George buttoned up his work shirt. He double checked to make sure that he had his pen and his name tag. The television blared in the living room.
“Embattled City council member Stephen Davis was arrested today on charges related to a bribery ring that sources say could go all the way up to the mayor and the chief of police. Can the police be trusted to keep you safe, and is this corruption at the root of the increasing gang violence? More at 11.”
He left the bedroom and walked into the living room. The blue light from the TV washed over the old ratty brown couch, the cheap wood end table, the hollow lamp filled with bottle caps. Outside it was already dark.
George walked over to the TV and turned it off. He stood for a few minutes in the dark. Listening.
He took a deep breath, let it out. He took his work shoes from the shoe caddy by the front door and slipped them on. He unlocked the door knob and the three bolts, opened the door, and walked out into the night.
His apartment was on the second floor. The harsh yellow light from the bare buzzing bulbs in the stairwell showed the gum wrappers, empty corn chip bags, and old gray receipts in sharp relief against the gray concrete.
George locked all four locks on the door, each with a different key. Then he walked down to his car.
George fiddled with his radio at a stoplight, trying to avoid eye contact with the man standing in the grass to the right of the intersection. The radio hadn’t worked since the last time someone had broken into the car and tried to steal it, but the homeless man didn’t know that.
The light turned green and George drove on his way.
The car’s headlights swept across abandoned buildings. Someone had sprayed the words “love me” in loopy red letters on an old gray garage door. A couple of windows had been knocked out nearby. Sirens whined in the distance. He saw a man walking on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette. The man threw the cigarette down on the sidewalk and stubbed it out with his shoe. He looked up just as George was driving by. Their eyes met. George wilted under the man’s smoldering anger. He sped up, leaving the man behind in the dark.
He pulled into the parking lot of the Gas-a-Lot and parked in an employee space, under a bright fluorescent street light. He eyed a group of three men standing by the rear left corner of the store as he walked in. As long as they paid for their gas and anything they got in the store, he didn’t care where they did their drug deals. He knew the odds of survival for a clerk working the closing shift at a convenience store, and he was determined to not be a statistic. Just keep your head down and do your job was the motto he lived by, and living by it was the plan.
Kim was at the register when he came in, ringing up somebody who’d only gotten twenty dollars worth of gas. George looked out at the cars at the pumps and figured the guy must be driving the little green Ford Pinto.
When the Pinto guy left, Kim cashed out the register. George followed her into the back room. He knew she had three kids and an alcoholic husband at home. He tried to be kind to her.
“Glad to be going home?”
She gave him a tired smile.
He remembered the three men at the side of the store.
“Anything weird happen tonight?”
“Nah. It’s been quiet. Fred came in. You know, that guy who thinks he’s Franklin Pierce and he’s been reincarnated so he can kill werewolves. He’s always fun. He said I was as sweet as a silver bullet.”
George laughed. “Sounds like an interesting dude. Wish he’d come in on my shift.”
“I think he stays down there at the independent living center. I don’t know if they have a curfew or what. Well, the money’s all good. I’m gonna go home.”
“All right. Good night!”
He carried the till back to the register. Kim left to go home to her kids and her husband, and George settled in for a long night.
Business was slow. A few cars came to get gas. A couple of people came in and got late night snacks or packs of cigarettes. A small group of people stood around outside for quite some time, but if it wasn’t inside his store, it wasn’t his problem. Calling the police wouldn’t do jack shit and confronting them himself would probably get him killed.
He checked under the counter. The Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm sat there, its weight and shape reassuring.
Around midnight things got quiet. The parking lot was empty. He reached below the gun to the bucket of water sitting on the floor and took out a cloth, squeezing out the excess water.
He was wiping down the counter below the fountain drinks when the bells on the door jingled. The new customer was a woman. With a scarf pulled up over her face.
George thought of the Smith & Wesson under the counter.
“What can I do for you?” He walked back behind the register and dropped the cloth back into the bucket.
“Ah yes…” She trailed off. George saw her look down at his name tag. “George. How many cartons of Newports do you have in the back?”
It was an odd question. How much did the woman smoke, anyway? From what he could see of her face, she looked fairly young and healthy.
He folded his arms over his chest.
“How many of them d’you need?”
He didn’t like the way her eyes were shifting from side to side.
“As many as you got, really.”
She crowded in on him, putting her elbows on the counter. George backed up a bit.
“Right.” He uncrossed his arms and looked down at the 9mm handgun. “I’ll have to go in the back to get them.”
He turned away from her and went to the storage room. Why would she want so many cartons? He knew cigarettes sold well on the black market, but if you bought them at full price first you wouldn’t make any profit at all. Plus she had the scarf hiding her face. She’d come in when there wasn’t anyone else around, like she’d been watching. And then Newports were one of the most expensive brands, likely to bring the most money on the street.
She must not be planning on paying for the cigarettes.
It’d been at least a couple of months since he’d been robbed. He figured he was due for it. George sighed.
He picked up a box of Newports and went back out front. He dumped the box on the counter, right above the gun. The woman looked scared. Maybe it was her first time.
“I’ll have to ring it up as several orders. The registers won’t let me ring out more than ten of them at a time.”
He waited for her response.
“That won’t be necessary.”
And there it was. He’d been right.
The woman grabbed the box with one hand. With the other, she brought a gun up to George’s head.
He instinctively stepped backward from the gun. She grabbed the box from the counter and balanced it on her hip, keeping the gun trained on him. She walked backwards towards the door.
She spoke. “Thank you for your help.”
George remembered all the other times he’d been robbed. He remembered the men standing around outside. He thought of Kim going home alone, having to avoid those men. He thought of the four locks on his front door. He thought of the man throwing the cigarette on the ground and not even caring, and he thought of the wrappers and empty bags and discarded receipts at his apartment.
He reached down and picked up the Smith & Wesson 9mm.
“Put the box down.”
His hands were steady as he held the gun.
The woman stopped.
“Or what, you’ll shoot me?”
He didn’t respond. He stared into her eyes, the only part of her face he could see. Go ahead, he thought. Go ahead and make my day.
“Not if I don’t shoot you first!”
Living was the plan. He pulled the trigger.
He dragged her body out to the dumpster. There was a lot of blood, but he could clean that up. A mop should be good enough. No forensics team was going to come out here on account of a poor nameless woman that had been trying to rob the place. Plus the security cameras hadn’t worked in years. What was the point, when the cops were owned by the gangs?
He’d had no other choice. It was kill or be killed. He’d had to protect himself.
He heaved her body up and over into the dumpster. Her scarf had fallen away. She really had been pretty. Such a waste.
Her gun had fallen to the floor and skittered away when he’d shot her. He’d have to find it and get rid of it. Maybe one of those men who hung around outside the store would know what to do with it.
He looked into her eyes one more time. They were vacant. No emotion, no thoughts, no focus. Just round bits of dead tissue.
George closed the dumpster lid over her.
Author’s Note: Once again, this was an intersection week in the writing contest and I had a partner. Her side of the story isn’t available anymore though. *has a sad*