Fall 2017

It’s Not Hard If You Stop Thinking About It

Emily Hobbs

 

It would’ve been mid-March.

I had nowhere to go, stuck in a dead-end job with no way to pay rent. Any money saved up in the bank, you ask?

Funny.

Though, now that you mention it, the bank is a good place to start, actually…or that’s what I thought, at least. I mean, people just leave all their money there, not a care in the world! Thousands—no, millions!

And what about me? I had nothing. A couple hundred in a shoebox under my bed and a rent that was overdue. And I work hard, you know—three jobs. Three paychecks. But with bills and loans and debts…it just gets so overwhelming, you know? So hard to see.

I guess, looking back now, it could have been some misplaced sense of entitlement—that I deserved special treatment. Maybe I was just tired of having all my choices made for me—all my decisions snatched away before I could even take a second to consider them. Maybe I was just too willing to cross that line. Maybe I am just a bad person. But, none of those maybes really mattered then.

I was desperate.

My plan was simple enough. Me and a friend got to talking, and he mentioned how this bank he works at was going to get a checkup from this security company for the vault protocols—some sort of audit or something. I don’t really remember the details, but what I do remember was how fast the idea popped into my head. A bank heist, like Frank Sinatra or George Clooney…except, you know, just me. Sort of.

I had thought about something like that before…you know, seeing it in the movies all the time. Can’t be too hard, right? I mean, if a bunch of hillbillies in a GTA game can do it, why can’t I?

It’s not like I had anything to lose. Evict me? I’m already getting notices. Send me to jail? At least I’ll get a free meal. And just imagine it: the greatest heist of all time—one for the record books!

Well…okay, maybe not the greatest, but it would be up there, right?

 

The day came quick—the day of reckoning.

It didn’t take long for me to learn where the security company was planning on going, especially after I paid for a few rounds for my buddy. Turns out the auditors from the security company weren’t very secure after all, and while they went for a nice donut lunch, some hooligan came and slashed up their tires before they got back! What a horrible thing to do, right?

And so, me being the good Samaritan that I was, thought that the least I could do was check up on their next appointment for them. I wouldn’t want them getting fired for something out of their control, right? I mean, that would be the wrong thing to do for sure. So, I borrowed a uniform for a little while out of their van and set to work.

Things were a little easier than I thought after that—for a little while, at least. Bank manager came right up to me as soon as I walked through the doors, big smile and everything—like I was welcome. Me? Welcome? In a bank? Mom would’ve laughed.

The bank manager walked up to me and patted me on the shoulder.

“Thank you so much for coming so quickly!” He said. “We’ve been having such trouble with the vault and its locking mechanism lately, and I’ve called and called and called. You see, there’s a lot of responsibility in my position, and I owe it to the customers to—”

Yeah, no. I’m going to end it right there because, for the record, let me just say that he went on for a while. I mean, he was a friendly guy and all, but talk about diarrhea of the mouth…you know, you never would have expected it from looking at him, though—the slicked-back hair and pinstripe suit made it seem like he was going to be one of those stuffy business types—the ones who have nothing to say but “business this” and “business that”.

All right, here’s where I admit it: I didn’t pay attention much to what my good friend the bank manager was saying as he went on. And on. And on. Mostly, I was just sweating like a maniac. I must’ve smelled awful. But, it was like I wasn’t even there—that my awful pit stink didn’t matter. There was banking to be done after all, and the world wouldn’t stop for me.

People walked around, and some even looked a little aimless; most were shuffling papers here and there, muttering about finances and bank expenses. Every teller had a line, but the whole thing? I didn’t really get it. All my money was in a shoebox under my bed. Safer there, right?

The bank wasn’t small either. It was a corner-of-the-street kind of building, and from the street, you would think it pretty small. But, when you got in, you could see that it went pretty deep back so that there was room for offices and the vault, too. Seemed like they didn’t want to seem cheap either, even though it wasn’t necessarily in the fanciest of neighborhoods. There were polished tile floors and even one of those big, old chandeliers hanging in front of the tellers’ counters like this was the Ritz or something. I’d call it overcompensating…but hey, that’s just me.

