This story is by Sara Huggins and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The gun feels heavy in my hand. But Shorty won’t let me put it down. The girls would run, leaving us trapped in here with the cops outside and no leverage. It’s Shorty’s gun. At least, he decided it was. He decided he owned me, too, and at first I didn’t mind. We met one lazy summer before sophomore year. Mama didn’t like the look of him. She begged me to find different friends. I tried halfheartedly, but Shorty had other plans. He promised easy money. I couldn’t shake him off.
Now I’m stuck in a bank holding his gun on two innocent girls.
I nervously shift the pistol from hand to hand. My thoughts follow. Right hand, I should never have agreed to anything Shorty said. Left hand, he’s scary; it’s best not to cross him. Right hand, I should have listened to Mama. Left hand, she hates all my friends. How could I know she was right about him? Right hand, she had good reasons to be suspicious. Left hand, can’t argue with that…
I wasn’t even supposed to do any stealing. Justin had the ATM all set up. Ready for the final blow. He needed 7 minutes. Shorty had it all planned. My job was to direct early morning foot traffic away with a phony gas leak. Easy. My usual card trick con lasts 22 minutes, the crowd’s eyes tracking me, oblivious to my pickpocket friends. Everything was great for 5 minutes. I turned at the sudden approach of clicking heels and froze. A curly haired woman I’ve seen before, but where? Her eyes met mine and she smiled. Beautiful. I hesitated, and caught up with reality too late. Her slender friend nearly dropped her bank keys as she took in the scene. Realization hit, and she screamed. Across the street, onlookers frantically pulled out their phones. Shorty panicked, shoved a gun in my hand and rushed us all into the bank. The piercing sirens arrived as we hurriedly tied up the girls.
Running would have been smarter. Live to rob another day. But Shorty is impulsive. His world is at his beck and call, and he expects absolute compliance.
I saw something on TV about Stockholm syndrome, where pretty girls fall in love with their captors. Maybe that can be me, and the girls can vouch for me in court. Reduce my sentence. I try to muster a sympathetic look, but it’s hard to do in the panic.
“Wipe that look off your face. What’s the matter with you?” Shorty’s temper flares.
“What’s your name?” I ask the familiar girl, my voice cracking with stress.
“Come on, Johnny, don’t you recognize me?” I can’t shake her gaze.
Shorty’s face is purple. “I said shut UP! Everybody! What do you need to know her name for? Nothing, you hear? Don’t talk. Nobody talk! Just let me think!”
Shorty has been thinking for 6 hours now…
“I gotta pee!” Justin says. I almost laugh, but don’t.
“There’s a bathroom in back,” the friend mumbles. But we hear her. We hear every breath.
“Thank you kindly,” and Justin swaggers off, completely at ease.
The phone rings. Shorty goes off to answer, intending to be difficult and cryptic.
I take my chance.
“I’m sorry, I still don’t remember…”
“Johnny, come on. It’s Becky. Put the gun down.” Her pleading eyes lock with mine, and I am filled with gut-wrenching shame. Memories rise unbidden to the surface. Toddler memories. Daddy spinning me around. Mama squeezing me so tight that it hurt and felt good all at the same time. The crusty old teacher that kept me from recess. Loosing my lunch money to bullies. Then Junior High, and Becky. Wild curly hair and that confident smile. Me sitting behind her in class, reaching slowly to straighten one of those curls and watch it bounce back, waiting to see how long before she noticed. She used to smile at me. Then she stopped. About the same time I met Shorty. High School. Shorty and me, we’d laugh about the dumbest things. We skipped class. I have regrets. Should have asked Daddy to stay. Should have told Mama I loved her. Should have spent more time drawing, or started at the community college like Mama wanted. Should have listened. But I went around with Shorty instead. Look where that got me.
Shorty returns, interrupting our reunion. He fidgets with his gun, grimacing as he comes to a conclusion.
“She distracted you and you lost your head. This,” gesturing broadly with the weapon, “is your doing. What happens next is on you,” he growls low, dangerous.
I gotta get out. Save the girls if I can.
The phone rings again. Shorty strides across the room to answer it. I try to get Justin’s attention.
“Ow! That’s my foot, you dope!”
“We gotta get out of here,” I whisper, “before they come in blazing. We’ll sneak out the back and run. My uncle lives not two blocks from here. We’ll hide there until it blows over, then snake our way out of town.”
He laughs. “They’ve got us surrounded by now. No, just wait until Shorty comes back. He’s gotten me outta many a scrape before. He’ll get me outta this one.”
“We’re all going to die.”
“No, we won’t. That’s what we got these two pretty girls here for.”
He smiles his stupid grin at them.
“Well jail, then! The longer we hold them here, the longer we’ll be in prison.”
“If you’re lucky,” Becky interrupts, “you guys will rot in prison. It would be better to turn yourselves in now. Beats being dead.” Her voice is steady. She knows I won’t use that gun. Shorty might, but she’s the type to survive out of spite. Not me. My best weapon remains misdirection. If I could make it look like he shot me, then sneak out the roof… but the place is surrounded. Wouldn’t make it to the parking lot.
I want to explain to Becky. Apologize. But Shorty impatiently waves me over. “Cops again. You talk while I appraise the situation. Don’t say nothin’. Keep them talking until I come back. Use your ‘gift’. Maybe you can redeem yourself. A little.”
Shaking, I pick up the phone. “Yeah?”
“Where’s your friend?” The voice of Authority is calm.
“The little boys’ room.” I’m smirking, I feel clever.
“And who am I speaking with now?”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m not important.”
Pause. “Not important?”
I sigh. “Yeah, I’m not the important one. I don’t call the shots. I only do as I’m told.” Maybe this will keep us talking in circles.
“It sounds like you wish things were different.”
“Of course I wish things were different. We were never supposed to even set foot in the bank and now we’ve got these girls involved…” Somehow this guy has me spilling my guts. Shorty would shoot me now if he found out.
“It sounds like things are not going as you wish.”
I scoff. “That’s an understatement. I wish this never happened. I wish I was back home…”
“It sounds like you wish this was over.” His voice is soft, soothing. It’s a trick to get my confidence. I give in anyway.
“I do. I wish this was over.”
“So do we. We just want to get everyone out safely.”
“That’s never going to happen!” I scream, then glance, afraid, at Shorty. He gives me a thumbs up from across the room.
“It can happen. It’s what everyone wants. We promise to keep you safe when you come out. We will all hold fire.”
“Shorty won’t like that. He doesn’t think you’ll keep your promise.” My voice is a whisper. Shorty is pacing like a caged animal on the other side of the bank. He can’t hear me conspire.
“Do you want to come out first?” Pause. Then, more authoritatively, “I promise you will be safe if you come out first. We have kept all our promises so far, and we will keep this one.”
I do. I want to get out so bad it hurts. “Okay.” I mutter, a breath.
“Okay. Come out unarmed, with your hands on your head. No one will hurt you.”
I drop the phone and the gun. I walk, in a haze, past the girls we tied up like bank pens. Shorty looks up. I see faces. Mama. Then Daddy. Every schoolteacher. Every friend I played hooky with. I glimpse a future of possibilities. Community college. Making something of myself. Now another future. A prison cell. Or getting away clean, but blowing the money. Doing it again. I’d be in prison eventually. Maybe I could get to Canada. Start over.
It flashes by in an instant. Reaching the door, I slowly push it open. Shorty shouts, but I don’t look back. A violent crack shatters my reverie. I struggle out, hands glued to my head. Warm sunshine dances across my eyes and I stumble, alone, into the light.