Turntable Topping

by Kenneth Roberson

It was six in the morning. The sun was still in bed. It would soon yawn and stretch over the small town of Ranser, Michigan, population 20,301. Exterior lights, like the stars, were pinpoints in the darkness. The timing was low, but the spirits were already high. Residents, young and old, were headed to work or school, jogging, or chasing the nerdy mailman through National Park. In a few hours Christmas shoppers would cluster the sidewalks and streets. For most, it was a calm, normal start on a perfect December morningbut all that was about to change.

If you exit Highway 75 at Morhouse Street, then make a sharp left at George, you may see an orange sign that reads Tip Top Coffee Shop. The only registered bounty hunter in Ranser found the coffee shop easy enough. It was the promise of food and a hot cup of Joe that had the sleepy head be-bopping for a hole-in-the-wall venue this early. He had searched high and low for a nice place, now he thought he'd found it. The bounty hunter parked his 1987 black Camaro in a space directly in front of the coffee shop and climbed out. The shop, small and quaint, had a gray-stone facade. It was owned by mom and pop presumably. Weather was icy. A blast of nippy air chilled the bounty hunter right to the bone. He was wearing a blue leisure suit, yellow dress shirt, and black tie. His wool parka and fleece micro vest would've been nice right about now, except for the scorched holes and grazing accumulated after hislast firefight. He scanned the area thoroughly. When he didn't spot any lurking trouble, near or far, he headed for the entrance of the coffee shop. He was mighty thirsty. The bounty hunter's name was Spike Spiegel.

* * *

Tiptop Coffee Shop and its patrons had a large problem. It was the short-order cook, Lego Blanka. Hewas a hulking, seven-foot monster built with green and orange Lego pieces. Now, don't allow the building-block make-up to fool you. Blanka was built Ford-tough. Also, whoever putBlanka together must've short-sighted his rationality a bit. The smallest thing could have him flying off the handle. At the moment, he was more incensed than a chain-smoking locomotive. The other scheduled cook, Gunmetal Capachu, hadn't showed up for work today. He hadn't even bothered to call. It was Saturday, and while Saturday mornings didn't garner the business of a Sunday morning, it could still fill to the top on short notice. Already Lego Blanka was overloaded with breakfast orders. Twenty slices of bacon and a dozen sausage patties sizzled. Countless eggs,needing a beating, sat lumpy in a mixing bowl. If the orders didn't let up, Lego Blanka surmised, he would lose his cool in the middle of a bulging-to-the-max restaurant. He fumed silently as he slopped a palatable amount of waffle mix onto a waffle iron.

The coffee shop was snug and close quarters. A dozen booths bordered the slim kitchen space. Each booth bore a worn ersatz vinyl. Presently, every booth was occupied, mostly by moms and dads and their little offspring. Lego Blanka had never cared much for kids. In his opinion, they were much too loud and rambunctious for human beings. Young ones made his job harder than it should have been. He could see them in the corner of his eye, playing guns at the register, fiddling with the dang juke box, pretending the coffee shop was their personal playground. Their parents didn't seem to mind, so why should Lego Blanka? It wasn't like he'd get a bonus for babysitting.

In the booth next to the restroom alcove was a young man nursing a glass of sugar water. He refused the offer for food, just water and plenty of sugar packets. He didn't have any cash, he explained. The hand dryer had eaten it. This wasn't sitting well with Amaya or her Japanese twin sister. They didn't care much for non-tippers, especially those who camped out in their sections. Amaya and Hisako were Tiptop's regular morning waitresses. They acted and dressed alike. And both were obsessed with money. Lego Blanka found the twins cute as buttons, but as him and many others had quickly learned, those buttons needed gold threading to work properly. Amaya could get mean sometimes when it came to her tips. "Cheap skate has no push!" she intoned once in the back office, loud enough for anyone in the coffee shop to hear. "No push except when chased by mutant machine creature!" Either the moody water drinker didn't hear her, or he wasn't clued in the insults were directed at him. Or maybe he just didn't care enough for a response. His sullen gaze wasn't deviating from his glass of sugar water. He remained silent and impassive until the moment Lego Blanka blew his stack.

