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Chapter One

I picked the wrong day to quit smoking I thought as I watched the masked man pace nervously back and forth in the bank.  Seventeen hours, twelve minutes, and forty-five seconds to be precise.

Abruptly, he fired yet another short burst- five or six shots- into the ceiling before screaming I said shut up! and pointing the gun at the four of us huddled in the corner.

They had been afraid at first- standing either behind the counter or in the line, waiting to cash a check or make change.  The first shattering staccato burst, the screaming, the instinctive falling to the ground- the blood rushing and brain pulsing and not knowing the odds of your own life and death.

That had been hours ago.  The fear was still there, he supposed- somewhere below the surface- but sheer monotony had taken its toll.  There’s only so many times some masked whackjob can threaten you with a gun before the threat is spilled out on the floor for all to see he realized, twirling a pencil between his lips.  Damn I need a cigarette. He had no doubt the man would likely fire if one of them were to charge or attempt to leave, but the pulling of the trigger would be a reflex, not the conscious decision of someone who wanted to take a life.

The phone rang for the eighteenth (or was it nineteenth?) time and the man backed up to the counter and picked up the receiver.  Yeah.  Alright- the man said with a gratuitous smirk- we’ll be waiting as he hung up the phone.  Good news, kiddies, the food will be here in a few minutes. He sauntered over, the gun slung over his shoulder.  He leaned over, hands on his knees as he stared at the brunette with her face buried in my shoulder.  Everybody just sit tight and this will all be over before you know it oozed from his mouth, dribbled over his lips and ran down his neck.

If I could just…

Three knocks on the door- I’m a bit actor in a really bad stage play I surmise to myself- and the man stands up straight and takes two steps back.  You he points, staring at me with the barrel of his gun, go get our food.

I nod, place my hands up- palms out- and slowly stand up.  He motions with the gun and I begin to walk toward the lobby door.  I can see a stack of four white pizza boxes just inside the outer door.  There’s something on top- a pack of Marlboro Lights. I stare, dumbfounded, even though over half the city’s police force is just outside and some lunatic has a fully automatic weapon pointed at my back.

What are you doing? I can sense the man fidgeting around grab the pizza.

I bend down and grab the boxes and pack of cigarettes.  Put ’em over there he waves toward one of the desks off to the side.  Throw me the smokes.

I feel the cellophane in my hands slipping over the corners of the box.  If I ask him for one he’ll probably shoot me I then I think hell, this guy might just give me twohe is crazy, after all.

I don’t chance it.  The pack arcs beautifully in the air, hitting the floor (making more sound than you’d expect) and skidding to a stop inches from his feet.

He looks down at them.  I want to kill him, sit on his body, and smoke every last cigarette while he grows as cold as the marble floor. He chuckles to himself and I realize I’m the most unstable person in the room. There’s a man with a gun threatening to kill us and I’m contemplating murder in order to get my hands on a cigarette.

I’m so lost in my own thoughts that I almost don’t hear the gun fire four times followed by click, click, click, click and confused silence.

I see the pack glowing white in his hands and begin to scream.