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How To Rob A Bank In One Hard Lesson

How To Rob A Bank In One Hard Lesson (pt 1)
Jules — 6 Oct 1998, 2:05 PM

It was quarter of an hour before closing time.

The Empire Bank was empty of customers, as it had been all day. Miss Julie guessed that they'd be busy enough again tomorrow, but today the townsfolk were more interested in viewing Sevenita's trial at first hand than engaging in mere commerce. The whole of Voyager City seemed to be holding its breath, waiting.

She'd let both her regular bank clerks have the day off to see the trial, and was making do with just the two men she'd been sent by the Hirogen Detective Agency. They'd picked up enough of the job to cope with the routine stuff, and she herself could do the rest.

Of course, that was only in the unlikely event that there was any call on the bank's services whatsoever. Around two in the afternoon, Detective Magnum had produced a pack of cards from his pocket and, with an apologetic look, asked her: "Would you mind? It'll help to pass the time, and if those outlaws do show up we're going to be a he11 of a lot sharper reacting to them if we haven't both fallen asleep from boredom."

She'd told the two detectives to go ahead. Later, when they'd been bewailing the fact that two players wasn't really enough to play poker, and that it was a real shame that the Agency hadn't assigned half a dozen or more men to this job, she'd offered to sit in on a hand or two if that would help. Magnum had scrunched round to make room for her at the table, explained the rules to her in an attempt to be helpful... and she had promptly repaid his kindness by winning his entire five dollars stake money off him.

Riding and shooting weren't the only games Tom Janeway had taught her to play, after all.

However, Nicholas Locarno was in an entirely different class as a poker player. She was struggling hard not to lose the money she'd won from his colleague back to him again when Magnum, who'd been dividing his time between watching the game and the occasional stroll to the front to check the windows, suddenly said:

"Group of men heading up the street from the direction of the livery stables. Still no movement from the courthouse though, so this could well be the company we've been expecting."

Locarno looked up. "How many of them?"

"At least four... Looks like seven men. Heads down, hats low. Kerchiefs up. They sure look like men who don't want to be recognised." He lifted his gun from its holster and checked it one more time. "I think this is it. Anyway, no harm in being prepared just in case."

Locarno flipped his cards face upwards on the table. "I win, I believe? I'll collect my winnings later though - provided that the Krenim Gang don't make off with them in the meantime." He caught Miss Julie by the elbow and gently assisted her to her feet. "It's a great pity that the bank has no back entrance, ma'am, or I'd send you out to safety and to alert the Marshal. Failing that however, I suggest that you conceal yourself behind the safe. There's likely to be a fair amount of shooting, once they find that we're ready for them, and those wooden counters of yours aren't going to provide much protection."

Detective Magnum agreed, calling over his shoulder as he took up position where he would be concealed by the opening door, "I reckon we've got about a minute. I'm afraid your nice bank is liable to look pretty ragged after this, Miss Julie."

Julie rolled her eyes heavenward. She didn't appreciate being treated like a delicate little flower. Or an idiot. "You really need to tell me that?"

Locarno grinned, and pushed her into the space between the sturdy metal plating of the big Brooker safe and the solid brick built outer wall of the bank. "No miracles, I'm afraid. Still if you can open up tomorrow morning, I guess it doesn't matter too much if the bank looks like a swiss cheese when you do it."

How To Rob A Bank In One Hard Lesson (pt 2)
Jules — 6 Oct 1998, 2:07 PM

Nicholas Locarno reached an arm back and pulled the heavy safe door closed. There was a slight clunking sound as it sealed, then he reached up and spun the combination lock. His eyes met Miss Julie's, dancing with barely concealed excitement as he grinned at her. He was obviously someone who thrived on living dangerously. "No point in making it too easy for them, is it?"

His turning his attention from her to the safe had given her the opportunity she needed. Miss Julie made a break from her place of concealment, raising howls of protest from the two detectives as she dived for her desk.

