By Mickey Dubrow
Nell cradled the semi-automatic assault rifle in her arms like a baby, keeping it close to her body and giving it plenty of support with both arms. The rifle was fresh from the arms-factory that birthed it. Dozens of the rifle’s siblings hung on racks behind Nell at the Bullard Arms booth, one of the largest displays at the WAR (Weapons, Ammo, and Recreation) Industry Show.
“Harry,” Nell said. “Where can I get some ammo for this baby?”
Harry Pigott, the Bullard representative, scowled, causing his bushy mustache to puff out. His bald head was almost as shiny as Nell’s rifle.
“Live rounds aren’t allowed on the convention floor,” he said.
Nell pouted. The rifle was a Bullard Model 601, the company’s version of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and their most popular product. Its unofficial nickname was the Beastmaster.
“But my baby is so hungry. She’s starving for bullets.”
“Explain to me again why you’re here instead of Jolene?”
Nell nodded at the name tag attached to the lanyard hanging around her neck.
“I am Jolene. See? It says so right here.”
“That reminds me,” Harry said. “When I get a minute, we’ll get your own name tag. I could get into all kinds of trouble for letting you wear Jolene’s.”
“Do I have to get a new one? I like being Jolene.” Nell sang the first line of Dolly Parton’s iconic song.
“Don’t argue with me. I’m in no mood for this shit today.”
Kassie put herself between Nell and Harry. She was Nell’s fellow booth babe. They wore matching skintight camo T-shirts, camo booty shorts, ball caps with the Bullard logo, and combat boots.
“Leave her alone,” Kassie said. “I know you miss Jolene, but that’s no reason to take it out on Nell. You should be nice to her. The agency was lucky to find a last-minute replacement.”
“Did the agency say what was wrong with Jolene?” Harry said.
“That sucks. Maybe I should call her and see how she’s feeling. You got her number?”
Kassie put her hands on her hips.
“Darn it, Harry. How many times do I have to tell you? Jolene has a boyfriend.”
“Is it serious?”
“Extremely serious. Bordering on marriage.”
Harry’s mustache puffed out again. He stood behind the information desk and put on his best I’m-the-expert expression. Nell followed Kassie to the other end of the island display and watched the crowd flow by. The Bullard Arms booth was in Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. It was like an indoor city with long rows of booths and hundreds of people checking out thousands of weapons and weapon related products. This was only the main hall. The North and South Hall were also filled with displays.
The booths featured so many images of soldiers rushing into action, combat sounds, and patriotic music that Nell felt like she was in the middle of a war movie. The American flags and NRA logos were so endless that they blended into the background.
The convention hall was crammed with people. But it wasn’t just the convention hall. All of Las Vegas seemed to be overflowing with humanity. Nell hadn’t been surrounded by this many bodies since she went to the Riverbend music festival in Chattanooga during her UTC days.
Kassie looked over her shoulder at Harry before leaning her assault rifle against a display case. She nodded at Nell’s rifle still nestled in her arms.
“Aren’t your arms tired?” Kassie asked.
“Not at all. I could carry it all day.”
“You got kids?”
“What’s his name?”
“Why doesn’t Harry like me?”
Kassie rolled her eyes.
“It’s not you. He’s hot for Jolene. You know how it is on these jobs. The company guys spend the day working with beautiful females like us and they get silly ideas in their head.”
Nell blushed. Her mother, Peggy, used to say she was cute, but never said she was beautiful. Then again, by the time Nell was old enough to be beautiful, Peggy was too busy to notice.
“How does Jolene feel about Harry?” Nell asked.
Kassie glanced back at Harry. He was talking to a potential customer.
“She can’t stand him,” Kassie said. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s not really sick. Jolene didn’t want to do this show to begin with. She has no problem with shows for cars, golf, or video games. But when it comes to gun shows, she can’t embrace the brand.”
“Embrace the brand?” Nell said.
Kassie glared at Nell.
“Duh. Embrace the brand. Our main objective as booth models. But Jolene hates guns. She said that those who live by the sword should die by the sword.”
Nell scanned the crowd as they gawked at scopes, targets, pistols, revolvers, machine guns, shotguns, semi-assault rifles, gun oil, earmuffs, range glasses, sniper rifles, air guns, and more and more and more weapons and weapon accessories. Her parents would have loved this convention, especially Peggy. Carson would have loved it too, but for all the wrong reasons. Then again, Nell wasn’t sure there was a right reason to love the WAR Show.
