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Prince of Thieves: A Novelby Chuck Hogan
Chapter One: The Bank Job
Doug MacRay stood inside the rear door of the bank, breathing deeply through his mask. Yawning, that was a good sign. Getting oxygen. He was trying to get amped up. Breaking in overnight had left them with plenty of downtime to sit and eat their sandwiches and goof on each other and get comfortable, and that wasn't good for the job. Doug had lost his buzz — the action, fear, and momentum that was the cocktail of banditry. Get in, get the money, get out. His father talking, but fuck it, on this subject the old crook was right. Doug was ready for this thing to fall.
He swung his head side to side but could not crack his neck. He looked at the black .38 in his hand, but gripping a loaded pistol had long since lost its porn. He wasn't there for thrills. He wasn't even there for money, though he wouldn't leave without it. He was there for the job. The job of the job, like the thing of the thing. Him and Jem and Dez and Gloansy pulling pranks together, same as when they were kids — only now it was their livelihood. Heisting was what they did and who they were.
His blood warmed to that, the broad muscles of his back tingling. He rapped the hard plastic forehead of his goalie mask with his pistol barrel and shook out the cobwebs as he turned toward the door. A pro, an athlete at the top of his game. He was at the height of his powers.
Jem stood across from him like a mirror image: the dusty navy blue jumpsuit zipped over the armored vest, the gun in his gloved hand, and the white goalie mask marked up with black stitch scars, his eyes two dark sockets.
Happy voices approaching, muffled. Keys turning in reinforced locks, strongbars releasing.
A spear of daylight. A woman's hand on the knob and the kick of a chunky black shoe — and the swish of a black floral skirt walking into Doug's life.
He seized the branch manager's arm and spun her around in front of him, showing her the pistol without jamming it in her face. Her eyes were green and bright and full, but it was his mask that scared short her scream, not the Colt.
Jem kicked the door shut behind the assistant manager, smacking the cardboard caddy out of the guy's hand. Two steaming cups of coffee splattered against the wall, leaving a runny brown stain.
Doug took the bank keys from the manager's hand and felt her going weak. He walked her down the short hallway to the tellers' row behind the front counter, where Gloansy — identically dressed, masked, and Kevlar-bulked — waited. The bank manager startled at the sight of him, but she had no breath left for screaming. Doug passed her off to Gloansy, who laid her and the gray-suited assistant manager face-first on the carpeting behind the cages. Gloansy started yanking off their shoes, his voice deepened and filtered by the mask.
Lie still. Shut your eyes. Nobody gets hurt.
Doug moved with Jem through the open security door into the lobby. Dez stood beside the front door, hidden from Kenmore Square by the drawn blinds. He checked the window before flashing a blue-gloved thumb, and Doug and Jem crossed the only portion of the lobby visible from the ATM vestibule.
Jem unfolded a deep canvas hockey bag on the floor. Doug turned the stubbiest key on the manager's ring in the night-deposit cabinet lock, and silver plastic deposit bags spilled to the floor like salmon from a cut net. A holiday weekend's worth. Doug gathered them up five and six at a time, soft bags of cash and checks bundled in deposit slips, dumping the catch into Jem's open duffel.
After raiding the night drop, Doug went on alone to the access door behind the ATM. He matched key to lock, then looked over to the tellers' cages where Jem had the branch manager on her feet. She looked small without shoes, head down, hair slipping over her face.
"Again," Jem commanded her. "Louder."
She said, staring at the floor, "Four. Five. Seven. Eight."
Doug ignored the choke in her voice and punched the code into the mechanical dial over the key. The door swung open on the ATM closet, and Doug unlatched the feeder and pulled the cash cassette. After the long weekend it was less than half full. He scooped out the sheets of postage stamps as an afterthought and dumped them with the tens and twenties into the bag. Then he flipped the service switch, reloaded the empty cassette, and hustled back past the check-writing counter, running the bag through the open security door to the tellers' cages.
