By JOHN SIMCOE
The warehouse’s cellar was just barely high enough for Ed
Pittman to stand. Cobwebbed pipes swooped in and out of the ceiling and stretched the entire length of the room. The place was cluttered with shadows.
Somewhere below him he heard the give and take of a
roaring tide of cheers that could only come from a crowd filled with
As Ed listened in the darkness, an undercurrent of chatter accompanied
the crowd’s waves of excitement. There was talk of breaking bones and
solid uppercuts. It was talk of smashed out teeth and bloody gashes.
It was just what Ed Pittman hoped he’d hear.
“So you’re hoping to join up, huh?” a voice came from among the tentacles of pipes.
Ed’s attention snapped back to his surroundings. The torrent of shadows
were suddenly broken by a single piercing light, aimed straight into
He tried to shield his eyes with his hand but whoever was controlling the light seemed intent on keeping him dazzled.
“Yes,” Ed said. “Don’t I know you?”
“Shut up and listen!” the person ordered. “There’s an initiation rite,
you know. Everyone who’s become a member has to go through it. If you
succeed, you’re in. If you fail, you’re dead.”
“I understand,” Ed eagerly agreed. “I want to do this. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to join.”
“Good,” the familiar voice responded from the shadows. “That’s what we want to hear.”
The light clicked off and as Ed’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, he watched as a figure moved away from him in the darkness.
“We’ll be in touch,” the person said, “but for now, you’ll have to go home.”
The crowd roared from underneath. Ed listened for a few more moments and left.
The next few days, Ed was sure to have a phone near him wherever he went. This was one call he didn’t want to miss.
It was called “Brawl Room” and it was the coolest thing he’d ever heard
about. Not that he’d heard much about it, but what he had heard was
Apparently, a lot of his co-workers were involved in Brawl Room — not
that he’d heard about it from them. He’d only heard it mentioned just
once, while he was sitting on the toilet in the junior executive
washroom at Parker Paper Clip Co., a multi-national corporation that
made a lot more than your typical trombone-shaped paper-fasteners. PPCC
was one of the burgeoning companies in the nation, with its fingers in
everything from cable-television to real estate developing.
The two execs had talked quietly, even though they thought they were
alone. In their whispers, Ed had heard the names of more than a
half-dozen of the junior execs. He heard them talk of a bond they’d
formed, one of spirit, one of brotherhood. Most of all, he heard that
it was cool.
“Oh, yeah,” delighted one, “It’s the coolest.”
“Cool? Oh, yeah,” said the other. “Way cool.”
In the corporate culture of Parker Paper Clip Corp. being cool was what
it was all about. Ed had worked for years at being cool. He knew that
he had to be cool to get ahead at PPCC, it was how the game was played.
In fact, it took him several years to understand what it entailed to be
cool. It was a formula he tripped over while in college. Before that,
he was just your average kid. He wasn’t a nerd. He wasn’t a jock. All
he had was marching band, one of the nameless, faceless atomatons who
double-timed it when he was told and spun left just the way someone
else had done in a hundred other marching bands before him.
But in college, he had his epiphany. He had taken time to watch his
fellow dorm-mates, the ones who were already cool. He saw what made
them cool. It seemed to be a distinct pattern of maintaining a low-key
He started by re-working his CD collection. Out went his scattershot of
greatest hits albums and pop stars. They were beneath him now.
In came a carefully selected group of laid-back free-wheeling
subculture musicians like the Dave Matthews Band, Grateful Dead, Jimmy
Buffet and the newest of them all, Cool Traveller. He cancelled his
subscription to Popular Science and National Geographic and picked up
Maxim and Playboy.
Next, he jumped on the bandwagon with a few sports teams. He bought
season tickets and jerseys. He learned stats, watched the analysis
shows, and joined a fantasy league.
He worked out. He played pick-up basketball. He drank beer. He hung out
at the bar. He whooped when everyone else whooped. He picked a
“favorite celebrity babe,” the same one that everyone else liked. He
did everything everyone else did.
And slowly, he became cool — just like everyone else.
Now it seemed that there was another new trend he had to jump into, and
he was ready for it. He was always ready to elevate his place on the
As the two young execs talked, Ed peered between the slats of the
stall, trying his best to assemble the slivers of images into
recognizable co-workers. As he watched, he pieced together the basics
of Brawl Room. Instead of a game of drunken golf, or even a softball
team full of men too lazy to mow their own lawns, Brawl Room was an
assembly of the elite from all around Baltimore. They came together
once a week in a sort of tribal ceremony to fight one another — just
for the fun of it.
