Yesterday a man tried to raid a bank in Taunton, our county town, armed with a machete and a carrier bag. Fortunately he was overpowered before he could hurt anyone by two brave and burly by-standers, and I see in the news today that he is in custody and is due to appear in the Crown Court.
The events of ‘The Stalking or Rosa Czekov’ are all triggered by a bank raid, including the stalking of Rosa.
But she left the gallery at that time, and the cash machine wasn’t working so she had to go into the bank and stand in the queue. Rosa wasn’t in a hurry, she didn’t mind waiting behind two or three people for the single clerk to work through their transactions. And when a woman came in behind her, she was only mildly irritated by her whining child.
Rosa stood, her mind drifting… what to eat tonight, Luka’s struggles working freelance, whether to suggest they ate out, Julia Domingo, the boring man and
“It’s a raid!” someone shouted and the queue swung round to see two men standing in the doorway pointing guns at them. “It’s a raid, nobody move!”
Time expanded and everything happened so slowly that Rosa could observe each tiny detail. One man was taller but they both had scarves wrapped round their faces and baseball caps pulled low. He’s on something, a distant part of her mind told her as she stared at the brilliant eyes of the smaller one. The other man’s dark eyes were wide as if alarmed at what he was doing and his skin shone with sweat.
“Go go go!” shouted the smaller one, and the other ran to the counter and shoved a gun forward with one hand, a bag at the cashier with the other.
Then everything snapped back to normal speed as an old man at the front of the queue wielded his walking stick and struck the gunman with an audible crack on the head. There was the deafening sound of a gunshot and a prolonged screaming. Rosa spun round even as she crouched; the mad-eyed man had grabbed the young mother by the throat and was poking the gun into her face. The child was screaming and hysterical, clinging to her mother’s legs.
“Stay still, don’t move, I’ll kill the bitch!”
“Don’t do anything stupid,” said a man behind Rosa.
“Anything stupid? Anything fucking stupid?” and the gunman yanked the woman backwards and her coat opened and her pregnant belly protruded.
Very slowly Rosa stood up.
“Take me,” said Rosa’s voice. “Take me, she’s got the child. Take me, I won’t struggle.”
She moved her arms away from her body in an appealing and harmless gesture. The woman was screeching ear piercing shrieks, her howls like nails down a blackboard.
“Take me,” said Rosa again and slowly she walked to the gunman who unbelievably backed away.
She looked into his eyes. They were grey and pebbly, the whites completely red, sheened as if with glycerine drops and they were mad and wide and unreasoning.
“Take me,” and she stepped forward again and shut her eyes.
She opened them as someone shoved against her and fell. The pregnant woman was pushed so violently she tumbled to the floor and Rosa was grabbed. He had an arm round her waist, holding her to him and something hard and brutal was shoved beneath her jaw so painfully that she nearly cried out.
A single blue flash played across the ceiling; there had been no sirens but the police were outside.
“No-one move!” he screamed so loudly that Rosa’s ear hurt.
No-one moved. Rosa could smell him. Sweat and Calvin Kline and a sweet unidentifiable smell, some strange body odour.
“We’re getting out!” he yelled and wrenched her round so they faced the door.
Through the glass they could see the white of police vehicles and running blue shapes of policemen.
“Shit, shit, fucking shit!”
In her head Rosa said, let me go, put your gun down and let me go, lie on the floor and let me go and they won’t shoot you.
He pushed her forward so she was against the door, the gun tight to her throat, her head tipped awkwardly. The street outside was cleared of people and there was a line of police cars and men in navy with strange caps and black sticks. Except they weren’t black sticks they were guns.
He was swearing continuously, the words running into one long stream of expletive.
“Right bitch you’re gonna open the door and we’re goin’ out and we’re gonna get a car and we’re gonna drive. Right bitch, right bitch.”
Gerry had called her a right bitch.
For a moment Rosa didn’t realise that he meant her to open the door but it was locked.
“Open the door, open the fucking door or she gets it!” he screamed and there was a chorus from behind “Open the door! Open the door, he’ll kill her, open the door!” as the other customers begged for her life.
It clicked unlocked and she pulled it open, her hands slipping, as wet as if she’d dipped them in a pool of sweat and tears. The air outside was icy and peculiarly silent.
“Put the gun down,” a calm voice came through a megaphone. “Put the gun down and you’ll be alright.”
Put the gun down, put the gun down said Rosa inside her head. She was pushed forward and stumbled as they went down a kerb.
“I wanna car an a million pounds!”
He was holding her so tightly, pressing her so close against him she could feel his heart.
“Put the gun down and no-one will get hurt and we can talk -”
“Fuck talk! I wanna car an a million pounds!”
Rosa looked at the sky; the clouds were moving very fast, like a speeded up film. She leant back to escape the pressure of the gun and the man staggered. He began to say something and the pressure eased and in her peripheral vision she saw the barrel wave and then there was a loud plopping noise and the retort of a gun and she was showered in a hot crimson stream.
Hot rain? Hot red rain?
The arm around her waist fell away and she sensed the man moving back and then she knew what was dripping off her hair and eyelashes, what was streaming across her mouth and down her chin, with a metallic stink of gore. It was his blood, he’d shot himself.
But standing facing her, a gun to his shoulder, staring down the barrel at her was a policeman, his blue eyes so wide they seemed to start from his head. She stared back at him and slowly raised her arms, held them out beseechingly to the man in blue with the gun.