Lucky Bang: A Lucky O’Toole Novella
The bomb was small, crude…homemade but lethal.
And familiar. The last time I had seen a device like this one had been a lifetime ago. Frankly, I thought I'd never see one again. And I certainly hadn't expected to find another ticking time bomb in the ladies' bathroom at Jimmy G's new family restaurant. Had I not spilled the entire contents of my purse while doing my business in the far stall, I never would've found it. But there I was, on all fours, chasing a runaway lipstick when I came nose-to-nose with a couple of sticks of old dynamite taped together and wired to a battery. An old wind-up clock ticked off the seconds.
And, with the Fourth of July celebrations this weekend, the city was bursting at the seams—Jimmy G had a full house.
I glanced at my watch, marking the time.
Forgetting the rest of my wayward personal items, I backed out of the tight space, grabbed my purse—no one leaves a Hermes Birkin anywhere, bomb or no bomb—and hurried out of the bathroom.
Jimmy G was at his normal table in the bar by the piano, nursing his ubiquitous glass of Pinot Noir, and bending the ear of some enraptured, sweet young thing. He paused to wet his whistle when I stepped in next to him and bent down to whisper in his ear.
“Jimmy, there's a bomb in the ladies' bathroom.” His eyes widened, but that was the only reaction I could see.
“Can you take care of it?” He spoke out of the corner of his mouth.
“What do I look like? I don't know jack about bombs. For all I know, it could be rigged to blow when touched—like the last one.” I checked the time. “We got two and a half minutes.”
Lacking his normal grin, Jimmy stood to his full height of a wiry five feet five inches, his face grim, his manner all-business as he motioned to the waiters. They understood the silent order and began going from table to table encouraging the patrons to leave quickly.
Jimmy tinged on his glass with a spoon. “Everyone, listen up. I apologize, and there is no time to explain, but please, we need you to exit the building and move away, across the parking lot out front. As far away as you can get. Quickly, we don't have much time.”
A silence fell over the crowd for a moment, patrons casting shocked glances around the room. The soothing voice of Dean Martin singing an oldie but goodie and the dinging bells of the games in the kids' room filled the empty air. A moment suspended in time, captured by confusion, disbelief. Then the sound of chairs scraping back. Voices elevated now, hints of panic, but the crowd remained calm as they gathered the kids and moved to the exits.
I posted myself at the back of the main dining room and began ushering everyone toward safety. As a customer relations expert at the Babylon—Vegas Strip's most over-the-top casino/resort—I have some experience with clearing rooms and herding crowds.
One lady stopped to gather her purse and a backpack, presumably a child's—the purple dinosaur was a dead giveaway.
I put a hand on her back. “Leave it.” I kept my voice low, calm but firm. For a moment I thought she would argue. Instead she turned and hurried toward the door, rounding up children as she went.
I heard faint sirens growing louder.
A minute forty-five. They wouldn't be in time.
Sweat trickled down my sides as I forced myself to stay calm, to think clearly. A glance around the room confirmed that folks were doing as asked. Except for one man at a table on the far side. Resolutely forking in spaghetti, he remained seated.
Dodging the detritus of haste, overturned chairs, abandoned coats and bags, I hurried to his side. “Sir, you need to leave. Now.”
His fork poised between plate and mouth, he glanced up at me with a smile. “This sauce Bolognese.” He put two fingers to his lips and made that Italian kissing thing that is supposed to convey supreme satisfaction, but just comes off looking silly to us non-Italians. “Perfecto.”
“Sir,” I grabbed the back of his chair. “You need to leave.”
He waved a hand as if shooing away a pesky gnat, then dove in for another bite. “These fire drills, they never mean anything—all smoke and no fire,” he announced even though his mouth was full.
“This one is the real shebang.” I tugged on his chair. Even with my considerable weight behind it, the thing wouldn't budge, so I grabbed his arm with both hands and pulled. “Come with me.” My voice carried the sharp prod of an order.
“But my Bolognese,” he whined as he reached for his napkin and started to stand.
Now I had some leverage. Feeling time breathing down my neck, I pulled him up. With a shove, I pushed him toward the door. “I'll buy you a new plateful when this is over.” If there's a restaurant left.
A glance over my shoulder and confirmed that we were the last two out.
With forty seconds to spare.
We rushed across the parking lot to join the crowd on the opposite side as the sirens grew louder. Through the rows of spindly trees in the parking lot, I saw the flashing lights of the first fire truck.
“Oh my God!” A voice filled with panic. “Where's my daughter!”
I whirled to face the throng. “Who said that?”
“My daughter!” a woman wailed as she separated herself from the crowd and pointed toward the restaurant. “She's still inside. I have four children. Two of them brought friends. I had them all. And now she's not here.” She clutched three children around her while two others huddled close.
I dropped to one knee so I was eye-to-eye with a tow-headed little boy, his eyes wide with fear, his lips trembling. “Do you know where she is?”
“It's my fault.” His chin trembled as he fought tears. “We were playing Whac-a-mole. She lost her bear. I was supposed to watch her. She wouldn't leave without the bear.”
“Her name?” Pushing myself to my feet, I turned and ran, shrugging out of Jimmy G's grasp as he reached to stop me.
“Elise,” her mother called after me. “Her name is Elise.”
I ducked back inside the now empty restaurant. In three strides I was at the entrance to the game room. My eyes searched the room, probing every corner. I missed her the first time. The small girl, a riot of long sandy curls, a pressed pinafore, her eyes big and round, hunkered under a Skee-ball machine, a small brown teddy bear with one eye clutched to her chest with both arms.
“Elise, come on, honey.” I reached down, grabbing both her arms and lifting her to my hip. “I'll take you to your mother, but we have to hurry.”
Turning, I ran.
Ten seconds, I guessed. Nine. Less. I didn't take the time to look.
Two strides from the door.
A huge sound behind me. Instinctively I ducked. The compression wave hit me. Staggering, I dropped to my knees, then to my side. Sheltering the girl's small body with mine, I curled around her, then covered my head.
Sound and fury. A maelstrom of debris. Shrapnel whizzing through the air. Heat. Stinging pain.