“There’s a difference between living by the sword and making a living by the sword,” Nell said. “Everyone attending this convention makes their living by the sword. And a damn good living at that.”
Kassie pulled a face at Nell.
“They’re vendors selling a product that just happens to be guns. This is no different from cars, golf equipment, or video games.”
“Guns are more like cigarettes and opioids,” Nell said. “Except gun makers aren’t held responsible for the deaths their products cause. Jolene should have said that those who profit from the sword should die by the sword.”
“You’re as bad as Jolene. You refuse to embrace the brand.”
Nell pretended to look hurt as she hugged her rifle.
“How can you say that when I’m clearly embracing the brand.”
For the next two hours, Nell and Kassie marched the perimeter of the booth. Kassie had warned Nell that some of the conventioneers might try to quiz her about her knowledge of Bullard’s latest offerings, and if they did to refer any such questions to Harry. But it never happened. Mostly, the men wanted selfies with the girls posing on either side of him. They all commented on how much they admired the combination of Nell’s blonde hair and Kassie’s brunette mane.
“Has anybody tried to cop a feel during the selfies?” Kassie said.
“No,” Nell said. “Should I feel relieved or insulted?”
Nell felt someone staring at her. She turned and caught Harry watching her while talking on the phone. Their eyes met for a moment before he looked away.
The police arrived right before lunch. Nell ignored her aching feet and growling stomach and focused her full attention to the two men in tan uniforms and overloaded duty belts. They were accompanied by a broad-shouldered man in a shiny blue sport coat. She made sure not to look too closely at their faces. If she thought too much about these men as people, she might lose her nerve. The three men spoke briefly to Harry before he led them to Nell.
“Ma’am,” said the man in the blue sport coat. “My name is Keith Anderson. I’m head of security here.”
“Pleased to meet you, Keith,” Nell said.
“These two officers would like to have a word with you.”
Keith stepped aside and the two policemen came forward. Nell read their nameplates: D. Palmer and M. Davis.
“Ma’am,” Officer Palmer said. “Would you please come with us so we can talk in private.”
“Sure,” Nell said.
“Leave the weapon here.”
“More than happy to. It was getting heavy.”
Nell placed the Beastmaster on top of a display case. Kassie had been watching wide-eyed and slack mouthed. She placed herself in front of the officers.
“What the heck is going on here?” Kassie asked.
“Please stand aside, ma’am,” Officer Davis said.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out. Please stand aside and allow us to do our job.”
Kassie turned to Harry.
“You can’t have her arrested for no reason,” she said. “I’m calling the modeling agency.”
“Knock yourself out,” Harry said.
Officer Palmer turned to Keith.
“Is there someplace quiet we can go?” Officer Palmer said.
“Yeah,” Keith said. “There’s an employee meeting room backstage. You can use that.”
Officer Davis turned to Harry.
“You need to come with us.”
Harry’s mustache huffed and puffed.
“I can’t leave the booth unattended.”
“We’ll try to be as brief as possible,” Officer Palmer said.
People were staring at them.
“I’ll keep an eye on things,” Kassie said.
Harry’s shoulders slumped.
“I suppose I could step away for a few minutes.”
Keith led the group out of the convention hall. As they moved through the crowd, Officer Palmer kept a tight grip on Nell’s arm. They entered the backstage world that surrounded the hall. Workers hurried down corridors of concrete walls, exposed overhead pipes, and harsh lighting. A few worker bees seemed surprised by the presence of policemen, but most hurried by with hardly a glance.
The employee meeting room was located along the backstage hallway that connected Central Hall and South Hall. Keith selected a key from his key ring and let them inside. The room had no windows. There were rows of chairs facing a table. The officers had Nell and Harry sit on the front row while they stood in front of the table.
Keith took the radio clipped to his belt and pressed the button as he spoke into the speaker.
“I’ll be offline for a few,” Keith said. “Sanders is in charge until I return.”
“Sanders, here,” said a crackling voice on the radio. “What’s going on?”
“Potential security breach. I’ll fill you in later.”
“Roger that.”Keith put his radio back on his belt. Officer Palmer looked down at Nell.
