’s spine; he sensed that someone had seen him leave the building. The man behind him, who wore a tan coat, chatted on a cell phone, walking in Tom’s direction. Following him.
Tom glanced at the street. A taxi would be faster, but he did not want to risk being on anyone else’s radar, and at least out in the semi-fresh air he could breathe better. He walked sluggishly for twenty-five minutes, dragging his feet down and up hills, glancing over his shoulder constantly. Periodically, he stopped to scan his surroundings. The man in the tan coat had disappeared. But he feared the man would leap out from the shadow of an alley and flash his undercover badge, or something more lethal.
Jump into the street, the first speaker said, returning from its long silence. Do not worry about pain; it won’t last.
Tom disregarded the words, staying close to the buildings. He became lost along the way to the market, the street signs utterly confusing him. He could not remember exactly the location of the store. He had only been there a few times before, and every time he had only managed to stumble across it by mistake. Now with the intention of finding the store, he could not stumble.
The sidewalk emptied into a three-lane roundabout, roads branching off into four distinct corners. A synagogue stood on the southeast. He shifted his eyes north to the large cathedral that rose high, reaching for the clouds. To the west of the cathedral, a mosque stood. Finally, his eyes rested upon the southwest corner, where an immense megachurch spread far back into its own corner.
The War Zone: the four corners where the four places of worship converged, each supporting its own suburb district, communities that thrived within their own borders while shunning their neighbors. At times, there would be a short armistice, until it failed due to a shooting, or something worse.
Yet, at this convergent point, engagement and interaction always occurred. The road forced the interaction, the yielding and not yielding of motorized vehicles; it was a clash of foreseeable disaster.
An areligious man, Tom had never been a true practitioner of any faith, but if ever there was a time to repent, it was now. Blood stained his hands, and he needed them cleaned. A man’s death weighed on his conscience.
Don’t bother with frivolities, the first speaker said.
Tom listened to the voice this time and mused over the words. He had a vague idea, or impression about each religion, and none of them appealed to his reason. “You are right, whoever you are, I do not desire the path of expiation,” Tom said quietly to himself. “I must think of an escape.” He would not be cowed into atonement by the overwhelming insistence of guilt that prodded his thoughts. At last, the compulsion in the imagined speaker’s tone swayed him.
Tom observed the roundabout quietly. He studied the four great buildings, admiring most of the craftsmanship. The synagogue, an incredible building with two towers climbing into the sky from the sides of the entrance, shined with a Magen David between the triangular slopes of the roof: its six shielding points brightly sparkled across the roundabout.
Four skinny spiry minarets marked the edges of the mosque, and at the center, a great silver dome rose into the sky. A circle of windows marked the dome, and in the clear weather, it gleamed and scintillated silver flashes in all directions.
The truly magnificent beauty of the four corners that caught Tom’s eye did not glisten with the same radiance as the other two buildings, but drew him in another manner. He looked at the cathedral; it was the oldest of the three. The sunshine hit the stained glass windows of the huge building and the cross standing atop the roof, which lit the surrounding area in a multicolored display that snapped an unforgettable memory-shot in his mind.
The colossal megachurch overshadowed the rest in size, rising four stories, but its presence staled in comparison; it gave the impression of a modified hotel. Off-white ticky-tacky stucco covered the outside walls, and appeared to be so thin that a hand could punch through it. Three enormous crosses soared from the rooftop and another above the archway entrance. Half of the parking lot lay visible; it looked like it wrapped around the building for some distance. The scene was horrifically lifeless and stodgy next to the other three, and Tom turned away in revulsion. Instead, he faced the synagogue and watched people accumulate outside; he overheard the words “bar mitzvah” as people arrived with gifts and cards. The crowd outside of the synagogue started to flow into the building like a river being un-dammed.
By that time, Tom realized he had been standing in the same place, gawking at the crowd, so he walked to the edge of the roundabout, and was startled to see that in the center grew a flowering Pacific Madrone tree. Its scarlet bark was starting to shed, showing greenish stain. White blooms opened in the sunlight, and a boxy little treehouse with a window enclosed the center of the tree. Branches sprouted and jutted in every direction, some going in and out of the house, almost as if the tree and the house had grown together.
Tom noticed a slender wooden ladder climbing up to a square opening, but he could not get a clear enough view to see if anyone was inside. At the bottom of the ladder was a wooden sign with three carved lines:
We All Have A Limb To Lose.
