A new branch bank. Free yardsticks and punch. (What more could you want in 1977, an adding machine?) Bring money! Take home a banana plant.
I don't have a regular home these days. My potted plants usually die. I have no conceivable use for a yardstick. However, I deal frequently with money. That's why I went in just before closing. Better get to know these people. They might be helpful when I need some exotic financial service in a hurry.
I stopped at one of my apartments to change my face. Placing the old one in a jar of conditioner, I began by touching up my makeup base coat. That done, I slipped in the cheek spreader and added an appliance to the bridge of my nose. The face mask came next, I re-combed my hair, did touch-ups, and slipped into another outfit. Total time: two minutes and fifty-three seconds. I hadn't been in a hurry.
Hiding the Colt Commander, I rummaged in the weapons locker. I selected a tear-gas pen, a garrote for inside my tie, a pocket knife, and a Cobra electro-shock cigar case. Since this was a social trip, I left the heavy stuff behind.
As Jim Norris, the apartment's tenant, I departed while still adjusting the device in my throat to reach his deep bass voice range.
It was a bank all right. Like most, done in contemporary boring and potted palms. The branch manager had been shaking hands so long I'll bet he wanted to get potted himself. The punch tasted surprisingly good. I opened both savings and checking accounts with enough to rate everything on the free list. I arranged for the booty to go to a neighborhood church. This entitled me to a personal introduction to the manager.
While waiting to speak to him, I surveyed the small crowd of customers. I noticed two little old ladies. Beyond them stood a junior exec type and a teen in a fast food uniform. Two tellers faced them. At the loan desk sat a man in coveralls and a teen in a wheel chair.
A guard glanced at his watch. It was three minutes until closing. Two men came in, one with lots of red hair and large fluffy sideburns. The second had a bald head that gleamed behind huge sunglasses. A sling, white against his brown jacket, completely hid one arm. As the two passed me I smelled spirit gum. Makeup? Why? Before I could move, the manager wrung my hand. Five seconds later another pair in stocking masks with sawed off shotguns rushed in.
I took a deep breath. Then I glanced after the first two. Red-and-fuzzy slipped a Saturday Night Special out of his belt. Everybody in the bank stood in a cross-fire. The two shotgunners moved in front of large plants, invisible from the street.
"No one move! Hands up! You employees, back away from your places. No alarms! Red, get the bags," spat the left hand shotgunner with the green jacket.
I looked back at Red. He pulled paper bags and a roll of masking tape out of a jacket pocket and headed for the security cameras. Then I saw what Kojak with the brown jacket had covered with his sling: a wire stocked Uzi submachine gun. I swore silently. Dad told me there'd be days like this.
Red finished with the cameras, then disarmed the two guards. One at a time he frisked us. He took my pocket knife. I hoped he'd cut himself. One blade is poisoned.
We were herded into a corner. Red and the other gunner (blue jacket) cleaned out the tills.
"Not as much as we figured," grunted Blue. "Come on manager, open the vault." With the vault finished, he confronted the manager in a disgusted tome. "Still not much, how come?"
"Well, ahh. . ." sputtered the manager, "Most all of our larger depositors use checks or other instruments. Its s-safer, you know. . ."
Blue seemed about to hit the poor guy, but said, "Show me the Traveler's Checks and Money Orders."
That's when the police arrived.
The warning came on a walkie-talkie hidden under the green coat. "Pigs! Pigs! Two cars at each end of the street. Moving in from both sides." Added were several common four-letter words from all.
A moment later Blue assessed the situation. "We're stuck. Too many to shoot our way out. It'll take a full SWAT assault to get us. We'll try to bargain. Red, take the hostages into the break room. You people don't try anything stupid, or you'll die."
We were quickly moved into the employee break area. I helped to get the wheelchair through the narrow door, then huddled with the others against the far wall while Red ripped out the phone cord. He moved to the door and told us to sit down.
If this turned into one of those Dog Day Afternoon protracted media events, I would be in trouble. In five hours, or so, the base coat of my makeup had to be removed. If I didn't get it off my face would become inflamed, then infected. My mask would become obvious, after which everything would hit the fan. I harbored no doubts that whoever these yo-yo's turned out to be, they'd kill easy and often to stay free. I decided that Jim Norris would probably be lost to me.
I reached into my jacket. "Stop!" snapped Red.
I gave him an innocent startled look. "I - I need a smoke, bad," I said, whispering a small prayer that no one here was enough of a non-smoker to object. "Look, you saw the case. Please let me get it out."
When he didn't complain, I pulled the case out with two fingers. While looking very innocent, that grip actually brought the electrical weapon to full charge. Originally designed by Alf Levine as a stun shocker with foot-long probes, mine has a fail-safe circuit that discharges the Cobra's total energy into the next thing to touch it.
