So, I'll take a break from my standard semi-annual gloom and doom post, and put some fiction up here for any lost souls who stumble across this blog. This is the first chapter of a new story I've been working on for a little while. Constructive criticism is welcome.
Chuck Truett watched from behind dark sunglasses as people streamed in and out of the bank. He sat at a table on the patio of a coffee shop across the street, holding the sports page of the local daily. He folded the paper to an article on the upcoming college football season and slowly sipped his coffee as he alternated reading, scanning traffic, and eyeing the bank.
The sun crashed down without mercy, shattering off cars and pavement. A slight breeze moved the heat around. Even in the shade of the table’s umbrella, he felt like he might spontaneously combust.
Two tan, leggy coeds came out of the coffee shop and took the table next to him. One of them smiled at Chuck. He smiled back. The girls immediately pulled out their cell phones and began tapping away at the keys.
He sipped coffee and looked west, scanning Beach Boulevard. Moderate traffic flowing in both directions, slightly heavier going east toward the beach. He looked south down San Pablo. Light traffic going south, somewhat heavier coming north. Rush hour had not yet begun in earnest, but it was getting warmed up.
There’s a cop, coming north on San Pablo. Chuck glanced at his watch. Three twenty-two. He checked the notepad sitting on the table in front of him, frowned, and made a notation. In five afternoons over the last two weeks, he’d detected no pattern to the passing of the patrol cars at this intersection, other than they did so with some regularity.
A sardonic grin played briefly on his face. Casing a bank. Never in all his life, not even as recently as a month ago, would he have imagined he’d be casing a bank. But desperate times call for desperate measures and all that.
But would he have the balls to actually go through with it? He wondered. Right now, he felt good, working it over in his mind, playing it out. In his mind, he pulled it off without a hitch. The teller was always pretty, and she gazed in awe as she put all the cash in the bank zipper bag and handed it back to him. He winked at her before he turned to stroll calmly out of the bank, several thousand dollars richer than he’d walked in.
He knew reality would be different.
For starters, he would need a disguise. He’d been doing some research on the internet and had some good ideas about how he might disguise himself. Tomorrow he would drive down to the outlet mall in St. Augustine to purchase make-up at the beauty supply store there. He would pay cash. He was trying to think ahead and anticipate how the police might investigate, and shopping out of town and paying cash seemed like common sense precautions.
He had what he thought was a stroke of genius with the disguise. He would wear a wig, of course, and he was going to give himself a couple of facial scars – nothing major, but something for the teller to remember. But the icing on the cake would be some temporary prison tattoos on his hands. He’d just had the idea this morning, and later he would do some research on the internet for prison gang symbols. This, he thought, would surely throw the investigation off track.
Thinking like a criminal was not in Chuck’s nature. Casing a bank, conjuring a disguise, plotting the robbery and the getaway, it all seemed surreal to him.
He’d always been a hard worker, always tried to do the right thing. He had never imagined himself as a criminal. Well, that is, if you don’t count the many times he’d visualized beating the shit out of the lawyers and bankers he’d encountered in the last few years.
No, he’d pretty much always been on the right side of the law. And he’d done well: built a business, made a good living, employed twenty to thirty people, had a nice family and a nice home. But the universe had thrown him some curves, and all of that was gone now. He had almost nothing left.
He’d gone through a soul-searching phase, and he came to terms with his decision. He determined that he was robbing the thieves, so there was no moral issue beyond the decision to break the law, and the law didn’t seem to count for much these days.
He watched the bank until four o’clock. He noted two more patrol cars, one at 3:38 and another at 3:52. Random, no pattern. He finished his coffee, dropped the cup in the receptacle, got in his truck and drove home.
The house felt empty, as it always did now. Memories echoed in the silence. Precious memories, but painful, like a diamond wrapped in barbed-wire.
