- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
LET'S TRY THIS ONE MORE TIME, the man thought with excitement.
He wore black pants, a gray shirt, and a black cap that read "Security." On the side of his arm was a patch with the insignia of SARC, a nearby security service. He glanced at his watch. Nine forty-five.
It's about that time.
He brought the shopping cart to the front of the store. Only one person staffed the checkout aisle—a girl in her late teens. Other employees roamed through the sporting-goods store—a chubby, forty-something guy near the firearms section, a college-aged guy probably assigned to stocking, another tall and lean fellow he'd passed in the aisles. But the husky, short-haired woman behind the customer-service counter was the one he wanted to talk with.
"Excuse me. Are you the manager?" he asked with eyebrows raised and a friendly but courteous smile. They always responded to that smile.
She nodded. "What can I help you with?"
She had a heavy Louisiana accent and big arms for a woman. Surprisingly muscular. He wondered absently how much she could bench press.
"My name is James Morrison, and I'm from SARC. The service you guys work with?"
She nodded, looking as though she knew the service and wondered where this was headed.
He glanced at the name tag on her blue button-down shirt that was the standard uniform for the sporting-goods store.
"Vicki, I'm wondering if I can show you and the rest of the employees here a number of photographs of some guys that have been robbing stores in the Pineville area. We feel this store might be in their sights and wanted to make sure you and the rest of your staff have ample knowledge of who they are."
Vicki nodded with a "Sure, why not?" shrug. "Y'all should've come on a weekend when I have more staff. I only got three working tonight."
The man nodded, bringing out a black three-ring binder and putting it on the counter that separated them. "There was another robbery yesterday."
"Where? I didn't hear about one."
"At a Harman's over in Marksville. They've kept it quiet because a lot of guns and money were stolen."
"You worried we might be next?"
He nodded. "Yes, I am This will only take a few minutes, and we can make sure to get out of your hair before too long."
Vicki looked at her watch.
"It's almost closing time anyway. Monday nights are generally slow, you know. The weekend's when everybody does their shopping. You get occasional crotchety types who want to try out a new handgun or are looking for fishing tackle or something like that. It's been pretty dead tonight."
The stout, short woman walked over to a half-door that let her out into the aisle. Her gaze landed on the briefcase he carried. It was a black canvas bag. She looked again at the patch on his shirt, then glanced at his eyes, then asked him to follow her as she sauntered to the front of the store as though she didn't have a care in the world.
He watched her go, a smile barely crooking one corner of his mouth.
Sean, my man. This is going to be the easiest one yet.
They got the guns, he thought. But we got the numbers.
Oh yeah.CHAPTER 2
KURT WILSON COULD FEEL his heart beating. He took in slow breaths, but the blood still raced through his body. Adrenaline pumped, and all he could do was sit there behind the wheel of the Ford Explorer, looking out the open window toward the Harman's sporting-goods store and waiting for word. Underneath his legs, next to the boots he wore, rested the forty-five. He'd never fired a handgun in his life. He hoped that would still be true after tonight.
He looked at the time on the dashboard. Nine fifty-five. Five minutes until closing. They would be starting now.
He had tried to make sure he would be inside, but Sean had said no. Sean knew how inexperienced he was at these things. The Radio Shack robbery had proven that, especially when he waved the forty-five and everybody saw his hand shaking. He didn't fool anybody. Thankfully he wasn't the only one holding a gun. This time, he would be on the outside, waiting in the getaway vehicle.
He lit up a third cigarette to pass time. Even now, in the sanctuary of the SUV, his hand shook slightly. Kurt knew exactly why.
Somebody might get hurt.
They'd argued about this, but Sean had won out. Of course Sean would win out. That made sense too. But this would be their second robbery in three days, and the take on this one would be a lot bigger. More people involved, more money and equipment taken. Things could get ugly fast.
"I've done this several times with just one other guy," Sean told him with a confident smile. "With four it'll be no problem."
"Yeah, but you got caught, didn't you?"
Sean shook it off and said it was bad fate, bad karma, a case of bad mojo that made his last robbery before prison go awry.
"Unfortunately the guy I was with turned out to be an idiot."
"What about these guys?" Kurt had asked.
"They'll do exactly what I say."
Kurt had kept his doubts unspoken. And even now, sitting alone, a warm sticky silence coating him on this July night in Louisiana, there was nothing he could do except wait. Wait for word to swing the Explorer around and help load up everything. Really a simple job. Nothing to be nervous about.
somebody might die
And if somebody did, so what? Should it matter to him? What would happen if they were caught? Would his sentence be any worse than it had been?
Sean had it right with his carefree attitude and cocky smirk. One might think the guy didn't have a care in the world, or a plan in place. But Kurt knew deep down that the guy had both plans and fears. The question was exactly what they were.
As for Kurt, he just wanted to be out. To be free. To light up a cigarette when and where he wanted to and to breathe the air of a free man. To go where he wanted and do what he wanted to do.
