CRAIS: THE TWO MINUTE RULE
Marchenko and Parsons circled the
bank for sixteen minutes, huffing
Krylon Royal Blue Metallic to
regulate the crystal as they worked
up their nut. Marchenko believed
Royal Blue Metallic gave them an
edge in the bank, made them fierce
and wild-eyed, Royal Blue being a
warrior’s color; Parsons just
enjoyed the spacey out-of-body buzz,
like being separated from the world
by an invisible membrane.
Marchenko suddenly slapped the dash, his wide Ukrainian
face purple and furious, and Parsons
knew they were on.
Marchenko screamed, “Let’s get this bitch DONE!”
Parsons jerked the charging bolt on his M4 rifle as
Marchenko swerved their stolen
Corolla into the parking lot.
Parsons set the safety, careful not
to place his finger near the
trigger. It was important not to
fire the weapon until Marchenko gave
the word, Marchenko being the leader
of their little operation, which was
fine by Parsons. Marchenko had made
them both millionaires.
They turned into the parking lot at seven minutes after
three that afternoon, and parked
near the door. They pulled on black
knit ski masks as they had twelve
times before, rapped their gloved
together in a flash of
esprit d corps, now both
shouting in unison like they meant
“Get this bitch DONE!”
They pushed out of the car, the two of them looking
like black bears. Marchenko and
Parsons were both decked out in
matching black fatigues, boots,
gloves, and masks; they wore load
bearing gear over armored vests they
had bought on eBay, with so many
extra magazines for their rifles
bristling from their vests that
their already bloated bodies looked
swollen. Parsons carried a large
nylon bag for the money.
Broad daylight, as obvious as two flies in a bowl of
milk, Marchenko and Parsons
sauntered into the bank like two WWF
wrestlers casually entering the
Parsons never once thought the police might show up or
that they would be caught. The first
couple of times they took over a
bank he had worried, but this was
their thirteenth armed bank robbery,
and robbing banks had turned out to
be the easiest money either of them
had ever made; these banking people,
they flat out just gave you
the money, and security guards were
a thing of the past; banks didn’t
employ rent-a-cops anymore because
the liability costs were too
high—all you had to do was step
through the doors and take what you
When they went inside, a woman in a business suit was
on her way out. She blinked at them
in their black commando gear, then
saw their guns and tried to reverse
course, but Marchenko grabbed her
face, kicked her legs out from under
her, and pushed her down to the
floor. Then he raised his rifle, and
shouted as loud as he could.
“This is a robbery, you muthufuckuhs! We OWN
this fuckin’ bank!”
That being Parsons’ cue, he raked the ceiling with two
horrific bursts from his rifle that
knocked loose ceiling tiles and
shattered three rows of lights.
Shrapnel, debris, and ricochets
spattered the walls and pinged off
desks. Spent casings streamed from
his rifle, tinkling like silverware
at a furious feast. The noise of his
automatic weapons fire was so loud
in the enclosed space that Parsons
never heard the tellers scream.
Their thirteenth bank robbery had officially begun. The
clock was running.
Lynn Phelps, the third woman waiting
in line for a teller, startled at
the sound of the gunfire like
everyone else, then dropped to the
floor. She grabbed the legs of the
woman standing behind her, pulled
her down, then carefully checked the
time. Her Seiko digital showed
three-oh-nine, exactly. Nine minutes
after three. Time would be critical.
Mrs. Phelps, sixty-two years old, was overweight,
dowdy, and a retired Sheriffs deputy
from Riverside, California. She had
moved to Culver City with her new
husband, a retired Los Angeles
police officer named Steven Lee
Phelps, and had been a customer at
this branch for only eight days. She
was unarmed, but would not have
reached for her weapon if she had
been carrying it. Lynn Phelps knew
the two A-holes robbing her bank
were not professionals by the way
they wasted time waving their guns
and cursing rather than getting down
to the business of stealing money.
Professionals would have immediately
grabbed the managers and had the
tellers dump their drawers.
Professionals knew that speed was
life. Professionals would have been
paying attention to the clock. These
A-holes were clearly amateurs.
Worse, they were amateurs who were
armed to the teeth. Professionals
wanted to get out alive; amateurs
would kill you.
