They say that New York is the city that never sleeps. Maricopa was more like the city that hits snooze five or six times, takes long naps, and has a TV by the bed to make sure it never misses its favorite reruns. Even the mild climate seemed to indicate a relaxed attitude to life, as if the local seasons couldn't motivate themselves to work up any extreme temperatures or serious weather events like the ambitious, go-getter seasons in other towns. But it advertised itself as a friendly place, and that's what made the man think it would be a good place to commit crime.
The bank parking lot was almost empty. There were a couple of cars there, but they were parked far away and were probably the earliest-arriving employees. When he peered into the lobby, he couldn't see anyone, except maybe one person sitting behind the counter. It was now or never. He got out of his car and walked toward the front door, pushing it open with just a little nervousness.
Now that he was inside, he could see the person behind the counter: she was a woman, quite old, skinny and obviously frail. So this would be easier than he had expected. She wore the low-hanging glasses with beads that must get handed out to every woman in the world on her 68th birthday when she officially became a Little Old Lady (TM) and had a dim smile that probably hadn't moved a centimeter since the last millenium, or maybe the one before that.
"Well hello there," she said to him, sweetly. "How can I help you today?"
Already, this was a little off script, the man thought. There had been no shriek of alarm about being accosted by a bank robber, for starters. It's alright, he thought. Any good bank robber will be able to adapt to different circumstances, he reasoned. He wished at that moment that there had been some kind of handy how-to guide or pamphlet that had given him some idea of how to rob a bank, instead of him just having to wing it. Or maybe if he had been taken in at a young age by a shadowy criminal mastermind who would have shown him the ropes and given him dark but sagacious life advice. Why can't life be fair and give me just one criminal mastermind mentor? he thought. Is that so much to ask? He shook his head bitterly at the cruel indifference of a universe that couldn't even spare one measly mafia kingpin mentor to introduce him gently to a life of crime.
He suddenly remembered that he had a job to do and couldn't just daydream. "I'll tell you how you can help me," he started, trying to sound tough. "This is a stickup."
"A what?" she said, puzzled. "You know, sometimes I don't hear very well. What did you say it was?"
"A stickup," he said, flatly and louder than before. They were still off-script, but he was confident that things would start running smoothly if he could only make her understand the nature of his visit to her little bank branch.
"A stickup? Are you sure about that young man? It doesn't seem much like a stickup," she said, thinking through the situation.
The man was starting to get a little impatient. "Trust me. Just give me all your cash and let's make this easy."
The woman frowned thoughtfully. "Well now, wait a minute. You're not even wearing a ski mask. Isn't that what you're supposed to wear during a stickup? Can you really do a proper stickup without a ski mask?" She was still working through the implications of this interaction.
Rats, he thought. He had left his mask in the car. This was his first time and he hadn't mastered his new profession yet. "Just don't worry about that. Here's a duffel bag. Just fill it up," he said, feeling that he should hurry if he wanted to get this done successfully.
She laughed lightly at this. "This isn't a duffel bag," she said, still laughing. "This is a tote bag. Don't you know the difference young man? Well I don't expect you'll get very far as a bank robber if you can't even tell your different bags apart." Her tone was the scolding tone of a disappointed schoolteacher. "Next time I guess you'll give me a satchel and call it a messenger bag." She couldn't stifle a laugh at her own wickedly absurd hypothetical.
"Just fill it up. I'm sticking you up, so I make the decisions about what to call what." He felt that asserting his right to mislabel a tote bag would surely re-establish his tenuous grasp on the authority in the situation.
She took the bag, but before filling it up, held it next to her with a faraway look in her eyes. "Is that right though?" she asked. "If you're doing this, do you say that you're sticking me up? Can you really split 'stickup' it into two words like that? I would have thought that you would have to say 'I'm doing a stickup, and keep it as just one word."
"Just fill it up, lady."
"You know who would know? Hank. He'll know," she said, getting up excitedly. She started puttering away from the counter towards the back. She had the shuffle that is common to old ladies, taking short steps that seem to create more vertical than horizontal motion. She turned back toward the robber for a moment, beaming. "Hank's the manager," she explained, smiling again. "He always knows the answer to these kinds of questions," she said. She turned again, puttered some more, and finally got to the door in the back.
She knocked lightly. "Oh Hank," she trilled. "Can you please come to the front? We have a question for you."
There was some rustling and some sounds of movement in Hank's office. The door opened and a tall, strong-looking man came out. "What was that Agnes?" he said.
"Well," Agnes began, trying to think of how to summarize things. "This young man, you see," she began, pausing to think again. "You see, this young man came in here to perform a stickup," she said, striving for the most correct possible grammar. "And in the course of our conversation," she continued, picking up steam now, "he said that he was sticking me up, and I was wondering whether that was quite correct, because you see I thought that 'stickup' was always just one word and you couldn't just split it apart like that." She smiled at Hank, pleased with her concise summary.