He was free now, if you could really call it that.
If they could make it through this night, he might be able to stay that way.CHAPTER 3
THE EMPLOYEES WERE ALL near the front. The young woman in a checkout aisle helped a skinny guy with a massive order that filled two shopping carts, but the rest of the staff working that night stood near the front. Vicki made sure they were all there—four including her and the woman assisting the last customer of the night.
The security man shook hands with everybody and told them his name, James Morrison, as he thanked them for their time. Two other SARC employees were near the front of the store, watching Morrison and waiting for everybody to gather around the front customer-service aisle.
Clockwork, he thought.
He looked in the checkout aisle at the customer and decided it was time to go.
He knelt down and unzipped the black bag, taking out the lightweight handgun. He waved it so that the employees gathered in a half circle close to him could see it.
"This is a Glock 31 handgun, as some of you might recognize, and it's fully loaded with ten bullets, more than enough for the group you see here." So far, nobody looked alarmed or even surprised. "I'd like everybody to step up and put their hands on this counter."
The acne-faced teenager looked around and was the first to do so, a puzzled smile on his face. Vicki grinned at the guy with the gun but didn't move. The older man looked skeptical and just stood there.
"I want you all to know that you are being robbed, right now, as we speak, so I would not do anything except do what I say."
Vicki's casual grin broke as she looked at him, then at the other men. The older guy stood there. The young woman at the checkout counter stopped scanning items and held the gloves in her hands, frozen suddenly in fear.
"Is this—what you—are you trying to show us—"
"Just stop thinking and put your hands on the counter," Sean told Vicki, pointing the gun at her. "You too, Pops. And come on over here. We won't bite."
The slender girl walked nervously over to where the rest of the group stood. The two other guys wearing SARC shirts and security hats produced handguns as well. One of them was a big guy who looked like a bodybuilder. The other was a frumpy, chubby-cheeked man who moved slowly.
The big guy began to tie the employees' hands. As he did, Sean spoke.
"Nobody's going to get hurt unless you have to be," he said. "We're going to tie you up and put you in the back room and do a little shopping, and then we'll be out of here."
"Is this a drill?" Vicki asked.
"Why don't we say it is to put everyone at ease," Sean replied. "But this does happen to be a real gun, and people don't die in drills, do they? So let's don't test it out."
The young blonde began to cry as the big guy tied her arms together with a plastic zip-tie.
"Hey, easy, okay?" Sean said to the big guy. "Go ahead, Craig." He nodded at the chubby-cheeked guy, who began to frisk those who had already been tied.
They took keys and wallets and asked where purses were. The big guy asked the older employee where his car was. The guy cursed at him, so the big guy slapped his face with the steel barrel of his gun.
"Wes, come on!" Sean shouted sharply.
He went to help the older man stand back up. "It'd be smart if you just told us."
"It's a truck in the back. Black. Chevy."
"Fabulous. That was hard, huh?"
The older man's lip was bleeding, and the right side of his face had already begun to swell. Sean looked over at Wes Owens, who finished tying Vicki's hands together. The only one left was the skinny, scruffy-faced customer who looked unbothered by the whole thing. They ignored him for now as Sean asked everybody to form a single-file line and follow him to the back.
Sean looked at his watch. Ten-sixteen.
He figured they had perhaps another fifteen or twenty minutes.
They didn't blink when I called myself James Morrison, he thought with an inward laugh.
He walked them to the back room, where they'd finish tying them up and leave them where they couldn't hurt anybody or get hurt and where they'd be found later. Hopefully much later.
Sean took the two-way radio out of his pocket and turned it on.
"We're ready to do a little shopping," he said into the radio.
That was all he needed to say. Soon they'd have enough clothes, guns, and ammo to ensure that no more robberies were necessary. The only question mark was the cash on hand. That was something Vicki would help him out with. And she would help him out, no problem there.
He didn't think Vicki would be a problem. But he could handle her if necessary.CHAPTER 4
IT WAS AMAZING HOW LIFE could be determined by single events, single actions. How you could live one way your whole life and then wake up and find it all over, as quick as someone might cut a license in half with a pair of scissors or toss a passport into a huge, bottomless lake. Kurt was living proof that all it took was one mistake to change a life. Sure, there were other mistakes, other failures and actions leading up to the one big granddaddy of them all, but it still came down to one.
And no matter how much time passed, that single act would follow him to the grave.
Let it go, man.
The words in his head came from Sean's voice, even though Sean didn't know what he'd done. None of them knew. And he'd keep it that way too. The problem was that he remembered—he remembered too well—and no matter what he tried to do or think about or focus on, that memory covered the sky above and the ground he walked on. It played in the background and filled in the gaps of anything he read. It was there, it was constant, and he knew it would never, ever go away.