“Can you provide us with some kind of I.D.?” he said.
“No, sir,” Nell said.
“Can you call someone to come down here and vouch for you?” Davis asked.
“No, sir, I cannot.”
“No driver’s license? No passport? Not even a utility bill with your name and address on it?”
“I don’t have anything,” Nell said. “Even the clothes I’m wearing aren’t mine.”
The policemen looked at each other.
“How the hell did you get past security?” Palmer asked.
Harry raised his hand.
“It’s my fault,” he said. “I was on my way to the convention center this morning when I got a call from the modeling agency that provides our booth babes. They said one of the two girls we hired called in sick. They promised to send a replacement girl as soon as possible.”
“But then you found out that this young lady doesn’t work for the modeling agency, is that right?”
“That’s right. I called the modeling agency to check up on Jolene, that’s the girl who called in sick, and the agency apologized for not sending another girl. They said that all of their models were booked today, and they couldn’t get me a replacement until tomorrow.”
The men looked at Nell. She winked at them.
“How did this young lady fool you into believing she worked for the modeling agency?” Davis asked.
“I fooled myself,” Harry said. “I saw this hot babe standing at the front entrance looking lost. I asked her if she was the replacement. She stared at me with a blank look for a minute and then said she was the replacement. Models aren’t known for their brains, so her confusion made sense.”
“You think I’m hot?” Nell asked.
Officer Davis faced Nell.
“Please, ma’am. I’ll get to you in a minute.” He turned back to Harry. “You didn’t ask her for some kind of identification?”
“I’d overslept and was running late,” Harry said. “I was relieved that the agency had found a new girl so fast. I figured she could wear Jolene’s badge until there was time to take her down to security for her own badge.”
“You should have taken her to security right away,” Keith said.
“I see now that I made a terrible mistake. It will probably cost me my job, but at least this lunatic won’t be wondering around the convention floor any longer.”
“I’m not a lunatic” Nell said. “You’re a lunatic.”
“Let’s not call each other names,” Officer Palmer said.
Nell pointed at Harry.
“He started it.”
“Ma’am. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Nell crossed her legs.
“I would have found a way inside the convention eventually. But then Harry showed up. Next thing I knew, I was backstage with him and Kassie. They’re telling me to put on this girl’s costume and badge. Kassie was so sweet. She let me wear some of her make-up. Been so long since I wore make-up, it took me a moment to remember how.”
“Why did you want into the convention?” Officer Davis asked.
“The way I see it, it was more than luck, more than a series of coincidences. It was meant to be. Harry was supposed to let me in, he was supposed to call Keith, and Keith was supposed to call the police so that I would be brought here to this room.”
“She’s either dumb as a rock or high as a kite.”
“Why did you want inside the convention?” Davis asked again.
Nell looked at her nails.
“For the guns and ammo.”
Officer Palmer stood and exchanged glances with Officer Davis.
“Guns and ammo?” Palmer asked.
“What an idiot,” Keith said. “Live ammo isn’t allowed at the convention and even if she did get access to ammo, the firing pins have been removed from every weapon on the convention floor.”
Officer Davis peered at Nell.
“What did you want guns and ammo for?” he asked.
“There are fully operational guns in this building with their firing pins intact,” she said. “And plenty of ammo.”
“Why did you want guns and ammo?”
“I checked the schedule. Tomorrow, the gun makers are going to give a demonstration of their latest products at a shooting range about ten miles from here. They also let potential buyers try out the weapons themselves. That means a lot of guns and a lot of bullets. Now, my guess is that they won’t haul all that gear out to range until tomorrow morning which means it has to be stored somewhere nearby. They won’t keep it in trucks. Too risky. They won’t keep it in their hotel rooms. Also, too risky.”
Nell could feel the tension rising. It wouldn’t be long now.
“Where do you think they’re keeping the weapons?” Palmer asked.
Nell wiggled her fingers at the door.
“Somewhere backstage. Near the loading docks. Locked up in a secure area. I thought Harry could show me, but I’m beginning to think he doesn’t know. I could walk around until I found armed security guards in front of a locked room. Or I could ask Keith. As head of security, he would know exactly where they are.”
She stared at Keith.
“What do you want the guns and ammo for?” shouted Officer Davis.
