It was not my fault. I swear to whatever God you want to name. It was not my fault. It was November in Winnipeg and I was not looking for trouble. I was limping around with a cane. I was in pretty rough shape overall with assorted ill-healed holes in my hide and the beginnings of the flu from hell.
I was not looking for trouble. I want to emphasize that.
I limped, hacking loudly, into the Entegra Credit Union on Selkirk Avenue in the North End about five minutes after it had opened, just in time to stand at the end of a long line of blue-collar retirees and middle-aged housewives. My wife, Claire, had stayed home from work to let me open my very own bank account and I was enjoying not babysitting, which was how I was currently earning my living. Not that the kids were that bad, they were just very, very, well ... bad.
After ten minutes I finally reached the teller. "I need a savings account, one that I can access through the automated tellers."
She stared at my bruised face and looked away. "Sure."
"I also need some deposit slips. There's nothing on the table over there."
The girl, whose name tag read EILEEN, was maybe twenty-five and pretty with black hair and dark blue eyes. She smiled with some condescension as she answered, "We haven't had those for five years at least, maybe longer."
She took the information form I'd filled out along with my social insurance card, my Manitoba Medical card and a piece of photo ID, in my case a Manitoba Liquor Control Commission card (cost $17, newly arrived), and $5,632 in cheques from the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation, and typed away on her computer. I'd phoned ahead of time and knew they'd run a credit check on me before I received the account, but I was sure I'd pass--ex-cons like me didn't generally have any credit rating, good or ill.
I was standing there with my cane hung on the counter when the robbers walked in.
I turned around slowly to see two guys in the lobby behind me, one with a rifle and one with a pistol. They were both wearing rubber masks of Brian Mulroney, Canada's least loved prime minister. All of a sudden I was feeling every injury, bruise, and hole in my hide.
"NO ONE MOVE!"
Both robbers were painfully thin--drug thin--and wearing jean jackets and canvas gardening gloves. Both vibrated with adrenaline and, maybe, chemical speed. Not a good combination for anyone.
"THIS IS A ROBBERY!"
A curl of smoke was coming from the barrel and breech of the rifle held by Mulroney Number One. It spiralled to theceiling while he fumbled in his jacket to fish out a pillowcase with its mouth held open by a bent coat hanger. This meant he was the cash man, which meant that Mulroney Number Two was ...
"WHAT ARE YOU SMILING AT?"
... crowd control, and since the crowd consisted mostly of older people and me, he chose me. He took four fast steps and rammed the pistol barrel into my chest.
"I'm not smiling."
And I wasn't. These guys were amateurs, which made them dangerous. Amateurs are always worse than pros. Pros will kill you but they'll generally do it on purpose. Amateurs, however, can kill you by mistake as well as on purpose. Everything they did screamed that they were amateurs. Like the way that Mulroney Number Two was poking me with the pistol. You never, ever, touch someone with your gun. Touching someone with your gun makes it easy for whoever is being threatened to take the weapon away from you.
He screamed assorted obscenities at me and I could smell rye whiskey on his breath, which was a second mistake; never drink before work. Mulroney Number Two backed away and swung the pistol at the tellers. Mulroney Number One started to work the cashiers. Mulroney Number one was holding a lever-action rifle with the barrel cut right down to the top of the tubular magazine and the stock crudely shaped into a pistol grip. He waved the gun around and I saw the barrel width and guessed it was a .22 or a .32, a pretty small calibre. That was good and bad. Good because the hole it would make would be small. Bad because it meant that the magazine could carry a lot more rounds. Also bad because it meant the recoil would be lessened, which would mean Mulroney Number One couldshoot more often and more accurately. I realized I hadn't heard or seen him work the action, which meant the hammer was sitting on a spent shell.
That would be the third mistake the Mulroneys made and that is another reason why none of it was my fault.
I shouldn't have been surprised. A bank robbery occurs every fifty-six minutes across North America, so the odds catch up with you eventually. That's like 9000 a year, each netting an average of two grand Canadian, which made for a lot of loot changing hands.
Of course generally I was the one doing the robbing. In the good old days when that was my business. Nowadays I don't do that.
Mulroney Number Two was standing there in the middle of the marble-floored lobby waving his gun around. It was a revolver, an old one with most of the bluing gone from the barrel and with the kind of forward-leaning lines that made me think it was single action. Single action meant that the hammer had to be pulled back to full cock before each shot. Double action meant pulling the trigger would cock the gun for you.
