Chapter 1

Chapter 1

A Chapter by Randy C

Introductions and scouting a location


My name is Bruce Reynolds and I used to be just like you.  I used to have a house and a job and friends.   I used hope for promotion and dream of being the boss.  I gave all of those things up for the chance of easy money. 


No matter how good the job, corporate life has a way of sucking you dry. Especially, if you are like me and find your value in the work that you do.  Corporate life is not for people like us. Judgments are not made on merit, they are made by influence.  For an asocial software developer like me there was no hope.    All I ever found was frustration and disappointment.


This frustration and lack of control over my future drove me into crime.  I wanted to do something where I was in charge.  I know this is the feeling that drives people to start their own businesses, but you need money to make money.  Crime is one of those things you can boot strap from nothing. 


Entrepreneurs use the resources at hand to start their business.  That is what I did on my way to the top.  I used the people around me and their desire for gain.  I took advantage of the gray view they had of life.  It was the capital on which my enterprise was build.


I didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I am going to be a bank robber.’  No I started out wondering if I could do it.  I started out acting like a fool.  Then before I knew it I had gone too far and there was no coming back.  I accepted my fate.


Am I crazy for thinking this way?  Probably, but from my experience we are all suffering from mental illness.  As I became frustrated with my job and place in the world I started day dreaming.  In those dreams I burned with a need for escape from this world I couldn’t understand or control.  For weeks I lingered around in a funk of failure and a dreamed of autonomy from it all. 


One day while I was waiting for the end I went to lunch a good friend and co-worker named Allan Keen.  We had worked together for the last five years and though he was younger than me, we shared a lot of the same interests.  During that lunch I blurted out my childhood desire.


“I always thought I would make a good criminal.” 


Allan shifted his gaze from the Reuben on his plate to me.  “I have thought the same thing. Everybody daydreams about it.”  He paused for a mouthful of pastrami.  “Problem is only a few people have the stomach for it.  It takes a certain person to be to set a side what he knows is right. ”


“I see myself in one of two ways: Either committing a white collar crime like embezzlement or pulling a heist.  What I have always wanted to do is rob a bank or hijack an armored car.  Not the put on a ski mask and only get away with a few thousand dollars kind of heist. No, I would do a big heist.  Break in while no one’s there and clean the place out.  Just like in the movies.” 


“Yea, but nothing goes like the movies.   You know that.  Anyway, you would have to have a group of people in order to do what you want to do.  It's not a one man job and the more people you have involved the more likely you're going to get caught. “He paused for a moment.  “Say this was a movie and you got the perfect team together, how are you going to get through all of the alarm and fail safes?”


“Security is a problem, but I don't think it is insurmountably.  Every problem has a solution. It’s just a matter of whether you can accept the cost.  You should know that from writing software.”


“I am pretty sure robbing a bank and building a website have nothing to do with each other.” he retorted. 


“They have more in common than you think.” I asserted.  “You know how hard it was to figure out how we’re going to get the video production systems to talk with the scheduling application and the order entry system?  This is the same problem in reverse.  We have a lot of disparate systems that we want to circumvent instead of integrate.  All of the research and study that we put into building a system applies to tearing one apart.”  I got off of my soapbox for a minute to eat.


“Sounds like you have it all planned out?'


“Funny thing.  You know the Wells Fargo branch at the end of our street?  When I first started working in Charlotte, I used to sit at the stop light in the mornings and daydream about breaking in in the dead of night.  When I see an armored car some place I wonder what it would take to charge it or steal it and disarm its GPS.  This has been a dark fantasy of mine for a long time.”


He laughed and we turned on our food.  I broke the silence after some consideration with, “You may be right about one thing.  This may not be the time to rob a bank.  The last heist I can think of was in the 1970's.  That was in that transition period where most things were still isolated and mechanical.  I don't think anybody is willing to put in the effort to do it right.  Your average bank robber is usually desperate and tries the frontal approach.  The evening news is full of examples of how that turns out. But what if you really took the time and thought it through? ”


“It's an interesting problem.” 


“It is and the solution would be a beautiful thing.” I had stars in my eyes.


