TIMES ARE TOUGH - BILL RAETZ
I take other people’s money out of ATMs for a living.
Right after I graduated college, I was one of those guys known as a guru at a Web development company. It was a mom-and-pop outfit in a small office in downtown Phoenix, and it was a great gig. I could come to work wearing the clothes I’d slept in the night before and nobody gave a damn. I would sit in my cubicle all day and listen to MP3s and bang out code, eating snacks and drinking sodas provided by the company, all the while making an obscene amount of money. Then mom and pop stopped getting clients. The Hostess Cakes and Sprites were the first things they cut, then people. I got my walking papers after working there for only eleven months. Another Internet company snatched me up right away, but it went down the tubes, too. And when the whole Dot Com thing imploded, I was out of work for good. The few tech outfits left in the Valley weren’t hiring, and I couldn’t even get on at a Burger King because I was overqualified.
After two months of not being able to land anything decent and selling plasma, I decided to get my real estate license. I got on with one of the big companies in Scottsdale, and I was making bank before I knew it. I had to tidy myself up a little more than I did when I was a developer, but I didn’t complain. In no time, I was the broker’s right hand man, selling huge houses to snooty people, driving a nice car, wearing fancy clothes, and eating out all the time. It was a real career with all the externals of success---fake friends, in particular---and it lasted until the housing market took a nosedive because of all that sub-prime lending noise.
Now I’m an armed guard for Saguaro Protective Services. My mother isn’t particularly proud when she tells people that, but my loan officer couldn’t be happier. It’s a steady check; I earn a decent, respectable living, and every day I get to carry around more money than most people will ever see in a lifetime. About the only downside to it is working crazy hours and wearing a Kevlar vest in the Arizona heat.
I’ve been with the company long enough now that I recently got moved to the ATM detail. No raise came with that, but it’s definitely a promotion. My partner, Bobby, and I make the rounds emptying out some of the cash machines in Phoenix. Bobby took an early retirement and moved here a couple of years ago from Iowa. Seems like I’ve never met anyone who was actually born in Arizona. Like most people, Bobby is here because of the weather. I like him well enough, but he has problems. Bobby’s son moved in with him several months ago because he’d fallen on hard times, and it wasn’t long after that when his girlfriend and her brother moved in with him, too. All of them are jobless, except for Bobby’s son, Doug. Doug has a part-time position at a liquor store that pays for his cigarettes and beer, and he never offers any of his check to Bobby for rent. This has been getting to Bobby for quite a while, but he tries not to let on.
“Greg finally got an interview,” Bobby said as I wheeled the armored car into the lot of a 7-Eleven. Greg is Doug's girlfriend’s brother. “He was offered a position at the Yard House, but he turned it down because he said washing dishes is beneath him.”
“That’s nuts.” I set the emergency brake. “You’re never going to get rid of them, are you?”
“Let’s just say it’s a good thing my wife isn’t still around.” Bobby put a pinch of Copenhagen in his mouth, reached for the door. “Ready to roll?”
“Yeah.” I got out of the car, closed the door, and rested my hand on my gun as we walked up to the front door of the 7-Eleven. Bobby carried the bag this time. The convenience store was one of our usual stops, and one I always look forward to. I held the door, let Bobby go in ahead of me.
Taylor Swift’s latest hit was playing on the radio, the girl behind the counter grooving to it. She looks a lot like Gina Gershon, only taller and much more buxom. Her name is Briana. She and I have been dating for a little while, and things are going well with us. She doesn’t know it, but I’m already saving back a little from each of my checks to buy a ring for her.
Briana said, “Hi, Jake.”
“Hey.” I winked at her as I walked up to the cash machine. Bobby already had it opened up by the time I got there. I stood beside him, my hand still on my gun, as he did the cash-out. It’s a tedious process, to say the least. Bobby had to count the money first, then I did. After we were done with that, both of us signed the logbook next to the amount. Tonight’s take was a little over eighteen-hundred, and that was nothing considering that most of the time we empty about a quarter of a mil out of a machine. That’s why being bumped up ATM duty is a promotion. Only the most trustworthy get that slot, and it’s a lot better than doing foot patrol at a school or guarding a register at a church fundraiser. It does, however, carry a lot of risk. Taking money like that out of a convenience store, I always worry about getting rolled by some bozo coming in and pointing a sawed-off at me, and the standing order is to shoot to kill anyone who tries to run away with the money--even if it’s your partner. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for a while that one day Bobby would make a grab for it. He has a nice pension coming in, sure, but that couldn’t pay all the bills his newly-acquired leeches were racking up.
It’s not that I think Bobby is bad. He’s a good, honest fellow, but I know what hard times can do to anyone. I saw it a lot after both the software industry and real estate market tanked, but Bobby’s case was different; he’d waved his troubles aboard the ship by allowing his son, et al, to live with him, eat his groceries, and run up a nice pay-per-view tab. Looking at his life, I was in really good shape. I have only a car payment and a little bit of credit card debt to worry about.
“Okay, that’s it.” Bobby zipped up the bag, closed and locked the machine. He tapped out a code on the keypad and, when the display screen returned to normal, we were ready to be on our way. “You set?”
“Let’s go,” I said, following him to the door. By then, Briana was at one of the coffee machines, giving it a fresh filter and dumping in a measure of French roast.
“Hang around for a second, Jake,” she said. “I’ve just started a fresh pot. I’ll give each of you a cup on the house.”
