could I get away with it?
It all started when I made a simple observation. I'm always doing that. Making observations. Noticing the most incredible things that nobody else seems to care about. I've got a small notebook that I carry around with me wherever I go. My wife says that I'd think nothing of stopping traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel just to scribble down a note or two.
A few months back as I was gassing up at the Wag-a-Bag, I noticed an armored truck backing up to the ATM machine at the drive-thru bank across the alley. I had a moment to stand there and observe. The truck backs up to the machine, the driver gets out and goes in the bank. When he comes out he unlocks the back of the truck and then spends the next 20 minutes or so, unloading the ATM and loading it back up again. I wondered how much cash I was seeing as I watched him.
I looked over at the truck and I didn't see another security guy in there. I remember thinking, shouldn't they have two security guards on those trucks? One to do the work and the other to make sure he doesn't get jumped while his back is turned?
I didn't think about it again until about 3 weeks later. I was filling my tank again at the Wag-a-Bag and the same truck pulled up with the same driver. Again I casually watched his movements and determined that he was indeed, alone.
It began to occur to me, how easy it would be to sneak up on this guy from behind (or even above I thought later), bludgeon him with something heavy and make off with all that money. Not that I ever would do something as stupid as that, I told myself. Still. It could be done.
The alley beside the bank where he parked was shielded from view of the all the nearby streets, so it was almost guaranteed that nobody would witness this. With only the one driver and no guard, how hard could it be? What's to stop someone from waiting on the roof of the bank, and then dropping down onto the driver the second he unlocked the truck? I could take him by surprise, knock him quickly unconscious before he even knew what hit him. Then I could take what cash I wanted from the truck and disappear into my normal daily routine.
I watched him for a third time exactly 3 weeks later. This time I noticed a security camera in the alley by the bank, and another one mounted on the side of the truck itself, but still only the driver and no extra guard.
After watching him for a fourth time exactly 3 weeks later, I was convinced that this was a regularly scheduled stop that he did not deviate from. I remember writing down a few notes that day as I sat in the truck:
How satisfying is the rut?
Isn't routine the world's best narcotic ever? We complain about being stuck in a grind doing the same things day after day, but if there is no order isn't that just chaos?
The opportunity began to weigh on my mind, and not wanting to ignore the relief and possibilities that extra cash could provide me, I began, much to my own astonishment, to seriously consider jacking the truck.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~ CHAPTER TWO
You see, it was just two weeks earlier when I received our property tax bill, politely sent by the county informing us that we owed them thousands of dollars.
Surely my financial situation must have been putting some sort of undue stress on my brain causing me to consider doing something that I knew was not only wrong in principle, but also likely to get me in even worse trouble. Was I losing my ability to think clearly and rationally?
Why would I even consider doing something as stupid and as jail-inducing as hijacking an armored vehicle?
In hindsight, I can see now that I was in a state of desperation. I was faced with losing my house and disappointing my family if we had to move out and go back to living in cheap apartments with crusty carpets and holes in the walls. I thought of all the hard work we had done to get ourselves into the house, and how much of a crushing blow it would be to have to move out and undo all of that. Simply put, my back was to the wall, a position I have not very often found myself in...
The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that it could do no harm to at least plan the whole thing out. I could always scrap it at the last minute if things started to get too scary. I made a note in early November;
oh how the biting, cold night creeps into my bones,
It digs in and holds on tight, with hooks
holding the same weight as the heavy thoughts
massing in my brain.
The possibilities simply overwhelmed the risks, as far as I was concerned. I had already exhausted all my other ways of coming up with the money we needed. It wasn't as if I hadn't even tried to resolve our money problems in other ways, because I had. I just kept coming up short that's all. Drastic times called for drastic measures.
~~~~~~~~~~~ CHAPTER THREE
So, with Thanksgiving already gone and Christmas rapidly approaching, I began some careful planning.
The first problem I needed to solve was the security cameras. One in the alley and one on the side of the armored truck. Those would have to be disabled or spray painted or something. Either that, or I would have to wear some kind of a mask to hide my face... or both. I made careful lists of the outrageous costumes I could wear on the heist; Spiderman, The Grim Reaper, The Michellin Man...
A week later, I carefully stowed away a full-length Hostess Twinkie costume, and a paintball gun in the extended cab part of my truck.
I was planning on taking out the cameras with the paint-ball gun and then jumping the driver in costume. That way, if something went wrong and the cameras weren't disabled as planned, they'd have a nice video of a Giant Twinkie jumping off the roof of the bank and not much else.
It was risky of course, but I came to the conclusion that I must try. Just be smart about it, I remember thinking. Examine it from every perspective and don't give them a way to catch you.
The next few weeks I spent some time doing surveillance on the bank. I was really nervous about that, too. I realized that I needed to know what the bank gaurds' schedules were; where they were on the premises at any given time, and whatever other pertinent information I could gather. Sometimes I watched the bank from the laundrymat on the corner. Sometimes I watched it from the Wag-a-Bag while I filled my tank. I even went into the bank and opened up an account, so I could see it from the inside. I learned that there was only one guard on duty during the bank's business hours. He was a short, round man with a stern expression on his face, and suspicious eyes. He always seemed to be nearly asleep, but if you watched him closely, he was taking in every little detail of what went on around him at all times. Our eyes met once when I was leaving the bank. It scared the shit out of me. It seemed like by just looking at me in the face, he suddenly saw through everything and knew I was going to jack the armored truck.
