By Mel Harrison
THE BANK ROBBERY
Leaving the Ambassador’s suite, Alex admired the gorgeous sixteenth-century paintings hanging on the corridor’s marble walls. Ceilings were eighteen feet high, covered with more beautiful frescoes. All this priceless art was inherited by the Embassy when buying the building after the Second World War. He glanced at everything but was deep in thought.Taking the elevator to the ground floor, he walked down the hallway to his new office. Upon opening the door, he saw the familiar and smiling face of Nancy Williams, his secretary who had been stationed with him in Islamabad during the terrorist attacks.
“Alex, so good to see you again! How did the meeting go?” she asked.
“Incredibly bad. Turns out Chandler is a close friend of Winston Hargrove.”
“That same jerk in Pakistan, who almost got us killed?” Nancy groaned when he nodded.
“I’ll tell you about the meeting after I go across the street to the BNL bank. I want to open a checking account; should take about thirty minutes. Let the rest of the team know we’ll have a staff meeting when I get back.”
“You got it. But I think you better count on the bank taking at least an hour. This is Italy, after all.”
He smiled and waved as he left.
Nancy was probably right. In fact, she was always right.
Sliding on his heavy Barbour against the January cold and rain, Alex headed across the street to the imposing marbled entrance of the BNL. Motorcycles and little Fiats whizzed passed him as he deftly navigated the crossing. Car horns blew, although not necessarily at him. The cacophony of sounds on a typical Roman street was staggering.
The enormous bank lobby was perhaps fifty meters long by fifty meters wide. Because the bank was accustomed to opening accounts for American diplomats, they finished Alex’s paperwork in a record-setting forty-five minutes. He was very pleased.
Leaving the private cubicle of the account manager, Alex noticed an exceptionally well-dressed, silver-haired older gentleman, chatting amicably in the lobby with someone Alex presumed to be the bank manager. Standing next to the older gentleman was a rather large young man dressed in a dark suit. He had a bulge under his jacket and was wearing an earpiece; Alex immediately identified him as a bodyguard.
“Buon giorno,” Alex said, nodding at the bodyguard as he passed.
“Buon giorno e lei,” the bodyguard responded amicably, yet stayed serious.
Five meters further on was an overweight, uniformed bank guard observing the lobby and some twenty customers waiting in lines to see the tellers.
Just as Alex passed the bodyguard, the tranquil scene suddenly turned into complete chaos. Three men entered the bank lobby with two of them pulling double-barreled, sawed-off shotguns from inside their long trench coats. The third man pulled a pistol and began yelling.
“Everyone raise your hands and stand still,” he yelled in Italian while waving his gun. The first man ran to the banker windows, pointing his shotgun at the tellers.
“Give me all the money behind the counter,” he screamed at one employee.
The second robber covered the bank guard with his shotgun, while the third man swiftly moved in Alex’s direction next to the silver-haired older gentleman, and his bodyguard. He pointed his pistol at Alex, perhaps instinctively recognizing him as a potential threat.
But Alex was unarmed, not having had time to retrieve his own pistol from the office safe on his first morning in the Embassy. Now he could only hope the hold-up might end without violence as tellers filled a large bag with money.
Foolishly, the uniformed guard tried to draw his gun. The second robber blasted him point blank, sending the guard sprawling to the floor. The noise from the shotgun roared and reverberated throughout the lobby. Several female customers screamed and dropped to their knees. Alex looked at the dead guard, fighting back nausea as he saw the man’s intestines had spilled onto the floor with blood and flesh splattered everywhere.
Then the bodyguard made his move. Crouching and brushing back his coat, he drew what Alex thought was a Beretta 9mm pistol. He raised an arm to fire, but the third robber was quicker on the trigger, firing a bullet directly into the bodyguard’s face.
“Oh, Dio mio!” the older silver-haired gentleman cried out, putting a hand to his mouth.
The bodyguard fell to the floor mortally wounded, blood oozing out the back of his head where the bullet had exited. With the shooter totally fixated on the fallen man, Alex took two quick steps forward, and in one clean motion, snatched the gun out of his hands, positioned it and rapidly fired two shots into his chest. The man collapsed to the floor. Now Alex had a clear line of sight to the second assailant who had killed the uniformed bank guard. As the man spun to face him, Alex fired two more shots, hitting him directly in the face and chest. The assailant fell backwards, his shotgun clattering loudly as it hit the marble floor.
