Read All This Could End Online
Authors: Steph Bowe
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction
‘Oh, shut up.’ She shoves him away. ‘You think the people in this bank aren’t going to be improved by this experience, Paul? Their miserable lives will be jolted. They will go home, realising how gloriously lucky they are to be alive, appreciating their freedom as they never have before. It’s a
. And do you think we’re the only bad ones, Paul? You think these people wouldn’t rob and lie and steal if they had the opportunity? We’re the ones with the guts to actually do it, Paul.’
‘Can you not see how absolutely ridiculous you are being?’ Paul asks. ‘You’re not going to be able to convince me otherwise now.’
There’s a long, long silence, then Nina hears Sophia suck on her teeth. The red-head exhales. Paul takes off his balaclava. The hostages are staring at Paul and Sophia with disbelief. Waiting for it all to play out. Realising there are kids involved.
‘So were you the one who tipped off the police then, Paul?’ Sophia spits the words, her voice lower now, each word enunciated. ‘You have so little will left to live that you turn on
your own fucking family
‘I did it,’ says Tom.
Time always moves far too quickly when you’re robbing a bank, it’s always running out. But now it’s slowing down. The police outside, the sirens, the hostages still frozen in place, they’re all forgotten, as Nina stares at Sophia.
‘Tom,’ Sophia says in an almost calculating tone, as she turns towards him. ‘Don’t take the blame for your father.’ She says it like each word is a separate sentence. ‘Don’t.’
‘I’m not,’ says Tom. ‘I called the police this morning from the motel. I’ve been calling them regularly, Mum. I told them the name of the bank, I told them our names, and I told them other jobs we’ve done.’
How did Nina miss this? She thought Tom was mostly clueless and content, that his disagreements with their mother were just like the arguments in normal families. She’s never had the guts to go against her parents. How could she live so long with him, and not know that he had this in him?
‘Jesus Christ,’ says Sophia. She sighs. ‘What did I do wrong, Tom?’
Tom pauses, breathing unevenly. ‘You broke the law. We broke the law.’
‘Sure, Tom, maybe we did. But the law’s ridiculous. Banks steal from ordinary people, and we just steal it back from them.’
‘We’re not Robin Hood, Mum,’ says Tom. ‘And we are hurting ordinary people. Who do you think all the people in this bank are?’ He nods towards the ten-year-old in the
T-shirt and his curly-haired mother. She is shaking. The boy is wide-eyed. ‘And everyone in all the other banks. It’s not right.’
‘I don’t know how you could do this to us, Tom, to me. We are the good guys, Tom. I don’t know who put any other idea in your head—’ she looks in Nina’s direction ‘—but they’re wrong.’ She steps towards him. ‘We just need to talk this over.’
Tom’s voice shakes. ‘Don’t come near me.’ He sounds like he’s about to cry. Nina wants to step over to help him, protect him—but she’s frozen to the spot, by fear, indecision, misguided loyalty and straight-out confusion. She feels terrible for Tom, for Spencer. But at the same time she feels a sharp relief that perhaps all this could end very soon. That she won’t have to worry about her family robbing banks ever again.
Sophia keeps advancing. Tom points the gun at her. It’s only a handgun, but it’s too big for him. Sophia stops, almost smiles. ‘Tom, you are being ridiculous,’ she says.
How wonderful it would have been if we’d just gone to an amusement park these holidays.
‘Don’t come near me,’ Tom repeats, more slowly. He sounds almost sure of himself.
‘Tom,’ says their father. ‘Your mother is not going to hurt you. It’s fine. Everything will be all right.’
‘How do you know that, Dad? How do you know it’ll be all right?’ He turns to him, and the gun pointed at Sophia wavers. In all those cases of people killing their parents, everyone always assumes that the kids are pure evil. But what about the extenuating circumstances? Will her family be headlines in tomorrow’s paper?
Boy, 12, kills mother in failed bank robbery
Girl, 17, takes ex-boyfriend hostage, disaster ensues
. Bizarrely, thinking of headlines is helping her keep it together.
Tom continues: ‘You’re just as bad as her. I don’t trust either of you. I can’t trust you. I’m sorry.’ And Nina can hear in his voice that he really is sorry.
‘The gun isn’t loaded, Tom,’ says Paul.
Nina hears Spencer exhale. Tom doesn’t move the gun. ‘I don’t trust you.’
