Johnny was right on the
money when he described the building as a
warehouse. The outside
was wooden. Some of the boards were newer than
others. The walls were
at least fifty feet high graced at the top with rectangular-shaped
plexiglass windows. The
roof was flat. If it wasn’t painted pink, it could
have just been any other
The inside was a different story. Seating ascended from floor to ceiling on
all sides—brown wooden
planks, like the bleachers of an old minor league
ballpark. There were
four spotlight stations on their respective sides, and
numerous lights, like
those in a gymnasium. Many plant and flower arrangements
decorated the structure,
pots in every row of every aisle, and flowers wrapped
around the square poles
that supported the roof. The arena had a dirt floor
pink, oval in shape, surrounded by three-foot high boards
like the wall of a
hockey rink. The enormous amount of greenery coupled with the
brightness of the floor
gave artificial life to the building, like the pit of a Venus Fly
At the north end of the arena floor was a doorway, about twice the size of a
garage door. Pink
curtains hung in front of it, as well as around it, hiding the
concrete ramp that led
to the basement. Torches as high as the doorway itself
stood to each side, the
two flames burning halfway to the ceiling like Olympic
Roman entered before us—one of the first in attendance—to put into action
the first part of the
plan. He called it “insurance,” but wasn’t anymore specific
than that. “Don’t
deviate from the plan,” he’d said to me and Johnny probably
twenty times in the last
day. It was also the last thing he said to us as we pulled up
to Freddy’s warehouse.
To Heather he said, “Whatever happens, stay in the
vehicle.” With that he
pulled down his mask and disappeared inside.
Me and the Killer made our way to the line that was forming about twenty
minutes later. I was
pulling a black trunk behind me. It was made out of heavygrade
plastic, rectangular in
shape, and had a snap-down lid. Even though the
trunk had wheels, it was
no easy feat maneuvering it across the ice and the snowcovered
gravel. We wore what I
like to call fancy masks; Heather had known
where to purchase them.
Johnny’s was blue with thin lines of gold winding
throughout. Mine was
white with red slashes through it. They weren’t anything
special in my opinion. A
mask was supposed to look like something—a famous
person or a creature of
the night—but these were just different shaped plastic, held
on our faces by a silky
ribbon that wrapped around the back of our heads. Heather
assured us this was what
the upper class wore to parties such as this. If any of us
would know, it would be
The doorman was none other than Boochie Anderson. He didn’t wear a
mask—none of Freddy’s
crew did. Johnny’s tire-iron swing was apparent by his
bandaged nose. His eyes
had black circles as well.
“Just let me do the talking,” I whispered as we approached. “He might
recognize your voice.
Remember don’t deviate from the plan.”
affirmed he understood.
We pulled the money out of our suit coats—another provision of
Heather’s—the same coats
we both wore to Homecoming.
The fat man patted us
down, sweeping every inch of our suits. He made us
lift up our feet, one at
time, to save himself from crouching down.
“What’s with the trunk?” Boochie asked.
“We’re going to buy some flowers,” I said.
“We’ve got boxes for that,” Boochie responded.
“No, I mean a lot of flowers. We didn’t want them to freeze on our way
Boochie bent down, his knees cracking from his own weight, and his lungs
struggling to fill in
their compressed position. Eventually he opened the lid and
Flower doesn’t usually allow things like this inside.” Boochie rubbed
the silver hoop that
stuck from his chin. “Shouldn’t mind though if you’re buying.
The arena was filled to capacity. The people lining the bleachers were
dressed in glittering
dresses, suits, and black tuxes, and all wore masks. If I didn’t
know what was going on
here, you could’ve convinced me easily that we were at a
fund-raiser for some big
time politician. I knew a lot of people in Collingston. I
wondered how many I
would know if they removed their masks. Maybe I didn’t
want to know.
There was space for me, Johnny, and the trunk in the front row, more than
Throughout the oval of the arena there were very few people
seated in the front row.
Was it not a good view?
I could see fine, the bleachers
started at the top of
the wall. I noticed the reddish-pink dirt on the arena floor
again and something
occurred to me. One of those thoughts you wished you could
unthink—maybe the dirt
wasn’t spray painted at all, maybe people didn’t sit in the
front row in fear of
what they might get on them. I turned around to see if the seats
behind us were taken.
The trumpets and drums of Barnam & Bailey’s were replaced with the loud
clatter of a death metal
song—a tune I could not quite place—and on the arena
floor were several
clowns, mimes, and sideshows. The mimes did their usual stuck
in a glass box routine,
while the clowns juggled bowling pins. A man at the far
end blew fire from his
mouth. Another ate swords. Toward our end a lady lay face
down on a wooden bed. A
steel cable hung from the ceiling over her. At the end
of the cable was a metal
rectangle full of large hooks. The man next her—the
suppose—inserted the hooks into her back one by one. Eventually the
cable rose, and her skin
stretched thin, like taffy after you just tore a bite from it.
She dangled a good
twenty feet in the air. At any moment, I thought her skin
would rip and send her
crashing to the floor. Instead she just smiled, like she was
at a spa getting her
back massaged. I could barely watch, not because of their
painted faces, or the
fear that the fire guy would light himself, or the sword guy
would stick the blade
too far down, or the thought of skin ripping. It was much
more primitive than
that. It was the way they were dressed—or the lack of I
should say. They all
wore pink leather, but not in the places it needed to be. The
men’s penises swung back
and forth with movement in their routine, and the skinlady’s
breasts hung below her,
balling up at the ends from the pull of gravity.
“Freddy’s a sick fuck ain’t he?” Johnny said, stealing the thought right out
of my head. “It gets
worse, believe me.”
I scanned trough the crowd trying to see someone, trying to see Roman, but
there was only the
endless sea of masks. Roman wore a black suit and plain black
mask, fitting attire for
someone as modest as him. It reminded me of the geek
sitting in the lunchroom
and how the color of life is often emitted from the inside,
not the outside.
He’s taking care of the insurance, remember?
A voice said in my head.
but what the fuck is the insurance?
Another voice asked back.
My eyes stopped at the top row on the other side. The bleacher section
there was non-existent,
giving way to some sort of platform, like the skybox of a
ball stadium. There were
several people seated around a table laughing. I couldn’t
see their faces, but I
was sure they were laughing. The man in the middle wore a
pink suit, sat with his
legs elegantly crossed, and sipped from a straw that went
under his mask to a
champagne glass. His mask was pink as well, in the shape of a
tulip. It was The
One of his men tapped him on the shoulder and placed a microphone in his
hand. A second later the
arena was dark and with it the chatter of those in
spotlight showed on him.
“Without further ado ladies and gentleman, welcome to Extravaganza!”
The crowd in the arena rose to its feet, standing and clapping in ovation.
Welcome to hell. I thought.
Johnny grabbed me under the arm and lifted me to my feet. I snapped out
of my trance and started
spotlight was turned on the floor now, exposing a platform. It had four
posts, and from them
hung chains connecting in the center to several leather
straps. It was some sort
of medieval swing. A man stood beside it, wearing a
mask and cape, his only
other accessory a giant wand. And around him stood the
clowns and mimes. He
pointed into the crowd and began to circle the stands with
the wand’s line of
sight. The wand pointed up and down the aisles and rows
jumping from person to
person as if it had a mind of its own. Finally it stopped. It
was pointing at me.
Before the spotlight turned on, my stomach dropped. Two clowns made
their way to the arena
wall and before I could run I realized they were coming for
the person next to me.
She smelled pretty and the curves of her dress said the
same. The clowns grabbed
her by the ankles and started to drag her down to the
wanted to help her, grab her arm so they couldn’t pull her down. But I just
sat there. I don’t know
if it was because I was relieved it wasn’t me, or if I heard
Roman’s voice in my head
telling me not to deviate from the plan.
woman kicked and screamed, but her effort was futile. The crowd
erupted in satisfaction.
