Friday, March 07, 2008

Lunchtime Heist

Something didn't look right. There he was on his hands and knees in the corner next to the ATM ten feet inside the burger joint. It gave you a little pause but you thought you'd proceed regardless. Someone at the front table was muttering something to him, the sounds lost amidst his chewing. Your bag got stuck in the doorway and, by the time you got unstuck, he had gotten up, turned around and was now facing you as you entered. 2:15 was later than normal for you, the upside was that you had missed the lunchtime rush: the place was a little empty.

For whatever reason you looked him up and down and took in the rest slowly. It didn't feel right. A gray hat haphazardly lay atop his head. A jacket: not quite a technician's jacket, nor even a UPS jacket, more like a fashion piece. You looked downwards as he stepped towards you. His hand brought up a bag from behind, he was gripping it tightly. You'd seen the money bags that the couriers use - this was the financial district after all, you see the couriers all over downtown San Francisco. This wasn't a regular bag. Puzzling.

And of course there was the sheepish grin that he was sporting. That definitely looked out of place. No gun that you could see... Still you dismissed your impulse to tackle him. "Whatever, you're imagining things." You walked past him towards the counter. He nodded imperceptibly as you crossed - still smiling you noted, and began to walk out.

As you made your way to the front counter, you continued to put it all together. "Must be missing something. Didn't look like a technician, nor a armored car courier... Surely he won't walk out of here just like that. Wasn't holding a gun, but could he? Why the smile? Anyway let me order."

Just in case, you tried to fix his features in your memory, late forties, brown hair beginning to gray, white guy, looked a little like Chevy Chase. You wondered if you'd make a good witness.

"May I take your order please."
"The special. No drinks... Hmm..."

You figured you should vocalize something about your disquiet. "Umm ... The guy..", you gesture. "Umm, the ATM.. the machine. Umm"

You turned and looked back to the front of the restaurant and noticed that the guy had indeed walked out. Oh well. Then the clincher: the ATM didn't quite look right. You turn towards the server and begin again: "Umm... The guy..."

Someone appeared by your side, impatient and loudly put the words out there:

"You know that someone just robbed your ATM machine."

That's it, that's what didn't look right. The bottom half of the ATM had swung out into the lane. The cheek of it, he even left the door open. You gesture. The newcomer repeated his words:

"You know that someone just robbed your ATM machine."

The woman taking your order was a little perplexed at first - perhaps it was the language barrier. She was also a little annoyed. The two men in front of her were departing from her script. You remained tongue-tied but Citizen Alert proceeded to spew out the details. Eventually, as he got no response, he asked, "Call the manager." She gestured to the manager and the other servers and grunted a name. Then:

"May I help who's next?"

You never quite liked that awkward formulation, surely she could have said "whoever's next" but the grammar pedant in you, let alone the intrigued potential crime witness, decided to step aside. Your order would be ready in a few minutes.


You shuffled to the side and turned to look again at the front of the restaurant. Those now entering the restaurant all raised their eyebrows as they passed the evidently-open ATM. An alarming sight you assumed. You'd never seen the inside of an ATM before - well perhaps on the way out. A few diners started pointing towards the ATM but on the whole, there there was a lot of apathy in this joint. Perhaps it was the time of day, perhaps everyone needed a siesta. Or maybe it was just the nature of the place. Lee's is a tad above a McDonalds but it isn't quite a gourmet Barneys. Well you get what you pay for. You decided to take things in.

The manager eventually sauntered out from behind the counter and walked towards the front, chatting all the time on his cell phone. The newcomer accosted him, as did a few others: amplifying and explaining their consternation. The manager didn't seem impressed and continued his phone conversation. Minutes passed and a little group formed around the ATM bending down and examining it. One guy kept saying "ATM machine" and this again bothered you: you thought "machine" was redundant given the acronym. Eventually someone decided to call the police.

Your order arrived, you picked it up, thanked the server and walked over to the gathering at the front. You wanted to get a look at the ATM. Well, who knew?

You wondered how the robber managed to open the ATM and how long he'd been fiddling with it. Did he have a key or tools?

You heard someone say "He must have been a technician."

At that you smiled and shook your head. You said to no one in particular, "He just walked out with a bag of money and left the ATM open! Come on now."

You wondered how many other joints the robber would be targeting. It was a pretty brazen heist but it worked. The managers would be like the present one - unconcerned since the ATM had nothing to do with them. The clientèle would likely be as lethargic as today's version and, well, no one would be a hero. Indeed you were one of the few people who noticed anything anomalous or could have even attempted to stop it. Of course you didn't, proving the point.

You wrote your name and number on a sheet of paper and gave it to the manager in case the police cared - you didn't have time to hang around for them. Four or five others claimed to have gotten a good look at the guy and they all looked excited about their brush with notoriety. As you reached the office a few blocks away you started to hear the sirens.

You've been hibernating for the past few months; perhaps you too have been behaving like everyone in the restaurant: quiet and simply minding your own business. You need to get back into things, find your voice again. Don't let others just walk all over you and snatch your soul. Come on now.

You passed by the joint the next day and noticed that the ATM was no longer there. You kicked yourself for not having photographed the open ATM. You went to another lunch place. The sign was still outside however: ATM inside.

Soundtrack for this note

Nas - Thief's Theme File under: , , , , , , ,