Thus come and meditate on the truth.
Thus you will hear the truth.
Tom pondered what the sign meant about losing a limb; he glanced at his own right arm and smiled, glad not to have lost it. He had a compulsion to climb up the ladder. Then all of a sudden a man appeared in the window facing him. Surprised, he walked back a few steps. He was not there before. Did he magically form from nowhere? He must have been sleeping.
The man turned to peer out the window and sighted Tom. He smiled politely, pressed his skinny palms together, and bowed until his body was just barely above the window. Tom had never seen such a pure obeisant gesture directed at him; it was as though the man thought of Tom as his king. Most people ignored him, or quickly shot him a smile in passing, making this scene highly unusual. People never shook his hand, let alone greet him with deference. Tom did not even know this man, and yet he acted kinder to him in five seconds than anybody at his office ever had in the last seven years. It was clear the man had a deep respect for the people around him.
Respectfully, Tom gave an awkward attempt of a similar gesture and made a deep obeisance, but his knees buckled in fatigue, so he turned toward the megachurch. He had caught sight of a yard sale in the parking lot, and he hoped they had water, or at least a little girl with a lemonade stand. As he walked through the bushes that outlined the lot, his vision fixed on something familiar: the indelible tan coat.
“But how?” he rasped as he froze. The man rummaged through the clothes section as if buying them were his true intent.
Tom squatted behind the front of a car. He peered to the side and studied the man. His movements were slow, shuffling pants across tables, or holding up t-shirts to the bottom of his neck as he laid them flat against his chest.
Tom’s stomach churned again. Hairs shifted, goose pimples formed on the back of his neck. He whipped around, flat against the front of the car. “He saw me,” he stuttered. Cleverly, he sidled along the cars, ducking until he came to the end of the parking lot. He ran through the bushes again, this time heading north toward the mosque. A short line of cars drove on the road to his left, so he hurried up the crosswalk. He searched for the tan coat, but he could not sight it in the crowd.
A man standing on the minaret above Tom captured his attention. He eyed him with uncertainty, hoping the man would not somehow give away his location. His attention shifted back to the tan coat. “He didn’t see me leave, that’s for certain,” he whispered to himself. “One step ahead this time.” His throat blazed as if lava coated it all the way down to his stomach; it begged him for water to relieve the molten fury.
A bell rent the air.
Tom jerked to a halt. He scrambled to find the sound’s source, for it disturbed him as if it were the knell of his death. With a glance over his shoulder, he spotted the belfry protruding from the back of the cathedral, where the bell swung back and forth, singing its sad lament for Tom’s end. The song filled him with terror and unease. He picked up his pace to a slight jog to find the nearest market.
Tom found the closest store a few blocks up from the roundabout. He did not know the area, and did not want to waste any more time looking for a familiar road. His need for liquid became absolute. He glimpsed at the sign above the entrance and could not read the foreign symbols, but various neon signs glowed in the windows.
A police cruiser drove past Tom much too slowly to be a coincidence. He whirled around and stepped inside the market.
The place was small and salubrious, unlike most minimarts, which in Tom’s experiences typically meant dirty and run-down. It had six rows of brimming shelves full of food, and a few tables and chairs in the back for coffee and eating. Walking past the register, he did not see a cashier, so he headed to the back to find a seat, grabbing a pink glass bottle and a package of donuts on his way. Twisting off the cap, he gulped down the juice; the soothing iciness attenuated the harsh burning in his throat, eventually washing away the fiery effect. Relieved, he opened the package of donuts, and shoved a few of the chocolate-covered circles into his mouth.
The cashier returned to the register. He looked healthy and clean, and although the turban atop his head was not a new sight, Tom was still surprised by its presence. His vision kept blurring, unfocused, and his lids weighed down on him, fighting off exhaustion.
Tom had a good view of the door, just in case he needed to dash out the back. He watched the entrance and the cashier, who did not pay him any mind, so he continued to eat and swig without rushing to the counter to hand over his money.
He examined his surroundings. Out of four aligned tables in the back, he had chosen the first one, for the view. A couple sat two tables down from him, whispering in a foreign language. They sipped on the same coffee as they passed the cup back and forth, and both wore cloth headpieces, the woman’s colorful and vibrant.
