Read 23 Minutes Online

Authors: Vivian Vande Velde

23 Minutes (17 page)

BOOK: 23 Minutes
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Once again he says, “Zoe,” speaking all slow and earnest. “When I tell you to move, I want you to move.”

What he's saying is he doesn't want her standing anywhere near him once Wallace is in the bank.

“I understand,” she says.

Which is not exactly the same as

They walk into the bank. There is a big shiny clock on the wall, so Zoe doesn't need to keep asking the time, which is a relief. It is currently 1:27, and that is
a relief. Within the next sixty seconds, Wallace will be cruising down the street, looking for a parking space.

But meanwhile, the guard looks at them as though they are the least interesting people in the world.

“May I help you?” the teller at the far end of the row asks.

Daniel indicates they'd prefer to talk to Charlotte.

The hat-and-glasses-and-purple-jacket disguise, thrown together as it is, at least causes Charlotte to do a double-take. Then she smiles—something Zoe wasn't convinced she
do—and says, “Mr. Lentini.” Her gaze strays to the souvenir cap. “Or is it Captain Patch?”

Zoe finds herself inordinately pleased that, despite the flirty tone, it's
Mr. Lentini
, not

“Hello, Charlotte,” Daniel says, as though they have all the time in the world, which—Zoe tells herself—is because Daniel doesn't want to spook Charlotte, not because he's flirting back or anything.

Charlotte even turns her smile onto Zoe, now that Zoe is with Daniel. Then she asks him, “Is this one of your brother's friends?”

Daniel has a brother?

It must be a younger brother, Zoe determines. The normally sucking-on-a-lemon-faced Charlotte is insinuating Zoe is too young to be a friend of Daniel's. OK, well, Zoe thinks Charlotte is too
to be a friend of Daniel's.

For some reason, Charlotte's question has stymied Daniel, who looks momentarily flummoxed, then says, “No,” in a tone that's a strong hint that the question is somehow inappropriate. Then he adds, “Ms. Mahar is my client.”

“Oh.” Charlotte looks unconvinced. But she gets over it. She breezily adds, “Sorry. So, how can I help the two of you today?”

Daniel moves in closer and lowers his voice so as not to let anyone else overhear. “Don't become alarmed,” he says.

Immediately, Zoe can see that Charlotte is not good at following instructions. Her eyes go all wide. This is verification of what Zoe has suspected all along.
Oh yeah
, Zoe thinks,
she's going to press the panic button as soon as she sees what Wallace is up to.

And she's going to be so obvious about it, Wallace will see.

Zoe supposes they're lucky Charlotte hasn't pressed it at Daniel's words.

He continues to speak, his voice calm and soothing. He has put his rain-soggy trust-fund-stuff envelope down on the counter. Zoe is still holding her own paperwork, though she surmises the forms and printouts have probably melded together into one solid block of wet pulp: the ones saying she's delusional, the ones saying she's a liar, the ones saying she's too impulsive for her own good. Daniel now lays both his hands flat next to his envelope, and Zoe realizes this is deliberate: In case Charlotte knows or suspects he carries a weapon, this is meant to demonstrate—if this is what is making Charlotte anxious—that he's not a threat, that reaching for his weapon is the furthest thing from his mind. He asks Charlotte, “You know I'm a private investigator, right?”

She nods, still looking apprehensive.

“I need your help.” Meanwhile, he has shifted slightly so he can
catch the bank guard's attention, and he motions for him to join them at the counter.

Can you move a little slower?
Zoe thinks at the man as he strolls in their direction.

“Some trouble here, Mrs. Yeager?” the guard asks, addressing his question to Charlotte, despite the fact that it was Daniel who summoned him. He has his name on the lapel of his uniform shirt: Bobby Something-or-other-that-has-too-many-consonants-and-ends-in-
. Zoe spares a thought for the feeling that
is not a suitable name for anyone whose age is represented by more than one digit.

Moving slowly and carefully, as he did for Zoe that one time back at the Fitzhugh House, Daniel takes out his private investigator ID from its new home in the pocket of Milo Van Der Meer's jacket. Now he sets it on the counter and says, “I have reason to suspect an armed robber is about to enter the bank.”

