The Violators - Bank Vault

There was a bank on the east side of town that we'd had our eye on for a while.  It was a strip-mall bank with a vault in a pretty good neighborhood.  The strip-mall was upscale, but about as far from the local police district as possible.  The vault was left open during the day for easy access to safe-deposit boxes.  I'd been in there once to deposit a check (I had a legit account at the bank) and had seen how the managers operated the place.  It was pretty sloppy.

Months ahead of time, Mule's Mom opened a safe-deposit box at the bank so we could scope out the kind of keys we'd need.  Victor Wallinsky, an illegal Russian immigrant and expert thief and locksmith, was enlisted to help create a set of master- and skeleton-keys for the locks.  He told us the keys probably matched up with a Bridgeman SD series of modular safety deposit boxes ("they are very much cheaper than AX series boxes, that is why most of banks buy them", he told us).  He took a couple of days, but produced three pairs of skeletons and masters.

Our diversion is a "broken-down car" on a main drag between the bank and the police station.  Ray Fuentez, an old and trusted friend from the neighborhood, is the driver.  He pretends that the car -- which was stolen a day earlier -- had stalled out on the main road.  Lots of traffic stacking up behind him.  Lots of beeping and hollering.  He holds his hands up as if to say, "What? My car just died."

He sets a timer, exits the vehicle, and starts walking.  After a few right turns, he 's out of sight of the broken-down vehicle.  He enters a strip mall two blocks off the main road where he picks up the white Ford Expedition with tinted windows.  That had been stolen from the Enterprise lot in San Jacinto.  We'd peeled the "e" sticker and switched the plates with dups of a legal Expedition from Port George.

By the time Ray swings back onto the main drag, his portable police-band radio pipes up with the first report of an explosion and a burning vehicle.  Lots of shouting and commotion over the police radio as 911 calls cascade into the station.  Ray heads over to observe the bank -- from a nice, safe distance -- and act as a crash car in case anything goes awry.

That was also our cue to roll from the garage we'd rented in the office and industrial area, two blocks away.  A black van, stolen from an Enterprise Lot in Valhalla, has new magnetic stickers affixed to its sides that read "POLICE - BOMB SQUAD".  Mule, Cal, and I are in full police regalia with combat helmets and plexiglass visors hooding our eyes.  We pull up to the bank's lone handicapped spot and exit the vehicle.  I walk toward the doors carrying a standard-issue armored police shield.  I'd say we look exactly like the real Bomb Squad.

A mail-order place -- a police and wannabe-police catalog company -- had provided us with the necessary bomb-squad-style equipment.  Black T-shirts imprinted with "bomb squad", armored vests, magnetic decals for the vehicle, radio gear, the whole shebang.  And, yes, anyone can legally buy them.  We'd used one of Hack's stolen credit-cards to order them and had the packages sent to a Mailboxes-and-More joint fifty miles up 104 that had been opened with the same card.  We looked the part.

"Police!  There was a bomb threat phoned into the police station, everyone needs to exit now... quickly and calmly," I yell as Ienter the building.  My heart is pounding like a triphammer, but at least my voice sounds clear and steady.  I guess practice really does make perfect.  "We need to search the premises," I shout, "everyone needs to leave now!  NOW!  Quickly... quickly.  There may be a bomb!"

Eyes wide open, three tellers are working behind the counters.  They freeze, then grab their purses and come from behind the counter.  A couple of manager-types sit in glass-walled partitions on the other side of the bank.  They're startled out of their Internet-surfing reverie, grab their jackets, and run out of the building in front of everyone else.  A couple of old coots, the only customers in line, are actually last to leave.

Mule politely holds the door open for everyone and Cal stands next to our van, pretending to be on the police radio.  As soon as everyone has exited, Mule rolls in the big black cabinet, which will hold the "bomb".

None of the folks gathered in the parking lot are using cell phones, but Cal yells out instructions to them anyhow.  "Don't use any cell phones, please!  It may interfere with the detection equipment or even set off a bomb!"  In reality, we don't want anyone communicating with the outside world.

