“I want us to ride over to Aeria,” decided Mr. Bell early on the morning of the bank robbery. “We’ll take your truck.”
“What for,” said Reverend Evans politely. It was a cloudy morning. The sky was low and white. It was impossible to locate the sun overhead precisely.
“I’ll tell you, I checked your tires,” Mr. Bell said bluntly. “They’re slick.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Reverend Evans.
“We’ll get you some good ones while we go by the bank.”
Mr. Bell’s drivers license expired the year he turned seventy. His eyes by then had stopped keeping up with the rest of him, and when he went to the renewal office to pick up a new license, he failed the vision test.
A week or two later, after he was over the mortification of that episode, he advertised and found Reverend Evans. He hired Reverend Evans to help with cows, and cut firewood, and drive and do errands. Besides paying a cash salary Mr. Bell also gave his employee the use of an older model Japanese pickup.
“We’ll walk around town while they mount your tires,” said Mr. Bell. He really liked cloudy days—his eyes adjusted well to low diffused light. “After that we may drive over to Marais. Maybe get us something to eat.”
While Aeria Auto was installing four good second-hand tires on Reverend Evans’ pickup, he with Mr. Bell visited the drycleaners and the town’s two antique stores. At ten thirty, just before the robbery, they stopped by the bank.
It was almost the first of the month and Mr. Bell was picking up cash for Reverend Evans’ salary and for his own operating expenses. The florescent lighting the bank installed when they dropped the ceiling in ’94 bothered his eyes—to better navigate the lobby he put a hand on Reverend Evans’ shoulder.
They joined a teller line behind Mrs. Elmore the bookkeeper from Deep Brothers Funeral Home. She was buying travelers checks for her church group trip to Rome and the Holy Land.
Reverend Evans waited patiently with Mr. Bell in line. Reverend Evans had no worries, really, most of the time. Lately however he found he was unable to stop thinking about money. The salary Mr. Bell paid him always covered his expenses. He usually had eight or nine dollars left over at the end of the month. Sometimes more that that. The past year he had saved for and bought a small color TV.
His residence on Mr. Bell’s place, on the Wystan River, in the former generator shack by the old Sweetfield power dam, was too low unfortunately to enjoy good television reception. Only nature shows from the public broadcast channel in Marais came in clearly. So he watched them with the sound turned down.
A nurse friend of his in Marais once gave Reverend Evans a stethoscope for a birthday present, and while he watched television he often wore the stethoscope and listened to his heartbeat or to his breathing. It was as fascinating and relaxing as playing a musical instrument.
The past month Reverend Evans saved only three dollars. He might have saved more if he’d been careful. He might have saved ten dollars, or eleven dollars. But twice he met Mr. Bell’s niece, Claire, in Marais, and both times they rented a room at a motel and slept together.
Claire paid for the room both times. But Reverend Evans felt obliged somehow, after they made love, after they checked out of the motel, both times, to treat her to a soft drink and a hamburger at a nearby fast food restaurant. And those two dinners together cost him almost eight dollars.
Reverend Evans knew he would certainly be fired if Mr. Bell ever realized he was sleeping with Claire. Still he saw her. More and more often. After dark she walked down to his place by the Sweetfield dam. Usually they didn’t have to spend money. But Claire was a romantic girl, with dyed blonde hair, a little on the heavy side, and there was no telling what might happen in the future. There was no telling what she might think of next. There was no telling what expenses might lay ahead. He believed he should stop seeing her, but he found he was unable to do so.
On his way to Marais recently for a foot valve for a well pump, Reverend Evans noticed a small camper shell for sale. It was balanced on sawhorses at the edge of a huge grassy lot on the Wystan River Road. A speck of a low brick veneer home half covered with bushes lay at the far edge of the lot. Reverend Evans wondered if Claire might… go with him… to the mountains… in a camper like that. To a lake in the mountains. At a lake… they could catch fish.
A man was clipping bushes by the house on the far side of the yard. Reverend Evans pulled over and got out of his truck. He stood and stared at the camper shell. Eventually the man walked over. “Thet belongs to my son,” said the man. Two or three dogs barked in the near distance—the man’s eyes flickered.
