For the Terribleminds challenge, Antag/Protag. Got to admit, I enjoyed this one.
Flashbulbs crackled in the bank’s lobby. So far the press hadn’t been admitted, which suited Paul just fine. The less they got in his way, the faster he could put together what happened.
Witnesses were saying it was two men with handguns who’d stormed the place. The guard had taken a good crack to the skull from one of the .45s and the robbers went straight to work afterwards. It was straight out of the Dillinger playbook. Paul wished he’d been part of that task force, but now he’d have to settle for his local beat until he could write a letter to J Edgar Hoover’s new FBI listing the reasons he should be included. As he bent over a spent shell casing, he mused that this could be his shot.
“They’re saying about $10,000 is missing, Lieutenant.”
“Thanks, Charlie.” Paul picked up the casing with the end of his pen. “So they come in, clobber the guard, and fire into the air to get people’s attention. Guess they head for the vault directly after.”
“Yes, sir. Eyewitnesses are saying one of them told everyone to stay down and stay out of their way so nobody else got hurt.”
Paul nodded. “Show them the guns work, show them you mean business, and most people will kiss the floor rather than come at you. Smart.”
He put the casing back down on the floor and walked to the fault, Charlie in tow. A good kid, a little wet behind the ears maybe, always telling the boys about news from abroad, but who had time to worry about tinpot dictators and loudmouth Austrians when stuff like this was going down?
“They ignore the cash at the counters and go straight for the vault. It’s got planning written all over it.”
“Yes, sir. Seems they were after the contents of this one safe deposit box.”
Paul narrowed his eyes at it. “Who keeps 10 large in cash like that? We know who owns the box?”
“We’re looking into it.”
“The sooner, the better.” He looked down. “So what’s the story here?”
Charlie scratched his head, skewing the angle of his hat. “One of the robbers, for sure. Same casing next to the body as out in the lobby. So the one who got people’s attention is the killer.”
Paul nodded. The robber lay where he’d fallen, a single bullet wound just above the bridge of his nose. “What do you make of his bullet wound, Charlie?”
The junior detective knelt. “Looks like powder burns, boss.”
“Right. Happened at point-blank range.” Paul made a gun with his fingers and pointed at Charlie to demonstrate. “Poor bastard probably had no idea.”
“So what now, sir?”
Paul adjusted his fedora. “We find the box’s owner, collect statements, and find this son of a bitch. He’s got an armload of cash, knows how to use his gun, works a crowd well, and won’t hesitate to kill. Chances are he’s as ruthless as they come. We gotta find him now.”
Simon closed his eyes and took a deep breath before opening the door.
Betty got up from the table to meet him, holding him as he pushed the door to the tiny apartment shut behind him. She took his face in her hands and looked him over.
“Is it finished?”
Simon nodded. “The easy part’s done. Now I gotta meet with Big Louie and give him what he says I owe.”
“I still think he set that fire deliberately. The inspectors said everything was up to code before that happened.”
“All I wanted was to open a bar. You know? My dad’s got shut down by Prohibition, and here I am able to pick up where he left off…”
She kissed him. “You can’t live in your father’s shadow forever.”
They turned to see Billy standing in the door between the kitchen area and the small living area, rubbing one eye. Simon pulled away from Betty and picked up the little boy.
“Sorry, sport, did I wake you up?”
Billy nodded sleepily. “Mommy let me stay up and listen to the game. They say the Babe’s going to retire, he’s playing so bad.”
“Well, we’ll just wait and see.” He kissed the boy on the forehead. “Now, sorry I woke you, but you gotta get back into bed. School in the morning.”
Simon set him down and he wandered back towards bed. He turned to Betty, who’d lit up a cigarette by the open window.
Simon glanced to make sure Billy was out of earshot. “He wanted a bigger cut. One that wouldn’t have been good enough for Big Louie.”
Betty looked at him evenly. “Frankie wants to be Big Louie’s right hand man. It makes sense.”
Silence. The cigarette burned longer in her hand than usual.
“Oh, Simon. What have you done?”
Simon looked at his feet. He saw Frankie’s sneer, the gleam in his eye, the condescending “What are you gonna do about it, palooka?” that filled Simon with rage. The gunshot had been thunderous in the vault.
“I just don’t want you going back to that life. Billy needs you.”
“Don’t pin this on me. Don’t do it.” She stubbed out the smoke and stood. The white négligée clung to her curves – God, she’s gorgeous. “I’ll do what I have to do for him, don’t you worry about that. You just worry about getting clear of Louie.”
He nodded, putting the locker key on the table. “Grand Central, in case you need it. If I’m not back by morning, call Magda. You know she’ll take care of you.”
The madam’s name made something flash in Betty’s eyes. She blinked, and Simon saw tears. She held him tight, holding them back.
“I know you need to leave, but you come back to me, Simon. End this for us.”
He held her cheek, looking in her eyes. His heart ached, he wanted to stay so badly.
“I will. I promise.”