Eventually, the bank manager finished up his little speech and we made our way behind the counters and into the vault’s room. Just like that.

It took everything I had not to drop my jaw to the floor. I mean, the uniform was nice and all, but I thought he had seen through me the instant I walked in there…but nope! Just take me back to the bank vault like it was nothing! It’s funny how quickly you trust someone in a uniform.

“…so if you could just tweak that a bit, I bet everything would fall right back into place!” Said the bank manager…or, at least, that was what I caught him finishing. Probably should’ve been paying attention on that one.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding with a crooked, half-smile. “I’ll check into that.” He nodded to me then—ever smiling—but he didn’t leave.

I waited for a minute. Didn’t say anything, just…just waited. Waited for him to leave.

But he didn’t! He just stood there, smiling stupidly! We sat and stared at each other for one very awkwardly long moment before I realized that he wasn’t leaving. At all.

“Um,” I muttered, hoping he would catch on. No, no, he just stared blankly like some deer. Not the ones with the caught-in-headlights type of eyes, mind you. Just some deer standing in a meadow, completely oblivious to everything.

A dumb, dumb deer.

“Hey, look…” I said, leaning on the wall like some cowboy from a Western flick. Mostly, I was trying to look cool. I like to think I was succeeding, but…to be honest, I probably wasn’t. “It might take me some time to run all the diagnostics and what not, and I’m not one to enjoy someone breathing down my neck and all—but, you know, no offense.”

He frowned and nodded, and then he said, “I see, I see…but I’m afraid it’s policy that I remain here while you work to make sure everything is kept in its proper place, you see. We’ve never had any trouble, but just policy.” Damn it. “Can’t have any break-ins, yes? Oh! No offense, of course…” He smiled again, but not quite like before. This wasn’t some blank smile for the customer; it was almost devious.

Bastard was making fun of me.

Admittedly at this point, I was a little bit stumped. Hadn’t really thought it through, I guess. At all. Pretty much, this was my plan—walk in with a uniform and pretend like I knew what I was doing…then walk out with the cash. But this guy…I mean, what kind of a bank watches as a vault gets fixed? And what kind of a manager wants to watch it happen?

“Oh, I understand.” I said with a smile and a nod—both so hollow and fake that I’m pretty sure I let out a scowl. My bank managing friend didn’t seem to mind it, though. Maybe he already knew I was a fake. Maybe. Didn’t really want to think about it right then.

So there I was, caught in a lie. I stooped down and rummaged through the duffle bag crested with the company’s logo: Lock’it Security. Stupid name considering the employees didn’t lock their vans.

There was nothing in the bag anyways. I had to hunch over it just so he wouldn’t notice. I’d no idea what to do, where to go. I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing about to be shot by the farmer.

Looking back, it’s funny how much I wanted a way out. I got it, no problem. In fact, about half a minute after I stooped down, I heard it: a loud bang. It was far enough away that I thought it was some firecrackers at first. Stupid of me, I guess. Who brings firecrackers to a bank?

I shot up like one of those whack-a-moles; I thought this was my ticket out. The manager would have to go check on it, after all. That thought made me think it was finally a stroke of luck as I stared at the manager, watching his bewildered face. He started drifting towards the front of the bank. Yes!

Just a little more

“Let me check up on that,” he said in passing as he drifted closer and closer to the entrance—farther and farther away from me. Yes, yes, yes! I nodded with a smile that was probably a bit too big. But, then, that all changed when I heard the bang again. The bank manager was gone—turned a corner when it happened. Louder. Closer. Clearer.

Those weren’t firecrackers; they were gunshots.

A man came around the hallways. He wore black and a ski mask, but I could hardly tell because I was too focused on this gun he had at side. He waved it when he saw me.

“You!” he yelled, muffled under a mask. I raised my hands and felt my heart race—pounding and pounding like it was about to burst out of my chest. This was for real. The terror of it—the stare of a gun’s barrel right in your face.

It was something I’d never experienced before.

“Get into the lobby! Now!”

That was that. Funny how convincing a gun can be. My knees felt all locked up, and my legs were like jelly; they moved either way, though not entirely by my own will. Survival was a stronger instinct than I had thought it would be, and my legs were ready to obey even if my brain wasn’t. We turned the corner. The tile floors stained with blood.

