“Everybody get down on the floor.”
We were expecting lesser crowd tonight as it was a Wednesday night. More people would lead to more complication. We wanted to avoid such situation. Because like I, Jack was also a rookie, and he was my partner tonight, for the first, and perhaps the last time. You are committing a crime. You don’t have any other choice. You must do this. You are not a criminal. You are a good person. I kept lying myself. I knew Jack wasn’t a criminal either. Maybe he has his own reasons, just like I had my own. Everyone has their own reason, but does that justify a crime? I didn’t know, I didn’t want to think about it.
Jack’s hand were shivering. I saw from the corner of my eyes. We stood there with our back against each other. We moved together making a perfect circle and scanning everyone’s activity. For a moment I thought we were professionals but my chain of thoughts was soon interrupted by Jack’s voice.
“Chris! Nobody heard you. We are standing like fools.”
Jack was right. We were standing with guns in our hand, in the middle of the restaurant. The restaurant had dull lighting. The capacity of the restaurant was not much, maybe somewhere around 40 or 50. It was closest from the highway and it would make easy for us to leave the city after we will be done here. Any kind of attention from the police was the last thing that we wanted. So we chose this small, less crowded place. Everyone was enjoying their food and talk and we went unnoticed in the first go. I signalled Jack to sit back and put the gun under the table.
“What’s the matter with you?” I frowned.
“With me? Excuse me? It was your part, isn’t it?” He snapped back.
“I know. But when you you noticed nobody is paying attention, you should have shouted again.”
“Ehh… Yes. I forgot.” He hesitated. “I was concentrating on my part. I am not a professional like you. I am little nervous.”
Yeah sure! I told myself. “Okay. Let’s try again.” I told him.
“Can we have a cup of coffee before we do this again?”
“All right.” I replied.
“You want one?”
“No. Thanks.” I replied sarcastically.
His looks told he was nervous. I was nervous too but I knew how not to look like one.
“I’ll have a cup of black coffee”, he told the waitress. When she turned to go away and just when I was about to say something, Jack blurted out again.
“What now?” I interrupted.
“Yes Sir. Do you need anything else?” Asked the waitress. Jack was looking at me as if he was waiting for my permission. All right.
“Yes. One chicken sandwich, please!”
“Okay. It’s going to take at least 10 minutes.” She said and left.
“What’s the matter with you?” I was angry.
“What? I am hungry”, Jack replied.
“You don’t want to stay here and show your pretty face to everyone, you know.” I snapped at him.
“But…” He tried to say something.
“Come on man!” I couldn’t say much. All I could do was show how disappointed and dissatisfied I was. The restaurant manager was staring at me. He must have thought that I was in command and not letting this guy eat.
“If we behave like normal customers, no one will be bothered about us. Nobody will have any suspicion”. Jack explained with a smile on his face as if he had found the key to success.
“You already look like a suspect”, I told him in a sarcastic tone. He didn’t care.
“Now, we have more time to check out all the people”, Jack told.
“Now, more people have time to check us out and remember our face.” I fired back.
“And what do you mean by checking out people?” I asked him.
“We will take money from them. Then if we think we have enough, we won’t go for the restaurant’s money. This way, the restaurant owner will have less concerns.”
“Yes. Sounds like a good plan”. He was talking sense. I thought for a moment and then continued, “No. Wait. We will stay away from people. We don’t know who might turn out to be a professional fighter.” I was concerned.
“Don’t worry about that. We have guns.” Jack had crooked smile on his face when he uttered these words. Don’t do any foolish thing, Jack. I really need this money. I prayed.
The waitress arrived and served our orders.
We had decided to rob this restaurant because we needed money. We had a simple plan, we started discussing it in a low voice. We had agreed on 50 percent share. We also had a backup plan we could not get the enough money from here. We might go for another. I really wanted to avoid that. I was not planning to jump into this business. I had a daughter, she needed me. I needed her. I could not have live without her. On the other hand, Jack seemed excited. I wonder why he wanted the money. He was in the hospital for sure. I had heard him pleading in front of one of the doctors, like I had done. I had seen Jack in the hospital for first time. I had heard him talking something about money. He too looked in desperate need of money. Out of nowhere, a plan popped up in my head. But it needed risk. I could not have done it alone. I was not that brave. So I decided to talk to him and try to persuade him. But I wasn’t sure how he would react. I didn’t even know if he would listen to me. So I made this plan, another plan. An idea to trick him. When he left the hospital, I followed him. I followed him to an isolated place, then I attacked. I knew he had little money with him, still, I threatened to kill him with the knife which I had stolen from the hospital’s supply. I was not interested in his money anyway. In fact I was there to help him. I could help him with my plan. I pretended like I was a lowlife street mugger. I wanted him to be afraid of me.
