The Bank Job
Idestam eyed the clock. The second hand impassively ticked across the clock’s face. He couldn’t hear it, but imagined a bass drum beating out a marching beat to it. Each swipe of the metal hand made another strike on the drum. The rhythm, though in Idestam’s head, accented the monotony. The chair he sat in creaked as Idestam leaned back to look through a door propped open on the other side of the bank lobby.
Christiansen chewed a new stick of gum as he watched the younger agent.
“Places to be, kid?”
Idestam looked back. “No, no. She just said the manager would be here in a minute. It’s been quite a few minutes.”
“Get some shut eye,” recommended the senior agent. “It’s nice to have nothing to do.”
“Well,” Idestam said slowly. “Yeah. But, then again, the lobby of a bank isn’t exactly a great place for a snooze.”
“It’s a bank. They’re white-collar. Any drama here is not going to be in our wheelhouse.”
“Not according to Dreamland,” countered Idestam in a hushed tone. He kept the monitor briefcase against his chest and continued watching the lobby. The interior decoration appeared historic. Gold facades traveled along the walls and ceiling. Oil paintings sat in wooden frames. Even the lighting inside was held in emerald glass sconces. The floor consisted of marble tiling.
A few patrons of the bank quietly conversed with tellers through brass bar windows. A lady in pumps and a pink dress pushed a baby carriage as the security guard held a door open for her. She thanked the man in a heavy, British accent. The security guard, potbellied and gray-haired, welcomed her inside while Idestam watched the two.
“It’ll turn out to be a big ol’ pot of nothing soup. Just like the last two times.” Christiansen shrugged. He settled his hands in his lap and rested his head on the wall behind him. The old man closed his eyes with a slight grin.
“What’s the ratio on… you know, negative to positive… soups,” asked Idestam. His eyes landed on a man hunched over the island in the middle of the lobby. The man wiped at an inflamed nose vigorously with a dirty napkin. Every few wipes, he stopped to pinch at his nostrils with it. Bloodshot, jaundiced eyes flitted around the room as he wiped. A forced, nasally breath into the saturated cloth echoed in the lobby’s raised ceiling.
“Things are going to get a lot less boring for you if you disturb my nap,” cautioned Christiansen with a murmur.
“Right. Right,” said Idestam. He continued his absent-minded surveillance of the bank’s interior. Over here, a young bank teller smiled and wished a businessman a good day as he left. Over there, a woman filled out paperwork at a desk under the eye of an accountant. At the counter, two teenage boys stood waiting on the teller. An older woman, the teller, counted out dollars while smiling at them over the top of her glasses. One boy fidgeted with a skateboard he held at his waist. The other one, taller and more bedraggled, looked from the money on the counter to the door and back again, repeatedly. He ran a hand through messy, brown hair as he watched the lady count and then watched the door. Idestam kept his gaze on the tall one.
“Excuse me, gentlemen?” The bank employee from earlier approached the two agents. “Mr. Mosby said if you’d like to wait in his office, I can take you there.” She offered with a polite smile.
Christiansen took to his feet and clapped his hands together. His southern charm persona resumed itself effortlessly as he spoke. “Excellent. I’m sure we could do with a change in scenery. Though my partner was just commenting on the old-timey decor. Very nice place.”
The woman kept her smile. “Yes, it’s one of the oldest in Northern California. Our history goes back to the Gold Rush. We like to preserve as much of the old architecture as we can.”
Idestam and Christiansen followed the employee back past the tellers desk and into a longer room full of cubicles. The gold trim and oak walls continued on in here, though with modern light in place of the old-fashioned lamps. A few office workers tapping away at computers ignored the agents as they were led through the room. Through the room, into another hallway, the men passed a staircase and were brought to a wooden door with frosted glass. The woman opened it and beckoned inside.
A broad, dark wood desk stood inside with a personal computer and several stacks of paper. A coat rack held a brown suit coat and hat. On shelves around the desk, someone had arranged leather bound books and small, statuesque bookends. A large, arching window let sunlight cascade into the room behind the desk. Just beneath the window, a small globe shared a bench with a leafy plant and a plaque commemorating thirty years of work.