Slowly, I removed a thin cigar. I put it in my mouth saying, "Here, have one. . ." I was obviously too far away to hand him the case, or to jump him. I threw the case.
The Cobra cut a high arc. Red instinctively reached upward. His gun pointed way over our heads as he caught the case. And jerked.
There was a snap. Everyone's hair stood up. Red fell. I caught him and removed the gun from his limp fingers.
I took stock as I locked the door. When the others began to fidget, I shushed them. I crammed a chair under the doorknob. Red's .32 caliber toy held six. I found six more shells racked in a quick loader, plus my knife. That Hong Kong pea-shooter'd be small help at ranges over ten feet. No other way out, except possibly the dropped ceiling.
"Can anyone fix the phone?" I asked without much hope.
"Sure!" said the kid in the wheelchair. "Its only four wires. But you make a call and I'll bet other phones light up outside here. I can see the main box down under that table. That'll be better." He flipped open one armrest to produce a small tool kit. "Dad, help me."
I got the others under what cover there was. Their nerves were shaken, but they obeyed the forceful tone I used. Finished, I found the kid propped against the wall. His father braced him and held the tools. The side of his wheelchair sported a bumper sticker that read "Yo Soy Chicano."
I pulled the table further out of his way. "Como se llama, amigo?" I asked in my so-so Spanish. He had pity on me and replied in English.
"I'm George Sanchez. How much current did that thing deliver?"
"Too much," I said. "He's barely alive. Can you handle the spaghetti?"
"Sure, electronics is my hobby. I'm hooking into the repairman's terminal. In a minute you can dial out safely and, with this extra wire I cut off the ripped up phone, I can tap any phone in the building. What do you need?"
What a break. Here someone had a useful skill and didn't need a nerve tonic. "That outside line, please."
George handed me the instrument. I punched a familiar number and turned away. One quick adjustment put my voice to the outer limits. The device, designed by an old Chinese mimic and a battlefield surgeon worked its magic. My voice became unique.
"Major Case Squad, Carpenter." replied a voice that I knew very well.
"Listen carefully," I said with out preamble. My voice rasped and grated. It sounded in general need of an exorcism. Carpenter grunted, but stayed quiet. "You know the Rudolph Bank job?"
"Sure, Forty-Second and Fenwick. Several hostages. You have something for us?"
"Yes, I'm one of the hostages." The earphone chuckled briefly. I glanced around the room. I could see that one of the security men might have heard about The Voice. "Four men inside. I've taken out one, and I'm barricaded in the employee's lounge with all other hostages. We're undiscovered, as yet. Two men with sawed-off shotguns. One with wire-stocked Uzi machine pistol. Possible hand weapons. A spotter with radio warned them when you moved in. Almost a paramilitary operation."
As I spoke, I stripped the sideburns and wig from Red. "I have a make on my prisoner. Sam Winston, a/k/a/ Tau Libra. This must be a T.P.F. fund raiser."
The air turned blue around the receiver.
Most of the other hostages got the message. I turned to silence their frightened mumbling.
T.P.F., The People's Front, claimed that corrupt society must pay for its own destruction at T.P.F. hands. They liberated wealth lots more often than they attacked social structures. They left very few witnesses.
Carpenter quit cursing. "Can you hold out during an assault?"
"No way," I whispered into the receiver. "Two loads of shot and we've got Dutch Doors. I'll have to keep them from here while you bust in. Who's in charge?"
He hesitated. "Chief Cobbins is out of town. The Deputy Chief's on the way. Until then Tim Kelly is in charge. Once the Deputy gets there, the talk will start. I've still got pain from the last time we 'talked' to that bunch. Wait two minutes and call 555-3742. For the record I'll tell Tim you're a deep cover Fed I know. Good luck, but don't expect my help so easy next time. I'll doctor the audio tape of this call at 'Federal request. . .'"
As I waited, I locked eyes with the bank manager. "How'd you trip the alarm?" my graveyard voice demanded.
He winced at every word. "Th. . . They did it themselves. When more than two cameras lose signal, the alarm goes off automatically. New system"
"Hah! The People's Front gets taken by its own cleverness." I cut the rasping laugh, since it upset the others.
I punched numbers.
"Command Post, Sergeant Kelly."
"Did Carpenter call you?"
"Yes, and not even the name of your 'agency.' What gives?"
I recapped the situation, warning about the spotter. We threw a quick plan together. "That does it Sarge. I'll be wearing. . . Hey, you two, get that turkey's cloths off. . . gray slacks and a cream wind-breaker. I'm borrowing his red wig and sideburns."