Nell faced him. She noticed his blue eyes and wished she hadn’t.
“What do you think I want them for?”Davis’ cheeks flushed.
He put his hand on this holster.
“Ma’am. Stand and face the wall with your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest for making terroristic threats.”
Officer Palmer also put his hand on his holster.
“You have the right to remain silent,” he said. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”
Nell uncrossed her legs and gripped the edge of the chair.
“I just want to say one thing before we go any further. I respect the service and sacrifice of police officers. I admire how you risk your lives to protect society.”
“Okay,” Palmer said. “That does it. On the ground. Now!”
The policeman reached for his gun. Nell sprang out of the chair and was on him before he could get it out of his holster. She grabbed his wrist and wrenched his arm behind his back. A sickening snap announced that she had broken his arm. Palmer screamed in pain. Davis took out his gun, but she held Palmer in front of her. He couldn’t shoot her without shooting his partner.
Nell steered Palmer about by holding onto his broken arm with one hand and gripping his belt with her other hand. Palmer tried to grab Nell with his free hand, but she managed to stay out of reach. Nell felt like she was dancing with a boy desperate to cop a feel.
Keith pulled open his coat and took a gun from a shoulder holster. He tried to aim his weapon at Nell, but she dragged the policeman across the room so that her back was against the wall and he continued to be her human shield. Harry followed behind Keith.
“Shoot her!” Harry yelled. “Kill the bitch!”
“I’m trying,” Keith said. “But I don’t want to shoot the cop.”
Still holding onto Palmer’s broken arm, Nell let go of his belt and yanked his gun out of the holster. She fired three times into Davis’s chest. His blood sprayed into Palmer’s face. The sound boomed inside the limited space as Davis fell to the floor.
“Back up,” Palmer said. “Need back up.”
He fumbled for his radio with his free hand, but Nell snatched it away from him, dropped the radio on the ground, and stomped on it with her combat boot, smashing it into pieces. Out of the corner of her eye, Nell saw that Keith was still trying to get a clean shot at her. She pressed the barrel of Palmer’s gun to the back of his head.
“I sincerely apologize to your loved ones for the pain and suffering I’m about to cause them,” she said.
“You don’t have to do this,” Palmer said.
“I’m afraid I do.”
She blew his brains out, and his body toppled to the floor.
The gunshot that killed Palmer was still echoing when four more gunshots slammed into Nell’s chest and she fell to the floor. Keith stood over her with his gun trained on her.
“I can’t believe I just killed somebody,” Keith said.
“You had no choice,” Harry said. “She killed two cops. She was going to kill us next.”
Keith gasped as he took a step back and bumped into Harry.“This can’t be real!” Keith said. “She’s not dead.”
Keith and Harry watched wide-eyed as Nell climbed back to her feet. She wrinkled her nose as she inspected her hands.
“Damn it, Keith,” Nell said. “You made me slip on Officer Davis’s blood. Now I have it all over me.”
“I shot you at point blank range,” he said. “Why aren’t you dead?”
“Look at her shirt,” Harry said, pointing at Nell.
There were four bullet holes in her camo t-shirt. While Keith and Harry were staring at her chest, Nell walked over to Keith and snatched the gun out of his hand.
“What does it look like?” Nell said as she took Keith’s radio off his belt. “I’m bulletproof, you stupid jerks. Sit down and don’t move until I tell you to move.”
She put Keith’s gun and radio on the table. Harry sat down. Keith hesitated before joining him. They stared at the bodies on the floor. The sharp tang of blood hung in the air. Nell added the dead officers’ guns to the growing pile on the table before removing their duty belts.
“Those gunshots were loud as hell,” Keith said. “Someone’s going to come busting in here any moment. There’s still time to surrender before anybody else gets hurt.”
“Nobody’s coming,” Nell said. “There are gunshot sounds all around us. It’s the WAR Show, remember?” She looked around the room for something to wipe the blood off of her. “Harry. Give me your shirt.”
Harry frowned but he took off his shirt. Like many bald men, his hair had migrated south so that he had a very hairy chest. Nell used Harry’s shirt to wipe the blood off her face, hands, and legs. Her chest itched from the bullets bouncing off, but she didn’t want to scratch her tits in front of these guys. She had to pull Officer Davis’s duty belt all the way on the last punch hole before she could buckle it around her waist. She stuck Keith’s gun in the waistband of her camo shorts, and draped Officer Palmer’s belt over her shoulder. She left Keith’s radio on the table.
