Hax is pulled out of his depression by a very unusual event, and he decides to take advantage of the situation; by Stephen Cooper.
Hax sat alone, eyes red and bleary.
He had barely slept the night before; anxiety and worries had occupied his mind.
Dreams came and went with the common denominator being the lucid visions of past enemies chasing him relentlessly.
He had paced the room for hours until he was exhausted and then he had slumped into his chair and opened a bottle of single malt.
That had been five hours ago, and he was still going strong.
The bar was empty; his only company was the stale toxic smell of piss wafting in from the toilet.
The television was tuned into a world news channel which he stared at with complete indifference.
If it had been a window, he would be looking at something far away on the horizon.
He watched, ghoul-like, as the coverage showed the after effects of an explosion and various reporters took their turn one by one.
They looked like animated puppets, mouths opening and closing, eyebrows twitching, wrinkled frowns and head movements all played out in surreal silence.
He felt tired.
He was existing, but it wasn't a life.
He ordered a pint of stout for sustenance and headed for the gents.
He set out a line, hoovered it up his nostrils and stood back against the cubicle door as the waves of revival washed over him.
Something had to change.
He splashed cold water over his face at the sink and looked up at the mess staring back at him.
Maybe it was too late.
He was wearing the same clothes he had worn since a few days ago, or was it more?
The grey hairs were there, coming through like they were proving a point in partnership with father time.
It was as if they were counting down his time left out loud; mocking him.
He strolled back into the bar, and noticed that the local Jakeys had arrived in the front and had already started on their medicinal dosages.
Sweat sat like condensation on their foreheads.
He watched as they shakily scorched their dragons, conversation all but killed.
Hax sipped his pint and then with an air of nonchalance, knocked back his whiskey in one.
He considered sleeping, but instead sank back into his habitual decadent haze.
He thought about visiting his parents, but he wouldn't want them to see him like this in his dishevelled state.
He decided to go and collect his dole at the Post Office, it wasn't much, but at least it was something.
He stood in the queue, alternating from one foot to the other, wishing he was back in the dark bar.
Worse still, he had to suffer the humiliation of collecting his benefit from his former classmate, Colin, who was now Postmaster and a more smug wanker you could never meet.
Colin was the typical class nerd, glasses, skinny and weedy.
Hax could hear him gossiping with all the old ladies, 'How's it going today, Mrs Reeves? Awk, hello Betty, how are the veins?' and so on.
Hax was dreading getting up to the counter to face him and suffer his patronising smile and attempts at conversation, he just wanted his money and get back to the pub.
Suddenly, from behind him, there was a bustle of activity and a commotion that brought him back to his senses.
'EVERYBODY DOWN! GET THE FUCK DOWN!'
Two figures brandishing pistols stood like peacocks, aggressive and threatening.
The atmosphere changed instantly.
Gossip and well wishes were left suspended in mid air, silently culled.
Old women gradually made it to the floor, groaning with effort.
Mothers held their toddlers close to their bosoms, as they crouched down to seek refuge on the bare floor.
The smaller of the two with a baseball cap made his way to the cash desk; his partner, sporting a red ski mask, stood nervously waving his weapon left and right.
'What is it with the world?' Hax sighed to himself.
The bespectacled Colin wasn't so chatty now.
No; now he was very busy filling the proffered bag from Baseball Cap from the safe below the counter. And now Ski Mask wanted a piece of the action.
'Everybody, empty your pockets,' he announced to his prone and captive audience.
'No fuckin' chance,' Hax murmured to himself.
He had around four grams of coke, plus about a hundred quid and there was no way he was surrendering either to these two muppets.
Ski Mask started collecting cash from the terrified customers, even jewellery was snatched.
Hax was getting even more vexed.
He sat up, crossed-legs, nonchalant and defiant.
'YOU!' shouted Ski Mask, 'GET THE FUCK DOWN.'
Hax smiled back at him.
'I don't think so, dickhead.'
A collective sharp intake of breath scythed through the tension.
The gunman rushed forward, but Hax was ready for him and kicked his right leg out in a sweeping movement, bringing him down in a heap, spilling coins, rings and necklaces.