Lynn Phelps checked the time again. Three-ten. One
minute had passed, and these two
idiots were still waving their guns.
Marchenko shoved a Latin man into a
counter laden with deposit slips.
The man was short and dark, with
baggy work clothes streaked with
white paint and dust. His hands were
dusty and white, too. Parsons
thought the guy had probably been
installing drywall before he came to
the bank. The poor bastard probably
didn’t speak English, either, but
they didn’t have time for language
Marchenko screamed, “Get your fucking ass DOWN!”
With that, Marchenko butt stroked the guy with his
rifle. The man’s head split and he
slumped onto the counter, but he
didn’t go down, so Marchenko hit him
again, knocking him to the floor.
Marchenko spun away, his voice
furious and his eyes bulging out of
the ski mask.
“Everybody stay on the goddamn floor. Anyone gives us
any shit you better kiss your ass
goodbye. C’mere, you fat cow!”
Parsons’ job was easy. He kept an eye on everyone, and
kept an eye on the door. If new
people walked in, he grabbed them
and shoved them down. If a cop
walked in, he would ace the fucker.
That’s the way it worked. And he
shook down the tellers while
Marchenko went for the key.
Banks kept their cash in two places, the teller drawers
and the cash locker in the vault.
The cash locker was locked, but the
manager had the key.
While Marchenko got the customers on the floor, Parsons
whipped out his nylon bag and
confronted the tellers. It was an
easy mid-afternoon scene: four
tellers, all young Asian and
Middle-Eastern women, and an older
fat broad at a desk behind the
tellers who was probably the
manager. Another banker who was
probably a loan officer or assistant
manager sat at one of the two desks
on the public side of the tellers.
Parsons stalked to the tellers, making his voice fierce
like Marchenko and waving his gun.
His gun scared the shit out of these
“Stand away from the counter! Step back, goddamnit!
Stand up! Don’t get down, fuckin’
bitch! Stand UP!”
One of the tellers, already crying, had dropped to her
knees, the dumb bitch. Parsons
leaned across the counter, jabbing
his gun at her.
“Get up, you stupid bitch!”
Behind him, Marchenko had pulled the desk jockey to his
feet, screaming for the manager.
“Which one of you has the key? Goddamnit, who’s the
manager? I gotta fuckin’ cap your
ass I will!”
The woman at the desk behind the tellers stepped
forward, identifying herself as the
manager. She raised both hands to
show her palms, walking slowly
“You can have the money. We’re not going to resist
Marchenko shoved the one he had down, then stalked
around the pass-through behind the
tellers. While he took care of his
end, Parsons ordered the tellers to
step forward to their stations and
warned them not to trip the alarm
under the counter. He told them to
dump their drawers on their desks
and leave out the fuckin’ dye packs.
He held his rifle in his right hand
and the bag in his left. He ordered
them to put their cash into the bag.
Their hands shook as they did it.
Each and every one of them trembled.
Their fear gave Parsons an erection.
He had a problem with the stupid bitch on the floor.
She wouldn’t get up. She didn’t seem
able to control her legs or even to
hear his commands. He wanted to jump
over the counter and beat the bitch
silly until the next teller offered
to empty her drawer.
Parsons said, “Do it. Come over here and give me the
While the helpful teller was bagging the cash, a man
with short grey hair and weathered
skin entered the bank. Parsons saw
him only because he noticed one of
the tellers looking at the man. When
Parsons glanced over, the man was
already turning to leave.
The rifle jerked up with a life of its own and three
rounds ripped out with a short sharp
brrp. The tellers screamed as
the man wind milled and fell.
Parsons didn’t give it another
thought. He glanced at the people on
the floor to make sure no one was
trying to get up, then turned back
to the tellers.
“Give me the goddamned money.”
The last teller had put her money into his bag when
Marchenko returned from the vault.
His bag bulged large. The real money
was always in the vault.
Parsons said, “We cool?”
Marchenko smiled behind his mask. His bag was heavy
even though he pumped iron.
Marchenko said, “We’re golden.”
Parsons zipped his bag closed. If a dye pack exploded
the money would be ruined, but the
nylon bag would protect him from the
color. Sometimes the dye packs were
on timers, and sometimes they were
on proximity fuses that were
triggered when you left the bank. If
a dye pack went off, the cops would
be looking for anyone wearing
indelible colored ink.
