Still Waters

By Jon Hillenbrand In Stories

Today is my birthday. One of the traditions my family has on birthdays is to give everyone at the table a small present.  I think because my parents were raising three kids, it was a way of reducing the amount of jealousy and door slamming among the non-birthday kids after all that sugar and no presents.

So in keeping with that tradition, I’m giving all of you a small present today.  It’s a story that I’ve been working on that I can’t seem to finish.  Sometimes when I am laying in bed, half asleep, I think of scenes for movies or books that seem like they would be great, if only they could be fleshed out into larger stories.  But oftentimes, I can’t think of the rest of the story or I am just not interested in the scene enough to make it larger.  Here’s one I’m calling…

Still Waters

Rebecca always wanted to be a teller in the First District Bank of Waco, Texas.  From the time when she was small and watched her father get his paycheck cashed from the impressive looking woman behind the small thin bars, her deliberate way of interacting with people, pausing before carefully folding out the bills, had always seemed like a great job to her.  But Gillian, the heavy-set manager with the thick southern drawl and red hair bunned up in the back, sympathetically told her, “Honey, there’s nothing I’d care for more than seeing you up at that counter helping people with their financial needs.  However, you know that you’re a bit on the quiet side.  And until we can get that little voice of yours to be heard through that glass, well darlin, I’m just not sure I can put you in that position.”  Rebecca’s chin caved into her chest as the words weighed down on the back of her head and neck.  She cleaned the spotless fingernails on her left hand with the thumbnail of her right before folding them across each other as her boss stood up to imply that the meeting was over.

So how was it that Rebecca now found herself holding a silenced 9mm pistol thinking back to when she was five years old saying, “I’m doing it daddy, I’m doing it,” as she rode her bike away from her father’s open arms, the playing card slapping against the spokes of her back wheel in slow motion, the sound mimicking the claps of the customers and staff of the bank, cordite smoke from the littered brass shell casings filling her nose, the money counter throwing crisp twenties into the air as they fell like green snow around her black heels.

How is it that Rebecca could change from mild-mannered box sorter to foiler of financial larceny?  How had three of the area’s most successful bank robbers been converted into bodies to be tagged and bagged by the actions of her small shaking hands?  The eyes of the bank customers and staff were frosted with tears as they let out sighs of relief through smiling lips that thanked higher powers and luck.  Rebecca stared deliberately at the light gray grout on the floor and breathed heavily, her fingers caressing the trigger as she imagined folding out the bills for her father.  A single spent cartridge rolled into her view toward her toes catching on a flake of glass.

The S.W.A.T. team shattered the front door with a Toss Phone, a brick-like orange phone that professional negotiators throw to hostage takers so that they can talk on a secure line.  The phone slid across the safety glass pebbles knocking away the cartridge and stopping at her black shoes.  People in the bank recoiled at the noise and action but then continued to stand up and smile, clapping and murmuring that it was all over.  Rebecca dropped the nose of the heavy Beretta to point at the ground.  She awkwardly picked up the phone with both hands and started to look at its clean plastic shape.  Where a keypad should be, there was simply a green and a red button, TALK and END she imagined.  People were approaching her with outstretched arms reminding her of the same look that her father had during her first solo bike ride.  These strangers were finally noticing her as the third man had noticed her just before she ended his life.

She had snuck up behind the first man as he yelled at Bridgid, the pretty blond teller, her face held down severely on the counter with the shotgun pointing in her mouth.  Rebecca snatched the silenced pistol from the back of the man’s waistband, pointed the long end into the man’s ear and pulled the trigger.  The second robber had turned toward her with his shotgun leveled but never had a chance to turn completely in Rebecca’s direction.  The third man, however, had seen the whole thing needing only to turn his head.  This man could scarcely believe that Rebecca, the smallest of the many hostages and deemed to be the least threatening, was doing the impossible.  She saw disbelief in his face as his eyes darted to his two companions now laying motionless and unthreatening on the ground.  She saw all of the planning unraveling before his eyes.  He looked at her as one looks at a kitten the first time one feels the incision of their claws.  But beyond that, she could see that his entire life was now on fast forward from first memory through troubled youth and teenage years culminating in the most unlikely of scenarios and possible risks to health and longevity.  All of this she recognized in the moment it took for her to line up that third shot, for he was the farthest away and required the steadiest aim.  As her father had taught her, she lined the front aim point with the notched rear, the man slightly out of focus just before squeezing.  He gasped just as she squeezed, the small muffled explosion surprising her, the loud metal pipe sound as he dropped his shotgun, his body lurching with the impact.  His young face in a grimace of disbelief.  She knew she’d carry his asking expression in her mind forever.