“Then plan a heist.  You are always reading those mystery novels and crime thrillers. That should give you all of the background that you need.  It could be a game and we have plenty of time on our hands these days.”  We had plenty of time these days because the company was restructuring and the flow of requests had dried up while everyone awaited the final outcome.  This was the trigger for my mood.


 “Eh, why not? It's not really a crime unless I rob the place.”  I laughed when I said it, but I was excited.   It was just a puzzle and I loved having a problem to solve.  It was one of the reasons I was good at my job.  Computer programs are just little puzzles.  People come to you with problems and you have to find the most efficient solution.  I didn’t just want to find an efficient way to rob a bank I wanted it to be grand.


When you begin something new it is often hard to find a starting point.  In the beginning, I was all over the place. Inexperience and lack of total commitment caused problems.  There was a transition that I had to pass through to go from office worker to criminal.  Most people who go through it have outside pressures, like debt or addiction, to speed their course.  I didn't have that in the beginning.  This was a problem to occupy my time.  Because of this my trip to the amorality was going to be a lot slower.


I term this phase of my transition as the little boy phase,  The reason is that I was like a little boy with a new toy I was excited by the thrill of something new and wanted to show off to everybody.  Unfortunately, I would do something fairly stupid before I reached adolescence. 


The first decision I made was to hide my identity and be paranoid.  This stemmed from too many mystery novels and heist movies. It seemed in almost every one of them that the criminal’s downfall was by leaving a trail and in this digital age your Internet history was valuable evidence. 


So before I hit the Internet I took a few precautions.  First, I added a firewall to my laptop that blocked incoming traffic from governmental agencies, educational intuitions, and the like.  Next, I needed to find a place where I could get a Wi-Fi signal and not have it associated to me.   The easiest thing to do would have been to piggy backed off of a open network in my neighborhood, but if things got real that would bring the attention to close to home.  I need to find something farther afield.


For this task I used a smart phone and hot spot finder application.  I downloaded an application that detected open wireless networks as you passed by them and then displayed them on a map.  With the application running I cruised around coffee shops, restaurants, and department stores looking for the perfect place to set up shop. 


After a lot of scouting I decided on the parking lot outside of a coffee shop that shared its parking lot with an Office Depot and a Blockbuster.  The constant flow of traffic through the lot should give me enough cover that my car would blend into the background.  Another plus was that there were no apparent signs of security camera.  Nothing mounted on parking lot lights or peering off of rooftops.  So even if I did something that got traced back to the coffee shop's Internet account there wouldn't be video to identify my car.


All of this didn’t mean that I was completely invisible.  There would still be records that could be matched up to the hardware address of my compute, but for any of that to be valuable they would already have to have found me.  Getting the evidence would require a few subpoenas and a warrant any way.  If it came down to it then I had already screwed up really bad somewhere else.


With the benefit of hind sight, this was a lot of work for little reward.  Nothing I was about to do would be in the least bit suspicious unless I had already been caught for a crime.  The only reason I was going through such a spate was I was having fun playing the criminal mastermind.  It was escapism and it was fun. 


On a quiet Sunday afternoon, I went and parked in the back row of the lot and settled in for a session of Internet searching.  I started off by searching Google for bank vaults.  That seemed at the time to be the most reasonable place to start.  What I found was that there are several companies that install and sell vaults, but I could tell from the reuse of images and sales text that there were few that actually made vaults. 


One valuable thing that I learned was that when you buy a vault, you are just buying a really big door.   I guess that is supposed to be enough to stop anybody from bothering.  Also, there are all kind of UL ratings for the vault door, these cover thing like fire retardation, resistance to drilling, and resistance to torches. I saw a few references to specifications for the vault room, but what I was impressed with was that what you connected your oversized steel door to is utterly up to you. 


Going straight through the door wouldn’t be the obvious choice anyway.  Unless you had the combination or the world's greatest cracksman it wasn't happening.  Getting the combination would require either bribing or blackmailing someone into being an accomplice.


With the door out of the way I focused in on the vaults themselves.  The latest trends in vaults are modular units that are built off site and assembled by a general contractor.  These units are aluminum encased concert panels about three inches thick.  In my mind a little aluminum and some concrete this seemed far more doable than trying to force a door that had been made to slow a criminal down.


