By Janet Owens aka TicAndToc <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted July 2006
Summary: Sometimes you can put a lot of thought, time, and effort into a new idea, and sometimes your project is successful. But sometimes, all you find out is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
This story, yet another of my one-line-on-a-virtual-post-it ideas, kept interfering with my work on The Girl Next Door. So I wrote it, tweaked it, sent it to LabRat, tweaked it a bit more, and here it is. Finished (do you hear that, Muse?). So I can go back to the other story.
Thank you, Labby, for your quick BR of this. You helped me make a quick little story I really enjoyed writing even better.
Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended. This story was written for fun, not for profit. No trees were harmed in the writing of this story.
If you're a villain in Metropolis, your chances of succeeding at a mugging or a robbery are slimmer than they used to be. In fact, chances are good you might end up on a street corner, tied to a street light with a bent piece of stop sign pole, waiting for the police to come take you away.
What's a bad guy to do?
My career as a villain didn't really take off until my teen years.
I come from a long line of villains, and we've generally done well for ourselves. I'm a safecracker, mostly. I learned it at Granddaddy's knee, in a manner of speaking. He had a collection of old fire safes — I never did learn how he ended up with so many, but he had them set up in different places in the back yard.
There were a couple of small ones on the porch, and he'd set me at one of 'em after school most days. Sorta like homework. Once I'd cracked those, he moved me on to the bigger ones. He had a couple set up in the shed, and I'd have to pick the padlock he put on the door, or get in through the window without making any noise. By the time I was sixteen, I could crack a safe in less than ten minutes.
Of course, I have other skills — you've really got to be pretty flexible if you're going to succeed these days. It's not like the old days anymore, where you picked a subspecialty and stuck with it. Then, you pretty much just did the one thing, and usually you worked with the same guys each time something went down.
That's the way it was when Granddaddy got his start in the business.
Granddaddy was a fine villain He learned the craft as a boy, first as a lookout and then as a bootlegger for one of the Hobbs Bay rumrunners. But by the time he was twenty-five, he'd made a name for himself in safecracking.
He told some fine tales. I can remember sitting on our back porch while he whittled a block of pine with his old pocket knife, listening to him tell me about meeting the boat down in the warehouse district in the darkest part of the night, loading up his old black Dodge and driving down dark narrow alleys with only his running lights on, delivering to speakeasies all around Metropolis.
Daddy, now — he was a bit of a disappointment to Granddaddy. He started out fine; in fact, he showed a real flair for pick pocketing at the State Fair when he was only ten years old. But then when he was in high school, he got sidetracked by the ponies out at the racetrack, and his work started suffering. If you can't concentrate on a task, the quality begins to slip some, and before you know it you're tripped up by a bank alarm or a guard dog or what-have-you and toddling off with some bright young cop to make your one phone call down at the police station.
Daddy got caught a couple times, during some heist or other. Even the best villains do, and each time he managed to get back into the groove for a while. To pull off a really good heist or two, and make Granddaddy proud.
But then Daddy'd hear of some sure-thing winner of a horse out at Metropolis Downs, and we wouldn't see him for a few days.
Then he'd come back with all these big old plans — weird, respectable crap like using his winnings to buy a house, to open up his own business, or something like that. And he'd plan some big grandiose farewell sort of heist — he'd call it his Last One Before Going Respectable — and no matter what Granddaddy said to try to convince him to just stick with the family business and leave the grand gestures to the Mob, he'd insist on going through with it.
So then he'd try out his scheme, and he'd get caught, and we'd get that call from the jail. It was tiresome because he wasn't always around when Granddaddy needed him. But we all knew he'd be back as soon as he could manage it. Daddy always talked about breaking out, too, but he always ended up staying until they unlocked the cell door.
Then the politicos passed the three strikes law here in Metropolis, and Daddy was on a downward spiral in no time at all, it seemed.
He's currently doing 20 — 30 for his part in that big armored car heist back in ninety-four. That was a poorly planned scheme, Granddaddy says. It lacked planning, and nobody took charge and assigned specific jobs to each of the team members. So on the big day, when things went wrong, the whole job dissolved into chaos.
