Allow me to be perfectly honest for a moment: approaching women with romantic intent is terrifying. It’s a nerve wracking experience that can fill even the most confident guy with confusion and dread. I personally have been consistently awful at the art of the pick-up, which has not led me to become overly optimistic about my prospects. That and the fact that my last attempt at seducing a lady ended with my house nearly being burned down.
So when a friend of mine offered to set me up on a blind date, I figured why not? After all, with that initial bit of awkwardness out of the way, my date and I would be on equal footing. We set up a time (Saturday evening) and a place (a semi-fancy TGI Fridays) and we were good to go. Although I had one little thing to take care of first, just to ensure that I was prepared in case things went, well, well.
A Big Box of Rubbers
I ordered the Trojan Magnum Gold Collection online because I am ashamed of myself. There’s no way I was going to grab a box from my local store, as I have no desire to be seen with condoms in my possession except for when it counts. Shipping was prompt and the packaging was nothing worth mentioning. Each individual condom fits comfortably in the entire palm of my hand, and seems sturdy enough to get the job done. Hopefully, I’d soon be able to put them to the test.
Date night came during the crisp and clear aftermath of the last storm of December. A layer of snow stretched across the ground, deep enough to be beautiful but not enough to cause mass hysteria and traffic accidents. I tossed the entire package of the Trojan Gold Collection into the glove box of my car and set off, the pre-date jitters starting to settle in now. I brought with me a single white carnation, as I’d been told that the flower was how my date and I would be able to identify one another.
When I got to the restaurant I took a deep breath, rubbed the box of condoms for good luck, and strode inside with an air of confidence that was solely cosmetic. I swept past the hostess at her podium and surveyed the sea of patrons. Then I did a double take. Sitting at a table against the far wall was the last person I expected to see, aside from maybe a dead celebrity or something.
It was Store Girl.
If you didn’t click that link because you hate reading or something, let me give you a quick backstory: A few weeks ago, this girl showed up at my house with some hulking, bodybuilder type goons who proceeded to punch me, break a bunch of my stuff, and nearly burn down my house. To be fair, the girl did wind up saving me from the psychopaths, but I still consider her motives dubious at best. Now here she was, sitting alone at a table, white carnation in her hair. My date.
I’d like to say that it took me longer to make my decision than it did. The non-retarded part of my brain chanted at me to turn around and leave. The Trojans could wait until a less volatile partnership. Ultimately, however, curiosity got the better of me. Hell, I didn’t even know this girl’s name. She still owed me some answers. Also, she was pretty cute, so that may have factored into my thought process a little.
Making A Move
I squared my shoulders, put on my best confident/erotic smile and swaggered over to the table. Her eyes met mine and her entire body deflated.
“Oh for the love of fuck,” she said.
I tossed my flowers onto the table and held out my hand.
“Name’s Kevin Harper,” I said. “I don’t believe I caught yours.”
Her arms remained folded firmly across her chest. “What are you doing here, Kevin?”
To be honest, I was a little surprised that she hadn’t already moved to walk out of the restaurant. It’s certainly taken me less time to have that effect on women, even without an… explosive… history. I decided to press my luck and sank into the seat across from her.
I gave her my best smile. “What a crazy coincidence, huh? You and me both being here.”
“Kevin, listen to me,” she said. “You need to leave. I don’t know how you knew I was here, but-”
“Well I didn’t know, exactly,” I said. “That’s sort of the point of a blind date isn’t it?”
“A what? Is that what you’re doing here? Who the hell does blind dates anymore? Tinder exists, you know. Who sent you?”
I floundered for a moment. “I, uh… My buddy Matt. He said you’d be here at 7 o’clock, with a white Carnation in your hair.”
“Jesus,” she said. “I don’t know who your friend Matt is, or how he knew about the flower, but you are not who I am supposed to be meeting here. Now please, you have to leave.”
I scowled. “Who are you waiting for then? Some rich jerk-off, with his fancy car and non-burned living room?”
Her head whipped around, scanning the restaurant.
I knew it. She was waiting for someone else. Someone better. I grabbed the glass of water in front of me and took a big gulp. My teeth chomped the ice cubes a tad more aggressively than I intended. When she turned back around her eyes flicked between me and the half-empty glass in my hand. Her expression turned into something unreadable. At least until her face fell into her hands.
“Oh goddamn it, Kevin. You’re ruining everything.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, spitting a little chunk of ice. A hot flush swept through me. “I can’t even drink your water, huh? Is the idea of having dinner with me that awful? Look, you’ve caused me a lot of anguish, you know. The least you can do is be a bit apologetic about it!”
