Heart Of Stone
Officer Mel Stone casually flipped his flashlight as he walked through the market. The heavy, aluminium, four-D-cell unit smacked his palm as he deftly caught it and flipped it again. This was the easy part of his beat; citizens seldom caused much trouble in the market. It was best for everyone to keep the peace and stick to honest trade. Besides, they could see that he was there. Nobody wanted trouble with a huge tiger-lynx.
Stone passed a bakery, it's door insulated with aluminized mylar. He stopped to preen his uniform in the mirror finish. He loved his uniform. It marked him apart from the crowd, it made people respect him. He straightened out his trouser crease and finger-brushed his short ear tufts. Then he went on his way, flipping his flashlight jauntily.
What was that? Murmurs from a dark alley? Officer Stone strolled towards it, still flipping his flashlight. Murmurs were sometimes trouble. He paused at the mouth of the alley and cocked both ears forwards, listening. He couldn't make out any words, so he took a peek. Ah, no trouble, just an amorous couple, moaning into each others' mouths. He watched the two dogs for a minute, recalling his own courtship. Still, this was a misdemeanour and needed to be stopped.
He flipped his flashlight and swiped it into his hand to make his catching slap louder. Instead he tipped it out of his hand. The heavy, aluminium case fell to the carpeted floor, the D-cells clattering inside it. The couple turned towards him...
...and so did the rest of the theatre. His flashlight had hit just as the soundtrack reached a quiet spot. A hiss of shushes sounded from every direction. The couple in the back row glared at him as he stooped to pick it up. His usher's uniform pulled at his underarms. Somebody coughed accusingly. Melvin looked up; his supervisor stood silhouetted in the door, beckoning to him. Both tufted, full-blood lynx ears bowed, he followed the surly brown bear to the lobby.
"Melvin Sandstone," his supervisor growled, "if I catch you flipping that thing one more time, you're fired! You understand?"
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry..."
"And keep your mind on your business! You're paid to usher the movies, not watch them! No, don't go back in the theatre, you've done enough damage for one day! Stock the concession stand!"
"Yes, sir," Melvin murmured. He went and checked what the stand needed.
Officer Stone held his flashlight before him, its powerful beam trained on the racks. He grabbed a fresh tub of popcorn kernels and a box each of licorice and caramel bars. He walked slowly, trying not to make a sound. The bank robbers were holding their hostages somewhere up ahead. If only he could get close enough with his service revolver...
The door at the top of the stairs, that must be where they were. He climbed slowly, keeping his big feet near the sides of the steps so they wouldn't creak. At the top, he set the candy down and cocked his ears forwards...
"Fuckin' move, bitch! Put it in the fuckin' bag! I'll fuckin' pop a cap in you..."
"Robbers!" Melvin murmurred. "They're really robbing the box office! What do I do?"
Melvin looked around himself, but there were no signs to tell him. He pulled out his cellphone. No signal; he remembered he was within range of the scrambler that kept customers' phones from interrupting the movie. He'd have to get outside to call. And between him and outside was...
"Get front me, bitch! We goin' out here 'n you comin' front the blue!"
"Don't, don't shoot me..."
That was Diane, the cashier at the stand. The robber was going to use her as a human shield!
"You got all the money! Leave her, she'll slow you down, just go!"
His supervisor; the bear sounded much too scared.
And the robber was getting frantic. He was waiting for something, didn't want to leave without it and wasn't getting it.
Melvin gently cracked the door open. The robber was a ferret, sable coloured, holding a .38 short barrel revolver up to Diane's eye, his elbow stuck out sharply. The robber was a fool, Melvin thought; he'd blow Diane's head off, but he'd break his own wrist holding the gun like that. He couldn't know what he was doing!
Diane's tail was between her legs, she was quivering, terrified. The robber was frog marching her towards the door. There were police cars outside, but they were just sitting there.
"No!" Melvin snarled.
He pushed the candy aside and gave the door a measured shove. It hushed open. The moment it was clear, he stepped out and threw his flashlight overhand, then ran after it.
The flashlight flew, spinning in a flat arc. It hit the robber's elbow with a dull crack. The robber screamed and dropped the gun. Melvin hit the robber next, tackled him and pulled him off of Diane. He made a cat-like twist in the air, pulling the robber's face into the fall. Melvin rode the ferret down, driving his face into the floor. Melvin's own cheek hit the ferret's shoulder blade. Recovering quickly, he grabbed the robber's wrists and pulled them behind his back.
"Cuff him! Cuff him!" Melvin cried. "Get in here..."
Then something hit Melvin in the shoulder. His whole world turned red with pain as he felt himself lifted off the robber by some terrible force. He hit the ground, but by then he was already fading. The world turned grey and went away.
The world came back later, though. There seemed to be a nurse in it. (A pretty nurse, a tigress with white bangs.) She wanted to know what day it was. Thursday, he replied, which it had been last he'd heard. She asked a few more questions, then told him he was in hospital. Why? He'd been shot in the shoulder. He was very lucky to still have an arm, but if he was good he'd make a full recovery. Then she told him there was a police officer who wanted to ask him a few questions. She left.
An officer came in after her; a dog, a German shepherd. He was smiling as he sat beside Melvin's bed.
"Hey, tiger," the officer said.
"That was quite a take-down you made back there! You'd have had your man if it weren't for the other robber."
"There were two of them?" Melvin tried to put a hand over his face in embarrassment, but his arm was in a sling and it hurt to move. It hurt a lot! He tried his other arm; it hurt his bad arm much less. "That's why you were waiting. Damn, I'm such a fool!"
"Hey, don't be so hard on yourself. You saved that girl. And it was one spectacular take-down. You've got spirit, tiger. Ever thought of joining the force?"
Melvin nodded. "I'm too short," he replied.
"Too bad. You really would have made a good cop."
"What... What happened to..."
"The guy you took down? He's here, under surveillance with a cracked elbow and a busted nose. We'll take him downtown soon as he's checked out. We had to shoot the other guy. Not your fault, though."
"No, I mean Diane."
"She's fine. We took her statement already. She said she'd come and see you later. Nice girl," he added with a wink. "Anyway, I just wanted to make sure you're okay. Maybe we could get together for a coffee or something when you get out of here. Just a sec..." The officer dug around in his pocket, pulled out a business card and handed it to Melvin. "Call me when you're back together. Maybe we can find some way to get you on the force, even if it's not a uniformed position. Okay?"
"Wow..." Melvin said. "Thanks!" he added and looked at the card. He smiled broadly. "Thanks, Sergeant Stone! I'll sure do that!"
"Pays better than being an usher!" The sergeant stood and headed for the door. "Get well soon, tiger."
Officer Mel Stone lay in his hospital bed, watching as his supervisor left. He already missed his trusty flashlight... Melvin smiled to himself. No, he thought, I don't need that any more.
Copyright © 2012 Allan D Burrows, All Rights Reserved
originally published in the Furnal Equinox 2013 conbook
Melvin Sandstone was too short to be a police officer. But he dreamed of greater things than ushering at movies. Then one day he and his trusty flashlight found themselves in a real robbery!