Takeover At The Toymart

Sgt. Paul Curran got the phone call about the hostage situation. “Milford Police Department. Sgt. Curran,” he said. “This is a recorded line.”

“Recorded?” the childlike voice responded. “Oh, I. . . I didn’t know that.” He spoke to someone with him. “I’m being recorded,” he said, impressed. “Pretty neat, huh?”

“This is Sgt. Curran. May I help you?”

“I’m calling to. . . to let you know that my friends and I have taken over the Toymart at the mall,” the caller said. “We have hostages, but we don’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Good. We don’t want you to hurt anyone either,” Curran told him. “What’s your name?”

“My. . . name?”

“Yes. I’d like to know what to call you.”

“Oh, that makes sense. Uhm. . . hold on a minute.” He put a hand over the phone’s mouthpiece and talked to his companion. “He wants to know my name.”

“So tell him,” a deeper, authoritative voice responded.

“But I don’t know what it is,” the caller said. “Do you?”

“How should I know?” The deep-voiced kidnapper was flabbergasted. “You really don’t know your name?”

“Uh uh.”

“Weren’t you ever curious?”

“Not really. It never came up in conversation with my shelfmates.”

“Look at your tag.”

“Oh yeah!”

“Hello?” Curran said, confused.

“Can you read it?”

“Just barely,” the caller replied, straining. “They put it by my bum for some reason. Why would they do that, Boscoe?”

“Forget about where it is,” Boscoe replied. “What does it say?”

“R-e-x,” he answered, struggling to read the tag. “Rex.”

“Then that’s your name. Tell the officer.”

“Rex? I don’t feel like a Rex. Do I look like a Rex?”

“You’re tying up the line.”

“Sorry for the delay,” he said into the phone’s mouthpiece. “My name is Rex.”

“Rex?” Curran asked.

“That’s what it says on my tag.”

“Your. . . tag?”

“I’m also 60% rayon, if that’s important.”

“Rex,” the sergeant asked, “who are you?”

“I told you: My name is Rex,” he said. “I’m a teddy bear.”

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The Intended

“Interrogating is not a simple business anymore.”

Charlie and Mr. Jonah were sitting in a large office that was professionally gray and square, and Charlie admired the room’s balance of furniture and emptiness.  He felt good that everything on the desktop and in the black bookshelf had a specific place and function.

Mr. Jonah moved closer to the great window that stretched from floor to ceiling.  Boston’s compact skyline huddled around them, and in the distance there was some smoke from Charlestown but beyond that were the low humps of green hills.  The glass was lightly tinted blue, and because the window faced north the direct glare of the sun never came into the office.

“Interrogating is not a simple business,” he said again.  “I don’t mean the act itself—I certainly don’t have the authority to tell you about that, since you can do it and I obviously can’t.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be in this kind of position.  I’d be sitting right where you are, if I could do what you can do.”  Charlie smiled politely, fidgeted with the knot of his tie, which he had retied three times an hour ago.

“I mean it’s not a simple business.  The numbers, the schedules, the economics of the thing—none of that is simple.  The most difficult part of working for a company like ContraData if you’ve been developing the skill on your own, out there in the world, is realizing that what you can do is no longer just a part of your own experience.  Realizing that it now affects thousands of agents, managers, accountants, executives all over the world.  Not to mention, of course, the clients involved in the specific cases that you have.  Time and again.”

Through his window, Mr. Jonah watched a world that was not moving.

“Sometimes I envy my agents—I really do.  Sometimes I wish I could feel what you feel when you first realize you’ve actually done it—that hazy moment when it really is 1979 again, or when you hear the first notes from a radio that reminds you that some singer from the nineties is still alive wherever you are.”

He looked Charlie in the eye, and the receding gray of his hair was icy against the blue of the window.

“But sometimes I wouldn’t want to be you for anything in the world, Charlie.”

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The Black Pilgrimage

I

Marble Dreams

Remyan…Why do ya fight me so? Fightin’ ya nature, like a bird fightin’ da wind or a fish fightin’ da water. I be no enemy to ya. Blood is a fine wine, bazra, it age with each kill, and that makes yours a rare vintage. Beware, my precious Remyan, great peril awaits ya…for de marble road you travel leads toward palaver with de Black One. His thralls will try to end your lore, but will add to it. It has been foreseen, sala. Endure these marble dreams. Soon de nightmare will be here.

II 

No reward can be spent in the grave.

   He could tell that they wanted to kill him. Remmy had seen the look on their faces before. It was a visage dripping with angst, anticipation, and anxiety. He knew it well because he had worn it on more than a few occasions.

The three men sat at a table across the tavern from him, each one armed with blades from shoulder strap to belt. Remmy knew one of them by name, a particularly vile bastard known as Agmar the Blight, who had earned his name fighting the hill men of Ramone for coin and plunder, or at least that was his reputation.

And Remmy Southwind knew a thing or two about reputations, for he had one of his own. He knew that wherever the name followed, there would always be a steady stream of men looking to steal it’s glory for themselves, with or without the reward.

Markum’s wife, Dreama, walked in the side door of the tavern, carrying a wooden pale at her side. Her beauty hadn’t betrayed her at all in the eight years since her wedding night. He could tell immediately what attracted Markum saw to her.

A precocious young girl ran in behind her. One glance at her smirk and you could immediately see her father’s face.

“Dreama” he said in salutation.

Wordlessly, she kept walking, with little more than an icy glance.

Remmy didn’t take offense. He was a bygone memory in her husband’s past. A memory filled with blood and bile and war. Who wants to see those sitting at your table, drinking your ale, asking to see your husband?

