Charge, The


By Tags

This story is a work of fiction. None of the characters portrayed herein represent any real person, living or dead. It includes characters invented by Chip Masterson including the muscle super kid, "Danny Henderson" who appears in a number of stories created by Chip. These characters are used in this story with his express permission, (Thanks, Chip!) although this story differs substantially in tone and theme from stories written heretofore by Chip. There are inconsistencies between Chip's story line and mine. The characters in my scenario dwell, therefore, in some sort of `parallel universe.' Also included in this story is a character inspired by "Billy," the lead character in John D's "Billy Muscles up." One incident is borrowed directly from the "Billy Muscles Up" series and some of the things Billy does in this story echo "Billy Muscles Up." However, although this "Billy" begins with more or less the same personality and physical strength as the original, events take "my `Billy'" in a somewhat different direction. My use of the "Billy" character is with John D's express permission. Thanks, John D!

If you are looking for erotic stimulation, please look elsewhere because you won't find that here. Aside from some coarse language and violence, this story could almost be rated "G." But if Chip's "Danny" series is one you have enjoyed, you may find this story entertaining as well. My interest in Chip's "Danny" series has been mainly, "what are people thinking and feeling?" (Something Chip has preferred to leave to the reader's imagination.) This story delves into that question in just a little bit more detail. Of particular interest to me as well, is how some of these characters respond to situations and circumstance that could happen to anyone as well as how they react to extraordinary situations.

I've introduced my own characters in this story, among them, "Andy Jackson Partlowe," and, to some extent, this is HIS story... how he came to meet Billy, Danny and his friends and how he reacts to their phenomenal strength and abilities.

My thanks to the web master for his work in maintaining this site and for posting this story. I would like to express my special thanks to Chip Masterson and John D. for graciously sharing their characters with me and especially for their work and creativity in creating their stories. This story is dedicated in their honor.

Thanks a lot for sharing, Chip and John D...


Nineteen year old Andrew Jackson Partlowe had been a part time security guard at the Orange Park Shopping Mall for about six months. He was a student at Cal Tech. It was the summer following his sophomore year but he was taking a handful of classes during the summer session. Andy was a double major in mechanical and electrical engineering with a minor in computer science. He was no rocket scientist by a long shot. Although conscientious, he was not a straight "A" student. He had a smattering of B's to deprive him of a "four-O" GPA." Sometimes Andy felt like he was banging his head against a brick wall just to make it. But with his sheer willpower and self discipline, pity the poor wall, not Andy's head.

Andy was short, about 5'6", 180 pounds, average good looking with pleasant but unremarkable facial features. Coal black hair, a taught, lean, athletic, well proportioned, superbly muscled body. His most striking feature was his eyes. Grey-green and very intense; eyelids slightly droopy at the outside with long eyelashes. Women would call them "bedroom eyes."

Money was a little tight, sometimes, but Andy was a hard worker. He lived frugally and always managed to make ends meet. His dad had been a fireman, killed in the line of duty back when Andy was 11 years old. He received a small stipend for college from the fireman's pension fund and had been awarded a small, partial, academic scholarship but, still, he had to work part time to make all his bills.

Andy had been a small, sickly child, not like his father, a big, strapping athletic man. In grammar school, he had been the smallest, weakest boy in his class. He never came out on top in a scrap but he never backed down, either. Occasionally, he'd come home all banged up but he never said a word to his parents. He'd clean himself up as best he could before his parents saw him and present them with the best face he could. When Andy's dad died, for awhile, it felt like the end of the world for the boy. He'd looked up to his dad and wanted so badly to be big and strong and brave like him. Shortly after Andy's 11th birthday, his dad had died a hero's death in the line of duty, trying to rescue small children from a blazing apartment complex. At the fireman's funeral, a posthumous medal, awarded for bravery in action, above and beyond the call of duty, had been presented to his mom, pinned to a folded a US flag She also received a very modest widow's pension.

About a year after his dad's death, Andy's mom was forced by her dwindling finances to sell their home and move them into a smallish two bedroom apartment. So, Andy was obliged to change schools and start all over. No much loss, though. Andy had no real friends at his old school so he'd left nothing behind he much cared about.

One day at lunch time, not long after the move to his new school, Reagan Middle, Andy entered the school cafeteria and sat down by himself to eat his sack lunch. A big, blond, very good looking muscle boy with a painted on T-shirt came over to him and demanded that Andy give him his lunch. Little Andy was certainly never confrontational, but he wasn't inclined to back down from a bully, no matter what the consequence. So he looked up at the boy and offered, "Hey dude, if you're really hungry and don't have anything to eat, I'm happy to share with you, but you're gonna hafta ASK me... nicely."

The boy snatched Andy by the front of his shirt and pulled him up, out of the chair and into his face. "Look punk, you're new around here and I'm in a really good mood so I'll give you a break and explain how things work. I say `frog.' You ask `how high?' on the way up. Now be a good little boy and just hand me your lunch... NOW."

Andy was scared. He always got so scared and he hated that in himself. But he wrestled down his fear, narrowed his eyes and looked straight at his assailant. "I'm gonna ask you, nicely, chum, to turn me loose and just go away."

They boy looked around at the other kids. All eyes were on him and Andy. "Looks like we got a 'slow-learner' here. S'matter, you in 'special-ed' or something, you moron?"

"I think I need to give you a little demonstration, punk. Then maybe you'll understand."

They muscle boy set Andy down on his feet. "Now I want you to wind up real good and wail into my gut with all you got.

"No," was all Andy said in reply.

"Do it now you little fuck or I'll hafta pulverize you."

Andy didn't oblige. He spied one of the folding lunchroom chairs directly behind the muscle boy and shoved him into it. "Muscle boy" lost his balance fell over it, landing flat on his back with the wind knocked out of him and Andy dove on top of him pummeling him in his face and throat.

It didn't take long for the other boy to recover and when he did, he muscled Andy off and `scissored' him with his meaty thighs and started to squeeze... hard. "OK... Looks like we got a guy here with some balls. Let see how long it takes this punk to get the message.... A'ight, shit-for-brains, now you're gonna give me your lunch. I'm NOT gonna take it from you... You're gonna GIVE it to me, nice'n friendly and say, 'here Billy, sir, please take my lunch and enjoy it.'"

