Theatre of Books was housed in an actual old theater in a run-down neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, and as a result there were three things that were true. The first was that the building was big, really really big, which is why it was able to house so many stacks of books in the former theater space. The second was that it was solidly built. The masons who had put this building together had great pride in their work, and they spared no expense in making the brick and stone walls of this former theater to last. And the third was that every single window in the building had nice, thick iron bars. The kind that were great at keeping thieves out.
Of course, all of these things that made the bookstore such a safe vault of slightly used knowledge also made the bookstore an excellent prison. There were, as Hands and the others quickly discovered, only four ways out, including the front door, the two very blocked fire doors, and the rooftop exit. And the rooftop exit required you to access the roof, the stairs to which were reached via the front lobby- where the gunman waited with his ticking time and hostages.
“I don’t think we’re getting out of here,” the skinny guy lamented as he and Hands walked back from checking the second fire door.
“Sure we are,” Hands said. “We just have to find those books, right?”
That brought a smile to the other’s face. “You know what the kicker is, man? I just came in here to use the bathroom. I don’t even like to read!”
Both of them chuckled over that irony a moment, then the smaller man stuck out his hand. “Rick Moule.”
As they shook, a light suddenly appeared in Rick’s eyes. “Well shit! I thought you looked familiar! You’re “Demon Hands” right? The Mixed Martial Arts fighter! I saw you fight Lester Rodriguez last year.”
Hands shrugged. “It pays the bills.”
“So, you gonna use your kung fu on this guy? You got something planned to take him out?”
Hands shook his head. “I’m just trying to get out of here in one piece. Kung fu don’t stop a bullet.”
“But you could just take him, right?”
“Not unless I have to,” Hands answered, then stopped and plucked a book from the shelf with “KING” on the side in big block letters. “Grab that empty box over there, will you? We’d better get the books from this row.”
Rick did as he was told, and Hands slung the box under his huge arm like a basket, putting books into it from the right side while Rick put them in from the left.
“I thought,” said Rick. “That bookstores were supposed to be organized or something. Why the hell are these things everywhere?”
“It’s a used bookstore.” Said Hands.
When more information didn’t seem to be forthcoming, Rick asked. “So what? They just dump them here?”
Seeing his companion wasn’t going to be quiet, Hands finally said. “Not enough staff. They don’t have time to sort everything, so they just stick them up on the shelves.”
“No wonder this place is going out of business.”
Hands shrugged. “Some people think of it as a scavenger hunt.”
“That include you? Don’t tell me you’re a reader, man?”
“Let’s just say I didn’t come in here to use the washroom.” Hands said in a tone that indicated that the topic was finished.
“Hey! Hey! Nothing wrong with that.” Rick continued. “Readers are fine. You can learn stuff. Like apparently you can learn a lot from Stephen King, eh?”
Hands said nothing.
He was too busy thinking about this situation, trying to figure a way out.
Rick wasn’t wrong. He could disarm and subdue the hostage taker with ease if he got close enough, Rick was a guy who taught the real military and law enforcement how to do exactly that. But this guy was pretty cagey, and didn’t seem like the type to let Hands get that close again. The last time the gunman had surprised Hands when he’d been coming out of the washroom. There’d been an announcement that a special free give-away was happening over the intercom, and so the emerging Daimon wasn’t at all surprised to find a group of people in the front lobby. As it turned out, that had probably been the gunman rounding everyone up, but it had had the extra benefit of putting Hands off-guard.
He wouldn’t let that happen again.
He just didn’t want to risk a confrontation, or a potential random shot killing someone, unless he had to do it. So, the key now was twofold- one) figure out what the gunman’s real motivation was (if whack-job wasn’t the order of the day) and two) figure out how to talk him into stopping this whole situation before someone got hurt. All before someone managed to alert the police, turning this into a true hostage situation and making things a whole lot worse.
‘I think that’s it.” Rick wiped the dust from his hands on his jeans. “This row’s done. That box full?”
Hands glanced down. “Pretty much.”
“So lets go dump it and make him happy.”
“Right.” Hands agreed, and the two of them began to make their way through the stacks towards the front of the store. Once they’d reached the lobby, they found that other groups had already been there, and there was now a small pile of Stephen King paperbacks in the middle of the aged marble floor. Next to the stack, the two teen-aged female hostages were busily working to sort through the books.
“Dump it there,” the gunman ordered with a nod towards the pile, looking bored.
Hands walked over, paying careful attention to what the girls were doing as he dumped his collection.
As he watched, they each picked up a book, flipped to a particular page, skimmed the pages around it, and then added it to another smaller pile which was growing beside each of them.
This made him stop and stare, until he heard a bark from behind him.
“Hey! What’re you doing?!?”
Hands raised an apologetic palm to the masked gunman. “Sorry man, just surprised at how many books they have.” The gunman had come over, and was now just within arm’s reach, the gun pointed at Hands’ chest.
“This ain’t none of your business,” he told the big man. “Get back to work.”
Hands’ muscles tensed.
It was his chance.
Throw the empty cardboard box in his hand left as a distraction. At the same time, move to the right, grabbing the gunman’s wrist in a lock and twisting the gun out and up out as his other hand struck the man in the throat. It would be over in seconds.
Then Rick stepped between them.
“Hey man!” The skinny youth told the gunman. “You don’t want to do this. This here is Demon Hands, the MMA fighter. You don’t want to mess with him.”
The gunman’s eyes looked shocked, looking between Rick and Hands, and then he smiled. “So you’re Demon Hands, eh? I’ve heard of you.” He took a step backwards. “You probably wanted me to get close enough to try something, right?”
Hands cursed the kid’s clumsy attempt to help him.
“I don’t want any trouble,” Daimon said, raising his hands.
“You bet you don’t.” The gunman used his weapon to wave Hands over toward a nearby wall. As he did, he tilt his head to look at Rick. “What’re you looking at? Get back to collecting books!”
With a worried glance at Hands, Rick turned and disappeared back into the stacks.
Then the gunman looked back at Hands again.
“So, what do I do with you?”
Hands said nothing. The guy was taunting him, and he wasn’t going to fall for it. He’d met people like this guy before, and knew his best weapon was to stay calm and cool, so that’s exactly what he intended to do.
The gunman’s interest slowly faded under Hands’ unflinching gaze. Eventually, he motioned for Hands to sit down. “Just…Stay there.” He ordered. “You move, I shoot you.”
“I won’t.” Hands told him.
Then the gunman turned his focus back on the two girls at the pile. “Hey you two! Hurry it up! You got…” He started, and he was cut off.
The shrill sound of the egg timer alarm rang out and echoed in the marble stone lobby.
He gave it a light tap to turn it off, then looked back to the girls.
“Well, I did promise.” He said, raising the gun. “Nothing personal.”
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