Her brother Percy was the black sheep of the family. He ran off to join the Merchant Marines a couple of days after a young lady and her father drove over from Mobeetie to speak intensely with Pearl and Percy’s parents. The ladies sewing circle was abuzz with that news for several weeks thereafter.
Pearl didn’t have her brother’s gregarious personality. She and her twin looked an awful lot alike, which didn’t do Pearl any favors. What came across as slender and alabasterish in Percy manifested itself as skinny and sallow in Pearl. Percy was scholarly. Pearl was bookish. Percy was earnest, Pearl was desperate. She never quite measured up.
After the unpleasantness which resulted in the banishment of the prince of the realm to watery parts unknown, Pearl blossomed slightly. It was nothing really noticeable – Pearl never really came out of her shell – but she threw herself into her job at the local bank with renewed vigor.
Having graduated from high school the year before, Pearl had landed a position as one of two tellers at the local bastion of high finance when Mrs. Montbalm retired after 39 and one half years in the job. Pearl was diligent, pleasant and generally uninspiring and slipped effortlessly into the chair that Mrs. Montbalm had previously occupied. Customers congratulated the bank manager on his hiring prowess because, with Pearl in the job, it was as if nothing had changed and they could look forward to another 39ish years of pleasant inanities while feeling secure that their deposits had been properly credited.
Pearl spent her weekends in trivial household pursuits. Being only barely of age and as yet unmarried, with – let’s face it – few prospects on the horizon, Pearl continued to live at home with her parents. Her great pastime was going to the local theater to sample the weekly Hollywood fare. She was a student of films in all their glorious manifestations – Romance, Mystery, Drama, Westerns and Adventure. Her favorites were the noir pot-boilers: romance, crime, drama and adventure all rolled into one. She especially liked anything with Claudette Colbert or a leading man with a decidedly foreign air.
Her mother attributed the later tragedy to the lack of judgment that she and Pearl’s father showed in letting their daughter expose herself to such heady nonsense.
It was 1931 and Pearl had worked at the bank for a little over a year, when, one sultry afternoon in early autumn, a gentleman in a white suit walked into the lobby of the First National Bank.
Folks in town later reported they knew he was up to no good. None of the people they knew would have been caught dead in a suit like that. And he wore his fedora pulled way to low over his eyes. He had ‘convict’ written all over him.
When he stepped up to the counter of the First (and only) National Bank, Pearl thought he had ‘swarthy South American Casanova’ written all over him. She almost swooned dead away right then and there. He demanded, in a guttural voice, (Pearl would have called it ‘husky’) that she hand over the contents of the till.
Pearl didn’t move. He thought she was being resistant. In reality, she was just smitten.
He growled at her – repeating his demand. Pearl was certain the sweep of his eye wasn’t at all meant to ascertain the location of the silent alarm button, but rather his way of declaring his approval of her rigidly slim frame and the stark white prettiness of her lace cuffs – a concession to frivolity in an otherwise somber working girl wardrobe.
She took the burlap bag from his hand, her fingers dancing lightly over his hot Latin skin. She almost giggled. He scowled. She shivered.
She filled up the bag with money then held it out to him. He reached out to take it, but she held it fast for just a moment longer than necessary, causing his gaze to meet hers and she batted her eyelashes daintily at him, just like she’d practiced countless times in the bathroom mirror.
He yanked the bag free and ran for the door.
Pearl took one look at Mrs. Easterhouse, the other teller, then stood up, closed her till and promptly jumped the counter and ran after the bank robber.
He was already in the car by the time she made it to the curb. No doubt heartbroken because he interpreted her hesitancy to follow as a lack of interest on her part. No worries, she could convince him otherwise once the car stopped and he rescued her from the passenger side running board. She clutched desperately at the car door and smiled serenely at her paramour, as she was already starting to think of him.
He glanced over at her, registered her presence with wide, wild eyes (no doubt overcome by passion) and yelled at her. She couldn’t understand what he said but it didn’t matter. There would be time for endearments later. For now they had to concentrate on getting out of town.
The Model A Coupe sped around the courthouse square on two wheels and took off on the southbound road. The sheriff peeled out of the courthouse parking lot and followed behind. Her love reached inside his coat and pulled out a gun. He started firing wildly behind him. The sheriff replied in kind.
Nobody ever bothered to determine for sure who killed Pearl - the lawmen or the bank robber. It didn’t really seem to matter.
Thanks to C. Wright for the pun and some of the other details!