The night had proven to be warmer than expected. The sweat caused by nervousness became unseasonably more difficult to manage, given the rare Christmas humidity. He gave serious thought to ridding himself of the jacket, but the uniform looked most professional with it on.
Had he gone with a more subtle uniform, perhaps he could get away without the jacket. The olive and khaki ensemble he chose seemed like a better color match for that of a security guard than the standard navy blue or black. It seemed to him, at least at the time of purchase that choosing a color scheme less like that of a police officer would prove that he was a security guard. If a man were to pick his own attire, he certainly would have found a darker tone more acceptable. Surely, this man was forced to wear this uniform. Only an employee of a security firm with a sense of humor would end up in this garb, right? That’s what he sold himself on two months ago, now the olive seemed to stand out to much, make too much of an impression. A brown, Leather-esque jacket would have to suffice. If only the weather would make the jacket more tolerable, then he could focus on the first car to pull up, instead of the haze he was feeling from the loss of fluid.
The first car pulled up a little after eleven. A girl in her early twenties, if not late teens, pulled up in her maroon compact sedan. The car, which was likely to have belonged to a parent before handed down to be the transportation for the Bartley’s cashier, slowly pulled up to the closed bank window, and was talking aloud through her cell phone as she tried to read to sign attached to the night deposit box. The message typed and taped across the slot of the drop box proved to be too complicated of a task for the conversationalist to handle whole talking to her counterpart. As luck would have it, there was a security guard at the end of the drive-thru, prepared to answer any questions she may have.
“Excuse me.” She said, not bothering to depart phone call, yet still had the since to remove the device from her face. “What’s the sign mean.” It was time for him to recite what he had patiently crafted over the previous few weeks.
“Somebody vandalized the drop box last night. United trust is asking that all night deposits be put in the safe, there.” To his side was a steel box of sorts. It stood about chest high to the guard and was twice as wide. The box seemed brand new, at least a new coat of paint. There was a combination dial, but it had two key holes on the side. A layman’s impression would have been that a key was needed, regardless of one knowing the combination or not. On the top of the box was a slot, curved at an angle, making it possible for bags to be dropped in, but not removed.
The girl blankly responded.
“Where? In that box?”
“Yes, Mam” he replied.
She was going to have to get out of the car in order to complete her task.
“Could you just put it in there for me?” She waved a blue canvas bag with a large zipper, which was locked down with a thumb size piece of steel holding the zipper shut with a keyhole, protecting the profit from a busy Christmas Eve for the second busiest Bartley’s in South Texas.
“I would if I could, but I’m under strict orders not to touch any drops.”
An exasperated girl rolled her eyes and bid an abrupt farewell through the cell phone as she clunked out of the car and, almost sarcastically, shoved the bag into the top slot of the safe.
“Are you happy, now?” She rhetorically asked the guard.
“Have a Merry Christmas, Mam.” He cheerfully replied.
She started dialing away before she reached the door of the maroon sedan. The first victim of his carefully planned endeavor skidded off through the wet parking lot and into the night.
He could have quit there. He could have gone home early, enjoyed a good night sleep and celebrated the warm Noel morning with a small stack of cash that he did not have the day before. It would only take a minute or so to open the safe and drive away. But he ran the risk of other merchants seeing him, and who knows what kind of circus he would have enrolled himself in then. Besides, he had his heart set on a small fortune before the night was done, and a small fortune was what he would stay for.
The rubber gut was the worst part of the night so far. The beads of sweat had formed into knots, rolling their way through the intricate labyrinth of hair across his flat stomach. Well, he called it flat; most others just called it skinny. He knew before renting the uniform that no one would look at him and think of a security guard. He was tortured with a small frame. In seventh grade he sprouted up to five foot six, along with his self esteem. Sadly, through high school, he would have to watch the world grow around him, as he stayed at the bottom end. Through his twenties he had hoped that if he would grow up, he could at least grow out. Everyone finds it more difficult to keep the weight off as the approach their thirties. Life cruel joke would punish him further; he would forever be trapped in a frame that refused to have more than 125 pounds of flesh to it.
It was around October when he first came up with the plan, which worked out for the best, seeing as how Halloween would be the only appropriate time to rent a security guard outfit and not look suspicious. His intimate size proved disadvantageous once again when he was too small for a security guard costume. His height wasn’t the problem and, for a costume at least, it didn’t seem too large. It wasn’t like a child in his father’s suit, but more like a child in his older brother’s.