In the middle of the arena now the clowns pulled up a
black circular curtain
around her. The magician tapped his wand twice and the
curtain fell. Her dress
was gone. The woman covered her breasts with one arm
and her vagina with the
other. The clowns grabbed her again, dragging her toward
the swing. Her flailing
was minimal, because it was hard to fight and cover herself
at the same time, but at
the platform she clung to the poles with each hand. Her
legs kicked at the
clowns, but in the end she was strapped to the swing. Separate
fixtures hoisted her
ankles up and apart. Her arms dangled to the side defenseless.
magician skipped up to the platform, his cape flapping behind him. He
held up the wand over
his head. At that moment the lights brightened a little,
giving the arena the
glow of a candlelight dinner. Dancers ran out, female and
male, naked except for
their masks. Silk streamers flowed from their hands,
dancing behind them like
flags in the wind. They ran and jumped to the hard
music, turning the harsh
noise into a choreographed ballet, circling the woman in
the swing, and finally
converging on her like the vultures they truly were.
The magician lowered the
wand, and the dancers fell to the dirt floor, as if
to bow to its power. He
turned it over in his hands with slow movements, and then
gazed at the woman in
the swing with her legs spread like gates.
The crowd screamed with glee.
“I don’t think I can watch this,” I said.
Johnny put a firm hand on my knee, thinking I was going to bolt. “Relax,
it’s not real.”
woman I mean. She’s on the payroll. The Flower’s sister. Gets
raped every four
“Sister?” I didn’t know if I felt better or worse. It wasn’t a defenseless
woman anymore I guess.
Even if it wasn’t rape, how could a man let his sister
participate, much less
watch? “Sick fuck doesn’t do the man’s name justice. Not
me about it,” Johnny said back.
disappearing wand was just the beginning. The lady’s unwilling spirit
subsided as the show
progressed, her kicks and acts of defiance turning to an active
and welcomed role. Not
only was the magician a major participant, but a dog was
brought out to enjoy
himself. The clowns and dancers were next, male and female.
I’d seen my fair share of deplorable acts of humanity over the Internet,
things that made you
sick in the stomach and wheezy in the head, but this was
Computer screens gave you a sense of safety, a feeling that
no matter what was being
shown, somehow you were exempt from it, a distant
spectator caught at the
wrong place at the wrong time, safe to return to reality with
a click of the mouse.
Here though, there was no escaping. It sat in front of our
eyes unfolding like
everyday life. Even with Freddy’s countless flower
decorations there was an
underlying odor in the arena. It was foreign to my nose,
subtle but strong, not
quite the foul stench of animal waste or decomposing body
parts. It lingered
throughout and hung in the air like a fog over the arena. For the
first time in my life I
smelled it first hand, the stagnant aroma of human evil.
The first act of Freddy’s Extravaganza ended an hour after it started. The
crowd stood in ovation,
not exactly cheering—it was more ominous than that—
their voices and
clapping made a soft moan of perverted satisfaction. The dancers
and clowns bowed as if
they just finished Macbeth. The lady in the swing seemed
lifeless, her appendages
limp and body exhausted, and covered in a glistening
human foulness that I’d
rather never remember.
Johnny pulled on the shoulder of my suit coat, urging me to stand.
Don’t deviate from the plan.
Even that voice, whether if was Roman’s or my own, could not get me to
my feet. I sat, wishing
my brain not to digest the events my eyes just saw.
The overhead lights
slowly started their ascension to brightness and the
floor was cleared of its
sex platform. The spotlight came back on the VIP section,
and Freddy stood in it.
His posture was proud like the director of a
“Ladies and gentleman, this is our intermission. You now have fifteen
minutes to inspect the
beasts that you would like to wager on and to choose any of
our plants from our
exotic selection. The gentlemen by the curtains at the far end
will instruct you with
directions. There is more champagne to drink. Drink and be
merry. Extravaganza will
all right?” Johnny asked as we made our way under the pink curtain,
down the ramp to the
a little shell-shocked,” I said. “Remember we’ve got to be the last
people to leave down
here, so make it look like we’re combing over every dog
the janitor yet?”
be down there though.”
ended, and now there were two choices: right to the flower sales,
and left to the dog
kennel. I pulled the trunk behind me, wishing we were really
going to buy flowers. We
turned left though and made our way down the narrow
hallway. With each
passing step, the whines and barks got louder, the smell of
urine stronger. We were
traveling into the depths of hell.
of the Flower’s men stood at the entrance, his eyes fixed on the four-wheeled
trunk behind me.
“We’re buying flowers after we pick out our winner,” I said.
uneasiness subsided and we entered without an interrogation.
The room was narrow and
simple, dirt floors, no decorations. Another
guard stood at the far
end of the room, eyeing the crowd. Forty kennels lined the
sides of the room,
leaving a three-foot aisle for the spectators. The men and
inspected, and sometimes laughed, writing their picks down on
note pads, like they
were at the local pet shop choosing a puppy for the kid.
this was no pet store.
thought of hell was not far off the mark. I expected to see ravenous
dogs foaming at the
mouth, rattling the doors of their cages in their anticipation for
blood. Instead the
majority lay in their cages, most of them whimpering in fear.
Some barked of course,
but not the ferocious siren of attack. They cried out for
help, soft uncertain dog
voices that begged to be taken home, taken anywhere,
even by the cruel crowd
that would eventually watch their demise.
We passed the first two cages. The thoroughbred gladiators I’d imagined
were not there. The
first dog looked like it got a hair cut from a drunken
shopkeeper, its fur
blotchy and sporadic, torn out in places, cruel reminders of its
previous battles. The
dog across from it had permanent gouges on its face, claw
marks from its last
We continued to walk, and with each cage we passed, I prayed there would
be one dog that looked
somewhat healthy, maybe even happy. It just got worse
though. Half-ears and
mangled hides were everywhere; one dog was missing an
eye, others had torn
paws and chewed necks, and many had flies pestering open
wounds. The saddest part
about it was, these were the winners—champions from
losers were the ones that died in battle. These fights were
to the death, and you
could see that knowledge in their eyes.
Most had ribs that were visible, skin stretched tightly over the bones. No
telling how long the
Flower had starved them, but it was his way of ensuring the
most violent fight—what
his constituents paid to see. They would fight one on
one, in tournament
format, until only one remained. The winner not only got to
live but also got to
eat. The dogs knew. They all knew.
We came to Apollo’s cage. He lay on the floor with his pink paws
covering his eyes,
shivering from fear. As ugly as that goddamn white Pit Bull
was, it was a welcomed
sight, seeing a dog as of yet free from Freddy’s violent
games. Johnny walked
ahead of me and his leg passed his best friend’s cage. The
dog stood up and began
to bark, crying for his master.
keep walking. I know it’s hard but keep walking,” a voice said beside
Roman had evidently taken care of what he called the insurance, and now
walked beside Johnny in
his black-as-night attire. His mask was expressionless,
and I was glad I
couldn’t see the sadness under it.
right people. They’re taking bets upstairs now. You’ve got about two
minutes to pick a
winner,” the doorman said.
crowd filtered out quickly. The three of us separated, pretending to
make our last-minute
inspections. Roman walked with his hands behind his back.
Johnny kept looking back
at Apollo. My hands were sweating.
“Let’s go fellas,” the man at the far end of the room said and started to walk
toward us with his arms
He swept us toward the door and the other doorman.
“You gotta winner?” the doorman asked.
“I think so,” Roman said, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket.
Roman grabbed the man around the throat and stuffed white handkerchief
over the man’s nose and
mouth. Johnny and I grabbed the other guy, wrestling
him to the floor.
Fifteen seconds later Roman’s man was asleep. Johnny held a
hand over our man’s
mouth, removing it only when Roman brought the poisoned
rag down to his face. I
ran back down the aisle pulling the trunk to Apollo’s cage
and undid the latch.
He licked my face as he jumped out.
“Okay boy, it’s okay, you gotta be quiet now.”
Apollo’s ears stood up and then lay flat on his head, as if he understood. A
second later he was in
the trunk and the lid was down. Roman and Johnny peeked
around the doorway.
clear let’s go,” Johnny said with his head still in the hallway.
I didn’t move. All at once it was like every dog in the room had its eyes
fixed on me. Their soft
begs and whines were not as bad as their faces—solemn
disappointment. I could hear them in my head.
Just undo our latches
and we’ll do the rest.
“What the fuck are you doing? Let’s go,” Johnny said.
I could deal with human suffering, saw it everyday on the thousands of
news channels. After a
while I had become desensitized to it, a part of me thinking
that people probably
deserved most of what they got. But what had these animals
done? They didn’t
benefit from the rational thought that humans used. They were
total victims in my
Roman looked at me and then at the dogs. For the first time, without a
word, I knew we were
thinking the same thing.