If I was more of an assertive person I might have banged my fist on the table.
“Goddamn son of a bitch,” Melanie said.
I opened my mouth, then closed it. Scathing rebuttal though it was, I realized that she was not referring to me. Her gaze was aimed behind me, and unless I was mistaken, I thought I saw a flash of fear slip into her otherwise hostile expression.
The Other Guy
Before I could turn around, I felt a hand clamp onto my shoulder. Not hard, mind you; it was almost affectionate. The kind of grip you might use to greet a friend. I looked up and was greeted by the most dazzling smile I have ever seen. Bright as the lights of a dentist’s office and twice as motivating. I knew there was a man behind it, but his glittering teeth were all that I could focus on. They were blinding white and massive – like symmetrical Everests.
“Forgive my interruption,” said the teeth. “But I feel absolutely compelled to introduce myself.”
I looked back at the man. His teeth were far less distracting now that he had sheathed them within his lips. I saw that he wore an immaculately tailored suit, gray with faint pinstripes. Behind him, previously blocked by his aura, stood two black-clad bodyguard types. Their eyes were obscured by dark sunglasses but unquestionably focused on the two of us.
The man scooped my hand out of my lap. “Warner Dawson,” he said. He had a grip like firm butter.
“Kevin,” I said. Our hands separated. Mine fell to my side and tapped an irregular drum beat on the chair leg. Warner Dawson… Where had I heard that name before?
“Absolutely charmed,” Dawson said. He took a deep breath and his gaze fell onto Store Girl. He continued, “Now, I hate to put a damper on what is clearly such a delightful evening for you two, but I believe it is only fair to inform our young friend here of the situation he has found himself in. Don’t you think so, Melanie?”
“Ha!” I said, pointing a triumphant finger at her. “Melanie! So that’s your name!”
She sat stiff, her eyes thin slits.
Dawson brushed at a spot on his sleeve. “She poisoned you, Kevin. It is in your water. You can tell by the slight yellowish residue at the bottom of the glass there. I believe it was intended for me, but fortunately you managed to swoop in and usurp my place here on date night.” He glanced at me and loosed a venomous smile into the world. “Love finds a way, I suppose.”
I let out a stupid little, “What?”
“Now,” he said. “As much as I would love to stay, I’m afraid I have a meeting to attend.” His eyes again focused on Melanie, and I noticed that they were significantly less jovial than before. “However, to ensure that I avoid further surprises, I am going to leave these fine gentlemen with you to ensure that your date continues to go just as smoothly as it already has. I trust they will take tremendous care of you. Toodle-loo!”
He stepped back and clapped his hands. As if summoned by Pavlovian puppetry, Dawson’s bulky goons moved in front of him, backing Melanie and I against the wall. Her murderous glare moved between all of us with equal intent. Dawson gave us one last brilliant smile then spun and marched out of the restaurant with posture straighter than a flagpole.
Melanie swore violently.
The goons stood there, arms crossed with sufficient menace. A long, strange moment of silence passed between us. We were drawing not a small amount of looks from those around us. I noticed that both of the goons were staring at Melanie. They didn’t even seem to consider me a threat. One of them stepped closer to Melanie. He planted both hands on the table and leaned forward, leering at her.
“Well,” he said. “Looks like-”
Melanie moved with astonishing force. She braced her back against the wall and lashed out with her foot, kicking the wooden table leg directly across from her clean off. With the weight he was putting on the table no longer supported, the goon slipped and lost his balance. Plates and glasses slid and tumbled across the shifting surface. Melanie stepped through them, her slender fingers finding the handle of a butter knife. She swung it, and at the last second spun the blade, thwacking the goon directly between the bridge of the nose with the handle. His limp body puddled on the floor.
Our second aggressor was reacting, first with shock, then businesslike precision. He grabbed Melanie’s skinny arm in a grip like a gorilla. His other giant fist shot toward her like a meat battering ram. When it got there though, it found that its target had disappeared. Melanie, having somehow extricated herself, dodged to the side. The thug’s punch swept through thin air and before he could redirect his momentum, Melanie was at his side. She drove the butter knife an inch into his gut and he let out a surprisingly frail shriek of utter surprise. Melanie released the handle and moved back two small steps. She grabbed a chair, hoisted it into the air, and swung it like a cricket bat. The chair smashed the thug’s head into the wall and he joined his coworker on the ground.
