The Shallow End

by Richard Lord

Ya know how all of them look the same to us?
Well, it’s just the same the other way around –
we all look the same to them.


Carson could see that Tyler was getting nervous and that he was starting to lose him. The nods of the head continued, but they had slipped to slow motion velocity. After a few moments Tyler stopped nodding altogether, then turned his head to the side and started breathing a little more heavily. The details of Carson’s plan were clearly diminishing Tyler’s enthusiasm to participate in that plan.
“It’s definitely gonna work, dude. I swear it. Nobody will get hurt, and the Chinks won’t even miss what they lose. And we come out much better with what they do lose.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get all that,” Tyler replied. “It’s just that this is something big. I mean, it’s armed robbery, right? Going in there with a gun, somebody could really get hurt. And that’s a real mess.”
“But nobody’s gonna get hurt, dude. That’s why we’re gonna hit a Chinese take-out place. It’s a pushover, a done deal, places like that.”
“How do you know no one’s gonna get hurt.”
“Are you even listening to me? How many times I gotta tell you, the Chinese won’t give you any trouble. They can’t. It’s something in their culture, some Asian thing. They can’t deal with sudden violence. They’re especially scared of blacks, but us whites, too. They think we’re just so much better at violence, they give up right away. You scowl at them, curse a bit, and they’ll give you what you want: extra beef, extra peanuts in your kung pao. And then you point a gun at them … they give you whatever you’re asking for.”
“But the gun …”
“That’s what I keep telling you. You never have to use the gun. It’s like a decoy. You just point it at them, they shit their pants, bang open the till, and hand you everything they’ve got there. You tell them to empty the safe in the back, and they’ll do that for you, too.”
“You just point the gun at them, that’s enough?”
Carson smiled. “Specially when you add”fuckin" to your request. Like “give me all the fuckin’ money you’re hiding in that fuckin’ safe back there.
”Hey, over there in Philly, the black guys, they’re usin’ Chinese take-out places as their neighborhood ATMs. And nothing ever happens to them. The owners can’t describe the robbers, or are afraid to. So nobody ever gets caught, and nobody ever gets hurt. It’s just that rollover easy.“
Tyler had started nodding again. Slowly, but he was nodding. Carson smiled and slapped him on the shoulder.
”Dude, we are there. This place I’m talking about, they’re the perfect place to hit. Couldn’t be more perfect.“
Tyler forced out a smile, which meant he agreed to join in. It wasn’t hard, as he realized that having listened to the plan so far, having said he was interested, had dug him in deeply enough. He knew that the only real alternative to agreeing to team up with Carson was to report him to the police, and he knew he could never do that. So even if he had decided to walk away right then, he would be an accomplice when Carson carried out the robbery with whoever took his place.

A short time later, the two young men were sitting on the trunk of Carson’s car in the alleyway parking lot of a deli. Carson pulled out two six-packs of Samuel Adams Boston Lager that he’d just bought at the deli.
”The good stuff tonight, dude," Carson said as he triumphantly held up one of the six-packs. “We’ve earned it.” Tyler realized this meant Carson was in a mood to celebrate the pact they’d just sealed.
As they were halfway through their first cans of beer, Carson started explaining how he had arrived at his plan. He also made it clear why he had chosen this deli and its parking space for this celebration. He pointed to the Citizen’s Bank office diagonally across the major road from the deli.
“I had this lunch meet-up with my friend Connor. He’s a real cool guy, Connor. Works over there at the bank, so that’s where I go to meet him. Anyway, since I was already there at the bank, I decided I’ll maybe draw some money so I wouldn’t have to worry about runnin’ short or anything.
”So I’m standin’ in this lunchtime line, and there’s this Chinese guy in front of me. Really thin guy, ya know, and he’s got this bulging bag that’s like twice his size length-wise. I mean, a big fucking bag. So he goes up to the counter and he hands the bag over to the lady teller there and she pulls out I don’t know how much fuckin’ money. That’s his deposit.
“So at lunch, I like mention this to Connor. And Connor is like, ’Oh yeah, that guy. He comes in twice a week, Monday morning and Friday morning and makes a big deposit. Like every Monday and every Friday, unless there’s some holiday. Never misses.” Carson took another deep chug of his beer. “So you see what’s happenin’ here?”
“The guy is depositing the cash they’ve pulled in at the take-out joint you want to hit.”
“Bingo. Got it on the first shot.” He slapped Tyler on the shoulder like a Little League coach congratulating a young charge who just smacked a solid base hit right up the middle.
“So that means all that money, that whole big bag full, is ready to pack up late Sunday night and late Thursday. So what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna make it easy for that Chink. We’re gonna give him one Friday morning off.”
“We’re gonna hit them next Thursday.”
“Next Thursday indeed.” Carson turned with a sharp smile and clinked cans with Tyler. “By like midnight, we are going to have a nice new stash of cash, and it will be so easy, we’ll both be laughing our asses off at how fucking easy it was.”
They both took swigs of their beers. Carson finished his can with that swig, then ripped two more off the plastic rings holding the pack. He tossed one to Tyler, who had to scramble to catch it, then ripped the flip-top off his own. He was already planning what to do with some of that money he would have by next Thursday just before midnight – even if he wasn’t sure how much it might be.

