“Okay, here we go.”
“About damn time.”
“Shut up. One more time through the plan.”
“For Christ’s sake…”
“Walk in, fire a round at the ceiling to get their attention, then grab the money from the tellers. Focus on the bigger bills. Twenties and up. Don’t get greedy. Greedy makes you dumb. In and out in five minutes. Cops won’t have time to arrive, and we’ll be gone.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! Can we do this already?”
“Okay. Whatever you do, don’t hurt anybody.”
“Cause, that’s a dumb thing to do. Robbing a bank is one thing. Murder is another.”
“Yeah, okay, I get it.”
“Right. Let’s do this.”
There is a distinctiveness to a shotgun being fired that is almost impossible to mistake. More than any other firearm on the planet, a shotgun knows what it is to inflict pain. It reflects in the sound of it going off, resonating on an instinctive level, inducing fear like nothing else can.
It may not kill you, but it will make you wish you were dead. If it does kill you, it probably won’t do it right away. It’ll be a slower death. A pain filled existence that leads only to the bliss of oblivion, which you will welcome by the time it arrives.
It’s why the customers of Eighth Street Savings And Loan hit the floor before the gunman even finished shouting for them to. That single shotgun blast at the ceiling was all the incentive they needed. Nobody was looking to play the hero, not even the guard.
“Move!” the second man shouted, waving the man with the gun to the bank of tellers.
Both wore ski masks and goggles, with turtle neck shirts, and gloves. Not an inch of skin showed, making them impossible to identify. They were smart. They knew not to waste time on the video cameras, but to not give them anything useful, either.
The one with the shotgun did as they had planned, running down the bank of teller windows, grabbing everything above a twenty and shoving it into a sack. The other simply watched the door, cradling a shotgun of his own, but not aiming it anyone. It was the threat that mattered.
“Done!” the first man yelled, running to rejoin his companion.
“Let’s get gone,” the other nodded.
“Hey boys,” a voice, light and feminine, called to them as they turned. “Watcha doin’?”
Everyone knew who she was. There wasn’t a living soul on the planet that hadn’t heard of her. It was only natural, all things considered. Topping out at seven feet in height, with a thick mane of flowing silver white hair, it wasn’t really her generous, feminine curves that made her so well known.
It was that she was hovering in the air, arms crossed, giving the two bank robbers a somewhat bemused look.
They paused anyway, to take her in. It was impossible not to. Not only was she beautiful, it was her attire. Low heeled work boots, with loose fitting leather pants, and a heavy, white denim shirt, all capped by a flowing, ankle length coat. Ordinary, in many ways, until it was on someone of her stature, who could fly. That somehow made it seem extraordinary.
“Aw, shit,” the one who had done the planning sighed, dropping the shotgun he carried.
“Holy…” the second one, the one who had fired his weapon, gasped. “It’s Powerhouse!”
“Aw, you’ve heard of me,” the woman grinned. “Always nice to meet a fan.”
“Heya, Trish,” the planner called, waving before tugging his ski mask off. “How you been?”
The floating woman blinked a few times, then groaned heavily. “God damn it, Gary. What the hell are you doing?”
“Duh,” Gary snorted, spreading his arms out wide. “Robbing a bank.”
“Yeah, I see that, thanks,” she groused, glaring at him. “I’m asking why.”
Gary shrugged as he dug a cigarette out of his back pocket and lit it. “It was here. So was I. Figured, what the hell?”
“This is a no smoking establishment,” Powerhouse grumbled.
“What are you gonna do,” Gary chuckled. “Lock me up?”
Trisha McNeil, better known as the superhero Powerhouse, really wished she had a come back for that. Witty banter wasn’t really her strong suit, though, something Gary knew well from the number of times she had sent him off in handcuffs with the local authorities.
“Shut up,” she muttered, sulking.
Gary laughed at that. “I thought you were in England. Thought we could pull this off while you were out of town. Figures you’d show up anyway.”
“I just got back,” she told him. “Lucky you, huh?”
“Depends on how you think of luck,” Gary said with a wink.
“Hey, what the hell are you doing?” his partner hissed. “We need to deal with this cape and get gone before the cops show up.”
Gary hung his head. “Did you have to say that?”
“This is not a cape,” Trish blurted. “It’s a duster. All the theatricality of a cape, but with actual functionality, like pockets.”