Lego Blanka was real close to blowing that stack, too. What had him really hot-headed this morning was the number of patrons ordering cheese in their eggs. It was absurd. It seemed as if everyone wanted cheese. If just one more person demands I cheese it, Lego Blanka warned silently, I'm gonna thump them up real good. Close by was his trusty rolling pin. After closing his fist around it, he placed it on the sandwich board. Oh yes, he thought, rubbing the wooden handle soothingly. That's the way, that's the way Ilike it. Just keep at it. Just keep at it and you'll do

"Hey!" a man in a booth near the jukebox hollered. "I asked for cheese in these darn eggs! Is the cook deaf or what?"

On the jukebox, it was Billy Joel's Goodbye to Hollywood.

Lego Blanka sucked in his breath and counted to ten in Spanish. His forehead throbbed with a heated pulse-shock. There was a live wire in there, and it was causing everything else to fizz and warp. He figured counting would dull the pain, but the pain only intensified. He was gearing up to lash out violently over a plate of eggsinstead, it was spilled milk that threw him over the edge.

"How long on refill, sir?" Sasquatch asked, tapping his empty plastic glass on the counter top jarringly. He was taking up a stool at the lunch counter. Furry legs and lap were drenched with white milk. Earlier, a young boy had knocked over his glass of milk and Sasquatch wanted another. "I asked for it five minutes ago and I still haven't received it. Oh, and could you pour it into another glass, please sir. This one is just filthy. I think there's a dead insect inside. A fly maybe; I can't tell. It has wings, but"

Lego Blanka grunted and then slammed both brick-bat fists atop a waffle iron. That's it! He'd been tottering on the rim of insanity, and this last nudge had him taking the plunge. His eyes peeled back a glistening, feral, homicidal rage. In both was black murder. I'm not made of steel! Lego Blanka's mind yammered. I'm just Lego bricks! Just Legos! Just Legos! Just Lego Blanka had lost all control.He removed his grease-stained apron, folded it, placed it on the sandwich board. Next, he hefted the rolling pin. With it held high above his head, he wheeled on the annoying patron. "You want a clean glass?" Lego Blanca sneered. "I'll give you a clean glass." Sasquatch hadn't spilled his milk, but he paid the price for the mishap nonetheless. He neverstood a chance against the brutal onslaught. Sasquatch was in the wrong place, and at the wrong time. He was beaten unmercifully, and while the entire restaurant watched with mounting horror. No one could move; what they saw paralyzed them completely. "Not with steel!" Lego Blanka assailed Sasquatch with that exclamation each and every time he battered the innocent creature with the rolling pin. Soon Sasquatch was intercepting nothing. Blow after blow finally took its toll, and unconsciousness swallowed him whole. He toppled from his bar stool like a felled buffalo and collapsed bonelessly onto the floor. One leg kicked once and that was all. Sasquatch was down for the count. He wasn't getting up for no one, not even Loch Ness. "Not with steel!" Lego Blanka repeated again and again, unaware he had the entire restaurant's undivided attention. Not that he cared the least bit. He liked any sort of attention. Negative or positive, it didn't matter to Lego Blanka.

What the hell? Frozen in the parking lot, Spike Spiegel saw the attack against Sasquatch, unbelievable as it was, but like the patrons inside, he hadn't been able to budge. After the paralysis effect broke, Spike was dashing into the coffee shop. Spike and the water drinker reached Sasquatch together. Each bent over and offered their assistance."Hey guy,"Water Drinker said. "You okay? Anything broken?"

Lego Blanka breathed heavily. "Not with steel!" he reiterated.

