It floated in the heavens in serene majesty, facing toward the light that was the center and purpose of its existence. It bathed in glorious effulgence. The scales of its wings fluttered in the golden radiance streaming past. And as it floated, it sang, and sent its song to Earth, translating the ineffable glories it witnessed into a crude cipher, a pale shadow for the benefit of those who could not comprehend its full glory.
For this was its only purpose: to bear witness to the glories above and sing to the people below. Even though they did not yet have ears to hear, still it sang. Soon, its time would come round at last. Soon, its song would be heard, its purpose fulfilled.
By the time Barron reached the front of the line, the teller had recognized him. She looked for a second as if she would refuse to call on him, but he had already let two other people go ahead of him to other tellers, and she knew how stubborn he could be. So in a voice that sounded as exhausted and hopeless as she could muster, she called, “Next.”
“Hi, Grace,” he said when he reached her window. “You look good.”
“What are you doing here?” she asked tiredly.
“I wanted to see if you’re okay,” Barron said. “I’ve been worried.”
“Why would I not be okay?” she asked, although she looked as if she already knew she wouldn’t like the answer.
“I’ve just… I’ve been watching the bank’s financial data and I’ve seen some troubling fluctuations.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Oh God, not numbers again. You did not seriously come to where I work to talk to me about numbers again.”
“You need to be careful, Grace,” Barron said. “Something bad is going to happen.”
“Yes,” she said loudly, and then quieter, “I’m going to get fired if you keep coming here and acting like this. I mean, seriously, what do you want from me?”
That pulled him up short for a moment. He had never really thought of their relationship in terms of want. “I just want you to be happy,” he said.
“You know what would make me happy?” she said. “If I had a different father, one who wasn’t bugfuck crazy. One who asked how I was because he cared about me, not because some numbers told him to.”
Barron struggled to find a reply to that. Things hadn’t been easy for Grace the last few years since losing her mother. And Barron knew that his own condition exacerbated the problem. Just when she needed him most, he had become someone else, a cold stranger obsessed with numbers and data, unable to find his way back into her heart. He could see the logic of her position, and even sympathize with it in an abstract way. It seemed like simple math: his love on one side, her need for love on the other. But he couldn’t seem to express that love in a way that made the equation balance. Worst of all, he couldn’t tell her how and why he had become this way, not without making her doubt his sanity even more.
But this was all beside the point. Somehow, the conversation had gotten twisted around to her anger at him, when it needed to be on the crisis coming. “Look, I know things between us aren’t the way either of us want. But I didn’t come here to embarrass you or fight with you. You need to be careful. The…”
“Is everything okay here?” asked a woman who had just stepped up to stand beside Grace. Older than Grace, more Barron’s age, wearing a sober black pants suit with a bright flowery scarf to remind people she was a woman or something. Her posture and the look on Grace’s face told him she was Grace’s boss. She turned to address Barron. “Do you have some bank business to transact?”
“I thought I did,” Barron said, and then he added in a louder voice, “I mean, I was thinking about opening an account with this bank, but I’ve been seeing some disturbing signs in the bank’s financial disclosures.”
“Okay, I’m going to stop you right there,” the woman said. “You need to step away from the window and stop harassing this woman, or else I’m going to call the guard over to have you removed from the premises. Do you understand?”
“But I’m not…”
“Do you understand me, yes or no?” the woman said, quietly but with much force. “Because I will not have this behavior in my bank.”
Barron thought to protest more–all of this talk about Grace’s feelings and the propriety of his behavior didn’t change the looming disaster he saw in the data by one digit–but Grace was giving him a look of such hurt and pleading. He’d never been good at interpreting what those looks meant, but it was pretty clear in this case. “I understand,” he said. “Be careful, Grace.”
He turned and started to walk away, hunched over, staring at his feet so he wouldn’t have to see people looking at him. He and Grace had been on this merry-go-round before, she being stubborn and people somehow judging him for it. He heard Grace’s boss behind him. “And let me just say that there is nothing wrong with the bank’s financials. Your money is still absolutely safe here.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far,” said a voice by the door.
Barron looked up and saw men in masks, five of them, all armed. One stepped forward, raised his AK and sent a long burst into the ceiling, as the man next to him took down the guard with a blast from his shotgun. People screamed as the group moved forward and to either flank to herd everyone into a small group in front of the teller windows.
