A bank teller receives a surprise visit - from an armed robber.
Large Bills First
At first glance I thought it was a toy gun. I expected to look up and see one of my regular customers grinning at me; in that millisecond before actually looking up, I decided I would give whoever it was a piece of my mind for playing such a sick joke on a bank teller.
Unfortunately, the gun was real.
I’d been working at the bank for just over a year. Originally hired at the busy main office in Sarasota, I was asked in my second week of employment to spend “a couple days” out at the Ellenton branch, covering for a teller who had suddenly quit. It was such a small branch, most of the time I ran the “teller line” all by myself while the branch manager and the loan officer hid in their offices. A year later, I was still at that branch.
I loved working there in Ellenton. It was a community comprised mostly of retirees who had migrated to Florida in search of warmth to melt the ache of their aging bones and sunshine to brighten the loneliness of their waning years. Even though I was only twenty, I had a special affinity for the aged; they loved me. It didn’t hurt that I treated them with a level of respect that was bred into me. “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” were, for me, automatic replies. My customers often commented on my polite demeanor while disparaging “kids these days” who were “never taught to respect their elders.”
In the past year, I’d found that many people were curious about what it was like to work in a bank. “How much cash goes through your hands everyday?” was the most common question asked. “Are you ever tempted to take some of that money home?” and “If you make a mistake, do you have to pay for it yourself?” follow closely behind in frequency. Then occasionally and inevitably, someone would ask, “Aren’t you afraid of being robbed?”
Most people were surprised at the answers to their questions. As a teller in a small branch, I really didn’t handle all that much cash – maybe five or six thousand was in my drawer at any given time, and only maybe two thousand in my top drawer.
No, I was never tempted to take any money home. Cash quickly became an abstract concept at work, a concept which boiled down to the simple act of trading papers. I’ll swap you five of my green papers for one of yours. Unless it was in my checking account and I could go spend it, it wasn’t money, just paper.
Furthermore, no – if I were to make a $100 mistake, I wouldn’t have to cough up a c-note of my own. The bank budgets for human error and considers it as the cost of doing business. Too many mistakes and I wouldn’t have been employed long, however.
Finally, no. I was not afraid of being robbed. The day-to-day grind was innocuous enough to lull me into a sense of complacency. I was fully trained on what to expect and what to do if robbed at gunpoint, but I was absolutely convinced it would never happen to me.
Shows what I know.
My first impression of the man holding the gun was that he was the ugliest man I’d ever seen. Nose flattened abnormally, his face was misshapen and his skin was an odd color and texture. It was almost with relief that I realized that he had a lady’s stocking over his head; no one could be that ugly. He shoved a small plastic bag across the counter.
“Large bills first.” His voice was gruff and he spoke as if he’d lowered the pitch of his voice as far as it could go. It was then I realized, this is no man, this is a boy. I was being robbed by an adolescent. I had, by my own estimate, at least four years on the kid, but the gun in his hand gave him the authority to order this older woman around.
I considered hitting the alarm button under my teller station but quickly discarded the idea. His upper body draped halfway across the counter, he would see the movement. I didn’t particularly want to know firsthand if that gun actually had bullets in it.
As I opened my drawer, my training came back to me. “Capture details,” we were told, so I started mentally cataloguing small details that would hopefully provide a description later. Red t-shirt, stocking on his head, silver watch with black trim, about five-foot-eight, stocking on his head, no visible tattoos, small scar on the back of the left hand, stocking on his head. I wasn’t doing great at this detail thing; that stocking just kept bringing my attention back to his head. Through it, I couldn’t tell even the color of his hair.
Time slowed to a crawl. As instructed, I put all my fifties and hundreds in the bag first, and then reached for the bait money. We didn’t have dye packs in our cash drawers, just a strapped stack of “marked" twenty-dollar bills. It’s interesting that they were called that, because they were really not marked in any way. The serial numbers were recorded and kept on file so that if any stolen money was recovered it could be used as evidence. “The most common mistake tellers make during a robbery is to forget the bait money,” we were told. I felt a momentary flash of pride that in the heat of the moment I’d remembered.
I scooped up the other twenties in my drawer, then the tens. As I was reaching for the stack of fives, the young bank robber reached across and grabbed the plastic bag out of my hands, then ran for the exit. He was out the door and had vaulted the hedge, disappearing from view within seconds.
“Serena, I am so sorry.”
The woman hugged me tighter in an effort to convey her sincerity. I patted her back and murmured soft words of absolution and forgiveness into her ear. “It’s not your fault, Mrs. Davis, don’t worry, I understand, it’s not your fault.” I pulled back and looked her in the eye. “I’m sorry, too. I know how hard today must have been for you.”
I was told by the FBI agent who handled the case that I didn’t have to attend the sentencing, but as the victim of the crime, I had the right to be there. I didn’t particularly need to see Mark Davis receive his four-year sentence in a medium security detention facility for adults, but I opted to go so I could comfort his grandmother.
Mrs. Davis pulled a wrinkled handkerchief out of her pocket and wiped her nose and cheeks. “When his mother died and I took him in, I never thought it would come to this. I love my grandson, but he deserves to pay the price for his actions.” The elderly woman paused to quietly blow her nose. “At least he’s off the drugs. It was the drugs that drove him to this, you know.”
I nodded. The FBI uncovered during their investigation that Mark had been dealing drugs at school and his stash had been stolen. Owing a large sum of money to his dealer, he was desperate for quick cash, and robbing the neighborhood bank seemed a feasible solution to his dilemma.
“Still, I’m so ashamed.” Her tears began to flow again. “How can I face you every week at the bank? Maybe I should close my account and bank somewhere else. Do you think I should, Serena?”
I put my arm around her and rubbed her shoulder.