Levison, Iain

How to rob an armored car

Copyright © 2009 by lain Levison

For Samantha


MITCH WAS WATCHING a forty-two-inch plasma TV when the woman came up behind him. She was pretty but rough looking, hippieish, with long hair falling all around what appeared to be a brown bedsheet. He had been staring at the $1,799 price tag on the TV, knowing he would never own it, not at what they paid him to manage at the Accu-mart. He would never own it unless he stole it, and he was wondering where they kept the inventory sheets for the high-end electronics.

“Hi,” she said, her tone not friendly but brusque, as if the salutation was a military call to look alert.

Mitch turned slowly from the TV. “How can I help you?”

“Are you a manager?”

Oh, Christ. One of the employees had pissed her off. It could have been any of them; none of them gave a shit. Any of them but Charles, the Nigerian, whom Mitch had just sent on a mission to buy an eighth of kind bud while still on the clock.

“I am.”

“I read that all your clothes are made by political prisoners in China. Is that true?”

She had an angelic smile on her face while she asked it, but she had really come looking for a fight. She was holding a candle she was going to buy, and she had to be feeling bad about coming to a superstore, a huge corporate conglomerate, to buy a cheap candle, and now she felt the need to pick a fight with a manager to make herself feel better. This way, when she told her hippie friends where she got the candle, she could also add the story of how she had argued with one of the corporate henchmen, which made her a supporter of the little guy and a friend of the environment, rather than a cheap bitch who needed a candle and was too lazy to make one herself, like the Earth child she was posing as would do.

“You’ll have to ask in Clothing,” Mitch said.

This happened once a week. Accu-mart was not a store with good media coverage. Every time one opened, there were protests. They were exploiting Third World laborers, they were building huge parking lots which caused a runoff of dirt and oil to enter the water supply, and they were underpaying their employees. That last one was true enough, Mitch knew. But people needed cheap shit, so the stores were always packed. If people really wanted Accu-mart to go away, they could just stop shopping there, a rule which applied to the candle-toting hippie bitch who was trying to pick a fight.

“Nice candle,” he added pleasantly.

She put the candle down on a TV set, as if she had never intended to buy it, had just been carrying it around in case the lights went out. “That’s how you can sell them so cheap, isn’t it? You don’t pay the people who make them for their labor.”

“Ma’am, I really have no idea. This stuff just comes in on a truck.”

“Well don’t you wonder where it came from? Who made it? Because they’re paying your salary, you know.”

“Yeah, they are,” said Mitch. These issues had been addressed in the training video, and Mitch knew what he was supposed to say. Growing global economy, market forces, people being offered jobs and earning money, as opposed to not working and earning no money, blah blah blah. The corporate response sounded hollow even to him, and he didn’t care. “If someone is making money off these people, it ain’t me.”

She stared at him.

“Lady,” he said, tired, forgetting his script. “What do you want from me? Why don’t you go over to the coffee shop and say something to them? You think coffee pickers in Colombia make any money? How about the people who make your car tires?” It was burbling forth, all the stuff he thought about while he restocked floor mats and air fresheners and added up time cards. He knew it would only be a few seconds before he started casually using the word fuck, which certainly hadn’t been in the training video, and then he would be back on the unemployment line and his half-assed health insurance would be gone and he would be cooking at the restaurant with his roommate, Doug. He took a deep breath, stopped himself, and stared at her blankly.

“You people,” she said, marveling at Mitch’s insensitivity. “You know, that parking lot used to be a forest.” This was clearly a first-time argument for her, and she had retreated to the forest issue quickly. They usually put up a little more of a fight before they started rambling about woodland creatures and the purity of streams. “The runoff is going into the streams and poisoning our drinking water.” She turned to leave.

“It hasn’t been a forest since the First World War,” said Mitch, levelheaded now, reciting the videotaped speech word for word. “Before we paved it over, it was a dirt field used as a junkyard by the Mulgrave Scrap Metal Company.” But he was talking to her back now, and she was waving him off as she walked away. She turned the corner and went back toward housewares, probably to get another candle.

He turned his attention back to the TV, which was showing a commercial for an acid reducer. High definition, baby. He could see the pores in the actress’s face. It was like someone with an acidy stomach was actually in the room with him. If he owned that TV, could life get any better?


MITCHELL ALDEN HAD been born with a number of gifts, but overshadowing them all was the Curse of Poor Decision Making. It was genetic. He remembered sitting in the kitchen in the house where he grew up in Queens, listening to his father talking to his business partner, who wanted to get out of the indoor air-cleaning business and invest in computers. “Dammit, I don’t know how long this computer fad is going to last,” he remembered his dad saying, trying to talk his partner into staying with selling Smoke-Eeters. “But as long as I’m alive, people will be smoking in bars in New York City.”

These words turned out to be true. Mitch’s dad died on the Long Island Expressway, six weeks before the ban on smoking in New York City bars went into effect, because of another error of judgment, this one involving a tractor trailer’s stopping distance. Mitch carried on the family tradition by joining the army and getting kicked out six weeks later for failing a drug test, then going to community college and majoring in English.

Upon graduating with an associate’s degree, Mitch was fired up to start the career for which community college had best prepared him, which was selling kind bud for a Canadian smuggler he had met while in jail for his second DUI. But the smuggler disappeared and was never heard from again, and standing in the parking lot of the Wilton Community College, the mortarboard tucked under his arm and the tenth call to the smuggler going unanswered on his cell phone, Mitch looked around and saw the sign at the college job fair:


Fuck it, he thought. What else am I gonna do?


MITCH DIDN’T LOVE Accu-mart, but he didn’t hate it as much as he had expected to. He thought he’d cash the first two paychecks from the training program and then find a job bartending somewhere until he could hook up with a new pot contact, but soon realized that, despite its claims to the contrary, Accu-mart expected very little of him. The term manager was really just an excuse not to pay him overtime, because he was rarely required to make a decision, and when he did, it was scrutinized and double-checked by everyone at the store who outranked him. The training manual had flattered him by pointing out that he had been selected from a huge pool of available talent, (though Mitch had noticed that no one he had seen filling out an application at the community college job fair was not also present on the first day of training) and the hiring gurus had claimed that they found him to be the one of the bright lights of his generation. Then, perhaps blinded by the glow of his brilliance, they stuck him back in the car accessories department to rot. A few hours of inventory control and some restocking here and there,

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