[Estimated reading time: 10 minutes]

"That fucking... the stupid son of a bitch... I'll show him... he's gonna eat his words..." Felix mutters as he stomps his feet, his mind not on the rainy walk. He is almost run over at two non-consecutive intersections. Each step comes down and causes a localized tsunami that threatens worms and leaves, splashes Felix's pants and drives his thoughts further toward madness.

Felix is so absorbed in his thoughts of retribution and destruction that he actually walks a block past the halfway house. When he realizes this, he lets out a growl of anger that startles a handful of birds who are hiding out from the rain in the branches of a heavy oak.

He runs into the house and doesn't bother to take off his shoes, just stomps into the basement, ignoring Mildred as he does this. He's not sure what she's saying to him and he doesn't rightly care. He goes to the small double room that he shares with Buddy and is happy to see that he's alone at this moment.

Felix pulls the door closed and sits down against it, his weight holding it shut in lieu of an actual lock. He pries up a loose board in front of him, reaches his hand down, far, past a PVC pipe, and gropes around. For a moment he's terrified that someone's found his stash, but then his fingers touch cold metal and he's elated.

He pulls out the mass of dark metal, ensures that everything is where it should be and rewraps the whole thing back in the red, white, and blue towel that he stole from Mildred a few weeks back. He stuffs the cloth-wrapped contraband in his jacket pocket and replaces the loose floor board.

"Felix!" Mildred's voice is close, likely on the other side of the door. "Open up!"

He gets up, flattens the bulge in his jacket and turns his body so that side of him is opposite the door, then opens the door.


"No shoes in the house! You know the damn rules." Mildred starts in on her spiel, then pauses as she notices that Felix is soaked. "And you're dripping! Get upstairs and clean up this mess!"

Felix lowers his eyes and walks past Mildred. She watches him, like a disapproving Sunday school teacher. "I'll do it. I was going to do it... George won't sell me the Nikon..."

"Good heavens, you're still going on about that damn camera? Didn't I just give you your allowance?"

Felix cringes at this, but nods. Mildred always calls it "allowance", not "pay". Someday, Felix dreams, someday I'll get out of this dump.

"I forgot my wallet, so George wouldn't..."

"Boy, you'd lose your head..." Mildred starts in on her usual litany of put-downs and recriminations, but for once Felix just drowns her out.

He keeps his right hand in his jacket and feels the package there, feels its heft, feels the texture of the grip, and suddenly he doesn't care about Mildred's bullshit. He follows her upstairs. She turns left, in the direction of the kitchen and the hallway closet with mops and cleaning supplies. He turns right and walks out of the house. As the door swings shut behind him, Felix can hear Mildred yelling something or other, but he doesn't care, and in a few seconds the rain drowns the noise out.

Felix walks back toward George's, but this time he's not stomping in anger. The rain feels good on his face, and he's actually humming a cheery tune under his breath. The clouds are an oppressive dark gray, and typically Felix would hate this weather, hate how low and depressed it makes him feel, but not now. Now his hand closes around the heavy metal in his jacket pocket and the world seems just a bit happier.

A dozen bliss-filled blocks later Felix pulls open the grated door of George's pawn shop, hears the familiar electronic ding from the doorway, smells the mustiness of the place, and freezes. Felix wasn't expecting this, but at this moment he's just a tiny bit afraid. Some part of his brain is screaming at him, but Felix has long ago learned to ignore it. Mostly.

He enters the shop, pulls the door closed behind him. He hesitates for a moment, wondering if he should lock the door, but decides not to. Not yet.

George is behind the counter at the far side of the shop, talking with some woman who looks to be in her twenties. Felix has never seen her before. George looks up and notices Felix, but doesn't otherwise acknowledge him, just continues talking with the woman.

Felix starts walking along the counter, pretends to be perusing the plethora of random old shit behind the glass: watches, rings, necklaces, calculators, an assortment of cameras. He sees the Nikon, stands there for a while and just looks at it.

Felix remembers the feel of the shutter release mechanism under his finger, the ticking of the timer, sliding the aperture ring back and forth. He doesn't know how to actually use the camera, so his memories are just from playing with it. There's a scratch on the right side, Felix's eyes glaze past this and he tries to forget - in vain - what caused that.

The woman has finished he transaction, the register has beeped, then the door alarm sounded as the woman left. Felix is still eyeing the camera. The package in his jacket feels heavy now. Felix is having thoughts.