“How much does he want for it,” said Reverend Evans.
“Two hundred fifty,” said the man. “Look inside if you want to.”
Reverend Evans pokerfaced thanked the man and opened the camper’s tiny back door and leaned forward and examined the inside.
Two hundred fifty dollars Reverend Evans said to himself. Images from his years as a working minister roiled in his head. He felt the old savage familiar compulsion to: Get Money. God help me he mumbled fervently.
In real time and in retrospect as well Reverend Evans had loved prison. Weather reports didn’t matter in prison. Bills never came in the mail. He played Scrabble every day. He learned faith in the ways of the Lord.
Money worries had wrecked his former life as a minister. And really and truly he hadn’t believed in God back then—that must have held him back. Money worries and disbelief, and amphetamines, had wrecked his old life.
When he set his church office on fire – that might have worked out well—if he hadn’t been speeding his brains out at the time. He just wanted to ruin a few check stubs, but he used too much gasoline, and the whole church burned down. The place exploded in flames. He barely got out alive. The Senior Men were meeting in the main part of the church—he hadn’t even realized it. They got out alive too fortunately. There he was in the churchyard blackened and grimy from the flames with an empty five-gallon gasoline can in his hand.
“We got you Reverend,” said one of the Senior Men—a deacon. Reverend Evans couldn’t remember his name. The man was grabbing his bicep and squeezing it. “God help us I had suspicions about you before.”
“It’s a… miserable world— ain’t it boys,” panted Reverend Evans. His heart was beating two hundred fifty times a minute.
The snug little camper was fitted inside with a tiny counter and a sink and a built-in gas burner. Opposite the counter was a narrow table and two bench seats—the table dropped and converted to a bed. Reverend Evans flushed a little. A postcard picture of a banjo was pasted on the wall over the table and benches.
“Got everything ain’t it,” said the man.
“Little on the small side,” said Reverend Evans. He imagined Claire with him on a trip to a lake in the mountains… they would arrive at night…the lake surface…shined…like a dance floor…he imagined freedom…from paying motel room fees.
“Lookit thet banjer,” said the man. He pointed to the postcard pasted over the table. Dogs barked in the distance again. Dogs somewhere else barked back. Both sets of dogs wailed in a long chorus. The sound went on for several seconds. The man spit on the ground.
“Got some dogs in this neighborhood,” said Reverend Evans.
“Too many,” said the man.
“Mm,” said Reverend Evans.
“I kill every one I can,” the man said evenly.
Reverend Evans sighed. He was definitely interested in the camper. “What’s your son’s phone number or should I come back,” he said. “If I decide I’m interested.”
“Oh you can come back,” said the man. “I’m here.”
“All right, thank you.” Still showing no expression Reverend Evans turned and walked away.
“My son prolly would…take two hundred dollars cash. Maybe he would,” said the man.
“All right I appreciate it,” said Reverend Evans.
Mr. Ellis Kidd, the Aeria Bank president, sat in his office and read a magazine. He was a bulky red-headed old man with a slab face and eyebrows like cut toenails. He swiveled his seat back and forth—he noticed Mr. Bell standing in the lobby. He strode out of his office and slapped Mr. Bell on the shoulder.
“Not the south part of Italy they say that’s too dirty,” explained Mrs. Elmore who was still in front of Mr. Bell to the teller. Mr. Kidd picked up Mr. Bell’s hand and shook it.
“Owen,” he bellowed.
“Hey there,” Mr. Bell bellowed back straight into Mr. Kidd’s face.
“It’s Ellis Kidd.”
“The devil!” said Mr. Bell happily. “We thought you went across the country.”
“They made me come back Owen,” said Mr. Kidd grandly.
Mr. Kidd’s wife’s family owned a third interest in Aeria Bank. He did his work well and carefully and with absolute family loyalty and served as bank president for almost thirty years.
But the sameness of the work strained his nerves eventually. In the final years of his tenure he stayed in his office most of the time and read magazines. When he was required to interact with employees, even customers, he often yelled and threw things.
Finally after four or five incidents too many the Optimists’ Club gave him their Person of the Year award, and a big dinner, and the board of directors forced him out. He and his wife bought a motor home and took a tour of the forty-eight contiguous United States.