“Please, have a seat,” The woman pointed to two, leathercraft chairs against the wall. Both agents nodded and sat. The bank employee left, closing the door behind her. Christiansen immediately stood up again and pointed to the monitor briefcase.
“Crack ’er open, kid. Let’s get started.”
“What if the manager comes back while we’re scanning?” Idestam asked as he undid the clasps on the briefcase.
“That’s why we’re doing it quickly. Besides, they think we’re Secret Service. C’mon. Give me the EMF reader.”
Idestam pulled the thin remote out and handed it to Christiansen. As the senior agent began sweeping it around the room, Idestam pulled the Geiger counter out of the briefcase. He checked its battery before turning it on and pointing it towards the desk.
Christiansen finished his sweep and shook his head. “Not much. You get anything, kid?”
Idestam turned the Geiger counter off. “No. A little elevation, but nothing to write home about.” Idestam slid the device back into its holster inside the monitor. He took the EMF reader when Christiansen handed it back. Into the monitor it went, and Idestam clicked the briefcase closed.
“All right. We tried scanning the parking garage behind the bank. This office is on the back end of things. The Office said they detected a Signal burst somewhere back here. What do you think?”
“I think you’ll be having frozen yogurt very soon,” Idestam said. He looked around the office. “This place feels like a… discount Bond villain’s office. Before he reveals the evil lair?”
“James Bond?” Christiansen asked after a moment’s thought. “Like, GoldenEye and stuff?”
“Yeah, you know it. This is like the front for the evil guy.”
“Well, it is a bank,” said Christiansen as he thought further.
The door flung open. A large man with red cheeks and sweat stains under the arms stood in the doorway. Christiansen and Idestam exchanged a look. Christiansen slowly stood up and offered a hand.
“Hi, I’m Age--”
“--yes, you men are from the Secret Service, correct? Yes?” The man asked breathlessly.
Both agents nodded. Idestam gripped the briefcase against him. He looked the newcomer up and down. The dress pants matched the jacket on the coat hook. A striped dress shirt struggled to remain tucked in around the man’s expansive waist. The man dabbed a cloth across his forehead with deep breaths.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but, erm, could you come with me please?” The man flung both arms in a motion towards the hall as he stepped back out of the office. Christiansen nodded and followed him out. Idestam rose out of his chair and hurried after the men.
“I’m Mr… Mr. Mosby,” the large man huffed as he led them back through the hallway and down the staircase they’d seen earlier. “Apologize for my… present state. We’ve never had this happen before.”
Christiansen looked back at Idestam with a large grin and gave a thumbs up as they descended the stairs. Idestam set his jaw. The concrete stairs echoed their footsteps around them.
“Had what happen, sir?” Idestam asked the bank manager.
The bank manager paused on a break in the staircase. He put both hands on his knees and struggled to draw in a deep breath. The man shook his head as he tried to respond. “The vault timer. Only opens at certain times. We opened it today and…” he righted himself and waved the men on.
They descended the stairs into a bleak, concrete hallway. Rounding the corner, Idestam came to face several security guards from both the bank and an armored car company standing outside a large steel door. The circular door could have been a movie set. It hung open on massive, metal hinges and blocked his view into the vault. The bank guards held pistols. The armored car employee stood off to one side, hand on his holstered weapon. Everyone wore confused, worried looks.
“Excuse me, folks,” Christiansen said. He waved the men back. He and Idestam received perplexed glances, but the security guards obeyed when Mr. Mosby motioned them to. Christiansen walked around the vault door and stopped. He shot Idestam an interested look, put both hands on his hips, and looked back into the vault. “Huh.”
Idestam passed the gathered men and walked to Christiansen’s side. Along the walls of the vault’s interior, steel lockboxes stood in columns on all three sides. A small steel table in the center sat barren. And, in front of the table, a man stood bearing the demeanor of someone both puzzled and inconvenienced.
