Florida Panhandle

At the tender age of nine, Tara Evans was one of the youngest bank robbers in history. At least, that’s what they said on TV. But they also called her the “Crying Bandit,” and she didn’t care for that at all. She’d tried really hard not to cry.

She snuck a glance at her daddy as he drove the car. He didn’t like the nickname. And he definitely didn’t like it when she cried.

At a bump in the road, her gaze drifted to the seat between them. She frowned—her Barbie doll sat right next to her daddy’s gun. That’s not good. She snatched the doll away, rescuing it from the creepy thing.

Daddy stopped the car in front of the Federal Savings and Loan and tossed a Lone Ranger mask and hat onto her lap. “Time to get ready,” he said.

“Okay, Daddy.”

He gave her a glare. “Now what I have told you?”

Tara put her hand over her mouth. He hated to be called Daddy! Ever since Mama died. And it wasn’t good to make him angry. “I’m sorry…Wyatt. It’s hard to remember.”

Wyatt grinned. “No problem, sugar. Just do your best. And hide that thick mop. This is it.”

Oh, boy. Here we go again. She shoved her long, dark hair under the hat. It didn’t want to fit but she finally managed.

Putting on the mask, she glanced in the visor mirror and giggled. The mask was way too large for her tiny face.

Through the eyeholes, she watched her daddy…Wyatt…stretch pantyhose over his face and slide a clip into his gun. He then grabbed the Barbie from her and pulled a couple of Ken dolls from under the seat. One Ken wore a police uniform. The other was scuffed up and had a beard drawn on its face with a marker.

“Now remember,” he said. “The guard will be to the left.”

Tara watched with great concentration as Wyatt walked Scruffy Ken and Barbie over toward Guard Ken. Then she frowned. “Why doesn’t Barbie have a mask on like me?”

Wyatt grumbled, then pulled a marker from his pocket. He drew a mask on Barbie’s face. “Is that better?”

Tara clapped and bobbed her head in agreement.

“You keep your gun pointed straight at him and say anything you want. The crazier the better.”

He walked Scruffy Ken away from the other two dolls. “Now I’m going to the teller to grab the money. If the guard makes a move, you yell out for me, okay?”

He took Scruffy Ken and Barbie and hopped them across the front seat, then tossed them into the back. Tara giggled.

“Questions?” he asked.

“Yeah, how come they don’t make a Bank Robber Barbie?” Tara said.

Wyatt’s lower lip quivered and his eyes closed to a squint. “Now don’t get me started! You might as well ask why they make her with a female form of impossible proportions. It just ain’t natural!”

He grabbed a revolver from the glove compartment and swung open the cylinder. “It’s that damn Corporate America! They’re trying to warp your fragile little mind.” He spun the revolver’s chambers, clicked it shut, and handed her the gun.

It was so heavy! Wyatt continued preaching but she ignored him, staring at the gun in her hand. She didn’t think she could do this! The last time had been a disaster, or close enough.

She looked at her daddy. His attention was elsewhere, but on his burly arm a familiar tattoo stared back at her. And below the bug-eyed skull it said “SCHIZO.” That was his nickname—that or Preacher, on account of how much he went on and on about his favorite topics.

Wyatt paused and gazed at her with a puzzled expression. He leaned over and lightly slapped her across the face—a love tap. “Wake up, girl. What’s the matter with you? This here’s important stuff, so pay attention.”

Tara was skeptical. “This isn’t gonna work. Nobody will ever think I could shoot somebody.”

He raised the pantyhose to his forehead. She smiled, because he looked kind of like a floppy-eared bunny—if bunnies weighed two-fifty and had major five-o’clock shadow.

“They will take you seriously if you do as I say. The crazier you are, the more respect you get. This is one of life’s lessons here, so remember it. All right?”

Tara nodded.

He sighed and took hold of her shoulders. “I’m doing this for you, baby. I’m trying to teach you a trade…something that will bring you wealth and happiness.”

Tara smiled. “I’m sorry, Wyatt. I’ll do better this time.”

He grinned and said, “That’s my girl. I know you’ll make me proud.”

Wyatt pulled the pantyhose over his face and slipped a duffel bag over his shoulder, then cracked open the car door. He stopped, leaned real close and grabbed her chin. She could feel his hot breath.

“Now I don’t want to see a single tear. I don’t care what happens in there. You don’t cry! That was embarrassing last time.”

Tara nodded and they both got out of the car. I can do this, she thought.

She followed him up the steps and toward the door, gun at the ready, but paused as she caught her reflection in the plate-glass window. The mask was too big, but overall she thought she looked pretty. The gun made her look kind of grown-up, too. Sophisticated, maybe. She wasn’t quite sure what that word meant, but it sounded right.

And Wyatt wanted her to be more grown-up. He’d said so just the other day. It was probably why he didn’t want her shedding any more tears. She was pretty sure that grown-ups never cried. At least, not that she’d ever seen.

“Don’t stand there gawking,” Wyatt said. He pointed two fingers toward his eyes. “Stay focused or we could be in a world of hurt. You know what I mean?”

Tara cocked her head to the side, confused.

“I mean there’d be trouble. The kind of trouble where I could get hurt or the two of us could get caught. And if that happens they’ll take you away from me and you’ll never get to see me again.”

