Monday, April 2, 2001. 06:30 AM.
-Dad, dad! Can I come with you today?
Now, that was a first. Alex had woken up at six in the morning and had been patiently waiting for his father to awake since then. As soon as Dick roused himself, Alex jumped up and down shouting, demanding to be taken to work.
Dick was still trying to bring his brains to a halt. Planet Earth was spinning under his feet. “No more late night Russians” he thought to himself and waded to the bathroom, eyes half closed.
Alex insisted. So much in fact that he almost violated the sanctity of the toilet. The morning wake up was a ceremony; the toilet was sacred ground; no one had the right to trespass. Alex pouted but paused his screams and sat down in front of the closed toilet door. Fifteen long and boring minutes later, the door opened slowly.
Alex inquired, looking up in his father’s eyes.
-Good morning champ.
Dick walked past Alex and into his bedroom to put on his uniform; the Air force uniform. He joined the Air force when he was still a young boy. He was now well past his prime but still, this uniform made him feel better about himself. It well served as an unlimited ego boost.
Alex was now at his father’s bedroom door. He had grown up immensely during this last one year. Not that it made any sense the fact that Dick believed his son would stop growing up after his mother’s death; still, he was indeed growing up quickly.
-Why champ? What’s on today? School’s out?
Dick had still not noticed that Alex was already fully dressed when himself, he was still trying to decide on which pair of socks to wear, already fifteen full minutes late for work.
-I’m not going today. I’m going to be part of the introductory cut scene to the new Driver 5. Will you please, please, pleaaaaaaaaaaaase take me?
Alex’s voice was full of joy, anticipation, agony and desire, all at the same time. Dick had a thing about breaking Alex’s heart. After losing Meg, his wife and Alex’s mother, Dick always tried to keep a smile on his son’s lips. Still though, he understood nothing of what little Alex had just said.
-What cut scene are you talking about little devil? What about school? Am I supposed to go in your place?
The tone in Dick’s voice was not upsetting nor judging. It was friendly and perhaps even, conspiring.
-Come on dad! Driver’s my favourite game and they’re shooting the intro video here in our little town! They will graphically represent the entire city and then in the game you will be able to play in the real geographically correct city. In the previous version they did the full San Francisco, Miami, Versailles and Istanbul. Come on dad, come on, please? They will shoot a bank robbery here in our town and we can be in it as customers. It’s here in yesterday’s paper! Please dad, please? Will you take me? Please?
Dick dressed up while his son was mumbling about why he should skip classes once more. He was starting to think whether he was doing more bad than good by being lenient. He was not ready yet to let his kid down though.
-OK sports but promise me you’ll behave at the base and that you’ll do your best in the exams next week. Deal?
Fifty minutes later, they had reached the military gate after having driven through the morning packed city streets. It was one of those stupidly awful days when just one jerk of a man can turn a perfectly sunny day to a living nightmare. The officer on duty at the central airbase gate, “needed a boost to his sexual life”, or at least that’s what Dick thought of when he had to deal with his attitude.
The officer went on about the importance of being on time, giving the best example to the lower ranking officers and the soldiers as well and most importantly, about the strict rules that do not allow anyone non-militarian to enter the base. Namely, young boys who play psp games and who so happen to be sons of high ranking officers.
Dick knew the laws and the rules. He also knew there existed certain customary principles that men, militarians and civilians alike, follow to the letter. Namely, respect towards a higher ranking officer, leniency to minor derailing from the book and so on. However, this colonel felt it was appropriate to give a lieutenant general a hard time.
After a long ten-minute argument, Lieutenant General Dick Wide and his son, Alex Wide, were allowed in the airport. Dick was boiling inside, seething inside.
It was one of those days when, no matter how hard you try your best to face things positively, everything seems to conspire in order to push you to the outer rims of your limits. Starting with the heavy traffic Dick had to deal with when driving to work, then the colonel at the front gate and then, the amount of work a single day could unearth. It was once more a “vex” day, a “provoke” day.
In the east, the neighboring country’s forces felt like it was a nice day to push the threshold. Although there had been just a couple of hours since Dick entered his office, he had already been informed about six violations of national air space. Dick tried his best to keep up with everyday tasks, as well as with all new urgencies that arose.
Alex however, could neither understand why he had not been taken to the bank yet, where the game video would be shot, nor the importance of borders, the significance of their violation and where his father fitted in all of this. He had been playing Driver 4 on his portable psp but after two full hours, he was getting uneasy at the thought that he might finally miss the opportunity to be in his favourite game’s introductory video.