Meanwhile, I've entered the vault area, opening the wooden gate for Mule and the rolling cabinet.  We're now in the smallish vault area.  The skeleton and master keys work like a champ -- we'd actually tested them on real boxes at Victor's place -- and Mule and I start sliding open the biggest cabinets first.  I dump cash and anything that looks like it might contain cash into the cabinet, along with small jewelry and heavy watches.  Anything bigger than that stays.  We don't have room and can't handle the weight.

Key, flip, slide.  Key, flip, slide.  We crank box after box, throwing the remains in the corner.  Valuable items like stock certificates are laying on the floor, but we can't be bothered with it.  Too traceable.

We've given ourselves five minutes.  Cal uses our private comm-link -- the police-issue hands-free -- to give us updates on time.  When time's up, we get the signal from him, a shout to "Go!".  We roll the box back out of the vault.  Just to delay the investigation further, I slam the vault shut and rotate the wheel, engaging the lock.

Mule holds the door for me as I roll the box out the door.  Cal has engaged the lift -- usually used for wheelchair access -- and the box is hoisted back into the van.  Mule secures it while I walk over to the folks gathered in the lot.

"Looks like a false alarm, folks."  I yell to the assembled group, "we've done a thorough search and it looks like the building's clean.  Thank you for your cooperation - we just received another emergency call and have to head over to Towne Center."

We slam the van doors shut and head off briskly in that direction.

We take three more turns to loop back to the garage and pull in.  I jump out and roll the door shut.  Mule pulls the magnetic stickers off the sides of  the van while Cal unstraps the cabinet.  We throw everything from the cabinet into a big, industrial-strength garbage bag.  I've opened the back-door to the alley.  Shit.  A van is pulling up the alley.  That's not our guy.  I almost close the door, leaving it open a crack so I can see what's happening.  It's a delivery van.  It drives on by.  I start breathing again.  A minute later, it's out of sight, and Ray is pulling up in the Ford SUV.

We peel our police-issue clothing and throw it in more garbage bags along with the magnetic van stickers and the rest of the junk.  Gloves stay on, for the time being.  The bag with the goods in it is stowed in the Ford.  Inside the SUV, Cal starts transferring stuff from the bag into a large suitcase with rollers.

The garbage bags filled with Bomb Squad paraphernalia are hauled next door, into a separate garage that was rented under a different name and credit-card.  They're locked in a large cabinet.  We slam the back-doors to both garages shut, make sure they're locked, and then enter the SUV.

Mule's riding shotgun, Cal and I are in the back with the suitcase.  We roll and head at right angles to the bank until we're on State Route 30 heading West.  Lots of traffic.  No cops in sight.  We pull a hard right into Cruz Center Mall and drive right down the ramp into the underground parking garage.   We go to the bottom level.  We've got two vehicles parked elsewhere in the same structure.  We get out, one at a time, staggered by a couple of minutes each.  The first to go is Cal.  Then Mule.  Then myself, with the rolling suitcase.  Then Ray.  No one else seems to be around.

I meet Mule one level up.  Along the way, I've dropped off the gloves in one of hundreds of mall trashcans.  Mule's waiting in a perfectly legal Cadillac Eldorado Northstar, which is a few years old.  It's registered under his Mom's name.   I hoist the suitcase into the Eldo's giant trunk and we take off, slowly circumnavigating the structure until we exit on the Piscadero side.

We head out to home and the burbs.  Just another day at the office.

Three days later, we meet up with Ray and Cal.  We divvy the cash and gold four ways.  The other loot -- watches, jewelry , a few bearer bonds, and other unique stuff -- need to be fenced, but we always wait our standard cooling-off period of six months before trying.  We'd gotten $720,000 in cash, gold and silver bullion, which came to $175K apiece after expenses.

And, no, we didn't report it on our taxes.