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It is just barely possible that somewhere in the universe there might have been someone who was less enthusiastic about returning to work than I was, that Saturday morning in May when the bank robbery went down. Not that I was scheduled to return to work on Saturday. But Monday was looming dismally ahead. I had been on maternity leave since early in March, and Cameron--the baby I had succeeded in producing in a small town in northern New Mexico, about six hours after being involved in what is often known as a Mexican standoff--was proving quite interesting. The idea of returning to the world of holdups and homicides, fingerprints and stakeouts, was not at all enticing.
But with four people, a dog, a cat, a house, a car, and a pickup truck to support, somebody in the family had to have a job and Harry wasn't that person. Not anymore. The doctor had just informed us that the chances of his being able to go back to being a helicopter test pilot were exactly zero. Oh, he could still fly his small private plane just fine. But to be able to fly a helicopter you have to do a little better than be able to chew bubblegum and walk at the same time. To be precise, you have to have both feet and both hands doing separate things all at the same time. And to fly new prototype helicopters that maybe were going to turn out not to do quite exactly what they were told to do, you have to be even better than that.
Harry wasn't. Not anymore. Not since February, when a very new prototype had done exactly what it was not supposed to do, namely sat down in the middle of a highway.
On its side.
Now, I would notwant to imply that the company wasn't taking care of Harry. It was. Sort of. It was just that it seemed to assume Harry would be drawing Social Security as well as Workman's Compensation and company benefits, but the Social Security people had pointed out quite truthfully that although a minor limp might disable Harry for the job he had been doing, it certainly didn't prevent him from working at another job.
The trouble with that, Harry pointed out to me, loudly and repeatedly, was that he didn't have another job. And he didn't know another job. He'd been flying helicopters quite a long time. And if you've looked at the economy in Texas lately--well, I don't know where all this famous economic recovery is going on, but it certainly isn't here.
So one of us had to have a job, and it appeared that I was elected. Which meant that my never-fully-formulated plans to quit the police department and stay home with the baby had thoroughly and completely blown up in my face. I had two days left. Monday morning bright and early it was back to the salt mines.
So what was I doing downtown, about seven blocks from the police station, on Saturday morning at nine thirty?
I was going to the bank, that was what I was doing. The same bank I had been using for the last fifteen years. The bank that was only about half a block from the old police station, but when the police station moved I didn't exactly want to change banks even though there was a nice new bank only a block from the nice new police station. A creature of habit, that's me.
Not, however, so much of a creature of habit that I had yet resumed wearing the shoulder holster I had worn all the time--even jogging, even going out to dinner--for the last five years, ever since I went into CID, the criminal investigation division. And really it wouldn't have done me much good if I had been wearing it; I certainly was not going to get into a shoot-out with a baby riding on my hip.
Well. I didn't plan to.
But you know that line about the best-laid plans of mice and men? That goes for women too.
This wasn't the full-scale bank, this was only one of those little branch banks that normally have three tellers, and one had gone on vacation. So with another one now on break there was exactly one teller working, and the line stretched somewhat farther than one wants a line to stretch. The lobby--unlike the lobby of a full-scale bank--was small, but as small as it was it had all the appurtenances of a bank. That is, marble. Lots of it. Marble floors, marble counters. You are supposed to be quiet in banks. Sometimes I think banks think they are churches.
Cameron was fussing; I was in the process of switching him over to a bottle, and he was making it plain he did not appreciate the change. So he would fuss and I would offer him the bottle and he would suck on it a swig or two and then sort of push it out of his mouth and fuss some more. Now, one thing about marble, it is noisy. Even with one of those nice baffle-board ceilings, sounds bounced around this room. Any sounds, all sounds. Including, of course, the protests made by an offended baby. By now people had begun to look at me with annoyed expressions, as if I had brought a fussy baby into the bank just to hassle them. I started to point out to some of them that if they objected that much they could let me in line ahead of them, but of course I did not really do that because I am a very nice lady.
Then the street door opened again and a couple of men came in together. They pushed their way through the line that had continued to form behind me, and I heard somebody say indignantly, "Hey!"
Or something like hey.
One of the men said, "Shut up." Or something like shut up.
He said it loudly.
It echoed, the sound ricocheting off that marble like a bullet, and everybody looked around. Of course not everybody saw them. At least to judge by the descriptions given later not everybody saw them, but right then it appeared to me that everyone saw them.
I could describe them exactly, and I did, about half an hour later to one of the departmental secretaries. Two white males. One about five-seven and one about six-two. Both of them were wearing ski masks, but I know they were white males because although they were both wearing long sleeves and gloves one of them had, presumably absentmindedly, rolled his sleeves up.
All right, you want to put it that way, I knew that one of them was white. Judging from their voices, I was pretty sure they were both male.
They were both wearing khaki pants and blue plaid work shirts--flannel--and yellowish-tan work boots, and they were both carrying sawed-off shotguns.
Need I mention that I do not like sawed-off shotguns? In fact I don't like any kind of shotguns, but I especially do not like sawed-off shotguns.
So what did I do?
I held very, very still and hoped Cameron would shut up. Which of course Cameron did not do.
He was not the only one. One woman about two people ahead of me in me was screaming like a fire siren. You can imagine what that sounded like bouncing off all that marble. It's a wonder they didn't hear her in Dallas.
"Shut up!" the tall one yelled again. "I want everybody on the floor, nice and quiet, and nobody'll get hurt."
He didn't explain whether he wanted us to sit down or lie down. Neither did the other one, who up to this point had not said anything at all.
I did not ask.
