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The Prank


Patrick Luce

My feet dangle from the bed, as they slowly go numb like the rest of me. My eyes begin to roll upwards, as my head spins and nausea rises from my stomach. Everything washes over in red, as my eyes slowly focus around the room. It is a mess, and at the same time looked like every other American dorm room. This room is different though. It isn’t a room. It is a tomb. Two of my best friends in this world are here and miles away at the same time. A third friend is in the bathroom. He is unconscious. He is bleeding, dying and alone.

Joe sits in the corner. His large frame takes up the entire corner that he squats in. His Hispanic face is a mask, eyes closed tight, his mouth drawn closed. He is silently pushing the barrel of his shotgun against his forehead. He is praying to it. The gun is his savior. It is his new God. When the madness begins he knows it will be the shotgun that saves him just like it did when things went so wrong at the bank.

From across the room, a whimper sends my eyes drifting in this sea of red and nausea to Jeff. He is curled on the cheap carpet floor. He looks like an embryo in reverse. He shakes madly, letting only a whimper and the hint of tears out. He cannot handle this, but none of us can if we dared to be honest with ourselves. He looks like a lost soul in some black and white Capra film. His skin is pale white, although he was not shot. The only color on his round face is the brown of the makeshift beard he has been trying to grow for several weeks.

As Bart screams, from in the bathroom, my heart drops to the bottom of my chest. He lets out pain. It is not a continuous scream, but a touch of conscious waking him in pain to remind us all that he is still alive in there. He is alive. He is propped in the shower, laying in his own blood. There is cold water pouring down on him in a thunder and it turns the red of blood into a deformed Cool-Aid color. The shower’s roar helps drown Bart’s screams, but I can hear him. His pain is like a cannon firing in my ears.

My eyes roll back down to my hands. My fingers still throb from the pistol going off. They are still shaking and I am not sure I will ever be able to make them stop. It feels like my whole body is shaking. I have been afraid before, but this isn’t fear. It is something else.

My eyes roll over the room again. It is a silent roll; painful roll and my eyes seem to focus on everyone and no one at the same time. Joe and Jeff are waiting on me.

They are waiting on me to jump off this bed, and say, “to hell with it, here’s what we do.” The only problem is I don’t know what to do. I don’t even remember how we got here. It is just a game, a damn prank.

It all started the last week of our freshmen year before Christmas break. All of us had a hard time with the adjustment from high school to college and were all looking forward to Christmas break. Joe had come up with the idea to go to Mexico for a week and just blow of steam. We all wanted to go but none of us had the money. We had been talking about it for weeks. It had become the present you secretly ask Santa for but know you’re not going to get it. We knew we could never afford a trip, even somewhere as cheap as Mexico, and that is when I came up with the bookstore idea.

I had tossed the idea in my head for days before I got the nerve to tell Joe. I think now it is because I knew Joe would go for the plan in a second. I needed his support to help talk the others into it. I had told him the plan earlier in the afternoon, so when we got together in my dorm room he was already jazzed. I knew he would be up for it. Joe has always been up for anything and specially if there was some law that we could break. He was my ace. If the other two wouldn’t go for the plan, I knew I could count on Joe to egg the others into it. He excelled at making Jeff and Bart feel like less of men whenever they didn’t do something that lived up to his standards. The fact that Joe had no standards was just classic irony. Joe sat Jeff and Bart down right in front of me, buzzing around their ears about how they were going to love this.

“Okay, I got a plan,” I said dryly as if I was some general in charge of thousands of troops. “The bookstore starts buying books back on Wednesday, and they pay straight cash. So we are going there Tuesday night and rob it.”

Joe went off like a rocket, “This is great guys. We will get at least two grand easy and then it’s Mexico here we come.” Bart just sat there and I could tell he was trying to catch up to what was going on. He was showing his normal tells. His mind was rolling it over as he tugged on his curled hair. Jeff, well, Jeff said what I knew he would.

“What if we get caught, Conner, have you thought of that,” He said, his voice trying not to sound weak. “How are we going to get in there anyway?” Joe slapped Jeff on the back of the head, calling him every name he could think of to test his manhood. At the same time, Joe hovered down on Bart. He was saying something to both of them at the same time. My mind was drifting over the robbery. I didn’t need to hear Joe’s words. I knew he would tell them what I wanted.