“Good morning,” the man said hesitantly. His voice sounded like something out of a Hollywood western. His thick mustache and thin spectacles matched his voice. The man’s hands gripped the edges of a frock coat, holding it over his shoulders. The coat flared out at the man’s waist. Straight cut trousers rose up to meet the silk vest and button-up shirt he wore under the jacket. The strangest appearance of the man came in the form of a dusty top hat on his head.
Christiansen stared at the man. Looking him up and down, Christiansen turned to Mr. Mosby.
“So… I take it he wasn’t here when you last closed the vault?”
Mr. Mosby sputtered. “No! Not at all. We had… we had an alarm sensor trip this morning. It detected movement. But I checked the door and it hadn’t been opened since. I figured a passing truck or something set it off.”
“Happen often, rush hour traffic triggering your state-of-the-art security system?” Christiansen asked with a sly smile.
“Play nice,” murmured Idestam.
“We had no reason to suspect this… man to be here!” protested Mr. Mosby. “In all my years here, we’ve never had a problem.”
“And, you didn’t want to cause a fuss or draw attention to your bank,” concluded Christiansen with a nod. He turned back to the man. “Good morning. How are you feeling?”
“I must say--” The man started, but Mr. Mosby interrupted.
“I-I want this man arrested. Arrested! You’re Secret Service. He’s breaking into a bank. This is clearly a failed attempt to breach one of California’s most historic financial institutions and humiliate us.” Mr. Mosby wagged a finger at the man as he panted. “In all my time here. All my time. We’ve never had such a thing happen.”
“Right,” Christiansen said. He examined the vault with a squint. “This daring cat burglar just broke in here without disturbing anything or raiding any of the safety deposit boxes. He merely waited around to be caught. Right after… seemingly appearing out of thin air.” Christiansen gave a sideways glance to Idestam, who set his jaw and nodded.
“Cat burglar?” The strange man asked. “You must be mistaken. I was with your associate, Mister Spencer, to make a deposit when everything… changed.” He gestured around the vault.
“There is no Spencer here,” countered Mr. Mosby. The bank manager’s breathing steadied, but sweat continued to streak over his balding head. “I would know. I know every employee here.”
Idestam kept the briefcase in one hand as he stepped into the vault. Christiansen followed him in. The stranger took a step back with a glare towards Mr. Mosby.
“I dare say he’s more than an employee. He and Mister Brockheim founded this institution, of which’s services I have exercised for safe storage. Go and fetch him. He’ll recognize me. We’ve never had any problems with this arrangement.”
“Well, this is one, big problem for you, now,” muttered Idestam.
“What did you say?” The man asked.
Idestam didn’t answer. Christiansen turned to face the others behind them. He smiled and opened his arms in a welcoming posture.
“This, in fact, happens to be the man we’ve been looking for,” Christiansen announced to the bystanders.
“I am?” Asked the man.
“He-- Yes, he is,” Idestam caught himself with a nod. “You are.”
“You’re under arrest,” Christiansen told the man.
“You don’t even know who I am,” scoffed the man with a hand on his chest.
“Of course, we do. You’ve been robbing banks all along the West Coast these past few years and now, thanks to the security in this fine institution,” Christiansen tipped his head towards Mr. Mosby and the security guards. The senior agent began to pace in the small space between the vault entrance and the strange. He clicked his teeth. “...we have finally caught you.”
Mr. Mosby tried, poorly, to hide his surprise, but nodded along as Christiansen spoke.
“Bank robber? Bank robber? I am no ba--”
“Mister Mosby!” Christiansen loudly proclaimed, opening his arms wide. “Of course. That was the point of this whole operation. And now we have him. Hook, line, and sinker. All thanks to you red-blooded Americans doing your part,” he motioned to all of the bank employees watching. “And, as promised, there is a reward for his capture. A little something from Uncle Sam to thank you for being such diligent stewards of our economic safety.”
Some of the security guards began to exchange small smiles. A few men nodded to each other. Mr. Mosby cleared his throat.
“A r-reward?” He asked politely.
“Of course! You remember the dispatch the Secret Service sent to you all. I’m sure you can be trusted to dispense it amongst your staff,” Christiansen said with a playful smile. Idestam suppressed a grin of his own as he watched the older agent work.
