Out With a Bang — Part 1
A more deserving life
“H-hey,” Edward began in a quiet and shaky voice. “Hey!” Oh, God, what am I doing? he thought.
“What?” the nearest masked man barked as the muzzle of his rifle moved to target Edward.
“You should take me instead,” he blurted. A small part of him was cowardly enough to hope the masked man would decline. The barrel of the rifle wavered as the masked man looked over to Christopher and his daughter, Julie, and then back to Edward. Julie was, by his rough guess, about 9 years old. Christopher and Edward weren’t exactly pals, so the details of Christopher’s family were vague and second-hand at best.
“What… you want to be a hero or something?” The man’s eyes peered into his intently, studying him.
“Not the way you think... no, just, please, take me instead of them — ”
“Both? Well, that doesn’t seem fair.”
“I’ll be a lot more cooperative than them.” Christopher was looking back and forth from speaker to speaker, sweat beading between his brows, jaw clenched tight.
“How so?” the masked man asked.
“She’s a kid. There’s only so much you can do to scare her before she’s just going to scream and cry and refuse to calm down. Then what? Shoot a little girl? And him… you’ve got his daughter at gunpoint. He’ll kill you with his bare hands if you give him half a chance.” Edward disconnectedly marveled at how much sense he was making while his heart pounded in his ears so hard it muted everything else. “Come on, man, just take me instead. I won’t give you any trouble.”
“Will you shut him the hell up already?” one of the other masked men blurted, angrily.
“Why don’t you shut up? I have yet to hear a single worthwhile grunt fall out of that shit-sandwich stinking mouth of yours.”
“Fuck you, man!”
“I’ll tell you what,” he said, turning back to Edward. “I’ll let daddy, here, go, but I’ll hold on to you and the kid until we get ready to haul ass out of here. If you’ve been a good boy, she’ll stay behind with her father. Deal?”
“I’ll — !” Christopher began struggling against the cable-tie restraints.
“Chris!” Edward interrupted loudly, giving him a glare. “I got this. I promise. I’ll keep her safe until they let her go and then you both get out of this, okay?” Christopher hesitated a moment, but then nodded his head. “That means you have to sit tight for now and shut the hell up, okay? Be smart about this, Chris. Be smart.”
“I got it,” he answered after taking a deep breath. “Thank you.”
The masked man tugged Christopher’s arm, prompting him to get to his feet, and walked him over to the front door of the building. He opened it just enough to peer out, and then opened it wider, pushing the hostage through it.
“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” Christopher shouted at the police as he exited the building. He turned back before the door had fully closed and caught it with the toe of his shoe. “Ed… get my baby out, I’ll do anything. I’m sorry I was such an asshole to you. I swear I’ll make it up to you. I swear.” With that, he turned and sprinted to the police.
He could hear one of them negotiating with the men inside as two uniformed officers checked him over and removed the restraints.
“We’re going to get your girl out, Mr. Stearn, you have my word on that. I’m Sgt. Turnbull. I’m in charge of negotiations. Can you tell me who else is left in there?”
“As far as I know, it’s just my girl, Julie, and Ed — Edward Tullos left in there… and, uh, three guys with ski masks and guns. They said they’d let Julie go if Ed didn’t make trouble. They were going to let him go and take me and Julie, you know, but Ed made a deal to take him instead. He could have left when they let the others go.”
“He traded himself for you? Goddamn…” the Sgt. shook his head in grim acknowledgment.
Christopher exhaled a bewildered breath, “…yeah, well, probably more for Julie than me. He promised me he’d keep her safe...” He trailed off, worry gnawing at him, along with some guilt. He had never physically hurt Ed, but he watched it happen and had laughed along with the rest of them. Ed had been a chubby kid and they’d been merciless about it. Christopher tried to think of who Ed’s friends had been. He couldn’t recall any, though he was pretty sure Ed had had a few.
“That’s a hell of a friend you got there, Mr. Stearn.”
“That’s just it… we’re not friends,” Christopher replied quietly.
They had humiliated Edward throughout high school. He tried to recall now why they’d been so particularly cruel to him. He’d been a fat kid. That was it. All he could remember is Ed smiling, friendly, easy-going… and then he remembered Ed’s face red and dirty, a look of shock across it. He didn’t know why he was being hit. He wasn’t resisting. He probably thought if he just let it happen, it would eventually end.
He felt sick recalling how Ed had laid there, trying to cover his face, not fighting back, and the punches just kept coming. He just stood and watched. How many times had he stood and watched this happen? He did nothing to stop it, even cheered them on at times. He hated himself a little bit for that.
That was the same Edward, though older and less pudgy, in there putting his life between the gunmen and his daughter, while Christopher stood outside in safety. That was the man, who, as a boy, Christopher watched hesitating outside of the door to his own house because he’d have to explain to his father, again, that he got picked on and beaten up. Edward’s father didn’t even bother hiding his disappointment in his son. How humiliating it must have been for Ed to have to go through that with his father, over and over again.
Christopher was blissfully unaware that each time these things happened, each time Edward was publicly humiliated, each time he was knocked down or punched or shoved around, each time a name they called him stuck enough that even well-meaning people called him by it, each time he had to endure that look of shame on his father’s face… Each and every miserable time, Edward had inched closer and closer to desperate thoughts of escape. He’d never tried to kill himself, not that Christopher had ever heard of, but now, thinking back, they hurt that kid in a lot of different ways for a long time… it’s a wonder he’d managed to take all of that abuse and still somehow keep it together.
He heard a commotion and turned to see Julie running to them from the building. He took off after her so immediately that he lost his footing and went down hard on the gravel-and-pebble surface of the parking lot. As he got back to his feet, he felt her little hands on him. “Daddy! Daddy!” She was a red-faced mix of tears, snot, and hugs. He just stood and held her, too choked up to get a word out, thoughts of Edward momentarily abandoned.
A gunshot from the building shattered the air nearly causing him to jump out of his skin. It frightened Julie into fresh tears as the police around them sprang into a chaos of activity.
[to be continued…]