Andy remained silent and Billy continued to squeeze harder with his 'turbocharged' legs. "C'mon dude," Billy said, "don't make me crack your ribs for you. You know what you gotta say to end this. C'mon, say it."

Andy was in agony. The vice like leg clamp was tightening inexorably and his breath was slowing being squeezed out of his lungs. "Never," Andy growled. "NEVER!"

With one last muscle contraction, Billy squeezed Andy with his legs and everybody nearby heard the sickening "crack" when on of Andy's ribs fractured.

Billy immediately released Andy, a look of shock on his face. "Oh fuck! What'd I do? He jumped to his feet and pulled Andy up. "Goddamn, guy, look what you made me do. I never meant this to happen! Oh Fuck... FUCK! C'mon, dude, lemme get you down to the clinic. We gotta have the nurse take a look at you right now."

Andy, gasping and wincing in pain, looked up at Billy and said, "No. I'll live." By this time, one of the faculty lunchroom monitors had seen the commotion around Andy and Billy and came over to investigate. Mr. Harding, one of the Math teachers, asked, "What is going on here?"

Andy spoke up. "I'm sorry, sir. I bumped into this guy and we both fell over one of the chairs. We're OK though..." Andy turned to Billy and said, "You're OK too, right dude?"

"Yah," Billy said, "I'm OK."

Andy looked back at Mr. Harding and said, "I'm sorry for all the commotion, sir."

Mr. Harding said, "I guess there's no harm done. But keep it down to a 'dull roar' in here.." And walked away.

Billy looked back at Andy and asked, "Why did you cover for me like that? I just cracked your fuckin' rib, you dweeb."

"I may be a lotta things, `Mr. Billy, sir,' " Andy's voice was dripping with sarcasm, "but one thing I ain't... I ain't a rat. Now, like I said, if you're hungry, I'm perfectly willing to share my lunch with you... But you're not gonna TAKE it from me without a fight."

Billy was momentarily taken aback. "You're a ballsy lil muthufucker... You know that? You gotta mouth on you that's gonna get you in big trouble and you got nuthin' to back it up but a pair of gonads the size of cantaloupes. I'm gonna hafta take you under my wing before you get killed around this place. This is kind of a rough school." By the way, my name's `Billy,' Billy Hartlander."

"You said that. I'm Andy Partlowe. Now yah wanna sit down and split this lunch or what?"

And then they sat down and ate. Billy said to Andy, "Look dude, I'm really sorry. I never meant it to go that far. I'm really not as big a shit head as you probably think I am right now."

Andy said, "yah, I already heard all about you." You're some kinda 12 year old muscle-prodigy. You're only a 6th grader, like me, and, already, you're the godddamn 'alpha-male' in this school. I heard it happened, like, almost "overnight" once you started hit'n the weights in the gym at the start of the term. I hear you've even got the bad ass 8th graders, and even the football jocks, cowed. You're that 'guardian-angel' who supposedly keeps all the goons from pickin' on the 6th graders.

"Yah, that's me. And I can see I'm gonna hafta keep an eye out for you too. Cuz if I didn't somebody'd prolly kill you before you managed to graduate. Somebody's gotta make sure you live to see high school. Guess I'm elected."

Andy munched on his sandwich half, swallowed and thought for a moment. "You know, Billy, I don't really see you as such a bad guy. I've heard a lot about you, even though I've only been here a couple of days. You're kind of a hero to the underclassmen. But why not just be happy that you're 'top dog' around here without the big bad ass act? You standin' up for us against the upper class men just so you can whip up on little guys like me all by yourself? What does THAT prove? Why you gotta try and extort respect outta little guys like me? Who needs that? Everybody KNOWS you can kick any two guys' ass up in here with one hand tied behind your back. You gotta LOT going for you, Billy. Why not make it count for something good?

"Well, um, Andy, really I dunno. I guess I never thought about it quite that way. Guess deep inside, mebbe I'm just a natural born `asshole.' But really, dude, I think you're gonna hafta get that rib looked at. I'm really sorry what I did to you. Honest, dude, I never meant it to go that far. I guess I just lost my head."

Aw, Billy, I'll be OK. I'll prolly just get the coach to tape me up. Before too long I'll be as good as new."

"Look, Andy... You' seem kinda like the `book worm' type. And I can't be on top of you every minute, keepin' you outta trouble. Here's the deal. Once you're healed up, I want you to meet me at the gym every afternoon after school. I'm gonna show you how to work out with the weights. We're gonna put some meat on 'dem bones' and then I'm gonna show you how to fuckin' fight, not like a pussy girl the way you just did with me. We gotta get your bod up to speed with your mouth. Or some of these goons around here'll eat you alive. I'm makin' you my personal responsibility. You got no choice. That's just how it's gonna be." Billy grinned at Andy and, shyly, Andy smiled back..

The two boys became best friends. Billy pushed Andy mercilessly, coaching, cajoling and encouraging, whatever it took, to get him to build up his strength. Andy never put on muscle mass like Billy. He simply didn't have the genes. His muscles were long and stringy, but before long, Andy began to tone up and by the end of the semester, his muscles were taught and firm and his body was strong, a lot stronger than it looked.

Billy had never been much of a scholar and Andy, though not a genius by any means, was very disciplined mentally. He had developed some very effective study habits. Andy paid Billy back by coaching him in his school work, especially math and science. Billy's mother was so pleased with his report card that she went on and on about how proud she was of him. Billy gave all the credit to Andy. "Mom, that guy is harder on me than any teacher I ever had. He's taught me how to focus and apply myself at my school work. I owe it all to him."

"Well, Andy, I'm so happy your friend has finally gotten through to you when I couldn't and the teachers down there at school couldn't. I want you to invite Andy over here for dinner this weekend. I want to meet him. Maybe he could stay over Friday night if you'd like."

"Gee, mom, cool, thanks! I'll call him right now and see if I can set it up."

