John T. Anderson
42 Foliage Lane
2 Ninthmonth 4599
You’re not going to believe this, but it’s true: I was held hostage during a bank robbery! Right here in the Imperial Duchy of Thorgelfayne! It took me several days convince myself that it really happened, but I think I am ready to write you a letter about it now.
I had stupidly forgotten my account password; actually, I just got it jumbled up in my head. I couldn’t use the automatic teller machines without it. During my lunch time on Fifthday, I drove over to the Mountain Home Bank at Thorgel Park, since it is the branch office closest to the university where I work. (You may recall that I was first befriended by a Hugmup in that park.) I waited discretely at the customer service desk for the woman there to finish her telephone conversation. She hung up the phone, folded her hands and smiled at me—but instead of saying “Can I help you, please?” her eyes grew wide and she made a little O with her mouth! I naturally assumed that something was going on behind me, so I turned around. I bumped into a man standing directly behind me! I was startled, since I didn’t even hear him walk up.
“Everyone stop what you’re doing!” he commanded in a steady, authoritarian tone. Everybody dropped what they were doing and looked up at him. Suddenly he pulled his left arm around my neck and held the blunt edge of a knife against my throat with his right hand! Where did he have that thing concealed, I wondered. I tried not to breathe, and my heart pounded loudly in my ears.
“Friend, please put that knife down, and we will all forget about this,” the customer service lady said calmly. Everyone in the bank cooperated by smiling in amiable agreement. A bank employee in the back of the room slipped out while the robber was looking in another direction. At the time, I thought sickly that she was just trying to cheat fate and save her own skin.
“If you put down that knife,” one customer bravely volunteered, “I think I will develop a small case of amnesia about the last few minutes.” A number of people indicated their agreement silent nods.
“No!” the man insisted, tightening his arm around my throat. It made me cough, but he didn’t loosen up. “I demand two thousand forty-eight Ducats,” he said, citing a good, round hexadecimal number.
I was terrified, even though he held the blunt edge next to my throat—after all, how could I know when he’d turn it around? But at the time I did think this was stupid. How could anyone successfully rob a bank? I just couldn’t imagine a way that it could be done.
The customer service lady sighed and asked in a matter-of-fact tone: “Do you want that in bills, or transferred to your account?”
I thought that was odd, but apparently no one else did. His grip loosened. I could breathe again! My throat hurt, but I didn’t dare reach up to rub it.
“I think I would prefer bills,” he said nervously. The customer service lady nodded at a teller, who began counting out the amount he had requested in hundred and twenty-eight Ducat bills.
“Would you like this in an envelope?” the young man asked my captor politely. I couldn’t see the response, but the robber must have nodded yes. The teller slipped the bills into an envelope and held it out at arm’s length.
The robber put his knife away and let me go. Then he walked over to the teller and took the money. He didn’t even notice that an ambulance had pulled up to the front of the bank. “I must apologize for my behavior,” he explained in a quavering voice, “but I have suffered many setbacks!” He stopped to swallow because his voice was breaking.
The woman who had sneaked out earlier slipped back into the room just as two athletic-looking people got out of the ambulance and entered the bank. They casually announced that they were municipal police and pointed to their badges. The policewoman walked up to the robber, started a friendly chat with him, and skillfully reached around his neck to prick him with a tranquilizer. She and a bank customer caught him as he slumped to the floor.
“I didn’t mean anything bad,” he sobbed, his tongue becoming thick with sedation.
“That’s okay,” the policewoman consoled him, “We’ll have all this straightened out in no time.” He was too sedated to walk under his own power, so they had to carry him out to the ambulance while he vainly sought to blubber out an incoherent justification for his actions.
There was a palpable feeling of relief as everyone got back to their business, but I just stood there flabbergasted for a moment. I felt like I had to catch my breath!
“Are you feeling well, friend?” the policeman asked. Before I could find my tongue, he grabbed me gently by the hand and led me to the ambulance. I don’t remember deciding to go with him, somehow my legs just cooperated automatically. “You’ve been through a trauma and I think you need to relax for a while,” he said, “and your account of these events will be very valuable to us.”
“But what about the other people here?” I asked, mindful of every detective show on television I’d ever seen. If both of the police officers left, who would stay behind to interview the witnesses?
“We can talk to them later,” he answered, urging me on. Then he turned to the others, “Please call the police station and make an appointment for an interview,” he requested, and everyone nodded. “But please, don’t use the emergency number.”
The customer service lady shuffled through some papers. “I have the phone number we need right here,” she said to the officer, waving a piece of paper.
So we left. I sat in the front seat between the officers, and the bank robber was blathering on the stretcher in the back. No one would pay attention to anything he said until the tranquilizer wore off, which would be sometime tonight. The policewoman told me that they would keep him overnight and interrogate him in the morning.
The Victim Aid Department at the police station was a very calm and placid place: cool colors, comfortable chairs, lots of harng, and soothing music. A counselor helped me to collect my wits, and then someone else came (I imagine a detective or something like that) and very respectfully took down my account of what had happened. He summoned a clerk into the room and gave him his notes of our conversation.