Granddaddy's always been a big fan of a well-planned job. He says that nowadays, the average villain just hasn't learned enough about the planning stages of a heist. He says the younger generation of villains just wants to skip to the rewards without the hard work.
But anyway, Daddy's out of commission pretty permanently, it seems.
Of course, that got me a promotion of sorts sooner than any of us had expected it. I was fifteen the year Daddy struck out, and Granddaddy started taking me with him when he went out on business. Word got around — it always does in our line of work — that I was pretty handy to have around if there was a safe on the premises, and before I knew it I was at the top of the list for anybody looking to hook up with for a bank robbery.
Granddaddy's retired now — and not because he wanted to, either. He's doing time in the Happy Trails Home. Well, all right, it's actually called the Lifecare Nursing and Rehab Center, but that's what he calls it. Can't say I blame him. He's spent his whole life as a master villain, avoided the whole three-strikes thing all these years, and what happens? He slips going down the back steps and breaks a hip.
So nowadays, it's just me, most of the time. I hitch up with some guys now and then, depending on what they have to offer, skills-wise. But mostly I've found that I work best alone, at least for the little jobs.
Work's thinner on the ground these days, anyway. Like I said, you just don't have the freedom you used to have. Superman has put a huge dent in the whole villain business, I'll tell ya.
We villains are pretty resourceful, though, so of course there've been many a scheme tried to keep ol' Blue out of the way. You've got your hostage-takers, but that's a washout unless you've got the means to discourage Supes from making an appearance. That dude can move so fast, he can take a hostage out from in front of a gun in the time it takes the guy on the business end to blink. And have the poor fool — the villain, not the victim — tied to a lamppost, gun-less — and hostage-less — by the time the guy tightens his finger on the trigger that isn't there anymore.
Then you've got your Kryptonite boys, but that stuff's way hard to get a hold of. There's so little of it left anymore, anyway. What there is is basically powder. If you do manage to find some, it's usually cut so far with whatever they use — flour, I think — that a lot of the time Superman doesn't seem to be affected. And you can forget what you've heard about Red K — all it seems to do is make the Big Blue Boyscout sarcastic. He still messes up your plans and ties you to a post; he just isn't as polite about it. And he cusses.
There're a thousand other failed schemes out there, but what it boils down to, mostly, is you've got your best chance of a successful outcome if he's out of town somewhere.
Naturally, a lot of jobs are planned and held at the ready for those out-of-town disasters. You've even got guys in a new subspecialty, keeping a finger on the world's pulse — or at least the country's pulse.
In the old days we used police scanners; now these guys've got Internet and twenty-four hour news, cell phones and instant messaging. The minute Superman's out of the city, the crime rate surges.
Of course, the city's on to all of that, so the police are doing the same thing now. They're all wired for the Internet, too, and they've got guys who do nothing but surf the news sites all day. And they call in everyone they've got when ol' Blue shows up somewhere other than Metropolis. I've heard they've got an on-call group of volunteers called Super Support Unit or something dumb like that. So nowadays, when Superman isn't in Metropolis, sometimes it seems like the whole damn city is blue. There're so many cops on the streets, they make the alley cats look like an endangered species.
Well, I'd had a plan in the works for a while, though. I saw it in a movie — these guys train some dogs to rob a bank for them. I didn't see the whole movie, but man, those dogs really knew their stuff! I know it was just a movie, but you know, dogs can really do a lot of that stuff.
I've seen those shows on TV where some guy waves his hands around, or whistles, or something, and the dog takes off on this obstacle course kinda thing. I'll tell ya, those dogs can crawl on their bellies through tunnels, and climb up fences and jump through hoops and all kinds of stuff!
And that's just the kind of stuff I figured I could use. I'd pick up a couple dogs — I figured I'd need about four — and train 'em just like in that movie. My cousin Eddie has a soft spot for dogs; they generally like him pretty well. I figured he oughta be able to train 'em to go into a bank on his — or my — command.
