|The Plot Without Conflict
Author: M. George PM
Oh, to live in a world where all you had to do was ask for a bank truck full of money, and they'd give it to you. Wait...Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Humor/Adventure - Words: 4,369 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 1 - Published: 02-14-08 - Status: Complete - id: 2475645
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Miss Jack: Title explanation: Once I had a ranting English professor who said: 'In real life, you don't just walk up to a money truck and say gimme the gold, and they say 'Sure!' and off you go-- no. In real stories, there has to be conflict!'
THE PLOT WITHOUT CONFLICT
The average person experiences their first evil tendency around the ripe and mischievous age of two or three, and the path from there is a steady downhill. What most people grow in their maturing years is not less of a tendency toward evil, but rather, a higher capacity to harness said evil, but rather, a higher capacity to harness said evil—indeed, even ignore these inner inclinations and, in some cases, become so practiced at lying to themselves about them they appear not to have any at all.
Calvin Menet had his very first feat of ill will at age twenty seven. Following a very long day, he honked at an old lady who took fifteen minutes to make it halfway past the front of his old Hyundai, at which point she hit his bumper with her purse and his airbag exploded. At thirty one, he had learned his lesson and hadn't had an honest evil urge since. It wasn't so much that he was good, but rather that he lacked the mustard to be bad. With his rather thin self-will, he couldn't be trusted with bad thoughts that would inevitably lead to bad consequences, and that was a truly terrifying prospect for Mr. Menet.
Back then, he worked long hours six days week at a small company that sold office supplies—primarily paper clips. He always volunteered for overtime. Sundays he was a minister for a local break-off protestant church consisting of thirteen members and a mule. It was named after its founder (who had since become a practicing Scientologist) and was, in Calvin's opinion, hard to pronounce so he usually avoided doing so. Being a priest really kept those wayward thoughts at bay, and sometimes, when he was feeling both daring and excitable, he would add his own commandments to the little religion. Thou shalt not throw eggs on the minister's car, or thou shalt burn for eternity. Yes, it says that. No you can't see.
He only knew two swear words, and the second only because it had been practiced on him. He thought "stoned" was what happened to the apostles, and "turned on" was what you did to a light switch. He only partied like it was his birthday when it was, in fact, his birthday (May fifth) and then only celebrated with his cat, Mimi Foo-Foo, otherwise known as Her Majesty, Goddess Supreme, and Please-Get-Off-The-Plastic-Covering-Of-That-Couch-I-Just-Windexed-It. When Calvin was "down with that," he was in bed with influenza.
It was around this time in his life when he was arrested.
It happened on a Wednesday. Karl, from accounting, mooned the entire office and then marched off singing, "They're gonna haaaaang me in the mooyrnin', I'll never see the sun." Until then, Calvin had though the moon was that big white thing in the sky at night. Karl had embezzled twenty seven thousand dollars off the company, and with two police officers at his sides and a maniacal grin stretching his lips, he was a confusing enigma to our protagonist. Stealing was categorized as bad in Calvin's mental Explanation of Life, and bad didn't correlate with the unaccountable happiness of Karl as he was escorted off the premises. Happy. Calvin didn't know what 'happy' was, nor had he ever truly experienced the feeling, though he'd gone most of his life ignorant of its absence.
Unbeknownst to him, he was lonely and miserable. Hardly anyone, of the six billion or so consciences in the world, knew him, and even less liked him. Mimi Foo-Foo did, or she pretended to because he fed her. He thought Kevin, a squat man in the cubicle next to his did, or he pretended to because Calvin always covered his shift work when he needed to see his sick wife. Oh, and he supposed Jesus did, but then he was Jesus so he was probably stuck doing it.
When Calvin beheld Karl's mottled, pasty derrière, he had a mental epiphany of sorts. Not only had he never mooned anyone, but he'd never done much of anything. Ever. He could only remember working and giving bad sermons. And every memory was exactly the same as the others. Years had blown away and for all he knew, it could have been a week.
I have friends, he thought.
Right. And who….? another part of him pointed out.
Er… Jason… in bookkeeping… he struggled desperately.
Okay, well, first off, his name is John…
He'd never even cussed.
"Damn," he whispered and immediately flinched, as if expecting to be struck by lightning. But the Almighty (not Mimi Foo-Foo, the other one) had apparently forgotten about Calvin and his blasphemous revisions of the ten commandments.
