It’s Sunday, so here’s a story!
“The Heist at John F. Kennedy High”
Aaron is the inside man. He is, per request, as far removed from the action as possible. His name has been stricken from the record, he is nowhere to be found at the meetings in the back booth at Burger King, he will swear ignorance should something go wrong… should we be taken into custody. Aaron’s cargo shorts are still warm from the laundry when he loops the bit of fishing wire around the library window lock, slips it outside, does a casual about face, and resumes his docent tasks. His job is done.
Tyler is the lookout. Tyler has eyes everywhere. Since childhood Tyler has reviled authority. He gets a kick out of getting away with anything. He shoplifts, takes baseball bats to mailboxes, blows up lawn gnomes with deftly placed chlorine bombs. From across the lobby I see Tyler touch index finger to nose, indicating the lock has been secured. I nod. So far, so good. I should know.
Trevor should know, too. He and I hatched the plan on graph paper in math class, a caterpillar scheme until this morning when I discovered the glass encasement protecting the bust to be unlocked. I find Trevor outside the principal’s office—his seemingly permanent residence—and explain, in a word, that tonight is the night: “Bust.” Trevor is in possession of the duffel bag, hence Trevor’s designation as Duffel Bag Man. Trevor is the transport.
Not to be confused with Jay, the driver. Freshly expelled, Jay has nothing to do during school hours but text his friends, fill his tank, take all precautions against the jeep seizing up during our getaway. “The gas gauge flips from full to empty constantly, it’s anyone’s guess how much is in there,” he explained to me one night. “Other than that, bust.” Jay, having nothing to lose, laughs.
Shaun is the climber. He’s been given a map, on graph paper, of every relevant security camera on school grounds, a list composed by the transport, the lookout and myself. Shaun is an athlete, a freak of nature, a kid with a literal spring in his step. He skips the softball game at gym class, opting to stretch for a full fifty minutes. Shaun understands his being limber is of paramount importance to our success. For a moment he balances on a single toe, like a ballerina, just to see if he can.
The softball game does not go as planned, anyways, quickly devolving into a shoving match, an exchange of harsh words that flirts with a fistfight before Mr. Holmes, weathered old sea captain, sends everyone on a lap, holding back Mike—the instigator—and chewing him out good. “This’d be the fourth fight this week, Mike. You going for a record?” No, Mike is going for the bust. Mike is the muscle. Mike has no problem with Chad Carmichael, and in truth does not mind a little sweet chin music in the batter’s box. Mike is just trying to keep sharp. He wants to feel scabs on his knuckles, wants his blood not just rushing but doing fucking flips. There is no telling how far things might go tonight.
Jay picks me up at eight. Everyone is late coming out, and by nine we are half an hour behind schedule. “Throw that out.” Mike nods at the sheets of graph paper. “It’s a shit-shoot from here out.” He swigs his whiskey. “Keep the ransom note, though. Ransom note is clutch.”
We wait a full fifteen for Trevor to locate the duffel bag, lost amidst a basement that houses a derelict uncle, an adolescent alligator, over ten thousand dollars of unsold sports equipment circa 1979.
Jay pulls down Whiting Way, a small, dark street at the outskirts of the football field. “This is where we get off,” I say solemnly. “Last stop!” Jay replies, his eyes wild. “I’m on call.”
We slink through the line of forest onto the field, limned in greenish moonlight, the five of us; lookout, transport, climber, muscle and me. We move across the field, crouched low, a teenage band of thieves. We reach camera one, mounted high atop the field house roof. I hand Shaun the beach towel. Climber is a go, I text Jay as Shaun hops onto the snack bar deck, shimmies up a support, hops from the low roof to the high, scales a pole and finally swings a leg over the buttress the camera is secured to. Sitting that way, like riding a horse, he lays the towel over the camera, knots it, and climbs down in reverse. Camera one, secure.
We saunter across the field, cool, Tyler lighting a cigarette. We are invisible now.
Camera two, overlooking the modular classrooms, is on a 360-spin cycle. Mike approaches it from below, muscling it to shoot straight up, and camera two is taking in space now, shooting the stars in a dizzying circle. One by one we pull ourselves onto the roof of the mods and scuttle north to the courtyard, making sure to avoid camera three, fastened to some brick distance.
Shaun and Trevor drop into the courtyard, a small square of sand populated by picnic tables, boxed in on three sides by the science wing, the fourth wall a glass face of library windows. Rows of books shrouded in shadow, and somewhere in the depths of night lies the handsome bust of our 35th President, completely vulnerable in his glass tank. I try to convince Mike not to drop down—his breath’s hot as fire with whiskey—but he does anyways. The three of them wander along the wall. “Which is it?” Shaun calls up to me. I shrug. The clock is ticking.
“Dude,” Mike says after a minute. “None of these windows are open.”
Mike says it again, making it true.
“What do we do?”
“Cut a hole in the glass,” I suggest.
“With what?” Mike asks. “A fucking laser?”
“Don’t touch the glass,” Tyler warns. “Could be alarmed, and remember the police station is literally on the other side of those trees.” He points toward where camera three is scanning the tennis courts, the parking lot, toward us then suddenly away again, back to the tennis courts. “They’ll be here in a minute tops.”
“It’s in there,” I remind them all. “In that case.”
“How do you know the case isn’t locked?” Shaun asks.
“Aaron messed up, okay? But the case is unlocked. The bust is in there.”
That’s all Mike needs to hear. Suddenly his hand is a fist the size of a catcher’s mitt, the shape of a sledge hammer, and then it is a hand again on the other side of the glass. The shards ring on the tile floor inside, silent on the sand outside. “What the fuck….” Tyler manages before the alarm rings. It is quiet, a hissing red light, but more troubling is the notion that beyond the trees in the police station a corresponding light blinks, alerting the world to our heist.
“Bail, bail, bail,” Tyler advises.
“No! We’re here.” I begin to command. “Mike are you okay? You and Trevor stack the tables. Tyler, text Jay Crane Street route. Shaun, phase three is go!”
In the face of danger they obey. Shaun unlocks the window through the jagged hole, opens it and like a cat vanishes inside. Mike, oblivious of his injuries, is laughing, piling one table on top of another and climbing back up onto the mods. “You’re welcome dude.”
Trevor follows him up, leaving the duffel bag in a flaccid heap in the sand. The four of us wait. Silence. “Shaun?” And then the sirens, a whir of blue and red behind the trees. My hold on the gang slips, and they are crab-walking along the roof away from the scene. “Shaun!” I call. “Shaun!” The door pushes open and out comes Shaun, a mess of sweat and blood, the bust cradled firmly under his arm.
“It was locked, whole thing is a shit show man. Glass all over.”
“Forget it! Cops on call! Bag it up!”
Shaun secures the bust in the duffel bag, drawing the string tight, and passes it up to me before climbing out. We are off, trailing our brothers, hopping off the roof. From the shelter of dark green leaves we see the front lot alight with cruisers and Maglites. Our breaths are a rushed song, warbling with nervous laughter until the jeep creeps up behind us, the interior light skillfully rewired not to turn on as we enter and pull away down Crane Street, away from the scene, away from JFK, away from the lights.
Before the strike of eleven we are a depleted force in the back booth at Burger King. We have brows slicked with sweat, hands scabbed, splintered and flecked with glass. We have the head of the youngest president in our country’s history stowed in a duffel bag in the back seat of Jay’s jeep. We have our ransom terms worked out on graph paper. My phone lights up.
“Who is it?”
“Tell him to suck my dick.”
I smile, crack open the phone. How’d it go?
I consider it. As planned.