Fredericksburg Savings and Loan sat on the very end of Main Street. Six tellers worked the counter, another three operated the windows. There were also four loan officers that handled every type of loan known to man. It was managed by Jeremiah Smithers. At 73, Jeremiah thought he’d seen it all. Born and raised in Fredericksburg, he knew the locals, the good and the bad, and had done business with most of them.
He was living proof that circumstance did not limit potential. His parents picked cotton on every farm in the area. They saved their money, bought five acres of their own, and built a small home on the outskirts of town. His parents marched during the height of the Civil Rights movement, and worked themselves to death to send their son to college. Jeremiah graduated from a local university with a degree in accounting, and found work at Fredericksburg Savings and Loan. He started as a teller, and through hard work, diligence, and more hard work, he became the manager of the branch.
Unlike some who found success on their own, Jeremiah never forgot where he came from. He tried to help everyone who came in, and when he couldn’t for whatever reason, he’d recommend someone else who could. His generosity was only matched by his big heart for his community.
The first to arrive and the last to leave, Jeremiah was the face of Fredericksburg Savings and Loan. He lived in his ancestral home left to him by his parents. After extensive remodeling, the old home was as good as new.
Unfortunately, due to medical reasons, he’d never fathered any children to carry on his lineage. He had lived in the house with his wife until she passed seven years ago. Now, he lived a lonely life, filled only with the memories they had shared. His wife had converted their guest room into a makeshift library, and it was his most cherished memory of her. Inside the library sat her rocker, his rocker sat next to hers. They’d spent many hours reading together in the library. Tonight was no different.
Jeremiah sat in his rocker and read The Rain In Portugal by Billy Collins aloud, as if his wife was still present.
“Listen to this darling,” he whispered as he turned the page.
A loud knock sounded at the door, and Jeremiah frowned. Few people came out this way anymore. He listened, but he didn’t hear the sounds of protests. The knock sounded again.
“Coming,” he yelled as he pushed himself from the rocker. He padded softly through the house, and pulled his daddy’s shotgun from the rack.
“Just a second,” he said as he put the shotgun back. “Your belief in the good of people is gonna get you killed one day,” he thought as he walked toward the door.
He opened the door, and Tray Tan shoved a shotgun in his face. Abraham Wilson followed him in.
“Mr. Smithers, I presume?”
“That’s right,” Jeremiah said. “What do you need, son? Take whatever you want.”
Abraham smiled and motioned for Jeremiah to have a seat on the couch. Jeremiah walked over and sat down.
“Mr. Smithers,” Abraham said as he sat across from him. “We need your help.”
“You have a funny way of asking for my help, son. You don’t need the shotgun.”
“Yeah, you say that, but you might kick up a little when I tell you what I want you to do. The shotgun is to ensure that you don’t resist.”
“Tell me what you want me to do,” Jeremiah said, staring at the barrel of the shotgun. It looked like salvation day to him.
“I want you to open the bank vault, right now. Tonight. We’re going to empty it, and you will keep your life if you don’t resist. If you resist, we’re going to kill you, and empty the vault anyway.”
“Sounds like I don’t have much choice in the matter.”
“Sure you do. You can resist, you won’t survive it but it’s an option.”
“Let me get my coat.”
Abraham Wilson handed the blue jacket from the back of the love seat to Jeremiah, and he shrugged it on.
“We better get to it,” Jeremiah said as he walked out onto his porch. Pop-Pop and Tia Lopez watched as the old man stepped gingerly from the porch and walked toward the van. Tia opened the door and helped the old man in.
“Thank you kindly, young lady.”
“You’re welcome. Thank you for complying with our wishes.”
“It’s only money, darling. It won’t make you happy.”
Tray Tan and Abraham Wilson climbed into the front seats. Tray Tan shoved the shotgun down between the seat, next to the console and drove them to the bank.
So far, everything was going according to plan. Tia Lopez sent a message to her boss and it read,”Beginning Phase II.”
Tray Tan pulled the van up to the front door of the bank. Protestors flung Molotov cocktails at the police, the police fired tear gas canisters at the protestors to break up the protest up into manageable sections.
No one paid attention to the white van. Tia Lopez stepped out from the van and helped Jeremiah out. He shuffled to the front door and unlocked it. Then, he entered the code to override the alarm system. Pop-Pop, Abraham Wilson, and Tray Tan followed him through the shadows to the bank vault.
Jeremiah took the key from his neck. His dog tags from the Vietnam war were also on the chain, along with his wedding band. He inserted the key, and then spun the combination lock until it clicked. Jeremiah twisted the key, and the door opened.
Tia walked him over to a seat, and Jeremiah sat down. Tray Tan pointed the shotgun at him, while the others loaded bags of money onto carts.
They shoved the carts out into the shadows, and after emptying the vault and safe deposit boxes, they pushed their ill-gotten goods into the van.
Still, no one noticed. Flames soared into the night air, protestors yelled and cursed the police, and violence consumed another night in Fredericksburg.
Tia helped Jeremiah into the van and sat next to him. A tear dripped off the old man’s cheek as he watched his neighbors try to kill each other.
“Lord have mercy on these young’uns,” he muttered as Tray Tan started out of town. “All the work we did to find peace…it didn’t last.” Tia patted his leg as the thieves left the smoldering ruins of town behind.
A few miles down the road, Tia’s phone chirped. She unlocked her phone and read the message. Tray Tan looked at her from the rear view mirror and met her eyes. She gave him a barely perceptible nod, he gave one back and drove back to Jeremiah’s house.
“We’re going to take you home, okay old timer?”
“That sounds fine to me, ma’am. I like being home.”
Moment’s later, the van pulled up in front of Jeremiah’s house, and Tia helped him from the van. She walked him to the door, and helped him in.
“Thank you for your assistance tonight.”
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
Tia shut the door and walked back to the van. Tray Tan pulled out of the yard, and they rushed off into the night.
Their work was finished, now it was time to retire and live the easy life.