Cleveland SOHO Media

The Thousand Dollar Man

by Megan Soyars

"Damn it, it's a hitchhiker!"
Simon Caldwell leaned forward to peer through the window of his newly-bought Subaru. Both he and his wife of five months were traveling down a dusty Nevada highway, headed towards a family reunion in Boulder City, four hours away. The ride had been fairly uneventful up until now, so Simon and his wife had resorted to playing I Spy out the car window. Simon was currently losing, mainly due to the fact that he was driving and thus had to keep his eyes on the road. It had been his turn to spy when he caught sight of a dim figure several miles down the road and blurted, "Damn it, it's a hitchhiker."

"Si-mon, you gave it away," his wife, Bethany, complained. "You have to say 'I spy,' then a descriptive adjective."

"Can you quit it with the game for a second, Bethany?" Simon snapped. A medium-built man with short blond hair and blue-gray eyes, Simon's face already possessed a sort of wary cynicism, despite the fact that he was only twenty-five. "Now, remember to keep your eyes on the road as we pass him." Simon had always disliked hitchhikers, but his wariness of them had only increased after watching No Country for Old Men last month on DVD.

"What are you talking about?" Bethany demanded. "We have to pick him up!" Simon's better half was also his exact opposite. As dark as Simon was fair, Bethany nee Artiaga exuded energy, joy, and a sort of naive innocence.

"What for?" Simon asked.
"Because it's the decent thing to do!"

"No, it's the dangerous thing to do," he argued. "Nobody picks up hitchhikers anymore, Bethany. They did stuff like that in the fifties or something, when it was safe." Bethany crossed her arms. "I can't believe you're doing this. It's 98 degrees outside! He could be suffering from heatstroke." They were now within yards of the hitchhiker, who Simon could see had extended his thumb outward in that universal symbol. Simon scowled. "Yeah, but he could also have a gun," he persisted. "What would you rather have—him hot outside with a gun, or in the car and comfortable, holding us up?"

"He doesn't have a gun, Simon!" Bethany said, exasperated. "Can you stop acting like your paranoid grandmother for one second and be a decent human being?" "Oh, alright then," Simon muttered, relenting. He knew that if he didn't stop, he would be risking Bethany's ire for the rest of the four-hour car ride, which he weighed against the odds of picking up a homicidal hitchhiker. Pulling to side of the road, he rolled down his window. "Hey, fella! Need a ride?" he called over Bethany's squeal of thankful delight. The man ambled over, grinning underneath a dirty drooping black mustache. He was tall and thin, dressed in a tattered shirt, corduroy pants, and a straw hat that shaded his eyes, but also hid their expression. "I sure do, mister," he drawled, leaning through Bethany's window. He smelled of sweat and red dirt. "I'm headin' to Henderson."

"Well, you're in luck, then, I guess," Simon said, although he himself did not look particularly happy. He had been secretly hoping that the man's destination might be different from their own. "We're headed in that direction, too. Get in." As the man climbed into the backseat, Simon winced at the sight of his dirty pants on the Subaru's new leather. "I sure thank you," the man said, appearing not to notice Simon's look. "I was almost expectin' you to pass me by. So many people have been passin' me by, y'know?" "I wonder why," Simon muttered. Bethany hit him on the shoulder. "People, they just ain't decent anymore," the man continued. "But not you all, you're the modern-day good Samaritans, y'know?" "Well, we do what we can," Simon said, putting the car into gear and pulling back onto the road.