"Got your allowance now?" George yells out across the store. There's no one else in the store but the two of them. George is sitting on a high chair behind the counter, not even willing to walk over to talk to Felix.

"Hey, fuck you, man," Felix says. He doesn't yell, just replies in a normal conversational tone, then his eyes drop back down to the camera.

That gets George's attention. The fat bastard hops down off his chair and rushes over for Felix, stands in front of Felix, the glass counter between them. "What was that? The fuck did just say to me?" He slams two heavy fists on the counter. A faded blue mermaid looks up suggestively from George's right arm. A dark skull looks up from the top of the left hand.

"Nothing, man." Felix's eyes fall down. He hears George shift his weight, then hears the sound of sliding glass.

Felix looks up and sees that George is holding the Nikon.

"What the fuck is so special about this thing? Huh? Answer me, dickless!"

"It's... it was my mom's, she was a journalist."

"Figures, fucking enemy of the people. So, last time, you got your allowance?" George is swinging the camera by its strap, carelessly holding it on one finger.

Like a pendulum, the camera swings back and forth, almost touching the counter at its outer sweep, within an inch or two, and Felix's stomach falls every time. He recalls how that scratch got there.

Felix's hand is on the handgun, still inside the jacket pocket. He holds it, feels the weight, as his eyes come up from the old camera and he looks into George's ugly face. In that moment, Felix realizes that he's going to do it.

The door bell rings and someone enters the shop. The moment is gone, Felix's eyes fall back down to the camera. George puts it back in the display case and locks up, his eyes watching Felix the whole time. Then George walks away in the direction of the new customer.

"Hiya chief, what can..." George trails off mid-sentence. Felix looks up at the newcomer.

The man's face is familiar. It's Ringo Starr, looking like he just stepped out of one of Felix's father's old albums.

Aside from the impossibility of such a thing, there's also something strange about his face, but Felix is having a hard time deciding what. The man looks to be in his thirties, but it's hard to tell. A baseball cap sits on a bald head. The man has the big nose, pouty lips, deep recessed eyes, and an unchanging facial expression, like a paralyzed stroke victim.

After a moment Felix finally understands the weirdness. The man is wearing a very realistic mask that covers his entire head and its expanse of flesh-toned rubber disappears under the man's shirt.

The man's right hand holds a silver revolver and his left locks the door, then hits the switch on the neon OPEN sign to turn it off. The six shooter's barrel is a tunnel of terror and for a moment it's the only thing that exists in Felix's world.

The man waves the gun toward the far side of the shop, toward the cash register. George's hands are up and he slowly walks back, around the counter and in the direction of the register. The gun is fixed on George. The gunman is ignoring the slack-jawed Felix, but walks around the store in a way that always keeps a counter or two between both of the other men. Felix eyes the cameras that are spread throughout the store and wonders if Pattie is in the back, if she's watching and is already calling the cops. He can't remember if she's here today.

"Shit, man, I'm moving, just don't do anything stupid," George is replying to whatever it was that the robber did that Felix didn't see. "Hey, Felix, I think this Ringo asshole wants you to come over here."

That gets Felix's attention. The robber is looking alternatingly at Felix and at George, attempting to keep an eye on both men while keeping his gun pointed at George.

"Fuck," Felix mutters under his breath, and is surprised at how angry he has become. When he walked into the pawnshop, Felix was practically walking on air, but then this pair of dipshits-

"Move it!" The robber spits out angrily.

The phrase ricochets inside Felix's head like a super-charged cue ball.

It's Buddy, Felix realizes. He then proceeds to walk toward his halfway home roommate and does his best to hide his surprise.

Buddy is too nervous to realize that he's fucked up and George, to Felix's relief, is too busy pulling twenties out of the cash register to notice Felix's reaction.

Buddy motions Felix past the counter, toward the "Employees Only" back section of the store.

"What? What do you want?" Felix asks the gunman.

Is he taking us hostage? Or is this just a simple robbery? Felix wonders as Buddy swings the gun from Felix to George and back again. Buddy is agitated, scared, adrenaline is probably making his heart race. And, Felix reminds himself, Buddy is probably high. What the fuck do I do?

The robber points to the manager's office in the back. Felix goes in there, happy to be out of the way.