“Here we go,” Gary sighed, shaking his head. “She’s on the cape thing.”
“I can hear you,” Trish snapped. “And it’s a duster.”
“Sure, whatever you say there, Doctor Who,” Gary groaned.
Trish turned red, and jabbed a finger at him. “We’ve talked about you invoking him as an insult! Do not do it! That is not okay!”
“How is it that you’re such a big nerd, Trish?” Gary chuckled, waving her off.
“Geze, Gary, c’mon,” she pouted. “I’m in uniform.”
“Sorry, Powerhouse,” he snorted.
Trish shot him a glare he had seen a thousand times, and knew meant nothing. By his side, his partner was only getting more agitated. Not that it mattered. There wasn’t a thing they could do against her, leaving them with only one option. Wait politely for the police to arrive.
“Don’t gotta make it sound so snide, ya know,” Trish muttered staring at the wall as if it had offended her.
“Seriously, Trish,” Gary groaned. “You’re seven feet tall, and have silver hair. Not like I’m blowing your secret identity over here.”
“It’s the principle,” she snipped.
Gary rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Go fight a giant space robot already.”
“That was one time!” Trish blurted. “Why’s everybody always gotta bring that up?”
“Screw you, mask,” Gary’s partner shouted, leveling the shotgun on her.
“I’m not wearing a mask,” she sighed, at the exact same moment Gary sighed, and said, “She’s not wearing a mask.”
“Jinx!” Trish squealed.
“Shit,” Gary grumbled. “I’ll buy you a soda when I get out.”
“What the hell, man? Is this some kind of a joke to you?” Gary’s partner bellowed. “I’m not going to jail so you can flirt with this bitch!”
“Hey now,” Trish sniffed. “That was uncalled for.”
“Shut up!” the man yelped.
“Come on, Halston, settle down,” Gary interjected, using his calm voice. “She’s pretty much invincible. You really think shooting her is gonna do anything but annoy her?”
“Bullshit,” Halston snapped. “I’ve seen plenty of these so called super heroes get wasted on the news. She ain’t no different.”
Trish’s gaze was fixed on him, the humor having drained from her eyes, leaving only a look of sadness. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”
“Shut up!” Halston roared, and jerked the trigger.
The shotgun gave a hollow click.
Halston looked down at it, his face twisted to shock under the ski mask. Pumping it, he tried again, but got only the empty click again.
“What the hell?”
“It’s okay,” Trish said. “It happens to a lot of guys. I don’t think less of you.”
“Can you not help right now?” Gary pleaded.
Trish sulked again. “Finally get a good zinger in, and nobody cares. Typical.”
“Trish, please,” Gary said as Halston threw the shotgun to the floor and yanked his mask off.
“You said you had everything taken care of, asshole!” he shouted at Gary.
“And I did,” Gary told him, giving him a pained look. “One round in the shotgun, enough to get everyone’s attention. I couldn’t take the chance you’d get twitchy and hurt somebody.”
“Hurt somebody?” Halston stammered. “We’re robbing a bank, you dick!”
“Yeah, but we aren’t killing anyone,” Gary replied, his shoulders sagging. “We may be criminals, but we aren’t monsters, Halston. We’ll never be killers.”
“Screw you,” Halston bellowed, reaching for his back and pulling a nine millimeter.
“Hey, calm down,” Trish barked. “You don’t want to hurt anyone, man.”
“The hell I don’t,” Halston yelled, backing away from her. Pausing, her reached down to grab one of the customers, a woman, by the hair and yank her up, putting the gun to her head. “I’ll kill her, if you don’t back down.”
“Fuck me,” Gary gasped. “Trish, I didn’t know he had a backup piece, I swear!”
“It’s okay, Gary,” shes aid, floating fully into the bank, staring down Halston with rage in her eyes. “He’s not going to hurt anyone.”
“Try me, bitch!” Halston shouted, jamming the barrel of the gun into the woman’s head.
Trish watched for a moment, taking the situation in, and trying to find a way to diffuse the it before it got worse. Halston wasn’t just angry, he was scared. She could smell the fear coming off him, thanks to her heightened senses. So was his hostage. Probably thirtyish years old, looked like a typical working mom, based on the clothes she wore, and the bags under her eyes. The wedding ring on her finger was a simple thing, probably barely even one caret.