With the walls chosen as the easiest method of entry I was curious what countermeasures I might find once I was in.   I searched for 'preventing bank robberies' and the results turned out a wealth of interesting information.


According the Uniform Crime Statistics, most thefts take place during the day and most robbers are captured before they get off the banks property.  The rest are taken within 24 hours.  The average take from a bank robbery is only four thousand dollars.  Most people are identified and caught because of the efficient use of security cameras. 


I read police websites and any other information I could find.  Everything was geared toward what to do when confronted with a robber in the lobby waving a gun.  As best as I could tell nobody was committing the type of crime I was contemplating.   This was encouraging because all of the security resources were focused on preventing a day light robbery.  It seemed that the defenses would be weaker against a stealth attack.  If I could get time alone with the bank and force my way through the wall into the vault I should be successful. 


With a working plan in my mind I needed a location; an actual bank to focus my research on.  All of this generalization was good but it was not going to solve the puzzle for me.  I started putting down my criteria for a picking the perfect location.


I thought needed something that was on the outskirts of the town.  The more isolated the institution the longer it would take the authorities to arrive.  Also, it needed safe deposit boxes.  Assuming I had plenty of time, the contents of the boxes would increase the value of the heist beyond any cash on hand.  The perfect location needed to mitigate my three big risk factors:  the vault, security cameras, and the alarm system.


At some point this endeavor was going to need a budget.  Surveillance was going to require a disguise.  Electronics were going to have to be purchased to aid in casing the establishment and circumventing countermeasures.  Then if I was going to follow through tools would have to be bought.  What about a getaway vehicle?  I certainly couldn’t just show up in my car.   That would just lead the world to my door step.  I hadn’t even knocked a hole in the wall and I was already starting to feel overwhelmed.   I needed to know what the reward was going to be in order to have an idea if the cost was worth it.  My next step had to be to find a bank to rob.   


On Monday I returned to my job and Fate was nice enough to have a bank come to me.  A representative from a credit union came into the office to recruit new clients.  Since Fate was nice enough to bring a bank to me why shouldn't I check it out?  So, I did what anybody would do, I opened an account. 


I am pretty sure I know what you’re wondering.  Why didn’t I just rob the bank where I already had my checking account?  To be honest with you it never crossed my mind.  I had banked there for almost twenty years and had a very good feel for the layout of the branch.  My guess is that it was so much a part of my normal life that it just didn’t register.  Anyway bank robbery is something that happens to other people.


It took a little over a week for my ‘Welcome’ packet and deposit to arrive in the mail.  When it came I was ready.  I had already found the main branch and had been driving by it every evening on my way home.  Now that I was an official customer I decided to drop off a check to christen my account and get the lay of the land.   


The branch was not a free standing building but was about two units on the end of a strip mall right beside of an Extreme Clips hair salon.  When I entered the lobby I felt confined.  The waiting area seemed small and was cluttered with chairs and an island with blank bank slips.  Across the room the teller’s counters ran diagonally.  There were four teller windows and a door at the far left of the counters.  The counters were laminated in some ugly faux wood, probably covering up some bullet proofing material.  The teller windows on each station were blocked by three to four inches of bullet proof glass reaching to the ceiling, Business was transacted from a small slot at the bottom of the glass and a intercom mounted in the glass.  It was so inviting that I wonder if I had accidentally stumbled into a war zone.


I walked up to the wall of glass to submit my deposit and I noticed video cameras suspended from the ceiling behind each teller trained on the spot where the customer would stand.  A smart looking lady in a suit approached the window.


“Can I help you sir?”


“Yes.  I just opened a savings account here and I would like to make a deposit.”  I slid the check and deposit slip into the slot.  While she was occupied I started my survey of the room.  Behind the teller were a few small offices.  The vault was to my left.  Its open maul with gated teeth facing the teller’s back. 