Sitting in the SUV didn't help. Waiting, worrying, watching the world pass by on this Monday night, with nothing for his mind to do but wander and find ways to dredge up the past.
And he could pull his mind back to the matter at hand—the robbery, what he was supposed to do, his worries and reservations—and there it was again.
He wouldn't be here at all if it wasn't for that night.
Kurt knew that he could try and think that he was different from the others, these men all bound together for one purpose. He could try and think of himself as Robin Hood among a bunch of common thieves, but thoughts like that only made the other thoughts worse.
He just wanted them to go away.
The two-way radio on the seat next to him crackled to life and he heard Sean's assured voice: "We're ready to do a little shopping."
At least now he had something to do. He started up the car and made a quick circle around the parking lot, checking for anything unusual. Then, with the coast clear, he steered the Explorer to the back of the building and readied himself for a quick load and drive-away.CHAPTER 5
THEY HAD SPENT MOST of the time in the firearms aisle, taking out handguns and rifles. Sean had told them to pick small, lightweight pieces and to skip the shotguns and rifles. But for a few seconds there he'd felt like a lottery winner or a game-show contestant who had sixty seconds to load up his cart with as many grocery items as possible. Except, of course, that instead of grabbing Jif peanut butter and Campbell's soup, he was picking Heckler & Koch handguns and stacking up boxes of ammunition.
As the others helped load up the truck from a back door and Wes went outside to find the black Chevy truck, Sean told Vicki to come with him. They went to the little office where the store safe was held.
"You gotta tell me how to open this up."
The woman, sweaty with arms tied in the front and her thick, wavy hair looking messed, shook her head.
"I don't know how to."
"Yeah you do. Managers know. You put the money in it at night. I'm not an idiot. I knew a guy who used to be a manager at one of these."
"Policies change," Vicki said.
The room was back behind the firearms section and had a window where you could see through to the store. It looked like a regular office, with a bland metal desk and uncomfortable chair. It smelled like someone had eaten a Big Mac and fries in here for dinner. The safe sat in the corner, a tall life-sized metal cabinet much like the kind they sold out on the floor.
"Look, we're on a bit of schedule," he said.
"I don't know how to open it," Vicki repeated.
"I know you do."
"I have no idea. I'm telling you, I've never opened that thing up in my life."
Sean studied her, and for a second he found himself believing her. But this was wrong. Managers knew how to open the safe. He could remember Huard telling him so.
"Vicki, I'm not going to hurt you, but some of these other guys might." Sean looked through the window and saw Craig Ellis shuffle by with a bag over his shoulder full of weapons and a new pair of hiking boots on his feet, tags still attached.
"I cannot open that safe," she was saying. "How many times do I have to say it?"
"So what are we going to do? I don't believe you, and you don't believe me."
"I know who y'all are," the woman said, her drawl more pronounced now. Gone was the casual tone she had first given him.
"What?" Sean said.
"You're the ones that escaped from Stagworth a few days ago."
Sean just stared at her, not blinking, not responding. Vicki smiled, studying him and knowing she was right.
"You're the five that escaped from the maximum joint in Georgia, right?" She laughed. "They think y'all are in Florida or something."
"Vicki, the safe."
"You're not gonna hurt anybody," she said, her eyes suddenly alive and wild, her face full of color.
She's got guts, Sean thought. Or something else. Whatever she had, this was becoming annoying. He had to do something about her.
"I'm not going to hurt anybody, but those other guys might. So how do I open this safe?" "I told you. I can't open it."
Sean cursed and asked her again. She shook her head and then looked up at something over his shoulder. Kurt was standing in the doorway.
"Hey, let's go. We're loaded and ready."
"There's a problem in here," Sean said.
Kurt stood at the door, his eyes bearing down on the scene.
"Everyone's done?" Sean asked.
"Look, Vicki," Sean began. "What do you lose if you open this safe?"
"I can't open it."
Sean pointed his gun at her, walked over and placed the barrel against her cheek. The butt made an imprint as it dug into flesh.
"This is what happens when you hear of robberies going bad."
"Shut up," Sean yelled at Kurt, keeping his eyes on Vicki. "I'm not going to ask you anymore."
Sean dug the barrel even deeper and saw glints of tears around the eyes of the woman. He pulled himself back.
Either she was a good liar—one of the best—or she was being honest.
"We gotta go," Kurt said, still standing by the door.
"I recognize all of you guys."
Kurt looked at Sean, both of them wincing at Vicki's words.
"You won't kill us."
Sean stood up and went to the doorway. Now he was getting annoyed. Maybe Vicki was lying. Maybe she was just one of those butch types that didn't take anything off men—maybe that was why she didn't break even after having a loaded gun shoved in her face. He could even respect that. But her mouth, her saying they wouldn't kill any of them, that they were harmless. That was just plain insulting.
Excerpted from Gun Lake by Travis Thrasher. Copyright © 2004 Travis Thrasher. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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