Alex asked shyly. He could see his father trying to keep his cool at boiling point so he didn’t overstatehis demand. He just let the “dad” word do the crying in his father’s ears. It most certainly always worked. Dick looked up at the clock over his office door. It read almost nine.
-Nine sharp we’ll be off. Is that good?
There was no color in Dick’s voice. That’s how Alex perceived his father’s tone. Colorless. Still though, he understood that at this point, it was probably the best answer he could pilfer from him. So he said no more. He just went back to his PSP so that his father could go on with all kinds of stupid, useless, unimportant stuff. That’s how kids see the importance of older people’s affairs; as stupid. Nothing can be important unless it’s fun. Driver was fun, so Driver was important. What’s more, the new introductory video would be great as always and Alex didn’t want to miss the opportunity of seeing his digitized avatar as part of it.
These last few minutes from almost nine to nine sharp were tumultuous. Dick had already regretted bringing Alex to work, more than a handful of times. However, he was never going to let his kid feel that his father was not overjoyed that they were together. After his wife’s death, Dick had decided he would raise his kid perfectly. Making Alex feel like a parasite or like extra baggage was something he would not allow himself do.
During these last few minutes, two more iconic dogfights took place over the country’s islands. An army truck carrying sixteen soldiers and two officers collided with a cargo train and a search and rescue helicopter that had been dispatched to locate a crash site, that one too had vanished off the radars. The crash site itself was a disaster as the plane which crashed was carrying the high priest of the Orthodox Church.
There had been days that Dick wished the country was not in a state of peace anymore. It seemed so much easier when the declared country state was “war”. At least during war everyone’s alert and people know what to expect and what will be required of them. A state of peace secretes so many dangers and threats.
It was already ten minutes past nine when Alex looked up to check on his father. Dick felt the gaze and before giving his son the chance to utter a word, he rushed:
Things were happening as if devised by a higher plan. Since the morning at the front gates, problems occurred as if to punish him for something (perhaps for the Russians he had been consuming every night after his wife’s death) or to prevent the flow of his plans; as if someone high up in the heavens did not want him to leave the office. Either so that he would let his kid down or so that if something important was to happen in the office, he would not miss it. However, he had a thing about stumbling obstacles; he would not ever let them alter his plans. In Dick’s own words, “anyone can follow a plan when the plan flows alone”. True mastery is proven when a plan is made happen even when the plan itself objects.
Ten minutes later, Dick and Alex were walking out of the base; complete opposition in the feelings that ruled their inner worlds. Alex was more than hyper; Dick was actively producing cancer cells. The first thing to declare a fresh, positive change in things was the absence of the colonel at the front gates. Dick didn’t need another argument and fortune provided him with none. The previous colonel had been replaced by a far friendlier officer after the night shift ended at eight sharp.
It was a short walk to the bank. Dick held his son’s hand firmly, as they crossed the wide avenue that separated the town in two. There had been times when Dick felt he was being over-protective of his only son. He had suffered much with the loss of his wife though and since then, Alex was his only possession. He had invested himself in his son.
They reached the bank’s entrance some minutes later. Everything was casually peaceful. There was an absence of cameras however, which didn’t quite fit with what he had imagined. Alex had made this seem like a big happening so Dick had thought there would be cameras, actors and commotion.
On the other hand, Dick knew better than Alex how plans may change and how the shooting could have been postponed or even cancelled. He didn’t want to let his son realize this. He proposed they should join the line and withdraw some money. This way he could gain some time, in case filming was to start later on.Alex immediately agreed. In his mind, filming was just about to begin. Waiting in the queue would make everything look more natural and he would then really be part of his favorite game’s introduction.
Dick hated queues. He hated waiting. He actually hated anything he was not in total control of. Probably the army effect; specially these last few years when he outranked most of the rest of the military body. His word was law and order. He was a servant after his son will however. Willingly so too. For little Alex, he’d wait in that same queue for hours, if needed.
Twenty minutes later, Dick and Alex were second in line, just behind the person who was being served by the clerk. As the customer in front of them completed his business getting ready to walk away, leaving the clerk free to serve Dick, noise and commotionsurged at the back.
“Everybody cool, this is a robbery!”
“Any of you fucking pigs move… And I’ll execute every-fucking-last-one of you!”