Billy's mom took a shine to Andy right away. Billy's dad had been a cop, and like Andy's dad, had been killed in the line of duty; a drug bust gone horribly wrong, getting Billy's dad killed. Billy's and Andy's moms, it turned out, already knew each other from a police and fireman widow's support group! Small world!

Billy taught Andy how to box and showed him some karate moves. One day he went over to Andy's mom's without his knowing about it and fast-talked her into enrolling Andy in the tae kwan do club where he was already a member. Meanwhile, Andy had discovered gymnastics. If Billy was the school's champion power lifter, Andy was king when it came to gymnastics. If Andy lacked Billy's phenomenal muscle-building genes, he hadn't been short changed in the "agility" department.

A year later, you wouldn't have recognized Andy. One day, in the school cafeteria, Billy and he were having one of their "power lunches," tofu, tuna salad on whole wheat, fresh fruit and a protein shake. Billy had recently won the weightlifting competition; Andy, having won the gymnastics competition at the annual school "jockathon." They were each other's biggest fans.

"You know, Andy, you're not the same little guy I met in here a year ago. Now you got the bod and the moves to back up that big mouth of yours. In fact, I don't think I've heard nearly as much wise ass shit out of your mouth lately, now that you've got what it takes to back it up."

"Well, Billy, I guess maybe I don't really need to mouth off anymore. Now everybody here knows what I can do, thanks to you. You know, big and strong as you are, you never needed to BULLY your way around here to get respect. I'm glad you listened to me and decided lookin' out for us little shits was all you needed to get all the respect you want. I guess we both learned something from each other, huh." Andy made SURE he was smiling when he said this to Billy.

Billy giggled, "Yah, yah, Andy, I guess you're right about that. I guess I was kind of an asshole when we first met..."

"... Anyway," Billy continued, "I'm really proud of what you've accomplished. We both know you don't have anything `natural' in you like what I've got goin' on, Andy. But, damn, boy, you got `heart!' You just reach down deep inside yourself, pull it out and make it happen! I know I really learned a LOT from watchin' you doin' that!"

"Aw, gee, that's the nicest thing anybody ever said to me.... Couldn't have done it without you, Billy-boy... Couldn't have done it without you."

Billy and Andy remained best friends through high school. Both boys had started their growth into better men than might've been the case had they never met.

But as they continued to grow and mature, Andy began to realize Billy was something of a `special case.' Billy's dad had left behind a well-equipped `gym' in his garage. His mom had always hoped that, one day, Billy would pick up his father's weights, so she had kept them for him. He and Andy trained in the garage, a three-day split routine, six days a week, taking only Sunday's off. Although Andy's progress was impressive, Billy's was nothing short of phenomenal Billy's dad had been a strong, strong man. But before long, Billy had completely outgrown his father's weights in the garage. On day, in frustration at the inadequacy of the weights, he lifted the entire dumbbell rack and, balancing it carefully so none of the dumbbells would topple off, he military pressed it, once, twice... ten times before muscling the rack down to the garage floor.

Andy was flabbergasted.

"You know, Billy. You're almost startin' to scare me. This ain't normal!"

"I guess not Andy... Guess I'm gonna hafta find something else besides these weights to work out with, at least when I go for the heavy stuff. All I'm ever get outta this junk is reps. If I don't figure out something quick, I'm gonna hit a `plateau.'"

There was a junk yard down the road and the boys sneaked down there sometimes after dark where Billy would `wow' Andy with his phenomenal feats of strength. Always pushing himself hard. Andy sometimes worried that Billy might hurt himself but he never did. Not only was he strong as a bull, he was tough as a boot. But, in spite of his phenomenal strength, seemingly growing at a geometric rate, Billy never turned his back on Andy. He made sure Andy never let up on his own workout routine in the garage `weight room.' Billy stood by his friend, spotting, coaching and encouraging him to develop his body to its maximum potential, notwithstanding Andy's limitations in physical genetics, substantially inferior to his own. "You know, Andy, don't think you're off the hook with me just because of `all this' I got goin' on. I'm gonna keep pushing you. Even though you may never get what I've got, I guess a part of me needs to watch you dig down deep and push yourself. Maybe it's because, in some weird kinda way, seeing you do that is part of what keeps ME goin."

"I'm game if you are Billy. I'll never let up if you won't. But, you know, I think it might be better if you kinda `sandbagged' on all this `stength' thing back at school and around other people."

"Whadda mean, Andy? I'm really proud of what I can do, and I was kinda hoping you'd be happy for me, too. And you know me, dude, I love showin' it off! C'mon Andy, you're not jealous of me are you?"

"Aw, Billy, I thought you knew me better than that. That ain't what I mean at all. I just think if some people ever got wind of what you can really do, it could turn out bad for you."

"Bad, Andy? What could be bad about people knowin' I can heave a derelict engine block and hurl it like a shot-put?"

"Think about it, Billy! I don't wanna sound paranoid or nuthin'. But they got some really bad news assholes out there... What if some thug finds out what you can do and blackmails you into workin' for him. He could grab your mom or somethin'. You never WOULD be really free again... You'd be trapped. You might never be able to leave your mom by herself. Just think about it, Billy. Please, just think about it."

Billy chewed on Andy's words for a minute or so... "Naw, dude. I already thought about it all I need to and I guess you're right. Yah know, sometimes I wonder who's really lookin' out for who. I think I'm gonna keep you around." Billy smiled at Andy, wrapped his big arm around the smaller boy's neck, bent him over and gave him a quick noogie.

After high school graduation, Andy enrolled at Cal-Tech. Billy thanks to his good grades, had received an appointment to the Naval Academy. Billy had decided early in his young life on his career goal, the Navy Seals. He was well on his way...

Andy wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do with his life. But he knew he wanted to do something to make a difference. Mech. E and Electrical E with computer science had seemed to be as good a way to go as any.

Andy had wanted to continue as a varsity gymnast at Cal-Tech, but they didn't give out many athletic scholarships in the sport. Without a varsity scholarship, Andy couldn't afford to spend the time necessary to be competitive. He needed the time to focus on his studies and to work a part time job.

