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Drama Mystery Crime

Maurice Stevens appeared to walk straight out of the nineteen-seventies and into the South Texas Bank and Trust. He wore a wide collar, a full mustache, and some half boots tucked into some flares. 

The older teller at the counter thought Maurice resembled her late husband. He carried himself with a strong sense of class that the younger teller wouldn’t understand. The recently hired young black teller seemed to be shaking her head in a badly hidden sense of disbelief.

The bank president’s wife stood at the loan officer’s desk watching Maurice saunter in. She was an older white woman, older than Maurice and younger than her husband--not as much younger as she liked to pretend but younger. She wore a flowery dress and a straw hat that seemed to imply that she’d grown, at her leisure, those flowers herself. The loan officer typed in some numbers, hoping she wouldn’t have to fill out papers just to deny this goofball a loan. She concentrated hard on these numbers in order to ignore the bank president’s wife who visited mainly to share juicy tid-bits about people she didn’t really know.

The bank president had his own office, one of only four rooms inside the bank that closed: his office, a records/break room, a uni-sex bathroom, and a vault. He stood in his office looking out his window as if someone were painting a portrait titled “Contemplation” for posterity.

Otherwise, the bank was empty. 

The bank was too small to hire a fulltime security officer, opting instead for an alarm button under the counter. The bank was also too small to have customers at 9:30 in the morning, just between the times that working people went to work and non-working people went to town. Maurice, the lone customer, caused a stirring as he looked at his watch and walked over to write something on a deposit slip with the chained pen, writing so slowly that he seemed to be building suspense.

Breaking the silence, the bank president called across the lobby for the senior teller to come see him in his office. She seemed happy, expecting good news about a raise the president had hinted about. After she’d left the counter but before she’d crossed the threshold of her boss’s office, Maurice made his move.

He turned, looked down, mouthed some words, before holding a semi-automatic pistol in the air and announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a stick-up. Everyone down on the floor, your hands in front of you. Don’t be a hero.”

As the loan officer maneuvered out of her chair onto the floor and as the bank president’s wife looked to make sure she would be lying in a clean spot on the carpet, Maurice remembered: “Except you.”

The young teller stood back up and said, “OK, but you don’t have to point that gun at me.”

“Hands away from the counter. We don’t want to go setting any alarms off.”

He started walking toward her. Her annoyance turned to an appearance of fear, then great and mortal terror.

“My hands are up. I’m backing away,” she said, taking two steps away from the counter.

“Sir?” The bank president’s head lifted from the floor. “My name is Samuel Frederickson. I am the bank president here at South Texas Bank and Trust and—”

“Congratulations,” Maurice said.

“…and if you would like someone to empty the drawers into a bag, I would be happy--”

“I want the vault,” Maurice said. “On your feet.”

“Sir,” Mr. Frederickson said as he stood, “we can open the vaults only at certain times of day, and--”

“I think we all know that’s not true,” Maurice said.

Maurice was right. In fact, everybody in the bank knew that bank vaults didn’t just open at certain times. So did everyone in town--everyone in the area. The first national up the road had just been robbed a month ago, and when the manager said the vault wouldn’t open for another hour, the robber shot the security guard and started counting backwards from ten. The manager opened the vault just before the countdown ended. That’s what all the major news stations said, anyway, when they flooded the little town with vans and satellite dishes.

“Looks like you have only one other customer,” Maurice said. “You have to be a customer. You don’t have a name badge.”

The loan manager couldn’t help marveling at the robber’s sense of observation. He had noticed that the woman had no nametag pinned to the front of her dress even though she was lying on her stomach on the carpet. He must have noticed this difference when he entered, she thought, and reached this strong, decisive conclusion. And he would have been right to a certain extent. The bank president’s wife didn’t work at the bank. She just loved to be around her loved ones, mainly the Grants and Benjamins.

Maurice helped the bank president’s wife to her feet, a task that took her longer than she would have wanted to admit, and Maurice instructed Mr. Frederickson to lock the outside doors.

