Those were the words Cedric growled as he stared deep into the gorilla’s eyes, whilst still squatting. Although quiet, he knew his voice was so deep, so bassy, that the gorilla would hear it as a rumble in his core.
That morning, even before the letter arrived, the world was conspiring against Cedric. The incessant beeps of the rubbish truck piercing into his dream, just when his English schoolteacher, the luscious Ms Foxton, had started undressing. The boiler, which had broke down for the third time in as many months, causing him to shriek, and hop out of the shower, his teeth like castanets. He cursed, uttering his first word that day.
Sat at the kitchen table, he re-read the letter over and over again, becoming increasingly incredulous. His olfactory senses, blunted by rage, did not register the toaster incinerating his muffins. Even the fire alarm sounded more shrill than usual, seeming to chastise him.
Cedric spat coffee all over the worktop, spraying some onto his trousers. He looked at the curdled white blobs, checked the date on the milk carton, and uttered his second word that day, the same as his first. He crumbled the cindering remains of his muffins in his fist and flung the ashes into the vague direction of the bin. He scoured the back of the larder, and found an ancient neglected box of Ready Brek.
Incensed by the bank’s motto, ‘The Bank that Can’, Cedric tore the letter up. He murmured the phrase, repeatedly. It made him increasingly agitated, like an anti-mantra, sending him into the opposite of a meditative state. He had very clearly explained himself several times. He had phoned the bank to inform them that Vodafone had overcharged him. That roaming charges were included in his tariff. That it wasn’t his fault. He had held the apology letter in his hand. He had even offered to send them a copy. They said it wouldn’t be necessary. He said it really wouldn’t be too much trouble. And now this.
Ignoring the searing pain as he lifted the overheated bowl out of the microwave, Cedric sprinkled the shreds of the letter into the porridge. With each burning gulp he felt the ink, the words, the insults, the temerity, of the letter melt into his body.
He wouldn’t tolerate this. Today, he would make a stand.
As he sat in his sofa, Cedric could feel each one of his billions of cells pulling at him, urging him, to go over there right now and give Mr Pickering what he deserved. But he needed to wait for the letter to make its way through his digestive tract. To appease himself, he pictured punching Mr Pickering’s pompous red face. Under his flared nostrils and gritted teeth, his lips twitched into something resembling a smile.
He turned on the TV to the news channel, more out of habit than intent. The pretty newscaster had high cheekbones, dark lipstick and short peroxide hair, not unlike Ms Foxton.
“I’m Susan Burlandy. Breaking news, just in. Numerous streets in North London have been cordoned off this morning, as the Met Police Firearms Unit are speeding towards…”
“Not now, Susan Burlandy!” Cedric snapped, turning off the TV. Her piercing beauty might distract him from his rage. And he did not want that.
After a few hours, when his bowels finally gave him the first inkling that they were ready, Cedric lept up and marched out of his flat. His feet fumbled amongst the scatter of shoes in the hallway. He trotted down the steps outside, and smelt the familiar musk of Mrs Maykar before he saw her shuffling by, with two oversized grocery bags.
“Ah, Cedric my dear boy,” she croaked, “Did you get my letter about the Housing Association meeting? We need a young fellow like you to… Good God!” She blinked her owl-like eyes, magnified by her thick glasses. “Why, you’re half naked! You’ll catch your death.”
Cedric mumbled something but blustering winds dispersed his words.
“It’s freezing,” Mrs Maykar said, “And what happened to your shoes?”
Cedric looked down and saw that he was wearing one fluffy bunny slipper and one frayed dark green Nike trainer with several small rips. He was momentarily transfixed by their blatant contrast. He knew it was a metaphor for something. Something important. But he didn’t know what. A police car careered down the street. The noise of the siren crescendoed, then faded quickly, like a wave rushing through him. As he pushed past Mrs Maykar, he dismissed her jabbering about the Town Centre. “Some kind of kerfuffle,” were her words.
He had specifically told them. Roaming charges were included. It wasn’t his fault. He could send them the apology letter. He had told them.
