DON’T TAKE ME ALIVE
Five minutes after my eyes opened, I made a phone call to my partner and sighed in relief to discover that our heist was still on for this morning. I inwardly applauded our plan to get some paper and I crossed my fingers, hoping that the bank would be loaded with cash because at nineteen, I was sick and tired of being broke. I had grown weary of praying to God to let a sack of cash fall off the back of a Wells Fargo truck so I had resolved to end my career as a broke nigga and today was the first day for the rest of my life. And as my own financial strategist, all roads led to the North Carolina National Bank.
Having made the decision to get paid in full, I dissolved any opposing interests such as getting busted. Shit wasn’t happening and I pitied the fool who tried, by whatever means, to prevent me from cleaning that bank out. The police didn’t mean shit too me. The way I saw it, today would be a good day for the entire force to call in sick because there wasn’t a damn thing more dangerous to the police than a nigga who didn’t believe shit stank. And I was the poster-child for that sentiment.
Rolling over in bed and eyeing the clock, I saw that it was still early, only a little after seven. Hell, the NCNB didn’t open until nine so that gave me some time to work the jitters out of my stomach. As a rookie bank robber, I had to deal with all the unknown X-factors—actual or imagined—that could get a nigga busted, the main one being to stay inside the bank too damn long. You had to get in and to get the hell out which meant, more than anything else, you had to know how to deal with greed because the tendency to get greedy was the worst mistake any crook could or would make in his career. Thinking that over, I suddenly realized that I was already behind the proverbial eight-ball because how in the hell could a broke nigga not be greedy! That was just as impossible as expecting a starving motherfucka not to be hungry. Anyway, I decided the best thing to do would be to deal with that shit when I crossed that bridge. Meanwhile, I had to get up.
My Moms was always the first one up in the crib and this morning was no exception. She was downstairs cooking breakfast. My baby sister and grandmother were still asleep. I made my way to the bathroom after hollering downstairs to my mother to let her know that I was alive and kicking. She greeted me warmly and invited me down for breakfast, but my stomach was in no shape for food. I still had a few butterflies. Only thing was that they didn’t feel like butterflies. Felt more like elephants.
Taking comfort in the fact that everyone upstairs was still asleep, I crept into my mother’s bedroom and borrowed one of her wigs. The choice was not easy and I then realized why it took women so long to get ready for a date. Hair was serious business. After taking more time than I should have, I chose a jet black wig with bangs that fell down to my shoulders like a cascade of silk. Then I borrowed a pair of my sister’s oversized sunglasses.
Going back to the bathroom with my borrowed female products, I gave myself a sneak preview of what I would look like for the cameras inside the bank. I was impressed. To add to the mystique, I donned a white baseball cap. I was good to go.
At the breakfast table, I employed every tactic I could think of to get out of the meal, but my Moms insisted that I break bread with the family since this was the one time we were always available to eat at the same time. Even though I played with my food, pushing the grits and eggs around on the plate like they were silly putty, my nervousness was pretty much ignored.
Following the meal, I almost scoffed at the idea of having to wash dishes that morning, but it was indeed my time to perform the task. I laughed. Here I was only an hour and a half away from my first bank robbery and I’m doing dishes. Wasn’t that some bullshit? Anyway, I made it a point to remind myself that this would be the last time I stuck my hands in some soapy water to clean some bowls and plates. I was leaving home today. I was either going to jail, hell, or a luxury apartment. I didn’t give it much thought because when you got right down to it, the choice wasn’t mine. It was the police’s, so I just prayed the motherfuckas stayed out of my way.
When my partner called, I was ready to move out but for a brief second I didn’t know what to do. In all actuality, this could be the last time I saw my family so it did cross my mind to give everyone a big hug and a kiss, but decided not to. That could jinx me. What I needed was a positive attitude, so I left the crib without saying shit and stepped out into the early morning sunshine like I owned the motherfucking world.
Strolling through Piedmont Courts, I made it to my partner’s girlfriend’s house in record time and was glad to see that the rest of the crew was assembled. Secretly, I studied each man’s face, searching for any signs of fear. I saw none. These niggas were amped. And so was I.
Like a group of businessmen at a board meeting, we discussed, dissected, and studied our plans to see if there would be a need to make any last minute adjustments. There were none. After all, what could be any simpler than charging into a bank with guns drawn and taking all the money. As far as planning went, it didn’t get any more elementary than that.
