by Edd B. Jennings
The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails whereon my soul is grooved to run.—Moby Dick (chapter 37)
Damn, she was hot, which was why I was at the mall, dressed like a mall person, thin shirt, clean black jeans, no boots.
Damn went to shit when I heard the irritating bark of the two two three. Never liked that caliber.
Didn’t help when my date asked, “Who would set off firecrackers in a mall?”
“We need to leave.”
“Maybe it’s some kind of jingoist redneck Fourth of July thing?”
More than one shooter. Separated. I heard the bark of the two two three again this time from a different direction in this massive mall. I should have paid more attention to the layout. I knew exactly how high Gabrielle’s little black skirt hiked when she stepped long, and I had memorized that little circular black line of leather buckling her stilettos just above her ankles. Yes, educated liberal women. I had a penchant for them. Where the exits were in this place, I hadn’t a clue.
She strode toward the bowels of this labyrinthian mall and toward the sound, unmistakable to me, of gunshots. I enveloped her wrist in my large hand. Her heels skated on the tile when I yanked her back.
“You did not just grab me. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“What you heard wasn’t firecrackers.”
“I don’t care what it was. Get your hands off me, asshole.”
“Just shut up do what I say.”
When her attempt to twist out of my grip failed to make an impression, that perfect peaches and cream complexion clouded.
“Men don’t tell me what to do. You’re no exception. Let me go!”
Five minutes ago I would have listened to her commitment to whatever-wave feminism she espoused same as if I were a recent convert, an enlightened male, the sort who participated in sexual congress with women who read feminist literary theory. Far as I was concerned now, she could be refrigerator trope girl, the female character she so despised always at the center of male-oriented action fiction, the girl who dies early and motivates the hero to great heights of pre-feminist masculinity, or as we once named it, revenge. Except I wasn’t motivated by revenge. I was motivated to find the nearest exit.
A two two three sounded again, this time close. Close enough to be accompanied by clearly audible screams. Nothing changed in this part of the mall. If it weren’t for the accompanying gunfire, I might not have distinguished a far off scream of terror from the shriek of an excited child. People went about their business.
She jerked her body weight against my arm and sunk the pointed toe of her stiletto into the meat behind my shin just as I spotted a dark skinned man in jeans and a T-shirt in the crowd with an AR-15 or some derivative held tight to his side. My eyes boring in on the man, I forgot to tell her it hurt. If anything, I tightened my grip on her wrist. I focused on the AR-15. If I made it out of here alive, it was going to be with that weapon. My whole being keyed on how I intended to go about removing that carbine from his hands. No one in the crowd surrounding him seemed to notice it. I labeled him as Ahmed.
I shoved Gabrielle into an open storefront out of his line of sight, spinning her into a rack of women’s clothes where she and the rack tumbled, elegant legs sprawled higher than her head. No insulted cat could match the pitch emanating from her lovely throat. Would the back of this store have an exit? I had no idea.
Her scream energized Ahmed. He flipped the little carbine up to hip level and began to cut loose one handed, pivoting in a full circle as he pulled the trigger. He moved with style suggesting he had studied internet videos, but he didn’t hit much, other than the big woman ten feet in front of him who dropped to the floor shrieking, hands trying to cover a spurting wound in her fleshy thigh. Some of the unwounded ran.
Some froze or signaled their surrender with raised hands. In close like this, he had to turn his back on part of the crowd. When he did, a stocky young man, with the look of a soldier on leave in civilian dress, charged. The two young men flanking him caught him before he made his third step and dogged him to the floor. Ahmed turned at the commotion and pumped bullets into the three where they struggled until they stopped moving.
I called his position at sixty yards out. With a 1911 Colt, I could dry gulch an otherwise occupied man at that distance with relative impunity if I took my time and they stayed in place. Two problems: even if I stopped him from killing a hundred and my cast bullet drilled one of these fat mall people behind him, my life would be tanked long before the criminal and civil justice systems had their way with me. Ahmed would ultimately prove the more salvageable combatant in the eyes of the courts and the media. Likely in America for a university education, his hurt for the plight of his people combined with an abusive childhood would create a compelling portraiture of shattered innocence. Me, I was just another redneck killer looking for a chance to exhibit skills in public. I had nothing to complain about. Why shouldn’t a sophisticated liberal hate me? What were the chances of being caught in a hail of gunfire generated by a Jihadist crusader against the chances of conservatives voting everyone they cared about or admired out of office, and leaving them to watch frustrated as the country’s values reverted to a more primitive time—oh, the second problem, a touch more pressing. Have you ever had one of these liberal women under you, half-undressed, ready and willing? I have. She reaches up to help you complete your disrobement and the hard thing she touches at your waistband is a 1911 barrel. Physical dripping evidence of an STD wouldn’t cool her ardor faster. I didn’t have a 1911. I had a Colt Lawman snub nosed .38 in my right front pocket, easier to hide in the throes of passion and considerably less weapon. For the little .38, a sixty-yard shot was a challenge on a calm day on the back forty.