“We’ve got to let these dogs out, Roman,” I said.
“You’re nuts,” Johnny said. “If we let those dogs out Freddy’s men will
know something’s up.
They’ll be runnin’ all over the place. We can’t risk it.
We’ve got to go now! Don’t deviate from the plan, remember?”
I couldn’t see the
synapses fire in Roman’s eyes, but behind that black
mask there was an
apocalyptic battle going on between logic and emotion.
“Johnny’s right. We’ve got to go,” Roman said.
We walked up the ramp; passing two of the men Johnny called handlers.
They wore thick gloves
on their hands, and carried small whips. One of them wore
a patch and the other
was missing an ear. Apollo didn’t make a sound. I watched
Freddy as we walked the
length of the grandstands and passed the sick appetites of
the crowd. It took us
only thirty or so seconds to make our way from one end to
the other, and as we
approached the exit, there was still no one coming to stop us.
No one listening to the
little transmitters in their ears or running to tell the boss of
our theft. It would take
the handlers a few minutes to notice one dog missing.
“Ya all can’t come back if you leave,” Boochie said at the door.
“We came for the flowers and the sex,” Roman said.
Thirty feet from the building, we began to run. Apollo maintained perfect
silence, as I dragged
his carrier over the often-bumpy clumps of hard snow. The
black Escalade was
parked exactly where we’d left it. Roman’s plan had gone off
without a hitch. We were
At the vehicle, two emotions collided within me. We’d escaped with our
feat considering whom we were dealing with—but I could
still hear the awful
sounds of those dogs begging for their freedom. I didn’t have
time to think about it
too long because panic came over me at the sight of the
in the ignition.
opened the back doors just to make sure she wasn’t lying on the
floorboard. He opened
the front door and hit the button for the vehicle’s hatch, and
then looked back at
hell would she go?” Johnny asked.
just it. She wouldn’t go anywhere,” I said back.
Apollo out of the trunk and put him in the back,” Roman said.
gotta get out here, man,” Johnny said.
“We’re not leaving Heather,” Roman said. “You wanted to free the dogs
Tony, here’s your
happened to all that bullshit about not deviating from the
plan?” Johnny groaned.
“The plan has been changed due to circumstances beyond our control,”
Roman said, starting
back to the arena.
Johnny put Apollo in the back, fighting a hurricane of kisses and licks. He
caught up to us just
before the doorway. Roman stopped us as we were about to
“You guys have the easy part. Get back down there and let those dogs out.
It’ll create some
confusion that will maybe work to our advantage. When you’ve
freed them, get back to
the Escalade and wait for Heather and me. Whatever you
do, don’t take your
masks off. We don’t need Freddy on our backs for the rest of
eternity. Don’t hang
around in the arena, I can take care of myself.”
Roman entered the doorway without giving us a chance to respond. The
fight had already begun,
cheers roared from the stands but you could still hear the
violent snarls from the
floor of the arena.
Boochie stuck his arm out, trying to halt Roman. “I told you assholes once
you leave that’s it.”
Roman hit him with a quick jab to the throat, then pinched the fat man’s
Adam’s apple between his
thumb and index finger. The tower of wobbling flesh
fell to his knees like a
blow up doll that had just been deflated. He held his throat
with both hands and
gasped harder than usual for air. Roman ripped the earpiece
out of Boochie’s ear and
smashed his radio on the ground.
“Go now,” Roman said to us. “You’ll have to hurry because I’ll be quick.”
The hump of Boochie’s
stomach was nearly waist-high to Roman as he
knelt beside the choking
henchman, whose eyes were wide with panic.
“Don’t worry Boochie, you’re not going to die. I just bruised your
esophagus pretty good.
Tell me where she’s at and you’ll have nothing more to
Spit splattered from the fat man’s lips as he tried to speak. “I don’t even
know who you’re talking
Roman looked Boochie’s face over, studying it for a lie, and also showing
an interest in the metal
hoops that pierced it. The liquidy growls could still be
heard in the arena even
though the crowd was the loudest it had been all night.
Roman put all eight of
his fingers in Boochie’s face rings and gripped them as tight
as he could.
“Please don’t,” Boochie begged.
won’t as long as you tell me the truth. First, who was patrolling the
parking lot tonight?”
“Bobby, Bobby Dukes.”
he the only one?”
Roman pulled just enough on the rings to raise Boochie’s skin.
“I swear. I’m not positive. Bobby usually takes care of the lot. I don’t
know if someone went
didn’t come out this entrance?”
he goes out the back.”
he found someone hanging around in one of the vehicles, where would
he take them?”
“Freddy’s office down by the armory.”
Roman glanced around making sure nobody was coming and stopped his
eyes at the small podium
Boochie had been sitting at. On it was a pack of large
heavy-duty zip ties. He
grabbed them, first securing Boochie’s wrists, and then
using two on his
“If you want to keep your jewelry intact, I wouldn’t tip anybody off.”
Boochie closed his eyes.
“I’m going to ask you one more time what you were doing out there, and I
want the truth,” Bobby
Heather’s wrists were pinned against the desk by Bobby as he leaned over
her. She could smell the
grease in his hair and the smoke in his breath. She looked
him in the eyes. “I told
you. My brother came to buy flowers, I was just waiting
Bobby smiled and lowered his face down to hers. At first she thought he
was going to kiss her;
before it registered, his wet tongue made its way from her
temple down the side of
her cheek and stopped at her ear.
“You’re fuckin’ hot,” he whispered.
“You’re not,” she said back, and kneed him as hard as she could in the
Bobby’s grip lifted immediately and Heather ran for the door. Bobby
grabbed for the flowing
blond hair that trailed behind her, and snapped her back to
him, his arm now wrapped
tightly around her neck from behind.
was going to just pound you good and get it over with it, but now I’m
going take my time so
you feel every inch of it.”
“Don’t you mean I’ll feel the
Bobby flung her around
so she was facing him again and smiled. “Gotta
little sass on ya. I
“I’d rethink hurting me. It’ll be the worst mistake you ever make.”
“Baby, I forgot to tell ya, I’m a slow learner,” Bobby said as he raised his
Then a knock at the door.
The voice on the other side was muffled. “Dukes we need you out here,
there’s a problem.”
“In a minute, I’m busy.”
“Somebody’s trying to steal the gate money.”
Bobby walked to the
door, unlocked, and opened it. “Who the fuck thinks
Roman’s hand stopped the rest of the sentence, clamped like a claw on
Bobby’s face, his palm
pressing the nose up, and his middle and index fingers
pressing on the eyelids,
forcing the thug backwards. In a second they were to the
desk. Roman tripped him,
and the back of Bobby’s head bounced off the edge as
he dropped to the floor.
Roman took Heather’s hand, keeping his attention on Bobby, and pulled
her behind his back.
Bobby got to his feet, vision blurred from the fingers in his
eyes and the collision
with the desk. He shook it off as if he had sustained similar
injuries in the past.
“You got some balls,” Bobby said as he charged.
Bobby swung. Roman
grabbed him close to the armpit, and used the man’s
momentum to send him to
the right. The action carried Bobby backwards and he
hit the dry wall with
his head, denting it. The entire shelf above and all of its
flowerpots crashed on
top of him.
“Are you all right?” Roman asked Heather.
“Fine. I’m sorry Roman.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I know you told me to drive off if anyone approached me, but I just
couldn’t leave you
guys,” Heather said.
“It’s in the past,” Roman said. “Right now, we have to work on getting out
of here. There are quite
a few of Freddy’s guys hanging around the back entrance.
We have to go out the
Roman stood thinking for a moment, and then exited the office briskly,
leading Heather by the
The two dogs doing battle in the middle of the arena floor were a bloodsoaked
growling mess. One of
them, a brown and black Rottweiller, seemed to be
one bulging muscle, from
his oversized head to the tip of his stub tail. The other
was a Pit Bull, twice
the size of Apollo, and dusty brown in color. The massive
jaws of the dog gave
credence to the talk about generations of selective breeding
for violence, done for
just such an event as Extravaganza.
Their teeth sank into each other’s necks repeatedly, and though it looked as
if the fight had been
going on for quite some time, there seemed to be no end in
sight. Exhausted, the
dogs would sometimes unlock from each other and back
away for oxygen. The
handlers would let this go on momentarily and then the
whips were cracked, and
the animals flew toward one another with bloody saliva
dripping from their
teeth and death in their eyes.