“Come here, Harry,” Nell said, motioning with her fingers. “Don’t be shy.”
Sweat beaded on Harry’s bald head.
“What are you going to do to me?” he said.
“Is Jolene prettier than me?”
“I want to know.”
“No. But she’s got big tits. You have decent medium size tits, but I prefer a woman with more than a handful.”
Nell glanced at her chest and nodded.
She had Harry lie face down on the floor away from the dead policemen. Taking two pairs of handcuffs from Officer Palmer’s duty belt, she cuffed his wrists behind his back and then cuffed his ankles. Just as she finished with Harry, Keith bolted for the door. Nell tackled him before he could get his hand on the doorknob. They wrestled on the floor. Keith punched her in the face, but she didn’t flinch. She got him on his back and straddled his chest so that her knees pinned his arms down.
“When I hit you, it was like hitting cement,” Keith said.
“You sure know how to sweet talk a girl,” Nell said.
“You’re not human. What the hell are you?”
“I’m the latest development in advanced weaponry. Order now for a special discount. Come on, Keith. Show me where they keep the good stuff.”
“I’ll die first.”
Nell put her hands around his neck and squeezed. Keith’s eyes bugged out. He kicked his legs and tried to buck her off, but she didn’t budge. With her palm pressed against his carotid artery, she could feel his rapid heartbeat. Apparently, the two dead policemen weren’t proof enough for Keith that Nell’s cute girl act was just that, an act. But she could see he was beginning to get it from the fear in his eyes as his face turned red.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to kill you,” Nell said. “Keep in mind. I’ll still get the weapons. Nobody can stop me. It’ll just take me a little longer without you.”
“Wait,” Keith said, barely getting the word out.
Nell eased her grip.
“I’ll do it,” he said.
“Don’t do it,” Harry shouted.
“Shut up, Harry,” Nell said. “Nobody asked for your opinion.”
She pulled her hands away. Keith wheezed as he drew air into his lungs.
Before they left the meeting room, Nell put a gag in Harry’s mouth and took a last look at the two dead policemen. She thought she would be used to seeing dead bodies by now, but she supposed it was a good thing that she wasn’t completely immune to the sadness of death.
They walked side by side with Nell’s arm around Keith’s waist. From a distance, they looked like they were a couple. The hallways were almost completely deserted. Either they were lucky, or everyone was on their lunch break.
“Why didn’t you kill Harry?” Keith said.
“Did you want me to kill him?” Nell said.
“You had no problem killing those cops. Why did you spare Harry?”
“He certainly fits the category of people I want to kill, but I feel like I owe him for getting me into the convention.”
Nell had guessed correctly. The secure area was near the loading docks. Two beefy men with large guns in their belt holsters stood in front of a sliding metal door. Nell pulled Keith closer to her.
“Don’t try running off while I’m killing the guards,” she said.
“Wait,” Keith said. “I can get us in without you killing them.”
“Okay. But don’t do get cute. That’s my job.”
The guards squinted at Keith and Nell. Keith squinted back as he held up his security badge.
“Security inspection,” Keith said.
“Who is she?” one of the guards said.
“Why is she carrying all those guns?” said the other guard.
“It turns her on,” Keith said.
The guards grinned.
“Can’t you find a better place to get a blowjob?” the first guard said.
“Yeah,” Keith said. “But none of them would be this much fun.”
The guards stepped aside. Keith used his master key to unlock the door. The wheels on the door squeaked as he slid it open. The storage room was filled with rows of bulky gun cases.
The thick smell of gun oil hung in the air. Nell felt a flutter in her stomach as she searched the cases until she found ones with a Bullard Arms logo.
“They’re all locked up tight,” Keith said. “I don’t have the key to any of them.”
Nell forced the clamps open with her fingers.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “What were you saying about locks and keys?”
The case was filled with handguns. Disappointed, she tossed it aside and opened the next case. It contained pump action shotguns which Nell tossed aside as well. While she searched, Nell kept one eye on Keith as he inched toward the door.
