Stillson stood on his tiptoes to look over the counter and into the vault, where Ronson was stuffing bundles of cash into an optimistically large hockey bag. Tall and extremely thin, Ronson had been released six months earlier from the state prison at Joliet, where he had been paroled after serving one-third of his twenty-year sentence for attempted murder and the armed robbery of a bank. The deadly assault charge stemmed from shooting it out with the arresting detectives. He had surrendered only after running out of ammunition.
Stillsons job during the robberies was to keep all the customers and employees covered while Ronson vaulted the counter and cleaned out the tellers drawers. This time, as Ronson was taking the time to force the manager to open the vaults day gate, the first police car showed up in response to a silent alarm. At the moment, everyone was aware of the increasing potential for violence and was lying facedown obediently, trying not to be noticed.
How are we going to get out of here? Stillson yelled over the counter.
One thing at a time, Ronson shot back, and continued stuffing the bag with money.
How can you think about the money?
Because if we get out of here, were going to need every dime of it. After zipping up the bag, Ronson threw it ahead of him and vaulted back over the counter. He yanked an elderly woman to her feet.
No, no, please dont!
Shut up, you old broad. Youve already lived long enough. He pushed her toward the front door, and as they disappeared around a wall that separated the doors alcove from the rest of the bank, he yelled back to Stillson, Just keep everybody covered.
Stillson couldnt deny that he liked the control he had over everyone during the robberies. And for some reason, with the cops outside, that feeling was even more intense. To demonstrate his willingness to fully execute his partners orders, he backed up a couple of steps and slowly swung his gun from side to side. That was when he noticed a man lying next to a watercooler. His gold-colored Carhartt work pants as well as his boots were covered with concrete dust. His faded black T-shirt clung to his thick shoulders and arms. He was the only one with his head raised, and he seemed to be watching the gunman with a mixture of curiosity and insolence.
The one-eared bank robber didnt know it, but the man had been tracking and analyzing his movements, measuring his agility, the length of his stride, his reaction time. He judged Stillson as a man who had not built a career on physical prowess or intimidation. His only authority seemed to be the gun in his hand, which he was holding too tightly.
As the man continued to stare at Stillson, he admonished himself: You dont carry a gun anymore, stupid. Next time, you use the drive-through. Whatre you looking at? Stillson demanded.
The mans mouth went crooked with a sneer as he silently mouthed words, causing Stillson to think he was having trouble hearing. He reached up and checked the rubber ear to make sure it wasnt blocking the auditory canal. When he found it in place, he realized that the man had figured out it was fake and was taunting him. Think thats funny?
The man spoke a little too loudly now. I said, Im watching you so Ill get it right at the lineup.
Stillson took two quick steps toward him, thrusting the black automatic forward, being careful not to get too close.
Are you nuts? You some sort of tough-guy construction worker? Is that it?
Im a brick mason, the man said.
Stillson took another half step, raising the gun to eye level. Well, meat, youre about to undergo a career change. You can be either a floor kisser or a brain donor. Your call.
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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