“I wouldn’t do that.”
The gunman turned and looked at Hands, who was sitting with his arms and legs crossed at against the wall.
“If you shoot them, who will find your book?”
The man paused, turning to face Hands again. “I can always get someone else.”
“You don’t have time. The longer you’re here sorting, the sooner the police are going to come. Someone will stick a message out a window or pull an alarm, and then where will you be?”
“But if I don’t, what message will that send?” Said the masked man, tapping his gun against his hip in thought.
“That they’ll get out of here alive if they play along? People like things to be predictable. It’s the unpredictable that frightens them.”
The gunman paced a few times, and then nodded. “Yeah. Yeah. You got a point. Okay ladies,” he picked up the timer and gave it a twist. “You got an extension.” Then he grabbed the microphone from behind the desk. “Time is ticking people!” He yelled into the loudspeaker system. “These girls is fine, but I can’t promise they’ll stay that way. Get them books up here, now!”
Then he let the mic stand drop back behind the counter and turned to look at Hands. “Thanks for the tip.”
“You’re welcome,” said Hands. Then after a time Hands said, “Y’no. There’s a lot of books there.”
“Well, seeing as time is important to you. I was figuring maybe I could come help?”
This made the gunman pause, and Hands could feel the eyes on him as he considered the offer. Hands needed information, and sitting here wasn’t getting it fast enough, he needed to be involved.
“You promise not to try anything?”
“Scouts honor.” Hands raised his fingers in a mock promise.
“You ever a scout?”
“Nope.” Hands admitted.
This made the gunman laugh. “Shit. Me neither. Get over there and help.”
Hands took his time standing up, taking a moment to stretch his legs. He purposely kept his movements slow. He was a big guy, and people always assumed big guys were slow- he wanted to preserve that image in case it came in handy. He also didn’t want to alarm the gunman, who seemed plenty jumpy enough.
Hands chose a spot on the other side of the pile from the masked man, facing him, and between the two girls. One of them, a chubby blond, gave him a smile and a whispered thanks when he sat down. He told her not to worry about it, and then looked up at the gunman.
“So, can you tell me what it is I’m supposed to be looking for? It’ll make this a whole lot easier.”
“Yeah. You’re lookin’ for writing. On page 153, or close to it. You find writing on that page of one of those books, you let me know.”
“Simple as that?”
“Simple as that.”
“What kind of writing?” Hands said, reaching into the pile and plucking out a copy of Cujo. “Pen? Pencil? Crayon?”
“Any kind, shithead. Just shut up and look.” The man snapped.
“Hey. Hey.” Said Hands, putting up his palm. “Just asking.” Then he flipped open the book and skimmed to one-fifty-three. Nothing there. So he checked the pages around it, and finding nothing set the book aside.
He did the same for the next book, and the next.
It was when he was on his tenth book that he began to really appreciate the task he was undertaking. The pile in front of him had nearly a hundred books in it, and as he worked the other patrons kept bringing boxes of more to add to the pile! Thin books. Thick books. Books that looked like they could stop a bullet. They kept being put in front of Hands and the girls. And they had so many different titles.
He began to wonder if the guy who’d written all these books was human. He knew King had the reputation of being his own little publishing machine, and had even read a few of these books himself, but when you had his whole library dumped in front of you like this, it really made you appreciate just how much the man wrote. From Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot to Mr. Mercedes and everything in between, and there were enough copies of The Stand on this pile to build a house!
After a time, he asked their captor. “So your wife donate the book without you knowing or something?”
“Or something.” Said the man, alternating between watching them and watching the security monitors. They didn’t just show the inside of the store, and all the patrons moving around the place, they showed the outside too. Everything looked perfectly normal in the outside world. People kept coming up and leaving after they rattled the doors a few times, but except for that all was quiet.
“My ex threw my stuff out once,” continued Hands as he worked. “I used to make models. Little ones, out of wood. I’d make cars, houses, and little ships. Whatever I thought would be a challenge. It was my way to cool off. I’d just sit there and carve.”
The other man gave a snicker. “She catch you out getting some strange?”
Hands shook his head. “She decided that I liked the models more than her. So one day I came back and they were gone. All of them. Years of work.”
