A short story about a supernatural bank robber and the agent who is chasing him.
THE TIME BANDIT’S TALE
A short story by Sebastian Alexander
Thanks to Lisa and Mel for their support. I would like to dedicate this story to them.
‘The Time Bandit’s Tale’ is set in the alternate reality of Great Britain. Here it is called the Albion Empire, a modern day version of the British Empire at the height of its power where Australia, India, Ireland, Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand are all part of the empire.
England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland make up Great Albion (often referred to as Albion). The Monarchy are more dominate in the day to day polities of the empire, with the Prime Mister simply acting on behalf of the sovereign.
The main difference in this reality is the existence of supernatural energy that flows through the Albion Isles. “Old magic” as those who believed in the old ways would say. How it affects the people of Great Albion is unknown, although if the rumours throughout history are to be believed. Gods walk among the lamb.
For any questions, please contact the author.
"Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side."
- The Talmud
Cassandra Weatherby knew their had been something different about her latest suspect; she had been chasing and putting away criminals for years, but the man she was chasing now was like a phantom. Earlier today she and her team of agents had finally caught up with him to only have him vanish in plain sight. It was one of the most interesting assignments that she had been assigned too, and one she wasn’t likely to forget.
The local bobbies assisted in the follow up investigation as Special Agent Weatherby questioned the customers and staff at the Bank of England, the intended target of her elusive bank robber. The National Criminal Prevention Agency (NCPA) had invested a lot in trying to find and arrest Andrew Wilder; a man who apart from a birth certificate and a few school reports, didn’t exist on the government’s database. After hours of investigating Cassandra and her team returned to there headquarters at Whitechapel. To her surprise there had been a break in within the building around the time her suspect had vanished.
“Was anything stolen?” Special Agent Weatherby asked.
“No ma’am, one of the fire exit doors had been forced open from the outside which caused the alarm to go off. Security didn’t find anyone but they’re still looking,” replied the young brown haired receptionist, “I guess you didn’t get your man?”
“Not today, Claire, but I will.”
Cassandra and her team were buzzed through, and a few minutes later she was in her office on the third floor after a short trip in the lift. She stood in front of her window looking out on Whitechapel's renowned art gallery, and silently fumed at her own inadequacy at catching her man. Her superiors would no doubt want her report and a chance to grill her over Wilder’s disappearance yet again.
She sat down at her desk and opened the draw to her left to put her firearm away, but as she put the gun down she noticed a letter with her name on it. The NCPA special agent was surprised to find it there, a letter for her to read should have been placed on her desk. Closing the gun draw with her semiautomatic inside, Cassandra held the envelope in her hands and studied the handwriting written in pencil.
“Special Agent Weatherby”
She knew this handwriting, it had the same context and style of Andrew Wilder’s school work that had been included in his school reports. This handwriting was simply refined, as one would expect with time and practice. This letter was from her suspect and addressed to her. To say it was a shock to find this in her desk, in her office and in a secured building was an understatement. The first question running through her mind was how did it get there?
The agent inside her told her to take the letter to forensics for analysis, but that little voice in her head, the one screaming at her to open it was sending an inquisitiveness neurological reaction through her body: If Weatherby had been a cat, then curiosity would have surely killed her.
Taking out her Swiss army knife she gently cut open the envelope and removed the letter without touching it, as if it was ongoing evidence. The curious woman opened her bottom draw and pulled out a pair of latex gloves she kept in there, putting them on Cassandra opened the letter and began to read the penciled handwriting:
“Dear Agent Weatherby,
As you no doubt aware of, I am Andrew Wilder, and if you are reading this then its likely I’m dead by now. I never dreamed my own special gift would turn into my own private hell. To understand why, I must start at the beginning. It all started the day I learned I could control time.”
Cassandra’s blue eyes widened at this as she carried on reading.
“I was seventeen when my mother had a nervous breakdown after my father left her for another woman, and as a result she started to hit the bottle hard. I did everything I could to pay the bills and a keep us afloat. All I asked from her was to keep sober, she couldn’t even do that. I found her one night in a right emotion state from the booze, I felt the anger swell up inside me, and a huge argument between the two of us started. I believe it had been the sheer intensity of my emotions that fractured time.”
The agency had tracked down Andrew Wilder’s mother when they discovered his identity. Angela Wilder was living in a mental institution and suffering from memory breakdown due to years of alcoholic abuse. When Cassandra had asked her about her son, the older woman kept saying he would be coming home soon. Weatherby couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
“I was confused and startled at first as everything around me had frozen in time, however when the initial shock of it faded away and I felt calmer time restarted. My mother was still screaming at me, and I did something stupid, something very stupid. I walked away. I left my mum on her own to deal with her emotions the only way she knew how. Considering what happened to her. I’m a bad son.”
Weatherby now understood why Angela kept thinking her son would be returning to her. It must have been a traumatic experience for her. Andrew must have paid for the private medical care his mother was getting, but he never once visited her. Cassandra pushed that thought out of her mind as she continued to read the letter.