"So why are you heading to Henderson?" Bethany asked, looking into the rearview mirror. The man, with his pale intense eyes underneath the straw hat, and his talk about good Samaritans, had intrigued her. "I've got an interview with the local news," the man answered. "An important interview." "The local news, huh?" Simon said. He attempted to exchange a warning glance with Bethany, but she was still staring into the rearview mirror. "What are they interviewing you for?" she asked. "I'm doing things," the man replied mysteriously. "Thing's nobody's done before. Things that are gonna change the world." "'Things', huh?" Simon said. Now he really tried to catch Bethany's eye. "Wow!" Bethany exclaimed. "I want to do things, too! I want to help people, you know?" "Yes, I know," the man said, gazing at her intensely in the rearview mirror. Simon cleared his throat, feeling the sudden urge to divert the man's attention to himself. "Yeah, um, Bethany helps out a lot. She does work at the children's shelter and stuff. She, um ...really loves those kids." He instantly questioned the wisdom of clumsily, yet overtly, complimenting his wife in front of this man when he suddenly straightened up in his seat and exclaimed fervently, "Why, that's wonderful! That is the most wonderful thing I have ever heard. Together, this is how we change the world." "Well, I don't know if I am changing the world," Bethany giggled, nevertheless flattered. "But I do hope that I am making a difference in the children's lives, even if it is just for a few hours a day." "A few hours in the day of a child is great when measured by kindness," the man replied.

Aside from the bile rising in Simon's throat at this sentimental statement, his suspicions were also being raised. He wondered where the man was going with this. He certainly was starting to talk funnier than he had when they'd picked him up. Simon accelerated slightly, knowing it was 8 miles to Henderson. Bethany, meanwhile, had started to describe the nature of her volunteer work to the man. The man would occasionally respond with reverent comments, such as "Oh, I am sure they are appreciative" and "How selfless of you." As they passed into Henderson's city limits, Simon breathed a sigh of relief. He looked into the rearview mirror.

"Hey, fella, where do you want me to drop you off?" he asked, breaking into Bethany's description of making macaroni art with two five-year-olds named Dante and Sierra. "Any motel would be fine," the man replied. "I must prepare myself for the interview." "Do you need any imbursement?" Bethany asked, concerned. Judging by the man's tattered appearance, he owned little, and Bethany knew motels could be costly in Henderson. "That's quite alright, my dear," the man said, giving her a strange smile. Simon scowled. He decided to turn into the first motel he caught sight of. It happened to be a Holiday Inn. Simon pulled to a stop by the check-in center, then turned around to face the man. "There ya go, fella. You can go ahead and get out now." "I sure thank you," the man said, reverting back to his old accent as he fixed his pale eyes on Simon. "You've sure been a help. And to show my 'preciation-" He reached into a ragged pocket and Simon tensed involuntarily in his seat, but the man only pulled out two bills. Simon sighed in faint relief. He was probably just tipping them for the ride. But as the man unfolded the bills, Simon's eyes fell on their numerals -- $2,000. Simon's jaw gaped and he nearly lost his gum. Beside him, Bethany gasped. "Go ahead, take it," the man said, as casually as if he were holding out a bag of Fritos to share. "Should be more than enough considerin' all you've done." "But we c-c-couldn't-" Bethany stammered. "Be quiet, Bethany," Simon snapped. He reached out numbly and snatched the money, before another bizarre twist of fate caused it to be lost to him forever. He wondered vaguely if he were dreaming. The man grinned, tipped his dirty straw hat to them, then climbed out of the Subaru without further ado. Whistling, he started off towards the motel doors, his hands in his pockets. Simon and Bethany stared after him as if they had been stunned. The spell seemed to break only after the doors closed behind the man. Simon immediately thrust the bills up to the light, peering through them.

"What are you doing?" Bethany asked him anxiously. "Trying to see if they're counterfeit," Simon answered. "I don't think they are." He shuddered, looking suddenly sick. "I bet it's stolen. This is stolen money!" "It's not stolen," Bethany protested. "He wouldn't steal!" "'He wouldn't steal!'" Simon mimicked. "You knew him for like ten minutes while he was hitching a ride, Bethany! And he's obviously crazy." Simon sat back in his seat, trying to think. "We should at least report this to the police or something." "Would we give the money back?" Bethany asked. "Hell no!" Simon exclaimed. "We're keeping this. We'll just tell them we saw this weird-ass crazy guy checking into a motel." "Weird-ass crazy guys check into motels all the time," Bethany argued. "They won't listen to us." "You're probably right," Simon muttered, rubbing his chin. "Well, let's just think about this, then. We'll wait until we see the news tonight, at least." "Do you really think he's going to be on the news?" Bethany asked. "Sure, why not?" Simon said, shrugging. "If this guy's carrying around thousand dollar bills, something's going on with him." He put the car into gear. "Come on, let's get out of here." "But we need to check into a motel, too," Bethany pointed out. "Not here!" Simon said, glancing warily towards the door where the man had disappeared. "We'll go to the next one." And they pulled out of the motel parking lot and started back down the road.


