Crime Suspense Fiction

Seventy miles east-northeast of Dallas stands the quiet little city of Marshall, Texas. Marshall is full of squat three and four-story office buildings where grey dust from the prairie swirls about, everything cooking under a fiery East Texas sun. Not much happens in Marshall in the way of commerce, ‘cepting the lumber harvested in them famous piney woods and the gushing oil wells that sprout like porcupine quills around them parts. And every Friday, the First National Bank of Marshall, the biggest bank in town, receives an armored truckload of cash from the Federal Reserve in Dallas to meet the local payrolls for those hard-working roustabouts and loggers.

“Wild Bill” Estes had been studying the Friday delivery for several weeks now.

Fifteen minutes after the Brink’s armored car from Dallas had departed down Grand Avenue, the seven tellers and five officers of the First National began their weekly counting out of the cash. At the same time on this last Friday of September, into the bank strolled three raw-boned, lanky fellas, looking like they were swaggering into a saloon. They were James Doolittle, late of the medium-security prison down in Lumberville, “Snake” O’Connor, a Muskogee from up in Oklahoma, and Wild Bill Estes.

The bankers barely looked up from their count until the three men presented their particulars to the bankers in the form of two six-shot Colts and an old army forty-five. These pieces of blue steel so impressed the twelve bankers that they stopped counting and started reaching for the sky, or at least the ceiling.

Estes, who was obviously in charge of the marauders, barked his orders at the oldest, baldest, roundest banker, whom the desperadoes correctly assumed to be the manager, Fortnum Beaufort. The bankers began to again bag up the recently delivered bills. Scorning any other cash on hand, and in favor of the quick getaway, the robbers grabbed the re-stuffed canvas bags and headed for the door.

 “Everybody down,” yelled Doolittle as they left. Emphasizing their desire that the authorities not be contacted in any manner, Snake reversed the handle of his gun and laid a gentle pistol-whipping on Mr. Beaufort. The robbers proceeded to vacate the premises.

Holding their guns in one hand and as many canvas bags as they could carry in the other, they burst out of the bank as if all three thousand Texas Rangers were right behind them. James, Snake and Wild Bill had just pulled off the biggest bank robbery East Texas had ever seen, scoring three-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars. Stuffing the bags into the waiting pea-green ’68 Impala, they quickly piled in on top. Wild Bill drove them out of town on a preplanned route that took them back down Grand Avenue. As they passed the bank on the way to the county highway, a foolish head poked out. Doolittle unloaded a clip from the forty-five, shattering the bank’s glass front doors.

Over at the Cowtown Diner, the shots and tinkling glass attracted the attention of Deputy Walter Grimes, who was pissed that his grits and coffee were fixin’ to be interrupted by all the ruckus. The other patrons turned to look at the man in uniform sitting at the counter to see his response. He dropped his spoon in the grits, took a swig of the lukewarm coffee, and slid off the stool.

Loping outside, Deputy Grimes squeezed off all six shots from his Colt Python into the fleeing Impala. He proceeded to prove his academy shooting instructor mostly correct; five of his six shots missed the fleeing vehicle, however, one managed to make a neat little hole in the back of James Doolittle’s head. The hole on the front side was not fit for discussion.

Four miles further on, the robbers arrived at a black ’79 Trans Am in the Winn Dixie parking lot. Snake and Wild Bill jumped out of the stolen Impala, transferring themselves, the cash, and the guns to the Pontiac.

“We just gonna leave him there like that?” asked Snake.

“He ain’t going nowhere ever again,” was the reply.

After two-hours driving designed to attract a minimum of attention, mostly in silence as they looked about for pursuers, they made it to a parking garage in downtown Texarkana. Bill yanked the parking ticket from the machine, and they proceeded up to the top level where they were the only vehicle.

Bill summed up their situation for Snake. He figured they had a couple of hours before the Rangers and the Fibbies would be after them.

“You’re a crafty son of a bitch,” chortled Snake joyfully. “Instead of having to split the loot three ways, now we only got to divide it in two!”

“What are we going to do for a vehicle for you, Snake? We got to split up. They’ll be looking for the two of us after they find Doolittle. I reckon we got about a two-hour head start.”

