Well, I made it almost to my thirty-third birthday without having a job where I wore a tie. Almost. Then, eighteen months ago (and six years since the band broke up) I took a job, strapped on the red and blue striped noose and snugged it tight around my neck. Now I work in a grey cubicle under fluorescent lights in a chair with one bad wheel and a dead plant on my desk that’s been there since the day I started.
When the band split I thought it would be a minor setback. I could hook up with someone new, maybe bring along some of the better songs we hadn’t recorded yet. It’d be fine. But then years went by and I finally had to admit that driving my Kia with a hundred thousand miles on it and a Domino’s magnetic glow lamp on the roof didn’t cut it as a career, even if I took home more in tips most nights than we ever did from a percentage of the door at gigs.
And I knew it was time once I crossed over thirty, but I still waited it out a few years out of sheer hope. Like an addict or something. But there is nothing in this world sadder than a punk rocker in his thirties. Maybe when I’m north of sixty the Black Flag bars on my biceps will look cool and give me street cred among the wheelchair and heart pills set, but now I’m just the old guy in the corner of the club with the earplugs and wearing a t-shirt of a band who broke up before the rest of the crowd was born.
I was low man on the totem pole at work. The new guy at thirty-three. I got all the shit assignments in between my regular duties in accounting mostly because I volunteered for them. Anything that took me out of the office for a while. Need something brought to a client across town? I’ll do it. Need a coffee run? I’ll go. Drop off the bank deposits? I’m your man.
I could get outside, strip off the tie for a moment and breathe. It was like a stay of execution each time I went out into the daylight. Funny for a guy who used to like to wake up around 4 pm.
My Dad made me a deal at eighteen: I could pursue music if I had a backup plan. So I took accounting classes at the community college and he kicked in half the dough for my Gibson SG, which I still own and which has crossed over into the vintage category. It’s worth a shit-load but as desperate as I got, I never even considered selling it. I’d rather sell a kidney on the black market.
Turned out being smart with money was a bonus in a band and I did all the accounting for us. It was a useful skill and I think the guys might have valued that more than my guitar playing, but when we stopped making any actual money, my usefulness ran out. My chunky power chords were a dime a dozen. But by then, the other three guys had wives, two had kids and they all had real jobs. Fade out, song over. Thanks and good night.
You know that part in a song where it all builds up and then you just know it’s going to explode over the cliff and take you into the huge chorus or the breakdown with a killer hook? My whole life was like that moment. The pitch was rising, the guitars churning, the anticipation extending for one more bar. But the chorus never came. And then one day, I guess I got tired of waiting for the hook. I snapped.
The company had bought a sculpture from an artist to put in the lobby. Don’t ask me why. The guy who made it was a little weird. Shocking, you say, for an artist. I’d probably have been friends with him in my twenties.
He wanted the twelve thousand in cash. Twelve grand for a few hunks of metal that looked like two robot penises doing Greco-Roman wrestling. And there I was making twelve grand for six months of cubicle work. Fuck that guy.
My plan was to volunteer to take it to him in his funky downtown loft studio. I knew the neighborhood. It was the kind of graffiti-smothered concrete jungle I felt most comfortable in. Also the kind of place where artisan coffee shops had begun to replace the crack dens and punk clubs.
The Anti-Lounge had gone under three years before and now it was a juice bar. Saw some damn great shows there. Played a few too. I loved it because the room was so small it didn’t take much to make it feel full.
Then Joyce announced she’d be taking the money herself. I think she had a crush on the scruffy-haired bastard. But, she was office manager so I couldn’t argue.
Then the build happened, the chorus hit, the guitars swelled. And my strings went *snap*.
The money was just sitting there by reception in one of those manilla envelopes we used to send memos. Twelve grand in new bills direct from the bank. It was nothing to walk by, grab the key to the men’s room and then the envelope and walk right out the double glass doors. I ditched the men’s room key in a potted palm and went for the elevators. My cubicle days were over.
Right as the doors were about to close I heard shouts. Someone said, “It’s gone.” Then someone said, “He has it.” I wished I’d taken the stairs.
I reached up and undid the knot in my tie. I breathed in deep.
Sixteen floors down and it was torture every time I saw a number flash by. Somehow I didn’t make any stops and I hit the lobby and ran. The one concession this job gave is no dress code on footwear so I was able to wear my Converse every day. Much more comfortable than dress shoes, which I owned zero of, but how All Stars were ever considered an athletic shoe is beyond me. Almost immediately my feet hurt as my shoes slapped their nearly worn-out tread across the marble tiles. The loose ends of my tie fluttered behind me like the mane of a stallion finally set free to run wild. A horse wouldn’t be breathing so hard already, though.
