When we pulled into the curb, the sun had just started to warm the pavement. The car halted, and Donnie and I looked at the glass door from a distance in silence. The radio faintly played a bebop tune, and forgetting that the knob had been broken once again, Donnie turned it and sighed.
“Donnie, we just ate.”
“I know. But those pancakes were so tiny and dry. And the attitude on that woman - Jesus Christ. She didn’t refill my coffee once. Once. And it’s okay for her to yell at me for taking too long to order? I’m telling you five percent was more than enough.”
This was true. The waitress did not refill either one of our coffees once. I was quite unhappy with this, but tipped her anyways. She looked distressed.
“It took you ten minutes to come up with an order. For Christ’s sake, there were only five menus on the breakfast special, Donnie. Now wouldn’t that piss you off if you were waiting on someone?”
Donnie dropped his hands by his side and scoffed. “You and your women, Walt. Always getting in the way of things. Is it so hard to admit that she was behaving rudely? What are you, trying to win her heart with five percent?”
“Donnie what the fuck. Are you kidding me?”
Donnie scratched his nose. The two of us sat in our seats, eyes glued to the glass door that waited for someone to push it open. The warmth of the sun started to heat the car up, and the rays of sunlight itched the side of my arm. The door stood still; my stomach felt uneasy, and my face throbbed through my mask.
“Don’t fuck this up, Don.”
With an abrupt shift and a smooth motion, Donnie and I opened our doors simultaneously and stepped outside. As I shut my door, I heard a loud thud and noticed that Donnie had tripped over himself and was quickly getting back on his feet.
“Fuck.” He looked at me through his eye holes, fixed his pants, then looked back down. “Shut up.”
We carried on with our nonchalance walking up to the bank slowly, just two men in average clothes, on an average day for a withdrawal. Donnie dragged his feet in hunting boots to the metal door frame and stopped.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Just found a quarter.” He leaned over and dropped the coin in one of his many pockets on his cargo shorts.
“Jesus Christ.” I muttered under my breath and swung the door open. The cool air filled every crack on my face under the mask, and the beads of sweat along my spine sent a chill through my body. Donnie brushed past and stood in front me; he pulled the gun from behind his belt and shot at the ceiling without uttering a word. There was a sharp shriek followed by a hush and murmuring of those around. Staying in the same frozen stance, Donnie fired another shot that brought death of all noises in the room, making the sounds of a printer from the next room ever so clear. The room felt lower.
Stepping up next to the goliath, I began to survey the room. It was a small bank; there were three cashier booths and a small waiting area just a few feet away with a worn-down teal velvet couch and a low wooden table in front of it. The entrance opened right into this open waiting area, and a room or two lay behind the counter of the cashier desks. Or at least that’s all I could see. As Donnie closed the blinds of the windows behind us, an older woman sneezed, causing him to dart his eyes back at her. Noticing that it was merely a sneeze, Donnie turned his attention back to the blinds, muttering “Bless you” quietly.
The older woman sat on one end of the couch with her hands poised in her lap, the rest of the others all spread across the linoleum floor or low behind the cashier desks with their hands hanging in the air. She looked disinterested, as if our entrance had been just another inconvenience that she had to deal with on her mediocre Monday afternoon. This did not sit well with Donnie.
“Ma’am, sit down on the floor please.” The gun hung by Donnie’s side.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, young man.”
“I’m afraid I’m too old and would rather prefer sitting on this couch than on the floor.”
Taken aback from the veracity of her tone, Donnie grew silent for a second, then calmly said, “Ma’am if you don’t join the others yourself, I’m afraid I’m going to have to make you do so.”
“Then shoot me.”
I could feel the eyes on the woman that instant; the printer roared on. Donnie grew much more impatient and started to breathe heavily.
“Please escort that lady to the floor.”
The lady focused blankly on a point in space. Noticing this, I looked back at Donnie.
“Donnie, I don’t think she-”
“Just move her please-”
“She’s not going to-”
“Just fucking do it and give her a pillow or something.” Donnie was red.