The elderly man in the Hawaiian shirt starts to stand up. How does he manage to do that? Shouldn’t he be frozen with fear just like she is? Tom points the gun towards him, nothing intentional, just a reaction. ‘Please, no one move.’ The old man sits down again.
The look on Paul’s face is desperate. She can tell how much he wants to make everything all right.
‘Tom,’ says Spencer.
What on earth is he going to say? Is he really speaking or is this just in Nina’s head?
‘Tom? I’m Spencer. You know my sister. Monica?’
His voice is calm, calmer than Nina could manage. And slow and sad and defeated. Maybe he’s already given up, lost hope. Maybe this is it for him. She’s close to giving up herself. She’s just sitting there, waiting for it all to play out. Trying to stay detached, as impossible as that is. Pretending it’s not real, that she’s watching from afar, from behind a TV screen.
‘Please don’t,’ says Tom.
He’s shaking. Please don’t what? Please don’t talk? Please don’t talk about Monica?
‘She misses you,’ says Spencer. ‘I…I think. I don’t know. She’s only communicated with Conversation Hearts for the past few months.’ He almost laughs, but it sounds all wrong, like crying. ‘It’s been a weird year.’
Tom smiles sadly. His finger is still tight on the trigger of the gun, but he looks calmer.
For a second, Nina allows herself to hope. Maybe this will all work out. Somehow. Spencer seems to know what he’s doing.
‘I don’t like Conversation Hearts, Tom. There are so many other words, you know. Like
, a word that sounds like its meaning. Not that there are many uses for that. Or
. A long, more complicated way of saying cat-lover. I think Monica likes cats. I know Nina likes cats. I like words that are hard to spell. I’m good at spelling. I don’t know if Monica is.’
Everyone is frozen. Everyone is watching Spencer, listening and wondering what will happen and trying not to breathe.
‘I don’t know. Monica and I have never spoken much. It never felt like there was much to talk about. That’s probably not a good thing, I know. You’ve probably talked to her more than I have. If she were here and talking now—not with the hearts, obviously—I’d ask her. I’d ask her about everything.’ Spencer sniffs. ‘That’s all very irrelevant, I’m sorry. I just…I think she’d like to see you—’
With this, Spencer stands up, a sudden movement.
And that’s when the gun goes off. It leaps back in Tom’s hand. He looks aghast. An accident. The sound bounces off the walls, and then is gone, sucked into nothingness. Nina flinches, the split second passes and Spencer is hit, gasping, falling to the ground.
She is thinking of a song. She can’t remember the title right now, in that way you can never remember something you’re trying to, like in an exam or when you’re playing Trivial Pursuit.
The song is about not appreciating things when you have them. Recently, she’s been all too appreciative of what she has, aware of the fact that it would soon be taken away from her. But when she was young, six, eight, ten years old and unaware, she didn’t appreciate it much.
Her memories of that time are hazy, things she can’t separate from dreams and fantasy and actual physical reality. She remembers Tom being born, and seeing him in a little clear cot in the hospital, his face scrunched, his skin red. She remembers her parents smiling and exhausted and not criminals in her eyes, just her parents, just people who loved her. She remembers feeling safe, and sure of herself, and fascinated with the world around her.
She remembers eating bowls of Fruit Loops and watching Saturday morning cartoons with Tom, and long road trips to new homes, songs playing from old cassettes, and lengthy games of I Spy and her mother laughing. She remembers having her hair braided and lazy days at the beach and pink sunset skies.
She remembers a time before expectation and pressure and automatic weapons. Before she knew how different her family was, and how dangerous her life could be, and how she had to constantly look over her shoulder to avoid the law. She remembers a time of having total trust and faith in her family, of loving her parents unconditionally, without the added complication of trying to figure out whether they were good or bad. Whether they were deserving of unconditional love. Family shouldn’t be like this, that’s all she knows. That and a few thousand pieces of useless trivia that will not save her from prison or hell.
‘Shit!’ yells Tom. ‘Is he all right?’ Tom drops the gun. He’s pushing his balaclava up off his face.
Spencer is sprawled across the carpet and Nina is at his side, checking out his leg. Spencer seems to be doing his best not to exclaim in pain; his best isn’t quite good enough. His groans are reverberating through Nina’s head.
‘It’s okay, I’m training to be a vet,’ she mutters.
‘Why am I not relieved?’ Spencer says weakly. Nina is too distracted to respond.
