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Power Lines Excerpt

Chapter 1
Annandale, Virginia, 1979





Eddie checked his watch, though its dial only confirmed what he knew—he was ten minutes early and he still had time to run. But running wasn’t in his nature, even though part of him knew Farrell and Duane were going to get caught. They’d spend the money someplace they shouldn’t, or they’d brag about their haul, and one thing would lead to another. Another part of him wanted to see Atkins know what it felt like to be taken and have there be nothing he could do about it. And beyond getting even with Atkins, the last part of him wanted—needed—the money, the actual cash and the rush that came with the getting.


Eddie heard tires crunching in the gravel before he saw an Olds 442 round the corner, with Farrell behind the wheel. He stopped ten feet in front of Eddie, to make him walk. Before he took one step, he smelled gasoline. Farrell got out of the car, but left it running. He wore aviator sunglasses that mirrored the woods beyond the service road and a headband that gave him the Hendrix-at-Woodstock look, but his expression seemed empty of feeling.


Farrell slipped onto the bench seat in the back before Eddie reached the car. Instead of getting in, he pulled the release under the dash and popped the hood. The engine ran smoothly, but the smell of gasoline was strong. He looked at the hoses emerging from the carburetor and couldn’t see any obvious leaks.


“Eddie, come on.”


He ignored Duane and grabbed the linkage coming off the carb, revving the engine. One of the fuel lines buckled, and Eddie bent it until he saw the crack, gasoline dripping down its length. He shook his head, wondering what it was about these two that prevented them from finding him a decent car to drive.


He shut the hood and got in, tucking the can of starting fluid that was in his back pocket between the seats.


“You want to tune it up before we go?” Farrell said.


Eddie looked in the rearview mirror before turning to Duane. “Fuel line’s split,” he said. “But it will get us there and back.”


“What’s this for?” Duane held up the can of starting fluid for Farrell to see.


“Don’t want any surprises. Like last time.”


“Little Man thinks of everything.”


He looked in the mirror again. Farrell had taken off his sunglasses, and Eddie saw that his pupils were pinpricks. Duane’s were the same. He drove forward until he came to a clearing big enough for him to turn the car around. Eddie watched Duane remove the magazine from his pistol and slam it home. He heard Farrell rack the shotgun, the sound focusing Eddie’s mind.


At the entrance to the park he jumped the car through a gap in traffic, the sudden acceleration pinning Duane and Farrell to their seats, the smell of gasoline stronger now. Eddie didn’t care because the car moved the way he wanted it to. At least Farrell and Duane had gotten that part right.


The Olds idled in sight of the S&L.


“There he is,” Duane said. “Just like you’d said he’d be.”


Standing by the front window of Town and Country Savings and Loan was a man wearing a shirt and tie, no jacket, sleeves rolled up.


“Atkins’s safe deposit box is in the back,” Eddie said. “He’ll have the key on him.”


“I’ll keep the rest of them away from you,” Farrell said to Duane.


“Get in, get out, go,” Duane said, repeating the words he’d been uttering like a mantra. Eddie was going to drive them to Duane’s car, which was parked on Whispering Lane. They’d abandon the Olds there, and drop Eddie off at his own car, which was parked on one of the side streets off Gallows Road. They planned to meet that night and give Eddie his share, before they all went their separate ways.


Eddie didn’t much like Duane’s plan—not because he thought they’d stiff him, although that was a distinct possibility—but because that neighborhood by Lake Barcroft had too many dead ends and streets that circled back on themselves. Cops could cut them off easily, and then what? If Farrell and Duane wanted to shoot it out with the police, that was on them. Eddie would have hit the highway, just one more car in the left lane doing ten over, nothing to make them stand out. But they hadn’t asked him.


Atkins turned, so that his back was to the window, and raised his arms like a preacher.


“I’ll make sure to put the fear of god in him,” Farrell said.