Andy and Billy continued to stay in touch with each other across country, mainly via e-mails they exchanged about once a week or so. Billy was thriving at the Naval Academy. It was a `cakewalk' for him, even though it was his plebe year, which is supposed to be hell on earth.

One of the character traits Andy and Billy had shared was a strong work ethic. Both boys were fatherless, both their dads having died in the line of duty while the boys were still fairly young, Billy's dad, a cop and Andy's a fireman. Their moms had widow's pensions and both had jobs to pay all the bills. But, if the boys wanted spending money, they were obliged to work for it.

All through high school Billy had worked part time in a nearby car wash. He was a conscientious worker, to be sure. But, mainly, he capitalized on his good looks, muscular body, his charm and a killer smile that would melt an iceberg to hustle some fantastic tips. He always had plenty of "walkin' around money."

Andy would always remember his first part time job fondly. He'd been a freshman in high school It was a mom'n pop greasy spoon in a strip shopping center about a mile from his house. Andy'd always been something of a 'fast- talker' and he'd managed to persuade the grumpy old guy who owned the place with his wife to give him a job in the kitchen. It took some doing, but Andy finally talked the old grouch, an ex-Army NCO retiree on a modest pension, into giving him a shot. The old guy had asked Andy, "Yah got any experience, boy?

"No, sir," Andy had replied. "Nuthin' but cleanin' up and doin chores around the house. My mom'd tell yah, she never has to ask me to take care of my chores. I do what I gotta do and she never has to say a word to me. Hey , mister, all I'm askin' for is a chance. I'm not askin' for any more from you than you got the first time you ever went out lookin' for a job. Way back there somewhere, somebody hadda give you an chance even though you didn't have any experience... Tell yah what. You let me work here a week. You don't like my work, you send me on my way and you don't owe me a dime." Well, almost in spite of himself, the old man hired Andy on the spot at minimum wage. The old fellow said to Andy, "OK kid, lets see watcha got. See those trash cans out back? They're filthy... A disgrace. Empty `em all into the dumpster and get in there and clean em out real good. Yah got half an hour."

"Yes sir," Andy said.

These were old fashioned, zinc coated steel trash cans and they sure were a mess. Andy got to work on them, determined to show this old codger how well he could deliver.

Thirty minutes later, right on the dot, when the old man came out back to check on Andy's progress, he asked, "Well, boy, how we doin' on those cans? They clean?"

Andy responded, "Well, sir, I guess I oughta let you be the judge of that. But I will say this, I'd be willin' to EAT out of any one of `em." This got the old soldier's attention. He examined the cans, all eight of them. They were as spotless as the day they came out of the factory. He peered inside one of the cans and sniffed. All he smelled was the pungent odor of a strong disinfectant.

"Goddam, kid! I wish I'd have had soldiers like you back in the Army. Anymore these days, you tell these youngsters to do anything, they mouth off, give you lip, whine, complain and give excuses... Now that's what I call gettin' the job done! You just got yerself a ten cent an hour raise!"

Andy and the old man became great friends. The old man even took him out fishing a couple of times where mostly, he regaled Andy with his war stories from Vietnam. He'd retired from the Army right after the Panama invasion when they went down there to arrest Manuel Noriega. Andy listened to everything the old man had to say with genuine interest. Andy wasn't just a fast talker. He was a great listener. The old soldier had no one else who cared to listen to him and he came to cherish and trust Andy as a real friend and confidant. As time went by, he entrusted more and more of his business to Andy. Andy kept the books, did payroll, ordered food and supplies from the commercial purveyors and got to where he could run the whole place on his own. Several times, the old man and his wife would leave town for weeks on end, leaving Andy and an old gal named Maggie in charge. Maggie watching out for the place during the day with Andy in charge during the evenings and on weekends. Andy found shortcuts around everything. He shopped for cheaper sources of supply, set up an employee incentive plan to get more and better performance out of the help. He made the old man subscribe to a couple of trade magazines which he scoured for hints on how to make the place run better. "Don't work hard. Work smart!" Those were Andy's `watchwords.' He scrounged an old computer cash drawer system and set up a point of sale data base, making the register girls scrupulously record names and addresses of all the customers, offering discount coupons in exchange for their contact information. Then Andy set up a direct mail program, sending out even more coupons to promote the business. He talked the old man into letting him upgrade the menu and send a couple of the cooks off to continuing education to augment their skills. Andy went along too since the classes were held on weekends. He turned out to be a top notch "line cook." When the old man and his wife would come back into town from one of their extended RV trips, they would invariably find their little operation running like a well oiled sewing machine. When Andy finally had to resign at the end of the summer after his senior year in high school, the old man and his wife decided to sell out. Thanks to Andy's hard work, the operation had increased substantially in value. When the old man got his money from the sale of his little business, he went over to Andy's mom's apartment and presented them with a cashier's check, made out to Andy, for fifteen thousand dollars!

The old man told Andy, "Son, I paid the income tax for you. So you don't owe `Uncle Sam' a cent. All that money goes to you. You sure as hell earned it, every dollar of it."

Andy gave ten grand of the money to his mom, keeping five for himself for college. He had one helluva job persuading his mom to take the money, but, finally, fast-talker that he was, he `carried the argument.' Lord knows, his mom could use the money.

His first part time job after starting at Cal Tech was as night auditor at a nearby chain executive suites type hotel. One morning after work, right at dawn, he was driving back to his apartment to get ready for his classes. He was passing through a seedy, run down neighborhood when a withered-looking old wino flagged him down. Most people would've passed him by without a thought but not Andy. He stopped his little 4-banger pickup and rolled down the window.

"Hey buddy, can you gimme some spare change? I'm not gonna lie to yah and tell yah I need it for food. I'm `jones'n' for a flask and I'd shore `preciate if you'd help me out."

"Well dude, thanks for being honest with me! I gotta tell yah, I wish you would use it for food, but if all I can do is help you feel a little better, I guess that'll hafta do." With that, Andy pulled a twenty out of his billfold and passed it through the window to the old derelict.

