It's funny how life sometimes imitates art.
But in the Gutter, art is a relative term.
But in the Gutter, art is a relative term.
Dead Presidents by Chase Whale
Charlie loves Point Break. I swear he owns 18 copies on VHS. His favorite character is Bodhi because the dude surfs, skydives, and robs banks. A real tough guy. My favorite is Johnny Utah because he’s an honest cop who goes undercover to infiltrate Bodhi’s crew. You’ve seen the movie. Keanu Reeves’ best role.
Last Monday, Charlie had me, Andy, and Lee over for a viewing. After, he gave us each a copy and told us to watch it religiously for a week. Said he was going to quiz us on it. Said it was for a big project he was working on. Nobody thought much of it.
Once the weekend hit, I headed to Charlie’s, as usual. When I got there, Andy and Lee were in the living room laughing their heads off. “What’s so funny?” I asked.
“You’ll…” Andy said with a stupid grin, “Charlie has planned an adventure for us.” Shit. I hate when Charlie has an “adventure for us” planned. It always means trouble.
Relax. Shit. Shit. Shit. Relax. Shit.
Out of the bathroom and into the living room came Charlie. “Hey, President Reagan finally made it.”
“Huh?” I wasn’t following.
“Sit down, man. Did you study the movie like I asked?”
“Of course. Watched it every day.” I lied but have seen it enough to recite every damn line.
A maniacal smile that I’d never seen before split open Charlie’s sun-burnt face. It frightened me. “Awesome,” he said. “Let’s get down to it.”
I pretended to not be entirely lost in translation. The big project became clear when Charlie said these horrifying words: we’re going to rob a bank. A pang of dread lit up inside me.
Now I kn0w why Andy and Lee were laughing their heads off. Those two half-brained goons would do anything for Charlie. I would too…but this? This was foolish.
“I’m not robbing a bank,” I barked. “I don’t even own a gun.”
“I’ve got that covered,” said Charlie with that evil grin. “C’mon, dude. Look how easy it is in Point Break: they execute a well-planned robbery and rack up a fat loot.”
“That’s because it’s fiction,” I hissed. “It’s not real. Also, they all die at the end. ‘Ja forget?”
“Not real? What about Bonnie and Clyde? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? They’re real.”
“Do you know what happened to them?” I snapped back.
Charlie knew I needed convincing. “Yeah, they became legends!” He high-fived Andy and Lee.
I couldn’t say no. Charlie has gotten me out of hot water many times. I owed him. I’m fucked.
Pros. Money. Lots of money. Cons. Arrested and possible death. “All…all right,” I said. “I’ll do it once, that’s it.”
“Yes!” Charlie howled. “Trust me; this is going to be a blast.”
It turns out, the week we were supposed to be watching Point Break on repeat, Charlie was staking out a bank, blueprinting our in and out. Boy, he has a bit of a wild side. There are always stories circulating about him but I’ve never seen it first-hand. I heard three no-goods tried to rob him at a city bus stop once. Word has it Charlie lit them up, plunging his switchblade into any flesh they had to offer. Charlie takes pride in that moment. Nobody has tried to steal from him since.
As Charlie was going over the plan, I knew it wasn’t going to end well. A plan is just a list of things that never happen. Especially in Charlie’s world. He may feel invincible, but he’s got a death wish.
We met up at noon, as planned. Charlie showed up with two large bags: one empty and the other containing three small guns and one giant shotgun.
“I’m taking the shotgun,” Charlie said. “You three can fight over the rest.”
I grabbed what was left from the pile.
Charlie managed to get the infamous president masks from the movie, which kind of impressed me. He tossed one at each of us. “Andy, you’re Nixon.” Andy laughed and threw up peace signs. “Lee, you’re Carter; I’ll be Johnson. And here’s yours,” Charlie said, tossing a mask at me. Ronald Reagan. Great, I thought, the president who got popped in real life.
“Let’s go over the plan one more time,” Charlie yapped.
My anxiety was on fire.
Charlie put the plan in motion and we followed. Into the bank we went.
“Everybody freeze!” Charlie wailed. “This is a robbery!” Instead of the panic and screaming you see in the movies, everyone turned, looked at us, and then went about their business like we were invisible.
“I said freeze!” Charlie reinforced. He walked up to a bank teller, shoving the customer aside. I followed and tossed the empty bag to the teller. Charlie demanded him to fill it up to the top.
The teller balked. “You can’t be serious,” he said. “What are you, twelve?”
“Thirteen, motherfucker. Vaya con Dios.”
That's all it took. Charlie turned and looked at me. Through that droopy Johnson mask, I could see the madness in his eyes — it cut right through my soul.
And that’s when Charlie pointed the giant shotgun up at the teller and pulled the trigger. Where the man’s head used to be was now red mist. His skull decorated the back wall.
When the 437.5 grains of lead from the slug exploded the man’s head, it felt like the world stopped. You never really think about death until it sprays you right in the face.
Once the panic set in, my numb brain caught up with frenetic energy from the horrified crowd. Instead of dropping to the floor, they all ran straight towards the two swinging front doors, shoving one another to get out. Zero compassion for each other.
Andy and Lee didn’t seem to know how to use their guns because they were smacking them with their palms, looking stumped as to how to get them to shoot. I just stood there, slack-jawed in my stupid mask. There wasn’t talk of shooting people. Charlie said if they wouldn’t give us the money, we’d leg it out.
Charlie started firing away, plugging as many people as he could. He was a natural. This was not his first time shooting a real shotgun. This was not his first time shooting a real giant shotgun at people.
“What are you doing?” I yelled. “This isn’t we talked about.”
Before Charlie could say anything, an off-duty cop lying on the floor buried four bullets deep into Charlie’s chest. He fell to the ground, screaming.
I had dropped my gun minutes ago and never realized it, but I threw my hands up anyway. The man told me not to move. I stood as still as the dead air and pee started to trickle down my leg. I began to cry, hard. Everything was blurry; I didn’t see Andy and Lee sneak up behind the man and stab him to death in the neck with a couple bank pens. The man bled out where he lay.
Leaving this place safely became a dream.
Within minutes, the place was surrounded by cops.
I didn’t hear Charlie’s screams anymore, and that’s because he was dead. Andy and Lee took off out one of the front swinging doors, masks on, and all I heard was gunfire. I guess they’re dead, too.
I don’t want to die.
I took off my Reagan mask, kept my hands up high like in the movies, and walked out slow, yelling, “I’m unarmed!” Didn’t matter. Some trigger-happy yahoo popped me in the chest as soon as I got outside.
I splayed on the ground as if I were making a snow angel as my shirt drank up the blood pouring out of me. The shock stole the glory from me feeling anything, from me hearing the policeman who was holding my wound tell me to breathe, that I was going to be OK.
I just looked up at the sky, watching a flock of birds fly over.
What a day.