Chill wind blew down the long asphalt street in Palestine, Texas, picking up sud-like dust and limply turning over dead dry leaves. The town was tired and quiet; only a handful of pickups drove leisurely down the street.
Jason Lynn Pennsylvania sat behind the counter of AmeriCo Bank, shiny shoes propped up in his neighbor’s empty chair, white collar unbuttoned, Killing Floor open on his lap. His head tipped back against the rim of the sleek swivel chair, snoring. He was the kind of man who would go bald early but not care, the kind of man who’d get a tattoo at forty to prove he was cool, the kind of man who was actually cool not because of the tattoo but because he told good jokes.
Pennsylvania owned the Palestine branch of AmeriCo Bank but did most of the hiring, telling, and counting himself.
“Cheaper this way,” he’d tell AmeriCo’s division manager on the phone.
“But ain’t you a family man?” the manager would say. The manager was a Wichita Falls man, who’d grown up taking out the trash for AmeriCo and worked his way up. Most of his underlings liked him; he had a snaggletooth and uneven sunburns, and went on jogs in the morning in bright orange jumpsuits.
“Yeah, but this is how you take care of'a family. I got the boys to think of.”
“Well okay son, you take care.”
Pennsylvania jerked awake when the clock chimed eight and smacked his lips. Killing Floor slipped off his lap and bounced on the ground, which startled him. He looked over the counter, saw nothing, leaned back, and closed his eyes once more.
Outside the bank, on the dry, dusty street, a little banged-up black Toyota parked crooked on the curb. The Toyota sat in the shade cast by the big stone bank, cooling off with little pings and a long sigh. Then the doors unlocked and five teenagers got out.
The driver was a tall boy with white hair; the girl in the passenger seat was short and smiley; the three others were triplets, all boys with sandy brown hair and identical grins. One of them had a backpack slung over his right shoulder.
They looked at each other timidly, almost fearfully, like a group of seamen about to push off from shore and never see home again.
One of the triplets said, “You sure you want to do this, Jack?”
“Of course, moron. You scared?”
The triplet shrugged. “It just… well, Penn’s a fun guy. You know he was the one who brought watermelon for the potluck on Thanksgiving?”
“Yeah,” said his brother. “Where’d he get that?”
The three brown-haired boys burst into laughter. They knew where he'd gotten it. He'd told them the day before the potluck. Penn was like that.
“Shut up,” the girl said, shoving one of them off the sidewalk.
“Okay then,” Jack said, running a hand through his white hair. “Let’s go.”
The group entered the bank, easing open the glass doors without a whisper. Behind them, dry leaves scraped across the concrete sidewalk noisily, pushed along by the wind, which always seemed to be going nowhere.
The five of them spread out, looking dead ahead as they pulled hoodies over their heads and scarves or a parent’s bandanna to cover their mouth and nose. Jack and his crew edged forward over the burnished granite floor. The triplets exchanged worried, excited glances, eyes crinkled up to betray identical gleeful smiles. Jack and Callie closed in together, shoulders touching like the ranks of Roman soldiers.
Jason Pennsylvania dozed behind the counter, the callused fingers of his left hand barely brushing the spine of his book.
Jack whispered to Callie, “Where the hell is he?”
“Bank’s open, right?”
“Maybe he’s on a break or something.”
“He’d’ve left someone behind if he just took a break.”
Jack leaned over the counter and jumped back as if bitten by a rattlesnake. “There he is!” he hissed.
Callie forcibly turned one of the triplets around, unzipped his backpack, and removed a gun.
“Whoa,” the triplet whispered. “Is that thing real?”
“Hell no,” Callie said, smirking. “It’s just a toy. An AirSoft gun.”
“I took the orange thing off the front of it.”
The boy looked at his two brothers. “Isn’t that illegal?”
Callie smirked again. “Damn right.”
They winced and said together, “Stop swearing.”
She looked like she was about to hit them, thought better of it, and turned around. “Sorry to injure your little church-going ears,” she said out the corner of her mouth.
Callie walked right up, the three boys behind her like three toddlers caught stealing cookies, and slammed the fake gun on the counter. “Wake up, old man!” she shouted and lifted the gun so it pointed at the banker.