Of course, he had no idea I was "casing the joint" as they say, but I was really quaking from the eye contact we made. It made me wonder if I would be able to control my emotions when it actually came down to executing this whole thing. I hoped I could do it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ CHAPTER FOUR
Days later Zachary asked me if he could have the keys to my truck. I asked him, "What for?"
"I want to get my St. Anger CD." he said. I gave him the keys, sure that he wouldn't take off in the truck or anything like that. He didn't. He came back instead with the paint ball gun that I'd stashed in there.
"What's this for, Dad?" he asked. I played it off like he shouldn't have been snooping around this close to Christmas. Of course he had no idea what I was planning to use it for.
But he still thinks he's getting a paint ball gun for Christmas. I remember thinking at the time, If you only knew what your ultra-conservative, morally conscious Dad was up to....
~~~~~~~~~~~~~ CHAPTER FIVE
My first-tentative-early plan was written out like this:
8:10am Be at the Wag-a-Bag gassing up my truck.
8:15am Pay for gas inside, make conversation with the attendant, so they'll remember that I was in the store that day.
8:20amto 8:25am Walk back to my truck and glance down the alley. The armored truck should be there if it was on time. If it's not there yet, wait. Once sighted, exit the parking lot.
8:28am Exit the Wag-a-Bag parking lot using the back entrance. Park on the street behind the bank, facing north for quick getaway.
8:29am Become the Hostess Twinkie.
8:30am Using the cab of my truck, and tree growing beside the bank, get on the bank roof. (I saw an AC repair guy get up there one day to retrieve a tool he'd left behind. His buddy had already taken off with the ladder, so he got on top of his truck and then shinnied up the tree onto the roof).
8:35am Walk around to the alley side of the roof, hang one arm off and paintball the bank camera.
8:40am If the driver has already unlocked the truck and if the coast is clear, paintball the camera on the truck and immediately drop down onto the driver with an elbow to the back of the neck. If all is not clear, WAIT!
From there it was only a matter of taking the money that I needed and walking around the corner to my truck and leaving. If anyone noticed the camera being blacked, they would be on their way out of the bank to check it. Otherwise, I would have at least a 15-20 minutes head-start before anyone started wondering why the driver was taking so long. To make it even better, I was going to be out of town on a scheduled business trip for the next three days.
It was a good plan. A simple plan, but a good one. I really, really felt that it was do-able.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ CHAPTER SIX
The weeks of research, planning and calculating were the easy part. It gave my nervous mind something to chew on; something to be distracted about. I didn't realize just how much of a diversion that was until it was done. After the planning was over, I had little to do but pick a date, and sit and dwell on the deed at hand. So, after a careful examination of the driver's schedule and known routine, I settled on the Monday the 8th, during the second week in December as my D-Day. Then, with nothing to do but wait...
Paranoia set in.
I began to second guess myself again.
What the hell was I doing? Could I actually pull this ridiculous plan off and then go about my daily life like nothing happened?
I began to think about the millions of ways this could go wrong. What if the Twinkie costume got stuck in the tree on the way up to the roof? What if the paintball gun wouldn't fire? What if the driver spotted me before I had a chance to take him out? What if my truck wouldn't start during the getaway? What if I chickened out? I had heard somewhere that every good criminal carried a roll of duct tape with him in case of unforseen circumstances. I purchased one, and not knowing what I would use it for, stashed it in my truck for the big day, anyway.
My wife noticed that something was eating at me during those weeks between planning and D-Day. I tried desperately to keep my emotions on an even keel, but I was clearly nervous and unusually quieter than normal. My tension was written all over my face no matter how hard I tried to conceal it.
I had no appetite, couldn't sleep, and was ill-tempered to say the least. My daughter asked for lunch money one day, when I was dropping her off at school. I blasted her for no reason, saying that my reason for existing was not to be handing out money left and right just because people needed to eat, and why couldn't she pack herself a sack lunch once in a while.
Believe me, I see how unfair that was of me. But my nerves were frazzled to the boiling point and I was rapidly losing control. That night, in tears, I recounted the lunch money conversation to my wife and apologized to my daughter. What kind of jerk was I turning into? I was disgusted with myself and very close to scrapping the whole plan. But still I did not spill the beans to anyone, not even my wife, perhaps realizing that if I did tell her, she would try to talk me out of it, and I didn't want anyone to talk me out of it. Somebody had to do something to fix our money issues, and as the man of the house, it was my job. If I didn't do something, nobody else would. I fell asleep thinking that I was just going to have to suck it up, quit acting like a baby and just do it!
By the next morning, I was more determined than ever to go forward with my plans. It could be done. It would be done.
And by God, I was the one to do it.
