Read 23 Minutes Online

Authors: Vivian Vande Velde

23 Minutes (5 page)

BOOK: 23 Minutes
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But if it isn't …

She can't leave things like this. She
to try.

, she thinks.
If I keep this up, maybe I can start a nuclear holocaust.

But she hugs herself and says, “Playback.”

And apparently the twenty-three minutes were not quite over, because Zoe finds herself back in front of the hat and purse boutique.



It is not yet raining.

The robber is not yet inside the bank.

Nobody is dead.

Zoe wipes the memory of blood off her palms onto the thighs of her jeans.

OK, so obviously calling the police somehow caused the situation to escalate totally out of control.
Being there
was bad,
calling the police
was worse. Should she not do anything? She thinks again of the customer who stepped in to rescue her. In the absence of a name, she's beginning to think of him as The Boy Scout. And not entirely in a complimentary way. But the thing is: He had no particular reason to protect
. She suspects he's the kind of person with not enough sense to keep himself from getting killed all over again in a situation like this. For Zoe, simply
not seeing it happen
is not a solution.

Once again she tucks her folder into her waistband and begins to run toward Independence Street. In the original story line, she was meandering, nowhere to go, no set time to be anyplace, knowing she would be facing detention when she got back to the group home; so she'd been pausing to look in shop windows to admire all the things other people could have—or even just hope to have. That took her six minutes. She now knows this from the fact
that she was looking at the cell phone clock this last time just as the rain started.

She passes by the mother with her two children. The boy is tugging on the mother's arm, and both children are whining to go into the candy shop. While the mother is explaining the evils of refined sugar and of ruining one's supper, Zoe fights the juvenile inclination to stick out her tongue at all of them.

As she runs, she tries to remember the sequence of events, who came in when. Boy Scout must have been in the bank already, since his clothing was not wet. She can't picture where he might have been standing: Pouring himself a cup of that complimentary coffee? In the vault-like room where safety deposit boxes line the walls? In the sitting area waiting to talk to one of the important bank managers who have little offices of their own, where they discuss opening or closing accounts, getting loans, and whatever else bank people talk about when customers want privacy? Truth be told, the bank was fairly busy, and she hadn't noticed him until she backed into him. And that happened after the man who would turn out to be the robber practically plowed into her when
came into the bank. When, exactly, would that have been?

But none of that is important at this point—or at least Zoe hopes it isn't.

She slows down a few steps short of the entrance so as not to be running near the bank, which she instinctively recognizes might potentially be a suspicion-arousing thing.

Still, the running and the nervousness have left her out of breath as she pushes open the bank door.

The bank guard is just as displeased to have her walk through
that door dry as he was to see her come in wet. He obviously perceives her as trouble.

Finely honed sense of who bears watching
, Zoe reflects, knowing the armed bank robber will pass the guard's scrutiny.

Still, she approaches the guard, because that is what she's come here to do.

“Excuse me,” she says, even though she already has his attention.

He nods, the barest minimum civil response.

“I need to speak with you.”

No response at all to that. By which, on reflection, she takes him to mean:
Well … clearly you already ARE speaking to me. And I am not yet beating you away with a stick, though I reserve that option …

Life is so much simpler when you don't have to talk to people.

She says, “There's a suspicious man …” She is thinking,
This is not going to work.
She should leave now. Not look back.

Not watch the news tonight.

Or for the next couple days.

Why is she always jumping into things?

The guard asks, “Suspicious in what way?” His eyes narrow. “Has someone been bothering you?”

It takes Zoe a moment to realize what he's asking.

And in that moment, the guard seems to have second thoughts. He's taking into account the look of her, with her blue ponytail coming loose from its elastic, her clunky combat boots, and her t-shirt (old to start with, even by thrift-store standards, and now lumpy from the folder beneath it, not to mention sweat-spotted from her running, despite the coolness of the day). The shirt says “Guns N' Roses,” which she assumes was a rock band from
somewhere near the dawn of time, and she wonders if the guard's memory goes back far enough to know who they were, or if he's simply thinking it's bad form for anyone to walk into a bank with a shirt that has “Guns” written on it. She guesses he's realized she's older than he thought at first glance, and that he's thinking:
Who would ever bother HER?
And, in fact, he modifies his earlier question by asking, “Has some stranger been bothering you?” Like:
Of course you have scary acquaintances, and I don't want to get involved in that.

Zoe says, “No. But … I think there might be somebody planning to rob the bank.”

“Excuse me?” the guard says frostily, not sounding convinced. Sounding pretty much the exact opposite of convinced.

“I saw a man with a gun …”

This is a mistake, because the guard demands, “Where?” and Zoe doesn't know from which direction the robber is going to approach.

She glances back over her shoulder, looks left and right, and in that movement clearly loses all credibility with the guard.

“Ha, ha,” he says. “Very funny. Except making a false report can get you in serious trouble.”

“No,” Zoe says. “Really. He's going to rob the bank—”

But the guard has taken hold of her upper arm, and he is moving her—somewhere between not gently and not roughly—to the door. Talking with her is so important to him that he takes the time to hold the door open for someone else, a woman who is leaving the bank. “Have a nice day,” the guard tells the woman, proving he can be pleasant after all. Just not to Zoe.

,” Zoe repeats.

But the guard cuts her off again. “Yeah,
,” he says. “Stuff like that can
get you in trouble.” He's still holding the door open
even though the woman has stepped outside, because someone else is coming in.

