I hate to point the finger at anybody, but Kirby, my bumbling partner in the heist, isn’t cut out for this line of work, or any other kind for that matter. The careful planning and painstaking work on my part went for naught, or worse, because of his lack of business sense. Come to think of it, I have only myself to blame. Kirby is Kirby. I should have known better.
The bank was an old one, built before the brain trusts of big business gave much thought to security except for a guard whose only weapons were a cell phone, steel toed shoes and a gun with no bullets. The vault was older than Adam and had a lock that could be picked with a hairpin. Easy pickings, you say? My thoughts exactly as I first got the idea to pull off the caper. But the best laid plans often go awry.
I should have known things were not going to go well when Kirby showed up dressed in orange pants and a sports coat that could be heard in Duluth.
“Jeez, you’ll be spotted by everyone in town. We’re robbing a bank, not riding the Hallelujah Trail.”
Kirby blinked and shrugged his scrawny shoulders. “I didn’t wear my flashy clothes,” he said, puffing his chest out defiantly. “These are my work duds.”
I let it pass. Maybe it was for the best. Nobody would suspect a man dressed like that was planning a bank robbery.
“Did you get the car?” I said
“Yeah,” he said. “And it’s a beaut! One of them
foreign jobs with mag wheels and chrome pipes.”
I groaned. “Kirby. You are the dumbest meathead that ever walked. Why don’t we send the cops a map of our escape route and save them the trouble of looking for us?”
“Why would we want to do that, Joe?” Kirby scratched his head, puzzled. I was being too subtle for him.
“Forget it,” I said. “I’ll find another car.”
Kirby went into a pout, as he always did when I scolded him. He had his heart set on driving a flashy car. I consoled him by telling him he’d have enough money to buy any car he wanted.
“Really?” He beamed like a Broadway marquee. “Wait’ll I tell Mitzi!”
That was another of Kirby’s faults. He talked too much, and to anyone who would listen. He was as friendly as a puppy, although not half as cute. If truth be told, he was downright ugly.
“No!” I said. “You don’t tell anybody. Especially not Mitzi. If there is anybody on this planet who talks more than you do, it’s Mitzi.”
I was beginning to have second thoughts about the whole caper. Considering what happened, I should have listened to myself. But, optimist that I am, I believed we could pull this caper off in spite of Kirby’s shortcomings. I needed an accomplice, and there was no one other than Kirby whom I could trust.
Optimism is a wonderful trait. Seeing the glass as half full is admirable. But when it comes to robbing banks, optimism is definitely a liability. I hadn’t learned that lesson yet.
The plan to rob this particular bank had been made over a period of time, after careful observation of the employees, customers and security. I had spent three months taking notes, drawing floor plans and generally making sure I had all my ducks in a row. Nothing would be left to chance. No surprises.
Then there was Kirby. “Surprise” could be his middle name.
It was early afternoon on a Wednesday. It was an ideal time. The bank had very few customers, the guard was at lunch, and most of the bank officers were out drinking martinis or whatever it is they do when they are not at their desks disapproving loans or thinking up new ways to cheat their customers. I believe the official term for their activities is “service charge”. In any event, the fewer the better. At most there would be three tellers, one or two loan officers and a safe deposit box guardian. Add to that two or three customers and conditions for a bank robbery are as close to ideal as one could hope. I had found from past experience, (this was not my first caper), that customers and tellers are easily intimidated, not at all prone to resistance. The loan officers would be immobilized by fear.
“Remember what I told you,” I said to Kirby as we got out of the car. We had parked in a fifteen minute zone directly in front of the bank.
“Yeah,” Kirby said.
“OK. Repeat it to me.”
Kirby shrugged. “I stay by the door while you get the dough. Then I throw the tear gas just as we leave.” He looked at me expectantly, a childlike grin on his face.
“Good,” I said. “Now don’t forget it. Let’s go.”