Totally cool, Ed thought as he listened. It was the perfect tool to let
out all of one’s pent-up aggressions. The anger that he had — the one
stirred by bosses who thought they were smarter than him, churned by
unending college bills and corked by clogged freeways — could finally
Even better, Ed realized that he would do well in such an organization.
He was a black belt in Kenpo while in college. At the end of the
battle, Ed knew he’d be the one left standing. He had the power to do
so. And naturally, having power was cool.
By the time the two guys had left the bathroom, Ed had managed to figure out who one of them was.
Jake Virtis was an accountant in the household-products division. Ed
wasn’t exactly sure what the household-products division was in charge
of, but it probably meant that Jake spent his time counting pallets of
tissue boxes before they were shipped to Oakland or some other
When Ed approached, he noticed Jake was sporting a parade of Band-Aids across his forehead.
“Geez, Jakester” Ed said, “ What happened to you?”
“What, this?” Jake said, lightly padding at his head. “I was working on
the roof, lost my balance and smacked a tree on the way down.”
“I thought you lived in an apartment.”
“I was doing some volunteer work, uh, Ed,” Jake managed.
“Right,” Ed said and turned away, only to turned back, acting as if he
had forgot something. “You know Jake, I was wondering if you were doing
anything next Friday, ‘cause I got an extra Orioles ticket –”
“Friday? Oh, no way. I can’t. I just can’t. No way. I’m busy. Real busy.”
“What’re you doing, ‘cause my brother would love the tickets anyway.”
“Me? Oh, not much. Just busy. That’s all, just busy.”
Ed left, not wanting to push Jake too far, but over the next few days he kept harassing Jake.
Days later, Ed had enough. He needed to know. In a sudden surge of
testosterone, he ran up to Jake’s desk. He slammed his fist into the
veneer, leaned into his face and mouthed the words “Brawl Room.”
“Tell me what it is,” Ed demanded.
“You know. I want to join.”
“Join what?” Jake asked.
“Damnit, Jake. Brawl Room. I want to join Brawl Room.”
Jake’s freshly-healed face wrinkled up at the thought of being found
out, but almost instantly he pushed away the emotion, masking it behind
a plain expression.
“What?” he questioned.
“I said …” Ed lowered his voice to a whisper, “‘Brawl Room.’”
Jake glanced around the room, gauged whether his office-mates were
listening or not and whispered to Ed: “The first rule of Brawl Room is
we don’t talk about Brawl Room.” He paused again and glanced around.
“– So let me send you an e-mail.”
The e-mail simply told Ed to show up at a bayside warehouse that Friday
night and now, on the Thursday after his warehouse visit, he was
getting anxious for the phone call from the shadowed figure had
All that week, Ed had tried to prime Jake for more information about
Brawl Room, but Jake wouldn’t deliver.
All Ed could do was wait for his instructions, Jake explained.
He wondered what they’d have him do. Deliver pizza in the nude? Guzzle
a case of LaBatts? Take a swim in the wastewater plant’s sewage
treatment pools? His mind reeled with the options as he remembered back
to his fraternity days. At his hazing to Phi Phi Omega, he got so drunk
that he nearly took the cherry of a sheep in a silk garter.
The call came at 2:07 p.m. Ed picked up the phone, “Web design, this is Ed.”
“There’s a duffel bag under your car,” said the voice that was so
familiar to him in the shadows from the warehouse. “Inside is a gun.
You fill that bag with cash. No ones. No fives.”
“But what’s the gun for?” Ed asked. He’d never really used a gun before, he reminded himself.
“That’s how you get the cash.”
“But all I have to do is go to the bank and get some out –”
“ I don’t want you to empty your damn empty your bank account!” the voice interrupted. “I want you to show us you have balls!”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve got to do something that’ll get people’s attention — More importantly, the cops’ attention.”
“What, you mean rob a convenience store or something?”
“If that’s what it takes, but you’ve got to deliver it tomorrow night at seven at the same place we met on Friday.”
“That is sooo cool,” Ed gushed.
The phone went dead.
Ed shot up from his seat and ran by his boss, Mike McCraig.
“Sorry, Mike. Emergency. Gotta go,” Ed said as he flew past.
