by Nigel Daring

It was May of the senior year of high school when three top students who hung together hatched a silly plot unbecoming of them. They were three boys with stay-at-home moms and successful professional fathers living in the suburbs bordering the exurbs. Jake Stevens, the valedictorian, intended to study international affairs after he graduated and hoped someday to be a politician, who knows maybe president. Robert Bane dreamed of being a rocket scientist at NASA. Tom Ashwood aspired to a career as a successful CEO like his father. These guys were not only brilliant but close, hung out and studied together. They were close, yet strangely enough, they never met each other's parents and their parents (Betty Stevens, Sheila Bane, and Sarah Ashwood) had never met. But that was about to change as the mothers exchanged numbers through their sons and made a point of meeting, if at least for once to brag about their boys, proud parents they were, feeling like they raised their children well, and did their duty as mothers.

But once on a three-way call in May of the senior year, the Devil became a fourth friend. The boys talked about the prom, college, girls, career, little this and that, until from nowhere an idea hit Tom. "Why don't we do something crazy before we leave?"

"Like what," questioned Jake?

"What're you talking about," Robert queried likewise?

"We've been great students. We need to loosen up, do something odd. Must our high school days be without a fond memory?"

"I'm cool with what we've done," Jake said.

"Dude, the jocks always tease us, nobody invites us to parties, our school days are the quintessence of drudgery," Tom remarked.

Jake replied, "I want a future in politics. Better to keep things as is."

"But what do you have in mind," asked Robert? "Something, some secret we can share, something dirty we can do, get away with it, laugh it off and go home."

"Guys, not cool," said Jake.

"Come on Jake," Robert replied, "Tom's right. We need a dare."

"OK. One night we'll all run around the neighborhood naked," Jake suggested.

"Nah. We need something bolder," Tom said.

"Like what," asked the others?

"A robbery," Tom replied.

"A what!!!," Jake asked? "Are you crazy?"

Robert thought out loud, "Well that would really crown us cool."

"No way," uttered Jake sheepishly. But with the other two boys seeming committed, he felt obliged, and suggested determinedly, "We must get away with it."

"Jake," Tom said, "That's the whole idea. This'll be our secret and if guys in school think we're not cool, we'll have one up on them."

The boys contacted each other day after day, several times a day planning the event: "Let's not use real guns. We just want to have fun, not really put anybody's life at risk"; "I know a toy store down in the city, sells toys looking like real live guns"; "OK, I'll pick them up."

"I found the perfect target two counties away," Tom said. "It's a little sandwich deli with a frail, old guy running it. Though it has some seating tables, there's hardly anybody in it, and in the very early morning, we can hit it because no one's ever there."

"We need some masks and costumes, head-to-toe deal," Jake demanded.

"Yea," Robert said, "If I ever get caught, my parents would kill me."

"Guys, take it easy. The place has no cameras, and the old man looks senile. This is a piece-of-cake job," Tom replied trying to calm nerves.

"We need the outfits," Jake insisted as Robert chorused. "OK, suits it is. But Rob, you can't hide your long hair under it. The red-green dye will show."

"I don't care," Robert said. "I just don't want him to see my face and the rest of me. I can always cut my hair after."

"I'll pick you guys up early in the morning, we'll cut school, and we'll park in the back of the deli off the road," Tom said. Then he continued, "We'll get suited up in the car, pull out the guns, and then charge in demanding the money. We'll make a quick get-away speeding down the highway. We can get back to school, maybe just missing two early morning classes. No one would make a big deal of it. We've been good all year, all high school." The others concurred.

It was the day of when Robert got up early, dressed and ready for "school." He was eating some cornflakes in the kitchen when his mom popped in. "Mom, why are you so dressed up this early" Robert asked?

"I have a meeting and I have to pick up my girlfriend Janet. She just spent the night at the hospital, wanted a friend to drive her home," Ms. Bane answered.

"You know mom, I never met her, yet you guys are on the phone all the time," Robert noted nonchalantly.

"One day you will son," Ms. Bane replied. Glancing at her watch she panicked uttering, "Running late. Gotta go."

"What meeting" Robert queried?

"We'll talk later. Bye," Ms. Bane said as she patted him on the shoulder and kissed his head before quickly exiting the house.

About twenty minutes after, Robert heard the sound of a horn honking. He rushed out to the other boys sitting in the car. Once settled in, he asked needing to reassure himself, "Are you guys ready for this?" "We're game," said Jake strangely resolute. Then he murmured about his sneakers that his mom told him to change. "She treats me like I'm still a kid, some docile, impotent twerp." The other guys could identify with the being handled-like-a-kid part, though they secretly agreed that Jake's old sneakers made him a trademark geek, and around school if you kept your head down, you would know it's him by the dirty brown on the old white, and the tear above the sole of the right. Tom felt like identifying with Jake since he at last looked so determined. He relayed how his mom told him to get rid of the old rusting bracelet, his good-luck talisman.

