Authors: Todd Russell
The wax started to melt on her face.
The flesh shifted on her face. Above her head the clock ticked midnight.
"You're late, Mr. Ekelton."
Her laughter penetrated his skull. He reached for the envelope in his jacket pocket as the jolt gripped his chest. He gasped and collapsed to the floor.
"Mr. Levito! Come quick!" The woman screamed.
A tall man in a suit quickly entered the room and immediately felt Kyle for a pulse.
"He's ... dead."
Levito took the envelope from Kyle's cooling grip and counted the cash. "Well, it's all here, anyway. Have the boys take care of his body. Another messenger gone."
The woman raised her hands to her face. "He came rushing in, breathing like death warmed over. I guess he didn't realize..."
They both looked up at the clock above them.
"Yes, we forgot to turn that back, didn't we?" Mr. Levito chuckled, shaking his head. "Damn daylight savings."
Albert Dodds was the premier security guard, hawking the bank of monitors like a wolf with dripping fangs analyzing its prey.
"And what about that one?" The rookie, Keen, said, crunching a Dorito.
"The guy with the cane and the empty stare? He's about to deposit a whole lot of money. Yep. Watch how he moves over to the teller window like he is a decrepit—yep! Now he turns and heads over to the new accounts. He's dumping at least fifty grand into a CD."
"How about the little lady?"
"Dark hair, blue eyes with the quick gait?" Albert said, chuckling. "Showing all that cleavage, she must be here under the guise of opening a new account."
"Amazing! She's sitting down at that young buck's desk in new accounts."
"Quit hogging all the Doritos, rook." Albert stuffed a sausagy fingered hand in the bag and loaded a snapping wad into his hole.
"What about the guy in the green?"
"Baldy with the wide eyes and scowl? Yep, rocking back and forth on one leg like he needs the john real bad. Yep, he's here to complain about the bounced checks he just wrote and the eighteen dollar service charge for each one. Manager will have to throw him out."
Five minutes later, the manager escorted the disgruntled man to the door.
"How do you know so much about these people?" Keen asked.
"You watch them nine to five Monday thru Friday and they begin to look the same. Sure, there expressions change, but you can always tell what they're here for."
"Who's that there?"
"Guy in the blue sweater, trench coat, passionless eyes?"
"Him, yeah, what's he here for?"
"That's my dad, rook. He has an account here."
"Really? He looks a little ... serious."
"Mom and he just went through a divorce. Married twenty years."
"Bum deal, how's he taking it?"
"Dad? Sheesh, he's a tough guy. Rook, he wouldn't crack if the world was coming down. In fact there's even more turmoil. We found out my sister was getting married. To a woman."
"A lesbian? Wow..."
"Dad just laughed it off. He said there was nothing wrong with liking the same sex. Now me? Well . . . . Now give me those damn Doritos, rook!"
"You know what I think?" The rookie said.
"That anybody can crack. That anybody you think you know could turn faces on you."
"Not me. Not Albert Dodds. I know them."
"You ate all the Doritos, fatso."
"Who are you calling fat—" Albert turned and saw the gun cocked at his temple.
"Now look at the girl at the new accounts," Keen said. "See her spray the mace in the hunk's eyes. Yes, fat man, she will take care of the alarm system. How about the old codger with all the cash? Looks like his cane has a blade on it and he's taking care of all the cameras except one for us. And the pissed off customer just walked back in the front door. And look here? An AK-47. Cuts through flesh like a laser. He's got that rentacop by the doorway busy."
"Please don't s—shoot," Albert said, beads of sweat rolling down his temple.
"Shoot you? Nah. I'm the 'rook' bank robber, fats, unless you give me a reason to upgrade my title. Now look what we see now? Must admit that you eating all those Doritos
pissed me off, though. Wait a minute? Isn't that your 'tough' dad? What's that gun doing in his hand? Could he be part of this? Oh no, he just shot the teller, and there goes her brains all over the carpet. Guess he found a way to crack."
"Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. President?"
The President pointed to the tall, studiously-dressed man in the crowd.