Heather followed closely behind Roman, down the walkway in front of the
grandstand on Freddy’s
side, but stopped when she heard the cracking of the
whips. She was suddenly
lost in another world, looking at the arena floor. As hard
as it was watch, it was
just as difficult to turn away—a horrific display of how
human intervention could
tweak the balance of nature and raise the dark side of
it—like the twisted song
of an evil muse.
Roman pulled on Heather’s hand, but her feet were in concrete. The stairs
that lead to the front
hallway and the exit were only fifty feet away, but four of
Freddy’s men were
climbing them. Roman looked up at Freddy. One of the
Flower’s henchmen was
pointing at Heather and him. Freddy was shaking his
head calmly. At the far
end—the staircase from which they had just come—more
of the troops were
heading toward them.
Whether someone had found Boochie zip-tied on the ground or Bobby
Dukes had managed to
rise from the broken flowerpots and get to a radio, Roman
was not sure. It didn’t
matter. The troops were coming and Roman’s once
flawless plan was now a
worst-case scenario. Roman was suddenly glad he’d
taken time out for the
Heather continued to stare at the awful sight on the arena floor.
She snapped back to reality and looked at Roman and then at the lines of
Freddy’s men closing in on both sides of them.
“I want you to go up into the crowd, somewhere where Freddy’s guys
would have to climb over
a lot of people to get to you.”
“What about you?” Heather’s eyes were afraid.
“I’ll be fine. I’m not going to let anything happen to either of us.”
Roman gave her a nudge,
and Heather made her way up the bleachers
through the cheering
crowd. She stopped somewhere in the middle. Freddy’s men
ignored her and
continued toward Roman. Roman counted six on his left and
seven on his right. The
crowd began to divert its attention to the scene on the
walkway. Soon there was
no cheering at all from that side of the arena.
Freddy got on the mic, still seated, this time with no spotlight. “Just a
slight problem ladies
and gentlemen, it will be taken care of in a few seconds.”
Roman stood his ground as the gap on both sides closed. He could hear
Ninja in the back of his
head. We brought you thirteen of
them today. Roman
looked down at the arena
floor. To his surprise, the dogs had stopped fighting and
both they and their
handlers were now staring back at him.
will be quick,” The Flower said to himself and then took another sip
The two men Roman chloroformed were not lying on the floor of the
kennel anymore. One of
their friends had either dragged them off or the effects of
the chemical had worn
off. Regardless, the room was empty except for me and
Johnny. The dog next to
me was wagging his tail like he knew we were his only
chance for freedom.
“I just thought of something,” Johnny started. “What if we let all these dogs
out and they attack us.
They’re starved. Maybe they think we’re food.”
“Let’s let ’em out, one
at a time. Once one takes off down the hallway,
we’ll let another go.
That way we’re only dealing with one at a time,” I said.
“Sounds like a plan.”
We started at the far end of the room so we wouldn’t be boxed in if the
canines thought it was
dinnertime. Johnny opened the first cage, but instead of
running for freedom, the
dog backed up from the opening and growled.
“Come on boy, let’s go,” Johnny said patting his leg.
The dog barked ferociously.
“We ain’t got all night, let’s go. You’re free,” Johnny said and then
The dog only got madder.
thinks were one of those handlers,” I said. “Thinks he’s gotta go
“Whatta we do?” Johnny asked.
Without responding I opened the cage across from the one we just opened.
Same response, the dog
cowered, backing away from his cage door. The two dogs
looked at each other. I
was sure they were going to charge each other and fight to
the death right there in
the aisle way. I was wrong. The barking stopped
completely and both dogs
put their ears up and tilted their heads to the side, as if to
say, “what the hell is
“Let’s just open ‘em all up. They’ll eventually catch on,” I said.
Johnny went down one
side and me the other. The reaction was the same
every time; the dogs
retreated to the back of their cages. As I got to the last one I
looked back. None of the
dogs were out. Johnny caught up to me on his side and
stood up. We stood for
goes to show ya how afraid they are, how much they hate it,” I said.
better get goin’,” Johnny said. “Hopefully the janitor’s got Heather
back to the car.
“Let’s do it.”
Me and Johnny walked up toward the exit stairs. Johnny walked carefree
like he was taking a
Sunday stroll, mimicking the thought in my own head—
almost home free. I
stopped when I noticed how quiet the crowd was. And every
happy thought in my head
disappeared as I saw the grandstands on the other side.
On the front walkway,
Roman stood in the middle and Freddy’s men were five feet
away on both sides.
I yanked on Johnny’s coat because he still hadn’t noticed. The Killer
stopped and gawked as
“He said no matter what happened to get back to the SUV,” Johnny said.
“We can’t leave him,” I said back. “Let’s just sit down and if Roman needs
us, we’ll be here.”
“Are you fuckin’ nuts? If we get involved and they find out who I am,
they’ll kill me. They
already tried once.”
“We all risked our lives for that ugly ass dog of yours and now you want to
just leave him. Sit the
Johnny sat close to the same spot we started the night in. “Apollo’s not
I didn’t respond.
To Roman’s right the first man in line chuckled nonchalantly as he
approached Roman, no
doubt thinking the skinny janitor would be easy pickings.
That thought did not
Roman hit the man with the heel of his palm, driving the man’s chin
upward, and snapping the
man’s head backward into the second man in line. A
chain reaction occurred,
leveling the entire row like dominoes. It reminded me of
where the guy would hit the top brick and the ten bricks
under it would break.
line of men to Roman’s left stopped their approach, momentarily in
shock. The first man
swung, but Roman caught his arm and bent it the wrong way,
a painful maneuver that
I’m sure Ed Pentoch could relate to. Roman let go and the
man fell off the walkway
onto the arena floor.
Roman took the second man’s kneecap out with a kick. He ducked twice
from swings of the third
man, then gave him a quick elbow to the side of the
temple and a fist to the
crotch. The third man wore a hood. Roman grabbed it,
pulling it over the
man’s eyes and bringing his head down, then crushing a knee
into his face, all in
one motion. The fourth man swung a hard roundhouse punch.
Roman sidestepped it; the man’s forward momentum carried him off the walkway
and he landed on the
dirt floor of the arena. The fifth man and the last man
charged at the same
time. Roman bent down, doing a one-eighty with the first man
and flipping him in the
air. As Roman came upright, he caught the hand coming
from the last man,
bending the wrist backwards and using the man’s thumb as a
steering device. A
second later the man’s arm was behind his back, his face
looking at the floor.
Roman shoved him a few steps forward then let him fall facefirst
into the dirt below.
Me and Johnny watched, trying to see all of Roman’s movements. If we
had popcorn, we could’ve
been at a movie. Roman had cut through thirteen of
Freddy’s men in little
over a minute. Seven of the men now lay in the dirt with the
“You oughta praise Jesus and Mary, he didn’t use any of these moves on
you,” I said to Johnny.
Johnny didn’t respond.
One of the men in the dirt clawed his way up the arena wall and tried to
grab Roman’s ankles. The
man’s fingers were crushed with two quick stomps
from Roman’s heel.
“Who does this guy think he is?” Freddy asked one of his soldiers.
The once-excited crowd was now seated and silent, people on both sides
confused by the events
in front of them. A couple of claps could be heard—the
uncertain applause of a
few that thought they were seeing another act of
Extravaganza. The claps
died when the rest of the crowd did not join in.
Most of the men in the dirt began to stir again, stumbling to their feet and
brushing the dust and
blood from their thick leather coats. The man whose arm
was inverted the wrong
way and the man whose knee was dislocated continued to
wallow in the pink dirt.
dog handlers had their respective fighters leashed now. Both stood
with an eerie pride,
something that gave them satisfaction in being a part of a
destruction. Maybe it was the scars the handlers wore. One was a
burly type with a medium
build, long scraggly hair, a beard to match, and black
leather patch over his
right eye. The other was wiry, not big, but still his muscles
were defined. He wore a
cut-off shirt, had a razor-shaved bald head and was
missing a left ear.
Rot and the Bull lunged hard toward the two injured men on the
ground, only to be
yanked to a sudden stop by the thick chains around their necks.