“If you run, I’ll have to kill those two guys who think I’m blowing you right now,” Nell said. “Do you really want their deaths on your conscience?”
Keith moved away from the door.
Nell opened the next case. Her eyes lit up at the sight of four Bullard Model 601 semi-assault rifles, aka Beastmasters, nestled in foam padding. She ran her fingers over the cold metal before taking two rifles out of the case and putting them aside. She forced open four more cases before finding thirty round loaded magazines for the semi-automatic rifles. With two Beastmasters, two standard issue police pistols, and Keith’s big ass handgun, Nell had enough firepower to make her point today.
“I need something to carry the extra ammo in,” Nell said as she inserted a magazine into each Beastmaster. “Do you see any magazine pouches?”
“I don’t see shit,” Keith said.
Nell glared at Keith. He leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. His sport coat had gotten scuffed up when they were wrestling on the meeting room floor. She’d almost been distracted by how good he smelled and his muscular arms, evidence that too much time had passed since she’d last gotten laid.
“Give me your coat,” Nell said. “And your shoulder holster.
By now he must have understood that he didn’t have a choice, because he took them off without an argument. The hem of his coat came down to Nell’s knees and she had to roll up the sleeves. She took a moment to savor his scent before stuffing magazines into the pockets. She managed to fit three magazines into each pocket. Keith’s gun ended back in his shoulder holster. Slinging a rifle over her shoulder and cradling another in her arms, she put the other duty belt on above the one she was already wearing.
“How do I look?” Nell said.
“Like you’re batshit crazy,” Keith said.
Nell rolled her eyes.
“Why did I even bother asking you?”
“Now that you have what you want, what do you plan to do?”
“Those who profit from the sword should die by the sword.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
Nell didn’t respond. Keith would get the answer soon enough. She rushed out of the storage room and past the two beefy guards. Keith shouted at them to stop her, but even weighed down with her arsenal, Nell quickly outran them. Turning a corner, she slammed into a janitor. She got a quick glimpse of his surprised face before he tumbled to the ground. She didn’t stop to help him up.
“Sorry, but I’m in a hurry,” Nell shouted over her shoulder.
As she ran through the maze that was the backstage hallways, the equipment in the duty belts jostled and rattled. Her footsteps echoed off the concrete walls and sweat poured down her face, causing her make-up to streak. She wondered if the thousands of gun violence victims would understand why she was doing this. Would anybody understand? Or would everyone just assume that mental illness ran in her family?
Nell slowed to a stop because she had gotten lost and couldn’t find her way back to Central Hall. But then, she heard the combat sound effects and patriotic music. She burst through a double door and found herself in the middle of the convention floor. A few men stopped to admire the cute girl holding big guns, but mostly the endless river of humanity kept flowing because a girl loaded with weapons didn’t look out of place.
“You can’t be the Beastmaster forever!” Nell shouted. “But I’m the Beastmaster today!”
Nell switched from Safe to Fire on the Beastmaster. She picked a man at random and pulled the trigger three times, shooting him in the chest. He died with a look of surprise on his face.
A security guard saw her kill the man. He barked into his radio for assistance as he ran toward her. Nell swung the rifle around and squeezed the trigger four times. Bullets tore into him and he immediately fell to the ground.
Panic spread faster than gossip at a slumber party. People screamed and ran in all directions. They created log jams at the exits. “Fish in a barrel,” Nell said as she opened fire on them. The thirty round magazine was empty in less than a minute, leaving many dead or dying. She pulled the magazine out and replaced it with a fresh round of ammo.
Walking briskly, Nell swung the rifle back and forth, shooting into the crowd. Many people cringed as if she were tossing water on them and could somehow sidestep the death that was about to spill on them. A few heroic souls rushed toward her, hoping to tackle her to the ground, but she shot them before they could touch her. Blood soaked the carpet and squished under Nell’s combat boots. Leaving a trail of spent cartridges, she pulled the trigger so rapidly that the rifle’s barrel overheated. She dropped the rifle before switching to the second Beastmaster.
Security guards took position behind booths and fired at her. Nell braced her legs so that the force of the bullets wouldn’t knock her over. She ran to the booths and mowed down the guards shooting her. Pausing for a moment, she heard sirens. The police would be here soon. That didn’t leave her much time. Nell checked her pockets. She still had two magazines left plus however many bullets were still in the magazine presently in the rifle. More than sixty bullets. At least sixty more weapon lovers to kill if she hurried. She hadn’t touched the handguns, hoping to save them for when she had to escape.