I took a few steps toward the bank door and peered inside. There were three customers at the tellers’ windows. A loan officer sat at a desk by the back window, pretending to be busy. Who knows? Maybe he was.
The only other person visible was a middle-aged man with a paunch and a nose that didn’t fit. He stood by the door looking as though he was waiting for a bus. I realized that this guy was a substitute who filled in for the guard at lunchtime. Probably an insurance requirement. Since the only weapon he carried was a nightstick. I wondered about the intelligence of the insurance company. This guy wouldn’t scare my grandmother. I nudged Kirby. “This’ll be a piece of cake. Keep an eye on the guard.”
Kirby grinned. “Don’t worry, Figgie,” he said, using my nickname. “I got him in my sights.”
That last statement made me a little uneasy, but I let it pass. That was my second mistake of the day, and we hadn’t even gone into the bank yet.
I opened the door to the bank, nodded politely to the guard and stepped over to the counter. Kirby was by the door, or so I thought.
There was one teller who had no customer. She eyed me expectantly, a bright smile on her face. Tellers always smile, even if they had just murdered their spouses. It was a bank requirement. I looked around to see if anyone was paying any attention to Kirby or me. Then I stepped forward and took a note from my pocket. I was about to hand it to the teller when a commotion broke out behind me. Before I had a chance to look around I heard Kirby shouting.
“OK, you landlubbin’ mother hubbards! Don’t nobody move or the guard gets it. This is a holdup!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Truly this couldn’t be happening. We had gone over this a dozen times and Kirby had never given any indication that he was crazy. Oh, a bit of a flake, I admit. And not too bright. But even a total idiot would know better than this.
Everyone in the bank stared at Kirby with varying degrees of fear and surprise. One of the customers, a gray-headed woman, dropped to the floor and put her hands over her head. The account officer disappeared under his desk. All of the tellers froze in the middle of what they were doing and stared open mouthed at Kirby.
I rushed over to my (now) ex-partner.
“Are you out of your mind?” I shouted. “Take that gun away from this man’s head or I’ll break your arm!”
“Hey, Figgie,” Kirby said. “I…”
I cut him off. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know you.”
His mouth dropped open. Before he could say anything more I grabbed his arm, twisted it until he let go of the gun, and kicked it across the room.
By now the account officer had come out from behind his desk. He ran over and picked up the gun. Holding it between his fingers as though it were a snake, he looked at me helplessly.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s not loaded.”
The officer looked blankly at the gun, then at me. I realized as soon as I said it that I had made a gigantic booboo. How would I know the gun wasn’t loaded? Come to think of it, maybe it was. Kirby wasn’t good at most things, but he was capable of doing something stupid, like carrying a loaded gun into a bank.
The substitute guard, his face the color of wet cement, retreated to the back of the room. So much for security.
Sirens wailed in the distance, growing louder, until three squad cars pulled up in front of the bank. One of the tellers must have pushed the button to alert them. In a matter of seconds, six policemen, guns drawn, rushed through the door of the bank.
“Police!” One of them shouted, just in case we had any doubts. I shoved Kirby toward the nearest cop.
“Here’s your man,” I said.
The policeman looked from me to Kirby and back again, not knowing who was whom or what he should do next. Kirby was looking at me as if I had two heads. The pitiful look in his eyes would have made me feel sorry for him under normal conditions. But needless to say, the conditions at the moment were not normal.
“He tried to hold up the bank,” I explained to the police officer. “Luckily I was able to get the gun away from him.” I glared at the guard. “This buffoon has no right pretending to be a guard.”
One of the other officers stepped forward as the first one was putting cuffs on Kirby.
“What is your name?” he asked.
I was about to tell him when Kirby interrupted.
“It’s Joe,” Kirby yelled as he was being led away “Joe Burns.”
“You know this man?” the cop asked, his eyes narrowing with suspicion. “What’s going on here?”
“I’ve seen him around town,” I said, which in itself was not a lie. “He’s a small time hood. But I don’t know anything more than that.”
“A lie!” Kirby shouted. “Me and him were goin’ to rob the bank.”
