The large pendulum clock inside the bank manager’s office struck 11:00am – eleven ominous strokes of doom. Standing in front of the huge reinforced-metal bank safe was the bank manager himself, his brows beaded with perspiration, and his fingers trembling as he tried to open the safe’s combination lock system. The manager’s fingers were trembling because the muzzle of a black, evil-looking Nina Beretta was leveled right behind him at the base of his precious medulla oblongata. And standing behind the Beretta, with a finger resting gently on the trigger, was me.
Long story cut short: I was robbing a bank.
Long story cut shorter: I didn’t get away with it.
You see, robbing a bank is never an easy task. It almost always flops – the point man might fail to spot a potential danger; the escape route might be poorly constructed; the bank manager might delay too much and jeopardize the venture; one of your men might get trigger-happy and set-off an ugly chain-reaction; or some dude might decide to play hero – anything, just about anything could happen. And only one of such unforeseen incidents is enough to send the entire mission to hell in a handbasket.
But I didn’t reckon such a thing happening in this operation. I was in-charge this time, you see, and that meant that the mission would go exactly as planned – or so I had thought. Like clockwork, that’s how I described it to my men the previous night while I was detailing the plan to them. Zeke, at my side, had listened and nodded. There were five others: Osumo, who looked like a boxer, Atanda, Uchman, and the Alaye twins. And myself, of course, the C-in-C.
The plan was watertight. We had the complete building plans of the bank, with the three egresses marked out in red. The positions and number of security personnel in each part of the building was also indicated. We even had a man inside, one of the security guys named Okoro; his job was to disable the metal-detector entrance doors. Besides this, we also had a hand-drawn map of the network of roads and streets surrounding the bank, with the best escape route marked out. When I finished explaining the plan to them, Zeke nodded again and smiled. “Exquisite,” he said. Zeke likes using big English words. The others were also impressed by the brilliance of it all.
And now, as I stood inside the bank manager’s office, gun-in-hand, watching him empty the bank’s safe into the large plastic bag I’d given him, I couldn’t help thinking, exquisite indeed. Outwardly, though, I was frowning enough for two. “Hurry up,” I urged, neither too harshly nor too gently, just with the right inflexion to remind him of who was boss. Downstairs, I knew Osumo and Uchman would be doing the same thing with the cashiers, while Okoro and the Alaye twins would be minding the exits and monitoring the hostages, lest someone decides to play Jackie Chan. It was simply going like clockwork. It was too good to be true.
Well, hindsight never did anybody any good. After all, if Achilles had known about his heel, he’d have bought himself an iron shoe before going off to war. My Achilles’ heel turned out to be Osumo; who could have imagined that that gorilla of a human being had a soft spot for babies? Our undoing came in the form of a bawling seven-month-old baby.
The manager had almost cleared the safe of its contents when the loud report of a .38 Magnum pistol blasted away the tensed quietness of our mission. Only Zeke and Osumo had hand-guns, I thought rapidly, the rest had shotguns. Instinctively, I knew it was Osumo who’d released the shot, and as much as I hate to admit it, I actually prayed that he hadn’t hurt someone. Pushing the manager ahead of me along with the naira-filled bag, we hurried downstairs. The first sight that greeted my eyes on reaching the bank floor was a male cashier slumped backwards over his seat with a bullet-hole in between his eyes and the back of his head missing. The manager promptly keeled over and puked his half-digested breakfast into my bag of money.
A terrible racket was going on. My men were loudly ordering everyone down, down, down to the ground, and threatening to shoot anyone that as much as moved a micromillimeter. The women were keening and screaming their lives’ worth. Some of the men were cowering with their heads down; those who had the courage to look up had murder in their eyes. Amidst this organized confusion, I managed to piece together from Zeke what had happened. Osumo was supposed to be watching the male cashier, but he got distracted when a little baby in the crowd of hostages started to cry. The tearful mother tried to hush the baby, but it only intensified its shrill protests. Completely engrossed in the baby’s pitiful bawling, Osumo forgot the cashier. Then Uchman suddenly shouted, jolting Osumo out of his trance. He looked back to see the cashier furtively slipping his cell-phone into his pocket. In a fit of shame and anger, Osumo pointed his gun at the cashier and pulled the trigger.
The ear-splitting din raged on.
I looked at Osumo; there was a manic glint in his eyes. I looked away, raised my gun and squeezed the trigger twice into the air. A tensed stillness fell immediately. I walked over to the dead cashier, bent over him and took the phone out of his pocket. Its screen read MTN NG. I hit the redial button with the butt of my handgun, and a normal, harmless-looking mobile phone number showed up. Could belong to anybody, I thought, probably a sweetheart or friend. I checked the time of call; it was more than three hours ago – long before we’d even arrived at the bank. I shook my head, looking up. Everyone had their eyes on me, Osumo most of all, expectantly awaiting my verdict on his action. Then I had another idea. I hit the “Menu” button on the phone, selected the “Messages” icon, and scrolled down to the “Sent Items” option. I soon found what I was looking for; the time of the last sent message was sixteen minutes ago, and it contained just two words that seemed hastily typed: “arm robas”. The destination number was a contact listed as “SARS”.
“Red line!” I screamed, dropping the phone. That was our prearranged signal for a fast get-away. The hostages started screaming and making noise again, but we ignored them this time, hauling our bulging bags of naira notes. I think this was just about when logic clicked in, wondering how the SARS contact could know where the robbery was going on. But I couldn’t afford to wonder – could be the contact knows the dead cashier personally. All I knew was that we had to get away, fast.
By now you’d have probably guessed that we didn’t make any fast get-away. We didn’t even make it out of the bank; the police were waiting for us at the gates. Those few minutes we’d wasted trying to calm the hostages had been a few minutes too many, and the SARS cops had, for once, responded rapidly to the dead cashier’s message. Talk about going to hell in handbasket.
A shoot-out started out between us and the cops, and Uchman, Atanda and the Alaye twins went down. Zeke, Osumo and I made it back into the bank building where the hostages were still screaming their heads off. We thought of using them to bargain our way out, but at that moment dozens of tear-gas canisters burst in through the glass windows at the left end of the banking hall. The cops were really hot on us; I spied two lurking behind the busted windows and I released some shots in their general direction. Fuck, fuck, fuck! Goddamn you, Osumo! Gunshots suddenly echoed off the door to my back and right. Up, up, I thought.
Holding my breath – a painful business, I might add – I turned and dashed up the stairs to the manager’s office. Slamming the door shut and quickly bolting it, I ran to the end of the office and looked around, my breath coming in gasps. And then it hit me: there was no other exit from the spacious room, no windows, nothing. Slowly, I realized the inevitable fact – this was the end.
Already, I could hear gunshots echoing downstairs. Exquisite, I thought, smiling and shaking my head grimly, and the large pendulum clock overhead struck 12:00 noon. A couple of gunshots rang off the door of the office, cops yelling in the background. I let my handgun clattered to the floor, and turned to face the wall, legs apart, arms raised up in surrender. What the hell, a living dog is better than a dead lion.
The door suddenly tore away from its hinges, and the cops poured in.
The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley…