The Inside Job by J. Mark Bertrand“The Inside Job” by J. Mark Bertrand, Hardluck Stories, Spring 2005
Tanner spent eight years in prison for a liquor store robbery gone wrong – at least from his viewpoint. Maybe he found religion inside or at least a moral compass. He doesn’t know, but he doesn’t want to go back. All he wants is a normal life. He met a woman, Joan, and fell in love. She doesn’t care about his background. He has a job, he has a woman, it looks like his dream of a normal life is within reach.
Then Gravel shows up. Gravel is his best friend from childhood. He was Tanner’s partner in the liquor store robbery. Gravel didn’t try to go straight when he got out. Now he’s in trouble. He owes seventy grand to some very bad people. He wants Tanner to help him make a score big enough to clear him.
If Tanner had the seventy grand he’d give it to Gravel, but he doesn’t. And he doesn’t want to go back to crime. They argue, and Tanner sends him away. Joan, who knows how close he and Gravel are, wants to know what the argument was about. Tanner tells her, and suddenly this woman of Tanner’s dreams, this 14-year employee of a bank, this citizen comes up with a plan to rob the bank where she works.
Tanner doesn’t want to do it. Joan arranges a meeting with Gravel. He and Joan try to convince Tanner to do the job. Joan even says she has the guns they will need. She tells them the routine of the bank, how many guards, the best time to hit. She also comes up with a way to force the manager to open the vault – by holding the man’s wife hostage. Finally, reluctantly Tanner agrees to do the job while Gravel holds the bank manager’s wife hostage.
But when Tanner gets to the bank, nothing is like Joan said it would be. The vault is open. There are two guards instead of one. Tanner gets away with one bag of money but not without shooting one guard and pistol-whipping another. Things get worse from there. Is there redemption waiting for him, or jail or even death?
This story reads easily and quickly. Mr. Bertrand does a good job of showing how a man with good intentions can be dragged into bad ways through relationships that make him feel obligated. And let’s not forget the femme fatale. This story could have fit right in the Dangerous Women anthology.
I have one small quibble with the sudden appearance of the prison chaplain at the end. It almost feels like deus ex machina, though there is a quick explanation of his presence. But I would have felt better if he had made a physical appearance earlier in the story.
In short, an excellent object lesson about the influence of bad company.