By Anfra Boyd of

THOU SHALT NOT STEAL, THOU SHALT NOT KILL, the billboard read above the National Bank of Commerce. The letters were in bold Gothic print. Since it was the first of the month, people stood in a long line at the bank waiting to get their Welfare and Social Security checks cashed. To make matters worse, it was a hot and humid day outside. The bank tellers always hated this time of the month because young welfare mothers would be in line with their kids, and the bank would be noisier than usual. Children, unable to stand still while their mothers waited in line, would be crying and running around. Senior citizens, some walking on canes or using walkers, would also be in line. Not once did anyone let their elders skip ahead or hold the door for them while they walked in or out. They received no respect from the other customers in line.

Although August was normally the hottest month of the year in Memphis, that day was what the elderly called a “scorcher”. The temperature was 110 degrees, with the humidity factor included. Steam rose from the streets, and the clanging noise of the construction work filled the street in front of the small bank that sat on the corner of Summer Ave. and Hollywood. Fluorescent orange cones lined the streets on one side of the bank and enabled cars to get in and out of the bank’s driveway with ease. Every ten minutes, it seemed, the construction workers took a break. It was as if their energy was sapped by the sun’s blistering rays. The gigantic tractors and the black hoes used to pave the streets added to the heat as the machines filled the pot holes. People honked their horns when they would pass the workers or threw up finger signs because they were irritated with the slow pace of traffic.

Only a few blocks from the bank, Papa George, an elderly man in his late seventies, prepared to take care of his monthly business. He could no longer drive to the bank because of his vision and since he needed the exercise each month, he decided to start walking. He waited patiently each month for the mailman to deliver his Social Security check. He would get up early, eat breakfast, and take his heart medication afterwards. His routine never changed. Two strips of bacon, a small can of hungry jack biscuits, one egg over easy, and molasses, along with a cup of instant coffee. He preferred the percolated kind and could make it if he had wanted to. Before his wife died, she’d bought him a coffee maker. But now he felt that it was too much trouble to use, and instead, he made a cup of instant coffee each morning. The morning paper was always delivered around 5 a.m., and he would wake up at the sound of the paper thumping against the front steps of his small, two bedroom apartment.

All of the neighbors knew Papa George, with his silver white head and mustache. He walked slumped over, wearing a pair of khaki pants and cream shirt with brown suspenders each day. He wore his long johns all year long, even though the summers were deathly hot. He would tell everyone that he was use to the heat. As a young boy he had to pick cotton in Fayette County to help his parents out. His parents had been sharecroppers, and the long johns helped him stay cool in the cotton field. They were 100% cotton and would absorb the sweat, which made his body feel cooler than if the sun was hitting his unprotected skin.

That morning, when he opened the Commercial Appeal, the headlines read “Elderly Men & Women Being Robbed.” The article told of several elderly people whose homes had been broken into on the first of the month, while they were doing their shopping, or out paying their rent. The article reported that burglars would kick in doors, looking for cash or small appliances. In one case, a man had been shot and killed because the burglars didn’t know he was home. He had just cashed his $329 disability check, and the robbers trashed the house looking for more money. No one ever knew exactly how much they found because most elderly people kept money at home instead of in the bank. Papa George took heed to the article, reading it with a magnifying glass. He was long over due for a prescription of eyeglasses and his sight was getting worse. He needed cataract surgery, but refused it because of his age. Even so, he wasn’t frightened by the article because he always kept a small pistol with him at all times, along with his Bible. Although he had a bank account, he never put all of his money in the bank. He believed that he needed a small stash put away in a safe place just in case something happened. He never told anyone where that small stash was hidden. Closing the newspaper, he got up from the table, put his dark brown, wide rim hat on, and headed for the bank. It took him thirty minutes to walk the five blocks to the bank.

When he arrived, he could tell the bank was busy, and he dreaded the long wait. After about a half hour of standing in line, he reached the teller’s window. He cashed his check, putting $250 dollars in his checking account, so that he could write a check for his rent, utilities, phone bill, and pay his tithes. He kept $250 out for himself to add to his small stash at home. He asked the teller to give him one hundred dollar bill, two fifties, one twenty, two tens, one five, and five ones.

“Good-bye, Young Lady,” Papa George told the teller, tipping his hat.

The young, brown-skinned teller smiled at Papa George. Feeling in a good mood, because of the teller’s kind smile, he began to hum.