There were two people dressed in black, their faces covered in black ski masks, their hands in black leather gloves. The person who had talked first was holding a gun in his right hand and a large bag in his left one. The other person was holding a machine gun with both hands.
“This is so pathetic”, Dick thought to himself. “Who could have ever thought it’d be a good idea to steal the opening lines of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, in order to shoot the introduction of a video game”? Dick thought this was all so amateurishly planned. The machine gun too. It felt so… Hollywood: completely insane and inappropriate.
Little Alex on the other hand, he was both excited and frantic. Of course, he didn’t know the Pulp Fiction movie, he couldn’t understand why a hold up would never incorporate a machine gun and he couldn’t read the robbers’ movements as well as his father could. With all these years in the army, Dick had known how to discern between real threats and impostors.
Some people started screaming. Dick hadn’t noticed any of those people earlier. There was a priest, there was a huge guy with a gigantic mustache (a truck driver, Dick thought), the usual bimbo who will always apply about three kilos of makeup before going grocery shopping, and many, many more people. Some of them “different”; some of them unobtrusive.
Dick saw people panicking. People screamed, people tried to run, some tried to reach for their mobile phones, a clerk tried to reach for the alarm button. There was an obvious haste in movement, apart from three people who seemed stock-still. The priest was looking in disbelief, the truck driver stared with hate, probably thinking he could jump the robbers, disarm them, beat them to death and then be called a hero; the blonde bimbo just stood there frozen in place as well.
The handgun robber commanded everyone to lie on the floor face down. The machine gun robber galloped to the tills and climbed on the bar. He pointed his M14 to the clerk who tried to signal the alarm and asked of him to lie on the floor, face down like the others. This second robber seemed less aggressive. The first one commanded. This one demanded. There was a subtle difference.
Dick found it really unpleasant having to lie down in his uniform. He thought about walking out but then he thought again. If he was to ruin the shooting, the following day every kid would make fun of Alex’s stupid, useless father. So he laid down, hoping that this would only last a short while.
The handgun robber threw the plastic bag to a clerk and ordered it full. Dick couldn’t see her but he’d bet it was a woman, a young one too. Her sobbing sounded as if it was coming from a young woman. Actually, she sounded like a girl who had just broken up with her boyfriend. “Pathetic”, Dick thought to himself, “couldn’t they hire better actors? This is such a joke”.
Alex, on the other hand, was excited. Everything felt so real; threatening. He couldn’t wait for tomorrow. He’d go to school and let everyone know of his experience and brag about how everyone would see him in the upcoming Driver game.
The machine gun robber was still standing on the bar before the tills, making sure that no-one would get any more bright ideas. Outside the tills however, three people were still a pest.
The handgun robber walked to the blonde woman, stood opposite her and pointed his .33 to her crotch.
She was no more than 30; perhaps 32 tops. Her eyelids were greenish, her eyes were green, her cheeks reddish and her long curly hair, dyed a platinum blonde. The robber hated fake first impressions.
“Unless I see your tits giving the tiles a brazilian, I’ll shove this up your ass, so high up that when I pull the trigger it will feel like semen coming out of your throat…and I bet you know how that feels!”.
His tone was assured, heavy, deep. It sounded as if it was a machine talking. Dick perceived no emotion, no feeling in the color of the robber’s voice. What Dick did however feel, was how inappropriate this kind of language would be for a game, one that kids round his son’s age would get to own. He wanted to stop this but once more, the desire to keep little Alex happy prevailed.
The blonde woman kept standing there as if someone had glued her to her feet. Then, right out of the blue, she opened her mouth and started screaming. But it never lasted more than two seconds. The robber raised his handgun and hit her against the forehead viciously. The pistol’s grip crashed into her head and she immediately lost contact with the world; her knees bent and she dropped on the floor, a faint sack of meat.
The robber knelt over her and kept crashing her head by means of his metal handgun. Dick had always believed that sound effects were being added to a movie after it had been entirely shot; at the stage of editing perhaps. However, the punches and the sound of the head hitting on the floor with every new hit, they all sounded so marginally real. He had to accept that although the acting was poor, the effects were nicely done.
It was just then that he noticed the fat man with the thick mustache galloping towards the robber. The one still busy with crashing miss blonde. There came a sound that echoed within the bank walls. A piercing sound. A gunshot sound. Sound effects were taken to the next level. Dick started enjoying this himself. He had even started feeling drops of adrenaline pumped into his bloodstream. These people were actually doing a good job after all. Given a bit more enthusiasm, they could turn the rest of the film into something really memorable. Some things should however be shot again. Like the opening lines for example. Tarantino wouldn’t want to see this.
