Title: 9:40 PM
Rating: PG-13 for Violence
Summary: A Wednesday that Donatello will never forget.
Disclaimer: I do not own the turtles. No, I don't. I also do not own 'Inferno'.
Credits: Thanks to Keli for the beta, and sss979 for the quick edit.
me you enter into the city of woes
through me you enter into eternal pain,
through me you enter the population of loss."
Dante Alighieri – 'Inferno'
The little bell over the door rang as I walked inside. I hunched my shoulders, and hid my face in the hood of the sweatshirt I wore under a long coat. Behind the counter, a young woman looked up, offered me an empty smile, and then returned her eyes to her book. A man was in front of the counter, just slipping on a leather jacket. He glanced at me curiously, and I felt his eyes following me as I made my way back to the aquariums. It was darker back here, and I relaxed a little away from the overhead fluorescent lights.
"You okay to lock up?" The man asked the woman behind the counter. He hadn't spoken loudly, but I could hear quite well over the sound of rushing water. Around me the pumps hummed, and the dimness was lit with a cool, blue light that didn't reach my face.
"Don't worry about it, Mark," The young woman responded, still looking at her book. I could just see her, past the small animal supplies and wire cages.
"Be careful, Alex. I'll see you tomorrow," The man, Mark, called as he headed out the door. The irritating little bell jingled, and Alex turned the page of her book. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, and caught her looking in my direction. I saw the clock on the wall behind her. 9:40 p.m. I had about 20 minutes until closing.
It was a ritual I had practiced all summer and into the fall. Every Wednesday, I visited this small pet store only a few blocks from April's building. It was peaceful here, and once in a while I scraped up enough cash to buy a fish or two for my own aquarium. I didn't buy the tank or equipment here – I just couldn't afford it. And besides, I had found or made everything I needed. I had built my own 200-gallon tank, and it held water. Mostly.
"May I help you?" Alex called out from behind the counter. She always asked. I wasn't much of a customer, but she made a vague effort at service every time.
"No thanks," I responded, slipping around the end of a row, and working my way up the other side. I leaned over and peered into a tank of ghost knife fish. They were a little beyond my price range, and I didn't know how well they would fit in with the rest of the community. They were fascinating, though.
The door banged open, knocking the bell sharply. I straightened up, tightening my grip on the staff hidden inside my coat. Four men walked in, dressed uniformly in black or dark blue, their faces hidden. They hadn't spotted me yet. I worked my way down the aisle of tanks, trying to keep a display of dog food between us. I wanted the element of surprise – just in case.
"May I help …," Alex began. Her query was cut short when the lead man pulled out a handgun and pointed it at her face. She swallowed, and her eyes cut to me. Two of the followers turned, and spotted me. They reached into their pockets.
I had seconds to figure out a plan. I dodged behind a large tank housing a school of Bala sharks. The whine of bullets was overshadowed by the sound of glass shattering. The glass blew out, away from me, and water flooded across the floor.
"The money. All of it. Now," one of the men shouted, banging a hand on the counter. Alex whimpered, and started pressing buttons, desperately trying to get the drawer to open. "Come on," the man demanded.
Two of the others were working their way back towards me. A shot rang out, and I ducked down.
"Hey, leave him alone," Alex shrieked desperately. "He's just a customer!"
"Shut up and get the money," the man holding the gun on Alex pressed it to her forehead. She gasped a breath, and went back to fighting with the register.
I slipped around the corner of the tanks, and pressed my shell to the wiring post. I could hear the men approaching – one up each aisle. Carefully, I shifted the bo out from under my coat. I waited, eyes closed and concentrating on their footsteps. Just as they reached my end of the store I struck, catching the one on the left in the head with the staff, and the one on the right in the stomach with my foot. Both staggered back, knocking into the fish tanks. Water sloshed onto the floor.
Bullets slammed into the pole behind me, and I heard the electric sizzle of frying wires. A spark ignited, and fire flickered to life among the cords.
"We got the cash. Let's move," someone shouted from near the counter. I heard the sickening thump of a gun butt hitting flesh. I charged up the aisle in time to see Alex slump to the floor behind the counter. The two men still mobile were heading for the door. Behind me I heard the whoosh of flame, and turned to see the carpet catch fire.
Smoke swirled around me as the two thieves slammed out the front door. I ran for Alex, and dropped to my knees beside her prone form. I checked her pulse – still there. I slid my arms under her, and lifted her carefully.
I coughed, and tried to bend over to get away from the smoke. It was impossible while carrying this load. The front door was just ahead. As I reached it, the door flew open, and I saw a familiar silhouette. Without comment or explanation, I shoved the burden into his arms, and turned back to the store.
The fire extinguisher was behind the counter. If I could reach it, I could maybe save part of the store. As I staggered through a darkening haze, something struck me from behind, crushing me under an enormous weight. I fell to my knees, fighting to get out from under whatever had caught me. The haze about me suddenly turned to black.
A bell rang above my head. I glanced down to see a doorknob in my right hand. The sound of someone clearing his throat led me to glance up. Across a table filled with glittering cat toys, I saw a familiar counter. A young woman with a book in her hands leaned on the counter near a cash register.
"May I help you?" Alex asked.