As I walked out into the restaurant, Humberto’s words echoed through my soul. “A strawsassin always has back-up.”
I walked slowly, studying the face of each customer as I walked by. Everyone looked like a dopey loser with a face full of fattening chow. The idea that one of these morons could be a hired killer seemed unlikely and yet, Humberto knew his stuff.
I reached our table. Rosie was on her third chimichanga cheese stick. “Smasher! Where’d you go? While you were gone, someone ate all your…oh, OK. Fine. It was me.”
I grabbed Rosie’s arm. “Get up.”
“God,” Rosie said. “Don’t shit a brick. I will buy you another plate of cheese sticks, alright? It’s no big deal.”
“We need to move,” I said.
By the look on Rosie’s face, I could tell she realized we weren’t talking about heat lamp warmed piehole stuffers. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Not at all.”
“Will you this one time?”
“Do I have to?”
Rosie stood and walked with me. I looked around. I could still hear Humberto, and not because he was still monologuing in the bathroom. By now, I was sure he was gone, but his words were not forgotten. “There are bloodthirsty killers intermixed with the customers. They’ve got to great lengths to hide their identities. Any person out there on the restaurant floor could be a homicidal maniac.”
My partner and I walked past families celebrating birthdays. College kids avoiding their homework with drinks and potato skins. Old and young alike, having a good time being entertained by that insipid jackass in the Golly Gopher costume.
As we neared the exit, my Shaolin training kicked in. A cold chill ran up my spine. I stopped in my tracks. To my left, I clocked a fat bearded bartender, running the same dirty dishrag across the nice, clean bar over and over again. He didn’t do anything else. He just eyeballed me and worked that rag.
To my right, a young family appeared to be enjoying a night out. They were all decked out in their best finery. I suspected Mom might have been some type of kept woman, her ensemble looking like it had taken time to put together. Nothing a working woman could have whipped up on a minute’s notice, that’s for sure. Dad looked like a professor. Tweed coat. Patches on the elbows. Mom was feeding baby a jar of strained carrots she’d pulled out of her purse, her own plate of barbecued chicken, ribs, and pulled pork going uneaten.
“Come on, sweetheart,” Mom said as she moved the spoon towards the baby’s mouth. “Here comes the airplane into the hangar.”
“Rosie,” I said.
Dad cracked open a newspaper. The Washington Telegraph-Dispatch. He shook his head disapprovingly as he summarized the news for the missus. “Can you believe it, honey? Those nitwits in Congress raised the interest rates again!”
“Sorry to hear that dear,” Mom cooed.
“Get down,” I said to my partner.
“What?” Rosie asked.
I walked up to a round table, where a frumpy, overweight, middle-aged couple sat. Both silently stuffed their faces, using food to fill the hole caused by the unrelentingly depressing fact that they were going to have to stare at each other until the end of time, because both knew full well that at this late stage of the game, neither would be able to do better.
I kicked over their table.
“Hey!” the middle-aged man shouted.
I drew Thunder and pointed it at the man. “Run.”
The middle-aged couple did as they were told. I grabbed Rosie and pulled her behind the table, which was now flipped on its side. It didn’t provide cover from all angles, but it was the best I was able to do at the moment.
I shrugged off my leather jacket. There I was now, my rippling pecs poking through my tight black t-shirt. I drew Lightning. She was made out of silver so pure that she’d make a vampire hiss.
I pointed Thunder at the barkeep. I pointed Lightning at the young family. I looked into the barkeep’s eyes with my left eye. I looked into Mom and Dad’s eyes with my right. Yes, this was uncomfortable and yes, I went cross-eyed for a second.
I lowered my sunglasses over my heads. “Put on your dancing shoes, kids, because Satan is ready to samba.”
Customers freaked out. Dishes clattered to the floor as they ran for the exit. Rosie poked up head up. “Smasher, what the hell are you doing?”
She looked over to the young family. “I’m so sorry. He gets like this sometimes.”
On my left, the barkeep put down his rag. He cracked the muscles in his neck. On my right, Dad put down his paper and Mom put down her spoon. The parents cracked their knuckles.
“You ready to boogie?” I asked the barkeep.
“All over your face like America’s 1990s era sweetheart, Paul Abdul, bitch,” the barkeep replied.
I turned to Mom and Dad. “You two ready to waltz?”
“Like fucking Fred Astaire,” Dad said.
“And fucking Ginger Rogers,” Mom added.
I cocked the hammers of both gats. “Good, but just so you all know…”
Rosie pulled her Glock. “Smasher…what’s going on?”
I hate it when my snappy lines are interrupted. “…it’ll be you three that will be singing…in the blood.”
