Chapter 1


I strolled through the beer aisle of the Exxon down the street from my apartment, contemplating the tasty merits of Black Dog versus Dirty Monk. Gordon appeared at my side so quickly I almost dropped both bottles. “Damn it, Gordy. You’ve got to stop—”

“We have a problem up front,” he snapped.

“I do too.” I licked my lips and closed the store’s cooler door, holding up the open beer in my left hand. “Black Dog has this fruity undercurrent, but”—I displayed the open beer in my right hand—”Dirty Monk tastes fuller, kinda like a pale ale, but with some hoppy attitude.”

Gordon’s face hardened. “I’m talking about a real problem.”

“I am too. I mean, on one hand you got the fruity wheat theme—”


“What.” I turned to him. “They out of Altoids again?”

“No, Barry, I’m serious. The place is getting held up.”

I shrugged. “So? We can wait back here a bit. It’ll give me time to make up my mind.”


“Gordy.” I mocked his seriousness with a whining tone. “You know how I get if my beer doesn’t match my food just right. Besides, I’m retired. Remember?” I turned up the bottle of Dirty Monk and gulped a few swallows. Smacked my lips again.

“He’s got a gun on Rafi.” Rafi is the teenage kid of the owner.

I studied the logo of the Dirty Monk bottle—a twelfth-century monk with a goofy smile grasping a stein of sloshing beer—and said, “Is Rafi doing anything stupid, like not giving the guy money?”

“Barry.” Gordon lowered his voice. “Go do something.”

I stared down at him.

“Now,” he urged.

If Gordon had a Superpower, it would be the Super-Stare. Every time he whips it out, his eyes get bulgy and weird behind those goldfish bowls he calls glasses. A hard look from Gordon has the power to make the recipient feel very, very uncomfortable.

“Fine,” I sighed, raising my eyebrows. “Dirty Monk it is.” I opened the cooler and plucked out the rest of the Dirty Monk six-pack, saying, “You know, that stare of yours would be more sinister if you got your left eye to twitch a little.”

Gordon didn’t say a word, just stared, twitchless.

“You know, I’m not really dressed for this,” I said as I picked at the pizza stains on my shirt, and when I looked up again, Gordon’s left eye was twitching.


I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Alright, alright. Back off. I’m going.” I shook my head and lumbered up front, saying to Gordon, “You know, if there was a union for guys like me, you’d be in trouble. I’d want benefits and a regular work-week. And I’d want actual pay.”

Gordon didn’t respond.

slide-barry-04The gunman wore black jeans and a black shirt with a white pinstripe NY Yankees ball cap. He even wore a black ski mask. How cliché.

Ski-Mask waved his gun around while Rafi stuffed cash from the register into a brown paper bag. I moseyed up to the counter and set my five-pack of Dirty Monks down; the gunman jumped back in surprise.

And before you ask, no, I can’t do invisible. But I can do stealthy, even for a guy my size.

Ski-Mask jerked his gun toward me and told me to back up. I ignored him and said to Rafi, “Your pops needs to get a better selection of pizzas. Get some with cheese in the crust. Or garlic.”

Ski-Mask’s eyes grew big, and he croaked at me to back up again. I noticed he’d taken a few steps back himself. I downed the rest of the open Black Dog in one swallow, then belched like only a three hundred pound man can. I waved at Rafi with the empty bottle and set it down. “How much I owe you? A six-pack of Dirty Monks plus this empty Black Dog.”

Ski-Mask shook his gun hand again, saying, “Hey, I’m talking to you!”

I turned toward him like I’d just seen him for the first time. “Little hot for all that, ain’t it?”

The guy looked from me to Rafi to me again. He waved the gun, wilder this time, as if it would put more force behind his hollow words. “I said get back! And put your hands up!”

I pursed my lips and shook my head, then took another gulp from the open Dirty Monk. I said to Rafi, “People getting ruder and ruder all the time, you know? Don’t people have manners any more?” I finished the beer and snatched a new one from the carton, leveled a gaze at Ski-Mask, and said in the hardest voice in my arsenal, “You got three seconds to leave, pal.”

The gunman steadied himself and flicked his gaze to Rafi, then back to me.


The gunman’s eyes drew close together.


He pointed his gun at my chest, still shaking a little.


The guy braced himself, and I shrugged, saying, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

While I was talking I’d cocked my thumb under the cap of the beer I held in my hand. I moved my hand a tad left, then right, winked at the gunman, and with the speed of a jackal—I hear jackals are supposed to be fast—I flicked my thumb upward with a slight twist.

The cap dislodged from the top of the bottle with a loud pop and struck Ski-Mask’s gun hand with such force the weapon flew out. It flipped and twisted over his head, then clattered to the floor behind him.

Ski-Mask backed up a step, shaking his hand in pain, his eyes wild and uneven. Two of his fingers had already started bleeding where the cap had sliced through his skin. I took a quick swig of the beer and grabbed another bottle from the carton.

“You want another?” I asked, pointing the bottle at him, my thumb cocked and ready.

The guy took another step back and bumped his foot against the gun. He hesitated, eyes skirting downward for a brief second.

I said, “One.”

His eyes widened and when I flinched myself at him, he turned and flattened himself against the one double door that was still locked. He recovered and flew out the unlocked door without looking behind him.

Gordon materialized out of nowhere and scooted up beside me. “Little dramatic don’t you think?” he muttered.

I took another swallow of beer, then shook my head. “Nah. You know what would’ve been cool? I’ve always wanted to stick my finger in the gun barrel, but he wasn’t close enough.” I drank some more beer. “Besides, I missed my target. I was aiming for his forehead.”

Turning to Rafi, I said, “How much for the beer?”

“And Cheez-Its,” Gordon added, dropping the box he was holding on the counter.

Rafi, his eyes still bulging from their sockets, shook his head after a moment.

“Nothing?” I said with mild amazement.

Rafi shook his head again, still speechless.

I saluted him with my beer. “You’re alright, kid.” I grabbed the carton and nodded at the rolls of lottery tickets to his left. “Since you’re buying, how about a few of those Lucky Leprechauns? Say … three of them?”

“Barry.” Gordon shot his Super-Stare at me as he plucked a twenty from his wallet.

“Fine. How about a Snickers? Can I get one of those?” I grabbed the king-size candy bar before Gordon could say anything, then nodded at Rafi and started for the door. I stopped and turned back. “Hey. I was serious about those pizzas, kid. Tell your old man he needs to get a better selection. Cheesy crust that rises or something.”

We headed out, and as I opened the door of my beat-up Pontiac Aztek, Gordon asked, “So why not use your Super-Speed or something to disarm him?”

I wedged myself behind the steering wheel. “That’s overdone, don’t you think?”

“But you could have missed with that little bottle cap stunt. Rafi could have been shot.”

I started the truck and turned toward him. “I’ve been practicing.”

Gordon shook his head. “That’s not what I mean. You know as well as I do that you’re not perfect—”

“Gordy.” I tsk-tsked and shifted into reverse. “Gimme some credit, buddy. I scanned his gun before we ever got up front. He had as many bullets in that thing as Barney Fife on a good day.”

“Which episode?”

I didn’t answer.

Gordon clicked his seatbelt together. “Even so, do you have to be such a show off?”

I shrugged. “I was bored.” A pause. “And besides, I really have been practicing.”

I pulled out of the parking lot toward home as Gordon flicked on the radio. He said, “One of these days, Barry, your boredom is going to get somebody hurt.” He turned his head toward me. “Again.”

I didn’t dignify him with a retort.