I dropped the kids off at school on the morning of the 8th as usual. If all went as planned, I would have the deed done and over with before 9:00 am. From there I would rush to the airport to be on a plane to California for a scheduled business trip by 1:00pm.
"Remember," I called to my son. "Mom is picking you up today."
"Oh yeah. I forgot. Where are you going again?" he asked me.
Jail. I heard a voice within me say. I'll be in jail, because of the stupid stunt I am about to pull.
"Business trip" I said. "I'll be in California for a few days. I should be back on Thursday night."
He shouldered his back-pack and waving to me, sauntered off to greet his friends.
I pulled out of the parking lot a few minutes later and headed toward the Wag-a-Bag to gas up. Pulling in, I stole a glance down the alley. The armored truck was there already! I checked my watch. 8:05am. Ahead of schedule. The driver was already coming out of the bank and heading back to the truck! I realized I would not have time to fill my tank after all, so I drove right through the parking lot and parked on the street behind the bank, facing north. I quickly donned the Twinkie costume and tucked the roll of duct tape inside my pants. By now, the driver would be loading the ATM machine around the corner. I jumped out of my truck, closed the door quietly and then climbed onto the cab and shinnied up the tree. I was on the roof with no trouble whatsoever. I crept across to where the bank camera would be and then suddenly realized that I had left the paintball gun in the truck!
"SHIT!" I muttered abruptly. I didn't know if I would have time to get off the roof and back up again, and I started to panic. I knew I could disable the bank's camera with a piece of duct tape, but what about the armored truck camera? Surely it would see me.
But then, that was the reason I was wearing a Twinkie outift right? I decided then and there that I didn't really need to disable any cameras to pull this off. The Twinkie costume would get me through well enough.
My confidence restored, I crept back along the roof until I was directly above the armored truck and slowly peeked over the edge. There was the driver loading bills into the machine. Something else caught my attention almost immediately. Something that I hadn't expected, but had often wondered about...
In all my preperations and observing this thing, I had never had the unique vantage point from the roof that I had now.
There was another guard and he was in the back of the armored truck. For the second time in as many minutes I was obliged to curse, "SHIT!"
That's when things started to get a little bit more challenging.
I felt my heart skip a beat just then. So there were two guards after all. I should have guessed there would be. Of course there would be two guards! How could I have ever thought otherwise? I would have smacked myself flush on the forehead, but the Twinkie costume prevented me from doing that.
I was just about to call the whole thing off and high tail it out of there, when I heard one of the guards comment,
"Hey. There's a twinkie up there."
I threw myself flat on the pebbled surface of the roof and stopped breathing.
"What? A twinkie?" the other one said.
"Yeah. A Hostess Twinkie. On the roof there." the first guard repeated, "It was looking over the edge at us! HEY YOU THERE!!"
I lay sweating in my twinkie suit, wondering if this was what a real twinkie felt like, laying motionless, wrapped up in shiny plastic on a store shelf... I would have jotted down a note about that but, as I lay there, it immediately became clear to me that although they couldn't see me now, they knew I was there.
Hiding was fruitless. There's not many places a giant Twinkie can hide on the roof of a bank.
So I stood up again, and waved.
Completely shooting from the hip, I said, "Hiya fellas! Nice day, huh?"
"Uh, Yeah." one of them said. "Do you mind telling me what you're doing up there?"
"Well...." I stalled, "I'm aahhh, doing an advertising promo for the Wag-a-Bag across the alley." I pulled that lie straight out of my ass. I don't know how I thought of that but it worked.
"Huh?" said the other guard.
"Yeah. They're having a sale on Hostess products or something. Maybe when you guys get done, you can go over and get some twinkies or ding-dongs?"
"OK. Yeah, maybe." he said, but he didn't sound convinced.
At that point I started doing this little impromptu Twinkie Dance across the roof of the bank. I knew these guards would still be making the transfer of canisters of money for at least another 20 minutes, so I needed to come up with an advertising promo to fit with my story.
I started with a sort of jumping-jack-cartwheel routine that ended with me motioning to cars on the street to pull into the Wag-a-Bag parking lot. It was going pretty good for the first five minutes or so. I actually think that I coaxed a few cars into the parking lot to buy twinkies, too!
By then, I had given no further thought to how I was going to complete the heist, in fact, I was really starting to think that I had found my true calling! Then the unexpected happened. That's how criminals always get caught. They don't plan their evil deeds out well enough, or they don't have back-up plans in case something goes wrong. That's what happened to me. Only it seemed to work to my advantage for some reason. I look back on it now and I think I was probably destined to rob the armored truck that day, no matter what went wrong.
I was dancing across the roof, coming out of a cartwheel, shouting "Right this way ladies and gentleman! Fresh twinkies on sale!", when I tripped over the dragging edge of my twinkie suit, bit the dust hard and rolled off the edge of the bank roof onto the guard outside the truck. I mean, I landed right on him and flattened him to the pavement. He was completely out, stone-cold.
I picked myself up off the ground, apologizing as the other guard quickly came out of the back of the truck to check on his buddy. He had his hand on his gun and told me to back away as he came toward me.
