The aged wood of Meaghan’s chair squeaks as she shifts. It rings out in the room. Other than the loud ticking of the clock over the whiteboard and Bill Porter’s ragged breathing, it is still.
Outside their door, Lakeview High School has gone silent. Like well-trained automatons, everyone has followed the active shooter drills. They are hiding in work closets, under bleachers, and behind locked bathroom stalls.
“You are running out of time. Let’s hear it.” Bill drums his calloused fingers on the chipped desktop. Meaghan watches his index finger hit the M + D carved into the wood laminate. Her breaths come out in short quick bursts and her skin is pale under her fading summer tan. Her eyes flick up to meet his.
“You said I had eleven minutes?” Her voice tilts up.
“You did. 75 seconds ago. Now you have less than ten. C’mon. You’re a smart girl, Meggy. Top of your class, right?” Bill’s smoky gray eyes impale hers.
“Ye-.” Her voice cracks and she clears her throat. “Yes, near the top of my class.”
“Valedictorian and cheerleader, I bet? You’re pretty enough to be. Your boyfriend the quarterback or something?” he asks.
“Close. I’m captain of the debate team. Salutatorian. I’m dating the student council president, not the quarterback,” she clarifies.
“What? Not valedictorian? Tsk.” Bill smirks. “I’m disappointed in you.”
“I, um, had meningitis last year. It was pretty bad and I missed a month of school.” Meaghan shrugs and her fingers curl around the edges of her desk. Her eyes remain on Bill. “I don’t think there’s anything I can say…” Her voice trails off but she watches him.
“Giving up so easily? I’ve had my eye on you for a while. I had higher hopes for you, Meggy,” he offers.
“You’ve had…?” She pauses and takes a deep breath. “I figure you already have your mind made up,” she explains. “You’re going to kill us for whatever warped reason you have. I doubt there’s anything I could say that would make you change your mind in eleven minutes.”
Bill clenches his teeth and his jaw bulges. Meaghan looks down, smooths her hands across the top of her desk, and then peers up at Bill through her thick lashes. .
“Well, we’re going to assume the usual won’t work,” she suggests.
“The usual?” Bill raises a wiry salt and pepper brow.
“Oh, you know….,” she swallows hard. “Appealing to the hidden humanity inside you with the save the children b.s. Or trying to assure you that your parents did care about you, that your life is important, that God loves you, or that we can get you help and it doesn’t have to be this way. You know, the usual clichés.”
Bill huffs and sits up straight in his chair. “You watch a lot of television.” He pauses. He follows up with “I don’t have mommy issues, no.”
“Well then there’s the whole killing thing…” Meaghan doesn’t meet his eyes. Instead, she picks at a flake of Razzle raspberry polish on her thumb, flicking it loose.
Bill pats the small bulge on his left shirt pocket once. Meaghan’s gaze glances up in time to catch the movement.
“Killing thing?” he asks.
“Oh, sure. You know, killing. If you’re about to kill 316 students and teachers, you obviously have experience doing it. I’d bet my A in journalism that you’ve killed someone before. So… talking you out of killing for the sake of killing isn’t a good argument either. You’ve already lived it with no consequence. Doing it again is a non-event.”
Bill offers a “hmmph” and nothing more.
Meaghan nods, acknowledging he doesn’t disagree. Meaghan glances at the clock on the wall behind him.
Bill’s fog-colored gaze locks to her sky blue one.
“Eight minutes, thirty-two seconds left. Give or take a few seconds,” he offers.
Meaghan’s face is impassive.
“What do you want?” she queries.
“Want? I’ve given up on want. I don’t get to want anymore. I do. I’m driven. I’m the machine under the hood. If you say ‘want’… well I say what I want to say and do what I want to do. There’s no in between. People will either love you for it or hate you for it. I can live with hate.”
Meaghan stifles a giggle.
Bill leans in closer, his stare hardening.
“I’m sorry, but you’re quoting Eminem now? That’s not very original,” Meaghan shakes her head. She doesn’t contain the quirk of her lips.
Bill nods. His fingers drum on the desktop for a couple of beats. He jumps up, the desk catching on his jeans. The metal foot of the chair screeches along the floor. He jerks away from it. The crash of the desk falling on its side resonates loudly. Meaghan jumps at the echoing sound and sits back in her chair. Her breaths are short huffs.
Bill slides a look at her. He pats his pocket a couple of times again and walks up front. As he goes, he runs his finger along the tray of the dry erase board. He reaches the end of the board, turns and paces back the other direction.
“Oh, you don’t get to be jumpy now, Meggy. We’re in this too far. I picked you for a reason. You have nerves of steel. Mano a mano.”
Meaghan pushes a handful of chestnut hair over her shoulder. She stands up and wanders toward the back of the room where the layout tables are. Bill pauses for a moment watching her progress and then continues his slow pace along the front of the dry erase board.
“Unless…” Bill hesitates.
Her face devoid of expression, Meaghan looks down at the largest layout table. She turns, her gaze tight. She leans against the table and crosses her arms across her chest. Bill frowns and shifts from foot to foot.
She tilts her head before speaking.
“What’s in the pocket, Bill?” she asks. “A cyanide pill? Last will and testament? Note from your long-lost love? Picture of your dog?”
Bill laughs. He stops and his eyes hit hers. His face sobers as he tells her, “No, I killed my dog when I was eight.”
Meaghan’s eyes flare, the only clue she has heard what he said.
Bill slaps his thigh as he guffaws again. “Just kidding. That’s what all the crazy killers do, isn’t it? CSI always had them killing animals and crazy crap. Nah, I never had a dog. We moved too much.”