Human blood must have
been preferred over that of their own kind, especially in
the state of hunger they
were in. Maybe the animals thought if they ate the men on
the floor they could
avoid killing each other.
The line of men Roman had leveled with one hit were back on their feet as
well, but this time
their leader was feeling his chin instead of laughing. And when
one of the men started
to approach Roman, the leader held him back.
Freddy’s men in the
stands began to descend the bleachers toward the
walkway where Roman
stood. Behind me and Johnny more troops left the stands,
exiting down the north
stairwell to the hallway and eventually coming out on the
The confidence I had in Roman was starting to fade as Freddy’s troops
began to regroup. It
wasn’t going to be only thirteen of them this time. There
were more like forty and
now they took him seriously. Bobby Dukes was at the
north staircase on the
opposite side of the arena, digging into a large metallic box
from the armory. He
placed a handgun in the grasp of every henchman that passed
“Where are those damn dogs at? I’m not waiting around and getting killed
over this,” Johnny said
“But you’ll let Roman get killed over it, huh? We’re here because of you if
your memory’s short. A
leopard can never truly change his spots.”
Johnny stood up as if he
were going to leave.
“He wouldn’t leave you Johnny, and I can guarantee you you’re not on his
top ten list of favorite
Johnny sat back down. “I
knew I should’ve brought my damn gun.”
“Yeah, a lot of good one gun’s going to do against forty.”
least we’d have a chance.”
still gotta chance as long as that guy is on his feet,” I said.
Roman jumped off the
walkway onto the arena floor and walked to the
middle. The dog handlers
immediately unleashed their warriors, cracking their
whips to send the dogs
in Roman’s direction. And the dogs did run that way, but,
once at the janitor’s
feet they stopped. Their jaws did not open at all, nor did their
teeth cut through
Roman’s black dress pants. They only sniffed around the janitor,
and then, as if the same
thought entered both dogs’ small brains, they focused on
Freddy’s two men still agonizing in the dirt.
dogs took off in a dead sprint toward the injured men. The handlers
did their best to try to
capture the beasts but the dogs were too quick. In a matter
of seconds each of the
dogs were on each of the men, clamping their powerful jaws
around the helpless
men’s necks. The handlers cracked their short whips on the
back of the dogs. But it
was too late. The dogs were eating.
The screams of the injured men lasted only seconds—the dogs tore though
their necks and vocal
cords, smacking their gums together as they choked down the
human flesh. And even
though the bodies in the dirt thrashed and convulsed, they
were closer to death
than to life.
While seeing two dogs mangle the life out of each other was considered
sport, seeing them
tearing skin from humans was not. A collective gasp of horror
went through the
crowd—some distorted version of the wave at a baseball game.
At least half of the
crowd ran for the front exit.
“Don’t leave. We’ll have this insurrection contained in moments. Don’t
leave. Extravaganza will
resume. Please!” Freddy the Flower announced over his
the pleas fell on deaf ears. Eighty percent of the crowd fled the
arena, a mass exodus
that pushed and trampled the weaker of its members. Elegant
dresses were tore, masks
fell off faces, and the precious betting slips flew though
the air like confetti,
eventually littering every corner of the arena. Men and women
alike were pushed off
the walkways and fell to the floor. They clawed and
scratched, trying to
pull themselves back up, but each time the masses drove them
inadvertently to the
The two dogs finished their feeding at the same time. They left what were
now only body parts and
moved to the far end of the arena. They lay down, bellies
in the dirt like they
were under a shade tree on a hot summer day.
Now the handlers charged Roman, cracking their whips. He dodged the
first several snaps of
the thin leather, but when he saw the space between him and
the wall diminishing,
Roman moved in on the handler with the patch. The whip
caught Roman on the
shoulder, but he managed to grab the hand that held it. He
twisted Patch’s wrist
and the whip dropped to the ground. Next the one-eared man
snapped his whip toward
Roman’s black mask. Roman sidestepped and instead
swung Patch into its
path. The second whip wrapped around Patch’s neck and
stayed there like a
lasso around the head of a calf.
Roman knelt down and retrieved the first whip from the dirt. One Ear
waited, perfectly still,
as Patch tried to unwind the leather from around his neck.
Before the man could get
free, Roman snapped the whip he now held and its end
curled around the neck
of One Ear. Immediately One Ear let go of the second
whip, still attached to
Patch’s neck—and Roman snatched the handle out of midair.
Now the janitor had both men, both held by the whips wound around their
necks, both trapped much
like the dogs they had so many times beaten into fighting
each other had been.
Holding the whips, Roman began turning in place, circling in small steps
the spot where he stood.
The two handlers had no choice but to follow the motion.
The whips tightened as
they ran, trying to keep up with Roman as he spun around
and around. Finally
satisfied with the momentum built up, Roman let go of the
whips. Patch and One Ear
went full-speed into the arena wall, crashing into it like
hockey players. The
handlers did not bounce off the wall like the sportsmen on ice
though. Instead the wood
barrier cracked and splintered as the built-up kinetic
energy displaced itself.
The handlers lay right below me and Johnny’s feet. The
men did not get up.
“Impressive,” Freddy whispered to himself, and then grabbed the mic
again. “Enough of this
foolishness,” Freddy’s voice grated over the arena
speakers. “Unmask this
Freddy’s soldiers dropped one by one onto the pink dirt of the arena floor,
jumping from the
walkways like paratroopers descending on the desert sand, each
with gun in hand. Some
had smiles, smiles that were not friendly. Others were
like robots, following
the simple commands of the motherboard.
The crowd was sparse and uneven on both sides as Bobby Dukes scooped
Heather off her bleacher
seat. She squirmed and fought but Bobby had his arm
around her neck. Her
feet dragged down the aisle as he made his way. Bobby
stopped their descent at
the other walkway, high enough that Roman could see
them both. He pressed
his gun to Heather’s temple in plain view.
Freddy’s wall of men marched on, rapidly approaching the slight black
figure backed against
the wall below me and Johnny’s feet.
“Whatta we do? Whatta we do?” I whispered to Roman.
told ya I should’ve brought the fuckin’ gun, janitor,” Johnny added.
stay in your seats. Everything’s going to be all right,” Roman said.
don’t know Roman...” I began.
“Trust me. We’ve got insurance remember?”
Somehow that statement did not make me feel better. What could the
insurance possibly be?
Was the Collingston SWAT team going to descend from
the rafters? Was the
world going to come to an end at this very minute? Was
Roman bulletproof? Did
he have that much faith in his so-called insurance, to not
twitch at the sight of a
gun pressed against the head of the person he loved the
most? Forty-some armed
men stood before him. I doubted Roman more at that
moment than any other
time. More than the time he took me fishing to prepare for
my Algebra test, and
more than the time I saw Johnny’s thugs charge him in the
Hollow. I just sat there
though, not because he told me to, but because I was
scared shitless and my
brain came up with no other plan.
“Let the girl go and we’ll be on our way. I don’t want any trouble,” Roman
shouted to the man in
the grandstand across the arena.
You don’t want any trouble? Ruined my party is what you’ve done.
Trouble is all over you.
It’s a little late for negotiations, wouldn’t you agree?”
Freddy said over the
“I agree that you’re insane if you think this a party,” Roman said. “I swear
to you, if you don’t let
us pass this will be the last night this building stands.”
I don’t know who you think you are with your neat little maneuvers
and such, but there are
two kinds of stupid men in the world. One who barks
naked at the moon and
one who does it my living room.”
“Since you’re in the practice of using tired clichés let me give you another
one. If you’re going to
journey down the path of revenge, you better build two
coffins, one for the
person and one for yourself.”
“Cute, very cute. What are you a philosopher?”
Roman thought for several seconds. “No, I’m a janitor.”
Freddy shook his head at the statement. “No one talks to The Flower this
way. Unmask the
of Freddy’s men reached for Roman’s mask only to have his arm
slapped away. Another
man reached out and was sent flying into the arena wall.
He landed on top of
Patch and One Ear. Yet another man swiped for the mask.
Roman grabbed the man’s arm and flipped him 180 while still holding it. The
man’s shoulder popped in
mid-rotation before he slammed to the dirt floor.
Roman let go of the
man’s limp arm and put a heel to his nose for good measure.
Several of the soldiers
turned their heads back toward Freddy’s side of the arena,
as if they were awaiting
“Enough, enough, enough!” Freddy’s voice boomed through the speakers.
