A Christmas Story

I wrote the following story 13 years ago, when I was young and in college. Forgive me my youthful exuberance, but since it’s Christmas, I thought I’d post it since it contains a heartwarming message we can all share:

Die Hard MDCXCII: Die Really, Really, REALLY Hard

Copyright 1990 Brian J. Noggle, you hosers

The Christmas Muzak was driving Ryan crazy. There are only so many times you can hear “Good King Wenceslas” before you want to strangle any available customer. And that limit had been passed twice over in the seven hours that Ryan had been on duty.

The snow was not drifting lazily down as it would on an ideal Christmas Eve. It was blizzarding, if there is any such verb. Two feet had fallen in an hour, setting a record that will probably stand until the earth passes through a major galactic dust cloud, or Brian Noggle gets a book published,  whichever happens first. Ryan shivered just looking at the two rows of carts inside the store, hoping the supply would not diminish to the point when he would have to go out in THAT.

An eskimo came through the electric doors. White snow clung to his parka up to his shoulders. Gloves lowered the hood, removed two woolen hats, a Sphericky’s cap, and a set of earmuffs. It wasn’t actually an eskimo, Ryan discovered, but “Plaid” Jackson, a delivery man. He must have the last load of cranberries for the season, thought Ryan. But who was going to come in at ten o’clock on a night like this to buy cranberries?

“Is the snow deep and crisp and even?” Ryan asked of the trucker.

“Huh?” replied Plaid. He paused to mull over the question and then the answer. Ryan looked at the clock hung high on the wall over the Deli department. He was supposed to get off at eleven, and the question had eight words in it. Plaid wouldn’t have an answer by then. And ‘even’ had two syllables. Drat, thought Ryan.

“Hey, Ryan, could you get the trash out of here?” asked Ed, the store’s night manager. ‘Here’ referred to the small elevated office. It was surrounded by a four foot high wall topped by a foot and a half of bulletproof glass. Once again Ryan paused to consider the necessity of the glass, as any stick-up man over four foot tall could point the gun over the glass and kill anyone in the office anyway. Never question, he reminded himself.

“Yeah,” Ryan responded, demonstrating the eloquence he had picked up at his year at the local Jesuit-run university’s oratorical classes.

He entered the ultra-secure sanctuary of management and looked at the pile of garbage. It had not been emptied all day and looked like a horn of plenty of cigarette cartons and losing lottery tickets. He sighed and began to redistribute the trash into trash bags.

Ed noticed Plaid and walked over to him. “Do you have a load for us?” he asked, slowly, of the driver. The piped-in Muzak started on the forty-second rendition of “The Wassail Song”.

Ryan looked around furtively. Ed was outside the office proper, and the only other person in it was a checker currently bent over a calculator. She was obviously performing some function above the brain capacity of a utility clerk. The Muzak control panel was right above him. He grinned and hit a button. The Muzak stopped abruptly, replaced by the clicking of the calculator’s printer, as reproduced by the store’s intercom.

Ryan lifted the three bags of refuse and exited the office. Ed was waiting expectantly by Plaid. “Fill the milk shelves while you’re back there,” Ed called. Karen stood alone in her checkout lane and watched the cart. Ryan through the garbage in a cart and started wheeling it toward the back door. Plaid said, “Yeah.” Ryan wondered if he had gone to the same college.

Far off in the back, the door to the back room by the dairy department squeaked. Ed stepped into the office, leaving the door open behind him. Plaid went back to his truck parked behind the store. Outside the front windows, a van attempted to squeal to a stop, but slid past the windows and out of sight. A few seconds later, the van reappeared, traveling in reverse, and halted. Twelve armed terrorists leaped from the back of the truck and entered the store. The last one to enter shut off the electric eyes for the doors. The leader pushed into the office.

“What do you want?” asked Ed.

“The code for the safe,” said the terrorist, brandishing a big automatic pistol. To Ed it appeared to be a VERY big automatic pistol, but it really was just a big automatic pistol.

“Who else is here?” asked another terrorist, speaking to Karen. Eleven automatic rifles caused her a bit of fright and she was unable to answer.

The checker in the office looked up from her calculator only to faint when confronted with the appearance of the evil-doers. She subsequently hit the floor with a thud.

Ten automatic rifles unpointed themselves at Karen and fanned out to search the store.

“I don’t have the code. I’m just the night manager,” said Ed calmly. He had dealt with ten-year-olds shoplifting candy bars. Be calm, yet firm, and intimidating. How different could this be? he wondered.

“Give it to me or I will have to shoot you,” threatened the bad guy. He cocked the big automatic pistol.

Maybe a little different, thought Ed. Calm, yet firm. “I guess you’ll have to shoot me,” said Ed.

“Ok,” said the gunman, and the gun barked.

Too firm, thought Ed. Or so he started to, but the thought was never completed because his brains most uncooly splattered against the cigarette racks on the wall.

“How about some music?” asked the leader, and he turned the switch on the nearby control panel from intercom to Muzak. Then he started humming “Jingle Bell Rock”.

Ryan was standing with a crate hook in one hand and his jaw open. The whole exchange was coming through loud and clear over the intercom. He was now watching through the window in the dairy door. The office and therefore the entire scene was being played out at the other end of aisle eight from where he stood.

“Ok,” said the unfamiliar voice, and Ed’s pretty much headless corpse staggered backwards.

“Great. I’m going to have to clean that up,” muttered Ryan. His musings were interrupted by the appearance of a machine gun bearing hoodlum in the same window. Ryan quickly stepped behind a convenient corner. The gunman walked past, and Ryan extended the hook before the advancing feet and pulled. The gunman fell backwards. “Mama mia!” he exclaimed as his head crunched on the concrete floor.

“Good. No mess,” said Ryan. He picked up the bad guy’s weapon and Official GI Joe Walkie-Talkie.

“Did you hear something over there?” whispered a voice on the radio.

“Luigi? Luigi?” asked a frantic voice.

“Did you see where he was going?” asked another.

“Over by the dairy section,” said another voice. How many was that? wondered Ryan.

“The safe is protected by three super-duper locks,” said the geekiest looking terrorist. “There is one combination lock, one laser intensified multiple pin steel lock, and the code key. Unless we break them all, we can’t get it open,” he continued. He set up a U.S. Army Special Piercing Laser for Military Use Only, available at any surplus store or local K-Mart for $19.95, and its red beam began to work on the safe.

One of the terrorists kicked the dairy door, and then he kicked it again. On the third kick, the door opened with a squeak, and three automatics pointed into the dairy back room. Leaning against a pile of trash against the back door was Luigi. A sign saying “SALE! Nyuck nyuck nyuck, now I have a gun,” was taped to his chest. The first man to reach him, and fortunately not the brightest, read the fine print on the sign — “Look behind you!” Being a crack commando sort of guy, this terrorist crouched, spun, and fired, mortally wounding his two companions.

“Gosh, sorry,” he said to the cadavers. “He’s a tricky one, eh?”

A large Italian-looking terrorist tried to pick up a cash register and dash it to the floor in rage, but found the object too heavy to lift. He grunted and set his gun on the floor. Then, with both hands, he tried to heave the register. He grunted and strained until a sweat broke out on his forehead. He strained some more, took off his jacket, and strained even more. After ten minutes, he gave up and settled for knocking a candy rack over, spilling candy bars and bubble gum to the floor with passion.

“Mario’s pretty hacked off,” said one terrorist.

“The guy in back killed his brother,” replied another.

“I want this guy dead,” said the lead terrorist into his walkie-talkie. “How’s it going?” he asked of the geeky terrorist.

“The combination lock is gone, and I’m working on the laser lock, but without the code key….”

“Find the key,” growled the leader.

The checker in the office gained consciousness, saw Ed, and fainted again.

“Hello Mr. Rogue Good Guy. Do you think of yourself as some big screen star of an action flick? Chuck Norris? Sylvester Stallone?” asked the voice of the guy who killed Ed over the walkie-talkie.

“I was always partial to Leslie Nielson and ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic,” replied Ryan. He lie on the crawlspace above the meat counter. It was crisscrossed with two-by-fours, and a foot’s worth of decorative ledge kept him hidden from view.

“You can’t win. There are too many of us,” said the leader.

Ryan tried to think of a defiant, witty, sarcastic, and/or cynical wisecrack, but none was forthcoming. “Oh, yeah?” was all he managed.

Ryan thought of his options. The snowfall had by now made exit impossible. He hadn’t been able to put out the trash a half hour ago, so by now the snow must be six feet deep. No cops. No help. Just him and ten terrorists. I’d better get overtime for this, he thought.

He cautiously peered over the edge. No terrorists were in sight. He lowered himself down and ran in a crouch for the grocery room, located twenty feet ahead of him in the back of the store. There came a shout as he crossed the wide Produce Department aisle. An echoing sound of gunfire reached his ears as the bullets zipped by. He threw himself through the swinging double doors. Red splattered on his blue vest.

He looked at the red and staggered. He even felt shock coming on until he realized that it was only the remnants of some deceased tomatoes. Relieved by this discovery, he climbed atop the boxes of paper bags and lie down on the large produce cooler.

Three terrorists burst through the double doors. They spread out and searched for him. One climbed a flight of stairs to the employees’ lounge. The other two played hide and seek among the pallets of merchandise. “Peek-a-boo!” said one, leaping from behind a pallet of paper towels. His partner barely restrained himself from perforating the former. They concluded their search, shrugged, and moved toward the produce cooler. Ryan slid back from the edge and hoped he was invisible.

A burst of gunfire came from the lounge. A few seconds later Ryan watched the third of the trio descend the stairs clutching a can of Coke.

“Dang soda machine wouldn’t take dimes,” he explained. Ryan nodded to himself, agreeing with the actions of the terrorist. The heavy door to the produce cooler whooshed open. After a few moments, the double doors on the other side of the cooler opened. Ryan turned and watched on of the terrorists go through a side door into the Deli Department and the other two go out the door leading to the produce aisle.

Ryan wiped a nonexistent bead of sweat from his forehead.

“I can’t find the code key anywhere,” said the geek. The office was now in disarray. Cigarette cartons, books of computer printouts, and other assorted papers littered the floor and almost buried the checker. She opened her eyes, saw the mess, gasped, and fainted.

“Search her,” said the leader, pointing at the checker on the floor.

“What are you guys looking for anyway?” asked Karen, apparently discovering her vocal cords.

“In this safe is a stack of stamp books and over one hundred thousand bonus stamps. With that haul, we would have enough full books to get quite a few Musicfest tickets,” said the leader, laughing heartily.

“You guys aren’t terrorists. You’re just thieves,” Karen said.

“We never said we were terrorists. It was the writer of this story that first implied we were terrorists,” corrected the leader.

A lone THIEF exited the produce cooler below Ryan. As soon as the door closed, Ryan pulled a rope that he had found atop the produce cooler, and a hastily devised trap sprang shut. A stack of the paper bags fell on the bad guy. Ryan slowly climbed down and examined the newly dead body. There was a backpack with a Packers logo on it under a box of bags. Ryan opened it and discovered a few bricks of C-4. He smiled. “It’s about time,” he said with a mischievous and somewhat maniacal grin. He looked around, gathered his rope, and said, “Let’s get busy….”

Big Jim, the store’s power fork, roared out of the double doors of the grocery back room. Its handles was lashed into the “Forward, Full Speed” setting. Two bad guys in the back row of the store looked in surprise. A machine gun was also lashed on board at a level of about three feet above the ground. As the machine plowed forward, the gun fired a continuous stream of bullets toward the front of the store. One of the thieves fired a few bullets at the fork as he and his companion began to run toward the dairy. A scream issued from Aisle One as a bad guy received a helping of bullets. Blood mixed with catsup on the floor, creating a gooey mess that Ryan would probably have to clean up.

The two thieves trotting ahead of machine passed Aisle Eight and turned the corner of the frozen aisle. The machine hit the corner where the dairy cases meet the frozen cases, and the plastic used the occurrence as an excuse to explode. Two horribly mangled corpses flew threw the air and knocked over a Kool-Aid display in the center of the frozen aisle. Torrents of milk, orange juice, and egg spilled onto the floor. Big Jim was now Hundred Thousand Little Jims.

It didn’t take long for three gun-toting crooks to figure out where the power fork had emerged from. They charged through the door with little regard for the possibility that there might be a utility clerk with an automatic rifle waiting for them. There wasn’t, though, because Ryan had planned on the presence of brains in the criminals.

What the hoodlums did find was three cases of banana peels on the floor. They danced a cartoonish jig as they tried to keep their balance. They failed and fell to their backs. A snickering Ryan, after leaning against the produce cooler door and enjoying the show, ended their shame with a barrage of lead.

Ryan then entered the produce cooler and emerged in the produce room. A vicious kick launched his gun into the air. It clattered onto the crawlspace he had so recently occupied. The source was a big mad Italian dude. Mario. He appeared a VERY big, VERY mad Italian dude to Ryan.

“You killed Luigi,” Mario said.

“Er…sorry,” said Ryan with a sheepish smile. He figured the apology had been rejected when Mario hit him with a right hook to the jaw. This was followed by a flurry of blows that made Ryan’s face numb and his head swim. Another kick and Ryan found himself knocked into the produce cooler. He backed to the opposite door and grabbed whatever weapon was handy. The weapon happened to be a case of eggs.

Mario let out a yell and entered the room with a flying kick. Show off, thought Ryan. The first Sphericky Grade A Jumbo caught Mario above the right eye, and the following eggs hit him in the chest and stomach. Mario raised his hands to defend himself from the barrage as he moved closer to Ryan. The U/C gave up his futile attack and turned to open the door, but was stopped by a massive chop to the back of the neck.

