The Geezer Screed

This is the next title I will release. Currently it is scheduled for the summer of 2017. The cover and the title are still tentative, although they are growing on me daily. I saw a movie trailer the other day for a film about old guys robbing banks. It’s called Going in Style and stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin. It looks pretty good and is an update/remake of a movie I enjoyed back in 1979. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a lot different from my story, but at the same time, they have beat me to the draw with theirs and there is a danger that people will think I’m a copycat. I won’t be able to shake that conception unless my book is really, really good. I mean really! In other words, I’ll be taking some pains to make sure I’ve got it just right before I pull the trigger on a release. Be patient. I aim to make it worth your while.

In a Nutshell

Nelson Difloe needs to supplement his income. Social Security and Medicare aren’t cutting it. His wife has dementia, and he’s going to have to put her in a home soon. His life reaches a tipping point when he is diagnosed with a rare leukemia related to exposure to agent orange in Vietnam.

Nelson decides he needs to knock off a few banks. After all, that’s where the money is. Enter thirty-something waitress, Dana King, who’s ex, Bobby, is in the Federal lockup for bank robbery. Based on her experiences with Bobby, Dana thinks she knows enough about what not to do to help Nelson succeed without getting caught or killed. Further, what she doesn’t know is written up in an elusive screed by the infamous Geezer Bandit from California. Bobby, knows a guy who knows a guy who has a copy. Bobby is willing to get it for them in exchange for a percentage of the action. The scheme soon spins out of control, and Nelson discovers that honor among thieves is not at all what he imagined.

Preview

Chapter One: The Dye Pack

I’m in Sil’s Diner for breakfast. It’s our routine, Carl’s and mine, but Carl is fifteen minutes late. That’s unusual for him. I wonder if he’s okay.

“Warm up your coffee, Nelson?” Dana asks, but she’s already pouring.

Dana waits on us most mornings. I like her. She’s good natured and efficient and she remembers what we like to eat. She’s a little edgy to look at—tattoos on both arms and one leg and random bits of metal on her face. She’s kind of pretty underneath all that, not that I’m interested. I’ve got like thirty years on her, so any interest on my part would be unwelcome and probably a little creepy.

“Carl’s not coming?” she asks.

“Guess not.”

“The usual then?”

I nod. Five minutes later she brings me a plate of scrambled with grits and bacon, dry toast on the side. She clatters it onto the table while I’m staring out the window, and here comes Carl, finally, huffing up to the front door. He looks like he’s crying. He’s got a jacket slung over his right shoulder so it covers his arm.

He slides into the booth across from me.

“You gotta help me get this stuff off,” he says.

“What stuff? What are you talking about?”

He lifts a corner of the jacket to reveal his right hand. It’s bright red. I look closer. His whole side is red, even his clothes. Dana comes back with fresh coffee and sees this—all the redness. Her empty hand flies up to her mouth.

“Damn, Carl!” she says. “That stain’s from a dye pack. You rob a bank?”

Carl’s eyebrows shoot up like he just got poked with a stick. He looks around to see if anybody besides us heard her, but everyone in earshot is looking out the front windows at all the cop cars streaming down the street with their lights flashing. For me, the dawning is slow and laborious. Dana is a lot faster on the uptake.

“Oh my God, Carl. You did, didn’t you? You robbed a bank!”

“Jesus, Dana. Keep your voice down, will you? I gotta figure this out.”

Carl looks at me. “You gotta help me, Nelson. I can’t go to jail. We gotta get this off.”

Dana shakes her head. “That stuff doesn’t come off, Carl. Believe me, I know.”

We both look at her.

“What?” Carl says. “Are you telling us … ?”

“Not really.”

“Wait … not really?”

“We don’t have time to get into that just now,” Dana says. “The cops are going to be here any minute looking for you. We have to make you presentable or they’re going to haul you away. Take off your jacket and shirt and stuff them on the floor behind your feet.”

“But …”

“Hurry up, Carl. We don’t have much time.”

Dana leaves us while Carl does this. She comes back with a long-sleeve flannel shirt.

“This ought to fit,” she says.

Carl puts it on. Sitting there with his right hand under the table, he looks almost normal, except for the crying. The stains on his trousers are hidden by the table. The borrowed shirt covers everything else. Dana goes to a neighboring table that hasn’t been cleared yet and brings over a plate with the cold remnants of someone’s breakfast on it. She puts this in front of Carl and lays a used napkin across his lap. Carl looks at her like she’s out of her mind.

“Snap out of it, Carl. You need to get up to speed,” she says.

“Up to speed?”

Dana stomps her foot on the carpet. It doesn’t make much noise, but her exasperation with Carl flits across her brow like a rain squall. I feel sorry for him.

