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Before Frank stands a pyramid of superiority. A totem to the gods of mayhem and pleasure. Frank’s a good ol boy, always praising his liquor but, damn, when you see a mound of brightly colored bombs in front of you, even the thirstiest drunk will bow down before a display of fireworks he knows he’ll get to shoot off one by one and two by two.

“They’re gonna hear us ten counties away,” Ricky’s beaming.

Frank’s grin threatens to cleave his own head in two. He takes a final puff from his cigar then stomps it out on the garage’s cement floor. A couple sparks fall dangerously close to the mountain of bombs before dissipating. “Kid, they gonna hear us all the way up in the clouds.”

#

They stop at Marv's house because he has to take a dump and Buzz stays outside because Marv's house is small with no air conditioning, which means Marv's stink will totally own the place for the rest of the day, maybe even the weekend. Buzz plays with an unlit Camel and leans against the side of his dad's 69 Camaro. The old man was too hung-over to crawl outta bed that day; apparently he celebrated the third of July a little too hard with his buddies at the warehouse and now he's paying his dues. Probably didn't even hear the throaty bellowing of the 69 starting up. The trunk's full of bombs and there's a party with unlimited booze and more strippers then there are laps to sit on. There may even be free drugs, pending on how tight Rick really is with them guys.

Buzz nearly chucks his phone to the ground when he sees Rick's text asking him to get some top shelf shit for the party. More chores? Screw that, the day's drawing on and isn't The Fourth all about cracking your first brew by noon? There are M80 firecrackers chilling right in the backseat and it's high time he had some fun, saving the explosions for the party be damned. Emerging off his beat up, splinter-ridden front porch comes Marv, whose face is all red and he looks to be limping a little. Marv's got long blond hair that Buzz considers shaving off every time the scrawny punk parties hard enough to pass out beside him. One time, when Buzz was fooling around with a blonde girl his senior year, he mistook Marv for her at a shindig, only for a second, but it made him sick enough to have trouble getting it up the next time he was with his girl. Marv's ruined blonde girls for him, and as far as best buds go, that's inexcusable.

"Hey my mom's boyfriend left some candy on the table! Whole dime bag full! Should I bring it?" Marv’s excited even though he’s a classic example of melt brain.

"We should do it on the way up over," Buzz says, finally getting a flame on his nearly drained butane lighter as he ignites the tip of his cigarette, takes a puff and, wanting to be cool, uses the end of his smoke to ignite the tip of the M80’s fuse.

“Aw shit!” Marv breaks into a goofy chortle as Buzz waves the bundle of firecrackers in the air before tossing them into the middle of the road. That’s when he sees the armored man with the big ole rifle in his hand, standing by the edge of the tall, grass-strewn field across the street.

The man’s wearing a bike helmet, and his eyes are so wide they’re almost revolving, spinning. His body’s quivering, the rifle rocking back and forth in his grip as he shuffles it, points the barrel to the ground. Anticipating something more than an explosion, the excitement brimming in Buzz’s chest begins to grow spikes and strip itself into knots. The hissing yellow spark eats away at the M80’s long wick, not particularly fast, but steady, punctual. The freak with a gun stops shivering, stops quaking in his oversized boots the moment the spark disappears into that red bundle of plastic and gunpowder.

The ensuing eruption grounds Buzz motionless as each consecutive blast from the smoking noisemaker causes him to exhale, as if every pop is a punch to the gut. The world is a funnel of noise that shatters all thought and intention. Amidst the tundra of sound, the gunslinger crouches, jerks his weapon toward Buzz and Marv and, at last, the illusion of loudness is cancelled. Buzz drops to the ground and catches Marv diving toward him before the world pops and explodes into a new display of chaos. The Camaro becomes a bucking, living thing as round after round pumps into its metal frame, sending a shower of shrapnel and sparks over Buzz and his best bud.

“I win now! I win now, assholes!” the mad motherfucker in the armor screams before popping in a fresh clip.

#