Thirty-Two and a Half Complications Page 1

Chapter One

[Staring down the barrel of a gun was not how I wanted to start my day.

“Everyone put your hands on your heads and lay down on the floor!” the robber shouted, the ski mask over his face muffling his words. Without the gun, it would have been hard to take him seriously. His mask was plastered with pictures of SpongeBob SquarePants.

I started to get to my knees, clutching a deposit bag tight in my fist and cursing Violet under my breath. If I survived this, I was gonna kill my sister. I’d finished a job for a cranky elderly man the previous day, and he’d paid me in cash that still smelled of the dirt he’d buried it in. Nine thousand dollars. Little had I known that the hydrangeas I’d planted were less than six feet away from Henryetta’s own version of Fort Knox, otherwise known as the metal box buried in Mr. O’Leary’s backyard. Violet had agreed to drop the money off at the bank along with the day’s proceeds, but she’d forgotten and left it at the store overnight. So it had fallen on me to make the deposit on my way to my landscaping job this morning.

Besides me, there were five other customers in the small lobby of the Henryetta Bank. Mr. Murphy, an older farmer who’d recently sold his property and moved to town, grumbled as he got down on the floor, his wife Miss Wilma following suit. A middle-aged man and a younger woman I didn’t know were also lowering to the floor. But poor Miss Honeybelle, a member of the New Living Hope Revival Church, had recently had knee transplant surgery and was struggling to get to the ground.

“Faster!” Mr. SpongeBob shouted, waving the gun.

I hurried to the old woman’s side and tucked my deposit bag under my arm as I grabbed her elbow.

The robber shoved my upper arm with his elbow and I cried out in pain and surprise as I stumbled backward several steps. “What do you think you’re doing?” he grunted.

I knew I should have been more scared, but frankly, I was irritated as snot. Rubbing my arm, I glared at him. “She just had her knee replaced a month ago. She can’t get to her knees!”

“She will if she wants to live.” The cold tone in his voice told me he meant it.

Chills spread up my arms as I helped the shaking woman to the carpet. “It’s okay, Miss Honeybelle,” I whispered.

“No talking!” Mr. SpongeBob shouted, pointing his gun at me again. “Why are you still up?”

Seething, I lay down on the floor next to the now-crying elderly woman, making sure to put my bag beneath my stomach.

The robber’s accomplice, who was wearing a Batman mask, approached the teller’s window. His voice shook as he placed a plastic Piggly Wiggly bag on the counter. “Put all the cash in the bag.”

The SpongeBob thief placed a foot on my side and gave me a half-hearted kick. “What are you looking at?”

Pain shot through my side but I knew I was lucky. He could have put a lot more force behind that kick. Nevertheless, these guys were starting to get me good and pissed.

I was surprised to see Samantha Jo Wheaton working behind the counter as a bank teller. Last I’d heard, she had a job at Wal-Mart. Her face turned red as she stuffed wads of cash into the plastic bag, her hands trembling. Out of the corner of my eye I tried to take in as many details about the two guys as I could. The Batman guy wore dingy white Nikes. His faded jeans had a worn spot on his left thigh, and he was wearing a gray zippered sweatshirt over a black T-shirt emblazoned with the Jack Daniel’s logo. Wisps of dark blond hair poked out from underneath the bottom of his ski mask. The seam on the back of his head was off-center, then ran at a diagonal.

Mr. SpongeBob was wearing scuffed work boots with dried light red mud on the heels along with dark jeans, a light gray T-shirt, and a brown leather jacket. A chain connected to his belt was attached to the bulge in his back pocket.

Before I realized what was happening, he squatted next to me. “Do you know what happened to the curious cat?”

Crap. Bile rose in my throat.

He grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet, leaving my bag on the floor. “Come on,” he grunted as he pushed me toward the open safety deposit vault.

The Batman guy turned toward us, sliding the bag off the counter. “What are you doin’, Mick?”

“Why the hell are you usin’ my name?” The man next to me smelled of rust and something else I couldn’t place. Standing as close to him as I was, it nearly made me gag. “I’m teachin’ this one to mind her manners.”

The faint sound of sirens filled the nearly silent room.

The Batman guy flinched. “We ain’t got time for that. Come on!”

Mr. SpongeBob’s grip on my arm tightened, his fingers digging deep. “If you know what’s good for ya, you’ll keep your mouth shut. Got it?”

Of course, it was at that exact moment when I felt a vision coming on. I’m powerless to stop them and can only let them run their course. They always follow the same pattern: I zone out for a few seconds and see something from the future of the person next to me. Then I return to the present moment and blurt out what I see. My visions are almost always inconvenient, and this proved to be no exception.

Everything turned black, and then I was in a rundown barn, standing next to an old gold-colored car. A man stood next to me, his face puckered into a frown. He looked to be in his early twenties and he had on the same outfit as the guy who was currently wearing the Batman mask. His hair was dark blond and shaggy, hanging slightly past his collar. “How much did we get, Mick?”