You’re probably wondering why a forty-three-year-old man with a bald head and fat gut is wearing a large, pink bunny suit complete with nose and has blood on his face. That is a complicated story, and it all began with my daughter not wanting to eat her breakfast on that fateful Monday.
“Dad,” Chrissy said as she entered the kitchen. She paused next to the table. With her hair pulled back, I saw the pink cover her ears. “I gotta go.” She grabbed the buttered toast and headed for the door.
“Chrissy,” I said, pointing to her place at the table. “I don’t have to be at work for three more hours. You could have breakfast with your old man.”
“Umm,” she said chewing on a bite of the crispy bread. Her smile held the crumbs at bay. “School. Have to do something.” Grabbing her bag she slid the strap over her shoulder. Her lips said sorry. She waved and exited my house.
“Great,” I said into my cup of coffee. “I need to keep trying. Or so my shrink says.”
Her mother, my ex-wife, left four years ago. The excuse she gave was she felt we were holding her back. I filed after a week of not seeing her. Since all of the legal documentation went unanswered, I was granted an uncontested divorce six months later. As Darlene didn’t express any interest in our daughter, I took it upon myself to raise Chrissy.
Here I was four years later with a sixteen-year-old ditching her dad for school. I would have done the same thing, ditch my parents, but not for school. Something else, like motorbikes. Chrissy was going to school. My shrink says it’s her safe place. Her friends are there. So, I get it. I just don’t want anything to happen to her.
“Well,” I said, sliding the eggs over to myself. “Better in me than in the garbage.” I piled them on top of the ones on my plate and dug in. It’s what I did, eat my feelings. No wonder I had a beach ball for a gut as well as breathing issues and other health conditions.
“I might as well go to work,” I said into the air. “Get some minor crap done before the big test tomorrow.” Putting my dishes into the sink, I shambled to the door and grabbed my briefcase. Closing the door behind me, I walked to the garage. A few seconds later and I was driving to work.
I parked in my usual parking spot and walked to the main entrance. After swiping my card, the door buzzed and I pushed in.
“Mitch,” the guard said. His face showed the question. “You’re not slotted for another two hours.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Things didn’t work out that way at home. So here I am. Any change in the schedule Fred?”
“No,” Fred said with a chuckle. “You know how Doctor Forrester runs things. Like a Swiss clock.”
I snorted. “That’s because he keeps us springs wound tight.” My briefcase went on the conveyor belt and through the machine. I stopped and put my keys and id badge in the small bowl then stepped through the metal arch. The happy ding sounded and I picked up my stuff. “See ya on the way out, Fred.”
“You doin’ the pool tourney this weekend?” Fred looked from his clipboard. “Me and some of the other guys are in. Even Director Jacobs.”
“Really?” I turned and looked at Fred. My mouth tightened and I nodded. “Yeah. I’ll be there. O’Malley’s?” Fred smiled and gave me his customary finger gun. I waved and continued on to my office.
After logging into my computer, I read the overnight emails. Nothing out of the ordinary in any of them, so I deleted them. My reminder about the dry-run today chimed, and I picked up my digital pad and headed for the labs.
Tapping on the surface, I logged in and synced my directories by the time the elevator dinged. Stepping in, I swiped my card and pressed the button labeled SL4. Four floors below the basement. “Glad I’m not claustrophobic.” I read the updated procedures on the testing for tomorrow as the metal box trundled past each floor. The chime sounded and the doors opened.
I stepped into the white room and reached for my lab coat. Next came the grass-green hard hat. I stepped through the swinging doors and into the lab hallway. Turning for my lab, I walked the five doors and swiped my card again. The light turned green and I entered the computer control room.
“Mister Henderson,” one of the technicians said as I walked in. “Aren’t you supposed to be on a short day?”
“I was,” I answered. “Things change. And how many times do I have to remind you, Harold? My name is Mitch.”
Harold’s mouth opened then shut. He opened it again. “Yeah but, Doctor Forrester wants things to stay on schedule.”
“Doctor Forrester takes a dump on schedule,” I said. “There are things beyond his control and this is one of them.” My digital pad chimed. “Besides, I’m not doing anything to interrupt his precious schedule.” Looking down, I gave a dismissive wave to Harold.