"What are you doing?" hissed Locarno under his breath, coming closer to losing his cool than she'd yet seen him. "There's nowhere to hide over there, and in less than a minute this place is liable to become downright dangerous!"

"I'm not a fool. I know that," she flung back over her shoulder. She got the long top drawer of the desk open and hauled out her rifle and ammunition as fast as she could, pausing only to ram the drawer home once more before retreating to her previous place of concealment. "I'm just doing what I would have done first if you hadn't insisted on dragging me over here, without so much as a by-your-leave." She fixed Locarno with an indignant glare, and leaned back into the corner as she loaded her rifle.

"Ma'am... Miss Julie... please..." protested Locarno. "We appreciate the thought. But really, this is our job..."

"And it's my bank. I think I might just have an interest in defending it, don't you? Besides, there are seven of them and only two of you. The Marshal tells me your references are impressive, but you're still outnumbered more than three to one and you can only shoot one bullet at a time. Another gun should help even the odds up, don't you think?"

"But..." Locarno frowned, unhappy about losing control of the situation but aware that nothing he was likely to be able to say or do in the next few seconds was likely to change it any. Seeing his capitulation, Julie grinned, aware she'd carried her point.

"I take it you do know how to use that thing?" he asked in a tone of resignation, although watching the speed and confidence with which she'd loaded had pretty much convinced him of the fact already. Her smile answered him.

"I'm a crack shot. Not that fast maybe, but anything I hit stays hit."

"That's a pretty good boast." He paused in double checking his revolver to give her a sidelong glance.

"No boast. In fact, I'll bet you... um... your poker winnings that I outshoot you. Of course, it's hardly fair, considering I have to reload three times to your one, but I can spare you the head start..."

Something in his expression had subtly changed. Raised eyebrows, slightly creasing his forehead, narrow gaze through half closed and assessing eyes, slight smirk barely kept in check. He'd banished the professionally inscrutable gaze he normally reserved for her as a client all of a sudden, and was giving her the look he'd previously bestowed upon the likes of Jenny Delaney.

Julie became aware that there wasn't really an awful lot of room for two people behind that safe. Also, that her hair was coming down as usual.

Well, well, well, she thought, somewhat cynically. It would seem that Detective Locarno's taste is for ladies who are... well, not always entirely ladylike. And it would seem that I've got a trick in my book that the alluring Miss Clare Darrow doesn't have in her arsenal. Well, unless she packs a couple of fancy six guns, which I wouldn't put past her. I wonder if they come in maroon?

And then the door of the bank opened and Annorax Heyes walked in.

How To Rob A Bank In One Hard Lesson (pt 3)
Jules — 7 Oct 1998, 8:01 PM

Without warning, Annorax Heyes slammed the door back on its hinges. There was a dull grunt of pain, then Detective Magnum shoved back on his own account, got his arm around the side and started firing. But it was hopeless, and he knew it. He'd needed the element of surprise on his side to get in a few telling shots early on, and he hadn't got it. If anything, the surprises were all on the other side.

Nicholas Locarno loosed off an entire round without it having much effect, then stepped back to reload. Miss Julie crept under his arm with her rifle to provide cover while he did it.

"D@mn!" Locarno swore. "How did they know we were lying in wait? I guess the bank looked too empty, made them suspicious."

There was a crack and a muffled scream as Miss Julie's first shot found a man's shoulder. The second took a gun clean out of a man's hand. That howl of pain was louder.

"He might have lost a finger, I think," was Julie's comment as she ducked back to reload. "Your turn."

Nick ducked around the corner and fired again. This time he managed to wing a man, but he also saw his partner fall. Heyes's men had been drilling the door until their bullets punched right through it. One caught Magnum in the upper arm, and swung him around into the wall. He fell heavily, collapsed, and was still.