I raised my twinkie-arms and took a few wobbly steps backward, somehow only barely conscious of the fact that I'd just fallen about two floors off the roof of a building. He checked on his partner, who was knocked out laying face down among a few canisters of cash that he had been carrying when I fell on him.
He was reaching around to the radio in the back of the truck to call someone and he took his eye off me for a minute. All at once I decided that I was going to grab a canister and make a run for it. What was he going to do? Chase me on foot while an unlocked truck full of cash sits in the alley? Besides, he had his partner to look out for. So, while he is going for the radio, I grabbed the nearest cash canister and took off running for my truck around the corner.
As I turned the corner, I heard him calling for help on the radio.
"Yes! The suspect is dressed as a giant twinkie! He took off on foot in the alley behind the Bank Of America on 6th and Brazos. He's got one of the canisters. Hey YOU! Stop or I'll fire my weapon!"
As I rounded the corner, my heart bumping in my chest, I half expected to feel hot lead piercing my backside or whizzing through the air beside me. But the guard never fired his weapon, and I didn't have the presence of mind to really wonder why. I had other things to worry about. Like getting the hell outta there, for one.
The canister of cash was really heavy, but somehow I managed to run to my truck carrying it, without tripping over my Twinkie suit. I hefted it into the bed of the truck and drove out of the alley away from the bank.
I remember thinking, Ok. Keep yourself together now. You're just another driver out on the streets today. Nothing unusual about you at all. Just drive the speed limit and act natural.
A few minutes later I pulled up to a four-way stop and waited for my turn to go through the intersection. A woman in a mini-van did a double-take as she crossed in front of me. She waved. I felt my face flush with rushing blood and I thought, What the hell is she waving at? Do I know her? Does she somehow know what I just did? I was starting to panic.
The driver behind me leaned on his horn, bidding me to wake up and get moving. My stomach lurched and I finally moved through the intersection, more nervous than I can ever remember being in my whole life.
It's really amazing how people react in a situation like this. I knew that the best thing for me was to be calm-cool-and-collected, but it was not easy at all. Every car horn, every glance from another driver seemed to break right through my exterior calm. I was nervous, sweating and quite certain that everyone was on to me. I reached up to wipe a trickle of sweat out of my eye and only then realized that I still had on the damn Twinkie suit. To me that seemed like a perfect time to scream, "SHIT!"
So I did. "Way to blend into the scenery, ya GIANT TWINKIE!!" I screamed at myself.
Then I quickly turned down a side street to get out of traffic. I found myself in a nicely manicured, quiet neighborhood and pulled over to ditch the Twinkie suit. Before I got out of the truck, I checked my mirrors to be reasonably certain that I was alone. Confident that I wasn't being watched, I quickly got out of the truck, shucked the twinkie suit and stuffed it down in someone's trash barrel. I paused for a moment to write something down; something poetic about how rich people still generate the same amount of trash and refuse as poor people do.
No matter how manicured and pristine their houses and landscaping are,
they all still have trash barrels and sewer systems like the rest of us. For every perfect rose bush and flower bed, there's a ton of solid waste to fertilize it.
As I put the notebook away and turned to get back in the truck, a movement across the street caught my eye. An older woman, probably retirement age, stood up from where she was weeding her flower bed in her yard. She was brushing dirt from her knees and happened to look up when I did. Our eyes locked for just a moment, but I couldn't be sure if she saw me shed the suit or not.
I got back in the truck and drove away, down the street towards the airport. After awhile I finally started to relax a little bit, ocassionally reminded by the bumping of the cash canister in the bed, that I, an unarmed man in a Twinkie suit, had just robbed an armored vehicle.
Well sort of. I had a canister.
My attorney has advised me not to talk to anyone about the incident in case there's a trial. I suppose that's common in these types of things; it sounded reasonable to me anyway. But I can't help but think how ridiculous that really is. I mean, why would I want to go blabbering about something that I'm trying to get away with anyway?
Anyway, I had just ditched the Twinkie suit and was about to head to the airport for my business trip to the home office in California.
I was a little bit nervous on the way to catch my flight. I kept checking my rearview mirrors, halfway expecting to hear sirens and see flashing lights behind me. My paranoia was kind of surreal. All the traffic noises seemed strangely quiet, and the whole world seemed to be on edge, as I made my way through the streets. I started driving too cautiously, driving too slowly, letting other drivers get in front of me, which pissed off the cars behind me.
Relax, I kept trying to tell myself. Just relax. You'll never even make it to the airport if you keep drawing attention to yourself.
But try as I might, I just could not shake the thought that I had just committed a serious felony. If I was caught, I'd spend the better part of what remained of my life in the BIG HOUSE, with people that rape and murder. Had I ever thought about that? Had that possibility even crossed my mind? What the hell was I thinking? Surely I had considered the consequences... Hadn't I?
I didn't matter, though. It was already way too late to go back and reconsider. What's done is done, I thought. Now I had a three-day business trip to concentrate on. Maybe that would help to take my mind off the fact that I was now a criminal.
I swung my truck into the airport parking garage, canister clanking around in the back, and found a place to park. I moved the cash canister into the cab, locked it up and took the elevator to the terminal. Once inside, I took the escalator up to my gate.