Then I thought better of it and lay down, putting Cameron underneath me. If anybody got hurt I didn't want it to be him. If they had rifles or pistols, covering him wouldn't have done any good, but with a scattergun it might. Maybe.
Cameron did not appreciate having me on top of him. He expressed his displeasure loudly.
"Lady, shut that baby up!" the short one yelled.
I shut Cameron up. Not with a bottle. Would you believe some old biddy beside me had the nerve to look shocked?
The tall one vaulted over the counter. I could see where he put his hand flat on that shiny polished marble surface. If he hadn't been wearing gloves that would have been more than sufficient to nail him, if he had any kind of record at all. But as I said, he was wearing gloves.
Not everybody was as cooperative as I was; the woman who was screaming kept on screaming, and the woman who was staring disapprovingly at me kept on staring--from a standing position--and I heard one man mutter, "Let's rush him."
Someone needed to bring to his attention the small likelihood of anyone short of Superman outrunning a shotgun blast.
"I said sit down!" the tall one yelled, and I could hear fraying edges of hysteria in his voice. He wasn't far short of using that shotgun now, whether he'd come in with that in mind or not.
Somebody had to take command or somebody was going to get killed, and it was pretty evident that he couldn't, even with a shotgun.
So I sat up, still nursing Cameron, and yelled, "You idiots, do what he says! Don't try to argue with a shotgun!"
The tall one turned to look at me--I could see his eyes; they were blue--and the short one said, in a very sarcastic tone, "Thank you, lady."
That woman was still screaming. I stood up long enough to grab her and sit her down beside me hard. She stopped screaming and started crying. That was preferable, as it was at least quieter, but it wasn't very preferable. She was right in my ear and she wasn't enough quieter to keep from spooking the robbers.
My trained and unshutoffable cop brain went on registering details, mechanically.
The tall one was scooping money out of the teller's drawer and stuffing it into a grocery sack he had with him. One of those white plastic sacks that you carry with the little handles. It was a Winn-Dixie sack.
The short one was shifting back and forth from one foot to the other, as if he had to go to the bathroom. The main thing I could see about him was his feet. He had about the same shoe size as Harry, about a ten. "Let's get out of here," he said nervously.
The tall one went on grabbing money. Evidently he didn't trust the teller to do it herself; there might have been a dye bomb in the drawer, and if he got the money himself he could make sure the dye bomb didn't get into the sack.
He could also make sure nobody hit the bank alarm.
For all the good not hitting the bank alarm was going to do. This was a small branch bank, as I have said; what I did not say was that it was located in a large office building that stays busy even on Saturday. Sure, they try to make these places reasonably soundproof, but no soundproofing was meant to protect against the female fire siren now sitting beside me sobbing. No, nobody was going to hear her now, but it was about a hundred percent certain somebody had heard her earlier; somebody somewhere in that building had by now called the police.
And if somebody inside the building hadn't, somebody passing by on the street probably had. Of all banks to rob, these idiots had picked a branch bank that had storefront windows. The windows were neatly protected from burglary with little strips of burglar alarm tape, but that did nothing to reduce the visibility of this lobby to bystanders.
So almost certainly police cars were en route, even if I hadn't heard sirens yet. Most likely the dispatcher had instructed responding officers not to use sirens. That shouldn't have been necessary. Experienced officers would know it.
But then there are a lot of things experienced officers would know that I couldn't count on the responding officers to know.
Just for example, an experienced police officer would have sense enough to stand back and let the robbers get clear of the building. We are taught--we all are taught, and if we aren't taught we ought to pick it up from fellow officers--that we elected to take the risks, but we don't have the right to inflict the risks on the civilians. If somebody tried to take them while they were still in here, this was going to turn into a hostage situation, and a hostage situation is a lot more dangerous than letting two bank robbers leave the building and trying to pick them up later. Dirty Harry notwithstanding, you don't get into a firefight inside a bank or on the street outside if there is any way you can possibly avoid it.
I didn't have much of a hope that the first officer to respond was going to be experienced. Fort Worth is not exactly the best-paying police department in the universe, and morale goes up and down, up and down. So there is a lot of turnover. And unfortunately some of the people who do stay I would not wish on a dog.
I also didn't have much of a hope that we were dealing with professional criminals here. It would have been better if we were, because pros are a lot less likely to panic and start shooting. There was a time, I am told, when bank robbery was the elite of crime, when bank robbers, like forgers, did tend to be pros. It was drugs that changed the rules for bank robbers, just as the offset press changed the rules for forgers. But the difference was that the offset press made forgery easier. Drugs didn't make bank robbery easier; they didn't make bank robbery safer, for either the criminals or the victims. In fact they made it more dangerous. A lot more dangerous.
A lot more dangerous, and a lot more common. For every Butch Cassidy or Jesse James there had been in the past, there were now a hundred, a thousand, hopped-up or crashing kids who needed money to pay the pusher, fast before the last fix wore off.
You don't mess with them. Not if you can get out of it. Especially not with a bank full of civilians.
Was I thinking that, while the robbery was going on and I was trying to keep my baby quiet and safe? You bet I was, because what that first officer on the scene did might make the difference between life and death for my baby and me, or for any one or more of this whole room full of very frightened people.
"Let's get out of here!" the short one yelled again. And this time the tall one seemed to hear him.
He vaulted back over the counter. Then he turned, leveling his gun menacingly at the closest person. "Nobody move for five minutes," he said, and the two headed for the door.
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Two days before returning to work after her maternity leave, Fort Worth police detective Deb Ralston witnesses a bank robbery, the first in a vicious series.Lots of routine police spade-work ensues, enlivened by Deb's intution and interspersed with scenes from her family life. Not one of the stronger entries in the series, but far from the worst.