Author's Note: Thank you for clicking the link and taking time out of your life to read my work. I am not exactly familiar nor completely comfortable with the short story format so any (constructive) critiques you wished to share would be most welcomed.
This is a story that has been itching at the back of my mind for a while now, even if I wasn't sure how I would put it. I'll not spoil it but I like to think it asks a question I often ask myself- in the heat of the moment, when things are spinning out of control, 'how will you respond'?
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
The Sanders Savings and Loan was located at the intersection of Teal and Arrow streets, clad in marble and car sized panes of glass, the phallic monument to capitalism shadowed a number of mom and pop stores during the morning and the road in the afternoon before eclipsing itself as the sun dropped off the horizon.
Paul had seen the sun dial effect many times from the safety of his tenth story apartment and now, standing in the shadow of the building he could feel the sweat beading up on his forehead and sending a chill through his body. He clenched his VA check tightly in one hand and took a breath to steady himself.
The parallel lines that corralled commuters between sidewalks gleamed in the afternoon sun, somehow managing to avoid the shadow of the building. Paul slipped into the flow of traffic, straddling the line as best he could without making himself a target while keeping a wary eye on the windows of the buildings overlooking the street.
Children rode their bikes hastily across the intersection and sidewalks and the women wore their sensuality like a physical thing that clung to the air around them. Tight shirts and tighter jeans hugged their curves which they rolled with daring allure and practiced grace as though their bodies were advertisements meant to capture the attention of both men and women. It seemed business was good.
Paul eyed a suspicious looking trash can as he made his way toward the cover of the bank's shadow, bounding the first step and the second. He slid in and pulled the door closed behind him, trading the stink of garbage and car exhaust for the cocktail of paper, carpet cleaner and ink that permeated the lobby.
A small crowd had gathered in neat rows in front of the tellers, speaking with them in hushed but polite tones. One of the few things that had not changed, Paul noticed, since returning to the states. People maintained a politeness in daily business that usually precluded their real feelings from the equation. They didn't get emotional over little things and if one was careful, one could even catch a glimpse of someone smiling as they lost everything.
They probably told themselves the same thing that Paul had, 'it will all work out'. They had not come to understand what Paul had; Americans were masters of self delusion. Things never got better, your knees never stopped aching, your back never stopped hurting. The night sweats never went away. All that anyone could do was hide and hope when it came their turn, they could stand up on their own.
Paul wandered over to the table with the deposit slips and snatched one up, jotting down his information as quickly as possible. After making sure all the numbers were perfectly formed he opened his check and tucked the deposit slip in. He turned to join the other patrons reluctantly.
No sooner did he move than the front door opened and in stepped a vulpine woman in a three piece suit. Designer label with a perfect cut to accent her humanoid figure. Her coppery fur stood out against the soft charcoal of her suit and even her meticulously maintained brown hair seemed at odds with what she was wearing. She fidgeted ever so slightly, her bushy tail giving a small twitch as she licked her lips. She let out a small huff of uncertainty while her gaze swept over the group of humans. When her chocolate eyes met Paul she tried to smile.
Paul turned his back, frowning. The cruel mockery of humanity shuffled her way up to the back of the line and reached into her pocket, removing whatever paperwork she had that required a banker's attention. Her humanoid feet had been crammed into a pair of black heels that almost matched the soot coloring of her foot fur. Paul found himself staring in wonder, even if unintentionally. A paper slid free from her packet and tumbled off onto the ground.
Paul watched it until it touched the carpet at which point his eyes settled on a fake plant behind the teller's stalls. Whether unaware or unconcerned, the 'woman' didn't pick it up. Didn't even seem to notice. Paul ignored it as the line advanced.
Closer and closer, one after another until he was next in line.
A woman screamed by the door. Everyone turned to see three men with AK-47's and ski masks walk in. The two rounded opposite sides of the door and one went for the tellers stalls. "Get on the ground! EVERYONE!"