Cedric’s ruminations were quashed by a loud babbling. A large crowd was blocking his path to the bank. He dissolved into the throng and pushed his way to the front. People barely afforded a cursory glance at the topless man with odd shoes. Their gazes were transfixed on the police officers huddled behind a bullet-ridden car, a few metres in front of the shattered glass front door of the bank.
A tall policeman at the front of the crowd stared at Cedric as he snaked through towards him. “And you are?” he asked in a gruff voice.
Cedric’s head was bowed down, but his eyes burrowed ahead, through the officer, towards the bank. “I am here to sort this mess out, once and for all.”
The policeman frowned.
Cedric’s gut sent an impatient signal to him. He grimaced, and stared up at the officer, who nodded, shuffled backwards, and lifted up the yellow cordon tape, allowing Cedric to duck under.
As he walked towards the police car, Cedric heard a rattling thunder explode from inside the bank. Momentarily distracted from his fury, he wondered why anyone would let off fireworks during the day. If somebody else was staging another protest today, they would have to wait. His protest was getting desperate to come out.
Two policemen were squatting behind the car with hunched shoulders and petrified faces. Upon seeing Cedric, one shoved a megaphone towards him, grating it on the concrete. The other squinted at Cedric. His face was young, almost too young to be a cop, and unfeasibly pale. “Agent Prendergast?”
Cedric said nothing.
The one with the megaphone had a much older face. Haggard, with the sins of generations of criminals, carved into the lines in his forehead. And innumerable pints drank, to forget all those crimes scenes, flushed into this red puffy cheeks. “Sir, we think there are three gunmen, all in animal masks. We think six civilian hostages and eight staff members. Shots fired inside, and towards us. Fatalities unknown. Hopefully just threats. Demands are a chopper, and six mill-”
“Shush,” Cedric hissed, silencing him with a finger. His eyes remained fixed on the bank. He had barely glanced at the police officers. “Is the manager in there?”
The policemen looked at each other.
“Yes. Er, Mr Pickering is his name. He’s there. We saw him tied up.”
Cedric marched forward.
The officers shared another look. “Wait!” shouted the older one, holding up the megaphone. “Don’t you need this?”
Cedric looked at the object, winced, gripped his stomach and continued towards the bank.
The police officers sat back against the car.
“Why is he topless?” said the younger one.
The older one took off his police hat and wiped sweat away from his face. “It must be to show the hostiles that he’s not wearing a vest. That he’s not packing heat.”
The younger cop nodded. “And why one slipper and one trainer?”
“Er, to show them he doesn’t conform.”
“Conform to shoes?”
“I’m not following, sir.”
“Look, kid. All I know is when you’ve been in the force as long as me, you recognise a power move when you see one.”
“But what kind of hostage negotiator doesn’t even want to know the demands?”
The older cop pondered this for some time. “The kind that doesn’t intend to compromise.”
A man with a tiger face mask and military fatigues marched behind the bank’s shattered doors, resting a huge machine gun across his arms, like a guitar. He froze, looked Cedric up and down, then turned to another taller man in a gorilla mask and dungarees in the bank foyer. The Gorilla nodded. The Tiger gestured toward his boss with the gun’s muzzle. Cedric walked over.
The Gorilla pulled out a long silver pistol from the back of his trousers and held it by his side. It glistened, reflecting the strip-lights above. “Where’s my chopper?” he barked.
“Where’s the manager?” Cedric replied.
The gorilla lifted the gun to Cedric’s head. “Chopper.” He clicked off the safety catch. “Do I look like I ain’t serious?”
Cedric stared back, unblinking. “Dungarees and a gorilla mask? Yes, kind of.” He sensed, rather than saw, a minute twitch behind the mask. He averted his gaze to the shiny gun barrel inches from his face, marvelling at how it spewed shards of light across the ceiling. The light was shimmering. The Gorilla’s hand was trembling.
A woman with long blonde hair, a grey tracksuit and a giraffe mask peered out of the bank vault. She trotted into the foyer holding a semi-automatic. “Give them a hostage, Michael. It’s how you start negotiations.”
“Goddammit! Don’t use my name. Call me Alpha.”
