This story is by John Dungan and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Planning out the day’s shopping list should not have the same urgency as planning out one’s future but this one did. Banana and a Boddingtons beer; bring the shopping bag, mask, gun; take two one-hundred dollar bills, non-sequential from the stack. Today despite everything else was laundry day. It has been three years without incident in this small but popular town in Colorado, however, I still had to respect—and fear— the FBI. Every day you must remind yourself to do what must be done if you do not want to be caught.
I bought a nice ripe yellow banana at the Mountain View. I ate it while on my short walk before going into The Thirsty Frog. My Boddingtons arrived. The bartender smiled over me and the foamy beer as he waited. Keeping the smaller bills I had received from the Mountain View in my wallet, I tossed the other one-hundred dollar bill with a flip of my wrist like I was dealing cards. “I’m only staying for one,” I said. Swinging around on the backless stool I could see the Wells Fargo across the street. It was not my first rodeo but I was nervous. The beer was just the right sedative.
Justice moves slowly but it does move, so you must be patient. When you rob a bank, do it before you are desperate for money. Give it six months until you touch the money. It has been eight years now since my first job. A testimony to the serious cash these bank tellers are holding on to. It is of my opinion that the smaller bills get stuffed into the ATMs. The tellers, on the other hand, are frequented by the type of guys who want cash for the vacation or else a wild weekend on the town and there is nothing sexier than flashing hundred dollar bills. There is a reason why banks do not report how much a hold-up can yield and for my part, I will do the same. It is not my desire that anyone would want to follow my example. I suppose, however, that it would be of no consequence to divulge how my first success was brought about while I slowly finish with my Boddingtons.
It was in Chicago, where I had lived all my life and just turned fifty but I had lost nearly everything in 2008, including my wife and home to an amicable divorce. Maybe it was serendipitous because it gave me the freedom to think unconventionally. I had to think of something because my income was greatly reduced. I was a stock broker. I had maybe six months, at the most, left in my career.
Getting the money out was easy, ridiculously easy. It took fortitude and a plan to get myself in. Just before walking into the Michigan Avenue bank, I put on a mask identical to the one worn by George Peppard in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. I found it in the attic of my colonial-style home. The mask, dusty and cold was left there by the previous owner who produced educational short films. I produced for the teller, a water pistol that looked like a luger seen in World War II movies and a note written in black ink with block letters stating; THIS IS A ROBBERY. PLEASE HAND ME ALL YOUR MONEY. The teller, a slim young lady with her straw-colored hair pulled back into a tight bun, gave me a disconcerting look of shock and then a calm haughty look of disdain. She had kept a sneer on her upper lip as she silently obeyed the note’s demand. Bundle after bundle after bundle was pushed over the counter into my waiting hands. To my surprise, she emptied out four drawers, two of which needed to be unlocked by key and were partially hidden from my view. She aroused in me the expectation of her emptying out her own purse. Her eyes reflected a confidence that I would soon be caught.
Certain the silent alarm had long been tripped I made a sudden exit. Walking along with the flow of holiday shoppers, I occasionally raised my right hand above the crowd like a twig bobbing in a current, in hopes of hailing a taxi. Within a hundred yards of the bank, a taxi pulled over for me and I got in. The driver leaned on his horn immediately. I nearly pissed myself. I felt he could do no more to attract attention toward us than if he had stuck out a six-shooter and shouted out yippie-ki-yay. A single squad car, slow and silent but with its blue lights flashing passed us in the opposite direction. Nearly to the point of asphyxiation, my face reddened as I watched the squad car. Honestly, it was more probable that it was trying to get through the intersection clogged with belligerent city buses than responding to a dispatch. I let out a deep exhilarated breath in response to the driver’s, “Hey buddy, we’re here.” He drove off with a long blast of the horn letting everyone know I had arrived.
I cowered down on a cold bench along the Chicago River. The river walk during the winter is a sanctuary. The pedestrians moved above on the boulevards, ignoring what was happening in the lower realms of the waterway. Without looking up, I carefully dug my hand to the bottom of the green duffle to extract the ten feet of rope buried underneath green turfs of cash. It was the very same rope I held with me in the attic along with dark thoughts of New Year’s day. An annual reminder to when my daughter was struck and killed by a drunk driver. My wife by pure chance had called out for me, partly to see if, “everything was ok” and then ultimately to inform me she had fallen in love with another man. Now the rope was being repurposed. I tied one end of the rope to the handles of the green duffle. The opposite end of the rope was still looped with a slip-knot which I tighten over an old forgotten mooring hitch. The duffle laid by my feet weighted with a red paver I had placed inside. With a backward kick of my right leg, I listen for the splash. Crossing the bridge I made my way to the other side and waited on higher ground. I had only to stand for ten minutes before two detectives along with one uniformed police officer appeared near the bench. Led there by a small and crude GPS device included with one of the bundles of cash, they moved in small circles around the bench. Underneath eight feet of river water my cash was off the grid. Nothing, however, could scrub off the serial numbers. For a while, they each twirled about as if in a tiny ballet. Then one of the detectives sat on the bench, crossed his legs and lighted a cigarette. A conversation began between the other two. The show was over, they had done their job. Several days later, the Sunday morning after Christmas, I retrieved my bounty.
For six months I lived off the fumes of my savings traveling by bus around the Midwest; Indianapolis, Cairo, Champaign, Saint Louis, Omaha. Staying in motels paying with cash only and dipping into the washed out duffle taking out only the lower denominations. I circled back to Chicago to take care of loose ends before eventually settling in Lincoln, Nebraska. For five years I worked part-time as a server at a local brewpub. With the duffle still heavy with a large block of one-hundred dollar bills, I had decided it was time to stop living in fear and make my move to the Rocky Mountains.
Thanks to my work steady work experience at the brewpub I was hired as an Assistant Manger for a fast food restaurant much maligned by the hyper food-conscious citizens of the town. You could say I am almost legitimate, enjoying a life as an Assistant Manger without complaint and no one to complain to. Systematically spending my hundreds I have been laundering my money but now I am down to my last stack of hundreds and nothing to retire on. It’s time.
In response to a generous tip, the bartender cried out after me enthusiastically, “Happy Holidays.”
“Yes and to you as well.”
A sense of serenity and relief entered into me as the door closed behind me. Emotions that sprang from a profound belief I would never have to do this again—never—and confident I could go on the same way as before. Except now, of course, a man at my age must think where he wants to spend his final days. I cannot take any unnecessary chances. This time I have with me, a real gun.