Friday, 26 February 2016

The Bank (part 4)

The Bank had been constructed in 1850, originally intended to be a Finance Exchange station for the adjacent docks. In 1956, on the closing of the docks from regular use, the Bank had been bought by a private consortium who converted it into a fully functioning bank. As well as upgrading the pre-installed vaults in the network of corridors at the rear, they completely redid the interior of the bank’s ‘factory floor’. Tearing out the old wooden panelling and the patterned carpets, they brought in marble slabs for the floor and white tiles for the walls. Rather than some steampunk library, the Bank was instead made out to look like some sort of mausoleum. And so the interior stayed for sixty years, until one fateful day.
Bullets had smashed the white tiles and blood had stained the marble. Muddy boot prints led up past a pair of boots and a gangly body to the face of Alderman. His eyes were burning up, demanding the policemen to challenge him. He pressed the barrel of his gun into the pedestrian’s head. “Right then,” he shouted at the coppers, “this is how it’s going to work. You three are going to remain where you are. My friends and I are going to take some purses, some wallets, then we’re going to get out of here. But before any of that, I want an answer to my previous question. Which one of you shot Morricone?”
Alan went to open his mouth, went to provide some smart answer, but Bob silenced him with the slightest shake of his head. Bob stared at Alderman and said, “It’s Johnny, isn’t it? Johnny Alderman?”
“You’re Robert.” Alderman said. “Robert Barnes, is it?”
“That’s right.” Bob said. “How many times have you been nicked over the years, John? How many times have I slapped cuffs on you?”
“Too many, Barnes.” Alderman said.
“Yet, you’ve never gone to jail, and that was the one thing I could never get my head around. How come you kept getting off?”
“I was innocent.”
“We both know that isn’t true, Johnny.” Bob edged a step forwards. “And, we both know how this is going to end. You’re going to drop your guns, then you’re going to be slapped in cuffs and taken down the Nick. I don’t know if you’ll get off, I hope you don’t, but that is in the future. What matters now is that we both know what’s going to happen to you. So, why don’t you make this a little easier for yourself and drop the gun? Let the woman go.”
Alderman pressed the gun harder against the woman’s head. “No. You try any tricks, this woman splatters, okay? This is going to be in and out, simple as that.”
“You’re not going to kill her.” Alan said. 
“Oh really, lad?” Alderman said. “Why’s that?”
“So far, the only crime you can be charged for is possession of a lethal weapon. Any lawyer worth his damn could get you off that, and you know it as well as I do. You shoot her, you’re down for murder, and there’s no getting out of that. So, drop the gun, walk out whilst you can.”
Alderman laughed and turned to Khan and Jones. “Funny that, innit lads? The work experience boy don’t know how this game works. We’re criminals! Do you think we’re scared of some poxy teenager who han’t even started shaving?”
“You’re scared of Morricone.” Alan said.
“Morricone’s dead! Now, when will you tell me which one of you lot killed him?” Alderman demanded. He jutted the gun into the woman’s head again, causing her to give out a little scream. 
“Gov!” Khan cried. “Let her go! Don’t you think there’s enough corpses?”
Alderman turned to Khan. “You’re making me doubt you, boy. Be a shame if you got caught in the crossfire.”
Colin took the shot. Whilst Alderman was distracted talking Khan, he’d allowed his side to show. It was the opportunity he needed. Colin had always been the best shot in the academy. He wasn’t exactly a crack shot, else he would have got a job with the Trojan Squad, but he knew his way out of the gun and could hit within a few millimetres of the bullseye four times out of five. The bullet grazed Alderman’s side, sending him stumbling. The woman, free, leapt out of the way, and it was a good job too. Jones fired straight and hit Colin’s shoulder, winging him and sending him to the floor. Alan began to shoot, sending Khan and Jones scrambling for cover. Alderman charged at Bob, shooting and shooting. Bob realised he didn’t have time to pull his gun from his holster, and so instead ran forwards, tackling Alderman to the ground. They wrestled on the floor, Bob trying to smash the gun out of Alderman’s hand. Alderman struck forwards, smashing his forehead into Bob’s nose and breaking it. Blood spurted across both of them as they wrestled with each other, rolling over and over. Knees and elbows smashed into the white marble, blood splattering onto the white surface like Peking sauce spilt on the Reservoir Dogs DVD cover. Their struggle was like something from a Greek myth, a God and a Titan fighting their personal battle in the heat of battle.