“I wanted to learn more about this ability I had, so I began buying books about emotions and breathing. I began taking yoga to help me control my breathing. It seemed that shifting my alpha brainwaves to delta brainwaves - which were normally brought on by strong emotions - shifted my perception of time.”
It was hard for Cassandra to believe anyone had this kind of ability, the problem was she seemed to have him disappear in front of her own eyes. There was no logical way of explaining how he had done it.
“Little by little my confidence grew, as did my daringness to explore the possibilities of what I could do with my powers. I’m not proud of what happened next, but I needed the money to start paying all the bills that were mounting up, so after I was fully confident with my abilities, I began my life of crime. I made a point to never rob independent businesses. They had a hard enough time making money as it was. I started targeting corporate companies who were well insured against robberies. My tactic would be to sit on a bench or a wall, freeze time and check which tills were open. In the early days I never stole more than I needed, I only wish I had stuck to this pattern. However as the years slipped by I became cocky, arrogant and greedy. Nothing was beyond my reach, so I decided to up the ante and robbed my first bank.”
Cassandra hadn’t know about his previous robberies, she had only been brought in when the first bank heist had be reported to the National Criminal Prevention Agency. The nickname they had for him before discovering Wilder’s true identity was Houdini, as at that stage he left no trace for them to follow.
“I used a straightforward format in robbing banks. I’d walk in and ask about what type of accounts I could open. The man or woman would then take me to a private room to discuss the options, from the room I could observe the staff at work. Then when one of them open the coded doors to go past the customer end of the bank I froze time. I then made my way out of the room, walked across the lobby and into the inner section of the bank. It was then easy to fill my bag full of the money. To make sure I was clean in case someone later wanted to search my bag, I walked out of the bank with the money and dumped it into a separate bag that had been hidden nearby. I then walked back inside, into the private room and restarted time as if nothing had happened. Acting innocently I then took the accepted information and left, I picked up the bag from where it was hidden. The first time I did this, it was the greatest rush of my life. I continued and made a key point to never rob the same bank twice.”
Andrew Wilder was good, and if she was to believe his story than he had the perfect excuse, however he had slipped up. It was only a tiny slip, and perhaps it might have been missed by another agent. Cassandra Weatherby was the best in her line of work, and in the end it had been the security cameras that caught Andrew. Was it coincidence that the same man appeared in all the video feeds? No one had noticed it a first, but Cassandra noticed that Andrew vanished from his seat for a brief moment when the person he was with looked away (a clear sign of video alteration in her books), and in all the banks he robbed he never once changed his appearance. It was easy enough to identify him as the same person from previous robberies, where money had disappeared around the same time he visited.
In the end it was thanks to Cassandra’s favorite historical crime detective that allowed her to figure it out. Weatherby always thought of Sherlock Homes when something didn’t seem to make sense with a case. It make her think out of the box.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, how improbable, must be the truth.”
Still, it was hard for her to fathom the existence of actual time control what Wilder claimed to have. As far she was concerned it must have been some sort of illusion. Her attention returned to the letter in her gloved hands.
“I eventually learned later that the money I was stealing had been recorded by the NCPA. If I had known at the time, that you were beginning to uncover my identity, I would have stopped and gone to ground. I must have grown sloppy with how I went about spending the money. The only way you could have found me was by planting marked bills in banks nationwide and simply wait for me to make a mistake.”
That was true. She now had a face but not a name, and planting the marked bills was the only way to discover Andrew Wilder’s identity. It worked. Although it took a process of elimination to get the job done; cross referencing the marked bills spent with camera feeds, and to finally getting a name to go with the face.
“I don’t know how you learned I was going to rob the Bank of England. Perhaps I was spending more of the money on expensive items that gave me away, or perhaps you found out another way? All I know was you and your team were waiting for me as I walked through that door. I can remember your voice if it was yesterday shouting at me. ‘Armed police,’ you said, ‘stay where you are!’ I wish I had listened to you. Jail would have been a fair punishment than the one I’m now living in.”
NCPA agents had raided the place Wilder was staying. Despite his success in robbing all those banks he was still a novice. He had left clues to his next heist laying around the flat. Everything led to a time and place. On the day of the heist Cassandra and her team arrived an hour before him and went undercover. Sure enough at the time he had written down, Andrew Wilder walked into the Bank of England, and that was all she needed.
The cat sprung the trap on the mouse.
“I panicked that day, it didn’t even register at first that I dropped my rucksack. All I could think about was how did you know it was me? What had given me away? Why now? Why now! I never felt more afraid in my entire live. Fear dripped through my veins like ice cold venom. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest to the point I thought it would erupt out of my body, it was then I found I was too scared to freeze time; fear has always inhibited my abilities. As I exited the building to get away, more agents appeared in black BMW’s, and with my powers not working I did the only thing I could at the time. I ran away as fast as I could with you and your team closely on my heels.”
