Eric Koppel demanded cash from the bank teller. His ransom note was a collage of magazine letters cut out by his four-years-old daughter, Natalie, who loved Looney Tunes cartoon show. Eric showed the gun that came with the note, and whisked it back into his hooded sweater pouch, poking it through like an erection.
It was the second robbery from the consortium of stack scraping express, and he picked the right one. He knew the woman. Twice within a month, he got the bag out, told the clerk to make it quick, watching her startled eyes unable to believe this was happening again. Her shock gave way to measured realization and calmness settled over her. Composed, she gauged the distance between him and the exit. She was a brave, he saw, already ticking the seconds off the time of the alarm hitting and the police hitting the door, but Eric made sure the stories in the unfolded scrap of paper kept Claire’s hands in their proper place, working the drawers and not straying.
There was no wedding ring on her left hand. A total pity—a woman like her should remain married. She was seeing his face mask, rubber putty purchased at a Halloween discount store, which was of an old man with sagging jowls with frazzled gray hair that hung in tufts of blizzard fall, and she could see her own distraught face in the tinted shades. What was she thinking? Was she thinking about her own child? If she’d go back to her alive, tonight?
“Make it quick,” Eric said, the cloaked gun trained above the counter. The color drained out of Claire’s face and flushed like a cherry blossom tree. It reminded him of Jesus’s face imprinted on a wheat toast he’s witnessed while stumbling upon photographs of this phenomenon. Who was this woman so fuzzy and ill-defined? He didn’t know. Nor did he care to know. His pastor had once told him Mary wept tears, but Jesus shed blood, because Mary was merely a vessel chosen by God. His former wife took offense to that in her Catholic upbringing, so they squabbled some more.
“Hurry up, woman! Move it!” Eric shouted viciously, waving the gun now, gesturing the sign of the cross. “We ain’t got all day.”
Claire fumbled with the key to the drawer she had locked and stammered: “Okay, okay. Just don’t shoot. Please. I have a kid.” The gunman behind the mask and shades shook sweat trickling down his brows and neck. He counted the minutes that had passed since he pulled the semi-automatic pistol. It was one and counting. Claire pulled the stacks of twenties, tens, and hundred dollar bills and laid them out methodically, pretending he was a client. The tens came first.
For ten years, Eric Koppel maneuvered the educational system receiving probations and disqualifications, racking up grades suited for funerals, until he decided to change his life around and finally got a degree. But what could you do with a degree? You couldn’t even find a job. Eric toiled the landmines, venturing minimum wage jobs, waitressing, cleaning, burrowing student loans to pay child support and allay his weed habit. If he had graduated on time, like his mother said he should’ve, would things be better and not like how they were now? Was his mother, the conniving scoundrel, right?
The twenties came next.
Twenty hours in front of the television, at age twenty, Eric was supposed to be at work, but instead he stayed at his mother’s house, flipping through the channels, and waiting till his work ended and came back to his wife with the allowance money his mother gave him. He had pretended to go to work when he had no work. It wasn’t until his wife had blown a shit-storm did Eric realize cheating didn’t have to be physical.
The fifties appeared next.
He could feel them pressing in on him, the cops, police, law enforcement officers upholding the law, guns drawn, storming the front of the bank, surrounding the building. Hurry, hurry, he thought, I ain’t got much time.
Then finally the hundreds slapped on the counter in bundles took him back to the first time he met his wife at beauty make-up shop parlor, while browsing the acne cleanse section. They chatted, Eric becoming her frequent customer, coming back for her smile and the wink in her eyes, the scent of her perfume. Eric tossed the money into the duffel bag, dumping the wads in one whole sweep of his arm. The bullet proof window separated the two, being a barrier. Shooting at her would achieve nothing.
“Now, go. Get out of here,” she said. Cash stuffed under his leather jacket, the college dropout stormed out the front door of the bank, and sprinted all the way to his ramshackle apartment complex, seven blocks away to his daughter who greeted him at the door. He had no trouble with the guard blocking the exit. Two shots were all it took.
He wished he could say the same for Natalie. Natalie Koppel was sitting on Eric’s lap running down a list of questions. The television set aired the robbery that had enfolded fifty minutes earlier. When Eric arrived at the door, Natalie pecked him on his mouth, wrapping her arms around his neck, as he hoisted her up.