When Calvin walked out of the office, numb, blinking in consistent three-second intervals, the day was gray and vacant. Not dark and not light, but at a point exactly in between. Just like me, he thought blandly. People bustled to and fro, staring at the ground or occasionally their cell phones, but miraculously managing to stay out of each other's way.
Calvin sat on the edge of a fountain in the courtyard outside his company building. Or rather, the company building that makes paperclips, in no way associated with Calvin Menet, he should say. Had they noticed he was gone yet? It was unlikely.
He stared at nothing, his empty coffee (chai, actually, coffee was too strong for him) cup in his hand. He glanced down at it and held it high in the air. Moments from littering, really littering, he took two steps and dropped it into the trash can.
With a loud and wretched sigh, he burrowed his hands in his pockets. People gave him odd looks and changed their straight-driven paths away from where he stood. One of his first rebellious moves had been to run furious hands through his carefully combed hair, and now it stood on end and shifted decidedly to the right. His clothes were wrinkled and his tie hung loose and askew around his neck like a polyester noodle. He probably looked like a drunk.
Suddenly, his skin prickled and an unknown force drew his gaze across the length of the courtyard to the nearby street. A massive armored truck was pulled up on the corner of 31st, one wheel perched over the curb in haphazard abandon. It was gleaming and black, the insignia First National Bank emblazoned boldly on the side. A tendril of smoke curled off the engine, visible beneath a propped hood, in half-hearted puffs. It seemed to Calvin as if a hole appeared in the slate sky to shine a pillar of light on it, and the opening strains of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony began in the background, heavy on the trumpets.
He stood, skin still tingly with the possibility that truck represented: the possibility to do something totally wild. He strode purposefully across the courtyard, but as he got closer, he lost much of his purpose-steam, and so approached rather timidly. This was perhaps because of the terrifying machine-tank leaning against the driver's door, ingeniously disguised as a middle-aged black man. His biceps were as large as his head and he proudly sported a rotund belly that bulged over the top of his belt. He was bald, with a thick, graying mustache and the eyes of an unsuccessful predator.
"Um… excuse me…" Calvin shuffled over.
The machine tank stared at him and Calvin knew his pancreas would never be the same.
"What's in the truck?"
More staring. And there goes my liver, he thought. A lifetime of abstinence, all for nothing.
"Bags of money," the machine tank finally answered. His voice was like a porous rock being scraped down the spine. He was either amused or furious, and Calvin suspected the latter.
"Oh." Calvin brightened.
Calvin's eagerness to live and be evil didn't leave much room for a well planned execution. His attempt was, actually, quite stupid, but it was his first intentional effort and we should go easy on him.
"…can I have it?"
Exhilaration rose in two pink blossoms on his cheeks. He was really living in the fast lane now, yessiiiir. He'd practically committed an attempted robbery. The picture of patience, he laced his hands together in front of him and waited.
The machine tank blinked once, twice, and then finally frowned, crossing his arms over his chest (no easy task, considering the size of both). He studied Calvin critically, as if trying to decide if he was serious—or possibly which mental institution he had escaped from, and if that was the case, where was his uniform and I.D. tag that said: Call this number if I'm not in a straight-jacket.
After a miniature eternity, the black man scrubbed a mammoth, brown hand over his mustache. Calvin didn't move, blinking a few times. Then the machine tank pushed off the door and looked ominously down the stree; dark, preying eyes narrowed. Without a word, he reached a hand in his pocket and pulled out a set of keys looped to his belt, undoing the chain and passing them to Calvin.
"Sure," he said.
Calvin's hand came up of its own accord. The keys felt like electricity as they were dropped into his palm. He nearly dropped them. He closed his mouth, which had flapped open in shock, and swallowed hard.
"Really?" he asked finally.
"Er, well… if it's not too much trouble, then, could you also not follow me? And not call the cops."
"I ain't following your skinny ass anywhere," he said, annoyed. "And I won't call the cops. Doesn't mean they won't come."
"Hell damn," said Calvin. Hell was the other swear word he knew, besides damn, and combining the two just seemed appropriate.
The machine tank moved out of the way and Calvin opened the door. It took him three tries because his hand was trembling so much. Once he had shut the door and bounced into the seat, staring at the steering wheel with horrified excitement, the machine tank sat on the curb to watch.
