“Why, Ivey?” Mistle demanded.
Ivey rolled his eyes and let out a deep exhale.
“I already told you, Mistletoe. You abandoned me and our unit."
"I was discharged."
"Whatever—you left and my hand, my life, got blown off!" Ivey shouted, hoisting the stump of his left hand in the air.
Enough with the theatrics, Mistle thought. He swallowed hard as beads of sweat began to drip from his brow.
“Ivey—Hank, I’m sorry for what happened, but please let my family go," he pleaded, his voice turning soft. "They are innocent. I’m the one who messed up.”
Ivey wiped the tears from his bloodshot eyes and turned away from the penetrating and pleading stares.
This is the only way for me to get some peace, he thought, leaving Mistle's family bound in the storage room, along with the bomb.
* * *
Traudel had a gun to Meredith's back as she nudged her toward the parking ramp and the waiting van, with Jorgen and Gunter inside. Meredith's thoughts were a whirl, but she knew she couldn't let herself be forced from the mall—anything could happen to her then.
A few feet from the door separating the aquarium's service hall from the parking garage, Meredith turned and threw herself at the Fraulein—wrapping her hand around Traudel's gun hand and tackling her to the ground.
Traudel pulled the trigger on impact, launching a bullet across the length of the hall. The shot, amplified by the concrete confines, pierced the ears of both women. Undaunted, steeped in the struggle, Meredith slammed Traudel's wrist to the floor, dislodging the gun. Meredith reached for it, but the gun skated from her hand like a hockey puck, across the floor.
Meredith landed two punches to Traudel’s contorted face, but Traudel countered with an elbow to Meredith's nose, drawing a light stream of blood.
Both standing now, the two women momentarily forgot the gun and stared at each other, enraged, fists raised.
I finally get to use my kickboxing moves, Meredith thought, pressing the back of her hand to her lip to wipe away the blood. Traudel smiled.
“Kommen Sie erhält mich,” she taunted.
“Gern,” Meredith shot back with a smile.
Meredith lunged again, this time met with a swift punch to the stomach, nearly toppling her over with nausea. But as Traudel looked to follow up with a kick, Meredith ducked and snapped a punch of her own to Traudel's exposed stomach.
“Blue is really not your color,” Meredith said, leaping at the woman in the delivery jumpsuit. Meredith spun in the air with grace, landing a roundhouse kick to Traudel's jaw. The woman was unconscious before she hit the cement.
* * *
Mistle, Holly and Kayla sit helplessly bound to each other as the clock ticked to under six minutes.
“I’m so sorry, Holly,” Mistle sighed with defeat.
Holly nodded. “I know—I know you just wanted to do the right thing, to be the hero.”
The room was silent for a moment but for Kayla’s muffled sobs. Holly laid her head on her daughter's shoulder.
“I love you both very much,” Mistle said.
Holly paused, lifted her head and turned toward her husband. They shifted as much as they could from their awkward positions, their faces inches away from each other. They strained to lean in for their signature gesture of love—rubbing their noses together for an Eskimo kiss.
“If we get out of this,” Holly said, "We have to do something about that awful haircut.”
* * *
Ivey fumbles in his jacket pocket with his only hand and pulls out the cell phone detonator.
Better safe than sorry, he smirks to himself as he opens the phones contacts file and finds the deadly phone number. He pushes the call button.
The door to the storage room flew open, startling Mistle and his family.
“Meredith!” Mistle yelled in surprise.
Without a word, Meredith set to loosening the knots that bound the family.
"How did you—?" Mistle began to ask, but stopped as Meredith put a hand on his shoulder.
"Let's just say I get a kick out of helping people," she said, first freeing Mistle, then Kayla and Holly.
“I swear, I had no idea what my uncle was up to,” Meredith said.
Mistle grabbed Meredith by the shoulders and looked her in the eye.
“You need to get them out of here,” he said, gesturing to his wife and daughter.
“Tim? What are you talking about?” Holly asked in a frenzy. “We’re all leaving right now."
“I’ve got to try and diffuse this bomb,” Mistle said.
"Tim, I'm not about to lose you to this," Holly said. "If you don't come now, I'm never speaking to you again."
Well, that was one short reconciliation, Mistle thought.
"Don't worry about me—I'll be right behind you," he said, turning his attention to the 300-pound bomb, the timer and the wires connecting them.
Meredith led Holly and Kayla out the door, stepping over Traudel's body and out into the heart of the parking ramp.
Mistle turned to the toolkit on the floor. He opened it and, to his dismay, found nothing inside. He looks frantically around the storage room for anything that could be useful—if only he had a toothpick, a ballpoint pen and a pack of chewing gum. His eye caught the timer on the bomb: Less than two minutes to detonation.
His eye then caught a box on the shelf behind the bomb—it was labeled "Souvenir Shark Teeth." Jackpot, he thought.
Mistle was careful to draw the timer away from the surface of the bomb, just enough to glimpse the wires running between them. There were five—all black but for one red wire.
“What the hell?” he said aloud with a chuckle. “They can’t really be this dumb.”
Mistle had 40 seconds to act.
He made short, firm strokes of a shark tooth's edge against the red wire. He broke through the outer coating, took a deep breath, and continued sawing. Sweat ran down his brow.
Another slice, then another slice, then another. Snap.
Mistle exhaled in a rush and glanced at the clock. It read :04.
* * *
Ivey had already put some distance between himself and the aquarium, positioning himself in front of the mall’s oversized and decorated Christmas tree. He wanted to put himself in a prime location to watch the explosion, the panic and the destruction that followed. He'd already made peace with his own life ending, if it came to that. He had nothing left to live for, anyway, he thought—at least I can get some bang for the buck.
He glanced at his watch.
5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
Ivey tilted his head up and shouted, "Merry Christmas, suckers!"
He closed his eyes for a moment, but nothing happened.
What the hell? he thought. Well, time for Plan B.
He pulled his cell phone from a pocket of his ratty jacket, used his one hand to thumb through his contacts to find the number he'd placed there for the detonator. He merely needed to touch the call button.
Ivey held the phone out as if pointing a gun. It went through three rings, followed by a deafening blast, ringing throughout the atrium, followed by shrieks screams of panicked shoppers, scrambling to flee the atrium.
Ivey's screams were louder than them all. He dropped to the floor, writhing atop the now bloody stump of his right arm—the hand severed from it in the blast.
His bumbling German compatriots had given Ivey their test phone for the explosion, not the working cell phone.
Mall security, eager to save the biggest pre-Christmas shopping day of the month, whisked Ivey away as if they'd trained for such a moment. A cleanup crew mopped the floor without reaction, tactfully tucking the remnants of Ivey's severed hand into a plastic bag and departing with the speed and silence of ninjas. In 15 minutes, the mall, and Christmas, were in full swing.