The solution given to him by the costume shop attendant was a rubber belly. A comically oversized torso used to transform the standard adult into a comically overweight buffoon of sorts. Luckily for him, he was comically underweight, presenting the rubber gut as an ideal accessory.
A week after Halloween, he had returned to the costume shop. After waiting in line for several minutes lost in a crowd of people with costumes of all sort tossed over their shoulder for returning. He was an irregularity, approaching the counter without a costume.
A quick lie about his car being broken into and the costume was taken along with his stereo and a few personal items, the attendant informed him that his deposit was lost, along with an additional hundred dollars. Upon paying for the costume that was mythically gone, and a new fake mustache, he was lost into the parking lot. He was up one disguise without anyone seeming to notice.
The safe was a different story all together. Almost four summers prior, he was roaming the Sunday garage sales when he came across a rusted monstrosity of a metal box. The owner was a retired hotel manager, who acquired the safe from his former place of employment when it was renovated. Upon bringing it home from work, his wife was furious. There was no way he was bringing that into the house. He had already known that before he had the bellhops load it in the back of his truck. He had it unloaded into the garage, where it had been sitting for 17 years until the garage sale gave it a chance to be someone else’s problem.
When he decided to waste away the afternoon rummaging through the post-value piles of shed household items that scattered across folding tables on driveways and blankets on yards, he would have had zero interest in anything unscrupulous. Even when he saw the safe and was sold to him for nothing and, to sweeten the sale, loaded in his truck for him, he didn’t have any sort of master plan. He just wanted to open it.
It took a little over two hours of flipping through yellow pages and repeating the same mantic query through the phone to find a locksmith even remotely interested in refitting the lock. The locksmith said he would have somebody to help unload into his store; all he had to do was get it there. Thankfully, it had been in the back of his truck since he bought it at the garage sale. Getting it to the shop would not be a problem. The refitting was only a fraction of the renovation cost. The locksmith gouged him a bit on getting the rust off of the safe. Considering that he didn’t want to remove the rust himself, he really didn’t care about the price. All he knew was that he had this brand new safe. Now, he just needed a reason for it.
Over the next four years, the safe sat in his garage. It was too big to get through the doorway of the house and, even if it wasn’t, there was nowhere else to put it. Its cumbersome nature was not as big a problem as its crippling psychological effect. He owned nothing to put in it! Years were passing and nothing was really worth putting inside. He would work his entire life without monetary stash of some sort to keep hidden in a secure box in the garage. He found this to be more depressing than motivating. One year before his plan began its execution, he found the solution.
On his way home from visiting his mother on Christmas Eve, he spent hours looking for a place to eat. Midnight on Christmas Eve presents a commercially lonely world, especially for the hungry. He noticed a line of traffic at one drive-thru. Unfortunately it was not for food. The line of cars, about five deep, was patiently waiting for their turn to deposit the previous day’s cash from their respective stores. The individual representatives of the storefront peddlers did this every night, but not as late as they did on this one not a year and, he imagined, they usually didn’t have as much in the bags as they would this one night of the year, either.
Most stores, especially in malls, don’t have their manager working late on Christmas Eve. It seemed routine, almost required, to appoint a teenager, albeit the most responsible teenager of the group working at that particular store, to “manage” whatever happens on this critical shift. It also seemed that most chains were not so much concerned with competence as they were trustworthiness. Of course, a trustworthy person would be a requirement for the task of taking the till for the day and driving it to a safer location, the nearest bank. By dropping off any cash made the previous day at the bank, the store would not have to worry about having a safe or lockbox at their store. It would be the bank’s problem. It would seem that the bank would have deniability if the bag were to turn up missing. If the bank were to have never gotten the bag, but the night manager says they dropped it off, where’s the missing link? What if every night manager swore they dropped it off, but the bank never got any of them? Not to mention that no one would be at work the next day, not the bank or the mall, so this mess would not even get noticed until two days later. How long would it take to blame a third party? These were that questions that he was attempting to put into practice.
A practice, he doubted would be so humid.
He was never really one to watch the weather reports, it never made since to him to watch the television for what he could see outside. Sure, they could tell you if you needed an umbrella later in the day, but couldn’t you just look at the sky and tell for yourself? The news that morning spoke of a summer like heat pouring through south Texas for the next four or five days, he just thought the coast would bring in a night draft. Now, he was paying for his false assumption. The jacket acted as a torturous tandem of not allowing the breeze in and not allowing the body heat out. That, multiplied by the thick costume rubber that lined his torso, encaged him in a portable sauna. He took another gulp of water from the disposable bottle, a bottle as sweaty as he was from the humidity, but hated the idea of drinking too much. The last thing he wanted to do was urinate.
