Authors: William D. Carl
But this particular teller still shook and cried.
“Get it open,” he said.
“I … I’m trying. …”
“I suggest you try faster.”
Chesya shifted her weight nervously from one foot to the other.
Sweet Jesus, she’s gonna get us all killed
Gloria dropped the keys, letting out a small scream. Rick slapped her across the face, not very hard, but it stopped the sound. She seemed to lose her ability to stand.
When he was a child, Rick had owned a toy, a plastic figurine of a deer. When you pressed on the base, the joints would loosen, and the deer would sway, then fall into a heap, only to rise again when you released the button. The way the blonde slumped gracefully to the floor, the way her knees wobbled and buckled beneath her skirt, reminded Rick of this toy.
He had made a mistake in choosing her. She was too fragile, too emotional. He’d have to pick someone else, and any deviation from his researched plans pissed him off. He pointed the gun at the blonde’s head.
“Wait!” Chesya shouted from the tellers’ booths.
Jones swooped down on her with his revolver. “You best shut your mouth!”
Chesya wasn’t cowed. “She can’t do it. Can’t you see? She’s on the damn floor, she’s so scared. I’ll do it for you.”
Rick said, “If this is some sort of trick—”
“Then I’m just a stupid bitch who doesn’t deserve to live. Listen, you want the money. I wanna go home and take a long, hot bath. I don’t wanna die, and I don’t want my friends to die. I’ll get the vault open, and you can leave us be. How’s that sound?”
Cocking his head, Rick admired the woman’s audacity. “Okay,” he said. “Get over here. Blondie, you get your cute little ass back there with the others.”
The skinny woman crawled back on her hands and knees, and Rick felt her humiliation with every timid motion. It wasn’t a good feeling, and he had to force his attention back to the brash teller who had dared to stand up to him.
Chesya grabbed a set of keys off the unconscious manager, holding them up as she stood, so that the robbers could see they were only keys.
“You need both sets to get it open,” she explained. “Manager on duty has one set, and I have the other. I’m the head teller.”
Rick nodded. She walked to the vault door, her stride confident and a little sassy. When she passed the blond teller, who was still crawling, she looked down at her.
“Gloria, you get on back now,” she said. “We’ll get this over with, then me and you will go grab a couple of margaritas at Universal Café.” Gloria nodded, but her face registered little more than shock. Turning, she continued her creeping until Saul grabbed her by the back of her sweater and tossed her into the corner with the other tellers. An olive-skinned man wrapped his arms around her, and she cried into the shoulder of his suit. The way he held her, Rick wondered if they had some relationship besides being coworkers; maybe they were getting a little loving on the side.
Rick said to Chesya, “Get to it. I want that vault open quick as shit.”
“Lovely phrase,” she drawled, working the big dial.
“Careful, you don’t wanna piss me off.”
“I imagine it’s pretty easy to do.”
Rick bristled, wanting to hit her, but she had finished with the combination, and he could hear the sound of the big security bar withdrawing from the floor and ceiling. She was already working on the locks, inserting the various keys, when the hair on the back of Rick’s neck stood up. Something was wrong.
Glancing around the bank, he saw that Saul had nearly finished emptying the drawers. The garbage bags bulged with the weight of the money. The idiot had even grabbed the rolls of coins, which would only weigh them down in the end. The hostages were still kneeling obediently; his men were still in charge; the manager was still unconscious. Outside the front windows, he could see the sunlight dissipating between the drawn blinds. It would be dark soon, and Jason was waiting outside in the getaway car. Everything seemed fine, so he turned back to the woman and the vault.
She shivered for a second, turned her big eyes to him. “Someone just walked over my grave.”
Surprised, he wanted to say that he’d just experienced the same
sensation, but he kept quiet. It wouldn’t do to show weakness. Any kind of weakness.
As she turned another lock, he asked, “You got a last name, Chesya?”
“Why? You have some sick need to know who you’re holding a gun on?”
“I like to know who I’m working with.”
She laughed, then said, “Work? You call this work? Ha!”
“You know what I mean.”
“Mister, all I gotta do is open this here door for you. That’s it. I don’t plan on making nice with just any man who’s pointing a gun at my head.”