There, he retrieved a small strongbox from a drawer at the head teller's station. Beneath some dummy forms and a leftover stack of flimsy giveaway 1996 desk calendars was a brown coin envelope containing the cylindrical vault key.
They could have been a couple waiting for an elevator, except for the gun: Jem and the manager standing together before the wide vault door. Jem was holding her close, exploring the curve of her ass through her skirt with the muzzle of his .45 as he whispered something in her ear. Doug made noise coming up behind them and Jem's gun moved to her hip.
Jem said, "She says the time lock's set for eight eighteen."
The digital clock built into the vault door said 8:17. They stood for that one minute in silence, Doug behind the manager, listening to her breathing, watching the hands of her self-hugging arms grip her sides.
The clock changed to 8:18. Doug inserted the key over the thick black dial.
"We know all about panic codes," Jem told the manager. "Now open it clean."
Her hand came out stiffly, steadying itself against the cool steel door and leaving a brief, steamy palm print there before starting in on the dial. When she hesitated after the second turn, Doug knew she had made a mistake.
"No fucking stalling," said Jem.
She dried her quivering hand on her skirt. The second time, she made it past the third number of the combination before her nerves betrayed her, her fingers twisting the dial too far.
"For Christ!" said Jem.
"I'm sorry!" she wailed, half in anger, half in terror.
Jem put the gun to her ear. "You have kids?"
She veered away from him, her voice strangled. "No."
"A husband? Boyfriend?"
"Christ! Parents, then. Do you have parents? Who the fuck can I threaten?"
Doug stepped in, easing Jem's gun away from her face. "How many attempts before the lock triggers a duress delay?"
She swallowed. "Three."
Doug said, "And how long until it can be opened again after that?"
"I think — fifteen minutes."
"Write it down," said Jem. "Write out the combination, I will fucking do it myself."
Doug looked at her grimacing face in profile, feeling her fear. "You don't want us here another fifteen minutes."
She considered that a second, then reached fast for the dial, her hand darting like a bird from a cage. Doug caught her wrist, held it firm.
"Slow," he said. "Take your time. Once you start, do not stop."
She wrapped a fist around her thumb. When he released her, her hand went cautiously to the dial. Her fingers obeyed her this time, shaking again only as she approached the final number. The interior clack was audible.
Jem spun the locking wheel and the door released, opening on massive hinges, the vault emitting a cool, cottony yawn after a long weekend's sleep.
Doug grabbed the manager's arm and walked her away. She paused in sight of her office, their entry point, where they had brought the ceiling down on top of her desk.
"It's my birthday," she whispered.
Doug walked her fast out to Gloansy, who put her back with the assistant manager, facedown on the floor. Dez stood near with his scarred mask cocked at a quizzical angle. A radio check, him listening to the unseen wire rising up from inside his jumpsuit collar.
"Nothing," Dez said. The police frequencies were all clear.
As a conquest, vault interiors always disappointed Doug. The public access areas such as the safe-deposit rooms were kept polished and showroom clean, but the actual money rooms were no more impressive than utility closets.
This vault was no exception. The main cabinet door containing the cash reserves was made of thin metal and fastened with a flimsy desk lock, which Doug busted open in one stroke. Despite the vault's hard-target exterior, once you were in, you were in. He ignored the heavy racks of rolled coins and instead pulled down stacked bundles of circulated paper currency. The color-coded paper straps that banded the bills told him the denominations at a glance: red for $5s, yellow for $10s, violet for $20s, brown for $50s, and beautiful mustard for $100s. He snapped them off as he went, fanning the wads of cash, spot-checking for dye packs and tracers.
Four cash-on-wheels teller trucks lined the back of the vault. The top drawers held about $2,500 each, and Doug cleared out all of it except the bait bills, the thin, paper-clipped bundles of twenties laid out at the bottom of each slot. The first drawer was the one tellers drew from during routine transactions, the one they emptied in the event of a stickup.
The second drawers were deeper than the first, containing higher denominations for commercial transactions and account closings, more than four times as much money as the first drawers. Doug again emptied each one down to the bait bills.
