Read 23 Minutes Online

Authors: Vivian Vande Velde

23 Minutes (6 page)

BOOK: 23 Minutes
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But, despite the way she's standing behind the robber's car so her new friends won't become suspicious of her and let that suspicion overflow into the conversation with 911, despite that,
what she's really doing is making sure she can see into the bank through the bank's big plate-glass window.

The robber walks in.

The guard whom Zoe warned is no longer distracted by Zoe's shenanigans at the table for the deposit/withdrawal slips, and is busy chatting up an attractive woman in her twenties and doesn't even notice the robber.

But the other person Zoe isn't there to distract, Boy Scout,
sees. And does he go about his own business, or—noticing something is wrong about the man—very sensibly get out of there, or sound an alarm, or do any other prudent thing? No, of course he doesn't.

In a moment, too fast to tell exactly what's happened, not without being able to hear, there's a confrontation between the two of them. The robber pulls out his gun. Shoots Boy Scout. Shoots the guard. Shoots the attractive twenty-something. Shoots one of the tellers.

Crap crap crap
, Zoe thinks.

On the street, she notices an oblivious young woman pushing a baby stroller at top speed to get out of the rain, making a dash for her car, parked directly in front of the bank.

“Man with a gun!” Zoe screams at her.

The woman skids to a stop.

One life. One life saved.

Zoe hears more shooting from inside the bank.

She puts her arms around herself and whispers, “Playback.”



Standing in front of Tops 'n Totes, Zoe considers her options.

All right. So it's no use having someone call the police from the card shop once the robber makes his entrance. That's too late to have an effect on anything: of itself, neither a good decision nor a bad one.

Letting the robber walk in while she watches from the safety of outside … that definitely comes under the heading of
decision. It resulted in four deaths right away. And he was still firing his gun when she played back time.

That's right up there with her first playback.

Zoe tries to back away from the thought that the original twenty-three minutes—the original story line—involved the fewest number of people getting killed: just the gunman, and one victim. Forget calling him Jacket or Boy Scout; she's beginning to think of him as the reincarnation of the premier bad-luck president, William Henry Harrison, who couldn't make it through an inauguration without catching his death of a chill. Her guy can't make it through a bank robbery.

I can't choose who's to die
, Zoe protests to herself. She's always hated those morality questions thought up by philosophers and psychologists who want to torment their students and/or patients:
If the whole village can be happy at the cost of one child's life, is that child's life worth it? What if the whole village can be happy at the cost of two children's lives? What if …?

What kind of stupid-ass question is that?
Zoe asked in sociology class. (A required course, or she would never have been taking it.)
If the villagers are so damn happy, why can't they find a way to accommodate one frigging kid?

She'd gotten a failing mark for that particular essay. As well as a stern talking-to.

Now here she is with that one theoretical child on

It doesn't help that he's no longer theoretical. She's met him. Admired his hair, his smile, his kindness. His ability to name all Santa's reindeer. He is, for all intents and purposes, William Henry Harrison, Junior. She determines that this is a most suitable name, and this is what she'll call him. She sifts amongst William, Will, Bill, and Junior before settling on Mr. President.

She doesn't want to go back to that original twenty-three minutes. She doesn't want Mr. President to die, nor does she want to weigh how many lives she would consider his to be worth. Besides everything else, she is totally aware that all it would take would be one little slip on her part, one thing done slightly differently, and she herself might end up getting killed. No way to play back from that. She also reflects on how Mr. President stopped to be kind to her
the bank, yet didn't even notice her this last time, when she'd been confronting the guard in the doorway.

Not that this means she wants to throw him under the wheels of the robbery bus.

The housemother she used to have, the one before Mrs. Davies,
used to complain that Zoe was too impatient and rushed into situations without thinking things through. Like the time Zoe sprained her ankle and the doctor told her to keep off it for forty-eight hours. But she got bored after a day and went out with her friends, making the injury worse so that she ended up being confined to the infirmary for a week. Or like when she'd been grounded after she borrowed (yes, it was without asking, but she fully intended to return it) the ID of one of the younger-looking social workers in an attempt to convince a tattoo artist she was eighteen. Or when she was too eager to move into her newly painted room and didn't wait as long as she'd been told to before hauling her stuff back in—resulting in a streak of white on the seat of her jeans and a butt-shaped smudge on her wall where you could see through to the old puke-green color. “Heedless of the future,” this particular housemother used to intone, in the solemn voice of someone speaking from the pulpit.

But this time Zoe
planning ahead. She needs to replay the original story line—but only up to a point.
This time
, she tells herself,
I'll know what's coming. I can be standing farther from the teller counter. I can try to keep everybody safe. I can draw the guard's attention to the robber right away.

I will not be an idle bystander.

She'd been an idle bystander with her parents at the Counseling Center when she was thirteen, and she had promised herself then that she would never again be so useless.

Exactly how she'll accomplish all this, she doesn't know, but the key will be to make sure Mr. President is at a farther distance from the robber. She hopes this will keep him out of harm's way and, by
extension, will keep the others in the bank from becoming victims of the robber's ire.

One more try
, she tells herself.

This will be it, no matter what.
Mr. President, nice smile and all, has to take his chances.

She looks at the folder she's once again holding, the folder she'd thought—only this morning—that she had risked all to get her hands on. She mentally snorts at herself: She'd had no idea what

But she's not yet willing to part with it. This will be her last go-around, she promises herself. Besides, apparently she needs these papers to get Mr. President's attention.

The woman who'd told her the time in the first playback makes a wide detour around her, bumping into the teenage girl who is still too busy talking on her phone to be aware of anything else.

