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Robert Crais

The Two Minute Rule

Dedicated to the memory of

Detective Terry Melancon, Jr.

Baton Rouge Police Department

August 10, 2005

Hero.

“Thank you, Mr. Policeman.”

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many people helped with the research and writing of this novel and must be thanked.

In the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, Supervisory Special Agent John H. McEachern (boss of the L.A. Field Office’s legendary Bank Squad) and Special Agent Laura Eimiller (FBI Press and Public Relations) were generous with their time and patient with my questions. Errors and purposeful alterations in description and procedure are my responsibility.

Assistant United States Attorney Garth Hire of the Los Angeles AUSA office was similarly helpful in the matters of federal sentencing guidelines and federal incarceration, and by pointing the way toward additional research in these areas. Again, the inconsistencies between actual fact and what is depicted in this novel are my responsibility.

Former Special Agent Gerald Petievich of the United States Secret Service provided facts and history about the Hollywood Sign and Mount Lee, as well as additional insights into criminal behavior.

Christina Ruano counseled me regarding all things Latin-from East L.A. locations to gang lore and language, as well as providing engineering information about the Los Angeles River channel and downtown bridges.

Finally, special thanks and appreciation must be extended to my editor, Marysue Rucci, who worked with insight and diligence to help me realize the innate integrity of Max Holman.

PROLOGUE

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 was careful not to place his finger on 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 fists together in a flash of esprit de corps, now both shouting in unison like they meant it-

“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 ring.

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 wanted.

As they entered the bank, a woman in a business suit was on her way out. She blinked at them in their black commando gear and guns, and she 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 muthuhfuckuhs! 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 weapon’s 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 sheriff’s deputy from Riverside, California. She had moved to Culver City with her new husband, a retired Los Angeles police officer named Steven Earl 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. 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. Amateurs.

Marchenko shoved a Latino 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 lessons.

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

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