Wednesday, September 03, 2008



Here is a new short story that I wrote today.





THE BEARDED BANDIT




The sallow faced man moved lethargically about the kitchen of his large semi detached house in the mostly white middle class neighborhood of a town in Illinois, not far from Chicago. The man was about thirty five years of age and was irritated at having to prepare his own lunch due to the absence of his wife on school business. He had prepared a giant hamburger and fries for himself and as he greedily shoved the hot food into his mouth, he perused a ledger which included the financial records of his antique book business during the last 6 months. These figures did not seem satisfactory to the sallow faced man for he often cursed aloud as he read. Eventually, he tossed the book aside in a dismissive gesture and, having finished his afternoon carbohydrate spike, he idly allowed his hands to grip around the body of an M16 assault rifle that leaned against the wall. He caressed the body lovingly and remembered the time that he’d been one of the best police marksmen in Illinois. Those days were far in the past now, but his love of firearms remained. In fact, it was mostly the guns that gave this middle class dwelling its distinctive character. In all the drawers and cupboards of the kitchen lay a huge variety of automatic and semi automatic handguns and long guns. Indeed, if one had inspected the house thoroughly, weapons of every kind, including grenades and even machine guns would have been easily discovered. Fortunately for the sallow faced man, none of his highly respectable neighbors suspected the quiet, book loving individual that loved children (though he had none of his own) and his vivacious and caring wife of living secret and illegal lives as ruthless bank robbers.


Still holding the M16 rifle, the sallow faced psychotic walked slowly into the next room and singled out a well worn movie DVD that would pass the time until the return of his wife from her various civic duties.


The name of the movie was “Bonnie and Clyde”.

* * * * * * * * *

Zachariah Winkelmann of the FBI had been called in by the Chicago police to investigate a series of daring bank robberies that had taken place in and around Chicago. The newspapers were calling the series of crimes “The Bearded Bandit Robberies” and the local Chicago police had had to admit that this particular criminal seemed to always stay several steps ahead of them. That was the reason that the FBI had been involved. So far, Winkelmann had made no startling discoveries, but his methodical examination of the criminal’s modus operandi had made certain points absolutely clear. First, he was a smart cookie who understood guns and almost certainly had worked for the police or a security company in the past. On various bank CCTV cameras he had been photographed holding his gun in the Weaver position—and that was a dead giveaway. Only people highly trained in the use of firearms used that highly effective stance and the criminal’s knowledge of this arcane position emphasized his danger to both the public and the police. The unknown criminal always entered the banks wearing an obvious false beard and glasses and, so far, no one had been able to take a look at his real face. After a clinical cleaning out of the bank, the thief would escape in a stolen car. Once or twice the car’s type and number had been noted by scared bank employees as the bearded bandit had made his getaway. However, the information had subsequently proved useless as these getaway cars were consistently abandoned a few miles from the scene of the crime--from where, presumably, another was waiting to be utilized. Fingerprints had always been wiped clean. The cars themselves were almost always stolen in the early morning from employees in large malls who would not miss them for at least eight hours--giving the bearded bandit plenty of time to get them to some secret hiding place.


The more Winkelman had examined the robberies—so far there had been five of them—the more clearly he realized what an intelligent and dangerous opponent he was facing. The man took few risks and always carried a police scanner allowing him to pick up police messages in the vicinity of his crime. If Winkelmann had not already been certain that he was dealing with an ex-cop, this last detail would have emphatically confirmed it. Now, it was already three months since the bank robber’s last heist and Winkelmann was getting worried that he’d moved, turned over a new leaf, or even died.

It was at this very juncture that the bearded bandit reappeared and did something that took the whole case onto a new level of intensity—for the investigation into a series of clever bank robberies was about to irrevocably change in its nature to a manhunt for the killer of a policeman.

* * * * * * * * *


When Jay Weekly in patrol car 6841 saw the innocuous looking Ford heading towards the South Junction at 11 AM on June the 5th, 2002, it merely registered with him that the license plate was out of date. He gave his colleague “Windy” Rider a dig in the ribs.


“Wake up, Windy. This guy ahead of us has out-of-date plates. I guess we’d better stop him and show him the error of his ways.” Windy Rider grunted.


“What a damn shame,” he commenced. “I joined the Police to get some action and we spend all our days chasing jay walkers and litter bugs! Let the bastard go.” Jay smiled and shook his head.


“Sorry Windy, but our duty’s clear. We have to stop him.” The patrol car, keeping its distance, followed the battered Ford into a suburban side street where it began to slow down. Apparently the driver had spotted the patrol car following him and he pulled up slowly next to the sidewalk.

