• Brandon Barrows

Fiction: Don't Be a Fool

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sweat greased Jimmy Brill’s palms, slicking the gun’s grip. He stuck it in his jacket pocket and looked askance at the others in the car.

In the driver’s seat, Matthews was calm and expressionless. Cargill, seated in the back of the Packard next to Jimmy, smirked faintly.

“First job, kid. Nervous?” Matthews asked, breaking the stillness. Silence didn’t done Jimmy any good, but neither did the question.

“Leave him alone,” Cargill answered. His smirk turned towards Jimmy. “He’ll be fine. Won’t you?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

Matthews laughed. “’Fine?’ He’s tighter than a rusty spring.”

“He’s fine.” Cargill looked Jimmy square in the eye. “Jimmy’s got his brother’s gun and he’ll remember why br’er Brill ain’t here to use it, won’t you, Jimmy?”

Nodding, Jimmy swallowed hard. Last month, his brother, Ethan, was shot by a bank guard during a failed heist. Somehow, Cargill, Matthews and Ethan managed to escape, but Ethan didn’t last the night.

Jimmy expected to be out on the street after that; he wasn’t part of the heist-crew, after all, only a tagalong that Cargill tolerated because he was Ethan’s little brother and had nowhere else to go. Grief came first, the night Ethan died, followed by an overwhelming fear of what might happen next.

Cargill surprised him, though: all he said to Jimmy were some condolences and how sorry he was that the job went so badly. “Badly” was an understatement, Jimmy thought, but kept it to himself, both out of respect for the man keeping him fed and for fear of what might happen if he didn’t. And, a few days ago, when Cargill suggested that it was time Jimmy started earning his keep, there didn’t seem to be any real choice.

Jimmy did wonder, though, what happened the afternoon Ethan was shot. Maybe, once he proved that he could do his part as a real member of the gang, he would feel secure enough to ask.

“I’ll remember,” Jimmy said solemnly, pushing all other thoughts aside for the moment.

Cargill glanced out the window. “The job’ll be easy.”

Jimmy’s brows knit. “Ain’t there a guard?”

“Why’d you bring up his damned brother?” Matthews whined. “Now he’s thinkin’—“

“Shut up,” Cargill snapped. He turned towards Jimmy again. “No guard. ‘S’why we’re out here in the sticks. Even if there was,” he patted the bulging pocket of Jimmy’s jacket, “the gun makes people take whatever you give ‘em.”

“Unless he’s got his own gun.”

“Maybe, but if you got a gun and guts, and a little smarts – look, just don’t be a fool, don’t do anything stupid, and it’ll work out just fine.”

“We’re here,” Matthews announced, sliding the car into a space outside the bank, where he would wait, engine running, for their escape.

Cargill said, “Let’s go, kid.”

The lump in Jimmy’s throat moved to his gut.

Inside the bank, dust motes danced in the light streaming through high, narrow windows. At almost five in the afternoon, the place was deserted. The only occupant was a beefy, well-dressed man, standing behind the waist-high counter.

At the pair’s entry, the man looked up and smiled. “You’re the fellow who wanted to look our little bank over before opening an account. Come to make that deposit?”

“Like to see your set-up one more time,” Cargill replied.

“Certainly.” He pushed open a gate in the counter and gestured for Cargill and Jimmy to follow.

The room behind the public area was cramped, little more than a hallway ending in the shiny, steel door of the vault. Jimmy’s mouth felt dry; he nudged the weight in his pocket.

“As you can see, our vault’s brand-new, the latest model—“

“Open it,” Cargill demanded.

“Actually—“ The man paused, noticing the gun that appeared in Cargill’s hand.

“Open it,” Cargill repeated.

The banker’s fist clenched, but his voice held steady. “I can’t. It’s a timed lock. It won’t open until eight o’clock tomorrow morning.”

“Don’t lie!” Cargill snarled and swung the barrel of his automatic against the other man’s jaw with a thump of metal on flash.

The manager went to his knees, blood seeping from his mouth. Jimmy felt sick.

Cargill leveled the gun at the kneeling man. “Open the God-damned vault.”

“Let’s just go,” Jimmy said. “He can’t open it, he said.”

“He’s lying. He’ll—“

The banker roared and lunged for Cargill. Cargill whirled away from the other’s grasp, raised the gun and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened. It was jammed.

Cargill swore and hurled the weapon away. The big man closed in and Jimmy watched, frozen, as something in Cargill changed. “Shoot!” Cargill shrieked, all bravado gone, his entire demeanor different now. Without the gun, it was like he wasn’t even Cargill anymore – as if the weapon was more Cargill than the man was. In all the time Jimmy lived in the same tiny, rented house as Cargill, he never learned as much about the man as he did in that instant.

“For God’s sake, kid,” Cargill cried, “use your gun!”

Jimmy felt the gun in his hand and thought of his brother, gut-shot and dying in agony, and what Cargill said earlier. He would probably never know what really happened the afternoon Ethan was shot, but he knew nobody deserved to end up like that. He also knew good advice when he heard it. The sickness in his belly melted into a kind of resolve.

Gun in hand, Jimmy stepped between the other men, his weighted fist swinging low. Cargill doubled up, staggered backwards and sank down against the wall, the look on his face pure confusion.

Jimmy handed his gun to the stunned banker. “Better call the cops, mister. There’s another guy in the car out front, too.”

“What are you doing?” Cargill squeaked.

“Just what you told me,” Jimmy said. “Trying not to be a fool.”

He put himself between Cargill and the door and waited for the sound of sirens.

Brandon Barrows’s most recent novel is BURN ME OUT and he has published over fifty stories, selected of which are collected in the books THE ALTAR IN THE HILLS and THE CASTLE-TOWN TRAGEDY. He is an active member of Private Eye Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. He lives in Vermont by a big lake with a patient wife and two impatient cats.

If you are interested in learning more about Brandon Barrows, you can find his website here and his Twitter here.