Authors: Robert Ward
“Exceptional villainy,” Cas said in the backseat.
“I gotta agree with you,” Ray said. “It should read like, ‘For his originality and brilliance in the midst of his first criminal outing. Rookie Crook of the Year. Dr. Bobby Wells.’ “
“And you say the guy’s thanking you at the end of the call, for what? Being there for him?” Tony said.
“Yeah,” Bob said, trying to get with the twisted happiness of it all. “Kinda like that. He was very grateful.”
“That’s fucking great,” Ray said. “You were very cool under fire, Bob. I would have to say that it augurs well for your new career.”
“Augurs extremely well,” Tony said.
“What the fuck is an ‘augur’?” Cas said.
“Jesus, you are ignorant, Casmir,” Ray said. “It isn’t a thing. It, like, foretells the future.”
“Really?” Cas said. “And I thought it was a fucking tool that bored its way through shit.”
“No, Cas,” Tony said.
are the fucking tool.”
This drew laughs all around. Bob didn’t bother telling them that “augur” and “auger” were two different words, and that Cas was right. Why ruin their fun? But still, the crew’s retrograde vocabulary skills and casual cruelty bothered him almost as much as their failure to understand that he didn’t feel all that great about fucking over his patient.
That was the crummy thing about humanism; it kind of stuck to you even when it wasn’t useful anymore.
Ray parked the car in the old American Brewery parking lot, and for a second Bob felt as if they were just a bunch of working stiffs headed in for the night shift.
They slipped through the barely opened side door and up the old steps, stepping over old hot dog wrappers, condoms, and a seemingly endless supply of beer cans, liquor bottles, and homemade crack pipes.
“Sure it’s the fifth floor?” Ray said.
“Positive,” Bob said.
Cas groaned, but kept up the pace.
When, exhausted and panting, they finally made it to their destination, Ray opened the door and looked inside.
“Don’t see anybody,” he said.
“Maybe we’re here first,” Bob said. He held the mask in his hands, looked down through the glass window, and felt a strange and sinful smallness. It was almost as though Utu was staring into his ulcerated soul and passing a harsh and overwhelming judgment.
“You gonna stand out there in the hall, Bobby?” Ray said, politely holding the door for him.
Bob managed a weak smile and joined the rest of them inside.
The room was huge and filled with old conveyor belts and dead refrigerators. Bob looked around and saw broken windows. A rat scurried into a hole in the wall.
“Anybody here?” Tony said.
“Of course,” said a voice from the dark corner.
Tony and Ray swung their flashlights that way and saw Colin Edwards approaching them, a shotgun in his hands. He looked dapper, Bob thought. Next to him there was a boy in his mid twenties with acne and blond shoulder-length hair. He held a tan suitcase and a .44 Magnum.
“Is that the mask, Bob?” Edwards said.
“It is,” Bob said.
“Let me see.”
“The money first,” Ray said.
Edwards looked at Ray’s SIG, which was pointed at his well-coiffed head.
“Of course,” he said. “Show them the money, Rafe.”
Rafe moved forward one step and snapped open the case. There in his hands were packages of hundred-dollar bills.
“Hey,” Cas said. “That’s a lot. Tony, I think maybe we’re being robbed.”
“Yeah,” Tony said. “How come all we get is a lousy sixty grand?”
Ray turned and aimed his gun at Tony’s head.
“You both made your deals,” he said. “You want, I can cancel them now.”
“That’s all right,” Tony said.
“It don’t seem fair, though, Bobby,” Cas said.
Bob felt a lance of pain. He hated cheating good-natured Cas. He was about to say, “Well, you’ve both done such a good job, maybe we could tack on a bonus. How does twenty-five grand apiece sound?” But before he could get the words out of his mouth, Ray had turned around and was giving Cas a terrifying look, all crazed eyes and bared teeth. The color drained out of Cas’s face as he shrank back into the darkness.
“Now the mask,” Edwards said, handing the shotgun to Rafe, who took it after laying the briefcase on the floor next to him.
Bob handed it to him, and Edwards’s left hand trembled with eagerness. He hit the release button on the side of the box and the glass window popped open. Carefully, Edwards reached into the box and removed the mask.
He turned the mask over in his hands, once, then again. He placed it over his face and peered at Bob through it.
