A Short Story by Dovid Bulgatz
"If he goes by the name 'Hammerhead' then why does his suit have pointy ears and whiskers?"
"I don't know. Look at our boss, 'Wing nut'; his helmet has those things on the side, he can barely fit through the door."
"Yeah. Hey, do you know what we're shipping out this time?"
"I've been at this for a few years now. If it was back then, I would have guessed something hardware related like a giant power drill large enough to bore through a bank vault. But now, I'd say some kind of munitions to some mob in the next city or something."
"A giant drill? That sounds kind of ridiculous, did he really do that?"
"Yeah. I was still in training at the time. I remember wondering, if he inherited a huge sum of money from his parents' death, why did he need to rob a bank?"
"I don't know Biff. >Sigh< How many more crates do we have left?
"There are twenty in all, I'd say we have six left or so."
"Alright. What time are they showing up to collect the load, twelve?"
"Ya' wanna go to O' Mally's afterwards? A bunch of us are going. Tony had his first run-in with the vigilante and his wrist finally healed."
"Oh, really? What was it, those T-squares he throws to disarm us?"
"Yeah. At least he wasn't Peter. He got suspended to a gargoyle and no one could find him for a whole day."
"That tape measure stuff?"
"Yeah. I hate this stupid gimmick. But hey, at least we don't work for the Puzzler, I heard he makes his henchmen wear jigsaw puzzles on their clothes."
"Geez… yeah, I guess I will."
"Oh, right. Cool. I'll let the guys know to wait up for us both."
The air suddenly grew still. The docks were unusually quiet. The water was calm and the wind was a gentle whisper. Cargo shipping crates were stacked and scattered around. It is an ideal location for a drop-off or exchange. Put a few guys up top with binoculars and an M-40, set up under the only lamppost that isn't broken or flickering. The average time for the guards to finally reach this spot was twenty minutes from the first nest. That's what Biff's job was for the two weeks prior to the exchange, to scope out the area of a "job", and after three years in the business, Biff was a seasoned henchman. He knew the ins and outs of the business, and perhaps, that's why he was deciding to give it up. He became too comfortable in his routine and it was time to move on.
Biff worked on the docks for a shipping company. He lugged shipments of who-knows-what from five in the morning to six at night. He earned enough to live comfortably in a small apartment. He was never really social and never thought of himself as the "friendly"-type. He kept to himself and was very content with his routine.
After working there for nearly ten years, the company he worked for went bankrupt and laid off over half of their employees. For six months he searched for a new job, but the city was facing an economic downfall and nobody was hiring. In order to keep up his physique, Biff would go to the gym and practice boxing and lifting weights followed by the pub. About 300 lb followed by three large pints.
One day, one of the gym coaches there noticed him, and offered to sponsor him in an underground MMA fighting league he was a part of. Biff was never a violent man, but the money looked good and he needed it.
It turns out that Biff was really good at fighting.
It was Biff's 17th fight and he won almost all of them. Before a fight, Biff would always stand in the ring and gaze upon the crowd, cheering for bloodshed. He would think to himself that any one of these guys would love to be where he was. They were like savages, and that made Biff glum. He never fought more than he had to. Each blow delivered was aimed to end the fight swiftly. This mindset kept him grounded and reminded him that he wouldn't be here if it weren't for the money.
This fight, though, was a little odd. As Biff scanned the crowd, someone stood out. There have always been several rows of folding chairs set up for viewing, but never sat in, as the crowd loved to hug the fence surrounding the ring. But there in the back, sat a kid, probably in his early twenties or so. He was dressed casual, and in a place like this, a plain shirt and jeans are as out of place as a suit and tie. He sat in the back row, his eyes concentrating. He was studying.
As usual, Biff won, but when he looked unto the crowd the mysterious kid had vanished. It turned out he was waiting for him in the locker room. The kid introduced himself as Luthor Oswald. He offered Biff a job. Coincidentally, Oswald owned one of the docks from his late parents' company that he inherited. Biff seized the opportunity to stop fighting and his assigned detail was loading and unloading cargo for various "jobs" as well as body guarding him in between them.
It didn't take long for Biff to realize that these jobs, which always took place in shady, secluded areas, were illegal under the table deals to transport weapons and other secret technologies to a secondary front company. It also didn't take long to piece together that this front company, which was a hardware company, was actually the HQ of the mysterious character who went by the name "Wing nut". When Luthor Oswald was confronted with Biff's discovery, he decided to let him into the inner circle. He revealed that he wasn't just funding the Wing nut, but he was him too. Now that he knew the full truth, Biff was given the opportunity to leave with a very nice "severance package" to keep him quiet, but there was something about him that urged Biff to stay anyways. Perhaps it was because he needed to be needed as much as Luthor needed him; it filled the void in his small and somewhat lonely life, or at least for a while.
