I sat under the Spearmont bridge and smashed open my last can of beans with a rock. Holding the smashed up tin over a trash fire with two sticks, I eagerly awaited my meal. It was raining shit outside and I was at a loss for cover. The bridge would have to do at this point.
"You got anymore of those?" a bum wearing a trash bag for a poncho asked.
"Not on your life, hobo-joe."
He frowned and shook his head. "Not even a fellow drifter'll help me out."
I thought about what he said for a minute as he warmed his hands beside me. I wasn't always like this. I used to be successful. I used to be somebody in this wretched blender of a society. We're all just meaty byproducts stuffed into the shredder of civilization and ground up into what they want us to be. It's only a matter of time before you're blended, chilled, and molded into the proverbial chicken nugget.
"I'll give you a few spoonfuls," I told the man.
He smiled and said thank you. "Name's Ubaldo. Came up from Vaselinas," he extended his hand. I reluctantly shook it.
"Name's Jason," I told him. Jason was not my real name. I figured it best to keep that to myself in light of the trouble I was in. In general, there's no sense cavorting with drifters. They exploit to the fullest of their abilities until there's nothing left and then move on like some sort of transient parasite. He rubbed his hands together to warm them up.
"So how'd you end up on the road? Figure a young gun like you would've been a doctor or a lawyer or a cashier or something. Yup, from the looks of you, you don't belong here."
I smirked at his candor. "You really want to know what happened?"
He plugged one nostril and blew hard through the other. Snot and blood splattered onto the concrete. "Sure," he sniffed.
* * *
I always wanted to be a bank robber and the best place to start, I figured, was the coffee shop just across the street. I'd been in there hundreds of times. I'd sit in the corner with my computer, cuing up Bonnie and Clyde for the fortieth time and relax. Something about watching high-octane risk takers in a place where risks were near impossible to take was exhilarating. Sitting there watching the oh-so-sweet action flicks I loved, often times filled me with a similar rush of knowingly not returning a library book on time, or maybe reading a magazine in a store without paying for it. I was crazy; you don't have to tell me.
It was weird, I didn't even drink coffee, I drank tea. And everyone knows that buying tea at a coffee shop is a sign of ignorance and stupidity in the midst of all those menacing, dark pearly coffee beans. Coffee means energy, energy -- vitality, vitality -- strength, and I'll be damned if I'm deemed some sort of sissy because I choose decaf green tea at a coffee shop where the minimum of espresso shots seems to be three per drink.
There's just something about caffeine that never sat well with me. Yeah, every now and then I'd have a cup-of-joe in the morning just to kick-start the engine a little. But for the most part, coffee seemed to leave me with this feeling of perpetually burning peat. Like someone lit a flare in my belly and I had to move constantly to put it out.
The place was called Hal's and it sat right smack on the corner. It wasn't one of those pretentious places either. There were no indie band posters or amateur artwork strewn all over the walls. No funky lampshades or quaint mismatched silverware to make the bohemian fashionistas at home. Not a Che Guevara shirt in sight. No, this place was more modern, with sleek-white formica tables strewn across the room, a nice fireplace in the middle, and an alcove near the far wall full of comfortable places to sit.
I always knew, sitting there peering over the screen of my computer, that this would be a great place to rob. Out of the way, off the main roads, far from any two-timing Tommy peckerwood policemen. That, and I lived across the street, making the getaway virtually foolproof. The customers were even built for a stickup. I realized that none of these people would ever rat on me. No snake-in-the-grass Johnny wise-ass to go snitchin' to the cops. The Chinese speaking couple in the corner, silently trying to rekindle their relationship in broken English would never tell. The oddball in the back playing computer games wouldn't pull himself away from his game if a Tyrannosaurus were to bust in. The three loudmouth girls on the couch in front of the fire might say something, but would probably be too scared because of my awesomeness and total badassary when I stuck up the joint. And, certainly, the metal-faced, tattooed barista behind the counter wouldn't say a word. In fact, maybe I should cut him in on the profit -- he'd make a great inside man. Just like that movie Inside Man.