I looked back at the lady, and slowly walked towards her. “Ma’am, if you could-” I stopped, losing myself in the silence. The printer still rumbled on. She sat there in her purple shirt and large opal earrings, looking away at the light that seeped in through the blinds. With one more step towards her, she displaced herself slowly from the couch onto the cold floor right beneath her and uttered, “Do not touch me.” I did not move any further, and peered over at Donnie who had been watching the whole time. He stared at the woman uneasy, then walked over to the cashiers. I stood still, watching the woman stare into blankness as Donnie brushed by.
Hovering his gun in a casual grip in his right hand, he placed three dark green tarp bags onto the wooden countertop. He pointed at the three registers.
“Quickly please and thank you.”
With no further questions, the cashiers got to their feet and began emptying the cash registers. One of them, a younger man, looked around terrified and confused. Before Donnie said anything, I walked over to the desk, my right hand discovering the gun wedged in my pants behind my lower back.
“What’s the matter?”
The kid looked around with his mouth half-open and stuttered a string of incomprehensible words and noises. Donnie looked over at me.
“What’s he saying?”
“I don’t know. What are you saying, kid?”
Before the boy could say anything, an older woman from the cashier next to us answered while digging at the coins in her register, “He’s new here. He doesn’t know how to open the register or work the desk.”
Donnie looked at me briefly then made his way around behind the counter, standing next to the boy. He banged the register with the butt of his pistol as the boy flinched at the clatter; it did not open. Frustrated and embarrassed, Donnie banged at the metal again. The woman, who had been watching this pitiable effort, began to walk over too quickly and Donnie spun at the nearing figure with the gun pointed towards her abdomen.
“You stop right there, ma’am.”
The woman froze as did the entire room. That was the way it was; every moment felt like there was a button somewhere that would pause and resume all actions and noises. The only thing that was constant was the commotion from the invisible printer. it had been so constant that I would never sense it until it would permeate through the silence; only in these moments did I realize how loud it was. Donnie’s hand remained extended towards the woman, gun in hand, the other holding the tarp bag.
“You can stay right where you are.”
“The red button. By the bottom right.”
Donnie’s head moved and looked at the pad of buttons. Locating the button, he turned his head back towards the woman and extended his arm further, signaling her to step back to her cashier.
I rubbed the bead of sweat off of my right eye through the hole in the wool. I looked back over the cashier. The old lady was leaned up against the couch with her poised posture and sat there still, without a single movement or blink. Her hair was as bleak as her eyes, and when I realized that she had been staring right into mine, I froze. It was a piercing stare; it felt as if she had scrutinized and judged every ounce of my soul. I forced myself to blink, and swiveled my head back to Donnie, who had been watching the cashiers slowly fill the tarp bags with cash. It was silent, and the only noise that existed came from the shuffling of the bags or the dollars themselves. The printer had stopped.
“Jesus Christ that thing finally shut up,” Donnie said.
“Must have been a very long and important document, huh?”
I looked back over the counter to see the few people clinging flat on the floor, no tricks or phones- no bullshit. A young woman with her head down trembled, giving away a sniffle or two every now and then. She was tall, and her legs looked very long in her plaid pants. Business woman. This made me wonder about how she would be like in the office, walking around cubicles with so much purpose, and how our encounter had broken her down like so. Had we been that intimidating? Donnie was large, but there wasn’t much more. I didn’t have much to offer, either. Just kept Donnie in line every now and then.
On the right of her was an older man in a grey, beat-up t-shirt and jeans; he held on to his worn-down hat, with sweat stains lining the brim and crown. He breathed heavily as he was a portly man, and his back moved up and down like an oil pump, pumping out enough sweat to dampen the linoleum flooring. Another portly woman lay by him, head discreetly peering up at the action. Her head dug into her arms and into the floor as soon as my eyes wandered over her. Just then, a soft thud came from behind. I turned my head to be greeted by Donnie closing the tarp bags on the counter. He breathed heavily through his mask, while the others stood far away from him, maintaining their distance.
“Walt, we’re done here,” he muttered lowly.
“Did we get everything?”
“Yes, I was watching the whole time. Every nickel, every penny. We’re good. Grab these.”
