Shriveled Fruit

Another previously unpublished short story. Enjoy.

Shriveled Fruit

A Short Story by Harvey Stanbrough

There’s an old saw that says you should blossom where you’re planted. But some people are never planted. Some are just dropped on hard, rocky soil to get along as best they can. Charles Claymore “Charlie” Task in Confessions of a Professional Psychopath

The bank robbery was obviously well rehearsed and going according to plan.

I was standing at one of those little cream-colored chest-high islands near the right wall of the bank lobby filling out my first-ever deposit form and an application for a checking account. When I finished, I’d try to make eye contact with one of the bank people. From what I understand, that’s how it’s done. Then I’d be called over to talk with one of them so I could explain what I wanted and maybe open a checking account. Not that I write checks, but I figure one of those bank cards would come in handy when I didn’t want to carry a lot of cash.

Unlike most people when they open an account, I wasn’t carrying any supporting documents with me. No other bank’s statements, no pay stubs, nothing like that. But I did have twelve thousand dollars in cash in an envelope tucked into the inside pocket of my brown leather bomber jacket. When I bought the jacket, I was drawn to the black one, but brown is more anonymous.

And I had my driver’s license in my wallet. That would suffice for ID. What the bank people really care about is the money.

The bank was busy, which made me wonder about the timing of the robbery. Maybe they only wanted the cash from the tills. I suppose that’s how most bank robberies work.

Anyway, it was late Saturday morning, and there were five teller stations at the cream-colored counter, each flanked by a glass partition on either side. A teller was present at each, and there was a customer at each station. Several were queued up on the path inside the fat red-velvet ropes draped between brass  pedestals.

There were also four dark wood desks, each with a bank person behind it and each with a customer or a pair of customers seated on the other side.

So I wasn’t in a hurry. I worked to fill out the forms. Only each time the door opened, I glanced up.

The door opened four times while I was standing there.

The first time it was an elderly couple. At first he held the door open as she pushed a walker ahead of her. Once she was inside, he carefully moved up alongside her. With his right hand he alternated steadying her. One moment he gently gripped her left triceps, and the next he moved his pale, liver-spotted hand to her waist, then back to her triceps as they slowly made their way across the floor. With each movement, his hand trembled as if he didn’t want to touch her too firmly. As if he didn’t want to risk hurting her.

I smiled at them.

The old gentleman noticed, smiled back, then turned his attention back to his wife.

I went back to my form.

A minute or so later, two young girls came in, accompanied by their mother. The girls were maybe 9 and 11, and dressed in Girl Scout uniforms. The woman was smiling down at the girls, and both girls were giggling quietly at something one of them had said, or maybe at the memory of a successful sale. From what I could gather from their intermittent conversation, they’d been set up in front of a local Walmart a half-hour ago.

I smiled in their direction too, though they didn’t notice. The woman was young, apparently in great shape, and very attractive.

Probably a cheerleader in high school. So probably her husband was the quarterback. Probably he was home, watching college football and maybe daydreaming of what might have been.

I wondered briefly what it would be like to have a wife and two little girls, then mostly went back to my forms. I did glance up a time or two to follow the mother’s progress. As I said, she was very attractive.

On the other side of the old couple, toward the far wall, she and her girls stopped at another small, chest-high island—forehead high to the younger girl and chin high to the older one—and the mother was fishing in her purse. Probably for a deposit slip.

Well, the show was over. I reminded myself there’s a fine line between glancing and leering, and I returned my focus to my forms.

And a minute or so after that, a young 20-something guy in a suit came in. He was short but gangly and well dressed, complete with a briefcase, obviously leather and light grey to match his suit. As I watched, he pulled up short and frowned in the direction of the tellers. He was in a hurry and a little distressed at how busy the place was.

He probably had an overactive sense of self-worth. Probably a recent hire at a company and trying to make a good impression with some unpaid overtime. Or maybe he’d already put in the overtime and wanted to get home to watch a ball game too. Though he really didn’t look like the football type. He looked more like the bicycle-racing low-carb beer type.