Next morning, the old guy was there again and again he flagged Andy down. "Yah mean you already went through that twenty I gave you yesterday?" Andy asked.

"Yup, shore did. Can yah spot me another twenty?"

"Tell yah what, dude. How `bout you get in the truck with me and I'll run you over to Mickey-D's and get you some breakfast?"

"Naw, boy, I'd just rather go with the twenty and get me another flask, maybe two. I'll pass on that breakfast."

"Aw, gee, that's too bad. Cuz here's how it's gonna go down. You get in the truck. We go get some breakfast. Then we can talk about me givin' you another twenty. Yah know, this has gotta end sometime. I ain't got near the cash to spot you a twenty every day."

"Well, kid. Sure be a lot easier on both of us, at least just this one more time, if you just gave me that twenty. Then we'd both be on our way."

"Sorry, can't. I love you too much for that old fellah. No breakfast, no flask. Simple as that." The old wino got in the truck. "Fast Andy" had won the day again with his mouth.

By the time he had gotten through with the old guy at breakfast, Andy had talked him into letting him take him to a nearby "rescue mission" to get him all dried out, off the street and back on his feet.

Andy didn't let it go at that. He followed up on the guy, helped him find a steady job and befriended him. In a few months, the man got his life turned completely around and back on track. Come to find out, the guy had been a very successful appliance dealer in Southbend, Indiana. He'd had a nervous breakdown about five years prior, disappeared from a rehab center in Southbend and somehow landed in Southern California. After a few months in alcohol rehab, he went home to his family and his business in Southbend. He stayed in touch with Andy with phone calls, letters and e-mails from time to time. About ninety days after he returned home, the man sent Andy a check for ten grand. This time, Andy took twenty-five hundred for himself, gave twenty-five hundred to the rescue mission and five to his mom. (Who says "no good deed ever goes `unpunished?'")

Andy was the all around good kid... No genius, not by a long shot. No apparent gifting of any sort beyond the norm, or maybe just a little above the norm. But he had a strong will, a good work ethic, a keen sense of right and wrong and a steely self discipline. And beyond that, Andy had extraordinary compassion with a deeply tender heart.

Back when Andy was working for the old guy at the greasy spoon, the Optimist club used to meet there for supper every Thursday evening. The old guy was a member of the club and every now and again, he'd invite Andy to join them for dinner... Suit'n tie... the whole works, just like a regular member, even though he was just a high-school kid. His senior year in high school, Andy entered the annual speech contest sponsored by the Optimists. Every year, the assigned topic is always on some theme having to do with "optimism." That year the topic was "Optimism, a Discipline, not a Feeling."

Andy won the competition, walking away and the old man was so proud of him he nearly popped the buttons off his shirt!

Andy began his talk by quoting the "Optimist Creed," drafted years before by the service club's first president, Christian D. Larsen...

"Promise yourself:

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet. To make all your friends feel that there is something in them. To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true. To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best. To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile. To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble."

Andy spoke eloquently about "optimism," and simple goodness, as a "discipline." Memorable among his remarks:

"... You know, my mother and father never had to teach me how to lie, cheat, steal or quit. Those things just came naturally to me, as, I am sure, they do for most of us. But any good thing has to be LEARNED... and practiced. If you want to be an `optimist,' or anything else worthwhile, you must cultivate that within yourself. You must develop it, like you do your mind or your muscles. But you cannot do that unless you devise for yourself some kind SYSTEM! If you do not work out a system and stick to it with some form of structured accountability, you're `optimism [will never] come true...' You'll go through life believing you have no control over your circumstance and you'll find yourself wondering why it is always `the other guy' who gets all the `lucky breaks.' But, go with a system and make yourself accountable to it, not only will you be an optimist, you'll be a success... your life will count for something... and you will be `captain of your destiny...' But no one... NO ONE... ever gets through this life all by himself. Everything good that has ever happened to me, I owe at least in part to someone else: family, a friend , even strangers. How does that square with "captaincy" of one's own destiny? Heed Christian D. Larsen's words in `The Optimist Creed.' Live by them, every day. If you do, people, and opportunity, will beat a path to your door... You'll find it is YOU, not just `the other guy' who gets the `lucky breaks' and `your optimism [WILL] come true'..."

Andy saw every chance to help others as an opportunity for himself.

If Andy saw a motorist stalled at the side of road, he always, ALWAYS stopped to bear a hand. If he saw a homeless person, on his worst day, he'd at least give them a handout, sometimes completely emptying his pockets. Usually he'd intervene and get them down to the rescue mission. He became a regular volunteer at the mission, spending a generous portion of his spare time there as a tutor in the adult reading program. For his "accountability system," he kept a daily journal at a small desk in his apartment. Andy regarded life as a blessing and a gift. He lived every day with his mind on what he would log in his journal that evening before bedtime. For a young man his age, with almost NO religious background, he had a marvelous sense of accountability for how he lived his life every day and how he had stewarded his `time, talent and treasure.' Andy knew he was far from perfect. He logged the bad with the good. At the end of every daily journal entry, Andy closed with these simple words... "Tomorrow, more of the good, less of the bad."

Not long before the end of the fall semester of his sophomore year at Cal Tech, Andy quit his job as hotel night auditor. The grind was killing him. He couldn't stay up all night, go to school all day, keep up with his studies, his physical training and his volunteer work at the mission and do justice to them all. He was burning his candle at both ends and he badly needed to chill out.

A job at the mall as a "rent-a-cop" seemed like just the thing. There was less money in it but, hey, he had quite a nice little bundle saved up from his job as hotel night auditor.

Andy kinda liked it. The security system had recently been upgraded with video cams placed strategically throughout the complex. The mall concourse atrium was a 2-tiered structure. Shops lined each side of the concourse at ground level. And there was a recessed mezzanine, one level above, also lined with shops. The ceiling consisted of an array of six huge translucent "parasols," held in position by vertical king posts with radiating support struts. The king posts stood in the a row dead center of a long reflecting pool running nearly the entire length of the concourse.