The phone and the pistol started to shake in her hands as adrenalin flowed steadily through her.  Rebecca initially didn’t know what was happening with these three aggressive men and she had reacted almost without thinking.  But now she realized that it was a bank robbery.  She noticed everything around her; the edges of the glass chips reflecting the scuff marks on her black shoes, the sound of a policeman’s radio chirping outside, the footfalls of someone behind her.  The man’s face.  She had seen him before in the bank.  He was handsome and she had tried turning a certain way to get him to notice her but he was occupied with Bridgid as she showed him pamphlets and giggled.  Rebecca looked over at her.  She wasn’t giggling now.  She was standing as if she had just landed knee-deep into concrete.  There was a mist of red blood across her left cheek.  Rebecca normally admired her but now was wondering if she was in on this robbery?  She looked mouth agape at a space two feet in front of her above the ground, an emptiness she stared into with absolute fright.  The footsteps approached with the sound of wood on marble.  Rebecca’s vision shifted from sharp to blurry as if suddenly caught in a headwind.  She threw her arms up in front of her and wheeled around at the person approaching from behind.  Her finger felt the wet trigger guard and felt past its sharp edge to the spoon-like trigger, the spring behind it compressing as she squeezed.  Gillian stopped with a look of shock and raised her hands defensively in front of her face.  The shot penetrated Gillian’s hand and entered her throat with a hollow sound.  The two stared at each other. or more accurately, everyone stared at Rebecca as she pointed the gun at the redhead.  The orange Toss Phone and the gun were too heavy to hold like this for long and Rebecca’s arms ached and were visibly shaking.

All silence within the room was replaced with the rush of the ocean as Rebecca’s face turned to fire.  The edges of her vision darkened and she fell backwards into the abyss, Gillian far away now and getting smaller as if zooming a lens from telephoto to wide-angle.  Rebecca felt an overwhelming urge to sleep, but saw Gillian spit blood as she collapsed.  She then let it take her over as she felt all of her body’s strength leave her.  Her arms fell, then the gun and phone and her knees weakened and cracked and the world faded and snapped to black as her head met the ground.

______________________

The rain pulled at her sundress.  His eyes never left hers.  She said something about how he got the answer wrong, and how she died in that moment.  But after, she was never more proud of him.  “I died when you died,” he said. She was speaking to the boy in the bank.  The third man she had shot.  He grabbed her shoulders and kissed her.  She said she didn’t want him to go but he left anyway.

At the train station, Rebecca clung to the idea that his return would weaken her, when she knew it would only make her stronger and more sure of her life’s direction.  She looked at the glass door of the bank often throughout the day half expecting and half fearing every young man’s resemblance to her beau.  She knew her memory of him was fading and the chances were slim that he even knew where she worked.  The copier was scraping the paper out of the tray so loudly now that the customers all turned whenever she used it.  She opened the lid and the green light illuminated the dust stuck permanently to the underside of the glass.  The fingerprints from the last technician who had come here were still there mocking her Windex and bathroom paper towel.  She wiped anyway until she saw her reflection crisply, his reflection looking dead as she gasped and yelled and jumped backwards closing her eyes.

She felt her body moving apart from her own strength.

She awoke in the back of a very small dimly lit room which shook and rocked and made whirring sounds of an ambulance interrupted by long beeps.  A pain in the back of her head and an uncomfortable sliver in the back of her hand like a shard of cold glass penetrated the fog of her awareness.  She tried to sit up but her head throbbed and her clothes seemed stuck to the narrow bed.  She opened her eyes again and looked at the paramedic who’s back was to her.  He was doing something with his hands.  She now realized that she was strapped down to a gurney.  The man spoke, “You awake now?”  She tried to find her voice but choked on a closed throat.  Her mind raced through the actions at the bank.  There was something at the end she couldn’t remember, a dark place.  The man turned with a needle held high in his hand.  It was the man with the shotgun.  “Not for long,” he said as he moved into her filling her eyes with his face.

She screamed and woke in the hospital.  It was night.  There was an IV in her hand, the machine beeping that the bag needed to be changed.  The room was empty and large and the door was closed.  A closed circuit camera pointed at her through a black dome.  There were noises outside.  They sounded like demons, muffled and far away, angry and approaching on padded claws, fingernails clicking on the cheap vinyl flooring.  She looked around the room and saw the rain-soaked screen through the casement window.  Swinging her weak legs around, the sheets separated to let in the cold room air, her legs freezing solid with a thick coat of ice on the skin.  She grabbed a pair of scissors from the bedside table and stabbed at the ice to chip it away.  Large clear chunks fell to the ground and her legs slowly bent as they were freed.

The screen popped out of the frame with an exploding rattle, raindrops coating her arms.  Outside the building fell into fog with no ground in sight.  It was at least a story, but beyond that she couldn’t tell how far she would fall.  She cranked the casement window handle  trying to open it wider.  The opening was just wide enough for her small hips.  The door to her room swung in with a wheeze.  A doctor in a gray lab coat started for the bed but paused, the cop and orderly crashing in behind him.  He scanned the room and pointed to the window.  “Stop her!”  The cop muscled around the doctor with something in his hands, a black box of some kind.  Rebecca felt the windowsill digging into her palms and legs.  She pushed herself, scraping past, letting gravity and wind take hold.

To be continued…

What do you think?