Melanie wasted no time celebrating. She grabbed me as I was awkwardly trying to apologize to my fellow restaurant patrons and shoved me roughly forward.
“Go, Kevin! Get outside!”
“Jesus Christ, did you just kill two guys with a butter knife?”
“I didn’t kill them. Just slowed them down. Now move!”
Through a combination of pushing, pulling, and cursing, she got me outside into the parking lot.
Finding a Secluded Place
“Your car!” she shouted. “Where is your car?”
I pointed to it, two spots down. A few of the rattling pieces in my head came together. “Hey wait just a second! You poisoned me! What the hell?!”
She pushed me against the hood of my Camry. “Drive, Kevin. You’ve already screwed things up enough, now you need to help me get this guy.”
“Like hell!” I shouted. “I’m not doing anything for you! You goddamn poisoned me! Am I going to die?”
“Yes,” she said.
I was taken aback by the suddenness of it. She clearly had no interest in sugarcoating things. I found myself clutching the roof of my car to support my weight.
“But,” she went on. “There is an antidote. You help me kill Warner Dawson and I will give it to you.”
“Fuck that! Give it to me now!”
“Kevin.” The look she gave me froze me solid. “You colossal dipshit. I tried to warn you. You are a part of this now. Either you help me, or you die. I am not joking with you.”
We stared each other down long enough for me to realize that I was running out of the precious little time I apparently had left.
I slapped the roof of my car. “Tits! All right, get in.”
A minute later we were speeding down icy roads, Melanie issuing me directions in clipped tones. I didn’t ask where we were going, or how she knew that we would find Dawson there. There was a far more important question that burned into my mind.
“How long do I have?” I asked.
“Turn left here,” Melanie said. She didn’t take her eyes off the road. “You’ve still got a little while. I thought I was going to have more time, so the poison is slow acting. I was hoping to avoid making a scene in the restaurant, you know. Left again.”
A wholly uncomfortable moment passed between us.
She looked at me. “I’m sorry, Kevin. This isn’t how I wanted things to happen. I’m running out of time to take down Dawson. But the moment he’s dead I will get you that antidote. I promise.”
“Sure,” I said. “Of course you will.”
In short time, Melanie had led us to the top of one of the rolling hills a couple miles outside of town. We got out and she pointed down into the snowy valley below. “That’s where he’ll be going. With all his minions. Turn your lights off.”
I did. Soon enough my eyes adjusted to the glow of the moon reflected off the snow. Melanie crouched down beside a short shrub and dug through the snow. I started to ask what she was looking for, but before I could form the words she produced a large black case and set it atop the snow. For a second I thought it was a guitar case. Then she unclasped it and flipped open the lid. Inside, nestled into a dark foam interior, was a monstrous sniper rifle. Disassembled, but unmistakable.
I stared at her, mouth open. “How did you know this was here?”
“Because I put it here. Plan B, if you will.”
I stayed silent as I watched her piece the rifle together with astonishing efficiency. It was starting to occur to me that this girl might be bad news.
“Here’s the deal, Kevin,” she said as she snapped the scope into place. “I only need one shot to take out Dawson, but it is going to be astonishingly loud. I wish I had a silencer, but I don’t. It was hard enough to get the parts I have here.”
“So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that the instant I fire, even if I kill Dawson, his men are going to know right where we are. These are dangerous people, Kevin. I can’t guarantee that we’ll get away from them.”
My shoulders slumped as her words sunk in. Well, here was yet another way I could die tonight. I was on a roll. Was there really no other option?
There When You Need It Most
“A condom,” I said.
Her head snapped toward me, her gaze sharper than I had expected. Her tone, flat: “What.”
I took a deep breath. “Put a condom around the barrel. It will act as a makeshift silencer.”
“What kind of stupid shit –”
I held up a hand. “Hear me out, okay? I read about this online. Back in World War Two soldiers would put condoms over the ends of their guns. Something about suppressing the gas as it escapes the barrel when the bullet is discharged. The latex keeps it, and the sound, from exploding outward. So you take your shot, then we get out of here before Dawson’s cronies even figure out where we fired from. This could work, Melanie.”
She stared at me like my eyes had transformed into penises. “And where do you suppose we can find a condom, Kevin?”
“I-” Oh shit. I deflated. There was no way around it now. “I have one.”
“Oh. And why is that?”
I sucked in air a little too audibly and my throat gave a slight shriek. “I uh… I found it?”
“You found it.”
“I mean I pick-pocketed it. Because I’m a kind of a bad boy, you know.”
