BLOWOUT - MARK JOSEPH KIEWLAK
The mall was crowded. It was the day after Thanksgiving. Late in the afternoon. I saw him moving through the crowd with the boy on one side of him and the girl on the other. He didn’t see me. He was in a hurry. Neither of the kids was looking around. They had their heads down. He had a hand on each of their backs, pushing them forward, keeping them moving. They were nearly running to keep up with his stride. I began to close the gap.
Halfway down the corridor, he stopped and veered right. It was the entrance to one of those long narrow hallways that ran between the stores. This one led to an exit. I couldn’t let him get to the parking lot. I didn't know if he had help out there. I had to stop him now.
I veered right and banged through the double doors and took my gun out as I did. He was halfway down the corridor and moving fast. The light was stale yellow and the walls smelled of urine. He glanced back and saw me and saw the gun at my side and stopped. I raised my gun. I watched his hands. If they disappeared around front, I’d have to shoot. I didn’t mind, except for the kids. They were too close. And they didn’t need to see something like that.
“Ryker,” I said. “Give it up. Turn the kids over.”
“Fuck that,” he said.
“Hey, asshole,” I said. “Watch your language.”
“You tellin’ me how I can fucking talk in front of my own fucking kids?”
I was moving closer and his hands had stayed where they were. Neither he nor the kids had turned around.
“She pay you?” he said. “She pay you for this? To break up our family? To take my fucking kids away from me?”
“Seems like you're the one,” I said, “taking them from her.”
He was muscular. His shoulders ended about halfway up his ears. Top heavy. He’d be slow. But he had the kids.
“Who’s outside?” I said. “Someone waiting for you? Girlfriend? Friend?”
“You don’t wanna stop me,” he said. “No one’s gonna stop me.”
He began to turn around slowly. I watched his hands. “Let me unzip my coat,” he said.
“That would be stupid of me,” I said.
“It would be stupid not to,” Ryker said.
He was wearing a long black leather coat. He unzipped it slowly and opened it so I could see. There were explosives strapped to his bare chest. Lots of them.
“The kids go with me,” he said. “Or they don’t go.”
“Don’t do anything stupid,” I said.
He snorted. “We’re a little fucking past that now,” he said.
There was a men’s room further down the corridor and a small elderly man exited. He was only a few steps away from Ryker before he finally raised his head to see who was blocking his path.
“What is this?” the man said.
Both of the children ran toward him. “Grandpa,” they said.
It was my chance to nail Ryker. But I didn’t know his setup. I didn’t know if he had a deadman’s switch.
“Get away from him,” Ryker growled. “He ain’t your fucking grandfather.”
The children had hold one each of the old man’s legs. The old man was small-boned and only five feet. They nearly bowled him over.
“So it’s your old man,” I said. “Waiting outside.”
Ryker’s attention was split. “Yeah,” he said. “He’s gonna take the kids.”
“What about you?” I said.
“I’m done,” Ryker said. “I’m just fuckin’ done.”
The children were hiding behind the old man now, afraid of their father’s anger. They were twins. Six or seven years old. They had dirty blond hair like their father.
“What’s going on?” the old man said again.
“She put you up to this,” Ryker said to me. “The lawyer’s idea, right? Hire a fucking P.I.”
“You took her kids,” I said.
“Half mine,” he said. “They’re half fucking mine.”
I was only a few feet away now. I couldn’t tell how the explosives were wired. Fucking Internet will give any asshole the know-how. I looked at the kids. There were cigarette burns on the boy’s arm. The girl had some discoloration where a black eye used to be.
“You beat your kids,” I said. “Now you’re going to blow them up?”
“Fuck you, I didn’t beat them,” he said.
The double doors swung open behind us and a teenage couple glued themselves to the wall and began making out. After a minute, they looked down the hall and saw my gun and turned and walked out. They’d probably tell their friends first. But mall security would come eventually.
“Are you saying your wife beat the kids?” I said.
“No,” Ryker said. “Not her. It’s none of your fucking business.”
“Who beat the kids?” I said.
The old man was getting impatient. He moved up close to Ryker and the kids stayed behind him. “What’s that on your chest?” the old man said.
Ryker shoved the old man in my direction. “Go on get out of here,” he said. He held his kids in place by the shoulders. The old man walked slowly past me. “My wife is waiting,” he said.
“If you didn’t beat them,” I said, “why are the kids scared of you?”
“They’re fucking scared of everybody,” Ryker said. “Except him.”
“Except who?” I said.
“Except the one fucking guy they should be scared of.”
“Who?” I said.
I turned around and there was a face peering through the double doors. A guy in his mid-fifties maybe. He pushed open the doors and the elderly man moved past him back out into the mall. Someone else to alert the cops. The guy in his fifties stepped inside. He was nearly bald with only a few wispy strands of long gray hair blowing around on top. He had on a gray T-shirt with a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve. He was old school merchant marine tough guy. Enough to eat Ryker for breakfast. He saw I had a gun but he kept right on coming.
