I recently spent an awesome weekend on a writing retreat with several good friends. We did several writing exercises (one of which may become the beginning of my NaNo novel this year–we’ll see!) including a very cool round-robin story. That’s a story where each person at the table contributes–sometimes just a sentence or two, though we did passages.
We each wrote about a bank robbery from a different, assigned perspective, shared what we had, brainstormed briefly, then took turns finishing the story, again with sections from each of our original perspectives. We were really happy with how it turned out–so I got permission to share it with all of you.
Our writers, in order by perspective (this order in, then reverse order out from the middle section): Jackie Loyd; Jenny Lee; Kelly Haworth (@khaworthwrites); Ruth Gates; Karen Blakely; and me, writing my two sections in a row in the middle.
A Round-Robin Bank Robbery
Ernest watched the clearly botched robbery unfold from his chair against the wall. A chair because he was 80 next month and had bad knees, so they hadn’t made him sit on the floor. Mistake number one—the first of many.
The lead robber, wearing a ridiculous pig mask, struggled with the heavy door to the vault behind the counter. Ernest knew the teller had tripped the silent alarm two minutes ago. The robbers should have gone for the cash at the counters. Quick, easy. Largely untraceable because it had been brought in by customers and wasn’t in those neat stacks with sequential serial numbers.
He scoffed out loud when one robber tripped and fell to the floor in his rush to get from one counter to the other. The gun in his hand went off. The bullet struck the marble floor, chipping it, sound ringing out and echoing off the walls.
The people around Ernest screamed. He rolled his eyes. He’d done 40 jobs back in his heyday, and never once had he accidentally fired his gun.
Allie was, to say the least, pissed. This is not how she planned today would go. She had a very specific, well-plotted schedule and this—she looked around at the squirrely aftermath that began from the ridiculous robbery—distraction was going to ruin everything.
She tapped her legs with impatient fingers as the incompetent robbers argued amongst themselves. She shook her head. She should be afraid—they had guns, after all—but all she could think was that if she led this operation, they would have the money and be long out of other people’s schedules.
These robbers were obvious amateurs. I should have disarmed the tall one when I had the chance, but you have to be careful when there’s two guns pointed at your face, even if I wouldn’t trust either of these dolts to hit the broad side of a barn. So now I had to wait for the right moment, hoping the civilians beside me wouldn’t mess something up. Maybe the old man could distract them. Who would actually shoot an old man? Not these robbers. They clearly wanted to just grab their money and run.
I glare at the bank robber pacing in front of all of us. He’s totally making me late for my date with Josh.
Ugh, the old guy is driving me crazy though, muttering under his breath.
My phone buzzes in my back pocket. I know the gun-guy said not to touch our phones, but what if it’s Josh? I can check real quick. I’ll just wait for one of these scaredy-cats to draw the guy’s attention, and then I’ll text Josh and let him know I’ll be a little late.
Saliva was pooling in my mouth. I wanted to bite that tall stranger every time he came near my person. He smelled…wrong. But I was on duty and I wasn’t supposed to interact with strangers. And I wasn’t supposed to bite either. But if the stranger did anything at all, I’d bite him, no matter what.
Sitting down on the cool tile wasn’t bad. I knew my person needed to sit. I could smell the scent of fear pouring off their skin. It was making my hackles rise and my skin twitch. It was an effort to keep the growl building in my chest quiet.
The feel of my person’s hand on my neck helped to calm me for the moment, and I settled back.
The dilemma was—how normal was this? So far, a blank face and cooperation had maintained cover admirably, but was that sustainable?
Becoming a victim in a bank robbery had not been covered in training for successful infiltration of the human race. I found this very unsettling. But would it be plausible to show that I was unsettled?
I did have some data points. Though this wasn’t in training, it was a situation that appeared in human-produced video on a more regular basis. From that data, I had an uncomfortable feeling that I was expected to be heroic.
For this mission, I had assumed the appearance of a tall, pale human of masculine gender. Humans who looked just like me were always being heroic in situations like this in the videos.
My duty to maintain my cover was clear.
I leaned over to the person next to me and muttered, “Hey buddy, how about we bust out of this?”
The brown canine jerked his head up to look at me, but did not respond. The human female beside the canine turned to look at me too, gaze focused, and hissed, “What are you doing?”
Immediately I felt a tingle of alarm in my hair. We had been warned about this question. This was the signal that somewhere I had gone wrong. But humans spoke to dogs routinely. Many of the videos showed animals responding in perfectly clear human languages, though I had yet to observe this myself.
No—I could see nowhere I had gone astray.
Maybe this canine didn’t want to perpetrate a heroic endeavor. Maybe the woman next to the dog was, in fact, merely requesting more information. “Do you want to bust out of here?”
