False Alarm by Lisa R.

Submitted by Lisa R.

My older brother, by 5 years, John, had come up from his home in LA to my home in Santa Barbara for a weekend visit. In spite of our rivalry as children, we became good friends as young adults. It was late summer. We had no specific plans, but my brother was in a hurry to get started on them.

“When are you finished-finished?” John asked. He was perched himself on top of the customer counter in the middle of the bank lobby. Marble or not, I didn’t think his choice of seats was wise.

I stood at my desk, behind the teller counter, and suggested he get down. John laughed. “How much longer? Seriously.”

My best friend, a loan officer, came around the corner.  We were the last three people in the bank.

If my brother were not pestering us to leave, my friend and I might have stayed longer. We both had a pile of papers to process. But it was a sunny Saturday and the stack of work could wait.

My brother, in the tedium of waiting, began doing what every man in my life eventually did: he started casing the joint. He started asking the same set of questions they all wanted to know. Where are all the cameras? How does the vault lock work? How fast do the police arrive? Is the alarm always silent? How much money is inside the vault right now?

Although I knew the answers, I never fueled their robbery fantasies with accurate responses. Instead, simply by asking, What do you think? I let them add layers and layers of non-existent security measures, created by their Good-Guy imaginations.

John was still sitting on the counter. I was positive the additional 240 lbs would lead to catastrophe.

Right then the lights flashed on, off, on, off. John’s eyes widen. “What just happened?!”

To save energy the bank had installed automatic timers that turned the lights off one hour after closing. The flashing was a warning that we had a few minutes until they turned off permanently. Since my friend worked late regularly, she knew how to override the system. She started to walk toward the timer. I stopped her.

“John, that was the warning that the alarm system is about to arm itself. We have 5 minutes. So, you should really get off that counter and wait by the door.”

My friend asked, “What are we doing? Where are we going?”

John asked, “What does that mean?”

“It means we need to be out of here in 5 minutes,” I said.

He continued to sit on the counter. “Or what? What happens?”

I knew John was convinced the movie makers had it right. He believed all banks, including a small community branch office, had invested in the latest technology to stave off burglars and protect the enormous sums of cash locked behind the giant vault door. “Are there motion detectors? And lasers across the floor?”

Before responding, I eyed my friend and gave her a subtle wink, “The lights go off and the alarm system turns on. If we are in here… our corporate security will know and immediately call the police. Now, where are we going? Do we want to eat? Should we go home first and meet back downtown?”

We kept talking about lunch and plans. And John kept sitting on top of the counter. And suddenly the lights switched off.

“Should I not move?! Shit! Lisa what are we going to do? I don’t see the light sensors.”

“The sensors must be in the floor!” he added.

“But only underneath the big tiles,” I responded.

“So I am stuck?”

Instead of laughing, I responded very seriously, “I’m really going to get in trouble for this. You shouldn’t have even been in the bank once we closed. And when the police come and it is a false alarm, the branch is going to be fined!”

“Seriously? Can’t you call them?”

“And say what?! I’m not supposed to have you in here!” My friend walked toward me, getting ready to leave.


“There’s no floor sensors over here. Only in the lobby.”

My friend turned her back to John and covered her mouth, laughing.

My brother looked at the floor. The pattern was a set of larger tiles surrounding small marble tiles. “You said the motion sensors are under the larger tiles, right?”

My friend stared at me with her hand still clamped tightly over her mouth. “I guess if you can stay only on the small tiles, you could make it to the door,” I said.

“You’ll have to stay on the balls of your feet!” I added.

My brother started to slither down from the counter, legs stretched wide to land on two small, green tiles, one for each foot. Already the perspiration on his forehead had beaded up and was glistening against his pale skin.

John stretched his arms out like the balancing pole used by a tightrope artist and raised his right foot in the air. Teetering a bit he landed on the next green tile that would lead to the door. He proceeded with such concentration that he never noticed my friend barreled over, laughing silently at his effort.

He moved away from the counter, slowly at first. He no longer had something to hold and steady his progress. One wrong step and the police would descend.

He started moving faster, tongue tip resting outside his tense mouth. He was only a few yards from the door. He stopped and pointed at the floor.

“Why are you stopping? You’re almost there! I’ll hand you the key when you get closer!”

“Lisa! We are totally screwed!” John whispered. “Look!” He was pointing at a black floor mat laying in front of the door. It was blocking his view of the small green tiles.

I let him stare, panicked, at this obstacle. He had to change course. He looked at me and my friend, standing on carpet, behind the teller counter, his arms still outstretched, tip toe, legs spread.

He started to turn toward the carpeted area. Slowly. Slowly. Knees bent. He started to lose his balance, arms circling forward, then back the other way. He crouched. Toes up, avoiding his heels touching the dreaded big tiles. He sucked in his breath. His fingers wiggling. Then no movement at all.


He looked up with a huge smile stretched across his face.

My friend and I both had tears streaming down our face. We each had both hands smothering our laughter. My friend kneeled down on the ground. Then she was on all fours and the snorts escaped from her mouth.

“You’re shitting me? There’s no alarm?”

I just smiled.

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