But the man was not on any of the evening news channels, though Simon and Bethany watched them all from the motel room they had rented, laying together on the narrow bed, eating room service Chinese out of little white cartons. They both fell asleep around midnight, dreaming of the man, and the two thousand dollar bills tucked securely into Simon's pocket. The next morning, Simon turned on the news as soon as they were both up. They listened to it as they got ready. By common consent, they did not talk about the man. The Henderson news played as Simon stood by the bed dressing himself and Bethany tried to put her contacts on in the bathroom. There had a been a robbery at the local Burger King and somebody had been hit by a bus. Then an announcer's voice spoke dramatically. "Up next, a modern-day Good Samaritan from our own Sin City, Las Vegas casino inheritor Michael Vernon III." Simon's hands froze on his tie as a thin-faced young man with glossy black hair and a trim mustache appeared on the screen. Simon yelled so loudly that Bethany poked herself in the eye in the bathroom and lost her contact. "Ouch! Damn it, Simon." "Bethany! Bethany, get in here!" Simon yelped, pointing wildly at the television. "It's our man! It's the hitchhiker!" Bethany raced into the bedroom, her contact forgotten on the floor. Knocking Simon aside, she put her face within inches of the television screen. "It's him," she breathed, listening in a sort of awed reverence at the announcer continued: "The sole inheritor of Mikey Vernon's real estate and casino empire, worth a value of 4.2 billion, was to be his only son, Michael Richard Vernon III. But when Vernon inherited, he did not follow in his father's footsteps. Over a bizarre period of months, he sold the casinos, the properties, and all his other worldly possessions, leaving him effectively homeless and assetless, but with a value of 8.5 billion in his banks accounts. Financial experts, casino moguls, and regular citizens all over the United States asked themselves one questions, What would he do with the money? The last thing they expected was for Vernon to pack up and effectively disappear, but that's precisely what he did. Leaving his bank accounts untouched, Michael Vernon III skipped town, not to be heard of for three years. But why couldn't the infamous Vernon heir, whose face was known across the United States, worth over 8 billion dollars, be found? But then stories began to surface, strange stories of a ragged vagrant traveling from town to town. A vagrant offering surprisingly large sums of money to compassionate people that he found in need. The sightings popped up everywhere, from Chicago to Appalachia. Then, six weeks ago, a reporter caught up with this 'vagrant.' We now bring you this same story, in a rare, exclusive interview with Michael Vernon himself." Bethany gasped and grabbed the edges of the television as the hitchhiker himself appeared on screen, now immaculately groomed and dressed in shirt and slacks, sitting on a couch across from a female interviewer. Vernon was really quite handsome when clean and shaven, Bethany thought to herself. She jumped a little when Simon put his hand on her shoulder. "Scoot over, Bethany," he complained. "I can't see the screen." Bethany reluctantly scooted over as the interview began. Vernon gave the interviewer fairly much the same story they had just heard from the announcer. He spoke in a patient, cultured, but oddly intense tone of voice, the same tone that had crept into his backwater speech when he had hitched a ride with Simon and Bethany yesterday. Vernon's green, pale-as-ice eyes were fixed on the interviewer, the same way they had been fixed on Bethany's in the rearview mirror. But the real punch came when the interviewer finally got around to the ultimate question, Why was Vernon throwing away his billion dollar inheritance to random compassionate people he met during his travels? Vernon took a deep breath, his eyes traveling around the stylish, well-furnished room. Then he looked back towards the interviewer. "Because," he said, "I did not need the money. What does a single person need with multiple figures in his bank account? Is any man's life worth really that price tag? I don't think so. I realized so many others needed that money more than I. Single mothers with children. Young people unable to afford an education. And so to each of them, I give them enough to meet their needs." Vernon looked suddenly into the camera. To Bethany --and to a lesser degree, Simon--it seemed as though he were looking straight into their very eyes. "But what I truly ask of them is, don't spend the money yet. Wait. Look around. Chances are, you'll find someone in more need than yourself. Present them with the same gift I presented you. Give. To those who are less fortunate than you. Thank you." The interview continued for perhaps a few more minutes, but for Bethany it was over. She had found her calling. Her purpose in life. Her hero. Straightening up dramatically, she cried, "Oh, I've never heard of something so selfless! Give. Just give. What a message!" "Yeah, I don't believe that stuff, either," Simon said, shaking his head. "But what makes him think people are going to donate their thousand bucks to charity cases?" "Well, we are," Bethany said defensively. "I want us to donate ours to the children's shelter." "Oh, no we don't," Simon said warningly. "Half of that two thousand bucks is mine, remember?" They had decided last night to divide the money evenly. It was only fair, Simon had argued persuasively, despite the fact he was aware it had been Bethany's actual idea to pick up the hitchhiker. "And half is mine, Simon!" Bethany crossed her arms. "And I think you should donate your share to the children's shelter, too. They need it more than you do." "What makes you think that?" Simon snapped. "People donate stuff to that shelter everyday. But when does anybody donate anything to us? Besides just yesterday, I mean. Honey, this is our lucky break!" Bethany didn't say anything, just pushed the side of her mouth out with her tongue. Her arms were still crossed. "You want a kid someday, too, don't you?" Simon persisted. "Well, how do you think we can afford one on my salary?" "Well, we could afford one if you stopped taking out such big loans on cars!" "Oh, don't start with that," Simon growled. "You know you love the Subaru as much as I do." He knotted his tie jerkily and spun around on his heel. "Come on, let's get out of here." Bending down and picking up a suitcase, he muttered, "Well, at least we know we don't have to report that guy to the police. He turned out to be a better good Samaritan than we'll ever be."