“He’s lying,” I said. “He’s a desperate man caught in the act of a felony, and looking for someone to share in his disgraceful conduct.”
I could tell by the look on the cop’s face that he didn’t believe a word I was saying. Whatever happened to the dumb cop on the beat? Let’s face it, crime is not nearly as easy these days.
“Officer,” I said in one last desperate attempt to extricate myself from an untenable situation. “I am a law abiding citizen who just happened to be in this bank when this hoodlum tried to rob it. By intervening in the interest of justice, I am now being regarded as a participant in this crime. It’s not fair. Don’t listen to this man. He’ll say anything to save himself.”
It didn’t work. I suppose if I were in the officer’s shoes I wouldn’t believe me either.
“Let’s take a trip to Headquarters,” the cop said. How trite! He must have watched too many Humphrey Bogart movies. One of the other cops stepped forward, produced a set of handcuffs and snapped them on my wrists. I protested—loudly as I recall—to no avail. Kirby was put in one squad car and I in another.
At headquarters, Kirby and I were booked, frisked, stripped of all our worldly possessions, and placed in separate rooms. That was indeed unsettling. If Kirby were with me, I could keep an eye on him and just possibly keep him from saying anything stupid. That wasn’t too likely, I admit. But at least I would know what he was saying. As it was I could only imagine what he was telling them. And what I imagined did not exactly warm the cockles of my heart—or any other part of my body.
If ever I needed my ingenuity to get me out of a tight situation, now was the time. And, while I may have not stood out academically—my GPA was 1.5—I nevertheless possessed a keen imagination that could get me in and out of trouble with equal ease.
“Officer,” I said in a voice intended to convey obeisance, or whatever it is that would make me appear contrite and—more importantly—innocent. “I helped prevent a bank robbery. I am a hero in a manner of speaking. Why am I being held? What have I done?”
No answer. The officer, a beefy man with a face that needed ironing was writing in a notebook. After what seemed an eternity, he pulled a recorder from his pocket, placed it on the table and leaned forward.
“Today is March 24th, 2007. My name is Fred Patrick, a captain on the Regalville Police Force. I am interrogating a suspect in a bank robbery.” He looked at me.
I considered the question, saw no harm in answering it. Kirby had already provided that tidbit of information at the bank.
“Twenty-seven,” I said. “And four months.”
That question posed a problem. I was currently unemployed unless one considered bank robbing an occupation. I shrugged.
“Occupation?” Patrick said again.
“I want my lawyer.”
Patrick leaned back, a trace of a smile on his lips.
“You need a lawyer to answer a simple question like that?”
“I’m entitled to a lawyer. I know my rights.”
Patrick turned the recorder off, stood up and crossed to the window. “You have the right. But if you cooperate and answer a few questions you can be out of here before a lawyer could get here.” With his back still to me, he added, “Unless, of course, you were involved in this heist. Then I would suggest you get your lawyer.” He chuckled and threw me a look. “Which will it be?”
“That’s my only two choices?”
“You have other ones?”
He had me there. By calling for a lawyer I was telling the cops I was guilty. That didn’t seem fair. I decided to wing it. After all, I didn’t have a personal lawyer and could not afford one. A good lawyer would cost more than my annual income, (which at the moment was less than the price of a bleacher seat at Yankee Stadium). I was between a rock and the proverbial hard place.
“Self employed,” I muttered.
“Come again?” Patrick said.
“I’m between jobs.”
“What were you doing in the bank?”
“I was just in the bank. Is that against the law?”
“It is if you’re there to rob it,” Beefy snarled.
“I told you. I was an innocent bystander. When this guy started yelling, I instinctively grabbed the gun. And this is the thanks I get.”
“Admirable,” Beefy said. The tone of his voice made the word anything but admirable.
“Look,” I said. “You guys took everything away from me when you arrested me. There wasn’t any gun. There was nothing to make you think I would be robbing a bank.” I sat up straight, a look of righteous indignation on my face. “I demand to be released. Immediately.”
