Chapter Five

“...and thus concludes the first chapter of The Book Reading,” the man wearing a trenchcoat on on the stool concluded with a smile. He inclined his head. “Quite the cliffhanger, huh? To read on, you’ll have to buy the book!” He held up a glossy hardcover. Under the stylized title, emblazoned in massive type, was the moniker Barney Fifovovich.

“You’re one sick puppy!” An elderly man leaned over his walker, waggling a finger.
“You write thomething like that then you come here and do thith!” The old man was so incensed he had difficulty keeping his artificial teeth inside his mouth.

“Besides, it’s not that good of a book,” piped up a short, stout girl with brown bangs. She held more than a passing resemblance to that hot nerdy chick from Scooby-doo.
“Yeah!” chorused the book reading attendees.
“It feels like it was written by three or four different people!”
“Oh, gosh, I noticed that too!”
“And Stephan Kong? The poor man! On the floor all the time!”
“The writer’s forgotten about him!”
“Yeah, what’s the matter with you, man?” admonished a large leather clad large biker affecting a massive handlebar mustache.

“Er, um, yeah, ha, ha, about that,” stalled Barney for a moment before his face brightened, “I believe I was going for an astute social commentary suggesting that during acute matters of life and death, one’s celebrity status is reduced in stature in the eyes of non-celebrities.”

“You know that’s a crock of—” The biker was interrupted by a gunshot that sent a shower of plaster and a light fixture crashing to the ground.
“I’m the man with the gun,” cried Barney, “so you better shut up and sit the hell down!”
The captive attendees obliged.

“Wot’s that, shots fired again!?” The megaphone from outside bellowed.
“Work with me, Mr Fufovickoch! Is anyone hurt in there?!” The megaphone barked.
“Mr Fitzovovich, are you there?!” yelped the megaphone. Barney ignored the hostage negotiator. He had bigger, more important things on his mind.

Barney had understood it would be difficult, but he hadn’t reckoned on it being that hard! It was a blow on his ego, but he had gotten this far, and it was too late to turn back. He spotted biker guy slowly sliding to a crouch.

He waved the gun. “Does anyone want to pull a Drake Abernathy? Only this time you’ll stay dead!” The biker didn’t cease and desist but instead continued to effect a stealth cat maneuver, oblivious to the fact that it was obvious to everyone what he was doing, including the very dangerous man with a gun.

“Ahh!” roared Barney as he leaped to his feet and fired a round directly into the biker guy’s kneecap, bowling him over. Barney sighed. He was aiming for the head.

The hostages crowded over the fallen man with morbid curiosity, some even going as far as to giggle (“Looky at the girly man!”) at the sight of the grown man weeping. Barney sighed. He wasn’t doing a good job striking terror into the hearts of the populace.

“Another shot fired! This is not working out too well in the trust department, Mr Fufflevovich!” More noise from the annoying hostage negotiator. Barney rolled his eyes and continued ignoring the man.

“As a gesture of good faith to repair the bond broken between us, send out the women and children!”
“Hey! What about the elderly?” cried the old man.
“Let me go first, I’m dying!” sobbed the biker guy.
“Shut up, everyone, shut up!” Barney’s trigger finger convulsed and more plaster rained down. There were cries of terror and pain. Barney felt a little better and settled into his perch.

“Why are you doing this?” screeched the girl Barney now thought of as Velma.
“Melville, Kafka, James Kennedy Toole. What do they have in common?” asked Barney.
“They all became successful posthumously.”
“Oh, my, what a smart girl you are, Velma!”
Barney leaned back comfortably. “That’s— ulp!” He caught himself at the very last moment as soon as he remembered he was on a stool. He adjusted his position uncomfortably. Something ticked in his crotch like an metronome.
“Mr Fifflevovich! Are you there? We have your doctor here!”
Oh, geez. Barney shook his head and continued.

“These men died and their works became famous. They left their legacies,” orated Barney.
“I intend to do the same,” he said dramatically, his expertise in theater (Philemon in Pericles) paying off. He ripped his trench coat open, sending buttons spraying. One in particular embedded itself into the biker guy’s eye, and his weeping and moaning were redoubled.

A collective gasp escaped from the astonishment of the hostage crowd!
“And I thought you were just happy to see us,” said lecherously the old man’s wife.
A kit kat clock hung suspended from a gold chain around Barney’s neck. It’s tail ticked to and fro. Its eyes swung hither and thither. Barney’s hand clutched a trigger whose wire led to a band of dynamites strapped to his chest.