“It’s all going to be okay!” Alan cried at Colin. “It’s all going to be okay.”
Blood was spilling out of the wounded man’s shoulder, screams spilling out of his mouth. “Please!” He moaned, writhing in pain. “Please. My Shelly. She needs me.”
Alan fired furiously, his bullets slicing through the air and smashing the white tiles of the wall, or disintegrating as they hit the bulletproof glass of the cashier’s desks. Jones and Khan had somehow managed to get behind the cashier desk and were shooting blind through the air holes in the glass. Their blind shots smashed the windows at the front of the bank, causing Alan to duck constantly as they sailed past them.
He saw one of their hands reaching for an open till and shot at it, but the hand and a wad of cash was gone before the bullet found it’s mark. He looked down towards Colin, saw his face becoming the same shade as the milky coffee he’d bought that morning. “Hold on, man.” Alan cried, firing another shot. “We’re going to get out of this.”
“Please. My Shelly.”
The customers tried to stay as low to the ground as possible, not wishing to gain the fates of either Morricone or Colin. They didn’t know what was going on, didn’t want to know what was going on, but for years afterwards they would be reminded by constant memorial services and new revelations broadcast on local news. 
And so there was the battlefield. On one side, reassuring his wounded comrade, was Alan, firing shot after shot and reloading when he ran out. His bullets chased over the bloodied marble, where Bob and Alderman were two titanic forces from ancient battle, united in nothing but their mutual hatred and old age. Finally, those bullets smashed into the counter, where Khan and Jones were firing back, traumatised at how wrong everything had gone.
Alderman smashed his bloody forehead into Bob’s face once more, long enough to cock the hammer of his gun. Then Bob was on him again, forcing him onto the ground. Fists struck through the air, fracturing Alderman’s cheeks, breaking his teeth. Screaming, Alderman pointed the gun straight up and fired. The bullet shot upwards, straight into the holster on Bob’s belt. The gunpowder in the loaded bullets ignited and detonated, tearing a huge chunk of flesh out of his side. Bob fell backwards, smashing his head into the marble, blood oozing from his wound. His head, the blood already become black and matted in his hair, bounced. He was dead before it landed.
Alderman let out a scream of triumph, laughing in Bob’s head. He sat up, his Frankensteinian features victorious and creepy, and screamed, “He’s dea-“ A stray bullet sliced through the air and punctured his skull. It wouldn’t be remove until a pathologist went searching for it two weeks later.
Alan saw Bob, dead on the floor, and then Alderman dead beyond him. Screaming, he emptied his last magazine at the counter and then turned to Colin, slamming his hands into the bloody remains of his shoulder, holding pressure and stemming the bleed. “Your Shelly is not going to be a widow! Not yet!”
Khan and Jones stopped firing. They saw Alderman dead, Bob dead beyond him and Morricone long dead beyond that. They looked at each other and then grabbed as much money as they could, filling their pockets with the material. Then, they leapt up and raced towards the exit. Jones looked towards Alan, where he was desperately trying to save Colin’s life, and considered shooting him. Some part of him, some foolish part of him, decided that it was the wrong thing to do, despite everything.  Instead, he just chased after Khan and left the Bank.
Alan cried as he kept pressure. He looked over his shoulder at the three corpses and found four words cycling through his head, the mocking mantra of some omniscient observer. The words came in Bob’s voice, that rich, velvety thing that he’d never hear ever again. One last job, lads. One last job.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Bank (part 3)

Around the same time as Colin presented Bob and Allan with coffee and Alderman led his friends into the back of the bank, a man named Smith walked into the front. His legs were shaking beneath his trousers, his knuckles were clenched. His muscles were tense. He felt a bead of sweat run down his head. It had sounded so simple, so easy, when he'd been told the plan at lunch. You go in the front, distract the cashiers whilst the others go and deal with the others. Simple as that. Now, however, it wasn't easy. It was terrifying. Every person who seemed to look at him, every glance that crossed his flesh, seemed to be imbued with a sense of suspicion. It was almost like they knew what he was going to do. Almost like they knew about the cold block of metal in his pocket, loading freshly with bullets.
