By Daniel DeVoto
It was just another night working graveyard. Joe's Mini Mart was the place. If the name screams cracked linoleum and buzzing overhead fluorescents, it's because it is. The stock on the shelves was the same crap you'd find in any other mini mart. Shit in, shit out. Biology doesn't do exceptions. The only thing we had different going for us is our clientele was a particular brand of schitzo. Past midnight we'd get the same handful of customers trying to suck me into some convo about alien conspiracies or some shadow agency listening in on their brain waves. What the fuck is a brain wave?
Occasionally we'd get the odd high school kid coming in for condoms or liquor hoping I'd be the cool guy who skipped the ID check. No such luck in this day and age. Too many rules, too many narcs. They'd find their own way to torment me just by reminding me who I was only a few years ago. Now I was working the cash register in some shithole to pay for school studying computer science to one day get me outta this town. "No Hopesville," they called it. At least that was the joke in high school when we were graduating into a recession. Things ain't changed much.
I had high hopes for this one guy who came in. Didn't see him at first. I just heard the bell chime and the door shut when I was stocking the wine coolers. I went back to the register and saw him in the chips aisle. He wasn't quite dressed homeless, but he'd seen better days. Almost middle-aged, late thirties, I'd say. A little salt and pepper grey, the kind news anchors dye in to make them look more distinguished, but this guy's was real. His one o'clock shadow proved it. What kind of entertainment would he have to offer? Talk of assassins? Some Jim Jones-level crazy? Not likely. This guy was too calm, peculiarly calm when I thought about it. Most people came in for a quick in and out in a place like this, but this guy was taking his time, perusing the junk food-laden shelves like he was taking in a fine wine. Maybe he was crazy.
After what seemed way too long, he came to the counter with a couple of candy bars and a Coke. He broke up our dueling silence with a question so routine it seemed a letdown after the buildup. "How much?" he asked.
I rang up his crap and told him the three and change, and he asked for a bag.
"How's the app business?" he said while I bagged the stuff.
"Aren't you making an app? Hoping to hit the big time like that Angry Bird crowd? This convenience store thing's just a side gig, right?"
"No, that ain't me, man."
"Must be disappointing for you."
For about .3 seconds I gave him a look, but I let it go. Not worth it, I thought.
"Assumptions are dangerous things, don't you think?" he said. I noticed there wasn't any cash on the counter. "There's the thrill of making one, though. It's like you can't wait to see if you're right."
"Sounds special," I said.
"Let's try another one. I'm gonna rob this place tonight. I'm not gonna force you. You're gonna do it for me."
I laughed nervously. It was my first robbery, if he was being serious.
"This is how it's gonna go down," he said. "You're gonna take the money out of the register and put it in the bag. You're gonna go behind you and take the money out of the safe and put it in the bag. Only, when you're reaching in the safe, slip a few hundred in your pants to keep for yourself. How's that sound?"
I stared at him straight on. I felt like I was being propositioned for a sex act, but I wasn't sure I'd get a disease out of it.
"Do I have a gun?" he continued. "Am I threatening you in any way?" He lifted his shirt barely over his waistband, showing no gun. "This doesn't have to be hard. We're just two people chatting and reasoning with each other."
I opened the register drawer. I took out the cash and put it in the bag.
"That's it," he said. "Now open up the safe."
I turned around and kneeled down to undo the combo. Three flicks of the wrist, and I opened the door.
"Now take the cash out and slip in a few hundred for yourself. Don't think. Just do."
"Careful. Don't let the security camera see it."
No chance. The camera was too far above and focused on the counter. I stuffed a wad into my pants and came back with the rest, a nice double handful, and dropped them in the bag.
He looked at me satisfied, almost delighted. "I guess this concludes our business," he said. He folded the top of the bag and pulled it off the counter. "Now call 9-1-1. Don't worry, I'll be long gone." He backed away and slipped out the door. "Have a nice evening."
And so concluded our encounter. I stared at the black night outside the glass door for a second but then woke up and went to the phone. I had some selling to do. One final thing not to fuck up.
* * *
The detective talked to me outside the counter. There was another cop checking out the safe, but it was all routine. I told him I saw a gun under his waistband and tried to make things match what would appear on the video.
"How close a look did you get?" the detective asked.
"I can ID him, but I can't tell you what color his eyes were."
"So then what happened?"
"He told me to take the money out of the cash register. I took it out and put it in the bag. Then I went back to the safe and did the same."
"You just handed it over?"
I stared back at him, pausing for effect. "He made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
The detective chuckled. "Right. Look, kid, no one's blaming you. We all want to go home to our families; you know what I'm saying?"
I couldn't give a shit what he was saying as long as I saw his back out the door.
"We've had a spate of convenience store hold-ups," the detective continued. "Looks like it's all the same guy. Don't worry, we'll get him."
Sure you will. Everyone makes mistakes, right? It's just, the ones with willing accomplices are a tougher nut to crack. No expert here. Just my opinion.
Daniel DeVoto has previously published crime fiction in Mystery Weekly Magazine and Heater. He has also self-published a hard-boiled sci-fi novel called TIMEJUMP.
Copyright © 2016 Daniel DeVoto. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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