A gunshot sound was repeated. The fat truck driver was running towards the robber. Stepping on his right leg, his knee was dismantled by the bullet of the machine gun robber. The other robber raised his head to see what had just happened. The second bullet met the driver’s genitalia with fury. In both moments, the effects were simply amazing.
Dick could swear he had just noticed a kneecap jerking in the air and a hole driven in where the man’s genitals were. Really, the effects were very well done. But Dick thought, perhaps they were not appropriate for a kid’s game.
The robber sitting over the blonde woman with the crashed head stood up. He walked over the truck driver who was now twisting and turning on the floor, screaming and shouting as if in pain. He was probably the best actor in there, at least Dick thought so. He was making the pain believable, if not a tad over-reacting.
The robber walked steadily, reached over the truck driver, pulled back the pistol’s cock and let the ramming of the metals say what he had in his mind. The robber’s mind; because the truck driver’s brain had just been freed from the slavery of the skull they had been kept captive of. Little pieces of meat and large buckets of blood sprayed and splashed all around the robber’s feet. A robber who was still standing there calm and tranquil, as if his T3 and T4 values equaled zero; as if his internal system was deprived of manufacturing the least amount of adrenaline.
Dick’s eyes suddenly reached the outer rim of their cavities. He felt threatened for the first time. Even though he knew this was just a game, he couldn’t just let this go on. Not with his kid witnessing all this bloodshed. Fake as it may had been, it still gave birth to bad, nasty feelings and thoughts.
Lying on the floor, face down as he was, Dick turned towards little Alex. The young kid was now watching terrified; his eyes were almost swelling behind his eyelids, which he did try to keep firmly shut but realized that curiosity had overwhelmed him. Dick took hold of Alex’s hand. Only then did little Alex snapout of it.
“This is only a film champ. You know that right? You can’t believe anything you see, right”?
Dick tried to calm little Alex down. He sounded sincere and soothing. Little Alex felt better already. Could be the veil of parental protection or, perhaps, the awe demanded and imposed by the uniform. In any way, little Alex found it comforting to have a father next to him, a high ranking officer next to him.
Dick stood up. In a slow motion he arose from the floor and looked around. The robber at the tills noticed him and took aim. The other robber was still studying the blood pouring and spewing from the truck driver’s head. Still calm.
“Okay! That’s enough!”, commanded Dick. “I will need to seethe supervisor of this production. It’s enough already!”
Both robbers looked at him curiously. Dick wasn’t talking to any of them two. He was more like scanning the area for someone else. Someone he couldn’t find yet.
Alex was still lying face down next to his father’s feet. He was in a strange condition; somewhat relieved and somewhat furious. His father had just stopped the goriest thing he had ever witnessed and for that he could only be grateful but, on the other hand, he had just ruined a very important filming. His friends would now hate him.
The handgun robber walked towards Dick, slowly. He studied him while walking, trying to understand what the problem was. A uniformed man always makes people think differently. As soon as the robber reached Dick, he couldn’t hide a slight grin on his face.
“Well, what do we have here? A Dick” said the robber.
Dick’s name was on his name tag hanging from the left chest pocket on his shirt.
“Watch it smart mouth” answered Dick. He didn’t appreciate the sense of humour. “I could very well sue this production and end it all here and now”. His tone was definite, self-assured.
The robber leaned an inch to his left and looked at the other robber at the tills. That one too was at a loss. Trying to figure out what was going on.
“Listen” the handgun robber finally said, after returning to standing straight up. “The only person who can end this how and when he wants to is me”. At that point he raised his handgun and pressed the tip of its barrel on Dick’s forehead. “Now drop to the floor as you were and stop erecting like a dick, Dick”!
Dick Wide. About 50 years old. Perhaps a couple of years younger. The fact that he had already become second chief in command of the Air force could be explained by the missions he had accomplished when he was still flying. About 750 hours of night flight in both peace and war times. More than 100 targets destroyed with 96% accuracy. Dick was a living legend within the ranks of the military body. One such as himself could hardly keep his temper under control however.
