Excerpt: Flight to Freedom

Laura was walking to work. It was seven in the morning, and Maiden’s Bay was a quiet monster, just beginning to stir, making waking-up noises of traffic on the highways, construction cranes and bulldozers coughing to life in never-ending work zones, of the clop of drowsy feet to bus stops. And there were sirens. Laura heard them in that way that cops do, so clear and noticeable in any place, at any time, and yet so familiar, so much a part of the body of a police officer, that for a second, they wonder if they’ve imagined them.

She had not imagined them. They rushed around a corner two blocks away, a radio car chased by an MBPD SUV, and Laura began to run.

She could not run faster than other people. That had been a big disappointment. She could hit a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball, but not outrun one. Be that as it may, she was still in damn good shape and as she caught the corner, coffee cup long forgotten on the sidewalk behind her, she realized where they were all going.

The First Municipal Bank of Maiden’s Bay was a squat, white brick building that had black doors in the front, which sometimes looked to Laura like the pure ebony velvet center of a white flower, but today looked like a black eye, because it was surrounded by red and blue lights which cast onto the white building like bruises. Laura made her way up to the detective on the scene, Don Alfred, who was called “Fred,” whether he liked it or not.

“What do we have, Fred?” Laura asked, catching her breath and looking through the windows into the bank. They were across the street from the bank, and she couldn’t see much, the glare of the rising sun was intense on the glass.

Fred was a tall man, with graying hair that curled and knees knobby enough to stick out of the blue pants of the MBPD uniform. Laura had not changed into her own blues yet, but he recognized her. Everybody knew Laura.

“What do you think, Officer?” Fred muttered, taking a toothpick out of his mouth and throwing onto the ground. He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the bank. And so Laura knew. The only bank robber in the city who would inspire the cops to stand around and glare instead of draw weapons.

Brian Grayson.

Laura drew her own gun.

“Won’t help,” Fred’s partner observed. He was a thick man named Kingsolver. Laura didn’t know his first name. “Plus, Chief Taylor said no weapons. We can’t hurt Grayson, and we might hurt somebody else.” His face made it clear he found this a bad solution to a bad situation.

Laura reluctantly put the gun away, tucked into the holster on her back, beneath her loose pink shirt. Her mother had told her pink was not a good color for redheads, and that was why Laura wore it.

“Where are the feds?” she asked.

Fred shrugged. “What can they do? We just send them our reports.”

Laura watched him for a moment. “So you’re just gonna stand here?”

The two men looked at her, and so did the street cops. “Well,” Laura said finally, “I’ve never seen it. So I’m going to have a look.”

“Don’t draw your weapon,” Fred ordered as Laura started across the street.

She waved at him. The First Municipal Bank grew closer with every step she took, and now she could start to see through the windows. There was a row of five chairs filled by four people, one man, three women, all dressed nicely, bank employees, had to be. The bank wasn’t open for business yet. Brian must have waited til someone came along and then followed him in, surprising the rest of the workers as they arrived. And then somebody must have called the cops from a cell phone.

Laura’s hand felt light and empty, but she did not reach for her gun. She stopped at the entrance to the bank, and there he was, coming out of the vault with a shorter man who looked quite nervous, but quite relieved at the same time. He had a thick nose and tiny eyes, and he was really dressed up. Bank president. Brian led the man to the empty chair, where the president gratefully settled. Then Brian said something and one of the women in the row of chairs laughed. Laura took her eyes from the robber and focused on the hostages, who were sitting easily in their chairs, legs crossed, relaxed. Almost like if you gave them popcorn they’d be waiting for a movie to start.

Laura shifted uneasy eyes back to Brian Grayson. She’d seen pictures, he was a well-known guy. But he looked stronger in person, it was something in the way he moved. Strong, easy, and graceful, he really looked like a man who might just lift up off the floor at any moment.

Not if Laura could help it.

She tried the door. It was locked, of course. Laura pulled a little harder and it came open. Six heads turned to her in surprise. “MBPD,” she announced. “You’re going to want to leave that here.”

Brian looked at the blue canvas bag in his hand, a large bag, full no doubt of cash from the vault, and then he smiled at her.

That, too, was different from his pictures. His smile was stunning when not frozen in black and white. Handsome. Wow. And he was staring at her, like somehow he might find her as fascinating as the world found him. “I don’t think so,” he said, lightly.

Laura spoke to the bank employees. “Are you all right?” They had lost their easy manner and looked at Laura with worry. She understood that. The robber had been about to leave, but Laura had come in and now they were all still stuck in a dangerous situation. But surely, some of them cared about the money!