Spike assessed the situation. Man, it wasn't good. There was the ape-like character, assaulted or possibly murdered, which, let's not forget, was viewed by a dozen families during their breakfast meal. His victimizer was the nutty cook flaming with wild hair and seismic activity behind the lunch counter. He needed taking care of, and fast. He posed a threat to everyone. But how could Spike defuse the bomb without blowing up the entire restaurant? Spike had an idea. "Someone call the paramedics," he suggested. "Tellem to bring two stretchers." Water Drinker swallowed hard. Knowing what was coming next, he backed up a step. Spike didn't hesitate; he'd done this sort of thing before. He whistled as he strolled around the bar counter rolling up his sleeves, continued whistling as he stepped into Tiptop's cooking space. Lego Blanka huffed and puffed while following Spike's movement with a mad-cow stare. Was Spike the least bit worried? Oh no. The cook's size, not to mention his apparent state of mind, hadn't affected Spike's composure a bit, because he was throwing Lego Blanka into a full nelson with ease and then dragging the Lego-built monster towards the back of the coffee shop. "Whad'ya think your doin?" Lego Blanka asked Spike incredulously. Spike's whistling was the only answer. Shortly after, he and Spike were disappearing through a revolving door together and out of sight. Sometime later, there were solid smacks and punches. forceful grunts, cries of pain. "Hey!"Lego Blanka was heard bellowing."That piece isn't easily replaceable!"

Spike: "Shut up!"

Lego Blanka:"Don't take me apart! Please!"

Spike: "Hmmm. I wonderdoes this come off?"

Lego Blanka: "What? Nooo!"

Amaya and Hisako giggled; the scene tickled their funny bones. "It makes me laugh," both agreed. As for the patrons, they were speechless. Some still had forks and scrambled egg dangling from their mouths. Was this really happening? The sounds in the back went on and on. Time in the coffee shop ran slow and thick like uphill maple syrup. The wall clock ticked noisily like arobotic heart. Would Lego Blanka ever shut up?

Some children pitied Lego Blanka and started crying. Parents attempted to soothe their children's fears. "Hush now," one mother said. "It's only a game; just a game." Well, not too long after, Tiptop's customers decided they had seen and heard enough and began exiting the coffee shop.

As the tables emptied, Hisako and Amaya checked each for a tip.But they came up short every time. And this didn't please them, not one bit. "No tip!" Hisako exclaimed. Amaya: "Not this time!" When Spike returned finally, the coffee shop was almost empty. Water Drinker was still around; he'd remained with Sasquatch through the entire ordeal. "Where'd everyone go?" Spike asked. Water-drinker answered, "Home, I guess." "Oh" "We make little money now!" Amaya broke in, pointing a finger at the bounty hunter accusingly. "And it's all your fault!" Spike pretended hurt and apologized. "Sorry little lady."Amaya and Hisako sighed dejectedly. What can we do? Nothing! They began clearing tables, washing dishes, and sweeping the kitchen and dining room floors. Sometime later, paramedics and a number of police cruisers arrived. Spike gave the policea story, what had transpired. They listened and wrote their reports. Spike also showed them his bounty hunter identification card, which was quickly verified. Sasquatch was rushed to the hospital. He had a fractured skull, the paramedics evaluated. As for Lego Blanka, Cops hauled him off to the Lego jailbut only after he was put back together of course.

* * *

"Talk about excitement,"Spike commented after the last emergency vehicle pulled out of the lot. He feigned wiping sweat from his forehead. Sitting across the table, Water Drinker nodded. Spike extended a hand for shaking. Water Drinker took it. Spike asked, "What's your name, partner?" "Steve."

"Just Steve?"

"Steve Burnside."

"Nice to meet you Steve. I'm Spike Spiegel."

"It's nice to meet you." Steve paused. "You're a bounty hunter?"

"I am."

"I always wanted to be a bounty hunter."

Spike shrugged and lit a cigarette."The job has its upsides."

"Youcarry a gun?"

That question was regulatory whenever Spike told strangers his profession. He laughed."Yes. I carry a weapon. Smart bounty hunters always"

"I havetwo guns," Steve interrupted. "Gold lugers; but they're at home."

