When April Montoya decided to put in her notice at the bank, she wondered if the building could sense that a great tragedy had befallen there, down below in the wet stone tunnels, where four security guards were shot point-blank, execution style, on their knees in the dark.
An oddly specific amount, $197,080, to be exact, was stolen from the vault, a fact that had a tendency to overshadow the murders. In the papers, the event was considered a “heist” rather than a “massacre,” but April suspected that the structure, known as the Cash Register Building, understood the severity of that vacating black hole of loss created by the killings of those four guards: Michael, Lucas, Eliot, and John. The memory of their lives reverberated in the tunnels .
April turned in her resignation two months later, on an early morning, saltine crackers in her Liz bag to ward off nausea, Amy Grant’s “Baby, Baby” on the radio. She thought of the building’s reflective windows. The roof sloped in such a way that heaters were needed to keep large chutes of ice from forming and falling fifty-two stories, crushing those on the streets of Denver below. Best to let 1700 Lincoln Street slip gently from her memory, April thought as she entered the branch manager’s corner office, rather than live daily in the terror of its reminder. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to no one and everything at once.
April had never lived anywhere fancy, elegant, or new. But the Cash Register Building was these things and more. She was hired as a teller at First National Bank of Colorado in the summer of 1990, at the age of twenty-six and a half. April had grown up on the Westside. Birch trees had polished her horizons, yet through the greenery of summer and the stark branches of winter, the Cash Register Building crowned Denver’s skyline. April had never visited a real city, but she imagined the Fifth Avenues of the world were lined with buildings that resembled this majestic metal pillar, wind charging from the airstream, gliding through glass spinning doors into luxurious white-lighted hallways, along elevators stuffed with suited men, high-heeled ladies with short, expensive haircuts, stirring the wet scent of a fax machine’s ink, the heartbeat of money. In the evenings, as the sun set behind the mountains to the west, April would stand at her station and gaze into the atrium, marveling as thousands of the building’s square windows illuminated in orange and gold like scales on a fish, as though the building were holding conversation with the sun.
Those who had been directly involved in the massacre were given paid leave—the tellers locked in the man-trap beside the vault, the fifth guard, who found the first few bodies stuffed in the tunnel’s limbs, and a hot dog cart owner whom the murderer-robber pushed into Lincoln Street as he escaped toward a Chrysler minivan. Yes, even the hot dog cart owner—the bank insisted, the least they could do, she had been selling on that corner for years. As for the slain guards, the bank deposited fifty thousand dollars into each of their accounts, not to spend in heaven or hell, but for their families to provide the bodies with suitable cemetery plots and to offset lost income amounting to roughly three years of their working lives.
But April and the other tellers, who, by luck or God, had not been at work on Father’s Day 1991, were expected to continue working as if nothing had happened, only the usual deposits, withdrawals, loans, overdrafts, and fees. Something had happened, however, and the walls and windows and corridors of the Cash Register Building knew it, and so did April Montoya.
Lucas was lazy. That was part of his appeal. He came across as breezy, lighthearted, highly fuckable but completely undatable. And so that’s what they did, a few times a month, when their shifts overlapped, down there in the tunnels, an area unseen: April, a teller, and Lucas, a twenty-eight-year-old guard from Thornton, would bang. That’s what they called it. Sorry. Most of the time, April simply lifted her narrow black Guess dress and lowered her Frederick’s of Hollywood panties. She’d press her hands against the moist stone walls and wait for Lucas to nudge himself against her back. He laughed like the beginnings of thunder, and a fine layer of beard shadowed his cheekbones, prickling April’s skin. He was funny, good to drink with, and the night before Father’s Day 1991, he drove to April’s apartment, on Marion Street, and buzzed her on the speaker box.
“Call in sick tomorrow,” he slurred in a cigarette-tempered voice.
“What’re you talking about?” April answered. “Lucas?”
“Psst, girl, who else? What the fuck?”
“Just promise,” he said, before clicking himself off. “Don’t come in.”
Lucas had been a security guard at First National Bank for almost three years before he was murdered, between 9:57 and 10:03 a.m., in the tunnels on Father’s Day 1991. No one knew that he and April had been seeing each other, casually, in this joyful way they had, for almost six months. And no one, not even April, knew she had gotten pregnant in those days before his death. It wasn’t until weeks later that April excused herself from her station, swiftly walking to the ladies’ room, where she pressed into the white metal stall, gripped the chilly toilet with both hands, and peered into the bowl as her breakfast of peach Snapple and huevos rancheros exited her mouth. The toilet automatically flushed. April stood upright and a bad feeling spread. A distant sound pushed into the bathroom. April frantically searched the walls and sinks for its source: a hidden camera, an errant lens, some sign of witness. But, of course, nothing.