For a second, Zoe doesn't even recognize the customer who may well have saved her life, and it isn't until he removes his sunglasses as he steps indoors that she sees it's Jacket, aka Boy Scout. Well, the first thing she sees is that the sunglasses probably cost more than her entire outfit, not that she feels sorry for herself or anything. Then she sees that, apparently, he only responds to clumsy girls who step on him and drop papers with reindeer names at his feet—which the people at the group home would probably call An Issue—because he's looking down at his own envelope of papers, and he doesn't even see her or that she is being officially escorted from the bank.

The guard finally releases her arm. “You, young lady, could get in serious trouble for that kind of nonsense. Do yourself a favor and knock it off. If you've got friends watching in the hope of seeing me get all flustered, tell them to knock it off, too.”

He pulls the door shut between them.

Now what?

Zoe presses her face against the window in time to note Boy Scout going into one of the offices that border the waiting area. Probably seeing about a loan to afford his expensive clothes.

The guard raps his knuckles against the glass, making her jump. Once he has her attention, he points at a “No Loitering” sign.

At which instant the rain starts.

Of course it does. She thinks of it as heaven spitting on her.

What now?
Zoe hopes she has put a suspicion in the guard's head. Not about herself.
she knows she has accomplished. But about a robbery. She hopes the guard will take a closer look
at the people coming into the bank. That he will notice how the twitchy man with the big raincoat is hiding his face. And his hands.

And that, being prepared, the guard will be able to do something before the situation gets out of control.

Zoe crosses the street and stands in the doorway of the card shop. Only half out of the rain, but positioned so she can see up and down both sides of the street.

One of the card shop clerks, a girl who looks only marginally older than Zoe, holds the door open as a middle-aged customer scurries out into the rain, carrying a package and a breeze of the store's scented candles and potpourri with her.

Zoe must look very pathetic—either that or business is incredibly slow today—because the clerk calls out to Zoe, “Why don't you come on in out of the wet?”

“Thank you,” Zoe says. “I'm waiting for someone.” She figures it's best not to mention that the person she's waiting for is a sociopathic murderer.

As though to help her with this waiting-for-someone alibi, a car pulls up directly in front of the card shop. Just as Zoe is mentally urging the driver to move on one further parking space so as not to block her view, she catches a flash of red as he places a Red Wings baseball cap on his head, then pulls up the collar of his tan raincoat before getting out of the car.

She could rush out of the doorway and try to trip him. But she's not convinced:

a) that this would deflect him from his intention of armed robbery, or

b) that he wouldn't be annoyed enough at her to take out his gun and shoot her, or even

c) that he couldn't easily walk around her.

As the would-be bank robber crosses the street, Zoe flings open the door to the card shop and shouts, “Did you see that? That man has a gun! He's walking into the bank! Someone call 911!”

There are two clerks: the girl who took pity on Zoe's wet state and an older man. There's also a woman customer wearing hair rollers, who has been looking at the display of area attraction memorabilia: mugs and caps and teddy bears with
Rochester, NY
t-shirts. (Who wears hair rollers anymore? And who buys souvenirs of Rochester, NY?) They all seem to take her seriously, with the two women engaging in some high-pitched fluttering, and the guy picking up the phone behind the counter.

The time is slightly later than when Zoe made the call from in front of Tops 'n Totes two blocks away. And it's a respectable-sounding older man making the call. Will this somehow make a difference?

There's nothing more she can accomplish here. Well, nothing
, Zoe thinks. There's always the potential of these people taking a closer look at her, deciding she's not to be trusted, telling the police, “Never mind.” It's better to leave before any of that can happen.

“I'm going to check his license plate,” Zoe announces.

“No!” the male clerk shouts at her, thinking only too late to cover the phone receiver in consideration of the 911 dispatcher's eardrum. “It's safer in here. Valerie, go lock the door. All of you, come back here behind the counter.”

The young clerk, Valerie, clearly feels she's already too close to the door, and that the man with the gun who's been spotted on the street might have second thoughts about robbing the bank and choose at any moment to turn back and take on the card shop
instead. Her wide, terrified gaze shifts between the door and the counter, and she remains exactly where she is, her feet rooted to the floor.

Zoe could grab one of the light-up musical pens from the display to record the license plate number on the back of her hand, or on the folder which is still tucked safely beneath her shirt. But she seriously doubts things will ever resolve themselves in a way that the police will be trying to track this guy down. She might need the number if she's to play back this story line, this twenty-three-minute interval, but if so, she will start—yet again—at 1:16, in front of the hat and purse boutique, dry and numberless, exactly as she was the first time she passed through 1:16. Only her memories will have changed.

Mostly what she wants is an excuse to be out on the sidewalk, even though everyone in the card shop most assuredly thinks this is a bad idea.

Ignoring their protests, Zoe steps outside and to the back of the car. HDP 347. She memorizes the letters by assigning them a mnemonic: Highly Deranged Person. Zoe isn't very adept at numbers, but tries to commit
to memory.

She is aware of the woman with the hair rollers tapping on the glass of the store door, trying to motion Zoe back in. The sound is reminiscent of the bank guard knocking on the window and indicating for her to move on, but these people are concerned for her safety, and that makes Zoe feel twinge-y in all sorts of ways.

BOOK: 23 Minutes
2.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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