"Where do you work?" Spike asked, interested.

"I don't presently. I'm looking though."

Spike nodded and smoked his cigarette. Conversation at the booth lagged. "Something the matter?" he asked Steve finally." You seem a little down."

Steve said glumly, "It's nothing. Lost my money is all."

"Where, on a bet?"

"No. In the hair dryer."

Nearby, Amaya said, "You suck Spike Hunter, or whoever you are. I don't think I like you."

Hisako: "Who will make food now?"

Amaya: "Spike Hunter! That's who!" The twins chuckled.

Spike noticed that his booth lacked an ashtray, that every booth lacked an ashtray. He turned to the twins; both were wiping down condiment bottles with a wet towel. "Hey girls. Would one of you bring me an ashtray and a cup of coffee. As for my friendhere, uh...bring him a large glass of chocolate milk."

"Sure," Hisako replied with a sarcastic tone. "Anything you say."

Quickly, Steve said, "It's non-smoking in here."

"No kidding?"

"Yep."

"That sucks."

Hisako brought Spike what he requested, sans ashtray. She then placed a few menus on the table. "You guys need a few minutes to order?" "No," Spike said. "Bring us each a ham-and-egg omelet and a stack of pancakes. Strawberries and whip cream on the cakes, please." Hisako scribbled the order down on a notepad and then handed it to her sister working the grill. Amaya read the order and clucked her tongue. "I hate omelets," she complained. "They're the worst." Without a cook, one sister would have to take orders, while the other prepared food. Steve leaned across the table."I don't have any money remember. "Spike brushed him off. "Don't worry about it. It's on me." "Well, thanks." Steve was genuinely moved; people weren't usually so nice to him. It took Amaya thirty minutes to prepare the omelets. Hisako offered a hand, but it wasn't much help; the omelets were tough. As Spike and Steve waited for food, they chatted, swapped adventure, broke ground. Steve talked more about his home-stored lugers; Spike mentioned his pals and fellow bounty hunters Jet Black and Faye Valentine. "They're knockin' around the solar system someplace. Maybe I can introduce you to themif you like." Except for Hisako and Amaya, horsing around on the grill, it was peaceful. Both men relaxed. The shop stayed peaceful until around noon. It was at that time Tiptop Coffee Shop begun congealing with patrons again. These weren't the family types like the last though; these were the rougher, backwoods sort: unshaven and uncouth. As they entered the coffee shop, Spike and Steve were met with hard stares and an occasional hoot or snicker. After enough unwanted attention, Spike made the habit of not looking up when a new customer arrived. Steve, though, was different; he matched every glare with one of his own. When the food arrived, Spike was glad. He was starving. More importantly, it kept Steve's face downcast from the other customers. Taking apart psycho cooks was one thingfighting men who were probably carrying was another. "So," Spike began. "You said you have a friend named Clair Redfield? Is she your girlfriend?" Both men yakked heavily while they ate. Because Amaya and Hisako had to bust their buns waiting on the new crowd, they had to neglect Spike and Steve. Luckily, Spikewas used to neglect. In a jiffy, he was grabbing a carton of chocolate milk from the coffee shop's cooler and a full coffee pot. Drinks taken care of, he and Steve were good to go.

That was until all hell broke loose.