I grabbed the three bags by their handles in my left hand. These bags were always much lighter than they seemed. Donnie led the way. I walked with my body facing the back, just in case we had any rogue movements. It had happened only once in the past, when Donnie and I had just been working together. We were robbing a joint down in- I forget, but it was similar to this one. Right off the highway, much smaller. It was a smaller crowd as well, and just as we were walking out after zipping up our bags, a man on the ground stood up and grabbed his waist. Seeing this, of course, led Donnie to grab his gun as well, and eventually shooting it. We hardly ever put our guns to use, and when we did, it was mostly Donnie. I remember gunshot from behind that deafened me, and the man clutching his right hand as it bled through the knuckles of his left hand. A hand yanked at the fabric on my shoulders, and when I turned around, my ears still ringing and almost tripping backwards, Donnie yelled in my face and we ran. We ran as if the world was closing in on us, and the next thing I remember was sitting in the front next to Donnie, driving down the highway in the blinding sunset, classic rock roaring around me.
None of this was happening right now; we were leaving swiftly as we did normally with no abrupt movements in sight. The old lady stayed leaned up against the couch, looking blankly into space. The little line of sunlight radiated across her forehead, exposing the many wrinkles that it carried. I felt my back collide with the cold glass door behind me, and with a gentle nudge I was blanketed by the suffocating heat of the outer world. The heat soaked into the layer of cool that remained trapped in my clothes and across my skin. Donnie and I shuffled quickly back to our car. I flung open the trunk and threw in the bags as Donnie opened the doors to the front seat.
“Looks like we’ve hit summer.”
“Yeah, no kidding.” I slammed the trunk and rushed to the front. Donnie was already in the car, waiting. I shut the door behind me. Pulling my mask off, I wiped the sweat that had collected on my face with my shirt. The hot air felt cool for a second, then consumed me. My skin defrosted and sizzled on the burning surface of the leather seats, and I was molded into my seat, ready to drive.
“My luck with women today, huh?” Donnie pulled his mask off and threw it in the back seat.
“What?” I fidgeted to start the car, and located the knob for the air conditioning.
“You know, since this morning.”
The air conditioning did not work even after turning the knob. It seemed like the only thing this car was willing to do was drive. “Damn,” I whispered to myself.
“Walt, did you see that old lady? The veracity on that woman - Jesus I felt like she had the gun at one point.”
“Yeah she was something.” We pulled out onto the road and sped down onto the highway.
“I don’t know what it is, Walt. I mean, getting yelled at by that woman at the diner and now this old lady wants me to shoot her? This is some phenomenon, huh?”
“Yeah I don’t know what it is, Don. Maybe you’re just having a bad day.”
“It’s been a shitty one.”
We drove down the road in silence, windows down, the warm breeze brushing every pore and hair on my face. The sweat had dried my skin and left it salty, my hands and hair rough as I ran through it, the afternoon sun beating down on my face as I drove. As we drove, not a car in sight, Donnie flipped the radio on and sighed.
“That goddamn bebop again. I say the first thing we do with this money is buy a new fucking car. This one’s beat.”
I didn’t say anything. The car hummed on with its loud and numbing cadence. Donnie looked out the window at the fields that rushed by in a yellow blur.
“Let’s go fishing.”
Donnie didn’t like fish.
He had choked on a fish thorn when he was six, and hadn’t dared going near one since. It’s fascinating how such a small traumatizing accident during your youth can extend its significance over such a prolonged time, especially for such a menacing figure. Donnie was very large with a small mouth and stump-like fingers, and could disguise a sea bass as a guppy with ease when placed next to him. Perhaps his distasteful memory was magnified along with his physical dimensions. Because he did not like fish, he voluntarily chose to dislike all that related to the sea; he never rode boats, hated swimming at the beach, and did not eat seafood. So when we were driving along the highway one afternoon after the robbery, it certainly took me by surprise when Donnie suggested that we go fishing. I didn’t understand this, and when asked why, Donnie bluntly replied with, “I want to catch something.” I asked no further and drove.
