Robbing is hard, but bank robbing school is harder. That’s because the difference between learning and doing is the difference between the rigid spin on the weather vane and a tree full of branches bent by wind. Over one hundred wanna be robbers started with our class and now it’s down to the top three: me, Willie, and Samantha. Traditionally, there has never been more than two and even that raises eyebrows from the old timers. Tradition, discipline and timing are gold standard school values that have been drilled into us from day one.
My dad ran a small grocery. He handled money well, had fast reflexes and even when Pine Street flooded, he had the discipline to go to work. He died of a heart attack at age forty-five, leaving me the bread-winner. So, that’s my story. Willie is as ambitious as he is lazy. He seems to think his name alone will ensure his place (and yes, he is related to that Willie) as if names were just announced their contents. He’d say, “Alan, hmmm. Now there’s a bank robber name!” Samantha surprised everyone because no girl has gotten to finals before. But I doubt she surprised herself. She knows her skills, accepts them like gifts they are. And, yes, works harder than a dozen dudes. I am in love with her, though I judge my chances as hovering around eight percent, with a three percent margin of error. We learn this in bank robbing school—life is composed of percentages and margins. To get here we had to be good at math, in top physical condition, whip smart and deeply imaginative. That imagination module alone knocked out about half the class. Money grubbers fall off in that first-year final like a herd of sheep on a cliff.
Willie claims you also have to be “devastatingly handsome.” He enjoys teasing me about that since I am a little insecure. Still, my black tee is logo-free (harder to identify) and my sneakers are pristine. I know very well I look like someone who belongs in white-collar. But sitting in front of a screen, scamming old people? Where is the romance, the skill, the tradition in that? That’s for types like Brooks. He hasn’t even graduated but already cornered his first million. The school likes to trot him out, like some prize pony. I’m aware he’s got his sights set on Samantha. He seems to think if a white-collar married a robber, they could rule the world. But who would want to live in that world? That’s my question.
Last night the three of us moved into the Hotel Across the Street. They had to scramble to get a room for Samantha because there were no female accommodations. The sight of her, standing there with her beat up leather saddle bags, her thick black, hair in a neat rope of a braid took my breath away. She’s as beautiful as a painting and as complicated as a lock. She doesn’t talk a lot, but if you’ve ever had the great good fortune to hear her laugh, your heart would be a quivering chalice of jelly. Willie tried to pick up one of her bags and next thing you know he was face planted. Yes, she has a black belt. He sat there, grinning. Then all shenanigans were put aside as we advanced to practicum before the real thing.
Like everyone I had been in First National many times. All students are required to do a minimum of two units of Simulation posing as tellers, regular people trying to make a deposit, guards. They do mess with you. I remember someone in my freshman class was handed a baby and a service dog. They appeared to be toast but everyone who didn’t help them were the ones who got docked. That was the actual test (which I had figured out) because bank robbing requires loyalty and a tight crew. Willie, Samantha and me understood that from day one. Whatever our personal issues, we put them aside for the greater good. We would practice at night, long after the others had shut their books, or were out on the town partying. The three of us learned to react like one person.
There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance at the simulated First National like touching the bank seal (Willie, that idiot, gave it a high five) and taking the fewest possible steps to the counter. But I was so concentrated on my moves that I hardy remember a thing. Crouching with Samantha under the counter, it was strangely calm, even peaceful. I almost blurted out my love but thank god training took over. Still, it was an incredible feeling. If you think “thief heart” is not a thing, you know nothing about the high of bank robbing.
But as we ran around the corner with our pretend loot, there stood Brooks. Was he a plant by the administration? Or was he acting on his own? I looked to Willie for help, but he played it cool. “Come to watch the masters at work?” he said, securing our take in a cardboard box marked as medical waste (Samantha’s touch) and tossing the keys at me.
“Nice getaway,” he sneered at me. “I’d certainly want to get away from it.”