Eddie's a contract thief — he signs on for a job for a percent of the take. He's not a safecracker or muscle — he's a wiry little guy — but he's got a reputation for being a good general-purpose accomplice. You know — he'll do lookout duty, or drive the getaway car, carry the take — that kind of thing.
So he could train the dogs to get into a bank, get the stuff, and then run off and shake anybody who tried to follow 'em. Dogs are good at that kind of thing — they can dive into dark alleys or into bushes, and lose anyone on their tails. Then I could meet them at the spot Eddie trained 'em to show up at — like, say, Centennial Park. There're some nice out-of-the-way spots where we could round 'em up, unload 'em, and stuff everything into a van and drive off nice and innocent-like. And dogs'll work for food. Easy to pay 'em — and they don't blab.
Well, the first part — getting the dogs so we could train them — went great. Eddie suggested border collies. Said they learn hand signals really fast and they love to work. Idiots. Of course, if you don't have thumbs what else can you really do?
He got three of 'em from the pound. They were mostly black — that was good; they'd be hard to see at night. Especially if we dyed the white parts black to match. Apparently they're popular as pets until people realize that they're like gerbils on speed — not your average lay-in-the-sun snoozing kind of pooch. Way high energy, so they end up in dog pounds.
He also got a little tiny thing that looked like a dirty mop. With teeth and legs. When I asked him what he was thinking, getting a midget lapdog, he said it was gonna be the gun — the muscle. Little but powerful. I couldn't believe it, but Eddie said little dogs are often meaner, and although they may not be able to reach very high, they can do some pretty heavy damage to your ankles if you tick 'em off. Eddie said the big drawback to the smart-and-work-loving-hand-signal-learning dogs, those border collies, is that they're big schmoozers — they usually love people and are not inclined to bite.
Whatever. All I can tell you for sure is that that little sucker, the mop, packed a mean bite. I got between it and its food bowl six weeks ago, and I'm still limping.
Eddie and I turned the shed into a mock-up of a bank. We built a long counter like a bank has. We put drawers on the far side of it, like tellers would have for the cash. And Eddie even rigged up the two sets of doors. I don't know where he got 'em, but they even looked like bank doors — you know, those big doors that are mostly glass.
By the end of the third week the three big dogs had most of Eddie's hand signals down. The mop-dog still had a ways to go. I suggested we scrap it for some good fierce Dobermans or something, but Eddie said no. He said we needed dogs who were naturals about slinking along almost unseen, like the border collies, or getting into small spaces, like the mopdog could probably do — not dogs who are right out there ready to guard whatever they're supposed to be guarding.
I don't know. Dobermans worked just fine in the movie, but Eddie was the one training the dogs. I figured he must know what he was talking about. And that little mop-dog was definitely mean. It was as stubborn as a cow facing a loading chute and as bad-tempered as a rattlesnake. I suggested Eddie might want to use a cattle prod on the thing. I think he thought I was joking.
He had trained one of the border collies as the decoy. Since you can't teach a dog to walk into a bank and shout, "This is a hold-up! Nobody move!" — at least, I don't think you can — we had to have a way to get the tellers away from the silent alarm buttons. Eddie's the dog expert. If there was a dog out there that could learn to speak — you know, like parrots do — I think he'd have told me about it.
Anyway, so decoy-dog — Doc, Eddie called him — would go in first, whining and limping or holding up a paw or something. That'd draw out the tellers. First of all, they'd be amazed that the dog was smart enough to walk into the bank, and second, Eddie said most women were suckers for a pretty dog. And Doc could do friendly really well.
So then in would go mop-dog. Eddie called him Johnnie. That's a joke, by the way — one of the best front men in the villain business was a mean little dude called John Black. He'd just as likely shoot you in the back as look at you, depending on his mood. Yeah, that made him dangerous, but if you got on the right side of him — and lots of dough upfront would do the trick — he'd turn into the scariest, most intimidating guy on your team. Nobody — and I mean *nobody* got on this guy's bad side. They say even Lex Luthor was afraid of him. Even today, a large part of the villain community can't decide if it was a curse or a blessing that Johnnie Black was killed in the line of duty, so to speak, when Luthor went down.
