Baines had to interrogate the kid. He groaned as he refilled his coffee cup. These damn kids, he thought, pouring his requisite four sugar packets into the cup. Always talk like they’re so big and tough when half of ‘em still live with their moms. And we got this guy dead to rights, too. He and his “gang” were caught running out of the bank screaming like little girls. They had even left their guns and the money they were stealing inside! But I guarantee this kid’s gonna talk to me like I’m his school principal and he got caught writing a naughty word on the lockers.
With a sigh, Detective Baines stepped into the interrogation room where the kid in question, one Billy Fulmer by name, was seated. Not adopting the toughguy stance Baines had been expecting, and, in fact, he seemed to actually be shaking.
“So, Billy,” he said, getting the ball rolling. But that’s as far as he got before Billy cut him off.
“I did it. I confess. I’ll do whatever you say, I swear to God.”
Baines paused. There were suddenly quite a few things going on which he hadn’t expected, and when you’ve been on the force as long as he had, there were not that many things left which you did not expect.
“You sure you don’t want to talk to a lawyer before you…?”
“No way, man. I did it. Me and my boys. Vinny, Angelo—”
“Wait, wait, wait, slow down, Billy.” Now Baines was nervous. Nobody was this cooperative. Ever. Something was wrong here. “Are you all right? You seem a little…is somebody coercing you to say these things?”
“What? No, man! I’m telling you, I did it!”
“Okay, I give up: Why are you being so cooperative?”
“I’ll do whatever I got to do if it means I don’t have to see that freak again.”
“Freak? What freak?”
“The guy at the bank. The guy who stood up.”
“Maybe we’d better just start at the beginning. Tell me what happened this morning.”
Billy Fulmer had always been what people call “high-risk.” His home life wasn’t great, he grew up in a tough neighborhood and he didn’t have many friends. So the few friends he had, he tended to cling to no matter what…even when they were doing things Billy didn’t think was right. So, yeah, he’d shoplift if they told him to. When he got older, he helped them boost a few cars. But when they brought guns into the equation, Billy got scared.
But he couldn’t exactly say “no” to these guys, so he went with them when they started knocking over convenience stores. He felt trapped, but he had to play the punk along with the others or else God knows what they’d do. The funny thing is, every other member of this little gang had a pretty similar story. Deep down none of them wanted to hurt people, but it’s easy to get swept up by peer pressure, even when you’re the peer doing the pressuring.
The bank job was a stupid idea, but Vinny was convinced they could do it. What difference does it make, he said, knocking over a convenience store or a bank? Wave your gun, tell ‘em to give you the money, run like hell. In truth, Billy considered going to the police the night before, but he knew Vinny would find out and he’d be in big trouble. Besides, in spite of everything, he cared about these guys.
So, reluctantly, he put on his ski mask and ran into the bank with the others.
“EVERYBODY ON THE GROUND! NOW!” shouted Vinny before firing a few shots into the air. Everyone hit the dirt. Billy estimated that there were about twenty people in the bank counting customers and staff. A quick head count told him there were eight women, seven men and (oh, man!) two children, plus a few people he couldn’t see too well. Angelo and Bobby were filling duffel bags with cash while Billy kept his eyes on the hostages (which, Billy couldn’t help but remind himself, is exactly what they were).
“WHO’S THE MANAGER HERE?”
“Vinny, no. We got enough.”
They had talked about going for the vault but Billy thought that was too big a risk and that the money from the tills would be more than enough for the four of them. He thought Vinny had agreed, but he had clearly changed his mind. The boys knew that only the bank manager could open the safe.
“I SAID WHO’S THE MANAGER?!?”
Then someone stood up. Someone who could not possibly have looked less managerial if he was trying. Managers, for instance, tend to wear boring suits with ugly ties and black shoes. Not Hawaiian shirts, gray slacks and blue suede shoes. They also occasionally combed their hair as “bedhead” is not exactly considered to be very professional. No, this guy was, without a doubt, not the manager.
More than that, he wasn’t even scared. He didn’t have his hands up, he didn’t seem at all nervous. Every single person in the bank was either holding a gun or terrified of being shot. This man was neither and, for some reason, that scared Billy even more than he already was.
“Are you the manager?” asked Vinny.
“No,” said the man. “But I do want to help you.”
“Unless you can open that safe, you can’t help me. Now sit back down!”
“Well, I could open the safe.”
For a brief moment there was silence in the bank. The bank staff were wondering who he was and the customers were wondering whose side he was on.
“I could figure out the combination, disable the time-lock, or, if need be just break the door off its hinges. Give me a shovel, I could dig you a nice little tunnel into the vault, give me time and I could put together an elaborate heist like in Ocean’s Eleven. That was pretty cool, huh? Twelve was okay, but that whole thing with Julia Roberts? What was that about. Now Thirteen? That was good! Love Eddie Izzard as…sorry, I’m rambling, I do that. I have a lot of thoughts and sometimes they all want to come out at once and that can be…sorry, doing it again.”
(Looking back at this incident, none of the people involved were really sure why Vinny was letting this man go on talking this long.)
“What were we talking about? Oh, the vault, right. Yeah, I could easily open the vault for you…but I won’t. Of course I won’t. I’m not a thief. No, the reason I stood up is that I don’t want anyone to get hurt. You guys are clearly not professional bank robbers. You’re unsure of yourselves, you’re awkward, you’re clearly amateurs. You’re also emotional and carrying guns which, historically, is a bad combination and there are innocent people here which is why, on their behalf, and before whatever happens here happens, I am asking you: Please. Don’t. Do. This.”
