As Mickey Stillson stared at the gun in his hand, he absent-mindedly reached up and adjusted the fake ear that was his entire disguise and wondered how a born-again Christian like himself had wound up in the middle of a bank robbery.
A year earlier, he had been so certain of his religious conversion that when he went before the Illinois parole board, he let his inner peace sell itself. He asked its members to address him as Michaela name that he felt emitted a soft, evangelical glowbecause like Saul giving way to Paul, prison had been his personal road to Damascus. Confinement, he explained to the stony faces in front of him, had actually been his salvation. Without it, he would never have found God, the void that had sent his previous life tumbling end over end, resulting in a three-year-long incarceration for forgery.
He couldnt help but wonder now if finding God hadnt in fact been strictly a means of survival. After all, his ear had been cut off by an inmate they called Nam the first week Mickey had been released into the prisons general population, leaving little argument that surviving on his own would be difficult. Although Nam had never been in the military, Stillsons was the third ear he had collected in as many years. No matter how thoroughly Nams cell was searched after each incident, the appendages were never found, giving rise, due largely to inmates need of fiction, to the rumor that he had devoured them in some sort of ritual he had become addicted to in Vietnam.
Within a month, Stillson had found God. As his wounds healed, he found the gnarled stump did have some benefit. While some men displayed tattoos or scars as warning to others, Stillson was missing an earan entire earwhich was something that even heavyweight champions couldnt claim.
He pulled his hand away from the fake ear in disgust. Maybe he was just a jailhouse Christian, but none of that seemed to matter at the moment. He would have liked to believe that just committing an armed felony demanded that his faith be reevaluated, but he had to admit that the police officers who had surrounded the bank probably had something to do with it. He cursed himself for thinking he could ever be a real bank robber. Hell, he wasnt even much of a forger.
He peeked outside, around the frame of one of the banks full-length front windows, to see if the police had moved any closer, but they were still the same distance away, lying with weapons at the ready across the trunks and hoods of their cars, apparently waiting only for the slightest provocation. At a safe distance behind them were satellite dishes on top of the television news vans, ensuring this was going to play out to the end.
Greedythats what he and his partner, John Ronson, had become. They hadnt been satisfied with just robbing the tellers. Instead, they decided the take could be doubled, or even tripled, by getting the vault. It was Ronsons idea; actually he had insisted on it. Stillson had deferred to him, since he was the expert, if a previous conviction and prison stretch for bank robbery could be considered know-how.
Nervously, Stillson reached up again and touched the artificial ear. Ronson had made him wear it. Dont you watch TV? The cops are lousy with technology since we went inside. All they got to do is check their computers for convicted felons with one ear and they got you. And once they got youno offense, Mickeythey got me. So they went to a costume shop and bought a half-dozen fake ears, trying, with minimal success, to match the color of Stillsons skin. He also had to let his hair grow a little longer so when they tied the ear in place with clear fishing line, he could comb his hair over the almost invisible filament. Ronson thought the disguise looked good; Stillson was fairly certain he looked ridiculous.
Excerpted from The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd. Copyright © 2010 by Noah Boyd. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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