As I returned my attention to my forms, the door opened again. That was when the whirlwind blew in.

Three guys came in all at once. They were all dressed in sleek, zippered black jumpsuits and with masks that looked like balaclavas, but made of some thin black fabric. All three were tall, around six feet, and trim. And all three were carrying short, pump-action shotguns. I could hardly believe my luck.

The first one quickly peeled right, walked to the front corner of the bank, turned around and yelled, “Everyone on the floor! Now!”

The older gentleman looked around at the guy in the corner as the second man through the door brushed past him, almost knocking him over. Then the old man turned gingerly—he took three tiny steps to pull off the turn—and put his hands on his wife’s shoulders.

As she ratcheted her face up to look at him, he said, “We have to get on the floor, Martha. I’ll help you down.”

She only nodded, then released the walker, and her husband began lowering her to the cream-tile floor.

Along the counter and between the ropes, all the customers quickly squatted, then looked about as if vying for positions on the floor where they might lie down. All had different looks on their faces, ranging from open-mouthed shock to eyebrow-knitted fear.

The slim man in the grey suit was no exception. He hadn’t made it to the ropes yet, but he went pale and dropped to the floor like he’d been shot. I was amused to see that at least he’d retained his grip on his briefcase.

Past the older couple, the mother didn’t bat an eye. She put her hands on the girls’ shoulders and forced them down under the little island, then joined them. It was as if they’d rehearsed this specific scenario. I was intrigued at how calm she appeared.

The second guy through the door stepped gingerly past the young guy in the grey suit, then over one rope, then another. As he stepped over the second rope, he leveled the shotgun in the direction of a teller. Maybe the main teller. It was as if he was targeting her specifically. “Hands on the counter and don’t move please.” He didn’t yell, but he said it loudly enough so everyone in the bank could hear him.

The third guy through the door, like the first, had turned right also just inside the door. But he took up a station next to the door, concealed from the outside by a heavy drape. Probably his job would be to catch anyone else who came in unaware and tell them to move to one side and get to the floor.

Like everyone else in the place, I lowered myself to the floor. But I kept my butt in the air a little, the soles of my shoes pressed against the red brick wall behind me.

The third guy glanced at me. “Get all the way down,” he said, brusquely but not loudly. I noted a hint of apology in his tone.

I smiled at him but remained where I was. “Back problems,” I said.

He turned his attention back to the door. As he did, he sighed audibly and shook his head, then craned his neck and shoulders as if to stretch them out.

The first guy, the one with his back to the corner, hadn’t moved. He was rigid and looking in the direction of the counter and the second guy. He and the one watching the door were maybe ten feet to my left, though at slightly different angles.

But neither of them was a point of real concern.

The only point of concern was the guy at the counter. He was maybe twenty feet away, in front of me and slightly to my right, and he was obviously the brains of the outfit.

If I was the guy at the counter and this was my operation, I’d have sent one of the other guys to the counter. I’d have taken up the corner position where I could watch the whole thing.

I definitely wouldn’t have turned my back on the customers. Especially me.

It really is a simple fact that people who were raised on survival see things differently than those who were raised on love or whatever in normal families. You know the kind I mean. They come from a settled home with a protective mom, a supportive dad, and a sense of entitlement. People like the old couple or the mom and her girls or the guy with the briefcase.

People like me are survivors. Despite what we show the world, we’re angry and we’re hungry. We want only a little slice of what everyone else apparently has in abundance. And through the great filter of life, we’ve settled into two groups: those who are bitter enough to take what they’ve come to believe they somehow deserve and those who are so bitter they stopped believing long ago that they deserve anything at all. Those who couldn’t begin to care less.

The robbers are in the first group, or at least the main robber is. The other two, at least during the planning stage, probably wanted a little excitement in their worthless lives. Or maybe they wanted a quick payday, earned by the main robber’s audacity.

Me? I’m in the second group.

I moaned quietly and touched my lower back, then glanced at the guy in the corner and shifted my position. Without getting too far up off the floor, I raised up slightly and leaned back. I put my butt in the corner formed by the floor and the wall, drew up my knees and wrapped my arms around them as if stretching my back.