The directors might have appointed Miranda Bivens, the bank’s chief loan officer, to succeed Mr. Kidd. She was doing most of the work anyway. But Miranda was a woman and they thought she might be unsuitable. They hired somebody from the outside.
Before the new president was on the job six months, irregular transactions began showing up on the central accounts computer. Miranda Bivens confronted the man right away.
The new president broke down. He admitted all to Miranda—he’d been issuing loans to himself without collateral and without observing bank guidelines. It was a Friday afternoon. He begged for the weekend to raise money, to cover his accounts, and after that he would resign.
Miranda thought it over. She looked at the president: a fat man from the suburbs of Charlotte; he was weeping—snot ran from his nose from both nostrils. He was overextended obviously, financially and emotionally, and he had lost his judgment, but he was no criminal. Miranda decided she would give him a chance.
Over the weekend the new president disappeared. Two weeks later the police found him at a fishing camp on the gulf coast in Florida. His family paid his loans and the related fines. He wasn’t required to go to jail. But the FDIC had iron rules about reporting financial irregularities and Miranda Bivens was required to resign from the bank.
The Lynah County Flyer covered Miranda’s story. There were letters to the editor. The community got up a petition. The bank board of directors almost hired an Atlanta lawyer to litigate her case—but it was so expensive to do that.
The FICA refused to budge, and Miranda left the bank. She took a job with the county public works department. She did well with that right away.
The board contacted Mr. Kidd via cell phone. They asked him to return and keep the president’s seat warm while they interviewed new candidates. He and Mrs. Kidd parked their motor home at a campground in Oregon and returned to Lynah County.
“Owen now they’ve got to replace that FOOL they picked instead of Miranda,” Mr. Kidd told Mr. Bell at top volume. “They better show some sense this time.”
Everyone in the lobby heard every word he spoke. Mr. Kidd had been vehemently in favor of Miranda Bivens for president in the first place—so much so that it worked against her with the board.
Teller Gordon Manis glanced over Mrs. Elmore’s head at Mr. Kidd and Mr. Bell. He wished they would talk quietly. Numbers were slippery and he didn’t want to make a mistake with Mrs. Elmore’s traveler’s checks.
Gordon Manis was a recent graduate of Triplace College in Alabama. He majored in Business Studies there and played football on a partial scholarship. He was the first college graduate in his immediate or extended family. Gordon handed Mrs. Elmore half her bundle of traveler’s checks. He showed her how to sign them.
Mrs. Elmore scribbled her name again and again and continued to explain her church group itinerary. Mr. Bell poked Mr. Kidd’s shoulder and queried him on the diesel engine in the Kidds’ camping vehicle and its performance on long upgrades in the Cascades and Rocky Mountains.
Gordon Manis picked up motion in the corner of his eye; he looked at the window on the left side of the lobby—that window faced Gin Street not the Marais Highway. A car was pulling to the curb on Gin Street. A man on the passenger side got out. He was wearing khaki pants and a zipped up blue windbreaker—his windbreaker was pulled tight, gathered strangely at the waist. He slipped on a ski mask. The car driver also put on a ski mask.
“Excuse me Ms. Elmore sign the rest of these please,” said George Manis politely. He pushed the rest of the stack of traveler’s checks through the teller window.
Gently he swiped his nameplate off the teller counter and slipped it in his pocket. He nodded to Mrs. Elmore, who had just mentioned Jerusalem. He pressed the silent alarm button under the lip of the teller counter and turned towards the back of the bank lobby.
His nameplate pulled down on his pants. Like everyone’s nameplate at the bank, it was a finished wedge of granite from Lynah Monument and Gravel, eight inches long. The letters of his name were engraved on a brass plate attached to one face.
He walked down a small hallway behind the teller line; he pushed open the bank vault door and stepped in; he swung the door halfway closed behind him. He took his nameplate out of his pocket and squeezed it in his hand. He leaned against the wall of the vault.
Then the robber was in the lobby of the bank. The robber shot twice into the ceiling – he screamed for everyone to drop to the floor. He shoved Mr. Kid and Mr. Bell and cursed them and pushed them aside. Reverend Evans retreated with Mr. Bell to a sofa on the edge of the lobby by Miranda Bivens’ old loan office.