There were eight city police officers in front of my gate when I stepped of the escalator. One of them pointed at me and they all began walking quickly in my direction.
"You there. Stay where you are. Hands in the air!"
I froze. I had my hands full with carry-on luggage, which I promptly dropped. Still, for some reason I didn't put my hands up, even though I was sure the officers were telling me to do so. I just froze. My knees started wobbling, I felt color rise up my neck and into my ears, and I took a few steps backward, looking for something to lean on for support. There wasn't anything there, and I started falling down the escalator, even as it was bringing people up.
By the time I realized I had fallen down, I was trying to get back up, and the officers were stepping over me on their way down the escalator. I watched them one by one stepping over me as they pushed past the people on the escalator, shouting,
"Police! Out of the way please! Stop that man!"
By the time I got up, the walking staircase had deposited me once more at the top, next to my luggage, which was still where I dropped it. I looked back down the escalator just in time to see a man flinging open the main doors to the terminal and rushing out into traffic, officers streaming behind in pursuit.
I don't know how I made it onto that airplane. My nerves were shot, but I made sure to pull out my notebook during the flight and scribble some notes about "chasing the sunset" from Austin to LA.
It was just about sunset when we took off,
flying west from Austin, TX to Los Angeles International Airport.
I was sitting on the left hand side of the plane in the window seat,
so I had a great view of the sky. After we climbed to about 30,000 feet,
and cleared a blanket of clouds, I could almost see the curvature of the earth from that high up. It was really beautiful with the sun setting in front of us. It wasn't long before I realized that the sun was taking an awfully long time to set. I started paying more attention then, and looking as far behind us as I could, I noticed that the band of bright sky in front of us, narrowed slowly into the darkness that we left behind us in the east. We were chasing the sunset! For the entire 3 hour flight the sun never set. The darkness chased us. We chased the sun. Time seemed almost suspended...
The rest of my business trip was uneventful. After the scare at the airport, my nerves were a jumbled bunch of knots, so it was nice to go through the motions of a few business meetings and lunches and then get on a plane home.
I had a few chances to watch the national news while I was in California, but I didn't see anything about a giant Twinkie robbing an armored truck. I guess it wasn't that big a deal to the major news networks.
But when I returned home it was a completely different story. I'd been gone for almost a week, but the local news channels were still talking about the ATM robbery. As soon as I came down the ramp from getting off the plane, a news reporter was talking about the robbery on one of the airport TV sets.
"In addition to the Twinkie, police officials are still looking for a small, orange, late model pickup truck, but have no other leads at this time."
Then they switched to a woman who was saying, "Yes, on that day I was driving down HWY 71 and this little orange pickup truck pulled up beside me. There was a giant Twinkie driving the truck, so I waved to him thinking it was kinda funny, you know?... He drove off in a hurry..."
Damn. I thought to myself, I should have ditched that stupid Twinkie suit much earlier. Now they're looking for my truck. If they find it, they'll find me, too.
NOW what do I do? My truck is parked in the airport parking garage, with a canister full of stolen ATM money in it. If I get in it and drive, will I be spotted right away? I have to dump that truck somewhere don't I? Even if I'm not in it , the authorities must NEVER find this truck. If they do, I'm toast, because it's registered to me....
Suddenly I understood why most thieves use a stolen car to commit their robberies in.
I decided the first thing to do was to get that canister out of the truck. Then, I needed to figure out how to dispose of the truck... Maybe I could "hire" someone to do it for me? Maybe I should paint it? How the hell do I get it out of the airport unnoticed?
I shouldered my carry-on and bag and headed towards the parking garage. On the way, a crying young Hispanic woman stopped me and begged me for some money to get a cab. She was upset, tired-looking and pleading with people as they went by her in the terminal.
"Please sir, can you spare a few bucks? I'm just trying to get a cab into the city. The airport lost all my luggage, and all my travelers checks with it."
I felt sorry for her, obviously, and didn't get the impression that this was a panhandling ploy. I'm usually a pretty good judge of character and I believed that she really just needed a little help to get her out of the situation she was in. I was about to give her a twenty dollar bill, when something crossed my mind. Why not give her the keys to my truck instead?
"What's your name? " I asked her.
"Sylvia." she answered, "Sylvia Acavedo."
"Ok, Sylvia. Here. This is the key to my pickup truck. It's a small orange Mazda parked on Level C. Drive it into the city wherever you need to go. When you're done with it, take it to Leon's Paint & Body on East Seventh. Leave it there and tell them to paint it red for me. I'll pick it up next week. I'd do it myself, but you need transportation, and I'm going in the other direction today anyway."
As I was describing the truck, I watched her face for a reaction, hoping against hope that she had no idea that the police were looking for the truck. There was no reaction from her at all, other than surprise that a complete stranger would hand over the keys to his truck to some crying woman in an airport. I was a little astonished that I was doing it, too. But it might have been my only chance. I just hoped she made it to the Leon's without getting pulled over by the fuzz.
"You say it's a small orange truck? Level C?" She asked.
"That's right. A Mazda B3000 on Level C, by the elevators..."