“bear with me Just a moment, Mr. Reynolds, while I pull up your account.”  Holding my deposit slip she turned to the computer terminal beside her.  I stared aimlessly up at the ceiling behind her.  There were little plastic domes sticking out of the ceiling.  I assumed they were either smoke or motion detectors.  I glanced behind me and the same domes where in the ceiling in the waiting area.  I added it to my internal list.


 “You guys must be expecting World War III with this glass wall?”  I joked as she was endorsing my check.  I couldn't resist say something about the great barrier between us.  She made an indiscernible noise under her breath in response.  She was probably sick of hearing about it.


Sliding the receipt for my deposit back through the slot and inquired in a very pleasant, interested tone, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”


“Since you mention it, do you have safe deposit boxes here?” 


“We do, but I don't have the details.  You will need to talk to one of our customer service reps.  Would you like me to get someone?”


“Sure.” I wasn't in a hurry.  The longer this took the more I might learn.


“Let get Ms. Harris for you.  She is our Relationship Banker and she will take care of you.” I nodded my agreement.   “If you will have a seat, she will be right with you.”  She turned a walked off toward a row of offices.


I took my place in a chair around a small end table.  Spread out on its top was a variety of out of date periodicals.  I thumbed through my options and settled on a week old copy of the Wall Street Journal.  I folded it out before me and pretended to read.  Over the top of the paper I surveyed the room.  I tried hard to get every detail down so I could make a map later.


An electric buzz from the door below the teller windows announced the arrival of a young woman.  She was not very long from college I wouldn’t think.  She was average height with long, straight brown hair.  She wore a navy pant suit, the uniform of the trade.  The only thing that kept her form blending in with every other female employee in the bank was that she was wearing sneakers.  My guess is that either her heels were killing her or that there was a mix up at the gym.


She approached me and asked, “Mr. Reynolds?”  Her voice had a pleasant southern drawl.  From the accent I guessed she had grown up here.


“Yes.”  I folded the paper back up and returned it to the table top.


“My name is Candice and I am the relationship banker here at Fairview.   Monica mentioned you are interested in a safe deposit box?”  She was smiling wide.


“Yes, I am interested in renting one for my insurance papers and some other small valuables.”  I stood and shook her out stretched hand.


“I can help you with that.  If you would follow me to my office we can discuss the different sizes and prices.”  She motioned with an out stretched arm toward the door she had just come through.


I followed her to the door.  From her belt she pulled at an ID badge and swiped it in front of a card reader.  There was the sound of the buzz again and she pushed the door open.  She pointed the way to her office across the room and waited for me to start walking and then fell in behind me.


It struck me as odd that there was some much security to keep out the riff raff but I had gained access to the inter-sanctum under the guise of opening an account.  If I was a gunman there would be nothing to stop me from hold the bank hostage and taking all of the money.  It really seemed like they were expecting only one type of robbery; a masked man waving a gun and demanding world.


Her office was probably a 10’ x 10’ and was painted a white.  Framed prints of the English countryside assumed the center position in the walls.  I imagined they were provided by the bank and not a reflection of her artistic tastes.  The desk was devoid of personal possessions. Just a computer, pad and some papers occupied the desktop.  A placard announced her name and title.  On a credenza behind the desk sat a printer and some books.   I assumed one of the two chairs in the room as she took her place behind the desk.  A quick glance up showed no signs of an alarm in the ceiling.


“Let me see.” She said while pulling out a desk drawer and rummaging around.  After a few seconds she extracted a laminated sheet of paper and scanned it for the information she was looking for.  She then turned the page toward me and pointed to a section.


“Because we of our size we have a limited number of boxes and we only offer two sizes of box.  At this branch we have the 5” x 5” box, which is $30 a month, and the 5” x 10” which is $50. All of the boxes are 22” long.  If you need something bigger, then our branch office on Lilly Bridge Drive has a 10” x 10” unit.”


“I think the 5” x 10” will fit my needs.  I just have some papers and a few coins I want to store.”  Mentally, I was trying to figure out how I could lead the conversation toward the vault.  “What do I do when I need access to my box?”


“You will be given a card and a key.  Just come in and see one of the tellers as normal and tell them that you want to access your safe deposit box.  Someone will escort you to the safe deposit area.  Then you will use your key to unlock and remove your box.  From there you will be taken to a private room.  Once you’re done just ring the buzzer in the room and you will escorted back to the vault.”


