The man has a gun. He walks into a bank with the gun. He sees himself from the outside, enacting a scene from a movie. He shows the gun to the security guard, who sits down, and he shows the gun to the cashier, whose face congeals with fear, and it’s all happening too fast, too automatically. The man has a bag, but the slot in the window is too small, and it is difficult to shove the bag through, so he tosses it over.
Within five minutes the bag is filled with money, and the man goes out and gets into the car parked outside. The police in this town are very slow, and he drives away just as they arrive. He takes the backpack home, and he ponders what to do with it. Maybe there are dye packs that will explode, drenching everything. It is a problem. He has rent; he has bills to pay. His children are due home from school in a few hours, and all of this is still faintly unreal. He has an urge to call his friends to confess. He puts the gun on a bedside table. Maybe he ought to smoke some weed to even out, but blowing a dye pack while stoned sounds like a nightmare.
This is all so strange. He doesn’t even know if dye packs are real, and he is afraid to Google it, because maybe they can use Google to find him, but he doesn’t know if that fear is real either. So he takes off the shower curtain, and he sort of rolls it all around everything else, and then he takes some scissors and cuts a hole in the bag, and he starts pulling out money. He is happy they haven’t pulled any switcheroo type of scenario, and the money is all there. He counts—there is about fifty thousand dollars—and he stashes it behind a heating vent.
Robbing banks is shockingly easy and lucrative. It’s just like he always told his friends. Why rob any place that is not a bank? It is just like a movie; it is really just like a movie, that is the insane thing, it is exactly like a movie.
The man has been laid off from his work, he has plenty of free time. His kids come home, they’re past the age of caring about him, now they only swarm the fridge.
The man doesn’t work for around a year. Then he drives to the next county and robs another bank. He similarly gets away with it, no problems whatsoever. He drives home, peacefully, safely, and he waits, his heart hammering, for the police to arrive. It’s hardly even a news story.
Over the next year, the man sometimes thinks, “I’m a career criminal. When they talk about career criminals, they’re talking about me. But I’ m not dangerous. I’m not steely and tough. I suppose, like most criminals, I have my own particular racket. My modus operandi. I somehow thought that criminals were inculcated through some kind of apprenticeship system. I also thought that crime did not pay. But it does.”
He watches more films to learn the details of more criminal schemes. He particularly studies the cons, the hacks, and the frauds. He feels himself to be on the edge of a vast criminal underworld. If bank robbing is true to film, then what else might be true? Yet he has trouble believing in some things. Is there, for instance, some detective, some hard-working stiff, who is sticking pins into a wall, triangulating his position? There must be a thousand and one tiny clues he’s left behind, particularly on the internet. Can’t they bounce signals off of cell towers and figure who’s been in the vicinity of both robberies? It seems absurd that our protagonist could’ve escaped punishment.
This latest haul was particularly good, over one hundred thousand dollars. The man doesn’t buy anything, not even a new car. He smokes pot, plays video games, watches crime shows. Desperate for excitement, he even begins to read crime novels. He reads a little about prison, and he thinks, I could probably do the time: ten years, or whatever it would be, for armed robbery, I could do it. This is insane; this is so simple; it is a wonder that everyone doesn’t rob banks. This is like a secret that the world has been keeping from me, except the secret was on television the whole time.
But the man doesn’t engage in a third robbery. The economy is better now. He goes back to his old job: driving ParaTransit buses. Once he becomes an employee, he almost instantly loses any aura of confidence he might’ve carried from his robbery adventures. He sinks into the daily grind, and his life no longer seems like a movie. He forgets about the robberies for long periods of time, but when he remembers, they come crisply into focus. Each was no more than five or ten minutes long, and his entire life was lived in those minutes. And yet although he could pick up his gun and walk into a bank tomorrow, he does not. That time in his life is so irrevocably finished that the thought doesn’t even occur to him.