Beefy grinned, or appeared to grin. It could have been indigestion. Slowly, he leaned forward, took a piece of paper from the file folder in front of him and placed it on the table. I glanced at it, then stiffened.
A holdup note! In my handwriting! I had forgotten all about it when I was arrested. So far, the day hadn’t gone very well for me.
“I can explain,” I said.
“Explain?” Beefy grunted, sat back and turned the recorder back on. “Go ahead. This I gotta hear.”
What did he want to hear? My “explanation”? Come to think of it, so did I. A good convincing explanation of a note demanding money from a bank I was in at the time—and in my handwriting—would be indeed interesting. I wish I had one.
I stood up, indignation on my face. “I don’t have to answer any more questions,” I said. “I know my rights.”
Beefy held up a hand. “Call your lawyer,” he said. He indicated a phone on the wall by the door.
I considered that. The only lawyer I knew was Stumpy McGraw, a shyster who specialized in plea bargains, police payoffs and bribes. Stumpy was inches away from disbarment, and the only reason he had not been thrown out of the legal profession was that a few crooked judges were profiting from his bribes.
And he was incompetent. Most of his clients ended up serving time. Of course, most—if not all—of his clients were guilty. I took small consolation in this.
Stumpy hung around the bar where the two-bit hoods congregated, passing out business cards and generally making a pest of himself. I hung around the same bar, which makes me a two-bit hood, I suppose.
I reached for my wallet where I kept Stumpy’s card. Then, realizing that the city had impounded it when they brought me down here, I frowned at Beefy.
“I need my wallet to call my lawyer.”
“The call is free.”
“I need his phone number.”
Beefy rubbed a hand over his fleshy face and grunted.
“What’s the name?” he asked.
“Ha!” Beefy exploded. He sat back and laughed some more.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
Beefy coughed up another laugh and pointed at me.
“You might as well represent yourself,” he said. “Either way you’ll be serving time. Why pay that shyster to do what you can do yourself?” He laughed again, harder, wiped a tear from his eye and clapped a hand on the table. “Five hundred dollars a day, plus expenses.”
“What expenses?” I asked.
Beefy squinted at me with amusement all over his face. “Among other things, a small bribe to the right judge will get a few months off your sentence.” He shrugged. “That’s a minimum of two thousand dollars. Hey, you’re better off serving the time. In your case, two thousand is more money than you make in six months.”
He had a point. Still, the thought of going to jail was not a happy one. I might be able to work out a fee with Stumpy. If I gave him nothing it would be exactly what he was worth.
“I don’t care,” I said. “I have the right to call a lawyer.”
Beefy nodded curtly. “Suit yourself.” He pulled a card from his shirt pocket and slid it across the table. It was Stumpy’s business card.
“Passes them out like peanuts down here at the station,” Beefy said in way of explanation. “Sort of like planting seeds. Maybe a few of them will grow.”
I took the card and started for the phone. Before I could pick it up, the door opened and a policeman I recognized from this morning strode into the room. He glanced at me, sat down next to Beefy and muttered a few inaudible words. Beefy looked at me, grinned, and waved the policeman away. I was, naturally, curious.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
“Your partner in crime,” Beefy said.
“What partner? What crime?” I tried to sound confused, which in a way I was. Of course I knew who and what he was talking about, but it wouldn’t help my case to admit it.
“Kirby Manor,” Beefy said. “Bank robbery.”
“Kirby Manor?” I knitted my brow. “You mean the guy in the bank with the gun? What about him?”
“He has a great singing voice. Just like a canary.”
I swallowed hard, hoping my nervousness didn’t show. If it did, Beefy didn’t seem to notice.
“So he confessed?” I said. “Good. Now you can let me go.”
“Uh uh,” Beefy said.
“You got your man,” I said. “And there’s no way he
could implicate me. I hardly know the man.”
