The kids were whispering about
it when the homeroom bell rang. Dirk Fannin, seventeen, had
three hostages at Mick
Bryant’s nickel and dime store. The cops had caught up with him after he’d knocked
over the Blitz Valley Savings and Loan. He’d ducked into Mick’s place and flashed
a .38. The Sheriff and his deputies were outside the store in the parking lot
trying to talk Dirk down. It was big news and there wasn’t a hushed voice in
Blitz Valley High till everyone had heard about it and talked big about the outcome.
The kids who liked Dirk said he’d come out on top with a sack of money and an
open road. Most of the kids said he’d come out in a body bag with enough metal
in his body to attract a community of miners.
Unlike the other kids, Meg
Masters didn’t want to talk about it. She thought about it
plenty, though. Dirk was her man. And though she tried not
to let on, she was mad as hell that he hadn’t let her in
on this one. I bet he wishes he had, she thought. She wasn’t
a slouch with a pistol. Sure, she was sixteen. But her daddy
had taken her on trips to shoot rabbits when she was only
eight. His mistake.
The bell rang. The kids around
Meg stood and moved out into the hallway. A river of bodies
passed by the class door, chattering. Meg clicked her nails
against the desk.
“Miss Masters?” Mr. Hunt, twenty-eight,
social studies, tall, chubby, fleshy, round face, leaned
his backside against his desk. He crossed his legs first,
then his arms. He wore a sweater with a tie underneath. He
had thick glasses.
Meg looked up. “Yeah?”
“You have a class, I assume?”
“What gave you that idea?”
“Cut it out. Get up and go.”
Meg took out a couple pieces
of bubble gum. She tossed the wrappers on the floor and bit
down on the gum.
Hunt kept his arms crossed
and looked at the wrappers.
Meg got to her feet. She wore
a plaid skirt, light sweater, saddle shoes. She had light
brown hair and brown eyes that hid beneath long, naturally
curling lashes. She chomped down her the gum as she walked
forward. She sneered at Hunt.
“Say,” he said, “you’re close
with that boy Dirk, aren’t you?”
Meg watched him. She knew the
look on his face. It was the look men get when they realize,
if only slightly and for a second, that they can’t stand
women. Everybody guessed Hunt was a fairy, with him not being
married and all. But his look said otherwise. There was frustration
in it. “Sure,” she said; and smacked the gum.
“I’d say you’re awfully worried.
Probably just dyin’ to get outta here. I’d be worried, too.
If I’m not mistaken ol’ Sheriff Hadley’s had some words with
that boy before. And I’d say…”
Meg turned and walked off.
Hunt laughed as she hit the
door. Then he said, “You either go pick those wrappers off
the floor, girl, or I’ll see you stay after for detention.
I’ll put an eye on you for the rest of the day.”
If I ever killed a man, it’d
be one like you, she thought. But Dirk needed her now. She
couldn’t argue. She stepped down the aisle of desks and picked
up the wrappers. She stuffed them in her purse.
“Thank you, Miss Masters,” Hunt
“Don’t mention it.” Meg hurried
off before the frustrated man could open his mouth again.
Hallway traffic was light.
A few kids chatted at their lockers. Some of them, like Meg,
wouldn’t make it to class. The bell rang. Damn, Meg thought.
McQueen, the principal, would be out and about now. She hurried
down the hall. The front doors were too tricky, so she headed
for the usual skipping route. The janitor/maintenance room
had an unlocked door that led to the trash bins out back.
From there you had to scale a wood fence. It wasn’t tough.
Meg stopped dead at the restrooms
when the girls’ door opened outward. Jen Powers, thank God,
stepped out. “What’re you still doin’ here?” Jen asked. A
short, stick-thin redhead, Jen never wore anything but slacks.
She wore a coat over her blouse. Either she’d left the restroom
on fire or she’d just grabbed a nice, long smoke. “I figured
you’d bust out for Dirk.”
Meg liked Jen. She understood
her. They thought alike, fought alike, and talked alike.
And unless they both fell for the same man, they’d remain
friends. “That’s where I’m headin’. Wanna come?”
“Hadley and his boys are in
the parking lot. What can we do?”
“I’m gonna make ‘em make a
decision,” Meg said. She had the plan in her mind. All she
needed was a gun. And a ride. “You got your brother’s car
Jen smiled. Her lipstick was
the only thing brighter than her hair.
The two girls rushed down the
hallway and out through the usual escape route.