As soon as the metal tip of the gun pressed on his forehead, his left hand pushed the robber’s arm away and with his right fist, he punched the robber in the face. So hard in fact, that the robber was caught off guard and dropped the handgun. A second time, Dick punched again and there sounded a certain noise coming from the robber’s nose as blood sprayed his uniform.
After a moment of hesitation, the robber standing at the tills came round. He raised his M14, aimed and pulled the trigger just once. If life could pause, fast forward and play in slow motion, it would leave no doubt as to whether Dick died on that very moment but failed to realise it.
Everybody saw blood erupting from Dick’s throat; everybody could have been wrong. Cause Dick knelt over the robber and continued punching him in the face. A face where the nose had been punched into the skull and blood instead of air was filled the breathing cavities. Dick kept hitting nevertheless. Kept punching interminably.
The robber at the tills lost control over his actions. He jumped down and raced towards his dying partner and Dick. Dick stood up at once, turned around and grasped the M14 from the barrel. He uttered some scream but that was the last thing heard, before death appeared in the form of flying lead.
Just as soon as Dick had grasped the barrel of the semi-automatic, the trigger was pulled. Continuously. Dick’s chest opened up, a shortcut for air travelling to his lungs.
Dick staggered back. He looked down at his uniform which was soaking in blood. He couldn’t understand. He had not been made up. He had no fake blood bags on him. What was it that had just happened? Cold was setting in. He fell to his knees, his eyes focused on little Alex and then, he dropped; face down, on the cold floor.
Little Alex screamed his lungs out. He jumped up and raced his steps to his dead father. Dick just laid there dead, blood floating out of his body and onto the floor. No matter how hard Alex punched and pulled, Dick was not coming round anymore.
The robber walked to his partner but fell back as soon as he reached him, with only one word evading his lips; “brother”. The dead robber was lying on his back with no face left on his head. The nose had been punched in and the eyeballs had ruptured under the pressure of their inclining slots. Dick had certainly taken his full fury out on this one dead robber.
The machine gun robber stood up and took hold of his M14. He reloaded and turned towards Dick’s dead body. Over his dead father, little Alex was sobbing frantically. As soon as the robber reached Dick, little Alex screamed.
“You killed my father you bastard”!
The robber cocked his weapon and replied.
“Fair, he did my brother”.
Little Alex took the newspaper from his pocket. He raised it over his face and said:
“It was a video. You were supposed to shoot a video…”!
The robber bowed to read the paper. He read the article. It was about ten sentences long. No more than that. It was just under the supertitle: worldwide exclusive. The robber also checked the date. It was the day’s before. April 1st, 2001. April’s fool.
“You can’t believe everything you see kid”, said the robber and pulled the trigger. Misfire. The bullet failed to launch.
Alex dropped the paper and ran away. The bank’s entrance had been locked. He turned around and looked for salvation. There was only the robber standing, trying to kick some sense into his machine gun. The people on the floor had already started thinking about taking the unarmed robber out.
Alex was in a state of shock though. He ran back and looked around. The priest. The priest was still standing on the other side. Alex ran to him and dropped on his knees.
“Please father, please help”.
Some people had already stood up. They were closing in on the robber who could still not make his M14 cock right. They closed in on him, dangerously. The robber raised his eyes and looked at the priest as if looking for forgiveness.
The priest pulled his black cloak back. He revealed an S&W .357 which he took hold of in his right hand.
“Stupid kid. You’ll never know. You can’t always believe in what you see”.
The gunshot must have been heard to the other side too; cause little Alex could swear on his soul that he felt his hand touched by the angels and still, in his ears, the gunshot echoed.
The people who already tried to remove the M14 from the robber’s hands froze into place. They just turned around in time to see a headless trunk hitting the tiles.
The false priest himself could hardly believe what had just happened. On the stage of his mind’s theatre he replayed the last few moments in slow motion.
The trigger was pulled, the cock hammered the back of the shell, the bullet launched, it spun through the air and screwed on the back of Alex’s scull. At that moment, it was as if a bomb had exploded inside the kid’s head. The pressure from the invading bullet pushed the brain to its limits, till it could no longer withhold its feeding blood. The eyes flew out of their slots and blood spat out of the nostrils and the ears, just before the head itself failed to accommodate the pressure. The scull exploded in thousands of tiny pieces and blood together with particles of brain erupted.
Time froze at that moment. No one moved. No one even breathed.
The priest was the first to come round.
“Nobody move now.”
No one budged an inch. No one could.
“Grab the bag son, we’re out”.