He needed some cash. He needed it fast. He had found her. The girl of his dreams. He wanted to marry her, and he didn’t want to wait.
He was a good-looking lad. Strong and sturdy. And pure of heart. Brave and true. He was loved by all. And he was extremely intelligent.
Almost too intelligent for his own good. He knew how to get what he wanted. And he got things easily. Almost too easily in fact. He never really had to work for the things he wanted. He grew up just floating through life. Never really having to struggle for anything he wanted.
But after his parents died, everything changed. He no longer had their support. He began to realize that things weren’t always peaches and cream. He had to struggle to survive. He got involved with the wrong people and started doing things that he shouldn’t have.
His very first job was accompanying a group of his new friends on a bank robbery. Of course, he didn’t have to do anything dangerous like carry a gun or enter the bank. All he had to do was drive the getaway car.
He didn’t want to at first. Too dangerous he said. But he needed the cash. And she worked at the bank.
“You’re the key to this operation,” they said and begged and cajoled until he finally agreed. They clapped and cheered and dubbed him the Romantic Bank Robber.
He knew what he was getting himself into. It’s not like he was stupid or anything. But they guaranteed him fifty thousand dollars cash plus a portion of whatever they took from the bank. “It’s a guaranteed deal,” they said. “What could possibly go wrong. Right?”
Of course, he knew that a lot of things could go wrong. Everything could go wrong. Anyone of a million things. One small mistake, and that was it. It was over. He was done for. Finished. Kaput.
Life. In. Prison.
At the very least.
In the worst case scenario.
No, not worse case. Death wouldn’t be so bad compared to some other options.
A bullet through the spine.
An accident trying to escape.
A wrong turn.
Wrong place at the wrong time.
There were a million and one factors to consider.
He analyzed them all.
Cold. Calculating. Smooth. Criminal.
Even though he wasn’t one himself.
At least not yet.
Not until he committed his first crime.
He acted like he didn’t care. Like he wasn’t paying attention. But he was. Oh, you better believe he was. To everything. Every detail. Every last detail. He took into account all the things they didn’t.
He staked the bank out for a week before. Looked over blueprints. Checked out the guards. Security cameras. Times.
He opened an account. Got to know the tellers. At the bank where she worked. Took her out for coffee every day at ten. Knew he wanted to marry her. And proposed.
“What if do something bad and go to jail,” he asked after she accepted and said yes.
She thought long and hard. Hesitated. Unsure. He didn’t like it. Not one bit.
“Listen,” he said after their second coffee date. “There’s this thing I’m doing. It’s a one time deal. I’m only doing it for the money. Once I’m done, we can get married. But if something bad happens and I get busted, everything is off.”
“What’s going on,” she asked, but he refused to tell her.
“How can I commit to you if you’re keeping secrets?” she asked.
“I love you,” he said. ” And I don’t want you to get hurt. If you knew what was going down, you might use it against me.”
“Then don’t do it. I want you safe.”
“I gotta do this. For the money. For myself. To prove that I’m a man. How can I take care of you if I don’t work for it.”
“I have money,” she said. “I can take care of us until you get settled and find a good job.”
But he refused. Refused her offer. Her offer to stay out of this mess. But he was in too deep. He almost accepted. He wanted to accept. He wanted to let go. Walk away. Stay safe. Play it safe. Take the easy way out.
But he was in too deep. It was go time. He couldn’t back out now. He couldn’t back out on his friends at the last minute. It wouldn’t be right for them. It wouldn’t be safe for them. They would do it anyway. With or without him. He didn’t want to leave them hanging.
Yes, he knew it was dangerous. Yes, he knew it was wrong. But he felt that this was the right thing for him to do. The right thing for everyone involved. The right thing for everyone except her.
Because if things went south, he would get what he deserved. But she would suffer along with them. Suffer innocently. Suffer for his sake because she was now a part of his life.