“That’s the fucking prick,” Ryker said. “That’s the fucking prick who beat them.”
I was caught in the middle. I turned my gun on the tough guy. His arms were painted blue with tattoos. He was almost on me now, coming nonstop. I’d have to shoot him on Ryker’s say-so.
“Don’t hurt Grandpa!” the little girl shouted.
I lowered the gun and sent a left jab into his side. He took it just fine. I backed up a step to raise the gun again. He came at me fists pummeling and I had to cover up and try to get out from under.
“Fucking bastard,” Ryker said. One of the kids broke loose and ran toward us. I took my finger off the trigger and hit the tough guy in the jaw with my gun. He staggered a bit and I hit him twice more in the face with the barrel, taking a gash out of his cheek and causing him to back up a step. Ryker’s little boy ran past me and threw himself against the tough guy’s chest.
“Grandpa,” he said.
Ryker came up behind me with the little girl and the bomb. “It was him,” Ryker said. “They don’t know any better. He fucking did it.”
“Your father?” I said.
“He ain’t my father,” Ryker said. “He’s her fucking father.”
The merchant marine tough guy hugged his grandson then set him aside. He came at me again, fists pummeling. I shot him in the shoulder.
“Grandpa, no!” the boy said. Both children started to cry. Their grandfather still hadn’t said a word. While he was leaning on the wall bleeding, I half-turned to Ryker.
“He did it all,” Ryker said. “He did everything to them. But he dressed it up, you know? It was all fucking love and shit. He loved them. That’s how he did it. That’s why they don’t know any better.”
The old tough guy was just looking at us and smiling. In a minute, he’d be up again.
“What about your wife?” I said to Ryker.
“He did her, too,” Ryker said. “All her life. Even now. Fucking bastard.” He moved in the grandfather’s direction. “Fucking bastard,” he said to the old man’s face.
The old man was up off the wall and went at Ryker, who still had the girl on his leg. I got between them and punched the old man in his bullet wound and smashed him across the teeth with the butt of my gun.
“They’ll never be free,” Ryker said. “He’ll keep after all of us. That’s why I took them. They’re with me or with nobody.”
“Nobody,” the old tough guy said. He spit a few teeth toward Ryker. The little boy was still clinging to the old man. He opened his arms and the little girl slipped free of Ryker and ran to him. He got down on his knees and hugged the two of them. He nodded toward Ryker. “It was him,” the old man said, "who did it all.”
Two mall cops came through the doors with their guns drawn. They didn’t know what to make of any of it. Neither did I.
“He beat them,” the old man said. “Just because they loved me.”
“You fucking sick bastard,” Ryker said. “Let go of my fucking kids or I’ll take us all out right now.”
“Take us out,” the old man said. He was bleeding from his mouth and his shoulder. The kids were crying into his chest.
“Everybody put their hands up,” one of the mall cops ordered. They were both early twenties, used to dealing with tough-talking teenagers and harmless crazies. This was way beyond them.
“Give me my fucking kids,” Ryker said. He was at my back, ready to charge again.
The old guy threw his chin at me. “I’ll give them to him,” he said. “Then you and I will go.”
“Go fucking where?” Ryker said. “Where do I wanna go with you?”
“Down the hall,” the old guy said. “Out the exit. Away from everyone. Out in the parking lot.”
Ryker thought about it. One of the mall cops, too young to grow a decent mustache, looked at the other one, the one who’d spoken before. “You with the gun,” he said to me. “Drop it. Right now, man. I’m serious.”
Ryker and Merchant Marine glared at each other. “All right,” Ryker said. “We leave. We go together.”
The old guy staggered to his feet. I dropped my gun on the floor to placate the mall cops. The old guy gently thrust the kids in my direction. I bent down and got an arm around each of their chests.
“Grandpa,” the little girl said.
Ryker and the grandfather turned and walked side by side down the corridor toward the exit. Each of them hugged the opposite wall. I stood up with the kids in my arms and blocked the way behind them.
“Hey,” the talkative cop said. “Come back here, you two. Everybody stay right where they are.”
Ryker and the grandfather kept walking. The talkative cop tried to get past me but I stepped right in front of him with both the kids. He saw the cigarette burns and the black eye and lowered his gun. “Good Jesus Christ,” he said.
Ryker and the old man were at the door. Each of them turned and looked back. The kids were staring at them over my shoulders. Ryker hit the pushbar and they stepped out into the cold November sunshine. Just as the door was about to close, I heard the explosion.
BIO: Mark Joseph Kiewlak has been a published author for more than fifteen years. In the past eighteen months, his work has appeared in more than two dozen magazines including Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher, Thug Lit, Muzzle Flash, Powder Burn Flash, Clean Sheets, and many others. He was privileged to have served as judge of the 2007 Wild Violet Fiction Contest. He has also written for DC Comics (FLASH 80-PAGE GIANT #2).
K.J. Howe stops by later
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