“After all, this expertly-planned sting operation went without a hit--”
A loud, metallic clang sound barked from upstairs. The harsh noise reverberated throughout the hall. Its staccato report bounced off of the walls and ceiling in the vault. Everyone’s attention snapped towards the stairwell.
“What the hell was--”
“That was a gunshot.”
“Yeah, that’s a weapon!” The guards all exclaimed to each other. Fresh worry deepened their already anxious expressions. The men shifted in place. People looked past Mr. Mosby to Christiansen.
An additional gunshot and several screams came from upstairs. An alarm began to bleat throughout the building. A revolving light in the ceiling of the vault flashed red hues across the walls as it spun into action. The bank’s security froze. Mr. Mosby’s face drained of all color. The massive vault door groaned as it automatically started closing. Christiansen and Idestam exchanged a glance before Christiansen clapped his hands.
“And those would be his partners-in-crime! Gentlemen, hop to!” He rallied the security and walked out of the vault. Christiansen waved them on. The men hesitantly nodded and left. The armored car employee stayed behind. Christiansen gestured for the man to follow. “You too, hero. You got that fancy vest on. We’ve got this man secure. Go on.”
“I’m just paid to get from point A to point B,” the man stammered in a weak protest.
“All right. Congratulations. I’m deputizing you into federal service. First order of business is to go make sure all those civilians are safe with that shiny side iron of yours.” Christiansen pointed in the direction of the stairs. Idestam took the strange man by the arm and pulled him along as they left the vault. The door slammed shut as both men cleared its threshold.
“I really don’t--”
“--either you go help the other guards, or I’ll see to it you do as much time in lockup as the bank robbers for accessory to the crime,” snapped Christiansen. The man meekly nodded and ran after the bank’s security.
Christiansen turned to the panting, pale Mr. Mosby. The bank manager mopped at his head with a handkerchief and stared vacantly down the hallway. His mouth hung open in silence.
“Mister Mosby. Mister Mosby,” tried Christiansen. He snapped his fingers in front of Mr. Mosby and whistled. “Mis-ter Mosby. Come back to us.”
Mr. Mosby’s eyes slide over towards the senior agent. The pupils dilated into dark ovals. He said nothing but continued to leave his mouth hanging. His lower lip quivered.
“Mister Mosby,” Christiansen spoke with a soft tone. “I would recommend you hurry on to your office. It would be safest there.”
“You r-really think so?”
“Yes, of course,” reassured Christiansen. “Someone rushes into a bank free-firing a weapon like that? They’re just after petty cash. No one needs the manager during times like these. Go on and collect yourself. Say, is there an exit on this level?”
“The… the cash car parks in an underground lot down… that way,” Mr. Mosby lifted a shaking finger up the hallway from the vault.
“Very good. No other ways out?” Christiansen asked. His calm demeanor seemed to steady Mr. Mosby who shook his head and coughed.
“We’re still remodeling. Everything down here is going to be storage and offices, but the garage is the only way out down here.”
“Very good, very good. You may go now, Mr. Mosby.”
The bank manager left in a rushed waddle without another word. More gunshots came from upstairs. Christiansen drew his service weapon with a look to Idestam.
“Research and Development are going to have a field day with this. A Class Four burst with him popping out of it? We’re having a great bowl of soup right now,” he remarked.
The man coughed. “I’m sorry, did you say research and dev-”
Christiansen interrupted the man as he took him by the shoulder. “Hey, check it out, you’re about to stay in a fancy hotel. Real swell place. Right this way. Kid, you got the monitor?”
“Right here,” said Idestam. He lifted the briefcase up and shook it slightly.
“Unhand me!” The stranger protested. “Arrested? I have never been treated so undignified! I demand to see Mister Spencer. Go fetch him. This instance.”
Christiansen stopped and leaned closer to the man. “Did you not hear the gunshots?” He asked evenly. “Are you absolutely certain this is a good time to be making demands?”
The man’s face screwed into an expression of anger and frustration. “I have been kept in the dark for God knows how long and now you treat me as a common miscreant. No, sir. No, you shall not.”