“How’s my little girl doing?” he asked, panting, huffing loudly.
“Daddy you’re sweaty.”
“Just came back from a business trip.”
Eric set her down and crossed the foyer into the restroom. He splashed water on his face and toweled off, drying himself. He transferred the duffel bag in the closet space of his room, yanking the elderly mask and sunglasses out from the front sweater pouch, tossing them on top of the bag. He hung the jacket and wore a clean, fresh shirt, replacing the sweater.
“Honey, did you feed the cat?”
“Mimi?” trailed a Natalie’s voice from the family den.
“Is that her name?” Eric asked out loud. He came out of the room, searching for something to eat in the fridge.
“Mimi’s bad. She drank potty.”
Old habits never died, he thought. When he divorced his wife, they agreed that he would take the cat since Natalie was in her mother’s custody. Eric struggled to reconfigure Mimi’s fancy for water in the toilet, switching the habit to make her lick water out of a bowl, but what fancy—it didn’t work. His ex had hard wired the feline’s brain for toilet water. Microwavable chicken, peas, and mashed potatoes looked doable for the night. He nuked two plates, changing the time every four minutes because they couldn’t fit together all at the same time.
Eric leaned back in the ragtag sofa, putting two feet up on the long, granite coffee table as Natalie sat besides him. It was quality time with his daughter, and no one could take that from him, until tomorrow, when he had to drop her off. Eric flipped through the channels. The evening news projected images of Eric's criminal acts from earlier that day.
There was the bank, then the shot of the anchor lady, then the surveillance camera revealing a grainy footage of a man leaning into the counter of the bank’s teller. He handed the piece of paper with Natalie’s assistance on it that read: dis is a stick-up. do not scream. do as I say and u’ll live.
“Daddy, cartoon. Looney Tunes. I wanna see Looney Tunes.”
“Not now, hon. This is something very important, and if you’re quiet for the next five minutes, I’ll get you a soda.” Eric said, raising the volume. “So finish your food.”
Natalie played with it, plopping the mash potato with her plastic fork. She twirled her hair. She kicked her legs, stood on the sofa, and sat back down, jumping like a failed transmission, shrieking in outburst.
“For crying out loud,’ He snapped. “What is it? What the hell is it?!”
“I want Mommy, I want Mommy!”
Eric thought of the security guard, the expression in his face when the bullet tore through him. He remembered thinking about the dance routine he had played during middle school, a part where he had ruined a perfectly easy routine, misjudging a step by a fraction of a second. The minor misfire ruined the whole performance and Eric was kicking himself for the rest of the night. The guard looked like that as he went down with two bullet holes. A small twitch and a grunt.
Eric nearly leapt out of the seat when the newscaster announced this guard was still alive; his vest had saved him. The screen cut to the teller who had been robbed, camera rolling as it zoomed on her face and exposing unbridled tears. She was sobbing hysterically, mascara running down her cheeks. Eric reflected about the first time he met his wife inside the beauty store and slowly got to know each other.
“What do you think about guys wearing make-up?” he had asked.
“It depends,” she said. “It looks nice on some, but not so much on others.”
He picked up a thin pen-like tube with the most delicate brush at the tip. “I’ve seen guys wearing eye-liners, especially in the movies.” Eric said, observing the love of his life put powders and conditioners back into their rightful places on glossy revolving stacks. “I don’t know about real life or have ever seen one actually wear it though. Can’t see myself doing something like that—ever.” He opened the blink mascara, studied it carefully, and laid it back on the showcase counter.
“Every boyfriend I’ve had, I painted eyeliner on them.” She’d remarked.
“You want to paint mine?” Eric answered in the spur of the moment. He never regretted it because she asked, how about now? Now, she was working elsewhere with another man. Now, life was circling the drain. Now, he was doing his best not to laugh.
Watching the evening news, now, Natalie Koppel climbed on top his lap and sat on his abdomen. She pointed at the display monitor, furiously asking the same question about the woman being interviewed.
“Is that Mommy? Is that Mommy? Is that Mommy?”
Eric smiled and said, “Yes, that’s Mommy. Tell her get better when you see her tomorrow. Okay?”
“Okay,” said Natalie. The same night, Eric dreamed his pastor scolded him for keeping the money all to himself rather than sharing it with his ex-wife. He woke up the following day, murmuring forty-five Hail Mary’s, and begged forgiveness for his sins.