Deja vu, Bruce Wilson thought as a chill ran down his spine. He had been robbed once before and he knew from the muffled tone of this person’s voice that this was not a Halloween prank. It was dusk on a mild fall evening at the end of October, and he hoped to finish on time so he could go home to help Angela with the throng of ghosts and goblins they were expecting that evening. It was trick or treat night and his shift ended at six. It was almost time to leave. Mummies, pirates and Jedi Knights had begun to appear on the streets about an hour before. Harry and Herminie had already been into the store to cajole him out of the prepared bags of candy that Murray had displayed behind the counter.
Bruce had been working this part time job at Murray’s liquor store for the last ten years to supplement his income as a history teacher. It was a way for him to pick up some extra money for his family’s fun activities. There was soccer and baseball camp for Jenna and Mason, and swimming and music lessons for Abigail and Audrey. Also, every year Bruce and Angela took the family on a two week vacation to some historic site. This year was really special. They were going to the east coast to see Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello. They would also visit Antietam, and some of the other civil war battle fields in that area. The coup de grass was to be the visit to Washington, D.C. They planned to see the Capital, the White House, the Washington monument, Arlington Cemetery, and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Time permitting, The Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theater, where President Lincoln was shot, were also on the list.
The kids were psyched. They were going to fly. Everyone was excited. No one in the family had ever flown in a plane, so there were no sages in the group to tell them what it was like to feel the power of a take-off, or hear the reverse of the engines while landing. While very loving parents, Bruce and Angela were strict taskmasters during the school term, but when vacation time rolled around, they were just like two more kids. Angela insisted that everybody was to have fun, and no fighting.
Murray’s liquor store is located at the east end of Whittier Boulevard. It is on the north side of that six lane highway, less than a mile or so from the city limit, which is about the furthest distance from the Whittier Police Department that one could be. That’s why Jimmy picked that store. “Don’t make a sound and don’t reach for anything”, Jimmy said, “Or you will never see your family again.”
Bruce was restocking the candy bags display behind the counter. A picture of Bruce and his family sat on one of the shelves. He cautioned himself to do as he was told and to do it calmly and quickly. “Remember”, Murray had told him, “It is only money. God forbid we’re ever robbed, but if it so, please, just give them the money. Don’t be a hero. Money we can replace, a father we cannot.” Murray was a good man and Bruce realized he was right.
Jimmy Porter was an entry level criminal. He had sold some ‘nickel bags’ of pot, which was five dollars’ worth. These days that amount was just about enough to get two highs. He did not have the stake money to purchase enough marijuana to make any real money; plus, whenever he could afford any, he had a tendency to personally use up half of his supply. He had broken into homes on two separate occasions, but this would be his first armed robbery. His mouth was dry and his hands were sweating. Jimmy was in his second year at Whittier College. While writing his blue book final in his economics class, he used the marijuana example to explain inflation and its effects on consumers. As he read Jimmy’s treatment of the topic, his instructor was impressed that he had a good grasp of the concept and could apply it on a practical level, but he was fairly sure that Jimmy was never going to be the secretary of the treasury.
Several of Jimmy’s friends at school were planning a trip to Cancun for Spring Break. Jimmy wanted to go but he did not have the resources of the other students. Many students had their own credit cards. Those who did not fell into several classes: those who had jobs and had learned to save up for special occasions; those for whom money was never a consideration, since they would just ask their parents, and those who not only lacked money, but also lacked the initiative to work for it. Jimmy fell into the last group. That was when he decided to up his game, as he liked to say. His next brainstorm came to him when he was watching a rerun of Point Break, starring Keanu Reeves. In the movie, a gang of burned out surfers robbed banks while wearing presidential masks.
“C’mon, open the register!” the muffled, agitated voice commanded. As Bruce turned around to face the robber, he found himself staring at Barack Obama, or more precisely, a rubber mask of Barack Obama. Mr. Obama was also pointing a gun at him. “Okay, take it easy”, said Bruce. “I’ll give you the money if that’s what you want; just stay calm.” Bruce noticed that the robber’s hand was shaking nervously. Jimmy Porter was shocked to see his history professor from Whittier College looking straight at him. Jimmy didn’t know what to do or say. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Jimmy said, “I didn’t know you worked here.” “What? Who are you,” Bruce asked? “Oh, right,” Jimmy thought, “The mask, he doesn’t know it’s me”.
Mike O’Connor was sitting in the back room, watching the drama playing out on the store’s closed circuit TV. This was Mike’s day off from the Whittier Police Department, so he too was making some extra money by providing security for the store. The department approved such assignments, as long as the officer would be uniform and willing to respond to emergencies.
“Seventy-two,” Mike whispered, as he turned down the sound, while speaking into the portable microphone that was clipped to his shoulder.
“Go ahead seventy-two.” the dispatcher responded.
“I have a two-eleven in progress at Murray’s liquor store. Send back up,” Officer O’Connor said.
“Ten-four” said the dispatcher. “Be careful.”
At the same time Jimmy Porter responded to Bruce’s inquiry. “Never mind who I am,” he said, “Just put the money in a sack before I shoot your ass!”
That was all Mike O’Connor was waiting for. Until then, Jimmy had not demanded anything, so it was not yet a robbery. At most he had committed an assault with a deadly weapon; and since he used a toy gun, even that charge would be tossed out, or reduced. The teacher did not know it was a toy gun, but Officer O’Connor did. It’s a lot easier to focus on such things when the gun is not pointed at the center of your chest.
“Don’t move,” the officer said, as he emerged from behind a display case. “Just put the gun on the counter, and put your hands over your head.”
Jimmy thought the voice he heard sounded familiar. He turned to see Officer O’Connor pointing a real .357 magnum at him. “Mike,” Jimmy said, relieved to see his classmate. “Relax, this is a fake gun!”
“Just put it down on the counter and interlace your fingers on top of your head.” Mike commanded. Jimmy did as he was told. Mike came up behind Jimmy, holstered his own gun, and handcuffed him. “How did you know my name?” Mike asked, as he reached up and pulled off the Barack Obama mask.
“Jimmy!” Professor Wilson exclaimed when he saw who it was. He then looked at Mike O’Connor who was holding the mask in one hand and his gun in the other, and he saw the shock on his face also. Officer O’Connor couldn’t believe that the robber was the same guy who sat next to him in Professor Wilson’s history class. Jimmy looked back and forth from his teacher to his fellow student, and then he grinned and said, “Trick or Treat?”
“Very cute Jimmy, but I’m afraid that won’t work,” Mike said. “You are under arrest.”
Ever the nurturing teacher and father, Bruce Wilson asked, “Mike, can’t we give him a break? I won’t press charges.”
“I’m sorry, Professor,” Officer O’Connor said. “Robbery is a felony. It’s a crime against the state. You don’t have the ability to drop the case.”
This was Mike O’Connor’s classroom; and Jimmy Porter had just learned a very difficult lesson.