“Shit. Shit. Shit!” The gunman swore, pacing frantically.
Inside, Hands echoed the man’s sentiments. They’d been so close to solving the whole situation, and now they were back where they started.
Then the other man turned and looked at Hands and the girls. “Where’s that book? C’mon! Search faster! No more stalling!” He was waving the gun in their direction, and one of the girls started to cry.
“Hey,” Hands said in a firm and calm voice. “That isn’t helping. We’re searching as fast as we can. We want out of here as much as you do.”
“Then find me the goddamn book!” Swore the gunman and kicked a nearby chair to send it clattering across the stone floor.
“We will, man. We will.” Hands said, and turned his attention to the whimpering girl next to him. “It’ll be okay,” he whispered. “Just keep looking.”
The girl nodded, and sucked in a breath. Then she reached out and took another book, opening it.
Seeing she was on the right track, Hands looked at the other girl, the chubby blond, planning to give her a pep talk too. But, he paused when he saw she was staring down at the book in her hand with wide eyes and a pale expression.
Leaning in, Hands could see it was a dogged 2003 paperback copy of ‘Salem’s Lot that had writing scrawled across the margins of the pages.
“Looks like you found it,” Hands said in a very quiet voice. “Can I take a look?”
The girl looked at him, and then her pale expression became sharp and she pulled the book closer to her chest. “So you can share it with your new best friend?” She shot.
“I just want to get out of here like you.” Hands told her. “Besides, if you give it to him, and it’s the wrong book, what do you think will happen?” He gestured towards the gunman with his chin, and she looked over to where the masked man was nervously passing the gun from hand to hand as he stared down at the floor and whispered to himself.
She shoved the book at him like it was on fire.
Quickly, Hands took it and flipped it open to page 153.
The page and the one facing it were covered in finely printed penciled words that were barely bigger than the typed script next to them. At first blush, they looked like someone’s comments about the text, where a character named Straker was buying food at a local store. That was strange enough to comment on, but the writing was specifically commenting on the meat the character was buying from the store. It was to the effect of, “Should have bought 104 steaks, 44 chicken legs, 73 pounds of bacon, 246 wings, 150 bags of home fries, and 204 cans of beer. Now that would be a party!”
Hands stared at the writing- those numbers were too random, it was definitely a code meant to be unnoticed by those making a casual glance at the book. Was this an account number? Or maybe a password?
Then he thought of something, and began flipping through the book.
A smile crossed his face. He’d been right.
Then he heard the sound of the gunman marching toward him. “Hey! What’re you doing?”
The gunman stopped on the other side of the pile just as Hands looked up at him, holding the book in the air. “This one’s got writing on it, you should take a look.”
Jamming his foot into the pile, the gunman lunged forward and snatched the book from Hands, rushing away to pull it open and stare at the pages. “About time!” He crowed, and then rushed over to the front desk.
“Hey! You people!” He yelled into the microphone. “Drop what you’re doing and come to the front lobby! All of you! Now!”
Then he let the mic drop, grabbed the two duffel bags from the floor and put them on the counter-top and moved a few things between them. As he worked, the rest of the tired bookstore patrons came wandering back up from the stacks. When Rick came out, he gave Hands a thumbs up gesture of support.
Finally, the gunman turned around. “I need a volunteer…” He started and then stopped and pointed at Rick. “You’ll do. C’mere!”
“Hey man! I don’t want any trouble.” Rick tried to back off, but the masked man was insistent, and so Rick moved to the front of the group. The man then marched him over to stand in front of the double front entrance doors and spun him around to face the group.
“Now hold this with both hands,” said the gunman, passing Rick one of the duffel bags.
When Rick took the bag from him, the gunman grabbed the strap of the bag and looped it over Rick’s neck so it rested around his head and shoulders.
“This man,” he announced, stepping away from Rick. “Is carrying a bomb with a motion sensor. If he moves, you all die.”
Rick turned deathly pale. “Hey! That ain’t right!”
“Deal with it, loser.” Said the masked man, and then he swung the other duffel bag over his shoulder. “I’m going upstairs. Any of you follow me, I shoot you. Got that?” He said, waving the gun menacingly around before ducking into the stairwell behind the front counter. They heard the sound of boots on metal, and he was gone.