His body was conditioned for instant reaction, he dropped to the carpet before anyone else did. Some part of him wanted to feel ashamed but as the others got to their knees and eventually laid prone he understood he had nothing to be ashamed of. The men had guns, he didn't. This wasn't Afghanistan, he had no back up and no hope of overpowering three men.
A baby cried out as the man grabbed a canvas bag from his belt and shook it out, tossing it to the nearest teller. "Fill it! No dye packs and no silent alarms!" he worked the safety with his thumb. "Now!"
"I- I- I-"
One of the other men gave up his position near the door to circle the bank patrons and check the offices. The baby continued to cry, his pitch growing louder even as his mother tried to cover his mouth. The man with the bag swung his rifle towards her. "Shut that kid up!"
She screamed, "please!"
The other patrons subtly moved away from the woman even as the other robber approached. "You shut that kid up or I will."
The vulpine creature pushed up slowly with her hands raised in a sign of nonaggression and spoke in a voice that was smooth and careful as though every syllable was made of gold and missing even one would cost a fortune. "Sir, if the woman could leave with her child," she took a very carefully measured half step toward the woman. "It would do no harm to your plans."
"We got a hero!" The man nearest the door shouldered his rifle and suddenly the other 2 were aiming at her.
"No," the fox creature's tail twitched but she stood her ground. Paul could see the trembling in her knees as she edged closer to the screaming child and its mother. "I just don't want to see any bloodshed here. You'll get your money and these people go home. Everyone can win. . ."
"Fill the bag!" The man nearest the tellers shouted at them. "You," he looked back to the creature who had since managed to get close to the woman. "Get the fuck back down!"
The baby bawled a shrill cry that ripped through the bank. Someone muttered "kid is going to get us all killed" while the men shifted their aim from the creature to their temporary hostages.
"It's going to be okay," she was saying. "Everyone's going to walk out of here just fine, let's not do anything foolish."
The tellers riffled through their tills and poured the contents into the bag, passing it amongst themselves before they started to hand it back to the man with the gun. When he didn't take it immediately the tellers looked at each other.
The creature had gained his attention and for it everyone was in danger. He stepped right up to her and snarled in a low voice. "Get down or I'll put you down, mutt."
"Don't hurt these people-" was as far as she got before the robber turned his rifle over and smashed the buttstock into her face. She had seen it coming and turned slightly to avoid having it hit her muzzle but not enough to avoid it entirely.
The creature staggered from the blow, almost landing atop the woman and her child. The robber behind Paul stepped over him. Directly over him. He could have reached out and touched the man yet he didn't, so transfixed by the sight that he barely felt his own heart beating.
Both men towered over her as she tried to rise to her knees. She had deliberately landed between the men and the child who's screams now resounded throughout the entire building. As she forced herself up Paul could see blood streaked the right side of her face like a crimson tear. She wiped at her face and let out a shuddering sob, looking up at the men with her ears laid flat back. She rose painfully to her knees and swallowed. "Please," her voice cracked. "No one needs to get hurt."
They looked at each other and then her. The man who had stepped over Paul leveled the muzzle of his rifle at her face and the woman's eyes locked on it. "Open your mouth."
"This isn't necessary," she said. "You have your money, stop scaring these people."
"I said open!" He booted her in the stomach.
Paul's stomach clenched as the woman doubled over, throwing her bushy tail up to shield the child from their view. "Please," she groaned and coughed.
"Look at this shit. . ." The leader stepped on her back and jerked his foot down hard enough to slam her chest to the carpet. "Not so tough are ya, mutt?" He kicked again.
"We got the money," said the man by the door. "Let's go."
"No, fuck that. . ." The leader jacked the bolt of his rifle open and chambered a round with a thick metal clack. "This is what happens to heros."
The fox woman slid to her knees once more, started to rise. The leader booted her over and instead of landing on her back she pivoted away from the woman and her child, clawing towards an open sspace on the floor. She looked up at him as the barrel of the gun rose to meet her.
Both men aimed at her.
Paul pushed up slowly and stepped closer. The men turned their weapons on him but he continued on undeterred, placing himself between their rifles and the woman in the suit. "No," he whispered. "No more."