What happened next was wholly unpredictable. The driver of the Ford got out of the car as the patrol car began to pull up behind it. He was wearing a fake beard, glasses and combat jacket. Most surprisingly of all, in his hands he carried an M16 assault rifle. In a single movement, he took aim at the braking patrol car and fired off a well directed round that shattered the police car’s windscreen and made a bloody pulp of Jay Weekly’s head. Next, he calmly got back into his car and drove away.

Windy Rider was left screaming in the passenger seat of the patrol car--at last in the middle of more action than even he could desire--with the brains of his friend and colleague covering him from head to foot.

* * * * * * * * *

Zachariah Winkelmann was excited. Surely, now, he had the bearded bandit cornered. Minutes after the shooting, an almost hysterical Windy Rider had radioed HQ with the story of what had happened. Winkelmann had known at once that they were dealing once again with the bearded bandit.


“How can you be so sure?” had enquired Captain Jonas Smith of the Chicago Police Department. Winkelmann had smiled grimly.


“It’s absolutely clear, Jonas. Our target was on the way to rob a bank when he was spotted by the unfortunate Jay Weekly. Rider tells us the plates were out of date, but our bearded bandit couldn’t allow himself to get stopped for a petty felony with a stolen car full of weapons and disguises. Rather than be caught, he took a cynical decision to murder a police officer in cold blood. We’ll get him now.”


But the Chicago police didn’t get him. A cordon of the area was set up and all cars in the vicinity closely examined. However, the murderer’s battered Ford was found abandoned just a few miles from where Weekly had been shot and it was soon apparent that the bearded killer had once again slipped through the net. As before, it seemed that he had had a second car waiting, enabling him to abandon the first one and make his cool getaway in an unsuspected vehicle.


Knowing just how close he had been to terminating the bearded bandit’s career, Winkelmann had been inconsolable in the aftermath of the criminal’s escape.


“I have a bad feeling about this case,” he had confided to Jonas Smith. “If the guy has any sense, he’s going to lie low now for a long time and maybe get out of this area entirely. I think we’ve blown our opportunity.”


Winkelmann was right to be pessimistic in the circumstances, but as things subsequently turned out, he was wrong about the bearded bandit taking a long lay off. Just six weeks later, he struck again.


* * * * * * * * *

After the killing of patrolman Weekly, the Chicago police force took to randomly watching suburban banks of the type that might be targeted by the bearded bandit. In spite of this logistically difficult operation, nothing of suspicion was noted by the law enforcement officers involved. However, on a suffocatingly hot day in July, Mrs. Janet French who was parked outside a branch of Citibank on Jefferson Boulevard listening to the radio news, did see something unusual. Two men with false beards and glasses—clearly in disguise—had entered the bank and, her suspicions were aroused, Mrs. French called the police and told them what she had seen. The officer who took Mrs. French’s call insisted that she leave the area immediately in order to ensure her own safety.


By the time Winkelmann and the Chicago police reached the anonymous looking bank, the two bearded bandits had already fled with thousands of dollars in cash. Once again, it proved impossible to trace them due to their meticulous preparation. As before, the first car had been abandoned just blocks from the bank and they had made their escape in a second and unknown vehicle.

One thing that one of the bank workers said did give Winkelmann ample food for thought.


“Although both robbers were disguised in the same way, I am almost sure that one of them was a woman.”

* * * * * * * * *

It now became clear to Winkelmann that as the bearded bandit obviously knew about the common methods of police procedure, he would need to do something out of the ordinary in order to catch him (or them, now that there were apparently two). Winkelmann’s mind kept returning to the killer’s policy of having two stolen cars ready at the scene of every crime. Surely, the Chicago police force could do something to discover these stolen vehicles in advance? All patrolmen were told to keep a particular eye open for parked stolen cars. Winkelmann guessed that the bearded bandit must steal the cars in advance of his robberies and leave them in unsuspected locations before picking them up, immediately prior to a robbery, and driving them to strategic locations. Captain Jonas Smith admitted himself to be openly skeptical of Winkelmann’s plan.


“Seems to me that we’re looking for a needle in a haystack. Do you really expect to get a lead from this almost arbitrary surveillance?”

Winkelmann was not unsympathetic to Smith’s objections, but the bearded bandit had taken him to the limit of his detective powers and he could think of no other policy that offered even the possibility of achieving tangible results.


For more than a month nothing happened but then, in September, a policeman spotted a car with a stolen number plate parked with lots of other vehicles on a free strip of land. Just two days later, a second stolen car was found parked in a quiet cul-de-sac, about five miles from the first vehicle. Investigations soon revealed that both cars had been recently stolen from employees who worked in large malls. Winkelmann felt sure that the bearded bandit was responsible for the theft of both vehicles and with the cooperation of Captain Jonas Smith, he set up an unobtrusive 24 hour watch on the cars. Even Smith seemed more optimistic by this time.