"In the sixties, is it true you were an avid hemp user and if so, what effect does this have on your leniency or lack thereof in the country's drug policy?"
"I didn't engage in the use of marijuana, or any other substance, in the sixties. In fact I am disturbed by these persistent allegations. And even if I had smoked marijuana back then, or used mouthwash four times a day, or been a candy addict, none of those things would ever have affected my decisions regarding past, current, or future drug policy. Evelyn Jones, USA Today?"
"Yes, thank you, Mr. President. You publicly speak out against abortion and how it affects the lives and safety of mothers across America. Can you elaborate on why you feel it is never appropriate, or under what circumstances it would be?"
The President took a deep breath. "I always find the media's undying attempts at cornering me entertaining, and you know I have answered this question before. 'Never' is a strong word that should carefully be used in a position such as mine. I can't say it would
be appropriate, but I can say that I personally would never do it."
The room laughed and more hands shot up. The President picked one.
"About the threat of chemical weapons, Mr. President? You have consistently assured the American people that these weapons pose little to no threat. The same was said of nuclear weapons under previous administrations. What can you say to diminish the rising fears in the American public? And specifically, what are you doing to ensure the future is brighter regarding dramatic terrorist threats such as these?"
"There will always be weapons of mass destruction. For me to stand here and claim otherwise would be terribly inaccurate. Your question about what we're doing is better answered by the Secretary of Defense than I, and should be addressed in his press conference. However I will confirm, again, that there is absolutely zero threat to the American people today and that our current defense weaponry is light years ahead of that which was demonstrated in Desert Storm. Therefore any concerns about our ability to counter any terrorist attacks should be discarded. Last question, please?"
"Mr. President, these allegations that you have a mistress inside the White House...?"
"False. Totally. You know how devoted I am to the First Lady. Have a great day ladies and gentlemen."
The President walked into the back room, followed by several secret service agents. Inside the next room was the Secretary of Defense. The guards left the two men alone.
"The media has its usual prejudices," The President said, sighing.
"About the situation in Florida?"
"Yes, Mr. Secretary. What is the breakage?"
"It appears we'll lose half the state."
"My god. Can't we shoot them down?"
The Secretary shook his head solemnly.
The red phone rang. The President picked it up and listened. "What? Not pregnant—no!" The President set the phone on his quickly-rising chest. "Donna, she's—oh my—what will I do, Mr. Secretary?"
The President nodded and gave the instruction. The Secretary reached inside his uniform and removed a plastic baggy.
"Your turn to roll one," the Secretary said, grinning.
Suddenly the President's recent speech resonated in his head. No, the abortion would not be good for public opinion. Not at all. He picked up the phone again and changed the instruction. "Send my good secretary Donna to Disneyworld instead."
Ricky and Jake, twin brothers, battled for Dad's attention until graduation night at Peadman's Cliff when they decided to settle it.
The crowd had gathered from school, alcohol carelessly involved, the torches flaming against the ebony chill. Wendy Simmons stood between the two beater cars, raised a makeshift checkered flag, her sweet fragrance kissing the air.
Jake raised a thumb to his brother. Ricky showed him his middle finger instead.
The checkered flag dropped and they both slammed on their respective accelerators. Dirt and gravel spit from tires and the crowd raged, pumping the torches.
Jake stared at his brother and saw Dad. Jake was the son who never won at anything. Dad loved winners and Ricky fulfilled those desires better and more often than he. Ricky won his first fight when the bully, Billy Watkins, wanted his lunch money. Jake got beat up by Billy three times before finally returning the favor.
The cars bobbed for position. The cliff a football field's distance away and closing. Ricky smiled with his perfect teeth. Jake returned his crooked grin.
Ricky was Dad's jock. He could do it all: football, track, baseball, soccer, name it. Jake could do it all too, just not nearly as well. Ricky's wall overflowed with ornate plaques and ocean-colored ribbons and impressive trophies. Jake's wall smelled of honorable mentions.