Mike, who was on the phone, watched Ed fly past him, and could only
think “Man, I wish I could be that cool — to just walk out in the
middle of the day like that.”
It took all of two minutes for Ed to get from the tenth floor of the
PPCC building to the 2nd-level of the parking garage across the street.
He wasn’t a bit out of wind, thanks to his daily workout and
racquetball game with Neil Jordan.
Under his fully-loaded Black SUV with custom pin stripes was a yellow
duffel bag. He pulled it out and peeled the zipper open. Inside was a
Ed thumbed the remote unlock on his key chain and slunk inside.
He grabbed the gun and found himself surprised it was so heavy. He
didn’t expect that. They look so light in movies, he thought.
But was it really loaded? Ed looked at some of the tabs on it. He
figured that one of them must release the clip and another was the
He pushed both, but nothing seemed to happen, so he rolled down his
window, pointed the pistol at the car parked next to him and squeezed
The gun spat out a shot that echoed in the garage.
The tire that was on the receiving end of the test exhaled its contents and the car lurched with a groan of its shocks.
“Whoa,” Ed said quietly and looked around to see if anyone had heard the gunshot.
Satisfied no one had, he started his SUV and drove out of the garage.
His mind wasn’t on the driving though. He was trying to decide how best
to fill the yellow duffel. As he looked at it, he saw a curious logo on
it. It read “Big Alf’s” and seemed remotely familiar, but Ed just
couldn’t place it. Still though, how would he fill it?
Rob a bank? Knock over a liquor store? Do a stick up? He wasn’t sure, but it would hit him.
And it did. Or rather he hit it.
While staring at the strangely familiar logo, he managed to pull behind
a wall of steel parked in the street. It was stationary, and Ed’s SUV
wasn’t. The sparkling clean 4×4 smashed into the unmoving wall of
reinforced sheet metal and pop rivets. The net result was that Ed’s SUV
was a foot shorter than it had been two seconds before.
Ed however was in much better condition than his crumpled gas hog. His
air bag had blasted out of steering wheel like a big white mushroom. It
saved him from being shot out of the windshield.
He looked up and, as his vision cleared, saw his opportunity in front
of him. In his daze, the wall of metal melted into a Sphinx Security
Transport armored truck.
Ed reached behind him, grabbed his gym bag and pulled out his lucky
bandanna. It had Cool Traveller’s logo on it and the sweaty cloth
always seemed to bring him a win in racquetball.
He pulled the handkerchief over his nose and mouth and tied it behind
his head. Checking the mirror, he made sure Cool Traveller’s logo was
visible. Proud of its placement, he sprang out of the door, pistol and
“Big Alf’s” bag in hand.
He ran in a wide arc around the truck, pistol up and ready to fire.
Inside the money-carrier, the two guards were both grabbing for the only shotgun.
“Open up!” Ed screamed through his billboard of a mask.
The guards only watched and fought among themselves for the shotgun, so Ed approached, gun defiantly leading the way.
“I mean it! Now! Open it!” he yelled at the door. In all his life, Ed
never imagined he’d be doing something like this. It was scary, but
definitely cool. Just like Reservoir Dogs, he thought.
The driver won the shotgun, opened a sliding panel in the door and
shoved the double-barrel through the security slot. He grabbed his
radio and switched it to loudspeaker mode.
“Back away from the vehicle! You have three seconds to drop your weapon and leave,” the driver boomed.
Ed bolted up to the door, cutting the angle down.
Ed wasn’t waiting for three, so he jammed his pistol into the door slot
and pulled the trigger. At the same time, the driver unloaded his gun,
sending the shot pellets just wide of Ed.
Ed kept on firing. The bullets pinged off the interior of the truck and
bounced through the cabin, The first to drop was the guard in the
passenger seat, thanks to a bullet that smashed into the back of his
Because he was so close to Ed’s gun and blocked from the ricochets, the
driver managed to survive a few seconds longer and in those seconds he
His prayers didn’t last long. Two slugs tore into him and ripped the life from his body.
When the driver finally collapsed, Ed found a smile had creeped under
his mask. It was the kind of smile he had when he played that shoot ‘em
up game on his computer. Violence, whether real or imagined, had a
strangely pleasing effect on him, but unlike his video games, shooting
people wasn’t the objective. Ed patted the duffel, Big Alf was hungry
and he was in the mood for lettuce.
