The Safety Deposit Box

Mike Biggs sucked Tums clay from his molars. The bank was crowded with other lunch hour customers. He wasn't sure he was even in the right line. He had never visited his great uncle's safety deposit box before. He'd never had reason to, until now. The lady in front of him—pleasantly plump, peach suit—fanned herself with a floppy fast food napkin. Mike jingled the tiny key in his pocket. He was dressed in street clothes, scheduled to work a swing shift. Oh man, he was not looking forward to any ribbing from Carl. Not today. He had a lot on his mind.

Mike had only met his rich Uncle Stillwick on two occasions. Once when Mike saved his life after the old man choked on a martini olive and again at his funeral a day later. In between the olive and the heart attack, Stillwick made a minor adjustment to his will, leaving Mike—then 8 years old—a ten-carat diamond engagement ring. The lawyer explained that Stillwick had always meant to give it to a future third wife, possibly a nurse, but he had enjoyed relatively good health up until his death. After Mike mentioned to his mother that he might have occasion to visit the safety deposit box she had passed along a newspaper article about Uncle Stillwick, but since Mike had begun taking fiber pills in the morning he'd found himself with less lavatory reading time. All Mike really knew about Uncle Stillwick was that he had been an inventor, a filthy rich loner with a pile of patents and no kids. The estate was a mess. Mike had never expected anything. But on the odd occasion when somebody asked Mike why he chose to become a cop he sometimes credited his uncle, saying that he knew he wanted to serve and protect for a living after performing a clumsy Heimlich on the old man all those years ago.

Mike liked helping people. Mike liked to make people feel good. He especially liked to make Molly feel good. When Molly came she shook so hard their house shifted on its foundation. The warranty people at the furniture store were tired of hearing from them. It had only been the night before when Mike decided it was time to ask Molly to marry him. They were basking in a sticky post-coital glow, flushed and heaving. Mike drifted into a nearly narcotized sleep and imagined a rolling meadow swept with wind, the two of them dressed in white, swapping souls. His eyes popped open and he shot forward. "Stillwick!" he shouted.

"Huh?" said Molly.

"Um, Stillwick's Chicken," said Mike. "Over on the South Side. I sure could go for some of that right now."

"I could eat," said Molly, shrugging. "We deserve it after that workout."

They kissed and then Mike went downstairs and thawed some frozen wings and wrote "Stillwick's Chicken" on an old donut bag in black marker.

Mike was next in line. He was trying to remember the source of Uncle Stillwick's fortune. Peggy once told him it had something to do with air freshener release valves. The bank teller licked her thumb as she counted off the bills. Mike returned to fond thoughts of Molly. He also remembered a pretzel in his jacket pocket, although it was pretty broken and he'd already sucked most of the salt off the more substantial pieces.

There was some commotion at the back of the line. The teller paused mid-lick. Mike was wondering if the bills could be flavored using some sort of paste or gel. Maybe he'd inherited the inventing bug from Uncle Stillwick! Mike smiled. Just then the sound of gunfire ripped through the soft bank's Muzak. Everyone hit the deck. Mike turned and faced three masked men. He instinctively reached for his service weapon, but all he found was the broken pretzel.

"Stay down and think of your families," said one of the men. "We're not here for your money."

"That's a relief," thought Mike. "I have over $3600 in this bank!"

Another man hopped the teller divide and began rummaging through drawers and being rude to the ladies.

The lead man approached Mike. He had wide shoulders and sculpted muscles. Mike puffed his chest as best he could.

"Michael Biggs," said the man.

"Can I help you?" asked Mike.

"We're here for your key."