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The Best A Man Can Be
“You want magazine?”
Judy Gallagher glanced up from the November issue of People, and acknowledged the heavy Middle-Eastern accent from the man working the behind the newsstand. Underneath his bushy mustache, he grinned as he held up six fingers, “Six dollars, friend.”
Judy smiled and snapped open her tiny Louis Vuitton purse, plucking out a five and one dollar bill. As she handed the cash over, she flashed one of her sincere, pearly-white smiles that could have been pulled straight out of a Crest commercial, “And thank you very much.”
People tucked under her arm, she bounded down the sidewalk towards the subway station. The atmosphere in New York City was as it always was in the winter months: cold and busy. All around her, passer-bys donned heavy coats and bolstered their various purses and briefcases as they pushed past one another on the sidewalk. Checkered taxis blared angrily at each other throughout the streets, and the pedestrians unfortunately treated each other in the same manner. Gray clouds draped across the sky, looming over the New Yorkers while the cold bit at their reddened fingers and noses.
Despite the dreary morning, Jolly Judy (as her husband often liked to tease) did not let the atmosphere dampen her spirits. “Honestly, it seems like even if the world was going to end tomorrow, that still wouldn’t be enough to drag you down,” Grant would laugh. Just as everyone else, Judy had her doses of bad days, but comparatively, her life was much more fulfilled than others might be. Raised in a joyful, Christian family, her parents had experienced an almost-perfect marriage, bearing three children to share their heaven with. Money, for them, was always a blessing rather than an issue since her father had held a steady job as a banker, and any relative she had ever known had went peacefully in their sleep after a long, happy life. As Judy saw it, God had been good to her, and in return, it was up to her to count her blessings and help those who weren’t as fortunate.
Pausing at a road crossing, she marveled at the sleek skyscrapers that towered all around her. Despite having seen them everyday for the last year, she was still impressed by the engineering that it took to produce such monuments. In fact, she loved just about everything about the city-life, from the hustle-and-bustle to the architectural feats. Everything was fresh and exciting; every single day was a new adventure. The walking stick-man lit up on the traffic light, and Judy followed the crowd of pedestrians onto the crosswalk.
At a street corner, a homeless man in tattered clothes squatted as he held up a misshapen cardboard sign. By the time Judy reached him, she already had a crisp five in hand, dropping it in his gloved hands with a simple “Have a good morning, sir,” and a signature Judy Brook smile. The man shook her hand gratefully, shooting back his own toothless smile. Any opportunity she had to share her happy little life, she took upon graciously.
Proceeding down into the subway station, she reflected on her past. Her parents had always encouraged her in every pursuit she had taken up, whether it was the desire to be an artist when she was eight, an civil engineer when she was thirteen, or even the first woman to reach the Oval Office when she was ten.
In every endeavour, her mother wholeheartedly supported her so long as she knew that it was important to do the “right thing”. “The world can be perfect for everyone, baby,” she had exclaimed as they washed dishes together after supper one night when Judy had only been eleven-years-old. “Everyone is fundamentally good in their hearts, and it’s our job on earth to help them find that good by seeing it in us. Do you understand?”
“Yes, mom.” Judy grabbed a plate from her mom and placed it in the dishwasher. A puzzled look came onto her face, “But… if everyone is good, why did those men fly those planes into the Towers and kill all those people for no reason?”
Sighing, Judy’s mom had stopped to look out the window in thought for a moment. “Well, some people have never seen love before, Judy. If someone had been there to show them the light and offer compassion, maybe none of that would have happened. Maybe everyone would have survived.” Breaking the gaze, she turned to display her own pearly-white smile at Judy, “Everyone’s heart can be changed for the better, sweetie, I promise.”
While Judy was fond of many aspects of the city, the subway was not one of her favorite spots in New York. It was grimy and always held a strange smell in her nose for some reason, but there were little other options for her daily commute to the hospital. Not many suspected that the pretty head on Judy Brook’s shoulders contained any sort of brain, but she had received her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Northwestern University and was now in her first year as a psychologist. What else would she major in- it seemed to be her best option to help people who were truly suffering in her opinion.