At around 8:30, Boo, the pretty boy of the crew, excused himself and returned about five minutes later with the stolen car we would use in the heist. The motherfucka looked fast. And then a strange notion hit me right out of the blue. Could Boo drive fast? Sure, it was one thing for a nigga to cruise through the projects in a raggedy-assed Cadillac, but could the nigga elude the police in a high-speed chase? Too late for that shit now. I tossed the idea out of my head and put on my gloves and jumped into the backseat of the ride.
Driving to the bank, the car was filled with aimless chatter. However about two blocks from our destination, Boo cut the radio off and everyone got silent as each of us, in his own unique way, went into the zone, that mysterious space where “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” meets up with “Nigga-this-is it!”
We rushed inside the bank so quickly that the bank employees looked like it was the end of the world as they knew it. We had caught them with their underwear down! They were bullshitting, laughing and talking and we never gave them time to regain their composure.
I vaulted over the counter like an Olympic high hurdler and when I came down on the other side, I swept the teller out of my way as if she were a five foot five Barbie Doll. “This ain’t your money, bitch, so don’t get yourself fucked up. Just lay your ass on the floor and let me go on about my motherfucking biz’ness.”
I snatched open the teller drawer and for a brief moment in time thought I was in the Federal Reserve. Money was stacked up like that. Shit, with all that damn paper, nigga just might destabilize the local economy. I wasted no time in going to work as I yanked open the red plastic shoe bag and started stuffing the money in like I thought it was going to evaporate. I, quite possibly, broke a world bank-robbing record for the fastest time in emptying a teller drawer, but you damn better believe that my partner was equally as swift because out of the corner of my eye, I could witness him at work. We met at the center of the long counter after vacuum-cleaning two drawers each. We both smiled, figuring that we were working our way up the millionaire list.
“Let’s go!” Lowe hollered, indicating that we had just about worn our welcome out as far as time was concerned, so with a pained expression on my happy face, I dismissed the notion of grabbing the long trays of coins under the counter. Plus, the serious expression on Lowe’s face was suggestive enough. It was time to roll out.
Given the fact that the heist was practically over and so far all had gone according to plan, I could live with the fact that everything from the moment we had charged into the bank had seemed to be in slow motion, but the trek back out of the joint seemed to take forever. It was as if some invisible architect, probably on the government’s payroll, had magically re-constructed the entire front lobby, extending the length of the bank by about thirty or forty feet. The black and white tile floor appeared to have hemorrhaged so that in some spots, it felt as slippery as an oil slick while in other places felt like a nigga was running in sand. I knew it was just my mind playing tricks on me, but getting to that goddamn door was an epic struggle.
When I got close enough to the door to be thankful, Lowe held up his hand like it was a stop sign. I was getting ready to curse the nigga out when he stuck his head out of the front door to make sure the coast was clear. Personally, I didn’t give a fuck if it did become public knowledge about the crime I had just committed since I was dead-set against letting a motherfucka stop me from spending this paper now that it was in my possession.
We made a mad dash to the getaway ride.
“We did it! We did it!” Butch shouted. “We did it!”
“We ain’t did shit,” Lowe cracked, “until our ass safe back in Piedmont Courts.”
I didn’t want to add my two cents in and burst Butch’s bubble, but I wasn’t about to start counting my chickens until I was back at my Mama’s house. Yet, I did sense that we had won, that we were on the verge of victory although a lot could go wrong in seven minutes which was about the time it would take us to reach 10th Street and Seigle Avenue, our safety zone.
Driving through uptown, I flinched as Boo steered the car onto Davidson Street.
“Nigga,” I yelled, “this ain’t the way we s’posed to go.”
“I’m taking a shortcut. Now, chill out and let me drive. Y’all niggas done done y’all job, so let me do mine.”
I was about to get mad when I suddenly recognized the genius of the nigga’s unexpected and unexplained departure from the script. He was taking us through Earle Village, the project just above the projects where we lived. By driving through Earle Village, we were practically invisible to all outside traffic and the police wouldn’t be in the projects at this time of morning because niggas didn’t start selling heroin on Seventh Street, down by Paso’s, until noon.