“Focus, Carl,” she says. “I’m trying to save your ass here. The cops are already in the parking lot. I’ve only got time to say this once, so pay attention. You got here half an hour ago. You already had your breakfast. Nelson was late. That’s why you’re finished and he’s still eating. You’re drinking your coffee and talking with your friend. I’m going to run interference when the officers come in, tell them nobody has come in in the last ten – fifteen minutes. They’re probably going to want to talk to you anyway. Don’t get up. Whatever you do, don’t show them you right hand. Use your left when you sip your coffee. You can do it. Just act natural. You haven’t seen anything. You don’t know anything. Got it?”

Carl nods. Dana leaves and positions herself at the hostess station near the front door. A couple of cops walk in, all businesslike, swiveling their heads like radar antennae. Carl is still crying. I’m thinking this might be a problem if they notice.

“What’s with the tears, Carl? You get hurt?”

“Burns like a bitch, but I can deal with that. You know they got tear gas in those things?”

Shit! This is something we need to figure out, and I don’t think Carl’s up to it.

“Hold it together, Carl,” I say. “Just be cool and we’ll get you through this.”

I watch Dana talking to the cops. She’s smiling and moving her hands around a lot. I try to imagine what she could be saying to them, but I come up blank. The cops split up and one of them heads our way. He stands at the edge of our table and looks at us like he knows we’re guilty.

“Morning, gents,” he says.

“Officer,” I say.

Carl just nods.

“You fellas been here long?” he asks. He’s looking at our plates, taking things in.

I decide it’s a good idea for me to do most of the talking.

“Bout twenty minutes,” I say. “For me anyway, but I was running late this morning. My friend, Carl, here was already tucked into his waffles when I arrived.”

Carl nods weakly and I see the officer take note of his face. The cop squares himself up and hooks his thumbs into his utility belt.

“I’m going to need to see your IDs,” he says.

I fumble my wallet out of my back pocket. The cop is looking at me while Carl pulls his out with his left hand and opens it in his right, down in his lap. I drop my license on the seat, slap it up, and present it with a flourish. The distraction works. Carl has his out and waiting when the guy finishes looking at mine.

“You don’t look so good,” the cop says, holding Carl’s license up and comparing it to his face. “Something bothering your eyes?”

Carl dabs a tear from his cheek with the dirty napkin and says, “I just found out my wife’s got dementia.”

***

Dana ambles back to our table after the cops leave. She is all smiles and more chatty than usual.

“Guess we fooled ’em then, didn’t we?” she says.

While this is certainly a better outcome than the alternative, I’m not sure it’s cause for celebration. We’ve got a serious problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Carl just tried to rob a bank, and Dana and I have just made ourselves accessories after the fact.

I want to talk about this, but Carl is more interested in Dana.

“So, Dana,” he says, “did you rob a bank?”

“Of course not,” she says. “I just know about dye packs is all. My ex is seven years into a twenty year jolt at Coleman for holding up a Bank of America branch.”

Carl whistles. “Twenty years? Damn.”

“Exactly,” Dana says. “Bank robbery is a federal beef. You hold up a bank, you get the FBI and ATF involved. They make it out to be a violent crime even if you don’t use a weapon. You get convicted, you go to a federal pen and you don’t get parole. Not the kind of thing you want to get into without giving it a lot of thought before you do it.”

There’s a whole new dimension to Dana all the sudden. I had no idea.

“So, your ex didn’t give it enough thought?” I ask.

Dana looks around the diner to see if any customers need her, puts her coffee pot down on the table, and slips into our booth on Carl’s side.

“Bobby was a dick,” she says. “He was stupid and abusive. He never thought about anything he did. I knew it was a problem long before he ever decided to take a sawed-off shotgun into a bank, but we already had a kid together, so I tried to keep the peace between us even though I knew it wasn’t gonna last. I never pressed him on the stupid stuff he got up to, and a prison sentence was the final result.”

Carl scratched his head. “You got a kid?”

“Yeah. A boy. He’s nine now. Lives with my mom, but I see him every week.”

This is all interesting to me, but I’ve got another issue. “How come you helped us with the cops?”

“Seriously? You gotta ask me that?”

“Well, yeah, I think I do.”

“Because they’re the cops!”

“Your boy lives with your mom?” Carl wants to know.

Dana looks at me and then at Carl like she can’t figure out who she’s having this conversation with. I know the feeling. She looks at me again. I shrug.

“It was that or foster care,” she says. “Family services jumped in when Bobby and I got arrested. I got off, but they were trying to make the case I’m an unfit mother. Mom said she’d do it. Seemed like the best thing at the time.”

“You both got arrested?” I ask.

