Square One


By Steve Shrott



I didn't want to see him ever again, but I knew I had to let him into my apartment.

He looked the same as always — six feet tall, 300 lbs of combustible energy, wild eyes that penetrated to your soul. I was intimidated as hell. Like I'd always been.

He lumbered in, plopped himself onto my sofa and explained why we needed to work together again.

I explained why we didn't.

"You're living in a fantasy world, Tim. Guys like us, we're hardcore. You need me."

He was wrong. What I needed was a different kind of life, one where I didn't cringe when I thought of my past. "I have to hit the sack, Diego. I have a real job now."

"I gotta better job," he grinned, showing off broken, teeth. "I've been watching the Wharten Bank at fifth and main. Easy pickings."

Another bank robbery. Why? That's what got us locked up in The Benson Hurst Criminal Facility for five hellish years. Could've been longer if they found us responsible for the old man's death. "We're over, Diego. Go home, live a good life."

I could sense his anger rising. A moment later, he got up, his enormous face flushed, his features stretched, making him look more animal than human.

"You'll be back, loser. You owe me." Then he kicked the coffee table, making a hard cracking sound and tromped out.

He was gone, but his un-holy stench lingered in the air. I took a swig of scotch. After a few moments, it seemed to work and I felt cleansed.

Two months had passed since I'd been released from Benson Hurst. I had to admit until now, things had gone pretty well. The Parole Board helped me find a job at a men's fashion shop. Then I met the girlfriend I'd always yearned for — Shelby Dodson. The cutest waitress at The Warrick Bar and Grill.

The doorbell buzzed. A shiver shot up my spine, thinking it might be Diego again. It was Shelby. She greeted me with a warm kiss that swept the tension right out of my body. We kissed as she walked me to the couch, her tight black skirt showing off long sexy legs. "How was your day, honey?"

"Better now."

She snuggled up close. "What's wrong Tim?"

"Nothing."

"Something happened, didn't it?"

"Diego."

"What did he want?"

"You know..."

She grabbed my hand. "You never really told me much about those days — working with him."

"I've tried to put it behind me," I said.

"Sometimes it helps to talk."

I shrugged. "What do you wanna know?"

She thought a moment. "That last robbery, when you got caught. What exactly happened?"

"It was pretty much the same as the others. The teller loaded the fifty G's into my suitcase while Diego grabbed a hostage. He always went for the weak, the vulnerable — a man using a cane, a woman expecting. He said that made people think twice before they tried to be the hero.

"Unfortunately, this time, the hostage got stressed out, began hyperventilating. He fell to the ground, white as bone. Diego and I scrambled out. There was a high speed chase, but the police caught us."

"What happened to the man?"

"Heart attack, died. We had a good lawyer, got us shorter sentences than we deserved. At first, I was angry with Diego for picking someone so frail. But in prison I guess I grew a conscience. I wrote letters to the family of the man, apologizing. They never answered. But I understood."

Shelby wiped her eyes with a tissue, then whispered in my ear. "It's okay, honey. Everything's gonna work out."

I nodded. None too sure, but wanting to believe.

For the next few weeks everything did work out. However, as the end of July approached, I sensed something ominous in the air.

Then it happened. My manager at work, Clyde Helman, asked to see me.

I followed him into a tiny back room that smelled of mothballs and mold. He took a seat behind a worn desk defaced by numerous swear words and I sat on a flimsy metal chair.

"Mr. Winters, someone registered a complaint against you."

My eyes opened wide. "What about?"

"According to this individual, you've been stealing items from the stockroom. Suits, ties, shirts, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera."

I looked at him, puzzled. "That's wrong. I haven't taken anything."

"Look, you got this job through the parole board and I'm willing to allow certain things to slide. But stealing..." He shook his head. "...is simply not tolerated."

"It wasn't me. I didn't do it."

He shrugged, began writing something down in a notebook.

My mind hungered for answers. "Was it Roger?"

He stopped writing for a moment and looked up at me, his face blank like a twelve-year-old who doesn't know the answer. "I'm sorry I'm not at liberty to give you that information." He picked up his pen, continued writing. "I'm going to have to let you go. I'll phone your liaison officer, Miss Downy and inform her."

I left quietly, knowing whatever I said wouldn't change anything.

Sam Haggady, proprietor and chief bartender at The Warwick, greeted me with a wide smile and a shot of brandy. I told him the story.

"So you think it's this guy, Roger?"

"Hates me. My criminal record was supposed to be private, but somehow he found out about it. Started taunting me, tried to screw me up with the customers, and apparently now, with the boss."

The thought of Roger brought bile to my throat. I chugged the brandy, forced it down. "Somehow, in spite of it, I managed to maintain good sales. But that doesn't count for nothing when you got some jerk saying you took stuff. I have a good mind to..."

"Hold on Tim. What are you thinking? You wanna go back to the slammer?"

Sam's words hit hard. "You're right. I have to keep on the straight and narrow."

"You gotta do somethin' positive with the anger. I was in a gang once. We robbed, hurt people. I was sixteen, young, stupid. Spent two years in stir. When I got out, I hated everything and everybody. But then I joined the Marines, turned the anger around. I learned martial arts and now I teach it to the young adults at my Anti-drug Camp." He smiled. "It's good to give back."

I nodded, stood up. "Thanks for the pep talk, Sam."