Closer to the cliff edge. Night breathed through the inch slit in Jake's window. Jake looked at Ricky's clenched hands on the steering wheel, his determined eyes.
Dad's eyes. He had Dad's eyes too, but Dad always remarked how the girls loved Ricky's eyes. I HAVE HIS EYES TOO, DAD! Jake complained but it was always after the crowd had gone home. Ricky owned the stage, Jake the backstage pass. Just a roadie in the concert of their disproportionate lives.
Ricky smiled at Jake with those damned straight teeth! He raised his middle finger to his brother. HE wasn't jumping out, not Ricky The Stud Johnson. No way. He'd go to the edge. Maybe over the edge. No chickening out with his big breasted girlfriend, Wendy Simmons watching.
Wendy, oh Wendy
, Jake's thoughts burned his brain. Wendy was the first girl Jake had loved. Still loved. Why wouldn't she look at him? Why Ricky. Why did Ricky always win all the time? Dad loved winners. "The winners circle, sons. Strive for that winner's circle."
The edge one hundred feet away. The jagged rocks four hundred feet below mocking the brothers.
Jake turned, screaming, "JUMP! JUMP!"
80 feet....closing...quicker, quicker.
Ricky turning, both middle fingers at his brother. "YOU JUMP! NOW! DAD LOVES WINNERS!"
Jake thought about being swallowed by the rocks; about the time they buried Grandpa and Dad crying. Dad never cried. Jake went frantically for the door handle, pulling it.
The door latch caught.
"JUMP! JAKE YOU JUMP NOWWWW!" Ricky's wild eyes. His grin rippling across his face.
"STRIVE FOR THE WINNER'S CIRCLE SONS!"
The door finally opened and Jake jumped, hitting the sand and gravel and peeling his skin like a banana. Warm blood oozed from raw, opened wounds.
Jake heard the sounds of the cars roaring over the edge, hanging in the air and then plummeting to the mechanical ripping and mangling of metal being chewed by rocky teeth. He brushed the dirt from his bleeding face and looked for Ricky. He expected to see anything but the wind lifting the dirt and blowing it across the night. The crowd started screaming.
An hour later, and they had to use a metal saw on Ricky's door. It seems someone had welded it shut.
Yes, we're in overtime now.
In preparing the Dead Tree Book (DTB) version of Mental Shrillness and facing the economic realization that it would cost more money than the e-book version, I wanted to add some bonus material.
And bonus material without bonus notes to go with the material would be like cheese without wine, batteries without acid, sun without light and, well, you get it.
One of the first consulted was my right arm, my wife, as to what short stories she liked from the same AIN era. I gave her sampling of several different stories. I didn't ask her to consider if these would have any Mental Shrillness connection, just a simple question: "Can you tell me which of these you like best, please?"
She chose "The Clock Called Fate" and "Honey, I Shrunk The In-Laws." Curious selections, I thought, but since this book is dedicated to her I didn't question. Fortunately, there is a Mental Shrillness connection.
Special e-book version note
: I replaced "Honey, I Shrunk The In-Laws" in this version with another twisted humor tale from the same AIN era entitled "Politically Correct." I wanted the kind readers who bought the Mental Shrillness paperback to have an exclusive story that couldn't be found anywhere else. Here's the good news: this e-book also contains a story that's not anywhere else, so please don't sic the digital demons on me.
I also included a couple stories that have been used during the promotion of Mental Shrillness. These stories were also written during the AIN era so I'm keeping it all connected.
Let's check out the notes on the bonus stories.
"The Clock Called Fate"
- Mental Shrillness: time management and awareness. We've all been rushed by the clock at one time or another and wished we had more time. Poor Kyle Ekelton was so focused on not being late that he forgot something time-worthy had happened. In the present day Kyle could simply have checked his smartphone and saw he had an hour to go but remember, these stories are blasts from 15 years ago past. We weren't as atomic clock friendly back then. At least the technology wasn't as widespread as it is now. Then again, even with technology, how many of you still take a few days to adjust to the new time? It's like when a new year turns over and you want to keep writing last year down instead.