With the money, they stood together, looking back at
the bank and the people on the
Marchenko, as always, shouted his
“Don’t get up, don’t look up. If you look up, I’m gonna
be the last fuckin’ thing you see.”
When he turned for the door, Parsons followed, not even
glancing at the man he had killed,
anxious to get out and get home and
count their money. When they reached
the door, Parsons turned for a last
glance to make sure everyone was
still on the floor, and, like
always, they were—
--because robbing banks was so goddamned easy.
Then he followed Marchenko into the light.
Lynn Phelps checked her watch as the
two robbers stepped out the door. It
was three-eighteen; nine minutes
since the two bozos with their black
costumes and big guns had entered
the bank. Professional bank robbers
knew they had less than two minutes
to make their robbery and get away.
Two minutes was the minimum limit it
took for a bank employee to trigger
a silent alarm, for that alarm to
register at the security firms that
banks hired to monitor such things,
and for the police to respond once
they were notified a robbery was in
progress. Every second past two
minutes increased the odds that a
bank robber would be caught. A
professional would leave a bank when
the clock struck two whether he had
the money or not. Lynn Phelps knew
these guys were amateurs, dicking
around in the bank for nine minutes.
Sooner or later they would get
Lynn Phelps stayed on the floor and waited. The time
clicked over. Ten minutes. She
grunted to herself.
Lynn Phelps did not know for certain what was waiting
outside, but she had a good idea.
Parsons backed out of the bank,
making sure the people they had just
robbed weren’t rushing up behind
them. Backing out, he bumped into
Marchenko, who had stopped only a
few feet from the door when the
amplified voice echoed across the
“Police! Do not move. Stand absolutely still.”
Parsons absorbed the scene in a heartbeat: Two
nondescript sedans were parked
across the parking lot, and a black
and white police car was blocking
the drive. A beat-up Econoline van
was on the street behind the
black-and-white. Hard-looking men in
plainclothes were set up behind the
vehicles, aiming pistols, shotguns,
and rifles. Two uniformed officers
were at either end of their radio
Parsons said, “Wow.”
He did not feel afraid or any great surprise, though
his heart was pounding. Marchenko
raised his rifle without hesitation
and opened fire. The movement of
Marchenko’s gun was like the okay
sign. Parsons opened up, too. Their
modified M4s operated flawlessly,
hosing out streams of bullets.
Parsons felt light punches in his
stomach, chest, and left thigh, but
barely noticed them. He dumped his
magazine, jammed in another, and
recharged. He swung toward the
black-and-white, rattled off a
stream, then swung back toward the
nondescript sedans as Marchenko
fell. Marchenko didn’t stagger or
spin or any of that; he dropped like
a puppet with cut strings.
Parsons wasn’t sure where to go or what to do except
keep shooting. He stepped over
Marchenko's body, then saw that one
of the men behind the blank sedans
had a rifle very much like his own.
Parsons lined up, but not quite in
time. Bullets snapped through his
vest and staggered him. The world
was suddenly gray and hazy, and his
head buzzed with a feeling far
different than the Royal Blue
Metallic. Parsons didn’t know it,
but his right lung had been
destroyed and his right aorta had
burst. He sat down hard on his ass
but did not feel the impact. He
slumped backwards, but did not feel
his head strike the concrete. He
realized that all of it had gone
terribly wrong, but he still did not
believe he was dying.
Shapes and shadows floated above him, but he did not
know what they were and did not
care. Parsons thought about the
money as his abdominal cavity filled
with his own blood and his blood
pressure dropped. His last thoughts
were of the money, the cash, all
those perfect green bills they had
stolen and stashed, each dollar a
wish and a fantasy, millions of
unfulfilled wishes that were beyond
his reach and moving farther away.
Parsons had always known that
robbing banks was wrong, but he had
enjoyed it. Marchenko had made them
rich. And they had been rich.
Parsons saw their money.
It was waiting for them.
Then Parsons went into cardiac arrest, his breathing
stopped, and only then did his
dreams of the money vanish on the
hot bright street in Los Angeles.
Long past their two minutes, Parsons and Marchenko had
run out of time.
© 2006 by Robert Crais