"Can I help you?" Said a voice from his side.
He had to stop himself from leaping straight out of his skin. He turned and saw a short blonde lady, wearing the cashier's purple uniform, staring at him. She smiled, bearing a row of whitened teeth. "Can I help you, sir?"
"I, er, I want to make a withdrawal." He said, unsure where his words were coming from. He'd never felt so cliched in his life.
"Right this way, sir." She said. "How long have you had an account with this bank, may I ask? We're carrying out a survey amongst our customers."
"Oh." He itched his head as she led him towards a short queue near one of the desks. "Five years."
"Thank you. Can I take your name?" She asked.
"Ian." He said. "Ian Smith."
"Thank you, Mr Smith." She smiled. "Just stay in this queue and you'll be seen to in no time at all. Have a nice day now."
He watched her wander off and, as his eyes followed her, he couldn't help but wonder where she was going. She disappeared through a couple of doors in the back of the bank, into the network of corridors beyond it. He wondered if she'd come across Alderman, Khan, Jonesy and the others. What would happen if she did? She'd know they weren't meant to be there, surely? He realised his leg was bouncing furiously, shaking and wobbling. He put his hand on it, trying to settle it, and turned away from the doors which his eyes had been fixed on. Then he saw something in the corner of his eye and it took his breath away. "Good God." He whispered. "It can't be."
Stood halfway across the bank, at a different counter altogether, was Sergio Morricone. He was a short man, stocky but in an expensive suit, a white flower in one of the button holes. What remained of his hair had been slicked back with gel, his face freshly shaved. Smith thought he looked like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction; a cruel facsimile of the man he once was. He looked so weak standing there, his hair flecked with grey. He didn't look like the cruel demon who'd ordered so many deaths, stolen from so many people, cheated on his wife so many times. He looked like a frail old man just borrowing some money, not a corrupt, manipulative monster in control of half the country's organised crime. Smith didn't know what possessed him, but suddenly he was pulling his gun. He drew the slide barrel and pulled the trigger. Morricone hit the floor, his chest torn up, blood oozing out.
Smith slid the gun away, like some sort of gunslinger after a western brawl. Someone was screaming, several kids were crying. An alarm had been triggered. He pulled his gun again and fired three or four shots towards the roof. "This is a robbery!" He screamed, his throat feeling raw. Instinct had taken over. He was no longer in control. "Everyone, down on the ground and no one needs to be hurt!"
Outside, there was the sudden wailing of police sirens. He cursed under his breath. If the police saw the body, they'd shoot on sight. If he ran, he'd be setting Alderman and his friends up to get shot. God, why did everything have to be so confusing? He realised that he'd already let down his family. What did it matter if he let them down again? He buried the gun in his pocket and ran.
The door swung open and he ran straight out. He screamed as he did, turning towards the three approaching policemen. "He's got a gun, man! He's got a gun!"
The policemen thanked him and ran straight into the bank, allowing Smith to give up his run and instead stroll casually on the outside and shaking inside, into the bitter cold of the morning. He felt strangely free, strangely released. A laugh arose deep inside. Oh, how life was bemusing.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Bank (part 2)

At about the same time that Colin got into the car with his coffees, a car pulled up behind the bank. The doors swung open, allowing for the occupants to climb out. Three of the five were middle aged, the other two in their twenties, and all were wearing uncomfortably plastic builder uniforms, hard hats and all. They opened the back gate and stepped into the claustrophobic court where the bins were kept. The bank's backdoor was open, the alarm disengaged. The leader of the five grinned and walked through.
They emerged in a series of corridors, each as plain and boring as the next. It was illuminated by round lights on the walls, glowing orange against the white brick. The walls led back and forth until eventually there was a doorway. The disguised builders continued past it, talking to each other as they went. "Did you see the game?"
"Which one?"
"The Boxing Day match." Said Jones, one of the younger ones. "You know, between United and Spurs?"
"Oh right." Said McIntosh. "Yeah. I saw that one."
"I lost a pony." Dawson sighed.
"Having a daughter is really affecting him." Said Khan.
They all laughed. Dawson, who had turned bright red, said, "You know what I mean. I bet on Man U, as any sane person might, and the first time this season Spurs beat them!"
"Serves you right for betraying your roots." Jones laughed.