After the family reunion ended and Bethany and Simon returned to their apartment in Reno, Bethany remained disappointed in her husband's decision to keep the money for himself. In fact, she considered the money hers, anyway, since it had been her idea to pick up the hitchhiker in the first place. She knew that if Simon had been on his own, he would have driven straight past the man like the lazy selfish bastard he was. She tried bringing up this point to Simon, but he had stomped out of the room after she inadvertently called him a lazy selfish bastard. So armed only with her $1,000, Bethany donated $800 to the children's shelter, keeping the other $200 for herself. She planned to go on a shopping spree. She figured the kids would want her to treat herself after being such a great volunteer. Simon, for his part, had deposited his $1,000 straightaway in his Chase bank account. He didn't want to blow the money on an impulsive buy like a flat screen HDTV, even though he'd been eyeing one every time he walked into Best Buy. Instead, he planned to invest the money, maybe in a college fund for his future kid or something. He ignored Bethany's pointed comments on how deeply she would respect anyone who followed the thousand dollar man's example and donated their wealth. As it was, Simon found the thousand dollar man's philosophy to be stupid.

"If we give away all our money to the needy, then we become the needy ones," he told Bethany one day over breakfast. "You're missing the point, Simon," Bethany replied in that annoyingly self-righteous tone she'd taken to using these days, gazing at him over her forkful of organic waffles. "It's not about us or them; it's about helping people." "Yeah, but we can't just help and help and help like the thousand dollar man does," Simon argued. "Then we end up with nothing. It's just one big circle. Nobody's on top." "Does someone have to be on top, Simon?" Bethany asked. "Yes, somebody does have to be on top!" Simon said, frustrated, wanting to convince her once again of her old ideology. "That's how society is, Beth. Not that hippie...communist order the thousand dollar man is trying to indoctrinate you into." Bethany smiled at him, almost pityingly. "Perhaps you're the one that's been indoctrinated, Simon. Into capitalism." Simon wanted to tell her capitalism was paying the bills so she could play volunteer at the children's shelter, but decided against it. Something nagging in the back of his head asked him if capitalist society brought about the need for things like a children's shelter in the first place. But he decided this question was too big for him. It was probably unanswerable, even for the thousand dollar man. ****** Over A Year Later "Heading to the bank, Bethany," Simon said, planting a swift kiss on the top of his wife's head as she sat reading the Cosmo at the kitchen table that morning. "That's fine, Simon," Bethany said, giving his arm an absent pat, still engrossed in the Cosmo. "I'll just be here." "So you're not doing anything today?" Simon asked. Bethany looked up and grinned, not noticing the disapproval in her husband's voice. "No, I was going to go into the shelter today. They want me to take extra shifts! Isn't that lovely?" "Hrm," Simon said, but didn't go any farther. "Well, I'll just be depositing this, then." He causally waved his paycheck in the air, as if he wanted her to take note of it, but she had gone back to her article. "See you, then." "See you." Simon stepped outside towards the Subaru, jiggling his keys. A year older, Simon Caldwell seemed a year more assured, but an edgy sort of cynicism still lurked in his gray-blue eyes. This cynicism wouldn't make sense to the outside observer. Simon appeared to have everything—a pretty wife, a good job, even a baby on the way! Yes, Bethany was expecting. They had taken the ultrasound yesterday and learned that it was a boy. Bethany was considering the names Michael or Vernon, but Simon thought this was idiotic. "We're not naming our son after the thousand dollar man," he had told her, exasperated. "We already decided we were naming him Mervin after my dead grandfather." "I'd rather bestow our son with the name of a generous and honorable philanthropist than