Two days later Carson again picked up Tyler; this time he drove to the small shopping center where the Lucky Dragon take-out was located. He wanted Tyler to get a better sense of the scene of their future crime. The shopping center barely qualified as such. In addition to Lucky Dragon, it housed a dollar store, a pizzeria, a grocery store specializing in dismally standard produce, an insurance office and two vacant shops, the front window of one of them still touting the hottest video releases of 2009. Lucky Dragon stood at the very end of this row of shops, at the corner facing the smaller and less trafficked street flanking the shopping center. On that side of the street there were no houses behind the shopping center for another fifty yards. Directly across Penning Road from the center was a large house that had three For Sale signs on it. Carson noted that he had chosen the Dragon because of its inviting location. He seemed to take personal pride in the fact that the large house across the street was empty.
“That fuckin’ house has been empty for God knows how long. Can you imagine what they place must look like inside.”
“An absolute disaster,” Tyler answered as if he was sure of the state of its interior.
Carson nodded sagely. “They’ll probably end up havin’ to tear the whole damn place down. After the rats and roaches abandon it in total disgust.”
Then, just to be sure the look around was not enough, Carson went over the reasons this was a perfect location. “So we won’t have any witnesses next door, and none across the street either. We’re in, we’re out and nobody will have seen anything except the lady at the counter and maybe one of the cooks in the back.”
We’re in?” Tyler suddenly had a disconcerted look on his face. “I thought you said I wouldn’t have to go inside.”
Carson shook his head. “Don’t get all literal on me, dude. I was just bein’ figurative, explainin’ how the whole operation is gonna run. How easy it will be.”
“Oh, okay. I was sort of confused for a moment.”
“So you better get out of that. I don’t need you confused about anything. I got this whole thing planned real nice, real sweet, and you just gotta do everything I’ve been telling you.”
“Sure, sure.”
“Now, I’ve been working on this carefully, for like a few weeks. I’ve been like a regular customer here, even those times I just drove through the lot to make sure everything was goin’ as usual.”
“You’ve been working this whole thing out like that?”
“Oh yeah; I was doin’ a stake-out on the take-out.” Carson then gave a loud laugh at his own lame joke. Tyler, not quite as taken with Carson’s humor, smiled politely.
“I’ve even gone there four times in the last two weeks. You know, to get some dinner supposedly, but really to get a sense of the operation.”
“Is the food good?”
“Is the food good? What fuckin’ difference does that make? I’m not gonna ditch the whole plan just because they make a great Hunan beef.” He breathed to stifle his exasperation. “Okay, the food’s not at all bad. But let’s keep our eyes on the ball, okay, Ty?”
“Yeah, sure. I was just … So you got a good idea how things run there. You sketched out this plan from those visits you made.”
“Exactly, dude. And that’s how I decided to hit them right before closing time Thursday. Thursday is a slower night than Sunday. I mainly went on those two nights. And seein’ that everything was pretty quiet in there late Thursday, I decided that was the best time to drop in and ask them for the money.”
“Also the best time for a big payout?”
“To be honest with ya, I think Sunday night would be better. They seem to do a heavier business on weekends than during the week. But they also get more people coming in just before they close on Sundays. And then there’s another reason.”
“What’s that?”
“Now you’re going to think I’ve gone all soft when you hear this. Sunday nights, they’ve got this young girl who works the counter. Looks like she’s a high school kid. Probably the owner’s daughter or somethin’.”
“She’s Chinese?”
“Yeah, and also pretty young. I think getting’ robbed at gunpoint could be la very traumatic experience for her. The woman up front for the rest of the week is older, like deep middle-age. The girl was probably born here; she speaks perfect English and all, no accent. The older lady talks like she comes from over there. But I don’t think it will be so traumatic for her.”
Tyler merely nodded. He was going to let Carson take the lead on everything connected to this robbery.
Carson looked around the lot, then jabbed a finger in the direction of the grocery store. “Come on, let’s go to the shop and grab a bag of chips or cookies or something. Make it look like we’re not just here casin’ a place for a robbery.”
“Okay; I’m sort of thirsty. Let me get something to drink.” Carson slapped him on the shoulder again and they both climbed out.
Ten minutes later, they were back on the road. Carson had promised to drive Tyler to where he could catch the fast bus right out to the community college where he was taking classes. He had an 11:15 that he couldn’t be late for as the professor was giving an important pre-test review.
They arrived at the bus stop ten minutes early, so Carson leaned back with a relaxed, satisfied look on his face. “So I think we’ve got this one laid out cold.”
“Well, I’m gonna have to take your word on that. I’m an absolute virgin in this area.”
“Hey, dude, I’m no experienced camper myself.”
Tyler suddenly grew as nervous as he had been a few days earlier. “You haven’t done many of these jobs?”
“Many? I haven’t done any job like this before.”
“But I thought were, like, very …”
“Oh, I’ve been bangin’ out on the margins a lot. But that was only shoplifting or breaking and entering. And almost all the breaking- and-enterings was like the two you helped me with – hittin’ parked cars and lightening their burden.”
“That’s all?”
“Oh, I hit one home. But that was an apartment, and I happened to know the guy. So I knew he was on vacation and also knew he was fuckin’ careless, so it was an easy job. But straight-up armed robbery – that’s an entirely different animal entirely.”
“So how do you know … I mean, how do you know everything’s going to run smoothly? If this is your first time?”
“Because I know how these things run, Ty, and I worked things out so careful. Plus, since it was the first time, I intentionally chose to start at the shallow end.”
“Shallow end?”
Carson nodded. “This Chink eatery. Like I said, it’s an easy-in, easy-out operation. Shit, that place is almost sitting there waiting for us to hit them. Ya know what I’m sayin’?
”Yeah. Yeah, I get ya.“
”So we shouldn’t keep them waitin’ too long, right?“
”Right. That’s why we’re making our visit this Thursday.“
”Exactly. And by Friday morning, we start trying to figure out what to do with all our extra cash we got.“
”Yes, indeed." Tyler had been snatching looks out the back window, and now he grabbed his backpack and flung the car door open. “This is my bus coming now. Thanks for the ride. I’ll catch you later.”
“That’s for sure.”