The video cams had been installed because of a rash of "invasions" by young tough gang members. The management hoped to give mall security a bird's eye view of the common areas throughout the complex so the in-house "rent-a-cops" could respond to trouble promptly. Nothing would drive customers, and eventually, paying tenants away from the mall quicker than a reputation that the place wasn't safe and secure.

As with everything else Andy had undertaken, he brought his enthusiasm and a determination to do the best job he could in his new position. But he had few illusions. His "rent-a-cop" job would be comprised of hours and hours of abject boredom, punctuated perhaps, by occasional instances of sheer, stark terror.

That was a laugh. Except for those gang punks, nothing exciting ever happened around there. And the mall management had a strict policy. At the first sign of any trouble, call 911 or hit the panic alarm. The real cops had all the "fun." The mall "renta-cops" couldn't do squat. Oh well, plenty of time to study between making the rounds, as long as Andy kept one eye on the video displays.

Andy had indulged himself, a wee bit against mall policy... Against the LAW actually. He had purchased not one but two Chinese built AK-47 assault rifles at a gun show held down at the Orange County Civic Center. He'd taken them home and machined the parts to restore full automatic functionality to the weapons. One, he wrapped in vacuum shrink wrap and, using a guitar case, smuggled it into his locker in the employee dressing room at the mall, situated on the ground floor, down a short passageway off the east walkway of the main concourse. The other, he'd taken out by the old fishing spot where the old guy he'd worked for in high school had taken him a couple of times. It was isolated so there was no one around to be bothered as he honed his shooting skills. Andy also bought a used Glock 44 cal. pistol. He'd seen enough on TV about terrorists and armed robbers and their mayhem in McDonald's, high schools, banks and convenience stores. Who knows, maybe a shopping mall is next on the "hit list." There were two jewelry stores in the mall as well as a branch bank. At any rate, Andy resolved, God forbid... but if anything like that ever happened here, he would be ready. With his AK, Andy became a crack shot. He could split a twig on a tree at 400 meters. But that wasn't good enough. He practiced until he could do the same at a dead run. But that still wasn't good enough. He did one arm pull-ups from a tree branch, perfecting his aim until he could shoot with the same accuracy as he could standing stock still. Still not good enough. He did back flips and somersaults, landing on his feet, aim fire, and hit the bulls eye at 400 meters. Then he started all over again, teaching himself to shoot left-handed! Finally, he started all over, yet again, with his Glock and mastered that weapon as well, with both hands!

Andy wasn't sure he could actually take a human life. Certainly he would never shoot to protect property. But he hoped to God he could muster the intestinal fortitude to do what he had to if innocent lives were in jeopardy. His main objective in developing his marksmanship was more to make sure he would never hit an innocent bystander than to ensure he would hit his target. He had no intention, by action or inaction, of allowing even the remotest possibility of harm coming to an innocent bystander. "Not on MY watch," Andy resolved. Hopefully he'd never need these skills, but if he ever did, he would be ready.

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It was around high noon, midweek, in mid July. Forth of July weekend had just passed and traffic in the mall was moderate to light... Mostly mothers, kids and the usual contingent of teenagers just browsing or hanging out in the main concourse and in the food court at the north end of the complex.

Andy was in the security office, immediately adjacent the mall administrative suite on the second floor. He was observing the displays from video feeds scattered at strategic positions around the mall... The mall entrances, food court, main concourse, as well as the entryways into the two jewelry stores and the MBNA Branch Bank. There were also video feeds from the parking lot.

On one of the displays, Andy saw a pack of "feral" looking youths coming in through the food court entrance at the northern end of the complex. "Uh oh, gang members? Let's hava look and see how this plays out." Andy quickly verified that the bank of 30-day recorders, wired to his displays were functioning normally.

On one of the displays, Andy saw a blond, good-looking, incredibly muscled young boy near the center of the food court who, by the look of his face, couldn't be more than 12 or 13 years old. "Naw,' Andy surmised, "that kid looks young in the face, but with a body like that he's gotta be closer to 18. That boy may be kinda short, but 12 or 13 year olds don't have physiques like that. At least not `normal' kids that age. His friend Billy had been a `special case.'" The kid wore a skin tight T-shirt and was flexing and showing off for a bevy of squealing young girls. The young toughs who had just arrived spotted and then approached the muscular young boy, shoving the girls out of their way and surrounded the young body builder. "Uh oh," thought Andy, "this looks like a job for, uh, `rent-a - cop.'"

But Andy was riveted to the display, mesmerized by what he saw on the screen. He couldn't hear the dialogue but, clearly, an altercation had started. One of the young toughs shoved the muscle boy who fell down on his ass.

Andy didn't see what happened next. His view was obscured. He couldn't see through the backs of the boys who had surrounded their prey. The camera angle was wrong. Andy made a mental "note" of that. Either the camera should be repositioned at a higher elevation, or another cam would have to be installed.

All of a sudden, the young toughs began dropping like flies. What in the hell was going on? Andy found himself wishing he had an audio feed to supplement the video.

The boys regained their feet and high tailed it from the food court into the main concourse, the muscle boy in hot pursuit. Something didn't add up here. The boy was obviously well built and, certainly, he could make a good account of himself in a scrap, but to completely route nine guys obviously bigger, and presumably stronger, than he was?

By all rights, Andy should have left the security office and made a beeline to the food court. But by now, the "disturbance" was obviously moving south, along the east concourse walkway in his direction.

The muscle boy halted his pursuit, drawing up to a large, heavy ornamental lamp post pylon in the east walkway alongside the reflecting pool near the north end of the main concourse. What happened next made Andy's heart skip a beat. The boy wrapped his arms around the lamp post, uprooted it and hurled it fifty feet down the concourse after the gang of retreating youths. It landed across their path but one after the other, they leapt over it and continued in headlong flight. Andy thought, "This cannot POSSIBLY be happening! That lamp post had been securely bolted to the concrete foundation, lying under the ceramic tile floor. How could that muscle kid uproot it and hurl it fifty feet down the concourse? How much did that damned thing weigh???" Andy thought to himself, "That kid makes even BILLY look like a piker! ...but, God, I wish Billy were here with me now!"

