Dressed in a double-breasted suit with polished Johnston & Murphy wingtips and a gold tie tack to match his cuff links, Arthur Stevens III waited inside the lobby of the lending institution. A fifty-eight-year-old branch manager of the Navy Federal Credit Union and retired intelligence officer, Arthur managed his armored car deliveries the way he managed his morning staff meetings: on time and to the point. Get in. Get out. Get on with the day.
Frustrated at the thought of wasting time and money, he found himself short on both accounts, checking his watch to note the armored transport lagged ten minutes behind schedule. Someone’s head will roll, he told himself as the carefully choreographed schedule slipped away on account of unreliable employees who’d slept in late, rescheduled routes without advance notice, found themselves lost in traffic, or all of the above. The incompetence grated on his nerves with every passing second he stood at the credit union entrance, debating the ripple effect their tardiness would have on the rest of his day.
If his schedule fell behind at work, his life fell behind at home. Everything on his calendar had a time and place assigned accordingly. One disruption and everything would come unraveled.
He pulled his PDA from his jacket pocket and touched the screen to activate the electronic planner. He nudged his glasses and focused on his calendar, oblivious to the two men in gas masks about to enter the credit union and drive a stake in his already shitty morning.
Before he could even think about pressing the silent alarm, a flash grenade exploded with a deafening BOOM.
Pistol-whipped and dragged backward with a gas mask pressed over his face, Arthur stared in shock through the eyeholes, dazed and confused by the whirlwind attack that hit him like a train coming out of the dark. A second later, he saw bank patrons and employees collapsing on the floor, the space surrounding them filled with greenish smoke.
He stumbled blindly toward the back of the room, escorted with physical force to the closed vault, where a retinal scanner protruded from the wall.
He touched the gas mask on his face, his eyes darting wildly back and forth. “Please don’t kill me!”
“Face the wall!” the first robber shouted at Arthur. He fired a warning shot to make his point.
“Thirty seconds!” an accomplice announced as he pilfered stacks of cash from the teller drawers.
“Type the pass code,” the first robber ordered Arthur. “And do it right the first time. No games.”
Arthur faced the retinal scanner with a gun to the back of his head, his vision obscured by the plastic eye holes in the gas mask. He touched the keypad and entered the six-digit code.
Arthur watched the retinal scanner display a red LED on the panel beside the ten-inch-thick vault door. Infrared light beamed his mask’s eye piece, partially penetrating his cornea in an effort to illuminate the pattern of blood vessels at the back of his eye.
“One minute,” the second robber shouted from the last teller drawer.
“It isn’t working,” the first robber replied. He pushed Arthur’s face closer to the scanner. “It won’t read his eye through the mask.”
“Then take it off.”
“He’ll pass out.”
The second robber gathered his satchel with cash. He pulled a commando knife from the sheath on his belt. “Then I’ll cut his eye out and hold it up.”
“It won’t work without proof of life.”
“We’re out of time.”
The first robber tugged at Arthur’s mask. “Hold your breath when I take this off, or your head’s coming with it.”
Arthur closed his mouth before the mask came off his head. Smoke attacked his eyes and nasal cavity. Tearing uncontrollably, he fought the blinking reflex. But the burning sensation intensified, prompting his tear ducts to accelerate their defenses against the foreign airborne substance.
“It isn’t working!”
Police sirens wailed in the distance.
“I… can’t… see,” Arthur stammered, inhaling enough contaminant to render himself unconscious.
“Time’s up!” the second robber insisted, his voice diminished through the tight-fitting mask. “Someone must have tipped the cops before I cut the alarm.”
“I want the vault!”
“Fuck the vault! We can split with what we have or spend the next twenty years in prison fighting over what we don’t.”
* * *
“Watch out!” Burns shouted, bracing herself against the Mustang’s padded door panel as the car raced toward the armored truck heading the wrong direction down a one-way street.
With the weight of a rolling tank, the steel-plated truck bulldozed through a gridlocked intersection, side-swiping a Toyota Camry and a new Mini Cooper before tearing the back bumper from a Cadillac DeVille and spinning it like a Match Box car.
McLeary swerved the supercharged Mustang toward the sidewalk, clipping a parking meter with enough force to launch it through a storefront window.
“Go around him and cut him off!” Burns directed from the passenger seat.
Burns drew her service pistol. “Try harder.” She held her arm out the window, her aim bouncing wildly with the car’s erratic motion.
“I wouldn’t do that,” McLeary warned her, down-shifting to accelerate hard in lower gear.
Burns fired two shots at the truck’s rear tires before a street sign smacked her gun away, nearly taking her arm with it. “Shit!”
“Get off the sidewalk!”
McLeary squeezed through an opening in traffic to chase the armored truck toward the Key Bridge, spanning the Potomac River between Virginia and D.C. “Hold on!”
“Give me your gun.”
Burns grabbed the handle above the window frame. “McLeary!”
McLeary watched the armored truck force a motorcycle off the road, sending the driver over the handlebars like a trapeze performer. He gunned the engine and weaved through traffic until an accident at the bridge blocked his path. With no space to maneuver, he jammed the transmission in park and jumped out. “Stay here!”
Burns followed McLeary on foot to pursue the armored vehicle bulldozing its way through stalled traffic, her track star legs propelling her over the bridge as the driver rammed the guard rail and plunged toward the murky Potomac river, smashing into the freezing water nose-first.
McLeary looked over the bridge to see the back of the truck swing open with an automatic rifle pointed at him. “Get down!”
He tackled Burns to the ground as a flurry of gunfire erupted.
Bullets ricocheted off the iron railing.
Burns pushed McLeary off her. “Move!”
McLeary waited for the shooter to reload. Then he fired a volley of .45 ACP at the target near the water, nailing the robber in the upper torso.
“McLeary!” Burns yelled, as bullets pinged the railing beside her from another shooter running across the bridge with a duffle bag around his shoulder.
McLeary turned sideways and fired his last round at the suspect who toppled forward in the distance, hobbled on one leg, and disappeared in snarled traffic. He ejected the spent clip and swapped it with a fresh one. “Are you hit?” he asked Burns, observing the wild-eyed expression on her face.
Burns shook her head, trembling from the adrenaline rush. “I don’t think so.”
“Then call for backup. This guy’s not getting away from me.” He pressed the slide release to chamber the first round and stared in disbelief at a uniformed officer pointing a gun at him.
“Drop it!” a Virginia State Trooper ordered McLeary and Burns. He held his service revolver in a three-point stance while another officer came around him.
McLeary laid his .45 on the pavement, gently, so as not to scratch the finish. “Don’t shoot, dumbass. We’re the good guys.”