The gunshot echoed around the foyer.
Anya had never heard a gun go off before, not in real life, and yet she knew what it was straight away. The coins she was dividing up into the till scattered to the floor, the noise of them lost beneath all the screaming.
There was another gunshot.
“Everyone, shut up!” The single voice reverberated as loud as the gun, cracking a little at the end with the strain of being heard over all the chaos. Bit by bit the hubbub died down, until the only sounds were whimpering and the occasional soft sob. “That’s better! Now stay quiet, or else!”
The speaker was standing on a bench in the atrium, and he held a chunky pistol in each hand. Though Anya’s training told her that the glass in front of her was bullet-proof, she didn’t like the idea of testing against those monsters.
“Everyone on the floor, now!” someone else called, a woman this time, and Anya blinked at that. She couldn’t imagine a woman holding up a bank, although it wasn’t something she’d have to imagine for long.
The customers all got down, some dropping straight onto their stomachs, while some others knelt at first. The only people left standing were the five figures in balaclavas, and Anya was shocked to see that at least two of them appeared to be women, judging by their silhouettes. One of them headed over to the cashiers.
“You lot, out of there. Hands up, keep ‘em where I can see 'em.”
It took some shuffling to get out from behind the counters, trying to activate the button on the door while keeping their hands in view. As she waited to be let out Anya wondered if any of her co-workers had been quicker than her, and had gotten to the silent alarms under their desks. That was what they were there for after all, but when the moment had come Anya had just frozen. As she always did.
“Are you all right?” Sara whispered as she came up behind Anya. Too scared to talk Anya just nodded, but one of the robbers had heard nonetheless.
“Oi! What you talkin’ bout?” The man shoved past the other workers and pointed with his gun, and all Anya could do was whimper and clench her eyes shut.
“Nothing. I was just checking that my friend was okay,” Sara explained. Despite everything her voice was completely level, and not for the first time Anya was in awe at the confidence of the older woman. “She’s a very nervous person, and I just wanted to see how she was.”
“Huh, snowflakes. Anyone talks again you’re getting a bullet, you
All of the workers nodded, and some of the others gave Sara and Anya evil glares as they were led out to the atrium. That wasn’t new for Anya though. She could cope with all of their glaring if Sara was at her side. While the other workers struggled to get down to the floor, between their stiletto heels and short skirts, Anya and Sara dropped comfortably, trousers and flat shoes giving them no problems in their new scenario.
Maybe it was deliberate, some part of her subconscious looking after her, or maybe Sara had done it, but when Anya looked up she looked straight into Sara’s eyes. Sara winked, her under-stated make-up gathering in the crow’s feet around her eyes. Through her own blurry eyes Anya smiled back, the same nervous, honest smile she gave whenever she had to explain another bruise to Sara.
There was a loud crash from the robbers and Anya jumped. After all her training at home she should’ve been able to cope. Like Pavlov’s dog, she thought to herself, trained for the impact after the crash. The thieves had more interesting things to find than punchbags here though.
“Oi, Red! What’s taking so long?” one of the thieves called.
“Ah, shut up. It’s all locked, innit? ‘Ere, find one to help us.”
“Bloody hell. All right, which one of you’s the manager?”
There were only two thieves on the floor now, the dual-wielding tree-trunk and one of the women, but their guns didn’t stop moving, scanning over the rows of hostages like a hoover. Half the people on the floor were hypnotised by the movement, but Anya was conditioned not to make eye contact. Instead she sought out the bank manager. The model of leadership, he was face-down on the floor, hands over his head as he tried to make himself as small as possible, which was a challenging feat for someone who’d spent so long gorging himself at bank dinners.
“I am.” With the dignity of a queen Sara stood back up. The only hint of nervousness to her was her closed fists.
“No you’re not–” one of the other till girls started to say.
“I’m the senior teller currently in the building. I have pass-codes and keys to all of the vaults.”
The others finally got the hint and shut up, going back to their cowering on the floor. Anya wished she’d had the courage to stand up, but perhaps it would be more believable coming from the oldest employee. As Sara walked away Anya couldn’t stop staring, and a tiny part of her brain feared it would be the last time she’d ever see her. If they found out she didn’t have access to the main
The wait was excruciating, but Anya was used to waiting. Any night when her husband wasn’t home when she got there was like that, and she’d learnt how to ride the feeling. It was harder when Sara was in the firing line instead, but if anyone could cope with it, it would be Sara. The woman had raised five sons after all.
Without warning one of the thieves stormed in from the back offices. “Who did it then?! Which one of you bitches raised the alarm?”
“What? You sure?” asked the muscle, finally jumping down off his bench.
“Yeah. The old bat said the vault had gone into lock-down cos someone triggered the alarm. One of them must’ve done it. I tol’ you not to shoot then, we shoulda waited till we was at the counters.”
“You blamin’ me?” The two men started squaring off, until the woman interfered and dragged them apart.
“Will you’s grow up! What’s done is done. Let’s just grab what we can and get out of ‘ere. Here, keep coverin’ ‘em.”