“Yeah.” The man nodded. “Bitches be crazy. You show her your hand?”
“Nah,” Hands shrugged. “I use these, she’s going to the hospital, right? So I just told her to get out and don’t come back. But you know, when I think about it, I guess she was right- I really did love those models more than her.”
The masked man nodded, and was silent for a time. Hands, who’d been trying to get a conversation going, wondered if he’d have to try another way, but then the masked man suddenly spoke up again.
“I had a car.”
“Excuse me?” Hands said.
“I used to have a car,” continued the man. “An old Cadillac I’d fixed up. Bought it from my buddy, and spent everything I had working on that thing. Custom engine. Custom hubs. Custom seat covers. You name it, I gave it everything.”
“Then she came?” Hands offered.
“First time we met, she asked for a ride in it. I gave it to her both ways.” He paused, as if remembering something happy, and then the gun began tapping at his hip again and the masked man began to pace. “Next thing I know, though. It’s the car or her. She’s got dreams she says. She wants a ring. I told her that the car was my life. So when I’m sleeping she steals my keys.”
“The junk yard?”
“Bitches be crazy.” Said Hands in commiseration.
“Yeah.” Said the other man, and then sucked in a breath. “Well, I showed her. I stuck all her nudes from my phone online.”
Hands shuddered, but kept a neutral face.
“You sure showed her.”
“Yeah,” nodded the gunman. Then he paused and said, “Showed her off to the world, right? That’s pretty funny. I like that.”
Hands, who hadn’t intended it as a joke, just played along. “Thanks.”
“So how’d you end up here?” The guy asked, taking a seat on the counter facing Hands. “You into reading?”
“I like history,” Hands told him. “Mostly Asian stuff. There’s a few rare books I’m looking for, and I came here to see if they had any cheap copies.”
“You sure picked a bad time to come.”
Hands nodded, risking a glance at the formerly friendly girl next to him, who was now scowling as she listened to them pal it up. He ignored her and smiled. “Tell me about it. Couldn’t you have hijacked the place an hour later?”
“Sorry about that, man,” the gunman laughed. “But tell you what- you find me that book, and I’m not gonna make your day any worse.” Hands could tell from the man’s tone that wasn’t a threat, but an honest promise between men.
“I’d appreciate it.”
“No problem. So, those books are like kung fu books? Rick said you were into MMA?”
“No. Mostly philsophy books and poety. You ever hear of Li Bai?”
“Nope. Just his brother, ‘Goodbye.'” Then the man laughed at his own joke.
Hands suppressed a grimace and nodded his head, “That’s a good one. He was a Chinese poet and I try to read his stuff when I feel stressed. He gives me a sense of place in the bigger scheme, and makes me think about my life, y’no?”
“You mean fish in a pond stuff?”
Hands nodded. “See, you’re getting it.”
“I read that on the back of a Chinese menu one time.”
I bet you did, Hands thought, but kept it to himself. They kept the conversation going for a few more minutes, the pile beside Hands growing, and then Daimon said. “So, tell me, what’re you going to do if this book isn’t here?”
“It’s gotta be here.”
“Maybe they sold it. You don’t even know which book by King you’re looking for.”
The gunman jumped off the counter and began to pace again. “We’ll find it. It’s gotta be here.” Then he whipped around. “What’s taking so long? How are there so many goddamn books by that guy in this place?”
“He’s a popular writer,” said Hands. “But, you know, there’s still a chance to get out of here. If you run now, nobody’s gonna catch you. Nobody’s been hurt and the police won’t try too hard.”
The man stopped pacing and Hands could see he was thinking about it. He kept looking between the stacks and the front door and mumbling to himself.
Come on, said Hands. Take the chance and run.
“Get out now,” Hands encouraged. “While you can still get away. The book’s not here, man.”
The masked man took a step toward the front door, pivoted, and looked at the pile.
Hands could feel the tension the man’s body gave off.
He was getting ready to run.
Then, from the outside, the piercing sound of sirens penetrated the thick walls. The gunman and Hands both turned to look at the monitors, which showed police cars pulling up in front of the bookstore, grey lights flashing on the monochrome monitors.
Time had just run out.
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