If Zoe thought Charlotte's eyes were big before, now they look about to pop right out of her face.

Daniel continues: “The police have been notified and are on their way. You can go ahead and press the silent alarm now if that makes you feel better, but it's superfluous, and the important thing is you need to keep calm once the man enters.”

Bobby, who is at least twice as old as Daniel is, looks … perhaps not entirely convinced, but certainly as though he's more inclined to believe Daniel than he was to believe Zoe. He's wearing what he probably thinks of as his
face, which looks pretty contemptuous of just about everything. He asks, “What about locking the door so the guy can't get in?”

Daniel points out, “OK, but he would just come back some time
when you weren't expecting him. Besides … don't look now, but too late.”

Not one of them does a good job with following that direction.

Daniel grips Zoe's arm to keep her from whipping around. At least Charlotte was facing in that direction already, and it's the guard's job to watch everybody. So perhaps Wallace hasn't realized anything is wrong. In any case, nobody's ducking, so Zoe supposes he doesn't look ready to open fire.

Bobby has angled himself so he can still see Wallace even while he talks to Daniel and Charlotte. He nods his head toward Daniel and asks Charlotte, “So you know this P.I.?”

Zoe, watching Charlotte since she isn't allowed to turn to face the door, sees Charlotte force herself to look away from Wallace. “Mr. Lentini?” she asks. “Of course. He's Pete's brother.”

There's a flash of annoyance on Daniel's face, which makes Zoe question her earlier surmise that the brother must be younger. From her experience, it's usually the older family member everyone knows and to whom the younger is always compared, and for one second, that's how Zoe interprets Daniel's displeasure.

Then Bobby asks, incredulously, “Crazy Pete?”

And that's definitely more than annoyance in Daniel's expression now.

Immediately, Bobby tries to backtrack. “Sorry. Sorry, that was not called for. But …” He's looking at Charlotte with a not-very-subtle expression that seems to be asking,
Can we trust Crazy Pete's brother?

Zoe, who had begun to feel she was an expert in all things Daniel, has no idea what to make of this conversation, except that
it seems to be going pretty far afield from
a man with a gun has just entered the bank.
She has to work hard not to turn to see what that man with a gun is doing while they are huddled here talking, and she can only surmise that he's biding his time, waiting for the right opportunity.

Bobby is wearing a sucking-on-a-lemon expression so similar to Charlotte's usual look, it's as though he's been taking lessons from her. He says, “But, anyway … I can't arrest this guy just on your suspicion.” Still, he looks inclined to concede that Daniel—crazy brother Pete notwithstanding—appears a more upstanding citizen than Wallace does. Zoe, however, is obviously a different matter. “And what's with the kid?”


Daniel says, “I believe she and Ms. Yeager are in especial danger. Charlotte, I recommend you take Ms. Mahar toward the vault room as though you're bringing her to put that folder of hers into a safe deposit box.”

This sounds less dangerous than being in this room, but the situation is too complicated for Zoe to know if she's feeling relief or anxiety that Daniel is making arrangements to keep her away from him. Not that she has a good track record for keeping him safe.

In any case, Charlotte is saying, “That is entirely against regulations,” and even Bobby has grown suspicious again, asking, “Why
room? Is there something there you're hoping to get into?”

Daniel shakes his head at both of them. “I'm not saying to bring her
the vault area. There are those side privacy rooms for people who need time to sort through their belongings.
where I want
you to go.” Specifically to Bobby he says, “I'm just trying to keep the two of them out of harm's way.”

Charlotte says, “We should ask Mr. Bennington,” by which Zoe takes her to mean one of the managers.

But even Bobby is shaking his head.

Zoe sneaks a peek in Wallace's direction. He's at the table with the deposit/withdrawal slips, obviously killing time waiting for the guard to step away from the tellers. But he's looking fidgety, and surely that's not a good sign. At least he isn't going for the low table with its COMPLIMENTARY COFFEE FOR OUR CUSTOMERS. Caffeine is probably the last thing in the world he needs.

“No time for that,” Bobby decides, dismissing the idea of asking for advice or permission from the bank manager. “Ring the silent alarm and take her.”