Money can make people do unthinkable things. At first he resisted but then after few minutes he surrendered, I told him part truth and part lies. I had made up the story for my street mugger profile. I asked him if he was willing to help me.
“My name is Chris, by the way.” I told him. I was making a friend now.
“So what it’s going to be Jack?” I asked.
“I don’t know man. I don’t know.” He shook his head. He was little hesitant. “I am not sure if I could do this. We don’t even have weapons.”
“I’ll take care of that.” Slowly I slipped the small steel knife into my pocket. He noticed.
“What? That knife?” He mocked me.
“No, real ones. Guns.”
“Really? You could really do that?” He was surprised. He didn’t expect that. I knew few people from my past life. He was confused. “Come on man. You need the money. Don’t you?”
“All right!” He was still not sure. “What if we get caught?”
“We won’t. We won’t make a big deal of it. We will need to work on a plan. We will keep it low.”
He agreed and we sat down for a while then thought of the plan. For at least a moment, he must have thought that I was a professional. Perhaps that’s why he had agreed to tag along. I needed him because it was good to have an extra pair of hands. I couldn’t have done it alone, because I was not a professional.
My 8 years old daughter, Jen, was in the hospital. Her condition was terrible. I did not understand what exactly she was suffering from. All I knew was, what doctors had told me about Jen’s condition. She was suffering from some kind of terminal disease and they needed to do some operation. But they were not 100 percent sure about anything for how long they could increase Jen’s life. They said they will try their best. I was standing near the door, watching my sweet little daughter tangled in all sort of wires, and whatever. She turned her head, our eyes met but I couldn’t keep myself up. Some kind of force inside me tried to push me away from her. I was scared. I was scared of going near her because I did not have answers. But I knew I had to go and be there for her. I walked towards her, with heavy steps, and a sinking heart. She was still looking at me without blinking. She reached for my hand, as she did, so all the wires connected to her hand moved, it scared me. But she was looking at me as if she was telling it’s all right. I know these things, they won’t hurt me. I lunged forward and held her hand. I stood there for a couple of seconds then pulled a chair and sat beside her.
“What… is… happening… Daddy…?” She asked. I could barely listen to her voice. It took her almost a minute to speak these 4 words. Maybe she wanted to say something else, but she didn’t have the strength to do so. She was weak. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I needed to be strong.
“Nothing Sweetie. It’s all right. Everything will be all right.” I assured her.
“I… want… home…” She tried to speak something about home. She wanted to go home and I wanted to take her home.
“I know. We are going home Sweetie, soon.” She put a smile on her face when she heard me. She trusted me. She knew I would take care of her. It seemed, it was tough for her to move a single muscle, even to smile. I could see her struggle. I could only see. I knew what she was going through, but I could feel her pain. Her eyes were wet, so were mine. She was in pain, so was I. She wanted to talk, so did I. But she and I, both of us knew, it’d hurt her if we talked. So we kept silent for a while.
“I need to talk to the some people, all right? I will come back soon and then take you home”, I whispered in her ears. She closed her eyes, nodded, then she let me go. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and then left.
The doctors told they needed money for the operation. Big money and they hadn’t been able to figure out yet how much money will be required exactly. But as per the rule, they wanted me to pay 5000 dollars as a security deposit before they could start the operation. I didn’t have that kind of money on me. I had never seen so much money. Even if I would have sold everything I owned, I would be able to arrange somewhere around 2000 dollars. I talked with few of my friends. Not everyone understood my problem. Almost every one of my friends knew about Jen’s condition. Some of them could not help, some of them were not capable of helping me. However, few of them came forward, still it wasn’t enough. I could see a sum of around 2500 dollars. I needed more money.. I tried to talk to the doctors, the management, and whoever could have helped. It was useless. They had their policies. In their defence they said, if they start doing so, they won’t be able to run the hospital. Everyone will come with a request. They were helpless, as they had put it.
