I have to pass another school every day, on my way to drop off my girls, an elementary school right around the corner from theirs; they’re in Junior High.
The first few times I notice the armored car parked in front of it as we drive past, I think, maybe the guy who drives it drops his kid off on the way to work. Then a few weeks later, we’re driving by it again, and there he is, a uniformed driver, carrying a bag of money right out the front door.
He’s about fifty and half skinny, half fat – definitely not a first stringer. He has charcoal hair, too long and worn in such a way that it always looks like he needs a shower, and his skin is pale and pockmarked, wide, cheap glasses straddling a lumpy nose. But he’s on duty, that’s for sure – his eyes are narrow and they dart around. Somebody try something, his demeanor says, and yes, he’s got a gun.
“What is up with that guy?” I wonder aloud.
Two daughters in the car – Ellen riding shotgun, Chrissy in the back seat.
Chrissy says, “He comes to our school, too.”
“Yeah,” Ellen agrees. “I’ve seen him in the morning, when I go in early for Math Club.”
It’s a school zone, so we roll on by nice and slow and I get to take a look in the empty cab of the armored car. When they send these things out to banks, there’s always a guy who stays in the vehicle, and one who transfers the cash, and sometimes there’s even a third guy, locked in the back, a guy trained and sworn to refuse to open the door even if there are guns to his partners’ heads.
Whatever this third stringer is doing, they don’t expect any trouble. The last thing an armored car company should do, not expect trouble.
“What is that thing?” Chrissy wants to know.
So I explain what an armored car is, how it’s bullet-proof, and explosion-resistant, and how security protocols like the one I was just thinking about contribute to its usefulness, for companies with a lot of cash to move it around.
“What doesn’t ‘make sense,” I tell them. “Is what on earth is it doing at schools?”
“Lunch money,” Chrissy says, and I look up at the rearview mirror. She has dark hair and freckles and eyebrows that look pretty sure of themselves. Her tone is like she’s answering a math question, and in a way, she is.
“You’re kidding,” I insist, but then I start checking the math.
There are close to two thousand kids in their middle school, maybe another two thousand in the elementary school around the corner. How much does lunch cost these days? Three bucks?
And that guy isn’t there every day – twice a week, near as I can figure. So let’s see, three days, four thousand kids, three bucks each.
Why not go ahead and say it out loud? “That third string security guard is walking out of there with forty thousand dollars, every time we see him.”
Ellen says, “Guess that’s why they use the armored car, since they’re impossible to rob.”
“Well, not quite, sweetheart. You just have to think it through, step-by-step. Watch the patterns, look for holes in the security. Put together the right string of guys, with the right equipment. There’s nothing that can’t be done, silly.”
“You heard me. You see, Ellen, it’s all about having the will to do what other people won’t. Rules are for suckers, and money is for stealin’, you know what I’m saying?”
“You’re a freak, Dad.”
“You’d want a solid wheel man, someone who knows the area like the back of his hand. And at least one really big, intimidating bully, with a shotgun.”
“No, no. You load it with bean bag rounds, try and avoid the Chair, in case the score goes sour.”
She’s cracking up now, shaking her head, like I’m joking around or something. Does she think this is a game?
I look up in the rearview mirror, and Chrissy doesn’t think it’s a game. Her eyebrows are horizontal, jaw working a little bit on something, probably thinking, the elementary school is the second one he stops at, so that’s when he’ll have the most cash. But he won’t have it on him. If we’re going to do this thing, we’ll have to crack that truck open.
“We need a bomb,” she says.
“That’s right, Chrissy, good job! We do need a demo man, and I think that would round out the string. I’d want to run the job, of course – planning and calculation and dominion over guilt, that’s what I bring to the table right there.”
“Oh my god,” Ellen says. “You guys are crazy.”
“Are we? Or is it YOU who’s crazy, for eating what the Man’s cooking all the time?”
“No, Dad, it’s you.”
We pull up to the right school, and get in line behind a few dozen cars – other people dropping off their kids, not discussing felonies with them, not noticing armored cars.
“Well, that’s awesome, Ellen, I guess you better get on inside then, knock out those grades. You got a whole legit life ahead of you, outside of the Family. Maybe you could be a veterinarian, or an accountant, or a nurse!”
“We’re not a crime Family, Dad.”
“You keep punching that time clock, Squaresville. One day you’re going to wake up and realize it’s been punching you.”
“For Pete’s sake,” she says – her favorite phrase. “I love you, Dad.”
And she gets out of the car, and Chrissy gets out with her, but as they walk up to the door Chrissy cocks her head back at me, gives me a squint, and the subtlest of nods – she’s in.
Yes, and Ellen’s in, too, whether she knows it or not, because this isn’t the kind of Organization you can just clock out of like a factory job. Everybody’s got to paddle the boat, and I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not going to jail for Ellen, or anyone.
Every time her mom buys a five hundred dollar dog and claims it was forty bucks, or picks up some Klondike bars and hides them under a pile of frozen vegetables in the back of the freezer, every time she does something like that, it’s pretty clear – Ellen’s not a very tough nut to crack. Lean on her even slightly, and that bird sings.
Oh, she’s in all right. We can’t have any loose ends.