“I can leave you here to be shot. A bullet is a gamble. You’ll either die quickly like a farm animal or bleed on the floor as the robbers go through your pockets,” warned Christiansen. “Or, you could come with us. We’ll settle all of this for you. Questions answered and everything. But first, we have to leave.”
The man harrumphed and straightened the ends of his frock coat. “You will expect a harsh word from me to your superiors once outside. Arresting me. What a grave mistake you have made, I assure you.” Despite his protests, the man motioned forward. “Lead the way.”
The three of them traveled down the hallway at a quick pace. Christiansen checked over their shoulders every few steps. The gunfire subsided, though indecipherable shouts still came from upstairs. The security system’s shrill alarm continued its pestering.
“I’m sorry, what ‘service’ did you say you represent?” The man asked as Christiansen forced him to follow with a tight grip on his arm. “I haven’t caught either of your names. What a ferocious sound…” He added with a bewildered glare towards the ceiling.
“Secret Service,” lied Christiansen. “I’m Jupiter. This is Whiskers.”
“I say. A secret service? Is this an arm of the Federals?”
Christiansen gave him a quizzical glance, but he continued down the hallway. “Yeah. Yeah, we’re federal agents.”
“I don’t think I like your tone,” the man said.
“That’ll keep me up at night, I assure you,” said Christiansen.
“You speak with them like a genuine Virginian gentleman, but to me you take on the character of an uneducated factory boy,” the man spat. “I’ll have you know I am one of the top minds at the forefront of scientific discovery in this century.”
“Decade, maybe. We’ll figure out which one later,” said Christiansen as he hurried the man along.
“Decade?” The man asked in an incredulous tone. “Decade?”
“Later,” Christiansen said.
The men passed multiple dark hallways as they approached the garage. Leftover construction equipment sat scattered on the floors. Tarps hung from frames in the walls. A mobile light stand cast a long beam across an incomplete section of drywall.
“Good heavens,” exclaimed the man as he examined his surroundings. What happened to the clerks’ counter? And Mister Spencer’s office? The stagecoach’s relay desk?”
“It is imperative that you shut the hell up, right now,” warned Christiansen with a finger on his own lips.
Christiansen stopped at the door to the garage and motioned for the other two to stand on the other side. He waited for them before slowly opening the door. More crimson red light glimmered through the doorway as he swung it open.
Idestam glanced in. The armored car stood in the garage. Beyond it, a short ramp climbed up to street level. A barrier of metal sheeting stood in the way. The alarm’s red light reflected off the metal security grate. The klaxon’s harsh tones magnified inside the garage.
“Of course. It probably locked down the second someone pulled the alarm,” said Christiansen with an exasperated tone. He checked the hallway behind them.
“We could hide in the construction area and wait for the all-clear,” suggested Idestam.
“No. The Office’s Secret Service aliases are notoriously weak. Any form of law enforcement that sweeps through this building is going to double-check our IDs. Plus, there’s no explaining this guy. We’d get too much heat and probably lose him to the system. Give me the monitor. I’ll take it and him. You take point. We’re going to go up and out one of the fire exits.” Christiansen holstered his weapon and stuck a hand out. Idestam gave the briefcase to Christiansen before producing his own service weapon from out of his suit jacket. Christiansen took the monitor briefcase and then grabbed the man by the arm. “Stay very quiet. We’ll have to go back up the stairs.”
“Upstairs?” The man asked. “There’s no--”
“--there is no time for any of this,” Christiansen stopped him. “We’ll explain everything afterwards. Once we’re outside.”
“I daresay I’d rather an explanation now. This is an entirely inappropriate way to treat me after everything I have done for your bank.”
“Come on now,” Christiansen ordered with gritted teeth and moved to walk back up the hallway. The man wrested his arm out of Christian’s grasp and stepped back. He sneered and tilted his head back, glaring at Christiansen.
“While I admit this turn of events as of recent are unprecedented, I must protest your complete lack of decorum. I have patronized this fine establishment--”
“--Okay, listen close, cowboy.” Christiansen checked up the hallway. “I’ve promised my partner here to cut back on how often I, eh, harm folks in our line of work. But you, sir, are testing my integrity right now. The situation is a mite stressful and your cooperation would go a long ways in easing that.”