“No. We’ve discussed this. You’re Beta. I’m Alpha. I’m in charge.”
The Giraffe scoffed. “Typical man.”
“No! Because I’m the most educated.”
“A BTec in Art from Loughborough Polytechnic! Maybe we should call you Professor.”
“Don’t tell everyone where I went to uni, you imbecile!”
“Where you went to poly!”
“Oh yeah? And if you were in charge, you’d probably recruit a palm-reader as the getaway driver!”
“Look, I told you that the horoscopes said today was a very bad day for misadventure. And that black cat was a bad omen.”
“Huh!” He rolled his eyes through the mask-holes at Cedric. “Look. Just get back to the hostages. I’ll deal with this pig.” The Gorilla exhaled loudly, with a notable wheeze. He clicked the catch of the gun again. He cursed, seemingly realising that he had turned the safety catch on and clicked it for a third time. He pulled up the side of the gorilla mask a little, to let in some air. “Okay. You can have one hostage.”
“I want the manager,” Cedric said in an impassive tone.
“Give him a woman,” the blonde Giraffe yelled from the vault.
“Hang on,” shouted the tiger, shifting around the weight of the huge machine gun. “How come you got to choose Alpha, but I couldn’t be Mamba?”
“Coz Mamba isn’t a Greek letter, you idiot!”
“It would make sense! Just, shut up, and get back to… whatever it is you’re doing. Looking menacing.” He shook his gorilla head, and shrugged at Cedric. “Okay, you can take one of the tellers.”
“I want the manager, ” Cedric said.
“No. She’s right. Female first. Then the manager.”
Cedric looked around and sighed. A minute later, he marched out of the shattered glass doors with a thin lady in a tight pinstriped suit. She was half collapsed onto him, her legs paralysed with terror. Straight ahead, Cedric saw the two cops talking to a muscular black man holding the megaphone, wearing a scowl.
The older cop spun around. “This is Prendergast. Who the hell are you?”
The younger cop threw his fist in the air. “He’s got a hostage, Sir. It was a power move.”
In his periphery, Cedric saw that other policemen had arrived. Most had their guns raised towards him, looking around, flabbergasted. One was eating a sandwich.
“Look, whoever you are, please just keep walking slowly towards us,” Prendergast said. He took very deliberate steps forward with his arms outstretched, looking not unlike a zombie. “It’s Okay, Cynthia, come to me.”
Cedric jerked backwards. “Cynthia?” He yanked the teller back into the building. She gulped several times, like a goldfish. Cedric propped her up against a huge white pillar in the foyer. “You were the one on the phone,” he snarled. “You said you would pass on the message to Pickering. You promised I wouldn’t get an overdraft charge.”
Cynthia’s eyes rolled back as she fainted. She slipped, rather than fell, into Cedric. He didn’t quite catch her, so much as passively cushion her slide onto the floor. He stood back.
The Gorilla sprinted up to Cedric. “What the hell?” His inert mask contrasted the panic in his voice.
“No more game! I want the manager,” Cedric said. He sensed another invisible flinch behind the mask.
“Me? No more games to you!” The Gorilla pushed the gun against Cedric’s temple. Cedric pushed back. His belly emitted a booming gurgle.
The Gorilla glanced down. His hand shook fervently. “Any last words, pig?”
Cedric’s face stayed impassive. He remained unblinking. He turned his head to stare at the finger around the trigger and saw it redden as it slowly squeezed against metal.
“Say something, Goddammit!”
Cedric’s guts released a boisterous churning sound. He let out a very long high-pitched fart. The Gorilla stared hard at him for several long moments. He sniffed, then wafted in front of his face with his gun. He stepped back. “Okay, you win. But as soon as you’ve seen him, I want my chopper”.
The Giraffe wheeled out Pickering. He was strapped to a chair with streams of grey tape. Wild eyes peered around, over his strapped-up mouth and unruly beard. The side of his face sported a large bruise. A streak of dried blood ran down from his nose.