"Talk to Downy. Tell her you had nothing to do with the theft and see if she'll get you somethin' else."

"I will."

I left feeling on top of the world, but when I told Downy I didn't steal anything, I could tell she didn't believe me.

Meanwhile the bills kept piling up and the landlord needed his rent. I tried to find a job myself, but no luck. At first, Shelby took it all in stride. But gradually, she became more distant, stopped returning my calls.

It broke my heart.

I sat on the couch, trying to remember the good times in my life, forget the crappy ones. It didn't work and something snapped in my brain.

My old Buick blew out dirty smoke as I zoomed to the parking lot. I spotted the banged up Mazda, and used a slim jim to crank open the door. I tumbled into the back seat and waited. After a few minutes, I heard voices, the car door open, close.

I pushed a piece of shim steel against the driver's back. It's amazing how much it feels like a gun. Then I stuck my head up. "How's it going, Roger?"

I looked in the rearview mirror and watched his tan face turn white. "What the hell you doing here, jail bird?"

"Pull over."

"I..."

I pushed the shim harder into his back. "Now."

He maneuvered the car to the curb and turned off the ignition. We were alone on Duncan Blvd. I moved forward and grabbed his neck with my free hand.

"Why'd you lie to Helman?"

"I...I didn't."

"If I pull the trigger, your brains'll be spattered all over your nice bucket seats. I suggest a little honesty."

"Okay, this guy, he made me. He was big...said he'd mess me up real bad."

It clicked. "Wild eyes?"

He nodded. "Who is he? One of your prison roomies?"

I pocketed the shim. "Go." I slid toward the car door.

He snapped his head around, a worried look on his face. First time I'd ever seen it. "You gonna tell Helman, I lied? My job...I need it...I have a bit of a drug thing."

I looked at the sadness in his eyes and surprised myself by feeling sorry for him.

"No." I shook my head. "We're done."

When I got home, I took a long deep breath, then dialed the number that I knew would change my life forever.

"Long time, no speak." Diego said.

"I know you got to that Roger kid. I'm figuring to Shelby too. That wasn't cool."

"I had to make you see things my way, didn't I? I need you, Tim. ut you need me too. Isn't it nice to be needed?"

"What do you want?"

"Just one itty bitty favor. Help me with the robbery. It'll be like old times. And after, you can go back to your pathetic little life."

A few days later, the two of us walked into the Wharton Bank wearing ski masks. Only it wasn't like old times. Things had changed for me.

Diego shouted to everyone in the bank. "This is a robbery. Stay where you are." He grabbed a hostage, an older man with a cane. "Remain calm and things will be fine."

It didn't seem to work. I heard screams. One woman in a teller's line fainted. I dashed over to her.

"Leave her," Diego grunted. "Get the money."

"You okay," I asked the girl on the floor.

She nodded, not looking okay.

"Just stay here."

I marched over to the teller, instructed her to load a hundred G's into my suitcase.

She was a young kid, maybe early twenties. Her hands shook as she brought out bundles of cash.

I ambled over to Diego as he moved backward toward the door, his arm around the old man's neck. Seeing Diego with the man made my heart pound, filled my head with horrific memories.

Suddenly, I heard the sickly sound of a man moaning, a thud on the ground.

I couldn't look.

Unlike the last time, no high speed chase. In seconds, the police arrived.

* * *

Later that day, I sat in the police station, Officer Derek Jenkins hovering over me. He was the same officer who had arrested Diego and I for the last robbery. He'd aged a bit, hair grayer, but still had those steely blue eyes.

"We meet again, Mr. Winters." He moved close, getting in my face. "I have only one thing to say to you."

I stared at him.

"Thanks." He shook my hand. "We appreciate you telling us when the robbery was gonna take place. You probably saved at least one life."

I nodded.

"But you should have told us about your other plan."

Sam, sitting beside me, piped up. "That's my fault, officer. I told Tim it might screw things up if too many people knew."

"You mean about you dressing up as an old man."

"Uh huh."

"One who knew Kung Fu."

"Actually, Aikido."

The officer broke out into a smile. "You should have more confidence in us." He picked up a clipboard from his desk. "The good news, Mr. Winters, is you won't have to worry about Diego Sanchez anymore. He's got numerous charges pending — the robbery, threatening Roger Whitson and Shelby Dodson. Apparently, he told Miss Dodson, he'd kill you if she didn't break off your relationship. I nodded. Shelby and I had already talked and made up.

"By the way, we'd like a statement from Roger Whitson, but we haven't been able to locate him. Do you know where he is?"

Sam nodded. "I'll get it from him. He's at my Anti-drug Camp."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. Tim, here, convinced Mr. Whitson to go."

I looked at Sam, smiled. "It's good to give back."

Later that evening, Sam and I were at The Warrick. Sam didn't open. The two of us just sat at the bar drinking our brandies, talking about my new counselor job at his camp.


Steve Shrott's mystery fiction has appeared online and in print publications such as 5minutemystery.com, Futures Mystery Magazine, and The Taj Mahal Review. His stories have also been published in various anthologies including The Gift of Murder and an upcoming Guppy (Sisters in Crime) Anthology.

He has crafted material for well-known comedians, and written a 'how to' book on comedy writing. Some of his jokes are in The Smithsonian Institute.


Copyright 2011 Steve Shrott. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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