Read All This Could End Online
Authors: Steph Bowe
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction
‘I’ll be fine,’ says Nina.
Paul looks back to Nina, and nods. ‘Be quick,’ he says, and she can hear the reluctance in his voice. He hands her the bags, then walks back towards the main room of the bank, the manager in front of him. Her father wants it to be over as much as she does, she’s sure of it. The bank manager turns and stares at Spencer as long as he can, then he’s gone.
Nina lets go of Spencer and chucks the gun on the ground as if it’s burning hot. She knows so little about guns, and has never fired one. She can pick pockets and locks, hotwire cars, disable security cameras, steal and lie and con. But she has never let her parents teach her properly how to use a gun. Her parents were, however, the ones who put the gun in her hand. ‘Just for show’, they said. And she took it, because that’s what Nina has always done—gone along with whatever her parents said, legal or otherwise. But not after today. The gun is better than a knife, though. You don’t get a safety lock on a knife.
It takes all the effort she has left inside her to stay composed while she’s decomposing.
She drops the bags, then pushes the balaclava up off her face (something she is explicitly forbidden to do, on account of the security cameras and potential multiple witnesses) and inhales deeply. There’s not enough air in the vault. There’s not enough air in the world.
She closes her eyes and pretends that she’s four months in the past, back when she was still friends with Spencer, back when she was not robbing a bank with him in it. Back when things felt more complicated than ever but, in comparison to now, were the simplest days of her life.
‘Shit!’ she says, pacing back and forth. The vault is small, and the amount of money is small, tucked away on shelves in little neat stacks. She holds her head in her hands. How could she be thinking about the money right now? ‘Shit, shit, shit!’
Spencer exhales, pressing himself against the wall of the vault. This is too surreal, too dreamlike and trippy, for it to be reality. The cold concrete wall. The stale smell, like old bones and mothballs. Do dreams have an olfactory dimension? It must be real if he can smell it.
Olfaction, sense of smell
And it’s too ridiculous. He hasn’t seen her for four months and now she’s robbing the bank? Nina—quiet, reserved, thoughtful Nina. Smart Nina. Not Nina the Crazy Hold-A-Gun-To-Your-Head Bank Robber. This is definitely too much for him.
But he can’t leave. He needs to talk to her, ask her why she left, why she’s robbing the bank. Tell her he misses her. But it’s the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong everything. This girl he thought he’d never see again is right in front of him, a balaclava around her neck, about to rob the bank his father manages.
that?’ he asks instead, nodding towards the gun on the floor.
‘It’s…’ she stammers, distracted, ‘it’s a handgun. It’s a pistol.’
‘And is it loaded?’ He can hear the panic in his voice. ‘I don’t want to get shot.’
‘You don’t need to worry about it. I’m not planning on shooting anyone. Especially not you.’
‘It’s very small. I haven’t seen a gun in real life before. Is Bruce Willis about to turn up?’
Ten, twenty, thirty seconds pass—they feel like a lifetime—before Nina speaks again.
‘We’ve got three, four minutes, tops.’ She doesn’t look at him as she speaks. ‘Keep your voice low. And grab a bag. We need to get this done as quickly and efficiently as possible.’
?’ asks Spencer. She hasn’t answered his question.
‘Help me.’ She nods to the cash, as she throws the bundles into one of the bags.
Spencer stumbles forward, his breathing loud and erratic. He hopes his dad is okay. He hopes his sister is all right, at home, alone, and hasn’t burned the house down with a cooking experiment. He hopes his mother’s all right, wherever she is. He’s certainly
all right. Hands shaking, he stuffs money into one of the bags and thinks,
I don’t want to be an accessory to this
whatever the hell is going on.
He glances at Nina, but doesn’t want her to catch him staring. She looks older than he remembers. Which makes sense, of course—that’s what happens when time passes, people age, he knows that. But that’s not it. Still beautiful, but she looks exhausted. And her eyes?
‘Are you wearing contact lenses?’ he asks.
She nods. ‘I’m not just trying out a new look for fun. They’re very irritating.’
‘You look like you have shark eyes. I can imagine you abseiling into a museum and stealing a Monet painting or something in that outfit. Bank-robbing seems kind of below you. No offence.’
She doesn’t respond to this.