Slowly, Papa George ambled out of the bank, past the long line of the aged, the young mothers and their fidgety children.

When he stepped outside the bank, nothing seemed amiss to Papa George. He felt a sense of well-being, knowing that he could make his bills another month. No eating out of garbage cans for Papa George, he mused. He was an older person who could make ends meet each month and have some money left over. All was right with the world for him.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, two men, dressed like construction workers, grabbed him by both arms. They stood on each side of him, as if offering support.

“Get in the car. Don’t say anything, if you don’t want to get hurt,” were the first words that registered in Papa George’s head. Next, he felt the circles of a gun barrel piercing through the cloth of his khaki overalls and his long johns. A bit confused, Papa George climbed into the back seat of the car with the man holding the gun in his back.

“We suggest you be quiet or we’ll kill you right now,” the taller robber, who held the gun pointed at his chest, snarled at Papa George. Papa George was so taken by surprise, he hadn’t thought to scream.

When the three men pulled out of the driveway, no one noticed what happened. Everyone was too busy with their own transactions, and too disgusted about the congestion and noise the workers were making.

Just as the driver was heading up the street, he noticed the billboard over the bank. The words seemed to jump out at him. “THOU SHALT NOT STEAL, THOU SHALT NOT KILL”

“Yeah right,” the driver said out loud. Neither his partner or Papa George knew what he was talking about.
Papa George couldn’t see that well but he could tell that it was the shorter man who was driving the car. The shorter man turned to him and said, “We know where you live, Old Man.”

To prove it, the driver went directly to Papa George’s apartment. Looking over their shoulders, the two men pushed Papa George into the apartment. Of all days, there were no neighbors in the hallway.

Once inside the apartment, the two men began to rough Papa George up.
“Where’s you’re money ole’ man?” the taller man hollered, as he searched Papa George’s pockets. “I know you got more hiding in here somewhere!”

Due to the heat and his weak heart, Papa George passed out before he could answer the robbers. The robbers let him lay crumpled up in the floor like a piece of discarded laundry, as they continued to search the house. They ransacked the closets, dirty clothes, and all of the drawers. They looked inside the stove and refrigerator. They found nothing. As they started to leave, the taller man noticed a large Bible on the coffee table in the living room.

“Come on man, let’s get out of here,” the driver said.

“Naw, man, I’ve found the hiding place.”

“Where man, we’ve checked everywhere?”

“Right here man, in the Bible,” his partner said. “You know ole’ people believe in the Bible. I bet there’s money inside,” he said as he picked the large white Bible up with a picture of Jesus on the front. The Bible was a gift from his wife before she died. It was an extra large print, because Papa George had trouble reading, and he loved reading the Bible everyday. The driver grabbed the Bible from his partner, and opened it up. “THOU SHALT NOT STEAL, THOU SHALT NOT KILL” was highlighted in large letters. The driver quickly dropped the Bible, remembering the billboard he’d just read. A small manila envelope dropped out, and he picked the envelope up and opened it. Fifty one hundred dollar bills were in it. “Let’s go man. We’ve hit the jack pot.” They ran out of the house and jumped in the car.

As the two robbers pulled off, burning rubber as they sped away, they were laughing and counting the money. They drove back past the bank, on their way to their next hit. Once again, the driver noticed the billboard “THOU SHALT NOT STEAL, THOU SHALT NOT KILL”

The driver started laughing uncontrollably, while waiting for the red light to change. He was laughing so hard, he didn’t hear the other drivers honking their horns. When the light changed, the robbers pulled off. Without warning, a speeding car, trying to pass the other cars, charged from the opposite direction. The car torpedoed through the red light and broadsided the robbers’ car. In turn, the robbers’ car turned over three times, throwing the two men through the windshield onto the lawn of the bank. A police car, which had been chasing the speeding car from a bank robbery, where another elderly man had been shot and killed, pulled up just in time to see the bank robber’s car catch on fire and blow up. The driver of the speeding car was killed instantly.

At the same time, the car of the men who’d robbed Papa George, blew up. The money bag exploded with the car. The only thing remaining from what had been a car minutes earlier was the manila envelope with Papa George’s name on it. It was thrown, along with the two robbers’ bodies, from their get away car. The envelope and the criminals landed on the lawn of the bank. For a moment, the air was silent. The dead robbers lay with their glazed eyes staring blankly into space. If one followed where their last line of vision was facing, they would see that the two men were just below the billboard that read:

Exodus 20:15

Exodus 20:13