They ignored the safe-deposit room altogether. Opening boxes would have meant drilling each door individually, ten minutes per lock, two locks per box. And even if they did have all day, the Kenmore Square BayBanks branch served a transient community of Boston University students and apartment renters, so there was no point. In an upscale-neighborhood bank, the safe boxes would have been the primary target, since branches in wealthier zip codes usually carry less operating cash, their customers relying on direct deposit rather than paycheck cashing, purchasing things with plastic rather than paper.
Dez's blue palm halted them on the way back. "Asshole at the ATM."
Through the blinds, Doug made out a college kid in sweats playing the machine for allowance money. His card was rejected twice before he bothered to read the service message on the screen. He looked to the door, checking the bank hours printed there, then lifted the customer service phone off the receiver.
"Nope," said Dez.
In the middle of this, Doug looked at the manager lying behind the second teller's cage. He knew things about her. Her name was Claire Keesey. She drove a plum-colored Saturn coupe with a useless rear spoiler and a happy-face bumper sticker that said Breathe! She lived alone, and when it was warm enough, she spent her lunch hours in the community gardens along the nearby Back Bay Fens. He knew these things because he had been following her, off and on, for weeks.
Now, up close, Doug could see the faintly darker roots of her hair, the pale brown she treated honey blond. Her long, black linen skirt outlined her legs to the lacy white feet of her stockings, where jagged stitching across the left heel betrayed a thrifty mending never meant to be seen.
She rolled her head along her bent arm, just enough for a peek up at Gloansy, who was hunched over and watching the kid on the ATM phone. Her left leg began to creep toward the teller's chair. Her foot slipped underneath the counter and out of Doug's sight, poking around under there, then gliding swiftly back into position, her eyes returning to the crook of her elbow.
Doug exhaled slowly. Now he had a problem.
The kid in the ATM gave up on the dead telephone and kicked the wall before shoving bitchily through the doors out into the early morning.
Jem dropped the loot bag next to the tool bag and the work bag. "Let's blow," he said, exactly what Doug wanted to hear. As Gloansy pulled plastic ties from his pockets, and Jem and Dez lifted jugs of Ultra Clorox from the work bag, Doug turned and walked fast down the rear hall into the employee break room. The security equipment sat on wooden shelves there, and the system had tripped, the cameras switched on and recording, a small red light pulsing over the door. Doug stopped all three VCRs and ejected the tapes, then unplugged the system for good measure.
He brought the tapes back out to the front and dumped them into the work bag without anyone else seeing. Gloansy had the assistant manager in one of the teller's chairs, binding the guy's wrists behind the chair back. Bloody snot painted the assistant manager's lips and chin. Jem must have flat-nosed him on their way in.
Doug lifted the heavy tool bag to his shoulder just as he saw Dez quit splashing bleach, setting his jugs down on the floor.
"Hold it!" Dez called out.
Dez's finger went to his ear as Jem emerged from the vault, jugs in hand. Gloansy stopped with the manager seated behind the assistant manager now, back-to-back, a tie for her wrists ready in his free hand. Everyone looked at Dez — except Doug, who was looking at the manager staring at the floor.
Dez said, "Silent alarm call, this address."
Jem looked for Doug. "What the fuck?" he said, setting down his bleach.
"We're done here anyway," said Doug. "We're gone. Let's go."
Jem drew his pistol, keeping it low at his hip as he approached the seated bankers. "Who did it?"
The manager kept staring at the floor. The assistant manager stared at Jem, a black forelock of hair hanging ragged and sullen over his eyes.
"We were gone," said Jem, pointing at the back hallway with his gun. "We were out that fucking door."
The assistant manager winced at Jem through his hair, eyes watering from the bleach fumes, still sore from his cuffing at the door.
Jem locked on him. Wounded defiance was the worst possible play the assistant manager could make.
Dez picked up his bleach, hurriedly finishing splashing it around. "Let's go," he said.