“I’m going to count to ten...backwards. Count backwards from ten. The vault, Mr. Frederickson better be open.”

“I can’t do that,” Frederickson said.

“Ten, nine, eight….”

Both Maurice and Mr. Frederickson looked around the room. No one said a word. Only the president’s wife repeated, “No, no, please no.”

“I can’t open the vault,” Mr. Frederickson said, “no matter how much you threaten or how much anyone begs to save this woman’s life.”

“...seven, six, um…. Five.”

No one said anything, except the wife: “No, no, please don’t shoot me.”

“I can’t do that,” Mr. Frederickson said.

“No matter how much anyone begs so that this man might open the vault due to the pressure or saving lives...,” Maurice reminded. “Four...and three….”

The young teller broke her silence and explained as if reading from a manual, “No one can open the vault, sir. Not even if you put a gun to my head.”

The senior teller and the loan officer gasped. The young teller may have been a new hire, but she was a fresh flower in a craggy garden. She seemed only mildly interested in everyone’s gossip and didn’t interrupt their rants with insecurities of her own. The new hire was like an open-mic fan who wasn’t just waiting her turn.

Maurice stepped toward the girl at the counter. The others winced, both audibly and visibly. Even the bank president seemed shocked that his wife had been traded as a hostage so that the new girl had become the new target.

Maurice didn’t even have to put the gun to the young teller’s head before the two least affected women begged the manager to open the vault. They even offered their own money and jewels. The bank president’s wife continued to beg for her own life, even though it didn’t seem to be in any danger at this point.

“I can’t open the vault, no matter what. It opens in two hours. Until then, I can’t”

For the first time, the bank president appeared to be legitimately telling the truth. Maybe this bank was different. Maybe the vault wasn’t jammed open so that it never really closed, as the tellers and the loan officer had remembered.

“Well, sweetheart,” Maurice said to the young teller, “I guess there’s only one way to find out.”

He pointed the gun at the middle of her forehead. The young teller began to cry. The pleading for her life by the others increased. Maurice cocked a round into the chamber, the metallic click-click echoing across the plexiglass screens and the metal desks. The young teller began to cry actual tears. The cries for the teller’s life continued to get louder, louder still, until--

“Wait!” the bank president said. “OK. Look. I can open the vault, but the police will be here within a minute of the opening. If it opens at a different than usual time, the cops get a message, and--”

“Let me worry about that,” Maurice said. “I need that customer and this teller to come with us. The rest of you stay on the ground.”

Inside the vault, several bags remained on a rolling cart from that morning. Maybe twenty.

“All right, girls, we’re going to roll this out the back door to the car,” Maurice said. He’d entered on the street side, but he’d parked in the back in a small lot. “I want both of you to keep both hands on the cart, and….”

Maurice had moved further into the bank and could see that six bags sat on the floor behind a microwave box.

“No, no,” the bank president said. “Those are...different.”

“No, they’re not,” Maurice said. “I’m not dying for a light load.”

“I’d be a lot quieter if those stayed here,” Mr. Frederickson said.

“You’d be totally silent if I shot you.”

They stared at each other until Maurice finally said, “Load three, keep three.”

The bank president wasn’t happy with the new deal, but he, at least, wouldn’t be left empty-handed or empty-headed.

As they left the bank, the young teller was obviously more terrified than the bank president’s wife. You could hear her pitiful young sobs all the way out to the red Oldsmobile 442 convertible when both she and the money were tied up and stuffed in the trunk.

The bank president’s wife waited in the front seat, trying to decide if the straw hat would blow off when Maurice squealed out of the parking lot. Much to her surprise, he didn’t peel out and only pulled out casually. She kissed him on the cheek and started explaining how scared she’d been.

“I thought you were going to really shoot that little girl,” she said. “I guess we’ll drop her off somewhere.”

“I guess,” Maurice said as he stuck the gun under the driver’s seat. He thought he could hear sirens after they’d left the last stop light, headed out of town. The cops were headed the other way, if that’s what he heard, and for Maurice Stevens and Lurene Frederickson, the top was down and life was looking up.