This was to be an important day for Billy Fulmer. He was about to see two things that he would never in a million years have expected. The first was that his best friend, Vinny, began shooting the man who had stood up and didn’t stop until his gun was completely empty. This was shocking because in all the time they’d been together, even when they were robbing bodegas and the like, Vinny had never shot anyone. He had fired warning shots into the ceiling, as he had today, but the guns were always designed to be a threat rather than an actual weapon. But there had always been something inside Vinny and today, for whatever reason, it came out.
The second thing Billy hadn’t expected to see happen was a man being shot over and over again at close range and not dying…or being wounded…or even falling over.
True, his unbelievably tacky shirt had been torn to shreds by the hail of gunfire, but none of the bullets had penetrated the man’s skin. They bounced off of his body like ping pong balls and fell harmlessly to the floor at the man’s feet. Just like he was Superman.
Again, there was a moment of absolute silence in the bank. Everyone, employee, customer and robber alike were staring at this impossible man who had just survived a hail of gunfire with nothing to show for it but a ruined shirt. In the end, and to his own great surprise, Billy’s was the voice that broke the silence.
Without another word, he and his fellow failed bank robbers dropped their weapons, dropped the money and ran for the front door. They were greeted outside the bank by the police who had actually just arrived a few seconds earlier, in response to the silent alarm the real bank manager had activated as soon as Vinny had started shouting. The boys were arrested for armed robbery and taken into custody.
It was, without a doubt, the best thing that had ever happened to Billy Fulmer.
Of course, even with his lengthy and unsolicited cooperation, Billy still ended up having to do some time. But that didn’t bother him because, in the first place, it could’ve been a lot worse, and more importantly, he really felt like he deserved it. He had done some things he was ashamed of and he’d probably hurt some people along the way. He did his time, kept his head down, and, actually, got paroled after serving only one year of his three year term.
The day he got out, someone was waiting for him. He hadn’t expected this. His friends were all on the inside and his family hadn’t been a part of his life in years. So he was a little surprise to find someone standing outside the gates waiting for him to emerge. He was more than a little surprised when he found out who it was.
“Hi, Billy. Thought I’d give you a ride home.”
“Ain’t got no home.”
“Just get in the car.”
Having no real alternative, Billy got into the passenger seat of the detective’s car. Baines drove into town without saying a word. Billy didn’t talk for a long time either. Not because he had nothing to say but because there were so many questions in his head he didn’t know which one to ask first.
“Where are we going?”
“A mutual friend of ours found a little apartment in town for you. Nothing fancy, but it’s all paid up for the next eighteen months. More than enough time for you to get a job and—”
“Mutual friend? Who’s that?”
“Oh, you remember. Tall guy, messy hair, blue suede shoes, Hawaiian shirt…by the way, once you do have some money, I’d consider buying him a new one. I mean, yeah, it wasn’t exactly your fault that his old one got shot up but—”
“Holy...you know that guy?”
“Yeah. Came to see me just after we booked you and your boys. We had a long talk. He says he’s sorry he couldn’t be here to see you himself, but he had to move on.”
“I know, it’s confusing. In fact, there’s a lot of it I don’t understand myself. So here’s the important part: You made some bad choices when you were a kid. Nothing wrong with that, everyone makes bad choices when they’re kids. The difference is yours had consequences. You faced those consequences like a man and now you get a chance to start again, which is something not many people get. So if you know what’s good for you, you’ll be grateful.”
“I am. Really, I’m grateful. I just…what if I screw it up? What if I’m back with guys like Vinny again?”
“You won’t. I promised him that. That I’d keep an eye on you. Trust me on this, Billy: You’re gonna be fine.”
“Okay…so…who is he? The guy, our ‘mutual friend,’ or whatever? Who is he? Really?”
“That’s one of the things I don’t know. I don’t know what he was doing in the bank that day, I don’t know why he stood up and said all that stuff about breaking into safes and the Ocean’s movies…although he was completely right about the Julia Roberts thing…and I don’t know how he could take all those bullets and walk away without a scratch. But I’ll tell you what he told me: ‘We could talk about why bullets bounce off of my skin, or we can talk about a troubled kid who fell in with the wrong crowd and how we can help him get on the right path. Personally, I think we should concentrate on the more miraculous one.’”
It was many years before Billy understood what Detective Baines was talking about. And there was a lot of it he still never fully understood. But for the moment, none of that mattered as much as getting his life back together. It was slow going at first, bagging groceries for minimum wage. But after eighteen months he wrote his first rent check and, he had to admit, it felt good. He learned to be self-reliant. And every day on his way home from work, he saw kids just like him and wondered if a Superman who was impervious to bullets would magically appear one day and save them the way that man in the Hawaiian shirt had saved him. Finally he realized that miracles aren’t the kind of thing you can depend on happening to you, so you have to be the one to make them happen for someone else. A decision which set him down a path he had never expected and, admittedly, it was difficult at first, but with his friend, Detective Baines in his corner and the certainty with what he was doing in his heart, he made it.
Billy only saw the man in the Hawaiian shirt once more: The day he graduated from police academy, a face he hadn't seen in years but which was, nevertheless, unmistakably familiar, was standing at the back. He smiled at Billy and, when the ceremony was over, he turned and walked away.
“Friend of yours?” asked one of his fellow cadets.
“No,” said Billy, with a smile. “That’s my Uncle Charlie.”
TO BE CONTINUED...