Mario stood him up and spun him around. “Now you will pay in full,” Mario said with a horrible smirk. He raised his right fist and Ryan felt the crosshairs on the bridge of his nose.

At that moment, over the speakers, began a familiar sequence of musical notes. The Muzak had faded into the background with this new repeated hard stimulus to Ryan’s face, but there is only so much a man can take before his hidden resources kick in. Only so much can a man take before the hatred, rage, and pain set him off for good. And the ninety-seventh repetition of “Good King Wenceslas” was too much for Ryan.

Ryan’s eyes grew red and his fingers curled. They found the neck of his adversary. “No, no more,” said Ryan. He forced his muscular opponent to the floor and kneeled on his chest. “NO MORE!”
he screamed, and he beat Mario’s head against the floor with a passion. Mario soon grew slack and the back of his head had the consistency of a bruised McIntosh apple, but Ryan did not cease until the song was over. When it finished, he stood up, straightened his blood-stained vest, and searched for his gun. He found it and checked the clip. One bullet left.

“Where is the flamin’ code key?” asked the leader. The gunfire from the back had ceased a long time ago, and none of his men had reappeared. He had never lost his composure before, but he was close now.

“I don’t know!” shouted the geek. He was sweating. He too knew the score, and it was something like Rogue Dude With the Gun 10, Them 0.

“Yeah, Ryan!” shouted Karen. “He’s whipping up on you guys.”

The leader stepped out of the office and grabbed her arm. “You know him?” he asked fiercely.

“Sure. He’s a U/C here.”

At that moment a rifle and blond head of hair appeared from behind the register at Lane 8. “Freeze!” shouted Ryan, aiming the rifle at the leader.

The leader pulled Karen between Ryan and himself. The automatic appeared in his hand, and to Karen it looked like a VERY big automatic. “Lay down your weapon and come here,” said the leader, “or she dies.”

Drat, thought Ryan. The cute checker I’d most like to impress with my brave heroics. “The big Italian dude’s dead. So are the rest,” said Ryan, lying his rifle at the start of the conveyor belt of the checkout counter.

“And you must die,” said the leader, shoving Karen away and aiming with both hands at Ryan. Ryan stomped his foot on the pedal that activated the belt and snatched the automatic rifle. He pulled and held the trigger, and shell after shell pounded into the body of the former leader. After a few seconds he released the trigger.

That’s odd, he thought, removing the clip. One bullet remained. That’s right, he thought, the hero never runs out of bullets.

The geeky bad guy watched the body of his boss slump to the floor in the same manner as Ryan had an hour and a half ago. Newly promoted to leadership of the band of hoods composed of himself, his first decision was simple: retreat. He opened the door to the Manager’s office and passed through it to emerge in the frozen aisle. Ryan’s shot crashed through a door in the frozen case and killed a container of Cool Whip.

“The dairy back door!” shouted Ryan, and he took off in a trot down aisle eight. The last thief spun the corner and headed into the dairy back room. The next shot from Ryan, fired on the run, splooched into a bowl of ricotta cheese.

Displaying athleticism uncommon to the ordinary laser-operating nerd, the crook vaulted over three corpses, a pile of trash, and hit the Emergency Door Unlock bar. The alarm began to whine as he pushed into a seven foot wall of snow and into the night.

Ryan arrived at the back door. He could not see far into the tunnel dug by the guy, but he fired blindly into it. He heard the roar of a diesel engine, and a mountain of snow moved. There was a crashing sound and then a grating sound. This grating continued for a few seconds, then there was a lingering scream quite befitting a geeky criminal, and then silence.

Ryan pulled a nearby stepladder into the snow and climbed it. As he poked his head out of the snow, he saw Plaid’s truck had plowed into the dumpster and shoved it ahead a few feet. He also traced the the collapsed roof of the crook’s tunnel and noted that it ended at the dumpster. As long as they don’t move the dumpster, I won’t have to clean that one up, he thought.

The driver’s side door of the truck opened. “Yeah,” said Plaid. “Deep and crisp and even. Ha. Say are you gonna pull this load or what?”

“Where is the code key?” Karen asked Ryan as he appeared at the front of the store, bleeding, torn, and fatigued. He hoped she was impressed.

“You know Ed. He probably locked it in the safe,” Ryan explained. He dropped the gun to the floor.

“You look pretty messed up,” Karen said. “Let me see if we can find some Band-Aids.” She stepped into the office, and Ryan followed, secretly happy. To him he felt secretly VERY happy. He ignored Ed’s corpse.

The checker on the floor came around again, and this time she managed to stay conscious. “Ryan, get a broom and a mop and clean my office,” she murmured weakly.

Ryan sighed wearily. “And some 409 for the cigarette rack, right?”

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