First it was the purple-colored man dressed in crimson-red plastic attire, who came bursting through the front door of Tiptop on his mad-hatter way to the men's bathroom. He didn't just have pep in his step, the man acted as though his plastic pants were on fire. Face was sheeny with sweat and contorted with what resembled suppressed pain. He was back-strapped with something large and bulky, too. To Spike, it looked like the twin tanks for a flamethrower. "Don't worry everyone." Amaya assured everyone. "That's just the Play-doh Man. He lives down the street from me." Conversation in Tiptop ceased. From the men's bathroom erupted thesounds ofa toilet seat slamming down, followed by watery plops andhearty whoops of satisfaction."Release me!" the Play-doh Man yelled with a grunt. "Oh God, please have mercy and release it all!" That went on for a while. Then there was the crescendo of loud, gritty Harley Davidson motorcycles in the parking lot. The bikes sounded a lot like oncoming trouble. What reinforced that idea was when they parked in the spaces reserved for the handicapped. Straddled to the four hogs were helmetless men clad in black leather. They sported beards or goatees, multiple piercings and neck tattoos. Hair was grungy, growing from unwashed scalps. The men looked mean and hard and dangerous. The bikers downed their kick stands and disembarked. In the bathroom, Play-doh Man said, "I'm giving it my all, and still you refuse!"Amaya and Hisako burst out laughing. Afew patrons chuckled. The bikers entered the coffee shop one at a time. One blew a kiss at Hisako. Not surprisingly, the bikers decided they'd sit in the booth directly behind Spike and Steve. "Hi ya'll doin?" one biker said with a smirk as he passed by. Wonderful, Spike thought, just wonderful." Hey one of you guys order me a Coke," a biker said. "I gotta go take a piss."

"Sure Jeffrey."

Jeffrey went to take his piss. Amaya approached the biker's booth with caution. "Waitress?" Macklin said, giving Amaya a wry grin."I'm starving and lovesick. Can you fix both?" Amaya frowned. "I can fix just about anythinganything except mutant machine creatures." The statement confused Macklin and his friends, but before anyone could question it, a series of hollow thuds had everyone in the coffee shop turning their heads in the direction of the men's bathroom. "Anyone in there? Hello?" It was Jeffery, pounding on the door, which wasn't opening. "Hello?" Moments later, he returned to the dining area and asked the waitresses, "You girls have a key for the john?" Amaya shook her head. "No. No key."Jeffrey sighed. "Well damn it, I need to get in there.""Wait for Play-doh Man. He'll finish.""Who?""Play-doh Man." A quizzical expression flittered over Jeffery's features, but he quickly tossed it aside."Well Play-doh Man needs to hurry up. My dam is about to burst."

"You hear Jeffery?" Macklin said to Amaya."He has a lizard needs drainingI just need mine stroked." He then threwhis head back and heehawed uproariously. Amaya wasn't impressed." I hear them all before. You guys ready to order, or would you like me to come back later?" "Naw baby. Bring us four Cokes and in the biggest glasses you have." Amaya left for the drinks. A bearded biker said, "What about that blaze we saw on the way up here? Crazy wasn't it?" Macklin said, "It was. I just hope it doesn't spread down my legs. Ya'll could get hurt." He clenched the shoulder of the biker sitting aside him. "Especially you, Marly." Jeffery couldn't relax like his friends; his waterworks and the enflamed itch in his underpants were bothering him too much for that. Across from Jeffery, Macklin gnawed on a toothpick; he used them instead of a toothbrush. "Why don't you do your business outside? You won't have much of a problem manning your equipment. There's plenty of sunlight."

"Shut up." Jeffery was in no joking mood. A customer fed the jukebox a few quarters. A record began spinning. It was More than a Feeling by Boston. Amaya brought the Cokes and straws and passed them around. Everyone at the booth drank, well, everyone except Jeffery, who couldn't stop fidgeting in his seat. His crotch ached. Plus, he needed to hit his naked behind with baby powder. Good thing he had a bottle of itj ammed down one jean pocket. If only he could get into that bathroom...Jeffrey left his seat and reentered thebathroom area. Jeffrey tried the locked door again. "Hey?" He rapped his knuckles against the wood. "Anyone in there?" No one answered. "Hello?"

"Just bust the door in," Macklin advised, half-joking.

Jeffrey returned to the booth. "Someone's in there, but they ain't answerin'."

"Do as I said.Bust it in."

"Nah. Not yet. I'm gonna give whoever's in there just five minutes more.If he ain't out by then, I'llthrow him out on his head.""Seems fair enough to me."

"Don't it?"

In the next booth, Steve rolled his eyes.