"Gentlemen." Warned their leader, a short bloke named Alderman.
They turned down a corridor and passed a small cluster of cashiers. McIntosh watched them pass over his shoulder and wolf whistled once they were out of sight. "There is something really... yeah about uniforms, ain't there?"
Jones shook his head. "I'm glad you're going to the vault. You'd get distracted in the bank."
"Gov, we're here." Said Khan.
Alderman nodded. The corridor forked off in two directions, one to the front of the bank and the other down some steps towards the vault. "McIntosh, Dawson, get to work. You know the plan?"
Dawson nodded. "We're in the vault, you three are in the bank, where Smithy's waiting already. You distract the coppers whilst we come round in the car, then we  shoot the coppers in the back whilst you run around them and get in the car. We go retire to Spain."
"One last job, lads." Alderman said. "One last job."
Dawson and McIntosh nodded and disappeared down the steps towards the vault. Alderman, Jones and Khan looked at each other and nodded, pulling guns from underneath their high visibility jackets. "You okay with this?" Alderman said to Khan. "I know you've got qualms with shooting people."
"That was before I knew the stakes, governor. I just wanna get in and out, quick as possible, and hope no one get's tangled up in this."
"Yeah, well make sure you don't bail on me now, Khan. If anyone plays silly buggers, you shoot them right down. You too, Jonesy"
"Sure. Whatever you say." Jones nodded.
They walked around a corner, reaching the door that led into the bank proper. Jones took a deep breath, a very deep breath, and then looked to Alderman. He'd always been a little bit scared of his boss, even if they were distantly related. There was something creeping, dark, about the way he seemed to know exactly what you were thinking. He took his hard hat off, running a hand through his thinning grey hair, and then took the stockings from the inside of his helmet and slid them over his face. "Neither of you getting stage fright?"
"Not yet." Khan said, pulling his stockings down.
"Good. Mr Morricone's depending on us, and I certainly don't feel like letting him down now."
They each pulled back their slide barrels then, after taking very deep breaths, raced through the doors. "This is a robbery!" Alderman screamed, his gun in the air. "Put your hands in the air and don't try anything clever!"
His words were almost drowned out by the wailing alarms. Before any of them could even wonder why they hadn't heard the alarms through the doors, there was the sound of gunfire as the three policemen, Alan, Bob and Colin, fired at them. The six were suddenly engaged in a furious gunfight, shooting and shooting until Alderman managed to grab a civilian and point a gun at their head. "Everyone! Stop shooting now!"
The policeman, and Khan and Jones, did just that. The room was met in the silence of the aftermath. Alderman smiled. "Thank you. That's good. Now, this is how it's going to work-"
"Gov?" Khan said.
Alderman looked at him. "What do you want? Can't you see I'm busy?"
"There's a body on the floor."
"So? They must have got caught in the gunfire." He turned back to the policemen. "Now, gentlemen as I was saying-"
"The body. It's Morricone."
Alderman looked over and saw the body on the floor was indeed that of their boss, Sergio Morricone, lying on the floor with his chest half torn out by bullets. "Oh, bloody hell." Alderman said. He aimed his gun at the policemen. "Which one of you shot him, because I can sure as hell tell you that they'll be the first to die."

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Bank

It was raining, but then again when wasn’t it nowadays? Alan could almost remember a time when the wet weather came in November, so that the snow could claim the world for Christmas day. Well, global warming had screwed all that up, hadn’t it? Looking out of his window now, he could see the rain splashing off piles of slowly dissolving snow. It was halfway through January, but people were only just beginning to kick out their Christmas trees. A cafe was awaiting the bin men to turn up, their christmas tree drowning in the rain, lying above a bag of rubbish. Half a dozen seagulls had come along to inspect the tree, but none of them had taken the bait. Alan sighed and turned back to Bob. ”What did your Mary get you for Christmas then?" 
"A lateral thinking book." Replied Bob. He ran a hand through his slowly thinning black hair and gave a cough that was a mixture of the Winter Bug that was going around and twenty years of chain smoking.
"What's one of those when it's a home?"
"That's what I said. The introduction, I ain't never read a book with an introduction before, said it were to make you think sideways. Around problems."
"Around problems? What's skirting ‘round problems gonna do to solve them?"
"Beats me." Said Bob. "Still, I gave it a try."
