3:28 p.m. -- I'm standing in line at the external branch of Banco Popular, across from the supermarket, at the Mayaguez Mall. There's an elderly woman in front on Me, her left hand clutching several checks and money orders. There are more tellers than clients on this slow Wednesday afternoon. A half-scream makes Us turn.
A man, masked, wearing uniform-like clothes, is clubbing another man over the head with a gun. One, two, three smashes as a woman's scream rises in intensity. The robber turns and flees from the bank.
I am with My son, watching this scene unfold thirty feet from where We stand.
I turn to him, to protect him. To My right, a woman and her daughter are crouched against the wall. The wall isn't their protection: I am. They are hiding behind Me.
I ask My son if he's okay. Wide-eyed, he nods. "What was that?" he asks. I start to tell him and he answers his own question. We watch as the assaulted man is tended to, the screaming woman, the bank officer closest to the beating, is escorted away by her colleagues. She is crying hysterically. The bank tellers, many of whom had hidden in different corners, now emerge to follow protocol. The bank is closing down.
I ask My son again if he's okay. He says yes. I dial 911 and report the incident and request an ambulance. The dispatcher asks Me if it's needed. I tell him I'm looking at a man who was beaten on the skull in a robbery at the bank: Yes, send the ambulance. "One moment," he says and seems to walk away. "It's been reported, sir," he tells Me. "Please send the ambulance," I tell him.
"What's the skull?" asks My boy. I tell him, then tell the nearest bank officer that I requested an ambulance. He looks confused. "We asked for one," he tells Me. The crime victim, a man in his 50s, is being helped into a chair, blood dripping onto his polo shirt from three head wounds. He is dazed and in pain.
My son and I sit down, Our backs to the milling scene as cell phones abound, murmurs echoing around a somber chamber. A woman sits at the desk where I'm chatting with My son. She has tears in her eyes and makes a low-voiced phone call. I call a friend, a local newsdaily editor and tell him the basics. He chuckles as I tell him I didn't knock off the bank.
Police arrive, and suited men who don't look like police. My son asks Me about them and I say they could be Special Investigations or F.B.I. Suddenly, a dozen policemen and policewomen are milling outside the bank. I learn the identity of the victim, and My speculation that the crime was carried out by a stalking thief who followed the businessman from outside Mayaguez is pretty much confirmed. I call the editor again and add these details, noting that the local public TV newsvan and cameraman had arrived.
The bank manager hands out paper cones of water and offers My son candy. His ill-fitting suit is swallowing him up with every passing minute. I tell My son that even in Puerto Rico, all bank robbers are caught. We hear about the crime, oh yes We do, but that all of these vermin get caught just seems to slip through the cracks.
I notice people are being allowed to leave. No statements, no questions. As My son finishes his cherry lollipop (I got butterscotch), We walk past the ambulance. I overhear the driver and paramedic mention they were responding to a 911 call, not the police or the bank.
In My car, I ask My son if he was afraid. "Not now. I was afraid when it happened." He wants to keep it from his mom, but I gently explain that's not correct. She needs to know and he needs to be able to talk to her if he starts feeling anxious or afraid later.
We talk about police work, news, who My editor friend is and why I made one last call to decribe the assailant. "Because you helped Me with the details," I answer. "You saw things that could help catch him." He smiled a little.
Ten minutes later a, at another bank, as We walk out with a crisp $5 bill with the new purple ink that We had gone to Banco Popular for, a woman at the second bank reassures the security guard that the bank wasn't robbed, a customer was, inside the bank. He seems nervous. She repeats the news to him. He shakes his head. "We were there when it happened," I tell them. "It was a customer." The guard nods.
My son slips his hand into Mine as We talk about the purple ink and the intricate design of the five bucks he just made off of Me. I hope I've done well by him.
The Jenius Has Spoken.