“If I don’t see that chopper in five minutes,” said the Gorilla, checking his watch, “I swear to God I’m-“
“Shush,” Cedric hissed, silencing him with a finger. He spun around and bent over the chubby bank manager. “Thank you for your letter, Mr Pickering. Here’s my reply.” He dropped his pants and defecated on the floor.
Alpha gasped behind his mask. “You can’t just… What the…”
“Either shoot me in the head or shut your freaking mouth.” Those were the words Cedric growled as he stared deep into the gorilla’s eyes, whilst still squatting. Although quiet, he knew his voice was so deep, so bassy, that the gorilla would hear it as a rumble in his core.
The blonde Giraffe walked over, and stared at the faeces for a while. Shaking her head slowly, she started taking the clip out of her gun. “Black cat,” she muttered.
“Susan!” shouted the Gorilla, “What are you-“
“It’s over Michael,” she said, placing her gun on the floor. “The horoscopes said this would happen?”
“Really? It said this would happen?”
“We can’t negotiate with this man. His outfit, giving a hostage back.”
From the bank entrance, the Tiger yelled out an indecipherable muffled protest.
“He will never lose. He can’t.” He is the real Alpha.” She bowed towards Cedric, peeled off her mask, and slowly walked towards the exit, with her hands raised.
As the blonde passed her, Cynthia groaned and pushed herself up onto all fours. She blinked several times, then sniffed. “What’s that smell?”
The blonde’s lips twitched into something resembling a smile. “That’s real power.”
Cedric turned his glower back to Pickering. He heard a clatter on the ground and saw the shiny silver pistol spin across the floor towards him. He heard the pattering footsteps of the Gorilla scurrying away, followed by a confused shriek from the Tiger.
The gasps, the cheers, the chatter from the crowds, the yells of police officers, they all dissolved away behind Cedric. He pulled up his trousers and leaned over Pickering, who was taking deep breaths from his nose and squirming against the tape.
Cedric stripped away the tape covering Pickering’s mouth, leaving it dangling from his cheek. Brown patches of bristles came away with it.
Pickering sucked in air desperately. “Oh my! Bless you, sir. You’re… you’re a hero. A little… unconventional, but you saved my—”
“Shush,” Cedric hissed, silencing him with a finger. He peered over at a poster on the back wall of the bank. A younger, slimmer, perhaps airbrushed Pickering, with a better-groomed beard, stared back with an inane grin and both his thumbs up. ‘The Bank that Can’ was encircled around him.
“The bank that cons, more like,” Cedric mused to himself.
Pickering’s face contorted into a petrified smile. “Ha, ha,” he said, without even a hint of laughter.
Cedric stared into him, with eyes that looked like they had never blinked. Pickering shrank away, sending the chair rolling back a few inches.
“Are you going to refund my overdraft charge?”
“It wasn’t my fault. I made that abundantly clear. Your bank declined to see the letter from Vodafone.”
“Sir. I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Cedric’s face changed. In its quintessence. His jaw, which had been clenched with rage, suddenly surrendered. His eyebrows, which had been furrowed furiously, finally relented. A tranquillity came over his bowels. “Why do I even bother?” he whispered.
“Sir, if you’d be kind enough to untie me, I’m sure the authorities would-“
Cedric strapped the loose end of the tape back across Mr Pickering’s face. He looked down. One bunny stared off into the distance. A toenail poked through a rip in the dark green frayed Nike trainers. He pondered if their blatant contrast was a metaphor for the bank’s understanding and his position. Or maybe his principles and the world’s? His reality and sanity?
His shoulders sagged. His eyes glistened, until one solitary tear formed and tumbled down his cheek onto his lip. He tasted bitterness.
He looked over at his faeces. A perfectly formed, chocolate Mr Whippy. He stared at the glorious, enticing, glowing, almost ethereal silver pistol. He looked back at Pickering.
I have just turned 40, live in London and have a young family. I am a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, working in prisons and criminal courts rehabilitating mentally ill offenders. I am admittedly new to authoring fiction, but I am fortunate to have already had some competition success and a few other stories accepted for publication. I also dabble in stand-up comedy. I am entering Deathmatch because I love being harshly criticised by strangers. Also – I think my story is wickedly funny.