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Barbara Ackerman Steals a Bag
She seemed much too old and frail to have done what she had. The bracelets on
her wrists had much more dangle to them than was intended, her once-tastefully expensive
shoes had a little too much room in them, and the leverbacks hung heavy from her earlobes. She
seemed almost as delicate as the linen frock she wore. I crept slowly to her side as the rocking
chair creaked. She looked so harmless. Appearances can be deceiving. She didn’t flinch when I
put the gun to her head.
Barbara entered the office exactly two minutes, thirty-eight seconds late. She could
have easily been on time, but she found that overeager. She could have been later, but she
found that rude. She sat across a green leather top desk from Tony “The Nose’ Nazarene. To
her left was a nervous greenhorn, sweating through a rented suit. In seven minutes, a
standoffish, superior Slav would be sitting to her right. Nazarene checked his watch and
grunted. “The Russian’s late. We start without him.” Barbara ashed her cigarette. "Works for
me.” Dimaggio smacked one to the outfield. The sound drowned out the greenhorn.
She rose. I didn’t shoot. Not yet. I still needed to know.
She smiled. “It certainly took him a while.”
I didn’t smile. “We can’t all be Barbara Ackerman, can we?”
A creaky laugh, “Well if you were, I never would’ve gotten away with it for so long,”
The gun feels heavy. “He’d like to know where it is.”
“Well we have that in common.”
“You don’t have it.” It should’ve been a question, it wasn’t.
“I wouldn’t mind knowing myself.”
“...so I need it by then.” Nazarene finished. The greenhorn agreed immediately and
excitedly before remembering himself and going for a Chandler tough guy look. Barbara took a
drag and went pensively silent. “Sounds risky.” Nazarene met her eyes for the first time. “What
worth doing isn’t?”
“Bull-” she shushed me.
“Cursing is impolite.”
“There are only two of us here, and I took my sodium pentothal today.”
The Russian seemed off the moment he walked into the room. He smelled like cheap
alcohol, but he didn’t seem drunk. Nazarene regarded him wearily. The Russian sat heavily in a
chair ill-equipped for his size. He towered over Barbara. The Russian scratched his prodigious
nose and gave her a glare meant to liquefy. Barbara did not melt. He grunted and turned. The
glint of the sun off his head stung her eyes.
Nazarene spoke first. “You’re late.” the Russian didn’t look at him. “You’re ugly.” The
greenhorn attempted to join in on the posturing but was ignored into silence. Barbara turned to
the Russian. “You know the deal?” He didn’t look at her. She reached up for his chin and turned
it towards her. “Ты меня понял? You know the plan?” He turned away from her. “Your Russian
is insulting.” Barbara glared. “You're insulting.” Nazarene broke it up. “Shut up the both of you!
You’ve all done this before. Except you.” The greenhorn was too excited at the attention to
realize the insult. “In and out. Nothing fancy. Bring me mine and you’ll get yours.” Barbara
glared at the Russian. If he looked at her, he would’ve glared back.
She smiles. “If you think I’d sit on something like that for this long-”
“Who’d buy it from you? Have to have some death wish.”
“Well, if you can afford to buy that, you can keep yourself safe.”
“You might be flattering yourself a bit.”
The Elysées office sat on the seventh floor of a loose pile of cinderblocks pretending to be a tenstory building. Being full of armed Frenchmen, criminal power players, and a general aura of
malice, the former tenement turned Milieu center seemed impossible to get into. Thankfully,
the New York State Tenement House Act provided them the opportunity they needed. To cut
costs, the now mandatory windows had been installed facing into a ventilation shaft. According
to the Russian, one such window led directly into the head office. To many, it was an
unscrupulous landlord’s tactic. To Barbara, it was a way inside.
Barbara, the Russian, and the greenhorn hashed out the little details before setting to
work. It was simple: The Russian would use his reputation to distract les hommes d'affaires as
an “investor”, while Barbara climbed through the shaft windows from the from the roof and
procure the package. They would then exit through the back, and greenhorn would drive
everyone home, and they would all live happily ever after. The Russian went in. Barbara braced
herself for descent.
My palm sweats under my glove. I don’t lower the gun. “You need to tell me where it is.”
“What I need is for you to leave.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
She sighs. “I wonder what I was expecting.”
A loud pop and the smell of gunpowder, a hot pang shoots through my knee.
I go down hard.
