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LOVE ME OR I'LL KILL YOU
By LEE BUTCHER
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2006 Lee Butcher
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOn the morning of July 6, 2001, Paula woke up to find Chino shaking her. There was a wild look on his face and he already seemed to be in a manic state.
"Get up, I need you to fix breakfast."
Paula, twenty-one, was in a daze. She had been in a fog, off and on, for at least three years, but it had gotten worse in the past year. She didn't want to get out of bed, she was afraid all the time, and she felt that there was no hope of things ever getting better. She felt like she was in a pit and just sinking deeper and deeper. Much of the time she felt she was on the outside of her life watching somebody else go through the motions of living it.
The only thing Paula could find in the house to eat was oatmeal. There wasn't even any milk or sugar to have with it. She dutifully prepared the oatmeal and she sat with Chino and her two-year-old daughter, Ashley, to have breakfast.
"We're going to get some money," Chino said. "We've got less than a dollar between us. We're gonna get some."
Paula felt a chill of fear run through her. Four days earlier, Chino had taken her with him while he robbed a flower shop in North Tampa. She didn't believe it was going to happen until Chino actually did it. They only got $45 from that robbery and Chino had been enraged with Paula.
"Why didn't you open the cash register and look in there?" he asked.
"You didn'ttell me to."
"Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" He pounded on the steering wheel.
Paula did what Chino told her to do, nothing more or less. She was like a zombie slave. A once beautiful girl with curly dark hair, soft brown eyes, and an ethereal look that made her appear angelic, she now wore a blank expression, kept her eyes downcast, and never smiled.
Back at the apartment, Chino shoved her around and told her she had no brains and was useless, that she couldn't do anything right. Paula was used to that; her arms were always black-and-blue and she believed him when he told her she was useless. She had been hearing it from him since she was fifteen years old.
Now they were broke again because Chino wouldn't work. They had no food, less than a dollar, and their Nissan Xterra SUV was about to be repossessed. On top of that, they had to move out of his mother's apartment today, where they lived rent free. There were a few boxes scattered around that held the few things they owned. They had no idea about where they would go and had no money to get there.
Chino was more hyper than usual. He couldn't sit still; he paced and ranted about their situation. Chino blamed the "system" for never giving him a break. "It's slavery," he said. "If you're not white, you don't get a break. They keep you down. The only way you can get anything is to take it."
This was typical of Chino. He blamed everyone and everything for his problems, but not himself. He accepted no responsibility. Frequently he took his frustration and rage out on Paula, using her as a punching bag, strangling her, threatening to kill her. Then he would become all weepy and apologetic, promising that he would change, that he would never do it again. But he always did.
Just before 10:00 A.M. he ordered her to get dressed. "We're going out to get some money. I'm going to call my mother to get Ashley."
Oh, my God, Paula thought. It's going to be the flower shop all over again. He's going to rob somebody. She was terrified, but too afraid to say anything. Chino didn't like for her to contradict him, or question him in any way, and he might beat her. She didn't feel that she had a will of her own; she had to do anything Chino wanted her to do.
Chino found the blue bag they had used at the flower shop robbery and opened it. He gave Paula sweatpants, a bandanna, a fishing hat, a long jacket, and sunglasses. He told her to put them on. Something bad was going to happen, she thought. They were going to do something bad.
Paula was in the bedroom changing clothes when Lissette Santiago, Chino's mother, came to pick up Ashley. Until the past few months, Paula had not let Lissette take care of Ashley, because she didn't like the woman. But she had been feeling so listless and depressed that she couldn't even take care of the daughter she loved so much.
Paula didn't come out of the bedroom to see Lissette. The tension in the apartment was almost unbearable to her, and Chino had that enraged look on his face that terrified her. It meant he was on the brink of exploding in rage and would take it out on somebody, most likely her.
It's going to happen, Paula told herself. It's the flower shop robbery all over again.
Why didn't she just say, "No, I'm not going to do this?" she asked herself. The answer was simple: she was too afraid of Chino to disobey him. Most of the time, it didn't seem as if she even had a will of her own. Her insides were screaming, "No, no, no, I don't want to do this." She was filled with dread. She wanted nothing more than just to run, but all Chino had to do was snap his fingers and she did whatever he wanted.
They got in the bright yellow SUV and Chino drove around in what seemed to be an aimless way. He was tense, nervous, and silent. He kept driving around, not saying anything, but was in a heightened state of excitement. Paula didn't know where they were going.
"We need money," Chino said. "We're going to take it."
Chino's driving had not been without purpose, after all. He had been casing the Bank of America branch at Church and Neptune, in North Tampa. Chino told her to put on the bandanna and sunglasses. To Paula, things seemed to be happening in quick time and she didn't seem to be there. Her overriding emotion, she said, was fear of what was about to happen.