Crowds thronged through the underground as she bought her ticket and proceeded to her train. It was as above, so below, considering everybody was in an even faster hustle to get to where they were going down here. She only had a couple minutes to make her train, which wasn’t too much of an issue since the subway bored her so much. There was nothing to marvel at down here. Despite her general trust in humans, she held onto her purse a little bit tighter every morning when pushing through these particular crowds. Then, up ahead, she saw him.
A young man with his hood pulled over his head was carrying a turquoise backpack. He strolled through the masses, then would pause, scan around himself like he was studying each individual face, and then proceed once again casually. It was like clockwork.
Judy had always enjoyed “people watching” when in crowded places, and she took a moment to consider what he might be doing. Perhaps he was he to meet an old flame, and he was having trouble locating her. Or maybe, he was a covert CIA agent, here to bust some high-profile drug lord, accompanied by other agents hiding amongst the crowd. She playfully looked around to check for any “agents” secretly communicating with hand signals. Her hand covered her mouth as she giggled.
Spotting the man again, she watched as he set the bag down and peered over the heads like he was trying to find somebody again. Then, he sunk down and proceeded with his routine like before. However, this time, the bag was left on the floor.
Judy stopped in her tracks and checked to see if anyone else had noticed. The flow of bodies was unfazed, which stressed her out. She checked her watch. 8:39. If she grabbed the bag to return it to the guy, she’d miss her train for sure, and she could NOT be late again to work. Dr. Strong had already made this clear. Still… maybe the bag was important to him, and he was going to lose it right now in a careless mistake. Her eyes dashed from the open doors of her train to the lonely backpack.
Sighing, she jogged over and scooped up one of the straps. She stumbled, not realizing how heavy it actually was, and hurriedly searched for the man in the hoodie down the station. Then there he was, walking to the exit completely unaware of his mistake. She smiled, and adjusted the bag onto her shoulder, taking off after him. Boy was he going to be relieved.
Initially, she was able to catch up to him, but his pace began to quicken. His long legs stretched out to a healthy stride as he was almost to the stairs. Judy began to fall back, weighed down by the load she was carrying. What is he carrying, a body? Now 50 yards ahead, he took a sudden turn into the bathroom, and she groaned. She didn’t have time for this, she had to go now. To save time, she dumped the bag onto the ground in the middle of the other commuters, and took off.
The restroom only held a single person, and Judy figured it was safe to go in since he had only just entered. There was no time to waste, anyway. Coming to a screeching halt, her hand shot to the metal handle and yanked the door open. Laughing, she said, “Hey, sir! I’m sorry, but you left your…”
The explosion split Judy’s eardrums. A blinding light flashed in an instant. All around, the ground and walls angrily shook as she was thrown through the doorway straight at the cement. Her elbow struck the doorframe as she collapsed, screaming in pain. The sound of the boom faded, replaced by a loud, high-pitched tone left ringing in her ears. Hands clasped over her ears, but they did nothing to stifle the sound.
A fist clamped onto the back of her scrubs and lifted her small body to be pinned against the wall. Judy opened her eyes, and saw the man glaring at her with a vengeance. The door was now closed, leaving the chaos outside, and the man’s mouth was moving, but no words reached Judy’s ears. Bewildered, she yelled, “What?”
The ringing began to subside, this time allowing some of the man’s words to be audible. “...were you following me!” His eyes, a startling shade of green, hatefully studied her. A scraggly beard covered his chin, and his hot breath hit her in quick bursts, since he was only inches away from her.
Judy’s eyes stared fearfully up at him, trying to process what had just happened. Once again, she dumbfoundedly asked, “What?”
Apparently, he wasn’t looking for that answer. An ice-cold, steel barrel suddenly was pressed against the side of her throat. “Listen carefully,” he said collecting himself. “Why were you following me, lady?”
She froze, “Th-the backpack. You left it, and I-” As she looked down, she noticed the garage opener dangling from his fingers. Judy came to her senses and looked him in the eye. “You blew up all those people.”
The man’s head dropped down in a groan. He released Judy and rubbed the back of his neck. Then in an angry shout, he kicked the wall, “Damnit!”