Hax was upon him in an instant.
Hax held him face down and twisted his arm right up his back whilst he held his weapon to his head, staring straight at his accomplice.
'Put your weapon on the floor, otherwise things could get a bit messy here,' he said, flatly and without emotion.
Baseball Cap didn't know what to do.
He was alternating between watching Colin, who had stopped loading the bag, and back again to Hax.
Spineless Colin was now watching Hax too, in fact everyone was watching Hax.
'Listen, son. Put your weapon on the ground and nobody gets hurt. If you don't, I'll shoot you both, and I would take great pleasure from it. Believe me.'
Hax decided to up the ante.
He brought the pistol down hard upon the back of the head of Ski Mask.
His head slumped to the floor, unconscious, and Hax pointed the gun at Baseball Cap, who was standing impatiently waiting for the bag of cash.
He smiled back at Hax.
'You haven't the balls, been watching too many TV shows.'
The fuse was already dangerously lit inside Hax.
In an instant, he weighed up the repercussions of what he was about to do.
He aimed, steadying his grip with the other hand and pulled the trigger.
The empty click of the hammer from the revolver echoed through Hax's head and his heart lurched.
He tried again.
He flicked open the chamber, and there were six empty spaces screaming back at him.
'You didn't think I'd let that fuckin' eejit carry a loaded one, did ya?' sneered Baseball Cap.
Hax slumped back against the counter, sickened to the core, and threw the weapon to the floor in resignation.
Colin, the cowering, terrified cashier, handed over the full canvas bag just as Ski Mask was coming around with a groan.
At that moment, Hax hated Colin even more, the weak snivelling excuse for a human being.
Ski Mask snatched the impotent handgun off the floor, rubbing his head in the process.
He stood over Hax, eyeing him up, wary and hesitant; and then whacked him over the head.
Moments later, Hax came round and could hear loud ringing bells.
He wasn't sure if he was dreaming, or in the here and now.
The customers were helping each other off the floor, rubbing aged sore limbs, stiffened further by the harsh coldness of the tiled floor.
There was no sign of the two armed robbers.
Hax got to his feet, steadied himself and quickly went to the front door.
He ran out into the street and saw them sitting with their backs to him on a motorbike, trying unsuccessfully to start it.
Hax felt the adrenaline surge through his body and sprinted towards them.
He launched himself at the pair, knocking all three of them onto the pavement.
Baseball Cap was first to respond as he rolled over.
'You again!' he exclaimed, his eyes blazing in recognition and anger.
Hax kicked out and caught him on the temple, turning just in time to see Ski Mask take a swing.
He felt the swoosh of air as he ducked; his counter punch hit home and threw the assailant on top of his partner in crime.
Hax snatched the bag off the ground and quickly removed the two handguns from the robbers. Kick-starting the motorbike, he left them in a haze of exhaust fumes and made off in a snaking surge down the road.
Hax sat in the kitchen on his own.
Dust whirled through the air, dancing and curling all around him, dissected in the laser-beam sunlight, cutting in through the Venetian blinds.
He looked at the bulging bag sitting on the table.
Must be about ten grand there, he thought to himself.
He reached into his pocket, pulled out his giro and stared at it.
'All that because of a bit of paper,' he mused.
The two handguns lay side by side, they reminded him of the two robbers left behind on the pavement.
Hax lifted Baseball Cap's semi automatic pistol, released the magazine and checked inside.
He pulled back the working parts, and checked for a round in the chamber.
He placed the two empty weapons beside each other and couldn't help but laugh.
'Those two must have been either off their face on drugs, or just plain stupid,' he said out loud to himself.
He reached for the bag and, untying the string, emptied the contents all over the table.
For the second time that morning, his stomach dropped.
His heart momentarily stopped with the shock; his eyes had trouble taking in the sight of hundreds of little newspaper cuttings in blocks, imitating bank notes.
That bastard Colin...
Everything was empty.
The weapons, the haul, everything - including the recently upended cash bag, lying laughing at him at his feet.