Note: This is an excerpt from the novel, Call Me Harry: Murderer, Bank Robber or Mayor?, which is available as a Kindle book. It is Volume 1 in The Harry Parnes Series. A sequel will be published int Fall, 2014.
Harold ”Harry” Parnes, 63 years old, has just been released (again) from a prison in New Mexico. He’s walking the dirt road from the prison toward the town of Mesa Rock. A car passes by.
The Toyota Camry stopped and I was glad. I was parched, my forehead was blazing from sunburn, my knee was throbbing and I was closer to panic than I had been since my first seven years worrying about the cellmeat in prison.
I heard music, a thunderous, monotonous, pulsing drop beat with angry Afro Americans mumbling rhythmic pornographic curses. Hip Hop was not allowed to be played in prison because it incited racial violence among convicts from different sides of the yard. It was coming from inside an old Camry, maybe a year or two newer than the last one I had stolen back in Texas. I thought it might shake apart from the bass beat which was loud enough for me to feel in my prostate. It kicked up a mouthful’s worth of dust for me with a couple of microscopic eye probes to boot. I looked in the window and as my eyes adjusted to the light inside the car I saw a young man, Mexican, pretty big. The electric window lowered.
“Hey ol’ man, you look like you could use a ride.”
“Yes, yes I could, thank you.” I pulled at the door, anxious to get in out of the relentless direct sun.
“You goin’ to Mesa Rock? Shit, where else if you’re headed this way?”
I opened the door and was hit by the combined smells of stale beer, marijuana and farts. I squinched myself into the seat which was too close to the dashboard, but despite the smell I was so glad for the little bit of shade that I immediately felt better.
“So what’re you doin’ way out here? There’s nothing out here but the…”
He had figured it out while he was talking. He couldn’t have been more than twenty.
“So, you just get out?”
“Yeah, I just got out. You’re not gonna kick me out of your car, are you?”
“No man, I think you really need a ride. I can tell. I’m not afraid of you guys. I’m studying Law Enforcement.”
“You study that? Law Enforcement as in bein’ a cop, you have to study for that? All you gotta do is be an asshole.”
“Mesa Rock College Career Institute, majoring in Law Enforcement.”
“You wanna study me?”
“Hey man, that’s a good one! My name is Carlos. I got a Coca-Cola and a bottle of water on the back seat.”
“Take you up on that water. You live in town?”
“Mesa Rock since I was little. Mexico before that.”
“Well I’m glad you’re here, I was pretty hot and thirsty.”
We rode in silence for a few miles while I drank the water, then the Coke. Carlos was a big kid, had a diamond-looking earring in his right ear, a muscle T-shirt with a full arm sleeve recently tattooed up his right arm. The tat was fresh, bold colors that would someday fade around the image of the Mexican eagle, the woman who looked like Mona Lisa, the snakes and the inscriptions that might have been lifted from an Aztec pyramid. I had seen plenty of images like that at the library and scratched with shanks and shards of rock on the walls inside the prison.
Carlos had turned the Hip Hop down a bit, sensing it would be a merciful thing to do. So far he was Good Samaritan all the way.
“So man, you want a little smoke?” He pulled a plastic bag and a tiny pipe from his pocket.
“Don’t normally smoke.”
“Yeah, I guess guys your age don’t, but I thought I’d ask since you were in prison. Hey, I thought everybody in the joint smoked. Everybody in the joint smokes joints!” He had a giddy laugh at his own joke. “So how long were you in there, ol’ man?”
“Fourteen years and change.”
“Fourteen years? Hell, I was like 5 years old when you went in. What did you do?”
“Let’s talk about that later.”
“Musta been pretty fuckin’ bad.”
“You’re not gonna kick me out, are ya?”
“So you were in there for 9/11 huh?”
“I heard about that.”
“You see it on TV? That was a bad fuckin’ deal, man. I live almost all my life hearin’ about that and living my life around that. That shit effects everything. Were you ever a soldier?”
“No. Just a criminal.”
“What kind a criminal?”
“All kinds; a little a this, a little a that.”
“Lied to people?”
“Only when I needed to. Only when they needed it. Wasn’t my thing.”
There was a long pause, then Carlos said, “Well if it’s not your thing it’s not your thing. Guess I don’t have to worry.”
“No, I don’t think you do. Do I? Do you have a gun?”
Carlos took a long hit. “Like I should trust you man? Somethin’ says I already do. Reach under my seat. And don’t try anything funny with my cojones.”
I reached under and immediately recognized the cold steel weight and heft of a nice solid handgun.
“Loaded?” I asked.
Why have it in the car if it’s not? I know you don’t need to ask, you can feel by the weight. You bein’ coy, ol’ man?”
* * *
So this was town. Haven’t ever really been here; Mesa Rock New Mexico. Rows of poor houses coming into town, some homes, not even houses as much as leaning tin shacks, old mobiles, trailers and a few refrigerator boxes by the tracks all set on the flat ground with dust winding around in the light breeze. It seemed like a good little town, large enough yet small enough. Not too many people, a fair number of businesses, even chains I’d heard of like a .99 Cent Store and a Walmart.