Rusty Jones had met some real weirdos doing his job over the years, but this guy won the prize. It was a shame the sad little white man also seemed incompetent. It would have been great to let someone walk off with eight hundred thousand dollars worth of cash. His final act of revenge.
Twenty three years of hard, dedicated service and they sack him. Not because he wasn't good enough, oh no, he could wipe the floor with any of those new yuppies they'd hired, and everyone knew it. He was a pit bull; hard, merciless and made for keeping people away from things they shouldn't be into. The difference was the new pit bulls were college educated, and knew things about googling themselves and those i-Poops or whatever.
Everyone liked Rusty Jones, much to his annoyance. He was just one of those guys. And so, naturally, why wouldn't he mind showing the new guys the ropes? He wouldn't get paid, sorry about that, but they haven't seemed to catch the hang of things yet, and well, it's eight hundred thousand dollars…
"Go to hell," Rusty had said.
"Thanks pal," came back-slap-included reply.
All he had done was stick an old t-shirt up the exhaust pipe. Just for fun—a little go around he felt was perfectly justified. They'd gone to pieces. "We need a thirteen by twelve, silver-plated, three-cylinder carburetor, with gold rocket jets. Edition XRT123409509384," he had informed them. And all three went rushing off, sprinting with their young, in-shape bodies down the street to find a car part that didn't exist. Idiots, the lot of them. And you never left a truck full of money alone with only one person. That was just common sense. Of course, you could leave it alone with one person if that one person was Rusty Jones, but they didn't know that.
He felt strangely satisfied to think of all things that would be robbed on their watch.
Which was why, more than anything, he wanted this money to get stolen. Any crafty thief, even the down-on-his-luck Joe, could have come along and been that much richer.
Instead, Calvin had shown up.
The engine coughed and sputtered. Calvin, his face slightly obscured by the reflection on the windshield, frowned in frustration and tried again. Whrrrrrr… clunk-clunk…. Calvin thumped the steering wheel, cursed, looked quite pleased with himself, then tried for the third time. Ggrrrtooooo…. Vrrrr….thump-die- splutter -it's-not-working-already-you-friggin'-moron….
Rusty tapped the window.
Calvin jumped high enough to ram his head into the steel roof. Shakily, he pushed the button that rolled down the window. Somehow, Rusty's face looked scarier without a sheet of bullet-proof glass between them.
"Why don't you just take the bags of money to your car?" Rusty suggested.
"I don't have a car."
"No… well, once, but it got stolen. I ride the bus."
Rusty sighed. "Alright. I didn't want to be an accomplice, but I guess I ain't got a lot of options with you. Hold on. Don't start the truck." Or I'll kill you, the words seemed to whisper in his absence. He walked around to the back of the truck and returned a few seconds later holding a greasy, rolled-up t-shirt in his hand.
He flashed Calvin a thumbs up sign without smiling. Behind his closed window, Calvin returned it, not smiling either. He didn't dare.
Sans t-shirt, the truck roared to life beautifully. Rusty waited. The engine choked once or twice, getting out a few bugs, and then purred, even without the gold rocket carburetor. He kept waiting. He'd waited an entire minute that felt a lot longer when the door on the driver's side opened. Calvin stuck his disheveled head out.
"Um. I don't know how to drive a stick."
Rusty raised his eyes heavenward and did a fairly good (in Calvin's opinion) 'someone up there better grant me the ability to resist killing this idiot' expression.
"Move," Rusty growled and Calvin moved, with impressive agility and speed, to the shotgun seat, ignoring the pain that shot up his leg when his knee rammed the stick shift.
Rusty grunted in behind the wheel, his massive form barely squeezing into the alterations Calvin had made. He readjusted the seat with one hand, and with the other, jerked the truck into gear. They bounced off the curb and lurched into the street with no regard for oncoming traffic.
"Where d'you live?" Rusty asked; or demanded on pain of death, depending on your view point.
"Charleston Street," Calvin squeaked. It was on the other side of town.
Rusty nodded, turning onto the right road. He didn't seem to realize, or didn't care, that there were other drivers on the road besides himself. They thundered through a stop sign, possibly speeding up as they did. Calvin pressed himself deep into the seat, sis right hand fumbling around for a seat belt. He found it and hastily buckled himself in.
He glanced at Rusty. "Perhaps you should wear a seatbelt?" he hinted helpfully.