The Colt pistol now hung in Judy’s sight, and her mind began to race, trying to find the right words. “I-I’m sorry, I won’t tell anyone. This was all a misunderstanding I can go, please…”
A hand once again grabbed her throat, the pistol jamming back into her forehead. “Shut up! You’re coming with me.”
The pleas quickly turned to sobs, “No, no please, I’m begging you.” Tears streaked down her face. “Please, nobody has to know-”
Forcefully shoving her into the door, a cold voice breathed warmly down her neck. “Be quiet. You are going to walk ahead of me, and if you so much as blink, expect a bullet in your side. Got it?”
Judy choked up, “Yes, yes, I do.”
“Good.” He grasped the door handle, “Let’s go.”
Outside resembled Hell as Judy had always envisioned it. The station had cleared itself, for the most part. Some bystanders remained, shouting as they tried to help the many wounded strewn out across the floor accompanied by the agonizing screams that echoed throughout the chamber from the victims. Small fires littered the floor, and black-marks scorched out from the blast area. Directly in front of them, a lady looked as if she was in a daze, slowly wandering past the pair to the exit, her eyes glassed over as she stared straight ahead. A young boy was cradled in her arms; he wasn’t moving. Judy couldn’t bring herself to look directly at the carnage where the bomb had gone off, and she clasped her eyes tightly shut. “Move,” he whispered. “Act like we’re victims just like everyone else. Now run, but stay close.”
Eyes clenched shut, she nodded. A tear streaked down her cheek. Why was this happening? She peeked to find her way up the stairs and out of the abyss, and there it was. A single, bloody arm was lying not ten meters from their feet. Judy doubled over and vomited. Quickly, the flat barrel of the gun pressed into her back through the fabric of the man’s jacket. “Now.”
Fighting more tears, she began to rush up the flights of stairs to get out of Hell. Her toes barely graced each step, flying up as fast as her legs could handle. A few wide-eyed subway workers dashed past them to help those still below, but all Judy could think of was escaping at the moment. She had to get out. She had to get away.
On the first level, a crowd had congregated with a mix of fright and curiosity. Security guards held the masses away. All Judy wanted was to grab one of the people and beg for help. She wanted to tell them that the man following intently behind her was the psychopath that caused all of this, but all she could do was run and sob.
The two ascended back up to the streets where people stood confused as to what had just happened. “Left!” he hissed. “And slow down, we’re out now. Start walking to the parking garage at the mall.” Obediently, her footsteps softened.
At gunpoint, she marched away from the scene. Countless pedestrians passed by, giving strange looks at the soot-covered individuals. Judy’s eyes silently pleaded at each passing face, but everyone was too focused on the explosion to notice or care. Police, ambulance, and fire department sirens wailed as they sped back past them towards the incident, creating a somber, city-wide alarm that cried out to the heavens. Block by block, the number of panicked bystanders decreased, and the ringing alarms slowly faded to a faint sound. Finally, the man led Judy into a parking garage, all the way up until they reached what appeared to be an old, mint-green car. Jabbing the keys into the side, the man yanked the door open and clicked the doors to unlock.
Sniffling, she reluctantly climbed into the driver’s seat. SLAM. The door was thrown shut at such force that it almost caught her foot. Soon, the passenger’s side swung open and shut again as he climbed in. He dropped his head to his hands, letting off a dull groan into his palms. Silence.
The long walk had left Judy time to regroup. She had always been a sensible person, able to keep her head level in bad situations, and the initial confusion had cleared up. Despite still being in immediate danger, one question had begun to mull through her mind. Now, she couldn’t hold it in.
“Why?” she asked, breaking the silence.
The man’s head slowly raised until he was glaring at her. His hand disappeared into his jacket, and pulled out the shining-steel gun. He paused for a moment, then leveled the gun to her forehead. “Hush.”
Face reddening, Judy’s eyes shot back down to her thighs, but she felt a small amount of courage build inside of her. “Just what do you plan on doing with me, huh? We’re in the middle of Manhattan, and I’m sure by now the city is on lockdown.” A lump gathered in her throat. “So there’s nowhere to dump my body.”
