Shelter

It didn’t matter how menacing the gray sky looked. Nothing would stop Rob from getting out of his hellhole of a hometown. He packed up his rusty old pickup and hit the road for the last time.

No more small town gossip. No more boarded up buildings up and down the lone stretch through town. No more of his cheating ex-girlfriend or his louse of a best friend who took her off Rob’s hands. No more working for the family business. Rob shut down the hardware store as soon as his father passed and it became his to close. Its cash flow could best be described as “hemorrhaging” anyway.

He wasn’t even twenty minutes out of town when his cell phone beeped with an alert. He picked up the phone to see if it was anything important.

“Damn it,” he growled as he pounded his fist on his steering wheel, hitting the truck’s horn.

It was a tornado warning. One was spotted not far from him, and it was heading in his direction. It would be on him in less than ten minutes. His eyes scanned the horizon, looking for somewhere to take shelter. Only one old farmhouse stood out among the fields and the lone road he sat on. He hit the gas and headed in the house’s direction.

By the time Rob pulled down the drive and got out of his truck, the sky was so dark it could have been night. The wind nudged him toward the front porch where he frantically pounded on the door.

“Hello!” he shouted. “Is anyone in there?”

Knowing he didn’t have much time, he peered in the window. A small, elderly man sat hunched over in his chair across the room. He didn’t lift his head. Rob tried the front door, but it was locked tight. There wasn’t time to break in through a window to help. He needed to get underground. He pounded hard on the window one more time to try to wake the man from his deep slumber. For all Rob could tell, he wasn’t breathing anyway.

“Poor fool,” he said out loud.

Rob turned around and, seeing the gray funnel in the distance, ran to the side of the house. He checked the cellar door. Locked. He rushed to his truck. He grabbed a heavy wrench from the toolbox in the truck’s bed.

He hit the old rusted padlock.

“Come on,” he pleaded with the cellar door as he continued to beat on the lock. “Open damn it!”

One final, panicked swing of the wrench did it. He pulled the padlock away, opened the door, climbed down into the cellar, and pulled the door closed behind him. He crouched under the workbench on the far wall, protecting his head while he listened to the roaring of a freight train above him.

When the noise stopped, he emerged from the cellar and looked around. The house was banged up, but it still stood. Even his pickup was still there, though a large tree limb had fallen onto the truck’s bed. The tornado must have changed course, the worst of it barely missing them.

Rob reached into his truck’s toolbox and pulled out a flashlight. He headed back to the cellar, hoping to find a saw he could use to cut the tree limb so he could remove it. His truck was damaged, but it still looked drivable. And he still wanted to get away.

After rummaging through tools in the cellar, Rob noticed a large cabinet. He opened it, hoping to find something useful. Instead, he found a collection of newspaper clippings, taped along the cabinet walls, even on the inside surface of its doors.

His curiosity piqued, Rob read the headlines. Every one talked about an old bank heist from the 1970s. He knew the story. Everyone in the area did. Two masked men hit a bank just a few towns over from where he grew up. They made off with nearly five million dollars. A bank guard was killed in the robbery, but the criminals were never found.

Why would that old guy care so much about an old robbery? Rob wondered. At first he thought the man in the farmhouse might have been an officer involved in the case. But then something on the bottom shelf caught his eye. Cash. The corner of a single bill stuck out from under the shelf. The cabinet had a false bottom.

Rob cleared the lower shelf and pried it up, revealing a stash of more money than he’d seen in his lifetime. It all fell into place. The old guy in the house wasn’t a cop who worked on the old robbery case. He was one of the guys who pulled it off.

Rob dumped the contents of an old toolbox and stuffed the cash in it. He went back to the workbench and found the saw he was looking for. He made his way out of the cellar and put the toolbox in his truck. Then he went back to the house and peered in the window.

“Good,” said Rob, noticing that the old man was still asleep, or worse, in his chair. If that roaring wind didn’t wake him, nothing would. Rob didn’t want to draw attention to himself as he tried to free his truck.

He made quick work of the log, cutting it in half so he could push each piece of the limb off the sides of his truck’s bed. He then got into the cab and continued driving, knowing he had a decision to make. Would he keep the money? Or would he turn it in?

As tempting as it was to keep all that cash, he didn’t want to risk being caught with it. So he drove two towns over, where the heist happened all those years ago. He set the toolbox on the front desk and asked to speak with whomever was in charge.

“You’re one lucky guy,” said the town’s sheriff after Rob told him the story and told him where he could find the rest of the evidence. “Not only might you have solved the biggest crime in these parts for decades, but it sounds like you barely skirted the storm. And you know, if this all pans out, you’ll be entitled to the reward. The bank’s still offering a hundred grand for any lead that brings those bandits to justice.”

A hundred grand, Rob repeated to himself in his head. It’s not five million bucks, or even whatever cut was still in that cellar. But it’ll be a hell of a start to a new life.

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