Mr. Kidd cursed the bank robber. Helen Davis the head teller grabbed Mr. Kidd and dragged him to the loan office sofa. She pushed him down beside Mr. Bell.
The robber screamed for the keys to the vault. “I believe it’s already open,” wailed an assistant cashier.
“Lets see about it,” yelled the robber. He shot into the ceiling again. The bank lobby filled with thin smoke from the robber’s pistol. He snatched Mrs. Elmore’s arm and carried her with him around the counter, striding up and down the teller line he stuffed stacks of hundreds and fifties and twenties into his windbreaker.
“What the hell’s going on,” said Mr. Bell.
“He’s gettin’ money,” said Reverend Evans intently.
Now the bank robber dragged Mrs. Elmore towards the vault—he turned his back on the lobby. Mr. Kidd leaped from the sofa and dashed into his office.
Gordon Manis waited behind the vault door. Gordon’s chunky granite nameplate was in his hand – raised overhead – Gordon’s hand was steady. The bank robber still clutching Mrs. Elmore stepped through the doorway. Gordon swung straight for the crown of the man’s ski cap. But he put too much force into the blow and instead thumped the lump of granite firmly in the man’s shoulder and smashed his collarbone and shoulder joint. Pain, agony really, made the bank robber stagger and cough and lean on Mrs. Elmore, and he dropped his pistol.
“OK,” said Gordon Manis firmly. He stooped to pick up the pistol.
As Gordon’s fingertips touched the pistol, Mrs. Elmore screamed into the robber’s ear as loud as she could. He jerked upright and noticed Gordon and kicked him hard in the ribs.
He turned and sprinted away to the lobby. Mr. Kidd had just emerged from the president’s office.
Mr. Kidd stored a huge army surplus .45 Colt pistol in his pencil drawer next to his stapler and a box of paper clips. Not because his wife forbid him to keep guns at home—no that wasn’t correct.
He kept it because a fool might rob his bank; he knew it would happen. Now the Lord had summoned him from Oregon, from the rainy mountain ridges, to defeat the fool—to interfere with his intentions.
The bank robber cradling his ruined arm took five or six running steps across the lobby. From the doorway of the president’s office, Mr. Kid raised his .45 and shot straight for the middle of the man’s chest.
The impact of the bullet threw the bank robber on his heels. His knees buckled. Half crouched now and operating on animal fear and adrenalin he lunged for the front door. He reached the vestibule. Mr. Kidd his face like stone fired another round into the body of the bank robber.
From the Gin Street side of the bank came engine revving noises and the sound of tires slamming over curbing. Mr. Kidd jumped across the robber and ran out of bank, through the parking lot, into the Marais Highway. The getaway car accelerated through light mid-morning traffic. Mr. Kidd strode to the middle of the Marais Highway and raised his pistol.
Reverend Evans, who had watched closely while the robber stuffed teller money into his windbreaker, now crossed the lobby to the vestibule. He knelt beside the dying bank robber and turned him gently on his back.
Customers and staff rushed to the edge of the vestibule. Reverend Evans looked up.
“Stand away folks,” he said mildly. “Let me pray with this man.”
Mr. Bell came too—he peered down at Reverend Evans. The light in the vestibule, well filtered by a heavy outside awning, suited Mr. Bell’s eyes pretty well. He got a good look at the bank robber. Blood was all over the place. The robber’s eyes were half open.
“How’s he doing Reverend Evans?” Mr. Bell said gruffly. From outside, from the Marais Highway, came the sound of gunfire and police sirens.
“Not well,” said Reverend Evans.
“Let’s back up a little,” said Mr. Bell grudgingly to the bank staff and to the other customers. “The man may need to pray. Let’s move back.”
Mrs. Elmore zigzagged out of the bank vault and across the lobby. She staggered over to Mr. Bell. She draped an arm around his shoulder. She stared down at the dying bank robber. Her eyes bulged. “For God’s sake— somebody call an ambulance,” she shouted.
“Ms. Elmore,” said Mr. Bell. He patted her on the back. “Now now now,” he said.
