When All Else Fails

Margaret Calaway


            Torrid is the most fitting word to describe the weather today. All of our jackets have been discarded onto the floor of our deck, next to the small television that had told us to expect chilly weather.

            “Jen, how do you feel about pumpkins?” Jeremy asks me, taking another drink. Jenny takes his drink away and he whines at her.

            “You didn’t answer my question,” he pouts. I roll my eyes.

            “I think they’re condescending,” I say. Jeremy nods seriously.

            I look around at my friends: the ones who are sitting with me on our country shop’s front porch. Of course, it’s not really a shop anymore, so much as it is Home. I sigh at the ‘out of business’ sign that is nailed to the window and run my hands over my head, frowning at the continued lack of hair.

            A few minutes later, a short man is standing on the deck with us. We’re all sitting here, staring at him rather rudely. He’s exceedingly different. For a short man, he comes off as rather tall. There’s an air of confidence that he carries that compels me to keep my eyes on him. He has an enormous black beard that reminds me of a disgruntled sheep and his clothes look like they’ve been picked out by a five-year-old, particularly the small cartoon dinosaur on his shirt.

            “Is this Henderson’s?” he asks in a gravelly voice.

            “We’re closed,” Jeremy slurs. We’re not really the nicest group of people.

            “I’m not here to shop,” the man explains, looking completely unfazed by Jeremy’s rudeness. “Which one of you is Jennifer?”

            “Me,” Jenny and I say at the same time.

            The man takes a long look at Jenny with her spiking green hair and complementary eyes, then at me, with my lack of hair, sunken eyes, and lopsided grin. It’s a bit unnerving, to be honest. The way he looked at us, I could have sworn he was reading our minds.

            “You’ll do,” the midget says, pointing at me. “Come on.” I don’t move.”

            “Why?” I ask. I cross my legs to show that I have no intention of moving any time soon.

            “Because you’ve been sitting here on the porch of your shop for far too long. If you don’t do something now, you might never get to do something interesting in your life. You’ll come with me because you need something to look back on later, when you remember everything that you regret and everything you don’t.”

            I hesitate. Damn, that small man has a way with words. He was either a psychic or an amazing psychological profiler.

            “To where?” I ask him.

 

            We end up in a black van in front of the bank. The man smiles at me and hands me a .45. Oddly enough, I hardly remember leaving my front porch, let alone driving into the city.

            “What the Hell am I supposed to do with this?” I ask.

            “You’re going to help me rob this bank,” he replies. He makes it sound as if it’s obvious.

            I’m in shock, though I suppose I shouldn’t be. What in the world makes him think that I would commit a crime with a person I just met? I mean, my record isn’t exactly squeaky clean, but this is a lot more extreme than a bit of public immaturity.

            “Why?” I ask like an idiot. I seem physically unable to muster up any other words.

            “It’s something you can tell your grandchildren about,” he says, “You’re not going to be around forever.” He tosses me a bit of metal and I catch it. It looks like one of those concealed earpieces that spies use in movies. How convenient. I roll my eyes and ask myself why I’m still here.

            “What’s your name, then?”

            “Excuse me?”

            “If we’re going to be robbing a bank together, I at least need to know what to call you.”

            After a moment’s hesitation, he replies, “Call me Santa.”

            Santa reviews the plan with me. As far as I know, this is the first time we’ve gone over them, but he acts as if we’ve talked about this before. I’m to walk into the bank and make my way over to the tellers. Then I’m supposed to act like I’m taking out a small amount of money. Santa hands me a fake ID when he tells me this part and I decide to take it without questioning him. Once I’m in the vault, he’ll enter and start the robbery.

            “Terry will take care of the hostages while I find you and the vault,” he says. I wave awkwardly to a curiously somber man who has been sitting in the corner of our van the entire time. He waves back.

            “And don’t let me forget about the panic button, Jen. I always forget about the panic button,” he says. I nod vigorously. The strangest thing about this whole situation is that I actually feel ready for it. It’s been far too long. Wait, no it hasn’t, because I’ve never robbed a bank before, and I’ve certainly never met someone named Santa before today.

            “Good luck,” Santa says as he slides the van’s door shut. I smile sheepishly, slipping my pistol into my belt. With an unexpected air of confidence, I open the doors of the bank.

            It takes me a moment to realize that I should feel out of place here, but I don’t Everything around me feels natural. Maybe I have done this before after all. After waiting in line for several minutes, I hand my new ID to the teller behind the counter. She types a few algorithms into her computer, hands it back to me, and tells me to follow a stern-looking woman who is standing near a door. I can hear Terry fervently congratulating me. Calm down, I think. We haven’t completed the job yet.

            After a series of hallways with various twists and turns, we reach the vault. There’s a loud clanging as the door slowly unlocks. When the door opens, I catch sight of several briefcases which, upon further inspection, I discover to be filled with hundred dollar bills. I hear a short bout of screaming through my earpiece, then dead silence with the exception of Santa talking, telling someone to stay put. Any minute now, Santa would be by my side and we could escape with our pockets full of cash. Why do I find that so comforting? What I don’t expect is for the woman to pull a gun on me.

            I stand there confused. This wasn’t part of the plan. Did the others hire someone else without me? For some reason, the thought of that makes me feel betrayed.

            “Stay where you are,” the woman says. She begins grabbing several briefcases. I’m not sure what to do, so I listen to her. A gunshot rings out and I jump several feet into the air. When I turn around, Santa is standing at the door of the vault, holding his own gun, which is smoking and pointed at the collapsed robber.

            “Well, why are you just standing there?” he says, “grab the stuff and let’s go!”

            “Hurry,” Terry interjects. “The cops are on their way.”

            I bolt out of the vault, turning around to find Santa pouring gasoline all over the floor and the rest of the briefcases.

            “What the Hell are you doing?” I throw my hands up as high as they can go while carrying several briefcases.

            “Destroying the evidence,” Santa mutters. “Run.”

            The two of us run down the hallway of the bank as Santa throws a match into the vault. Several meters away, I can still feel the heat and energy bursting from the room that we had just evacuated.

            The thrill makes me remember the other times that we’ve done this, running down the hallway as everything’s about to burst into flames. We race against the heat and I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. It’s all worth it as we burst out of the back door and into an awaiting black van.

            “Move!” I yell, but Terry is already on it. We speed through the city streets as Terry jerks the wheel through various alleyways and offroads. The sirens are starting to fade in the distance and I laugh. From somewhere far away, there’s a loud boom and smoke bursts from the top of the bank. Santa bites his lip.

            “I think I may have gone a bit too far,” he admits. From what I can see as we drive out of town, other buildings are starting to catch fire too.

            Our van screeches to a halt a safe distance away from city limits. There are no police cars to keep us going. The three of us get out of the van and admire our work. We stand there for hours, watching the gray and red rise beyond the tallest buildings. After a while we resort to small talk to pass the time.

            “So, how is the Alzheimer’s treatment going?” Santa asks me.

            “It’s alright,” I say. “More effective than it used to be.”

            I stand there with Michael and Terry, watching the city burn. I smile.