Dirk Fannin had a seat behind
the cash register, away from any windows. He was a short
kid, 5’7” on a good day, but he was made hard. He wore his
black hair shaved on the side and longer on top. It was slicked
greasy and combed backwards. He wore ripped jeans and black
boots. A white t-shirt clung to his strong shoulders. He
had his hand on a glistening .38. A bag of money with Blitz
Valley written across the front waited on the counter.
Old Mick Bryant sat on the
floor with his cashier, Wilma Marcum and a customer, Tracy
Hendershot. Bryant was in his seventies; he wore a black
toupee and had his horseshoe haircut dyed, somehow, one shade
darker than the top. He was an arrogant man and cantankerous.
Wilma, the cashier, was married with three kids. She’d said
that at least fifteen times. In her forties, she was too
modest to let anything but the tips of her ears show uncovered.
She wore clunky, ugly brown shoes that had gone out of style
when Eisenhower took office. Those are Roosevelt shoes, Dirk
had told her. But she didn’t get it. Tracy Hendershot was
in her late twenties; pretty, blonde hair. She’d stopped
in on her way to work to pick up some medicine for a headache.
Her car had stayed running out in the parking lot until Dirk
gave the okay for the cops to shut it off.
“Hey Blondie, you keep a man
company?” Dirk asked. He grinned. He had ideas about taking
Blondie along for the ride. They could use her car if there
was any gas left in it.
“A man maybe, but that don’t
include you,” Tracy said. She sat with her back against the
wall. All four of them were behind the counter.
Dirk looked up at the shelves. “You
sell Grape Nuts for a nickel or a dime?” he asked.
“They’re twenty cents,” Wilma
Dirk whistled. “Rip-off, old
man. And say Blondie, I think this makes me a man anywhere
and everywhere.” He held up the gun and laughed.
“You’re nothin’ but a punk,” Mick
said. “A two-bit thief.”
“Gramps, you die first, understand?
Now shut it, I was talkin’ to Blondie. Now you gonna come
over here or I gotta make ya?”
Tracy shook her head.
“Aww, come on girl, I won’t
violate ya. Not too bad.”
Wilma, for a reason Dirk couldn’t
guess, started to cry. She hid her face in her hands and
her shoulders heaved. Mick patted her back.
“Baby, you ain’t got nothin’ to
worry about!” Dirk said. He laughed and tapped the pistol
against his leg. “Damn all you, you square-ass bluenoses.
I gotta a girl waitin’ anyway.” He crossed his arms and let
his finger slide back and forth across the trigger.
“Lucky her,” Tracy said.
“Yeah, she’ll be lucky if Hadley
and his cronies don’t pinch me. Offers on the table, though,
gal. You can be my girl if you like the look of all that
green. Or you can marry a dull polo shirt and play bridge
for kicks. You imagine that kinda life? Hey, Wilma, why don’t
you tell us how fun it is? Livin’ like that.”
Wilma kept crying.
Tracy shook her head.
Dumb, Dirk thought. He stared
up at the Grape Nuts again. The Sheriff had been quiet too
long and that bothered him a little. What’s he got up his
sleeve? Dirk thought. Nothing he can do, though. This is
a stalemate. Who breaks first? That’s the way it’ll be played.
Straight and simple. They die or I go. Not a hard decision
unless you’re a man with pride. Hadley had that. Plenty of
it. Dirk tapped his foot. Talk damn it, he thought. Get on
the horn and give me a choice.
“Worried?” Mick asked.
“You’re dumb, aren’t you?” Dirk
pointed his gun. Tracy and Wilma jumped away. Mick played
tough-guy and straightened his back. “Not unless they make
me, dad,” Dirk said. “Or if you really make me. I, for one,
ain’t dumb. Back to the wall, girls.” He motioned with the
Sheriff Hadley’s voice came
through the front window. “We’re not movin’ out, sonny. Why
don’t you just let them folks go?” Obviously, he too, had
grown tired of the silence.
“Well, you better play your
card if ya got one,” Dirk shouted. “I go or they die. You
decide.” Then to the three on the floor, “Easy, ain’t it?”
Hadley was quiet for a moment. “Come
here, Dwayne,” he said. Dirk couldn’t hear him after that.
Meg had two places in mind.
First, her daddy kept a revolver in his dresser, in the second
drawer down, behind the socks. He was at work, so that wasn’t
a problem. Her mother had died when she was born. The house
would be empty.
The boxed and weathered single
story was quiet when Jen pulled her brother’s car up to the
curb. Old Mrs. Blagg walked with a parcel held against her
chest up the sidewalk. She didn’t look at the two girls.
The sound of a radio voice drifted in the air from an open
window. They’re probably all over Dirk’s case, Meg thought.
