Cops and Robbers, by Thad Brown

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[What follows below is the opening of one of the stories in The Smoking Gun Sisterhood, a collection by Thad Brown. Our review of the book can be found here.]

“Are we really, really sure we want to do this?” Brittany’s soft-voiced question hung in the air for a moment, as Lizzie thought seriously about it herself, realizing that it might be the most momentous question she’d ever decided in her twenty-four years. She shifted her tall, lithely-built body on the car’s back seat as she looked over at the speaker beside her. A year older than Lizzie, Brittany as usual affected more attempt at elegance in her dress than her friend did with a plain T-shirt and jeans; the black-haired young woman wore a partly buttoned white blouse over her low-cut tube top, with an imitation silk scarf and a chain necklace which, if not expensive, was at least gaudy. (Granted, her black mini-skirt was no longer in the height of fashion –but then, shopping at thrift stores and yard sales wasn’t exactly like buying clothes at Nieman Marcus.)

But for once, the older girl’s face didn’t wear the usual arrogant expression that caused many people to dismiss her as “stuck-up,” and with which she usually faced a world that, as she put it, hadn’t ever done much but crap on her. Behind her, through the glass, Lizzie could see the low brick building at which they’d just pulled up, and, in the distance beyond, the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies that circled their city. On the building’s door glass the letters read “FIRST NATIONAL BANK.” Resting on the car floor between Brittany’s legs, the Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun her dad had brought back from the first Gulf War, and which she’d lifted from her parent’s attic, wasn’t visible from the sidewalk.

Riding shotgun in the front, twenty-one-year-old Shelley, Lizzie’s other close friend from their public housing building, was finishing the cigarette she’d obviously lit to steady her nerves, smoking it in deep drags and exhaling in the quick breaths of a person tightly griped by tension. Her chest was bare except for a low-cut tube top that went well with her thick, short-cut coppery-red hair. (Brittany had protested the younger woman’s scanty attire: “Jeez, girl, we don’t want to attract attention! You’re going to stick up a bank, not do a pole dance down where you work!”

But, as Shel had pointed out, she didn’t even own any clothes that weren’t revealing, except her winter stuff –and wouldn’t a parka attract more attention, in mid-summer?) Like Brittany’s, her face, its sharp, rather angular features hardened by more troubles than many people saw in twice her years, was expectantly turned to Lizzie, who knew that though she wasn’t the oldest of their trio, she was the one the others looked to as a leader –especially now, in this scheme that had been hatched in one of their late-night gripe sessions around her kitchen table. The weight of the responsibility knotted her guts, along with nagging guilt and roiling fear.

She took a deep breath, and spoke slowly. “I’m sure of what this money can mean, to me –to every one of us. And I’m sure that we’ve planned this just as well as is humanly possible –we’ve been talking about it for two months, and casing the place for three weeks. This is the perfect time to hit it; there won’t be many people inside. We’ll go in with our guns out, take charge of the situation from the get-go, and be in and out before anybody gets hurt. That guard’s not even going to try to draw, not with three guns already pointed at him; he’s not nuts.” The assurance in her voice belied her own nagging doubts on that score; she’d lain awake half of last night wondering what would happen if he did, or if one of the bank’s customers turned out to be packing heat.

Both she and Shel had taken their weapons out to a box canyon in the mountains near the city several times, and practiced shooting at rocks and pine cones until they could pretty well hit what they aimed at. (Brittany hadn’t; but as she said, if she couldn’t hit a mark with a machine gun, practice wouldn’t help her.) If that happened, she believed that she could handle the emergency, and hopefully just wound rather than, God forbid, kill, or be killed …but there was always that chance. Swallowing hard, she continued. “I’m sure that I’m not going to get cold feet now, we’ve all put too much hope into this for that.”

Turning her head slightly, she faced the car’s owner and driver. About Lizzie’s age, Jackie Fitch was blonde as well, though her hair color came from a bottle while Lizzie’s was natural. Not part of their tight-knit threesome, to Lizzie’s mind Jackie was the weakest link in this plan; but back in their teens, she was the only girl who’d joined the boys from the projects sometimes when they’d blocked off the street outside and drag raced their cars –and whenever Jackie’d raced, she’d won. An oversize pair of imitation dice hanging from her front-seat mirror symbolized her luck; they might need all of it today. “Keep that engine running,” Lizzie addressed her, “and when we get back here you take out like a bat out of hell. Just don’t run into anybody while you’re doing it.”

Jackie snorted, her eyes inscrutable behind dark glasses. “Any fool who can’t keep from hitting people at ninety miles an hour hasn’t got any business doing ninety.” A mirthless smile flickered briefly on her tough features. “Don’t worry about my driving, girlfriend; just see to it that I get my six hundred bucks.” They’d each promised to pony up two hundred for her from whatever their shares of the take amounted to.

“You’ll get it.” Not owning a watch, Lizzie looked at the bank’s outdoor clock. At noon, the bank’s manager would walk out from the shelter of his office into the main room, with his vault keys on him, ready to leave for his lunch. “Get ready,” she told her partners. Undoing the striped bandanna that held back the glorious mane of her more than shoulder-length hair, she shook her tresses out of her green eyes, folded the cloth into a triangle, and tied it point down over her nose and mouth.

Brittany and Shel followed suit, the former with her scarf and the latter with a good-sized handkerchief from the back pocket of her leather pants. Shel, Lizzie knew, had the .50 caliber Desert Eagle from her dad’s drawer. Her hand shaking slightly, she reached into her purse for her own weapon, an unregistered .44 revolver she’d bought cheap years ago out of the back of somebody’s truck, for personal protection. She’d drawn it once, to face down a would-be mugger; but she’d never imagined then that she’d ever be drawing it for a reason like this. With her other hand, she lifted three gunny sacks from the car floor.

The bank’s clock registered noon…

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