“Harm?” The man exclaimed in loud shock. “You insolent--”
Christiansen dropped the briefcase and seized the man in one fluid motion, pushing him against the wall and clamping a hand over his mouth. The man protested in muffled tones. Christiansen checked both ways and then glanced at Idestam. “I might shoot him.”
Idestam, already watching the stairwell, returned his glance. “Could prove quieter.”
“Hey, good news, you managed to get the kid and I to agree on something,” Christiansen hissed at their captive. The man’s eyes widened. “Play nice and we can get out of here safely. Home free, frozen yogurt. Can you stay quiet?”
The man gave a frantic nod and murmured something.
Christiansen broke his focus and smiled. He let go of the man and fixed his jacket for him, tugging at the ends of it. He dusted off one shoulder of the coat and then gave a big smile to Idestam. “See, kid? Character growth.”
“We have to move,” Idestaim said. “They may be coming down for the vault.”
“Right. You, behind us. Quiet. Nice. Home free, got it?” Christiansen asked. He picked up the briefcase.
“Y-yes.” The man agreed.
“Lead the way, kid,” ordered Christiansen.
The men advanced their way back to the stairwell. Idestam motioned with one hand for the others to stay back. Christiansen and their guest halted in the shadow of the stairs. Idestam crept up the barren, concrete steps and peered around the curve of the railing as the stairwell doubled back. He couldn’t see over the top of the stairs. Treading up them with careful quietness, Idestam held his service weapon ready as he reached the end of the stairwell.
A security guard laid against the wall beside a doorway leading to the front of the bank. Dark scarlet stains seeped through the man’s white uniform top. Slow, heavy breathing lifted one side of the man’s chest, with the other failing to rise and fall in unison. The man’s eyes lazily wandered towards Idestam. A pistol sat in his lap. Bloody smearing on the floor indicated how far the guard had crawled. The messy trail led back through the doorway.
Idestam’s head swiveled as he checked both ways before entering the hallway. He noted a fire exit down one end before returning to look at the guard. Idestam crouched and scrambled over to the guard’s side. The wounded man watched Idestam’s movements with sluggish eyes. His lips moved just as slowly with cyanotic blue tones overtaking his skin color.
“How many?” Asked Idestam in a low voice. He looked over the man through the doorway. It opened up into the cubicle space they’d been guided through before. He could see some officer workers on the ground, hands on their heads. Someone, it sounded from outside in the lobby, shouted orders at everyone. Idestam refocused on the wounded guard. “How many are out there?”
The man’s gaze appeared to pass through Idestam. He didn’t answer the question. Instead, he groaned and coughed blood across the tile floor.
Idestam’s training from the Army, from before the clandestine Post Office had recruited him, kicked in. He began to undo the man’s uniform shirt and ripped through the last few buttons on it. Underneath, a cheap vest of body armor bore a gaping hole in its fabric. Idestam grunted in frustration as he tore open the vest’s velcro closures. He passed his hand along the chest until his fingers slipped into the bullet hole. Idestam grabbed the man’s hand and placed it over the hole.
“Here. Hold this here. Stem the bleeding a little bit,” Idestam urged him. “How many gunmen are there?”
“Whiskers,” Christiansen’s harsh whisper came from the stairwell. “Whiskers, what the hell? There’s no time for this.”
Idestam looked back to see the senior agent leaning out of the stairwell. The old man glared and gestured around them. Idestam pointed at the guard and mouthed “He’s wounded.”
“C’mon, kiddo!” Christiansen seethed quietly. “I’m not looking to stick around and end up like him.”
Idestam muttered a curse and turned back to the guard. “Keep that hand there. We’ll send help.” He rose and glanced down the hallway before pointing to the fire exit and waving Christiansen forward. “This way.”
Christiansen left the stairwell with the strange man in tow. The man paused as he took in the wounded man, and he let out a loud “Oh, dear heavens…”
Christiansen wheeled back around and grabbed the man’s arm. “Shut the hell up. Are you crazy?”