“Yeah. We were both at home when they came for him. The stupid dye pack went off in his car and left a trail of red smoke for them to follow. I was trying to scrub the stain off his skin when they busted down the door. I didn’t have any idea how hard that stuff was to get off. I just thought it was some red powder supposed to get all over the money.”

“But you knew he’d done a robbery, right?”

“Course I did. I helped him plan it. If he’d listened to me, he might have got away with it. He couldn’t listen though. I told him to make sure they didn’t slip him one of those things with the money. I knew that much from watching TV. I told him he’d have to threaten them, make them believe if they gave him a dye pack he’d come back and hurt ’em. He couldn’t do that though. Not my Bobby. Instead he picks the best looking teller in the bank to rob. Then he chats her up. Honest to God. He’s so stupid. Flirts with the girl like she’s gonna be interested in a guy shows her a gun and asks for the money. He honestly thought she would help him get away if he was nice to her. Maybe he even thought he was just that good looking. He’s not. Guess he learned that much anyway.”

“How’d you get off?” I ask. “You don’t mind me asking.”

“Played dumb, basically. Told ’em I didn’t know anything about it, and Bobby backed me up. They didn’t have any kind of evidence to tie me in. They had plenty on Bobby though. The trial was a slam dunk for them. They trotted out security camera footage, the shotgun, fingerprints, and all that bright red money. Bobby changed his plea before they were even finished. He goes away for twenty, and I’m a free woman waiting tables in this godforsaken diner.”

I’m having some difficulty processing that my waitress is some kind of modern Bonnie Parker who has only managed to avoid jail by dumb luck and the loyalty of the guy she just called a dick.

“Let me get this straight,” I say. “Bobby is doing hard time because he took the fall for something in which you were involved. Now you say he’s your ‘ex,’ so you must have divorced him. How does that work? He keeps you out of it, and you’re not going to wait for him. Isn’t he going to be really pissed when he gets out?”

“Bobby? Nah. The divorce was his idea. When he gets out I’ll be in my forties. Might even have grandkids. Bobby doesn’t want any part of that. Knowing him, he probably thinks he’s going to take up with one of those convict groupies you hear about. Write letters and such. Maybe even get a conjugal. Who knows? Like I said, He’s a dick.”

Now I know more than I ever thought I would about the girl who brings my coffee and eggs every morning. Problem is, now that I know too much, it’s not enough. There are a lot of puzzling bits in Dana’s new narrative that I think Carl and I should know now that we’re all felons together.

“Dana,” I say, “that’s an interesting story, and I’m sorry that you got stuck with a dick for a husband, but none of that really explains why you helped Carl.”

“Look, Nelson, I probably would have helped him anyway. There’s really not that much risk for me—you know, me being a woman and all—and it’s always fun to put one over on the cops. Fact is though, I’d like to throw in with you guys.”

“Throw in?”

“Yeah. Do some more banks—only we should actually get the money from now on.”

***

I drive Carl back to my place when the cop activity out on the street slows down. It’s a quiet ride. I’ve got a lot of information to process. I guess Carl does too, although I really need him to tell me what it was possessed him to try to knock off a bank.

Carl’s no gangster. Neither am I. We’re both in our late sixties. We live uneventful lives on fixed incomes. Carl retired after 40 years auditing sales tax receipts for the state. He never talked about it much, but I have to think it must have been boring as hell—cooped up in a windowless room all day looking at transactions on a computer screen. I’d rather die myself.

Me? I logged the same amount of time selling paint systems to auto body shops. Just as uninspiring as auditing after a while, but at least I got to drive around and talk to people in between the tedium and the paperwork.

Carl’s declaration to the cop to explain his tears was inspired, but he didn’t come up with it from thin air. It’s my wife who has dementia, not his. He got the cop off his back—distracted him with his own compassion—but the dementia is still on my back. It’s relentless. We’ve known for a couple of years now, and like most insidious diseases, this one progresses at an accelerating pace. As the initial shock dissipates, it’s replaced by an ever burgeoning despair. Soon enough, taking care of Millie—that’s her name—is going to be beyond me. I have a woman who comes in mornings now, but a home with round-the-clock professional supervision is going to be necessary. I can’t afford it. Don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s one day at a time now, but it’s a cloud that looms over my every waking thought.

We’re sitting out in Carl’s back yard now, sipping iced tea under a moldy lawn umbrella. Dana is supposed to come over after her shift ends to discuss her proposal. Carl wants to do it. I think it’s lunacy. Apparently it’s going to be up to me. Both Carl and Dana think it ought to be all of us, or none. That way there’s no middle ground that ends up in one of us—that would be me—testifying against the others.

