DAY 1 - Monday, 4:42 p.m.
THIS WAS GONNA BE a breeze. All it would take is five minutes of his time, and he’d be an unknown amount of dollars richer—a hundred bucks or a thousand bucks, it was good enough for him.
Anything that helped him avoid putting in long hours at a dead-end job to collect a measly paycheck was a good thing. He didn’t have expensive tastes, and that’s why this latest brilliant idea of his was right up his alley.
He checked his pistol to make sure it was ready to go. It was. He didn’t intend to use the weapon unless necessary; it was just for show—to guarantee they took him seriously.
He turned up his collar, then removed a black ski mask from his jacket pocket and pulled it over his short hair, tugging it down over his face. After a careful glance around to make sure no one was nearby, he stepped out of the alley and onto the sidewalk.
He took three quick strides and paused for half a second, then, with a gloved hand, pulled open the tempered-glass door that led into Commerce Bank.
It was near closing time, and he knew from experience the bank would be almost deserted at this hour of the day. And he was correct. There were no customers. Two teller windows had their “Welcome” signs on display, no doubt waiting for last minute stragglers. He chose the nearest one.
A young girl stood behind the counter, her head slightly down. She worked at a piece of gum, her jaw keeping tempo with the rhythmic tapping of her long fake fingernails on a keyboard in front of her.
He hurried forward, slipped the gun from his jacket pocket, and laid it on the counter with a soft clunk. A finger massaged the trigger as he leaned in to speak.
“Be with you in a moment,” she said in a bored voice without looking up.
He leaned closer and spoke in a hushed tone. “This is a stickup. Gimme all the money in your till.”
Her jaw stopped working, her fingers paused mid-stroke, and her eyes turned upward. Her well-chewed gum lay forgotten on her tongue as her mouth fell open.
She glanced left and right.
“Look at me,” he said.
She looked at him, her frightened eyes widening.
“What’s the matter?” he whispered, the ski mask hiding a frown. “You’ve never been robbed before? You’re supposed to give me the money.”
She stared at him.
He tapped the barrel of the gun on the counter.
She blinked twice, then eyed the weapon and slipped the money drawer open. “There … there’s not much,” she managed to say.
“It’s okay. Gimme what’s there. And don’t press any alarm, or I’ll shoot you.”
Her hands shook as she removed a stack of money from the drawer. From where he stood, the bills looked like fifties. She set them in front of her, then withdrew a small bundle of hundreds and laid them on the pile. Next came the twenties.
“Forget the rest,” he said. “That’ll do.”
This was taking more time than he’d expected. He glanced at the other teller. She was half-asleep at her computer, no doubt doing her daily totals, anxious to clean it up and get home to her two cats and her lazy boyfriend.
The teller fumbled with the pile of bills, and time was passing. He knew the surveillance cameras would be catching his every move, and he had to get out of there before somebody glanced at the monitor.
She managed to pick up the small pile of money with a trembling hand. She set the stack in front of him, then shrank back and watched him, her hands clasped together above her waist.
He scooped them up, jammed them into his jacket pocket, and turned away from the counter. He paused as a woman who looked like she might be the manager crossed the floor toward him. She stopped short, and her eyes bulged when he raised the pistol and pointed it at her.
“Stay there,” he said, waving the weapon. The manager raised her hands chest-high, and he turned and dashed toward the exit.
The door opened outward and a woman bustled in, a bag of groceries in one hand, her handbag over her other shoulder. She stopped inside the doorway, caught by surprise as he rushed toward her. Then a hand went to her mouth, and she inhaled a sharp breath, her bug eyes on his pistol as the door swung shut at her heels.
A man’s voice shouted from behind him, “Stop right there. Put the gun down.”
He glanced back. It was a security guard. And he had a weapon drawn. Where’d he come from? As far as he knew, this bank had never employed a guard before. And where was the guy when he came in? Probably on break. Or maybe he’d seen the robbery going down on a monitor in his little hideaway closet somewhere and decided to play the hero.