“But …,” Charlotte starts.

“On my authority,” Bobby tells her.

From Charlotte's face, she's trying to work out whether he
this authority, but her desire to get out of there overrides her concern for bank protocol. She says, “This way, Miss Mahar,” and indicates she'll meet Zoe at the far end of the counter, where a waist-high railing separates the more public area of the bank from the behind-the-teller-counter area and the vault.

Zoe hesitates, feeling as though she's President William Henry Harrison's personal physician, advising the president,
Yeah, sure, go have fun with that inauguration speech thing. Good luck with the cold and the rain. I'll meet you inside after it's over.

She doesn't want to desert Daniel. But can she really do anything besides get in the way?

As she and Charlotte take their separate paths toward the vault room, Zoe glances at the wall clock. 1:33. Six more minutes.

And nobody's dead yet.

The railing is hardly high-security. Obviously, it's meant to keep the clueless from wandering where they're not supposed to, rather than to barricade against armed intruders. Zoe sees four solid-looking doors which she guesses are the rooms about which Daniel was talking. She wonders if they lock from the inside, and if they're bulletproof.

As Charlotte opens the gate in the rail to let Zoe in, Zoe attempts to be subtle about turning to glance over her shoulder around the bank.

Daniel and Bobby have stepped away from the tellers' counter: Daniel is making for the table in the waiting area where the coffee is set up; Bobby is heading toward the entrance as though to take up his usual post just inside the door—although his bearing is as stiff as if he's expecting to be shot in the back at any moment. They're giving Wallace
room, but they're also flanking him, positioning themselves so they can be ready to move fast.

As for Wallace, he has stepped forward, between the two of them, heading for the teller counter. Alarmingly, he has opted to start at this end—which of course he would in any case, to avoid the empty space left by Charlotte's walking away from her station near the other end.

At which point Charlotte, holding the gate open for Zoe, looks up, sees Wallace apparently heading straight for her, and calls out in obvious panic, “Mr. Lentini!”

Wallace, of course, does not assume there could be another
Lentini in the world besides the one with whom he has a grudge. Even before Zoe has time to finish thinking at Charlotte,
I always knew you were an idiot
, Wallace has spun around to face the direction Charlotte is looking.

And he's holding his gun.

Except this time, finally, Daniel has his gun drawn, too.

And so does Bobby.

Zoe spares the thought that a
person would not be thinking that she'd feel better about the standoff if only Wallace were aiming at Bobby rather than Daniel. Bobby is probably a perfectly nice guy. After all, he believed Daniel. He wanted Zoe and Charlotte to be safely in the back. True, he called Daniel's brother crazy, an insult Zoe finds particularly offensive, but she tells herself allowances have to be made for someone who's risking his life to save yours. Still, Zoe thinks she'd give anything for Wallace
to be aiming at Daniel.

Until Wallace
shift away from Daniel.

Because now, while he's still looking at Daniel, he's swung the gun around toward Charlotte and Zoe.

Be careful what you wish for.
This was one of her mother's sayings. She'd generally add:
The universe has a way of coming around and biting you on the ass.

Yeah. That's something this whole playback ability has shown Zoe time and again.

But she still thinks,
Oh crap.

“Nobody's been hurt yet,” Daniel points out, reasonable and conciliatory, trying to defuse the situation. “Nobody needs to get hurt.”

And any of the bank's customers and employees who hadn't
noticed before what's going on, notice now. There are startled gasps, squeals, and expletives.

“Shut up!” Wallace shouts at everyone. “Anyone who picks up a cell phone is dead.” Then he says, “Drop the guns, both of you, or the women die first. I even suspect one of you tellers has pressed the alarm, and you'll be picking your coworker's brains out of the wall behind her.”

Charlotte grabs Zoe's left arm and is holding onto it in wide-eyed terror as though she's drowning and Zoe's arm is a lifeline.

Zoe tries to convince herself that it's only logical—after all, she can't help anyone if she's dead—but she feels selfish and cowardly for recognizing the fact that if Charlotte would just let go,
could put her arms around herself and play back time.

BOOK: 23 Minutes
11.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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