He’d tried to sell the house, but the market was so bad that the bank wouldn’t even approve a short sale for what the house would bring. He hadn’t made a mortgage payment in eight months, and had no plans to make another. Fuck the bank, let them come and take the house, it would be a blessing. He knew they wouldn’t do it any time soon, though, since the mortgage was underwater. If there was equity in the home, they’d foreclose in a heartbeat. The bad decision to build the house at the wrong time was actually paying off, in an unexpected way.
He dropped two ice cubes in a tumbler and drowned them with Jack Daniels. Bandit, his yellow Lab, was hopping around in a circle toward the door that led to the back deck and yard. He opened the door and Bandit led the way outside.
He watched the dog sniff around the yard as he considered his circumstances. There was still some money in the bank. He could live and eat for a few months yet. A few thousand more from robbing the bank would stretch it out a little further. Beyond that, he didn’t know, but he didn’t worry much about it. He’d become accustomed to living with uncertainty. It was just part of the game now. It was the “new normal”. That, and there were plenty of banks to rob.
An osprey called out from a tree top in the small patch of forest beyond the fence that surrounded the back yard. Probably scoping the pond back there. The pond was surrounded by eight other lots, six of which were undeveloped. The lots were large, by today’s standards, each one consisting of three plush acres. Wildlife still inhabited the neighborhood, which was adjacent to a large tract of undeveloped land. Deer, foxes, osprey, red-tailed hawks all made their homes in the forest.
Chuck liked to watch the osprey and the hawks hunt their prey. He’d seen the osprey take some nice bass from the pond, and he’d seen the hawks streak down and pick rabbits and squirrels off the ground. Somehow the raw, unforgiving nature of the food-chain seemed less predatory than the world in which he lived.
His cell phone vibrated in the holster on his hip. He checked the ID. It was Sam, his brother.
“Hey,” Chuck said.
“You busy?” Sam asked.
“I was right in the middle of solving the world’s problems, but I can talk.”
Sam laughed. “Right. You finish that book?”
“Yeah, finished it this morning. It’s interesting, like you said. And very disturbing.”
Sam had mailed Chuck his latest recommended reading, Crossing the Rubicon, by Michael Ruppert. He told Chuck to start with an open mind. Three years ago, Chuck would have laughed at the premise, that 9/11 had been an inside job, and would have said it was ludicrous. But over the last couple of years, with the combination of his own experiences, observations, and the books that Sam had insisted he read, his view of the world had changed. Ruppert’s book had only added to the evidence that there was a powerful, evil undercurrent that churned below the surface of the political and financial systems of the world, and the U.S. in particular. Greed and lust for power had corrupted the government and destroyed the foundation of the country. Chuck’s faith in the government of the United States had been shattered, and his belief in the ultimate good of the human spirit had been shaken.
“Disturbing, for sure,” Sam said. “Better to know the truth, though. Forewarned is forearmed.”
“So you tell me.”
“When are you coming up for a visit?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe in a couple of weeks.”
“That’s what you’ve been saying for six months, Chuck. Come on up, the kids would love to see you, and so would Gina. Not to mention, you and I haven’t had the chance to hang out much the last few years. And it’s important to me, because we need to have a serious conversation about some things, and I don’t want to do it over the phone. We need a couple of days for this.”
“A serious conversation about what?”
“About a lot of things, man,” Sam said. “We just need to talk about some life things. I have some ideas I want to bounce off you, get your feedback.”
“Alright, I guess I can take some time off,” Chuck said, as if free time was a strain these days. “I’ll take a look at what I’ve got going and I’ll block off a good long weekend. Hell, maybe even a whole week.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” Sam said. “Seriously, this is important to me, Chuck. I want you to give me a date and commit to it, so look at your calendar and call me back tomorrow.”
“What’s the deal? I mean, why the mystery?”
“Just humor me, okay? It’s important. Isn’t that good enough?”
Chuck nodded, staring into the forest. “Yeah, man. That’s good enough.”