The message on my screen read: You are supposed to be on the floor at noon.
I tapped on the respond button: I’m just here and not interfering. Besides better to measure twice than cut twice.
There was no other message after that.
I moved to an empty seat and watched the screens on the wall. A flurry of data was pouring in and tables updated in a blur.
“John,” I said to another technician. “What is the status of the drop? We should be close to the start time.”
“It’s on time and ready,” John answered. “Supposed to start in three minutes.”
“Excellent,” I said. “This new energy source will make the company rich, and us worker bees a footnote.”
John snorted and looked at me. “Yeah. Ain’t that the truth.”
A blue light spun in a circle, like the old style cop lights. A metallic female voice sounded over the hidden speakers in the room. “Drop imminent. Duty stations.”
“They could have sprung for Shirley Manson to do the speaking,” I said. John laughed. “I hate that robotic voice. Fake and blends into the background too easy.”
“Drop prepped and remote set,” John rattled off. The other technician next to him typed on his keyboard.
“Mitch,” a voice said coming in the door. “You’re not supposed to be here yet.”
“Everyone’s telling me that Butch,” I said turning to look at the man. “I’m here so deal with it.”
“Good,” Butch said. “I bet Forrester is ticked that you threw his schedule off.”
“Meh. I don’t care,” I said. “My date of hire is before his was and I have two patents to my name.”
“True,” Butch said. “Excuse me.” He slid a chair next to me and leaned over. I tilted my tablet so he could see it better. “That is a clear image.”
“Yup,” I said. “These things are good for something.”
The light next to the blue one sprang to life and bathed the room in blinking dull-yellow.
“Just about ready,” Butch said standing. “I better get to my lab for the follow-up.” He waved and exited.
“Drop commencing,” the robo-voice said. “All stations report status.”
The technicians in front of me both pressed a button on their console at the same time. A green icon appeared in the upper right corner of their screen.
“You boys are like a good dance partner,” I said. “Hard to come by.” A smile showed on my face when I looked at John and the other technician. It really was a compliment, but the scowl on their faces told me they didn’t see it the same way.
A sound came from the wall at my back. I put an ear closer to it then glanced at the video on my tablet. The image of a dark figure messing with the drop apparatus flashed over my screen. I heard another noise.
“John,” I said, shifting to my feet. “Sound an alert. Someone’s monkeying with the drop.” John’s hand blurred on his keyboard. Then the wall behind me exploded. I felt weightless for all of a second then crashed into the floor. My momentum carried me into the opposite wall. The rising in my ears blocked out all sounds. Bright flashes and smoke filled the room. My head rolled and I saw a body next to me. I didn’t see a face, so it could have been anyone. The smooth tablet in my hand moved.
“Who…” I said or thought I said. Both of my hands went to the tablet at my chest.
The blurry-dark figure leaned over me. Its head was enormous and it tugged on my tablet. “Gimme dat,” the muffled shout came from the bulbous head.
“No,” I groaned and rolled over. My weight pinned the tablet under me. No one would move my fat butt anytime soon. Dust settled and I coughed. Something kicked me, but I didn’t move. The darkness settled at that point and I don’t remember what happened.
A beeping noise and a low hum bounced around in my ears. Opening my eyes, I saw a gray ceiling and odd items in my peripheral vision. “What happened?”
“Daddy!” Chrissy’s face came into view. “You had us all worried.”
“Where am I, Chrissy?” I turned my head and saw the metal horizontal bars. A hospital bed. The stand for an IV hovered to the side of Chrissy’s shoulder.
“You’re in the hospital,” Chrissy said. “Doctor Forrester says the company will take care of all this. Workman’s comp or something.”
“Chrissy,” I said. “I feel fine. Don’t worry about anything. Where is Doctor Forrester?”
The pinched face of Forrester leaned over me. “Mister Henderson.” The smile on his face didn’t fit. His pointed nose and narrow eyes always gave me the impression of a vulture. “It seems that something went amiss.”
“Great,” I said with a sigh. “Could I have some water?” Forrester stepped back and handed me a plastic cup of cool water. I sipped a few swallows. “Am I being blamed for this?”
“No,” Forrester said. “If you weren’t there, the police wouldn’t have the lead they have now.”
“Really?” My head throbbed as I squinted at the man.