“Look, Baby,” he said the night before it all went down. “Tomorrow morning, I’m gonna head out early. I may not see you. Not ever. Maybe never again. So, if anything happens to me, I want you to know that I love you. Love you deeply. Love you with all my heart. This thing that I do, I do it for you. If everything works out and goes as planned. I’ll be your man. I’ll do whatever I can to make you happy. To make you glad.”
“Oh, I know, honey. I love you too. I just wish you would tell me what it is that you gotta do. I’d do it with you. I’d go with you. To the ends of the earth. Even Timbuktu.”
“Listen, Baby. I don’t want you to go to work tomorrow. Just stay home. Call in sick. Tell them you can’t make it. Tell your boss to replace you.”
“Why?” she asked. “I don’t understand. I wish you would tell me. Just be a man about it.”
He hummed and hawed. He made up several excuses, but he knew they wouldn’t hold water. She was smarter than him. She could see right through him. In the end, he just asked her to trust him.
“If this thing goes down like I think it will, I may have to skip town and find a place to chill till it all blows over, and things settle down.”
She said she would. She said she’d stay home. And when she lay down, he stayed by her side, holding her hand, stroking her long, red curls.
It was a long night. One of the longest he’d ever remembered. Time dragged on. The minutes slowed. As he worried, thought things through, and went over every last detail before the sun came up.
When she woke up, he was gone. He had already left. There was a rose on her bed and note by the door.
“I love you,” it said with words scribbled in blue.
She smiled and tucked it into her pocket. Made coffee and toast. Threw her feet up on the table. And waited for her love to come home.
A little before eight, she made her way to the phone. Called her boss, and told him that she would stay home.
He threw a fit. Begged and pleaded. Told her he needed her to do just one thing. When she refused, he threatened and tried to cajole her every possible way.
“Just come in today. For a meeting at nine. Janice is sick and can’t make it. Take her place. Cover for her. Once it’s done, you can be back home by ten to do your thing. Have your fling. I really don’t care. Just don’t leave me hanging like this. Come in today, and you can have the next three off.”
She remained steadfast. Refused to head in. Laid in her bed, drinking her gin.
“I know you’re not sick. I’ve seen you with that dude, laughing over coffee, at your break at ten. Speaking of him, I just saw him outside just sitting in his car. I think he’s waiting for you. Or maybe not. There was another woman in the car with him.”
“What?” she screamed. “Why that dirty, low-down, no-good, egg-sucking, biscuit-eating, piece of trash. He’s a dog, I tell you. All men are alike. I thought he was different.”
“I’m going,” she thought. “And I’ll give him a piece of my mind on my way in.”
She called her boss and let him know that she was coming in, “I took some aspirin. I feel a bit better. I don’t want to leave you hanging.”
Her boss was tickled pink and thanked her profusely.
She threw on a new yellow blouse that her boyfriend had given her and marched down to the bank on the corner of Jefferson and Tenth Avenue.
Just before she arrived at nine, he pulled up to the bank and dropped off his friends.
“Make it snappy,” he said. “In and out. Don’t shoot anyone. The guns are just for show.”
After they entered the bank, she came walking by. She looked him in the eye and shook her head. Angrily. Furious. If looks could kill.
He shook his head. Willing her not to enter.
But she pranced on by. Defying him. Daring him to stop her.
He jumped out of the car. He ran to her. “Wait. Don’t go in there. It’s not safe.”
“Where is she?” she screamed. “Is it Janice or Brenda. Is that why you told me not to come to the bank today.”
“Look, just get in the car. I can explain everything.”
“I can’t. I’m late for a meeting. I have a client at nine.”
“There is no meeting. There is no client. You can’t go in there right now. The bank is shut down.”
“What? Of course, it’s not. Why do you lie? Do you always lie? Let me go. Let me go.”
She turned to run to the bank just as friends came running out. She froze when she saw them. Ski masks. Guns. Bags of money.