Barron’s eyes flicked from one man to the other as he moved back to join the group. They had gone to some pains to dress alike to hide any identifying features: all wore slate-colored jumpsuits with black stocking caps and blank plastic masks. But Barron immediately saw differences.
One of them held his pistol sideways like a gang-banger. He and the one with the AK seemed younger than the others, full of nervous energy and clueless about how to shoot. Hell, AK barely knew which end of the weapon to point. The one with the shotgun and the left-handed guy knew what they were doing. And then there was the one obviously calling the shots, who ironically had done the worst job putting on his cap. He hadn’t quite caught all the hair in back, so a fringe of grey showed underneath the cap.
Barron lay down on the floor with the rest of the customers as Grey pointed at Grace and her boss. “Those two.”
Lefty brought them out from behind the counter as Gang-banger stuffed cash from the drawers into a sack. “What do you want?” asked Grace’s boss, who must have also been the bank’s manager. “I’m willing to cooperate.”
Grey held out a sheet of paper. “You’re going to open these safe deposit boxes for me.”
The manager looked at the paper but didn’t take it. “I can’t do that.”
Grey grabbed Grace by the arm and pulled her to him. He shoved his pistol against her temple. “You will do it, or I will shoot this girl in the head so close to you that you will taste her blood.”
Barron’s eyes narrowed. His hands closed into fists on the floor, the only outward sign of the rage building inside him at these men who had just threatened his daughter. He wanted nothing more at that moment than to make Grey eat his own pistol, but once again, this was simple math: five armed men>one unarmed man. But if he could isolate one or two of them, the equation would change in a big way.
The manager drooped and nodded. “I’ll do it,” she said.
“All right, we don’t have much time,” Grey said. He shoved Grace aside and dragged the manager toward the vault entrance. Shotgun and Lefty followed him. As Gang-banger started to follow suit, Grey turned and pointed at him. “Not you. You two stay out here and watch them. And be ready to shoot her if this one decides not to cooperate.”
Gang-banger waved his sideways pistol at Grace and herded her over to the rest of the group.”Get down,” he said, then paced nervously halfway to the vault and came back. “You believe this shit? Like gettin’ stuck at the kids’ table.”
“Hey, we all gotta’ do our jobs, man,” AK said. “It ain’t nothin’ personal.”
“Unless you think he kept you two out here because he doesn’t want you to see what they’re getting,” Barron said.
Grace shushed him as Gang-banger walked over and held his pistol pointing down at Barron’s head. “Shut up! This has nothing to do with you! I will put a bullet in your brain!”
He thumped the barrel against Barron’s head for emphasis, then paced away again. “Do you think that’s what they’re doing?” Gang-banger asked AK. “I don’t remember them saying anything about safe deposit boxes before. Do you think they’re going to double-cross us on our cut?”
“He wouldn’t do that to me,” AK said.
“But what about me?” Gang-banger asked. “Am I gonna’ get screwed out of my cut? I’m gonna’ go find out.”
“We’re supposed to stay here,” AK said.
“Exactly!” Gang-banger shouted over his shoulder and disappeared around the corner where his co-conspirators had gone.
Barron stood up; he hadn’t expected them to make it quite this easy. He had taken about three steps toward the kid with the AK before the kid noticed. He spun and pointed the weapon roughly in Barron’s direction. “Back down on the floor, asshole!”
“Or what?” Barron asked as he advanced slowly. “You’ll shoot me? Hard to do with an empty weapon.”
“Empty? It’s not empty!”
“Yes, it is,” Barron said. “You put every round you had in the ceiling.”
“Like you would know that.”
“It’s simple math,” Barron said. “That magazine holds thirty rounds; there’s thirty bullet holes in the ceiling. QED.”
The kid glanced up and Barron sprang forward, wrenching the weapon from the kid’s grip with one hand while hitting him in the throat with the other. He went down, gagging.
Grace leapt to her feet. “Are you crazy?”
Barron quickly shushed the commotion that started to rise from the assembled customers and employees. “Everyone get outside,” he said. “I’ll keep them trapped in the vault.”
“What are you going to do?” Grace asked.
Barron rejected the first answer that came to mind and said, simply, “Stop them.”
“And how are you going to do that with an empty rifle?”
“Yeah,” asked another voice. Barron looked to his right and saw Gang-banger aiming his sideways pistol. “I’d like to know that one, too.”