“Yes,” he said in his dry voice. “Your pad was recording the feed from the camera on the drop mechanism.” His bushy eyebrows floated up on his forehead. “You kept the man from taking it.”
“He couldn’t move me,” I said with a chuckle. “My fat gut served a purpose.”
“Dad,” Chrissy said, trying to hide a smile.
“Be that as it may,” Forrester said. “The police would like to question you if you’re up to it.”
“I don’t know what I will be able to tell them,” I said. “Everything was blurry and smokey.”
“Do your best, Mitch.”
He called me Mitch. He never calls me Mitch.
Chrissy didn’t leave my side. She kept a tight hand on my arm.
The police officer sat next to my bed and asked me different questions. I answered as best as I could. They focused on my schedule for the day and asked pointedly why I came in. Looking at Chrissy, I answered. This was important, so I didn’t lie. I also didn’t tell all my thoughts on the matter. During my statement, things became fuzzy when the yellow light came on. I was asked what Butch and I talked about. “We just kept to things about work. Why?”
“No particular reason,” the officer said. “Just covering all bases. When did he leave your lab?”
“Just as the yellow light came on,” I said. “So as the drop started. He ran the retrieval process.”
“Mister Collins would have been responsible for getting all equipment from the drop room,” Forrester said. “As well as any additional and final readings.”
“Would have been?” I looked at Forrester.
“We had to scrub everything,” he answered. “The container and the cylinder were taken.”
“Oh,” I said with a heavy breath. “Is Butch OK? He was in the lab across the hall.”
“Mister Collins is in this hospital,” Forrester said. “He wasn’t as hurt as you are. Just bumps and bruises.”
“What about John and the other tech?”
“Mister Hastings is in surgery,” Forrester said. “Mister Davis didn’t make it, I’m afraid.”
“Dammit!” I slammed my fist into the metal rail around my bed. “What do we know so far?”
“That is for the police to work out,” Forrester said. “Leave it to them.”
“Yeah, Dad,” Chrissy said. “It’s their job.” She smiled at me.
“OK, sweetie,” I said with a smile. “What about me?”
“You are healthy,” a voice said from behind the group of men. “Mild concussion and some bruising.” Long brown hair past her shoulder and a peaceful face poked past the shoulders of the officers. She pushed through the uniforms and reached for my forehead. “You should stay overnight for observation.”
Her green eyes held me in silence.
“That’s a good idea, Dad.” Chrissy looked at the new woman. “Is it OK if I stay overnight, too?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” the woman said.
“Uhh…” I felt my mouth open and words pushed from my brain to my tongue but in different a different order.
“I’m Doctor Katelin Lloyd,” she said with a smile that made my face heat up. “Are you feeling alright. You just heated up.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m fine.” Clearing my throat, I looked around. “Just hungry.”
“I bet,” Katelin said. “Being injured like this usually makes one hungry.” She marked something on a clipboard. “Unless there is anything else, gentlemen.” Her statement sounded like a question, but the intent was clear.
“You take care of yourself, Mitch,” Forrester said. “So far, you are on medical leave.” The two cops filed out and Forrester followed them.
“Doctor Forrester seems like a nice man,” Chrissy said. “You always make him sound like a monster or robot.”
“Maybe he should be here,” I said. “That behavior isn’t like him.”
“I’ve met Doctor Forrester before,” Katelin said. “You’re right. This is out of character for him.”
“Did you meet in medical school?” Chrissy turned to look at Katelin.
“Forrester is the other kind of doctor,” I said. “Ph.D., not MD.”
“We did meet in college,” Katelin said. A faint color splashed her cheeks.
“Oh, no,” I said with a sigh. “You’re the ex.”
Katelin’s voice raised in pitch, and she tilted her head to look at my face. “He talked about me?” She held a piece of paper off the clipboard.
“No,” I answered. “He mentioned being married once. Butch pointed out he didn’t have a ring on. Forrester’s response was ‘I’m not married anymore.’”
“That sounds like Clarence,” Katelin said and laughed. “Matter of fact and minimal emotions.”
“His name is Clarence?” I shifted to look at Katelin. “That’s gold. Pure gold.”
“He’s not that bad,” Katelin said.