I always started taking a better note of people after that—the bank manager, that is. He was lying there…and I see him every night when I close my eyes and go to bed. His suit. His features…but never his face. After it was all said and done, I could remember the way he dressed and his outstanding features, but his face…I just draw a blank. It seems like people never really make a note of all the faces in a crowd. Why should I care, after all? Just another person in the crowd. They all look like ants from far away, but then…then you see one squashed—see one become a thing, a bloodstain on the floor.

And it stays with you.

When we got to the lobby—a gun at the backside of my head every step of the way—I saw two things. The first was a line of hostages a few feet away from the glass entrance to the street, hands up. A cop car was outside—more to come, no doubt, or at least I hoped.

The second thing I noticed was two more darkly dressed men, both carrying guns like their lovely friend at the back of my head. In fact, that pleasant gentleman saw fit to push me onto the floor right then and there with the other hostages that were being used as meat shields.

There were three, maybe four of us in total there, most notably a young woman. She cried rather loudly, and though I felt a little bad to see her so terrified, the thought crossed my mind that she was going to get us all killed. Dead. Bang. One shot would be all it took if she didn’t shut her mouth. Maybe no one tried to comfort her for the same reason; they just didn’t want to get shot.

“Shut up!” One of the men barked. They’d all convened together, whispering rather loudly about the robbery. It was not going as well as they had hoped, I imagine.

His shouting only made the lady cry more—practically in hysterics. I felt myself wanting to go to her and at least talk her down from that ledge, maybe tell her to shut up a little myself, but I couldn’t do it—not at first.

I was scared too, after all. I wanted my mom and I wanted to be home in my PJs watching crappy reruns on my old ass TV…not comforting some stranger in the middle of a bank robbery.

Bank robbery…

I started to freak out, then. It all hit me—the gravity of the situation. The stupidity of what I had done. Me? In a bank robbery? How could I have possibly thought that was going to go well?! And then the cops…would the cops think I was in on it since I was trying to steal from the bank too? I wouldn’t last a second in prison! Dead meat, I told myself. I’m dead meat either way.

“I said shut up!” the man yelled again as he drew closer to her, but she wouldn’t stop crying. Just stop, I thought. They’re going to shoot you. Just stop crying.

The woman just kept on crying, and one of the men came up to her, pointing the gun squarely at her forehead. He looked eager to shoot.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Stop, okay?” Someone said pleadingly. “She’ll be quiet. Just stop that.”

You would think that was one of the other hostages, wouldn’t you? I would.

But…not quite. I admit that it was another one of those spur-the-moment sort of things that just popped into my head, but it was me. Me—pleading for the life of some stranger after I had come to rob the bank myself. I guess I was sick for the whole “look before you leap” lesson in kindergarten.

To be honest, I probably should’ve been annoyed by this woman right from the get go, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t a hero—that was what I kept saying—but I stepped in. Why? Why would I do something like that? Ask me back then, in the heat of that moment, and I would’ve said that it just sort of happened. Ask me now? I still don’t have an answer for you.

“Keep quiet or you’re both dead!” He responded in a lovely, gravelly voice. I nodded and took a big gulp. What the hell was I doing?

I turned my attention to the woman quickly. She was a bit older than me, maybe in her thirties. She looked like she had just come from work; she was all fancied up with a gray jacket and skirt. Her strawberry blonde hair was tied back with a headband and a ponytail, but to be honest, she looked a mess when you paired it with her runny makeup from all the tears.

“Hey,” I whispered lowly. “Let’s calm down, okay?” she nodded, but she was still sobbing. “Um…” I thought for a moment about how to calm her down. “What…is your name?” She looked at me for a moment, emerald eyes swelling with tears. I thought I had done something wrong for a moment.

“L-Lorelei…” She stammered between sobs. I nodded.

“Lorelei? That’s great. I’m Cole; college dropout, starving artist and…” I glanced at my uniform and remembered I could still get in a lot of trouble for the whole planning to rob a bank thing. “Security professional….” I muttered the addition. She chuckled, though her laughs were shaking with fear.

