(the epic, untold story of a genuine American Hero)
Otis Bishop was not the sort of person you’d expect to be calm in the middle of a crisis, but that was exactly what he had been: pulse even, thoughts clear as he had crawled across the scuffed, flecked linoleum to behind the ice cream freezer, where he had then had the presence of mind to beckon to the overweight woman lying on the floor by the fully synthetic Castrol motor oil.
Not that it would have mattered, even if she hadn’t been making so much noise.
The woman had been rather too large to fit into Otis’s little nook, which was small even for him. Even if she’d been smart enough to shut up long enough to hear Otis valiantly hissing in her direction, the jittering, zit-covered kid with his shiny snub-nosed revolver would probably still have come to the back of the store and found them.
Still, as Otis thought about it later he decided that what was important was not his relative clarity in that moment, but rather the fact that he had been thinking of the safety of the obese woman at all. How commendable, he thought, that he had risked drawing attention to himself by reaching out to her.
She really was obese, wasn’t she? Overweight in a way that made his “few extra pounds,” as he’d called them on his dating profile, seem quite reasonable in comparison. In contrast to the obese Lady’s corpulence, calling them a “few extra pounds” was perhaps the most accurate thing anyone had ever said on a dating profile, ever. And the accusation that he’d lied about his weight and even doctored his photos was absurd.
Also, who didn’t lie about those things?
That girl who’d at last agreed to meet with him had certainly lied about her so-called amazing sense of humor—laughing not once at his jokes and giving him zero credit for having tried. For having put himself out there to be ignored and possibly mocked by every woman he’d messaged before her. Anyways, doctoring profile pictures was, like, expected. What with all the unending shallowness coming from, let’s face it, the less-than-amazing female population of this ass-backward city, a city he’d be ditching any day now if only his mother would finally kick off so he could sell the house. Not that he wanted her to die. Not for a minute. Otis was quite comfortable with their arrangement, and who cared what some idiots on the internet had to say about it?
Otis owned the internet. Otis was intimately acquainted with dark corners of the internet where he was hailed as pretty much a god. And he knew things. He could absolutely destroy any and all idiots and, for that matter, any girls.
But now the Pakistani or maybe Indian gas station guy was lying behind the counter in what for some reason looked (through the dingy glass and between the stacked cigarette boxes) like an expanding pool of watered-down cherry-chocolate sauce, and Otis knew he had to seriously, deeply think. He was equipped for this. He’d been in situations like this before and sure, yeah, in those instances he’d been heavily armed and knew a few cheats and workarounds for the game and could always re-spawn if he had to, but still. The principles were the same and he was still himself: clever, cunning. Ruthless.
The first thing to do was to shut up the obese Lady, who by now Otis could tell was some kind of Mexican or something, on account of the steady stream of Spanish she was directing at the kid as he hunched in front of them, squinting from her to Otis and then outside.
The kid was clearly much older than he’d looked from across the store. And it wasn’t acne on his face at all, but rather the scars of acne—scars exactly like the ones Otis had, scattered across his own face. Which, with everything else, probably put him and the kid in about the same age bracket. Better to keep thinking of him as a dumb kid, though. A blithering idiot.
Otis would never have gotten himself into such an absurd situation—standing there with a shaking gun in his hand and tears running down his face, little globs of saltwater flashing like bits of glass in the blue and red light of the squad cars outside. Otis would have cased the place first, for as long as it took to know exactly where that Paki (or Indian—but what was the difference?) kept his little panic button. And he would have made damn sure there wasn’t anyone else in the store, either.
It never would have come to this, if it had been Otis.
Otis strained at the power cord wrapped around his wrists, behind his back. He’d give the obese Mexican woman credit for that, at least—she certainly knew how to tie a good, firm knot. A sailor’s knot, he’d guess, from what he could feel with his quickly numbing fingers. He’d once had a book with diagrams of this and several other knots, and was fairly confident that given enough time he could get it loose.
Time that, it was starting to seem, he didn’t have.
Now the kid and the obese woman were talking back and forth, and Otis realized what (of course) he’d known all along, that the kid’s olive skin and darker hair meant that he, too, was some sort of Mexican. Suddenly, Otis’s confidence that the obese woman would be the one the kid would take seemed less certain. She was a woman and therefore the reasonable choice, hostage-wise, not to mention the fact that despite her shorter stature, her expansiveness meant she provided a lot more coverage for the kid to hunker down behind. But now the kid was really jabbering away and it sounded from the tone and everything (which Otis was, he didn’t mind admitting, pretty much a master at reading) like the kid was apologizing to the woman but also shaking his head No to the loosely bound hands she was holding out for, presumably, the gun. The kid continued to repeat his No, and was now gesturing at Otis and then himself.
They had to be Mexicans, because it was all Mexicans in this area, taking all the—Well, he’d be the first to admit that it wasn’t like they were taking his job. What he did was far too specialized for some Mexican to handle (if there was any justice in the world, Otis probably should’ve been programming networks for, like, the Pentagon or something by now). If not for his mother, Otis would have ditched this fucking town long ago. This town and those so-called friends of hers who liked to whisper about him behind his back. The bitches.