“Don’t you tell me to be nice to people,” Chrissy said. “You might need their help one day. You have his help now, and you’re looking for a way to insult him.”
I snorted. “You never looked like you were paying attention,” I said with a sideways glance at Chrissy.
“Out of the mouth of babes,” Katelin said. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours. In the meantime, food will be forthcoming.” Katelin stepped through the door and the shadows in the room darkened.
“She’s pretty,” Chrissy said.
“Yup,” I said with a small nod. “Very pretty.”
“Dad,” Chrissy said with a smile.
“Hey,” I said. “I’m human, too. Oh, find my pants and get my wallet. You’re gonna have to go to the cafeteria and get more food. They’re only gonna bring airplane food.” Chrissy nodded. “Cakes, cookies, and saucy stuff.”
“Yeah, Dad,” She said, fishing my wallet out of my pants. “I know what you like.” A slender finger pulled my bank card out of the depths of miscellaneous scraps of paper and other junk in my wallet. Just like her mother. Knows how to pull out the money. She flashes a smile and gives a finger wave, then left.
I reached for the TV remote and flipped on the news. They covered the standard things. Then the piece about an accident at Anderson Energy, where I work, came up. It was a whitewashed press released that mentioned an accident and it was contained with only minor bumps and bruises. Only, it wasn’t. William, now I remember his name, Davis was killed.
When the piece was over, my room door opened a large man pushed a cart into the room. He put a tray in front of me and picked a second tray from the cart. Looking around, I pointed to the side table. “My daughter will be here in a moment.” He nodded and complied, then pushed the cart out the door.
I lifted the circular lid. A scoop of mashed potatoes, something that might have been a turkey slice, and muddy water lay on the plate. The cup of red jello and a small carton of milk completed the meal. “Am I in kindergarten again?”
The door swung open and Chrissy walked through carrying two large bags. “I’m back.” Her wide smile showed lots of teeth and pink cheeks. “I got a couple of bowls of soft serve, too.”
“Smart,” I said with a nod. “Gotta have our dairy.”
She saw what was on my tray. “I ate that in kindergarten,” she said.
“Same here,” I said with a laugh.
“I got the goods here.” She pulled out two apples, oranges, three slices of chocolate cake, a cream covered pie, and four large styrofoam cups with lids. “Chocolate milk to wash it all away.”
“That’s my girl,” I said and scooped the mashed potatoes into my mouth with one move.
We gorged on the food, me more than her.
An hour later, the door opened again. “Just checking in on you,” Katelin said. Her eyes rolled over the empty plates, bags, and cups. The smile on her face flattened. Her eyes still sparkled. “I see you were hungry.”
“Uh…” I ran a napkin over my lips and put the plastic spoon in the empty ice-cream bowl. “It’s a reaction to stress and nervousness.”
Nodding, her smile went to her eyes. “At least you know where it comes from.” Her posture softened and so did her voice. “I don’t blame you one bit. You deserve to indulge.”
“Yeah, well,” I said looking at my own gut. “I do that a lot.”
“The oddest thing did happen,” Katelin said. “It’s policy to do a physical, or at least draw fluids and test them after something like this. You have no indication of high cholesterol or high blood pressure.”
“How is that odd?” I pushed the table to the side and Chrissy looked on with interest.
“Someone in,” Katelin looked at my gut and shrugged. “In your condition has those as indicators. I just checked the finals and you don’t have diabetes either.”
“I didn’t have diabetes before,” I said. “The other stuff? Well, let’s just say I’m cured.” My grin lifted my cheeks and I spread my hands.
“You had those things before?” Katelin’s eyes narrowed and she stepped closer.
“Yeah,” Chrissy said. “I switched a lot of our food to low fat. It was harder, but I also swapped out the sugar with non-sugar sweeteners.”
A gasp left my mouth and my eyes narrowed. “I wondered what happened to the taste,” I said, looking at my daughter. “You’re good. I didn’t even notice the containers.”
“I kept the old ones,” Chrissy said with a smile. “And just cleaned them.”
“Devious,” I said. “Well played.”
“Anyway,” Katelin said. “I’m gonna need to run more tests. Don’t go anywhere.” She stepped out and came back with a tray. “I’m not gonna lie. This is gonna suck.” Tossing back the small cloth, I saw three sealed test tubes, a large rubber band, and some surgical gloves. Topping it all off, was the syringe with a two-inch needle.