Pennsylvania jerked awake and pushed his glasses back on his nose. He started to stand but Callie shouted, “Turn around! Hands up! I have a gun!”
His jaw dropped but he did as she said. “Callie?” he asked. “Callie Roberts?”
Jack shouted roughly, “Turn the cameras off, right now!”
Pennsylvania shrugged, his hands still up. “I don’t keep ’em on.”
“Open the door,” one of the boys said in a thin voice. Callie elbowed him sharply and he cleared his throat and said more firmly, “Open the door!”
Penn started at his voice but turned and walked to the door between the bank lobby and behind the counter. Slowly, he pulled a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. He returned the key to his pocket, hands shaking slightly, as the five kids ran past him. Their faces were bright underneath their masks, eyes shining, separating the group and fleeing to various half-open deposit boxes.
Jack let out a maniacal giggle as he scooped handfuls of mostly-counted change into his hoodie pockets and the backpack. “Why don’t you lock these boxes up, old man?” he shouted.
Penn shook his head. “I trust you guys,” he said simply, hands in pockets.
“What?” Callie said after an awkward pause. She and Jack laughed, but the triplets’ eyes, barely visible over their bandannas, filled with tears. Their bandannas were bright green and stenciled with their dad’s initials: JLP.
Jack waved his crew out. Callie kept the gun pointed at Penn’s head as they backed out of the bank, faces flushed with success. Just before the doors swung shut, Pennsylvania looked straight at the triplets. Their eyes met, four pairs of identical eyes. Penn gave them a short, sad smile.
When the black Toyota had disappeared down the cold, empty street, Penn sat down again and called the police.
“Hi, Rick? I was just robbed, can you go after ’em?...
“Yeah, a black Toyota, it looked like. I didn’t catch the license but it’s the Hoovers’ car….
“Jack Hoover, yeah….
“Hoover. Yes, Hoover….
“Thanks. And - oh, Rick?...
“Give 'em the whole speech, will you? My boys were in that group….
“No, not a kidnapping. I saw ’em, though, they know it ain’t right. Just make sure they know it. I know they’ll do right. I raised ’em right….
“Yeah. Well, thanks. I ’preciate it.”
Pennsylvania leaned back with a sigh. After a moment, without cleaning up the mess of bills and hanging-open deposit doors, he picked up his book again.
The Toyota tore down the highway, a trail of dead cottonwood leaves following. Callie drove this time, the needle not dipping below seventy, and Jack sat in the back seat. Both grinned hard, masks and hoodies down.
“Hey, where’s the backpack?” Callie asked as Palestine disappeared behind them and empty plains surrounded the lonely car.
Jack looked around. “I dunno. You don’t have it?”
Their eyes met in the rearview mirror. “Those three… ” she spat. “Those… ooh.” Her hands clenched on the steering wheel.
“We shouldn’t’ve dropped them off. We should’ve made them come all the way.”
“They were wimps,” she responded. “I thought it was good riddance. And Mack hates kids like them buyin’ from him.” Her eyes narrowed down the highway.
“Think they got cold feet?”
“I know so. They’re probably gonna tell.”
“What do you wanna do?”
Callie shrugged. “We got some in our pockets, right? That’s probably enough.”
“Mack doesn’t like change though. He said twenties or nothin’.”
She sighed. “Well, dammit Jack, I don’t know! I wanna go find them and throttle them!”
“We shouldn’t’ve let them come along.”
“It was an adventure for the kids!” Callie said desperately. “They wanted to do it, wanted to be the bad boys. Why'm I trying to defend them?”
“They took our money!” she shrieked.
“You know what I think? I bet they’re taking it back to their dad.”
They glared at each other.
“I wanna commit another crime,” Callie said after a minute. “This time, let’s commit murder.”
Jack laughed, then said, “Wait, are you serious?”
“They put in life for a murder.”
“Not for minors.”
“Yeah, for minors.”
She shook her head. “It’d be worth it. I wanna teach those bastards you don’t cross your own teammates.”
A sleek police car sped far behind them, wind tearing through the open windows, lights flashing, horns blaring. The driver sat intent behind the wheel as three brown-headed boys talked quickly, over each other, in the backseat.