Fang kept her hands low and steady, wondering if the martial arts or whatever she had done at to the guards and the men who had tried to take her would kick in. She didn’t feel any sudden impulses to whip around and chop at the thief’s throat though, and the pressure of the gun at her back was scary and real, so she walked up the pristine white steps with the men behind her.
She caught a glance of them in the bank’s glass doors. There were four of them. Her body blocked some of the man holding the gun to her, but he was so tall and broad-shouldered that she could still make out most of his features. Black bandanas were tied around his face and skull, obscuring his features. A long sleeved mechanic’s zip-up covered the rest of his body and the smattering of tattoos Fang guessed he would have. The skin around his eyes was pale.
The others were more rangy, still muscled, but wiry and shorter. None of them were carrying guns.
Fang pulled the door open. Through the next set of doors she could see the long line of customers waiting before the counter and Sky, last in line, flicking his bank card back and forth against his palm.
“Everybody put your hands in the air and let go of any cell phones, cameras— just keep your hands up and empty or I’ll have to make this a lot worse on all of us!” The man behind Fang shoved her into the arms of one of his cohorts and strode forward to intercept a young woman leaving the bank counter for the front door. “Get over there with the rest of them.”
He held the gun up near her face and motioned with the barrel toward the line of patrons.
Sky dropped his card when he saw Fang. She watched his mouth hang open. He moved his knee just a little, as if his first impulse were to get to her, but she saw his jaw set, then his hands flex in anger. He lifted his hands over his head.
“You!” Another of the thieves loped up to the counter, pointing at a sharply dressed female teller. “Get back and get ready to open that fucking safe. I know you can!” He vaulted over the rail and gave the lady a push toward the center of the counter.
Another young man, much darker than the others, hopped over after him.
“Everybody else back here, start poppin’ those drawers. I don’t care if you’ve got fifty dollars or five hundred, just rack them up and drop them into my magic bag.” He produced a roll of black trash bags from his pocket and snapped one open before them. “These bills are all insured anyway, savy?”
The tellers put their heads down and went to work. The man holding Fang let her go. A second later he gave her a violent shove toward the others. Sky stepped forward and caught her, turning her around to face the criminals as she stumbled.
“You okay?” he asked, tightening his thick arm around her shoulders.
Fang nodded. The big man with the shotgun held a small radio up to his mask and pressed a button.
“T, how we lookin’ out there? The cops get any signal from the silent alarm yet?”
“Nah, man.” The voice on the other end was thin and hoarse. “I told you they wouldn’t press it. That’s all for afterward.”
“I guess I watch too many movies.” He let the hand holding the radio hang down by his side again as his lookout laughed. “The rest of you! Keep your hands up. One by one I’m going to ask you to step up here and empty your pockets. I don’t just want your wallets and your phones. Give me your car keys, spare change, you name it. Anything but trouble. I get even a nugget of that and you know how this is gonna turn out. Let’s not make this into a stereotype, okay?”
The last bandana-shrouded man stepped up next to him and popped open a black trash bag. The larger thief pocketed the radio, took the bag, then held it out before him.
“My man here is gonna pat you all down after, just to make sure we’re all playing fair. He’s got busy hands, but it’s probably not the worst thing that could happen to you. Just fair warning. Alright now, come on. You, with the tie.”
The businessman in black, thick-rimmed glasses who was next in line hurried forward, dumping his phone, keys and bank bag into the sack. He kept his gaze lowered as he stepped past to the other man who patted his pockets once, then jerked a thumb at the nearby wall.
“Alright, go plant your nose in the carpet and keep your hands crossed over your head.”
“Shit,” Sky whispered as the man in the suit lowered himself to his knees and stretched out to press his face to the ground. “If the cops show up there will be a record of you here for sure. And if they don’t…”
“We’ll just have to run out as soon as they leave,” Fang whispered back, pulling her hat low and keeping her face against his chest. “And hope the cops don’t come.”
“Are you trying to make me nervous?” The big man with the gun took a step forward.
Fang felt Sky tense, but the man lifted his arm and pointed at the teenage girl who had been next in line.
“Yes, you,” he said. “You know, the longer I have to be here, the more likely the cops are to show up and make this a lot more tense for everyone. That’s it. Get your butt over here and put my kids through college.” He stared at the TCU logo on the girl’s tank top. “Varsity, huh?”
The girl nodded shakily as she dumped her phone, keys, and deposit into the bag.
“Well I guess you know all about teamwork then. Do these people a favor and don’t freak out when—”
“Hey, Doc!” The radio chirped and the hoarse voice from earlier came through. “I got a van just pulled around to the side window. She’s filling out a deposit or something.”