“I’m gonna be sick,” I said and put a hand to my mouth.
“He doesn’t like needles,” Chrissy said. “When he does physical, he has to be blindfolded and have on headphones.”
“Don’t have time for that,” Katelin said. “Turn on the TV and turn up the volume.”
Chrissy snagged the remote and turned on the cartoon channel. I saw the volume bar zoom across the screen. It was throwback cartoon day, so all the ones I watched when I was a kid were on.
The rubber band smacked my arm and I saw Katelin move close to me. I turned my head to look at here, but Chrissy grabbed my chin and directed my eyes to the TV.
“I shouldn’t be doing this so soon after eating,” Katelin said. “But if what you say is true,” I felt the sting of the first needle.
“Stop it,” Chrissy said and held my face.
“If you say you had high blood pressure and cholesterol, then I have to be sure.” Katelin did something with the other items on her tray. I didn’t see and didn’t want to look. “All done.” The band loosened from my arm.
I looked over to see her put a small adhesive bandage on my forearm. “That wasn’t so bad.” My finger held the volume button and the sound went quiet.
“I should have the results in the morning,” Katelin said. “Before discharge, hopefully.”
I looked at Katelin. “If they show something wrong, then what?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “But after what happened, your condition could be linked to your job.” Shrugging, she scooped up the tray. “You need to work that out.” Turning, she pushed through the door.
“Dad,” Chrissy said. “You need to get that eating thing under control.”
“I know,” I answered. “It’s a defensive mechanism. I don’t like it either and barely know I’m doing it.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I know that too. I do the same. I run off to school and hang in the library alone.”
“Yeah,” she answered. “I sit in the back and pretend to read.”
“And here I thought you were hanging with your friends.” I put a hand on her arm. “You shouldn’t be alone. That’s what I’m here for. Talk to me.”
“You’re my dad,” she said. “I can’t talk to you about everything.”
“I get that,” I replied. My shrink explained that to me. I couldn’t be there all the time and Chrissy needed to learn self-reliance and I needed to learn to be alone. Dammit, Darlene!
We found a movie and watched it. Relaxing as best we could, I saw Chrissy doze off in the chair. When a nurse came in to check on us, he covered Chrissy and leaned the chair back. I pulled my own blankets up and drifted off to slumber land.
“Dad?” Chrissy’s voice came through my sleep like a samurai sword through a ninja. “Dad. Wake up.”
“I’m up,” I rubbed my eyes and sat up.
Katelin stood at the foot of my bed. “I have your new results,” she said, holding another clipboard. “These are even more troublesome. You have no symptoms of any health conditions that I can find.”
“Good,” I said with a smile. “I’m fit as a fiddle.”
“Not good,” she said with a frown. “After eating all that food, you should have shown a diabetic coma.”
“And he didn’t,” Chrissy said. “That’s not right.”
“This is nothing to be worried about, sweetie.” I rubbed my hand on Chrissy’s arm. “I will deal with this.”
“Kelly’s dad has to take insulin and watch what he eats,” she said. “He came to school once and fell down. They had to take him away in an ambulance. I don’t want that to happen to you. You’re my dad.”
I stared at Chrissy. Her image blurred and then cleared when I felt something run down my cheek. “I’m not going anywhere.” Cupping her cheek, I added, “I promise.”
“As it stands,” Katelin said. “You can uphold that promise. Aside from you weight, your good for discharge.”
“That is excellent news, Katelin.”
I glanced towards the new voice. “Doctor Forrester.” Two other figures moved behind him. “Director Jacobs and Mister Anderson.” My mouth went dry my fingers started to fidget. “My entire chain up to the owner.”
“Easy, Dad,” Chrissy said. She reached out and put one of her hands in mine.
“Mitch,” Director Jacobs said. “It’s good to see you up and moving.”
“Well, I have expert medical treatment,” I said nodding to Katelin.
“We see that,” Mister Anderson said. “Doctor Lloyd says you’re ready to be released.”
“He is,” Katelin said. “He should ease into work.”
“By all means,” said Doctor Forrester. “You have two weeks off, paid of course.”
“That’s good news,” I said and felt my face flex a smile. “I also assume this all falls under workman’s comp. Even Willy Davis?”