“Hey Carlos, see that yard sale over there?” It was almost right across from the sign that said First Bank of Mesa Rock.
Carlos enthusiastically said, “Yeah, man look at those speakers they got! Those are some big fuckers! Bet they got good bass response! For my car!”
I had spotted a not too worn-out brown leather briefcase, cowhide I guess, something I had always wanted. I wasn’t sure why, but something told me to buy it.
“So where you wanna go, ol’ man?”
“My Mom’s place, I guess. Never been there. She wrote me it’s on Euclid Street. 6481, I think.”
It was then I focused on the bank.
“Hey Carlos, would you mind waiting here? Let me sightsee a little bit?’
“I don’t know, just stop.”
He did. I stepped out of the car and just looked. Old bank. Old town. Old school.
“I’ll be right back.” I told him.
I walked across the narrow dusty sidewalk into the bank. As I walked through the door, the smell of old wood and stale air hit my nostrils. It was cooler than outside because of old concrete walls and an adobe feel all around. I noticed a fat bank guard in a tattered uniform sitting in the corner to my left, feet up on a little folding TV tray, head back, snoring like a steam engine. In front of me to my right were three teller windows set in wood and glass. One mature lady sat behind one, wearing red harlequin glasses speckled with white polka dots, doing busy work below the counter. High ceilings, a cool airy feel to the place. I turned around and walked back out.
“Carlos…” I said when I reached the car, “I’m going to get out here for a minute.” I reached in the back seat and grabbed the old briefcase. “Can you do me a favor?”
“You got me those speakers, man.”
“Drive round the block and pick me up in five minutes.”
“Ok, ol’ man.”
I walked back into the First Bank of Mesa Rock. The bank guard was still sawing logs. I walked up to the teller who was very attractive older lady, full and businesslike, dyed blonde, those kinky red polka dot glasses.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” I asked.
“Maizey. How can I help you, sir?”
“I’d like to close an account.”
“Don’t recognize you sir, your name is….?”
“My name is please give me all the money you have in that drawer you are working in, plus the money in those other two drawers to your left. All stations. Please empty those drawers and give all the money to me.”
“Sir, you have got to be kidding.”
“Maizey dear, I wish I was, but a man has to make a living, I’m sure you understand. Now let’s get this done as quickly as possible, I have people waiting.”
“Am I to understand this is a robbery?”
“You could call it that, but I prefer to call it a donation.”
She was yelling in the direction of the bank guard who persisted in not moving a fraction of an inch, head back, feet on a TV tray. Snoring like a freight train.
“This sir, has got to be some kind of a joke. Are you threatening me?”
“No ma’am, I am asking you. Please give me the money.”
“Well, screw me blue! I never! Do you even have a gun?”
“Not on me. And I really don’t have time to go out to the car and get one.”
“Francis, Francis!” She called louder, but the fat bank guard didn’t budge.
“I’m sorry to do this to you, but if you were to review my whole life, you’d really know that I just don’t have any other choice. So I want you to shut the fuck up now and get me that money.”
This seemed to make her stop and think. Then I saw her make a sudden move and thrust her left arm hard against something underneath the desk in front of her.
“So that was the alarm button you just pressed, wasn’t it?” I asked.
“Well yes, but it sticks. When I pushed the button in, like last time we had a drill in here for like if we ever had a robbery, and the button stuck just like it did now. Maybe it sent out one signal to the Mesa Rock Police Department but maybe then again it didn’t. I just don’t know.”
“They don’t tell you much here, do they?”
“No sir, they don’t.”
“Well, I’ll think positive and assume that alarm doesn’t work too well, so let’s get this done. The sooner the better. Please put the money in this briefcase. I’m sure they tell you in training to always comply with a bank robber so you don’t get hurt or shot. Don’t they tell you that?”
“Yes sir, they do, but you said you don’t even have a gun. How can you shoot me if you don’t have a gun? So what will you do, hit me?”
“Well, Maizey, maybe just a short spank. But that’s not the point. I don’t want you to get in trouble for not doing what they trained you to do in bank robbery training. You already alerted Francis, you already pushed that sticky button, so you did what you were supposed to do. Now I need you to put all the money there is here in this briefcase so I can go and we can part friends.”
I could see wheels turning in her head, deliberately, and after a fashion, logically.
“Ok,” she said.
In a matter of seconds she had every bit of cash she could pull from the drawers stuffed in my briefcase. And I mean stuffed. The case was heavy and bulging. The damn thing must have weighed 20 pounds.
“Ok,” I said.
“Ok,” said Maizey.
“Ok,” I said.