She was very grateful and was falling all over herself, thanking me for my kindness. She promised to do exactly as I asked with the truck, and promised to take really good care of it, too. As I watched her walk away with the keys, I suddenly thought, Oh shit! The canister! I couldn't leave that in the truck!
"Oh! Sylvia! Hang on a second. I almost forgot. There's something I need to get out of the truck before you take it. Wait up. I'll walk with you."
When we got to the truck, she unlocked the doors and I hauled the canister out and tried to shove it in my carry-on bag. It was bulky as hell and didn't really fit at all.
"What's that?" Sylvia wanted to know.
"What? This?" I asked, trying to zip the bag around the canister. "This, Sylvia, is... a... popcorn popper!"
"It is? Huh. That's pretty cool, I guess. It's a little big, isn't it?"
I stopped trying to zip it up in the bag and stood there looking at it. I scratched my head and shuffled my feet.
"Yes. I suppose it is a little big for a popcorn popper. I'm in research and development, you know, for the company I work for, and this popper is just a, uh prototype. I'm still working on it... "
I finished zipping it up as best I could, hid what was sticking out by flinging my jacket across the top of it, and then hefted it up on my shoulder. The thing was dreadfully heavy. I couldn't wait to see how much money was in it.
"Well thanks for taking the truck to the shop for me. And I hope everything works out for you!" I turned and left her standing there, looking after me as I walked away. A few seconds later, when I looked back and waved, she was still standing there, staring at me.
I stopped walking and faced her, calling back, "What? Is something the matter?"
"I know who you are." she said.
My heart stopped beating and dropped into my shoes. A nice little sheet of sweat instantly appeared on my face. She had figured it all out. The orange truck. The cash canister... I was nailed.
"Whadda ya mean you know who I am?" I squeaked, trying not to let my nervousness show.
"Well," she said. "If that thing you tried to stuff in your bag is a popcorn popper, than my name's Orville Redenbaucher. A girl can put two and two together, you know. It's been all over the news anyway... Small, orange Mazda ring a bell?"
I just looked at her with no expression. What was I supposed to do about this twist? Hit her over the head with something? Bribe her? This whole thing just kept getting more and more complicated at every turn. I had no idea what I was going to do at that point.
I took a deep breath and a few steps towards her, "Ok. So what if I AM the person you think I am? Why are you telling me this? What good can it do you?"
"So I'm right." She said. More like confirming it than asking it. "Where's your Twinkie outfit?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." I lied, still not sure of what I was going to do about this.
"You probably ditched it at some point, if you're any good at this.... " she continued, loudly. "Can't rob an ATM in a Twinkie suit and then wear it around all day, can you?"
"OK!" I said, worried that someone else would overhear her. "Can you keep it down? What do you want from me?"
"Look." she said. "I'll come clean with you. The airport didn't lose my luggage. I'm begging for cash so I can buy... drugs. I'm an addict and I want something to get me by, that's all." As I looked at her more closely I realized she was right. Sunken cheeks, vacant looking eyes...
"Seems to me," she continued. "you've got plenty of cash in that popcorn popper of yours. Split it with me and I'll drive your truck into Austin to get it painted."
She stood there and looked at me with one eyebrow raised, a small confident smile creeping around her lips. We stood there looking at each other for what seemed like five full minutes. She had me over a barrel, that was for sure.
Eventually, I agreed to split the cash with Sylvia since there did not seem to be any other solution. If I hadn't, she could've ratted me out at any time. She knew way too much and she was the only person that I thought could get my truck out of the airport safely. Even if she was pulled over by the police, she would appear innocent enough. There was no evidence in the truck that could connect her to the robbery and besides, I reasoned how many orange Mazda trucks are there in the world? At least a few, right? How could anyone be so sure that this was the one they were all looking for?
I noticed then that she was sweating a little bit and her hands were shaking. I could tell that she was really starting to get freaky on me. Her drug habit, whatever it was, was taking control of her. She needed a fix.
"So, let's open up the popper, and split it up." she said to me, picking at her cuticles.
"Here?" I asked. "We can't do it here. I don't even know how to open this thing. It's going to take some doing. Probably has some type of special lock on it or something. Here. Take my truck and meet me in Austin somewhere. I'll take a cab and we can meet somewhere discreet and open it then."
"Not a chance," she answered. "I'm not letting you out of my sight. You have some cash in there that half belongs to me, and I - need it. I need it NOW."
I looked around the parking garage. There was no way we could try to open the canister there. It was too wide open, too many opportunities for people to just walk up and suprise us.
"Here's what we'll do." I said. "Tonight, we'll both take a cab to a motel somewhere close by. We can work on opening the canister in a room there. When we get it open, you can take half of your share. Only half. The rest you can get after you get my truck painted and bring it back to me."
"That's all well and good, but how do I know you won't disappear the moment I take your truck into Austin?"
"You won't know. But how do I know that you won't just take off in the truck and never come back?"
"You won't know. But I'll be back for the rest of my money, don't worry about that."