a greedy, self-serving board room executive," Bethany had retorted. Simon was hoping she would grow out of this mindset. She had become disgustingly anti-business ever since their encounter with the thousand dollar man. Of course, this was somewhat to be expected, given Bethany's philanthropic nature. But when she had quit her comfortable secretarial job at the phone company in order to dedicate herself full-time to volunteering at the children's shelter, Simon had started to get annoyed. Since a kid was on the way, they had moved out of their apartment and into a house in the neighborhood. But a nice two-bedroom one-bath came with a price tag. Simon personally felt that Bethany was leaving him on his own to foot the bills and the rent. But as Simon leaned forward to turn up the Sirius radio in his Subaru, he supposed they weren't too badly off. The inheritance he had received from his grandfather was still pulling them along, and in fact had allowed him to save the thousand dollars he had received from the hitchhiker, Michael Vernon, over a year ago. Simon, following the advice of a broker-savvy friend, had invested the $1,000 in a mobile phone company, and received a healthy return of $4,000 over the past 15 months. The money was secured in a savings account of the bank he was now headed towards. Simon felt rather proud of this account. Only twenty-seven years old and already a little nest egg for himself. He grinned slightly, running a hand through his short blond hair. Reaching the bank, Simon parked in front and got out jauntily, whistling "My Sharona" under his breath. Entering, he saw that Chase was rather quiet today. Only one teller was open. It was the new guy, Dan. A short, timid-looking man, Dan was always unfailingly polite with the customers. For this reason, Simon liked him. Getting in line, he noticed he was behind a mother with her young child. He seemed to be noticing little kids everywhere, perhaps because his own was on the way. They seemed to be cuter than usual, too. Reaching the head of the line, Simon returned the teller's polite greeting with a nod and started to get down to business. But after a moment, he realized the teller was frowning slightly at something over his shoulder. Glancing around, Simon noticed a dark-haired man walking across the lobby. He was dressed in a heavy denim jacket, which Simon thought was odd, considering the heat outside. As if sensing their gaze, the man looked up at Simon and the teller. There was something shifty about his eyes. A dim warning signal went off in Simon's brain. But it wasn't until the man thrust a hand into his denim jacket and ripped out a pistol, firing it into the ceiling, that the true danger of the situation registered to Simon. "Shoot!" Simon's signature swearword exploded out of his mouth as he ducked to the floor, cowering against the metal partition. Behind him, the teller lunged towards the security button on his desk. "Hey, no, I don't think so!" the robber shouted. Leveling his gun, he fired off a shot. Simon actually heard the bullet whiz over his head. Behind him, the teller howled in pain and crumpled to the floor, all attempts to contact the police abandoned. He'd been shot in the arm. "That's right!" the robber screamed, his voice breaking slightly. "Nobody do nothing! Nobody call the cops! This is a hold-up!" Like we haven't guessed this already, Simon thought to himself, still cowering against the partition. He was shaking, but his fear seem strangely detached from him. The whole situation was so unreal he was having trouble believing it was actually happening. He kept expecting Aston Kutcher or somebody to pop out and declare, "Psych! You're on Punk'd!" But unfortunately, this didn't happen. Instead, the next thing the robber did was demand that everybody take out their wallets and throw across the floor to him. He spoke in a nervous, rasping voice, his dark eyes darting around the lobby. "Come on! Everybody, now!" Simon yanked his wallet out of his Dockers and tossed it across the floor towards the robber. He wasn't really too fussed about losing it; he only had forty dollars and some credit cards in it, which he would be sure to cancel if he ever got out of here. "No, not ‘if,' when," Simon muttered to himself. "When I get out of here." "Hey!" the robber snapped to Simon. "What're you muttering about? You're not talking to anybody, are you?" "No, I'm not talking to anybody!" Simon cried, cringing against the partition as the robber stalked towards him. "You don't got any of that Bluetooth technology , do you?" the robber snarled, using the barrel of his gun to twist Simon's face to the left, then to the right. "No, I don't have Bluetooth technology," Simon whimpered, for the first time ever thankful for this. "Good," the robber grunted, stepping back warily. "In fact—" he looked around the lobby at large, "everybody just throw their phones over to me now. D'you hear me? Now!" Several assorted cell phones clattered across the floor towards the robber's feet. He kicked them out of the way. "Good. Now everybody just stay the hell where they are and shut up!" He accentuated this command with the waving of his pistol, which all the Chase customers followed fearfully with their eyes, and unsurprisingly made no complaint. Still standing only feet away from Simon, the robber turned back to the teller and trained the gun on him. "Alright, buddy. Open the safe." "I can't," Dan the teller replied, these words of defiance at odds with his one good arm raised in surrender and his terrified gaze fixed upon the barrel of the gun. "What?" the robber spat. "What d'you mean, you can't?" "I mean I can't," Dan said, pausing to wipe some sweat off his lip. "I don't have the combination code. Nobody here does. Only the manager has that." "Well, call the damn manager, then!" "A-alright," Dan said, an idea for rescue lighting up in his eyes as he reached quickly for the phone. "Wait," the robber snapped, knocking his hand roughly away with the gun. "I don't want you callin' the cops or nothing. Leave the phone alone." Dan shrank back, clutching his bruised hand, left without options. "Well, I can't do anything for you, then." "Well, I'll call him, then!" the robber said angrily. Obviously, things were not going quite according to plan for him. This was only the second heist he'd attempted on a bank, and he was essentially swimming in unknown waters. "Go ahead." Something about Dan's eagerness to get him on the phone with the bank manager made the robber naturally suspicious. "Naw," he said slowly. "I don't think I will call him. I think you got the combination, and you just ain't telling me." He trained his gun directly on Dan's sweating forehead. "If you don't open it, I'll shoot you dead, do you hear?" "But I don't have it!" Dan gasped, as if fear were squeezing his vocal cords shut. "If I did, don't you think I'd tell you? I want to live, damn it!" The robber nudged Dan hard between the eyes. "Well, you're not showing me you do. So I'm gonna count to ten. Then I'm gonna blow your dadgum head off. Okay? One, two, three—" "Wait!" Simon cried out without thinking, from his position crouched by the robber's feet. The robber actually jumped a little, as if he had forgotten about Simon. "What?" he snarled, looking down, his pistol still trained on Dan's face. "I thought I told you to shut up!" "I know," Simon answered shakily, already regretting his decision to speak. But some instinct he did not know he possessed propelled him forward. Pushing himself into a slightly more dignified kneeling position, he said, "Don't do it. Just--don't." "What d'you mean 'don't'?" the robber snapped. "Are you tellin' me what to do?" "I--" Simon stammered, craning his neck to look up at Dan. Dan was shaking, his eyes practically crossed in order to keep the barrel of the gun in his sights. He seemed barely aware of Simon, being preoccupied with matters much closer to his nose. "Just don't," Simon continued. "He told you he can't open the safe. That's no reason to shoot--" "Forget that!" the robber shrieked. "If I wanna shot him, I will! Who are you to tell me--" He started to take the gun off the teller to point it at Simon, then seemed to change his mind, and aimed a kick at Simon instead. Simon ducked it and scrambled to his feet. "Hey!" the robber shouted, alarmed, but still unwilling to take his gun off Dan. "What are you doing?! Stay down, you bastard, or I will shoot him!"