I was her father, I just could not have let her die. The hospital had given me two days’ time to arrange the money. If I could fill their pocket, they would take Jen to the operation theatre, otherwise, they would keep her there for a week under observation. After that, they will discharge her with certain home care facility. And after few months, they’d stop that. They would not be responsible for her. It seemed I had no other choice but to bring her home and watch her die, day by day. I had already lost my wife, I did not want to lose my daughter. I was alive because of her because I wanted to see her grow up.
“Chris… Chris…” Jack was calling my name, as if he was trying to wake me from a sleep and he did not want to wake other people.
“Yes. Yes. I am here.” I came back to the present and finished my coffee. Five minutes later we were ready for strike two.
“Everybody put your hands up in the air.” Deja vu.
We heard shattering sound of glass falling on the floor. Everyone froze, I was good this time. Jack was taking care of everyone behind me and I was concentrating in the opposite direction. I stepped out of the booth and told a waitress to put the closed sign at the door. She followed my instructions without any hesitation or resistance. Then, I asked her to collect every customer’s mobile phones and wallets in a bag. She obeyed. We wanted to make sure no one calls the police. I asked Jack to follow the waitress while she was collecting wallets and phones and I moved to a position from where I could see everyone. The loot was turning out to be much easier than we had expected.
But this guy, he looked into his thirties. He was making trouble. He was wearing a sky blue shirt and black trousers. He looked like a big shot working professional. He had a small bag with him, perhaps a laptop bag, he was trying to hide it behind him. His hair was long and he had grown a beard. But after all this dashing appearance, he looked tensed. Not my problem. Not Jack’s problem. Jack was furious and was trying to threaten him. I heard him giving several last warnings. I could see him losing control and it was not good for us. I did not want to complicate things. I asked the restaurant manager to intervene, to tell that guy to co-operate with us, but he refused. I did not ask him again. I had not tried strongly the first time. It made me look weak. But I was calm and I held my composure. I asked Jack to send that guy. I’ll handle him.
“See, wise guy. We are not looking for trouble here. Understood.” I tried to intimidate him. He seemed to be afraid, I wasn’t sure if it was me, us, or something else.
“So, why didn’t you just give your phone?”
“I can’t. It’s the only way I can contact my family. I have a son.” He was almost pleading and he was good at it. Though it did not match his personality, but he was good at it for sure.
“Listen, man. I don’t intend to take your or everyone’s phone and sell it in the market. I just want to make sure, you know, no 911 calls”. I spoke in a hushed tone.
“Okay. So, will you return it? Because you know it’s the only way…”
“Yes. Yes. Don’t worry. I need only money. Not phones.” I cut him short. He seemed to have understood and was ready to surrender. He turned back to go back to Jack who was collecting everyone’s phone and wallet. Then he stopped, waited for a while, and then turned back. He looked scared.
“Will you please keep this phone with you, I can take it back from you.”
“Why would I do that?” I told with some attitude, feeling like a boss.
“Because what if when you return the bag and someone else takes my phone before I grab it and runs away?”
He had a valid point. But I did not understand how could he trust me and not the other ladies and gentlemen in the restaurant. I asked him.
“Because you are a good person.” He said, with a hint of smile on his face which made me look dumb. It seemed he was trying to talk to my soul and next thing, he’d try to talk sense into me. I was feeling weak.
Yes, I am. I am a good person. I am not a bad person. But I don’t have much choice. Sorry to disappoint you man! I tried to console myself.
“All right, man. Give it to me.” At that moment, I felt I had accepted his words. I was a good person in front of him. I tried to recover. I reached into my pocket and pulled the knife I had with me. I pointed the knife on his neck, I had seen it in movies, leant closer to his face, and whispered into his ear, “..and I ain’t a good person mate! Trust me.”
I took his phone and put in my pocket. He gave his wallet too without asking. I checked and it had nothing much, only a few dollars. I did not want to engage myself with him so I returned his wallet and asked him to go back, sit, and keep quiet. As he went towards his booth, I signalled Jack I had him covered.