She ties her jacket around Spencer’s leg to stop the blood flow and tries not to hyperventilate. She looks up at the hostages, all staring, and it’s clear that either none of them have medical knowledge, or they’re too shocked to come to Spencer’s aid. The young boy looks terrified. The tattooed man has turned away. He is holding his wife’s hand and his knuckles have turned white.
Paul is shouting at Sophia. ‘Didn’t we agree not to give Tom a loaded gun? Because I distinctly recall that conversation.’
Sophia is comparatively calm. ‘We have to give him responsibility sometime, Paul. On the upside, below the waist—’ she points to Spencer ‘—is not an attempted murder charge.’
‘Are you insane?’ Paul shouts, louder still.
‘It’s not a big deal. It really isn’t. What would he do with an empty gun in a shoot-out, Paul?’
‘There wasn’t going to be a shoot-out, Sophia! This was supposed to be non-violent.’
Maybe this really is a bad action movie, thinks Nina. The dialogue certainly fits. This isn’t real life; she’s just on a film set, and she could leave at any moment.
‘We have to get him out,’ says Nina. Sometimes if you talk really softly when someone’s shouting everyone falls silent. She’s not looking at anyone, but they must know that she’s addressing Sophia. ‘He needs to get to a hospital.’
Spencer whimpers. It’s lucky he’s lying down and can’t see the blood seeping into the carpet.
Sophia turns and looks at her. ‘Do you want to give yourself up to the police, Nina? Are you with Tom on this, now? Have you turned against your own mother?’
It’s weird how much more mature than her mother Nina feels. Then Spencer’s dad is at his side, grasping Spencer’s hand (it’s shaking hard).
Sophia stares at him and sighs. ‘Oh, a family reunion. How delightful.’
‘This isn’t really the time for a domestic,’ Nina glares at her mother. ‘I’m not “turning against you”. He’s been shot. If we don’t get him out and to a doctor, he’ll probably lose the use of his leg.’ She has no idea whether this is true but the amount of blood lost must indicate something like that.
‘You’ll be fine,’ she whispers so only he can hear. ‘I’m dramatising this.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ he mutters.
Then his father is whispering urgently to him and Nina can’t make out a word.
Nina’s turns back to her mother and her voice becomes firmer. ‘It’s not a matter of
to give myself up to the police. Thanks to you, I have no choice. I
. They’re not going to let me off the hook because I’m a kid. I’m not in cahoots with them. But I’m willing to prioritise someone’s
over my freedom.’
Desperately, she tries to remember the good things her mother has done, to remember the good person she believed Sophia was. Or deluded herself into believing. Even now, beneath all that craziness and all the evil and all the hunger for power and the immaturity and the risk-taking, there must be a part of her mother that’s not all bad. The part of her that loves her children, that thinks she’s doing the right thing. That would value someone else’s life over her own freedom. That must be the part Nina loves.
Evil is too strong a word, isn’t it? Bad? Her mother’s not a killer. Just a thief. Just stupid, and a bit crazy. She’s no murderer, and she doesn’t set out to hurt people.
Even now she’s rationalising her mother’s actions again. Because the worst, worst, worst part of all is that she sees aspects of her mother in herself. How could her mother be so crazy and her daughter be so sane? Or perhaps she’s the insane one after all? Nothing makes sense.
Would she make the same decision if the boy right here were not someone she knew and loved? What if he were a stranger, or just any other hostage? Is she in fact just as bad as her mother, but denying the truth?
‘Put the phone back on the hook,’ Nina tells Sophia. There’s a long pause. It’s difficult realising that she’s speaking to her mother, and not to some escaped lunatic. This person metres away from her raised her, gave her life, loved her. Loves her. Sophia makes everything so confusing.
She murmurs a quiet, reluctant, ‘Please’. As if that will make any difference.
‘No,’ says Sophia, like a stubborn child.
Nina doesn’t feel like the adult in this situation; she just feels like a half-reasonable person, compared to her mad mother. She grits her teeth.
‘You know what?’ she says, almost laughing. It’s ridiculous that it’s taken so long for her to get to this point, to say the thing that’s been on her mind for years. ‘I do not care. I am done with being bossed around by you, being made to do things I don’t want to do—be someone I don’t want to be. I’m done with all of it. I don’t care if I walk out of here and get locked up and never see daylight again, I’ll be okay with that because I know I’ll be free of you and all your bullshit. You’re crazy, and you can’t do the things you do without repercussions. And the fact that we’re blood relatives doesn’t mean anything if you’re a terrible person. Family does not come first.’ She breathes deeply.