I swung through the revolving doors with the envelope tucked under my armpit and I ran for downtown. Our building was in the financial district. Dull glass boxes reaching high into the sky on every corner, but try to get a decent hot dog or see even one graffiti wall and you can forget it. The cart on the corner sold sushi. Sushi. I pulled my tie the rest of the way out of my collar and dumped it in the trash can by the sushi cart.
I crossed the street before I heard the commotion behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a half dozen people from my office all scattering in different directions. I slowed my pace and tried to duck low to stay hidden in the flow of midday foot traffic.
Up ahead was the bank on the corner and out front was an armored car. I could use one of those, but instead I scanned the street for a taxi or a bus. The nearest subway was four blocks. I could make it, probably, but with a posse on my tail I had to be sneaky about it.
The rear door of the armored car was open and a guard was lifting two very heavy canvas bags into the back. He dropped them inside, then turned with a pained expression on his face. He was older and grey hair peeked out from under his uniform cap. He wore a windbreaker over a white shirt and a tie. No one was safe from a tie, and this one looked like it was choking him. He sat down on the bumper of the armored car. Nobody else around him noticed but since I was moving right for him, I saw the whole thing. Saw him clutch at his chest. Saw his eyes squeeze shut. Saw him lean back into the open back doors. Saw him have a full on heart attack.
Behind me I heard shouting between my former co-workers trying to Marco Polo my whereabouts. “Do you see him?” “No, do you?” “Nothing here.” “Try Eighth street!”
I made a snap decision. I kept moving straight forward, reached the back of the armored car, folded the guard’s legs up into the open back and followed him inside. I slammed shut the doors, sealing me in with a dead guard, and then slapped the metal side wall twice. My signal was heard and the driver put it in gear and we pulled away from the curb.
Nobody could see inside the car and only by pushing aside the little metal cover over the gun port could I see outside as we moved slowly through traffic away from my old building and the confused accountants criss-crossing the sidewalks searching for me and the missing twelve grand.
I set down the envelope on the bench and took a look at what was all around me. Money. Lots of money. Some small bags, some larger. Some coins. All the deliveries laid out and pre-portioned.
And one dead armed guard.
I bent over him and saw his tongue pushing out of his mouth and already turning blue. This grandpa was gone. I had a weird premonition of my own face over his. My life leading to this nothing death, mourned by no one. Maybe it was the fact that we wore the same pants and shirt.
I couldn’t hide here forever. The driver would stop and find me. At least I’d be getting a lift to somewhere far from where they were looking for me. And with a small amount of trickery I might be able to slip away.
It sucked – hard – but I took off the dead guard’s windbreaker, gun belt and clip-on tie. Christ, a clip-on. I slipped them all on and then picked up his hat off the metal floor of the car and waited in my disguise for the first stop.
The two bags he’d put in last were by my feet and I kicked them out of the way. One fell over and stacks of cash fell out. My brain immediately began justifying. I mean, I’d already stolen once today. A little more wasn’t going to make any difference.
I stuffed the twelve grand envelope inside the thick canvas sack and zipped the top shut. I held one bag in each fist and hefted them. Had to be some decent bills in there by the weight, but there was no time to count.
The armored car slowed. I realized I was sweating. For this to work I’d have to calmly step out of the car, taking the two bags with me, and walk away. Just fade into the crowd somehow. Carrying two giant bags of money and a gun on my hip.
Okay, wow, this was…this was all a very bad idea.
I felt the armored car shift as he turned to park at the curb. We stopped. I froze. I didn’t know where we were. Didn’t know if the driver, who was presumably armed himself, was on his way to the back door. Didn’t know if I should pull my gun and be ready in case.
There were three quick pounds on the door.
“C’mon. Hurry it up.”
I set one bag down and went for the door latch. I opened it and pushed, then moved that hand to the butt of the gun. I’d never fired a gun in my life. I kept it in the holster.
There were two guys outside in different uniforms than mine. Lighter blue jackets, blue shirts, same black clip-on ties.
“About time,” the one on the right said. “I got places to be, y’know.”
He shoved another bag at me, similar to the one I still carried. His partner did the same. They didn’t want anything from me other than to take their money and move on. They didn’t even look me in the eye, let alone bother to look at the floor and see the dead guy riding with me.
