This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
Patience. That’s the key. It’d been too long since he’d had a good night’s rest. Three months of research, of planning, of stalking. All for this day. He keeps the briefcase by the side and takes out a phone and a small mirror from the purse. The look’s perfect. The dress is a bad fit but he’s far too engrossed to let that distract him.
As he waits in the lobby of the bank unnecessary ideas start floating in his head.
What if he’s had a flat tyre? What if he’s not coming today, maybe he’s sick. No, not sick. He knew he’d left his house in the morning. A gardener had been paid to provide that information. Any moment now, he thinks. His eyes stay fixed to the bank door. Men of habit seldom stop to have an unnecessary cup of tea.
There. There he comes. His prize. His ticket to happiness. He follows the distinguished looking man at every second as he moves from one counter to the other, finally reaching the cashier. The same briefcase. As always.
As the cashier takes his time to fill the briefcase up with money, the gentleman’s eyes stray left and right nervously, feeling a little perturbed as if someone might be watching him. He closes the briefcase and locks it.
At the same moment an old lady leaves her phone on the table and starts moving towards the gentleman who’s now on his way towards the exit. She rushes over and intentionally crashes into him, falling to the ground. The man puts his briefcase on the counter and tries to help her up.
“I’m so sorry ma’am! I hope you’re okay. I didn’t….”
Suddenly a shout roars through the bank.
“EVERYBODY DOWN! NOW!!!”
The gentleman looks up. He sees four people in black masks. They have guns in their hands. Big guns.
“I SAID DOWN! EVERYBODY GET DOWN NOW!!”
A robber points his gun towards the gentleman. “You! Hey You! DOWN ! NOW!!!”
He hesitates for a moment, then turns towards the counter looking for his briefcase. It’s not there.
“I’ll shoot you, you stupid idiot. Get Down!”
He feels a tug on his trousers, looks down, and sees the old lady lying on the ground. She is pointing towards a briefcase on the ground. His briefcase.
The robber comes up behind him, pointing his gun at the back of the man’s head.
“Looks like you have a death wish…”
“No no I’m sorry I’m sorry. I’ll get down.”
The man settles down on the ground besides the briefcase, “I’ll be here. Right here.”
The robber goes back. “Now everybody stay quiet. I’m in charge of the situation. Just follow what I tell you and you’ll be fine. This is not going to take much time.”
He signals the other robbers. One of them goes and stands next to the bank door. Another walks up to the bank manager and takes him to the vault. All of them wait. The gentleman is on the floor, face down, briefcase by his side. He looks up to see what the robbers are up to. The sound of the vault opening scares him and he buries his head to the ground as if he’s been caught snooping. The vault door opens. All they hear is the sound of metal and levers. More metal. Sound of lockers sliding in and out.
“THEY’RE HERE!”, shouts the robber by the door.
He points to the fourth robber. “You, get him out of the vault.”
A voice blares from the outside.
“THIS IS THE POLICE!! WE HAVE YOU SURRENDERED. PLEASE COME OUTSIDE WITH YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR.”
The robber by the door shouts, “We have a lot of hostages! We’re prepared to negotiate.”
“SEND THE OLD PEOPLE AND THE CHILDREN OUTSIDE. THEN WE CAN START NEGOTIATING.”
He walks over to the people.
“Now I want all of you to do exactly as I say and nobody gets hurt. I want you to make 3 groups. All the children in one group, old people in the other, and the rest in the third group.”
“Good. Now i want all the old people to get up and form a line and follow me. When i signal, I want all of you to walk out of the bank.” He takes them to the door and opens it.
“We’re sending the old people outside! The children stay with us.”
The old people start walking out in a single file. The police come rushing to cover them and escort them to a safe place.
“OUR NEGOTIATOR IS HERE. WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
The robbers exchange glances and then one of them goes towards the kids and catches hold of one of them. His mother starts wailing immediately, rushing forward towards her son. The robber catches hold of her and throws her back.
“Relax lady. We’re sending him outside. Kid, can you write?”
The boy shakes his head in approval.
“Okay, my partner there is going to give you a list of things. Take that piece of paper and write them down.”
The hostages sit quietly, holding each other’s hands in support. The gentleman sits in a corner, clutching his briefcase. He watches the kid walk with the robber towards the door.
“We’re sending a kid. He has a list. We want everything that’s there on it!”
About half an hour later an unarmed policeman comes to the door. “Here, take what you wanted.”
They take the bag from him and find a table. One of the robbers stays by the door. They open the bag and start spreading the contents. The robbers look at the hostages. “Anybody hungry???”
They watch in confusion as the robbers take out packets of food from the bag and spread them out. Then, as if it never mattered at all, they take off their masks and start hogging on the food. One of the robbers takes turns with the robber by the door and guards it while the other eats. It takes them less than fifteen minutes to go through all the packets of food.
When the food finishes, they turn to the hostages and announce.
“Okay, so everybody is free to go. Leave if you wish too.”
“I’m serious! Everybody go! It’s over.”
A young man gets up and starts walking towards the door. Everybody looks at him. Then at the robbers. As they all watch, he reaches the door, steps out and starts running. The robbers look at the rest of the hostages.
“Anybody else who feels like leaving is welcome to.”
Slowly everyone starts getting up. Some walk to the door, some run and some remain confused. The gentleman cautiously gets up, picks up his briefcase, goes up to the door and walks out. A minute or so after the hostages go out, a team of policemen comes rushing in the bank and forces the robbers to surrender. Though force is hardly the right word, because when the police come in they find the robbers lying on the floor next to the food packets, as harmless as little children with toy guns.
“What do you mean plastic guns??? What the hell are you talking about?”
The Inspector in charge of the bank robbery was having a difficult time explaining to the Deputy Commissioner of Police what had happened over the past hour. The robbers had surrendered as soon as the police stormed the bank. All of the hostages had already escaped. None of the money was missing. A few pieces of jewellery and a phone was recovered from one of the robbers. And they’d used fake guns. Plastic toy guns.
“What was the fu*king point of holding up a bank then? Have you interrogated them? ”
“Yes, Sir. They’re all homeless people. They claim they just acted out instructions that were given to them earlier. Apparently, someone hired them a week ago to hold up the bank. He gave them the toy guns. They were supposed to wait in the bank for a message. As soon as they got the message they started the whole charade. They were instructed to let the old people go, order food, eat it and then surrender. We traced the phone using the number but the cell phone was reported stolen yesterday.”
A Sub-Inspector standing outside, waiting patiently for the Inspector to stop talking, enters the office, “Sir there is a gentleman outside who wants to talk to you.” The inspector nods indifferently and returns his gaze to the DCP.
“But all this for what Inspector? It doesn’t make sense.”
“I’ll check with the bank again, Sir, go through the accounts again.”
Suddenly, the Sub-Inspector comes barging in the office. “Sir, he refused to wait outside. I tol…”
“It was all a show! A distraction.”
The DCP and the Inspector turn around to find the gentleman from the bank, and in his hand his briefcase. As they watch he opens his briefcase and puts it on the table next to him. Only this briefcase is filled with old textbooks.
“The bank was not the target. I was.”