But back to Johnnie the mop-dog: in goes the little sucker; you've got your tellers in a nice handy group around Doc the schmoozer-dog. Johnnie-dog then starts his John Black act, and nobody'll move from where he's got 'em pinned.
Then for the best part — in prance the other two border collies — Tom and Harry, Eddie calls 'em. He'd taught them to go around the counter in the shed, to where the drawers were. So the border collies would do the same at the bank. They'd pull the drawers open and snag the cash, then bring it over to Doc, who would be wearing this dog-backpacker pack sort of thing Eddie picked up from one of those highbrow sporting goods places. Our two front men — front dogs, I mean — would stuff the cash into the backpack and go back for more. When they'd emptied the drawers, the border collies would hit the road with Johnnie-mop bringing up the rear.
They'd nip down the block, into the alley, out the other end, and into the Hobbs Hill area. There's that little park in the square — they'd head in there. There are lots of those flowerbeds with the bushes at the back — good for concealment so our dog team wouldn't attract a lot of attention. Our little bank-robbing pack would continue on out the other side, down toward Hobbs Bay and on to Centennial Park. And that's where I would meet them with the van.
Eddie had walked the whole route with the dogs several times. Not with all of them at once, of course. We certainly didn't want anyone to notice us, and a guy with three border collies and a mop on leashes would attract more attention than a guy walking a single dog now and then. Once they'd all been over the route a few times, he started taking them without leashes, using the whistle to direct them.
My job was to drive the van to the far edge of Centennial Park, pull down a service road into a clearing by a Parks Department storage building, and then sit tight 'til Eddie and whatever dog he had with him showed up. After Eddie started the no-leash training, I kept hoping the mopdog'd get lost on the way to the park. Or that one of the coyotes who lived in Centennial Park would have it for lunch. But no, every single time, the little sucker would erupt out of the bushes, growling, and attack my ankles.
Eddie thought it was hilarious. He said the dog had an excellent sense of humor. I have no idea what he was talking about.
On the big day, Eddie would be coordinating the whole thing from his motorcycle, parked discreetly near the bank. He rigged up some kind of transmitter on the dogs' collars, and he's got a dog whistle so he can give them commands off site, as he puts it. He said he timed the dogs over and over again, so he'd know exactly how much time to allow between commands. Then when they split the bank, he'd ride off and meet me in Centennial Park.
Well, by the sixth week we were almost ready to go. The border collies were so ready to work that Eddie brought 'em into the house. Drove me crazy; every day he'd have 'em doing stuff he said would reinforce what we wanted them to do on heist-day. He took all the silverware out of the kitchen drawers and filled them up with cut up newspapers instead, and he'd have Tom and Harry — I don't know which is which — open those drawers, grab the paper, and put it in Doc's pack. Then I got to be the one who had to empty all the dog-spit covered paper out of the pack so they could do it all again. And again.
And then Eddie'd reward them each with a couple of Bacon Burgers from the BurgRJoint down the block. Man, I just hated seeing all those cheap, greasy but delicious sliders being wasted on those dogs. Especially that nasty little ratty mopdog.
The mop-dog was at least obeying Eddie's commands. Grudgingly. It was still growling at everything, but Eddie said that just added a convincing touch. And it was still biting me, or at least trying to, anyway. I'd started wearing my boots all the time, even in the house, which would've earning me an ear boxing if Grandmamma had still been alive.
Well, the big day came. We'd planned the heist for the end of the day, when the tills would be full and the tellers would be anxious to wrap things up and go home. You know — not so vigilant. And there wouldn't likely be any customers right at closing time.
We were primed and ready to go. The border collies probably would've driven the van if they knew how, they were so primed. When Eddie said those suckers like to work, he wasn't kidding. We loaded the dogs and the motorcycle into the back of the van. I left Eddie to deal with Johnnie mop-dog.