Amaya asked the bikers, "Ready for food?" Macklin replied, "We are if you're servin' hot Asian." The booth erupted with hearty laughter. "We have plenty," Amaya said. "But I don't think you'd like it." "And why is that?""It doesn't bathe in the sewer." The bikers were stunned. "Hey now," Marly said, indignant. "That's wasn't nice." "Only kidding; just kidding. No serious. You want food now, or later?" Marly muttered, "Later, I guess." When Amaya disappeared, Macklin tapped the biker across from him on the right hand. "Greg?"

"Yeah?"

"Has it been five minutes yet?"

Greg checked his wristwatch, paused. "Nuh-uh. Three."

Bothered, Jeffrey squirmed in his seat.

"Really?" Macklin acted amazed."Is that all?"

"Yeah. That's it."

"Terrible."

Jeffreyslammed a fist down on the table. "I said shut up didn't I?" Aggravation had whittled the big biker down to a throbbing nugget. Forget waiting;he needed his release, and he needed it now. Jeffrey nearly ran to the bathroom. "Hey you!" he shouted, pounding hard on the door."Whoever you are! Come on outta there!" No answer." You hear me talkin' to you? I said come outta there!" Still, no answer."All right; if that's the way you want to play it."Jeffrey would take Macklin's advice; he was in no mood for silly games. "Here I come." Jeffrey backed up a few feet, and then hurled all two hundred and fifty pounds of his burly bulk into the door. Wood was tough. Thedoor shuddered, but it didn't give. Jeffrey was readying for another run, when a strained voice said,"Go away. I have diarrhea." "Oh, now you hear me. Why didn't you answer before?"

"I have diarrhea."

"So?"

"I said I have diarrhea! Leave me alone!"

Jeffrey clenched his fists." Boy, I don't give a crap. Hurry up."

"You hear that?" Macklin wisecracked. "He has no crap to give."

"Go away!" Play-dohMan demanded. Jeffrey wasn't folding; he didn't take orders from no one, especially not from someone who sounded lily-livered. He re-applied his weight to the door. "Pansy," he insulted Play-doh Man."You sound like a damn pansy. Open up this doornow!"

"Leave me alone!"shouted the Play-doh Man. "Scram! Beat it!"

"Oh I'm gonna beat it all right, I'm gonna beat itall over your thick skull." Jeffery kicked the door with a motorcycle boot. "Like that? Open the damn door!"

Spike sipped his coffee and lit another cigarette. His calm, "not-my-problem" demeanor unnerved Steve, who could no longer indulge like his friend. He despised bullying, mostly because he's been bullied so many times before. He could sympathize. And unlike Spike, he couldn't just sit here calm while someone was harassed and threatened. "Don't," Spike warned. His new friend hadn't moved, but he didn't have to. Steve tensed. "Wait. Not yet."

The bathroom door was still shut in Jeffrey's face, and that infuriated the heavyset bikerbig time. Worse than that,there was thepetulant, cry-baby voice behindthe door, which smoked his veins with a searing steam. Jeffrey wanted to wring the crybaby's neck. "Open up pansy."

"No!" said Play-doh Man.

"Just wait until I get my hands on you," Jeffrey threatened. "Just wait."

"Use the ladies' room idiot!" Jeffrey paused in mid-kick. Wait a second. The retort hadn't come from the crybaby occupant, but from the boothright next to his buddies. Now who'd ever thought...He entered the eating area. Marched right over to Spike and Steve's booth; he had enough voltage running through him to jumpstart Frankenstein and a few of his closest relatives. "Who said it?" he asked. "Who?" Marly pointed a finger at Steve. "Him. That's your bigmouth right there." Greg said, "Man sure has a gusher on him." Spike and Steve knew they were way over their heads; they could feel the pressure in their ears. Other patrons weren't exactly life preservers either. Some of them were rooting for the bikers.

"Plughis mouth,mister!"

"Hit that sissy!"

"Couple of faggots, that's all."

"Uh-huh,"Macklin agreed enthusiastically. "Homos."