“Shoot the silly bastard. We’ll unmask him when he’s good and cold.”
arms rose. The guns aimed. Heather screamed in the background.
Johnny scooted down the
bleachers, removing himself from the path of the bullets.
With no other bright
ideas popping into my head, I closed my eyes and prayed.
Max Sheehan applied the last coat of stain to the baby crib he had been
working on for the last
several days. This one was being shipped to Maine, to
someone’s happy home, to
the land of pine trees and lobster. As he wiped the stain
on the bars of the crib,
his mind wandered. He thought of his current set up. How
perfect the basement
was. How he had gotten no struggle out of her this last time.
The police knew nothing except she was missing and weren’t too concerned since
students were often
missing during winter break. He had followed her for weeks,
scouting her every move
and habit. She went to the library on Wednesdays. On
the far side of the
quad, he’d parked his car next to where she walked. He’d
knocked her out with
chloroform in a handkerchief and gotten her into the car with
no witnesses. The
simplicity and perfection brought a smile to his face. It was all
he imagined but
something was amiss. Was he getting tired of her? The thought
enraged him. All this
planning and preparation was supposed to last him a good
while—longer than a
week, even a couple of months he’d thought when he
He could find another easily enough. Charlotte, the traveling saleswoman,
came every Thursday. She
was tall and dark headed and proper. Hair in a bun and
glasses that made her
look innocent. No. He would stick with the one in the
basement as long as he
Max put the stain rag in paint thinner and cleaned up his station. He wasn’t
sure if he would go get
ice cream, but he was sure he would visit the basement.
Max opened the door but she was not on the floor as he expected. She was
on the bed spread eagle
with her fingers running up her naked flesh. He stopped
his approach, startled.
She moaned and breathed hard, lungs moving breasts up
and down. She raised her
head and gazed with her best come-hither eyes. Max
started toward her slow
and cautious. As he approached the bed she dropped down
to the floor on her
knees and stayed there until her eyes were looking directly up at
“I want you in my mouth,” Mary said.
Max’s eyes widened from surprise. The shock was overcome with
excitement and Max
stepped closer to her.
was already fully excited as he was every time he came to the
basement. She put her
right hand on the back of his leg and felt the tenseness in
his hamstring. Her mouth
went around him and she began.
you sick bastard, she thought.
couple of seconds later her hand felt his hamstring loosen. She
continued her work as
she looked up and saw his eyes shut.
You can do this. It’s your only chance.
Without further hesitation she bit down as hard as she could and twisted her
head. It made a snapping
sound like that of biting into the skin of an overcooked
screamed with pain.
pulled away and to her surprise the head of his penis was not in her
mouth. The only evidence
of the act was the blood on her teeth and corners of her
mouth. She did not bite
it completely off but the lower half of it dangled in a
mangled mess, attached
only in a few places by the flesh her teeth had failed to
severe, and a couple of
veins that remained somewhat in tact.
fell to his knees trying to hold himself together with one hand. With
the other he took a
half-assed swing at her but she moved in ample time. Mary
lifted the cover that
hung from the bed onto the floor and carefully picked up the
makeshift knife she had
made the night before. It was jagged glass from the mirror
she’d broken in the
bathroom. The handle was toilet paper rapped around one end
of the glass and
hardened with nail polish.
Mary got to her feet with Max still on his knees. Tears rolled down her
cheeks. She breathed
heavily and the glass knife shook in her hand. Max writhed
with pain, eyes closed,
sounding much like a woman in the throes of labor. Mary
looked at the big vein
in his neck, and drew back her weapon.
After all he had done to her and all he had taken from her, she couldn’t cut
his throat. Her tears
came down hard now, hard enough she couldn’t see. She
wiped them away and
looked over at the two keys lying on the floor next to the
door. A voice popped in
her head. Run Mary! Run!
She kept the knife in hand and broke for the door. Two steps into her
escape Max grabbed her
ankle tripping her to the ground. The jolt to her body
flung the glass knife
hrough the air and it landed next to the keys and door. His
grip was tight. With her
free leg she kicked Max’s face over and over until he let
go of her ankle.
Thinking getting up would waste valuable time, Mary crawled for
the door. As she reached
it she picked up the keys with one hand and the knife
with the other. On her
feet now she inserted one of the keys but the lock would not
turn. She fumbled to the
other key but before she could get it into the hole, Max’s
arm was around her neck.
He was choking the life out of her. She gasped for air
but got nothing. Max
wasn’t just trying to stop her from escaping now; he was
trying to end her all
together. I haven’t come this far to
die inches from freedom
Her face was turning blue. Her veins stood out from her forehead.
The knife, Mary! Her father’s voice rang
in her head.
She shifted her weight slightly, swung her arm behind her, and jabbed the
jagged edge into Max’s
side several times until he released his grip. On the final
stab the knife wedged in
his side and did not come out. Max staggered from her,
lost his footing, and
fell backwards to the floor. Mary put the correct key in the
lock and turned it. This
time the door opened. She scampered up the stairs to the
next door, switched keys
and opened it as well. She looked at nothing in the living
room and headed for the
front door. It was not locked. Mary opened it and ran
down the street. She
knew not where she was running, only from where. Her bare
feet smacked at a quick
pace against the hot pavement. She didn’t care that she
Mary Baumbright was free.
Freddy’s men raised their weapons and aimed. There was a long almost
Click. Click. Click.
Probably forty or so soft clicks, the last one being next to Heather’s head.
Not a single bang.
The soldiers looked at their guns in bewilderment. A thug in the front row
pressed the side of his
gun, and the clip came out. He peered with one eye down
the black rectangular
container. “There’s no bullets,” he said.
“What the fuck?” Bobby said.
The Flower stood up and dropped his champagne glass shattering it against
the green wooden floor.
I finally got it. While me and Johnny were watching the show, Roman
broke into the armory
and emptied every round of their guns.
I jumped out of my seat. “Yes! Yes!” I yelled until realizing I was making
the only sound in the
“Kill him! Kill him!” Freddy screamed at his men. “Kill the janitor!”
The black leather wall of Freddy’s men moved in on their final attack,
taking slow careful
steps, an ominous wave of doom. Several of the troopers
dropped their weapons,
but most held on—even a gun that had no bullets could
still bash in the side
of one’s head.
“Thirty-something to one. Even the Janitor’s gonna have his work cut out,”
Really it wasn’t thirty to one. It was more like five to one, six different
times. All thirty of The
Flower’s troops couldn’t fight Roman at once. Sure they
had his back against the
wall and marched at least four rows deep. But it just
possible for all of them to take him at the same time; somebody
would always be waiting
behind the guy in front of him.
Roman leveled the first row, fighting several of them at the same time. It
was like he had eight
arms, and often Roman would hit or kick them without even
looking. When one was
eliminated, dropping to the dirt, another simply stepped
up and took his place.
It reminded me of trying to close the annoying pop-up ads
on the Internet.
Five minutes into it, Roman had fought off of every last one of them.
Freddy’s soldiers picked
themselves out of the dirt—some quicker than others—
and slowly started to
surround Roman in the middle of the arena. Roman was the
peaceful eye at the
center of a hurricane. The circle moved in on its center and
Roman was now fighting
ten or so men at a time. And although his chest moved
up and down for oxygen,
Roman’s actions only quickened.
What images did Roman see through those eyes of his? Did his brain
operate at such a high
velocity that the arms and fists and legs and kicks that came
at him seemed to be in
slow motion? Was time frozen for everyone except him?
Or did Roman just see
numbers? Were the attacks and charges just a mathematical
formula? Did his brain
have the counter offense instantaneously? Was Roman just
the solution on the
other side of the equal sign? Was he simply balancing the
equation? I was sure it
was all of those things and none of them—some special
gift that words could
not give justice to describing.
Three fists came at Roman. He sidestepped one, ducked one, and caught
the other, flipping its
owner to the ground. Then a boot. Roman caught the leg
and swung it. The body
on the other end knocked down several of its comrades,
like a bowling ball to
pins. A bear hug came from behind at the same time a fist
came at him from the
front. Roman jerked his head and the fist hit the bear-hugger
instead. Roman squatted
slightly, flexed his shoulders forward and backed into the
bear-hugger, his arms
reaching back to grab the man and lift him off his feet. Still
bear-hugger, the janitor charged the man in front of him and
attackers’ skulls against each other. Even from the stands it
sounded like two
billiard balls smashing together. An elbow to the temple of the
guy to his right. A
right forearm block to avoid two o’clock. An open hand to the
nose of the guy in
front. A duck for ten o’clock. A flat footed kick to the chest of
the one directly behind.