The large man was left behind while the other two went and helped themselves to the money in the cash registers. There were shouts of disgust when they got to a mostly-empty drawer, and cries of joy from a full drawer. Officially there was a limit to the maximum that could be kept in the drawers, but Anya was the only one who actually cared. Everyone else was slack, more interested in looking at the other tellers than doing any work.
A siren sounded outside and the robbers panicked. Either going by some pre-determined signal, or their own self-interest, they all ran for the back exit. On his way out the foyer dual-wielder punched one of the customers round the back of the head, knocking him into someone else and setting off a chain-reaction of screams. Then he was gone, and there was nothing but the pounding of feet in the back corridors, before a slam of a door said that the ordeal was over.
More sirens sounded, getting louder by the second. Anya still felt faint, but she forced herself to her feet. She had to find Sara, to check she was okay. Before she could get anywhere though the police were in through the front door, and they had the place locked down.
Over the shoulder of an officer guiding her away, Anya spotted Sara. She looked shaken, with a large, oversized jumper on. As much as Anya wanted to run over there, how was she going to explain it? The pair of them got enough looks in town as it was, and if any of the rumours got back to either of their husbands they were finished. More permanently in Anya’s case. All she could do was try and smile at her only friend, as she was bundled into another police car to give her statement.
The dog’s bark echoed round the neighbourhood.
Anya stood on her front porch and sighed, watching as her breath steamed in the mist. After everything that had happened that day, it felt strange for everything to be so normal. The police were all gone, the bank was due to reopen tomorrow morning, and by tomorrow evening her husband would be drinking again. She wouldn’t deny that his worry this evening had been nice, but it was tainted by the fact that it wouldn’t last.
As she sipped the last of her cocoa she went over everything that had happened, trying to fix the images in her mind. If she didn’t she was terrified that she’d lose them within a week, and the whole thing would feel like a dream. For one moment, for less than an hour, she’d felt alive, part of something larger than her and her stupid rickety house and all that entailed.
She was about to head back inside when a car pulled up in front of her, and Anya almost leapt down the steps. She’d recognise Sara’s car anywhere. The fear of someone watching through the curtains stopped her though, so she waited at the top of the steps while Sara got out and walked over.
“Hey,” Sara said.
“Hey. Are you all right?”
“Course I am. How about you?”
“Yeah, fine. I didn’t go with the robbers though.”
“That was no big deal. I just gave them what I could, and then lied to them about the main vaults.”
“I… I don’t know how you did it. I don’t know how you had the nerve.”
“And I don’t know how you have the nerve to come back to this place every night.”
Anya panicked and spun to check the doorway. He was still inside though, melded into his seat, watching late night sports. “It’s home.”
Anya shrugged her concession. “It’s my house.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
That buzz of life, of living, sparked in Anya’s stomach again. “How do you mean?”
“I mean, I’ve got a car. We could drive away, and never come back.”
“Has your husband been cheating again?”
“Almost certainly. It’s not that I’ve got any more proof, it’s just… well, after everything. We could’ve died today. One wrong slip up and we could be dead. And then what? What do we have to show for it?”
“We have our husbands–”
“That’s trash, Anya. Even if that actually meant anything, even if it did give women some significance, it wouldn’t in our cases would it? Neither of our husbands love us entirely, do they? How long before they even noticed we’d gone, do you think?”
“The next time they wanted feeding.”
“Exactly. We deserve more than that. Come on, Anya, run away with me. Before the taps are something more serious.”
“But… I’m not… into girls…” At this stage, with her whole world and only point of sanity as Sara, Anya wasn’t entirely sure any more, but she felt it was something that needed saying.
“I don’t mean like that, Anya. As friends, sisters. I’ve done this deadbeat, small town life, and I can’t just sit back and let you fade away in it as well.”
“But then what? We drive, until what? We run out of gas, then we get a lift home?”
Sara gave the biggest grin of her life. “We find a new town. Set up somewhere else. Find husbands that love us, or not, if we don’t want to. Begin again, and get it right this time.”
“How? All my money’s tied up in the house.”
After quickly checking the street was empty Sara jumped up the steps until she stood beside Anya. Sisters, she said, and the thought still brought a warm flush to her cheeks. She’d never had a sister, and it sounded like the greatest thing in the world.
“Here.” Sara lifted up the edge of her sweater top and showed Anya what was hiding underneath.
“More than enough for us to try again. What do you say?” Sara covered the wad of money again.
“How?” was all Anya could manage.
“When the robbers ran they didn’t take all the money. So, before the police turned up, I helped myself. Put a jumper on to cover it, played the tired old woman card, and got away with it. Think I’ve got a good few hundred thousand.”
“I – I need to think about it.” But there wasn’t any debate in Anya’s mind. How could there be? She looked up and grinned back at Sara. “Give me a second.”
Ducking back inside the house Anya could hear the TV blaring, a sports commentary that was more energetic than the game. She grabbed her coat and her purse from the rack by the door, and crept across the hall to nab the photo of her family off the dresser. She swapped it for her cocoa mug, before heading outside.
In the car Sara tossed her a stack of notes without looking. “So, what do you want to buy first?”
Anya sat and thought about it as they pulled out into the road, and she’d decided by the time they reached the interstate. “A new jumper. Just in case.”