NYC flash challenge – group 47: thriller; blood bank, poker chip
Momma works at the casino so she gives me and Billy a couple of poker chips every time we do our chores, or don’t get in trouble at school, or wash our faces and smile when the folks from Child Protective Services come to check on us. When Momma has extra cash (which ain’t often), we can trade in our chips. Billy always gets his money right away. That boy’ll do anything for a pack of smokes. He’s only nine, a year older than me, but he’s been smokin’ since I don’t know when, maybe even before Poppa left. And round here, they’ll sell ya’ anything.
Me, I been saving my chips, hiding them under my bed so Billy won’t get ’em. When I get to fifty, I take the bag to Momma. She’s a bit strapped, she says, but she’s good for it. Sure enough, the following Sunday she gives me fifty bucks. She’s proud of me, I can tell, even though she doesn’t say much. She ain’t the kind that says stuff.
Billy’s eyes grow large as moon pies when he sees my loot, and I realize that keeping this money at home just aint’ safe. Soon’s Billy gets his hands on it, he’ll buy himself those smokes, and he might pocket some chew tobacco, too. He’s like that, Billy is. So I stash my money in the pink backpack I got at the Goodwill when school started and I head out to catch the bus. I ain’t been to town but once, on account of we ain’t been livin’ here all that long. But I listen good so I know where folks go. I heard ’em talking ’bout the number five bus if you wanna go to the bank.
It’s a long ride into town, and hot, too. There’s a lady at the front of the bus with a big shopping bag and she’s talking to herself so she scares me a little, and a man in the back that smells real bad. But I keep my eyes on the window and nobody bothers me. When I see the sign for the bank I jump up and my thighs make a zipper sound cuz they’re stuck to the seat. They’re probably red back there but I ain’t got time to worry ’bout that.
I ain’t never been inside a bank and it ain’t like I imagined. There’re lots of recliners and a few people laying in ’em. There’s a lady serving cookies and another pouring OJ into Styrofoam cups. A woman with bright orange hair looks up from behind her desk. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, m’am. I’d like to deposit my money.”
Her gold tooth sparkles when she smiles. “Honey, this ain’t no cash bank. People come here to donate blood, and we pay them in return.”
Before I can think to answer, a man bursts through the door. He’s dressed in black from head to toe, including a stocking cap pulled low over his eyes, and he’s waving a gun in the air. “Don’t nobody move,” he says. He walks up to the woman I’ve been talking to. “I want whatever money you got, lady.”
Very slowly, she opens a drawer and takes out a wad of cash, hands it to him with a trembling hand. He puts it into his pants cuz it’s too big for a pocket.
“Anybody else got cash?”
The room’s so still I can hear the clock on the wall ticking. The guy with the gun moves closer and presses the barrel to my temple. “Do as I say or I blow your brains out. Got it?”
I nod. I don’t cry, but a stream of pee, warm and sticky, snakes down my leg and into my shoe. “If anyone follows me,” the man says to the folks around us, “the kid gets it. You all go and call the sheriff, tell him I got me a hostage.” With that, he pushes me out of the building and into a beat-up old Dodge idling outside.
The getaway car’s driver frowns when he sees me. “What the hell, Jerry?” Jerry? I figured he’d be called Snake, or Colt 45, or some kinda badass movie name. Jerry sounds like a geeky clerk at the Stop N’ Shop with a paper hat, a lopsided nametag and a forest of zits. But I can’t think about it for too long. Jerry shoves me into the front seat between him and the driver. “Go,” he yells. Once we’re on the road, Jerry relaxes a little. “We need a hostage, man.” He sounds angry, like it’s so obvious he shouldn’t have to explain. He reminds me of Momma when Billy leaves the front door open and flies get in the house.
“What’re we gonna do with her?” the driver asks. I picture Jerry shooting me and the pee starts up again. Jerry looks down and points at my crotch. “Shit,” he says, “the kid’s pissing herself.” The driver sees it, too. “Sonofabitch!”
It’s coming hot and heavy now, a river with the dam broke, yellow wetness seeping into the front seat, dripping into the floor mats. The driver jerks the wheel and pulls over. He jumps up, throws me out like an empty fast food bag. I land on my knees, the prick of gravel digging into my skin. In a plume of dust and smoke, the Dodge screeches back onto the road, taking with it with my backpack, my fifty bucks and the entire contents of my bladder.
It takes a little while before the sheriff’s car finds me. By then my shorts have mostly dried, so now it’s just tears making me wet. Sitting there in the back of the cruiser, I promise myself that from now on I’ll cash in my chips as soon as I can, cuz a pack of smokes is a much surer thing than some damn bank.