Three Years Ago
Needles of driving rain ricocheted off the fogged windshield of the seventy-five Plymouth. In the wet gray November morning, clouds of white vapor roiled up about the vehicle effectively concealing the three men huddled inside. Jimmy "Biff" Collins sat in back with Buster Eisler, a parolee who boasted a long sheet for violent crimes.
Thin and morose, Eisler stared glumly at the window fogged over by the heat of the men's breath and the cold outside. Eisler shivered and his fingers tightened their grip on the twelve gauge shotgun that had been sawed off at both ends so that it was little more than a huge pistol.
At the wheel, Buster's brother, Whitey Eisler, another parolee, sat quietly with his foot poised motionless a quarter inch above the accelerator. The reassuring throb of the hot 340 engine at his command was a good feeling and helped soothe his nerves. Heavier than Buster, Whitey shared his brother's sour and gloomy temperament, but while Buster's hair was dark, Whitey's was so blond it was nearly white.
At any given moment the Eislers might be less angry or more angry, but they were always angry. Both wore their hair long and dirty, tied back in ponytails beneath navy blue watch caps. Whitey Eisler twitched and resisted the urge to wipe at the windshield from the inside.
The Plymouth reeked of stale tobacco and beer but no one noticed or cared. What they did notice was the ripe stink of wet wool that reminded them of dogs brought in from the rain outside. The defogger blew strongly against the inside of the windshield making it just possible to watch the bank that opened onto the corner.
Barely visible through the rain and mist, the clock above the bank entrance read 9:58.
In the back seat of the Plymouth Biff Collins sat very still and breathed lightly. Collins had muscles of spring steel, muscles that stood sharply out against his tattooed skin. A man who bragged that he made lemonade when he was given lemons, Biff had made good use of his time in the Oregon State pen. He worked out daily, honing his muscles to the edge of perfection while learning any and everything any other con might know, anything he might have missed during his earlier visits to Salem. And Biff was no longer on parole; he was a free man at the moment--for Biff Collins that accomplishment hadn't been easy, but Biff prided himself on his self discipline.
Biff had a brother, too.
The men watched now as the Berman armored truck edged to a stop at the corner in front of the bank. Biff's younger brother Larry Collins stepped down from the passenger side of the truck and moved around toward the rear. His plastic cap cover and raincoat glistened icily in the frigid air.
The doors at the rear of the truck opened and two men peered out and then stepped down. A guard stationed just inside the entrance of the bank looked out. He looked carefully to the left and to the right. There were few pedestrians in this dated neighborhood at this time of morning on this frigid winter day, and those who dared venture out hurried quickly along, heads down, wrestling to keep their umbrellas from being torn away by the fierce gusts of icy wind that whipped in from the Willamette River across the street.
The bank guard was a little guy with gray hair poking out from the sides of his cap. He looked as if he should have retired ten years ago. He pulled his raincoat back hooking it over the grip of the big revolver at his hip. Squinting against the thin fog and the stinging sheets of rain that knifed in from across the river, he locked the double doors to the bank in the open position and two bank employees rolled a heavily laden dolly forward while the guard hunched his shoulders and rubbed his freezing hands together.
As the dolly reached the sidewalk, Whitey Eisler hit the accelerator and the Plymouth's engine howled against the wind as the vehicle lurched forward and slid to a heart stopping halt beside the armored truck. The three ex-cons hit asphalt before the guards could even react.
The old guard took one step back and assumed the stance of a gunfighter in a Western but his hand never made it to his revolver as his head burst into an explosion of blood and double aught buckshot. At the boom of Buster's shotgun all hell broke loose. The armored car took off squealing and sliding around the corner, its open rear doors flapping wildly. The few pedestrians scattered and bank employees screamed and ran around inside the bank, and as Biff's slitted gaze caught and held his younger brother's pale frightened face, their eyes locked for a fraction of a second before Biff calmly squeezed the trigger of his Glock forty-five and tapped his stunned brother twice. He didn't watch as Larry's body caved and crumpled to the wet sidewalk. He was directing the operation.
While Buster held the remaining men at bay with his shotgun, Biff Collins and Whitey Eisler hurled heavy bags of money into the Plymouth. Despite the cold and the rain the men burst into sweat from tension and exertion. Nearly finished at the first faint wail of sirens, all three leaped into the car and it vanished into the fog fishtailing down Front Street in the direction of the Morrison Street Bridge.
In the wake of the holdup, the bandits left screaming terrified bank employees behind them, excited and frightened pedestrians and now, enraged lawmen all pumped full of adrenaline with nobody to vent it on.
"Jesus, you whacked your own brother," Whitey ventured over the throb of the car's engine. "That's far out, man."
"Hey, I know Larry," Biff said in his cold voice without expression. "He was a loser. He'd fold in five minutes. It had to be, man. It had to be. I knew that going in."
"Jesus," whispered Buster. He shivered inside his heavy coat.
The Plymouth slipped and shuddered across the bridge above black and icy water and Whitey rolled the car into an area of warehouses on the southeast side.
"Let's hurry up and split this shit up and get on with our lives, that's all I ask."
"That's the difference between you boys and me," Biff said. "I don't ask: I take."
Buster gave him a sidelong glance, holding his breath. After a moment his jaw stopped twitching. "Wish we could have got more, but this has got to be good."
"Hell yes it's good," Biff said. "The bank already moved all the other paper. This is strictly cash."
Whitey braked the Plymouth behind a parked faded brown GMC pickup with a camper on the back. As Biff got out, Whitey twisted to look over his shoulder.
"Watch him," he whispered. "Shit, if he'd whack his own brother..." His whisper faded as he opened his door. Buster nodded and opened his own door.
Fog and rain shielded their movements from the occasional passerby as the men quickly transferred their loot from the car to the back of the camper. Then all three crowded into the cab and headed for the freeway.