Agmar still hadn’t taken his eyes off Remmy. One of his drinking buddies was a dwarf with black tattooed lines etching the contours of his face and shaved scalp. His short trimmed beard covered a pointy chin, and was half soaked in excess ale and gods knew what else. He sat there in a stupor, either scared or drunk or both, while the other, a stocky lad, hadn’t looked up from his ale since Remmy sat down.

And that made him smile. “Know my name, do you boy?” he whispered to himself.

He was right to be scared. They called him “Deathless.” It was a useful, all be it undeserved moniker, he had to admit, for Remmy was most definitely capable of dying. That being said, he didn’t think “Lucky Remmy” or “Remmy the Fortunate” sounded as good, so he never bothered to correct it.

A big hand clapped down on his right shoulder. Reflexively, he reached down for the dagger at his side, but when he looked up, a familiar voice greeted him for the first time in 8 years.

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Machete and the Witch’s Broom

The boys pleaded “C’mon Bobby, tell the story again. We can’t come tonight.” Tell us about the Knife Lady and how you got Machete. A long tooth dog in the corner did not lift her head, but her tail wagged at the sound of her name. The town of Sasparilla, Florida used to hound Bobby for naming this half Malamute, half Siberian husky Machete; but Machete preferred her new owner and her new name. Nevertheless, the dog grew up angry.

“Boys, you know I only tell that story once every three years now—on Halloween here at the restaurant. Go tell your parents it’s ok to come late—just before the story begins. And it’s the 15th anniversary, so it’s gonna be good.”

The Steak Out was known for miles around for their mouth-watering steaks and large rotating fans that kept patrons cool. In a time when air conditioning was scarce, the town of Sasparilla had one climate—steamy.

Bobby had advanced to manager of the Steak Out—the spot where the original story took place. He was just a youth then earning a few dollars for doing sundry jobs around the place. Despite insisting that he would not tell the town urchins the story right now, his mind drifted to that day when the legend became real.

“Bobby, remember to prop the back door open for Madam,” Dave commanded. “A little wider than you did last week. I could have sworn I heard her growling when she squeezed her food bags through.”

Every Friday at noon, the restaurant’s sharpened cutlery would be personally delivered through the back-porch door. The manager, Dave, finagled a deal to get our steak knives sharpened on a regular basis—and dirt-cheap.

“But Boss,” I whined, “the flies flock in after her.”

“What do we care? The flies don’t go in the kitchen. Her food pouches keep ‘em too busy. Get her in and out quick – with our luck, she’ll be here when fire safety has one of them surprise visits. And remember – have the leftovers ready,” Dave insisted. “She wants steaks for her pay, not money – and the owner likes that, too – wants her meat aged so pack it up right.”

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Wii-Fit Plus

I’d been overweight so long that it felt like it was just the shape I was meant to be.  But then, a few months ago,  my friend Rachel gave me her old Wii-Fit device, complete with balance board.  I’ve never been into computer games but even I know that the Wii is no longer fashionable, and there’s much more up-to-date technology to help people exercise, but the thing was, Rachel herself had lost so much weight that I thought it was worth a shot.

Rachel was, if anything, even fatter than me when we met at a Weightwatchers’ meeting a few years back.  I join every January when they waive the joining fee – and I usually drop out by mid February.  But that year we managed to keep each other motivated until well into the summer before we both finally gave up and called in at the chippy on the way home from one of the meetings.  Neither of us ever went back.

But then, in the last few months of last year, Rachel started losing weight.   I mean really losing weight – not just the few pounds now and then which we normally achieved.  It was miraculous.  She was about half her previous weight by Christmas, and she looked great at the New Year’s Eve party we both went to.  She was wearing a sparkly dress that showed off her new slender body perfectly.  I’d never seen anyone lose excess flab so quickly.  She didn’t even have lots of loose skin, like people who’ve lost lots of fat often end up with. She just looked gorgeous and slim and sexy.  I was dead jealous.

Beside the buffet table, where I was just grabbing myself some sausage rolls and a piece of black forest gateau, I asked her what her secret was, but she just smiled and tapped the side of her nose mysteriously.

As the new year wore on, however, I didn’t see her for months – it was almost as if she was avoiding me, and when I spoke to mutual friends they told me she was doing the same to them.

‘Maybe she’s met a man,’ suggested one, with a knowing smile.  And perhaps that was it.  Falling in love can make people drop their friends, at least for a while.  It’s happened to me before with other friends. Or maybe she no longer wanted to associate herself with fatties like me – she’d moved on to the beautiful people?   Maybe, once the glamour wore off, she’d start seeing her old friends again, and if not, well, she’d’ve lost more than a bit of excess fat, wouldn’t she?

Still, I had to admit, I did miss her.  She’d always been up for a laugh – and it was nice having someone who was facing the same struggle with her weight as I was.  Though that wasn’t true any more, of course.

I have to admit  I was really curious to know what had helped her transform from chubster to hottie so quickly.

Anyway, a few weeks before Halloween, on my birthday, she turned up on my doorstep wearing a long grey coat that looked too big for her, and a pashmina over her head.  It was quite chilly but this seemed a bit over-the-top to me. I mean, it’s not as if we live in Alaska.  Her face – what I could see of it – looked thin and drawn, and there were dark shadows beneath her eyes.  Her cheekbones were very prominent and her lips were pale and dry.  She looked like she had the flu.

‘You asked what my secret was,’ she said, standing on the doorstep. ‘And it’s this.’  She placed the Wii console and balance board on the floor at my feet and handed me two bags of accessories: remote controls, nunchuks, discs.  I had to put the chocolate hobnob I was holding into my pocket so I could take the bags.

‘What is it?’ I asked her.  ‘Are you coming in for a cuppa?’

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