Published on Friday, June 8, 2012
A Change of Heart
By Paul Peppers
There were only a few people in the bank, which was a good thing Frank decided. He hated the thought of innocent bystanders being hurt or killed. He had learned from experience that Russell didn't care. Russell was a mean son of a bitch and would as soon shoot a man as look at him. Whenever Russell pulled his gun inevitably someone died. Not for the first time Frank wished he'd never hooked up with the men he now rode with. The move from farm boy to criminal had happened so fast that he was on the outlaw trail before he'd realized it.
An old lady was talking to one of the bank tellers through a barred window. She was a gray-haired old woman and though her dress was old and worn, it was also neat and clean. She reminded Frank of his own momma. With the thought, he felt a pang of homesickness. She noticed him looking her way and smiled. "Good afternoon young man," she said in a tremulous voice, looking at him over the top of her spectacles.
"Uh, afternoon ma'm," he said tipping his hat. He looked away quickly and walked slowly by. He felt the old woman's gaze on his back, and suddenly self-conscious, he wondered what she thought of him. He rubbed a hand across his chin feeling the stiff blonde whiskers. He was overdue for a shave. His clothes were dirty, his boots were down at heel, and he had not bathed in a week. Surely she thought he was a bum-and that's if she was feeling charitable. What else could she think? Maybe she felt sorry for him. Had he detected a note of sadness in her look? Distracted, he rested one hand on the pistol holstered at his side. The gun was clean and well kept- the only thing of value that Frank owned. He glanced at the old woman again. Frank harbored no allusions about himself-he was a thief but not yet a murderer.
At one time he had looked up to Russell and the other outlaws, but he had soon learned the truth of their big talk. Russell had killed his first man at fifteen; a drunk he murdered outside a saloon in Dallas. Russell had laughed when he described how the man's brains had splattered.
He noticed that Russell was also watching him and with a questioning eye. He knew that he was worrying the other man. He was supposed to stay close to the guard, but the old lady had distracted him. "What the hell is wrong with me?" he asked himself. Maybe it had been a mistake for him to volunteer to work the inside on this job.
"Young man, oh- young man."
Frank turned to find himself face-to-face with the white-haired old lady. She was holding a couple of ones and a few coins in her fragile, porcelain white hands. She smiled and held out a wilted greenback toward him.
"Oh, no ma'm!" Frank said, stunned by the gesture. "I can't take your money." He realized that his words were meaningless. After all, they were planning on taking all of the money. His face reddened with shame.
"Don't you worry," she said. "And don't you be embarrassed, either. There ain't no shame in being needy. Now here you..."
Frank glanced over the old lady's head just as Russell un-holstered his revolver.
"Russell!" Frank yelled urgently. "Russell!" His yell jarred through all of the other sounds in the room.
Holding the pistol ready, Russell darted looks around nervously.
Frank stepped past the lady, placing his body between her and the other man. "We're leaving, Russell," he heard himself say.
"Have you lost your damn mind boy?" Russell hissed. "We come to do a job, and we ain't leaving here til we get it done."
"We are leaving now!" Frank yelled angrily. He couldn't do it, just couldn't let it happen. He couldn't let the damn animal start shooting-not now. Frank did the only thing that he could think of-pulled his gun. He would have to shoot Russell. The other man must have read Frank's intention on his face. Before he could bring the weapon level, the other man fired. The forty-four round hammered into his shoulder, almost knocking him off his feet, and time slowed to a crawl. Finally-slowly-he had the gun up and pointed at Russell, and the weapon bucked in his hand as he fired. A hot stab of pain shot through him as another bullet struck, but he managed to fire the gun again.
Frank found himself sitting on the floor. He thought it strange because he didn't remember sitting down. Across from him, Russell lay sprawled lifeless on the bank floor- blood streaming from a ragged hole where his ear once had been. Frank tried to rise, but his body would no longer respond to his wishes. He wanted to holster his gun, but it stubbornly remained resting in his limp hand. His momma leaned over him with tears in her eyes. For some reason she held a dollar bill in her hand, and it reminded him of a bible passage she had once read to him: And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And He called his disciples to him, and said to them, "Truly I say to you, that this poor widow has cast more in, than all they who have cast into the treasury: for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living".
Paul Peppers is a diesel mechanic in Cartersville Georgia. He has an Associate of Applied Science Degree from Coosa Vally Technical college and is fifty-three years old.