Zoe passes the other woman, the one with the two kids, as they're leaving the candy store.
, Zoe thinks at the mother scornfully, before she sees that they haven't bought candy—they've stopped to put a donation in the jar to raise money for muscular dystrophy. This is unexpected.

Not that this causes her to like them any better or anything.

She walks faster than she did the first time, to make up for dallying while trying to decide what to do.

But she's overcompensated, because when she gets to the bank, the rain hasn't started yet. Should she go in even though she's a minute or so early? What possible repercussions could that have? And would they necessarily be bad?

Silly question
, she chides herself.
Of course they'd be bad.

On the other hand, she is also concerned about hanging around outside the bank door. Will the guard notice and be even more suspicious of her? And what bad thing could
lead to? Is the robber watching the place, and will his suspicions be aroused?

, she thinks,
that might actually be a good thing.
He might decide to postpone his robbery until some other day, or he might choose another bank. She couldn't possibly be responsible for people under those circumstances.

Which is the point at which nature steps in and empties a sky-full of rainwater onto her.

Zoe dutifully shoves the folder under her Guns N' Roses t-shirt and enters.

The guard scowls at her, a look like he's bitten down into what he thought was a fluffy piece of sugar candy but turned out to be a lemon-flavored rock.

Obviously there's no way she will ever be anything other than a source of irritation to him.

She heads for the table with the deposit/withdrawal slips, then remembers that the first time, she took the folder out from under her shirt before going there.

She takes it out now, but worries that things are already irrevocably wrong.

Uh-huh. How much more wrong can you get than intentionally placing yourself in the path of a bank robber with a proven track record of killing indiscriminately?

Zoe moves to the table and takes a form. Pink is for deposits, she notices this time; white for withdrawals. She uses some of each and writes down the names of Santa's reindeer. She knows
she made other lists before but can't remember what they were, so she just goes ahead and makes several copies of the same one. This time, thanks to Mr. President's previous intervention, she has all nine names.

As she's watching the people lining up for the tellers, she wonders if she's spending too much time looking at them, and if that is making the guard more suspicious than the first time. Her gaze wanders—despite her best intentions—to the office where Mr. President is currently sitting talking to one of the managers.
Probably not asking for a loan
, she decides; he looks too relaxed to be begging. She settles on the theory that he's investing a sum of money he inherited from a maiden aunt—he was no doubt her favorite nephew.

She forces herself to stop staring and speculating. She worries she's spent too long gawking in a direction she never even noticed before.

The last person in the tellers' line at the moment is the same woman with the pointy-toed shoes whom Zoe believes she stood behind last time.

So Zoe gets in line. Has the same non-conversation with the same teller about presidential coins in general and William Henry Harrison—the Original—in particular. Once again, the teller looks resentful that she needs to play nice and pretend she considers Zoe a valued customer.

Finished with that, Zoe goes off to the side and stands at the forms table again.

This time she's aware of Mr. President coming out of the office with his envelope of papers, which he puts down beside her as he reaches for one of the deposit slips.

Through the main entrance, Zoe sees the robber get out of his car and sprint across the street.

How could she have not noticed, before, that his face is very suspiciously just-about-entirely obscured?

Previously, the bank guard did not believe her when she said a robber was about to enter the bank. Her plan this time is to wait until the robber is at the counter. Then she will run over and tell the guard, “Look! That guy has a gun.” Hopefully the guard will not blow her off once he actually sees the man.

For now, Zoe intentionally steps backward—fortunately finding Mr. President's foot right away, so she doesn't have to be obvious with multiple tries. She flings her folder of papers in the general direction of his knees.

“Sorry,” she says before he can get a word out. “Sorry. I am
an idiot.”

She fervently hopes she hasn't made
suspicious of her, just because she's trying to get him down on the floor a few seconds early.

But apparently not.

“These things happen to everyone,” he assures her.

They both crouch down and scramble for the papers. Even though Zoe has angled herself differently, to be able to keep watch on the counter behind which the tellers are positioned, this time she and Mr. President manage to collect all the papers from the group home and all the bank slips quickly enough that the guard doesn't come over. Zoe wonders what disaster that will precipitate.

Neither Zoe nor Mr. President has stood yet. Zoe is aware that he is looking closely at her, scrutinizing. Did he do that before?

She can't be sure and, in any case, pretends not to notice as she aligns the papers to fit them back into the folder.

He asks, quiet and gentle, “Are you all right?”

Which is new, but doesn't sound dangerous.

“Yeah, sure,” she says, even as the front door opens, letting in the soon-to-be robber on a blast of cold, rainy air.

Mr. President is watching her, and the bank guard is watching both of them. Neither notices the man with the raincoat and the cap, and the bulkiness in his right-hand pocket.

Mr. President asks Zoe, “Truly?”

Zoe thinks. Who actually says
She believes the only time she's ever used the word
was when her language arts teacher had the class practice writing what she called “friendly” letters (as opposed to “business” letters, not as opposed to “unfriendly” letters), some of which ended with
, and others,
Yours truly.

“Yeah,” she repeats to Mr. President. “Truly.” She glances at him just in time to see him stealing a look down at her hands, holding one of the Santa's reindeer sheets. He's holding one, too, except his is on a pink form, while hers is on white.
she thinks, too late.
I shouldn't have included Blitzen.
Now they have nothing to talk about. By way of explanation, she offers, “It's been a very rough day.” Her voice unexpectedly quavers, like she's talking into an electric fan.

BOOK: 23 Minutes
10.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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