My first step was to travel to the store for a water pistol. The cashier asked why I needed a water pistol in December. I told him it's for my little brother so he can play a prank on -- my -- other -- little brother. Yeah, that's a good one. I have two little brothers; eat it up with a silver spoon, jackass. The man shot me a smile as I checked out, murmuring something about how fireworks were better for pranks anyway.
I got to my house and set to work. I looked around for a can of black spray paint. Damn, no spray paint. Maybe there's a sharpie somewhere. Perfect. Pulling from my well honed skills in artistry, dating all the way back to pre-kindergarten when I once made a stained glass window by melting crayon onto wax paper; I began coloring the orange-tinted, see-through plastic. The work was meticulous, but I enjoyed it. I was able to watch an entire episode of Webster while I worked. As I colored, I wondered what little Coleman would have done if he were to rob a bank. First things first, he'd need an accomplice to help him with the getaway. Could he drive a car? There's no way. Well, at least he's a black belt. Lord knows that would come in handy. Whatever, though, I had my sharpie colored water gun, cocked and ready to rock. It's not like the barista that volunteered his face for a pincushion would be packing. This was a simple in and out job. No fuss, no muss, no mess, no stress.
When I finished coloring I admired my work in the lamplight on my desk. Not too bad. Not too bad at all. Sure, you could see some streaks of light shine through the transparent plastic, and there was still a little orange glinting through the permanent marker, but altogether, I'd done a damn good job.
Now, for the final touch: panty hose on the face. You're probably thinking, get a ski mask to avoid the embarrassment of wearing ladies leggings on your head. Truth be told, ski masks are often made of cheap polyester or wool -- both of which I've never truly enjoyed against my bare skin, especially against the skin on my face. Give me smooth, luxurious spandex or silky nylon to rub against my face any day.
Later that night, I sat in my apartment and contemplated the positives and negatives behind what I was planning to do. Should I rob the place? Could I rob the place? Did I have the balls to stick up a joint and stroll out like an American Gangster -- like my boy, Denzel? Certainly, I wasn't that cool -- or was I? Just to be sure I stood in front of the mirror and admired the total badass I saw in the reflection. Fake gun -- check. Panty hose on face -- check. There was something missing, though. What should I to wear to my inaugural heist? T-shirt? No, too pedestrian. I wanted style. Hawaiian shirt? Absolutely not. Remember those idiots at the end of Pulp Fiction? I'm not going out like some honey-bunny punkass. What about a sweater? Hmm -- no. Maybe if I were robbing a classy restaurant or a really nice cigar shop. Hal's wasn't exactly the Ritz. And then it hit me -- what did the most fearsome bank robbers in the world wear? What is the absolute best, most totally awesome, badass movie ever made? What movie features the legendary Keanu Reeves skydiving without a parachute -- and living?
Point Break, anyone?
Holy shit, the gods had finally spoken. I was to wear a tuxedo and that was that. No buts about it. If Swayze could do it -- so could I. If only I had one of those cool masks to wear, though. Maybe they make a James Polk one? He was a pretty badass president.
And then it finally set in. I was actually going to rob a place. Yeah, there wasn't much money in the till, I was pretty sure of that after my many months of secretive corner-stricken reconnaissance. But whatever, I was finally going to hoist myself into the wonderful ranks of petty criminals like Joe Peschi in Home Alone, or that other guy in -- Home Alone. It was going to be so cool. I could already picture it. I'd walk in, water pistol blazing -- or watering -- or whatever. The terrified, yet oddly aroused screams from the lovely ladies in the corner drinking iced mochas. I'd waltz up to the register in my monkey suit like I owned the place -- and then say what I was going to say.
Wait -- what was I going to say? I always chose my words carefully, and this situation demanded the utmost precision in word choice. I listed out the possibilities:
-- Give me all the cash, man.
-- Hook up the money, bro!
-- I'd like some dollars, no coins, please.
-- You think this is a game? It's my money and I need it now.