The hammer of the gun drew back with a sharp click. Judy peeked at him in fear. The man looked as if he was in a dream or trance, and a strange stare reflected in his green eyes. This must be it, she thought to herself. It’s all over. Her head ducked by down as a tear ran down her red cheek.
However, the shot never rang out. Instead, the man’s arm relaxed, dropping the gun back to her chest with a sigh. At that moment, Judy noticed a small trace of sweat gathered on his brow. “Just drive, alright?”
For the first time, she stopped and really looked at the man. His face, while bearded, was actually a lot more boyish than she had first thought. He looked to be only in his twenties, around Judy’s own age. His face didn’t look like the face of a cold-blooded killer, but the face of a boy she may have been friends with.
Picking up the keys from the console, her hands shook as she started the vehicle. It stalled for a few seconds, leaving Judy a glimmer of hope that maybe it wouldn’t start at all. Nevertheless, the engine roared to life.
Judy backed the car out of the parking spot, and began to descend down to the bottom of the garage. She cleared her throat, “So, where-”
“Oh, okay.” Judy recalled something her professor had once said in class about criminal psychology. “A criminal with a hostage is much less likely to kill the hostage if the hostage forces him to know the victim on a personal level,” the professor had taught. “Simply telling the would-be killer things about yourself makes him much less likely to murder you in the end. After all, they are still human beings.”
After circling down the garage one last time, Judy pulled out onto the city street. Traffic was backed up, since the police had probably closed off all the streets around the crime scene. That gave her time to talk to this guy so maybe she could get out of this alive.
“With this traffic, it’s going to take forever to get to the Bronx from here.” Her voice shook a little, but she had to be firm. “If you want, I could make my way to FDR Drive. That might be a faster route right now.”
No response. How could Judy possibly carry a conversation with a mass murderer? At the very least, she had to keep trying.
“So…” She began. “Um, do you live in New York or are you just visiting? Are we trying to get to your house or something?”
The man, who had appeared to be in his own world, slowly turned to wearily look at Judy. “Why the hell are you talking?”
She ignored his response. “I live in Manhattan. My husband and I moved here a few years ago.” Again, the man was silent, so she continued. “This city is just so amazing, you know?”
“Okay, I’m sorry, are you stupid or something?” He waved the gun around by her face. “Do you even know what the hell this is? I didn’t bring you along to chat.”
The more the man talked, the less Judy feared him. “Why did you kidnap me, then?”
Despite the tension, the man laughed out loud. “I guess you really are stupid.”
With that, Judy’s grip on the wheel tightened. Silently, she took a deep breath. Their car had barely moved an inch in the gridlocked traffic. In the distance, the sirens continued to cry out. Silently, she shut her eyes and said a quick prayer for the victims.
“So you’re one of those people.”
Judy’s eyelids flashed back up. “Sorry?”
“Never really liked you religious types.” The man eased back in his seat comfortably. “Always trying to convince everyone that the world doesn’t suck, like everything is so simple once you choose to “believe” in some 2,000 year-old dead guy.”
“Even if it isn’t true, isn’t it better than the alternative? It gives me hope, purpose, joy…”
“Well, I guess I’d just rather be educated and miserable than hopeful and foolish.”
Judy carefully scanned the car with her peripheral vision, but there wasn’t much to see. Old, crumpled up McDonalds bags piled around her feet. On the console, a pack of cigarettes, some napkins, and what looked like an extra cartridge for the pistol sat in disarray, and dust collected on the cracked dashboard. There has to be something in here. Maybe something to hit him with so I can jump out, or…
Finally, Judy noticed a hospital ID resting in the cupholder. Squinting, she discreetly studied the words on it.
BRONX-LEBANON HOSPITAL CENTER, FULTON CAMPUS
At least now she knew who he was. All she had to do now was get out of this alive. Finally, however, their car made it through the heavy traffic, and now they were driving without too many stops. Her heart skipped a beat. If she was going to get out of this, she needed time to think. Turning, she glanced at Ray O’Sullivan and noticed a small, circular burn scar on his hand, maybe a cigarette burn.
Ray shot her an angry look, then followed her gaze to his scarred hand. His hand lifted, and he rotated it back and forth as if he hadn’t seen his own hand in a long while. Looking as if he was debating whether or not to tell Judy anything, he apparently settled on the latter. “You’ll have a matching one if you don’t stay quiet and drive,” he said flatly.
