The day was colder than the night before. My accomplice and I stood on the half-way landing of a long stairway and shifted from side to side, bouncing on the balls of our feet. Our breath formed a crystalline mist in the air between us. The stair ran eighty feet from one end of the Mid-city bridge to the parking lot below.
We scanned the area and, finding nobody near, checked our guns one last time. They were loaded. We jammed them back into our coat pockets and pulled our ski masks over our faces.
"You ready?" I asked my little brother. True, he was a sometimes stool pigeon, but this caper was too important to trust with anybody not bound by me by blood. I had to trust him to keep mum this time. "Remember what to do?"
He nodded. He looked scared.
"Don't worry, we'll be in and out of there in two minutes."
We paused near the top of the stairs and listened until all passing traffic was gone. Then we climbed to and crossed the street with long, brisk strides. We went about a half block up the main drag of downtown Fairmont, Adams Street, and stopped in front of Hartley's Department store just long enough to glance up and down the street. No cops, no cars, no approaching pedestrians.
We entered the revolving door, which was heavy, and not well greased. It took a bit of muscle to get her moving.
Here is how I imagined the caper would go down. We'd enter, wave our guns in the air, yell for everybody to get down on their bellies; everybody but one cashier. Then while my brother covered the room with his gun aloft, I'd instruct the cashier to fill a plastic shopping back with money. She'd be scared, but I'd reassure her.
"Don't panic, sweetheart. Nobody pulls a fast one, nobody gets hurt."
I'd wink through the ski mask. She'd fill the bag and hand it to me.
"Nice try. But ain't you forgettin' sumpin'?"
I'd point my six shooter at the ceiling and poke it heavenward a time or two. She'd shrug, then write a note, place it in a cylinder, and slide it into a pneumatic tube. The note in the cylinder would then wisk magically away up through the ceiling. Moments later, the walls would begin to vibrate, then to rumble, as a torrent of crisp paper cash would spew back out of the pneumatic tube, sent from every corner of the store: hardware, furniture, appliances, men's clothing, women's clothing. Hell, even from fabrics, where I'd patiently spent so much of my infancy in strollers while my mother pored through the sample catalogs. Oh, my revenge would be delicious!
Here's what actually happened:
As we stepped out of the revolving door onto the long, marble entryway floor, we took our guns out and waved them in the air. I used muscular throat control to pull my adam's apple down deeper into my neck and said, in my deepest voice,
"Everybody down on the ground. Now! On the ground!"
The security guard was the first to bodyslam the floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the accordian gate of the old fashioned elevator pull to as the liftman secreted himself behind the control panel. A few shoppers were slow to lie down.
"I said everybody! Or I'll shoot ya where you --"
The vast, echoey room was suddenly impaled with the terrified scream of an old woman.
And at that very moment, it occurred to me that what we were doing was real, not make-believe. And that the outcome could be less than desired.
I turned to my brother.
"Run away!" I said. He needed no prompting, but was on his way to the revolving door. I backed away, covering the room with my gun.
"Stay where you are!" I said. "We'll be right back!"
We ran back across the street and down the stairs by the Mid-city bridge. As soon as we were out of sight, we ditched our guns behind some large stones, reversed our reversible coats to sport two different colors, and did the same with our ski masks, rolling them up into mere snow caps. Then we ran all the way down the stairs, across the football field-length parking lot, and walked back towards town another way, careful though to avoid the main drag.
I was ten and my brother was eight. We had specifically requested the reversible coats and hats, and the very realistic looking cap guns, for Christmas just so that we could realize this little heist that I'd spent a lot of school time daydreaming up. We were humbled, and petrified.
For weeks, I checked the headlines of the Fairmont newspaper for news of the "midget bandits", but none appeared. Every time a car came up our gravel road, I eased back the corner of a curtain with weary resignation for the jail time ahead, but the cops never came.
To this day, I marvel that the episode seems to be unheard of by the citizens of Fairmont.