Before Alex could take aim at the final robber at the teller’s window, the robber grabbed an elderly customer and held his sawed-off shotgun against her head. Everyone began screaming.
“Drop your gun!” the robber yelled in Italian to Alex.
They were about thirty meters apart. Even if Alex had his own 9mm Sig-Sauer pistol, a head shot would have been extremely difficult at this range. Not using his own weapon, he wasn’t sure the pistol had been sighted accurately, so Alex lowered it. He had no intention of dropping it, not after killing two of the man’s partners. This remaining robber would want revenge. He was certainly desperate.
Shuffling his female hostage toward the exit, the last robber was surrounded by a squad of cops bursting through the front doors. Within seconds it was over. The holdup man gave up immediately, being faced with overwhelming force. He released his hostage, putting his hands behind his head. The police violently threw him to the ground and handcuffed him.
Placing the pistol gently on the floor, Alex stepped over to the older well-dressed gentleman, who was bent on one knee next to the bodyguard. Alex’s own hands were slightly trembling from the adrenalin rush of the gun battle. He helped the older gentleman to his feet.
“Are you alright, Senore?”
“Si, you are most kind….?”
“Alex… Alex Boyd.” He grasped the man’s hand firmly.
Paramedics raced into the bank, attempting to give first aid, but all who had been shot were dead. The beautiful Carrara marble floor had pools of bright-red blood where the bodies had fallen.
The man who Alex had assumed to be the bank manager was speaking rapidly to the police and pointing at Alex, which made him feel uncomfortable. He could only make out a few phrases since there was a lot of background noise from yelling customers, not to mention his own hearing having been impaired by the gunfire.
Another police officer arrived, appearing to be senior man on the scene. To Alex’s surprise, he approached not the bank manager, but the older well-dressed gentleman, standing next to him, and saluted. Then, with great respect, the cop escorted him out of the bank.
“Senore,” a police officer said to Alex,” I need you to accompany me to the police station to make a statement.”
Showing his black Diplomatic passport, Alex, nevertheless, agreed to go to the station when the officer was not impressed. He reached for his cell phone to call Nancy, but the officer objected, then reluctantly allowed him to do so after Alex produced his Diplomatic Security Special Agent credentials and badge. The latter was a worldwide symbol of law enforcement, even if the precise nature of his badge probably wasn’t understood by the Italian cop.
An hour later, Alex finished making his statement at the Central Rome Police Headquarters, known as the questura.It was pure luck Alex was carrying both his Diplomatic passport and his DS Special Agent credentials. The badge seemed to impress the cops far more than the passport. As he was about to leave, the senior cop, who had been at the bank, approached Alex. They spoke in Italian.
“Thank you for your statement, Mr. Boyd. Under Italian law an investigating magistrate will review this incident. For now, you are free to go. It is likely that whichever magistrate is given the case, he or she will want to speak with you.” With that, the cop turned and left before Alex could ask anything about follow-on procedures.
From the questura, Alex hailed a taxi back to the Embassy. Once in his office, Nancy said, “I called the DCM’s office an hour ago to tell him about the incident at the bank, but he was out, so I left an urgent message with his secretary for him to call you back. I also tried to speak to the Ambassador, but he was out as well. Finally, I called the Diplomatic Security Command Center in Washington and gave them the basic facts. They want you to call them with details.”
He was impressed with Nancy’s actions and thanked her. Just as when they were in Islamabad, he could always count on her to run the office in his absence.
“I think we better have that staff meeting after I call Rachel and the Command Center. Please let the staff know.”
He entered the inner office and sat behind his new desk.
This may be my first and last staff meeting before DCM Chandler kicks me out of Rome.
After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in Economics, Mel Harrison joined the US Department of State Foreign Service, spending the majority of his career in the Diplomatic Security Service.
Over the next 28 years, he served in American embassies as either a Special Agent/Regional Security officer or Economic Officer in Saigon, Quito, Rome, London (twice), Islamabad, and Seoul. While in Islamabad, as the Senior Regional Security Officer, he won both the State Department Award for Valor, and its worldwide Regional Security Officer of the Year Award.
Following government retirement, Mel spent ten years in corporate security and consulting work with assignments often taking him throughout Latin America and the Middle East.
Mel met his wife, Irene, while both served in Quito. Irene, a Foreign Service Management Specialist, and Mel married in Rome, beginning their lifelong love of travel and all things Italian.
They now reside in Florida.
Mel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org