At first, everyone stood there in stunned silence, and then as one they all turned and ran, rushing into the stacks to try and put as much distance between themselves and Rick as they possibly could. It was a smart idea. The place was big, and all that paper and metal could absorb a lot of damage- they’d probably be safe so they hid and waited.
Everyone, that is, except Daimon Hands.
Hands instead walked towards the sweating Rick Moule.
“H-hey man, if you could tell the cops not to come breaking in, I’d really appreciate it.”
“It’ll be fine, Rick.” Hands said calmly. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
“Y-you’re not the one about to go boom. You better just stay away.”
“I think you’re going to be just fine, Rick. I saw him set the bomb, and I think I can defuse it. But you’re going to have to help me.”
“Y-you did?” Rick gulped. “You saw him set it?”
“Yeah. He set it before he shoved it in the bag.”
Rick turned even paler, and seemed to be sweating even more. “Oh geez.”
“But I can disarm it. You just need to listen to me.”
Outside, they could hear Police shouting. It sounded like the cops were getting ready to try to break in.
“O-okay. Whatever you want man, just get it off me.”
“First, I want you to tell me about the book.”
“How did it end up here in the bookstore?”
Rick stared at him, wide-eyed. “How should I know?!?”
“Because Rick, that masked guy knew your name. He said it when we were talking.”
“I know lots of people.”
Hands nodded, “Yeah, I bet you do. But that’s the thing, Rick. If you were working with that guy, a whole lot of things make sense. For example, I thought it was odd how freely you were willing to risk your life by trying to open that back door, even if it was a trap. But the thing is- you knew it was safe from the beginning, didn’t you? You rushed to the back because you were afraid that someone else might think of another way out, and you wanted everyone to know they couldn’t escape. You were a plant to keep us moving in the right direction.
“Same reason you paired up with me, the one guy who looked like he could cause trouble, and when you figured out who I was, you let your partner know he needed to keep me here and keep an eye on me. Hell, you probably saw he’d gotten too close, and stopped me from disarming him on purpose. I’d wondered about that at the time, but it could have been a coincidence.
“And then, to top it all off, when I was stuck here, the gunman who was so careful to pair everyone up let you go running around loose. He could have added you to another group, but he left you free, so you could keep an eye on people. Same reason he picked you to be the one who got the bomb- you’re the one person he knows would stay here in front of the exit and buy time. You wouldn’t throw it down, or try to escape, because you’re here to stall for him while he gets away with the book.”
Then Hands leaned in, close enough that the man could feel his presence. “But you didn’t know he was going to put a real bomb in the bag, did you? Gonna be a lot easier to split that money one way instead of two.”
“D-damn it.” Rick looked like he was trying not to cry as he looked down at the package in his shaking hands. “Bastard told me this was gonna be a f-fake.”
“So, who set this all up, Rick? You or him?”
“He did. He set it up.” Rick said. “This was his idea. His old man sent him that book from prison, but the old guy didn’t tell him was what in it, so Rick tossed it into the book bin. Later on, he found out, but by then it was somewhere in this store. After the store closes, they’re gonna sell or pulp all these books, so we had to find it today, but it’s so big and the stupid bastard thought Stephen King was the name of the book!”
Hands nodded. It was crazy, but he could see how it could all work.
“So, what did his old man do? Bank robber?”
“Jewel thief or something. Look, I’ve told you what I know. Can you get this thing off me?”
Hands gave a smile. “Sure. Sure. No problem.” Then he reached out and yanked the bag from the man’s hands, tossing it casually on the floor nearby. When he did this, Rick gasped and fell over, almost fainting.
“You said…” He managed.
“I lied.” Answered Hands, who reached out to unlock the front doors and let the police in.
The next day, the police arrested the masked man exactly where Hands told them to find him.
It was the simplest way, since there could be real hostages trapped in the building, and the masked man would definitely have ditched the book and just hidden the pages rather than keep it on himself.
When he’d told the Chicago PD inspector where to find the masked man, he’d looked at Hands like he was crazy. So Hands had gone to the pile and produced a copy of ‘Salem’s Lot to show him, pointing out the first words on pages 104, 44, 74, 246, 140 and 204- “Cumberland”, “Post Office”, “Account”, “Drop”, “Box” and “Sixteen.”
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