Despite what this man had done, Judy felt pity for the man. “I’m sorry. Nobody should have to go through something like that. Anything that your parents might have done wasn’t your fault as a child.” Her inner psychologist kicked in.
Ray let out a cold, unforgiving laugh. The sound sent chills running across Judy’s skin and caused her to wince. “My father was no drunk. He was a physician out of Harvard University.” The icy laughs continued.
With a mix of confusion and shock, Judy stared at Ray. “He was a what?”
“Look, sweetie, just because we lived in a half-million dollar house doesn’t mean life was all sunshine-and-rainbows.” The revelation still didn’t register in Judy’s head, as she tried to make sense of his situation. Ray studied her in amusement, “Surprising, isn’t it?” He shifted around in his seat to get a good look at Judy. “You, on the other hand, are as predictable as they come. I’m going to guess that you came from a pretty wealthy family, too. I bet you also got to go to a nice, snobby prep school, where you of course made straight-A’s, got to be a dolled-up cheerleader, and burned all of your daddy’s money on makeup and skirts.” His finger jabbed into her shoulder. “And I also am willing to bet that you think everyone’s life is just as happy as yours; or, at least that’s what you like to tell yourself so you don’t have to feel guilty about not helping anybody but yourself.”
Judy opened her mouth to protest, but the words caught in her throat. Another chilling laugh filled the car, and Ray leaned his face across the car until he was inches from her cheek. “What, do you think that I’m some big, bad man for blowing all of those happy-little New Yorkers into a bunch of different pieces? People like you think you are so much better than everyone else, but you aren’t any less of a monster than me.”
“You're right, I'm no better than you. We're all sinners, and we all are terrible people in our own ways.” Judy stared right at the man. “But you don't have to the kind of person you're trying to become. This isn't you.” Perhaps she was delusional, but she could faintly hear a voice in the back of her mind telling her what to say, despite never knowing Ray O’Sullivan before he was a terrorist.
Confusion was plastered all over the man’s face as he tried to figure out why she wasn't scared. It was as if a little bit of light had broken through his hard shell. After a few moments, however, he shook his head and pulled a switchblade from his pocket. “I'm down with this.” The blade rose to her throat. Down the road, an ambulance was barreling towards the direction from which they had just came. The sirens obviously alerted Ray, and he looked up at the street to make sure he was safe. Judy saw her chance. CRACK!
Ray screamed in agony and grabbed his smashed nose. The spare cartridge fell from Judy’s right hand as her left grappled for the door handle. She yanked it towards her, but nothing happened. Locked. She felt the door frantically to find a button or switch, and quickly unlocked the car. The door flew open, but a fist grabbed the tail of her shirt. “YOU BI-!” In a swift kick, she sent him reeling back to the passenger seat, and she took off, dodging past cars until she reached the other side. A small group of pedestrians had barely noticed the ordeal and continued to walk down the sidewalk. Judy began to grab each to ask for help, but she couldn’t form the words. After a few puzzled looks were given in exchange for her silent pleas, she sprinted down an alley and pulled out her phone.
The screen flashed to life, illuminating a few Instagram notifications and several missed calls from her husband. With no time to spare, her finger swiped across the home screen to the Emergency call number pad, typing in the three numbers. 9-1-1. Seconds later, the operator’s voice came onto the speaker. “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“Th-the man who blew up the subway is chasing me, I need help!”
“What is your location, ma’am?”
The barrel of the gun, now all-too familiar to Judy, pressed into the back of her scalp. “Hang. Up,” he seethed.
Both of her hands slowly raised into the air, and the phone was snatched up by Ray as the operator repeatedly asked if she was okay.
Judy turned around to see blood pouring down Ray’s face from his nose. A red shoe print was stamped across his left eye. “Go,” he breathed. At the end of the alley, bystanders gawked at the pair. One called out something.
Her heart shattered in her chest, and she began to walk away from the crowd. Across the block, nobody had noticed a thing. Ray fed Judy directions as he stalked behind her, and the shouts of the bystanders faded into the background. Strangers passed by with curious looks at the pair, many turning their heads for another glance as they passed. But again, nobody stopped to help.