Just because we're two guys sitting together doesn't make us faggots," Steve said.

"It does in my book,"Jeffrey countered, but quickly changed gears; he wasn't interested in discussing the technicalities of any book.He leaned in closer."You the one who called me an idiot?"

"Look," Spike started. "We don't want"

Jeffrey cut him off. "I ain't talkin' to you. You'd shut your stupid piehole if you knew what was good for it."

"Haven't heard that one before," Steve quipped."Huh?" Jeffrey was flabbergasted. "I said I haven't heard that one before."

Jeffrey nodded. "You haven't, have you? Interesting." His rightfist shot out and socked Steve squarely in the face. The nose ruptured, popping and squirting red like a flattened ketchup packet. Steve grabbed for his bleeding nose. White pain blanched there. Eyes watered. Onlookers cheered."That'll teach 'em!""Hit him again!" Jeffreywas readying himself to land another blow when suddenly a fist crushed his windpipe. Suddenly,Jeffrey was finding it impossible to breathe. World grayed and closed in. He choked, fell to his knees, pissed his pants. Ooh-mee-guy,he thought. Ooh-mee-guy. A minute later, he was dead. Men and women alike gasped. Steve dabbed his nose, which had all his concern. Amaya had both hands over her mouth. The waitress was terrified, same as her sister. Finally, a woman asked, "Is heis he dead?" Her tone was somber."Yes he is, in fact," Spike replied coolly. Mortified, the remaining bikers exchanged glances. Dead? How is that possible?

Marly locked eyes with Spike. "You killed him." It wasn't a question.

"I did."

That was it. The lit spark had reached the powder keg. The bikers exploded from their seats. Their best friend was just murdered, and so they had a score to settle. Retribution for these types of men was the only solution. Spike was fast, roadrunner fast. "Beep, beep." In one gulp, his coffee was finished. Then he was up, hopping over the partition between the booths and the kitchen area. He drew his Jericho 941, aimedBikers went for their side arms; meaty hands discovered grips, held, withdrew. The men weren't stone-cold killers or professional hitmen, but they never left home without packing on the iron. Marly brandished a silver Colt .45. Macklin duel-wielded a pair of black 1911s, his most favorite handguns in the whole wide world. He'd been looking for a chance to use them on someone special, and now that chance was at hand. Like his friends, Greg had a sidearm, a Glock 22,and would've fired had the proper signal from his brain reached his left trigger finger. But no, he had a bullet breaching his brain, scrambling the circuitry, and he went down hard. Macklin opened up on both 1911s; halved each clip. Marly managed to squeeze off a round or two. This was panic fire. Steve crawled under the booth. Sitting duck in a shooting gallery just wasn't his idea of fun. Spike wasalso out of sight. He was down, on his hands and knees. Rounds whizzed overhead. Ceramic tiles in the kitchen wall disintegrated. Glass exploded. Amaya and Hisako dropped the dirty dishes they were carrying and began screaming their heads off. Spike paused, waited. Then he was up, firing, dealing death. Marly's right arm, the one he fired with, was nicked. Macklin wasn't as lucky. A round perforated his chest, fragmented,and then tore his heart into pieces. He was killed instantly. Three down, one to go. Spike was ready. "Aww shit." Marly's 1911s were spent, as was his courage. His dead buddies had helped with the latter. If he stuck around much longer, he'd surely join them. Marly didn't want that. So what could he do? Tuck tail and run, that's what. Marly scampered right out the front door as if he'd just rear-ended a truck-load of birdshot. He didn't stop for his hog either; just kept going. Up the parking lot's drive, onto the main access roada moment later, he was gone.