“Now I see why you’re in the FBI Winkelmann. I thought that idea of yours was pure baloney but it’s beginning to look like it might actually bring results!”


However, for a week nothing happened and Winkelmann began to wonder if his adversary had spotted the observation teams somehow. Risking everything on a single turn of the wheel, Winkelmann decided to plant a tracking device inside each of the two cars together with a mechanism that would shut off the engine on a given signal. For a further two nights the watch continued without success and Winkelmann was almost ready to accept that the bearded bandit must have become aware of their vigil and cancelled his plans when, on a Wednesday night at 11 PM, a large white van pulled up next to the first of the two stolen cars and a man got out. The face of the figure was obscured, but the policemen watched him produce a key, get into the car and drive off. The white van followed at a distance behind. Clearly, unaware of the watching police, the bearded bandit (for such Winkelmann was sure it was) and his accomplice was driving the car to a strategic location for their next robbery.

After the car had been parked in the suburb of Rambling Meadows, the man got back into the white van and the vehicle drove off to where the second car had been left. Here, the previous procedure was repeated and the man drove the stolen car to a location several miles from where the first car had been parked. The watching policemen noted with satisfaction that a small branch of Citibank was situated not more than a mile away from where the car was left.


Up until this point, the policemen had been able to follow the criminals from a distance by means of the tracking devices hidden in the two stolen cars. However, now that the two criminals were driving in the white van, the following policemen had to make their pursuit from a safe distance in order to ensure that they weren’t spotted.


Eventually the white van pulled up outside a well-to-do semi detached house in the suburban area of St. Joseph’s, not more than 50 miles from Chicago itself. Frenetic research soon showed that “Holly Meadows” belonged to a Mr. and Mrs. James Grimble who ran an antique book store not far from their house. Alison Grimble was also a big wig in the local education authority and was noted as a potential democratic candidate for state governor. James Grimble had worked in the police department ten years before but had resigned just before the state had been able to fire him for the neglect of his more overtly bureaucratic duties. In spite of this, his skill on the shooting range had been legendary and he had been among the very best shots on the force.


Winkelmann now had to decide on his next step. He could search the house and hope to find incriminating evidence on the premises or wait for the criminal couple to put their next robbery into effect and catch them in the act. After serious reflection, Winkelmann decided to take the latter course. Clearly, the couple were about to put their next robbery into operation and by simply watching and observing, the police would be able to arrest them in the exact moment that they attempted to commit their crime. Captain Jonas Smith, however, disagreed and made his objections volubly known to Winkelmann.


“This is all wrong. Why should we wait? We have everything we need on this modern day Bonnie and Clyde right now. By not acting immediately we’re just giving them the chance to slip away--as they’ve already done so many times before.” Although clearly not one hundred per cent happy with his own decision, Winkelmann shook his head robustly.


“It’s best to wait Jonas. What actual proof do we have against them? At present we can only be sure of convicting them as car thieves.” Jonas Smith in his turn responded vigorously to the FBI man’s argument.


“Once we got inside that house, I’m willing to bet we’d find all the evidence we needed to convict them both.” Zachariah Winkelmann made a face.


“We might find the evidence inside the house or we might not. In any case, we can construct a better case against the pair of them by going about things in the way I suggest. Furthermore, I have a strong feeling that our latter day Bonnie and Clyde would not come peaceably if they knew their game was up. I wouldn’t like to be responsible for the deaths of any more policemen.” The old Captain pondered this for a while before replying.


“Well, maybe you’re right at that,” he said eventually. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done to break the news of Weekly’s death to his widow; all the while listening to his three children playing in the next room.”


On the very next day at 10AM, the white van left the semi-detached house and drove to where the second car had been left. The man got out of the van, walked up to the stolen car and got inside. It was at this point that Winkelmann ordered the engine to be cut.


While Grimble was distracted by his engine failing to start, a SWAT team moved in and surrounded him. With at least five guns pointing at his head through the windscreen Grimble, who by this time was aware of his plight, made a motion toward his black bag as if to take out a weapon. Surprisingly, the SWAT team did not fire and Grimble was told to spread out his hands on the wheel. In another moment, the erstwhile bearded bandit was out of the stolen vehicle and inside the police car. One of the SWAT team expressed his surprise that Grimble had tried to go for his gun in spite of his police training.


“Man, you were really lucky that we didn’t blow your head off. What made you act like that?” Grimble’s reply was brief but informative.


“I thought that if you shot me in the head it would all have been over more quickly.”