There’s something darker about her eyes. Are his own eyes darker now, too? Has his mother leaving and his family falling apart turned him into someone else? Maybe not the sort of someone else who robs banks, just someone with a little less soul than he used to have, someone a little deader on the inside.
‘We only really have one option,’ says Nina. ‘And you’re not going to like it.
don’t like it, but I don’t have a lot of time and I can’t think of anything better.’
‘What’s the option for? What are you talking about?’
Nina swallows noisily. ‘I can’t just pretend that I don’t know you and breeze out of the bank. I can’t risk you telling anyone. We use our real names all the time—I’m still Nina Pretty. It wouldn’t take them long to find us.’
‘Don’t you trust me?’ Spencer asks. ‘I swear to God, I have nothing to gain by telling the police that I know you.’ His hands are shaking uncontrollably. ‘You know me. You know I wouldn’t.’
‘I can’t trust anyone, Spencer,’ she says.
‘Why?’ he asks.
‘Why can’t I trust anyone?’
‘No, I get that. I mean, why are you robbing a bank?’
‘Because that’s where the money is.’
Spencer is trying to avoid hyperventilating, or passing out, or otherwise drawing unnecessary attention to himself. The bags are packed, the vault now bare of cash. He doesn’t know what will happen next but everything that comes to mind is horrible. Terrifyingly horrible.
‘Are those your parents? The bank robbers?’
‘Yes,’ says Nina.
‘Wow. And who’s the skinny one?
‘That’d be Tom.’ She doesn’t look at him.
Spencer almost laughs. ‘Monica’s going to love this.’
‘I’m going to have to tell my mum, Spencer,’ she says. ‘I don’t want to, but I don’t know how to deal with this. I’m sure you understand.’
‘I could not understand less.’
‘The risk is too much, and even if I am trying like hell to get away from my parents, I do not want them going to prison because of me.’
‘That’s my dad out there,’ Spencer says. ‘He manages this bank.’
‘Oh God, no,’ she groans. ‘I knew I recognised him.’
‘I thought you might figure it out yourself. Considering how panicked he looked seeing his son with a gun to his head.’
‘Everyone always looks that panicked,’ she says.
‘You’ve done this
?’ He’s incredulous. ‘Are bank robberies a regular occurrence in your life?’
‘I shouldn’t tell you. You know me, you’ll go to the police, and I don’t know how Mum will deal with this.’
‘Your family is
messed up,’ says Spencer.
‘I know. What do I do?’ She knows it’s not really the time for rhetorical questions.
‘Dad won’t recognise you,’ Spencer shakes his head. ‘He has a shocking memory for faces, and he’s not in a good state right now.’ He begins to list in his head all his favourite words beginning with P.
Panacea, a solution for all problems. Panoply, a complete set.
‘Clearly,’ says Nina. She picks up the gun and waves it. ‘I wouldn’t expect anyone to be.’
Spencer tries not to flinch. ‘No, not just this.’ He shakes his head again. ‘Before then, too. Did you ever get my emails?’ He keeps thinking of words starting with P:
Pastiche, an art work combining materials from various sources.
Nina nods, winces. ‘It’s unfortunate your mother is the one that left. If my mother had spontaneously decided to disappear to the Pacific Islands we wouldn’t be in this situation right now.’
She pulls the balaclava back over her face. ‘We have to go back out there. Mum will probably start panicking. She’s a bit…’ she pauses, considers, ‘highly strung.’
Penumbra, a half-shadow.
Nina puts a bag over each shoulder, then nudges Spencer forward, holding the gun to his back again once they’re outside the vault. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispers. ‘I really don’t want to do this.’
He believes her.
Petrichor, the smell of earth after rain.
Do you really need the money that badly?
Spencer wants to ask.
Is it your mother, is this why you do it? Just for her?
But he’s too freaked out of his mind to say anything.
Plethora, a large quantity. Propinquity, an inclination.
The main reason Spencer had come to the bank today was to check in on his dad. He’d figured that if he was going to get through to his father anywhere—to try and wake him up to what he was doing to Monica, to their family—it would be at work. At home he’s nothing more than a TV-watching, two-minute-noodle-eating zombie.
Why this bank, though? How unlikely a coincidence was it? Absolutely freaking ridiculous. You couldn’t be unluckier if you tried. Why did Spencer have to come today of all days? Why did Nina have to be a bank robber? Why couldn’t she just be involved in credit card fraud?