Everyone around the lobby made collective gasps and groans. Several of them implored Simon to get back down, including the mother with her child. But Simon remained upright, only feet away from robber, shaking from head to toe. "I've got money," he blurted. The words left him almost compulsively, as if they had been on his tongue since the moment the robber had walked through the door. For some reason, he was thinking of that hitchhiker he had picked up over a year ago, the hitchhiker who gave away two thousand dollars from his pocket. The robber was staring at him, his sharp dark eyes narrowed. "What?" he said. "I said I've got money," Simon stammered. "Five thousand dollars. In my account. Here. The teller could take it out--" "I don't want no five thousand dollars," the robber spat. "D'you know how much is in this building? Quarter of a million. 'Five thousand.' Forget that!" "But he already said he couldn't take it out!" Simon protested, pointing at Dan. "Get your hand down!" the robber snarled, knocking his hand away. "Don't mess with me. If the freaking teller won't take it out, I'll shoot him. D'you hear?" A sort of desperate frustration took hold of Simon. He fought the insane urge to scream at the robber that he was an imbecile. "He already said he couldn't—" "Uh-h, if I could say something," Dan stuttered, speaking up finally. "The police should be here any second, actually." The robber whipped around. "What?!" Dan pointed upwards with a shaking finger. A small security camera was nestled in the ceiling. "Damn it!" the robber swore. He whipped back around, his eyes darting around the room, as if he expected the men in blue to materialize from the floor any moment. "Alright, I'll take his goddamn money, then. Open his account. Open it!" Dan hunched quickly over his computer, tacking away at the keys. Suddenly, he seemed to realize something. Looking up, he caught Simon's eye. "Are—are you sure you want to do this, Mr. Caldwell?" Simon swallowed. He felt numb, but strangely determined. "Yes, I'm sure." He hesitated, then added, "The money's not really mine, anyway." Dan didn't ask him to clarify this last statement. Racing away from the counter, he entered the back and returned a moment later clutching a fat stack of bills. "Hurry, hurry!" the robber snarled, snatching the bills from Dan and stuffing them into the pockets of his denim jacket. Then, with barely a glance towards Simon, the benefactor of his newfound wealth, the robber turned and fled from the lobby. Only seconds after the sliding doors closed behind him, a police car screeched into the parking lot. Two cops barreled out, tearing down the street in the direction the robber had fled. Simon turned back around towards Dan. Dan's face was as white as a sheet, in direct contrast to the bright red blood dripping down his shirtsleeve. "T-h-hank you, Mr. Caldwell," he managed, but didn't get any farther than that. Instead, his eyes rolled upward in his head and he collapsed to the floor. "Dan!" Simon cried, thinking for a panicked moment that he'd died. Perhaps shots to the arm were fatal. Two medics suddenly materialized at Simon's side. The ambulance had arrived. One medic bent down and placed his fingers against Dan's throat. "It's alright," the medic said to Simon. "The man's only fainted. Probably from shock. But the wound isn't deep. He'll be fine." Both medics efficiently yet gently lifted Dan's limp body and placed him on the stretcher, wheeling him out to the waiting ambulance. Simon watched them go, breathing a sigh of relief. Dan would be okay. "Excuse me?" a voice said behind Simon. Turning around, Simon saw the mother with her child, and the other Chase customers, standing behind him. Their haggard faces were now filled with relief. "I just wanted to thank you," the mother said, pulling her son closer and ruffling his hair. "You saved us all." Simon cleared his throat, not sure how to respond. He'd never seen such admiration and appreciation in people's eyes before. "Er, you're welcome," he finally decided on lamely. Looking back around to the doors, he noticed that the local news, no doubt drawn by the promise of theft and violence, had