"We've gotta move," Doug told Jem.
Another few seconds of staring, and the spell was broken. Jem stepped off, relaxing his gun hand, slipping the piece back inside his belt. He was already turning away when the assistant manager said, "Look, no one did any — "
Jem flew at the man in a blur. The sound of knuckles against temple was like a tray of ice being cracked, Jem holding back nothing.
The assistant manager whipped left and slumped over the armrest, the chair tipping and falling onto its side.
The assistant manager sagged, still bound to the chair by his wrists. Jem dropped to one knee and hammered away again and again at the defenseless guy's cheek and jaw. Then Jem stopped and went back for his bleach. Only Doug's hooking his arm stopped Jem from emptying the jug over the man's shattered face.
That close, Doug could see the pale, nearly white-blue of Jem's irises within the recesses of the goalie mask, glowing like snow at night. Doug twisted the bleach out of Jem's hand and told him to load the bags. To Doug's surprise, Jem did just that.
Doug soaked the night drop in the lobby. He soaked the carpet where they had filled the loot bag, jumpy near the windows, expecting sirens. He shook out the jug over the ATM cassette, then returned to the counter.
The assistant manager remained hanging off the overturned chair. Only his wheezing told Doug the guy was still alive.
The bags were gone. So was the manager.
Doug walked to the back, bleach fumes swamping his vision. The bags were stacked and waiting, and Dez and Jem both had their masks off, standing at the rear door, Jem's hand clamped on the back of the manager's neck, keeping her from seeing their faces. Dez picked up her brown leather handbag where it had fallen upon entry, shooting Doug a hard look of warning.
Doug whipped off his goalie mask, his ski mask still on underneath. "Fuck is this?"
"What if they already got us walled in?" said Jem, wild. "We need her."
Wheels skidding on alley grit, the work van pulling up outside, and Gloansy, unmasked now, jumping from the wheel to throw the side doors open.
Dez started out, two-handing the first duffel bag, swinging it aboard.
"Leave her," Doug commanded. But Jem was already rushing her out to the van.
Doug's ski mask came off, crackling with electricity. Seconds mattered. He carried the work bag into the glaring sunlight and dumped it into the van with a crash. Jem was next to him, trying to load the manager into the van without her glimpsing his face. Doug took her by the waist, boosted her up, then cut in front of Jem, leaving Jem the third bag.
Doug pushed her down the length of the soft bench seat to the windowless wall. "Eyes shut," he told her, stuffing her head down to her knees. "No noise."
The last bag thudded and the doors slammed and the van lurched up the sharp, ramplike incline, bouncing off the curb and onto the street. Doug pulled his Leatherman from its belt pouch. He opened up the largest blade and tugged the hem of her black jacket taut, cutting into the fabric, then collapsing the blade and tearing off a long strip. She flinched at the noise, shaking but not struggling beneath him.
He looked up and they were headed around into Kenmore Square, the red light at the end of Brookline Avenue. The bank was on their right. Doug kept his weight on the manager's upper back, watching. No cruisers yet in the square, nothing.
Gloansy said, "What about the switch?"
"Later," Doug said, through his teeth, sliding the Leatherman back onto his belt.
The light turned green and the traffic started forward. Gloansy went easy, bearing east on Commonwealth Avenue.
A cruiser was coming, no lights, rolling west toward them, around the bus station in the center island of the square. The cruiser lit up its rack to slow traffic, making a wide U-turn and cutting across behind them, pulling up curbside at the bank.
They rolled past the bus station toward the Storrow Drive overpasses. Doug wrapped the fabric twice around the manager's head, tying it tight in a blindfold. He pulled her halfway up, waving his hand in front of her face, then made a fist and drove it at her, stopping just short of her nose. When she didn't flinch, he let her sit up the rest of the way, then slid to the far end of the bench, as far away from her as he could get, tearing off his jumpsuit as if he were trying to shed his own criminal skin.
Copyright © 2004 by Multimedia Threat, Inc.
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