“This is a dead man’s trigger.” Barney’s gaze flickered to the man wearing a turban. “I suspect you would know something about that, Abdul.“
”Hey, I resent that! I’m a Sikh!” Turban dude shook his fist. “The name’s Bob! Read a book by it’s cover, won’t you!”
“Shh! don’t provoke the nut!” snapped Velma.
Barney arched an eyebrow.
“If,” a tall African ruminated thoughtfully, “that’s a dead man trigger, what is the function of the clock?”
“I’m all about the theatrical,” snapped Barney. “What, you don’t like my bling?”
“I think we have got a bigot in our midst,” replied the African, placidly digging a grain of rice from in between his teeth.

“This is your doctor, Barney!” The megaphone crackled. “You forgot to pick up your prescription! Heh, heh, Mr Murtaugh, that should work, this boy here likes his medicine.”
“Doctor, you really should let go of that button when you’re finished talking. Doctor!”
“Mr Murtaugh I assure you—”
“Give me that damn megaph—”

“I have expended a fortune, taken out loans, maxed countless credit cards getting my books published!” Barney was getting into the moment. Sheer adrenaline coursed through his pulmonary system. A vein bulged on his forehead. He understood why all the supervillains were always in a hurry to divulge their master plans. “As we speak, these books are making their way to every respectable book-selling chain in the country!”

“Tho? It’s jutht a book!”
“Look, grandpa!” Barney waved the gun. “Immortality. That’s what it’s about! Life in death!”
He started pacing. “Notoriety! When we go kablooey they’ll read my book, if only to understand my motives then...they will appreciate my genius.”
“Sounds like someone’s full of himself.”
“Velma...” He was losing his patience with this crowd. “All the great writers were--”

“Barney, this is your mother,” the megaphone yowled. She cleared her throat. Everyone winced.
“Ma?” whispered Barney.
“I have a letter here, oh, goodness, where are my glasses?”
“Miss, let me read this for you—”
“What a gentleman you are, Mr Murtaugh.”
“Yes, yes, Mr Fucovovich, this says—”
“Are you currently romantically attached—”
“—due to the failure to receive a signature from your person—”
“—ever since his father died, I’ve been feeling that woman’s heat—”
“—excuse me, ma’am, you really should—”
“--Barney’s best friend wasn’t, you see, he wasn’t man enough--”
“—for the love of God will someone take care of her—”

“Mr Fickovovich!” The megaphone burped. “The delivery of The Book Reading has not commenced due to the failure to receive a signature from your person, and as a result, we were not able to fulfill the terms of our contract, but if you should come in to sign the necessary papers...”

The voice droned on. Barney was shrinking and shrinking inside a vast cathedral of despair. The hostages arrayed before him became leaping and gyreing hobgoblins. Violent chartreuse flames expelling ianthine smoke flickered at their backs. The clock on his heart ticked, ticked, ticked! He was suddenly tired. His muscles trembled. Apparently all of his energy was directed towards his thumb’s depression of the dead man’s trigger.

“This is unacceptable, Mr Fifovovich!” warbled the megaphone.
“Oh my God, he’s snapped!” someone cried.
“The dead man trigger...”
“Thtop him, thombody, thotp him!”
“I think our situation has escalated to the point of no return.” The African was unruffled, still working at the grain of rice. The plate glass windows of the storefront exploded with SWAT troopers.

Barney’s thumb twitched.
A SWAT trooper barrelled him over.
The hostages tittered with terror.
Barney’s thumb spasmed.
Another SWAT trooper hauled Barney’s hands away to be handcuffed.
Barney’s thumb relinquished its burden, coming free from the trigger.
Barney screamed.
The hostages screamed.
The SWAT troopers screamed when they saw what he wore.
The megaphone screamed.

Barney’s eyes opened. He wasn’t dead. Blast! That was the last time he would buy discount explosives! The SWAT troopers hauled him to his feet with unnecessary force and threw him in a patrol car. The hostages were escorted out of the store in various states of hysterical relief past the neatly stacked piles of Stephan Kong’s latest novel, The Fred Zone. The crime scene was cordoned, investigated half-heartedly then boarded up. A scrap of paper advertising a book reading that occurred six hours ago swirled in the wake of a passing car.

“Mfpmpppmfpfm!” went the bound and gagged form of the internationally acclaimed author Stephan Kong, in the exact same uncomfortable position where Barney Fifovovich had deposited him after hijacking his book reading, against the corner inside a janitor closet, his face pressed up against a foul smelling and slightly damp mop. "Mpmmmmppmppp ffmppffmf!"

The End

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