Travick and Bishop were the first to enter through the double glass doors that led into the lobby of the bank. Cornwell and I were right behind them. I was the last set of eyes to look behind us as we went in, to make certain nobody was following or pulling into the bank’s parking lot. That was my role at that point. We each had our roles throughout the entire process and those roles had been well rehearsed, in practice and in previous jobs. We were well-trained. We were a well-oiled machine.
Once in, we exploded into action, taking control of our assigned areas which, in turn, gave us control of the bank. I remained at the door, clicking the stopwatch. We gave ourselves one minute and ten seconds. Bishop covered the lobby area. Travick directed the manager to the vault and Cornwell directed the head teller to the ATM room. Our efficiency was what had made us so damn successful. For sheer speed, of course, but also because it gave us an aura of professionalism. We weren’t crazed, desperate criminals. The people in the bank could sense we were competent and experienced. It made it easy for them to cooperate. They knew we were there to take care of business and get the hell out. No fuss, no muss, and nobody gets hurt.
In no time, we had two large duffel bags full of money and another bag with four ATM canisters.
“Thirty seconds!” I called out.
“Where’s the Federal Reserve money?” Travick asked the manager.
“In the receiving safe. Behind the counter.”
The Federal Reserve money. That’s why we were there, really. That’s why we’d all decided to do just one more job. After this, we’d retire rich. The money was there because it was January 3, 2000, the first banking day of the new year. Banks were flush with cash because that particular year was the year of the Y2K scare. There was a fear that computers wouldn’t understand the rollover from “1999” to “2000.” Years, in programming code, had been abbreviated to two digits. Zero would follow ninety-nine. This would essentially shut computers down. Computer techs worldwide had scrambled for months leading up to January 1st to fix the inherent glitch, but there was still a concern. If something went wrong, banks were afraid there’d be a panic. Just in case, they’d made sure they had plenty of cash on hand. First Union in the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn was no different. That’s why we were there.
Travick went behind the counter to retrieve the Federal Reserve money. Going behind the counter was a no-no. We’d never done it before. The area is visible to anyone in the drive-through lane outside. But the promise of the payoff was too great. Going behind the counter would become a metaphor for the entire operation that day. The payoff of this final job was too great. The risk was worth it.
I glanced at the stopwatch. “Time!” I called out. But Travick was behind the counter and, so far, nobody had pulled behind the building. If he was quick, we’d be out of the bank in another fifteen seconds tops.
But then it happened. A car slowly circled through the lane. The driver pulled up to the window and looked in to see Travick standing there wearing a mask. He drove off. How he found a cop so fast, I will never know. Travick was going back to the vault with the manager to get the keys for the safe behind the counter. It could only have been a few seconds, but that was all it took. I first saw the cop walking down a small, grass hill on the far side of the parking lot. Looking through the floor-to-ceiling lobby windows, he had a clear view. Our eyes locked and I saw him talking into his radio.
“Five-O!” I yelled. Everyone froze. The officer was walking around the building, looking into the windows to get a better handle on the situation he had suddenly found himself confronted with. For a brief second, he slipped behind a solid wall and all four of us made for the front door. Pulling off our masks, Cornwell and I made it to the car, parked right outside the bank, and dove into the backseat. Travick and Bishop came through the door just as the cop was coming around the front of the building. With their masks off, they gestured towards the bank, as if to say to the officer, “That’s where the bank robbers are.” The officer wasn’t buying. Travick and Cornwell jumped into the car, Travick at the wheel. He threw it into reverse, yelling for us to stay down. From the floor of the backseat, I could see him pull out his gun and point it out of the window. Then he floored the car forward, tires squealing.
What I couldn’t see at the time was that police backup had arrived in the form of a female officer who parked her car directly in our path. She’d taken a position behind her open driver’s side door and pulled out her service revolver. From the backseat, I heard shots fired. Travick rammed the car door, sending the officer to the pavement. Later, I learned she escaped with only a broken hand.
Travick was a good driver. I’d certainly had my issues with him, but I could never deny that he was the right guy behind the wheel. In no time, we were flying down Lawrenceville Highway and for a brief moment, I felt relief, as if we’d once again gotten away. We’d had close calls before, but none like this. But as quickly as the feeling of relief came, it just as quickly evaporated when I heard the sound of sirens behind us. There’d been no time to switch vehicles, as had been our procedure. By then, I was sure that every cop and law enforcement agency within a hundred miles had been notified and given a description of our car.
Travick couldn’t shake the pursuit cars and he rammed a few civilian cars in front of us, hoping to create a small crash that would clog the road behind us. He managed to nudge a van, causing it to turn right into the path of the cops, then he took a hard right turn from the left lane, causing the cars behind us to slam on their brakes and bring the ensuing traffic to a halt. Now we were on Rockbridge Road and apparently in the clear. My feeling of relief returned.
Rockbridge was a long winding road lined on both sides by tall trees. It felt safe. The goal was to make for the woods. We needed cover from the air. We knew that we had only minutes before the inevitable helicopter “eye in the sky” would find us and there could be no escape from that point.
Another gun shot. No, it couldn’t be. I hadn’t heard any sirens.
“Blow out!” Travick yelled, gripping the steering wheel and trying to control the car, now down to three good tires. The car grinded to a crawl and as I heard the metal on asphalt and smelled the burning of rubber, I felt as if I was in that dream where you’re trying to run but everything you do is in slow motion. I looked out of the back window and saw flashing lights approaching fast. It was time to bail. There was a main road ahead, with fast food joints and drugstores and gas stations. If we could reach it on foot, maybe we could blend in with the good people of Atlanta and the cops might drive right past us.
But then I saw flashing lights up ahead. The cops were closing in from both sides now. Travick wrestled with the steering wheel, veering the car towards the trees where it came to a stop against an embankment.
“Split up!” somebody yelled. “Two and two!” Travick and Cornwell went left. Bishop and I went right. We sprinted for the grove of trees. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the patrol cars coming upon us. I could hear their sirens, then I could hear the screech of brakes and car doors flying open.
I was almost to the trees. Two shots rang out from behind me. These guys weren’t letting us go. Did they know we were the infamous Morning Glory Boys? They must have. The FBI had been chasing us for almost a decade. The papers would say we robbed more banks than Bonnie and Clyde. We took a hell of a lot more money, too. Over three million dollars. They had to know it was us. Taking us alive would be preferable, but I’m pretty sure they’d have no qualms about taking us dead if they needed to. We’d been a thorn in their sides for way too long.
It was no wonder that over the years they hadn’t been able to track us down. All our pre-planning and training made us elusive. But there was something else, too. We didn’t fit the profile. None of us. We’d had no criminal records. I’d never been arrested. Outside of a traffic infraction here and there, I wasn’t even in the system. The robberies were all around Atlanta, but I was living a respectable life in Florida. I had a wife and son. A college graduate, I was a successful event promoter, recently working as Assistant Director of the Orange Bowl in Miami. I was an upstanding citizen. I made good money and had a life others would envy. Not by anybody’s definition would I have been considered a likely bank robber. Nobody would have guessed it in a million years. Not my friends. Not even my wife.
And yet there I was, almost to the trees on Rockbridge Road, shots flying around me. How in God’s name did I get there? Later, I’d have plenty of time to think about that. To think about the life that I’d carved out for myself in Florida. To think of why I’d left it all behind. And to curse myself for that. To curse my need for more. I’d had it all. But all hadn’t nearly been enough.