The Hardass stared with eyes of chipped granite into the icy maw of oblivion between swipes of the windshield wipers. He did this with one side of his mouth turned slightly upward forming a species of almost-smile to frame his gritted teeth. This was as close as he got, generally, unless there was sex involved. That sublime act of thrustery allowed emotions he kept locked deep in the bomb shelter that was his subconscious to punch through. On those occasions, he would allow the other side of his mouth to twitch.
The weather was being a bastard, but The Hardass expected that from the weather. He’d had many an occasion to swear at it for being too rainy, too sunny, too humid, too full of sparrows... Today it was too full of frozen water, though The Hardass held a grudging respect for ice because it was cold and hard and killed people.
Sleet and pedestrians pelted the windshield of his chrome bulldozer as he thundered through the narrow avenues of Downtown.
“Damn,” he growled across a steaming mug of molten lead with marshmallows on top. If he was going to make it to Boringdale Elementary on time, he was going to have to find some shortcuts.
The station chief, one Chuck Franklin, was the weasel behind his little field trip to Boringdale today. Franklin knew damn well that The Hardass was the only one in his department that didn’t have children, so the putz had sent him.
“Children give me heartburn, Franklin.”
“Oh, they’re not so bad. This’ll be good for you. You could use some experience with more delicate work, and sending a decorated detective like you is good PR.”
“Seriously, Chuck. I got better people and things to do than to prance off and talk to a bunch of gunky kids.”
“No doubt you do. Today’s a slow day, though, and Boringdale asked us to send a cop over to talk to the third graders for Career Day. I’m sorry pal, but you gotta do it. That’s an order.”
Thinking back to that recent encounter, The Hardass was glad he’d eaten Franklin’s cell phone as he passed his office on the way out.
He made a skidding left and cut across the parking lot of a hair salon, clipping a rear-view mirror off a silver Chevrolet Cobalt with his machine’s forward blade.
“Heh,” he boomed into his mug. Even if he was late, at least he brought along his favorite mix CD he'd burned himself by scratching the binary into a solid disc of aluminum with his teeth: recordings of exploding mortar shells and busy steel mills. The Hardass turned up the bass.
* * *
Milford Brunkley, lone security guard at Boringdale Elementary, twirled his taser happily as he galumphed the halls of academia.
“Froightfully smart, these kids,” he mumbled to himself in a glutinous Cockney. Many of them knew fancy tricks like addition and subtraction, and he had even heard that one or two of them could...whaddyacallit...multifly. Something like that. It was all voodoo magic to Milford.
“No matter, though,” he said, still to himself. “Ain’t my job, learnin’. I’m ‘ere fer security purposes. Learnin' gives me a roight ol’ case of the bothers.”
Milford paused and cocked an ear.
“Strap me ifn’ that don’t sound loik a Diesel out front. Ruddy big ‘un, too. Oop, now it’s gone.” He speared an apple, from a fanny pack strapped around his generous gut, on the end of his taser.
At the sound of shattering glass, Milford forgot his apple and sprinted to the source like the duty-bound protector of the weak and magical that he was. Rounding a corner and skidding to a stop at the front doors in Boringdale’s arterial hallway, he beheld a giant man in an alligator coat brushing shards of glass out of his hair.
“Oi! What’s all this?”
“Sign said push, so I pushed,” The Hardass explained, gesturing to the twisted remains of the steel double doors. “Where do you keep the third graders? I’m supposed to talk to the little bastards about law enforcement and stuff. God, I could use a drink.”
“Cor blimey! You mus’ be that copper th’ headmaster said was comin’, eh?” said Milford, enlightenment rustling timidly through his eyebrows.
“Uh huh.” He showed the security guard his dented badge. “Nice taser.”
“It’s the weapon I battles evil wit’. Of course, sometimes I uses it to eat me apples too,” he said, smiling fondly down at it. “Roight then! Best get ya ter Miss What’s-er’-name’s room.”
The Hardass stood in the hall and stared at the frosted glass window in the door the security guard had left him in front of. He looked at his watch. It was hours since he’d last had a good gasoline and Coke. Better get this over with as quickly as possible.
* * *
When The Hardass kicked the door in, Megan DeLingerie’s third grade class went from quiet study hall to screaming cyclone in half a second as he charged into the room in a storm of splintered wood and glass.
He ignored the tumult, and showed Megan his badge.
“You—you’re the police officer they sent?” she said, recovering quickly.
“Okay! Children, I’d like you to say ‘good morning’ to the officer, please.”
The children obliged, some of them climbing out from under their desks to do so.
“Sir, if you would, please tell us a little bit about what it is like to work for the police department,” Megan continued, re-seating herself behind her own desk.
“I spend most of my time on the streets, beating the crap out of crime. It’s satisfying work, as long as the top brass don’t get in my way. Take Chuck Franklin, my boss. He’s a twat.”
Silence fell over the room, except for the crunching noises The Hardass made as he casually munched a handful of 9mm bullet casings.
Megan quickly stepped to the front of the room again. “Well, uh, that was... Ahem. I'm sure the officer is busy, and we should let him get back to work. Do you have any questions?”
“Yeah,” The Hardass said, looking and liking. “What time do you get off work tonight?”
“I meant the children.”
“Yes, David?” Megan pointed at a blond-haired boy with his hand raised.
“Have you ever shot anybody, mister?” the kid asked. That was just the kind of question this sticky little specimen looked likely to ask, The Hardass thought.
“Nope. Don’t even have a gun. Guns are for pansies like Franklin,” The Hardass replied, burping cell phone bits into a fist.
“Have you ever been shot?”
David’s eyes widened.
“What’s it feel like?” he asked, voice low.
Megan pointed to a girl in the back row.
“Have you ever guarded an important person?”
“No, I meant—”
“No, really. Myself.”
The next child waved his dirty little hand in the air. Megan pointed.
“What’s your favorite food, mister?”
“Nickels. Hey, Megs. You got anything to drink in this nursery?”
“I have a bottle of water in my desk. Would you like me to get it for you?”
“Hell no,” he said, pushing past her. He rummaged in a drawer. “You got anything stronger than—ahh! Here we go.” He straightened up with a bottle of nail polish remover.
“Yep. Well, look, this has been fun and all, but I gotta roll. Crime’s not going to kick its own ass, you know.”
“Um. Thanks for coming down?”
“Yeah. You’re a babe. You up for a sex scene later on?”
Megan blushed and the children giggled.
“Gross!” said little Rodney.
The Hardass chugged his acetone on the way back to his bulldozer. Patting his coat pocket where he’d put Megan’s phone number, he allowed his mouth to do that twitchy smile thing.