Roman stood in the center of the arena with his hands on his knees as the
Flower’s men slowly
emerged once again from their temporary graves. Like
everything Roman did,
his fighting was meticulous. Even so it was difficult to
inflict mortal wounds to
his enemies since he had to be so quick and fight so many
at once. I counted
twenty-four thugs back on their feet.
“We’ve gotta help him. He can’t last much longer,” I said.
“What if they find out it’s me? I’ll have a bounty on my head,” The Killer
“If we don’t do something, you won’t have to worry about a bounty. We
gotta make it out here
first,” I said back.
There was still a traffic jam of people at the south exit. If the crowd hadn’t
been so panicked they
could have all been gone by now. But fear was probably the
most irrational of
Bobby Dukes still had Heather around the throat, standing on the opposite
walkway across the
arena. The useless gun lay on the bleacher behind him. A
switchblade had replaced
it, and now the point of the sharp steel pressed against
Freddy Flowers was still standing, and although he seemed to enjoy the
game unfolding before
his eyes, there was a sense of uneasiness to his stance, and
an urgency that made him
crave for the janitor to be brought to his knees.
Freddy’s soldiers’ third
offensive started. Roman fought and fought well,
but his actions were
slowing. Instead of decapacitating the aggressors with a
single blow, it was
taking several now. The troops seemed to sense this, and their
energy level elevated
like that of lions closing in on a wounded antelope. Roman
lost his footing a
couple of times, rolling in the dirt, and dodging back and forth
between boots. You could
see the eagerness in the thugs’ eyes, the anticipation of
victory tingling in
their nerves. But each time Roman got knocked down to the
level of those evil
feet, he somehow got back to vertical.
“He’s not invincible after all,” Freddy whispered to himself and sat back
down in his chair.
Bobby Dukes zip-tied Heather’s wrists to the rail on the walkway. She sat
down out of exhaustion.
Her arms dangled awkwardly from the wrists, unable to
support themselves, and
her right leg pinned her left underneath it. The kicking
and squirming drive for
freedom had left her now. Who knew what atrocious
suggestions Bobby Dukes
had whispered continuously in her ear while as she
watched the man she had
come to love fight for both their lives? Heather strained
to hold her head up and
peered through the damp bangs that covered her eyes.
Bobby pulled the hair on
the back of her head, lifting her eyes to the ceiling. The
light from the rafters
blinded her, and then his fist came down and everything went
Boochie Anderson now joined Dukes, and the two scurried back and forth
in front of the
grandstands, grabbing anything that could be used as a weapon and
tossing them down to
their warrior friends. There was something sinister about
everyday objects being
used as weapons, something more violent and perverse
than guns and knives.
At different times the soldiers would get knocked down, but they found that
awaited them; Bobby’s and Boochie’s presents were met with
blood-smeared smiles and
half-open hopeful eyes. They caught chains,
two-by-fours with nails sticking out, flowerpots, rope,
sledgehammers, and axes.
I had seen momentum shifts plenty of times in baseball games. The right
fielder throws out the
go-ahead run at the plate and then gets the game-winning hit
the very next inning.
This was different. At the beginning Roman handled them
with relative ease,
almost something out of a cartoon, but that energy had darkened
now, and the tide had
turned to something much more in the realm of reality.
We’d come there to
kidnap a dog and pulled it off with relative ease. Now
we were going to be
lucky to escape with our lives. All reason was gone from my
head. I jumped the rail
and sprinted across the blood-soaked dirt of the arena. I
ran out of sheer
emotion. I ran to help my friend.
I heard Johnny’s feet directly behind me. Even he finally realized the
consequences of standing
by and doing nothing. “Dukes is mine,” I thought he
I tackled the back of the first soldier in view, driving his face into the dirt.
punched the back of his
neck repeatedly until his struggle to get up was gone.
Johnny grabbed the two
by four that had been meant for one of Freddy’s men right
out of the air. The
Killer swung the lethal lumber, taking out four or five of the
soldiers in a matter of
seconds only to have a chain wrapped around his neck from
Three of them had him on the ground, unmasked. They took turns
swinging at him.
Bobby nudged Boochie and pointed at Johnny. “Some balls the kids got
comin’ back here huh?”
“Is that what ya call it?” Boochie said and laughed.
I felt a pot smash in pieces on the back of my head. And then I too was on
Roman was still on his feet taking on about ten of them. But he was tiring,
losing, getting hit
often and seldom hitting back. I could finally see his face. The
mask was trampled in the
dirt. The arena floor was scattered with bodies, some
moving, some not.
I wasn’t meant to die like this. Eighteen years old fighting men twice my
age in some psycho’s
warped circus. For the life of a dog nonetheless. Please
God. Please God.
I don’t know if the man upstairs heard me or the dogs’ curiosity finally
over came their fear.
But the canines stood uneasily in front of the curtain,
confused, watching the
battle. Their tongues seemed to hang all the way to the dirt
and their eyes moved
over the potential food in front of them.
The hesitation did not last long. The hungry animals spread out over the
arena and went for the
wounded men on the floor, savage piranhas swarming the
pink sea of dirt. In
seconds every dog had his own body, his own plentiful meal.
Teeth gouged in, heads
swung back and forth, flesh ripped. One of the dog’s
mouths covered a man’s
nose, and when it lifted the nose was gone. Two dogs
played tug of war with
each of a man’s arms. Several of the beasts pounced on
Patch and One Ear,
taking their vengeance one bite at a time. Though their former
were still warm, revenge can be eaten at any temperature.
Freddy Flowers was on
the mic again, cursing what he called God’s foul
beasts. His voice came
through the speakers but sounding fainter, more like a
whisper. It was hard to
translate the ranting. It was lost beneath the gurgling
screams of his own men.
The dogs waited patiently as Roman sent his attackers to the dirt, like
students at obedience
school. I imagine if Freddy’s men had had their choice, they
would have voted to fall
straight to Hell instead of onto the arena floor. Many of
them were conscious
through the entirety of the dining, and could only watch as
their flesh and blood
tore away from their bones. The dogs stopped short of killing
some of them, leaving
the once-proud soldiers to suffer, giving their souls time to
either repent or curse.
Not one of them made it back to their feet.
When all stomachs were full, our four-legged friends paced the arena
what it was built for and looking for an exit. A couple of
laps was all it took.
The corpses and body parts had made a pile against the west
wall, stacked up at
least three feet atop of what remained of Patch and One Ear.
Now the dogs ran up the
slick human staircase with relative ease, pouncing on the
flesh, and jumping to
the walkway. They ran as a pack to the exit and to their
There were six of us left standing.
Freddy was now down on the walkway, leaning over the railing. His pink
suit only made the anger
in his face seem redder and his disarrayed hairs escaped
the once perfectly
slicked-back ponytail. Boochie and Bobby stood next to him,
awaiting orders; Heather
dangled beside them, almost conscious now. Me and
Johnny watched as Roman
approached on the arena floor below.
“Let her go and we’ll be on our way,” Roman said from his spot next to the
“Who are you?” Freddy said and laughed. “You’re just a kid. Ha! A
fucking kid. Let her go?
I think not.”
Roman plucked the torch from the ground next to the curtain. Without
hesitation he held it to
the pink silk. The flames traveled over the material, igniting
the entire doorway as
quickly as fire over gasoline. In seconds the entire north
wall was burning. Roman
heaved the torch like a spear. It landed in the stands
behind The Flower. The
vines and flowers that adorned both the rafters and the
grandstands began to
wilt and smolder.
“Not my beautiful children. This is not how it happens,” Freddy screamed.
Johnny jumped to the
rail and I followed behind.
“Dukes is mine,” Johnny said again.
Unfortunately that left me with Boochie. As Johnny catapulted over the
railing and clotheslined
Bobby to the walkway, the fat man caught me in mid-air.
My face smooshed into
his flabby chest, his arms wrapped around me, squeezing
the air from my lungs;
my legs hung limply over the arena floor.