She shook her head as she turned away from me. “Bit presumptuous, don’t you think? Expecting me to put out on the first date…”
I mustered what I could of an indignant tone and said, “Hey, I didn’t know I’d be meeting you. It was a blind date, after all. It could have been anyone.”
I instantly regretted saying that, but she chuckled good-naturedly. “Yeah, that makes it way better.”
I sighed and went to my car. I fished out the box of condoms and rummaged through it. “Here, which kind do you want? This is sort of a variety pack. There’s, uh, there’s Original, Thin, Ecstasy – whatever that means – and oh! Here!” I pressed the glittering love shield into her outstretched hand. “ ‘Fire & Ice.’ That seems appropriate, doesn’t it?”
She rolled her eyes so hard I could hear the reverberations in her skull. “Magnums? A whole box? Jesus, Kevin.” She tore the condom out of its wrapper and rolled it over the barrel of the sniper rifle. She shook her head. “Good Lord, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“Be sure to leave about an inch or so at the end as a reservoir tip,” I said. Then I frowned. “Hmm… Do you want to put two of them on there?”
She looked at me with her own brand of exasperation that I should have been used to by now.
I shrugged. “It just seems like it would be more effective that way.”
Suddenly, down below us came a flash of light. We both instinctively crouched down. Headlights, from two different cars, moved across the field toward each other. They met in the middle and stopped some two hundred yards away from Melanie and I.
“That’s him,” she whispered. “It’s time, Kevin.”
I nervously chomped on a hangnail.
She pulled a pair of binoculars from her case and tossed them to me. As she got into position with the sniper rifle she said, “Here. Take this and be my spotter. You’ll have a wider field of view. Let me know if you see anything that I don’t.”
She lay down on her stomach in the snow, the ridiculous condom-tipped rifle braced along the ground. I mimicked her posture a few feet away. I peered through the binoculars at the group down at the road. They were moving about now, coming out of their cars and interacting with each other.
“See this?” Melanie said. “This is the meeting I was trying to stop.”
I peeked at her. “Why? What are they doing? Who is this guy?”
“Someone very dangerous. I have no idea how he found out who either of us are, but clearly he’s pulling even more strings than I had originally thought.”
“How though? I mean, who does he work for? What kind of authority does he have to-”
She shushed me. “Hang on. There he is. You see him? Getting out of the car.”
I nudged the binoculars side to side. Then I saw him. Warner Dawson, impossible smile and all. He moved forward, shaking hands and engaging in what appeared to be nothing more than idle chit-chat for him. Those around him, however, reacted stiffly to his presence. Almost like they were afraid.
“I’m taking the shot,” said Melanie. “Be ready to get out of here. Even if we don’t reveal our location we won’t have long before the rest of his goons find us.”
She tightened her grip on the gun. “This had better work, Kevin.”
I heard myself say, “Trust me. It’ll stay quiet.”
I glanced at the condom and wondered how completely misplaced my own confidence was. I didn’t have to wonder for long.
Melanie pulled the trigger, the gun fired, and it was the loudest goddamn thing I have ever heard.
The Heat of the Moment
Though I recoiled from the ungodly roar of the gun firing beside my head, my focus still remained on the group down below. The gunshot had most definitely given our position away; immediately following its loud retort all heads turned toward us.
But there wasn’t anything they could do about Melanie’s aim. The bullet met Warner Dawson’s right shoulder in a spray of blood and tattered flesh. The force of the shot spun him one full revolution, his arms flailing. I let out a little yelp of excitement. For a second he was down, falling to the ground. His reign of weirdness was over.
Then, with a single step backwards, Dawson caught himself. He tipped back slightly onto his heels to regain his balance, then snapped into his signature rigid posture.
The son of a bitch was still standing.
He moved his arm – the blood-soaked limb with the ragged hole where it connected to his body – and pointed straight at Melanie and I, all that distance away. I swear to God he made eye contact with me through my binoculars. He was shouting something. The men moved around him, working like ants toward a shared purpose. They held something between them. Something large and heavy and black. Then Warner Dawson smiled, and it glittered brighter than the moonlit snow.
Melanie was screaming as she grabbed at me and this time I didn’t fight her. We scrambled to our feet and sprinted – not in any particular direction, just away. The air whistled like a tea kettle, then erupted into a thunderous explosion of sound that tore the night apart. The snow flashed bright orange beneath our feet before it melted into nothing. Evaporated. A concussive blast of molten air hit us like a giant’s backhand and took us off our feet. Singed hair and blistered skin. We tumbled halfway down the hill like a tiny human avalanche. Eventually I slid to a stop, somehow both soaking wet and smoking. Melanie landed hard on my sternum then flopped to rest just below me. She moaned something and I let out a watery gurgle in response. The hill above us, once frozen enough to be a sled run, now raged in fire.