“Actually, Jeff, I have thought of the consequences,” I quipped when Joe’s storm had died down. “Personally, I don’t see any chances of getting caught if we stick to the plan.” I had them. “It is simple. Bart has drama practice in the same building. We go see the practice and some time during clean up we disappear.” Their eyes were on me. “We know the security guards lock the buildings at 11:00 p.m. Therefore, as soon as he locks this one, we go down stairs across to the student center, and kick in the glass door. I mean there’s not even any alarms or cameras in the entire store. They have the money under the counter in a lockbox. For god’s sake; I saw them put it there yesterday.” I was smiling wide. The smile now pains me. I was so smart and so stupid all at the same time. “Then we just kick out another door and leave. We can go see a movie or just back to the dorms. They are never gong to expect one of school’s freshmen students of doing this anyway. Not on this little campus.”

Even with my confidence and Joe’s intimidation it took two more hours of convincing, but we did it.
It was too easy. Everything went just as we planned. There was not a single glitch. The campus officials didn’t even call the cops. They told everyone it was simple vandalism and dismissed the whole thing. We all went down to Mexico, ate, drank and were merry for one week. Then we came back, parted, and did not see each other until the spring semester. Spring semester, that is when everything turned.

We were going hard. School was fast paced and crammed. Joe was doing awful, though he tried, nothing would work for him. It was clear by mid-semester, he would not pass this term. I was not doing so hot either. My personal life was interfering with my grades. Failed relationships, no money, and lack of interest. Those factors don’t add up to the greatest lucky streak. Bart’s world just kept spinning from day to day. The most he worried about was what was going to happen in X-men next month. Jeff was the lucky one. He had met a girl, fell in love, and got engaged. He was all set to quit school and live on love when I came up with the idea of the prank. I wish now we had let him.

A scream from the bathroom sends my mind racing back to the present. Bart is awake. His pain is loud like a cannon. Joe is out of his corner, shotgun in hand, before my eyes could even catch up to see him move.
“Damn it, Conner, we have got to shut him up or the whole dorm is going hear him,” Joe shouts as he passes me. His anger is like a hot breeze on my face. “You need to get up and think of something now. It’s not going to take those cops long to figure this out that is if they don’t already know.” I am already off my bed and behind him. It’s funny, I can’t figure out how my legs are working. My stomach drops as Joe opens the door and we step in. Joe grabs a rag and shoves it in Bart’s mouth as blood is coughed out of his mouth.

“This is no good, Conner, we have to get out of here,” Joe spits. “If the cops found us at that bank then you know they can trace us here too.” I watch as my hands turn the water on higher. Hot and cold water mixed spraying on Bart’s blood soaked shirt. The force of the water hits Bart in the stomach making his whole body flip like a fresh caught fish.

“I know Joe,” I reply my voice calm as my soul shakes. “I’m sorting it out, just give me some time. I can’t figure how they got to the bank that fast.”

“Well they did. And this idiot and that baby in there froze,” Joe sneered. “If it hadn’t been for me, we would all be dead. I didn’t die there, and I’m not going to do it here. Conner, just think of something.” Bart let out another scream, and Joe responded by shoving the rag deeper. I looked at Bart one last time and left the room.
The wall feels cold, as I slide down it. My face is hot, and my hands seem to stick to it. God, how did we get this far? Why did I come up with this idea, this prank?

“Jeff, the cops here are a joke, and so are the banks,” I told him in March. It was Christmas break all over again. Bart and Jeff sat in front of me and Joe hovered behind them. “We hit the bank on the edge of town. As long as we get only the teller money we can be in and out before the cops even have a chance to show.” It was so simple.

“I don’t know Conner,” Jeff said in a stammer of nervousness. “This isn’t like the bookstore. I mean we can get into a lot of trouble if they catch us.”

“Damn Jeff, you’re such a wimp,” Joe busted in a loud bomb of a voice. “You didn’t want to do the bookstore, and now you don’t want to do this. What’s your problem?”