“But why did he want to rob the bank?” I blurted out.
The detective was a very thin young man, with angular features and eyes that darted all over the room, except when he was writing on his pad. No detail would ever escape his scrutiny, I thought! He had a face like a wooden sculpture, and skin so dark brown it was nearly blue.
“Why do you want to know?” he asked as he scribbled on his tablet.
“Look,” I said impatiently, “I am obviously a naturalized alien. I just don’t have the background to understand what just happened. How could anyone expect to get away with a bank robbery?”
He looked up and smiled, and his eyes bored through me coolly as if he were searching out the secrets of my innermost thoughts. “I guess some explanation is in order, in view of your peculiar status. We haven’t interviewed the poor fellow yet, but we have done some research.”
I breathed a sigh of relief, and he tilted his chair back and put his feet up on the table at which we were seated.
“The gentlemen who held you at knife-point and attempted to rob the bank was the victim of some very unfortunate circumstances,” he said. He rapped on the table with his pencil as he flipped through the pages of his tablet. He evidently found what he was looking for, and continued, “His wife died three months ago in an automobile accident. He was the driver of the car in which she died.”
“Oh goodness!” I said quietly, “How did that happen?”
“A branch had fallen from a tree onto the roadway. He hit it, lost control of the steering and veered to the left into another tree. The left side of the vehicle—the passenger side—was heavily damaged, and she was crushed to death. He escaped without injury, and there were no other passengers. He blames himself for the accident, although in fact it wasn’t his fault; he was only cited for failure to comply with vehicle safety inspection requirements. They were on their way to a wedding anniversary celebration.”
I nodded solemnly, and the detective continued, flipping to another page of his tablet.
“Just last week his son was badly injured in a skydiving accident,” he intoned.
“Oh no!” I gasped, “That is a horribly dangerous hobby! Was he killed, too?”
“No,” the detective smiled, “Skydiving is much safer than you think. In fact, I’m a weekend skydiver myself.” He tried unsuccessfully to suppress a proud smile. I instantly regretted my remark. He erased his smile and continued, “The man’s son is new to the sport, and so he misjudged how to steer the parachute in the cross wind, and landed in a tree. In his clumsy attempt to extract himself from the skydiving paraphernalia, he fell out of the tree and broke an arm and a leg. He has been recuperating at home after being released from the hospital.”
“Well, all that is very tragic, but why would that cause this man to rob a bank?” I asked.
“We don’t know the precise answer to that yet, since he’s tranquilized, but it appears that he needed the money!” the detective replied, smiling at his wit in using such an obvious, but uninformative answer. “His house was engulfed in a landslide in the recent heavy rainfall. Such things are rare, but the zoning people aren’t infallible. This wiped him out financially.”
“Didn’t he have insurance?”
“Oh yes,” the detective answered, “but they cannot pay him. Apparently his title to the land is not clear. It will only take a few weeks to straighten out the mess, but this fellow apparently got desperate.” He plopped the tablet casually onto the table, “With all this going on, it’s no wonder.” He looked up abruptly, “I can’t tell you any more details,” he concluded sternly, “What I have already told you is public knowledge. However, I cannot violate the privacy of anyone sworn to the Fayne, even if they do rob a bank.”
I held up my hand as a signal for him to stop, “I understand,” I said, “I may be new to the Fayne, but I am also bound by it!” That is the Thorgelfaynese equivalent of saying that you are aware of an individual’s civil rights and do not intend to infringe upon them.
However, this business still didn’t make much sense to me, because most stores that sell basic, life-essential goods don’t have prices, they have “suggested donations.” There are restaurants with fancy cuisines and rare foods that require payment, but in most restaurants, payment is optional. The vast majority of people don’t take advantage of this, but if you are truly down and out, you can live without money—though not in grand style. The detective assured me that the bank robber knew this as well; but after two weeks of taking things without paying for them, he just couldn’t stand the loss of face anymore. He had always paid, and took pride in that fact.
At that point the clerk returned with a sheaf of papers and waited politely for a break in the conversation. The detective took the papers, dismissed the clerk with thanks, and then spread the papers out on the table before me.
“Read this carefully,” he said, “this is based upon our conversation here today. Make any corrections with this pen, and we’ll retype it as many times as necessary until it is exactly what you would say.”
It was an affidavit. With my consent and signature, it could be used in court instead of a personal appearance. However, the court could still summon me, if necessary. It only took two revisions to get it right. I signed it, and they took me home. The police had already called my office at the university to explain what had happened, and that I would not be in the rest of the day.
When I arrived, I was ready for a nap! What an exciting day! I just barely noticed the flowers on the foyer table—they had been sent by the office, and the Hugmups had let the florist in.
I’m just going to have to get over the willies and go back to the bank tomorrow during lunch; I can’t go much longer without my account password! But I am glad of two things: one, that it happened on a Fifthday, when I would have the whole weekend to recuperate. Two, that it did not happen on Earth. I shudder to think what would have happened to me!