Working her way through the center of the convention hall, Nell continued her killing spree. Inserting the next to last magazine, Nell scanned the area for more targets. She pointed the rifle directly at a woman with long brunette hair wearing a camo T-shirt and camo booty shorts.
“Please don’t shoot me!” Kassie yelled as she held hands over her head.
Nell pointed the rifle away from her. She realized that she was standing next to the Bullard booth.
“Damn it, Kassie,” she said. “I almost shot you.”
“What the hell are you doing?” Kassie shouted.
“I’m making sure people who profit from the sword die by the sword.”
“You’re using a gun to kill people who love guns. Isn’t that hypocritical?”
“No. It’s ironic. There’s a difference.”
“Tell that to the dead people.”
“Just get the hell out of here. I don’t want Logan to grow up without his mommy.”
Nell watched Kassie run for the exit. The dead and wounded were strewn about the convention floor. Combat sound effects and patriotic music still played on the loudspeakers. The WAR Show really did look like a war movie.
Gunfire echoed off the walls as multiple bullets tore up the carpet and ripped into the booths around Nell. The police had arrived sooner than she expected. SWAT teams in heavy armor and artillery advanced towards her. Following behind them were emergency medical teams, ducking low as they scurried toward her victims. Nell didn’t have time to kill any more people.
Along with guns, rifles, bows and arrows, tactical gear, camouflage lingerie, and hundreds of other weapon-related items, the WAR Show had large armored vehicles for everyone to gawk at. Nell dashed to them.
She considered the bulky SWAT truck just to stick it to the guys shooting at her but decided on the tank parked next to it. She climbed inside and locked the hatch. She’d only been in a tank once before and it was a different model than this one, but she just had to touch the controls to know everything about the machine. It was like learning all of a lover’s secrets just by laying her hand on his chest. The machine gun was neutered, the ammunition rack was empty, but it had gas and that meant the tank could move.
Nell turned the ignition and the motor woke with a grumpy roar. Checking the periscope, she saw that the officers were ten yards away. She assumed they wouldn’t waste ammunition shooting at a tank, but she assumed incorrectly. Bullets pinged off the metal hull. Nell drove away from the bullet litterbugs, turned left, and headed towards Central Hall’s front entrance.
“Stop the tank now and surrender.”
A chill ran through Nell. The tank had a ghost. But then it dawned on her that the police had managed to tune into the tank’s radio communications. She flipped on the transmitter.
“Sorry,” Nell said. “Can’t stop now. I’m late for a very important date.”
“Give yourself up now. Don’t make this any worse than it already is.”
“But making things worse is my jam.”
Nell drove over booths, snapping wood and metal tables, scattering brochures, pulling down drapes, knocking over loudspeakers, and crushing weapons under the tank’s caterpillar tracks. She also drove over the bodies of the people she’d killed, crushing skulls, ribs, spines, arms, and legs. The tank busted through a double door, rumbled across the lobby, and shattered a glass wall on its way out of the convention center.
Outside, SWAT trucks and ambulances were parked on the front curb. The area was cordoned off with patrol cars. News trucks with satellite dishes on the roof and bold logos on the side waited behind the police barrier for the latest developments. Helicopters hovered above like giant gnats. Avoiding only the ambulances, Nell drove the tank straight through the vehicles. There was a moment of hesitation in which everyone must have thought that surely she wouldn’t drive that tank over them, but then police and reporters bolted out of the way as the tank rolled over patrol cars and smashed news vans.
Tires screeched and squealed when drivers saw the tank coming their way. Nell did her best not to run any of them over, but she couldn’t avoid sideswiping a few vehicles that failed to get out of her way. Traffic got even worse when she turned left onto South Las Vegas Boulevard. She considered taking the sidewalk, but her goal was to kill those who profit from the sword, not those who gamble away their life’s savings.
Cars honked and swerved out of the way. Police sirens wailed. The voice on the tank’s radio demanded that she stop stop stop. Nell did stop. She braked in the middle of the intersection of South Las Vegas Boulevard and East Flamingo Road and swung the turret around three times to discourage anyone from climbing onto the tank. The tank was surrounded by the constant traffic on the Las Vegas Strip.