“No he’s right,” I said to stop Joe’s assault. “We can get into a lot of trouble, but only if they catch us. Jeff. They won’t if we stick to the plan.” I looked at my two friends in the eyes. “We hit the bank, get out, then get rid of the money so there is no trace. Trust me, we stick to the plan they won’t catch us. This isn’t about us getting rich. This is about us doing a prank that will leave people talking about it for years.”

The next day I bought phone books for the two states closest to us, and the prank began. Joe got us the guns, but I don’t know from where and I have never asked. We weren’t Bonnie and Clyde or the James gang, but we thought we were. The next week, we hit the First Pleasant Bank. We were in there like lighting. Joe shouted and smashed his shotgun across the face of the first person he came across. I jumped up on the customer table, and started yelling. It was just like the movies had taught us. Bart stood by the door looking back and forth. Jeff stayed in the parking lot with the car running. Joe had got us the car. He had always had a knack for borrowing cars.

I continued to yell as I watched Joe jump over the teller’s window and empty the cash. I remember how wet the ski mask material felt against my face. In less than a minute, we had emptied the drawers and were back in the car. We never even heard so much as a siren. Three days later, Jeff went to the post office and mailed fifteen letters to people we didn’t even know. We only got about two thousand from the job, but it was the rush of our lives.

After the robbery, we just acted as if nothing had happened. Joe even got upset when the bank sent him a letter about the robbery and informed him his money was insured. Slowly, it all returned to normal. Weeks passed and things went back the same. Joe kept failing, I kept falling, and the world kept turning. Before I even knew what was happening, we started planning the second robbery.

This time it was bigger. The biggest bank in Pleasant, and right in the center of town. Two days later we were in there and shouting at the top of our lungs. I rushed in first, moving to the center of the room, and Joe was right behind me. He went straight to the guard, bashed him with the butt of his shotgun. It was scary to me how quick Joe was to hit the guy and how fast he went down.

“Anybody else want some, just do something,” Joe shouted in his best Bogart. “All we want is the money. You don’t want to be dead over it, so on the ground!”

We were faster this time. There and out before the cops had a chance to use those radios. It was great. There was no risk. We dumped the car and were back at our sleepy little campus. We were so proud. The cops would never think to look here. We were so dumb. We were dumb kids without a clue waiting to screw up.

“How did it get screwed up,” I mumble without even realizing I was speaking. Joe looks over at me. His mouth is moving but I can’t hear his question. My mind is racing. Jeff looks up from his embryo. “How did everything get screwed up,” I ask again this time with voice and clarity. Slowly, I slide back up the wall to my feet, but still leaning against it for a backbone. “What happened? Where did all those cops come from? Its like they knew we would hit that bank at that moment.”

My mind spins back to the planning just four days ago. The plan was to hit First Pleasant Bank again. It had been only a month since we last hit it, and I thought the cops would not expect it. It would be the same as before - hard and fast.

We flew in there waving the guns, shouting, cursing, and did not even hear the sirens. There weren’t any sirens. Cops were waiting when we came out in a little horseshoe of cars. There was more shouting and more cursing when we came out. I looked over at Joe. I saw his eyes and the flame coming out of them. I am still not sure what happen next. There were gunshots. Bart screamed as half his stomach blew out of him. Jeff was already on his knees. He didn’t want to go in the bank, but Joe thought we might need an extra gun this time.

“My fault,” Jeff whimpers from the floor waking my mind from the gunshots replaying in my head.
“Your fault,” I said a cold gripping at my spine. He is looking up at me. His eyes are all red from his tears. His lips are quivering.

Before I can say anything, Joe is across the room. He has Jeff by the collar. Pulled to his feet in one motion. He pulls Jeff from his safe embryo like a baby being pulled into a world of pain. He heard Jeff too. Now Joe knows. He knows how the cops got there. I just freeze. I don’t know if it’s fear of Joe or a desire to see Jeff get his for betraying us.

“You spineless piece of crap. You sold us out didn’t you!” Joe shouts as he buries his fist into Jeff’s stomach. “You told them where we’d be!” Jeff starts to speak, but Joe stomps down on him. Jeff’s words fall out in rush of air and blood under his childhood friend’s boot.