“Aw fuck!” one of the men with the tellers shouted. “Dude, pull the shade down on the window or something!”
“Relax!” the big man shouted. “This is what we talked about, okay?” He gave Fang’s group a stern glance before walking up to the counter. “If we just shut the window down, she’s going to want to come inside. For all we know, she’s making a cash deposit on a check that’s already in the mail and she can’t leave until she gets this done. She’s going to know something’s up if the window’s covered, and anyway, it probably doesn’t even have a shade. Have you ever seen a bank window covered up?”
“Yeah!” the thief with the bag shot back.
“Fine, but for now…” the man with the gun turned to the closest teller, a middle aged woman with a round, cheerful face.
She seemed composed, plucking stacks of bills from a drawer and placing them neatly into the bag.
“We’ll just have Ms. Caroline help this lady with her transaction. It’s the bank’s policy to fully cooperate in these situations and not cause any situation that might potentially result in harm to one of your patrons, isn’t that right?” The woman nodded, slowly.
“Say it,” said the big man. “I need to know that your voice is steady.”
“Yes,” she said with only the slightest quaver. “That’s true. I can help you.”
“Good.” He waved the butt of the pistol dismissively toward the window and turned back to the crowd. “Shut down all the other lanes except for the ATM. Everybody else get down. I don’t want this soccer mom seeing a whole bunch of people with their hands in the air.”
Fang sank to her knees in Sky’s arms.
“Doc!” The radio crackled with the sudden volume of the shout pouring through. “I got a cruiser coming down the end of the block!”
“I thought you said there wasn’t any chatter on the scanner.” Doc narrowed his eyes at the tellers.
“There isn’t!” The hoarse thief’s voice cracked as it came through the radio.
“Then it’s just a patrol.” The big thief scratched his forehead through the bandana. “Everybody just keep doing what you’re doing. Folks on the floor go ahead and join those two on the floor. Just dump your phones and wallets on the ground as you go.”
“Fake it,” Fang mumbled, fishing in her pockets and turning slightly away. “We can’t leave our IDs here or with them when they get caught.”
“Fang, just do it,” said Sky. He reached into his back pocket. “You’re not bulletproof too now, are you?” He frowned when he felt her hand clamp over his wrist.
“Shit, Doc, they’re slowing down,” the thief on the other end of the radio blurted.
“It’s just one car?” asked Doc.
After a pause, the thief answered.
“Are they slowing down or stopped?” Doc stepped toward the door, peering out of the edge of the glass.
“They’re pulling in!” the man on the radio rasped. “I told you, I can’t go down for this. I’m bailing out of here.”
“Don’t do anything.” The big man waited by the door, holding the radio steadily against his ear. “It’s just one car. We’re going to make this work.”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Sky mumbled, letting his hand slip away from the wallet.
Fang ignored him, staring at the street through the bank’s glass doors.
“You.” Doc turned and pointed at her, keeping the gun down at his side. He stuck the radio in his pocket and advanced on her with the empty hand outstretched.
“No—” Sky tried to step in front of her, but Fang put a hand on his chest and pushed, harder than she’d intended or thought possible.
Sky stumbled back. Doc grabbed her gently by the shoulder and steered her toward the door.
“Just stay calm,” he said. “You,” he warned, glancing back at Sky, “get on the floor with the rest of them unless you want to screw this up while I’ve got a gun at your girlfriend’s back. Don’t be stupid.”
“It’s fine,” Fang said without turning.
I don’t want them here either, she thought.
Doc led her up to the wall, then flattened both of them against it, pointing his pistol at the glass doors. Fang felt motion behind her, then the chirp of the radio.
“How many?” he asked. “What are they doing?”
“One car. It looks like one guy’s getting out…he’s not in uniform.”
Doc wrapped the thick arm holding the radio around Fang’s neck as loosely as the bulging bicep would allow. Then he held still. Fang felt his breaths, slow and even, and waited with him.
“He’s coming in.”
A few moments later, sun flickered across the glass of the inner doors. Then, they opened.
The man who stepped inside wore a white button-down shirt untucked, faded gray slacks and a pair of polished black loafers. Fang saw his buzzed hair and slim goatee and recognized him instantly. Her chest tightened even before Doc tensed to speak.
“Don’t reach for your gun or your radio; walk casually to my right and wait by the other hostages.” Doc held the gun up by Fang’s head. “I want to be out of here before your friend in the cruiser gets suspicious or any of these people get hurt. Tell me you understand.”
The man nodded, stepping away from the door and holding his hands out to his side.
“I understand you.”
