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The Finest in Crime and Suspense Short Fiction

Story Excerpts

Dark Equation
by Michael Nethercott

On that cold day in the fall of 2000, Burt Lentz had been in a rancid mood even before the gunmen stormed in. Starting with the commute to work, the day had gone against him. As evidence: the bottleneck on 495; the coffee spilt in his lap; the sudden, blinding rain burst and the defective windshield wipers. Then, as he marched across the parking lot of the community college, the folder under his arm slipped open, dumping half the corrected exams into a fresh puddle of rainwater. Lentz cursed, scooped up the dripping papers, and muttered, “Perfect, just perfect.”

Even though he was running late, only three of his students had arrived before him. These few had positioned themselves as far away from each other as possible, and only one—round, white-haired Mrs. Peller—offered him a hello. For his part, Lentz merely nodded and grunted noncommittally. He was not paid enough to be cordial. After retiring from the high school, he had hoped his working days were done, but some disastrous investments on the advice of a fast-talking cousin of his ex-wife had necessitated taking this job. Teaching three weekly community college classes, though perhaps not as arduous as the daylong herding of teenagers, proved no more stimulating. A couple of his old colleagues taught here and seemed to enjoy it, but Lentz was not so easily gratified. Never was. He provided the algebra and occasional calculus classes with a detached professionalism that fell just short of disdain.

Lentz stepped behind his desk and spread out the damp exam papers. His low, bitter sigh was drowned out by a significantly louder one from Mrs. Peller, hunched over her textbook and chewing a pencil. Lentz found her particular brand of earnestness annoying. For him, Mrs. Peller represented that caste of student made up of retired dabblers and aging housewives grasping at some ephemeral notion of “bettering oneself.” The second student, Mr. Haines, was one of several ciphers that Lentz felt no compulsion to solve. Middle-aged, largely silent, adequate in his homework, Haines filled space in an unobjectionable fashion. The third student, Kapensko, was another matter entirely. In his early twenties, pale and half shaven with black, ragged hair, he sat slumped in a crumpled bomber jacket, plugged into his Walkman or whatever the hell it was. Lentz dearly disliked him. Kapensko was the ghost of a thousand scruffy, disinterested youths who had plagued him since the start of his teaching career.

The door slammed open. Lentz pivoted to see which incoming student had entered his classroom so riotously. But it was no student. The man standing there was an unknown—tall, gangly, with elongated features that reminded Lentz of Larry Bird, the Celtic legend. What’s more, the man was holding a revolver. With an outpouring of vile oaths and threats, “Bird” waved the gun around the room, demanding that no one move, that no one even breathe.

“Oh, dear God!” Mrs. Peller’s gnawed pencil slipped from her grasp. The click of it striking the linoleum floor rang out like a thunderclap in the tense silence of the moment. Everyone had taken notice of the newcomer, even Kapensko, who promptly removed his headphones.

A second man, also armed, now appeared beside the other. This one, blocky and bearded in a wool cap, looked like some wayward sailor strayed from the Boston docks. His agitation was as high as his companion’s, but had even more alarm to it.

“You said there’d be no bank guards!” The blocky man panted heavily. “In and out, you said! You promised there’d be no—”

“Shut the hell up!” Bird told him. “I didn’t promise anything. You took your chances, same as me.”

Through the first cold fog of shock, some understanding came to Lentz. The New England Savings and Loan was just down the street. Bank guards. In and out. Men with guns.

“We’re screwed.” Sailor groaned and shook his head. “They’re outside. They saw us run in here.”

“Chill,” Bird demanded. “Just goddamn chill.”

A police siren wailed in the distance. Then another, then several more. All approaching . . .


Read the exciting conclusion in this month’s issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2024. Dark Equation by Michael Nethercott

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