Best-laid Plans

by Aaron M. Smith

Preface

A man will do just about anything to provide for his family. But desperation can often prove to be blinding.


            The moon was full, but no one on Eight-Mile Road would have known it. The Ohio sky was a tar pit, except for when the flashes of lightning illuminated the blanket of clouds and the desolate fields of golden cornstalks waving in the late September wind. The tap-tapping of the rain and the rumble of approaching thunder kept me company as I waited.

            I pulled a hunting tarp over myself as I, for the third time, tugged on the barbed wire to make sure it was perfectly placed across the road. As the rain pelted me, my mind wandered to my bedroom where my wife was sleeping, likely with our infant daughter curled tightly in her arms. The warm pain of yearning to be in their embrace filled my stomach, but the flicker of headlights several miles away snapped me back to the moment.

            I grabbed a small tape recorder from my pocket and pushed play. The sound of my wife's voice comforted me.

            "The Brink's truck crosses Eight-Mile every Tuesday night," she said. "Like clockwork. This is where we overtake him. This is where the action takes place."

            I stopped the recorder, took a deep breath, and placed it back in my pocket. The headlights grew nearer.

            My stomach churned, but I knew I had to do this. I would do anything for my wife and she had thought the entire plan through. Now I had to act to provide for my family. I hadn't worked for several months-"downsizing" they called it. My wife was a writer, but she hadn't published anything for pay since spring. Any savings we once had was a distant memory. We were finished with simply dreaming about providing our daughter a good life.

            Even though I had memorized my wife's plan, I pushed play again to make sure I was ready for the action, as she put it.

            "This one guy used pepper spray to rob a Brink's truck before," she said on the recorder. "Pepper spray will make the driver reach for his eyes instead of his gun. That's when you hit him with a branch."

            I had found the tape recorder on my desk a week ago and listened to my wife's plan. We had laughed about robbing a bank or stealing from a money truck and talked about how easy it could be to do so. But I never knew just how serious she was about it. Her recording, though, made it clear: We were drowning in debt and we had to provide for our daughter by any means necessary. She had researched the Brink's route and read articles about successful truck heists. Her plan was foolproof. Now I had to carry it out for our family.

            The headlights drew nearer still and I placed my hand around the container of pepper spray in my pocket. My heart climbed into my throat as the lights appeared at the top of the hill just a hundred yards from the wire. I ducked under the tarp.

            A series of pops was followed by the screeching tires of a vehicle trying to correct itself. I peeked in time to see a police cruiser skid off of the road and violently slam into the ditch. Smoke rose from the engine and the back door of the cruiser swung open. I crawled out from under the tarp and by the dim blue lights of the dashboard, I saw the officer slumped over the steering wheel, his head bleeding. I raced over to check if he was breathing. He was.

            "Shit, shit, shit," I repeated under my breath in the pouring rain, only to be interrupted by a groan from the back seat.

            "Oh shit."

            A man with blood streaming from his nose and shackled in cuffs rolled out of the car and started laughing in shock at his good fortune.

            "You ain't what I thought my guardian angel would look like, buddy, but I'll take it," he said as I stood frozen in front of him. "C'mon, get the keys and get me out of these. There's a bag with almost $300,000 in the trunk. Get me out of these and you get half."

            Without thinking, I pointed the can at his eyes, sprayed him, and then hit him on the temple with the base of the can to stop the screaming. I raced to the driver's side of the cruiser and popped the trunk. Stepping over the man lying on the rain-soaked pavement of Eight-Mile, I lifted the trunk lid to see a large black duffel bag. Through an unzipped opening, I could see rolls and rolls of $50 bills. I took the bag and ran back to my tarp and paused. Taking out the tape recorder to hear my wife's calming voice, I pushed play.

            "We need a get-away, but a car's too obvious and easy to spot," she said. "Maybe take the river near Eight-Mile and it'll get you to where you can walk home. Make it a night with a full moon so it'll be easier to navigate."

            I packed up the tarp and carefully rolled the barbed wire and placed it into the duffel bag. I raced through the field as the heavy bag tore into my shoulder, eventually reaching the river where my canoe waited, just as my wife had instructed. After a thirty-minute row down the rain-swollen river, I walked the rest of the way home under the clearing skies. Exhausted and $300,000 richer, I passed out on the living room sofa.

            "Good morning, handsome," my wife said to me as the sun peeked in through the curtains. "Why'd you sleep on the couch?"

            I didn't answer.

            "Oh hey," she continued, scooping grounds into the coffee maker. "Have you seen my little tape recorder? I think I left it on your desk. I'm working on a short story for a literary magazine about a crazy heist and all my notes are on it."

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