Ahmed didn’t hit much, but he hit a few. The screaming almost drowned out the shooting. Gabrielle reached a pitch that assaulted what was left of my hearing. It was almost worse than the high velocity rifle rounds going off in an indoor space.
With my arms steadied against the corner of the wall, I began my slow double action pull. Using the little gun double action tightens my grip and restrains the too little gun from bouncing about so much. I almost had the hammer dropped when Gabrielle shouldered me in the ribs, screaming “murderer” as she charged. Point of the shoulder against ribs from a girl who could go to full speed from a standing start, it hurt. We tumbled out into the main corridor.
I looked up into the distant muzzle of Ahmed’s two two three. The storefront glass behind me shattered. He fired as fast as he could pull the trigger. God, a relief. He had absolutely no training. Everything went high.
Gabrielle latched onto my gun arm with the power of the righteous. She did care about me. She was going to save me from becoming a murderer, even at the risk of her own life. All that blond hair, framing that face contorted in the righteous anger of the pure. I never wanted her more. I jerked my arm away from her hands, hard. This young woman had the absolute physical strength necessary to stop me from returning effective fire, and she could hold me in place long enough to get us both killed. I didn’t want to do this. Revolvers are delicate. A surprisingly light rap on the side of the cylinder will put one out of action permanently. I protected the revolver as much as I could with my hand, and with a short, vicious backhand lead with my knuckles and weighted with the revolver, I rapped Gabrielle hard catching the side of her jaw. The dazed, slack look in those steel blue eyes told me she was out before she slumped to the floor.
Prone is hard. With arms straining upward, I’d never make a hit at that distance. I rolled over behind her. With her back as a support for my fists I began my double action stroke. Ahmed’s carbine had run dry. Distracted with changing his magazine, he stood there playing with the thing as if he had called timeout on the playground, and the world would show him the sporting consideration of waiting until he was back in the game; the world did, except for my trigger easing back, stacking the way a Colt’s does. I aimed for his balls. I know my flaws, and a first shot, taken in less than ideal conditions is likely to go high. I cheated, and I am ashamed, but there it is. I didn’t hold for what I expected to get.
The little Colt recoiled. Ahmed jerked. Thank God, I didn’t hurt the AR-15. He still stood. My Keith cast bullet had to drill all the way through him, but he might not be immediately aware he had taken a bullet. I admire the men who buy and use premium factory hollow points. Some of them cost four dollars each. I’m in awe of the raw financial power of a man who can plunk down four dollars every time he decides something needs to die.
He just stood there. My hit probably took him high in the chest, his attempt to reload for the moment suspended. Could I hit him again from this distance in my state? I doubted it. I sprang up and bolted over Gabrielle’s limp body, determined to stop and shoot, if he resumed his attempt to reload or tried to draw the pistol from his waistband. I tackled the skinny fucker and slammed him to the floor hard. His attempts to move under me failed to rise to anything worthy of being labeled struggle.
Behind me around the corner the two two threes started up again. Ahmed wasn’t dead, but I didn’t have time for him. Transferring the Colt to my left hand, I slipped the Benchmade folder from my pocket. With the butt sticking out from under my right palm, I slammed it down into the front of his forehead. Bone indented. Ahmed went slack and open-eyed. Too much of my childhood was spent looking for the open eyes. When they went open and stayed open, it was done.
The screaming out there in the corridor around the corner diminished. A single shot, one less source of screaming, and seconds later the single shot sounded from closer and another source of the screaming stopped. The silence worked its way closer. On my corridor, screaming filled my ears.
With only seconds to prepare had I a clear exit, I would have used it. I shoved a fresh magazine into Ahmed’s AR-15, mine now. Son of a bitch still had seven fresh ones in a nylon bag with a strap, nice bag, and a Glock in a holster. I knew nothing about Glocks. Why couldn’t he have something I knew something about? I shoved the Colt back into my pocket, conscious I hadn’t had time to replace the sixth round, and carefully slid the Glock into my waistband. The little I knew about them was they didn’t have safeties of the regular sort, and more than one old boy had shot himself reholstering.