“Mister Davis’ family will be compensated,” Mister Anderson said. “As will Mister Hasting’s.”
“Johns gone, too?” My eyes strained to stay in their sockets. Both hands clamped down, and I felt Chrissy tug on her hand. I let her go and switched to the bed rail.
“It seems you and Mister Collins were the closest to the accident,” Jacobs said. “That puts us here. Where is your badge, Mister Henderson?”
“My badge?” I looked around the room, then pointed to where my clothes were stored. “My pants.” I slid from under the covers and padded across the floor. Running my hands into the pockets, I didn’t find it. “I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe it fell off me in the explosion.”
“That is what I though,” Doctor Forrester said. “But we didn’t find it in the rubble.”
“Uh…” I stepped into my pants and buckled them under my stomach. “I really can’t answer that question. I was unconscious.”
“That we already know,” Jacobs said. “The EMTs confirm, as does logic, that you were unconscious when your badge was read activating an elevator in the shipping bay.”
“I’ve never been in the shipping bay,” I swapped my hospital gown for my shirt. “What’s going on?”
“It seems,” Mister Anderson said. “That someone stole our device.”
“The whole thing?” I buttoned the shirt. “That thing is huge.”
“They took the most important part,” Forrester said. “The drop machine and the plutonium.”
“We suspect they used the shipping bay to escape,” Jacobs said. “Someone took your badge and activated the elevator.”
“Why dad’s badge?” Chrissy walked closer to me.
“Two reasons,” Forrester said. “He was unconscious. And he was the only one with access.”
“No one else had access,” Katelin chimed in. “That seems ridiculous.”
“Doctor Lloyd, this is none of your business,” Forrester said. “As it stands, we are investigating, along with the FBI, as to what really happened.”
“So that means you think I’m a criminal,” I said moving to a chair. Sitting I put on my shoes.
“You are a suspect,” Forrester said. “Nothing more.”
“Typical,” Katelin said with a snort. “No finger pointing cause you don’t have conclusive evidence. But at no point does history of behavior come into play.”
“Doctor Lloyd,” Forrester said, breathing out of his nose. He locked his beady eyes with the pretty woman. “I recommend you leave.”
“My hospital,” she stepped up to Forrester. “You leave. Let’s go, Mitch.” She crooked a hand for me and Chrissy.
Escorting us to the front desk, she signed some papers. “Get out of here as fast as you can. I’ve taken care of the paperwork.” She handed me a piece of paper. “Get that filled, too. It just a muscle relaxer.” I stuffed it into my pocket.
“Won’t you get in trouble?” Chrissy looked at Katelin.
“No,” Katelin said. “That’s the thing about Clarence. He sees me as doing my job. I’m safe.”
“Thank you,” I said and shook her hand. “I didn’t do anything they are accusing me of.”
“That I don’t know,” she said. “But I believe you wouldn’t hurt anyone, let alone kill people.”
“Thank you,” I said again, then walked to the exit.
“Swing by in a week for a follow-up,” Katelin shouted. I waved, then stepped through the door.
“The car’s over here,” Chrissy said and pointed in a direction.
“How did it get here?” I looked at her with a raised eyebrow, my dad look.
“I know how to drive,” she said, red flooding her face. “Besides, you were in the hospital.”
“You need to get your license,” I said and unlocked the doors. “I’ll drive us home.”
The drive home was a blur. I wasn’t going that fast, just wrapped up in my own head. My bosses were accusing me of stealing, something I would never do. I worked too long and too hard for my reputation to have it destroyed like that. Plus, John was my friend, or at least we were friendly. The only person I would ever wish ill towards was Darlene. And that was only because she left me and Chrissy dangling in the wind.
At the house, I did what I always did when I was stressed, raid the fridge. Luckily it was mostly empty.
“Chrissy,” I called. “We’re eating out.”
“Food court?” Her question floated through the house.
“You are my girl,” I said.
We pulled into the Galleria about thirty minutes later. Without hurrying, we strolled the mall. I liked to look at the random things in the windows, and Chrissy…I didn’t know what she liked. Bad father.
“Dad,” she pointed to a store. “I know it isn’t the best of times.” Crooking an arm around mine, her favorite tactic to get what she wanted, she looked at a dress store. “Prom is coming up.”