At the bottom of McDowell Street where Earle Village ended and Piedmont Courts began, I was ready to celebrate because I had just put my days as a broke nigga behind me. Piedmont Courts had never looked any sweeter to me. Bitch sparkled like The Vatican.
Parking the stolen car at the top of the projects, we all jumped out, except Boo whose next job was to dump the car in North Charlotte and let them niggas over there take the heat.
“Take the ride up on Belmont Avenue and leave it,” I ordered. “I’ll make sure your cut is straight.”
From out of nowhere, three nappy-headed hood rats popped up as we departed the ride. They saw us running away from the white Ford, but had no idea why. And it wasn’t none of their business. Or at least that’s what I believed at the time. Bitches knew how it worked in the hood---don’t nobody see shit!
Crossing over the big street in the middle of the projects, I involuntarily grew happier than a motherfucka. Butch, Boo and Lowe felt it as well. Sometimes a nigga wins.
When we crashed into the back door of my Mom’s crib, the celebration was on even before we made it upstairs to my bedroom. The feeling was indescribable, surreal, and when we dumped the money on the bed, the illusion was amplified a thousand times. It was as though money was all the proof a nigga needed to feel like he was worthy of being alive.
Already, I could hear the police helicopter, Snoopy, flying close by, and a cold chill ran up my spine. “Close the door,” I barked as if the police in the helicopter could see through the walls of the crib and that the door would be the only thing that could spare us. “Don’t nobody look out the window. Snoopy just flying in motherfucking circles.” I tried to sound cheerful, but Snoopy had spooked me out so much that I ignored my own decree and peeled back the curtain to peek out the window.
I almost pissed on myself. To the immediate right of the crib, Snoopy zoomed into view, looming over the projects like a menacing attack bird. When Lowe asked if I saw the helicopter, I nodded without speaking, but just as quickly as Snoopy had appeared, it vanished. For a minute, I thought the police were closing in, but I didn’t say it aloud. Instead, we divided the money up and we each went our separate ways. What none of us knew was that we had just made history, but it was the kind of history that can rob a nigga of a future.
It was almost half past the hour when FBI agents Jack Kennedy and Martin Cain dashed into their supervisor’s office. They halted just inside the doorway when they saw the strange look on Ron Banks’ ashen face. He leaned forward, inviting the two agents to have a seat. Both men hustled to take a chair on either side of the desk.
Banks stared at the two veteran agents as if seeing them for the first time, but after a moment or two of grappling with his emotions, he quietly made an assessment. “Jungle Bunnies!” he groaned.
“What?!” Jack Kennedy asked excitedly after making the proper calculations and reaching what he knew was the right conclusion. “You don’t mean---?” Kennedy abruptly grew silent, knowing that at the ass-end of his question was something new and different that could become an exclamation point covered in blood.
Martin Cain, a short Jewish agent with graying hair, shrugged in resignation. “Guess it had to happen sooner or later.”
“Yeah, I imagine you’re right,” Kennedy agreed, “but it could be a long, hot summer if we get black gangsters swarming the city’s banks like they were corner grocery stores.”
“Not only that,” Banks wisely pointed out, “but blacks have a tendency to bring violence to any crimes they commit. That’s not racist, that’s just the way it is. White gangsters use finesse. Black gangsters employ violence.”
“So, what now?”
Banks glared at Special Agent Kennedy. “What now?!” he shrieked. “What now is that I want their black asses caught and in jail. I’m assigning you two to this case. As you know, you’re in virgin territory so you will be forced to draw up a new set of parameters to work with because the old model for white bank robbers just got dumped into the shit can.” Walking over to a huge map on the far wall, Banks studied the mock-up. “The robbery took place here.” He touched his finger to a brightly-colored pin embedded into the spot that indicated one of the numerous banks in Charlotte. “It’s my guess that this particular bank was chosen because it is the one closest to the inner city. Within a few miles radius from the bank, we got Earle Village, Piedmont Courts, and North Charlotte, all black neighborhoods. I think your initial search should start there.” Banks turned to face the pair of agents. “I want this to end quickly because if it drags on, then what this city will have on its hands and what you will have on your conscience is a swiftly deteriorating situation. Know why? If these guys, the first black bank robbers in the city, get away then other black, copycat bank robbers are going to join in.” Banks sighed wearily. “Then, what we will have is a damn free-for-all bank robbery spree, the likes of which the city of Charlotte has never seen before.”