While waiting for Kelly to pass the word I investigated the drop ceiling. The teen in the chicken uniform weighed over two hundred. I stood on his shoulders. The bank designers had thought of this trick. Heavy metal mesh extended above the walls and covered all the holes. I could see alarm leads attached. Scratch one bright idea.
Hopping down, I announced, "Got to do this the hard way. Everybody get as far to the side of the door as possible. Manager, as soon as I leave, have the men help you get everything that moves against the door. George, stay on the phone. Keep absolutely quiet, if you value your lives." I heard George Sanchez whisper into the phone as I slipped out the door.
I held my breath as I peaked out. I didn't look much like Sam Winston, but the wig and burns would buy a tiny amount of time. I'd adjusted my voice, but Winston had spoken so little that I only had a rough approximation on him. Thank the Lord for favors, large and small. The corridor was empty.
Three quick, quiet steps and I reached the dead end. Empty, with no exit. I checked the rest rooms and a couple of offices. Also empty. Only one way to go, forward to the enemy's rear.
A recent design fad hates straight lines. The corridor dog-legged into the main open area. I hit the floor and scooted forward. For self-proclaimed elitist terrorists, they'd done some honest-looking work as movers. Everything that wasn't nailed down, and some that had been, formed a barricade.
Blue, Green, and Brown positioned themselves wide apart. With Red's Saturday-Night-Special I'd never get all three trigger-happy T.P.F.'s, or hold them until SWAT broke through. I backed down the corridor.
As planned, someone answered my special knock at the lounge. "Listen up. I'm going to fire one shot in the Ladies room across the hall. I want everybody to scream, then be super-quiet. Tell the police not to move until they hear more gunfire." I listened to a muffled acknowledgment.
I stepped quickly into the rest room. I plugged my ears the best I could and squeezed the trigger. The slug tore up through the paper towels in a full holder and disappeared into the ceiling. Back across the hall, the screaming lasted about three seconds. If my ears hadn't been ringing, I could have heard a fly walking.
The color kids probably expected a police rush with the shot. When none came, they decided to check on Red. Blue came back and rapped on the door from the side.
"Red, what the Hell happened? I guess the Pigs didn't hear-r-r. . ." My garrote whipped over his head. Even in the energy conserving dim light, rage and terror flashed across his face. I tightened the loop's built in ratchet to cut off his sound and air. I grabbed the shotgun just before he could get his finger back in the trigger guard. As his struggles weakened, I shoved him into the rest room and headfirst into the wall. If the garrote wasn't too tight, he might live through this. Not that I really cared. He carried some shotgun shells, plus a shiny Luger and two spare magazines.
Knowing The People's Front, I didn't ask them to surrender. I looked around the corner, spotted Brown with his Uzi, aimed the shotgun and fired.
As his leaking body fell, I pumped another shell into position. I saw Green begin to move when the plate glass window at the side of the barricade started sprouting holes, then quickly cascaded to the floor. Three men in blue-black flack jackets dived in. I leaned against the wall and relaxed.
They spread out and took control with massive firepower while other officers pored in. I held the shotgun far from the trigger and didn't move.
Quickly I became the apex of multiple lines of fire. "Where's Kelly?" I asked, almost before someone bluntly requested that I drop the shotgun.
"The safety's off," I noted as I leaned the weapon against the wall. Before the subjects of handcuffs, or the position, could be discussed, I spotted Kelly climbing in.
"Sergeant Kelly, could you assist me over here?" We swapped prearranged passwords, and he quickly escorted me out to the street, just in time. . .
For the big climax. As we got into the street, Kelly started to remind me about the big favor I owed him and Carpenter. A motor started behind us. I figured it as a SWAT vehicle. Suddenly the motor roared like a dragster. Tires screamed. Kelly and I spun around to see a UPS truck lurch toward us from the curb.
The spotter. It had to be. The truck had enough weight to crash through the two sedan blockade at the corner.
I clawed out the Luger and the little .32.
I'm not sure how many rounds I fired before I dived across the hood of a parked Valiant. Getting to my feet, I heard the cops at the road block cut loose. Glancing across the street, I hoped not to see Kelly splattered on the ground.
To my surprise he popped up from between two parked cars. From under his gear, somewhere, he pulled out a .44 Magnum hand cannon and started sending large chunks of metal after the UPS tuck.
Kelly, or somebody, hit something vital. The truck veered left and demolished a parked Cadillac, and a VW Bug.
Cops converged on the truck from all directions. That, I decided, had to be my cue. I slipped into the nearby H. Salt Fish and Chips, and hurried out the back. I figured I'd just have time to clean out Jim Norris's apartment before Kelly and his buddies arrived.
A slightly different version of this story appeared in Mystery Forum Magazine & Double Danger Tales