“Well, he knows you. Quite well, I would say. He knows where you live, what kind of car you drive, who your latest sugar baby is.” Beefy showed his oversized stained teeth in a bad cop grin.
I was sunk. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to come to that conclusion. Perry Mason couldn’t help me. So why should I worry about getting a lawyer, especially Stumpy? I could throw myself on the mercy of the court and spend the next six months as a guest of the state. It wouldn’t be the first time. I had nothing on the agenda for the near future, except for another bank heist. After today’s disaster, I was having second thoughts about that as well. I resigned myself to my fate. At least my room and board was free.
I looked to Beefy, who was sitting like a giant bullfrog on a stool two sizes too small.
“What’s the maximum for attempted bank robbery?” I said.
“Are you confessing?” Beefy asked.
“Just asking,” I said.
Beefy hooked his thumbs in his belt, leaned back and studied me like I was a lab specimen.
“Six months for first offenders, I would say. Nine or so for repeaters.” He smirked. “Repeaters. That’s you, my friend.”
“I have never been convicted of robbing a bank,” I said indignantly.
“Liquor store,” Beefy said, referring to the notes in front of him. “Same thing.”
Nine months. I thought about it. If I pled guilty and saved the state the expense and effort of a trial, I may be able to get it reduced to six. I could do that standing on my head. Besides, what choice did I have? I was caught red-handed. My lame-brained partner was spilling his guts. And the holdup note in my handwriting was not easily explained. (A class project, perhaps? From the Hartford School Of Crime?)
“Do you think…”
Beefy held up a hand. “I ain’t a judge.”
“OK,” I said. “Let’s get this over with.”
Beefy grunted, turned on the recorder, and sat back.
* * * *
The judge was a grumpy old woman with a definite bias against people like me. It showed in her eyes. To make matters worse, her daughter was a bank teller, and she didn’t like bank robbers. I put on my best face, hung my head at the proper times, and said what I thought she wanted to hear. I even evoked my mother’s name, hoping her own motherly instincts would take over.
“One year,” she growled, thumping the gavel down with a bang that could be heard in the next county.
My lawyer, a public defender who was even more incompetent than Stumpy, pleaded for a reduction, citing my exemplary record. Wrong approach. The judge glowered at him until I thought I saw flames coming out of her eyes.
“Mister Holman,” she said, “if I considered Mister Burn’s ‘exemplary record’, I would give him two years. Unfortunately, one year is the maximum in this case.”
She thumped the gavel again, motioned for the bailiff to remove me from her presence, and called for the next case before I could say anything in my own defense.
One year. I hadn’t planned on that. Well, it wasn’t the end of the world. I guess it was no worse than what the draftees faced back when the draft was still in force. Most of those guys did a two-year stretch under conditions not much better than jail.
I consoled myself with that thought. I sweetened my thoughts by imagining being away from Kirby and his incessant prattle about cars and booze and, most importantly, Mitzi. This alone made me look forward to serving my time.
Fate can be a cruel lover. In my case, Fate was just plain sadistic. I was transported to the county jail, given a number and furnished with an orange jumpsuit. An old guard, grizzled and jaundiced by too many years in his chosen profession, led me down the hall to the cell that I would call home for the next twelve months, (ten with good behavior).
I was ushered into my cell, a six by ten foot cubicle with a bunk bed. I dropped onto the lower bunk, put my head in my hands and stared at the floor.
I jumped at the sound. Kirby! Lifting my head slowly, I looked at the figure on the top bunk. Then, with a groan that Frankenstein’s monster would envy, I sunk back down on my cot.
Kirby was my cellmate!
“Ain’t this great?” I heard Kirby say through my tumbling thoughts. “Me and you together. Y’know, Mitzi was sayin’ to me just the other day…”
One year! Eight thousand seven-hundred and sixty hours!
“Yeah,” Kirby was saying, “Me and Mitzi are goin’ to Mexico when I get out. She knows people down there…”
I looked at my watch. Eight thousand seven-hundred and fifty-nine.