When Thursday arrived Tyler was waiting for Carson outside a Starbucks on State Road. Tucked tightly to his right side was a small bag that held his uniform for the robbery. As he climbed into the car, Carson pointed at the bag.
“Dude, I hope you got your hoodie in that thing.”
Tyler quickly nodded. “That’s one of the things I got in there.”
“Okay. Look, we’ll do our change at that park on the way over. Then all suited up, we head right over to the job. A half an hour from now we’ll be on our way home with a nice haul to take care of.”
“The sooner we’re finished, the happier I am.”
“That’s what I like to hear. So we’re on our way, right?”

At Harris Wechsler Memorial Park, Carson pulled into a small lot towards the back of the hard surface tennis courts. The two young men climbed out and started putting on their robbery garb. Carson first wrapped a brown gaiter around his neck, pulled on his thick, dark grey hoodie, then yanked the gaiter up over his mouth. He turned and faced Tyler full-on. “How do I look?”
Tyler smiled. “Great.”
“I don’t really need it that much, ya know, because they’re Chinese. Ya know how all of them look the same to us. Well, it’s just the same the other way around – we all look the same to them. But we still gotta be like super careful, right. Just in case.” Satisfied with the look, he tugged the gaiter back down to his throat.
“Yeah, I like that.”
“So let’s see your get-up.”
“Right.” Tyler then dug the hoodie out of his bag and pulled it on. His hoodie was even darker in color than Carson’s, something like charcoal. It was also flopping around his arms and waist.
“What, they didn’t have anything in your size?”
“No, I intentionally got it a size too big. Look at this.” He then pulled up the hood and stretched it as far forward as it would go. “This way, you see less of my face.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it now. Good move.” He then pulled his arms against his body. “It’s a good thing that the weather changed. Now it’s cool enough, nobody’s gonna think nothin’ about seeing two guys in hoodies.”
He looked around just to be sure there was no one in the immediate area who might have taken notice of them. Satisfied that they were still all alone in that nook of the park, he tapped Tyler on the shoulder as a reptilian smile slithered across his face. “This is gonna be so fuckin’ cool.”
Tyler nodded. “You know it.”
“Now you know what you’ve gotta do, right?”
“Absolutely. I’m the lookout. I stand outside, just out of sight of the counter lady and make sure no one’s coming around.”
“And if somebody is comin’ around …?”
“I just … you know, I just like tell them that the place is about to close up and they’re not taking any more orders. I tell them that the counter lady asked me to express their apologies, but they just can’t take any more orders.”
“And where do you pass along this helpful information.”
“I … of course, I don’t let them get too close to the place. I wave off any cars or just walk up to the fools and tell them all that bullshit.”
“Okay, you got it. So now we’re ready to move, right. Let’s go and help ourselves to some sweet goodies.”
“Oh, just one other thing, Carse.”
“Yeah, I just thought of this today. What if some people roll up, I tell them all that stuff and they tell me that they ordered some food like fifteen minutes before and said they would pick it up at the shop.”
Carson just shook his head, a reproving look on his face. “Well, you improvise, dude. You come up with somethin’. But make sure it’s believable. Tell them like, the power went out in the kitchen or something and they just weren’t able to fill any more orders. Then recycle that line about how they asked you to stand outside there to inform people of the problem. Say they were really fuckin’ apologetic this time.”
“And if they say they want to check for themselves, just to be sure they didn’t fill their order before things broke down?”
“Well then, you improvise some more. Just make sure no one comes near the fuckin’ place while I’m in there. You got any problem with that?”
“No, no, I guess not.” He stared off at the fence beyond the tennis courts. “Im-pro-vise.” He staggered the enunciation of each syllable, as if were slightly painful to do so.
“Look, dude, you got the easy part of this operation. And probably nothin’s gonna happen anyways. No one’s gonna come by this late. Not on a Thursday. That’s why I chose Thursday. Remember, this is the shallow end.”