Mexicans weren’t as bad as Pakis, of course, who didn’t avert their eyes the way the Mexicans usually did, and let’s face it smelled like damp bags of curry or whatever the hell that shit was they bathed in. There were so many Mexicans in this town. Like cockroaches. If his mother ever did die, he sure as hell wasn’t gonna be sticking around to get suffocated by the Cockroach Tide. He’d move somewhere where it was more his kind of people. Missouri, maybe. Or Wyoming. Places where his sort of candidate always won the elections, and where everybody understood things as they really were.
The kid was really doing it. Gesturing with his revolver like he expected Otis to be able to get up with his hands tied behind his back, which was crazy but I guess not impossible because then Otis managed to do it.
People were always underestimating him.
The Mexican kid was saying something to the obese woman. He was arguing with her as he grabbed the cords on Otis’s wrists and pushed him toward the door.
Everybody knows you have to leave at least three feet between yourself and the person you’re forcing ahead with a gun, or they’ll just spin back and knock the weapon from your hand.
The obese Mexican woman was pleading with the kid, but he pushed Otis forward anyway.
Only a matter of time before Otis taught this kid a lesson.
He’d wait, though.
Until they were out the door.
Had to protect the woman who, sure, was fat and ugly and a Mexican, but at least she had been trying to get the gun away and keep the kid from trying this absolutely stupid-ass attempt at an escape. He, Otis, would make sure she wasn’t in any danger before he used his skills to break free, leaving the gathered police officers to arrest the kid or, more likely, to mow him down where he stood.
Otis supposed he ought to feel some regret for the likely bloodshed. But the kid had brought it on himself and besides, the more blood spilled in this story, the greater a hero he would be. Probably meet the mayor and get the keys to the city, whatever that meant, and be on local TV. Hell, he could probably swing a few national talk shows and then maybe when people saw him there—when they finally saw him for who he was, a hero, a goddamn American hero—maybe then he’d get some of the respect he’d always known he deserved. The respect he’d demanded from that bitch on his one, horrible, abortion of a date. Ha! She’d regretted that one, ducking out early like that. He had made her regret it. He had made sure her online life became just the same sort of hell he’d inflicted on so many others. Online, where he was a god.
He’d be swamped with dates after this.
The Mexican kid pushed Otis through the door, harder than he needed to.
Otis was going to enjoy this.
The air outside was hot. Thick.
He could smell the asphalt of the parking lot. It was shiny and cracked and emanating an acrid scent that would probably give him a headache if he were to hang out there too long, what with his sensitive sinuses. Right now the smell seemed to be heightening his senses—making him feel sharp and even more alive than usual. It was like a quickening, almost, and for possibly the first time ever, he felt like he was in complete control of every bit of his body and maybe even everything else in the whole entire world.
The cops were there. Men and even women, all blurred into one black mass of buttons and badges and cold, hard weapons that he could barely see, focused as he was on the pressure of the Mexican kid’s hand against his now fully-numb wrists.
The kid was yelling at the cops, waving the revolver around where Otis could see it, just a little, in his periphery.
This was it.
This was Otis’s moment.
He made eye contact with one of the cops—the blond one at the front, with the broad shoulders and the swell of breasts beneath her uniform, just perceptible as she leaned forward with her hands wrapped around her gun to rest on the polished surface of her Dodge Charger squad car. He wondered if she’d want to go out with him, later, after this was all over. He wondered what he’d say if she asked him. He didn’t usually go for chicks with short hair like that, and soon he wouldn’t have to. He’d be swimming in pussy when this was all over.
Eyes still locked on the girl officer, he lowered his weight a little. Preparing for his big move.
He could see in her eyes that she knew what he was about to do, and he could see the muscles around her mouth twitch as she started to yell at him not to.
Oh she of little faith.
He smiled his most winning smile at her and spun, lowering one shoulder as he did.
To bring it up.
To drive it hard into the Mexican kid’s solar plexus, knocking him to the ground.
But something was wrong.
He was turning too slowly.
It felt like slow motion, yeah, but not in a cool way. More like that nightmare where you’re running and the unnamed, terrifying blackness is closing in but the ground just keeps slipping underneath you like a treadmill. The whole world spinning and you not going anywhere as the dark mass gets closer and closer and closer, threatening to swallow you up. To void you.
There was a crack.
It didn’t sound like an explosion or a boom or a shot. Just a crack in something big and inevitable, like a glacier or a dam or…
White light, everywhere. Just for a second. Searing up from Otis’s lower spine as his body kept slowly spinning. Around to the Mexican kid with his stupid face and smoking gun. Spinning too fast, almost, to see the crimson blooming on the kid’s t-shirt. The shirt with the band name written across the chest: “Menudo.”
He had happened upon Menudo once on TV, when his mother hadn’t been home. He’d watched them play their song all the way through, and had even generously tapped his foot along with the beat.
Otis’s body kept turning. His eyes flashed across the sky and then the treetops and back around until he sensed the hot black of the asphalt rushing up to meet him.
He couldn’t remember hitting the ground. Everything was swallowed up in one, blank noise, a white roar like drowning, billowing applause—like the roar of the crowd at the out-of-state rally he’d made his mother drive him to this past year.
Lying there on the heat-waving asphalt he remembered himself back there in that stadium. Packed in tight. Surrounded. The bright colors of a vast sea of pendants and red hats flashed below him as he felt himself lifted by the swelling of the crowd’s approval. From high above he searched their faces until he found his mother’s. Her eyes were shining. Her face beamed unqualified approval as Otis felt the world fade completely away.