Everybody’s glued to a radio right now.
Jen waited in the car and left
it running. Time, after all, wasn’t on Dirk’s side.
“Be right back,” Meg said.
She slammed the door and ran up the sidewalk. She had her
keys out when she reached the door. Meg rushed through the
living room and into her father’s bedroom. The bed was unmade
and three sets of clothes lay wadded on the floor. The room
smelled funny. The morning sun shone in bars through the
blind. Meg got the gun, checked it out: six bullets; clean;
safety on. She stuffed it in her purse and rejoined Jen in
“Got it?” Jen asked.
Meg nodded. “Hit the gas. I’ll
light up anyone dumb enough to stop us.”
Jen pulled out from the curb
and mashed the pedal. The car roared up the street, drawing
plenty of attention. Nobody tried to stop them.
The second place Meg had in
mind was Blitz Valley High. Jen pulled into the front parking
lot, a couple rows back from the front entrance. A stiff
breeze came through the passenger side window. Meg pulled
the gun from her purse and showed Jen.
“You plan on usin’ it?” Jen
She’s scared, Meg thought.
But no wonder, I’m scared. And she’s got nothing pushing
her into this. Except me. “No,” Meg said. “But why don’t
you beat it, huh? I’ll go in and take the brunt of it. You
Jen’s eyes were pleased with
the suggestion. She tried not to show it. “But say, Meg,
I don’t want ya to think I’m scared. It’s just…”
“I get it,” Meg said. “You
helped enough.” Meg let the gun drop back into her purse.
She opened the door and got out.
“Give ‘em hell,” Jen said.
Meg closed the door and turned
towards the school. Jen took off. Meg felt her nerves in
her stomach and chest. Her mind pounded and the thought of
the gun sickened her for a second. But it was either Dirk
or her. And they’re easier on girls. Even when they have
guns. I can do anything I want right now, she thought. The
Meg moved between the rows
of cars, watching her reflection in the windows as she passed.
The sun burned in the sky, warm for early autumn. Freshly
dead leaves blew on the wind from a playground across the
street. I’m going to do this big, Meg thought. Her hair flipped
in the breeze.
Nobody was at the door to greet
her. The bell for second period wouldn’t ring for another
fifteen minutes. Mr. Hunt, for one, wouldn’t have a class
till then. Meg made up her mind and started down the hallway.
Hunt’s classroom was empty. Meg bit her lip, thinking. The
teachers’ lounge. She turned back up the hallway and walked
to a doorway that forbade the entry of students. They’ll
make an exception, she thought. Meg turned the knob and went
inside. Hunt, along with two other teachers, Mr. Gable and
Mr. Frost, sat at a table drinking coffee. Their laughter
stopped when Meg entered the room. Hunt took the lead. “Miss
Masters, are you just begging for trouble today?” The look
she hated dominated his face.
Meg pulled the gun. “Just take
it easy, fellahs,” she said. She showed the revolver off,
silver plating and pearl handle. She thought about spinning
the cylinder but didn’t want to take the chance. She pointed
The three teachers lost their
manhood and recoiled. “Now…now,” Hunt started. His chin quivered.
“I’m gonna tell you once to
shut your fat face, Hunt. Once. I’m not soft. You understand?
Meg moved to the back wall
of the lounge. She didn’t want anybody coming up behind her.
She dropped her purse to the ground. The gun felt heavy in
her hands. A clock ticked on the wall and each second echoed
the room was so silent. Finally, Meg said, “Gable, go and
get Principal McQueen. You tell him Hunt dies first if he
plays games. I wanna talk.”
Gable, a math teacher in his
forties with gray hair at his temples, stood and backed toward
the doorway. He felt for the handle blindly, then stepped
out and disappeared. The door slammed shut.
Frost, another math teacher,
in his twenties like Hunt, skinny, bald, no glasses, clean
shaven, said, “Meg, listen. We realize you’re under stress.
What with the news and all. But put the gun down. It’s not
gonna solve anything.” He dropped his chin and raised his
eyes. “Think about it.”
“It’s gonna solve plenty,” Meg
said. “Where the hell is McQueen? Gable better not be playin’ games.
Hunt closed his eyes and said
“I like this side of you,” Meg
said. She watched him.
He played deaf and dumb and
kept talking to God.
“Please, Meg,” Frost went on.
“Shut it,” Meg said. She took
out her gum and threw it at Hunt. The pink glob bounced off
his chest, hit his leg, and fell to the floor. He didn’t
react. “You better hope McQueen gets here soon,” she said.
Just hold on Dirk, she thought.