By this point George has finished emptying the register into a duffel bag that the robber brought with him. The robber waves his gun towards the far wall in the back. Felix remembers that there's a large safe in the back. The pawnshop used to be a bank, until the Depression caused it to go out out of business. George's folks snagged the building for cheap, then promptly started using the vault for more valuable loot.

George slumps his shoulders and walks slowly to the vault, the robber follows him. As they pass the manager's office, the robber stands for a moment in the doorway and does his best to glare, but the rubber mask is obviously terrible at conveying emotion. After a beat, the robber walks a step into the office, grabs hold of the old phone on the desk, and yanks it hard enough to rip the phone cord out of the wall. He tosses the phone into the hallway, then shuts the office door and props a chair against the door knob, trapping Felix in an office that consists of filing cabinets, paperwork scattered on every surface, and CCTV monitors.

Pattie is obviously not here today, guess the cops aren't coming, Felix laments.

The office has a large wire mesh glass window through which Felix watches as the gunman leads George to the vault. The robber says something, George shakes his head. The robber glances around, as if looking for something, then hits George on the side of the head with the butt of the gun. George crumbles down to the floor. Felix wonders if George is knocked out or dead, but the shop owner is just stunned. He's clutching his bleeding head and writhing on the ground in pain.

"Open the vault!" the gunman screams. He spares a glance toward Felix, making sure that no one is going to interrupt him, then points the gun at George and repeats his threat.

George, still clutching the side of his head, climbs to his feet and goes to the vault, starts spinning the lock.

Felix pulls the package out of his jacket pocket, carefully keeping it below the window and out of view of the robber. It's his dad's old service weapon from 'Nam, a Walther P38. Felix holds the pistol down low between his legs, pulls the back the slide, makes sure there's a round in the chamber, and slowly, quietly moves the slide back.

The robber is watching George, he's not paying attention to Felix.

Felix stands with his feet apart, holds the gun with two hands, his trigger finger straight along the body of the gun, as he's always been taught, and brings the pistol up to eye level. There's a perfect line from Felix's right eye, down his outstretched hands, along the pitch-black barrel, through the window, and straight to Buddy's head.

Buddy, damn it, why the fuck did you pick this moment to rob this place? Felix is cursing his soon-to-be former roommate.

Felix's finger moves down toward the trigger-

Buddy turns around and is spooked by the sight of a gun aimed at his head. The revolver comes up and burps up multiple clouds of smoke.

Felix just stands there looking like an idiot, he doesn't even duck, just flinches back from the thunder, looks away, brings up his hands in a futile attempt to block the bullets.

But there are no bullets. Felix looks up after a moment and sees a pristine glass window, a wall of smoke on the other side of it.

In a minute George walks out of the smoke and opens the office door. In one hand he's holding Buddy's revolver, and in the other is the rubber Ringo Starr mask. It's ripped and bloodied. Blood is running down the side of George's head, but otherwise the shop owner seems unharmed.

"Felix, man, are you alright?" George asks, then looks back toward the vault. "Can you believe that fucker? He tried to rob me with fucking blanks! Fucking amateur!"

Felix looks down and remember the gun in his hand. George is turned away, so Felix quickly shoves the gun into his jacket pocket.

"Fuck, I thought I was a goner..." Felix mutters. Felix looks past George and sees Buddy's still form on the ground. "Is he dead?"

"Nah, just winded, I punched him in the stomach and the fucker just doubled over. Had to take the mask off so he wouldn't drown in his own puke. Watch him for a minute, would you?" George walks off toward the register without waiting for Felix to respond.

Felix looks on as Buddy rolls onto his back. Buddy's face looks like someone spilled a jar of marinara all over it. George must have gotten in a few good hits there.

When George comes back, he's talking on a cordless phone, which he pins against his head with his shoulder. In one hand he's holding a weathered aluminum baseball bat and in another he has the Nikon F2 camera that Felix remembers playing with as a kid.

"...tried to shoot me, but I got him with a baseball bat. Fuck, really hope he's breathing," George speaks into the phone. His concern sounds fake to Felix. George puts the camera down on the office desk then takes the phone in his newly-freed hand and walks toward the vault. After a moment he puts the phone against his body and calls out to Felix, "Camera's all yours kid, sorry about the trouble. Go ahead, get outta here, I can handle the rest."

Felix doesn't argue, doesn't look back. He takes the camera and makes his way to the front door. He flips the switch on the OPEN sign, unlocks the door, and steps back out into rain.

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