The following story first appeared in the charity anthology “Authors off the Shelf”. If you enjoy it, please consider purchasing a copy of the anthology, which is filled to overflowing with stories and poems and even dinner recipes. All proceeds go to charity.
by John L. Monk
There’s a town in America few people outside of a hundred miles ever heard of. It had never won an award for the prettiest flowers in the state or grown the biggest pumpkin or squash or had the biggest pig at the state fair. One of the fifth-graders went to the national spelling bee once, but she couldn’t spell “chauffeur” and got sent home. Not even an English word, the locals said.
Wade drove into town and parked in a handicapped spot at the Home Depot. It was summer, so he let the car idle to keep the air conditioner going.
“This is our moment,” Wade said, casting a withering glance at his brother’s unzipped jacket. He was tired of talking to him about it.
Marty nodded, purposely ignoring the look, and said, “Where’s my dumbbell at?”
“In the trunk, where you put it.”
Marty didn’t reply. He got out, went around, opened the trunk of the little eighties hatchback and took out a twenty-five pound dumbbell. Then he proceeded to pump iron right there in the Home Depot parking lot. First one arm, then the other, getting his arms super tight.
Wade turned the car off, came around and shielded him from view. Still looking at that open jacket. Biting his lip.
“You gonna zip up that jacket sometime today?” Wade said finally, glancing around and trying to sound like he wasn’t telling his brother what to do.
“In a minute,” Marty said, still pumping iron. It was too damn hot out.
“What we’re about to do is gonna put us on the map. It’ll be on the news. People will talk about it for years to come—but not if you blow it. So would you please zip the damn thing?”
That was the problem with Wade. He couldn’t see what everyone else saw: that Marty was a tough, good-looking patriot with a lot of qualities women desired. Or maybe he did see it, and that’s why he was always riding his ass about shit. Simple, undignified jealousy was what it was.
“I’ll zip it in a minute, Jesus,” Marty said. “Now can I please have a beer?”
Wade got a beer from the small cooler in the back seat and handed it to him. But his brother didn’t open it right away. Instead, he held it up.
“If I’m right,” Marty said, watching the red and white can already beading with condensation, “this might be the most important beer I ever drunk in my whole life.”
Wade nodded, then got one of his own. He opened it.
Marty opened his.
“To American glory,” Wade said, holding his up.
“And American pride,” Marty said, bumping the other can with his.
Together, they drank their beers as fast as they could. Then they crushed them and chucked the cans into the back seat. They wouldn’t be driving this car home. Not today. Not any day.
“I suppose if there’s one thing I’m gonna miss,” Marty said, “it’s beer.”
“That’s why they call it ‘sacrifice,’ brother. Now let’s go change the world.”
After a final fist bump, Wade got in the car.
Marty dropped the dumbbell heavily onto the asphalt, zipped up his jacket, then headed for the entrance. Along the way, he grabbed a long stack of carts he’d spied when they pulled into the lot. He wheeled the entire stack over to the so-called “Entrance/Entrada” and blocked it off by tugging the back-end flush with the automatic door. Then he hopped over the baskets and pulled a small, black pistol from his waistband.
Several people outside, attracted to the strange behavior with the carts, saw the gun and fled behind the cars in the parking lot.
Wade, not to be outdone by his brother, revved the car and shot over to the “Exit/Salida” door and blocked it off completely, then got out the driver’s side entrance and stepped through the opening. From his bag, he pulled his own pistol—along with a video camera.
Cousin Ray was a wiz with computers and had set the camera to feed directly off the store’s wireless internet connection. The brothers didn’t like Ray because the twerp thought he was better than everyone, but even Wade had to admit the kid had brains. Any video Wade took would get sent directly to Wade’s YouTube account for the world to see the wonder and glory that was about to go down in this small, quiet town.
“Move over there—go!” Wade shouted at the twenty or so frightened people crowding his immediate line of sight. He pointed to the right, toward the Customer Service section.
Marty was waiting for them when they got there, corralling a group of his own. One of the store personnel was crying and begging, transmitting her fear to the already frightened customers.
“Get in there, now!” he shouted, pointing into the closed-off area where the store kept returned merchandise.
“You stay here and cover them,” Marty told Wade, who nodded.
It was all part of the plan.
Marty saw several customers fleeing through Wade’s exit, sliding over the hood of the little hatchback, but it couldn’t be helped. Some would get away, some wouldn’t. It was nature. Had to respect nature. But there were plenty of people in the place who were still unaware, still shopping, so Marty took to the aisles, one by one, rounding them all up.
“Why are you doing this?” one woman cried in a pleading voice.
“You don’t have to do this son,” another man said. He was a kindly-looking old man who reminded him of his granddad. Marty felt the first vestiges of real shame, but pushed those vestiges right on down. The man’s troubles would be over soon, along with everyone else’s.
By the time Marty got back to the Customer Service counter, he had another six people in tow. The cops would be here soon, he knew, so they had to finish with them quick.
“You couldn’t get any more?” Wade said. He was filming everything, keeping the customers on the floor by pointing his gun at them—sideways, like they did in all the gangsta’ movies.
Marty licked his lips, pointing his gun at anyone who dared to look up.
“Not like I’m an expert at this, you know!”
One of the women, shielding a tiny, crying girl, shouted, “Just let my daughter go, please!”