"We're going to rob the bank," he told her. "Are you ready?"
"No, I don't want to."
"We're going to rob the bank," he told her again.
I don't want to do this, she thought. What will happen if Chino goes in and I don't? The thought made her shudder. There was nothing that could happen inside the bank, she thought, that would be as bad as what would happen if she disobeyed him. Chino would kill her.
Chino stopped the car beside the bank, not far from the front door, and told Paula to put the bandanna over her face. In her haste she tied it too low on her face to suit him.
"No, like this," Chino said, doing it for her. "You have to cover your nose."
Chino handed her the gun.
"You have to do this," he said. "You have to hold the gun while I get the money. You didn't do a good job getting money the last time."
"I don't want to."
"We're going to do it."
Chino's words were commands. She was too afraid to say no.
Inside, she was screaming, "I don't want to do this. I just hope he drives away." But he didn't, and then everything started to happen really fast. Time was a blur to her and Chino was hyper with excitement and had a glazed look in his eyes.
He's rushing me, rushing me, Paula thought. I'm not ready.
"You're going to stand there with the gun," he said firmly. "Just do it."
He parked the SUV. "We're going into the bank," he said.
"No, I don't want to," Paula said. "I'm scared."
"We're going in."
Then he opened the car door. Paula stopped thinking about what would happen if she committed a crime. She thought, If Chino finds out I'm not in there, I'm going to get it. She told a detective later, "When we drove there, it happened real quick, and when he handed me everything, it was really quick. When he jumped out, it was quick, but when I sat there, it was ... it was like long, like a movie, like a slow movie; when I was thinking about that, and then that's when I jumped out, and then everything else was fast. So that's when I jumped out of the car and I went into the bank."
Trembling with fear and excitement, the two robbers got out of the bright yellow Xterra. Chino had told Paula that with the baggy pants, hat, and bandanna, no one would be able to tell that she was a woman. It would make them harder to identify later. Chino didn't think about how suspicious they might look to people passing by. Few people with good intentions entered a bank wearing a bandanna over their faces and carrying a submachine gun.
Chino burst into the bank and Paula followed, holding the gun. "Everybody down!" he yelled. "Everybody down! Keep your heads down! Don't move!"
Chino kept shouting the same instructions and ran toward the tellers, where the cash was. There were about a dozen people in the bank. Paula, scared to death of what Chino might do if anyone moved, saw Chino leap over the tellers' counter. She yelled, "Keep your heads down. Don't move!"
She heard Chino screaming, "Keep your heads down."
Paula saw people raising their heads to see what was going on. She thought, If Chino sees that, he's going to get real mad. He doesn't need the gun, he can kick them or something. She continued to scream, "Keep your heads down!"
Chino and Paula didn't know it, but their escapade had turned into a disaster before they even entered the bank.
Jim Cunningham was passing by the Bank of America outlet when he saw two suspicious characters go inside. He telephoned Emergency 911.
"Nine-one-one," the dispatcher answered.
"There's a bank robbery in progress," Cunningham told the operator.
"Can you calm down and tell me what you see?" the dispatcher asked.
"Well, two men ran into the store (bank) with masks and a blue bag."
"Two men," Cunningham repeated.
"Are they still there?" the operator queried.
"I have no idea, ma'am. I'm trying to hide because I'm a little scared."
Just earlier, Curt Jennings had passed by and saw an oddly dressed couple double-park and run into the bank. One had a gun. Jennings hid and dialed 911 and reported what he thought was a robbery in progress.
Sevtap Delarocha, a teller at the Bank of America branch bank, was sandwiched between "the two Joannes," Joanne McCullough and Joanne Coppola, when she saw Chino and Paula enter.
She ran into the back room, where there were windows that looked out over the street. She was hoping to see what kind of a vehicle they were driving. Then she saw that one of them had a gun. She pushed the panic button that set off a silent alarm to notify police that there was trouble at the bank.
Chino jumped over the counter and started pulling and shaking drawers, but he couldn't get them open. Delarocha noticed that he was wearing a fishing hat and a scarf, baggy pants and a loose top, and a bandanna covered the lower part of his face from just below his eyes. The eyes were concealed by dark sunglasses.
Chino managed to yank one of her money drawers open and grabbed several stacks of currency. Delarocha noticed that he grabbed one of the "bait" stacks, which contained a dye pack hidden inside.
Paula pointed her gun at the floor, instead of at the prostrate customers and employees. "Stay down!" she yelled. "Keep your heads down!"