"And I'll be at the motel, waiting for my truck." I said. We stood there staring at each other again, trying to size each other up. She, a drug user, needing a fix, stumbling upon an ATM thief on the run. Neither one of us wanted to be jerked around by the other one. There was no reason to trust each other, but I felt like I had to trust her and I guess she felt the same way.
"Then, let's go." Sylvia said anxiously.
I looked around cautiously, pulled my jacket over the canister poking out of my bag and walked to the elevator with her.
Once we got down to the street level, we managed to inconspiciously flag down a cab, and I asked the driver to take us to the Airport Motel a couple of blocks away. On the way, I phoned my wife on my cell phone to let her know that I was back in town. She immediately wanted to know where I was and if I was on my way home. I thought she sounded a little funny, a little more worried than usual. Sylvia rode next to me and looked out the window, listening to my side of the conversation.
"No. Not right away.
Something with the truck...
It'll probably be at least another day.
I'm fine! Why?
Don't worry. It's nothing. I'll see you tomorrow. Love you. Bye."
I hung up the phone and looked over at Sylvia.
"She knows, doesn't she?" asked Sylvia.
I frowned and raised an eyebrow, considering the question. My wife probably DID know what was going on, but I didn't answer Sylvia.
Once inside the room, we got down to business. I took the canister out of my bag and laid it on the bed. Sylvia watched silently, cracking and popping her knuckles in a chair by the phone. I turned the canister over, looking at it closely for perhaps the first time ever. It was made of stainless steel, with black rubber trimming the top and bottom edges. There was a small key-hole just over the lip on the lid. I envisioned a barrel shaped key sliding in and releasing the latch on the inside to make the lid pop up. I obviously did not have this key, and started trying to pick the lock. Sylvia and I both tried to open it for about an hour, working the keyhole with a Bic pen, a pair of tweezers, and length of stiff wire I found in the desk drawer.
Nothing seemed to work, and Sylvia was starting to really crawl out of her skin. By that time, she'd already been to the restroom twice to empty her stomach. She was coming down hard. Her black hair was plastered greasily to her face, and she stunk. Her eyes seemed to sink right into her head and the color of her skin was closer to gray than anything else. I thought she looked like the walking dead. I was thinking about going to a hardware store to get a hammer and a screwdriver, when she came out of the bathroom drinking a glass of water and toweling off her face.
"Look." she said. "I need to get right, and I need to do it NOW. I can't take this anymore. My stomach is cramped up like you wouldn't believe. I can't stand still, I can't stop throwing up, my head feels like it's just gonna come OFF, and my whole body is on FIRE. Give me 40.00 dollars so I can call someone to meet me here and get me off. I NEED this."
I looked sideways at her suspiciously. "YOUR money is in here." I said, tapping on the canister with the tweezers. "Why do you do that stuff anyway?"
She rolled her eyes, and threw her hands in the air. "Why do I do this stuff? Why? Do you think I like feeling this way? The reasons people start doing things that are bad for them are few. The reasons they continue doing them are quite a few more. If they're still doing them years later, the reasons are many. It becomes a matter of not being able to stop. Don't judge me. You've got a wife and kids and you're robbing ATM machines. Why do YOU do it?"
I stopped tinkering with the lock long enough to shoot her a look. "That's different." I said.
"Not really." she said back."I'm screwing up one life. Mine. You? If you get caught you're screwing up your life AND theirs."
I set my jaw against that harsh reality, and muttered, "I'm not going to get caught."
"I hope you don't." she said sweetly, "Now, I need you to give me forty dollars out of your wallet. You can take it out of what's mine when you get that thing opened."
I don't like being pressured like that so I didn't respond, just kept picking at the lock. She added, "I REALLY hope you don't get caught. It wouldn't take that much you know." When I looked up at her, she was staring calmly right back at me, knowing that she had me backed in a corner. I would have to give her the money now and square it up later after the canister was opened.
"Here." I said, handing her the money. "I'll be back in a little while." I'd seen a hardware store two streets over where I could buy some tools to open the canister. She snatched the money out of my hands and was already on the phone calling her dealer when I left the room. When I came back, she was sprawled on the bed in a drug induced fog, half asleep or half stoned, incoherent, mumbling her speech, trying to get up but then laying back down under her own protest. She was a mess. I dropped the sledge hammer and screwdriver I'd bought on the floor and walked to the bathroom to relieve myself.
That's when I saw her friend, a skinny blond haired guy, laying flat on his back, eyes closed, not breathing, green-yellow vomit encrusted on his lips and down his front. A black, rubber tube was wrapped loosely around his upper arm, and a hypodermic needle stuck out of his vein at a weird angle. I touched his neck looking for a pulse and found him to be cold and still.
He was dead. Overdosed. A small bowl of powder, and a charred spoon were on the counter along with two twenties, presumably the forty that'd I'd loaned Sylvia. I froze there over him for what seemed like forever, just staring at the whole scene. Finally, I pulled out my notebook and wrote something down; something shallow and stupid about how your knees don't shake nearly so bad if you're not standing up.
The cash canister lay at the guy's feet, dented and misshapen, but still closed. A hammer and a chisel lay right next to it. In spite of the fact that there was a dead guy only a few feet away from me, and another addict having a bad trip in the other room, I picked up the canister and wedged it in the corner by the door. Then I picked up the sledge hammer and took a big swing at it.