Spike watched Marly disappear. He could've blown the biker clean through, but the bounty hunter wasn't partial to shooting a man in the back. "Coward," Steve said, peering through one of the windows. Spike lowered his Jericho 941 and said, "Yeah." Fanning off her sister with a menu, Amaya said, "You're bad Spike Hunter," she said. "Bad." "I can call the paramedics again," Hisako suggested. "Sure," Spike said. "Do that." Hisako started for the office. "Hang on." Hisako stopped. "Huh?" Spike gestured his head to the parking lot. "Look." It was a police cruiser, a Crown Victoria the color of horseradish swerving precariously into the lot. Roof-lights weren't flashing, but its speed said the driver wasn't dropping by just for bacon and eggs. Theofficer behind the wheel braked and clambered out. He was a heavyset man. Shirtw as doused with sweat, despite the cold weather. "Sure are quick in this town," Spike observed.

"Police run like cheetahs," Amaya said, "but are bothersome like flies. Maybe he write you a ticket Spike Hunter."

"For what?" "For stealing all my tips, that's what."

Reaching thedoor, the cop entered the shop."Hi folks," he said with ac ornbread country accent. "How are we this afternoon?" "Fantastic," Steve said. The officer didn't pick up on Steve's sarcastic tone, among other things. "That's good. Listen.I don't mean to alarm anyone, I don't, but I did come over here lookin' for anyone suspicious. Reason being is because our town's fire department believes we have some kind of slap-happy fruitcake starting fires. An arsonist is the name we give them. Ya'll seen anyonewhowho" The officer finally spotted the carnage, and it had his smile disappearing quicker than amail order bride after her wedding day."Holy mother of God!" Backpedaling, he early lost his footing. Bodies on the floor, pools of blood, empty shell casingsthe officer was taking in a small warzone. He drew his Magnum revolver and showed everyone its dime-sized bore. "Hold it right there! Don't move, not a one of you!" Just about everyone threw their hands up. "Don't worry," Spike assured the officer. "It's just a pile of bad guys." "Shut up!" In the men's bathroom, a toilet flushed. The officer jerked his gun-arm towards the bathroom area. "Who's in there?"

"The Play-doh Man," Spike answered. "At least that's what the girls call him."

"Who?" A bolt-locksnicked back. The officers linked towards the bathroom. Halfway there, heuttered the last order he'd ever give."Whoever you are, comeoutwith your hands up."

The bathroom door opened, Play-doh Man stepped out.

"Hey! Hey" the officer started.

Immediately, Spike saw what was wrong. It was Play-doh Man's hands, which weren't up as the officer had requested, but wrapped around the firing trigger ofa flamethrower. Spike had first surmised that was the mechanism Play-doh Man had carried into the coffee shop, and he was right. Play-doh Man looked angry, demonic almost, as if he'd reached the end of histether halfway out ofhell. When Play-doh Man spoke, his voice was haughty and high-pitched. "You smell the roses in there?" he asked. "I always bring roses to a funeral pyre." He then aimed the igniter at the cop and pressed the trigger. What happened at Tiptop Coffee Shop that day landed on the cover of every major newspaper in the nation. It was a grade A massacre, plain and simple. Play-doh should've stopped after incinerating the cop, but he was too far-gone for that. The world had lit his burner to the boiling point and he'd decided to give it back some heat. His job at the local pickle factory had been terminated a week before. The patent request for the raygun model he'd crafted together in his basement had been denied. He had a girlfriend who claimed love and support, but she was a liar and a cheater and she never cleaned house. Life was out to get Play-doh Man. There was a conspiracy, and it was bigger than any shape-shifting reptile. They should've given him the patent for his raygun. They should've allowed him to release his bowels in peace. They should've run quicker. Play-doh Man was an inverse firefighter, he had a hose, and he handled it well. He used it to soak his target thoroughly.The fire spread quickly. It clawed and screamed and ate hungrily like a voracious beast. Tiptop Coffee Shop became a deathtrap matinee, and then was razed completely. Billowing black smoke was visible for miles. Thirteen bodies were recovered from the charred ruin, three bikers included. A few survivors were treated for second degree burns and smoke inhalation. Play-doh Man was not among the bodies. He was taken down elsewhere, but it wasn't easy. As for Amaya and Hisako, they blamed all their troubles on a certain bounty hunter. The End

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