Bank Shot 

Keith got his taxi fare and fix by robbing banks

Wednesday, Feb 18 1998
The rush - the heart-stopping terror - of robbing a bank was like nothing else on the planet for Keith. Better than a game-winning buzzer-beater, better than the Magic Mountain Viper, better even than a "master-blaster" - a simultaneous mega-hit of base accompanied by the expert ministrations of a cheap hooker.

The crack/hooker combo is what keeps Keith steeled to the day's task, the holdup of a Westside branch of a major bank chain. Keith has done his research well. He learned that this branch was guardless, and his getaway plan is close to a slam-dunk.

He also knows damn well that banks direct tellers to cooperate, discouraging all heroics. After all, a dead teller makes for one hell of a costly lawsuit from grief-stricken relatives.

Knowing all this doesn't make his task any easier, what with his adrenaline level up so high he can taste it, his skull pounding like a house kick drum.

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One of the many reasons Keith's so hot under the collar is that he's wearing two sets of clothes: the one he's being seen in and the one underneath, his "change of identity" threads. Before stepping into the bank, he pauses in the adjacent alley to make sure there's a dumpster where he can deposit the outer layer. He laughs to himself, thinking about the shoplifted polyester two-piece he's got on, and how he used to wear the same kind of outfit when he worked on the other side of the glass as a teller himself, before he decided that working eight hours a day was a chump's game.

Keith really needs this money, what with a $100-a-day crack habit and no prospects for regular employment. But in Keith's case, desperation is the mother of innovation. Because he can't afford a car, he's taken a bus to get here, and has an even better public-transportation solution for getting away: a taxi. You might even say it's his m.o., a trait that singles him out from other bank robbers, just like using the two sets of clothes.

Keith takes a final deep breath and proceeds. In he struts with what he hopes is a look of cool confidence. He'd better be cool. As an African-American in this upscale hood, he's already bound to draw more attention than he desires. No one has particularly noticed as he approaches a window, smiles widely at the teller and hands her the note. In clean block letters it reads, "I have a gun on you. I want tens and twenties. Don't be stupid."

Shakespeare it ain't, but then, simple and to the point works best when Keith figures he's got about 45 seconds of lead time. Any longer and he knows the Five-O could be on him.

Using a note is a technique Keith learned from mates in the joint. At sentencing time, civilized, mild-mannered note passers generate more sympathy, not to mention that they qualify for shorter terms. (Believe me, he can recite the Federal Sentencing Guidelines chapter and verse.) The wording of the note matters too. A message that states "I'll kill you" will draw a longer sentence. A note also helps avoid the slight but ever-present possibility of getting shot by a cop, concerned citizen or bank guard. Guns drawn, you see, draw other drawn guns. In truth, Keith isn't even armed.

The teller rapidly fills a canvas bag full of "straps," the bundles of dead presidents. Thirty seconds tops, and Keith's out the door. Made it, he thinks.

Off goes the outer layer into the dumpster. "Let the rats piss on 'em now," he says to himself. Underneath it's chic running gear, pricy sweats - designer all the way. And off goes Keith to the pay phone that he had scouted earlier. Three minutes later, he's in a taxi, headed for a Pico-Union fleabag. Yippie-yi-yo!

Safely ensconced in his room, he drops his swag bag on the fetid little bed and heads over to MacArthur Park. Rock heaven. Five minutes later, he's returning to his temporary Shangri-la with crack coke in pocket and the happy knowledge that Lolita is on her way over. It don't get better than this.

That's about when Keith realizes that he was a little sloppy. Sure, he got away without getting "inked" - that is, having himself or his bills tagged by a dye bomb. But he forgot to look for "bugs," transmitters planted inside fake money bundles. Negative bingo! Sure enough, one strap of 20s is a hollowed-out dummy, with a little metal insect buzzing inside. Damn.

Panicked, Keith races out the door. Spotting an old geezer napping in a convertible Buick, Keith tosses the funny money into the dude's back seat. That's when he knows this job is a success.

Reeling in $1,500 with an hour's labor is cost-effectiveness that any MBA would admire. This is the second heist of the week; more follow in the weeks to come. Still, the money never lasts, and somehow Keith doesn't feel as though he's living the high life. Thirty-two and relatively skill-less, carrying a crack gorilla that's effectively crippled him, and facing a possible third strike, his ass has just about had it. Besides, he's got guilt up the ying-yang over his existence, being a preacher's son with fundamentalist roots. But with pipe in mouth, and hooker hard by, all that seems miles away.

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