*CLANK! It sounded like I was pounding a railroad tie and made a helluva lot more noise than I thought it would, but it also left a sizable dent in the canister just under the seam of the lid. I pulled the sledge up over my head and hit it again.
*CLANK! Again I rewarded with another dent right next to the other one, which had the affect of distorting the integrity of the canister. I knew I could conceivably wear this thing out if I kept pounding it under the lid all the way around. I couldn't help but think it was a giant can of pork and beans that I was opening with a pocket knife.
*CLANK! I turned the canister a few degrees and hit it again. *CLANK! Again. *CLANK! Again. *CLANK! Again. *CLANK! Again. *CLANK! Again. *CLANK!
After awhile, my arms started to get tired and I had to stop. I looked in at Sylvia and she was laying motionless on the bed. The canister was nearly open by then. I figured all I would have to do was pry the top off now that the canister itself was crushed and mangled. I just wanted to split the cash with her and get the hell out of there as soon as possible so I didn't have to deal with any authorities when they came for her friend's body. I didn't even know if she knew he was dead or not.
"Sylvia!" I called to her. "You need to wake up now. I've almost got..." but the ringing of the phone interrupted me. I picked it up. It was some woman at the front desk yelling at me in broken English with some kind of Vietnamese or Asian accent. I couldn't tell you exactly what she said, but what it amounted to was that she'd told us to be quiet already once tonight and was tired of getting complaints. I tried to calm her down and reassure that all would be quiet now, but it was too late. Since we insisted on making so much noise, she'd already called 911 and the police were on the way.
I hung up the phone, my mind spinning in a million different directions, and screamed, "SYLVIA! Get your ass up! The front desk called the freakin' cops on us!" I shook her by the foot and turned her over, shouting, "Your friend's in the bathroom overdosed too - we gotta get - " But then I noticed that she too, was nonresponsive. No pulse, no breathing, skin cool to the touch and slightly clammy. A shiver went up my back and my heart started really pounding. Now I had two dead people and a stolen cash canister on my hands with the cops just minutes away. I may have been imagining it, but I even thought I could hear the sounds of sirens coming closer.
I hefted the sledge hammer one more time on my shoulder and gave the canister a mighty - *CLANK! This time the lid popped off as the metal rim finally crumpled underneath! Delirious with fear and adrenaline I rushed to pick it up and looked inside. It was as heavy as it ever was, but the damn thing was completely empty. I heaved it into the bathtub in fit of rage, cracking the cheap plastic and tile in the process.
Fighting back my anger and disappointment, I left it there and quickly gathered my belongings from the room and opened the door. A squad car with its lights flashing was parked at the other end of the building in front of the lobby. One officer was inside it talking on the radio. I slipped out the door and started walking away in the other direction. As I turned to look back, the officer was getting out of his car and shouting at me.
"Hey you! Stop where you are!"
Another officer was coming out of the office just then, and he gave chase on foot. I guess I had about a hundred yard headstart on them. I ran like the devil himself was after me. Although I heard the sirens and screeching tires, I never saw the cops or their car again. Across traffic filled streets, down alleys, over fences, through fields of weeds and across subdivisions I ran until I could run no more. I slept that night under the Babbitson Creek overpass, freezing with only my jacket to keep me warm, but too afraid to show my face for fear I would be seen, recognized and arrested on the spot.
The next day, I called a cab and finally made it home while my wife and kids were at work and school. I also called the police department and reported my truck stolen. A few days later they told me they'd found it at the airport in the very same spot that I'd parked it when I left on for my business trip. I lied and told them that I hadn't driven it that day, that I'd taken a cab. My wife standing beside me, knew that I was lying because she'd seen me drive it that morning. She also had a very strong idea that I was involved in the ATM robbery, but she never straight out said anything to me about it. It could have been me just being paranoid, but sometimes she just looks at me with this strange mix of hurt and disappointment. I know she knows the whole thing, but bless her heart, she's never said a word about it. To be on the safe side, I did hire an attorney. Mostly because I'm the scaredy cat type, and I think that the cops will come to my house or to my job and take me away almost any day now. I imagine that they saw my face at the motel that day, or that Sylvia and her friend had been revived and they ratted on me to get their own asses out of trouble. I don't know. I guess the whole thing just turned south on me in a big way. Sometimes I sit and think and I can't believe I screwed it up so bad. Sure seems like I should have been able to pull it off. If I get away with this- I swear, I'll do it better next time.
I'm pretty sure I'm going to get caught, though. I made too many mistakes. Any day now the axe will fall. They'll cuff me and take me downtown and it will all be over. But until then, I can dream my dreams and jot my notes.
I stand, addicted to something,
hear it calling me, fingers in my ears
mouth closed shut, imagination's folly
blocking long shadows cast from the setting sun.
I wonder if I dressed like Ronald McDonald, and staged a big charity auction, maybe I could lure in a few big spenders and make off with a few hundred thousand?
I'll have to make a note of that.
~ THE END ~