“I’d love that, but we can’t,” I said. “Once we take the cash, we have to go straight to the car with it.” Our eyes locked. Damn, she’s so pretty. I imagined her in a wedding dress, the ring I had yet to buy on her finger. Then I saw us in a starter home in Glendale. We were going to make lots of love, maybe a couple of babies, too, if that was what she wanted.
“Jake,” Bobby said with some firmness. “C’mon.”
“Call me,” Briana said.
“What time do you knock off tonight?”
“Jake!” Bobby snapped.
“Okay, okay,” I said, glaring at him. “I’ll call you,” I told Briana.
She said, “Bye, Jake,” her voice trailing off.
I went outside with Bobby, saying something under my breath about how he’d forgotten what it was like to be in love.
“It’s not that,” he fired back. “You know we have to take the cash right to the car.”
“I know,” I said, walking along with him. It was a little after ten at night, but it was still warm. Phoenix is so full of asphalt that the heat never has a chance to fully escape.
Bobby looked at me and smiled. “She’s a pretty girl. You two serious?”
“Want a little advice, Jake?”
Advice? I’m thirty-one. Life has already mopped the floor with me, so there isn’t a lesson I haven’t already learned. I don’t need anyone telling me what to do, especially a guy who doesn’t have the courage to toss a bunch of freeloaders out of his house.
“What is it, Bobby?” I stopped at the passenger-side door, reached for it.
“Women are expensive.”
“I know that,” I said curtly.
“You better have plenty in the bank before you settle down, Jake. And when that first kid comes along, you’re really gonna wish you had been putting back.” His face soured. “Nothing will clean out your wallet like a baby.”
“Are you getting in, Bobby?” I indicated the door.
“Did I say something that upset you?”
“No,” I said. “It’s just--”
A red Nissan Pathfinder whipped into the lot and parked right behind the armored car, blocking it off. The Pathfinder had tinted windows and a stereo system with a very healthy subwoofer. The whole scene played out like a clip from one of the training videos I had to watch before going to ATM duty, the tactical piece about what to do during a holdup. I thumbed the snap on my holster and jerked out my revolver, but I didn’t react in time. Bobby already had his gun out--and it was pointed at me.
He said, “Let’s not make this get ugly, okay? Drop the gun.”
“C’mon, Bobby, don’t--”
“Put the gun down, kid,” he said. “I don’t want to shoot you.”
“You’re better than this, Bobby.”
“I know, but times are tough,” Bobby said.
“Yeah, but stealing isn’t the answer. I understand where you’re coming from, believe me. When Mesa Systems laid me off, I was desperate enough to--”
I had to. I couldn’t get off a good shot without raising my piece any further. Bobby already had his gun aimed at my nose, his finger solidly around the trigger. If he so much as sneezed or flinched, my last thoughts would be all over the armored car. I dropped my revolver on the pavement.
“That’s the way,” Bobby said, easing over to the Pathfinder. “Once I’m gone, go ahead and call the police. File a report with them and Saguaro. I’ll be in Canada before the first APB goes out.”
“Why not Mexico?” I said through gritted teeth. “It’s a lot closer.”
“’Cause that’s the first place anyone will look for me.” Bobby’s face was ghoulish now.
“Or maybe you’re just saying that so I’ll tell the police you’re going to Canada, when all the while you’ve planned to go to Mexico.”
I said, “Go wherever you want. You won’t get away with this.”
Bobby hissed as he opened the door of the Pathfinder, his gun still pointed at my face. I winced when the shot went off. The first bullet only dazed Bobby because it hit his back and he was wearing his vest. He dropped to his knees, then the second shot--the one to the head--did him in. Bobby slumped and fell in a pond of his blood, dropped the bag. I picked it up, stepped around him, and climbed into the Pathfinder.
The dome light illuminated a man with a porcine face and a stump for a neck, his arms built by steroids. The cigarette hanging in the corner of his mouth wiggled a little when he saw me and smiled. I closed the door just as he was finishing up with his cell phone.
“Briana knows what to do,” Greg said, stashing his phone away. “She’ll meet us in Nogales as soon as her shift’s over.” He put the Pathfinder in gear, started rolling out of the lot. “We can be there in about three hours.”
“Just don’t get pulled over, Greg.”
“I won’t,” he promised. “I have a radar detector. I’m not stupid.”
“I know you’re not,” I said. “You’re far too bright to be working at the Yard House, just like I told you.”
“That’s right.” Greg threw his cigarette out the window. “How much did we score?”
“Right at a hundred grand,” I lied. I’m not stupid, either. Greg and I had agreed it would be an even split, but holding out on him wouldn’t be all that difficult. Truth be told, he probably deserved more than half the take for pushing Bobby into the whole setup to begin with. I couldn’t have pulled off the job without him, but a deal’s a deal. And by the time we got to Nogales, set up shop in a little hotel room to count the money, it wouldn’t matter if he found out I was shorting him because Briana would arrive after picking up my revolver, and one of us would plug Greg with it. Then I’d be splitting the cash evenly with her.
Like Bobby said, women are expensive--and times are tough.
BIO: Bill Raetz is a pulp fiction author and the creator of the World Espionage Bureau spy noir series. Visit him online at World Espionage Bureau - Spy Fiction Meets Pulp Fiction or Bill Raetz - Pulp Writer.