“Good.” Doc followed him at a distance, with Fang. “We’re almost done here. Very slowly, reach for your gun. Put in on the ground, then your radio and phone.”
“Talk about the worst day of my life,” the man said, shrugging slightly. “I was just put on suspension, crashed my car leaving the station and now I’m being robbed. I don’t have a gun or radio on me, just a phone.” He turned his head slightly toward the thief. “Search me if you want.”
The officer in plain clothes stiffened. Fang met his gaze, still too startled to think to look away. She hid her face as he saw her, but not before noticing how his body stiffened and his shoulders turned more toward her.
“You,” he breathed.
Fang kept her face turned away from Dave, the policeman she’d picked up, one of the men who had broken into Unlimited Designs and murdered guards to save the doctor she didn’t know.
“Eyes forward, officer.” Doc took the pistol away from Fang’s face and began to point it at Dave. “It’s better that way for all of us.”
Fang’s body reacted instantly. She stepped back, putting her foot behind the muscular thief’s, and brought her forearm up against his elbow. He instinctively squeezed tighter around her neck. She felt how his body went off balance as he yanked himself back and simply twisted. As he tumbled to the ground, she reached out and torqued his wrist until the pistol slipped free.
Doc grunted when he landed on his back on the floor. He shouted as soon as he caught his breath.
The closest thief dropped his trash bag and stepped toward her.
Fang checked the gun’s safety with a glance. Fast as lightning, she whipped the gun around to aim at his chest. The thief continued toward her, coming fast. Frowning, she looked to the counter. The other unoccupied thief was leaping over to her side instead of taking cover or drawing a weapon of his own. She looked back at Henry through the pistol’s sights.
“Fang!” Sky shouted.
Dave realized what was happening and warned her at the same instant she realized why the robbers weren’t afraid of her gun.
“It isn’t loaded!”
Fang swept Henry’s feet out from beneath him as Dave whirled and pincered the man’s neck with a vicious backhand. Henry folded in half and crashed head-first into the ground with an audible crack.
The next thief was slower, taking time to size Fang up before attacking. Fang took the fight to him, spinning through the air and lashing out twice with her feet. The blue-trimmed sneakers caught him in the nose and throat. He windmilled back, gagging.
At once, one of the men crouching with the other hostages leaped to his feet and raced to grapple with Doc on the ground.
Sky came to Fang, but she noticed he stopped a few inches farther away than usual. His eyes were wide.
“Holy…You weren’t kidding.”
“No,” she said.
“Hey—” Dave stepped over the struggling men, looking right at Fang, but he jerked back at the shriek of the the woman working in the drive-up alcove.
“There’s another one in there,” Fang said, pointing. As soon as Dave turned away, Fang whispered to Sky, “Let’s go. Now.”
He whirled toward the door with her and Dave shouted behind them.
“Goddamn it, wait! Wait!”
Sky shoved through the glass doors and ran left, past the idling van and the parked cop car. From around the side of the building, the screech of tires preceded the appearance of a metallic blue van, swerving wildly as it shot away. One of it’s front wheels hit a curb and the vehicle whipped around, slamming into the concrete base of a lamp post.
The officer in the cruiser climbed out just as Fang darted past to follow Sky.
“Stop!” He shouted, his voice already husky over the sound of his shoes pounding pavement behind her. “Get on the ground!”
Fang pumped her arms, putting muscle and adrenaline into each stride. Sky looked over his shoulder, then darted left, across someone’s lawn. He disappeared around the back of the house. Fang ignored the officer’s shouting. She rounded the corner seconds after Sky.
The grass was wet from a hissing, twisting sprinkler before her. The water sprayed her clothing and into her eyes as she slipped and hit the wooden fence marking the boundary of the yard. Heavy breaths and cursing became swiftly louder at her back. She shoved away from the wall with her shoulder, rolled with the momentum and darted forward again, but the cop’s fingers curled around the back of her shirt.
She glanced up. Sky had turned around, waiting with one hand poised to vault over the wooden fence. The officer hauled her back by the shirt.
As before, Fang grabbed the man’s hand and pivoted smoothly around to face him, wrenching the wrist at an uncomfortable angle. She dug her knuckles into the soft flesh beneath his chin. When he moved back, she snapped the leather catch open on his holster and slipped the pistol free.
Then she was staring at the officer over the top of his own gun. He took his hands away from his neck and held them up a little, still coughing. He opened his eyes wide and shook his head slightly.
“I just—” Fang clenched her free hand into a fist, fighting the urge to scream at the impossible situation she was forced into. “I just want to be left alone!”
She feinted once at the cop, so that he slipped backward in the wet grass. Then she threw his pistol over the fence and ran.
To be continued.