Eddie looked over his shoulder as Farrell wiped the barrel of the shotgun with an old T-shirt. He tossed the T-shirt into the canvas bag he carried the shotgun in. Its leather handles were wrapped in silver duct tape, the tape seams worn smooth.


Eddie looked at the S&L again. Atkins must have finished his sermon because the window was empty. Duane pulled on a ski mask, smoothing it over his blocky features, until he didn’t look human anymore.


“You ready, Farrell?” he said.


“I was born ready.”


Eddie glanced in the mirror at Farrell, whose mask matched Duane’s.


“Get in, get out, go.” Duane reached for the door handle.


“Let’s rock and roll,” Farrell said, already climbing forward as Duane slipped from the car. As soon as they were both out, Eddie pulled out of the parking space and coasted, Duane and Farrell hidden as they crouched by the side of the car. When Eddie came to the end of the parking lot, they broke for the bank, Duane in front, a folded garbage bag for the cash sticking out of his pants pocket, Farrell behind, holding the shotgun with both hands and swiveling the barrel as he ran.


It was a few minutes after ten, and the stores in the strip mall were starting to open. In the parking lot were a handful of cars by the Giant adjacent to the S&L. Eddie backed the car into a spot and left the engine running. The windows were down, and he rested his elbows on the door frame, just another guy waiting for his girlfriend to finish shopping. He slipped on Farrell’s sunglasses and the world went cool, the bright spring sunshine turning to twilight.


Light flashed inside the bank, followed instantly by a muffled explosion, and he knew Farrell had fired the shotgun. Eddie depressed the clutch and put the car into first. If Farrell had killed someone, it was all over for the three of them. Tellers crossed the main window of the S&L, moving quickly like characters in the silent film he’d watched one night with Tina. Eddie turned, checking to see if anyone had heard the gun go off.


When he faced the S&L again, Duane came through the door, his pistol aimed behind him, the now full garbage bag clutched in his other hand. Farrell followed, his mask off, revealing crooked teeth behind a sneer. A woman pushing a shopping cart to her car screamed and held up her hands, letting the cart roll forward across Duane’s path. As he shoved it out of the way, Farrell crashed into him and Duane tripped, the garbage bag trapped underneath him where he fell.


Eddie threaded the car through a pair of empty parking spaces, seeing a clear path to Duane and Farrell. He heard a shot, the sound like an M-80 exploding in a garbage can. Farrell’s knees buckled and his grin went slack, the shotgun hitting the ground before he did. Atkins stood in the doorway to the S&L, both hands gripping a pistol.


Duane yelled and fired at Atkins until he ducked out of the doorway. He leaned close to Farrell, who looked like he was trying to speak. Duane grabbed Farrell’s shotgun and started to run.


Eddie pushed open the passenger-side door as he cut the wheel. Duane slid inside, slamming the door as Eddie stomped on the gas. The car bottomed out on the parking lot apron, but he kept his grip tight on the steering wheel as he turned right onto Columbia Pike, the sounds of car horns and skidding tires barely registering.


The tach redlined, and Eddie shifted into third, Mason District Park going by in a blur, the light at Sleepy Hollow Road turning red, the cars in front of him slowing. He cut the wheel hard left, pushing the car across the concrete median, the impact sending a hubcap spinning down the road. He headed the wrong way through the intersection, downshifting to punch the car through a gap in left-turning traffic, before heading the right way again on Columbia Pike. Each time he’d accelerated, the smell of gasoline grew stronger, and Eddie worried the fuel line would burst, leaving them dead in the water.


As they crested a rise, he thought they had a chance, that hope lasting until he saw police cars coming the other way toward them.


“You get me out of this, Eddie, we split fifty-fifty.”


No shit, Eddie thought.


In answer, he cut the wheel hard left onto Whispering Lane. There were only a handful of ways out of the neighborhood, and all but one led to Columbia Pike. So they weren’t going to make it.


The road broke to the right, and Eddie saw Duane’s car parked ahead.


“Don’t stop,” Duane said, but Eddie was already accelerating.

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