“Who’s out there?” An angry voice called from inside the office space.
Christiansen wrenched on the man’s arm and dragged him down the hall. Christiansen's use of force caused the man to stumble and trip over his own feet. Christiansen sped towards the fire exit with the stranger in tow, ignoring his protests.
“Go, go,” said Idestam in a whisper as the senior agent passed him. “I’ve got this.”
Idestam began walking backwards as soon as the other two men left his sight. He heard angry shouting from up the hall, and focused his pistol’s sights towards the office doorway. His heartbeat thumped in his ears. Idestam forced himself to breathe slower and ignore the surge of adrenaline in him. He felt his chest loosening as he took deliberate, long draws of air through his nose.
And then, over the top of his pistol sights, he saw a figure step into the hallway. A red sports jacket. Jeans. A bandana tied over his nose and mouth. The man held a long-barreled shotgun with both hands gripping its wooden stock. He glanced at the wounded security guard in the hallway and then up at Idestam. Idestam fired one bullet.
The man recoiled back without a sound. A puff of red mist flew up out of the man’s chest. The force of the round twisted him backwards in an awkward spin. His body gave a large, dull thud as it hit the floor beside the guard. The noise’s echo became lost in the din of the security alarm.
“James!” Someone shouted elsewhere.
Idestam stopped walking. Kneeling down, he kept his eyes on the doorway. His hand searched the floor until it found his bullet’s shell. He pinched the spent shell casing up off the floor. It burned his fingers as he shoved it into a suit pocket.
Idestam stood back up just as someone else leaned out of the doorway. They pointed a long barrel at him and fired. The weapon belched a quick report. Idestam heard the sound of wasps zipping past him. Something stung the side of his neck. An icy coldness bit into Idestam.
“Goddamnit!” Christiansen shouted behind him.
Idestam fired two more rounds down the hall. He stopped to grab the shell casings again, but Christiansen shouted.
“Kid, help me here!”
Idestam looked back to see Christiansen at the fire exit, supporting the strange man’s collapsed form. He’d dropped the briefcase to catch him. The man braced himself on Christiansen and the wall with both arms. He struggled to stand and instead doubled over on himself.
Idestam snatched up the two brass shells on the ground. Turning, he ran to Christiansen.
The senior agent grunted as Idestam approached. “What, you're policing brass right now?”
“Leave no trace,” Idestam explained breathlessly. He helped hoist the man upright between the two agents.
Christiansen threw himself against the push bar of the fire exit, and the three of them stumbled out into an alleyway beside the bank. The man whimpered gibberish as they carried down the alleyway a few steps
“Hold him up,” Christiansen ordered Idestam as the senior agent let go of the man. He doubled back to the door. Leaning in, he grabbed the briefcase and the stranger’s discarded top hat. Christiansen then pulled the fire exit shut. As the door slammed close, the security alarm’s whining immediately muted. The klaxon’s screeching could be heard through the walls, but now it came out muddled and softened through the stone walls.
“I’ve been mortally wounded,” bemoaned the stranger. Idestam propped him up against the wall. The man rested his head back and furrowed his brow. The stark transition from the building to sunlight forced him to squint. “I never imagined my life ending in such a way. Snuffed out in my intellectual prime. I was going to change everything.”
“Where were you hit?” Asked Idestam. He began forcing the frock coat off over the stranger’s shoulders. “Work with me here. Where were you hit?”
“My legs,” the man feebly answered. “I cannot feel my legs. I’ll never again know what it is like to walk in the fresh meadows.”
Christiansen came up next to Idestam. “Is it bad?”
“I can’t tell. Help me with the coat.”
As both agents wrestled the frock coat off and began stripping the man, he slumped down and sat against the wall. Distant police sirens made themselves known from elsewhere in the city. Christiansen looked up and cursed.
“Have to hurry, kiddo,” he chided Idestam.