“Oh, come on, we can be civil, can’t we?”
There was a clank of keys, and a moan. Then the lock’s pins fell into position with a click, and the huge stainless-steel door eased open about a half inch.
Rick turned to the woman. “Thank you,” he said.
“You know, this attitude isn’t helping matters, lady. How about you grab those garbage bags and get your fat ass in here with me.”
“You got another five or six minutes before the time lock deactivates,” she said. “Every night, seven-fifteen sharp. Didn’t you do your homework?”
“This bastard’s got a timer on it? I didn’t think a Class III would …” He began yanking on the heavy door, but it didn’t budge any farther than that half-inch opening. Tugging harder, he realized it was useless.
She nodded. “Yeah, it’s a new model. It only opens three times a day. Eight a.m., three p.m., and seven-fifteen. Then you still need the two sets of keys and the combination. If you’d robbed us at, say, five, ’stead of now, you’d only get the cash from the teller drawers up front.”
“Jesus … okay, then. Shit! Okay, Chesya, you going to tell me your last name? May as well chat if we aren’t getting in there yet.”
“Johnson,” she answered. “Chesya Johnson. And I’m still not going to be your friend.”
“Fine with me.”
“Just being neighborly,” she said, although her tone indicated otherwise.
In the distance, a car alarm started blaring. Rick cursed, knowing that it would alert the police if it continued to honk. He was beginning to think this was a jinxed heist. Too many things going wrong at the same time.
“You got family, Chesya?”
“No. Just me and myself.”
“You aren’t gonna do anything stupid, are you?”
She looked at him. “My mother didn’t raise any fools. I want to get home in one piece as much as you do. Probably more.”
“That’s good, then.”
She looked him up and down, this man who was forcing her to rob her own workplace, this man who held a gun on her. He wasn’t bad looking. Sandy, blond hair, a bit of gray at the temples, high cheekbones. He looked muscular beneath his work shirt and jeans. He’d be someone she’d look at twice on the street, once coming and once going. He was a bit pasty, and she didn’t usually date white men, finding them too uptight and businesslike in the love department.
She caught herself. Date? The man had a gun pointed at her.
, she thought.
It’s been too long since you had a man
Cursing herself, she listened to the noise from outside the bank, wondering what was causing it.
It sounded as though a second car alarm had joined the first. Now Rick knew the cops would come. Probably a gang of kids out on a smash-and-grab, but they were going to wreck the whole robbery if the police reached them in time. Listening carefully, he thought he could hear a third alarm.
“What’s causing all that racket?” Chesya asked, peering around the corner at the lobby.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “Kids or something.”
“Doesn’t sound like kids.”
There was a soft, welcoming hiss from the vault, and it opened. Grinning, he pulled on the stainless-steel door, astonished at how easily it pivoted on the heavy hinges. A light went on inside, and
Rick chuckled as he recalled his childhood fascination with whether the refrigerator light stayed on when the door was closed. He had often tried to catch it turning on, but had never been quick enough.
The car alarms on the street seemed to grow even more raucous. Rick knew he had to make this a fast job in order to elude the police. He prayed that Jason had the getaway car revved up and ready to motor as soon as they rushed out into the street.
“Here,” he said, tossing a couple of garbage bags at Chesya. “Take these and fill them with all the cash you can. We’re not looking to hit the safety-deposit boxes, just the cash. And don’t think you can drop a paint bomb in there, or you may not make it home tonight.”
“Oh, I’m shaking.” She grabbed the bags and entered the vault. Rick followed her.
It was a modular vault, welded tight at the seams. The walls were so thick they deadened most of the sound from the streets, even with the door open. The car alarms were muffled, although they had accumulated in numbers. Dozens of them must have been honking and whistling outside the bank. If he could still hear them within the walls of the vault, he knew they were deafening on the street.
Jones’s voice echoed from the lobby. “Hey, Rick … boss … I think you’d better get out here quick.”
His name’s Rick
. She needed to remember that for the inevitable police report.
“What now?” he shouted back.
“Just … get out here.”
Rick grabbed the teller by the hand and marched her at gunpoint to the lobby of the bank, leaving the plastic bags on the floor of the vault. When he saw his partner, white as a sheet and leaning against the counter, his gun all but forgotten on the desk beside him, Rick knew something bad was going down.