Tara leapt into his arms and gave him a big squeeze. “I’ll do a good job, I promise. I don’t ever want them to take you away.” She gave him a kiss on his pantyhose-covered face.

Wyatt kissed her back, put her on the ground, and pulled his gun out. “All right. Now don’t ever get in the way of my gun hand, in case I have to draw it quickly. We’re gonna have to come up with some rules after this one.”

He yanked open the door. “Let’s go.”

Wyatt stormed into the bank, brandishing his gun. “Everyone down on your knees and get your hands where I can see them. This here’s a robbery.”

He grabbed the lone, elderly security guard and pushed the gun into his nostril. “You give my son here any problems and there’ll be hell to pay. I guarantee it.”

The man nodded slowly. Wyatt removed the guard’s weapon from its holster and tossed it across the floor, into a corner.

Tara ran up to the guard, her little shoes skidding as she stopped about seven feet away. Remembering Wyatt’s instructions
about acting crazy, she growled as ferociously as a nine-year-old could and pointed her gun squarely at the guard. She tried very hard to hold it steady.

Wyatt looked at her and pointed his fingers toward his eyes again. He mouthed the words “stay focused” and ran toward the tellers.

Tara let out a small yelp, growled again, and shook her gun at the guard. It was working! He actually looked scared.

Wyatt waved his gun toward the blond female teller. “Hey sugar, why don’t you give me some of that cash there? Nice and easy, all right?”

The flustered teller grabbed her purse and thrust it at Wyatt.

“Are you insane, lady, or just one of those perky, dumb blondes?” Wyatt threw the purse across the room and jumped up on the counter, waving the gun wildly. “Do you think I would come inside a bank to rob you of your own personal stash? I want the bank’s money.” He tossed her the duffel bag and she began filling it from her drawer.

He turned back to the customers. “Now class, do any of you know what happens to a bank when it gets robbed? Anyone?”

Unprepared for a pop quiz, the customers shuffled their feet and looked at the ground. He pointed the gun at a lady customer and cocked it. “Any idea?”

The lady, unhappy with the attention bestowed upon her, promptly fainted.

Wyatt looked over at Tara and winked. He turned back to the group. “Well, I’ll tell you. Absolutely nothing. They fill out an insurance claim and get paid back every cent. It’s a win-win situation. The only people to get screwed here are the God-damned insurance companies. And does anybody deserve it more? I don’t think so.”

He pointed his gun toward the tellers. “Well, of course, any idiots who get in my way deserve it too, so hurry up with my damn money!”

Wyatt jumped off the counter and pounded his fist onto its hard surface, startling everyone. “Just thinking about these fucking insurance companies makes my blood boil! You know what’s wrong with those pieces of….”

Tara had been splitting her attention between the guard and Wyatt’s antics. But when he started ranting about the insurance companies she tuned him out, having heard it all many a time before.

She focused all her attention on the guard, like Wyatt had said, but noticed that something seemed different. The guard had moved about a foot closer. Not good.

Tara waggled the gun toward him. “You stay back now, you hear?”

The guard didn’t look scared anymore. He gave a big smile—looking friendly—and she knew she was in trouble. She thought about calling out to her daddy but figured she should try to stop him herself. Then he’d be real proud of her.

She growled again.

But the guard kept inching forward. “Hey sonny, you be careful with that gun, all right?”

This was getting bad. She had to do something.
She remembered that lady fainting when Wyatt cocked his gun so she decided to try the same thing. The guard stopped dead in his tracks. Wow, that sound was like magic.
She backed up a step so the man wouldn’t be too close, but he kept with her, taking another step forward. She gave out a little scream, again, and yelled, “I’m warning you, now. Don’t make me shoot you!”

Wyatt turned toward the commotion and pointed his gun at the guard. But he held off, waiting to see if his little pumpkin could handle it herself.

Tara started to panic. The guard was still moving toward her. She’d screamed, she’d cocked the gun, she’d growled. She didn’t know what else to do—the guard was almost to her. So she closed her eyes and squeezed the trigger.

The gun roared, kicking so hard that she nearly dropped it. People screamed. The guard dropped to the floor, untouched and unhurt, but extremely frightened. He cowered on the ground, rolling around and covering his ears, saying he was sorry over and over again.

I did it. I stopped him.

Tara glanced over to Wyatt, hoping to see an amazed and proud dad. Instead, he was clenching his teeth, grimacing. His right shoe had a blackened hole in it and blood was escaping onto the floor.

Her eyes started to fill with tears.

“Don’t you do it, God damn it!” Wyatt shouted. He grabbed the duffel bag and limped over to her, trailing blood. “I’ve been shot and you don’t see me crying, do you?”

Tara’s chin quivered. “No.”

“Good job.” He grabbed her chin tenderly. “That wasn’t your fault. You did great. We just need to get you some target practice.”

Tara stifled her tears and gave him a little smile. That was the most praise he’d ever given her.

Wyatt turned back to the crowd. “All right, class. Good job. You all get an ‘A’ for your cooperation. And you know what that means?”
A few people shook their heads.

Wyatt gave them a wink. “It means no one has to die.”