Right on time, a van pulled up. Then the signal was given; two flashes of the high beams. The job was on. Tonight's job was to load whatever was in the small cruiser tied up all alone on the dock into the van. Afterwards, the van would meet up with two more decoy vans and head out to its destination. There was a slight chance that the Hammerhead would be here; he already defeated the Puzzler last week and it's been a while since his last encounter with Wing nut.
Sure enough, as the last crate was getting loaded, a panicked voice over the walkie-talkie warned them. "Get out now! He's here! Bolt everybody! Bolt! Bolt!—" he screamed as the radio went static and then silent. The van rushed off, and the tires screeched, and as it passed the cargo crate the rear view mirror got clipped and fell off.
Even after three years of this, Biff's instinct was still to turn in the direction of where the outpost was. As usual, no one was there. But then a shadow crept along one of the large cargo crates. Biff was not as scared as some of the newer guys, but he could still feel a bead of sweat rushing down his left temple down to the bottom of his cheek.
Everyone was shaking as one by one their guns cocked. One guy backed away slowly against another large cargo crate, and another three aimed at the direction of where the shadow had ended. Biff turned around instead as he saw the guy in back get taken by a long tape measure as he disappeared into the shadows.
From above, the silence was broken and the Hammerhead's catch phrase echoed, "Prepare to be screwed!"
Everyone looked up, but not Biff. He remembered from an earlier encounter that the noise came from a speaker tied to a balloon, so that the guys would be distracted while being disarmed. Instead, he stayed still, facing forward, covering the other three guys' backs.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement. He looked for what he saw and noticed it was coming from the mirror that fell off the van. The reflection showed the Hammerhead's faint silhouette, outlined by the flickering lamp post behind him, floating down another crate flinging three T-squares. All three guys were disarmed and the Hammerhead landed and started to lunge at Biff. However, Biff quickly turned around while taking a large step back. He knew that the distance between was enough to get a shot out when Hammerhead had to lunge again.
Biff fired a shot, but Hammerhead barrel-rolled to the right instead and the bullet pierced his cape. In the next instant Hammerhead pulled out an odd gun of his own; unsurprisingly, it was a nail gun. In his mind Biff wondered why Hammerhead had a gun on him. It was also odd that his sidekick, the "Screwdriver", hadn't appeared yet. Perhaps something had happened to him with the Puzzler. Hammerhead never used killing weapons, but maybe he had had enough with taking down the same criminals over and over.
In that same instant, Biff flinched because of his thoughts and instead of running or firing again, he just stood still as a nail went through his chest. As Biff fell to the ground, he heard the other three guys running away aimlessly without a leader. Hammerhead rushed over to Biff, looked at the puncture wound and mumbled to himself. "Dammit. It wasn't supposed to be that close." He rushed off to chase after the other three bumbling henchmen.
Biff woke up to a loud thud. He quickly stood up and looked around. It was nighttime and no one was there and nothing was there. The mirror, guns, T-squares, all gone. Someone must've been here, but why haven't they taken me. Biff turned around and saw a black cloak holding a staff of some kind. A scythe.
"Oh," said Biff, "I'm dead, huh."
"Don't worry, it happens to everybody."
There was a long pause. This was common; some people needed a while to comprehend what is going on. Finally, Biff said, "Now what?"
"You tell me. Sometimes people like to visit their loved ones, some have questions they want to ask me, some just need time to just let it all out. So, what'll it be?"
"Where am I going to go?"
"That depends; It's really up to you. After we review your life, you are going to decide on and defend the kindest act you believe you've ever done. Then I will make you relive the worst moments of your life. Then I shall ask you a question. That will determine your fate. Are you ready or do you need more time?"
"I'm fine, let's go," Biff said. It was a little peculiar how he didn't cry. In fact, he barely showed any emotion at all. He just frowned. In truth, he was just disappointed that it was over. He thought he'd have been older when he met death.
"Your name is Wayne Jordan… Really?" The two of them were standing in what was explained to Biff as a "Viewing Room". The entire room was a bright white, though there were no light fixtures of any sort. There was a large screen taking up an entire wall, and there was a door in the middle of the left and right walls. Behind them above was a blurry glass window. Biff noticed a few silhouettes through the window. People were watching them.
"People just call me 'Biff'," he replied.
"Why is that?"
"'Cause that's the sound you hear if I'd punch someone in the stomach."
"Well, I'm going to just call you Mr. Jordan; keep things professional. That sound good?"
"Okay. What do I call you?"
"You don't. We won't be here long enough for you to do that. Besides, you're not talking to me, you're talking to them." The silhouettes behind the window. "So, do you have a moment in mind or do you want some time to review your life before we get started?"