Andy's stomach knotted as he struggled against his old arch nemesis, cold, stark fear. With his palm, he hammered the panic-alarm button, automatically summoning the police. Then he dashed from the security office and ran as fast as he could down a flight of "employee only" stairs to the locker room. Andy arrived in front of his locker, muttering a silent prayer that his balky combination lock would open without the usual struggle. He spun the dial and the lock popped open without any difficulty. "Whew! Thank you, Jesus!"

Andy opened his locker, pulled out the guitar case, yanked it open, breaking the catch, seizing his AK-47, ripping the airtight visqueen shrink wrap off the weapon. He opened a plastic box containing three 18-round banana clips, snatched the top one and slammed it into the receiver of his AK. He checked the mode selector, ensuring it was toggled to "semiautomatic," one trigger pull, one shot. Andy yanked back the slide and chambered a round. He pulled his Glock 44 cal. out of the locker, unholstered it and slammed a clip into the handle, chambered a round, reholstered and snapped the holster to his belt. He stuffed the remaining two AK banana clips into his belt and bolted out the door into the hallway leading into the main concourse.

When Andy burst into the main concourse, he was met with utter bedlam. People were screaming and stampeding southward down the walkways alongside the main concourse reflecting pool. Two lamp posts flew past him, one after the other, hurtling toward the south end of the concourse, smashing through the south wall. Andy was horrified. This mayhem was happening on HIS goddamned watch! Whatthefuck was going on???

Andy's view was blocked by the crush of people stampeding to get out of the way of the flying debris. He scrambled up a side stair leading to the second level mezzanine to get a better view.

When he arrived and looked down onto the main concourse, he could not believe his eyes. The muscle teen was uprooting lamp posts one by one and hurling them like javelins down the concourse and into the south wall where they smashed through into the department store at the southern end of the complex. If no one were hurt or killed in this madness, it would be a bloody fuckin' miracle. The young toughs had evidently retreated into the department store but the muscle boy was leisurely stalking them, terrorizing them as he hurled the lamp posts after them. As the lamp posts slammed through the south wall, shattered debris fell into the crowd of panic stricken people, mostly mothers with small children and teenagers along with a smattering of employees from the stores in the mall.

The crowd was trapped. The entrance into the department store was jammed with stampeded, terrified people wanting desperately to escape from the concourse but unwilling to enter the department store where the muscle boy's lamp post "missiles" were slamming through the wall, gradually pulverizing it. Andy now had a clear view of the interior of the department store through holes that had been ripped in south wall.

Their only escape was north. Andy HAD to clear a path for them.

He ran about halfway down the stair so he could face the boy at a better angle. Andy screamed as loud as he could, "Everybody, get DOWN!" Then he proceeded to fire in the direction of the super boy, not to hit him but to divert his attention. He aimed and fired just short of the boy's feet. The boy leapt one hundred fifty feet into the air, and latched onto one of the parasol ceiling support struts.

Andy screamed again. Everybody out. Everybody get out NOW! Out through the food court exit!

The crowd on the main concourse immediately complied and began running north along both sides of the reflecting pool.

Andy looked up at the boy making direct eye contact with him. He trained his AK on the boy but did not fire. He yelled at the boy. Don't move! Hang on! I'll call the fire department and they'll get you down. The boy laughed at him. Andy wasn't entirely surprised. Fleeting thoughts of his super-friend, Billy, raced through his mind... "I was afraid of that," Andy said out loud. If the boy could jump to that incredible height in the first place, he could probably drop back down to the main floor, landing without a scratch.

About half of the crowd of 150 people or so had managed to get past the position where the boy was hanging from the ceiling strut before he dropped back down to main level, landing on his feet unharmed. "Thought so," Andy moaned. "Now I am really fucked!"

Those on the east walkway of the main concourse diverted into the knee-deep reflecting pool and continued slogging northward around the boy, returning to the main concourse walkway once they were well past the boy. While those on the west walkway continued northward, unimpeded in their flight to safety.

Now there were only about 50 people remaining on the east walkway, trapped between the boy and their only apparent exit.

The boy approached a massive concrete support column, and wrapped his arms around it as far as he could. Muscles bulged as the cotton fabric of his skin tight T-shirt began to split along the seams, finally exploding into tatters fully revealing his terrifying upper body muscularity. Andy re ascended the side stair to the second floor mezzanine, held in place by the very support pillar that the boy was trying to wrench free. Andy HAD to make sure the mezzanine was clear of people! That kid might very well pull the whole damned building down with his bare hands before he was satisfied. By the grace of God, the mezzanine was completely deserted. The pillar finally broke free and a twenty foot section of the mezzanine floor collapsed, falling to main level blocking escape of the remaining fifty or so people, still herded at the southern end of the east walkway. They no longer had the option of taking the westerly walkway because huge chunks of the south concourse wall had fallen onto the southerly approach, blocking access. Andy crept up to the edge of the collapsed section of the east mezzanine and peered down. The boy had been trapped under the massive slab of concrete. But then the section began to rise...

"Jesusmaryjoseph!" Andy exclaimed out lout. "The boy is still alive and he's LIFTING that twenty foot section of concrete!"

Andy dashed back to head of the stair yelled down to the people remaining at the south end of the reflecting pool, commanding them to retreat southward through the department store. The coast was obviously clear for the moment. On their way out, they would be obliged to pick their way through a mountain of debris but this was their only remaining escape route. The people below obeyed with alacrity. At that moment, a terrified little girl, about nine years old, darted out of the second floor boutique where she had been cowering in terror.

Andy reached out and snatched her up, tucking her under his left arm, his right arm still hefting his AK. Andy started down the stairway to ground level.

At that moment, there was a loud crash and a cloud of dust and debris huffed into the air. The boy had turned the section of mezzanine end on and dropped it back onto the floor of the main concourse.