As soon as the waitress was done with the collection Jack tagged himself around her. As per the plan Jack, along with the waitress sat down in a booth and started emptying the wallets. I was watching both of them doing their work. I was so excited that I wanted to run and see how much money we were making. I knew it was only going to be 50 percent of total, so I was little worried. I was constantly watching Jack while I pretended to keep an eye on everyone. Jack had asked everyone to gather in one corner, so It wasn’t so difficult for me. Plus everyone seemed to be afraid and none of them were trying to be clever. When Jack and waitress finished their work, he stood up and started walking towards me. He had a no on his face, which meant we had to go ahead with the next step. We needed the restaurant money. We wanted to stay away from a big case. But we had no choice now. It was better than coming back here or going to any other place to once again do the whole thing.
“Okay. Your turn now. Give us everything you have.” I turned towards the manager of the restaurant while Jack was keeping an eye on other people. He reached into his pocket and took out everything he was carrying. I signalled him to remove his watch and rings. He gave me the keys of the counter and I searched. The money in it was not enough for us.
“Where is the money?” I shouted at him.
“That’s all of it. We don’t keep the money here.” He replied.
“What do you mean you don’t keep the money here? Where do you keep them?”
“In the bank.”
“All right dude. Don’t try to be over smart. Give us the money or we will start doing terrible things.” Terrible things! What the heck I was thinking? I could have done better.
“Seriously man. We don’t keep money here. We keep them in the bank. It’s not in our hands, the owners decide everything.” He was not ready to give up and I was not criminal enough to intimidate him. Jack, at least was trying to pretend like one and in fact it was working. I turned towards the waitress who had helped us through all this.
“Listen, I’ll count to 10. If you don’t come up with all the money you have in the restaurant, I’ll blow his mind out from this gun.” I aimed at the manager and told her to move.
“But…”, she was trying to tell something. But I had already started the count.
“10… 9… 8…”
The moment I reached 5, she panicked and ran inside the kitchen. I thought she was running away from the back door or something like that. But after a minute, she came back with a bag.
“Here. Here you go.” She handed over the bag. I looked at the manager who looked in stress now. I lowered the gun, and just when he started to relax and calm down, I slapped him with my other hand. The sound of it was so loud it echoed in the almost empty restaurant. There was pin drop silence as everyone listened with rapt attention what I had to say next. I did not have to. Everyone was breathing heavily. I had done something. I had done something now, at last I was able to make an impression. I was feeling strong now, a sense of confidence inside me was born with that slap. The bag had a small lock on it but the manager was smart enough to give me the keys. Jack snatched the keys and opened the lock on the bag before I could say anything. He peeked inside the bag and gave me a positive look.
“All right. Now, give us the tape.” I told the manager.
“Come on. You think I am a fool?” I put the gun on his head once again. I knew, in the worst case, I would slap him or even punch him. I would never pull the trigger. I could never have killed anyone. This tape had everything that had happened here. We could see the small CCTV cameras here and there. Though it was tough to see each other’s face in this darkness, I still wanted to cover everything we had decided. We could not afford to be careless. Why take chance?
“CCTV. That’s all I am saying for now. You have 5 seconds”
The manager was aware of the gun was on his head. Even if he knew I wouldn’t have killed him, he too did not want to take any chance, I suppose. He grabbed the keyboard and punched some keys on the keyboard and there it was. I snatched the CD from his hand and we are done here. Both of us were excited and happy with our success but we knew we couldn’t show it. It was a win for us.
“You must wait till we are outside. Do you understand? Nobody moves.” I said in a threatening tone.
“Yes.” He murmured.
Jack was giving the manager a look I could never forget. He was pissed off at him. He inched forward and said in a dramatic tone which was, as per our plan, a threat. I was supposed to do this, but Jack was so excited and pissed off that he didn’t care. He didn’t wait for me, he closed the gap between him and the manager, and spoke like a professional criminal.
“Listen, kid. We will be leaving now. We have taken only a day’s money you guys earn. So, we are expecting that you wouldn’t try to be clever. Let us leave peacefully. We do not want to harm anyone. Understood.” The manager nodded.
Then, he turned to come with me but then stopped. He turned back to the manager and completed his threat.
