William sighed, a dull headache throbbing behind his eyes. It was another gloomy overcast day in Portland, Oregon. The kind of day where William questioned why he was still here, driving the armored truck around town and stocking ATM machines for the Federal Union Bank. Instead, he could be dozing off in a rocking chair on a porch somewhere in Idaho, happily retired like his previous partner Richard had last month.
“Take the plunge, Will,” Richard had said when they talked on the phone last week, “retiring and moving out to the country to watch potatoes grow is a lot better than it sounds.”
“Sure, Rich,” he had replied, “sounds like a dream.”
But not William’s dream, no matter how hard he wished for it. His wife had died last year of a heart attack after his sixty-fourth birthday, and his two children had grown and moved to the Big Apple. He feared the only thing keeping him grounded was doing the same thing he had being doing since he was twenty-five years old—driving around town restocking ATM machines, the low buzz of adrenaline keeping him on his toes and looking over his shoulder.
“You’re getting’ to be an old man,” Richard’s voice crackled over the receiver, “and old men can’t dodge bullets better than a young ‘un can.”
William felt the dull ache in his knees as he stood stiffly from his lay-z-boy chair. “You and me dodged bullets just fine, Rich.”
“Yeah. Twenty years ago, ol’ dog. Time to move on and let the pups take over.”
William said his goodbyes and hung up the phone, pushing away Richard’s lecture. Sixty-five isn’t old. He still felt like he was stuck in his twenties.
His knees cracked painfully as he walked towards the kitchen. Well…mentally he was still in his twenties.
As if Richard had spoken his thoughts into fruition and the world answered, William met his new comically young partner this morning.
“Lance Crisco,” chirped a twenty-two-year-old boy with an outstretched hand. William squinted at the peach fuzz on his upper lip. Young pup.
“Crisco? Like the cookin’ grease?”
“That’s right, sir.”
William reluctantly shook the boys’ hand, already annoyed by his chipper smile and his upbeat attitude. As Lance hopped into the passenger side of the truck, William slowly pulled himself up and sat in the driver’s seat, adjusting his mirrors as the boy rambled with excitement.
“I just couldn’t believe when they told me who my partner would be,” Lance started, “The William Morgan. I’m starting straight at the top, learning from the pro himself!”
“Hm,” William grunted.
“I read about the attempted heist in 1984. Your partner got shot loading up that ATM machine on Fremont Street. You dragged him back in the truck while firing back at the thief and drove to the hospital while keeping your finger plugged in his femoral artery. You’re a legend!”
“Are you talkin’ or paying attention?” William snapped. Lance’s eyes went wide, his mouth set in a small frown.
“You have to keep an eye on your surroundings. It may seem like we are just joy-drivin’ on Lloyd Boulevard but we’re not. We have to watch each other’s backs, because there is plenty o’ people out there who want what we’ve got towing around.”
“And they are willing to kill for it. Just as they were willing in ’84. Capeesh?”
“Capeesh, sir.” Lance cleared his throat, turning his gaze out the window and readjusting the rifle on his lap.
The papers made William out to be a hero that day in 1984:
PORTLAND’S OWN SUPERMAN WILLIAM MORGAN SAVES LIVES AND DOLLARS ON FREMONT
WILLIAM MORGAN: THE HERO ON FREMONT STREET
ARMORED TRUCK DRIVER SAVES PARTNER IN MONEY HEIST
The truth was William had never felt more scared in his life than on that day. After Richard was shot, he stared in stunned silence at his partner bleeding on the street. No more shots than just the one fired. William had assumed whoever shot him had run off scared. When he jumped out of the truck towards Rich, he saw the robber jerking frantically on the locked handles at the back. There was nothing else for William to do than to reach for his own rifle and fire at the robber who was already pointing his gun back at him. That wasn’t heroic, he simply reacted. He didn’t know he was walking into gunfire. He certainly didn’t carry Rich, either. Rich had crawled to the truck and William lifted him in after the thief ran off, wrapping his belt tightly around his leg.
The newspapers certainly knew how to tweak the ugly truth into a sweet little lie.
“You sure you know how to use that thing?” William asked Lance, nodding towards the rifle on his lap. The company required a permit from the state to carry a gun—specifically an Act 235 certification—but they also required their own, rigorous testing and training program. Forty years ago, William managed to scrape by. Was that same training still required by the company?
“Oh, yes sir,” Lance answered eagerly, “I was in the Army before this. I got an expert marksman badge each year on my weapons qualifications. Before that I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, shooting BBs at cans with my brothers. I’ve been shooting my whole life.”
“Good. Hopefully your shooting days are over.”
They drove around mostly in silence, William spewing out helpful tips which Lance seemed to absorb like a sponge. Always be aware of your mirrors and blind spots. Check your messenger window before you exit the truck. Always be aware of the cars around you. Don’t believe in coincidences. Keep your gun hand free as much as possible. If driving, always block the front door of the bank. A clear line of sight is important.
William had to admit Lance was a good student. He made little mistakes here and there, but William quickly noticed he only made those simple mistakes once. He began to enjoy this young pup’s company in the truck. He was no Richard, but at least he listened and learned fast.
“Sir,” Lance said one day after a few months of being William’s partner, “that silver car behind us…I’m sure he was behind us on Weidler Street and over on Sandy Boulevard.”
William checked his own mirrors. The silver car in question was a Nissan Altima, keeping a respectable distance behind them.