At this point, you should imagine shit going down in slow motion. After all, that’s what I did at the time, because as you’ll recall, I always have that sweet little mind’s eye trick in my back pocket. It really helps to perform a number of vital movements in rapid secession when every second counts and the slightest mistake can get you killed.
Like a ninja, I fell backward, firing hot lead at my assailants on opposite sides of the room. The barkeep reached under the counter and pulled out a tactical shotgun, a real nasty looking one too. Pistol grip with extra storage for red shells on the side. It was something a pro would use, not some lame ass booze jockey just trying to protect himself from a stick-up.
Dad pulled an Uzi out of that tweed coat of his and I’ll be damned if that thing didn’t spit bullets with the swift precision of a laser beam. With only a second to think, I noticed that the dipshit in the Golly Gopher costume was lunging about in a panic, unsure where to run. I grabbed him around the neck and hid behind his massive furry girth, allowing the costume to absorb the blast.
Mom whipped a 99mm out of her purse and squeezed off a few bursts my way. Golly accepted those too.
Blam! Blam! Blam! The barkeep was tearing the room apart with his shot gun. Dishes and glasses exploding with each blast. I pivoted and moved Golly toward the bar, letting that fat bastard take all that heat.
As the trio of hired guns reloaded, I pulled off Golly’s head to check on the costume’s occupant. Yeesh. The man inside was uglier than the character. Patchy red hair and warts all over his face.
“How did you know the costume would be able to take all those bullets?!” the man asked.
“Oh, right!” I said. “I did know that! Because, you know, science and ballistics and trajectories and shit.”
“Oh, hell no!” the mascot man cried as he bolted out the door. “Daddy’s tux shop, here I come!”
“Damn it,” I said as I grabbed an empty table. I set it in its side, its legs facing the bar. Rosie’s table faced the young family. Together, my partner and I huddled between the table legs.
“I just lost my human shield,” I said.
“You just lost your mind!” Rosie said. “Are you kidding me? Starting a shootout in a crowded public place?”
“Me?” I asked as I raised Thunder over the side of my table and fired blindly in the direction of the bar. “They started it!”
“Be careful!” Rosie said. “There are kids in here!”
“Well,” I said. “We all gotta grow up sometime.”
The barkeep’s gunshots rattled my table. Mom and Dad’s bullets pressed into Rosie’s table, showing it was only a matter of time before our makeshift covers would bust apart, leaving us with our asses in the wind.
“Back to back?” I asked.
Rosie nodded. “Back to back.”
“You got another?” I asked.
“No,” Rosie said.
“Why the hell not?” I asked.
“Because I’m a straw cop,” Rosie said.
I pulled a .38 I kept strapped to my ankle and handed it to Rosie. “Newsflash, baby. Straw cops gotta be strapped.”
As you picture this next part, you should think of your favorite kickass rock and roll song. Something between 1980 and 1992, because rock just fell apart after that. Disagree? Tweet my book’s self-publishing guru, Bookshelf Q. Battler @bookshelfbattle and chew his ear off then, why don’t you? Don’t tweet me, because I’ll put your complaints in my circular file.
Back to the action. Rosie and I stood up, taking our positions in a mini-phalanx. I aimed at the barkeep. She aimed at Mom and Dad. Two humans. Four guns. What a rush.
I shot out the glasses hanging over the bar, sending a torrential pouring of shards down on the barkeep’s head. Rosie matched Mom and Dad shot for shot. No one landed a direct hit and miraculously, everyone managed to duck in the nick of time.
Customers ran out the front door.
“Shoot the baby,” I said.
“What?” Rosie asked.
“Shoot the baby!” I shouted.
“What?” Rosie repeated.
“Damn it!” I said. “Switch!”
Rosie and I turned. She hugged her arms around my mid-section and opened fire on the bartender. I hugged my arms around Rosie’s waist and opened fire on…that damn baby.
Kaboom! The baby exploded into a massive fireball, causing Mom and Dad to jump for cover.
“You just shot a baby!” Rosie snapped.
“That wasn’t a baby!” I said.
The barkeep cocked his gun. I scored a hit in his shoulder, sending him down for what I hoped would be the count. No such luck. He sprang to his feet, ditched the gun, and grabbed a liquor bottle. He twisted off the top, and stuffed his dirty rag down the neck.
The restaurant was devoid of all innocent bystanders now. Mom and Dad pointed their guns at us. Rosie and I pointed back. It was a standoff and we all traded glares, waiting to see who would break the impromptu détente by pulling their trigger first.
Dad did it first. Click! Mom next. Click! Rosie followed. Click, click! Then me. Click, click!
