I was already havin a bad day, see? The twins were both sick and Momma said she wasn’t gonna keep em tonight on account of it’s her boot-scootin night. Her and her damn dance hall. Freddie was pickin her up at eight and she was already teasin her hair at six.
So I called Andy, my manager at the Allsup’s, and told her I wouldn’t be in tonight. I left a message when she didn’t answer. After I hung up I thought, good, I needed a night off. But then the bitch called back and said my ass was fired if I didn’t show up again. Where the hell had she got that “again” business? I’d never taken off more’n four extra nights a month. Why couldn’t Andy just call her lazy, worthless son to fill in? I s’pose he was out makin meth somewhere. Actually, I couldn’t remember if Mason was in jail or not right now.
I told the twins not to open the door to anyone and ran to the drug store to get some sleepy cold medicine. They’re twelve, and boys, but you never know who’ll come to the door. I dosed the twins and told them I hadda go in tonight, but not to worry, they’d be asleep. What the hell, they were sick anyway. I left em propped in front of the TV with a big bowl of microwave popcorn and hot chocolate and went out to see if the pickup would start one more time.
It did. That didn’t mean the heater started workin by some miracle, though. It was March, so warmer weather would be here eventually. Not soon enough for me. I hate the damn cold. The wind blows all the time in Archer City. I mean all the time. It’s only a question of how hard it’s blowin, never if it’s blowin. Spring seemed to be late comin this year.
The radio, which did work, came on with a story about the Allsup’s in Iowa Park gettin robbed again. Sometimes I hated workin a convenience store. It was like takin your life in your hands. But it was a job. And I hadda have a job, what with two kids and a shiftless Ma. I didn’t know who worked in the Iowa Park store now. Last I heard, Julie quit when an armed bandit shoved a gun in her face and told her to empty the cash drawer.
My store hadn’t been robbed for at least five years. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. Maybe it meant nobody was gonna bother with us. Or maybe it meant we was due.
Anyway, I got to the parking lot and parked over at the side like I was supposed to. Mason had parked right in front, though. So he wasn’t in jail. When I went in I found out he’d just worked the day shift, so I took back what I said about him bein lazy and worthless. You can’t expect a person to work all day and all night, I s’pose.
Mason greeted my chest like he always did and got the hell out of there. I didn’t blame him. I always hightailed it after my shift, too. Well, I could blame him for eyein my boobs like that, but not for gettin out. If his momma came by while he was still here, she’d have him restockin shelves or carryin out trash.
No, restockin was my job, always done on my shift. I guess the theory was that business was slower at night so restockin wouldn’t bother the customers like it would durin the day. That wasn’t always true, but it sure was tonight. Not a soul came in the first hour of my shift. The store was so warm I was feelin drowsy. I went into the back to get a box of Doritos since they was gettin low. Ever since Mason saw that rattler back there a month or so ago, I’m right cautious, but I didn’t see no snakes in the back room this time.
I set the box behind my counter and was ready to open it when I heard em comin. Half a dozen hogs roared into the lot and the bikers sauntered in for beer. They wasn’t all the way liquored up yet, so I handled em okay and they left after they paid. I did sort of freeze up when bikers came in as a rule, but in this gang, the bitches looked tougher than the guys, to tell the truth.
The next hour was busy, but most of the customers were sober and none were mean.
Even though I hadn’t had any problems yet, I got a rattled sorta feelin that I couldn’t shake. I cranked the music up loud. It made me feel better.
Momma tells me I have the “gift” but I don’t believe her. I think I just know how to read folks pretty good and can tell what they’re gonna do. Like that time the high school tackle swung a big can of baked beans at my head when he didn’t have enough money for both beer and chips. I saw it comin and ducked easy enough. I pressed the button under the counter, so he was just gettin off his knees when the sheriff showed up. ‘Course, him bein one of the stars of the football team, nothin was done to him. But he got hauled in and cooled his heels for an hour or two before his daddy came to get him.
There was a lull and I stared at the black glass. It reflected myself and the shelf full of Lotto cards back at me. I couldn’t see squat outside, but I knew I was pretty damn visible from outside. A shiver snake ran up my back. Still had that bad feelin.
Pretty soon I found out why. Maybe I did have the “gift.”
There wasn’t no traffic goin by at all. A guy walked in without me seein a car come into the lot. He musta parked on the side. He put his hand up and ducked his head down when he passed the camera in the front. Bad sign.
Then he whipped a ski mask outta his pocket and slipped it over his head. He whipped a gun outta the back of his jeans. I was afraid he was gonna whip me with that gun next. But he just pointed it and jerked the gun toward the cash drawer.
I don’t know what came over me. I couldn’t move. I was froze up with fear. The son of a bitch could tell, I guess. He lowered that damn gun and nodded his head toward the cash drawer. His eyes looked like he was smilin. Probably laughin at me.
If the music hadn’t been so loud I bet he coulda heard my knees knockin. I glanced down at the button. Now how was I gonna push it with him right there? With a gun pointed, more or less, at me. I didn’t want nothin to happen to me on account of the twins. Well, even without em, I didn’t wanna die shot and bleedin on the floor of a damn Allsup’s.
He decided to point the gun more direct-like. He brought it up to my chest again and his eyes got hard behind those slitty eyeholes. I better move, I thought. I looked down at my cash drawer.
Then I saw it. A rattler was curled up at my feet. He musta come in with the box of Doritos. He was asleep, I thought. All of a sudden, I had a plan.
I opened the drawer and started gettin out the bills, stuffin em into his sack. I didn’t have to pretend that my hands were shaky. They sure as hell were.
My third trip into the drawer, I dropped all the bills. They was the twenties so I knew he’d want me to pick em up. When I stooped down, I grabbed that rattler behind his head, brought him up quick-like, and threw him at the bastard with the gun.
I never saw anyone run so fast in my life. He even left his cash bag behind.
After I stopped laughin, I got a broom to bop the snake over the head with the handle a few times. I hated to kill him, since he kinda mighta saved my life. But he was a rattler, after all. I couldn’t see him, so I searched the aisles. Back by the beer, he stuck his head out from under the cooler and got me in the ankle. I whirled too fast, tryin to hit him, and slipped. But I reached for the damn candy shelf and it crashed on top of me as I came down.
As I watched him slither outta sight, I tried to breathe, and wondered if the shelf would crush my lungs before the bite killed me.
Kaye George is a short story writer and novelist who has been nominated for Agatha awards and has been a Silver Falchion finalist. She is the author of four mystery series: the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas series, the Cressa Carraway musical mystery series, the FAT CAT cozy series (coming in 2014), and The People of the Wind Neanderthal series.
Her short stories can be found in her collection, A PATCHWORK OF STORIES, as well as in several anthologies and magazines. She reviews for “Suspense Magazine” and writes for several newsletters and blogs. Kaye lives in Knoxville, TN. kayegeorge.com