Nine-year-old Joshua Harding didn’t plan to miss classes Tuesday at West Monroe Elementary School. Nobody did.

But dismissed were his classes—for good.

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After carefully parking his red Toyota Matrix in the lot outside Dick’s Sporting Goods, John P. Boyce strode briskly into the West Burlington store.

He was looking for rain gear on a day when rain gear would not be enough.

“The prices are outrageous,” said Boyce, 58, of West Street, as he sifted through brightly colored slickers and tall rubber boots. “Then again, I guess you could say it’s a seller’s market.”

An hour later, it was a nobody’s market.

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Tamika Carter had dieted all spring to lose 28 pounds in time for the Independence Day weekend. She skipped lunches and jogged each night after returning home from her job at the Pancake Circus.

“I always try to lose weight before summer,” the 27-year-old Sacramento waitress said. “You want to look good on the beach.”

But this summer, looking good on the beach would turn out to be far less important than Carter could have imagined.

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Mo Bushnell was not happy.

Not happy at all.

With a wheezing gust from his 84-year-old lungs, the opinionated former Ashtabula steelworker had managed to blow out all the candles on his large chocolate layer cake. But it was abundantly clear that Bushnell’s birthday wish would not be coming true.

Not this year.

Not ever.

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Though the sign outside Desi’s Show Lounge shouted “CLOSED FOR GOOD,” Andrew Kramer kept pounding on the front door, as if trying to rouse what spirits of romance might still reside within the abandoned South Side disco.

As his knuckles rapped against the empty building, Kramer found himself humming the classic disco oldie “Last Dance” by Donna Summer.

“Last dance,” he sang. “It’s the last chance. For lo-ove.”

It was the musical sentiment that echoed across Sarasota Tuesday.

- - -

Claude D. LaMont grinned as he stepped from the yellow taxi, then turned to hand the driver a crisp $50 bill.

LaMont was returning from the Oneida Indian Casino, where he had just lost every last penny in his bank account. Not only that, but he had gambled away his house, his car, and all his earthly possessions.

“Who the heck cares?” LaMont said, flicking his cigarette butt to the curb. “In a matter of hours, we’re all dead.”

And he was right.

- - -

With a broad smile emerging from his salt-and-pepper beard, gas-station attendant Earl Talbot hailed the little man in the shiny red Porsche that had pulled up to pump No. 3 and demanded, “Fill ’er up!”

Without skipping a beat, Talbot unveiled the sawed-off shotgun he kept behind his back and blasted four bullets into the unidentified driver’s skull. Then, with a tortured howl directed at the sky, Talbot placed the muzzle of the gun in his wide mouth and pulled the trigger.

For the Exit 41 Kwik Fill, the final exit had come.