“Inside Job,” the papers read. Obviously. Who else could have had such intimate knowledge of the tunnels beneath the bank? So they were made to take lie detector tests. Everyone, though the blame wasn’t heavily directed at the tellers. They were women, and the police chief had made it clear: “We’re looking for a white male between the ages of thirty-five and fifty, between the heights of five foot seven and six foot, in the weight range of one eighty to two thirty, and he wears sunglasses, folks, and he’s got a hat, perhaps a fake mustache or maybe it’s real, salt-and-pepper hair, mostly black. That’s our guy.” Still, no stone was left unturned.
April sat upright in a blank room painted the color of cement. She had driven to the District 6 police station three days after the massacre. The last time April was there had been two years earlier, when an ex-boyfriend had drunkenly punched her in the face on Sixteenth Street after she scolded him for ridiculing a homeless man—“No begging,” he had said, as if speaking to a dog. April was not happy to be back, and she assumed her guilt was wide-ranging, leaking from her pores. To share her knowledge was to harm Lucas and herself, and he had saved her. Had he not? April ached to think of what had happened in those tunnels. The thought of it rode away from her brain, slipped into her fingers, causing them to shake.
A white woman named Joslyn administered the test. Middle-aged, frizzy blond, blue eyeshadow, and wine-colored lips. She slouched over the wiry machine, affixing to April strings and tape. Joslyn was wobbly in too-large clothes, as though beneath the layers of fabric and skin her skeleton were hollow, a precursor to flight.
“To begin,” she said, adjusting her fallen left bra strap through her gray cashmere sweater, “the word polygraph, it means—”
“Of many writings,” said April, wiping her wet palms on her Lee jeans. “Like polygamy. I used to get As in English class,” she added.
Joslyn nodded. She pointed to April’s wired chest, the connected machine. April lifted her arms like a marionette.
“Nothing can tell a full story,” said Joslyn, “but through data we capture a glimpse of truth.”
“Just the tip,” April joked, closing both eyes quickly and opening them again.
Joslyn didn’t laugh, cleared her throat like a cave. “Now, Miss Montoya, how long have you worked at the bank?”
April swallowed spit. She blinked softly. “A little over a year.”
Joslyn scribbled something on a yellow legal notepad. She asked a string of questions related to April’s schedule, how many times per week she entered the vault, and what if anything she had noticed that was unusual about that holiday weekend. April answered with ease, picturing herself at nine years old, her mother gripping a carton of milk, a bulk box of Kraft macaroni and cheese absorbing sunlight on their kitchen counter. “Where did this come from?” her mother had demanded to know, and April, small and protective, didn’t tell her the truth—that she had placed the items in her book bag at King Soopers. Had her mother asked a better question, the question of why, April would have let her know that it was to feed her little brother, Marcus, because their pantry had run dry.
Joslyn soon shifted, steadied her voice. “And how well did you know the deceased guards?”
April felt herself gently lie. “Not that well,” she said. “Hellos here and there.”
“Have you ever socialized after hours with any of the guards?”
April laughed dramatically. She ran her hands through her hair spray–stiffened bangs. “Oh,” she said. “Well, you know—”
“No,” said Joselyn. “I don’t.”
“It’s a small city,” April said. “Bound to run into each other somewhere.”
“And where is that, Miss Montoya?”
April stared around the dusk-colored room. Above her, a vent began to rattle. She breathed, and for a moment, in her mind, there was the smell of wet stone and sulfur, that low-oxygen air beneath the bank, the miles of stone underneath. She imagined the tunnel’s dim swaying lights and its faraway sounds that no one could explain. She feigned a smile, returning her gaze to the proctor. “I’m sorry, can you repeat the question?”
In the end, April passed her polygraph. Joslyn even added a note: “with flying colors.”
Some weeks before the massacre, April stood on the rooftop of Club Vinyl surrounded by a crowd of off-duty tellers and guards, a divorced banker named Cliff, and someone’s cousin Trina. They were celebrating Cliff’s thirty-second birthday, and the club’s white chairs and rugs and end tables blasted purple and blue, the phosphorescence of these objects under black light. The air was warm for late May, and April could feel the city breeze raise the invisible hairs scattered about her cleavage and back. She wore a fitted metallic dress like liquid scaffolding over her skin, and more than once Cliff approached April, setting his hand on her lower back, chomping his teeth heavily as if he had shoveled far too much cocaine into his nose behind a fake aspen tree.