"My turn," said Julie, counting bullets. She ducked back into position. As Locarno started to reload, he saw a movement out of the corner of his eyes as someone dived forward across the counter and rolled behind the desk. He started to call out to Julie, but she'd seen it also, and swung her gun to cover. But the rifle was awkwardly placed to track up and across, and she managed to get only one shot off before their opponent made it to his intended cover.

His gun only half loaded, Locarno was equally helpless.

"Shoot the desk," he said desperately. "The rifle should be able to punch through it, and you might wing him. It's our best chance."

"It's not any kind of chance." There was a gun pointing steadily at them both over the top of the desk, and an equally steady eye behind it. Nicholas Locarno sighed. He knew when he was beaten. This would be Kid Obrist, who didn't have a reputation as the fastest and most deadly gun in the West for nothing.

"Drop the guns and surrender. Or the lady loses a finger, just like my friend did."

The voice was sleepy, with a vague foreign drawl to it, but it carried the ring of confidence and conviction. Nick Locarno placed his gun at his feet and put his hands up. After a moment of indecision, Miss Julie did the same.

How To Rob A Bank In One Hard Lesson (pt 4)
Jules — 7 Oct 1998, 8:03 PM

"Got them, Kid?" asked Heyes.

Kid Obrist got to his feet, his gun still pointing steadily at Julie and Locarno. "Got them, Annorax. They won't be any more trouble. How's the other one?"

"Still breathing. Lucky for him. Lucky for us, too. Means they still can't pin a hanging offense on us."

While this exchange was going on, Nick Locarno glanced sideways at Julie and muttered under his breath, "They must have heard the shooting over at the courthouse or the jail. And the Marshal's expecting trouble, so he won't waste any time coming to investigate. So we've only got to hold out a few minutes. Now, you're the only one knows the combination to the safe. Might be a nicely inconvenient time for you to have a fainting fit."

Julie gave him a hard look. She'd never fainted in her life. Then she saw the sense in his suggestion, took a deep breath, and let herself drop to the floor, fighting hard against the urge to reach out an arm and lessen the impact. Nick caught her under the arms as she sagged, which helped somewhat, but it still hurt when she hit the ground and she had to bite her tongue to stop herself from crying out. Nick released his hold on her and she lay there in a crumpled heap, willing herself not to move.

There was a cry of annoyance from Kid Obrist. "The woman's fainted!" Julie heard the creak of the floorboards as footsteps moved close, as someone hovered over her. Someone slapped her cheek and she steeled herself not to react.

"Not shamming?" It was the first voice. Annorax Heyes.

"Not that I could see. I was watching them both closely. She just dropped. Didn't lift so much as a finger to help herself."

"Ah well, it means we've only the one of them to keep an eye on. You! Open the safe."

"I'd be only too pleased too," came Locarno's light sarcastic tones. "But the only one who knows the combination is the manager of the bank. That's her, lying in a heap at your feet."

Obrist swore. Annorax Heyes merely sighed. "I guess I'm going to have to crack it then. Kyle? Get me my bag. I'll need the stethoscope. How are those three over there?"

"The Preacher lost a finger. Other two are just winged." There was a flutter of dust as someone else stepped close, and Julie willed herself not to sneeze. "Here you go."

"Seven tumbler sequence. Very well. Check your watch, Obrist. If I can't do it in four minutes, we're going to have to blow it. We don't have the time to spare."

How To Rob A Bank In One Hard Lesson (pt 5)
Jules — 7 Oct 1998, 8:06 PM

For a while there was silence, punctuated only by the slow breathing of the man crouched by the safe, listening carefully to the tumblers.

"Four minutes," announced Kid Obrist.

His partner exclaimed in annoyance, and hit the safe. "This job is a shambles from start to finish! I should have known better than to agree... Is someone watching the road?"

"Yup," said Obrist. "Wheat is."

"No sign of anybody what-so-eever." It was a new voice, presumably the aforementioned Wheat. Julie kept her eyes tight shut as someone stepped on her hair and moved within an inch of her face.