One teller had dumped handfuls of bills into the pillowcase and Mulroney number one bellowed, "THE COINS TOO! NOW!"
This was embarrassing. No one takes the coins--they're too heavy and too hard to dispose of, unless you own a pool hall. And, really, why make it any easier for the cops, who have a 70 percent clearance rate on bank robberies in the first place? Of course the clearance rate was little comfort for the banks because only 30 percent of the loot is ever recovered. The rest goes to broads, booze, and blow. And if the police captured the loot then some of it sometimes went for the occasional subsidized police vacation in Cancun.
"ARE YOU FUCKING SMILING AT ME? ARE YOU?"
It was Mulroney Number Two. The hammer was still down on his revolver and again he was pushing it into my chest and I was feeling pretty sore from assorted injuries.
"No sir." With all that pain I had no problem putting a quaver into my voice.
It didn't help and he slapped the barrel of the gun into my temple. Everything went dim and hazy and I barely stopped myself from falling. I reached up and touched the edges of the hole and it became wet. Blood welled down the side of my face and the pain blossomed and I just stood there.
The bright red blood and the open flower of a wound seemed to satisfy the robber and he walked away to yell at other people. A metre and a half away a plump white lady shook her head and muttered something in Ukrainian or Polish. Other than that the crowd was silent and I watched the robbers work. I tried not to think and my mind wandered. The most popular day to rob a bank is Friday and the second is Monday and the most popular time to do it is in the first two hours of opening. And more robberies occur in California and Florida in the States and Ontario and British Columbia in Canada. Vancouver is the bank-robbery capital of Canada. Go figure. The weather, I guess. In the States the robbery capital is Atlanta. I blame that on the Coca-Cola bottling plant and CNN.
Another teller was handing over her bills and coins. That left only one teller and then this would all be over. Then I could go home and find out how big the hole in my head actually was. Maybe it would earn me a little sympathy sex from my wife Claire. Maybe I could go back to healing from my own errors. Then I heard sirens and that made me flinch. These were amateurs in front of me and amateurs panicked when the cops showed up. And panicking amateurs might freak out,take hostages, or start shooting. All of those options would be bad.
To top it all off I knew Claire would never, ever, let me hear the end of it if I survived. All of which meant that I had no choice at all when I called out, "Hey, asshole, yeah, you."
Mulroney Number Two twitched like I'd slapped him and strode over to me. He paused and jammed the gun barrel into the centre of my chest. He still hadn't pulled the hammer to where it was supposed to be.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?"
"I was just calling you an asshole, asshole."
I wondered if I was right. I wondered if the gun was single action. If not I was deeply and truly fucked.
Mulroney Number Two sputtered and pulled the trigger but I was right, the gun was single action. Nothing happened. While he was trying to figure out what was going wrong I grabbed the gun with my right hand and twisted it down with the barrel pointing towards his belly. The sound of his finger breaking was loud and his scream was louder. A few metres away Mulroney Number One dropped the pillowcase and raised the rifle with both hands.
I wasn't hurrying. Never rush these things. There's a rhythm to it all.
My left hand went to the centre of Mulroney Number Two's chest and pushed hard and I jammed my right foot down onto his to pin it in place. He was overbalanced and fell backwards slowly as I kept my weight on his foot. He fell and the weight of his own body tore the muscles and bones loose and turned his ankle into shredded meat. That made him scream even more and his voice filled the credit union like water pouring into a fishbowl.
Two metres away Mulroney Number One pulled the triggerof his rifle but nothing happened and that gave me time to flip the pistol around and pull the hammer back through half-cock to full cock.
The big question. The big chance. The thousand-dollar question. If he tried to work the lever I'd empty my gun into his narrow chest, but it was his choice.
The gun went down.
His arms went up and the doorway filled with blue uniforms, black leather belts, anodized steel, white skin, and maybe a half metre of moustaches and about two square metres of bald skulls. I had the pistol pointed at the ceiling and I put it down on the ground. I did it all very slowly and I did it staring into the barrels of eight semi-automatic pistols held by eight stressed cops.
I sighed as I sank to my knees and said loudly, "This is not my fault."
YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD CRIMINAL. Copyright © 2008 by Michael Van Rooy. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.