The robbers left as quickly as they had arrived. Delarocha had seen what kind of car they were driving: it was a bright yellow Nissan Xterra SUV.
She picked up the telephone and dialed 911.
"What is your emergency?" the operator asked.
"This is 1501 South Church Avenue. We just got robbed. This is Bank of America."
"Okay. Are there any injuries?"
"No, but he had a gun. Please."
"Okay, ma'am," the operator shouted.
"I need you to take a deep breath and calm down for me. Are the doors locked?"
"Yes. We just locked the doors."
"Okay. There's no injuries and the suspect is gone, right?" the dispatcher inquired.
"The suspect is gone."
Dr. Woody Leal York heard what he thought of as "commotion" outside the bank as he waited to be taken to a vault. At first he thought somebody had been hurt in the parking lot, and he wondered if he should go out and offer help. Then he saw two people running toward the bank.
As he wondered what had happened, the two people came hurrying inside. He could see how they were dressed and realized immediately what was happening. At least one of them was armed. They were no more than five yards from him.
There were nine or ten people in the bank, two customers with a bank employee behind Dr. York, a sweet-looking old lady sitting in a chair across from him, four or five people in line, and three tellers. He thought there might have been more.
Things happened quickly. Dr. York realized something was wrong when he got a better look and saw bandannas covering the lower parts of their faces. He couldn't tell whether they were men or women, but he believed one was a female and that she was armed. He thought the gun was a Beretta. Although he knew little about guns, he owned a 9mm Beretta and the gun was at least that big.
"It was very noticeable," he said. "And it wasn't a little bitty weapon."
The robbers started screaming orders. "Get down! Everybody put your face on the ground! Get down!" Everybody in the bank jumped to the floor at the first command, except for the white-haired old lady, who was sitting near the doctor.
Dr. York was frightened for her. She seemed to be close to ninety years of age. He thought he heard her say, "I can't get down." Dr. York was having trouble himself. Surgery on both his knees the preceding January had made it difficult for him to bend them. He was hoping he got down fast enough so he wouldn't be shot and killed.
"Keep your heads down and don't look!" Chino yelled. "This is a bank robbery. This is not make-believe. This is the real thing. Don't anyone pull any tricks on me."
Chino's voice was forceful and threatening enough to make everybody comply. His voice wasn't nervous or hysterical. Clearly, he meant business. "This is a damn bank robbery!" Chino said. "Get down and stay down!"
Paula kept the room covered with the MAC-11. She stood not more than two feet in front of Dr. York, her legs spread-eagled. He noticed that she wore tennis shoes. She stood facing Dr. York and she checked the room repeatedly and said forcefully, but not as loud as Chino, "Don't anyone look up. Don't anyone dare look up. Whatever you do, do not look up."
The one thing that made Dr. York feel somewhat secure was that the robbers seemed to be in control of themselves. Their voices were not nervous or quavering, but strong and forceful. He was not as calm. He felt hysterical as he worried that somebody might come in from the back. He was afraid of anything that might set off frayed nerves and cause a bloodbath. What frightened him the most was that a customer might become hysterical or start crying and upset the robbers and cause them to start shooting.
Dr. York felt confident the robbers would do them no harm so long as the victims did exactly as they were told. It seemed to take Chino a long time to get the money. All the while, Dr. York thought, Don't anyone come in! Just take the money and get out!
After what seemed like a long time, Chino jumped back over the counter and the robbers headed out the door. "You folks have a nice day," he said sarcastically. "Don't dare look up when we leave the bank. Don't look up!"
Naturally, Dr. York and the others looked up as soon as the robbers were out the door. He could give a good description of their heights and builds to the police. When he looked out to see what kind of a vehicle they had, he was surprised. "It was the brightest yellow SUV I've ever seen," he said. "It was parked right next to my car."
A teller yelled, "Lock the doors! Lock the doors!"
Dr. York looked at the time. The robbery had taken only eight minutes. The police arrived just three minutes after the robbers left.
Kelley Cruey and her fiancé, Tyler Welches, weren't regular customers at the Tampa bank. They lived in Ormond Beach, a small town near Daytona Beach, about three hours from Tampa on I-4. They were in the bank because Tyler's company had a job in Tampa working on a storage unit and he needed cash to pay his crew.
Ordinarily, Tyler left the banking to Kelley. But on July 6, 2001, he decided to go to the bank with her. They were the only customers at the counter when a man suddenly ran in and said, "This is a stickup!" Kelley went blank with fear when she saw a gun pointed right at her. She didn't know what kind of a gun, but it was big. She was paralyzed.
Excerpted from LOVE ME OR I'LL KILL YOU by LEE BUTCHER Copyright © 2006 by Lee Butcher. Excerpted by permission.
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