Cassandra had lost count how many times criminals have attempted to make a run for it, and either trip over or get tackled to the ground. At first glance Wilder had been no different, he was out of breath after half a mile of running. It was then her suspect stopped due to fatigue that she knew she had him. It was then Andrew pulled Harry Houdini on her and vanished in plain sight. It was unbelievable and yet it happened.
“If I knew then what I know now, I never would have fled. You’re a fully trained agent and I couldn’t even complete a school marathon back when I was a kid. So I stopped and did the only thing I had left: I concentrated so intensely at stopping time that I succeeded in the most unimaginable way. I knew from the moment it happened that something had gone wrong, and now I am paying for my past deeds. You see Agent Weatherby, I’m stuck in between time because of how scared I was and this affected my powers; now I’m trapped in a prison of my own making because of the terrible and selfish things I have done. Everything around me is frozen forever, you, my mother. Everything. Imprisoned in a timeless environment.
"I have been imprisoned this way for the last ten years. Although I am uncertain how it works, my guess would that if a second passes for you, then for me it would be something like one hundred years."
It was impossible; either Wilder was deluded to the point he didn’t know reality from fantasy, or this was an elaborate fiction designed to throw her off. Part of her wondered if it could be true. So much time has passed since the moment Wilder had vanished that if his hypothesis would mean he’d be nothing but dust by now.
“It took me a while to understand that I had anchored myself between moments in time. At first I frantically tried to get myself unstuck but with no success. It took me a couple of years in my new time to settle into the realisation that I could be stuck in this timeless reality for the rest of my life; I grow old and the world around me stays the young. I just want you to imagine that for a moment Agent Weatherby. Imagine what that would be like?”
A chill ran down her spine as Cassandra visualised what it would be like if she aged while her friends and family remained the same, perfectly preserved like those wax impersonations in Madame Tussauds. What a lonely existence it would be, to look in a mirror and see her aged reflection against a timeless background. She wondered if such a life would bring her to brink of insanity, and then remembered the urban legend about Dorian Grey. An immortal man alive at the turn of the 20th century. It claimed he make a deal with the devil, and while his portrait aged he didn’t. Keeping that in mind the blonde haired agent read the last part of the letter.
“I began to think a lot about my life, how things could have turned out differently. How I had started something as simple as wanting to care for my sick mother and became so engulfed by my own greed that this happened to me. It takes a special kind of circumstance to realise the true character of someone, and not long ago I had a moment of clarity. I wanted to explain myself and my actions to the very people who had hunted me. I found your agency badge on you when I checked your pockets and decided to leave you this letter where you would find it. Believe me it wasn’t easy getting into this building, you have to understand there is no electricity in this timeless environment.
"I stopped by the local shop outside to get a notepad, pencil and envelope. I didn’t technically steal them, I left money on the counter for the woman. I sat down at your desk to write this for you. I wanted you to understand (or at least try to understand) that I have learned my lesson from all this. I wanted to say I’m sorry.
"Sorry for everything.
"If I have learned anything about the complexities of time, it is that we all have control over it in some fundamental way; when we have fun times moves faster, or if we are having a particular dull day it slows down to a crawl. In the end we have to remember that time is her own mistress, however. She has been cruel to me, but then I have abused her greatly. Please understand that time is something to be revered and respected, enjoy ever moment you have before it slips through your fingers altogether.
"Andrew Patrick Wilder.”
She carefully folded the letter and placed it back into the envelope, despite what the letter said it was still evidence and that meant it have to be used in the case against the Wilder. Weatherby stood up and took the letter with her as she walked out of her office, and looked over to one of the junior agents.
“I want forensics to process this letter; I want fingerprints and anything else the boys downstairs can think of. It’s supposedly from Andrew Wilder, don’t ask me how I got it, I want it placed in the evidence locker after they are done with it.” She said.
“Yes ma’am,” replied the nameless agent.
Perhaps she would never learn the truth behind Andrew Wilder, his acclaimed powers and his mysterious disappearance. However Cassandra had learned something today, it was time to stop fighting and start embracing life. She remember something her Jewish grandfather said to her as a child.
“Cassie,” he said, “in the Talmud it is written: who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side. Try to understand my little słonecznik.”
What the memory of her grandfather and letter from Andrew Wilder were telling her that time was not something you could fight. Cassandra had to embrace each moment of her life and accept the fact she couldn’t control every aspect of her time on this earth. Yet there was so many unanswered questions. Was all that Wilder wrote true? If so, was he still alive? Perhaps he had found a way to escape, or perhaps not?
What Weatherby did know that it would be interesting if the day came to learn the truth behind this mystery. As she walked back into her office to write the case report, Cassandra remember something Sherlock Homes once said:
“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.”
Perhaps this was not the last she had heard of Andrew Wilder. A mystery as good as this didn’t deserve to end here. Time, the infinite mistress, will tell.