He already knew that all the nearby gas stations and grocery stores were closed, and getting arrested for public urination would be a more appropriate humiliation for the common criminal, not one who had carefully planned this out the way he had. Still, he had to drink something, the only thing worse than getting caught urinating on the side of the bank building would have being found passed out next to a mock safe from dehydration. The water had been outside too long anyway, it ceased to be a thirst quencher. It was like drinking a hot tea, which only made the rubber more tortuous.
The sweat had formed a shallow pool at the base of the fake stomach. Every time he twisted or moved his midsection, it released a little more saltwater into his groin area, which made it all the more uncomfortable to be out her. He could have left; it might actually be the better way to go. The was only one bag, but a bag in hand would be better than getting caught with twenty, or dying from a sweat attack. His breathing felt more labored, every time he took in a deep breath, more sweat poured into his pants.
Another car approached. It was too late to bail out now.
A white minivan, perhaps a decade old, pulled up to the original drop, paused for a quick read, then pulled forward the extra forty feet to the safe. With the classic rock blaring, the older man, perhaps late forties, started to ask incoherent questions about the bank.
“Turn it down! I can’t here you.”
“Oh, sorry man.” The rocker wore a burger hut polo shirt. The inside of the van reeked of pot fumes and burger meat. “What happened to the bank, man?”
“Kids, probably. Somebody poured a bunch of manure down the drop last night, and then caulked it shut.”
“Really? Whoa! That’s crazy. Here you go.” The grayed burger hut employee held a bag outside to the guard.
“Oh, I can’t take the bags. You should put it in yourself. It’s just procedure.”
The rocker stared, confused. “The what?”
The guard, to full of sweat to care about formalities, took the bag from the mark.
“Merry Christmas.” He drove off without listening for a reply.
Now, he had a pseudo dilima. He could just leave, bag in hand, not worry about the bag in the safe, and not worry about the other bags to come. There was no getting caught opening the safe. No getting caught by a night shift worker, too smart to fall for the ruse. There was no bored cop, driving around the parking lot, looking for some Christmas excitement. There was just him. He could wait here, outside, risking capture, even death, by the way he felt at the moment, or he could walk is unearned burger money to the truck, drive home, take a cool shower, and enjoy his Christmas earnings after a good night sleep. But, the originality of the scam kept him focused. He would never have an idea like this again. Not to mention that after tonight, this scam couldn’t be repeated. Every bank would change their policies about night drop off because of this one event. That was the ego stroke he needed to push forward, after some water.
He gave serious thought to taking the jacket off, then putting it back on when a car arrived. It was too late now to leave the jacket off. Before, he overcautiously worried about the color scheme being too out noticeable. Colors were a moot issue now, the soaking across the front of his waist was too overbearing. His hair was dripping with sweat as well, leaving it with a strongly ungroomed appearance. The last thing he needed was for people to think of him as a homeless man working security. He could, however, drain the tank of sweat that was chambered between his stomach and his disguise.
After a quick look around, he sloshed around the corner of the bank to the back of the building. He removed the jacket, layed it on the ground, and untucked his shirt. He grabbed hold of the bottom of the fake belly and pulled it away from his stomach. I quick release of the seat splashed across the bank wall and onto his shoes.
“Excuse me.” A woman yelled from her car about ten feet behind him. Jacket on the ground, olive and lime shirt covered in sweat and disheveled his shoes and pants covered in sweat as well. This was what he feared most.
The woman seemed uncomfortable, no doubt thinking that she interrupted his restroom break.
“I’m sorry, is the bank window broken?”
He began to frantically tuck in his shirt. The entire front of his pants was wet, but he was the only one in the conversation that knew it wasn’t urine.
“Yes, it, uh, some kids broke it last night, I am here watching over the temporary drop.”
“So, they want me to put it in the portable safe?” she seemed unconvinced. This was what was going to happen if he seemed even a little unprofessional.
“Yeas, well, I’m here to make sure it’s not too portable.” His tried to give a calm chuckle. It came out panicked. He was busted; he could see it in her face.
The pause only made him sweat more.
“ummm, I’ll be back.” She quickly drove off around to the front of the building.