“If the police stop us in our way, I will come back, and I will look for you. I will find you for sure. I wouldn’t care who informed the police. For me it would be you. And when I’ll come back, I’ll take this same gun, and put a bullet in your in front of everyone.”
We were ready to now. I left before Jack, he came behind me. We walked for 10-15 steps after coming out of the restaurant then ran towards our car. We had jammed the door from outside so no one could come outside. As promised we had kept the empty wallet and phones outside the door. We started the car and fled away from the scene.
After driving for about an hour, when we were sure no one was following us, we stopped at a place. Then, as per our plan we left the car there and picked up the second car which we had parked earlier this evening. We drove towards back to the city. Then we left the second car just outside the city. We sat there for a while. It was an isolated place, the traffic was usually very less at around this time. We counted and divided the money. Equal amounts. I didn’t know about Jack, but I had enough money, at least for now. We shook hands and congratulated each other then one by one took a lift from strangers to enter the city. I was calm. In a way, I never felt like I was committing a crime. I took out Jen’s photo I had in my wallet. You will be all right. Everything will be all right. I repeated in my mind.
When I came back to the hospital, Jane was sleeping. I sat beside her. She was calm, it felt like she knew from inside that her father will make things right. But I never thought about how she would react when she’d know the truth. I had informed the doctors about the money. They needed to do some paperwork before they could start the treatment. They said it was going to take some time and I could deposit the money in the morning after 8.
I waited for sometime. I looked at the watch in my hand, the hour hand was about to touch 2. It was dark outside. I thought of sleeping, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to. I came out of the hospital and then walked about 500 meters away from the hospital. I took out the packet of cigarette. I had only one left in the packet. I’ll quit. I’ll save money. I thought. I lit the cigarette and sat down on the roadside. I took a long drag and exhaled the white smoke. It took a while for the smoke to fade away completely. The wind was weak tonight. I rest my head on the tree. It was over. The war was over for now. I knew the struggle would not end here, but I had enough money for now, at least this operation. I was lost in my thoughts.
I heard few footsteps approaching. I must have been asleep. I looked at my watch. It had been almost an hour since I was sitting here. I did not mind sitting here, it was comfortable. The weak breeze of wind was comfortable. I did not mind the footsteps either. I was still thinking about Jen, I had her photograph in my hand. I was preparing to go back inside and check her. The sound of the footsteps grew little louder then they stopped, right in front of me. I looked up. I knew his face but I wasn’t able to recollect where I had seen him. He had two guys with him. All of them wearing black suits. They were smart men.
“Rough night mate?” The one who looked like the leader of them asked.
“Yes…”, I said. But in an instant realised something was wrong. His face was not clearly visible in the street light, from the angle I was watching him. I tried to stand up but he stopped me.
“Relax. I hope you still have my mobile. You forgot to return it man. Would you mind?” He gave his hand. There was a sense of humour in his voice. He knew he had won and I knew I had lost. He had taken his chance and I had fallen in his trap. I should have returned his phone. He must have tracked me with his phone.
“It’s the phone, isn’t it?”
“Right. You are smart.” He replied.
“Let me explain.” I wanted to. I wanted to save my daughter. I knew he wasn’t going to listen or even if he would, he will not let me go. I continued, “I have a daughter. She is ill. I need to deposit the money in the hospital for her operation.”
“I am sorry to hear that. But it’s not your money. I cannot allow you to do so. You need to come with us.”
“Please…” I pleaded. But he wasn’t going to listen. He looked at his friends and asked them to grab me. I asked him to wait.
“Can I see her?” I asked.
“I am sorry. We’ve got your friend too. You can meet him. You need to come with us.”
In fraction of seconds, everything flashed inside my mind. I knew they will keep me in prison and then if I got lucky, perhaps I’ll be out in a year or two. But Jen will not be with me. She wouldn’t survive. The doctors will not treat without the money. I knew. It was their policy. But could I live without her? Will I able to forgive myself, ever? Not now, not after 2 years. I had failed her. I had failed myself. I had taken the wrong step. I finally accepted that I had committed a crime. I had managed to kill Jen. I wanted to save her. I knew there was no turning back.
Within a fraction of second, I took out my, and then there was a gunshot. I heard a gunshot, then second and then third. The wind had stopped finally. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t breathe. I knew the time had come.
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