McQueen stuck his head through
the door. His eyes were as big as ping-pong balls when he
saw the gun; like he hadn’t believed what Gable had told
him. “Miss Masters?” he said. McQueen was in his fifties,
a tall, broad-shouldered man, flat-top haircut, gray. He
looked like the military had eaten up most of his life. He
stood straight and brushed at the front of his suit when
he entered the room. “What is this?” he asked. He wanted
to lash out but had enough discipline to fence it in.
“Two things,” Meg said. She
held the revolver on Hunt. “You get the Sheriff on the line.
Either he comes out here and lets Dirk Fannin get out of
that store and on his way or I kill these two.”
“Second,” Meg said. “When I
know Dirk’s away, I’ll hand this over and go quietly. Move.”
McQueen opened his mouth to
speak. The wheels of his brain turned over and he thought
better of it. He nodded.
“Oh, yeah,” Meg said. “And
tell the kids to split. Get ‘em outta here.”
“Right away,” McQueen said.
He left the room.
Seeing big, bad McQueen bow
down and submit to her word got Meg off. She liked the feeling.
It was a high that staved off any fear she had about the
outcome of things. Dirk will get away and he’ll know it’s
me behind it. He’ll stay with me for good now. She felt like
a real gun moll, just like in movies. She almost felt good
enough to pull the trigger.
“You won’t hurt us?” Hunt asked.
“You’re a real tough guy, aren’t
you? Whatta ya say we play a game, creep?” Meg laughed and
told the teachers to get on the ground.
Dirk told Tracy and Wilma to
step back. “Don’t wanna get blood on those clothes,” he said. “Except
you,” he told Wilma. “You need an excuse for a new set.”
Mick was on his knees like
he was told. His fire died and he didn’t want to fight anymore.
“Get back!” Dirk shouted.
Tracy and Wilma stood and backed
Dirk got out of his chair and
held the gun out.
“I’m sorry, son,” Mick said
in a quivering voice. “I take it all back.”
“Is that right, dad? Just like
“Please don’t,” Wilma said. “He
was just mad. He didn’t mean it.”
Dirk touched the gun to Mick’s
temple. The cold steel made the old man jump. You guys ain’t
got a lick of sense, Dirk thought. Think I’m going to kill
you all when I’m this close to getting out? But they weren’t
the gambling kind. They played it cool till things were on
the line. Then they backed up and begged. Most people are
that way, Dirk thought. Just about everybody. He pushed Mick’s
head back and forth with the gun. “Tell ya what,” he said. “If
Blondie agrees to give me a ride, then I’ll forgive ya.”
“I’m sorry, Tracy,” Mick said.
“Not sorry enough to disagree,
though” Dirk said. “Not by a mile. So what’ll be, babe? You
wanna see his brains or you wanna tag along? I won’t be rough
with ya.” He smiled.
“I’ll go,” Tracy said. She
stared at the ground. The words were dry and stiff and lifeless.
Her face was white.
Sheriff Hadley’s voice came
through the window. “Sonny, can I step in if you see I’m
unarmed? Just to talk?”
“Sure, dad, join the fun,” Dirk
shouted. He stepped away from Mick and turned toward the
Mick let out a shuddery breath
and dropped back against the shelves. The boxes and cans
shook a little.
Hadley, overweight, short,
wearing a heavy mustache and tan uniform, came through the
door and a little bell rang. The sheriff held up his hands,
empty. He pulled his pockets out, nothing.
“Fine,” Dirk said. “Just keep
your hands high. Spill it.”
“I’ll tell it to you like it
was told to me. There’s a girl at the high school says she’ll
kill two teachers if we don’t let you outta here without
Meg, Dirk thought. Hot damn.
Girl’s got drive.
“We’re goin’ up to the high
school now. My guys and the state boys. We’re headin’ out.
You gotta leave these folks alone, though. That’s our end
of the deal.”
“Sure,” Dirk said. “I’ll play
“Fine, then. You head out.”
“Sure, dad. But, say, how much
of a head start do I get?”
“Swell. Now don’t let the door
hit ya in the ass, gran’ma.”
Hadley nodded. He backed to
the door, still holding his hands up.
The bell rang and he was gone.
“That your girl at the high
school?” Tracy asked.
Hadley, his deputies, and the
state police left the parking lot in a flash, sirens blaring.
Dirk shot a glance at a clock
on the wall and then grabbed his money off the counter. “She’s
nothin’,” he said. “You’re my girl, now. Remember? Let’s
Tracy left Mick’s nickel and
dime at gunpoint. Her car had plenty of gas. Dirk drove.
# # #