Johnny and Bobby exchanged several blows. Both were ballroom
brawlers, and they stood
like boxers before the bell. Johnny got a few good licks
in only to have a
switchblade drawn on him.
Freddy backed away from
the entire scuffle.
“This is going to be more fun than that wood chipper anyway. I’m gonna
gut you like a pig,”
Bobby said as he waved the blade in front of Johnny. He
jabbed it at The Killer
but his arm was caught in mid-strike.
Roman stopped the attack, clapping his hands on Bobby’s wrist.
dropped the weapon. Roman still had hold of the wrist and
turned it back to the
forearm. There were several cracking sounds.
Johnny unleashed a
series of punches on Dukes, bringing him to his knees
and eventually to his
Roman picked up the knife, cut Heather’s bonds in one quick slice, and
caught her before one
blond hair hit the walkway. Gently, Roman propped her
against the first row of
bleachers. Heather’s eyes were already turning black from
the earlier punch that
knocked her senseless.
I could feel the heat all around me and hear the crackle of Freddy’s arena as
it burned. Smoke filled
the air, eclipsing any light from the gymnasium bulbs
above. I could see
Freddy pacing on the walkway and brushing back the tight hair
against his scalp.
Everything was getting black in my vision. I was close to
passing out, but for
some reason all I could think about was what shade of purple
my face was. At any
second I thought my head was going to pop like a zit.
Boochie dropped me and I
fell to the arena floor. As my head hit the dirt, I
squinted through the
smoke. Roman had gone underneath the fat man’s legs from
behind and grabbed a
handful of Boochie’s family jewels.
Roman twisted one way and then the opposite. Boochie inhaled a large
gasp like Roman had just
hit the release valve on some pressurized mechanism.
The fat man stayed on
his feet though, and with no other strategy popping into that
sweaty tattooed melon of
his, he simply fell backwards landing on Roman and
crushing him against the
Beneath him Roman wiggled his fingers like the slow tentacles of a bug
underneath a shoe.
Heather got to her feet and stomped on Boochie’s stomach. It
was no good; the
pounding only displaced the wave of fat that was his belly. You
can’t hurt jello.
With his right arm, Boochie swiped her to the side. Heather was no more
than a paper-thin pest
to him. He made no effort to get up, seemingly satisfied
with his current
fighting tactic. I got out of the dirt and from under the railing
reached up and grabbed
Boochie’s ankles. His heel smashed me square in the nose
and I was back in the
Roman gave up trying to contract his diaphragm underneath the weight. He
held his breath and
somehow wiggled his hands out from behind the fat man’s
kicked the jelly belly again several times, only to get flung
against the bleachers by
Boochie’s arm. Her attack was productive though, giving
Roman enough room to
free both arms from under the shifting weight on top of
Now his fingers searched the fat man’s face, the blind phalanges trying to
read silver Braille.
Roman searched until all of his members on both hands were
safely wrapped like meat
hooks around the silver hoops on the fat man’s face.
Boochie shook his head
trying to free himself, but with one pull Roman stretched
the skin and ripped out
every last ring.
Boochie let out a cry far worse than any wounded animal. His right
eyebrow hung loose over
his eye, the space between his nostrils was absent, and
blood began to seep
through the pin-sized holes in his cheeks. Boochie rolled off
to the side, a red mess.
The Killer and Dukes continued to exchange blows, their punches glowing
orange from the
reflected flames. Johnny’s left eye was almost completely swollen
shut and he covered the
ribs on the same side.
Freddy Flowers stood twenty feet above them on the bleachers, scanning
the arena for something
that would help his man. Physical involvement was out of
was something that was beneath the silk suits and propriety
of a man such as him,
even under dire circumstances like these. Finally, his eye
caught the flaming
flowerpots that ran up the aisleway of the bleachers. He
grabbed them by the
handle and swung them through the air at Johnny—his
would not die in vain after all.
Roman got to his feet still gasping for air and started toward Freddy,
passing the gladiators
on the walkway like they weren’t even there, and dodging
the flaming pots from
the bleachers. The fireballs moved slowly and were no
match for Roman’s quick
ducks and side steps.
Freddy backed up the stairs of the bleachers, grabbing his bombs from each
side of the aisle of
every row he passed. Roman walked up as well, moving his
body only slightly as
the flaming pots passed him.
One of the firebombs missed Roman but continued down to the walkway
and hit Johnny. Hot red
ashes sparked as the pot hit The Killer’s back and smoke
bellowed from his suit
coat. An instant later Johnny’s backside was ablaze. He
took a couple of steps
like he was thinking of running. (Stop, drop, and roll, was
always miles from
thought when you needed it most.)
I ran down the length of the arena wall, stopped at Johnny’s ankles, and
grasping from below
pulled with all my strength. His head hit the walkway face
first, something I was
sure he would forgive me for if I saved his life. I pulled him
under the railing and
let him fall to the dirt. I began to push him over. The Killer
caught on and started to
roll himself, with the words of that old grade school
anthem playing in his
head I imagine. When the flames were safely out Johnny
shed the smoldering
Freddy only had two rows left before reaching the top—four more fire
pots. Roman continued
his slow pace; keeping enough distance so he could react
to the flaming
projectiles. Bobby Dukes began to walk up behind Roman, stopped
out of exhaustion, and
pulled out a cigarette and lighter despite the thick blackness
that hung in the arena.
Roman ducked the last of Freddy’s flaming plants and grabbed The Flower
by his neck.
Bobby Dukes was not so lucky.
As he flicked the silver lighter with no success, the pot hit Bobby in the
head, igniting his hair
like a candlewick. I could hear the grease sizzle as it
flamed. Bobby calmly
walked over to the rail, straddled it, and then dropped to the
floor below as if the
hot flames only consumed the grease and not the roots of his
hair. He bent over with
confidence and rubbed his head in the dirt, and then threw
dirt with his hands, and
then rolled. None of it worked. Panicked now, Dukes ran
for what was left of the
exit screaming, the flames growing to the ceiling with each
stride. He climbed up
the arena wall, his entire head burning, took two steps on the
walkway and fell back to
the dirt as one giant flame.
The building crackled like the embers in a campfire, snapping and seeming
to sway under its own
weight. Johnny the Killer ran for the exit with what was left
of his coat covering his
face. I covered my face as well as the smoke was
unbearable and the heat
about fried my eyes.
Roman stood at the top, still holding The Flower’s throat.
“Who are you?” Freddy asked.
Roman stepped close to him, nose to nose. “I’m nobody. I’m a ghost.
And like a ghost I’m going to disappear. But if I ever come across you or one of
your thugs ever again,
I’ll haunt you to the depths of hell.”
“I’m a businessman,” The Flower responded. “A smart businessman. I’m
sure our paths will
never cross again. In fact I’m positive.”
Roman let go and ran down the bleachers, skipping every other one. He
jetted down the walkway
to where I had Heather on her feet. Roman scooped her
up and carried her to
the exit. I followed them, turning back one more time in
amazement, and watched
Freddy Flowers exit by the opposite staircase.
The frozen tundra was welcome terrain and the bitter cold felt like a spring
breeze. Roman carried
Heather over the crunchy snow with relative ease. His
skinny arms were like
oaks. On the ground next to the exit lay Boochie Anderson,
patting snow on his
newly acquired wounds. Twenty or so others occupied the
snow-covered lot of
Extravaganza. Those lucky enough not to become dog chow
sat in the snow, tending
to their wounds. Several of the soldiers and the
entertainers who had
exited with the fans stood around watching like students at a
bonfire as their circus
warmed the icy January sky.
Several looked at us as we headed towards the Escalade, but looked away
when they saw Roman. It
was amazing how much respect could be gained in such
a short time, even with
the lowest of humanity.
Roman put Heather in the front passenger seat. I sat in the back next to
Johnny, who was laughing as Apollo bombarded him with licks.
“Nice of you to make sure we got out,” I said to Johnny.
“What? I saw he had it under control. I couldn’t fuckin’ breathe man.”
As the Escalade rolled down the two-lane road there was no conversation,
only passing fire trucks
and police. Roman occasionally glanced at his sleeping
beauty in the next seat.
My skin was still warm and from the rear view mirror, I
could see in the
distance the orange and yellow glow of The Flower’s
Extravaganza turning the night sky
into the brightness of mid-afternoon.