"You a genius now?" 
"Not quite yet. There was a thing about a midget in a lift, but the one that got me was this other one about penguins."
The back door opened and Colin climbed in, handing out coffees to Bob and Alan and taking a sip on a Hot Chocolate himself. He had one of those cardboard trays that, when empty, became rather pointless. He checked it over and then stashed it into the door pocket. "What's that about a penguin?"
"His Mary got him a puzzle book for Christmas." Alan said.
"What's that got to do with a penguin?” Colin asked, wrestling off his jacket. Even beneath it, his jumper was speckled with rain drops. 
"Well, the penguin was one of the puzzles." Bob said.
"Well, let's hear it then. I love me a puzzle.”
"Right, here goes." Bob shuffled around so he was facing both of them; Alan in the passenger seat and Colin on the back seat. ”So, there's these two blokes who haven't seen each other for ages, right?"
"What are they called?" Asked Colin.
"I don't know! Let's say, Steve and Garry. Anyway, Steve and Garry, Gazza to mates, haven't seen each other in ages. They go to an exotic restaurant to catch up. Steve orders Roast Penguin, Gazza has a bear lasagne."
"As in a good lasagne?" Alan asked. “Y’know, bare lasagne?”
"No, as in a lasagne made from Bear."
"Don't be telling my Shelly that!” Colin cried. “I got her one of those sponsor an animal things for Christmas and she chose a bear! Loves it she does. I don't see the point. They send you a cuddly toy, saying the proceeds go to helping the endangered animal, yet they neglect to mention the starving African child who made the toy in the first place!"
"What a con." Said Alan.
"What, Shelly's present?"
"No. The restaurant. I mean, you can't just go and cook penguins. That's got to be illegal."
"Well, in this story, it ain't." Bob said. "So, anyway, the food arrives. Steve takes a bite of his penguin, frowns, pulls his gun, shoots Gazza and then shoots himself."
"What the hell?" Said Colin.
"What a psychopath!" Alan cried. "I suppose there's no law against shooting people in this story too?"
"No, not quite. It's perfectly illegal. The puzzle is, why'd he shoot Gazza and then himself?" Said Bob.
"I worked that out!" Cried Colin.
"What, the puzzle?"
Colin groaned. "Look, to be frank, I don't think neither of us will get it. You may as well put us out of our misery."
"You sure?"
Alan and Colin nodded.
"Right then. Steve and Gazza and Steve's son were once on a boating holiday. Their boat crashed into Antartica- that's where they have penguins right?"
"Do I look like a penguin expert?" Said Alan.
Bob shrugged. "Anyway, their boat crashes, the son is seriously injured. They struggle on for a bit, and the only signs of life they find are some penguins. Cute as they are, they aren’t at all helpful when you’re stranded and half are you are ill. One night, Gazza and the son taking first watch at the time, Steve is sleeping. When he wakes up, Gazza tells him that his son has died. Steve's upset, so Gazza breaks the good news: he caught and killed a penguin, so they can eat for a bit. Only problem is, the meat that Steve remembers eating tastes completely different to the stuff he's eating in the restaurant. The only logical conclusion?"
"He must have eaten his son!" Colin cried.
"Exactly!" Bob said. "Shoots Gazza, shoots himself, game over for all concerned."
There was silence for a few moments, then Alan said, "That is the largest pile of nonsense I've ever heard."
"Oh, tell me about it." Bob said. "Least you didn't get a book of a hundred riddles for Christmas!”
“Nah, I just got bankruptcy from Shelley’s present.” Colin said.
"Hey up, lads!" Bob cried. "Look through the window."
They did just that and saw the wailing alarms on the front of the building, screeching and casting their red lights in every direction.
They all straightened their ties, and Alan and Colin drew their guns. Bob grabbed his radio and said, "This is Tango-Alpha, come through."
"Can hear you loud and clear Tango-Alpha. Go ahead."
"We've got eyeball on the Bank. We can hear the alarm. Permission to enter?"
"Granted, Tango-Alpha. Stay safe."
Bob grinned, hanging up the radio. What a job to be his last? He twisted the engine of; it was already on, as to keep the heater going. He flicked on the blues and twos to give the robbers a fright and then jumped out of the car, guns raised, in the direction of the Bank.