Rusty shot him a sideways glower, grunting incoherently. Calvin shrank. Reaching behind him, Rusty proceeded to put his seat belt on. Both hands were off the wheel for three point two seconds. Calvin counted.
"I'm Calvin," he ventured after awhile.
Nice to meet you. Like the Red Sox or the Yankees?
Apart from Rusty's less-than-cautious driving skills, the ride was relatively calm. In fact, considering the circumstances, it felt bizarrely normal. They passed the church Calvin preached at (it was a bar Monday through Saturday) and he didn't feel even a little bit guilty.
"So, Jesse James," Rusty began with a smirk. He noticed Calvin practicing sinister expressions in the side mirror. "This your first job?"
Sarcasm was another one of those things Calvin didn't know the modern meaning of. Back in the day, sarcasm was a spice used in Indian food, and it was spelled 'carrkism'.
He shifted in his seat. "No…" he lied obviously. "I embezzled money from the company I used to work at." Not bad, if he did say so himself.
"No you didn't," Rusty said flatly, watching the road for once.
Calvin flushed. "Okay, you're right. I didn't." It was his first lie ever. He didn't feel too bad giving it up. "But I laughed when someone else did it."
Rusty turned, eyeing Calvin's thin, white fingers folded on his lap, the seatbelt snug across his chest. There was a fifty cent WWJD ring on one of the fingers. Rusty raised an eyebrow.
"No you didn't," he said again.
Calvin hesitated. "In my head," he muttered, quieter.
"I'll bet. Why are you really doing this? Or, letting me do this for you, I guess."
"Er, well… I just feel like I've been wasting my mortal probation." He shrugged.
"I know that feeling."
Calvin's equilibrium was thrown violently off-center as they went skidding around a corner, his shoulder slamming into the door. Resisting the urge to massage the now-throbbing appendage, he dared a brief glance at Rusty and took another stab at conversation. He coughed discreetly. "I quit my job today," he announced, doing a poor job of concealing his pride.
"I got fired from mine yesterday."
Getting fired seemed considerably more exciting than quitting. Of course, Rusty could have said, "I have perfect attendance and three gold stars at my job," and made it sound like the next Indian Jones movie.
The radio on the dashboard suddenly cackled to life.
"Rusty?" an anxious voice came through, fogged over by static.
Calvin clutched the edge of his seat. He licked his lips, throwing a swift look of panic to Rusty, who frowned at the road. If Rusty was hearing the nasally, newbie voice he thought he was, then it was Jake: the most idiotic of the idiots.
"Rusty, ya there? I think we found the carburetor, but they didn't have the right edition. But, um, the truck's gone… it was 31st street, right? Rusty?"
Rusty arched both brows meaningfully in Calvin's direction. The ex-priest had begun to perspire around his hairline and his skin looked paler than before, if such a thing were possible. "You gonna answer him?" he asked.
"Me?" Calvin looked shocked.
"No, the empty Coke can." Calvin, who still didn't know what sarcasm was, looked down at it with fascination. "Of course you," Rusty finished dryly, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"RUSTY. DO. YOU. COPY."
Rusty and Calvin both jerked a little. Rusty wondered why no one had killed Jake. Calvin snatched up the receiver and without hesitation or apparent brainpower, rolled down the window and threw it outside. The little black box hung on by the cord and smacked repeatedly against the truck side. Without a word, Calvin pressed the button and the window rolled up. He folded his hands in his lap again.
They rounded a corner, Rusty-style, and the receiver hit the stop sign they didn't stop at. It shattered and fell to the cement in a mess of wires and broken plastic.
"Good going," Rusty said. Calvin saluted. Sarcasm, Rusty concluded, flew right over this guy's head and went non-stop to Chicago.
"I guess you should know that they'll probably call the cops in the next minute or two."
"Oh." His face fell dramatically and then lit up with the same gusto. "Jail, huh? The big… big time. Yeah."
Rusty began to roll his eyes when Calvin spoke again. "I have an idea," he whispered, his watery eyes going wide with the thrill of discovery.
Rusty was skeptical. He scratched his chin and debated on whether or not to develop a sudden hearing problem. "…yeah?" he finally asked in the uncertain tone of voice people use when they don't want to hear the answer. To his side, Calvin sucked in a deep breath through his nose and, without exhaling, turned to face him, a slow grin stretching out his mouth. His eyes glittered, swirling with a mixture of adrenaline, excitement and insanity, one fighting to outdo the others in an unstable stare.
