Convinced Alfie wouldn’t set us up, I found the old man lunching at the diner. I offered to buy him a coffee and we talked. Conspiratorial conversation revealed that Alfie usually cleaned out Trenchard’s office in the evening, after banking hours. By then Trenchard would be home. I knew that of course. That particular night he chose to arrive home later than usual. From my bedroom window, I caught him rubbing lipstick from his mouth on a handkerchief before he entered the house. No one spoke much that evening. Mama had taken to her room, so I took her meal into her. Even that small consideration on my part encountered another angry tirade from Trenchard, forcing Mama to abandon her sanctuary.
“What were you thinking letting those boys do the cooking? They could have burnt the house down. Cooking was women’s work,” he admonished. He dragged Mama out physically and had her cook for him. The meal Johnny and I had prepared was committed to the bin untouched.
We refused to respond to his invariable moans about having to endure pigswill every night. I longed to suggest why didn’t he eat at the diner like he normally did. Guess both the anticipation admixed with fear for what Billy and I were about to do had driven me to silence.
It was too late to back out now, as Billy rolled the pick-up to a halt outside our house. Mama wanted to know where we were going, I lied we were going to see Lorrie in hospital, without of course referring to the fact she had lost her baby.
Billy parked the pick-up a few hundred yards from the bank. I was scared, I had to admit, mainly because I was carrying Pa’s Colt .45. Though I’d kept my promise that the clip would be empty. Billy produced a Smith and Wesson .38. Checking the weapon I saw four slugs up the spout. I might have known.
“I said empty, Billy,” I hissed.
“Fuck that. And I told you, if the old man is pulling a doublecross, then we got some back-up,” he said, covering the lower portion of his face with a bandanna.
My stomach was so full of knots I could barely breathe. Maybe I shouldn’t have involved Billy. Now he was acting like Jesse James. He reminded me about masking my own face when we alighted from the pick-up. I did so, reluctantly. We’d donned Stetsons to cover our hair; Billy’s suggestion. Now I was really beginning to feel like one of those Old West outlaws.
Alfie was expecting us. I mean, he hadn’t said as much anymore than I had. After all, who goes round sprouting stuff about pulling a hold-up. The bank was closed, but I remembered the side entrance. Billy and I slipped in there. Billy held the .38 upraised, and he levelled the gun on the old man. Alfie was there right enough, squinting his rheumy eyes up immediately he saw us.
I closed the door with a boot heel, drawing the Colt.
We had obviously taken him by surprise. Because he elevated his hands at Billy’s order to do so.
“This is a hold-up, Alfie,” I said, without raising my voice. Billy even threatened to shoot him. I wondered if he would carry out his threat if old Alfie decided not to comply. I raised the .45. Alfie blanched and begged us not to shoot him.
“Just open that safe, old man, and maybe I might decide not to kill you.” Billy was obviously enjoying this. From my own earlier trepidation, maybe I was too. After the way he’d treated us, getting back at Trenchard was enough. This was for Lorrie and her baby. For Blue. And for our Mama.
“Quit stalling. We don’t have much time,” I told him.
The old rheumy eyes attempted to penetrate our masks. “Sure, sure,” he agreed.
Momentarily I wondered if the old man had lied to me. There was no safe and no money here after all or that he believed I wouldn’t have the guts to pull a robbery, but I was angry and desperate.
The room was spacious and fancy. A large green baize covered desk was the focal point of ostentation. Opposite the desk was a painting I recognised as a Monet. So Trenchard appreciated fine art. It took but a moment for old Alfie, despite his shaking, to slip aside the painting and reveal the small, blue safe.
It was obvious that Billy was on tenterhooks, because he kept moving agitatedly from one foot to the other. I stiffened when he curled a gloved finger around the .38’s trigger.
The money was there alright. More than I had ever seen in my life. Billy whistled behind his mask when he saw it. Our eyes locked and held. Each with but a single thought. How easy it would be to grab the lot. We was owed after all. But we didn’t. Just enough to help Mama and Lorrie. About five thousand in all. Even if Billy did shake his head at what he considered my foolishness.
So that old Alfie shouldn’t take the blame that he might be in on it, I opted to tie him up. Not too tightly of course. Much against my better judgement, Billy suggested gagging him.
So we stuffed our pockets, and got the hell out of there, and into Billy’s pick-up.