I was never a passionate advocate for the sea, either. My father took me down to the local beach occasionally, when I was too young and small to hold a fishing rod. He seemed tired whenever he brought me along these excursions, and I would always find myself sitting in the sand a few feet away, watching him silently as he fished for the whale that never came with each casting of the line. In the glistening reflection of the sunrise off his cornea and peaceful cadence of the waves, I saw a dampened joy. He always brought along a dark blue bucket missing its handle in case he caught the whale, and I would always ask, “how would we fit the whale into the bucket?” Whenever I asked this, he would stand there still in ankle-deep water watching the horizon and reeling in the fishing line slowly as to lure a distant island. He would repeat “it will fit” with a confidence I never saw elsewhere and when the line reeled back in, he would mutter the phrase a few more times under his breath before casting the line out again. Such were our mornings by the water; no fish was ever caught, and I would simply tune into my father’s life basked by the sun, waiting in silence. These were pleasant memories, but none that ever intoxicated me with its nostalgia. They did not change my life, and I hardly ever visited the local beach voluntarily after my father left. He left to search for the whale. Many people look at the sea for its calm to invoke an inner serenity themselves, but whenever I look, I am always reminded of the fish that were never caught, the hours of beautiful nothing, and the vastness of the emptiness that lay below. I guess I never forgave the sea.
Robbing wasn’t difficult; Donnie and I had developed a chemistry over the months that allowed us to be efficient while staying relaxed. We entered and left the stores and banks with a certain nonchalance that felt like a simple withdrawal, as if we were expected guests, and would often catch ourselves whistling or humming on the walk back to the car. What was difficult was the lull after, when we drove away from our problems in silence. Neither one of us was ashamed or disappointed in the other, but the silence lingered without ever being interrupted during the drive or the ordering of food. We weren’t lost in thought either; we didn’t like to think. At least I didn’t. Maybe because of this, I always drove. Driving allowed me to surrender my thoughts to the constant movement of the car, and I quickly became deaf and blind of the world. I entered an extremely objective state of mind, forcing myself to focus only on the road and what was at hand. When Donnie had suggested fishing, I had been following the sun with my eyes, and had barely heard him through my muffled consciousness. The response after my asking why was much clearer, and when I finally looked over to his seat, he was looking out his window with his back turned slightly away from me. He sat there for hours, emotionless, as if he could see water beyond the road and thicket of trees, and then broke the deafening silence by asking if we could stop by a tackle shop. I said yes, and the car hummed through the dissipating silence.
Donnie walked out of the store with two fishing rods and a handful of other paraphernalia as I sat in the car waiting. His footsteps were lighter, his eyes a little brighter, and carried a contained excitement I hadn’t seen before. He opened the backseat doors and threw the rods and others onto the seats, and closed the door with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, as if he had closed a book halfway through reading an exciting chapter. He crumpled the receipt into his pocket and sat in the front seat with a weight that gently shook the car, and shut the door behind him. He looked at me and smiled smugly without showing his teeth, and I started driving.
We were driving along an ocean drive when Donnie stopped the car. There was only one car driving by when we pulled over on the side of the road, and we were met by the warm hues of the sunset as we stepped out. There was no beach, but when Donnie insisted that we got close to the water, I questioned no further and started to climb down the embankment. Donnie followed shortly, grabbing both the rods and a can of bait from the back seat. Other than the grunting from Donnie, it was quiet. The waves crashed in gently as to caress the rocks, leaving a thick line of rich foam along the coast with little bubbles waiting to pop in the sunlight. Donnie murmured the text on the can of the bait as he prepared his rod, and after the cloud had drifted from a corner of my eye to another, he walked over. “You fishing?” “No. Go ahead.” I watched as Donnie walked over and awkwardly cast his line, the foam blanketing the tips of his boots. He seemed at peace. Looking out to the horizon and hearing the occasional swears, I too, saw the calm and silent gravity of the ocean as it engrossed me. We were helpless bandits. What were we chasing? Donnie gave a quick yelp which did not register and only when he started yelling did I realize that he had done something. He began to reel in the line madly and with an unbelievable force; the line did not vibrate, yet I could observe the tension within. He pulled without fear. As he continued with gruel intensity, a shadow of the creature emerged little by little to the surface in the distance, and I saw the tail. Donnie had caught a whale.