(for Julie Brumley)
“You know,” said Sherri, “we’re in danger right now.”
“Why’s that?” said Lyssa.
“Because of Choosy Chuck.”
“Oh, yeah, Choosy Chuck. I think I heard something about him. But why exactly are we in danger from him?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute,” said Sherri. “But first I have to have a look at that blouse. Do you think I should try it on?”
A man could not have answered before Sherri was indeed stepping into a dressing room to try on the blouse. Lyssa –- who might, by right of superior timing, have managed to say something –- didn’t even try. Instead, she waited patiently for her best friend to appear.
“Well, what do you think?”
“You want my honest opinion?”
“Would I be asking for your dishonest opinion, Lyssa?”
“Well, then, it’d be okay for someone else, Sherri, but it isn’t for you.”
“You know what my grandmother says, Lyssa?”
“Grammamma Nan, we call her. She says you deliberately try to undermine me by telling me I look bad when I look good and then telling me I look good when I look bad. She says you want me to dress the wrong way.”
“And you believe her?”
Sherri glanced at the nearest mirror for a couple seconds. “No, of course not. And I’m not getting the blouse.”
Lyssa’s smile was a mirror in itself. When Sherri had changed back into her own clothes and returned the blouse –- again, with the swiftness of experience –- Lyssa asked: “So what’s this about Choosy Chuck?”
“Oh, I’ve been dying to tell you!”
“You tell right away!”
“Choosy Chuck is, like, this serial killer.”
“You mean like on CSI?”
“Exactly! But nobody can catch Choosy Chuck.”
“CSI must be on another case.”
“And Choosy Chuck has the most peculiar M.O.”
“Is M.O. something like body odor?”
“No, you dork! M.O. stands for modus offerandi. It means, like, how the criminal does the crime.”
“And how does the criminal do the crime?”
“No, see. It’s different with every criminal. It’s like fingerprints, only fingerprints of the brain.”
“Oh, I get it. M.O. is how you get your hands on the criminal’s brain.”
“Exactly! And every criminal’s brain is different and has different fingerprints on it. Oh, look: those guys are giving us the eye!”
It took the girls five minutes of whispering to determine that those guys weren’t worth the time of day.
“So,” said Lyssa, “what are the fingerprints on Brainy Chuck’s brain?”
“Choosy Chuck, you dork! Don’t you read the newspapers?”
“No, I don’t. Do you?”
“Well, no –- but it’s Choosy Chuck all the same. It’s been on the Internet!”
“Not what I asked, Brainiac. I asked, what are his brain fingerprints?”
“You mean his M.O.”
“Isn’t that what you told me brain fingerprints are?”
“Okay, Lyssa. No need to get all bent out of shape.”
“Just answer the question, Sherri. It’s what you wanted to tell me in the first place.”
“Point for you! Okay, here it is. What Choosy Chuck’s M.O. is, he always targets pairs of girls.”
“Just like us!”
“Exactly. And what Chuck does, he finds this pair in a secluded spot. And he’s dressed all in black.”
“Does he wear leather?”
“I don’t think it said.”
“Because I like guys in leather.”
“Oh, come on, Lyssa: that is so gay!”
“It is not.”
“Is so. And besides, you’re a liar. You have never gone for a guy wearing leather.”
“That’s true –- but I think I’d like a guy in leather if I met one.”
“Well, you are not allowed to like Choosy Chuck, whether he wears leather or not. Duh, he’s a serial killer!”
“Is he cute?”
“No one knows. He’s always wearing a mask.”
“Ooh, like the Phantom of the Opera! Maybe he’s really deformed, but handsome in a tragic way.”
“Choosy Chuck’s mask covers his whole face, Lyssa. He’s probably really dorky and ugly, with great big zits and stuff.”
“But nobody knows.”
“And that’s his M.O., dress in black, wear a mask?”
“Lyssa, stop being a pain. I haven’t even got to the crime yet!”
“So get to it, Einstein.”
“But what about those pants?”
There were several pairs of those pants, so the encounter was fraught with possible disappointment. Happily, in the end, each girl found a pair of pants that her best friend thought sensational on her –- or at least said so. They bought the pants. GIRLS: 20; MALL: a big fat ZERO.
“Do you think Choosy Chuck goes after pairs of pants?” asked Lyssa.
“No, stupid. I already told you. Choosy Chuck goes after pairs of girls.”
“I just thought there might be some connection.”
“You are so out of it!”
“Well, at least I can get to my point.”
“So I’ll get to my point. Choosy Chuck shows up, all in black, with a mask….”
“But not in leather.”
“And he has this gun.”
“You know what that means.”
“Oh, Lyssa, it does not!”
“Sure it does. Mr. Pedicaris says it always means that.”
“Mr. Pedicaris is gay.”
“He is not. He has a girlfriend named Heather.”
“Have you ever seen this girlfriend?”
“Well, no one in class.”
“Oh, come on, Sherri. Now Mr. Pedicaris has to bring his girlfriend to school to prove he’s not gay?”
“If he really wants to prove it.”
“That is so unfair! Anyhow, even if Mr. Pedicaris is gay, what difference does it make? He could still be right about guns.”
“Think, Lyssa. Guys in movies are pointing guns at each other all the time. If that meant what you said, it’d mean all those actors are gay –- which is probably what Mr. Pedicaris is wishing!”
“News flash, Sherri: a lot of those actors are gay.”
“It would mean Russell Crowe is gay.”