“Dropout?” She asked. “Why did you drop out of college?” Good, I thought. She had stopped crying, but now she wanted to talk about the deepest moments of my life during a bank robbery. Great.

At least she had stopped crying.

“Ah,” I was hesitating. It wasn’t a story I liked to look back on often. “Well…sophomore year, my mom got really sick. She ended up, um…well, dying, and we spent everything we had on her medical bills and…” I thought about the wording for a moment, realizing how close in proximity a gun was to my head. “Postmortem costs. I couldn’t afford to go to school anymore.” I felt myself frowning. Mom was the best thing I had; there wasn’t a dad around to teach me any different.

No, never dad.

Always mom. Always there for me, and in the end, I couldn’t save her.

I couldn’t even manage to be with her on her last day.

“Oh,” she said, wiping her tears away. “I am so sorry…” A few tears dropped here and there still, but her panic had subsided, at least. For a moment, her mind was elsewhere—pity for me, maybe, but at least not panicking.

“Don’t worry about it,” I assured her with a fake smile. “It was my mom, I’m the one who should be…”

“Just let them try and get in here!” one of the men said in passing to his two cohorts, safe behind the living wall of hostages.

He swaggered around like he knew what he was doing, but I could tell he felt just as trapped as I had before, and his two friends? I bet they were at the brink of freaking out under those ski masks. The bank robber raised his gun and waved it around, as if to show off the fact that he had one and we didn’t. It shook Lorelei for a little bit; she started crying again.

I should’ve rolled my eyes; all that work for nothing. I didn’t. I just wanted her to calm down now. This guy was too on edge for my taste.

“Shut up!” he was practically screaming. If I could’ve seen his face, I’m sure it would’ve been red. He pointed the gun straight at us with an itchy trigger finger. Again. The others were trying to calm him down, pat him on the shoulder. “Get off me!” He shrugged them away. Lorelei was in hysterics again, and I was well on my way there as well.

The bank robber screamed at her to shut up one more time, and then I heard it.

Bang. It all happened so fast; I can barely remember.

My back was burning with a numbing pain in the shoulder; something frighteningly warm trickled down my back. Thoughts became erratic, and then they became slower, more blurred together, I guess—like one big mushy thought jelly.

I had pushed Lorelei away.

I had taken the bullet.

I still ask myself why some days. What did I have to gain? But, I never ask myself what I had to lose anymore.

 

It was pretty blank after that; Lorelei later told me SWAT rushed the bank and saved us. I ended up in the hospital with a few stitches—turns out the wound wasn’t entirely serious. Must’ve just been the stress.

Oh yeah, and I almost went to jail too. As it turns out, Lock’it Security had called the bank up to tell them some uniforms had been stolen, and their tires were slashed. They would be late, they said. Cops put two and two together.

It was a first offense though, and Lorelei pleaded my case. She said I was a good person so many times that I started to believe it myself. I got about two months of community service since, according to the police, I hadn’t actually robbed the bank in the first place; it was more for the theft of the uniforms and some property damage.

That’s not quite the end of it, though. There was one more thing. You see, Lorelei visited me in the hospital the day after. Her hair was all let down and was more wavy than I remember it being; her makeup was well done and not running everywhere like before. Honestly, she was a nice looking woman when she wasn’t crying at gunpoint. Then again, I guess that’s true of most people.

The thing is that Lorelei wasn’t alone that day. She had a little boy, no older than six, clutching her hand in his tiny fingers. He had shaggy blonde hair and dull green eyes, clinging to Lorelei like I had to my own mom. He reminded me of myself a lot, actually. His name was Chris, and Lorelei was his mother; she was a single parent living paycheck to paycheck. Putting Chris through college was her biggest dream.

We talked for a little while, Lorelei and I, but not Chris. He nibbled on his finger nails behind Lorelei, staring at me and then the medical equipment around us. We talked for maybe twenty or thirty minutes about everything. She thanked me at least twelve times.

When our talk was over, she and Chris turned to leave. As she reached the entrance to my room, little Chris pulled away from his mother and walked back to the side of my bed. His lips curled into a shy, childish smile.

“Thank you for saving mommy.”


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