“Yeah, right, the shallow end.”
“Hey, Ty, step back a sec and look at the big picture. You’re getting 40% of the honeypot on this. Forty percent for doing probably very little. You stand outside, watch that no one comes while I’m robbin’ the place, and when you see me start out, you hop back into the car, swing it around, pick me up and zoom off. That’s it, and you’ve got yourself forty percent of what I can grab in there.”
Tyler looked a little more relaxed, which brought a slow smile to Carson’s face. He knew he had gotten them over that final hump and won. Now they just had to turn the plan into reality.

As they headed back to the car, Carson tossed the keys to Tyler. “Come on, I want you to make sure you really know to handle this thing. By the time we get to the Chinks’, you’ll feel like it’s your own set of wheels.”

Fifteen minutes later they pulled into the dark end of the shopping center. Carson told Tyler to slow to a crawl and do a wide sweep of the lot. He then nodded for Tyler to get closer to the Lucky Dragon. Seconds later, he shot his left hand up quickly.
“Okay, close enough, close enough. We don’t want them gettin’ all excited, thinkin’ they’ve got some business comin’ their way. This is gonna be a surprise visit, right.”
Tyler gave a muscular nod. “Absolutely.”
“Okay, let’s check out the terrain one more time.” He turned his head far to the right, then to the left. He held his hand up again when he saw some car lights moving along the wider road. When the car streamed on by he lowered his hand and smiled.
“Okay, let’s not keep these Chinks waitin’ any longer. Time for the main event.” Pulling out a Glock Model 19, he turned to Tyler and smiled.
“Nice piece of metal, isn’t it? Sweet as it can get”
“Is it, like, loaded?”
“Of course, it’s like loaded. What good is havin’ a gun with you if it’s not loaded?”
“But you told me no one was gonna get hurt on this thing.”
“Nobody is gonna get hurt. That’s why you bring along a gun. So you can establish right from the start a chain of command: who’s in charge and who takes the orders.”
“But why does it have to be loaded? Can’t you just use the sight of the gun to scare them enough?”
“Exactly what I intend to do, dude. But just in case they don’t think the gun is real, or think I’m not serious, I fire a shot into the floor, or against the counter. Then they shit themselves and go along with whatever we want them to do.” Tyler still seemed unsettled, so Carson added, “You see my point?”
“Okay, I can see that. That’s cool.”
“Damn right, it’s cool. Everything about this plan is cool. Come on, we’re wastin’ enough time here. Before you know it, somebody else might drive in. To order some Chinese, or to rob these fools themselves.”
“Yeah, right; let’s go.”
At that, they both climbed out of the car leaving the motor running, as planned. They first headed straight to the insurance office that had closed almost six hours earlier. Carson signaled that they had to move slowly, like cats stalking a mouse. They passed the vacant shop next to the insurance office. Carson signaled for Tyler to move back a little in the direction of the car. As he did, Carson signaled for him to move to his right, back to his left a little, then a step or two backwards.
“You got a good view now? Both sides.”
Tyler turned to scope out the two streets bordering the parking lot, then into the eatery itself. He nodded confidently.
“Good. Now remember how this goes: I’ll put my arm up like this.” He raised his left arm high. “Then drop it like this. As soon as you see it – and you better see it the second I do it, you run and hop back into the car, swing it around to right here, pick me up and off we go. You got all that?”
“Yes. Got it all. I’m not an idiot.”
“Cool. So let the fun begin.”
Carson took one deep breath, pulled his neck gaiter up to the bridge of his nose, adjusted his hoodie, then moved in long, careful strides towards the front door of the Lucky Dragon. He moved in slowly, his back turned to the counter where the middle-aged Chinese woman was punching out some keys on a calculator. Quickly, he spun around and pointed the gun at the woman. Tyler could see him poking the gun at the lady a second time, apparently for emphasis. He took another stressed look around the area just as a dark Honda CR-V pulled into the parking and came to a stop not far from the Lucky Dragon.