The truck’s door was locked, so Ed paced around the vehicle. While at
the back of the car, a third guard shuffled out of the nearby MostFirst
Bank. In the guard’s pudgy hands were two sacks that could only be full
of cash. Ed hoped that it wasn’t just ones and fives and stepped out
from behind the car.
“I’ll take those!” Ed demanded in a hurried walk, gun held at a twisted
angle that looked cool in movies, but meant that he’d shoot too high in
the real world.
The guard, who was just entering his third week of employment with
Sphinx, saw the SUV with the flattened front end wedged against the
armored truck. He couldn’t believe how stupid he was. Procedure was to
scan the area before leaving the building. He didn’t. Now he was caught
in the middle of the street with no where to go and no options.
“So what are you gonna do?” the gun-toting Cool Traveller fan asked from behind his mask.
The guard pulled his chubby lips against his teeth in anger and gave the bags a toss toward the bandit.
“Yeah, that’s it. Now your keys.”
The guard reached for his belt.
“I gotta unhook them!”
“Yeah, just stay cool,” Ed ordered.
The guard kept his eyes locked on Ed’s and pulled his keys free.
“Now your belt, and leave your gun on it!”
Lines of anger crossed the guard’s face. “Yeah,” he said, lowering his
hands to his belt buckle. He unfastened it and dropped the belt to the
“All right,” Ed said, his smile beaming through the words. This was
cool, he thought. It was the kind of rush that hit him when he went
mountain climbing times a thousand.
Keeping his gun aimed at the guard, Ed swept up the two cashbags in his
free arm. With another step forward, he reached the keys.
“Now that’s good,” Ed said nodding and crawling backwards. “Now I’m gonna go.”
Ed reached his SUV. Its front tires had blown out in the wreck. He’d
have to leave it, all he’d have to do is report it stolen and he’d be
He would have to drive the Sphinx truck. The third key on the ring
opened the driver’s door. The driver’s body crashed into a heap on the
pavement. Ed threw the cash bags on the body of the guard in the
passenger seat. Ed started up the truck and squealed out into the
street, just in time to see a police car, sirens screaming, barrel past.
Ed accelerated. The cop rolled around in a tight loop and gave chase.
After three more intersections, four more squad cars had joined in.
Ed had seen this kind of thing on TV lots of times. Soon, a news
helicopter would catch up and start describing how crazy Ed was and how
many lives he was endangering. Ed didn’t want that, he was happy with
what had happened so far, and the Brawl Room’s mysterious spokesman
would be too. So now Ed had to end it and get away. Getting away with
it is what made it cool after all.
Remembering something he’d seen on TV, he wrenched the emergency brake.
The truck’s wheels froze and it began a quick spin on the pavement. As
it reached about 90-degrees in the arc, its inertia built up and pushed
the truck on its side. Sparks erupted from the pavement as the truck
slid down the street.
When the truck finally stopped 300 feet away, Ed was a mess. When the
truck flipped, his skull smacked into the windshield, leaving it a
spiderweb inked in blood.
Outside, he heard the cops’ cars screech to a halt and doors click open.
“Throw your weapon out now!” they screamed in near unison.
Ed tried to right himself, but his eyes were swimming in blood as it
poured off his forehead. The skin on his brow was now equal parts skin
The door was in the sky. The windshield was upended. The guard’s body
was in a pile at the other door. But most important, Ed’s still had his
He realized it was all he had. In just a few minutes, he had lost
everything else: His job, his family, his Cool Traveller CDs.
All gone, just because he wanted to be cool. All for the Brawl Room,
He clicked open the door to the back of the truck and went through.
Inside, bags of change had exploded, leaving a two-inch carpet of
quarters, dimes and nickels on what was now the floor.
Ed kicked open the back door, spraying the last of his shots at one of the cop cars. The game was over and he knew he had lost.
The officers let out a controlled barrage of shots as Ed fell to the pavement.
One officer came up to him, arms stiff and still smoking gun drawn.
“Take it easy,” she said in shock. “Keep your gun down, Ed.”
Ed remembered what Jake had said to him. “The first rule of Brawl Room is we don’t talk about Brawl Room.”
“Brawl Room,” Ed laughed with a blood-filled rasp. “Fucking Brawl
At age 26, Ed Pittman was dead. His last flickering thoughts came to
him as the second and last epiphany of his life — “Man, that was
decidedly not cool.”
Ready for more? Read BRAWL ROOM Chapter 2!