Either way, it was too late to stop him now. He disregarded the guard, elbowed the woman aside, and pushed the door.
It wouldn’t open.
He rammed it with his shoulder. It groaned and held. Panicking now, he kicked at the glass. No luck. Someone had sprung an alarm and it must’ve automatically locked the doors. He kicked the door again, then again and again until his toes were sore, his soft running shoes no match for the tempered glass.
“Drop the gun,” the guard yelled from a safe distance.
Spinning back around, he grabbed the startled woman from behind, his arm around her waist, and pointed the weapon at her head. He glared at the guard. “Open the door or I’ll shoot her.”
The guard lowered his weapon halfway and gave a bewildered stare. He obviously had no idea what to do. This was probably the first time he’d ever witnessed a robbery, and he’d likely never even been this close to one before.
“Unlock the door,” the robber shouted. “Or she gets it.”
The guard licked his lips, shuffled his feet, and continued to stare.
The hostage trembled all over. “Please,” she said to the guard, her voice quivering in fear. “Open the door for him.”
This was getting nuts. He hadn’t counted on any of this happening, and he didn’t wanna kill the woman. She wasn’t much good dead—she was his passage out of here.
But if someone didn’t open the door soon, he’d have to make good on his threat and kill her. At well over six feet tall, and a body built to match, he had enough strength in his muscled arms to break the woman’s neck with his bare hands, if necessary. That would keep the sound of a gunshot from attracting unwanted attention.
But then, he’d be sunk without a hostage, and he’d have to find another one.
Maybe there was another way out of here. A back door, perhaps.
He looked around frantically, his eyes stopping at the rear of the room. A woman crouched behind a desk in a glass-walled cubicle. All that was visible was the top of her head and her widened eyes as she watched the events take place.
The manager had backed up to the wall, her hands still obediently in the air. The two tellers had ducked down behind the counter, and the guard still stared like a dimwit.
The bank robber muttered a long string of curses at the stupidity of everyone around him. Why wouldn’t they open the door?
Abruptly recovering from his trance, the guard holstered his weapon, then reached to his belt and fiddled with a ring of keys.
The dumb guard had finally realized a woman’s life was worth a little more than a lousy stack of money.
The robber stepped back as the guard ambled forward, still playing around with the keys in his shaking hands. He selected one, held it up, and moved toward the door.
The guard slipped the key into the lock, keeping one uneasy eye on the robber. He fidgeted with the key, gave it a turn, then stepped back.
The robber let go of the woman and spun toward the door.
Without warning, the guard moved in, one hand reaching for the robber’s weapon, the other tugging the mask down over his eyes. It pulled him off balance and disoriented him, and he couldn’t see.
He managed to hold on to his gun, and he swung the other arm toward his attacker. He missed. He made a fist and swung again, only managing to whack his own hand against the wall, sending a ripple of pain up his arm.
While fumbling to find the door, he struggled with his free hand to work the mask in place. A sudden blow to the side of his head stunned him. He recovered and adjusted the mask again, but he still couldn’t see, and where was the door? The guard was gonna beat him into the ground if he didn’t do something and do it soon.
Desperate now, he pulled the mask off, let go of the woman, and swung his pistol hand toward the guard. The butt of the weapon connected with the side of the guard’s head, knocking him to a groaning heap on the floor.
The guard hadn’t seen his face, but there were cameras all around, and he was pretty sure everything was being recorded. He had to keep his head down and get out of there as fast as possible.
He jammed the mask into his pocket and turned to leave. Too late. His hostage had stepped back, her hand to her mouth, and her startled eyes looked up into his exposed face.
He stared back, his mind running at lightning speed through the current state of events.
And the current state of events told him he was screwed.
He looked at the guard on the floor, then at the woman in the cubicle as she peeked out from behind her desk. Both she and the manager were too far away to recognize him again, but the hostage was a different story.
He raised the pistol and sighed, then mumbled, “Sorry,” and shot her in the head.
Five seconds later, he was running down the alley, the faint sound of sirens coming from far away. He cursed his luck and wondered how his wonderful plan had gone so wrong.
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