Biff thought to himself. As far as he can remember, he hasn't done any real acts of kindness. Yeah, he would open a door for a lady or help an old lady carry her groceries to her car, but nothing stood out. He generally thought of himself as a nice guy, but now that he really thought about it, he wondered. His job entailed beating people up, just to earn dirty money made by gambling, drugs, or something else unwholesome. Then he worked as a henchman for a guy whose goal was to murder, steal, and threaten people's lives. And when he was told flat out that he could leave, he didn't. he chose to stay. He never gave money to the homeless, he never even rescued a stray animal. Why did he ever consider himself a nice guy at all?
Biff decided to watch the screen. It showed him his entire waking life. It went really fast, but it still felt real. He really experienced every moment that flashed on the screen. When he was seven, he climbed up a tree. The branch he reached for broke off and Biff fell almost 15 feet and broke his leg. As he watched that happen, that same leg felt limp, and he collapsed to the floor. Every blow that he took as an MMA fighter hit him as it appeared on the screen. Biff couldn't stand up; he was in too much pain.
Suddenly, the screen went quiet. He was driving across the bridge after a match he'd won. It was around December and it had started to snow, so the traffic was slow. Biff looked over at the seat next to him; there was a bottle of rum and next to it a card that said "Congratulations" on it. He reached for the bottle. It was already a quarter empty.
Biff managed to pull himself up. He was seeing this for the first time. I don't remember this, he thought to himself. As far as he could remember, he had stopped drinking once he started earning money again, and he definitely never drank while driving.
The screen continued. As he reached over to put the bottle back, something caught his eye. There was a girl without a jacket standing over the edge of the bridge. Without thinking, Biff jumped out of the car. He crossed around the front, and as he made it across the other lane, the girl jumped.
When did this happen? I never saw a girl jump off a bridge.
Biff continued running. He did not hesitate. He did not even think as he followed the girl down into the river. The water was freezing, like when there is a can of beer sitting in the bottom of a bucket of ice water and you have to stick your whole hand in just to reach the can. He went further down. He finally caught her. But she had a brick tied to her leg; she was serious about killing herself. Fortunately, she weighed well under 300 lb, and Biff had no problem dragging her up to gasp for air and out of the water. He swam the both of them to the crowd at the shore beneath the bridge. There was already an ambulance and police because Biff's car drove into the railing of the bridge and caused an accident. Eyewitnesses claimed a man jumped off the bridge. The combination of the blows he had to the head, plus the alcohol, heavy exerting, and the possible pneumonia rendered Biff unconscious. He woke up a few days later in the hospital.
"Stop! What is this!? Is this some kind of joke!? I never saved nobody from the river!"
"You must have lost your memory of that night."
A tear trickled down his face. He was good at heart. This moment proved that he wasn't a bad person after all. Though he forgot what happened, the feeling stayed in the back of his mind the whole time.
"I will stop the viewing now. This will be your defense. Unfortunately, you will still need to sit through the rest of all of your worst moments."
"Hold on. Wait," Biff sobbed. He was still in shock.
"Alright, I'll give you a few minutes to compose yourself."
A moment has passed. That single tear had stayed on his cheek. The first thing he was able to mutter was, "What happened to her?"
"Who, the girl?"
"She lived. She went on to change her life. You truly saved her." Another tear rushed down to join the first one on Biff's face.
Another moment passed before the "Viewing" began again. This time it was a little slower and every bad moment played out to show the extent of every consequence from Biff's actions. Every blow was magnified. Every person who got hurt from every fight. Every person whom Wing nut hurt with Biff present. It was relentless. But Biff endured it. That's all he knew. During his fighting, he learned to dissociate his physical wounds, as if his body were just a coat that he could remove his mind from. But that was just for the physical blows, and even so, he couldn't keep his self up, and fell to the ground. Biff closed his eyes.
His mind was spinning. He felt as if he were in a forest with no way out, running in every direction with no way out, all while he was being attacked. In his mind, he yelled. He needed something to hold on to or else he knew he'd lose himself. Suddenly, he saw something in the corner of his eye. It appeared to be a campfire, faint in the distance. He rushed to it. As he got closer, he realized that it wasn't a fire, but the memory of when he jumped in to save the girl. He held on to that, for it warmed him just the same.
Biff opened his eyes and continued watching the screen. Every time he felt a hit emotionally or physically, he just held on to that memory. Suddenly, he found his strength. He got up on his knees, then rose to one knee. He played in his mind himself running off the bridge one more time and finally, he was on his feet standing.
The screen stopped.
"Very good. Now I will ask you a question and depending on the answer you give will determine your fate. Are you ready?"
Biff felt reborn. He was filled with a certain energy that he had never felt before. He stood straight and replied, "Go ahead."
"All right… Wayne Jordan. What do you have to say for your actions?"
Biff paused, then, confidently answered, "I did what I did and all of my actions, for better or worse, I did because in that moment it was the right thing for me to do. I stand by them all and I have no regrets."
A long pause ensued. The silhouettes were bustling about. Finally, the decision was made. "Your answer will suffice. You may proceed to the door on your right."