Hank looked at the man, and his eyes narrowed. "A stickup?" he said. "You're doing a stickup in my bank?" he said, challengingly.
The man nodded in a way that a tough criminal would and put as much machismo as could safely fit into one syllable into his reply: "Yes."
Hank stared him down for about one more second, and then his stern expression broke into a light chuckle, which then snowballed into a full-blown hearty laugh. "A stickup?" he asked, still laughing. "What is this, the Old West?" Now he was so amused at his own hilarity that he had to bend over a little to manage his own laughter.
Hank's reaction polarized the room: Agnes's polite smile grew bigger and the robber's hurt frown grew deeper. Eventually Hank got control of himself and was able to talk normally without breaking into laughter.
"What you should call it," Hank said, more serious now but still smiling, "is a heist. Now that's a word for a modern, up-to-date bank robbery. Not some kind of Clint Eastwood stickup where you're robbing a locomotive train. Heist. That has a nice sophisticated criminal sound to it dontcha think?"
The robber didn't know how to respond. Things had really slid out of control and all he wanted to do was rewind and start the whole sordid thing from the beginning. Why couldn't they have just filled up his darn bag and let him get on his way? He held up his gun in what he thought was a threatening way, but Hank and Agnes hardly seemed to notice.
"Plus, you don't have a ski mask. I thought that was bank robbery 101," Hank said. "What's your name anyway?" Hank asked.
"L- Lawrence," the robber said, the wind now completely out of his sails.
"Lawrence?!" Hank was incredulous. "What kind of a name for a bank robber is that? You need something more suave, like Clyde or Billy the Kid if you're doing a stickup, or... well at least Larry. Larry the... Liar, or Large Larry, or some kind of intimidating nickname. You know who would have some ideas for that? Frank."
"Frank?" said Lawrence. "Hank and... Frank? Is this some kind of Dr. Seuss town?" He thought he was now giving as good as he got. "Anyway, Lawrence is a good name, like Lawrence of Arabia," he said, feeling like he had a good argument but nevertheless knowing that his delivery was pretty weak.
Again, Hank ignored whatever he didn't want to hear. "What a coincidence. There's Frank in the parking lot now. He'll probably want you to come to his barbecue tomorrow."
"Frank manages the burger joint that we share a parking lot with," Agnes explained. "He loves to host weekend barbecues and he invites the whole town," she said, looking excited at the prospect of another barbecue with Frank. "He's probably walking here now just to remind us about the next shindig."
Frank was a chubby man with facial hair and a big smile. "Good mornin good mornin good morning," he said, busting through the door energetically.
"Frank!" Hank said, his long arm raised up in greeting. "How are ya buddy?"
"Livin large living large," Frank said, clearly a man who had learned Napoleon's maxim that repetition was the key element of good rhetoric.
Hank tried to apprise Frank of the situation. "This fellow here is Lawrence. He's trying to do a heist! Right here in our own little bank in our own little town." He said it as if it were an honor and also so adorable that someone would do so. Lawrence was still holding his gun, but had ceased even trying to do so threateningly.
"A heist!" Frank repeated. "Well where's your ski mask? That's bank robbery 101," Frank said jovially.
Hank leaned over again, laughing louder than ever before. "That's exactly what I said!!" he wheezed.
"I told him that too," Agnes chipped in.
Frank approached Larry, ignoring his gun and demeanor, and said "Listen buddy, you should come to my barbecue tomorrow. The whole town will be there!" He handed Larry a card. "That's my business card. Just shoot me a text message and I'll get you the address and the details." He turned away from Lawrence. "Hank and Agnes, how are you two ne'er-do-wells today? How's the bank biz?"
"It's going super," Agnes said. "Except for the stickup this morning."
Frank turned back to Lawrence. "You need a ski mask, and you need a better stance."
"A stance?" Lawrence said. At this point he felt that he was at rock bottom and was willing to take tips from anyone.
"Yeah that's right," Frank said. "You have to bend your knees a little, like this. And you want to hold the gun in front of you like this. And then your other arm can kind of hang behind like this. And you need sort of a scowl, sort of move your teeth like this." Frank seemed to have it all figured out.
Hank approached Frank. "I think the stance should be more like this," he said, demonstrating. "And also, I was telling him he shouldn't be named Lawrence. He should find some other more dashing name."
Frank considered this. "How about Laughing Larry?"
Hank wasn't sure. "He's not laughing now though."
"But when he robs a bank, he can laugh as he's leaving. That could be his criminal trademark you know. Every good criminal has to have a trademark," Frank said.
"Well I still don't like your stances," Agnes said. "I think it would be better to have guns in both hands like this," she said, demonstrating.
"You might have a point there," Hank said. "But I was thinking..."
Lawrence didn't hear any more. He had walked out the front door as they were chatting with each other about stances. He looked at Frank's card. Maybe he would go to the barbecue. He wondered if it would be helpful to bring soda.