-- Let's go, peabrain, I need some cashish like Jared Fogle needs new stomach staples! (Perhaps it best to leave Fogle out of this ...)
-- I need money like a rabbit bite needs a tetanus shot, buddy, so pony up the dough.
I know what you're thinking. Why didn't I just stop at the whole bills, no coins line, yeah? And, trust me, getting past that one was tough. But I needed a real building-wrecker of a line. I needed a get off my plane kind of thing. My own say hello to my little friend. A line that would channel the Bonnie and Clydes, the Baby Face Nelsons, the Dillingers, the Jessie James-Thomas-Crown-Point-Breakers who would fill me with the magnificent wonder that is the stick up.
Give me all the bread, lettuce, and bacon you got. I'm gonna make me a simoleon sandwich!
Game over, bitches. Those coffee jockeys weren't going to know what hit them. I was going to be in and out like the burger joint. Greased lightning like the car. Fast cash like money tree. It was going be war for wampum and I'm bringing a bazooka.
I sat up that night and considered the plan of action. First, I'd make myself a bagel sandwich. Then, I'd shower -- and not a long shower, either. I had to make it to the place and back by four-thirty because I wanted to deposit my money into the bank before it closed. I figured that would be the best way to do it. Rob the place blind and deposit the cash on the same day. People get ready, there's a train a' comin' -- motherfuckers.
Now, I'm sure you're asking, wouldn't that be a little suspicious? Wouldn't a bank deposit made for the very same amount as a robbery, on the same day, illicit concern among authorities? But here's the really clever part -- McDonald's. On my way to the bank I'd swing by good ol' Mickey-D's and grab myself a nice Big Mac. It's the perfect crime. It's got good solid lines, panty-hose on the face, lettuce, cheese, pickles, special sauce, all that shit -- and a delicious little bank deposit afterwards, for a different amount than the actual robbery. What do you think I am, an idiot?
So after my shower, I'd read for a little while, drink a nice mug of tea, then prepare with the whole pantyhose thing. (I got them from my mom -- and yes, they were clean, so shut it). I'd cruise over to the coffee house, do the deed, then be on my merry way, shekels and smackers in hand. And yes, then the whole Mickey D's thing and bank stop. This was going to be cake; German chocolate.
The day was electric -- like a -- space heater -- or something. Definitely not gas or solar. I looked outside at the sun from my third floor balcony window: big and fat and round like an orange ready to be juiced into a nice glass. I was ready, that much was certain. I made my bagel sandwich, took my shower, read my book -- everything was beautifully going to plan. Not a hair out of place. Tuxedo strapped up and ready to rock. I even had kickass cufflinks of cool looking Smith and Westerns on them. Jesse James, baby, Jesse James. Now, for the pantyhose. They were blackish grey, not exactly my preferred choice but who was I to complain. Personally, I would have chosen green to accentuate my eyes, but whatever, this wasn't a beauty contest, it was a robbery.
I held up my wonderful looking pistol in the daylight. A tiny stream of sunshine poured out of the side of the gun, but it didn't matter. I was running on the assumption that I'd be so scary the cashier would just give it up -- I was wearing a fucking tuxedo for God's sake. Who in their right mind would question that? I thought about Dillinger -- the dude was so slick, like a -- can of -- castor oil -- or something. I wanted to be just like that. I slipped on my tuxedo jacket. Swayze, eat your heart out.
I was at the entrance to Hal's. The place looked clean, like someone emptied a gallon of pine sol and bleach over the floors then hoovered everything up. I peered in through the window of the glass door. All the usual customers were at their places. The couple, the girls on the couch, that weirdo playing computer games in the back. Metal face was behind the counter pouring something heavily caffeinated. With my nose pressed against the glass, I did a double take around the shop to make sure there weren't any lurkers in the shadows. The last thing I wanted was a do-gooder Batman ready to spring. Everything checked out okay. Now was the moment.