As they marched on, the cracks in the street began to spread further across the sidewalk and road. Each passing face evolved into a rougher, less-forgiving version than the last. A tug halted Judy, as Ray gestured to a porch to their right. The wrought-iron railing twisted and shrugged, black paint peeling from it’s cold exterior. A push towards the worn-down door almost made Judy crash into the stairs, but she her hand caught the railing. She wanted to scream, but nothing came from her throat. Reluctantly, she went inside.
The house’s interior proved to be as unappealing as it’s frontside. A musty smell wafted from the stained carpet. The drapes were pulled tightly shut over the windows, with a faded, flowery yellow fabric. The wood creaked even under her small frame.
“Alright,” Ray slowly pushed through the door. The lock clicked as it slammed shut. “Don’t scream. Don’t try to fight. Just accept it.” His hand slipped into his jacket.
“No!” Judy raised her hand to strike his face, but he caught it in his grip before she even was able to bring her arm back. In one swift motion, he twisted her arm making her yelp and threw her into his wall. Trembling, she began to push her frail body from the floor. Ray laughed out loud, “Not so tough now, huh?” His boot made a sickening contact with her exposed stomach. Kneeling down, his fingers wrapped around her throat. Judy writhed around, but he was too strong. A cruel twinkle reflected in his gaze, and his lips curled up in an ear-to-ear smile. “Die.”
Her hands pulled at each of his fingers, but she was unable to lift any of them. Slowly, her wild kicks became softer and softer. Black crept over the edges of her vision. In a final attempt, she stared at Ray with large, pleading eyes.
For a moment, his steely gaze remained unbroken. Before Judy completely blacked out, she thought she saw his grin waiver, and the hate in his eyes disappeared.
An jolt awoke Judy from her sleep. Her head rested against a rough, leather surface. A window was situated on a wall above her, streetlights dashing from left to right. A dizzy fog filled her mind, and she tried to reach to wipe her eyes, but a rope cut into her bound wrists. The confusion faded, and she remembered exactly what had happened.
Her body sat up in her seat. She was in Ray’s car once again, only this time, she was in the backseat. Slouched in the driver’s seat, Ray stared at the road without moving. “You want to hear a story, Judy?”
He continued without an answer, “Many years ago, there was this twelve-year-old boy who didn’t have a lot of friends. He tried, that’s for sure, and he desperately wanted to have some, but the kids at school thought he was some rich prick and gave him hell for it. At lunch, his art teacher felt sorry for him and would always let the boy stay in the classroom because the boy didn’t want to have to face those kids who were so cruel to him. So this kid spends every 35-minute lunch period for three months working on his “master project”, which was this painting of a lighthouse over a stormy ocean. In reality, it wasn’t exactly a Van Gogh, but the boy was immensely proud of it and spent his hours outside of school just itching to get back and finish it. Near the last day of the semester, he happily added the last stroke to the storm clouds and completed his work of art. He then walked down the hall to take it to show his waiting mother after school, and a group of loudmouths thought it would be absolutely hilarious to smash it over the boy’s head.
“If you think that the story has a happy ending, then you are dead wrong my friend,” Ray’s voice cracked as he paused to gain composure. “All the way through high school it’s the same, damned story. The teenaged boy asks this girl that he’s had a crush on for weeks to the prom, but one of the morons overhears and decides to leave a little mark with his cigarette on the boy’s arm.”
“That’s terrible, I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that sort of bullying, Ray,” Judy exclaimed. “It’s not right at all what they did to you.”
“It could happen to anybody, it’s no big deal. That’s just the way this screwed up society is. Everyone’s priority number one is their own well-being, and every time somebody tries to “be nice” to anybody it’s only for their own gain.” Tears streaked down his reddened cheeks. “That’s why they must burn.”
A bag had been pressing against Judy’s leg for the duration of the story. A horrible feeling swelled in her gut, as she looked down at the bulging, turquoise backpack. “Oh my God,” She jumped back from the bag as if it was scalding hot. “You can’t do this! Haven’t you done enough damage today? You can quit now, don’t slaughter another crowd of people, please!”