“Omar, do you yet live?” The voice from around the corner came before I was ready.
Well, the son of a bitch’s name wasn’t Ahmed. He’d still always be Ahmed to me. No time to look for a better position. I settled myself behind Ahmed’s carcass using it for a rifle rest. With all of the wounded, many trying to crawl away to God knows where, and leaving blood smears on the floor and making that high pitched wail they always make, my motionless position shouldn’t draw the eye. Only the top of my head and the muzzle peeked out. I had no illusions about Ahmed’s carcass stopping a bullet. It wouldn’t.
Again. “Omar, in the name of Allah speak to us.”
I didn’t know how many were out there. If they had time to come at me with a plan, they might overwhelm me with sheer volume of fire. Quick spurts of fire from around the corner, taken at odd angles, and never from the same place twice, and sooner or later, one of them would hit me. I needed to get them coming and as a unit.
“That screaming is Omar. I’m fucking him up the ass.”
“Say something, Omar.”
A-hab the A-rab was known in formal military circles as being less than an ideal infantryman. The quality of the human material was just never there. These boys were not going to barrel around the corner to protect the dignity of Ahmed’s ass from violation. The religious fervor of Jihad failed them in their moment of need. What I meant for them to take as Omar’s screams, the screams of the wounded, failed to produce the desired effect.
I had to do better.
My Benchmade folder proved undamaged when I flicked her open. After I cut through the meat, I severed the spine as close to the chin as possible, careful to find a vertebra, which would stress the edge less. I wanted to keep the head as round as possible. I was going to get only one chance, and I had only been bowling once in my life. I was piss poor. To make matters worse, Ahmed was something of a wedge head, unlikely to roll well. His long hair helped. Grabbing the hair, I risked standing. With more force than finesse, I threw his head down the corridor underhanded where it bounced and rolled to beyond the opening where his compatriots could see it.
One of them yelled, “That’s Omar.”
I yelled back, “Fuck Allah.”
Seven of them rounded the corner keening, “Allahu Akbar,” weapons at their hips, firing as fast as they could pull the trigger. One in the middle slipped on the floor and shot the one beside him in the leg. I waited until I was sure all of them who were coming were out in the open.
It was like being a small child again, lining up metal gongs, and raking the staggered row, as fast as I could pull the trigger, an exercise I practiced in honor of the legend of Alvin York. Before World War I, that’s the way he took the incoming geese, shooting the hindmost first to avoid spooking those closer. I’d only done it on geese twice.
The seven were down. Screaming, thrashing, two of them still fired their rifles. I dropped the post into the aperture, and taking more time I centered the first forehead. I took care of the two still shooting before I shifted to the others. The last one must have been spined. The way he jerked, it took the third head shot to touch brainpan and quiet him, graphic illustration of why I have such contempt for the two two three .
The screaming of the wounded filled the corridor. Down to thirteen rounds in the magazine, I changed magazines.
A glance at Gabrielle showed no obvious bullet wounds. I couldn’t afford the time to examine her. Only one of the terrorists exhibited what was probably a little of that after death convulsive movement of the musculature. A quick shot stopped it. Stepping past the one in the middle, I saw the holstered Colt Python. “Poor under privileged third world type my ass. A Colt Python was worth a fortune in today’s market. I’d never forgive myself if I left it. A quick reach and it was mine. When I reached the main corridor, I dropped the carbine to my leg, where it would show at fewer angles, yet remain ready to use. I recognized the stores in this corridor, and walked directly toward the exit leading to the parking lot I wanted.
At the door, I paused. The police may have already arrived. They might shoot a man with a rifle on sight, but they might not. I also didn’t know whether Ahmed might have other armed friends. If I waited at the scene, I might run into them. When the first responders arrived, I’d be led away in handcuffs. Almost anyone would call it an error, leaving the scene is generally regarded as a tacit admission of guilt, but I had to ask myself how I’d rather spend the next few hours, handcuffed and fending off pressure from excited policeman trying to coerce me into talking or sitting in front of my television watching Fox News and drinking beer.
Driving out, I met the first responders coming in. They hadn’t had time to set a roadblock and they careened on by, lights flashing.