* * * * * * * * *

When Grimble had gotten out of the white van, his wife had immediately driven off and she knew nothing of the drama that had later unfolded. However, she was carefully trailed by a patrol car and after about fifteen minutes she had begun to make a lot of abrupt turns. At this point, the following policemen rightly concluded that Alison Grimble had spotted them and radioed to HQ for back up.


“This bitch is wise to us. We need help.”

The chase that followed seemed almost surreal in its combination of a life and death struggle down well-to-do, leafy, suburban streets. Alison Grimble was determined that she wasn’t giving herself up and at speeds of more than a hundred miles an hour she rattled off round after round from her ugly M16 automatic rifle. One pursuing driver was mortally wounded and crashed into the wall of a building at a speed of more than 100 miles per hour, instantly killing the colleague who sat next to him.

At last, the white van was cornered down a one-way street and the pursuing policemen waited for the final scene in the drama to play itself out. Alison Grimble, aware that she now had no chance of escape, turned her van around and drove it straight at the mass of police cars that by this time blocked the only entrance out of the cul-de-sac. Faced with no other choice, the waiting policemen fired en-masse at the approaching vehicle, bursting tires and shattering the windscreen into a thousand shards of jagged glass. With a terrible screech, the white van lurched over to one side and, with a shuddering crash, turned over three times. Inside the vehicle, Alison Grimble’s body was found with at least twenty bullets in it.


“Fucking bitch got just what she deserved,” observed one large policeman on the eerily silent scene of the tragic shoot out. He had been a close friend of the two men who had died in the chase and tears sprung to his eyes as he thought of his colleagues’ wives and children--at that moment still ignorant of the fact that their men had died “in the line of duty” as the papers and politicians say.

* * * * * * * * *

James Grimble proved himself to be a man of few words during his lengthy period in police custody. At first, Winkelmann struggled to identify the highly intelligent ex policeman in the unresponsive piece of meat that often seemed to sit in front of him. Finally, however, the FBI man concluded that Grimble had sunk into a deep depression since being caught. Everything about the middle class home full of firearms, ammunition and gangster movies suggested that the Grimbles had never intended to be taken alive in the event of imminent capture. Alison Grimble had fulfilled her part of the pact but, for whatever reason, Grimble himself had been taken.


The sessions with Grimble eventually became tediously repetitive to Winkelmann.


“Why did you need all that money Grimble?”


“Who doesn’t need money?”


“Sure, but most people don’t kill policemen and rob banks to get it.”


A non-committal shake of the head.


“Come on Grimble, why are you wasting our time? Be more cooperative and we might be able to help you.”


A momentary gleam of sarcasm in the eyes.


“Help me into the electric chair you mean? I know what happens to cop killers.”


“Are you sorry for what you did Grimble?”


Another non-committal shake of the head.


In any case, it was clear that Grimble was as guilty as hell and it wasn’t expected that his trial would last very long. Even after the first week, it was clear as daylight that the police had a perfect case against James Grimble, having even found his guns and disguises inside the stolen car in which he had been arrested.


About two weeks into the trial, a handcuffed Grimble was coming down in the court room elevator with his solitary guard and a group of court employees and journalists when somehow he managed to slip off the cuffs unbeknown to his guard. How he managed to do this nobody is quite sure, but possibly he had somehow managed to grease his wrists in the lavatory or hide away some tool which he was later able to use as a pick. Suffice to say, that when the elevator reached the ground floor and the people began to tumble out, Grimble was able to surprise his guard, overpower him and take his gun. Without a moment’s hesitation, Grimble pressed the weapon’s barrel to the policeman’s head and blew his brains out.


As people screamed and attempted to flee, Grimble made a determined effort to reach the nearest exit, but a passing Federal Officer, Albert Gandolfini, saw what was happening and moved in to confront the killer. By this time, Grimble was careless of all personal danger and quickly fired several bullets into the body of the approaching officer. Mortally wounded, the law enforcement agent slumped to the floor; but even in his dying moment he was able to fire off four shots at Grimble and incapacitate him. At this point, the police rallied and easily overpowered the escaped criminal. An ambulance was summoned and both men were taken to the state hospital. Gandolfini was already dead and Grimble was dying. By the time the ambulance reached the hospital both men were dead.


In the light of these tragic events, Zachariah Winkelmann often used to remember that slight movement of Grimble towards his gun when he had first been taken by the SWAT team and wish with all his heart that one of the men had taken the opportunity to blow James Grimble’s head off.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Driving narrative!

10:05 AM  
Anonymous zeno said...

A well paced story with excellent characterization. Well done!

1:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoyed it!

1:59 AM  

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