He wondered if it was possible to get through the night without a disbeliever. Wishful thinking as it may have been, he didn’t dare dream that one would come so early. Now, he figured, this could go either way. She could call the cops, and it would quickly be quitting time. More likely, since he could see her parked in front of the building, she was calling the bank. That was a more manageable worry.
It felt lucky at the time. He felt that a worst case scenario, other than getting arrested, would be to have someone call the bank, which had a 24 hour service phone number posted on the front window. The luck came when he noticed the phone number, along with the banks lobby hours, were not on a sign, they were etched into the front glass door. A sign would be difficult to dispose of. This etching, however, would be a little easier to replace. He found a sign company. He went in, speaking of his new business. He needed a new sign for the front window, gave the specific size he wanted (a quarter inch bigger on each sign than the banks etching), and wanted his business’ lobby hours posted on the sign, along with his phone number, which was the number of a disposable phone he bought, with cash, earlier that day. Four business days later, he his replacement sign. Five weeks later, the heist was on. But, he had a brand new sign to cover the bank’s business information. If smelled a scam, hopefully they would call the number on the front door.
The disposable cell phone in his front pocket began to vibrate. It was a good feeling, someone, obviously the unconvinced woman, was calling. He knew better than to pull the phone, let alone answer it. The phone stopped buzzing. It was time to see if she would buy the message.
The message was the more difficult task for him. He needed a message that gave all the generic information about the bank and mentions the damaged night drop without it sounding unprofessional. Whoever was hearing this message already had an unbelieving nature, this instance made worse by the appearance of a sweaty security guard who had apparently pissed himself. This phone message was going to be a difficult sale. The message did, however, mention that if anyone felt uncomfortable about the temporary plans for night drop offs, they should feel free to hold the drop until the following business day. That was going to be her personal crossroad. The bank was not going to be open on Christmas day. It also had the weekend to work through. She would be forced to decide between holding her store’s cash, and leaving it in an unfamiliar setting. Either way he felt safe, as long as she didn’t call the police. She was going to either go through the drive-thru again to make the drop off, or go home. Either way, she was going to drive. But she wasn’t. She was still parked at the front of the building.
Now, he should run. There’s was a short list of things she could be doing. He was too far away to tell if she was on the phone, but a cell phone against her face would be proof that the cops could be there shortly after. His truck was three blocks away. He could be driving home before the police even got to the bank, if the police were even on their way to the bank. He needed a closer look. He double checked his shirt tail and combed his hair. A new pool of sweat crept into his waist when he lifted his hand up to comb. This was as professional as he would look. It was now time to make his rounds.
If it looked like he was walking the perimeter of the bank, like a security guard would do, he would be about ten feet from her car when he walked across the front of the building. He promised himself, if she was on the phone, he would walk to his truck. If she wasn’t, he would ask her to leave. It sounded like a guard thing to do. Security wouldn’t want people hanging around a bank in the middle of the night, right? It seemed at the time like a necessary choice.
He began to pace routinely across the perimeter of the bank, working his way to the front. He couldn’t remember what a guard looked like when doing this. Where they swinging their arms, whistling? Were they intently focused on the job? He felt he was over thinking but, he had to be especially convincing with his particular woman. He pretended to check the windows, even picked up a soda can he found on the side of the building. Upon turning the corner to the front, he casually looked up at the car. No phone. She was just sitting there, engine off, with the dome light on.
Dialogue it was. He mustered up the energy and began to walk across the lot. He wasn’t nervous about conversing as a guard; he had spent weeks preparing to do that. The nervousness came from approaching someone as a guard when that person saw him dumping bodily fluids across the back wall of a building.
She was reading something. It looked as if she was studying. Not the most conventional place for it, but it was convenient. Maybe she was a student. Maybe home was a noisy place and, with all the libraries and coffee shops being closed, here car was the only study hall available on Christmas Eve. He couldn’t afford to guess. He needed to know.
He focused most on his posture as he walked. He didn’t want to give the appearance of a rushed guard, trying to get here off the property as quickly as possible. His objective was to give the appearance of a guard who was going to be there all night, weather she was there or not, but would not accept someone on his territory. He doubted he could give a true appearance of dominance, given their short history together, but wilting now would prove he was not what he appeared to be. As the second car pulled up next to hers, he realized that he wouldn’t need to worry about convincing her to leave. In fact, he had half a mind to leave himself.