Spencer’s father, three tellers and seven bank customers are now all sitting in a group near the back wall, Tom pointing a gun vaguely in their direction. Is the gun loaded? Spencer sure hopes it isn’t. Who would let their twelve-year-old son hold a loaded gun, anyway? Who would let their twelve-year-old son rob a bank with them? Spencer can see Tom shaking from here. Or maybe that’s his own vision? It’s hard to tell. He imagines Monica, sitting at home, watching TV, an unremarkable Monday at home, the beginning of lazy school holidays.
What would happen to Monica if he and his father both died? Would their mother come back and live with her, or take her over to Fiji where they’d make a new family? He’s being ludicrous. No one will die. That only happens on TV. Absolutely
). Melodramatic. People rarely die in bank robberies—he read it in Wikipedia once, less than one per cent of bank robberies involve a fatality, and Wikipedia is reliable, isn’t it? But then again, someone has to be in that one per cent. Maybe he’s the unlucky one. He’s been unlucky so far. Maybe he’s on a roll.
‘I have a slight issue,’ Nina says to her mother, who is standing across the room at the front window of the bank, her back to them, peering out the blinds.
Nina’s dad is clutching the bags of money from the till. They seem to have all the money in the bank, but they’re still here, hanging around. What more is there to get?
Nina’s mother turns to face them. ‘We have a problem as well. You tell me yours first?’
‘No, you go ahead.’ Spencer can hear the confusion as well as the panic in Nina’s voice.
Oddly, Nina’s mother sounds as if she’s smiling as she announces: ‘The fuzz have arrived.’ This is the kind of thing Bridie would say after she’d dragged Spencer along to a party that was too loud or ran too late, and everyone had to run into neighbouring gardens and hide, otherwise they’d end up grounded because their parents would have had to pick them up later from a police station. But the way Nina’s mother says it, like she’s almost excited, makes it sound even more sinister.
Nina pushes Spencer over towards Tom and walks up to the window, where she dumps both sports bags full of money. He feels nervous with Nina’s parents there, and Tom, a kid he’s never met before, a kid with a gun. Monica’s friend, but still. Is he scared? It’s hard to tell what’s going on behind Tom’s balaclava.
‘This hasn’t happened before,’ Nina says accusingly to her mother, once she’s peered through the blinds. They’re slanted, so no one else can see outside.
Nina’s mother takes a deep breath. She is remarkably calm and that disturbs Spencer more than anything. ‘Hasn’t happened with you before, no. But before you were born I had a few encounters.’
Spencer imagines police rushing in, guns blazing. He plays five different scenarios over in his mind, all of them involving his own violent death. The splatter of blood and brains and guts. It’s not helping his state of mind.
He thinks of his mother. Not his mother in Fiji with the vampiric body builder, or his mother in their silent house in the months before she left, or even his mother over the past few years, existing on the periphery of his life. He remembers his mother as she was when he was eight years old.
His father was always the boring but reliable one, and his mother eventually was, too, at least until she left for the Pacific Islands. She wasn’t always so serious and well-behaved and obsessed with having a clean house, Spencer’s sure of it. Maybe long-term exposure to Spencer’s dad changed her. Maybe she just got tired as she got older.
But in this moment he holds a clear memory in his mind of his mother when she was not just an inconvenience in his life, when he wasn’t looking forward to growing up and moving out. When he needed her.
School holidays. Running inside to the kitchen, with knees and palms scraped from falling on the pebbly footpath that led to their front door. His mother standing in the kitchen cooking pancakes, with her dark hair up in a bun, wearing her Mickey Mouse pyjamas. His three-year-old sister sitting at the table, speaking very quickly and very excitedly, telling a story that makes little sense and not eating any of her breakfast. And he’s eight years old and crying, and his mother stops cooking to give him a hug and get out the first-aid kit, and just like that, everything’s okay.
She used to laugh a lot more, when he was younger, and she was always telling him about interesting words she knew, sometimes words from other languages and other countries. Telling him that one day they would go and visit those countries. He can’t remember when she stopped sharing words with him, when he stopped speaking properly to her, to either of his parents. When she stopped being the most important person, when they stopped having fun. Spencer isn’t sure he likes growing up.