Mrs. Elmore threw her other arm around Mr. Bell—she put her face in his chest. “Somebody needs – to call an ambulance,” she said in shuddering tones.
“Ms. Elmore,” said Mr. Bell soothingly. “Come sit with me on the sofa. Let that son of a bitch bleed to death. He tried to steal our money.” He waved back the rest of the crowd. He escorted Mrs. Elmore to the loan office sofa.
Mr. Kidd in the road outside observed traffic, waited for his chance, and in the seconds before the police arrived got off two shots—he hit the getaway car both times. One bullet traveled through the car trunk, through its interior, and struck the driver in his lower back.
The driver continued disoriented and bleeding with two numb legs a hundred yards further down the Marais Highway. He pulled in the parking lot at Piedmont Veterinary Hospital by the edge of downtown. He shut off the car motor, slumped over the steering wheel and passed out.
Reverend Evans pulled off the robber’s ski mask—he looked at the man’s hard face. The robber seemed to have lost consciousness. Reverend Evans unzipped his windbreaker and felt inside for the money from the teller stations – he knew how much must be there – awareness flickered in the robbers eyes – his lips twitched.
Reverend Evans put his hand on money — yes thick wads of it — but soaked with blood — it could be cleaned — no — that was too risky. Ah well, he thought. Least I looked. Least I took a chance. Still, he felt bad.
Then he noticed a wristwatch on the robber’s arm—a heavy gold watch. With a twinge of joy he recognized the name brand Rolex on the watch face.
Reverend Evans gathered the robber in his arms and hugged him—that obscured the view from the lobby; blood from the man’s body wet his shirtfront unpleasantly. He stripped the watch from the robber’s wrist.
There was noise outside and Reverend Evans shifted position and laid the robber’s head on the vestibule floor.
“Son of a…son of a…” murmured the robber. Hate filled his eyes. Rapid heavy footsteps — the police certainly — resounded on the pavement outside the vestibule. Reverend Evans curled his fingers over the Rolex. The dying robber glared at him. Reverend Evans watched the door. He wondered if someone had seen him steal the watch.
Hugh Uter, the Lynah Flyer editor, who owned a police scanner, had just walked up. Hugh clicked settings on his camera. He pressed the shutter release.
Hugh had collected three terrific images already of Mr. Kidd pistol in hand in the middle of Main Street. Now at the bank vestibule he shot the picture of his life :
The dying bank robber’s expression is fixed on the preacher who attends him. His eyes burn with spirituality. The preacher’s shirtfront is soaked with blood — he looks up — he is looking into the camera lens…
The next day was a slow news day and that dramatic photo made the papers in Charlotte and Birmingham. Hugh wondered afterwards if he might receive an award somewhere for news photography for taking a picture like that. But it never happened.
Reverend Evans’ fist was clenched around the Rolex. Everything seemed OK. He glanced down at the robber. Mr. Bell stepped forward again to check on things. “Ah how we doing Reverend Evans,” said Mr. Bell.
“I believe he’s dying,” said Reverend Evans. Sheriff’s deputies milled past Hugh Uter and Reverend Evans and the nearly dead bank robber. They hastened into the bank lobby to secure the area.
“Mother… motherf…” gasped the robber.
“Good God,” said Mr. Bell. “He’s talking. He’s calling his mama.”
Reverend Evans studied the eyes of the bank robber—life was easing out of them. Reverend Evans squeezed his new wristwatch. It was warm from the robbers arm. Reverend Evans relaxed.
The Rolex ticked in his hand. He could feel it. He could imagine its cash value. He could see… the little camper on the side of the road… now, it was bolted to the back of his Japanese pickup. Claire’s face… she was smiling… they were grilling fish by the mountain lake… on the burner in the little camper.
There was no need for any motel not with that snug camper on the back of the Japanese pickup. He and Claire were making dinner, together, by the lake. And not paying money at some fast food place. Not when they had their own cooking facilities.
“Motherfucker,” whispered the robber. He used his last breath to say that.
“Same to you,” murmured Reverend Evans. With his free hand, not the hand holding the watch, he closed the robber’s eyes for him.