It’s all safe. Everything around me is safe. I survey the room in which I stand and am slightly encouraged by what I see. From the thick metal doors to the hard ceramic tile floor to the bulletproof windows that divide the lobby from behind the counter. Everything looks solid, fortified. I look beyond the counter and see tellers hard at work oblivious to their customers, seemingly content. Beyond them stands a vault. The vault is imposing, it’s large and bulky. From a distance all the facets on the door almost seem to shape the face of an angry man. Someone who’s rage could bring a world of pain to anyone who crossed him. Surely this place was secure. There was no security personnel but this was a small outskirts town in which crime was a rare phenomena. Besides with all these heavy walls what could go wrong?
Despite all the security I feel anything but secure. Despite the solidarity of the bank it still possesses qualities that cripple it’s might. For one thing it’s extremely poorly lit the decrepit lights that hang from the roof serve not to illuminate but to cast shadows on the people milling about the lobby. In each shadow there could lurk an unseen threat, an invisible predator. What use are the strong walls if the bank is nearsighted? Another thing that bothers me is the color of the peeling paint on the wall. It’s a sickly yellow and seeing it makes me despair. It makes me think of a hospital. It makes me think that the building is sick and that maybe it’s strong demeanor is merely a facade. Maybe the ideal place to be safe is the exact opposite.
It occurs to me that I’m staring. This whole time I’ve been standing frozen right in the middle of the lobby. In fact I’m quite the inconvenience. The busy customers toss annoyed looks my way as they change their path to avoid a collision. One woman an elderly lady decides to address the situation. “You ok son?” she asks a look of concern on her face. “Me?” I ask stupidly for some reason incredulous that I’ve been noticed. She nods. “Yeah just fine,” I reply. She stares deeply into my face clearly unsatisfied with my response. I see my reflection in her pupils. Looking back at me is a gaunt middle aged man with sallow skin and limp brown hair partially hidden by a toque. He’s putting on a fake smile. The man looks afraid, the man looks weary. God, I guess I can’t blame her for asking. I look the furthest from ok. She pats me on the shoulder and parts saying, “You’re in my prayers dear”. Those words make my heart sink. Prayers won’t save me now.
I vacate the lobby’s centre and retreat to the corner of the room. It’s a far superior place to stand I think. This vantage point allows me to scan the bank for danger. Danger. The word echoes in my head. I realize that bank itself and the old woman have taken me out of my situation temporarily. For a minute I had forgotten about how fast my heart is beating threatening to tear right out of my chest. For a minute I forgot that I am terrified. I forgot why too. However, now I remember clearly and it feels as though an icy hand is gripping my throat. Danger. I am in great danger. Something bad is on the way. Someone is coming and they’re going to get me.
BANG. A loud noise from my right penetrates my ears. I nearly jump out of my skin. A deep panic grips me. For a moment as I scan the room for the source of the noise my ears ring loudly. My eyes dart back and forth expecting the worse. My throat tightens as feel a scream trying to fight it’s way into my mouth. Are they here already? Are they going to take me away? Kill me? Kill my family? No. Just as I can no longer take the fear I spot the culprit. A little kid has dropped his wooden train on the ground. The tension releases. I look at the kid. A little boy with blond hair wearing pajamas. Probably six no older then my boy. The boy reminds me very much of Tommy with his Avenger pjs. Tommy loves The Avengers. Of course he’s never seen the movie. The theatre is so damn expensive and I don’t have that kind of money but, his grandma dropped him off some of their old comics that used to be mine. I read them to him almost every night. Thinking of Tommy makes feel as though I’ve been punched in the gut. I remember telling him this morning that I’d be back by eight. Truthfully I don’t know if I will and thought of breaking that promise makes me want to cry. For a moment I can’t breath again. Oh, why the hell did I get myself into this mess?
The fact that I’m in this situation is really my own fault. I’ve always been a gambler but, this time it went too far. I’d like to say I gambled and lost all in the attempt to make a better life for my kid but, that’s just something gamblers say to make it seem alright. The truth is I have an addiction and addiction makes people do stupid things. How stupid? Well how’s this? For starters I’ve gambled away almost every cent I’ve ever earned and on top of that I chose to borrow money from one of Kansas City’s most infamous thugs. I chose to loan from Good Sal, and now I have nothing to pay him back with. They call him Good Sal for a reason, he’s always good to his word. Unfortunately his only promise to me consists of breaking my neck if I don’t pay him back. I guess I should’ve just called the police but Sal and his gang have a way of working around them and I suppose I knew that nothing would ever stop him from living up to his name.
So here I am in the middle of a bank. Why? Because I was told that this is the place to be when you’re in Good Sal’s debt. I was told that this is the safest place in town. I wait another hour, I’m still safe but for how long? What’s going to keep me safe? My right hand slithers down inside my heavy jacket. I feel a cold sleek piece of metal. I feel death. This was my insurance I had been told, this was what guaranteed my survival. The revolver was only to be used in self defense of course. Only in self defense, Only in self defense, Only in self defense I repeated in my head. Even with a weapon in my possession I didn’t feel safe. A voice in my head kept telling me that they were coming and that it didn’t matter how much fire power I had. I had neither the guts nor the skill to keep them from getting me. Suddenly the doubt becomes overpowering. I can’t do this, I can’t do this. I’m shaking violently. They’re going to make my boy an orphan.
All at once I lose my nerve. I begin to bolt for the door but it’s too late I’ve waited too long to make my escape. Good Salenter from the door flanked by two of his gorilla like gang members. His thin lips curl into a cruel smile. He cracks his leathery knuckles, his beady eyes all the while emptily staring into my own. His sparse blond hair stands straight up like a cat about to pounce. He reaches into to his leather coat and pulls his toque over his face simultaneously. “Time to repay your debt,” he snarls his voice harsh like metal scraping across the sidewalk. I reach into my own jacket. Only in self defense I repeat over and over again in my head. My hands trembling I lift the gun and fire. There’s screaming. Plaster floats from the ceiling down onto me like snow. I pull my own toque over my face and I scream at the top of my lungs, “This is a robbery”!