“Who asked you?” I looked her in the face and raised my eye brows.
“No one, yet,” she said. “I’m thinking of asking Thomas Stover.”
“You’re going to ask a boy?” Stopping in front of the store, I moved to have her in my sight.
“Yeah,” she said, her smile spread wide. “He’s nice.”
“How well do you know him?”
“He hangs in the library like I do,” she answered. “I started talking to him a few weeks ago.”
“Really,” I said. “Prom is what, a few weeks away?”
“I need to meet him.”
“Of course,” she said meeting my gaze.
“Good.” I looked over her shoulder and nodded. “Go and look. I can put it on a credit card if needed.”
“What about work?”
“I’m not worried about that,” I lied. “Besides, I have stock and other things they can’t take.” The last part was true. I might be fired, but I wouldn’t be broke. At least not for a few years.
Chrissy turned and bounced into the store. I took a step in the same direction when a dark figure caught my attention. Turning, I saw Butch heading over to a cellphone booth. “Chrissy, I’ll be there in a minute.”
I moved to the booth.
“Butch,” I said. “When did you get out of the hospital?”
Butch jerked back from the counter and his head zipped to look at me. I wasn’t sure, but I think he let out a squeak.
“Mitch,” he said, smearing a fake smile on his face. “What are you doing here?” His eyes scanned behind me and he turned to look in the other direction before focusing back on me.
“I’m here with Chrissy,” I tossed a thumb over my shoulder. “We’re shopping for prom dresses.”
“Oh,” he said. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a large wad of bills and slid it across the counter to the clerk. The clerk pulled several bills from the knot and slid the rest back along with an old flip phone. “Mitch, I gotta go. Good luck with the prom.” He slid his hand back into his black jacket. In his other hand had held a motorcycle helmet.
Butch hadn’t owned a motorcycle in the twelve years I knew him. He refused to ride Jerry’s Harley in the parking lot.
“When did you get the bike?” I pointed to the helmet.
“Oh, it’s new,” he said and backed away from me and the counter.
As he swung around, I saw the helmet clearly. It was large and had a dark face shield.
My brain flashed. I saw the dark figure that tried to take my tablet. It wasn’t clear then, but it solidified now.
Like a DVD playing in reverse, the entire scene ran backward. I saw the figure trying to move me, then tug on the tablet. Next, the debris flew from the floor to form the wall. Light colors changed from yellow to blue. Butch sat down. Then the scene paused. He bumped into me when he sat on the chair.
“You stole my card!” I lunged after him.
“Shit!” He turned and took off at a sprint.
Within three steps, my wind left me. Sweat poured over my eyebrows and I was blinded. All I saw was the same black blur as before.
“Dad!” A glance over my shoulder showed Chrissy standing at the dress store.
“No!” I was not going to let anyone hurt her anymore.
Putting my chin to my chest, I breathed in and took off as fast as my stubby legs would carry me. The shops blurred past me and the floor was a white smear. Butch’s image became larger in my vision. I tucked covered my face with my arms and floored it.
The force of my crash carried both of us to the smooth marble ground. We slid several feet and separated.
“Dammit, Mitch!” Butch got to his feet. “Something happened to me. You’re not gonna like it.” He crammed the helmet on his head and arched his back while spreading his arms. The scream he let out was muffled by the dark face mask. However, he grew in size. His arms and legs filled out, stretching the clothes over his muscles.
“Crap!” I scrambled to my feet in time for Butch to cock his fist back to Montana and step towards me.
I lurched to a run. The majority of the punch missed me. It clipped my fat backside and I went airborne. My flailing body crashed through the grate covering Greg’s Costume Shoppe. The piles of boxes slowed my fall and let me land without hurting myself.
With costumes everywhere, I floundered to my feet. Without realizing it, I looked a the item in my hand. It was red and made of spandex. The yellow lightning bolt on the chest drew my focus. “I can’t fit in that.” Tossing it aside, I grabbed another one. “This is yellow, but like the red one.” Reaching out one last time, I felt fur. Yanking it closer, I looked at it. “Yeah, this’ll fit.”
I shoved my feet then my arms into the costume. Fitting the mask over my head, I placed it on my nose. A quick glance in the wall mirror and I saw a large pink bunny. A small trickle of blood ran down my temple.
