Prologue: “Don’t Be A Hero.”
M Street NW
October 17, 4:30pm
“How come I’m always zebra?”
“What’s wrong with zebras?”
“It’s not intimidating. It’s not scary. I’m just a weird horse.”
The four passengers in the white Ford van all fixed hard, angry glares at the driver. Tense silence reigned for a minute; the only sounds filtering through the tinted windows were the occasional honking horn, the smooth hum of the van’s tires over pavement, and the muted throaty growl of the new Ford’s 16 liter engine. Finally the front passenger, a hulking brute of a man with short cropped brown hair and a boxer’s jaw, glanced out the window to hide his frustration and spoke through grit teeth.
“It’s just a goddamn mask.”
The driver threw up his hands in exasperation, his pale face starting to glisten with a sheen of nervous sweat. “Then you wear it! Let me be lion for once!”
“Enough!” The front passenger yelled, slamming a clenched fist into the door and causing the three others spread across two bench seats to jump. “It’s doesn’t matter what animal you are! You can’t change because as soon as you do one of you retards is going to somehow get confused and mess this whole job up! Just shut up! Shut! Up!”
Another few moments of silence passed and the fidgeting men focused on the rhythmic clicking of the turn signal. From the back of the van, a short, bald Hispanic man with a panther tattoo creeping up the side of his neck looked ahead and cleared his throat.
“We’re close,” the Hispanic passenger noted. His companions did not need the reminder; they all knew exactly where they were going and what they were going to do when they got there. Each of them, save the vocal driver, reached under their seats and took out cheap plastic animal masks that could be found at any ninety-nine cent store. From back to front, they all checked the reinforced elastic band and slipped their masks over their anxious faces.
From back to front, the Hispanic man secured a tiger mask over his face. In front of him, two African-American thugs rolled their shoulders and looked down at their laps before putting on bear and shark disguises, their mass-produced plastic crinkling as they adjusted the fit. In front, the angry passenger fixed a pointed glare in the direction of the driver, then put his face into a tan and brown lion mask. Lion let the elastic snap securely on the back of his head in a way that said this was not the man’s first time doing this.
“Two blocks,” Zebra announced, now glancing every other second at his rear view mirrors. Lion did his best not to notice the tic, instead he turned around in his seat to address the others, who had now moved on to preparing heavy-duty canvas duffle bags, dinged and scratched shotguns, a gleaming Glock nine millimeter, and one matte black Uzi that Bear stroked lovingly in the back.
“One more time,” Lion said in an even, calm voice, “Bear and Tiger get the guards. Zebra’s on the clock. Shark and me have got the cash. Once the guards are down, Bear and Tiger, you got crowd control.”
Bear and Tiger nodded as the van took a leisurely right onto a main street. Fifty feet from the intersection, a sleepy Bank of America sat between two vacant lots, its impressive modern glass façade obscured by blinds to keep the bright DC sun out of customers’ and tellers’ eyes. Lion has wondered during the planning stage what idiot had designed a façade that could only really function six hours of the day, but that detail was about to make him a very rich man, so complaining seemed inappropriate. Maybe he would find out who built it and mail him five percent. Sure.
Lion reached over for a sawed off shotgun and slipped two shells into the “Don’t freeze up. They give you lip, you bust some heads. We’re knocking over a bank in the middle of DC, so getting caught’s worse than smoking some asshole. Heroes get dead, you got me?”