Barbara had never experienced such vertigo. Suspending herself with friction and sheer
force of will, she sidled down towards the sill of the first window, feet first. Every footstep,
every scrape of her hands against the brick walls, every tug on her jacket felt near lethal. Her
heart pounded painfully. She reached the first sill.
She stands over me with a small handgun. I gather myself and test my knee. Shot,
literally and figuratively. I can’t find a way out. All I can do is talk.
“You don’t have to kill me.” It shouldn’t’ve been a question. It almost was.
She stretched. “Oh don’t I? I’m fairly sure that’s why you were here.”
“I’m only here for the package. The gun was just for show.”
“You’re not much of a showman, young man.”
She levels the barrel with my head.
Barbara was practically dry heaving by the time she passed the second sill. Flat, she
thought, With my cut of this, I’m moving somewhere flat with no buildings higher than a fruit
stand. Her heart throbbing, fit to burst, she continued down to the third. Left foot, right foot.
Barbara took a heavy, shaking breath. Left foot, right foot. A prayer is said to a god she doesn’t
believe. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right- The brick is old. Her soles are hard. A chunk falls.
Barbara is not long after.
I jerk out of the way at the last possible second. A small caliber hole appears in the wood
next to my head. My good leg lashes out. Good as she is, she’s still old, still frail. I can still knock
her down. Rolling, I grunt as I tag my ruined knee. Ackerman gathers herself. It was a hard fall.
Her right arm points funny. I wish she was right-handed.
She doesn’t let herself scream. She tries to comprehend the world, the wind rushing
around her, the ground drawing closer, the sill- The sill! Reaching out desperately, her hand
meets glass, breaks glass, catches wood. She slams hard against the wall. Her nose bleeds, her
shoulder burns. Barbara cries tears of joy. She throws her other arm up and starts to pull
I get as close to standing as I can and dive behind the staircase as a few more pops
flavor the air around me. Three pops. Three shots. Two left. I see where my gun landed. It’s not
too far. “Give it up, Barbara!” I catch her reflection in a picture frame. She’s hobbling for me.
“You haven’t got much left!” I move gradually towards my gun. One more pop. One more miss.
My fingertips can almost taste the steel. One last pop. I jump, land hard on my shoulder. I’m
almost to the gun. She can’t stop me now.
Barbara thuds to the ground like a bloody sack of potatoes. Drawing herself up with an
inarticulate groan, she makes for the desk and rifles through. First drawer, nothing. She tosses
it out the shattered window. Second drawer, fifty dollars. Pocket it, out the window. Third
drawer... paydirt. Barbara gingerly picks up the package, lifting it into the thin beam of light
from the cracked door. It’s a regular looking satchel. It’s exactly what they’re here for. Barbara
makes for the door. It opens before she gets there. It’s not her people. The Russian swears in
I finally clutch my sidearm. Ackerman takes cover behind a shelf. One shot. My shot. I
miss. It’s fine. I have more. Two shots, three shots, my arm is on fire from the fall. I can barely
keep a tight grip. I scream. Bang. Bang. Bang. A dozen shots, two dozen, who knows? None hit.
My gun clicks. Clicks. Clicks. I inhale gun smoke and moan in pain. “Well, Barb,” I muster, “Looks
like it’s a stalemate.” Barbara starts laughing. It’s much stronger than before.
Three instigating events: The Russian fires the first shot. The greenhorn hears a
commotion. Barbara backs to the window. The results: The Russian finds his mark.
Unfortunately, many Frenchmen work in that office. Barbara loses her footing, she falls into the
shaft. The greenhorn can’t resist going in to help. He lasts two minutes. The Russian is
perforated. Barbara continues to fall. This time she screams.
Ackerman is still laughing. I’m getting angry. “What’s so funny you old bag?” She keeps
laughing, and slowly makes her way over to me. She wipes away a tear. “You idiot,” she
manages. “It isn’t a revolver.”
At the very last second, Barbara feels a jerk. The loop of the satchel catches a flower
box. Barbara takes a moment to reaffirm her faith in the lord, and awkwardly flops to the
ground. She looks at the window. She looks at the satchel. She looks through the shaft towards
the getaway car. Barbara Ackerman makes her choice.
She starts laughing again. “The gun! It fires nine!”
My eyes widen. Laughing Barbara Ackerman is the last thing I see.
Barbara speeds away in a hotwired Willys Overland and adjusts her mirror. She regards
the satchel in the shotgun seat and finishes her cigarette. She flicks the butt out the window,
and turns back to the bag. “God,” she blows out the last of her smoke. “I hope this doesn’t
come back to bite me.”