I turned my head and stared at the strange thing that had just spoken to me. I could tell by the smell that it wasn’t human. I curled my lip at it and started to settle back in space. But my person stirred next to me and the thing asked my person to help it get into trouble. I could feel my person tense and I knew something was about to happen.
I felt a growl rise again in my chest. Now I had to worry about what my person was about to do, and those bad men.
My person’s hand slipped off my neck and I knew things were about to get crazy. Yep, I was going to have to bite someone.
Poor Daisy was agitated because lo and behold, one of the civilians was about to do something stupid.
I ran my hand affectionately down Daisy’s head, clicking softly with my tongue so she knew she had to wait.
“Stay still and be quiet!” I whispered to the odd young man.
“Affirmative!” he said, before resuming a neutral stance.
So. Now to do something. The teen and the woman in a smart suit were between me and the old man, and I didn’t think I could move that far without alerting the robbers. Were the damn police here yet? GOD. Incompetence everywhere.
I nudged the teen, who was trying to read her phone subtly through her sweater.
She looked up at me and glared.
“The old man needs to make a distraction. Can you pass on that message?”
I can’t believe the jarhead is bothering me. Can’t she see that I’m busy? But she seems determined to keep bugging me.
I roll my eyes and nudge the fidgeting lady next to me.
She glances at me with a scowl on her face like all of this is my fault.
“G.I. Jane wants the old guy.” I motion to the woman on the other side.
My job being done, I get back to Josh. He’s going through some shit with his mom right now. He needs me more.
This is not okay. Allie slammed her hands on her thighs just as the teenaged attitude turned and mumbled something about a Jane and an old man. Allie made a direct head turn toward the girl and hissed, “What? Don’t mumble.”
The girl sighed, rolled her eyes and merely pointed to the woman at the end and the old man and said, “Set it up. Jeez.”
She returned to her phone, but the strong woman at the end of the row mouthed, “I need to talk to him.”
Allie’s heart lurched with excitement. Finally! Someone with the ovaries to get things growing.
After glancing at the distracted robbers, Allie pulled out a pen and paper from her briefcase and tapped the old man’s foot.
The stiff lady in a suit next to Ernest kicked him in the ankle. He turned to her, pushing his glasses up so he could look through the right part of the bifocal. He raised his eyebrow.
She passed him a slip of paper. In what was probably the neatest handwriting he’d ever seen was written: “Create a distraction.”
Distraction and then what? he thought.
The weathered woman with the dog leaned out around the brat on her phone. She thrust her chin toward the door, where two robbers stood with their AR-15s at the ready, butts of the guns resting on their shoulders.
Ernest sighed, slightly shaking his head, more in resignation than refusal. If you want something right, do it yourself.
He picked up his cane and leaned heavily on the handrest as he stood, not to make a scene, but because he actually needed to. Getting old was the absolute pits. He made his way down the line of hostages, AWAY from the door. The tough lady glared and thrust her chin at the door again. Ernest smiled. The dog curled its lip at him, but didn’t bite. Smart dog.
An oddly happy-looking man sat on the other side of the dog. “Let’s roll,” the man said as Ernest passed.
Ernest paused. He’d do.
“Come with me, son,” Ernest whispered. The tough woman was now hissing something at him, but his hearing aid was on the fritz again and blared its loud squeal into his ear, drowning her out.
Ernest took the tall man’s arm. “Walk toward the bathroom.”
They headed toward the back of the bank. They made it surprisingly far before Pig Mask spotted them. He and Dog Mask were over near Clown Mask, the one who had fired his pistol. Ernest took a moment to appreciate the appropriateness of the mask.
“Hurry, son,” he told the tall man in a loud I-can’t-hear-myself-speak sort of voice. “I’m not sure I’ll make it.” He scrunched up his face and forced out the loudest fart he could manage.
The tall man, surprisingly, took it in stride. “Gross,” he heard the teenager sneer.
Pig Mask gestured to his goons and an argument ensued over who should come after him. As Ernest had known, it was the professional-looking riflemen who finally left their posts and came running.
As always in the critical moments of a plan, time seemed to slow for Ernest. The dog started it, lunging for and latching onto one of the guard’s legs. The tough woman grabbed the flailing man’s rifle and seconds later had it pointed at the other guard’s face.
The teenager had her phone up. Filming, probably. The stuffy lady in the business suit looked positively gleeful.
And the tall man? He straightened up, took a deep breath, and yelled, “CHARGE!” He barreled full-speed at Pig, Dog and Clown Mask.
The police burst in the doors on the chaotic scene. And froze, stunned by the “dog attack, old lady wielding a gun, unarmed man screaming and running across the bank, cowering masked robbers huddling in their corner” circus in front of them.
Ernest continued toward the back, snatching a bag of cash from where a robber had dropped it on the floor behind the counter and tucking it under his coat.
This had turned out to be a pretty fantastic day.