Tyler started scissoring the air with his arms, trying to wave the new arrivals off. Even so, two men squeezed out of the car and took a few steps in Tyler’s direction. The first one out had shoulder-length blonde hair and a scraggly wraparound beard. The other had a shaved head and brisk goatee.
“They’re closed!” Tyler barked. The two men stared at him as if he was speaking a strange language they’d never heard before.
“They’re closed,” he said again. “Something went wrong in the kitchen. A gas leak or something like that. They said it’s real dangerous in there now. Asked me to keep everyone away. Sorry.”
This time, the pair nodded and started to move back in the direction of the Honda. Tyler watched their retreat for just a few seconds before he heard the gunshots. Three of them, in rapid succession. Tyler felt a surge of cold panic course through his body.
His primal instinct was to race back to the car and drive off. But then a streak of clarity flashed in his head; he knew he had to rush to the Dragon to see what had just gone down. Had Carson actually shot that women at the counter, or were those three shots just to scare her and get the cash register open?

As he shoved the door open, Tyler was greeted with a shock: Carson was lying on the floor, clutching his bloody left shoulder. Blood seeped from his hip area as well. A thin, middle-aged Chinese man stood over Carson, his lips twisted as he pointed the gun at the wounded man. Standing to the other side of Carson were two other Asian men – one muscular, the other one corpulent – both very sweaty and wearing aprons. They had matching menacing scowls on their faces. The corpulent man was clutching a gun awkwardly; Tyler recognized it as the one Carson had brought to the robbery.

The Chinese man pointing his gun at Carson turned to Tyler. “What you want in here? Huh?”

“Uhh … I uhm … Hunan beef? With rice … steamed rice.”
“Sorry, chief. Some other time. We just had an incident here. Closed now. Please leave.”

Carson managed to raise his head for just a few moments, looking up at Tyler. As Carson’s gaiter was still half on, Tyler could not see how anguished his features were behind that stretch of cloth. But he did see Carson blink and nod twice with some difficulty. Not really sure what that nod indicated, Tyler readily took it as permission to make a quick exit. He nodded in return. He was already turning towards the door as he spoke. “Okay, okay. I’ll be back. Some other time.” He stepped outside just in time to see the two men from the Honda slowly cruising by in Carson’s car, the long-haired man at the wheel.
Stunned, Tyler stood frozen. The man with the bald pate flashed a gross smile as he waved bye-bye to Tyler. Tyler was able to pry his feet from the ground and start to run towards “his” car only as both vehicles zipped off in different directions. He’d only gotten a few steps in pursuit when the stolen car jounced over the sidewalk and sped off into the darkness.
“Son of a BITCH!” Tyler shouted, before taking a few deep breaths. “That really sucks. You just cannot trust anyone, anywhere, anymore.”
And as the wail of the approaching police car’s siren sliced through the air, Tyler stood staring out into the settled gloom of the night, wondering if there was any way he could swim his way out of this shallow end.