The colossal roll of thunder that roared from the night sky, close above, shaking the floor and rattling the windows in their frames did nothing to steady Kheng’s frayed nerves or suppress his increasing anxiety as he cautiously led his co-conspirators through the dark corridors of the Maklai Provincial bank.
Still, once they’d made it through to the safe room, all they had to do was take the money that they needed and make their way back out. It was a simple plan, and would solve the ever-growing burden of problems that had been forming since old Papa Han had passed away.
It had never occurred to Kheng that his co-conspirators might have some very different ideas of their own about how the robbery should eventually play out. He was even less aware that he was far from alone in his attempts to capitalise on the evolving circumstances of recent weeks.
Deciding to plan a heist of the provincial bank in a sleepy backwater town in South East Asia wasn’t going to be the straightforward solution that Kheng had imagined, even if he did have the advantage of being the bank’s longest-serving night guard.
The three oath-bound underwear-clad conspirators cautiously made their way through the dark imposing recesses of the Maklai Provincial Bank. The weak light from the torch cast angular shadows along the walls. The ordinary became sinister, the familiar warped and distorted, angular and threatening. A fork of lightning streaked momentarily across the blackened sky. The blaze of light flashed through the open door behind them at the end of the building. For an instant the inside of the bank was brightly lit, exposing their criminality, and their fear. As quickly as it had been taken from them, the menacing darkness of the dimly torch-lit hallway returned. A colossal roll of thunder roared from the sky, close above, shaking the floor and rattling the windows in their frames. The attack on their frayed nerves increased the rapid beating of their hearts, hearts that were failing to hide the anxieties they desperately needed to suppress. There was a moment of calm. Gradually the monotonous drone of the steady rain on the roof above them and in the compound of the bank regained its place as the dominant noise that surrounded them. They let the soft familiar sound provide comfort and form part of the blanket of darkness in which they sought protection. A little of their courage returned and they cautiously resumed their journey, creeping through the still, empty corridor.
Kheng was glad that the torch light was so dim. The three of them were less likely to be seen by anyone who happened to be passing outside as they stalked their way through the bank. Similarly, the gentle drumming of the rain on the roof above and the ground outside formed a protective cloak around them. It would cover any noise they might make, but also discourage any towns-people from venturing out and, by chance, spotting their movements inside the bank. Back in the village, during his childhood, it was well known that at times of rain the likelihood of thieves roaming amongst them increased. As a boy, his grandfather had told him tales about bad men who lurked in the shadows, waiting for the storm to dull the senses of their victims and provide these bad men cover for their movements. On stormy nights, Kheng had lain on the floor in the room where he would sleep. The downpours would bombard the corrugated tin roof above while Kheng listened attentively through the din for any suspicious movement outside in the compound. It was a lesson that had served him well in the army in later years. The sound of rainfall was not only cover for thieves. Now the tables were turned as he was the one enjoying the cover that the storm provided.
The three of them moved stealthily along the main corridor. The thunder had moved on, and the barbaric cries could now be heard focusing their rage over the outskirts of town. Kheng reached the room where he knew that the main safe was located, the others were close behind him. The large wooden door was all that stood between them and the money that they were risking everything to get.
Kheng straightened himself, and turned to face the others. Due to the clandestine nature of their mission he realised that he’d been creeping around with his back hunched, in an effort to move more sneakily. He was now becoming aware of just how unnecessary that was. It was not as if they were ducking beneath a low fence line or anything like that. Also, he was getting on a bit. Arguably he was already a bit too old to be embroiled in bank heists. He was certainly too old to be doing ones which might put his back out. The others seemed to reach a similar revelation and straightened themselves up as well. Fortunately, the investment in security cameras at the Maklai provincial branch only ran to four camera units and a computer that was set up in the manager’s office. There were two security cameras outside at the front of the building to monitor the main gate and the front door. Then there were two cameras inside the main business area of the small bank, one pointing at the front door from the inside, and the other covering the cashiers’ desks. There were no other cameras after that. Indeed the security of the back of the bank and the safe room was almost entirely dependent on the three aging security guards who were currently spending their evening breaking into the bank with the intent to rob it.
Kheng had been a guard at the bank for more than seven years. Ever since he was finally discharged from the army he had been faithfully serving the financial institution as a lowly night guard. In return they had provided him a slim envelope of notes in compensation each month. He had been satisfied with that. The work was easy, it got him out of the house, and it was stress free. There was almost no crime in the rural town of Maklai. Livestock missing from the yard was not uncommon, the occasional motorbike was stolen, but this was all petty theft. Certainly no one had ever been so audacious as to rob the provincial bank. In light of Kheng’s contentment with his position at the bank, it was somewhat of a surprise, even to him, that he was the mastermind behind the robbery.
Kheng held the fading torch facing upwards in the middle of the gathering so that they could all see each other. The dim light threw shadows from beneath them and changed their appearance to become like those of the curious spirits that inhabited the darker recesses of forbidden places. Kheng addressed his co-conspirators:
“So, Mr Meebor. I’ve got us this far. This is the safe room.”
Kheng lightly patted the wooden door with the palm of his hand so there would be no confusion.
“I guess it’s time to hand over to you then, and your particular expertise.”
Meebor nodded thoughtfully and looked around to study his surroundings. As had been the understanding in the earlier discussion, Meebor was to devise the second stage of the heist once Kheng had got them inside. His well-practised burglar skills would be the means to gain access to the wealth that lay in the room beyond. Meebor, feeling that the dim light from the torch aiming at the ceiling above them was insufficient to make his judgement call, took the torch from Kheng and quickly shone the light around the area to examine the options.