Read by Clive Greenwood
Mine was a shotgun wedding. In a break with tradition, I was the one holding the shotgun. No way no child of mine was going to be born out of wedlock, the bastard son of a bastard son. Didn’t bear thinking about.
The marriage didn’t last as long as I’d hoped. I guess ‘Til death do us part’ is an occupational hazard when you’re an armed bank robber. The water in the paddling-come-birthing pool was still cooling when our hideout – the fifth floor of Archibald’s Department Store; Garden Furniture and Outdoor Leisure – was raided and in the fire-fight that ensued, Mary and I got separated.
That’s not strictly factual, because the little tyke was nestled between my feet, freeing up my arms for ordnance the likes of which even the army doesn’t get to play with. When the dust and the empty cartridges settled, I was the only one standing. Archie, not even an hour old, couldn’t even support his head, let alone stand.
I grieved for Mary and might have stuck around to give her a decent burial beneath the Astroturf of one of the display areas, even if that meant she might have ended up on the Fourth Floor - Cookshop and Domestic Appliances - which wouldn’t have suited her at all, but the symphony of overlapping sirens suggested reinforcements arriving at speed, so I figured I’d best light out.
I holed up for as long as I could, only making the occasional foray for diapers and formula. Got the unenviable nickname of the ‘Nappy Bandit’ for a while back there. Eventually though, I knew I would have to go out and once again make an honest dishonest living and for the first time, that scared me. Having a kid, it changes you. Gone were my carefree days of mayhem. When I sallied forth, guns a-blazin’, I could hardly leave Archie behind, could I?
And I couldn’t trust anyone with him, either, not the sort of lowlifes I was acquainted with. So, I ebayed a bullet-proof vest, XXL, slackened the belts, added a few more, did a bit of stitchin’ that wasn’t gonna win me any home-ec prizes and hey presto! It was go to work with Daddy day, every day.
Archie was nice and snug behind an inch of Kevlar which, it turned out, was machine washable as well.
At first, I don’t think anyone knew I had a kid with me. It wasn’t like I was wearing a baby-on-board badge and with my wife laid out on a cold mortuary slab, everyone assumed I’d gone off the deep end and the bulky outfit was most likely me packing plastic. Explosives, that is.
I had wondered why the bank guards and local cops were so reluctant to take a pot shot at me, but at least it meant I didn’t need to shoot back, either.
Once Archie’s arms and legs grew long enough to poke out, word got about. I wouldn’t even have to fire the usual plaster-scattering shotgun blast into the ceiling, I’d simply hold the barrel of the sawn-off to my lips, point at the mop of fair hair sticking out of the top of the papoose and go: “Ssshhh! Baby’s sleeping”.
At least, that was true until Chesterfield, Missouri. Not very kiddie friendly in Chesterfield, Missouri. Had to take me a hostage to make good my escape, a doe-eyed bank clerk whose name badge proclaimed her as: “Clarice. Ask Me Anything!”
I pulled the flattened slugs out of the papoose’s tight blue weave, while Clarice rocked Archie to and fro in a three-wheeled shopping trolley left behind in the disused warehouse. The cries slowly subsided.
“You’re good at that,” I said.
She looked up, frowning, uncertain if I was being straight with her and then nodded. “Thanks. I was a nanny, before.”
I was about to pry out another slug when Clarice piped up again. “You know,” she said “that papoose isn’t going to be big enough much longer anyway.”
I knew, ‘course I knew, and it wasn’t just the increasingly tight fit. With Archie strapped in, I couldn’t run for cover the way I used to and there was no diving over upturned tables either. Plus, I was getting through a tub of deep-heat a week for my back as Archie got steadily heavier.
“What do you suggest?” I asked.
She eyed me calmly, she wasn’t afraid. Maybe because she was holding my child, or perhaps she was made of sterner stuff than her mousey looks suggested. “I was a very good nanny,” she said.
I nodded, still unsure what she was getting at.
She pointed to her name badge. “You have only to ask?”
“Ain’t much of a life, being on the run all the time,” I said.
She shrugged. “Ain’t much of a life, being a bank clerk.”
I rubbed the stubble on my chin. I figured I had just enough, coming in or stockpiled away, to cater for another mouth, especially if it meant I could do an extra job or two a month. I could go off and do what I did best, knowing Archie was safe with Clarice.
“Deal,” I said, reaching out my hand, wincing at the leopard spot bruises covering my back and side.
“Deal,” she agreed, shaking awkwardly with her left as Archie gripped the thumb of her right.
There were other... perks to the arrangement. Clarice was shocked when I told her that most of my ill-gotten gains were squirreled away in buried stashes spread over five counties; did I not understand the devaluing principle of inflation? Did I not know my money was wasting away in those holes in the ground?
It was decidedly odd to sit quietly outside a small town bank, resisting the urge to storm in there, shotgun at my hip, as she opened up a number of savings accounts – obviously in her name, not mine – once I’d cleared out all the stashes I could remember. She tutted over one particular escapade that had me digging up a rose garden in the middle of night and still not finding anything.