arrived. Reno's own lead anchor, Cynthia Lee, strode into the lobby, her heels clacking, followed by three well-groomed news reporters and their jeans-clad cameramen. Sensing the young, blond-haired Simon as the star of the show, Cynthia led the way as the reporters rushed forward, converging upon him and sticking their microphones in his face. "What is your name?" "What did the robber demand?" "How did you react?" "Uh..." Simon said, unused to such unequivocal attention. "He saved us!" the mother cried, pointing to Simon. "He gave the robber five thousand dollars so he would leave without harming us!" The eyes of the reporters swiveled simultaneously from the mother to Simon. Cynthia inadvertently bopped Simon on the nose with her microphone as she shoved herself forward. "You voluntarily emptied the contents of your own bank account to save your fellow customers?" "Uh, yeah," Simon said. "And, well, Dan." "Who's Dan?" the smallest reporter managed to squeak out, squashed as he was between everybody else. "Some might call you Reno's thousand dollar man," Cynthia broke in solemnly. "How would you feel about that?" Simon hesitated. "I don't know who that man is," he finally decided to say. Staring over the reporters' shoulders for an avenue to escape, Simon caught sight of a young woman entering the bank, looking frantically around. She was wearing an extra-large L.A. Lakers shirt over her pregnancy and had her hair pulled back in a messy bun. Bethany! Simon gave an intake of breath. Although originally disappointed that Bethany had let herself go after quitting her job and the pregnancy, Simon now thought no one had ever looked so stunningly beautiful. Knocking the reporters aside, he rushed towards his wife. "Bethany! Bethany!" Bethany whirled around. "Simon!" They threw their arms around each other. Simon would have picked Bethany up, but since she now weighed nearly as much as he did, this would have been a difficult task. "Oh, Bethany! I was so freaked out!" "I was freaked out, too!" Bethany cried. "I was watching TV at the house and you came on! Or the hold-up at Chase. But I knew you were there! So I drove over. I was so scared, Simon!" "I was scared, too," Simon mumbled into her shoulder. "But it's okay now. I gave him our money." Bethany pulled back to stare at him. "What?" Suddenly, they both noticed they were being surrounded by news reporters and rolling cameras. Somehow, the crew had managed to teleport themselves to Simon's side without making any noise. "Can we have a moment alone?" Simon said through clenched teeth, but Cynthia Lee had already pronounced solemnly, "Your husband willingly bequeathed five thousand dollars from his own bank account to save the life of the tellers and the customers, Mrs. Caldwell. You should be proud." A hundred different emotions rushed through Bethany at once. Pride, of course. Disbelief. (Simon did this?!) And a sort of dull horror that they had lost that much money in one day. But somehow, pride won out. "Oh, Simon!" Bethany threw her arms back around her husband's shoulders. "You saved them! You did!" "Yeah." Simon laughed shakily. He almost didn't half belief it, himself. Years from now, when he struggled to support his wife and their gaggle of three kids through school and grocery shopping and toys bought one day and broken the next, he would wish for that five thousand dollars, and wonder why he had given it all away. But right now, looking into Bethany's admiring eyes, and basking in the heartfelt thanks of the Chase customers, he felt that he had done the right thing. Probably the best thing he'd ever done, or would ever do. "I knew you were a good man!" Bethany declared. "Oh, I dunno," Simon said, determined to remain humble in the face of the rolling cameras. In fact, he was thinking of Michael Vernon, that tattered and derelict hitchhiker carrying a thousand dollars in his pocket, willing to give it away at the merest kind glance. Then he thought of the robber, wild-eyed in a clean bank lobby, clutching a gun and willing to shoot ten people for all their cash. "Maybe I just did what I should."




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