“Mr. Mystery, you must’ve missed me!
Mr. Mystery, you make me miserable lately.
Mr. Mystery, maybe we could make some
Magic, oh baby, sweet Mr. Mystery . . .”
A muffled call alerted me to the young blonde bank teller seated directly ahead, and I pulled out my earbuds, extinguishing the sound of pop idol Erica Leroux’s new hit song, “Mr. Mystery.” The teller frowned at me, gesturing for me to approach her booth. I obliged, smiling awkwardly
“Sorry,” I mumbled, retrieving a crumpled piece of paper. “It’s a really catchy song.”
“More of that Leroux garbage?” the teller asked. “I’m more of a classic rock fan. Green Day, Fall Out Boy, all of that old stuff.”
“Ah, that’s fair,” I responded, holding up the paper. “I don’t have an account with you guys yet, but I wanted to deposit this. What would you recommend?”
She snatched the check from my hand, surveying it. “Public Utilities Construction, LLC. Never heard of ‘em. They sure pay well, though, don’t they?”
I shrugged, reaching into my messenger bag. “I have my employment papers, if that helps.”
Turned away from me, she caught the eye of a woman who I assumed to be one of the bank managers. “This gentleman would like to open an account with us. Are you free?”
The front doors behind me creaked open, and heavy footsteps flooded into the building. I sensed eight figures rapidly approaching, their hands positioned to indicate they were holding weapons. My eyes widened in tandem with the teller’s as she looked over my shoulder. Turning away from the line, I made a beeline for the restrooms.
“Everybody on the ground, now!” a man screamed, punctuating his demand with a burst of machine-gun fire.
I quickened my stride as the other bank patrons and employees screamed, diving for the floor.
“You too!” another voice cried, and I sensed the group turning in my direction. My walk became a run, and I dove through the restroom doors, heart pounding.
“Billy, go take care of him,” I heard one of the men say.
Turning to the restroom mirror, I spied my own face, wide-eyed and sweaty. My trembling hands reached up, wiping the moisture from my forehead, and I closed my eyes, steeling myself. Just beyond the door, I sensed a rifle-wielding man, presumably Billy, raise his weapon, and I dove to the floor.
The restroom walls roared as a wave of bullets ripped through the wooden door, demolishing tile and ceramic and glass. I covered my ears, wiggling like a worm across the floor beneath the restroom stalls as debris rained down on my back.
Then, as quickly as it began, the gunfire ceased, bullet casings tinkling across the bank floor beyond the perforated restroom door. Holding my breath, I crawled to my feet, reaching a standing position within the stall closest to the door. As I prepared myself, the door creaked open, and Billy stepped inside, donned in a disheveled grey suit, sans tie.
“Where’d you go, you little-”
I shoved the stall door open, slamming my palm against his ribcage and injecting him with a burst of electricity. The current lifted him off his feet, and he flew back against the restroom mirror, cracking it against his back as his weapon – some kind of old-fashioned tommy gun – clattered to the floor. He uttered a low groan, his eyelids fluttering, and I reached up, covering his mouth.
“Billy?” one of the other men called. “You gotta take a piss or somethin’?”
I cleared my throat, emulating Billy’s voice the best I could. “Sorry. Made a mess. Be right out.”
The man paused, suspicion lingering in the air, before responding. “We ain’t got all day, Billy.”
I glanced at Billy, whose eyes stared widely back at me. It took me a second before I realized he now trembled, as if terrified.
Of me? I wondered. I barely touched him.
“Mmf,” he pleaded through his covered lips. “Mf mmf mmf mmf.”
I cocked my head. His heart rate had changed. His entire body language was different now than a moment before.
What had happened?
Taking a chance, I pulled my hand away from his mouth. “What?”
“I need your help,” he repeated, whispering.
Turning to the door, I clenched my jaw. “I don’t have time for games.”
“No! Listen to me!” he hissed, grabbing my arm. “They’re under some kind of mind control.”
I returned my attention to the man. “¿Qué?”
“We’re all nightclub bouncers,” Billy explained. “Down at the Emerald Lamp. Last night, we were hanging out after the club closed, and then BOOM! We wake up on the way to the bank this morning, guns in hand. I wasn’t able to move or speak on my own. It’s like I was in a dream, but someone else was controlling it.”
“And you just now woke up?” I pressed.
Billy nodded. “Something shook loose in my head when you shocked me. How’d you do that, anyway?”
“Hey, Billy!” one of the other bouncers called. “Get the fuck out here already.”
Crouching, I retrieved Billy’s tommy gun, shoving it into his arms. “Play along as if you’re still under the trance. We’ll work it out as we go, but if we stay in here any longer, they’ll kill us both.”
Without another word, I turned my back to him, placing my hands on top of my head. “Lead us out, please.”
He quickly hopped up, sticking the barrel of the gun between my shoulder blades. Together, we exited the demolished restaurant, emerging to see the other seven bouncers circling the bank’s remaining inhabitants, who were now curled up on the floor in the middle of the lobby. The other bouncers were dressed like Billy, wearing crumpled suits that they seemed to have slept in for days without removing.
“This one didn’t want to give up, Kent,” Billy explained. “I had to go to work on him.”
Kent examined me. “He seems alright. What did you hit him with, your pinky?”
He reared back, punching me across the face, and I fell to my knees in faux surprise. It wasn’t pleasant, but his punch carried far less weight than Vampire King’s. Still, I allowed the blood from my newly split lip to drip from my mouth, keeping my head hung low.
“Door are secure, Kent,” one of the other bouncers muttered to the man. “We should be able to get through the safe in no time, long before the cops have the balls to bust in here.”