“What now … what do I do now?” Tom sighed, rubbing his neck with his left hand, resting his sore and broken right hand on the table. An image of his boss lying on the floor flashed into his head. The sound of sirens broke his concentration on the image. They were hot on his trail, the man in the tan coat had called him in: he had been sighted.
He’s the least of your worries, the first voice stated harshly.
Startled, Tom jumped up off his chair. A police cruiser zipped by in a blurry light show, the siren trumpeted so loud it popped his eardrums. He sat down again, trembling.
Tom stared at his broken wrist. The pain had numbed some time ago, though he did not realize it when it happened. He had been more preoccupied with the man in the tan coat and the itchy burning in his throat. And the voices … the unexplainable voices. He was chewing on the second to last donut when he sighted a blue-coated officer stepping into the market.
“Oh, shit,” Tom’s lips mimed. He glanced at the door leading to the back, but he could not move. His muscles grew taut, but his mind no longer sent orders to them. He sat inert. His head went berserk with thoughts, his heart pounded. Sweat dribbled down his forehead and cheeks, and he quickly patted it away with his shirtsleeve.
After buying a small coffee and the daily paper, the officer proceeded toward Tom, sitting down at the table closest to him. Tom looked more than suspicious—he shook from perturbed nerves while he sweated, practically a rain cloud of perspiration, and his dirty shirt made a lousy sponge. He desperately tried to calm himself by drinking the last half of the pink juice in one long chug. He patted his face again with his sleeve, but to no avail.
Tom watched the cop flip to the crossword puzzle and began to fill it in. He considered paying and leaving at that moment, but instead got up and snatched a forty-ounce water bottle, then sat back down, twisting off the cap. He drained half the container instantly.
He sized the cop up, trying to make a quick assessment of his abilities. The man’s built shoulders stretched wide, as broad as a bull, unlike the cashier and himself. If it came to a fight, the cop would be the victor.
Tom’s legs were too drained to outrun the cop even if by chance they proved the faster. He shook and shook. “They caught me,” he whispered. “The man in the tan coat is probably waiting outside to see that the arrest goes smoothly. They are toying with me, trying to get me to confess to the murder without saying a word to me, without making any threatening motions. They’re leaving it all up to me. But I won’t talk. I won’t do it. The back door….”
Tom slouched over the table, breathing steadily. He gathered his nerves, for he had to be cunning this time around, one step ahead. He again contemplated paying, and then briefly his mind changed to slyly sneaking out the back somehow, noiselessly, if only he had time to devise a proper plan.
Why pay for it when you can just take it, the shadowy first voice spoke in his mind again, trailing off in a faint whisper.
Don’t listen to the fool and his vileness, the second speaker intruded.
Tom did not want to listen to either one, for they equally alarmed and seduced. “Where the hell are you people?” Tom paused. “What is happening?” he asked himself sotto voce.
Another man entered through the front door, and set a package of gum on the counter in front of the cashier. He wore torn and discolored clothing, like it had seen the wash too many times, and his brow looked dim and haggard.
The cashier smiled politely, scanning the package. “A dollar eight,” he said tiredly in English, resting his arms on the countertop. Waiting for the customer, he bent over to grab a paper bag under the counter.
The customer glanced at the door nervously: his facial expression changed. When the cashier brought his head up, a revolver was pointed between his eyes. Tom had never witnessed a robbery, but he had imagined that a cashier would be more afraid than this man; he locked his eyes with the robber and did not twitch a muscle.
“Give me, give me the money,” the robber stammered, then he paused. “Give me all the money in the register, and I won’t shoot you. Move for anything else, and I’ll put a bullet through your fucking head.” The robber’s words smoothed out the second time around, as he continuously shifted his eyes between the entrance and the clerk. The robber’s voice went low, and the cashier did not speak a word, so Tom recognized that the cop was unaware of the situation, still focused on his crossword puzzle.
Tom hazily saw the events unfold. It happened too fast. He had to process the situation in a few seconds, and already his body shook out of control, too nervous. Now all he could think to do was to get the cop’s attention. “Psst … officer,” he said in a faint, meek voice. He waited for a response. Nothing. He stared down the officer, who existed in his own world, hearing nothing of the outside disturbances. “Officer, the store is being robbed.” He pointed a finger in the direction of the counter. Nothing. No rescuing movement came from the officer, who now concentrated harder on the puzzle, frowning.