Creepy, is what it was. For the first time, Rusty shrank away.
"Pull over!" Calvin barked, lunging over and grabbing the wheel. Caught unaware, Rusty didn't realize what Calvin was doing until he had already yanked the truck sharply to the right.
"What're you doing?!" Rusty snarled through clenched teeth, turning the wheel back just in time to avoid hitting a parked car.
Calvin's grip didn't waver, and he struggled against Rusty's strength as they careened down the street with reckless abandon. "Let go of the wheel, you crazy, white bastard!"
"No-- wait, I'm a what?" Calvin let go. He squinted at Rusty. "That sounded like a profanity to me."
"That's because it was," Rusty snapped, wiping the sweat off his forehead. He mumbled a few more profanities under his breath. Calvin returned to his seat with a loopy smile, repeating his new word in his head over and over again like a war chant.
In an effort to avoid any more spontaneous attacks, Rusty pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. In the distance, police sirens wailed. The sound seemed otherworldly; vaguely interesting background noise that didn't concern them. Soon enough, they would feel the repercussions of their thoughtless, impulsive actions, but not now. Rusty turned the key and they sat in the quiet.
"So what's this idea?"
Calvin told him.
"Stupid," Rusty said.
"Just watch," Calvin replied, and opened his door, running to the back of the truck. He returned with a bag of money, which his thin arms barely managed to heave into the cab. Panting, he climbed up and unzipped the patented black polyester. With deliberate carefulness, he slid one bill free from a bound stack. It took a little finagling, but when he waved the hundred dollar bill in front of his face like a Spanish fan, the absence was virtually unnoticeable from the stack.
"Hell damn," Rusty said.
Together, they worked at removing as many single bills from the stacks as they could, while the sirens grew louder. The process was quiet and somewhat shaky, but it was the clean jumpiness of a difficult course resolved upon. When six police cars finally surrounded the parked truck in a half arc that blocked all escape avenues, an accumulated twenty-two hundred dollars rested deep in Rusty's pocket.
The news article the next day read as follows:
Former Pitts Paperclips worker apprehended yesterday afternoon in an attempt to rob the First National Bank. Security guard Rusty Jones given credit for the capture and was aptly rewarded and thanked by both the local police unit and the bank. All money was accounted for. Calvin Menet will await trial.
Calvin was taken into custody with as much struggle and fight as he could give them, which wasn't much. The judge took one look at Calvin Menet and gave him nine months in a cozy reserve prison where he met up with Karl and all the other cushioned, harmless guys that had gone the wrong way with their mid-life crisis. No one was hurt, the money was fine, and Rusty gave a very generous testimony in court. "I'll take it, you crazy, white bastard!" Calvin had screamed, shaking his fist in fury. The judge (who was black) asked Calvin's lawyer if a psychiatric counsel might be needed.
Rusty Jones got his job back, courtesy of stopping the bad guy. He quit a week later.
Two hundred and seventy four days after that fateful afternoon, Rusty picked Calvin up from the guarded recreational facility, otherwise known as prison, and Calvin bought Rusty a drink in the bar he used to preach false commandments in.
"Here," Rusty said, sliding eleven hundred dollars of cash across the counter to Calvin. "It isn't much," he added, watching Calvin flip through the thin wad.
"No," Calvin said. "I guess it's not not."
"I already spent mine."
"How's Mimi Foo Foo?"
"Fine. I took her to get her nails done yesterday. The shade wasn't right, so she was a bit moody for awhile, but that's blown over…"
Calvin took a tiny sip of his shot and choked, spluttering, eyes watering, and face growing a deeper shade of purple by the second, until Rusty slapped his back and he sucked in a rattling breath. "I'm okay," he wheezed.
"So," Rusty said carefully, with slow deliberation. "I been thinking. About this, all of it, and how you're so pathetic that no one suspects you of anything, and how I know all the ins of security… and maybe we ought to try this. Try it again, seriously this time."
Calvin's brows rose halfway up his forehead. "Omigosh, really? Because I was just thinking that I was in prison, and it was maybe the best time of my life, except for when I was actually stealing money with you, and how I didn't even want to leave—"
"Alright, alright. Settle down. And pass me that drink."