She was sobbing as quietly as she could, terrified beyond words. It was more than Trish could stand.
“Put the gun down,” she demanded. “Or I will put you down.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Halston sneered. “I’ve seen you on the news. All good and upstanding, Helping kittens out of trees. You won’t risk an innocent life, not for a bag of money. That’s not how you roll. So, lay off the big bad talk, and float the fuck outta my way. Me and the lady are going for a walk, and so long as you, and the cops, don’t follow, she won’t have to get her brains splattered. Got me?”
“God damn it,” Gary muttered, honestly terrified.
Trish sighed heavily, shaking her head. “That’s where your wrong, pal. You aren’t going to hurt her, but you aren’t going to leave with that money, either. That money, it belongs to people, who have bills to pay, and kids to feed. They need it. Do the right thing here. Do the smart thing. Put that gun down, while you still can.”
“Who cares about them?” Halston bellowed. “Nobody gave a damn about me when these bastards stole my home out from under me! Nobody cared when it was my bills! My kids! They took everything from me! I’m just taking it back!”
“Your house?” Trish asked, seeing a narrow opening.
“They said I was behind,” Halston told her, his voice dropping, the anger fading to hurt in his eyes. “I’d never missed a payment. Not one. They took it all away anyway. My kids. It was the only home they knew. Then I lost my job. Downsizing, they called it. Funny. The suits upstairs all got pay raises. My wife, she left, and took the kids to her mom’s. She had to. I told her I’d figure it out. I’d get our lives back. But, there wasn’t a way. You can’t fight those guys. They have all the power. We don’t have any. This was the only way. I need this money, to get my family back. To get my life back!”
Trish let him vent, hovering there, arms hanging at her sides now. So much pain. So much sorrow. So much desperation. It broke her heart. She could stop all the villains in the world, except the ones that operated legally. Them, even she, with all her power, couldn’t touch.
“It isn’t fair,” she said quietly.
“No, it isn’t,” Halston agreed, the gun dipping slightly.
Trish saw that opening widen. “You know where I was, five years ago, when the gene bomb went off?”
“Do I look like I care?” he shot back.
She gave him a sad smile. “Coming out of a hospital, in a wheelchair. I was only nineteen. Had cancer. The kind they can’t fix. The latest round of radiation, it hadn’t helped. Just made me sicker. That was the day the doctors told me, I had weeks. Maybe a couple of months, left. That was it. I was looking at the end of my life, and I had barely even gotten started yet.”
Halston’s hand wavered. Gary looked up her, so strong, so beautiful. How did he not know about this?
“Then, the gene bomb went off,” she continued, looking up. “I spent the next six months in a coma. Whatever that thing did to me, it took a while for it to happen. One day, I woke up, looking like this, with these powers, completely cured. It was crazy. I had only been five two before, and after all the cancer treatments, barely weighed eighty pounds. Then, this.”
“I’m sobbing for you,” Halston sneered.
Trish turned her gaze back on him. “It’s a cruel joke. You just haven’t heard the punch line yet. My brother, Thomas, he was a cop, you see. After the gene bomb, it got pretty dangerous out there. Lot of people discovering super powers. One of them, The Marksman, he shot and killed Thomas, two days before I woke up with the power that could have saved him.”
Gary couldn’t bear to look at her anymore. This part, he had known.
“All of this, and I couldn’t save the person closest to me,” Trish told him, a sad smile on her face. “So, yeah, I get it. I know what you’re talking about. You think I don’t ever feel powerless? I absolutely do. Every time I visit his grave.”
“Still,” Halston managed.
“You have power now,” Trish continued, waving a hand at the woman he held hostage. “She has none. Look at her. Look at the wedding ring on her finger. She’s got a husband, and probably kids. Tell me, how are you any different than the people who ruined your life? How is ruining her family’s going to make it better? Is that tiny bit of money something you think they’ll even miss? Hell no. The insurance will cover it. There’s no insurance that’ll give her back to her family, though.”
“I… no…” Halston stumbled, unable to take his eyes off the ring on the woman’s finger.
“You can still walk away with your humanity intact,” Trish told him. “But if you do this, if you go there, there’s no coming back. There’s no looking your kids in the eyes again, not ever. You do this, and you really will lose them. Forever.”