Losing time and unable to think of a better plan, Tom picked up his last donut and threw it at the blue shirt. “Hey, officer,” he whispered. “Gun.” Again, he pointed at the cashier and the gun next to the man’s head. He tried to be as sparing with his indications as possible, so that he would not draw the attention of the robber, but he threw the donut at the wrong cop, for the officer mistook Tom’s plea as an act of aggression.
Roiled, not only from being disturbed from his puzzle, but from the chocolate strip down his shirt, the cop looked up, more irascible than Tom ever imagined. He stood up. “What the hell are you doing?” the officer said, walking over to Tom.
“Shh … the store is being robbed, look!” Tom whispered, his fingers still pointed toward the entrance and the theft scene.
“What are you talking about, do you want me to arrest you?” the officer threatened in annoyance, taking out a pair of handcuffs. The couple paid no attention, completely oblivious to the robbery and Tom’s new situation. Panicking again, he squirmed out of his chair while the much larger cop grabbed at him. The cop seized his right arm, forcefully trying to lock a cuff around his fractured wrist, as Tom tried to get away. He fidgeted and wiggled, and with one swift motion, he kicked the officer in his left shin, making him bend over in pain.
Slipping through the officer’s loosened grip, Tom made a dash for the door. The cashier had been shoveling money into the paper bag, but he noticed Tom barreling alongside the shelves, heading for the entrance. The robber saw the cashier shift his gaze to Tom, who sprinted for the blocked door. Following the cashier’s sight, the robber looked at Tom as well, giving the cashier enough time to duck under the counter.
The officer whipped around the corner, seeing the man with the gun for the first time. He drew his service pistol from the holster at his side with a flawless reaction time. “Drop it,” the cop yelled. His voice boomed. The robber adjusted his aim to fire three shots at the cop, and one managed to hit him straight through his head, which splattered blood on the back wall. The officer managed to fire off a shot as well, but only after a bullet penetrated him, throwing off his balance and his aim, ejecting the bullet toward the shelves right behind where Tom ran.
Tom sprinted as quickly as he could for the door while the bullets whizzed past. He made it close to the entrance when the first voice entered his mind: Come to me, it spoke. I will be waiting for you, Tom Navo.
Pay no attention to the fool, I will rescue you, the second voice said. Know your Savior. An image flashed following the words: it was a man sporting a triple tier crown, draped in a robe covered in jewels and gold. The man vanished, discombobulating Tom.
The robber spun around and darted for the door, shoulder to shoulder with Tom, who saw that the width of the doorway did not span wide enough for the both of them to fit through, but he could not slow his pace in time. The cashier jumped up from behind the counter, holding a black, short-barreled shotgun. He fired at the escapees, hitting the robber in the lower legs, and spraying into Tom’s legs as well. The robber hit Tom with so much force that they tripped, and both of them flew through the doorway.
Their legs trailed blood as they cleared the narrow sidewalk, colliding into the front of a moving SUV. The driver immediately slammed on the brakes, carrying their bodies with the gas-guzzler. As the automobile stopped, they rolled off the hood and crashed onto the ground in front of the SUV’s enormous traction tires.
Enraged, the cashier ran out to the scene and fired two more cartridges at the front of the SUV, splattering the already mangled bodies and flattening the vehicle’s tires. Blood covered the white hood of the vehicle. The female driver screamed wildly. The couple from inside stood in the market’s entranceway, mouths gaping.
The cashier bent down to inspect the bodies: they were mashed and torn, bones sticking out of the skin at places, some of them visibly shattered. The cashier examined the body without the gun: Tom had a large crack running down his head that sunk in from the impact, resembling a deflated basketball. The other body, the robber who had pointed the gun at the clerk, was in slightly worse condition, where rounds of the shotgun pierced his body, creating large holes through much of his torso and legs.
The car’s windshield had shattered on the passenger’s side when the two bodies soared into it in the initial impact; the hood had a deep impression where the bodies rolled back down when the driver frantically braked and came to a halt.
Police arrived at the scene a short time after the incident, and news crews hurried to get an interview with the market clerk, the driver, and the couple who had been inside the market. The remains were eventually taken away later that afternoon. The next day, several newspaper articles pronounced the cashier a hero for trying to save an officer’s life, and bringing two criminals—a wanted prison escapee and a man who had hospitalized his boss—to what the newspapers called a fair end.