“When will you show them the gun?” asked Milton. He and his brother were sitting in lawn chairs in back of the house.
The morning clouds were burning off, and the sunlight was bright beyond the shadow of the house. San Francisco Bay Area summers were usually like this—half hot, half cold—and the East Bay was enjoying a characteristically dry season.
“Let me hear you say it,” Milton insisted.
Sometimes he wanted to hit Bruce over the head. Bruce would take a good deal of hitting—he had a large, round head with close-cropped hair and he smiled a lot. The smile did not mean that he was happy. It meant he was stronger than most people, and that he intended to take advantage of it.
Milton Borchard was eighteen and had graduated from Albany High School earlier that summer. Bruce was sixteen and had dropped out of the same school. Milton found his younger brother to be a lot of responsibility, and sometimes he wished he could think of a way of getting rid of him.
At last Bruce complied and said, “I’ll show her the gun after this.”
He took a paper out of his inner pocket and displayed the note, which had been folded and refolded until it was limp, the large words in red Magic Marker. THIS IS A ROBBERY. He folded it again and put the paper back inside his leather sport coat, stylish and good-looking, except for the dark stain along the left cuff.
“Don’t take the first bag of money they give you,” Milton cautioned.
Bruce nodded. He was trying to be patient, and even gave Milton one of his smiles, looking every inch the sort of person who got things done.
Bruce had worked a few nonunion construction jobs until earlier in the summer, when the local developer ran out of funds, and you could still see the line of pale skin on his forehead where the hard hat had kept off the sun. He had dropped out of school to make money. He had failed.
Just then Mom was in the doorway, trying to hear what they were talking about. Her bathrobe had her name stitched across the left breast: LOUELLA. As though her sons might mistake the baggy, worn garment for one of their own.
Milton lifted his finger and Bruce kept his mouth shut.
Mom looked and listened, and you could see her wondering what the hell her two boys were about to get into. Milton tried out his own smile: Just the two of us talking.
Mom shuffled back into the darkness of the interior, a big woman looking even bigger in pink terry cloth. She did jigsaw puzzles of famous artworks in her spare time, which she didn’t have much of. She worked with a committee trying to win increased pensions for sugar refinery employees and their families.
Louella Borchard had emphysema and swollen feet, but she had worked as a dispatcher for the Port of Oakland for twenty years. She had the demeanor and mental habits of a person who was accustomed to ordering forklifts to berth ninety-eight and making sure they got there. One of Milton’s first memories of his mother was her cursing at a cable TV installation crew for stepping on her geraniums, and the men in white hard hats apologizing, scared of her.
From then on, Milton had the impression that his mother would not hesitate to tear the head off anyone who crossed her. Just like Bruce.
Mom had survived on her own in recent years. Her own mother had drowned in the Russian River during a flood, when Milton was five years old. Her father had been killed in Sparks, Nevada, in a fight with someone trying to break into his car. Milton thought that luck had long ago abandoned his mother, and he felt sorry for her.
She was in bad health, and she needed cash. Milton was determined to see that she would get it.
“Just don’t take the first bag of money they give you,” Milton repeated, hating himself for nagging his brother, but someone had to make the plans. He had the feeling that if you could read Bruce’s mind you would sense a hot current of self-assurance accompanied by nothing. No thoughts, no inner dialogue—just white-hot nothing.
“Because they’ll sneak a dye bomb into it and the cash will blow up on us,” Milton continued, “and we’ll be two dyed clowns with a bunch of useless money.”
The bank would open at nine-thirty, and Milton calculated that the bank employees might take a few minutes to get their cashboxes full of currency, nice rows of twenties and fifties. It was ten minutes after nine now.
In maybe half an hour he and Bruce would be bank robbers.
Excerpted from Flash by Michael Cadnum.
Copyright © 2010 by Michael Cadnum.
Published in 2010 by Farrar Straus Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.