“See?” she said, as dawn broke and Archie grumbled from the back seat of the stolen car. “That doesn’t happen with an interest bearing savings account.”
She was right, of course. The problem was, I was reluctant to knock over any of the banks that now carried my ill-gotten gains. I’d be robbing myself, wouldn’t I? Clarice tried to point out that wasn’t the way it worked, but I was glad, overall, that she was somewhat contemptuous about the rate of return of CitiBank’s best offering, as at least it left one major chain still to target.
“Now,” she said, on a summer afternoon as I oiled my twin automatics while trying to stop Archie swallowing a flat nosed point-3-8. “Have you given any thought to local schools?”
I looked at her aghast. “Schools?”
“For Archie. Of course, we’ll need a permanent address to register from.”
I gave her a wry grin. “Next you’ll be wanting me to start a 401k plan.”
“Well,” she said, “life insurance at least.”
“Oh?” I mocked her. “And what exactly am I going to put down as my profession?”
I laughed. “Never heard bank-robbing called that before.”
Turns out she wasn’t talking about bank-robbing. Turns out she’d got me a job. Or rather, an interview for a freelance contracting position.
“You’re joking, right?”
“Look,” she said, fixing me with a no-nonsense smile. “You’re a father. You have responsibilities. For Archie. I’ve been with you for two years now. Do you know what your annual take home pay actually is?”
I shrugged. “You have the bank account details.”
“Yes. Yes, I do. You’re scraping the wrong side of twenty thousand. It seems crime does not pay. Not very well, anyway.”
“At least I don’t have to pay taxes,” I pointed out.
“I earned more than that as a bank clerk.”
That gave me pause, but still. “You want me to dress up as a fake cop and stand at the doors of a Wells Fargo?”
“A security consultant, not a security guard. With your extensive experience, you’re ideally placed to advise on weaknesses in branch security.”
“And you’d be earning up to one-fifty K a year.”
I still hated the idea of taxes, but it turns out once you move into that sort of pay bracket you can afford to employ someone to make sure you didn’t have to cough up more than a bare minimum of them. Doesn’t seem exactly fair, somehow, but she laughed that particular complaint out of town.
“I suppose you’ll be wanting me to make an honest woman of you?” I said, as we stood outside a neatly appointed 3 bed semi with sloping lawns and a car port for the hybrid electric sedan.
“Stockholm syndrome”, she said, shaking her head, which baffled me somewhat. “Do you love me?” she asked.
“Then we’ll hear no more about it. You will, however, draw up a two year employment contract for a live-in nanny.”
“Archie will be starting school then,” she said. “And as a freelancer your job is flexible enough to cope. You won’t need me.”
She was right, of course. She was always right. Not about the not needing her, it was tough when she left, but about her worry that we would come to rely on her too much, Archie and I.
With her gone, we moved on. We had to. The house seemed too empty at first, until I started internet dating. Archie gets his say, which is normally “yuck”, but the latest, a red-headed book illustrator, gets his begrudging respect for her ability to doodle a crocodile, and she has my heart, to boot.
Clarice comes by every so often. Archie is still very fond of her. As am I, I guess. Though it seems she has moved on as well.
“I’m due to meet with an acquaintance of yours,” she said, stirring a coffee in the cafe by Archie’s school, when I commented on the unexpected reappearance of that “Clarice: Ask Me Anything!” badge.
That had me stumped for a moment. The firm I do my work for has a couple of specialist architects, a half dozen alarm system experts, and a few freelance on-site consultants like me, but I didn’t recognise the name. Then something clicked.
“You mean, ‘Boom-Boom’ Murgatroyd?”
She nodded. “He’s got a little daughter. Three months old. Quite adorable.”
I bit thoughtfully into my cookie. “Don’t suppose there’s much call for someone who blows up safes in my line of work.”
“No,” she agreed. “But I’ve got a demolition company in mind, a couple of years down the line. However, it does mean I won’t be around for a while.”
“Archie will miss you.” I said.
She shrugged. “And I him. But it can’t be helped. I go where the work is.”
I heard the distant explosion as I picked Archie up from the kindergarten, as I ruffled his hair and he babbled on about his day. I smiled, knowing that somewhere out there was Clarice, reforming us single parent bank robbers, one at a time.
(c) Liam Higan, 2015
Liam is not a parent and there is some doubt that he was ever a child, but his mother tells him to stop being silly. He is a Liar of long standing and was also a finalist in Sci-Fest LA's Roswell award, where he was up against Grandma's Sex Robot, and lost.
Clive Greenwood recently toured in Up Pompeii, playing Frankie Howerd's role of Lurcio, and appears in two upcoming features, Mob Handed and Alice on Mars. He co-wrote Goodbye: The (after)life of Cook and Moore, which ran at the Gilded Balloon & Leicester Square Theatres and at the new Museum of Comedy. email@example.com / www.spotlight.com/9094-6721-0711
Our special Parent & Child night was held on Tuesday June 23, 2015 at the Peckham Pelican to raise awareness and cash for The CATS Foundation, a charity funding research into the devastating genetic childhood diseases Tay-Sachs & Sandhoff.