An Inauspicious Beginning
This week’s flash fiction challenge from Terribleminds: Write a piece using a famous person from history as the protagonist.
Henry had taken great care to conduct his business at promptly eleven o’clock. He figured the tellers would have finished with their opening duties and not yet begun to think of closing. After watching the small office carefully, he’d also determined that Wednesday was the optimum day, as the teller was fairly new and the manager had a tendency to start tippling around lunchtime.
Even with his meticulous planning, Henry figured there was only a small chance his ploy would work. Unless both blind and hard of hearing, there weren’t many people who would mistake him for a woman. His nose was large, his eyes deep-set under a heavy brow and there wasn’t a delicate feature to be found anywhere. Henry wasn’t a large man, but he’d been forced to take a dress off the line of the nearby Eldredge house, something that bothered him more than the idea of holding up a bank. He’d observed Mrs. Eldredge conducting business in town, and she was the only woman he’d seen even close to his size. Her bonnet didn’t cover as much of his face as he wanted–its only useful function was to hide his hair. Henry was so decidedly unfemale that he felt sure he would be caught. He could only hope that no one remembered him in the commotion.
The clerk didn’t blink at his request for two dollars in pennies–one delivered in a falsetto that was so patently false, he’d coughed several times in the middle to try and insinuate he was hoarse from some throat illness.
Henry watched the teller, waiting for the exact moment he opened his drawer. The instant he could see inside the compartment housing the stacks of crisp bills, Henry pressed his advantage. He bent down and unclasped the large bag at his feet. It was a miracle already that no one had questioned the bulges moving within.
The bag opened, and despite Henry’s bated breath, nothing happened. Henry straightened and looked at the teller, attempting nonchalance. The teller continued counting, unaware of anything amiss. Henry furtively kicked at the bag. He’d refused to even consider fitting his enormous feet into women’s shoes, and in that moment he was glad that he’d kept his thick leather boots.
There was a small noise at his feet and so bolstered, he kicked again. This time he achieved the success he’d anticipated. Two raccoons, mangy devils that had been plaguing his attic all winter, popped out. He’d had to trap them and transfer them to the leather bag at risk to his own life and he was gratified to have their cooperation.
As the first one jumped out, angry about his imprisonment and in fear of another kick, Henry let out his best impression of a woman’s blood-curdling scream. The teller in front of him jumped and Henry screamed again. The clerk looked over at the manager who’d risen from his own seat to investigate the commotion.
At that very moment, two additional patrons entered the bank: a thin foppish man and his companion, a pale, peaked lady who looked like a stiff wind would take her down. The two goggled at the scene before them, and Henry took advantage, screaming again. The fair lady immediately obliged him by contributing to his affected hysterics. The two continued screaming in a rather satisfying manner while the men did their best to address the issue at hand. They did not look enthusiastic about the idea of wresting two half-starved raccoons who were unhappy about their previous confinement and even unhappier about all the noise, commotion and people charging at them.
As soon as the teller left his station, and everyone was entirely occupied by the chaos, Henry leaned over the large wooden desk and grabbed a stack of bills left exposed in the drawer. He glanced back, and as no one was the slightest bit interested in him at the moment, grabbed a second stack and shoved both up the voluminous sleeves of Mrs. Eldredge’s rust-colored dress.
His first goal accomplished, Henry turned back to see one raccoon heading for the heavy drapes framing the front window and the other hissing at the bank manager in quite a menacing fashion. The second raccoon then turned in the young woman’s direction and, taking a page from his friend, headed for the nearest hiding spot–in this case, her skirts. The woman saw the animal descend upon her and fell over in a dead faint, right at Henry’s feet.
Henry shrieked again and, using the situation to his advantage, made a beeline for the front door. The men, distracted by two wild animals and a fallen lady, took no notice of the him striding purposefully toward the exit.
Henry left the bank behind without a backward glance, walking directly to the outhouse behind the farrier’s. He’d left his clothes in the bushes back there, and he quickly changed, disposing of the abused dress under the privy’s bench.
He came out dressed in his usual breeches and smoothing his wild hair, his heart still pounding in his chest. The bills, totaling two hundred and thirteen dollars were secured in his boot. No one emerged from the bank to accuse him as he passed on the opposite side of the street.
He received several nods as he returned to his hotel, but no one cried foul. He would collect his meager possessions and return to Concord, able to pay the debt his father’s pencil business had unfortunately accumulated. His father could then resolve the obligation without his aunt’s intercession. Henry was anticipating his father would be so grateful, he would allow Henry to withdraw from the family business all together.
After this, he vowed, he was finished with commerce all together. He longed for a simpler life, something in the woods. Walden Pond was nice, perhaps he could go there.
Henry couldn’t wait.