Andy was about half way down when then the stairway began to tremble and rumble. The boy was underneath, wrenching it free of its moorings and Andy, the girl under one arm and his AK under the other, began to loose his footing. The stairway was obviously about to go. So, with no other alternative, with the little girl tucked under his left arm and his AK under his right, Andy mounted the rail and somersaulted half a level, splash landing into the knee deep reflecting pool. His "dismount" from the stair railing certainly wasn't championship quality, but, thank God, he'd landed on his feet, maintaining his hold on his assault rifle and the little girl. With the thumb of his right hand, Andy toggled the mode selector of his AK to "full auto" and "hosed" a volley in the general direction of the boy, but taking careful aim to ensure that, while he came close, none of his gun fire actually hit the boy.

A lady, evidently the little girl's mother, was at the south end of the reflecting pool, screaming hysterically. Andy slogged southward through the pool as best he could, glancing over his shoulder, shooting just short of the boy's feet as he went.

He gained the end of the pool, climbed out and handed the squalling little girl into her mother's arms. Andy screamed at the mother, "Go, go, go!" Then he turned back to face the boy. He leveled his weapon at the boy, fifty feet away, but he held his fire as the remaining handful of people retreated through the wreckage in the department store and on out of the building.

In a surreal display of muscle power, the boy hefted the slip form concrete stair which by now he'd wrenched completely free of it's moorings. It might as well have been made of Styrofoam. He hurled it over Andy's head and it landed end on, blockading the mall side entrance into the department store. This had been Andy's only way out.

Now Andy and the boy were alone. The boy spoke. "Now I'm really gonna fuck you up, you weakling." Andy continued to point his AK at they boy's abdomen but said nothing in reply. The boy laughed....

"You dork. Haven't you figured out by now?... I can dodge a bullet."

Andy was no killer. He couldn't bring himself to accept the boy's challenge to try shooting him in cold blood, no matter what he'd done, no matter what he was obviously capable of. And, to boot, from what he'd already seen, Andy would've been a fool to dismiss, the possibility that this "inhuman" boy's claim that he could dodge a bullet might very well be "bang on."

Andy threw his assault rifle aside, and unholstered his Glock 44. For the briefest of moments, there was a quizzical look on the boy's face, as though he were just a little... confused???

"Yeah, maybe you can outrun a bullet You may be faster than greased lightening, kid, but you'll never outrun this..." Andy hefted his Glock and continued to stare at the boy. The boy looked back at Andy. Now the boy clearly was just a little flummoxed!

"I did what I had to do. Those poor people all got away, thank God and NO thanks to you. I know I'm `dead meat' now. But, somehow, I don't think I could handle you tearing me apart, limb from limb." Andy raised the pistol and reversed it in his hand, placing his right thumb on the trigger. Taking the muzzle into his mouth, he prepared to take his own life.

For the briefest of moments, time stood still as Andy continued staring at the boy with the muzzle of his Glock in his mouth.

They boy stared back at Andy in abject horror... Something "snapped" in they boy's mind, heart and soul... He screamed "Noooooooooo!" ... and lunged fifty feet down the concourse toward the young guard swatting the weapon out of his hand and mouth a split second before slamming into a surviving section of the steel reinforced cinder block wall partitioning the south end of the concourse from the department store. Just before impact, the boy, hurtling perpendicular toward the wall realized if he didn't reorient himself along his trajectory, he'd go clean through the wall, steel rebars notwithstanding. So he reoriented and slammed flat into the steel-reinforced cinder block wall sinking 1/2-way into it but not passing through. Andy's Glock had fallen to the floor...

The boy had known he couldn't snatch the weapon without ripping the young man's head off so he HAD to let it drop.

Not even stunned by the horrific impact, the super boy peeled himself free of the wall only to find the guard desperately scrambling across the floor on his hands and knees to retrieve his Glock.

Just in time, the boy grabbed his ankle and pulled him away from his pistol, still spinning like a top where it had landed.

Before his launch at Andy, in the split second before he had been able to able to pull the trigger, killing himself, the boy's lightening-fast super senses had read the young guard's face. Through Andy's look of horror and despair, the boy had spied a glint of defiance and contempt.

But more important, the boy saw in this young man raw, selfless courage. This impudent "mortal" had given what little he had, less than nothing compared to the boy's awesome gifts, but, nevertheless, everything he had, to save others.

And maybe this had finally melted the boy's heretofore ice cold heart.

By his ankle, he yanked Andy away from the weapon and pinned him, saving him from himself. Andy was fighting valiantly against his own hysteria, choking it down, maintaining his dignity and composure and even his defiance. The boy, finally, evidencing genuine compassion said to Andy, "Dude, it's OK... It's OK!!! I'm NOT going to hurt you... Honest to God, I'm not... I know what you did. Your a fuckin' hero and *I* was actin' like a fuckin' turd. But you set out to make sure nobody dies here today... And now I'm gonna make sure it plays out just like you wanted... NO-body dies here today... certainly not you." And then the boy snatched Andy's Glock from where it lay on the floor and crushed it in his powerful fist like a styrofoam coffee cup.

The boy embraced Andy, nearly crushing him in the process, and melted into tears... "Oh God what have I done? What did I ALMOST do??? If it weren't for you, dude, I might'a killed somebody. You saved me from that. I owe you, big time and I'll never forget it. Never! And I swear to God I'll make this up to you some how." I am so sorry... sooo fuckin' sorry..."

Andy, recovering from his fear said to the boy, "I don't have any idea who or what you are. I'm really not sure I get it... First you terrorize all these people, nearly killing some of them. Then you up and save my life! What's up with this `Jeckel-Hyde' thing you got goin on'?"

The boy didn't answer. He just hung his head, looking down at the floor.

"Yah know what I think? What I really think is that you're on the razor thin edge between being either some kind of super-hero or super-menace. I never had it in me to kill anybody but, in your case, I almost wish to hell I did. I hope for all of our sakes you decide to do the right thing. Right now, though, I think you better get the hell out of here before the cops come. They're sure to be here any minute. I don't know how I'm gonna explain all of this but I guess I'll come up with something... But right now I think you better split."

The boy smiled ruefully at Andy and asked, "After all this, you're really worried about what the cops would do to me?"

"Not really," replied Andy. "Frankly, I'm more afraid of what you might do to the cops."

The boy leveled his eyes at the courageous young security guard, soundlessly mouthed a "thank you" and disappeared in a flash.... •

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