Part 19 – The Conclusion
This was always the best part of any movie. The climax where the bad guy and the good guy stare each other down. Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” Jimmy Cagney in any number of gangster movies, or even Marshall Dillon on “Gunsmoke” every week on TV. Those were fiction of course and nobody really got hurt. This was different. Nate was coming to kill me and I was going to kill him unless cooler heads could prevail, but there were no cooler heads.
Nate was outside and inside was me, Rocky the shifty lawyer, Nate’s weasely little spy the Jockey, and Hailey, the receptionist on what was her first and probably her last day on the job. Matt Dillon at least had Chester, his gimpy deputy, to back him up. I was as alone as I could be.
A lot of people had already died for no good reason. Actually, they had died as a distraction for a cockamamie reason that made less than zero sense. And now I’m roped into the middle of it all as the only person who fought back. More than the Middle – I was there at the Beginning back there in the Mall where I shot Timmy Whathisname, I’m not even sure anymore. I was held hostage by the Middle when that lovely, damaged, girl with a horror movie life, ended hers in my kitchen. Now this was going to be The End, the Third Act, before the last commercials aired.
I looked out of the window toward the van that Nate had used as his firing platform. He was standing by the rear door. He’d left the rifle behind and was carrying two heavy looking pistols – something straight out of a “Dirty Harry” movie.
“Do you feel lucky, Punk?”
I haven’t felt lucky since I was booted off the Force without being indicted.
The others in the reception area saw him too. Rocky tried to go back through the shattered door into his office, but I grabbed him by the collar.
“You’re not going anywhere, Chester. You’re going to try to convince him to turn himself in or die trying.”
The Jockey had crawled into a far corner behind a little makeshift fortress of aluminum and plastic chairs trying to make himself invisible.
The only one who wasn’t trying to hide was Hailey, the receptionist. She had moved back to her desk, sitting there with her bag in her lap. She had a determined look on her face. I imagined that she had lost a number of jobs before and after this one her choices were going to get even poorer. She was not going to make it easy for Rocky, Nate, or me. She was rooting through her bag like she was looking for a way out. She’s the only one I felt sorry for. All she wanted was a job, not playing anybody for anything.
Nate was walking across the parking lot on a beeline to our front door. He cut between the cars ignoring the moving ones, his eyes locked on us, me really, behind the glass. When he got to the last line of cars he stopped, raised both of his elephant guns and fired. The glass panes, weakened, finally shattered and crashed to the ground leaving just air between us now.
“Ellis!” he yelled. I could hear him just fine, even over the screams of some of the shoppers who heard the loud report of his guns and the crash of the panes of glass. “Ellis, you have screwed up everything. You took away my childhood when you took away my Father. When he was dragged away my mother walked away and I was put in an orphanage. An orphanage! I was the only kid there who still had both parents, but that didn’t matter to you, did it?”
“No, Nate, it didn’t. It really didn’t. Your Father would have killed me if he could have and your Mother…well, that happens more often than you’d think, but I didn’t tell her to …” He squeezed off two more rounds. Plaster board wall panels got ripped apart. He still wasn’t aiming. Off in the distance I could hear some sirens. It was about time. I turned to Rocky. “Why are the cops just coming now? This shooting match has been going on for quite a while.”
He shrugged. “It’s a bad neighborhood. Nobody wants to get involved.”
Nate held his weapons down at his side as he crossed the last bit of pavement and stepped through the hole that once held a floor to ceiling pane of glass. We were now all together, the Jockey, the Lawyer, the Receptionist, the Ex-con looking for blood, and me, the guy with a history of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I was seriously outgunned in any way you wanted to look at it.
What we had there was the world’s worst “High Noon” showdown. We were no more than ten feet apart. If he hit me with one of those huge lead slugs it would rip me apart. If I hit him first he would go down like a rag doll. Either way it was going to be ugly. We stared at each other, waiting for some visible signal that one or the other was going to move. Nobody made a sound and I swear I could hear everyone’s heart beating.
That startled us into action. It came from the corner behind the nest of chairs. The Jockey. Without taking his eyes off of my eyes Nate lifted the gun in his left hand and fired. That ended their friendship. That damned jockey was trying to get us to kill each other yelling out like that.
The silence that followed included a ringing in my ears.
We stood there waiting for the other one to make the first move. It was probably no more than ten seconds, but it felt like an hour. Then it happened.
A single gunshot. It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t Nate’s. He couldn’t miss me being as close as he was. Whoever fired didn’t miss either. I saw the fatal surprise on his face as his brain made room for the piece of fast moving lead that had entered above his left temple.
Where? Who? It wasn’t me. It didn’t come from outside. The Jockey was out of the picture. Rocky hadn’t moved in minutes. A voice spoke up. It was Hailey. Still sitting at her desk she had a Smith & Wesson chromed pistol in her hand. A tuna sandwich wasn’t the only thing she had in that bag. She looked at me standing there with my mouth open.
“I’m sorry Mister, but I wasn’t going to let him or anyone mess things up for me anymore. I’ve had to deal with his type ever since I was sixteen. They don’t think about anybody or anything that isn’t them.” Turning her focus to a stunned Rocky, she pleaded, “Boss, please don’t fire me. I really need this job.”
All Rocky could do was nod.
This young woman, who’d gotten dragged into this picture in the last reel, took charge when the rest of us stood there looking at each other afraid to move. That’s the way these things go. Everybody knows that if they make that first, expected, move that they are likely to die in the process. It is the person who sees that their reality, their life, has been placed in jeopardy who says, “Enough!” and ends the nonsense. Hailey has been fighting all her life and she saw that today could be her last day on earth through no real fault of her own.
That gal is my hero.
Three up and now three down. No more killing. No more terror.
Outside the broken windows three Black &Whites pulled up. When seconds counted they were just minutes away.
(Next Week we will be taking a break until…?)