“I am, I am.” Idestam leaned the man forward and began checking his back. Only a few spots of frayed fabric presented themselves on his dress-up vest. Idestam ran his hand over it, but found nothing else. The drying blood from the security guard left smears over the stranger’s clothing as Idestam searched. He looked up at Christiansen and motioned for the discarded frock coat. Examining the thick fabric, Idestam rubbed it between both hands. He stopped and chuckled.
“It must have been birdshot. All his layers stopped the pellets at that distance,” explained Idestam. He leaned over the stranger. “You're fine. No blood. You’re fine.”
“Must have been. Looks like you got nicked, too,” Christiansen pointed out.
As the adrenaline slowly wore off, Christiansen’s words brought Idestam’s attention back. The stinging in his neck made itself known again. He lifted a hand to it and checked the wound. “Just a graze. I’m fine. They were firing blindly. Easy miss.”
The man weakly raised his hand towards the afternoon sun. “I am only blessed to spend my final moments in the warmth of God’s own sky.” His voice trailed off.
“No,” Idestam said with some annoyance. “You’re fine. Get up.” Both he and Christiansen grabbed the stranger by the arms and lifted him to his feet. The man wavered on his feet, but slowly regained balance. Christiansen forced the top hat back down on the man's head. The stranger pulled it back up over his eyes and blinked rapidly. The senior agent tossed the frock coat over the stranger’s shoulder.
“Oh gentlemen,” he moaned to the agents. “You’ve saved my life. I fear I must ask of you one more favor, however.”
“What? No.” Christiansen shook his head. Placing his hand on the man’s back, he began to propel the man forwards as both agents walked. “We’re getting you to a nice, safe place.”
“But, my deposit. We cannot allow those ruffians to steal it. I store all of my inventions in the vault before presenting them to investors.”
“Inventions?” Asked Christiansen wearily as they continued on.
“Ah, this one is a most marvelous creation. Gentlemen, what would you say if I told you that instead of telegram, you could talk to someone on the East Coast. Right. As if in the very same room. However, here you’d be in Sacramento. And there your compatriot would be in, say, Boston or Richmond.”
Idestam and Christiansen exchanged a glance.
“What year is it? To you?” Asked Idestam after a moment.
“Why it’s Eighteen Fifty Two. And mark the date, gentlemen, for this is the year we change everything.”
“Right. Change everything,” said Christiansen.
“I shall call it the ‘Dislocuter’, from Latin. Say, which street are we on?” The man looked around them. “I don’t recall such tall, decadent buildings.”
“Right, that will catch on. I think you’re tired. Let’s get you to a warm bed, huh?” Christiansen coaxed the man.
They rounded the back of the building and approached the bank’s parking garage. A blue and white police helicopter rushed overhead, causing the men to hasten their steps. The stranger marveled at the ‘peculiar machine’ and the appearance of the parking garage as a ‘bizarre stable’. Christiansen guided the man to their car.
“Are you sure I’m not wounded? Everything is so alien all of a sudden. Are these carriages? Where are the horses kept?”
Christiansen opened the back door and forced the man into the car. “Okay, I’m getting tired of your schtick. Get in.” He tossed the briefcase onto the seat next to the stranger and closed the door behind him. The senior agent sighed in the new silence.
Turning to Idestam, Christiansen asked. “You all right, kid?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. What’s next?”
“We’ll take him to a safe house. I’ll call it up. This idiot will get a real kick out of that,” said Christiansen with a thumb towards their passenger. “You drive.”
“Of course,” said Idestam. Both men walked to their sides of the care.
“Think that bank manager will make it out alright?” Idestam asked, looking over the top of the car to Christiansen.
Christiansen shrugged. “He’ll be fine. Cops are here. An ambulance won’t be too far behind.”
“Didn’t seem to do too well under pressure,” remarked Idestam as he opened the driver's side door. He ignored the bloody handprint he left on the handle.
“He shouldn’t work at a bank, then. It’s more dangerous than working for the Office.”
Hello! This short story is from my fictional work "A Familiar Darkness" and is a standalone story. Think of this as like The X-Files' monster-of-the-week episode, with the main storyline being available on my profile. I also publish on Reddit and Royal Road if those platforms are easier for you to access!