Other customers with children started yammering for the same thing, and then the old guy with the kindly face stood up with his hands held out in front of him, calling for calm.
“Goddammit sit down!” Marty screamed, shaking the gun at him. This was starting to get out of hand.
Screams and shouting all around. The man dropped to his stomach and said, “Just take the money, ok? You can have it. Everyone, just give him what he wants so they’ll leave.”
Several men took out their wallets and threw them towards the two brothers.
“What the hell?” Marty said, laughing a little, looking at Wade.
“This ain’t a robbery, you idiots,” Wade said, shaking his head. They had no clue.
“Please don’t do this—please!” screamed another woman, fearing the worst.
Wade checked his watch, looked solemnly at his brother, and nodded. The cops would arrive any minute now. Probably already outside. So either they did what they’d planned or they may as well die losers.
Marty unzipped his jacket.
Wade opened up the black gym bag and got out a small, portable stereo. He set it on a nearby counter and hit Play.
Killer guitar riffs sounded from the stereo. It was from Wade and Marty’s jam session the night before. The best they’d ever done. A fitting song for the beginning of a wild splash across the front page of life.
“Witness the glory!” Wade shouted and pointed his camera and pistol at Marty.
Several people screamed and covered their faces.
Marty tore his jacket off, swung it around in the air above his head, and shouted, “What’s the biggest problem with tattoos these days?”
When nobody replied, he shouted, “They don’t come off!”
Wade began shooting Marty with his gun—only, instead of bullets, clear, glistening baby oil came out. With his free hand, Marty started spreading it over his muscular, sunburnt body. Then he went into a body-builder routine.
As one, the cowering customers stared at him, taking in the glory for themselves: covering Marty’s stomach, chest, and back were the strangest tattoos any of them had ever seen. Instead of ink, these tattoos were lily white on a field of red, sunburnt skin.
“You people should see the looks on your faces!” shouted Wade, laughing uproariously. “We invented the procedure and patented it ourselves. We call it: inkless tattoos!”
“That’s right,” Marty said, flexing his muscles to show off the white Yin-Yang symbols blazing on his biceps. “My brother and I have created a procedure which, if used in conjunction with a licensed tanning salon, will let you make your very own tanning tattoos that last at least a week, all without the pain and permanence of the so-called ‘normal’ kind!”
“When we get out of jail we’re gonna get investors and start our business,” Wade said. “As you can see we’re recording everything, so if anyone tries to steal our idea we’ll sue you so bad you’ll wish you’d died here today instead of witnessing the greatest business demo the world’s ever seen!”
Wade had come up with the tanning procedure the last time his brother chickened out getting a normal tattoo. A good one, too, with fire on it, designed by Wade himself. Wade had about ten tattoos—even one on his neck.
Marty had gotten drunk for his tattoo session, but at the last second, just when the guy was about to start outlining the blue flames they’d decided would flare from wrist to elbow, Marty got up and ran out screaming how they weren’t gonna stick him with no damn needles, and that was that. The tattoo guy told them not to come back. The joke was on him though: with inkless tattoos, they didn’t need to come back. All Marty had to do was cut out the shapes he wanted, like spiders and swords, stick them to his skin and get a tan—the rest was up to nature.
Some of the customers were starting to stand up, alternating between looks of disbelief and outrage. A few of the men were clenching their fists.
“Hold it right there!” Wade said, laughing at their dilemma and twirling the gun on his finger. “This is just oil—you saw it for yourself.”
Wade made sure to train his camera on them so if they did anything, unarmed as he was, he could sue them for flagrant acts of unnecessary violence. Probably sue the store, too.
For more proof he was harmless, he threw the water-pistol down and flicked them all off. He was still recording everything, making sure to capture the gesture on YouTube. This was gonna go so damn viral they’d have to dedicate an entire hour on Tosh.0 for it. The best part was, according to this guy he’d talked to who’d been to prison a bunch of times, they’d probably only get a year in prison, two tops, for threats with a squirt gun. After that, they’d be billionaires. Richer than Tosh.0 and Duck Dynasty combined.
The sound of sirens came to the brothers through the still-open automatic doors.
A minute later, when the police came in with guns drawn, Marty dropped his gun next to Wade’s and shouted, “We surrender, don’t shoot.” To Wade he said, “Keep the camera rolling, bro. Don’t forget what they did to Rodney King.”
“Fuck’n aye, bro,” Wade said, his camera-hand rock steady, not missing a thing.
“Drop the camera!” one of the cops said, pointing his very real gun at him.
Wade decided to meet him halfway—he propped the camera on a nearby shelf so it’d have a good view of the cops and his brother, then he came forward with his hands in the air.
“On the ground, now!” the cop yelled.
Wade complied, dropping down so the man would stop pointing his gun at him. He looked over to his brother and nodded. This was the part where they were supposed to yell out the name of their new business.
“Tatoo-tanning Inc.!” Marty yelled.
“Tattoo-tanning Incorporated!” Wade shouted, rolling his eyes, still adamantly refusing to abbreviate it.
Five minutes later, the two brothers were taken out in handcuffs, but their voices could be heard clear out to the parking lot.
“…we did it bro!”
“We’re famous as shit now…”
And then, a moment later, “Tattoo-tanning Incorporated!”