I picked up the cup of tea, lifted it to my lips, and repressed a shudder as the foul liquid hit my tongue. And they had the gall to charge for this? I was half tempted to demand my money back. Indiana wasn’t that far from New York, but the hicks out here had definitely lost something in translation.
Setting the cup firmly back down, I lifted up my newspaper again – but kept the top of the paper low enough so that I could glance over the top. Across the street, the tall marble pillars of First National Bank were quiet. There was no commotion, and the few morning customers seemed content to slowly climb the wide steps as they prepared to make their deposits and withdrawals.
I was here on a hunch. Three banks had gone down, all in cities to the South – but drawing a line through those locations made an arrow that pointed straight to First National.
It had been three days since the last robbery. This bank robber, some girl who had decided that the reward was worth the eventual cost, would likely strike any day now.
My hand briefly slipped beneath my long black jacket, checking the weight of the gun that hung just beneath my shoulder blade.
The girl’s cost would soon be paid.
I didn’t have much longer to wait. Before the sun had reached its peak in the sky, the little snatches of conversation carried across the street in the breeze vanished. In their place, I heard yells, shouts – and then a loud, echoing gunshot.
I was on my feet before the echo faded. I vaulted the waist-high fence of the cafe, my newspaper falling away in the breeze as I reached beneath my coat for my gun. I took the steps three at a time, dropping my shoulder down so that I could slam through the front doors of the bank.
Even as I burst in, my eyes flashed around, taking stock of the situation. Priests are trained on situational awareness. “The trigger is only as fast as the eye behind it,” my old instructor used to shout at us.
There wasn’t much to spot, however. Most of the people in the bank, customers and clerks alike, were down on the floor, some with their hands up covering their heads. Behind the counter, two young men, their eyes wide with terror, emptied out their drawers into a pair of sacks.
And standing on top of a leather-covered counter in the middle of the room, the bank robber watched as she held her gun at the ready.
Her appearance surprised me. She was young, just a little slip of a girl, the picture of exuberant and overconfident youth. She wore loose clothes that nonetheless were pulled tight around a fit figure, and the curves suggested beneath those garments said that this was no immature girl. A black bandana covered most of her face, but it couldn’t hold back errant strands of
Of course, my entry made a considerable amount of noise as I burst in through the door. Even as I brought my gun out from its holster beneath my jacket, the girl on the counter spun, her own gun coming up to point towards me.
For a moment, there was a flurry of motion as we both simultaneously fired and dodged. Even as I pulled the trigger, I knew that my shot went wide as the girl vaulted down behind the counter. Her shot also missed, although I felt the slight breeze as the round passed by only inches from my head. Well, the girl wasn’t afraid to take a lethal shot.
I landed crouched on the balls of my feet, up against the counter’s heavy wooden bulk. I knew that the girl was on the other side – I could hear her breathing.
“Give up!” I called out, trying to make my voice sound encouraging, harmless. “Just put down your weapon, and you can get out of here alive!” I hoped that I sounded believable.
But my query was in vain. “Why don’t you give up, instead?” the girl called back, her voice high and clear. “Come on, I promise not to rough you up too much!”
And then she laughed, high and clear and fearless.
For just an instant, I considered it. Unlike my own promise, the girl wasn’t likely to shoot me. And if I could break her out of this stalemate, I had a good chance of wrestling her weapon away, disarming her. I’d quickly come back out on top.
And what’s more… there was something about that laugh. It was so utterly fearless, like nothing I’d heard before.
“Last chance!” the girl shouted, and I heard her shifting on the other side of the bench. “Or are you gonna try some crazy Priest bravery?”
She moved again – but this time, it wasn’t just shifting on her feet. I leapt around the side of the bench, but she was already up and sprinting towards the side door of the bank. Her gun was pointed back behind her, towards me, but her face was turned towards the exit.
My gun was up, and even though my whole body was in motion and off balance, I still took the shot.
There was a high-pitched clink, like a piece of jewelry on a woman’s wrist.
At the sound, the girl turned back, glancing over her shoulder at me as her arm came up to push open the door. For just an instant, my eyes locked on hers. I had only the briefest impression of vivid green, sparkling and almost smiling.
And then she was gone.
Gravity returned an instant later, and I had to stumble forward to catch myself from falling. Behind me, I could hear the clerks and customers slowly and nervously returning to their feet. But I didn’t pay attention to them.
Instead, I stepped forward a couple of paces, and then bent forward to examine a small object on the floor.
My bullets were copper-jacketed, for extra penetrating power against a target with a metal vest. The girl, however, was using cheaper rounds, composed only of lead. Yet still, the two rounds had hit each other with enough power to flatten each other out into a disk, a sandwich of two colors.
I picked up the still-warm disk, two bullets fused together, and weighed it in my hand as I gazed out the door. The girl would be long gone, I knew. I’d have to resume the long hunt.
In my head, however, I felt a curious and novel sense of foreboding. I stood on the precipice of something, I suddenly felt – although I couldn’t see what it might be. I didn’t know what might come…