The cop car pulled in next to the woman. The lone officer, probably without partner because of the holidays, got out of the car as the woman rolled down her window. There was no doubt in his mind that they were discussing the peculiarity of the safe that was being used as a replacement on the side of the bank building. The sweat was in his eyes now; it stung his vision to the point of borderline blindness. He didn’t know if the officer noticed him or not. He made the bold move of retreating his path to the woman’s car and began a new route to his truck.
He made the turn and started to walk faster. He rubbed his eyes, but his sweaty hands did little to relieve the salt from his sightline. The thought of forfeiting the night penniless gave him a surprising comfort. At least he would be able to get out of the humidity. Then, the sweat started to escape him out of fear as opposed to heat.
“Hey!, Hey!” The officer was jogging towards him. He could run. He could jump fences to get to a truck that the cop had never seen. He could start a full out chase. But, could he win? Not a risk he wanted to take in a rubber suit. He took a deep breath and turned around to administer the dialogue he had prepared for the woman.
“Yes, officer.” Pure panic shot through him. Luckily it had not made its way into his voice.
“What happened here?” The cop half inspected the drive thru drop box, along with the improved drop box, with his flashlight.
“Don’t know exactly.” The cop would easily know the vandalism story was a complete falsehood. If he didn’t know it at the moment the lie was spoken, he could find out with a quick call to the station. It was best to play dumb.
“My job called me out here to watch over the drop box; apparently the actual is damaged somehow.”
“You don’t know how it was damaged?” The cop kept his voice monotone, professional.
“They don’t tell me anything. They just tell me what to do.” He would have vomited, if he wasn’t so dehydrated. There was a chance of him passing out, though.
The cop approached the safe for closer inspection. He gave it a quick tap with his foot, as if he expected it to shake or wobble. It was too heavy to be moved by such a languid gesture. After replacing his flashlight back into his belt, he used his upper body to try to move the safe. Immobile. After giving it another thirty seconds, which was an eternity, of thought, his mood lightened.
“You out here every night?”
“No, just here to guard this”
The tension loosened along with the cop’s posture.
“Shit, they drag you out here on Christmas Eve to guard that? I tell you what, it aint movin.’” The cop was more relaxed than the guard would ever be.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it, then. Merry Christmas.” The cop worked his way back to the squad car. The guard’s heart started beating again.
He waited a few minutes at the side of the building, then repeated the task of scoping the parking lot in front. Upon arrival, he saw the woman and the Cop, leaning against the squad car in a warm embrace. The cop was not at the back for work at all. It also explained the woman hanging about. This was all good news. If only the weather would cool down.
The bottom edge of the rubber belly started to chafe his stomach, pruning his skin with the moisture, then enflaming it with the salty grit the sweat continually reissued. It was like a bad rash and later, as the night went on, a bad carpet burn.
At night’s end, he had sixty four bags in all. His first move once getting home was a cool shower, though he did a poor job soaping himself. Everything that touched him brought a stinging reminder of the sweaty ordeal.
He slept until the mid afternoon. Christmas Day brought several gift bags to be sorted and counted. Each bag was made of a heavy, double layered canvas, which proved to be a tedious task to open. He saw less cash than he had hoped. Wishful thinking entertained almost twice as much as he actually received. Most bags contained thousands of dollars check and credit card receipts. The cash only served a smaller portion of the entire booty. All and all, he was looking at a little more than twenty grand. He had no reason to feel disappointed. By the time he was done with the counting, it was night, and the dehydration from the night before soothed him into another strong night’s sleep.
The next day brought business as usual in the world. Stores replaced their holiday messages with clearance tags and the holiday cheer would slowly be boxed and stored for another year. It would be the first normal day businesses had felt for over a month. It was wok as usual for everyone, everyone except Carper’s Fidelity Bank off Juliet Street.
The story was two days old to him, but to everyone else it was brand new. Channel 5 was the first to arrive speaking of a heavy set man in a security guard outfit spending the entire night accepting bank bags from unsuspecting employees of the nearby mall. An artist’s sketch showed a sweaty man with wire-rimmed glasses and a handlebar mustache. The glasses and mustache had already been discarded.
The bank experienced a chaotic few weeks. Stores upset that they were swindled. It wasn’t just the cash that was lost, every check written was gone. The bank had videotapes filled with grainy images of a man who apparently did not exist. The safe left on the side of the building was dusted for prints, but everyone knew there would be none. From the start of the investigation, everyone knew their efforts would come up short.