"We blow it then. Kyle, get the dynamite. We're going to have to be ready to run in and grab the money the moment she blows, then hightail it out of here at speed. That jailhouse is far too close to the bank for my liking. And... hey you! Bank clerk! Make yourself useful and drag your lady boss over there out of the way if you'd like to keep her around. You might want to get both of yourselves behind that desk for protection when the safe blows. And no funny stuff while you're moving her. Obrist will keep his gun on you every step of the way."

"No funny stuff," promised Nick Locarno. He sounded almost amused.

"You're doing well," he muttered into Julie's hair, under cover of moving her. "If you can hold out just a little longer, we'll make it through." He pulled her round behind the desk, then crouched down beside her. "I don't think much of their 'protection'", he said out of the corner of his mouth, so Obrist couldn't see him do it. "If they're as lavish with their dynamite as it looks like they are, this is going to be not much more than matchwood after that blast. However, it's better than nothing." He reached a hand down and patted Julie's shoulder reassuringly.

She heard the woosh as someone lit a match, and the faint hiss as they applied it to their fuse. The outlaws moved back hastily from the safe, and as they did so she heard the one at the window - Wheat - call out, "Courthouse door's opening! Looks like the Marshal coming out. And he's got men behind him!"

"Okay, that's it." Annorax Heyes was decisive in cutting his losses. "No more time. Head for the horses and let's get out of here."

As the running footsteps died away, Nick Locarno got to his feet. Julie crawled to her knees and looked up to see him coolly and calmly pinch the still burning fuse to extinguish it, before yanking it out and throwing it away.

"Well, that was fun," he said with breezy sarcasm.

How To Rob A Bank In One Hard Lesson (pt 6)
Jules — 7 Oct 1998, 8:09 PM

As Marshal Tuvok and his men burst through the shattered door of the Empire Bank, Nick Locarno was kneeling at Magnum's side and checking for his pulse.

"How is he?" asked Julie. Now that it was all over, she found that she was beginning to shake a little, which was most irritating. She did her best to keep the quaver out of her voice however.

"Pulse is... all over the place, but fairly strong. I think he'll make it. Somebody'd better get the Doctor over here though, and fast." He looked up at Tuvok. "You've missed all the fun, I'm afraid. Did you see them go?"

"The posse has already been despatched to follow them," replied Tuvok. "They were last seen heading east."

Locarno shrugged. "Doubt you'll catch them though. They knew too well when to quit and run. Had it timed to perfection."

"Maybe." The Marshal didn't like being told his business. "Now, please tell me all the details."

As Locarno filled him in, Julie wandered back to the rear of her bank, surveying with sorrow the sad state of disrepair it was now in. Curiously, the table with its abandoned card game was practically untouched, except for a fine powdering of plaster over its surface where the outlaws had shot up her ceiling. The cards and the money lay exactly where she and Locarno had left them.

The Doctor arrived in a hurry and began examining Detective Magnum, but Julie didn't go down to hear his verdict. She didn't want to know any more about the bank robbery right now, wanted to shut it out and pretend it hadn't happened. She continued to look down at the card table, thinking thoughts she didn't like thinking.

Nick Locarno came back and found her there. He slid a comforting arm around her shoulder, and stood there with her for a moment, in silent understanding of her misery over the wreck of her little bank.

"Thinking of collecting your winnings?" he asked, eventually.

In spite of herself, she laughed. "My what?"

He grinned at her. "You winged two to my one. A bet's a bet. I owe you the entire contents of the table." He started scooping up the scattered coins and pushing them towards her.

"I shouldn't take your money," she protested. "It's practically robbery - and there's been plenty of that today already, if you ask me. You're a lousy shot, Nick. It's beyond me how you manage to stay alive. No detective should be that bad."

And that was an interesting enough thought in itself. She didn't like it very much.

To be continued in "Wrong Train To Federation City"