“Tomorrow try to be on time, okay?”
And with that they turned away and started walking back into their building. I pulled the doors closed, marveling at the two new bags of money now at my feet. These two were locked with a small gold lock at the end of the zipper. But it was nothing a little time and a sharp knife couldn’t fix.
The armored car pulled away from the curb and we started out for our next stop.
I think all that time wearing a tie cut off oxygen to my brain or something. How the hell did I get here? A stupid, impulsive act led me to be trapped in a moving jail cell while money piled up at my feet, but I had no way to go anywhere with it.
Next stop, I had to run. I had to be gone before the driver had time to climb out, I had to ignore anyone else waiting to either give me a bag or money or take one from me. Just hit the ground running and go.
With my new-found treasure, of course.
I looked down at the dead guy on the floor.
“What do you think, pal?”
He didn’t answer. In way, though, he did. I could be him. We all could. Dead in an instant. Keeled over in the line of work or play or sitting in your underwear the couch. So, yeah, why not take the money and run? I could get hit by a bus trying to get away, or I could be hit by a bus on my way to work in a cubicle tomorrow. So fuck it, let’s do this thing.
It was a good five minutes before the armored car slowed again and by that time sweat was running down into my eyes and my hands hurt from gripping the money bags so tightly. I had four total – the two the dead guy had been loading in, along with my twelve grand envelope now stuffed inside, and the two locked bags the impatient guys gave me. I wondered if they’d think twice about being in such a rush next time when their money didn’t make the destination.
We swerved toward the curb and I stood in a crouch facing the doors, riding the swaying of the armored car like a skateboard. I set one pair of bags down and grabbed the handle. Before we came to a stop I turned the latch and snatched up the bags, kicking the door open. I jumped and hit the pavement flat footed, looking left and right to get my bearings. I had no idea where we were other than it was crowded with more people in suits. To my left was a glass building and the doors were opening and a man in a suit coming out. So I turned right and ran into traffic.
I must have looked like a monkey swinging the heavy bags in my hands. They gave me an awkward waddling gait as I dodged cars across four lanes. Brakes squealed. I turned and saw a black grille coming for me. I put the bags out in front of me to block but the car stopped in time. My knees were nearly touching the bumper. I looked into the eyes of the driver, and then to his roof where the light rack came on and shone blue and red lights over me.
The cop looked more confused than angry until we both heard a shout of, “Hey!”. I turned to see the armored car driver coming across the lanes toward me, his hand on the butt of his gun in its holster. I was clearly not his 60-year old partner and clearly not making a delivery to the right building.
Time to run.
All those gigs with all that high kicking, stage-diving, head-banging energy kept me in pretty good shape through my twenties. It’d been a while, though.
I made it across the last lane of traffic and hit the curb. The jostling of the money bags was bruising my ribs. Must have been some coins in there. I turned right and slid in between two businessmen, figuring I could make it to the next subway stop, maybe.
I swiveled my neck to check on the pursuit behind me. The clip-on detached. It fell like a snake moving down my body and landed at my feet. My right shoe came down on it and the tie slid like a banana peel, shooting my leg out in front of me and pulling me down in a pile. I landed mostly on the money bags which kept me from breaking out my teeth, but also pinned by arms under me. I had to roll to the side and when I landed on my back I saw two revolvers pointing at me. The cop and the other armored car guard stood over me, huffing for air and shouldering into each other in some sort of contest to see who could bust me first. I let go of the bags and held my hands up by my shoulders.
Tripped up by a goddamn tie.
I heard a ringing in my ears from the fall, like the sweet sound after a gig. But this one had an edge to it, a little more crackle. It would have made a great tone for a guitar amp. Maybe there was a song here. I’d have plenty of time to write while I awaited trial. I wondered if they’d let me bring my guitar.
Whatever. Don’t have to wear a tie in jail.
Eric Beetner is that writer you’ve heard about but never read. When you finally do you wonder why you waited so long. There are more than 20 books like Rumrunners, All The Way Down and The Devil Doesn’t Want Me so you’d better get started. He also hosts the podcast Writer Types and the Noir at the Bar reading series in L.A.. He’s been described as “The 21st Century’s answer to Jim Thompson” (LitReactor), been nominated for three Anthony’s, an ITW award, Shamus, Derringer and 5 Emmys. Seriously, what are you waiting for?