She turned slowly. Shocked. Disappointment. Sadness.
“You used me. You didn’t care about me. You just wanted me to get into the bank. This was all I lie.”
She slapped him. She reached in her pocket to pull out the note. Put her hand down to her side. Pulled it out. Pulled back.
His friend. The one with the sawn-off shotgun didn’t hesitate. Saw the woman screaming. Attacking his driver. The red-head reaching for her waist. Pulling back. And it was instinctive. His friend didn’t think. Just reacted. Pulled the trigger.
Her lover watched her pull the note from her pocket. Stretch it out in his direction. Watched the red stains pepper her blouse. Her new yellow blouse. The blouse he had given her.
The note slipped from her fingers. Slipped from her lifeless grasp as she took her last and final breath. Eyes widen in shock one last time. Falling into his arms. Looking into his eyes as he laid her down.
And the note blew away. Blew down the sidewalk. Sliding across the cold, hard ground that she lay on herself.
He froze. Stopped. Watched slack-jawed. Eyes roving wildly. Unable to function. Held her in his arms. Her red curls still blowing gently in the wind. The red stains still spreading across her yellow blouse.
Saw her boss. Standing at the door. Smiling. Waving. Speaking. “The way of the wicked leads only to death. The path of the unrighteous heads down the pit.”
He stood. Rising. Fury. Horror. Wrath. Possessing him. Flowing through his body. Tense with adrenaline. Fight or flight. The world spinning madly around him. Slow motion. Sound distorted. Without thinking. Simply reacting. Reaching out. Grabbing the shotgun. Ramming the butt of it back into the face of his old friend. Yanking it from his hands. Spinning it around. Firing. Killing them all. One by one. It was their fault. They had talked him into him. He hadn’t backed out because of them. And this was how they treated him. Killing his girl. His beautiful redhead. The love of his life.
He reloaded. Walked to the bank. The manager backed up. Smile wiped from his face. Replaced by horror. Dread.
“We have more money in the back. There’s an extra safe. Take it all.”
“Money?” he asked. “Money can’t buy love. Money can’t bring my girl back from the grave.”
“Please,” the manager pleaded. “I’m righteous. I’ve never anything bad.”
“Neither have I,” he replied. “But the righteous and the unrighteous all die alike. They all end up together. In the end. Together. In the ground.”
He didn’t think. Didn’t think twice. Didn’t think at all. Just pulled the trigger. Watched the red stains flow and grow. Match the patterns on her yellow blouse. All of them blooming like red roses. Growing in the spring. Blooming. Blossoming. Growing quickly and then fading away slowly.
He threw the bags in the car. He started the engine.
“Sorry, Baby. You should have stayed home. I tried to warn you.”
Sirens screaming. Choppers whirring. Tires squealing. A race for his life. Little caring for the outcome. Come what may. Good or bad, it was all the same. The only thing that mattered was gone. The only person who mattered had left him. He drove around the city all day. Stopping once or twice to fill up. To grab a bite. To have a drink.
At the end of the day, he was all alone. In the end, had only himself. He no longer had the girl. He didn’t need the cash. The money was useless to him now. The bank robbery nullified the very reason he wanted to participate in the first place.
He drove down to the outer edges of the city. To the parks on the edge of town. The place where the homeless slept and stashed their stuff. Where normal upright citizens feared to walk during the day. Much less at night.
He walked along, handing out wads of cash. Some dumb bum tried to rob him. Big mistake. He gave the bum the bag with one hand. Shot him with the other. Continued walking. Handing out wads of cash. When he had finished, he had enough cash for another tank of gas and three days of eating.
After that, he’d have to get a new job. But that would be enough time to grieve. To attend her funeral. To tell her good-bye. To tell himself goodbye. Because he was no longer the same person. Everything was different. Everything had changed. He had changed. He was no longer the same.
The Romantic Bank Robber was bitter and jaded. All glitter had faded.