“What the fuck’s wrong with you, Jones? Pick up your gun.”
“Boss … I don’t … I don’t feel so good. My gut … something I … ate …”
Rick scanned the area. The blond teller and one of the male employees writhed on the floor, as though in great pain. They moaned, faces twisted in agony, and the other two tellers scooted away from
the sick ones, afraid they’d be shot if they stood up. On the other side of the counter, Jack Browning and Saul Wiseman were doubled over at the middle, clutching their stomachs. Browning vomited, a thick brown liquid that splattered on the immaculate marble floor. He dropped his revolver, and it landed—plop—in his sick at his feet.
A male teller shouted, “We need to get away from them! Something’s wrong.”
Chesya and the other female teller, a brunette whose name tag identified her as Mary, hurried over to the blonde’s side. “Gloria?” Chesya asked. “What is it, honey?”
Jones took a step toward the hostages, then fell to his knees so hard that Rick heard the snap of breaking bone. Dropping into a fetal position, the man began to convulse, as though in the throes of an epileptic fit.
“Jesus, Saul …”
Rick realized that the sound of the car alarms outside had grown thunderous, constant.
Mary placed a hand behind Gloria’s neck, then pulled away as if she’d been bitten. Chesya heard Gloria’s head hit the floor.
“Gloria, honey, answer me. What’s wrong?” Chesya asked.
Mary said, “Chesya, something … I felt … under her skin … like insects …” Mary suddenly scratched behind her own neck.
Gloria turned to face Chesya, exposing the trickle of bile that ran down from the corners of her mouth. When she opened her eyes, they seemed to reflect the meager light from the sunset, gleaming like a mirror, like a cat’s eyeshine. The pupils were a rich golden color.
“Hurts … hurts …,” she repeated in a low voice that didn’t resemble the church-choir soprano Chesya had often heard humming at the cubicle next to her own. Now she sounded animalistic, growling, feral.
And so very full of pain.
Rick glanced at the front of the bank to see Jason at the entrance. The teenage getaway driver screamed and motioned wildly. He pulled on the handles, but the doors were locked.
“Get back in the car,” Rick shouted, heading for the door. “We need you to wait in the damn car!”
The boy continued to yank on the doors, as if he could will them to unlock. As he got closer, Rick saw the terror in Jason’s green eyes, sheer, undiluted fear. In the distance, metal crunched against metal; glass shattered. Cars were slamming into each other. The alarms pulsed over everything.
And something moved in the background … something that was almost human …
Jason glanced over his shoulder as Rick reached the door. He was still shouting at the boy to get his ass back in the getaway car.
“Jason, if you don’t get—”
Something dark and hairy rushed from Jason’s left. It pulled him away from the windows and out of sight.
Rick jumped back from the glass, wondering what had snatched the kid away. It had happened so fast. All he had was the lingering impression of hair and teeth and violence.
That was why the car alarms were going crazy all over the city street. Some kind of animal was loose.
And it had just carried off the getaway driver.
Everywhere he looked, automobiles had wrecked into lampposts and the sides of buildings, some piled on top of others like weird modern sculptures. A motorcycle was turned on its side, the back wheel still spinning. A fire had started in the corner grocery store across the street, smoke pluming out of its shattered front windows. No bodies inhabited the wrecks.
As Rick watched, people ran through the streets, waving their arms, screaming for help. A child, no more than seven or eight, hurried along the sidewalk across the street, only to be grabbed and dragged into the shadows by a beast lurking in the alley. It moved so fast, Rick only had a quick idea of yellowed teeth, fangs, and spit. Another lumbering creature leaped from behind an overturned car, pulling a woman into the obscured, topsy-turvy confines of the backseat. Her screams stopped abruptly.
“Oh my God …” Chesya said behind him.
Turning, Rick hurried back to the others, hastening away from the chaos overtaking the darkening street outside. The street lamps flickered at his back, better illuminating the city.
The sun had almost set, and the animals, whatever they were, grew bolder, emerging from the shadows into the spotty glow of the lamps, which their eyes refracted, flashes of gold in the crisp, autumn night.