“Come on, Carl. You can’t be serious about this,” I say.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s crazy is why not.”

“Crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

“Isn’t that from Anthony Robbins?”

“Anthony Robbins?”

“You know, that get-rich-quick guru with the big jaw. He’s the first guy I ever heard say that.”

“I thought it was Mark Twain.”

“It doesn’t matter who said it first, does it? The point is, robbing banks is crazy. I can’t even imagine what possessed you to try it today. What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking you could use a little extra income. Help you take care of Millie.”

“You tried to knock off a bank for me? Now I know you’ve lost your mind.”

“Not at all, Nelson. Banks are where they keep the money. You need it. They got it. Makes perfect sense.”

“No it doesn’t. It’s a crime. It’s dangerous. It’s so far out of your wheelhouse, it’s ludicrous.”

“That’s exactly my point.”

“How could that be your point? You’re the one who did it, and apparently, you want to do it again.”

“The point is that we need to do something different. What we’re doing isn’t working for either one of us. You’re running out of money and time. Millie’s meds are killing you. And that caretaker comes in every day? You can’t afford that either. Not really. Millie’s getting worse by the week. A little part-time help isn’t going to be enough much longer. You’re going to have to put her in a home. You have any idea how much that costs?”

“I have a pretty good idea, but I’m afraid to find out for sure.”

“Whatever it turns out to be, I bet it’s lots more than you can put your hands on by sitting in a diner spreading jam on wheat toast and worrying about it. Dana says she knows what she’s doing. I say, let’s go for it. We got nothing left to lose.”

“We got plenty to lose, Carl. We get caught, we’re going to prison. Who’s going to look after Millie then? I’m all she’s got left.”

“Well, let’s not plan on getting caught for starters, but even if we do, the government is going to have to take care of her. In fact, they’ll have to take care of all of us then, won’t they? Schmucks trying to take everything away from us anyway. What they gonna do when they succeed? Put us in prison where they got to feed us and give us free medical care and bury us when we die is what. And they’ll have to take care of your wife too.”
“You can’t be serious, Carl. I don’t want Millie ending up in one of those state homes that smells like urine and they park all the old folks in wheelchairs and forget where they left them half the time. I’ve been in places like that. Residents squalling in the hallways, yelling stuff like, “Kill me. Please? Kill me now!”

“Come on, Nelson. Think about it. Millie’s already out of it most of the time. By the time she’s in a home, she won’t even know who you are anymore. None of that stuff will matter to her. She won’t know the difference.”

“It’ll matter to me!”

“Sure. If it comes to that. But, like I said, I don’t intend for us to get caught.”

At that point, Dana comes around the side of the house. She’s traded her waitress uniform for jeans and a long-sleeve knit shirt that covers most of her tattoos. Her spiky neon purple hair fades to merely shocking when she steps out of the sun to join us under the umbrella. Carl has brought a glass of tea out for her, which now sits in a puddle of condensation looking like a TV ad for something refreshing. Dana looks at it, fishes a can of caffeinated sports drink out of her bag, and uses it to top off the tea.

“So . . . We going to do this or not?” she says.

“We pretty much have to,” Carl says.

“We can’t,” I say. “We don’t know the first thing about it.”

Dana fixes her stare on me. Her eyebrows are dancing some kind of jig under her neon bangs. I’m thinking she’s already had enough caffeine, but what do I know?

“We really don’t,” I add for emphasis. “Whatever you think you learned at Bobby’s trial is not going to get us through a string of robberies. We don’t have any kind of experience with this kind of activity. We’ll be arrested or killed in the act. Carl may not care, but I do.”

Dana shakes her head. A small weary smile flits across her face that reminds me somehow of Sister Mary Samuella trying to coax long division past my fourth grade resistance many, many years ago.

“Maybe you’re right about that, Nelson,” she says, “but there’s something else that might make a difference. There’s a handbook.”

“A handbook?”

“Yes.”

“For robbing banks?”

“It’s not a book exactly. It’s not that long, but it lays out everything you need to know to do a robbery and get away with it.”

“What? Is this on the Internet or something?”

“No. It’s secret. If it was in the Internet, the authorities would have it, even if it was on the Dark Web. Then it wouldn’t work anymore. Bobby told me about it. He heard about it from a guy who knows a guy—one of those kinds of things. They claim it was written by the Geezer Bandit.”

“The Geezer Bandit? Who’s that?”

“The old guy that robbed a bunch of banks in California and never got caught. He’s the most successful bank robber in history. Pulled more jobs without getting caught than anyone else, ever. One day, he decides he’s had enough. Decides he can make more money telling other people how to do it than doing it himself, so he writes it all down and offers it for sale. They call it The Geezer Screed.”

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