“Boo,” he said.
“Hey,” Ray said. “Give us the fucking money and you can play with it all morning.”
Colin Edwards shook his head. It was, Bob thought, as though he were aging right there in front of them.
Then he threw the mask of Utu to the brewery floor, where it smashed into a hundred pieces.
“No,” Bob yelled. He fell to his knees, scooping up bits of the sun god’s broken face.
“What the fuck?” Ray said. “Why?”
“Because,” Edwards said, “that’s not the real mask. It’s a fake!”
He snapped his fingers and from the corner came two more men, one a fat boy wearing plaid golfing pants, the other a Polynesian, as wide as two Hummers. Both of them were carrying automatic rifles.
“Drop your guns and tell me where the real mask is,” Edwards said, “or we’ll shred all of you.”
Ray looked at Cas and Tony and Bob and all four of them dropped their guns to the floor.
“It can’t be a fake,” Bob said. “You’re wrong.”
“Trust me, it is,” Edwards said.
“I don’t understand,” Bob said.
explain it to you then,” a voice said.
Behind them the elevator doors opened and Emile Bardan walked into the room. In his hand was a .38 Colt automatic. As he moved toward them, the blond boy turned and aimed his Magnum at him. Emile shot him in the forehead; Rafe fell at Bob’s feet.
Emile grabbed Colin Edwards around the throat and used him as a shield.
“I wouldn’t suggest anyone else try anything so foolish,” he said. “Everyone drop your weapons. Or I’ll shoot Colin in the ear.”
Colin said, “Do as he says.”
Edwards’s remaining boys dropped their weapons, while the blond boy lay on the floor, leaking a ribbon of velvet red blood.
“Hi Doc,” Emile said. “How are you?”
Bob, still on his knees, with the shards of the fake mask in his hands, felt his stomach heave, his heart pound.
“You set me up?” Bob said.
“Looks that way,” Emile said.
“You planned this from the start?” Bob said.
from the start,” Emile said. “It was harder than that. In fact, I almost gave up the game a couple of times. But it turned out you were the right man after all. Smart, but not too smart. Underpaid and bitter. Your two patients, Ethel Roop and Perry Swann, were very helpful in filling me in on your marital and financial difficulties. And I also knew that Colin would probably get in touch with you to enlist you in his nasty little plans.”
“You bastard,” Bob said. He tried to get to his feet, but Emile kicked him in the face. Bob fell back, his lower lip split and bleeding.
Bob got to his knees and tried once again to stand. But Emile Bardan had other ideas.
“Stay like that,” he said. “I like you on your knees. At last we have the proper power dynamic in our relationship.”
He turned and looked at Edwards.
“Colin, old man,” Emile said. “How decent of you to bring all that money for me.”
“Well, since you’re the better gamesman, you certainly deserve it,” Edwards said.
“Thank you for saying so,” Emile said. “You know, Colin, I thought about selling you Utu, but this way is so much better. I get to keep the real mask
“But not for long,” Colin said.
“Really?” Emile said.
“Of course. I’ll hunt you down, Emile, and then you’ll wish you’d never been born.”
“I don’t think so,” Emile said. He shot Colin through the chest from only two feet away. Edwards flew backward and sagged against the wall. He looked up at Emile, groaned, then all the passion drained from his face as he slid down the wall and died.
Emile looked down at Edwards and sighed.
“Look how flat he is now,” he said.
He was right, Bob thought. As the blood drained from Edwards’s chest, his body turned from puffed peacock to plastic pancake.
“Now,” Emile said. “Give me that money, please.”
He reached for the suitcase, but the fat boy in plaid smashed it into his face. Bob watched in horror as they all dove for their guns. He told himself that he, too, should be going for his, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. Instead, he crawled into the wall space on the other side of the ancient refrigerator and watched as the shooting began.
Ray shot Emile in the shoulder, hitting an artery. Blood spurted out like water from a fire hydrant on a hot day. Then Cas tried to shoot Emile in the back, but slid in a puddle of Edward’s blood and shot Tony Hoy in the chest. Tony had a look of horror and great surprise as he fell to the floor. Cas turned then and shot the big Samoan in the right eye. This drove the Samoan mad and he shot wildly back at Cas, hitting him in his massive stomach, which spouted a geyser of blood. The fat boy shot Emile in the other arm, which caused him to drop the suitcase full of money and start running for the exit door. Ray shot the fat boy in the right ear. Falling, he shot Cas in the ass as he was screaming, “Emile’s getting away!”