I didn’t even need to wonder about the condition of my car. One of its mangled doors landed in the snow next to me.
By the time we managed to drag ourselves to our feet the grass on the hill had more or less burned down, leaving just my poor car flaming atop the hill like a shitty lighthouse. Melanie and I made our way around to the other side of the hill in a half-crouch, ready to bolt the moment we saw one of Dawson’s men marching toward us. We needn’t have worried.
By the time we got around to a vantage point where we could see the meeting place, there was no sign of anyone but tire tracks and small patch of blood in the snow. Either they were spooked off by our relatively pitiful assault, or had simply been confident that no one could have survived their retaliation. It didn’t matter. They were gone, Warner Dawson along with them. Melanie sighed and trudged up the hill a ways to warm herself by my car’s burning seat cushions. I followed.
“I’m sorry about your car,” she said after a while.
“I’m sorry about your failed assassination,” I said. For some reason I found that I genuinely meant it.
She sighed. “It wasn’t your fault. Not really.”
An Unexpected Discharge
We stood in silence for a while, our breath puffing little clouds out of our mouths. Melanie turned toward me and suddenly I was very aware of her proximity.
“Kevin,” she said. “Come here.”
I took a little step forward, eager but tentative. We stood about a foot apart. She closed the distance. I let her.
There, lit up by the flames of my roasting Camry, she pressed her body against mine. Our eyes met, gazing deep into each others’ soul. For a moment, all my troubles left me. The poison, Warner Dawson, my exploded car – all of it faded into the back of my mind like a forgotten toothache. All that mattered now was the beautiful, perhaps slightly crazy girl standing in front of me. We smiled at each other. Blushed a little. My hands wrapped around the small of her back as if my grip had been made for her. Lips parted. We leaned in…
Then she shoved two fingers deep down my throat and pinched my uvula.
I gagged and choked and tried to stagger backwards, but her other hand held tight to the front of my shirt. With a deft sweep of her feet she buckled my knees and sent me to the ground. Her waggling digits knuckled my tongue as she shoved them into me like I was a reverse puppet. My stomach engaged in its standard protocol for this kind of situation and sent its contents rocketing up my esophagus. Melanie pulled her hand out of my mouth and hopped away from me, not a moment too soon.
I spewed forth like a terrible dragon, bile and undigested food bits spraying out of my mouth and all over the ground. I collapsed onto my elbows, convulsing in a puddle of my own innards. Melanie stood a few feet away and pointedly avoided looking at me as she wiped her hand off on her jeans.
“There is no antidote,” she said. “Sorry. That was the only way to get the poison out of you.”
I gasped for air. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me that earlier?!” I shouted.
She shrugged. “I only just now decided I was going to let you live.” A smile hit her lips. “That’s twice now, by the way. You owe me.”
I started to reply, then puked what could have passed for a beef stew hearty enough to feed a family of four.
“I just Googled it, by the way,” she said, waving her smartphone at me. “Those soldiers put condoms over their gun barrels to protect them from dirt and rain, not to make silencers.”
I coughed, spat, and said, “Shit. Okay, that makes a lot more sense. Sorry. I read a lot of trivia on the internet and it’s hard to keep things from getting jumbled.”
She let out a quick chuckle. It was dry, but it was something. She took hold of my elbow. “C’mon. Up you go. You’ll still feel sick for a while, but you should survive. So long as the walk back to town doesn’t get too cold for you, that is.”
With her help I balanced myself upon quivering legs. I fell forward a little, but her hand pressed against my chest – a warm center holding me upright. I wanted to say something witty and possibly romantic, but I could feel another round of puke churning within me.
She looked at me. “Hey, you gonna hurl again? Let me know, okay, because I don’t want to get-”
I interrupted her by spewing a particularly viscous column of barf that dribbled down my chest and onto her hand. Melanie yelped and pulled away, letting me drop to my knees again. She held her hand out like it was a wet snake. I couldn’t help but laugh at her disgust. In a way, I kind of considered us even now. She scoffed and slapped me across the face with my own vomit. I fell back into the dirt wearing a stupid little grin.
I think I’m in love.
Trojan Magnum Gold Collection condoms, while hefty, might not suppress every load you put into them.