I sucked on an Old Milwaukee during Gabrielle’s interview on television. She said the first responders found her just as she had begun to revive. An ugly bruise marred her high, perfect cheekbone. She said her date disappeared like a coward. Just as well she said that, I couldn’t go back to her. She had too much evidence on me.
Late in the night a Fox News ex-military commentator said “Latest analysis from video cameras in place suggests the attack was perpetrated by an elite squad who planned to kill everyone in the mall and ambush the first responders. An unidentified American stopped them. Thank God he was there. Reports coming in are still sketchy but I’d like to shake his hand.” On impulse, I switched to CNN. A pinch-faced female congresswoman from Massachusetts spoke. “We can come together as a nation, mourn our fallen, hold the necessary vigils, and become stronger through our adversity. The refusal of our foreign policy to acknowledge the suffering in the Middle East is the root cause behind these incidents. We need to respond with understanding and not smart bombs. This was the worst mass shooting we’ve ever experienced, not unfortunately this time because of the death toll, but because of the individual who took it upon his non-existent personal authority to mock with intolerance our best traditions in forbearance. Experts have long understood that shooting back only adds to the carnage. Those of us who’ve studied gun violence in America have long maintained that the gun culture gives rise to trained psychopaths far more dangerous to our values and way of life than any foreign threat. It may be time for the American public to accept that banning certain types of weapons is not enough. It’s time to watchlist and register individuals suspected of the capacity to commit such atrocities in the hopes that we can study them and come up with measures designed to eliminate the aberration.”
I flipped back to Fox.
The news for days talked about the need to understand what happened, who did what, and the need for closure. They cautioned about coming to conclusions about the dead men of Middle Eastern extraction found clutching the assault rifles until all the facts were gathered. I watched the news coverage only to figure out what they had learned about me. Where these ragheads were born, how they were educated, when they were radicalized, and what might have appeased them didn’t interest me.
I didn’t call Gabrielle again. She called me.
“I told the FBI. You had a gun and tried to shoot but I stopped you. You hit me and after that I didn’t know what happened. I can understand why you ran, but I need to hear it from you. I have to have closure. I have to know what you saw, what went through your mind. I’m sorry I called you a coward to the media. Society forces such impossible standards on men. Sometimes there is no right answer. We should meet and talk about it. I really can help you with this, if you’ll let me.”
The seductive warmth in her voice drew me, and I almost agreed. With her body near, I’d give her anything she asked. She’d forgive me for being a coward readily enough, but she’d never forgive me for the gun and what she saw as my attempt to kill Ahmed in front of her. She’d be wearing a wire, under those perfect breasts, helping the FBI get what they needed, which meant that it would all be a tease. Otherwise, I might have risked it.
”I’m not trying to justify myself. I was just trying to stay alive.” I kept my tone low and apologetic. I didn’t offer to meet her.
The police already had enough from Gabrielle’s story that they had me dead to rights, and I didn’t understand the delay. They’d know Ahmed was shot by a .38 never recovered at the scene. They had his severed head in the hall, although they hadn’t released that detail to the public. They might not know everything, especially if none of the wounded in the hallway were in shape to testify, but they had enough.
I hadn’t gone to a lawyer. None of them would lie for me if I told them the whole story, but I knew enough about the law that I could say I was too upset to talk. I didn’t know the exact law on it, but mutilating Ahmed’s carcass and the insurance head shots on the downed terrorists, especially the one flopping around with the spine hit that I used three rounds on would be enough to put me away. Especially with Federal officers, if they couldn’t piece together exactly what happened, they could still prosecute me if they decided I lied to them.
When they finally did come, I just told them I was too upset to talk. If I had to, I’d go to a lawyer, and pay him to help me put together a statement, but I didn’t want to. They never came back.
Years later after a pistol match outside that same city, I had a few beers with a group of the old time competitors. One of them was a city cop who was one of the first on the scene that day. I respected the man’s abilities but had never sought him out. He’d shown me the same distance. He pulled me aside.
“You know the Feds had a hard on for your ass. They’d a had you, but state forensics didn’t go out of their way to help them. One of their technicians was so clumsy he ruined critical footage from the mall cameras. Without a coherent story of what went down, they didn’t have a case they could bring before the courts. We didn’t help them arrive at what they had to have.”
When we returned to the others, I bought him a beer. After he turned to go for the night, as if in afterthought, hand still on the partially opened door, he looked back. “How do you like the Python?”
Son of a bitch had pieced everything together. After that when we met, he
nodded. I nodded, but we never spoke again.
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Edd B. Jennings 2017