“Oh, come on!” Dad said as he spiked his Uzi on the floor.
“You just can’t get enough ammo anymore,” I said.
“Fucking anti-gun lobby,” Mom said. “They’re making it harder and harder to have a shoot-out in a crowded space anymore.”
“Bloody ridiculous,” Dad said.
“You’re British?” I asked.
“Yes, mate,” Dad answered. “I was using my American accent earlier. Did you take me for a Yank?”
“I did,” I said. “You’re very good.”
“Thank you,” Dad said. “You’re too kind.”
I reached into my pocket, pulled out two sets of brass knuckles and placed them over my fingers. Dad whipped out a pair of nunchuks. Mom unfurled a collapsible baton.
“Oh, come on!” Rosie said. “You all have melee weapons!”
“Come on, yourself, Rosie,” I said. “You’ve really got to come prepared.”
Rosie stomped her foot. “I…am…a…straw…cop!”
I looked at Mom and Dad. I pulled out a switchblade and pushed the button, releasing the sharp end. “Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” Mom said.
“It’s only fair,” Dad added.
I handed Rosie the blade.
“I hate you, Smasher,” Rosie said.
The four of us paced about in the middle of the room. At the bar, the fat guy was busy making Molotov cocktails. He had at least six or seven of them sitting on the counter and was working on another one.
Dad came at me, nunchuku blazing. I launched myself into the air and utilized a roundhouse kick to connect my foot with his face. Mom took a swing at Rosie with the baton. Instinctively, but rather uselessly, my partner sliced and diced the air in front of her.
“Bah!” Rosie said as she hacked away, aimlessly. “Get back, bitch!”
More nunchuk swings. I dodged them, then came charging at Dad with a bicycle kick that connected one-foot blow after the next with the killer’s face, knocking him out cold.
“This is some seriously messed up, racist as hell, cultural appropriation bullshit,” Rosie said. “There’s an Asian in the room and yet the only one who knows karate is the white guy.”
“It’s kung-fu,” I said as I deflected Mom’s baton thrusts with my forearms. “And honestly, I feel like it would be more racist if the only person in the room to know martial arts was the Asian.”
Rosie picked up a beer bottle. “You’ve got me there.”
“I mean,” I said. “It’s not like you all train to fight in the ways of the ancient ones, do you?”
“No,” Rosie said as she smashed the bottle over Mom’s head, sending her to the floor, unconscious. “Sometimes less involved methods are more effective.”
The barkeep had ten Molotovs burning and ready to throw. “You hear me? You’re both dead!”
He hurled one. He smashed a few feet in front of us, exploding and consuming its blast radius. He threw another. It landed far from us, exploding.
“Shit,” I said. “This guy could throw for the Cubs.”
Rosie looked at me. “Let’s bounce.”
I nodded. We ran for the door. As we did, I reached out and caught one of the hurled Molotovs. I aimed it at the bar, where the rest of the deadly concoctions stood. I threw it, then ran with Rosie out the door into the parking lot.
We dashed behind a parked car just in time to miss the fire and debris that shot out of the front of the building, tearing the once delightful family restaurant apart.
Rosie caught her breath. “How did make those clowns?”
“Easy,” I said. “No bartender making minimum wage plus tips cares enough to keep his bar that clean. No mother who dresses like she’s that rich would be feeding her own baby. She’d have a nanny to do that shit and dear old Dad? Who the hell has cracked open a newspaper made out of actual newsprint since 2008? Bunch of lousy amateurs.”
“But the baby!” Rosie said. “You shot a baby on a hunch!”
“It wasn’t a hunch,” I said.
“Then how did you know?”
At that exact moment, a tiny sphere the size of baseball dropped out of the sky, landing at our feet. It was the baby’s head. I picked it up and shook it in Rosie’s face. The eyes popped out on springs.
“Ma…ma,” the baby said in a robot voice that was slowly breaking down. “Ma…ma…no…ma…ma…why…did you…program me to feel pain?”
The baby’s head shook rapidly. I threw it over my shoulder, avoiding the explosion.
“Elementary, my dear Rosie,” I said. “No couple that attractive would have a baby that ugly.”
My partner and I rested our heads against the car.
“What if the baby had been adopted?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Sometimes a straw cop’s just gotta go with his gut.”
Woo, woo, woo! Sirens and flashing lights. Three cruisers and a SWAT van pulled up. A tactical team poured out the back. Uniformed cops jumped out of their cars. All pointed guns at us. Rosie and I put our hands up.
Seconds later, an unmarked black sedan pulled up. Out of it stepped none other than one Lt. Jeffries.
“Smasher,” the lieutenant said. “I should have known.”