“Nissan Altima’s are the most common car in America, did you know that?” William said, shrugging it off. “You’re probably a little on edge after we talked about looking for patterns yesterday. Trust me, I have good intuition on this.”
Lance nodded, biting his lip as he stared back at it in his window. He was paranoid.
“Okay,” William said, seeing Lance still tensed, “Let’s do a little experiment. I’ll turn down this road off our route and we will see if he follows.”
William turned on his signal and made a right at a busy intersection. They watched from their mirrors as the Nissan rolled through the green light, continuing straight.
“See? Nothing to worry about.”
Lance sighed, still looking troubled.
“I have four decades of experience on this, kiddo. Don’t get worked up, I always know if something’s off.”
William turned the truck back around on the road, driving two blocks down to their original destination. He noticed as he was loading the ATM machine, Lance was still biting his lip, looking around cautiously as he stood by the back doors of the truck with his rifle. William had taught him to wait in the truck while he loaded the machines, but instead Lance had closed the doors and guarded the back. They had one more ATM stop to make before they were done for the day. William wanted to help take the edge off the poor boy.
“Wanna load the last ATM?”
Lance’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, “Really?”
“Sure. You’ve seen how I do it.”
Lance smiled as he jumped into the passenger seat, drumming his fingers lightly against the rifle as they made it another few blocks over to the last ATM.
“Sir,” Lance started, his smile fading.
“C’mon, let’s make this quick,” William cut him off, hopping out of the truck and waving him to follow.
“Sir, I think that same Nissan is parked a few cars over.”
William didn’t have time to react. As he turned his head, he saw the door of the silver car was open, and a big, burly man crouching from behind it. A loud pop reached his ears, and something warm and wet creeped down his leg. William looked down, seeing a deep, crimson red splotch grow on his thigh. Shocked, he touched the hole in his pants, feeling a wave of searing, burning pain radiating from it.
“GET DOWN! GET DOWN!” He heard Lance scream as a loud crack and the whir of another bullet whizzed past his head. Hands shaking, he forced them down over the gushing of blood, feeling waves of cold and hot wash over him. Stars dotted his vision, the edges fading to black. The last thing he felt was an arm wrap around his, dragging him across the cement. The sound of bullets rattling off faded along with the rest of his senses, mashing into one large black expanse of nothing.
William assumed he was dead, but just before his eyes fluttered open, he knew he couldn’t be. The throbbing ache of his leg told him he was very much alive.
“Told ya you can’t dodge no bullets anymore, ol’ man,” Richard’s voice sprouted from somewhere to William’s left. He slowly shifted his head, seeing Rich’s large smile.
“What happened? Where am I?” William’s voice slurred, groggy from sleep and morphine.
“Well buddy, you got shot and the bugger nicked your femoral artery pretty good. You’re at the hospital.”
“That’s right! I guess we’ve come full circle now!” Richard laughed, patting at Williams arm. “Now you have the same bullet hole I got near three and a half decades ago! How’s watching potatoes grow sound now?”
“Crisco…what happened to Lance Crisco?” William looked around the room starting to panic, finding nobody but Richard.
“Ah,” he said with a sigh, “he saved your life, you know. While that guy was shootin’, your partner was shootin’ him right back ‘til he ran off. Cops caught him up at Warry Road.”
“Where is he?”
“Well,” Richard started, leaning back on his chair, “he’s gone.”
“G-gone?” William felt his blood turn cold. Why didn’t Lance just leave instead of trying to rescue a man who’s lived nearly a whole life? It’s not fair. He was so young…his life just beginning to blossom.
“Yeup. I s’pose to the third floor. They didn’t have them salted peanuts in the vending machine I wanted down here. How are you gonna be a hospital and have your vending machines stuffed with candies?”
“Wait…what? He’s alive?”
“Well, yeah dummy! I told you them young pups can dodge bullets!”
William fell back on his pillow, instantly relieved and thoroughly annoyed at Rich’s laughs.
William saw Lance’s head poke from around the corner, his eyes round with concern and peanuts in his hand.
“I’ll take them peanuts, boy. You two have a nice chat,” Richard said, standing up and patting Lance on the shoulder as he walked stiffly out the door.
William felt the sting of tears well up in his eyes. Lance sat slowly in Richard’s seat. “You feeling okay, sir?”
William didn’t know how to answer that. He felt terrible. His leg hurt, he was drugged up, his lower back was killing him. He was grateful to be alive another day, and overjoyed with the realization that he could visit his daughters in New York City. A twinge of sadness and self-pity with the realization that his career has officially come to a close. But most of all, he felt overwhelming guilt. He was selfish for keeping his job at such an old age, without realizing he wouldn’t be able to effectively watch his partners back anymore. Instead, his partner had to risk his own life for him. He dismissed Lance’s concerns and put them both in danger.
“I let down my guard and put us in danger,” William choked, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright sir,” Lance sad, reaching over and grabbing his arm. “We’re both still here, right? We watch each other’s backs. That’s what you told me on day one. Remember?”
“Right,” he choked back a laugh, “Well, you did your job. I didn’t do mine.”
“Yes, you did, sir. You taught me what to watch for and I was ready.”
“Be ready for the papers, Crisco. You’re the hero now.”
Lance smiled lightly, patting William on the arm before letting go. “What can I say? I went straight to the top. Learned it all from the pro himself.”
William smiled back and him, grateful to have finished out his career with the best partner he had ever had.