“I guess I’ll just stick with you, the Trans Am and the money,” answered the easy-going Snake. “Later, we’ll relieve some citizen of their vehicle. By god, we made a good haul, didn’t we? I figure at least a hundred grand a piece!”

“That’s sorta what I expected you to say,” said Wild Bill, gazing out over the scrubby buildings of downtown Texarkana. He looked down at the hood of the Trans Am, then back at Snake.

“They’s really going to be looking for two of us,” Wild Bill again said slowly. “I really think we need to split up.”

“So do I,” said Snake, “but it can’t be helped. I don’t got a car yet, and they don’t know about the Trans Am. It’ll get us to our next opportunity. Damn it, Bill, I can’t get to figuring how a smart easterner made it down here to East Texas to give us locals a lesson in how to rob banks. Where you from again?” Snake spit out the open window for emphasis.

“Cortland, New York,” said Wild Bill, looking far across the city, further beyond to the unseen prairie, and finally towards the town in Nebraska where the girl was waiting. She would wait forever.

“I was born there, went to high school and some college there, too. It was an accident me coming out here. I was driving my old Dodge Cornet, making for New York City. I was fixin’ to go there and make lots of money. I was driving south on I81 when I came to a fork, the one at Route 17, and I didn’t know which one to take. One way went to New York City, the other to the West. I had to think quick at seventy, so I took the left one. Somehow, I wound up here. I always wondered how things woulda turned out if I’d taken the other one.”

“I reckon you’d have ended up about the same,” responded Snake philosophically. “It ain’t the roads we take; it’s our innards that make us do what we do.”

They got out of the Trans Am to stretch. Texarkana was a twin for Marshall; just as squat and dusty. Was all East Texas like this? wondered Bill. “I’d be a good deal happier if we split up,” said Bill again, picking a small piece of Doolittle’s remains from his vest. He flicked it over the edge into space.

Snake spat over the side and watched it drop the four-stories. He was growing tired of this line of reasoning. When he turned and looked over the top of the car roof, he found he was staring into the round dark muzzle of a Colt six-shooter.

“Cut the shit, Bill. We gotta get going.”

“We ain’t going nowhere together,” replied Bill. “I already done told you that. We’re splitting up.”

“We’s partners. Don’t do nothing you’ll regret,” whined Snake.

“I feel pretty bad about this,” replied Bill, as he squeezed the trigger twice and blew Snake O’Connor backwards across two parking slots. The shots echoed repeatedly around the concrete parking garage while a whiff of cordite hung in the stifling air.

As the shots’ reverbs faded away, the Trans Am descended the ramp and roared out towards I30. Soon Bill was motoring west on the wide interstate, the T-Tops off, a Steppenwolf cassette playing at full volume. The sky was so blue, and Bill felt the afternoon’s heat radiated up from the landscape…

Slowly, like a dissolve in the movies, his bucket seat became a leather desk chair, the steering wheel a computer mouse gripped in his hand, and the rock and roll tape a ringing phone. The wide-open view of the Texas prairie became a vista of Wall Street office buildings from thirty stories up. The South Street Seaport was visible out the corner of his window.

He blinked a couple of times, then answered his phone. “Bill Estes.”

“Mr. Estes, Mr. O’Connor is here to see you,” his assistant outside his office explained. He could see her blurry shape through the sand-blasted glass office door. “Mr. Estes?”

“Sorry, Ms. Cardoza, I was distracted. Who did you say it was?”

Ms. Cardoza, his assistant over the last fifteen years, paused. She knew almost as much about the firm’s deals as Bill. “Mr. O’Connor, you know, he owes Estes & Folderbrook over twenty million on that oil trade for delivery at the Marshall, Texas storage facility. Sir, we know he can’t pay. He must be here to ask for some forgiveness on the payment schedule. The monthly fee on the missed payment is three-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars.”

Bill paused for a moment. “Did you know that Mr. O’Connor is an old friend of mine, Ms. Cardoza?”

“Yes, Sir, I know you were in business together at one time.”

Ms. Cardoza would not have recognized the cold, determined expression on the face of the man seated at the desk. “Well, Mr. O’Connor pays, or we put him into bankruptcy.”

Bill paused and added softly. “It’s time him and me split up.”

November 13, 2020 18:01

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