Nell opened the hatch and climbed out. Policemen and tourists alike shouted as everybody pointed at her. A policeman climbed onto the tank. Nell whacked him on the side of his head with the nightstick from Officer Palmer’s duty belt. The policeman tumbled to the street. She scrambled down the side of the tank and dashed into the crowd. A civic-minded tourist tripped Nell. Getting to her feet, she thought about shooting him, but there wasn’t time. His action encouraged more tourists to rush her. She squirted pepper spray into their faces and pushed them out of her way. Glancing over her shoulder, Nell saw policemen jogging after her.
Nell zigzagged through casinos and hotels, malls and fast food restaurants, parking lots and alleys. She gave no thought to where she was going, and after two hours of constant motion, she was drenched in sweat and her muscles ached. Her legs felt like lead, but she kept moving through the maze of Las Vegas like a starving rat.
When Nell finally slowed to a shuffle, she found herself in a dim basement hallway. Leaning against a wall of peeling paint, her lungs burned as she waited for her heart rate to return to normal. Her forefinger ached from pulling the trigger so many times. After five minutes, she decided that the police had lost her trail.
She was far from home free. There was still the matter of getting out of Las Vegas. Limping along the hallway, Nell found a room with stacks of linens and towels. Next to it was a room with lockers and benches. Dark gray maid uniforms of various sizes hung on a rack. This was the second time today that Nell felt that something more than luck was helping her.
She chose a uniform two sizes bigger than her. Before putting it on, she located the maids’ bathroom. First, she peed, something she had been needing to do for hours. There was no shower, but there was soap and towels by a row of sinks. She stripped off her bullet-ridden camo outfit and stuffed it into a trashcan. Her bra and panties were nasty sweaty, but she kept them on as she washed off blood and grime. She scrubbed her face and rinsed her hair. When she was done drying herself with a towel, she felt rejuvenated.
The maid’s uniform was pressed and clean. The elastic waistband hung loosely on her hips. She wore the duty belt over the pants to keep them from slipping down. The oversized tunic hid the belt and made her look heavier.
At some point, she’d lost the Bullard logo ball cap and Keith’s gun. She still had Officer Palmer and Officer Davis’s handguns, but felt she could get by with just one gun. She stuffed the extra gun in the trashcan with her ruined clothes, took the extra clips of ammo out of the second duty belt, and put them in the pockets of her maid’s uniform before throwing the belt away. Whoever emptied that trashcan was in for a big surprise.
Nell studied her reflection in a mirror mounted on the wall. She looked like a fresh-faced maid who was a little on the chunky side. Then she noticed her dirty combat boots. Taking another towel, she rubbed them until they shone.
A service elevator took her to the first floor. It wasn’t until she got out of the service area and into to the lobby that she realized she was in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. She wondered how much it cost to stay here, knowing all too well that it was too rich for her blood. Then again, any place was too expensive for her. Nell crossed the lobby and walked out of the hotel. The sun was going down. The glowing pinks and oranges in the sky competed with the strip’s bright lights.
As Nell sauntered among the crowd, she breathed in cooling desert air and almost relaxed, but then she saw two policemen standing at the intersection. Her heart raced as she approached them. They had to be looking for her. Hell, the whole world had to be looking for her. She could have turned around and walked in the opposite direction, but that might make them notice her. Instead, she stood next to them and waited for the light to change. They looked at her and then looked away. Nell glanced down at her uniform and grinned. Nobody paid attention to maids. They were practically invisible. When the walk sign came on, Nell crossed the street and walked toward the night.
(Bio: Mickey Dubrow is the author of American Judas, a Finalist for the 2020 Georgia Author of the Year Award in the category of First Novel, and will be a 2022 book selection for the International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Club. For more than thirty years, he wrote award winning television promos, marketing presentations, and scripts for various clients including Cartoon Network, TNT Latin America, HGTV, and CNN. He teaches classes on humor writing and often address book clubs. His personal essays and short stories have appeared in Prime Number Magazine, The Good Men Project, The Signal Mountain Review, Full Grown People, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.)
His Website can be found Here. His book American Judas can be purchased Here or in The Yard: Crime Blog’s Bookstore