“The boy used to dream of making the world pay,” Ray said dryly. “He knew that one day he would make the others feel his pain, and that he would send as many of them as he could to hell.”
“No!” Judy wrestled with her tied hands and repeatedly kicked her foot into the car door. “Just because you were forced to grow up in a difficult situation, that doesn’t mean you are justified in massacring innocent people!”
He ignored her. “This isn’t you, Ray O’Sullivan,” Her voice calmed to attempt to soothe him. “That happy, artistic little boy is still in you. I know it.”
The car pulled to the side of the road. Judy assumed she had been unconscious for awhile, as it was already night. for Outside, hundreds of New Yorkers pushed along the illuminated sidewalks, passing under massive, digital billboards. Posters hung advertising various companies and Broadway plays. Columns of skyscrapers towered above the thriving Times Square, and Judy realized with fear what was about to happen.
Ray threw the driver’s door open and reached for the backpack. Judy kicked and screamed, but he pulled it away anyway, slamming the door behind him as he made his way into the crowd. Furiously, she tore and yanked at her binds, yelling to get the attention of the people outside. However, the knots were too tight to break free from quickly, and she only had seconds. She thrust her body into the front seats, causing her head to smash into the dashboard. With all of the adrenaline, however, she felt no pain. Using her feet, she fumbled with the door handle, until she finally managed to catch it with her toe and swing it wide open.
Thanks to the bombing earlier in the day, the mood was relatively somber on the streets, and the pedestrian traffic was much less dense than usual. However, many still roamed the square as if they had not heard the news at all; or, at least, they had done what they could to block it from their minds. A variety of tourists strolled across the pavement, boasting countless conversations. Judy was in shock - a mix of disbelief and frustration - at the turnout even after the terror that had struck that morning. Nevertheless, as she shoved through the crowd, her ears caught some casual dialogue about the attack, so at least, Judy thought, the people acting as if nothing had happened were aware of the situation.
Ray was nowhere to be seen. Judy stuck her head down and dashed in the direction he had walked towards. A couple of teenage girls who had been taking photos of the square noticed Judy sprinting down the pavement with her hands tied behind her back and threw their heads back in laughter as they videoed her mad dash. The flow of bodies never seemed to cease blocking her path, unknowingly hiding a sinister killer, lurking among them. After a couple of minutes of wild searching, Judy feared that she had run out of time and prepared herself for the potential blast that could ring out at any given moment. But in the last instant before she resolved to quit, she saw him.
He stood in the dead center of the street with the backpack slung over his two slumped shoulders. One hand was stuffed into his right pocket; the other clutched a small black box. Pedestrians took steps yards away from the man who held the power to end them with one swift button, but they continued on. Judy took a deep breath and walked to Ray.
“Ray… you know what you are doing is wrong.”
Sniffling like a child, Ray spoke to her with his head down, “What I am doing is necessary.”
“What happened earlier cannot be undone. You committed an inconceivable atrocity against normal people, and you will have to live with that,” Judy stepped towards him. “But there is still room for forgiveness. You can return from the darkness if you will just give this up and turn yourself in. I know it’s what you want too.”
Ray looked up at her. His face was a blotchy red, and his green eyes, once holding a remnant of life, turned to a dead reflection. “There can be no return.” His right hand withdrew his silver pistol, and a deafening crack sent waves of fear through the surrounding crowd at Times Square and screams soon followed.
Judy swayed for a moment. She was held in a dream until the crimson began to soak her yellow sweater over her chest. Mouth agape, she gazed at the man who was once Ray one last time to see him beam with a wicked smile. His hand which clutched the detonator lifted, and as Judy collapsed to the pavement, a bright light sent searing heat bathing over her body. In her last thoughts, her mind drifted back to that day when her mother had been washing dishes and sharing life advice with her daughter.
“Everyone’s heart can be changed for the better, sweetie, I promise,” she had said.
Young Judy had stopped to digest that advice for a few moments, when a second question had jumped into her mind. “But what if they don’t want to change, Mommy?”
Her mother had sighed once more as she stared out of the window. “Well, then maybe the way they are is the best that they can ever be."