Dashing into the main hall, I saw Butch land twenty yards away next to Chrissy. In a single motion, he scooped her up and tossed her over his shoulder. “Stay away, man. You don’t know what you’re getting into.”
“Leave my daughter alone,” I shouted back.
“I’ll leave her in the parking lot.” He jumped, putting more effort into the distance than height. Landing near the doors, he pushed through.
“Chrissy!” My feet became a blur and I cleared the distance to the doors in a few seconds. Outside, I saw Butch get on a motorcycle and hold Chrissy in place in front of him. It started and he peeled out.
“Butch!” His helmeted head turned towards me as he aimed for the highway. I took off.
The first thing I noticed was that I wasn’t sweating. Next, my breathing was normal. Finally, I was going fast. Really fast.
Butch turned onto the main road, blowing through a red light. I poured on the speed and went straight through the lot. Darting around parked cars, I moved onto the road proper and gained on them. Four cars pulled off as I passed them. Several people at bus stops craned their heads as I chased Butch.
When I reached arms distance, I punched the side of the helmet. Pain shot over my fist, arm and into my brain.
Butch wobbled but kept the bike up. “You’ll kill her.”
Shit! He was right. Pushing my speed, I swung up on his right hand, sending it over his head. Reaching for Chrissy, I pulled her off the bike. Veering to the side, I stopped and put her on the sidewalk.
“Dad!” She looked at me. Wide eyes and windswept hair. “You’re a pink bunny.”
“I know,” I said. “Call the cops then get back to the mall.”
“OK.” She pulled her phone out and I took off.
I saw Butch turn a block up. Pouring on the speed, I followed. Soon enough I was on his tail.
“What are you gonna do now?” Moving up next to him, I kept pace.
“That explosion changed both of us,” he said.
“Yup,” I replied. “It gave me super speed and turned you into an asshole.”
“Not true,” he said. “I was already an asshole. It gave me strength.”
“I saw.” We turned again. “Give yourself up.”
“You look ridiculous in that getup,” Butch said and I think he laughed.
“Maybe,” I said. Without thinking, I punched him in the ribs, then the shoulder. His bike wobbled, but he righted it.
“You can’t beat me,” he said. “If I stop and we fight, I’m gonna win.”
“You’re right,” I said. “So I won’t let you stop.” Inching ahead of him, I tightened my left hand into a knotted fist. Slowing only a step, I flung my hand out. The meaty side of my fist connected with the face shield of the helmet. I heard a loud crack and saw Butch’s feet fly backward. The bike wobbled several more feet. The handle bars floated and it careened off the road. It went airborne after hitting the sidewalk and crashed to a stop on a dumpster.
Butch slid to a stop unmoving and moaning.
“Don’t get up, Butch,” I said.
Sirens wailed and a police car came into view.
“I don’t know why you did whatever you did,” I said. “And I don’t care. You implicated me, which would have hurt Chrissy. That ain’t gonna happen. She is my world, and I will do whatever I can to make sure she is happy and safe.”
“Shut up,” Butch said. “The cops can’t hold me.” He shifted to all fours.
“Let’s see how those kidneys are,” I said and rained punches on his waist. He screamed and flattened on the ground. “You’re gonna piss blood for a week.”
The cops screeched to a stop and jumped from their vehicles. With pistols drawn, the screamed for us to freeze.
Several weeks passed. The FBI checked into Butch and me. I was squeaky clean. Butch wasn’t. He was in debt to some loan sharks. They fed him a line on how to make a lot of money. He agreed. It didn’t take much to charge him with the deaths of John and Willy.
Anderson Energy apologized for the allegations. They even gave me a raise. I also got a month of paid vacation. Chrissy hung out most of that time, and we became tighter. We both agreed that Darlene hurt us and we never want to see her again.
Once the initial officer had Butch at gun point, I ditched my costume. No one really knows I’m the Bunny. Aside from a viral video of me running through the mall and chasing after Butch, my celebrity status has come to an end.
It did until Chrissy came home from a shopping spree. She had a big bag in her hand. “Here, Dad.” Handing it to me, she grinned. “You might need it.”
Reaching into the bag, I pulled out a plastic bunny nose.