I turned my back to the glass door and took three long deep breaths, preparing myself for any and all circumstances. I was ready. Risk-taking time was about to commence. This really wasn't much of a risk, though. I reminded myself these were just ordinary people. They were there to relax, not defend. Here goes nothing.
The little bell rang as I swung open the door. In one fluid motion I whipped around and slid the panty hose over my face with a flourishing 360. I pulled out my gun and strode to the counter.
The barista shot me a menacing smile. Something's amiss.
I pointed my gun said the line I'd spent so many minutes perfecting -- Give me all the bread -- cream cheese -- and -- pastrami you got. I'm gonna make me a snickerdoodle sandwich! I flinched. Was that the line? My arms were wiggling like spaghetti noodles.
The barista blinked and told me they didn't serve snickerdoodles at this particular location. "Money, guy!" I screamed. And that's when things got weird.
Without warning I felt this tremendous pressure in the back of my right thigh. I turned down, and there, about six inches into the flesh was a shiny gleaming throwing knife sticking straight out of the muscle. The cashier clicked a button and massive steel shutters shot closed over the windows of the shop. The light blues music playing softly over the speakers turned into a blaring alarm. I hopped up and down squeamishly, in agonizing pain. I fell and searched for the culprit who would throw such a deadly weapon.
Lo and behold, the docile Chinese couple were brandishing throwing knifes and samurai swords. Weren't Samurai swords Japanese? The loud-mouthed girls on the couch had drawn the daintiest pistols I'd ever seen. The computer nerd in the corner was holding a hand grenade for fuck's sake. It was like they were expecting Arnold to stroll through the door with a gun that launched A-bombs. The barista placed a twelve gauge against my temple.
"Any last words -- fuckface?"
I writhed in pain on the ground. This was it -- my waterloo. It wasn't supposed to go like this. This was a coffee shop, not Fort Knox. I expected zero resistance, like rigging a bus to blow up if it ever dropped below a certain speed. But just my luck -- there were Keanus everywhere.
I looked up into the barrel of the barista's twelve gage and smirked, "Go ahead, make my day -- dickbag."
Everything went black.
When I woke up, I was chained to a hospital bed. The room was small and the TV was off. I was thirsty and the damn paper gown was riding up something awful. In stepped a detective with a notepad. He sat down on a stool next to my bed and began jotting down notes.
"What are you writing?"
"I can see that, but what specifically?"
"Is this your first robbery?" he shot out.
I thought about saying yes. On one hand, I'd get a lesser sentence. On the other, I'd come across like a sissy -- and I'll be damned if I come across like a sissy to some copper.
"Maybe -- maybe not."
"Well, is it, or isn't it?"
I took a deep breath. "I feel the need." I spat.
"The need for what?"
I smiled. "The need for speed."
He grimaced and shook his head. "And do you by chance rob all your banks with this?" he held up the water pistol.
I am Spartacus.
Thoughts began racing through my head. Jail could either go one of two ways: the Shawshank direction (Rape and crawling through a literal tunnel of shit had never been at the top of my list), or the Death Race direction (and I'd be just like that guy with the mask which would be so cool). But then my true calling hit me. I realized that I'd been snubbed, caught, picked-up, apprehended, hooked and booked; I was about to be caged meat. There's really only one course of action for such a sticky situation -- jailbreak time, bitches.
I busted through the handcuffs on the bed and popped up like the karate kid. I judo'd the detective in the face with a stiff kick rendering him unconscious. I grabbed my blacked out water pistol and made a break for it. Where to go? Where else? To my left was the oh-so-convenient open window on the first floor.
And like that -- I was gone.
* * *
"I've been on the run, ever since," I told the man.
He blinked at me through the pale glow of the fire. "That really happen, or are you just spinning yarn?"
I held out my weapon -- the 3x fusillade-plastica model with adjustable scope for accuracy. I handed it to him. "Does that look like yarn?"
"It looks like a water pistol."
"Yeah, I customized the paint. It needed a little flash after I picked it up from the store."
"But, it's just a water pistol."
I smiled. "We'll just have to see what the next mark thinks."
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