“Right.” Kent nodded while Billy dragged me over to the other hostages. He turned toward the blonde teller I’d spoken with earlier; the “classic rock” purist. “You. My informant tells me you have the safe codes?”
She hesitated, glancing back at the bank manager, but Kent grabbed her shoulders, shaking her.
“I didn’t ask you to look at her, did I?”
The teller shook her head, mascara-stained tears running down her cheeks.
“Do. You. Have. The. Safe. Codes.” Kent repeated.
She nodded, shuddering in fear.
“Then you’re coming with us.” Kent grabbed her by the arm, jerking her to her feet. Two of the other bouncers followed him as he dragged the teller toward the back of the bank. “Anyone else moves, you’ll get a couple new breathing holes.”
Mind control, huh? I thought. That may well be the case for Billy, but Kent seems like he’s running the show.
Billy and the four remaining bouncers circled us like sharks, tommy guns at the ready.
Well, I can’t attack them outright. The chance of getting a hostage killed is too high.
I saw Billy wipe his brow, glancing nervously at me.
But if I wait for police intervention, or if my own team gets involved, the robbers may die instead. And, if Billy is right, they’re just as much victims as we are right now.
Glancing at Billy, I nodded reassuringly.
Besides, I’d really rather not give away my secret identity after my first week.
Behind me, I sensed Kent and the blonde teller working to open the safe. Outside, despite a lack of police sirens, I felt armed men and women preparing themselves just beyond the bank doors.
Whatever I do, I need to do it quickly.
“Hey,” I whispered to one of the bouncers. “Hey. My chest hurts real bad. I think I’m having a heart attack.”
The man just stared at me for a moment before turning away. Frowning, I threw myself to the ground, convulsing. The bouncer returned his attention to me, rushing to my side. Setting his gun aside, he reached for me, grabbing my wrist.
“Hey! Cut it out-”
Tensing, I sent an electric shock into his arm, attempting to match the voltage I’d used on Billy. He stiffened for a second, then collapsed to the floor next to me, moaning. I stopped convulsing, feigning unconsciousness as I waited to see what the other two bouncers would do.
“Jay?” one of the other bouncers said, creeping toward us. “What happened, Jay?”
Jay stirred, sitting up and looking around the bank in confusion. “What?”
I peeked through my eyelids and saw panic wash across his face. He jumped to his feet, taking aim at Billy and the other two bouncers with his tommy gun. “Put the guns down! I know you’re not in control, but we can’t hurt these people!”
The two remaining bouncers glanced at each other, then took aim at Jay, opening fire. The hostages screamed as Jay flew onto his back, bloody and bullet-ridden. His tommy gun slid across the floor, far out of my reach.
I wasn’t sure if I’d want to use it anyway; this certainly wasn’t the outcome I’d hoped for.
While the two killers examined Jay’s body, Billy popped up behind them, striking one across the head with the butt of his gun. The assaulted bouncer collapsed, seemingly unconscious, and as the remaining bouncer turned in surprised, I leapt to my feet, charging at him. He glanced between Billy and myself, seemingly unsure of what to do, and Billy took advantage of his confusion, kicking the gun from his hands as I shouldered him to the ground. I pinned him, preparing another shock, when something small rolled across the floor, away from his head.
“What the absolute hell is going on out here?” I heard Kent demand, and I sensed him return to the lobby with the other two bouncers. “Get off of him right now.”
Why would they need earpieces? They’re all together.
I flashed back to Billy and Jay, remembering how they’d responded to my shocks.
I didn’t reset their brainwaves, or any nonsense like that. I just turned off the thing that was keeping them under control.
“I’m counting to five,” Kent boomed. “One. Two. Five . . .”
Squeezing my eyes shut, I gathered all of my strength and emitted an electrical pulse.
All around us, the lights flickered, showering us in yellow sparks before going dark. Kent and the other two bouncers dropped their guns, clutching at their ears as they cried out in agony. Beneath me, the man I’d tackled writhed in pain, while Billy watched from above, unfazed.
Then, the moment passed, and the bouncers looked around, stunned.
“Oh. Oh my God.” Kent ran to Jay’s body, kneeling. “Jay, wake up. Come on, man.”
As I stood to my feet, the front doors exploded inward, and a SWAT team hurried into the bank, yelling for everyone to return to the ground. I obliged, as did the remaining bouncers, though Billy spoke up as he laid down.
“It wasn’t us! I swear to God, we were under some kind of mind control or something!”
The other bouncers chimed in in agreement, their voices echoing around the bank lobby.
Suddenly, I felt strong hands pull me to my feet, and I turned to the SWAT agent who’d grabbed me. They pulled me through the crowd of police and hostage, hurrying me toward one of the side doors.
“Crikey, mate,” a familiar voice said, muffled through the mask. “I leave you alone for five seconds . . .”
“Piston!” I whispered. “He’s right. They had some kind of device in their ears that was controlling them. After I fried them, they woke up. There’s something happening here, something we aren’t seeing.”
“Hey!” one of the SWAT agents lifted the now-handcuffed Kent to his feet. “Where’s the money?”
Kent looked around, confused. “Money? We left it in the vault when we heard trouble in the lobby.”
I spun around, quickly surveying the room with my eyes before reaching out with my other senses.
“Well, the money’s gone,” the SWAT agent responded to Kent. “Who took it?”
The teller. The classic rock purist. She’s gone.
Another realization struck me, and I groaned.
“I never got to deposit my check,” I muttered as Piston shoved me out of the bank’s side door and into the freedom of the streets.