“Sir I don’t know about your exit strategy…that’s a term I heard on one of my daytime talk programs when I’m off work. But I just saw one of our Mesa Rock’s finest cars cruise by the front window. I think the thing is that maybe that sticky button under the counter sends out one signal, then sticks, then God knows what they think but they must think something. But maybe they’re not quite sure. I don’t want to help you or anything, that would be aiding and abetting, but I don’t know about the front door being your best bet to get out of here.”
I looked out toward the front door and Maizey was right, I saw a Mesa Rock Police car cruise by again, slowly, nonchalant, not like they expected anything to be wrong, but there they were.
“Well, I can respect that. Is there anyone else here in this bank right now?”
“Well, there’s Francis.” Francis was still asleep, still fat, feet on the TV table.
“Is there a back way out of here?”
“Well, no, but there are some offices upstairs that belong to Mr. Portreas’ accounting firm. With windows.”
“Thank you, Maizey.”
“You are a very polite man. You be careful now,” she smiled.
I threaded my way through the short hallway with three empty offices, desks overflowing with papers, banker’s boxes littering the floor. Then there were stairs. I was carrying the yard sale briefcase that was heavier than I would have thought possible and starting to sweat.
Portreas’ office door was locked, but I found the men’s room. There was a window up above the toilet, too high to reach.
I was starting to think this little impulse I’d had to look in on the First Bank of Mesa Rock was a lost cause. I try never to overthink anything I do because impulse has always worked for me. Hell, it got me where I am today, right? I just had to take a minute….I either get out that window or go back downstairs and meet Mesa Rock’s finest with a cowhide briefcase full of this banks’ money and go back to prison.
So I stood and looked at this problem for what seemed like hours, but I knew it was just a few seconds. Toilet, toilet paper holder, window. I am a 60+ year old man and the only exercise I have had in the last fourteen years has been walking the exercise yard at the prison. Even before that I probably spent a good 4-5 years on the couch drinking beer, and watching TV for my workouts.
One thing I realized, I would need both hands for this. I loosened my belt and slipped one end through the handle of the briefcase full of money. It was now hanging in front of my crotch, so heavy that I stood hunched over like a giant shrimp.
Okay, so one quick move can get me up to the window. I run at the wall, use my right leg to bounce off the toilet onto the toilet paper roll holder which is (hopefully) secure in the concrete wall (no time to check and why would I want to know if it wasn’t?), reach up to the window sill, push the window open (if it’s not locked) pull myself up and out and drop down one story into the alley in the back of the bank with a briefcase full of money.
I am so fucked.
Take one. I ran toward the wall, hit the toilet with my right foot, hit the roll holder with my left foot vaulted—vaulted!—up toward the window, feeling my foothold give a little, and grabbed at the window sill. But my fingers slipped off the concrete and I fell like a rock, right knee landing square in the toilet plunging all the way into the little hole at the bottom.
I had no options. Do it again.
I didn’t think. Vaulted. I quickly took the heel of my right hand off the concrete below the sill and punched once at the top of the bottom window’s frame with all my strength.
The wood at the top of the window frame splintered but the window popped open, going half way to the top.
Looking down into the alley, a dumpster about four feet to the left. So haul yourself up and out, drop down a story and try to do an Olympic twist and turn dive into a dumpster that’s not directly below you.
Don’t overthink it, just do it.
The next thing I remember was waking up in wet smelly trash, the sound of a police siren reverberating through the steel of the dumpster. I felt a rush of sound and heat as the car blazed down the alley, looking for yours truly. But yours truly was writhing in pain from yet another slam on a knee that was nothing but nerve endings, and suffocating from the overwhelming garbage smell and feeling the wet slosh of slimy trash soaking into shirt, jeans, skin.
Just take me now, get it over with.
I waited. I just waited for lack of a better plan. Knee throbbing, hands and broken nails cracked from the window pull ups, body aching from the drop, I decided to stick my head over the top of the dumpster. Might as well save some time; what else was I going to do eventually?
Then the sound of a car. An old Camry?
“Hey man, I thought you were going to be in front, you told me come back. I waited, then I came around back. What’re you doin’ in a dumpster, crazy fuckin’ ol’ man?”
“How about helping me up so we can get the hell out of here?”
“What you wearin’ around you, you got that briefcase hooked on your belt. Man what the fuck did you……” he didn’t need to finish his sentence. “Holy shit, you robbed the fuckin’ bank! You got cojones, ol’ man! That was about as slick a thing as I ever seen! You went right from prison to bank robbin’ same day. You take the money and drop out the window? How’d you do it, ol’ man?”
“The trick is not to overthink it.”
Randy Cade has lived in California all his adult life, growing up in the 60s, 70s, and 80s in Northern and Southern California along with all the great things that came with that. There was the San Francisco music scene around the Fillmore Auditorium in the 60s, UC Berkeley, and being a book publisher in the 70s (yes, remember real books printed on paper etc.?), and a pioneer in the computer industry in the 80s. Then comes the good part: two wonderful daughters, a great wife and adapting to the brave new digital world of computers, instant communication, cell phones, The Net, iStuff, Netflix and DirecTV. Is this a great country or what?