Lyssa was taken aback. She was clearly on the losing end of this argument. But she thought quick. “So, is Choosy Chuck gay?”
Sherri was almost angry. “Choosy Chuck is not gay! He points his gun at girls!”
“So you’re admitting that’s what it means. Point for me!”
“Oh, you are just impossible! Come on. Let’s go to the bathroom.”
After the bathroom, it was the victorious Lyssa who got the conversation back on track. “So what does Choosy Chuck do after he points his gun –- or is that it for him?”
“That’s just the point, Lyssa. Now get this: after he levels his gun, Choosy Chuck shoots the hotter girl right through the heart!”
“It’s how he got his name. He chooses between the two girls –- and kills the better-looking one. He does it every time.”
“And what happens to the other girl –- the one he doesn’t choose?”
“He always lets her live.”
Both girls stopped walking. Lyssa gave Sherri a look as hard as a bulletproof windshield –- and saw the same look in Sherri’s eyes. For a couple of seconds, neither girl even breathed.
“Well,” said Lyssa, “I’m safe, then.”
“Sure. If Choosy Chuck comes after us, he’ll shoot you and let me get away.”
“Oh, no, Lyssa: it’s the other way around. If Choosy Chuck comes after us, he’ll shoot you and let me get away.”
“Sherri, you’re just saying that because you’re my best friend and you’re trying to be nice.”
“No, Lyssa. It’s really true. Choosy Chuck would definitely choose you over me. Any guy would.”
Warm, sisterly feelings were so thick in the air that not even the girls could stand them for long. “Anyhow,” said Lyssa, “how much danger could we be in, after all? There must be a hundred pairs of girls shopping in this mall right now. Our odds have to be pretty good, Sherri.”
Sherri, however, was looking around. “You know, Lyssa, I don’t see one other pair of girls anywhere. And we’re right in the most crowded concourse in the mall.”
“You know, you’re right.” Lyssa’s head was now swiveling, too. “I don’t see one other pair.”
“And if you think of it, we haven’t seen one other pair of girls all day.”
“Gosh, why would that be, Sherri? Normally we’d see more pairs than we could count.”
“Maybe other girls are afraid to go out in pairs. Maybe they’re afraid of Choosy Chuck.”
“Gee, do you think?”
“I can’t think of any other explanation.”
“Sherri, this is scary. If it’s too dangerous for other pairs of girls to be out, what are we doing here?”
“I think maybe we should go back to the car and get out of here.”
Lyssa nodded –- and together the carefree souls skedaddled.
Aside from the strange demographic shift –- no pairs of girls –- the mall had been far from empty. But under the cloudy late-afternoon sky, the parking lot seemed oddly deserted, as if a neutron bomb had wiped out everything living, leaving the surrounding infrastructure untouched. The girls’ heels made a sound that echoed eerily in the still air.
When she got to her Mazda, Sherri dropped her keys. She knelt to pick them up, and, when she stood, there he was.
“I hate that name,” said the guy dressed all in black.
“Way to give a warning, Lyssa!”
“Hey, I didn’t see him, either. He sure knows how to sneak up on a girl.”
“On a pair of girls,” said Choosy Chuck, leveling his pistol at Sherri.
“What?” said Lyssa. “You’re choosing her?”
Steady as a statue, Choosy Chuck’s gun hand shifted -– to point at Lyssa. “I changed my mind,” said Chuck. “You’re beautiful when you’re angry….”
“You two-timer!” shrieked Sherri –- and flung her key ring, heavy with keys that Sherri never used anymore, straight into Choosy Chuck’s face. As one of the keys scratched the surface of his left eye, he screamed and turned the pistol on Sherri.
Lyssa’s purse came down on his hand faster than thought. “Make up your mind!” Lyssa shouted, swinging again.
Choosy Chuck’s gun clattered on the pavement.
The smart thing to do then was to run. What Sherri did instead was pick up the gun.
The smart thing to do then was to turn the gun on Chuck. What Sherri did instead was considerably more original.
Her left hand she hooked into a trembling rake –- and tore at Chuck’s mask. In her right fist she held the pistol so that the barrel protruded between her thumb and forefinger. Her little finger covered the hammer. The grip projected downward over the little bone at the side of her wrist. With this club she battered at Chuck like a latter-day Valkyrie wielding a war hammer. She was beyond words as she waded into Chuck –- but there arose from her throat such a sound as nightmares are made of, half siren, half wildcat cry.
Feebly, Chuck lifted his arms to ward off her attack.
In the meantime, Lyssa, a howling figure of vengeance, continued to swing her purse. She seemed heedless of her target, and may have been aiming at Sherri –- but what she hit was Chuck. She caught him hard on the side of the knee, on the back of the head, and at last on his left arm, which dropped. At just that moment, Sherri brought the pistol down, her cry rising to a crescendo behind it. It struck an inch forward of the ear –- with a sickening crunch. Chuck crashed to the ground like a marionette whose strings have been severed by one sweep of the machété.
But Sherri wasn’t finished. Sobbing now with anger, she followed him down, clawing and clubbing. In a few seconds, she had pulled off his mask. Lyssa kicked him hard on the cheekbone.
“Actually, he is kind of cute,” said Sherri.
“And the mask is leather,” said Lyssa. She kicked him once again –- more gently this time, in the ribs. Then she took out her cell phone and summoned the police.
Several minutes passed before they arrived.
“He chose you!” said the girl who had been Lyssa’s best friend.
“He chose you!” said the girl who had been Sherri’s best friend.
In their eyes was a cold hatred that would never forgive.