December 17, 2021
By Devin Mainville
In his dream, the crack was his knee even though that had really been more of a snap. It was his knee because no matter what he was doing, what he was dreaming, the snap was always on his mind. The snap that he heard above the roar of the crowd. The snap that took his name, Wendell Duncan, from the backs of jerseys to the plastic nametag he pinned on his polyester uniform every morning. The snap that plummeted him from hero status – starring in the daydreams of kids and the posters that lined their walls – to working as a security guard at a bank in his hometown where he was now, quite unprofessionally, dozing in the corner instead of monitoring the front door.
At first, despite the magnitude of the snap, he had been in denial. He clung to the hope that some medical advancement would come along and propel him back to the trajectory he had planned. He hung around the city, took a job as a bouncer because even though his knee was busted, he was still 310 pounds of mostly muscle and his hulking presence outside a door was enough to deter most troublemakers.
His favorite part of the job was that he still got recognized. Drunk bros would jump and yell when they realized who was checking their IDs and taking their crumpled cash. They would crowd in for selfies, explain to their girlfriends who he was and offer genuine sympathy for his bad fortune. He would thank them but assure them he was working every day to get back on the field. It was only a matter of time. It didn’t matter that they didn’t believe that, he did.
But the years stretched on and no medical advancement appeared. The muscle turned slack and it had been a long time since anyone had asked for a selfie. One night there was a fight and he was forced to heave himself off his stool, limp over and break it up. But the guy he pulled out of the fray would not stop fighting – kicking and swinging the whole way back through the crowded bar. Wendell was so mad at this little man who wouldn’t concede the fight. He wasn’t as strong as he’d been, but he was still stronger than most and when he went to toss the little man onto the sidewalk he overshot it by about six feet and the man landed square in the middle of the road where he was promptly hit by a car.
The way Wendell told it, the moment shook him so badly he immediately quit and moved back home to be closer to his family, to settle down and live a quieter life, thanking whatever God it was that kept the man only mildly injured and not dead. In reality, the bar had fired him on the spot, and he’d gone home because he had nowhere else to go.
At first, being home had been the perfect solution. He was still viewed as a hometown hero. He was asked to judge local talent competitions and call into morning radio shows. He starred in several local commercials and led the 4th of July parade seven years in a row. The best part, when he told people about his training and his expectations to return to the game soon, they believed him because they wanted it to be true almost as badly as he did.
Eventually, even here, his celebrity status had waned. The years turned into decades, the muscles decidedly into paunch and once he reached an age where he would have retired from the game anyway there was no one left to reminisce about his glory days. He avoided the mirror because there was no way to reconcile the football hero he was in his mind with the old man staring back. He took the job as bank security because it allowed him to nap throughout the day which nicely complimented his nights spent drinking alone.
Which is what he was doing on the morning of October 4th at approximately 9:12 A.M. when two masked men rushed through the front door, fired one warning shot into the ceiling and screamed for everyone to get down on the ground. Because he was asleep, he didn’t hear the command to get on the floor, but once the crack of the shot jolted him into consciousness and he realized what was going on he hit the floor anyway.
One of the bank robbers guarded the door while the other threw a bag to the teller and told her to fill it up. It was the part-time teller, Eden, a college student taking advantage of a banker’s schedule to pay her way through school. Wendell could see her hands shaking as she filled the bag.
When the bank robbers had instructed everyone to get down, they hadn’t thought through that on the ground, the cubicle partitions and teller windows would make it impossible for them to see what anyone was doing. They changed course. Demanded everyone gather in the center of the lobby and then back on the floor.
He didn’t move. One of the private bankers caught his eye as she shuffled forward. She narrowed her eyes in what could only be described as reproach. This wouldn’t be happening if he had been doing his job. If he had been where he was supposed to be, posted by the front door, he’d be dead on the ground right now. He shook his head and held his finger to his lips. The private banker joined her co-workers on the ground, and he shifted behind a cubicle, peering through the seam.
Everyone was huddled together, the second bank robber circled them, keeping the gun pointed towards them. He seemed unaware that he was missing someone. Someone they should have been expecting if they had done any reconnaissance. Wendell shook his head. Amateurs. The first bank robber sighed impatiently as Eden filled up the bag. He was unarmed.
The one with the gun was fully focused on the hostages on the floor. Every time he came closest to Wendell his back was to him. All he had to do was surprise him, disarm him and everyone would be safe. Eden was almost done with the bag. There wasn’t time to think, only move.
He raised up, his bum knee grinding into the marble floor, his other foot planted firmly, ready to launch as soon as the bank robber had his back to him again. A few steps more. One step. Now.
He sprang up and forward with a force he didn’t know he still contained. In half a second he was on the bank robber, knocking him to the side to avoid the pile of hostages, his hand grasped the robber’s wrist so when they slammed into the floor the robber’s hand was forced to release. The gun went sliding across the marble where a private banker grabbed it, incorrectly, but still, it was impressive teamwork.
The first bank robber spun, froze at the sight before him and bolted for the door, the bag full of cash in Eden’s hand forgotten. The bank robber beneath Wendell wriggled and fought, but it was no use. Wendell was an immovable object. He didn’t notice the pain in his knee or the throbbing in his wrist from when they landed. He just held him down.
“Stop moving,” he growled into his ear, but only because it was annoying, not because he was in any danger of freeing himself. How did he not see how futile his attempts to escape were? But he didn’t stop. Not until they heard the sound of distant sirens. Then he went limp. But still Wendell held him tight.
After the police had come and gone, statements had been taken and descriptions of the other bank robber corroborated, the media came. The bank was shut down for the rest of the day and the bank president had insisted on letting the reporter use his office for the interview. He seemed certain that the story of the thwarted robbery would inspire droves of new bank clients.
“So,” the reporter began, making himself comfortable behind the president’s desk while Wendell shifted uncomfortably in the too small chair across from him. “What’s your name?
The reporter’s eyes flashed in recognition. He smiled. “The Wendell Duncan?”
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
“Wow, football hero saves the day.” He was writing the headline out loud. “And you tackled him? This is great.” He started furiously scribbling on his notepad.
Wendell waited for the familiar flicker of warmth that came when people recognized him, when his name and football came together in a sentence. But there was no flicker today. Maybe the stress of the day had finally caught up to him. He could feel the pain in his knee again and his wrist. He thought maybe it was broken or at the very least sprained and wished he hadn’t waved away the offer of paramedics. Or maybe it took hearing this opportunistic reporter use the phrase “football hero” for Wendell to finally understand how little that phrase applied to him now, or possibly ever.
The reporter was watching him with expectant eyes. Wendell could only shake his head.
“No, no. That football stuff was a lifetime ago. That’s not who I am anymore. I’m a security guard and I was just doing my job.”
It was the first time he’d ever said any of that out loud or even thought it privately. But as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew he was right. It was like he’d been trying to force a puzzle piece into the wrong spot, and he had finally found the correct piece. It all snapped into place and the puzzle was complete. Now he felt the warmth, the flicker of recognition of who he was both inside and out. Now it was this reporter who couldn’t see the truth.
Wendell got up to leave.
“Wait, I have more questions.”
“Well, that’s all I got to say.”
He hauled himself out of the chair, limped out the door and through the lobby. He didn’t know where everyone else had gone, but it didn’t matter. He’d see them tomorrow.
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