Considering that some things you just have to leave to chance, like whether someone'll wander into the bank in the middle of your heist, things went just as we'd planned. Those dogs performed exactly as they'd been taught, and when they came out of the bank, it was obvious that Doc's packs were stuffed full. Eddie gave them the signal to head for the park, and off they went. It gets starts getting fairly dark at five o'clock this time of year, you know, so they blended into the twilight almost immediately. Even if one of the tellers had hit the alarm button, nobody was gonna find our little furry thieves. Eddie revved up and took his own route to the park, where I was waiting.
As expected, he arrived way before the dogs, and we sat on the van's bumper, chain-smoking Marlboros and barely able to contain ourselves over our success. Supes or no Supes, we'd pulled it off! And nobody could trace the dogs to us. Hell, nobody could trace the dogs! Granddaddy would be so proud when I described the whole thing to him — he'd had his doubts about the dogs' reliability in the beginning, but he'd helped us tweak the plan a little once he'd had time to think about it. And laid up as he was, thinking was pretty much all he could do.
After about a half hour, the dogs showed up, trotting out of the underbrush just as they had in the practice runs. Doc's packs were bulging, so while Eddie set about handing out Bacon Burgers right and left, I went to the back of the van for the bags we'd be transferring the money to.
And that's when everything went wrong.
As I grabbed the sacks and backed out of the van, I heard a whistle.
A dog-calling whistle.
I turned to Eddie in surprise; I mean, the dogs were right there already. Maybe one had wandered off a ways? But Eddie, apparently, was not the whistler. He was staring at the tree line with a dumbfounded look on his face. I wheeled around.
Superman was just stepping into the clearing about twenty feet from us. Coming from the same direction that the dogs had. With his arms crossed and that stern can't-take-a-joke look on his face.
Apparently, dogs really like Superman. I mean, really, *really* like him. The fuzzy traitors went right to him when he whistled. Just turned around and pranced up to him like Lassie or something. Even the mopdog. But does the little rat go up to Supes and bite him on the ankle? Oh, no. The little fink wallows around at ol' Blue's feet, wagging its back end and rolling over for a tummy rub. Just one big love-fest.
And how did Superman find us, anyway? How in the world can Superman track animals? Yeah, they talk about his great hearing and vision and all that, but c'mon. A black dog on a black night? Well, twilight, anyway. In the underbrush and all kinds of little places a man can't go? In the middle of the city where there're probably a million cats and dogs wandering around here and there? What's he do, listen for their heartbeats? Nah — one dog heartbeat is like another, I bet.
So here I am. Tied to a street light with a bent stop sign. Well, all right, it's a tree here at the edge of Centennial Park. And he used a Pedestrian Crossing sign. But anyway, the effect's the same.
And it turns out that Superman *didn't* find us. Nope, it turns out Supes was over in Hobbs Hill, at some statue-dedicating sort of thing. You know, last quotes for the media and all that. At that little park in the square.
The little park on the dogs' escape route.
Nope, Superman didn't sniff us out. The dogs, those traitors, went straight to him, all friendly, and they *led him right to us*. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it turned out to be the mop-dog's idea.
The end result's the same, though. Superman showed up. Which means the end of our new specialty dog-training business. And our wealth. And our freedom. Eddie and I both already had two strikes against us, and now we have just struck out.
Author's note — While the not-quite-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is villain in my story had a purely hate/hate relationship with Eddie's littlest dog, Johnnie, and an indifferent attitude to the other dogs, this in no way reflects my own attitude toward dogs. <g>
On the contrary — I love dogs. My favorites are collies — like Lassie — but I like all dogs. Especially dogs like little Johnnie in this story, who had a pretty good sense of humor. My own dogs have web pages at Dogster (http://www.dogster.com).
My villain got his idea from watching a movie called The Doberman Gang (1972), where an ex-con named Eddie (I swear that's just a coincidence!) and a couple of other people train a pack of Dobermans to rob a bank. Unfortunately, my villain didn't see the ending. <g>