A look of apprehension settled over Max’s face as I tell him what I plan to do.
“I’m going to rob a bank,” I say.
A blurt of startled laughter escapes his lips at this. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, Max. I’m not.” I twirl my glass between my fingers, the condensation on the sides slick against my skin. “I’ve run out of options. This is the only way I can pay back my debts.”
“You can’t owe that much. How much have you racked up? I can pay it.”
“No, you can’t.”
“How much?” Max insists.
I glance over my shoulder, around the restaurant, searching for any suspicious faces. I always feel like I’m being followed now. Around every corner I expect a loan shark waiting to shake me down, to demand his money in a less subtle way. I turn back to Max a moment later. “Fifteen.”
“Grand?” he stutters. “Jesus, Sally.”
“Shhh. Keep your voice down,” I hiss.
Max leans back in his seat and pulls at his tie until it hangs lose around his neck. “How did you manage that? Things can’t be that bad.”
“Things are bad all over, look around. I don’t really know how…” I trail off, staring down at my plate of untouched pasta. “I just borrowed a little for food, shopping, a little to buy my kids some new clothes.”
“Sal, there’s no way that could be fifteen grand. Level with me here,” he says, his eyes narrowing with observation. “There’s something you’re not telling me. A secret.”
I loosen my grip on the napkin I’ve been ringing. I don’t remember picking it up. My vision blurs a little around the edges and my cheeks heat. “I’m so ashamed. I can’t… I can’t tell you.”
Max’s lips draw into a thin line as he considers what to say. After a moment he rests his elbows on the table. “Did this something start after you divorced Ralph?”
“Is it… gambling?” He asks gently.
I can feel the tears threatening to fall as they pool in my eyes. Was it that obvious? I suppose there aren’t many hobbies that involve large sums of money. Does he think I’m an idiot for wading this deep with no water wings? “It started with Black Jack, just a few hands on the weekends to blow off steam, then the weekends weren’t enough. I would play the slots after I dropped the kids off at school.”
“I would play until it was time to pick the kids up. Sometimes I would lose track of time…” I whisper. “They would already be at home, having walked instead. I’m a terrible mother.”
“No,” Max says. “You’ve just had a rough go. You got a little lost.”
“A little?” I laugh, and the sound is sharp with hysteria. “I’m going to get offed if I can’t pay the money back. Whiskers made that very clear.”
“How long did he give you?”
I rub the back of my neck. “Until the end of the week.”
“You’ve only got two more days.”
“I know. I’ve pawned everything I could, but I’m still short 13 grand.”
“Which leads you to think robbing a bank is the next logical step?” Max frowns.
“I can’t play around. I need the money.”
“And just how do you expect to do this without getting caught?”
I grin. “I’ve already got things planned.” I think of the security guard I bribed, how he’s going to let me in after hours, how he’s going to give me the combination to the vault. “I’ve got an in the with night security.”
Max’s tone is alarmed. “How did you manage that, you don’t have any money.”
I lift my glass and take a swig of the liquor inside.
After a moment Max’s eyebrows shoot up. “You didn’t sleep with him, did you?”
I shrug. “I did what I have to do.”
“This is madness,” he says, shaking his head. “You can’t go through with this.”
“I don’t have any other choice. Come tomorrow morning, I’ll be able to pay Whiskers back and get the hell out of town before he decides he wants interest on top.”
Max reaches over the table and grips my arm. “You’re doing it tonight?”
I stand from the table, pulling my arm from Max’s grasp. “It’s been nice knowing you. See you around.”
“Wait, Sally, please!”
Ignoring his protests, I exit the restaurant. Out in the parking lot I head to my car and pop the trunk. I toss my purse inside and pull out a duffle bag large enough to shove 13 grand worth of bills inside. I take a deep breath. In a matter of a few hours, my troubles will be over.