The guy in the corner glanced at me, but his shotgun didn’t so much as move. That verified my assessment of him.

The guy at the counter fished a heavy, black zippered nylon bag out of the pocket of his jumpsuit. He flopped it to make it unfold, then passed it to the teller.

As he was explaining tersely what he wanted—she was to empty all the cash drawers except her own into the zippered bag—I leaned forward and pulled off my loafers, then set them to one side.

The mask on the guy in the corner wrinkled slightly as he looked at me. His shotgun remained where it was, pointed vaguely in the direction of the center of the bank.

Then I reached for my socks, peeled them down one at a time and put them in my shoes. I glanced toward the guy in the corner—he was still watching me—and wiggled my toes, showing him what a great relief removing my shoes and socks had given me. Then I moved my hands up a little, clasped them and gathered my knees in my arms again. I pulled my feet up closer to my butt, then leaned forward over them again, rocking slightly, then leaned back.

The guy in the corner continued to watch me.

I shrugged, grinned, and rocked again. Then a third time.

And the guy in the corner looked away.

I rocked forward again, pulling hard with my forearms on my shins, then back.

The guy in the corner didn’t glance at me.

In my periphery, the woman with the little girls was watching me.

She shook her head almost imperceptibly as I rocked forward again—and launched.

I raced through the opening between the brass pedestals nearest me and hurdled the red velvet rope.

My momentum carried me against the back of Guy Number Two, my hands reaching past him for the shotgun as my chest and head hit his back.

He was crushed forward, his lower chest against the edge of the counter.

The teller, who had just taken the black zippered bag from him and turned left, screamed and ducked behind the counter. All the other tellers disappeared too.

The shotgun exploded with a tremendous roar, the blast going almost straight up into the ceiling above the teller’s station.

Through my ringing ears, others were screaming too, and somewhere behind me I heard, “Oh shit! Oh damn!” and then the tone sounded to indicate the door was opening.

I wrested the shotgun away from Guy Number Two, who was still trying to separate himself from the counter, and twisted around to point it at the guy in the corner.

But he was just going out the door, and Guy Number Three was visible through the window, hooking his way down the sidewalk to the right.

I ducked slightly, took a step back along the counter to the right.

And just as Guy Number Two turned to face me, I brought the stock of the shotgun up in a wide arc and connected with the left side of his jaw.

He staggered left and went down on his back. He started pushing against the floor with his boots, trying to move away.

I pumped the shotgun for effect, pointed it down at Guy Number Two, and said, “No.” I shook the shotgun slightly. “You stay right there.”  Then I glanced around. I admit I looked first at the young mother.

She was fine, on her bare knees beneath her skirt. Her eyes were wide, her eyebrows arched, but she was smiling.

I said, “Everybody okay?”

Then I shifted my gaze to the old couple.

The man was on his hands and knees, endeavoring to rise so he could help his girl up.

Behind him, the guy in the grey suit was still on the floor. It was cream-colored. Only the slight reflection of a recessed light directly overhead shimmering on a spot near his waist told me he’d had an accident.

Nobody else seemed harmed in the slightest.

I carried the shotgun to him, tapped him on the shoulder blade with it. Quietly, I said, “Do me a favor, would you? Point this at the robber until the cops get here.”

He got to his knees, then looked at me.

“It’s all right,” I said. “Just watch the guy ‘til they get here.”

I looked around at the counter. The teller the guy had threatened was standing again. I said, “You called ‘em, right?”

She only nodded, her eyes wide.

The guy in the grey suit got to his feet.

I handed him the shotgun. A little too loudly, I said, “The safety’s off.” Then I glanced at the robber and back to the guy in the grey suit. “If he moves at all, blow a hole through him.”

Then I turned and walked back to my position near the wall. I picked up my shoes and socks, walked out of the bank and down a half-block to the right. I got into my Lexus, started it and pulled into traffic.

Even with my windows up, I could hear the sirens in the distance.