“The vault where the deposit boxes are stored, how safe is it from fire?  It would be silly to bring my stuff here because I was worried about my house burning down and then the bank burn down.”  I managed a smile as I finished up the last sentence. 


“I understand your concern, but it is unfounded.  I don't know specifics but the vault has been rated for fire.  The vault room is concrete and the vault door is a few inches of steel.  I imagine the vault will be the only thing standing after a fire.” she made sort of a chuckle noise and returned my smile.  I really don’t know what I expected.  I wanted her to pull out the specifications for vault and recite them to me.  That would be the most use she could possibly be, but it wasn’t realistic.


“I know it is silly, but if you would humor me.  Is there a sprinkler system in the vault?”


“No.  There is really no chance that a fire is will make its way inside the vault. “


From this I am going to assume that if there is no sprinkler, there is no fire alarm, no fire alarm maybe no alarm at all.  My bet was that it was a safe assumption that the vault’s designers assumed nothing was going to get in there.  So, why bother adding a bunch of alarms?  It would just run the cost up.


“One last question and I will stop.  What about flood?  I read some stories of precious items being destroyed after banks being flood during hurricanes or just heavy rain.”


“I really don’t know Mr. Reynolds.  Depending on the storm, I would guess everything is going to get water logged.  The vault is not air tight. “, she paused for a minute and then continued, “There are fireproof and waterproof safes you can get for your home. If this really worries you it might be a better option.”


I guessed my line of questions was starting to wear on her.  I needed to pull this out of the drink. “Maybe for the flooding, but if my house burns down I really don't want to have to go digging for a small box in all of the wreckage.  I will take one of the 5” x 10” boxes.”


“Good. Let get some information from you and set you up in the computer.”  She seemed relieved that I had stopped my constant questioning.  After a few minutes and a little aback and forth she was filling out my temporary access card.  She excused herself for a minute and then returned with a set of keys.  She appeared to log the keys into the computer and then she turned back to me.


“You are all set Mr. Reynolds.  Here is your access card.  Just show it to the teller when you come in.  Here are the keys to your box, which is J4.  If you like I can show you where it is in the vault room?”  I agreed and thanked her for her help and then followed her out of the room.  I was anxious to see the inside of the vault.


We walked across the open area behind the tellers and stopped in the open doorway of the vault.  In the few seconds while she was taking out the keys to open the gate I was trying to take in as much as I could.  The vault door was a massive square of what appeared to be steel, polished to a brilliant shine. My guess was that it was about 8” thick and a quick count tallied up four 3” inch locked bolts around each side except the floor.  The door way looked wide enough for me to lay down in, so I guessed about five or six feet. 


Once the gate swung open we stepped in.  The safe deposit boxes were at the front of the vault and another walled off area and gate separated us from the rest of the room.  My deposit box was about waist height from the floor on the right side of the vault.  The deposit boxes appeared to be a modular setup.  There was no mark of manufacture on the units, but their hinges were exposed on the outside.  The boxes were in rectangular cabinets with about 30 boxes in a unit.  There were six modules on the wall and both walls were covered.  That came out to about 360 boxes. 


“Let's test your key and make sure it works.  It takes two keys to open the door.  Yours goes in the top lock and mine in the bottom.”   I obediently placed my key in the lock and turn it.  I took a step back for her to use her key.  With the key test complete and a quick look at the container, I was escorted back to the waiting area where we exchanged final pleasantries and I left. 


When I got back to my car I grabbed my notebook and pen from the backseat.  I made a fevered attempt to record every detail of the floor plan. I tried to place all of the ceiling monitors and cameras I had seen.   I sat in the car for maybe another 20 minutes.  When I finished I admired my work, satisfied with the detail.  I felt confident that this should be my target. 


© 2013 Randy C

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Randy C
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Added on July 22, 2013
Last Updated on July 22, 2013
Tags: Crime, bank robbery, heist


Randy C
Randy C

Gastonia, NC

Chapter 2 Chapter 2

A Chapter by Randy C