Wednesday, April 4th, 2007
Are you sure that's him? the cop asked.
He was a real cowboy, this one.
Sure I’m sure
I’ll never forget that face.
It was true.
The stark, wide eyes of fear like amazement.
A bewildering sense of power and control within them
And the terror of wielding it
Chaos and consequences
cracking like thunder.
Just a squeeze away.
Scott carried the bank-drop in a brown paper bag
Cash and credit card receipts from the store
A mild December morning
The city yawned.
2 blocks to go.
Past the bagel shop
Christmas trees lined the sidewalk
As we walked past we laughed about our boss
Whom we dubbed: the Grey Ghost
He was always materializing out of nowhere
When we least expected it.
And suddenly a man with a gun materialized
out of the Christmas trees.
We didn’t expect that either.
Bright eyes of fearful determination; afraid.
There was a pause as silence
rolled over us like a wave.
I remember thinking:
This isn’t really what it appears to be.
Give me the fucking bag.
The man waved the gun like a crucifix
In an arc
as if we were vampires.
First towards me then Bernardo.
My eyes locked on the weapon.
Criss-cross pattern on the handle
I tried to find a flaw, but it looked real.
Heavy with the weight of bullets.
Let go of the fucking bag.
Benny’s face was drawn tight.
I could see the seriousness of all of this in his flat gaze.
The spark of mortality glittered like a diamond
out of the blackness of his eyes
paralyzed in the moment of uncertainty.
The gun then settled on Scott.
Before it moved to his chest,
then found its way to the slight dimple
at the base of his throat.
The Gunman shouted for the third time.
We heard him
but for us, time had stopped
there was nothing for us to do but float in the limbo of disbelief
Give me the fucking bag.
Scott didn’t care about the bag or the money in it.
We were all shocked into astonished immobility.
Both of Scott’s arms were locked tight around the bag.
My jaws, Bernardo’s small fists, Scott’s arms.
The gun moved again
Now just under Scott’s chin.
Beneath his close-clipped salt and pepper beard.
His head tilted back under the pressure.
Its movement seemed to say:
The gun is real. Feel how real it is?
Your life is the distance between this hollow barrel and a pointed copper tip.
It’s waiting in the chamber.
At that moment I thought:
Scott is going to die today.
I saw the deep brown of Bernardo’s imploring eyes
Over the outstretched arm of the gunman
A flannel sleeve of brown and beige and cream.
Benny spoke softly and with a calmness that defied.
Scott. Give him the bag.
In a swift motion with his free hand, the gunman tore the bag away
out of Scott’s arms.
It took him three good pulls to free it.
The third pull ripped open the paper sack as it came loose.
Bundles of cash in rubber bands bounced on the sidewalk
The remainder of the bag and its contents were in the arms of the gunman
As he turned and fled down 79th street
A flap of brown paper waving loosely behind him as he ran.
Sound erupted around us
The world reeled us back into its noisy vortex
A passing taxi’s tires jarred a manhole cover
Pigeons fluttered up to the sky from the steps of the church
The squeal of breaks and the smell of diesel as a bus slowed
Car horns bleated in the distance down Broadway
Subway trains rocketed through the station below and shook the sidewalk under our feet.
Bernardo knelt to collect the bundles
Scott yelled something and then gestured for me to follow him.
Jesus. I thought.
We chased the thief.
There were two of them now: gunman and accomplice
Another had come out of the Christmas trees to slow us down.
But he had no gun. His empty hands waved to us not to follow.
It made all the difference.
I heard Scott continue to yell something
But I could only make out bits of it.
...at least see what direction he’s...
I reluctantly followed.
The image of the gun was still fresh in my mind.
I was much faster than Scott
But I ran behind him anyway.
A red Lincoln screeched to a halt at the end of the block
Then raced away.
Scott was out of breath
He turned and we began running back to the store
This time I was ahead of him.
As we ran Scott repeated a set of numbers and letters
I scribbled them as best as I could
on my hand with a grease-pen from the front pocket of my deli-coat
Twenty minutes later we observed the red Lincoln
from the back of a police car
In a crowded intersection of flashing red lights from police cruisers
and unmarked cars pulled up on the curbs and sidewalks in disarray.
We identified the gunman.
Yes. That’s him. That’s the motherfucker.
Then on to the precinct in Washington Heights.
Reports were typed and filed
by the cop with the slight drawl and snakeskin cowboy boots
You’re lucky, he said.
...if you had been armed, or in this neighborhood, they would have just shot you and taken the money.
The cowboy could see our satisfaction
Glaring at the gunman in the cell
Ashamed and foiled.
I often wonder if he wished he had pulled the trigger
or was happy he had not.
It feels good when you get them doesn’t it? The cowboy said.
You know what?
It feels even better when you get them after they’ve fired a few rounds at you.
Back downtown, the store was busy with the Christmas rush.
There was much to be done
But I needed a moment.
I sat in the basement on a cardboard box of canned lima beans.
I flipped through the pages of my book
trying to make sense of it, to escape into the pages of Faulkner,
but I could not stop the cinema of scenes.
It was going to be the best Christmas ever.
Time, I absolve myself of your vow to vanquish me.