“We’re fine,” the bank manager said weakly.

“Why don’t you all leave?” she asked them in a firm voice, indicating the door, but her eyes resting on Brian. He made no effort to stop her, or to stop the employees as they gingerly got to their feet and sneaked past Laura to the open door.

When they had gone, Brian said, “I’ll be going, too.”

“Nope,” Laura answered. She stood between him and the door.

“You’re not going to pull a gun on me, are you?” he asked. Those blue eyes were the color of a summer sky. Somehow, he managed to look…innocent.

“Not supposed to.” She put a hand on her hip in her blue jeans, right near the holster. “Doesn’t mean I won’t.”

“Fair enough.” He took a step toward her and Laura held her ground.

“Excuse me,” he said.

Laura tried not to laugh. Laugh? Cops didn’t laugh. She glared at him. “Not moving.”

“I can change that,” he offered softly. Laura waited. And waited. Brian just stood there.

Finally she raised her eyebrows. “Well?”

He was staring at her, blinking his eyes. He raised a hand, palm out, toward her. “It’s not really in the hands,” he said, as if she wanted commentary. “But…” He trailed off. “You’re not moving.”

“That’s what I said,” she reminded him.

“Yes, but normally, that’s up to me,” he answered, in a kind of confused voice. He shook his head, dropped his hand. “You’re really not moving.” He turned and Laura followed his gaze to the vault, where the open door began to slide closed by itself. “Not me,” he murmured, turned back to her. “It must be you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He cocked his head at her. “How much do you weigh?”

“Not as much as the vault door,” Laura said stiffly, standing straight in her size 6 jeans.

“That’s so weird,” he whispered.

Laura did not like it when people called her weird. “I’ll show you weird,” she muttered, and picked up a beveled drinking glass from the desk beside her. It was heavy, at least a pound. In a smooth, well-practiced motion, Laura threw it at Brian.

“Whoa!” he exclaimed, as the glass leaped up just before it hit his face and smashed into the wall behind him. He turned to stare at it.

“Give me the money,” Laura ordered.

“Now, hold on,” Brian said, as if it were acceptable to ask for a time out.

It wasn’t. Laura put her hands under the whole desk this time, lifting it off the floor. Papers and pens and a lamp went crashing.

Brian was staring at her. “Hey,” he said, but Laura threw it anyway. Brian had to duck this time, he fell over onto the dark blue bank carpet as he made the desk swerve to miss him. It left a dent in the wall where it hit.

“Who are you?” he exclaimed, looking at the desk that could fly.

“Officer Wayne.”

“Officer Wayne.” Brian looked like he was about to get up, but wasn’t sure if that was going to help. He still clutched the canvas bag in one hand.  “You have a first name?” he asked.

“Yup.”

Brian coughed, and it sounded suspiciously like a laugh. He slowly got to his feet. “Okay.” He stretched his arms a little bit. “I’m ready to go home, and I’m sure you want to get on with your day, so may I leave now, please?”

“Sure. Just give me the money. Even trade.”

A half smile. “That’s awfully gracious of you.”

“Not like a jail could hold you.”

“Thank goodness for small favors.” Brian did not let go of the bag. “Sorry, Officer.”

Laura heaved a sigh and then heaved a chair at him, but this time Brian was ready. He let the chair hurtle past unhindered, but turned a graceful flip above it, landing on the floor behind Laura. Next to the door. Frustrated, Laura swung at him, connecting her fist with his shoulder.

“Ow!” Brian cried. He ducked as she swung again, then caught her fist in his hand. Laura tried to press forward, but he held her steady, though it looked like it took a lot of strength on his part, physical and mental. Suddenly he took a quick step backwards and Laura stumbled. Brian pulled out of her reach as she caught herself. He now stood right next to the door.

“Will you tell me your name?” he asked, rubbing his shoulder.

Laura looked from him to the bag still in his grip. Then, after a moment’s thought, she put out her hand to him, palm up.

Brian started laughing this time and didn’t try to hide it. He unzipped the bag and took out a bundle of money wrapped in pink cellophane. Carefully, he dropped it in her hand.

“It’s Laura,” she said graciously, setting the money on a nearby desk.

“It’s been a pleasure, Laura,” said Brian Grayson, sounding like he meant it, and then he pushed open the glass door and rose into the sky as Laura heard a burst of radios, the pounding of helicopter blades, the shouts of a crowd. Later everyone wanted to know how Laura had recovered some of the stolen money.

“Because that’s what cops do,” she said.

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