***


“That money I put down on the new house--our new house,” Lurene said, and pulled herself closer to Maurice, “was from the savings account Sam didn’t know I knew about.”

“That’s great!”

“Icing on the cake. Found that last month. Transferred the money to that nice Mexican man.”

Maurice thought about how far outside of town they were at this point. They were much closer to the interstate, he figured, than they were to the bank.

Esta muy bien, señorita,” he said. “Es la casa del mar de tus sueños.”

“Just like that. That’s exactly what he said.”

“So you said.”

“Cheapest, easiest divorce ever,” Lurene Frederickson said.

Maurice checked his side mirror, afraid of being caught, if anything, by the irony, but there was none in sight. “And all it took was a bank robbery,” he said.

The Texas coastal plains stretched infinitely in all directions, the view broken occasionally by obstinate, sparsely populated trees and Interstate 35.

“Do you have your phone?” Maurice asked. “Is it charged?”

“Yes. Do you want me to throw it out so they can’t track us?”

“I don’t recommend that,” Maurice said.

Maurice slowed the car and pulled over, parking just before a shotgun-marked sign that claimed I35 was straight ahead. Maurice believed he could see the ramp crossing the long, straight highway he was currently riding.

“Are we letting that girl out here?” Lurene asked. She didn’t hide well how giddy she was about being a part of the plan. She put her hat on her head to pull all her hair together. They weren’t even in Mexico yet, but she could already smell the ocean beside the villa where she and Maurice would live. She could also imagine vividly the look on her husband’s face when he realized that she had taken money out of savings to make the deposit. Maybe his cut would cover it.

“Angel,” Maurice said as he turned the key in the convertible’s lock to open the truck.

“I’m sorry,” Lurene said.

“That girl. In the trunk. Her name is Angel,” Maurice said. Maurice helped Angel out of the trunk. Lurene noticed that the girl’s hands weren’t tied anymore, but Maurice already had his pistol drawn, so….

“Do you want me to count out her cut?” Lurene asked.

“I got your cut right here,” Angel said, still looking into Maurice’s eyes, “and since when did my name become Angel? Maurice and Angel?”

“It was either that or ‘Billy Joe’ and ‘Bobby Sue,’” Maurice said.

“Angel it is,” she said. Angel tossed Lurene the rubber-banded stack of bills she’d emerged with, a perfect no-look pass before she kissed Maurice. “There’s more in there than we thought,” Angel said, gesturing toward the trunk. “I counted. A lot more.”

They closed the trunk and got in the car. Lurene had caught the money, and seemed to have also caught laryngitis. The wind whipped across the Texas coastal plain, snatching her straw hat from her head, but Lurene just stood beside the road, holding a stack of money.

Angel tried handing Lurene her phone, but Lurene seemed to have gone into an inert coma. Angel set the phone on Lurene’s cut of the money.

“I suggest calling your husband,” Maurice advised. “The police will want to know where you got your cut if you call them, and I’d s’pect you’ll want to take your cut and put it back in that savings account.”

“You’re going to prison,” Lurene forced herself to say.

“If I do, you do,” Maurice said. “Plus, in ten years, I’ll be the age you are now. How old will you be?”

She didn’t answer.

“Thanks,” he said. “Hope you had fun.”

As the convertible transitioned from the on ramp to the interstate, Angel picked at her hair as the breeze blew it into all directions.

“I think I’m going to grow it out to a natural ‘fro,” she said.

“Me too,” Maurice said.

They laughed a little, not as much a natural laugh as a release of pent tension.

 Angel asked, “Do you really think she’ll share her cut?”

“What do I know about money?” Maurice said. He floored the car, shooting out into the empty interstate. “I ain’t no banker.”

Now, they shared natural laughter as they looked out the windshield, south, into their future.

November 20, 2020 01:50

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1 comment

Sim Simas
08:19 Dec 23, 2020

This was fun to read. I can't believe how tricky all of this was. One minute, I thought I had figured out who the bad guys were. Then, there was more to the story. Great job! I can't wait to read more of your work.

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