Slowly, Halston lowered the gun, then collapsed to his knees, whimpering, over and over, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Trish floated down, her feet fining the floor, then her knees, as she gathered him up, and held him. “I know. I forgive you. It’s okay. I’ll help you figure it out. I won’t abandon you. I promise.”
Gary held his arms out as Officer Kasinsky held the cuffs up. He smiled as they were put on, then asked after Ron’s family. Little Susie had won the spelling bee. Gary smiled and congratulated him.
“Hey, Gary,” Trish called.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you something for a while now,” she said as she joined him.
Ron looked from one to the other, then went to busy himself with something else. He knew Gary wasn’t going anywhere. He never did, not after Powerhouse had caught him. It was pretty much the open secret of the police force the guy had a thing for her.
Gary watched Ron go, ignoring his smirk. “Yeah? What’s that?”
“Why the hell do you keep robbing banks?” she yelled, waving a hand at the building behind them. “I mean, I went through a lot of trouble to get you set up with that private security firm, you know? Nice and legit job, that still utilizes your skill set, but legally.”
Gary shrugged. “It got dull. There’s no fun if there’s no risk.”
“Seriously?” she sighed, burying her face in her hand. “They’re gonna lock you up for good this time. Then what?”
“I’ll break out, and try to rob another bank,” he grinned. “Figure you’ll be there to stop me.”
“I will, yes,” she snorted.
Gary winked at her. “Then I’ll be looking forward to our next date.”
Trish scowled at him. “Oh, joy.”
“Aw, c’mon, Trish,” he chuckled. “The only time I see you is when you catch me, or when I’m inside. Which reminds me, can you bring those little Praline cookies again? They are so good.”
“Maybe try having a normal dating life, Gary,” she retorted. “Just saying.”
He grinned wider. “How’s that fun?”
“This is why you don’t have any friends, you know that, right?” she grumbled.
“Sure I do,” he laughed. “They’re all in prison.”
Trish held up a finger, planning to counter that, realized she had no argument for it, and dropped her finger, as she fell into sulk mode. “Shut up, Gary.”
Laughing hysterically at that, he turned and headed down the steps to where Ron waited. “See you next time, Trish.”
“You, me, and an unloaded gun,” she shot back, feeling proud of herself for having gotten off a good quip.
Gary paused. “Yeah. It’ll always be unloaded. I may not be a good man, but I’m no monster, Tish. Not like that. I never will be, either.”
Trish stared at him in surprise. “I didn’t… I mean… I wasn’t…”
“You don’t get it, do you?” he asked, his back still to her. “Why I don’t do that. It doesn’t make any sense to you, does it?”
Trish said nothing.
“It’s because of you, you know. Because of who you are. Because of what you do. Like back there, with Halston. That’s why I don’t load the guns. They are purely for show. I’d never forgive myself if somebody actually got hurt. I just couldn’t live with that. Because, I know, you’d never forgive me for it.”
“Gary,” she started.
He shook his head quickly. “You always do the right thing. You make people hope for better. Aspire to be better. You’re so good, it hurts. I admire you, Trish, I really do. Just because I’m a criminal, doesn’t mean I can’t help make the world better, in my own stupid little way. I’ll never let anyone get hurt, because that’s what you’d do. You’d protect them, so in my own way, I’ll do the same. It isn’t much, but it’s what I can do, and it was you that made me see that.”
Trish stood, watching him, at a loss for words.
“So, you go save the world, beautiful,” Gary told her, finally looking back, and smiling at her. “I’ll be here, waiting for my moment, to make you look like the hero you are, and together, we can make sure nobody gets hurt, yeah?”
She couldn’t help but smile back. “Yeah. Okay, Gary. You got it.”
He nodded, turned to Ron, and and walked to the squad car that waited for him.
“Smooth, man,” Ron said as he helped him in.
“Close as I’m gonna get to telling her, buddy,” Gary replied. “Close as she’ll get to accepting it.”
Ron nodded and closed the door, turned to give Powerhouse a tip of his cap, and headed around to take Gary away. Standing atop the steps, she watched, and slowly floated up into the air, the smile on her face refusing to go away.
Maybe there were a few good ones out there.
Yeah. Maybe there really were.
©-2018 Cain S. Latrani