Bob watched in horror as chunks of bone, gristle, blood vessels, and cartilage spewed across the room. Cas fell a few feet in front of him, holding his stomach, and the big Samoan lay down, holding what might have been a gelatinous piece of eye. Tony was already dead, pancaking out on the floor. Only Ray remained unscathed.
But not for long, as the fat boy shot Ray in the back, causing Ray to turn and shoot him in the mouth, sending teeth and bloodied gums flying onto the factory floor.
“Bob,” Ray said, grimacing. “Watch the money. I’m gonna get that little shit Emile.”
Ray started to run to the steps, but then remembered the elevator and limped toward it.
“I can surprise him on the first floor,” he said.
He pushed the door shut and Bob saw a green down light go on.
That’s when the bomb exploded.
The blast hit the elevator doors and blew out into the room. Bob felt himself flung upward like a rag doll, and an awesome wave of heat pushed him backward right into the refrigerator door. He opened the door and stood behind it, using it as a shield.
In front of him he saw wounded men catch fire. The blast decapitated both Cas and Tony, who were flung into each other in midair, as though they were professional wrestlers. On the other side of the room Rafe lost both arms, then burned, his dead eyes staring down at his flaming torso.
The Samoan was sent flying up toward the ceiling, his Hawaiian shirt aflame. He came down on top of the old conveyor belt, itself curled and bent from the heat. His huge, legless body was splayed over the belt. Bob scanned the room for the legs, but he could only find one of them hanging off the top of an ancient air-conditioning unit that bulged out of a glassless window.
The blast had started fires in several spots in the room and Bob knew at once that he had to get out. The only part of his body that he was able to move was his hand, which now crept forward in front of him, his fingers moving like a spider’s, and magically, without Bob knowing how or why, his body followed. For a second he wasn’t sure what he was doing; then he knew.
He was picking up the suitcase full of money, which was still sitting there, right in front of him. The sides of it were charred, a little like himself, he thought … ha ha ha. Yes, he and the suitcase there together … charred twins …
He pulled it to him and laughed harder.
What an odd thing a human was. So fine, a miracle of engineering when all the arms and legs were in the right spot, and so ludicrous when mutilated and dead.
Bob heard himself screaming now, wandering across the floor, trying to avoid a huge, gaping hole. The floor, like the heads, no longer connected by logic to its walls.
Nothing connected to nothing, Bob thought.
Shit just floating out there. Could be an eyeball …
Oh God, God, God …
He was crying now, trying not to look in the blown-out elevator at whatever had become of Ray. Bright, cool Ray. Hipster, tough, cruel Ray, who lived with his mom. All of those character traits now described a mass of blood and guts inside the elevator. Pink, distended bowels hung off the walls like some kind of blown-apart Mexican piñata, but with no candies.
Instead, the candies were in his hand and he’d better run, run down the steps before the ceiling caved in. Nothing in here, see, neither building nor people are structurally sound anymore, oh no … no no … nothing is for sure … a ceiling could cave in, a nose could melt … ha ha ha …
So run, Bob, run…. He was talking to himself in the third person, a trait he always hated when athletes were being interviewed on TV (“That’s right, Darius know how to bound!”), but now somehow thinking of himself in the third person was the only way he could keep going.
He was Bob and Bob had to run down the steps, clutching the money like a favorite teddy bear, run and run, Bob, down to the third floor.
Where suddenly … oh, this was too weird … the steps ended.
The blast had twisted the steps so badly that there was nothing but a hole there … a hole with about a five-foot gap to the next flight of stairs. And down in the gap was darkness. Christ, the basement must be thirty or forty feet down….
You fall down there and who knew what would happen. If the fall didn’t kill you, it would probably break your spine, which, Bob thought, was perhaps what he deserved.
But the leap didn’t seem too bad. If he could just get a little head start. Go up a few steps and then get a good jump. Oh yeah, it was a piece of cake, really.
He hustled back up the steps, clutching the briefcase, and was getting himself set, doing his one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand thing, when he heard it.