“It is not my fault, they made me,” Jeff screams trying to protect himself from Joe’s boot. “I kept some of the money, Conner. I didn’t mail it all.”

“How could you do that,” I shout as I shove Joe off of Jeff. “The whole point to this thing was a prank. That was our whole defense. If we got caught, we wouldn’t have any trace of the money. What did you do with the money?”

“Conner, I’m getting married. I am going to have a wife to support,” Jeff cries in a mix of blood and emotion. “All these things keep adding up. I needed money for an apartment, food, everything. I thought if I put it back into my bank account the money wouldn’t get noticed so I put it a little at a time.”
“You are a damn idiot, and you got us all killed,” I said dry. It was all I could say. It was all I could think. It echoed in my head. Before my mind catches my eyes, Joe explodes passed me. He grabs Jeff and drags him into the bathroom. I hear Jeff crying, pleading as Joe throws him into the shower. Jeff lands with a hard thump onto Bart’s lifeless body. I know what is coming next. I know what Joe is going to do, but I am not going to stop it.

“You see that,” Joe shouts. “He was your friend. He was my friend and you killed him!” He bends down and grabs Jeff by the back of the head. “I can’t believe you did this,” Joe continues to shout. “I am going to kill you for this.” I find myself moving into the room. It is action without though. Saving Jeff’s life, I throw Joe into the other room.

“I’m sorry, Conner,” Jeff lets out in a pained gasp. “They gave me one choice. I had to give it all up or I went to jail. I was the only one with the money. I was the only one they had the hard evidence on. I could not leave her. Conner, you have to understand. Somewhere, inside of you please understand.”

“You did what you did, Jeff” I say as I look down at Jeff. “Deep inside, I think we all knew the risk. I can’t blame you for what I knew would happen in the end.” I look over at Bart. He is crammed in that shower. The rag is half in his mouth and half out. His eyes glazed over. He is dead. We are all dead. I turn in silence and my mind has stop spinning. I walk across to my bed and pick up my pistol. I am numb and cold at the same time. As I reload the gun it makes a loud click. The noise is harsh and metallic as Joe rushes pass me. He has his savior in his hands again and walks back into the bathroom. His own eyes glazed now, but not for the same reason as Bart.

“I understand too Jeff,” he shouts from within the bathroom. As the doorknob turns in my hand, I hear the sound of gunfire and the quiet of the shells falling to the floor. The hall looks empty, and I start to hear the sirens outside. The cops are here. It is just the cops and us now. I turn the corner and head into the lobby as Joe falls in step behind me. The sirens are calling to us. I am not scared because I honestly don’t think I can feel anymore. As I hit the bottom step, I see the sea of cops forming around us. They all with their guns drawn and they want our blood.

It is just like at the bank. One of theirs died and now we get the same.
Like a firecracker, Joe goes off and fires his savior. The blast knocks out two cops before I can even draw a breath. I stand at the steps watching, my hands won’t move. A bullet whizzes through the air and tears into my leg. Nausea over takes me as I begin to fire. Another shot flies into my stomach. The force of the bullet sends me back against a wall and makes me struggle to keep my feet under me. A scream forces my eyes to look at Joe. I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want to see him killed for my idea. It was my joke and it killed everyone. Another bullet sends Joe to the floor in a lump and the guns then all turn to me.

Blood seems to be sprayed everywhere and everything I see is turning crimson red. With all my might, I push back down the hall and into my room. As I slump against my desk, the cops rush in on me. I try to raise my pistol but a cop kicks it from my hand. As a boot is placed hard against my chest, a sea of police floods in my room. I smile a dead man’s face as they tear the room apart.

I can feel my life slipping away even while a paramedic works to save me. A cop is hovering in my ear screaming for me to tell him where all the money is hidden. I start laughing. A cop yells there is nothing in my desk but envelopes, stamps and out of state phone books.

“What’s so funny,” the cop asks me in a harsh tone.

“The prank,” I say in a cough of blood. “The prank is what’s funny.”

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