“Ah, ok,” Meaghan hesitates, her brow furrowed from Bill’s outburst. She clears her countenance and continues. “But that doesn’t answer the…”
Meaghan’s voice trails off as Bill walks to the fallen desk and rights it. His steps are sure, firm. His does not hesitate. Her eyes follow Bill as he opens his pocket and pulls out a small black rectangular box not much bigger than a credit card. He puts the object on the desk. He taps the desk once beside it, humming a little tune under his breath. They both stare at the small box.
“What’s that?” Meaghan says her voice an octave lower.
“That, my dear Meggy, is temptation,” he explains.
She looks at him, waiting.
“It’s the detonator,” he says.
“Deto — Ah. I see. And where is the…?”
“The bomb? Oh it’s here, no doubt about that. This place is wired up with enough plastic to make the Hindenburg look like a backyard barbecue.” Bill laughs again, his eyes resting on the black device.
Bill’s gaze drifts up to Meaghan’s. He spears her with a knowing look.
“Did it feel this powerful with Sarah?” Bill asks in a low voice.
Meaghan becomes as still as a mouse sensing a predator nearby. Her only movement is the dilation of her pupils and the shallow drift of her chest as her breath moves in and out.
“Was she crying or did she even know you were going to do it? Or the little boy? Tommy, wasn’t it?” Bill tilts his head to the side.
Meaghan eases back against the table. A wisp of a smile drifts across her face but it does not reach her eyes. She stares at him.
Bill retreats from the proximity of the desk. He backs up and mirrors her stance, leaning against the whiteboard, crossing his ankles and his arms. They stare at each other for a long moment before Bill speaks.
“Taking life is a heady thing. There’s that rush of fear and being out of control and then… total control. It’s like being God for a minute.”
Meaghan’s vision muddies as she stares off away from him. From the front of the room, the sound of the second hand of the clock ticking engulfs the room for a moment. Meaghan’s eyes move to focus on the detonator.
“Sarah wanted to leave. She needed help… leaving. I helped her,” Meaghan explains. “It was a friend helping a friend. It had nothing to do with power.”
“But it felt good, didn’t it? When you were done?” Bill asks.
Meaghan bobs her head once.
“Yes?” he insists.
“Yes,” she agrees.
“And Tommy?” he pushes.
A shrillness cuts through the silence from far away. The air flutters in the wake of the sound.
They eye each other.
“Eleven minutes?” she asks.
Bill uncrosses his ankles but remains leaning against the board. He looks down and nods.
“The average emergency response time in this country is about ten minutes. Here in Lakeview…well, it’s eleven minutes. I guess time is up.”
“So I didn’t convince you,” she says.
“Oh, I find what you said very convincing, Meaghan.”
His body doesn’t move but his eyes follow her. She unfolds her form and pads down the row of desks toward the detonator. She stops by the desk that holds the powerful little gadget. Her fingers trace along the edge of the desk as she eyes the little black box.
The sirens are louder, making their way around the corner of Lomb Avenue.
“I’m not going to jail with you,” she says.
Meaghan’s index finger circles around the edge of the device. Her finger traces the reflection of the overhead fluorescents along the ridge of the rectangle. With no hesitation, Meaghan presses the button on the piece of plastic impersonating a detonator.
Within a split second of the meaningless push, the door to the room explodes, wood splintering and flying from the door frame. Plaster flies off the wall where the solid doorknob slams into it. The three men who destroyed the door, rush through it, swathed in black. They scream, “Down on the floor! Hands behind your head! Down on the floor!”
Bill stays against the board out of their way as two officers converge on Meaghan. The third circles the perimeter of the room to clear it.
A fourth officer arrives at the door, taking in the scene. He strides over to Bill. They eye each other as the other officers declare the room clear and begin cuffing Meaghan.
“Eleven minutes, Bill? Really? You know we have the best time in the state.” A shaggy blond brow line arches above intelligent dusty green eyes.
Bill grins at his partner, Eric, and then the smile slides off his face. He nods toward the broken door.
“Everyone else…?” Bill questions.
Eric nods. “The principle assured us all made it to the middle school pep rally across the street. On schedule, without a hitch. This hall is still secure. No one’s the wiser for today’s events.”
“And the locker? The boyfriend?” Bill asks.
Eric sighs, his hands landing on his hips before continuing. “The gun was in his locker, not hers, just as you suspected. So, yeah, we needed to catch her in it.” He runs his hand across the back of his neck.
“He didn’t show up for work study this morning and his room is missing a duffle bag. It looks like he left her high and dry. He left the cell behind too. The other crew is tracing after him. Hopefully we’ll know something in a few days,” Eric finishes.
Bill nods and they fall silent for a moment.
“Bill!” His partner grunts and walks to the plastic black device on the desk. “Really? You took the remote to the Enterprise for your little charade?” He scoops it up and pockets it. “My kid will kill me if we lose it, you know.”
Bill turns his sharp gaze back on Eric.
“I gave you an extra minute because it will take you at least sixty seconds to fix your hair before you have to give a statement to the press. They’ll be here any minute themselves,” Bill clarifies.
“Ass,” Eric throws out.
“Jerk,” Bill counters as they walk out the door.
# # #
Angela Meek is a transplanted Texan living in the Birmingham, AL metro area. She is a writer, an editor, a mom, and an admirer of good stories. She has both fiction and non-fiction writing published in magazines such as DM Review Magazine, Junto Magazine, and ParentWise Austin. She writes for Crowd Content, blogs on Quora, and maintains a wiki for a popular mobile RPG. She is working on her first novel, a contemporary Christian fiction romance. www.authorangelameek.com