“Summer-summer-summertime,” Lucas sang out as he danced over to April and Cliff. He was carrying two vodka tonics, green with limes the color of money. “For the lady,” he said, handing one to April.
“Bro,” said Cliff. “It’s my birthday.”
“My bad.” Lucas took a large swallow from the remaining drink in his hand. “Here.”
Cliff reached for the drink without hesitation. He told April and Lucas that he was faded and needed to find a cigarette. Aimlessly, Cliff wandered toward a group of girls in matching neon jumpsuits. The music shifted to “O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature and the jumpsuit girls screamed out as they danced in unison, down on the O, up on the P P. “Check it out,” Lucas said, pointing north along Broadway. In the distance, the curved edge of the Cash Register Building glowed red into the cloudy sky, the city congested with night . “I love the noises this city makes,” he said.
April rolled her eyes. Drank her drink. “Even when we’re not working, we can’t escape that building.”
“I kinda like that shit,” Lucas said, his eyes illuminated with the city’s reflection. “Denver’s overlord.” He then leaned close, as though to graze April’s neck with his lips.
April pulled back. “What’re you doing,” she said. “We’re out.”
Lucas weakly smiled. “Why does everything have to be so underground with you,” he whispered. “I think you’re fine as hell. I want people to know.”
“Well, I don’t,” said April.
Lucas shook his head, turned away, defeated. At his left side, tucked into the front pocket of his sagging jeans, his pager beeped beneath the vibrations of bass and conversation.
“You know, April Montoya,” he said, glancing down, checking the number, “you better watch out. All this secret fucking and you’re going to fall in love.”
The last time didn’t seem like an ending at all. In the weeks before the massacre, Lucas’s and April’s shifts overlapped, as they had countless times before. She had taken the freight elevator down three stories beneath the street, her deposits for the week tucked into a blue vinyl bag.
They had walked to a secluded area of the tunnels. Maybe it was west. Maybe it was east. Underground, April lost all sense of direction. Up wasn’t north, and that’s all she knew. From down the long hull of the tunnel, the building sounded as if it were living .
“Hurry,” April said, tucking the deposit bag between her ankles.
Lucas laughed at her, waddling like a duck against the wall. His cologne that evening was new, not musky so much as vanilla and smoke, something expensive, a smell like cash. He delicately pulled her long black hair to the side, kissed along the softness of her neck. “You are so beautiful,” he said.
April grimaced. She shook her head with a laugh. “Shut the fuck up,” she said.
“It’s true.” Lucas sighed.
They finished quickly, coming together in silence while standing. Normally, April asked Lucas to pull out, but neither had anything to clean with, and, besides, April was on the pill, when she remembered to take it.
“What’s that?” she asked, pulling up her panties and adjusting her dress. “That light.”
In that dim underground tunnel, a crack of light sifted through the stone wall and April began to walk toward it, dust floating in the brightness. Lucas stayed back for a moment.
“I just want to see,” said April, inhaling the subterranean humidity, signaling for him to join her. She came to the crack in the wall, a vein in the earth, as if the core of the Cash Register Building had fissured into a bone-sized wedge. It took some time for April’s eyes to adjust. She pulled her hand through the light, felt warmth in its particles, the coolness of her own shadow across her face. On the other side of the wall, past inches of stone, there was money, stacks and stacks of money, bundled and counted, piled and resting.
“The vault,” said April breathlessly.
“Come on,” Lucas said. “Let’s get out of here. Gives me the willies.”
April stared through the light for what felt like a long time. She reached back, instinctually, gripping Lucas’s hand.
An idea came to her then, but even the thought of it made April feel the shame of guilt. Best not to share.
Then Lucas said, “They talk about robbing it, you know.”
“Who does?” said April.
Lucas laughed. He patted the tunnel walls. He brought his right index finger to his lips and with it, shushed.
April smiled. She kissed Lucas on the mouth. “Oh, right,” she said. “The building, it can’t know.”
Kali Fajardo-Anstine is the author of Sabrina and Corina (One World, 2019), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award for Debut Short Story Collection, the Story Prize, the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and the winner of an American Book Award.