As planned, they pulled up behind the deli and suited up. They drew the fake weapons, swore to each other never to tell and that they were committed to following through the whole ordeal. "Guys, it's now or never. But once we leave this car, no turning back," Tom reinforced. He continued, "We'll do this charging in in one sweeping motion with guns drawn. We'll demand all the cash. As soon as we get it, we break out of there, back in here, hit the highway and speed away." They each stretched out their right hand, put it on top of each other's, swore again to the plan, after which Tom commanded, "Let's do it."

All three boys kicked through the front door guns drawn pointed toward the counter behind which stood the old man frightened. But as they tore in they glanced women sitting in a corner: their mothers and one other. They were in full throttle, couldn't stop as they approached the counter. None would dare look back and none would utter a word lest his voice give him away. But then it dawned on each boy that he wore something his mother would recognize: Jake (sneakers); Robert (hair); Tom (bracelet). They were frozen holding guns on the storekeeper. Janet secretly whispered to the women adjacent to her that she had her cellphone on and could quickly dial 911 while the robbers were focused upfront. But unexpectedly, puzzlingly, one smacked her, and the other hastily snatched the phone. She felt strangely like the villain.

The storekeeper realized this was a robbery, and decided to break the silence as the women remained angrily fixated on what's happening at the counter. The old man said, "Listen, I want no problem. There are some good people here. I don't want you to hurt them. All they were doing was discussing their lovely children, how prosperous they're going to be. They have something to live for. Gentlemen, here, here, this is all I have, $250."

He pushed out the money to give it to the boys, but none put forward a hand to accept it. They felt cold eyes staring at them, beating at their backs, the dreaded silence paralyzing. They couldn't back out because each didn't want to chicken out before the others and break the oath, and none understood each other's predicament because they never met each other's mothers before. But none wanted to further the ignominy with his mother's eyes on him. Besides, the sheer shock of being caught immobilized them.

The old man tried again, but couldn't get anyone to stretch a hand to accept the money. "What do you want? OK, take anything you want from the store. Just take whatever and go. I won't call the cops."

The boys remained frozen. This was as puzzling as anything the old man could ever conceive of. But he noticed the guns weren't really guns, the robbers frozen scared, and the women weren't frightened but crossed. One had her arms folded over her breasts staring intently, wickedly.

Then he suddenly blurted out, "You guys played that beautifully. You made it look real. Look how upset the women are." The boys happy for this graceful exit weren't about to pass on the opportunity. "Really," Tom asked, "Are they really scared?" He pulled off his mask quickly, turned around with a relieved smile that he disguised as a sly smile, and said, "Hey mom, caught you didn't I?"

The other boys hastily unmasked themselves and addressed their mothers. Jake even patted the storekeeper on the back, saying, "Thanks for playing along. We owe you one."

The mothers, who were apparently quite relieved, welcomed the boys over, and said proud things like, "Didn't I tell you he was smart?," "Such a genius, he had me going," "That's why he's the top of the class, so well-rehearsed." The storekeeper brought extra sandwiches, told them not to worry about the charge, and they generally had a festive talk as the boys relayed their dreams. "Hey sir," Jake beckoned, "Please bring me a large orange juice."

Jake Stevens jumped in his mother's car for the ride to school and as soon as they were out of the parking lot out of view of the other mothers, she screamed hysterically, "How could you?" She kept pounding him on the head as he responded, "Mom, it's a joke, remember. Ha, ha"

"That was no damn joke," she countered. "You didn't even know the man's name." She kept smacking him, hurting him, as his tears began to well. "Is this the kind of child I've been raising all these years?"

Tom Ashwood drove home as his mother told him to take the day off of school. As soon as he opened the front door, there she was apoplectic and irate, "How could you?" Robert left with Sheila Bane who dropped Janet home. As soon as Janet closed her front door behind her, she went into a mad tirade hitting her son uncontrollably, "How could you?"

After Janet closed her door she dialed a friend on her cellphone. "Girl you wouldn't believe what just happened. You know Sheila? Sheila Bane. You know how she's always bragging about her boy. That boy is going to be like Bernie Madoff who made off with people's money. The boy and his friends just tried to rob a deli. Yes, while I was there with his mother. Those are some budding monsters."

Robbery by Nigel Daring

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