“It’s called a drive-away, Brooks,” I said, sliding into the driver’s seat. “And if it was a nice car, why would we just leave it?”
“Don’t give him the time of day,” said Willie. “He doesn’t even have a license. Never gonna take us girls for a spin on a moonlit night.”
Brook’s face turned bright red.
“Catch you on the flip side, shrimp. Oh wait, there is no flip side. Because what idiot robs a physical bank anymore when all the real money is in manipulated markets via AI. They gonna to throw an AI in jail? I doubt it.”
Samantha slammed the trunk and started to get in the car.
“As for you, sweetheart, who do you think is going down in finals—the one who represents tradition or the one who represents change? They’re going to make an example of you and save themselves the trouble of adding another bathroom. You’ll look great walking away in cuffs and the patriarchy will live to rule another day.”
Samantha took another step closer.
“You’re making it about heroics and emotions, which is typical of a girl. For real men, it’s all about the take. Just don’t forget that, as you rot away in jail without your…” and he made a cutting motion, as if he was cutting off a braid.
She sprang and Willie caught her. “It’s not worth it,” he said, “It’s a trap.” She wriggled in his arms and all I could think about was: damn, why didn’t I catch her? If the whole point of Brook’s appearance was to shake us up, it was really working.
That night none of us slept a wink. I thought about a lot of things. My first days as a freshman, a geek no one would deign to even sit next to at the luncheonette. And the day I came up with the plan and Willie strolling around the corner, pulling the roller bag with Samantha in it. The look on the council faces was something I’ll never forget.
Then, in a rush, there we were in front of a real bank. This was no practicum. Our teachers weren’t there to help us now. It was our bank to rob.
Everything went like a dream. I had never felt so graceful. Willie was as quick as lightning and he even shut up, for once. Samantha looked like a queen, eyes shining under the mask. There was a heart stopping moment when the roll looked like it wasn’t going to tumble but when we heard that click we resisted cheering like amateurs and just gave a hand sign we had worked out at the beginning of the year. The thick door swung open. And for a moment, I thought wow, who put a mirror in here? But it was just shining, empty walls. The gleaming walls of an entirely cleaned out vault.
I felt myself turning in slow-motion; I might even have screamed. I saw the guard (where on earth did she come from?) advancing on Willie, gun drawn. I watched Willie watch a stream of red run through his fingers. It didn’t make any sense—I never even heard the shot. He stumbled, looked at me, I threw the keys and he ran. But it all came at a cost, because while my back was turned there was Samantha’s limp body being dragged away as guards poured in from every side.
That’s when I grabbed you. I’m sorry you got pulled into all this, but we never know what life will hand us. Here we sit, while newscasters mill around outside, ironically enough right here on Pine Street where my dad fought his way through flooded streets to get to work. Want to hear an even greater irony? The one class I almost failed was Notes. Mine were deemed too short and confusing. Some were missing essential elements like the actual instructions of what to put in the bag. But I want you to know I’m wrote this one with all my heart, everything here is true. I want you to know somewhere, somehow Willie will find a clinic that doesn’t ask too many questions. Samantha can crawl her way out of anywhere. They are survivors. Maybe Brook will get his, maybe he will not. As for me, I chose this life when I took that first step, my first day. I abhor all violence. I will never give up on my dreams.
Merridawn Duckler is a writer from Portland, Oregon and the author of INTERSTATE, Dancing Girl Press. Her fiction has appeared in Main Street Rag, Green Mountains Review, Buckman Journal, with recent flash in Airgonaut, Forklift, Medusa’s Laugh Press and The Southampton Review. She was a finalist for the Sozopol Fiction Fellowship and named to the Wigleaf Top 50. Residencies/fellowships include Yaddo, Vermont Post Graduate Conference, Sundress, others. She’s an editor at Narrative, and the international philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics.
Show Merridawn some love via PayPal at mduckler(at)sprintmail(dot)com.