Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Issue #71 -- January 2021

LOTTERY TICKETS AND CIGARETTES
By Stephen D. Rogers


Brad placed his energy drink on the counter and turned to Kyle, who'd only started yesterday, much too new to really form a judgment. "You want anything?"

Kyle sniffed. "Nah, I'm good. We don't get paid until Friday anyway."

"I'll cover if you want something." The nice thing about working for Handy Dandy—probably the only part of the job that didn't suck—was getting paid in cash. "You want one of these, a soda, maybe some gum? They got donuts there in the case."

Kyle wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "Ah...give me a lottery ticket."

The Indian woman behind the counter blinked. "Which one?"

"The winning one." Kyle guffawed, pounding Brad on the back hard enough to send him crashing against the counter.

Brad cleared his throat. "Make it a two-dollar scratch." While he didn't want to appear cheap, he didn't want to throw away his money either, just in case Kyle "forgot" to pay back the loan.

The clerk repeated, more softly, "Which one?"

For the first time, Brad really noticed the plastic bins taking up half the wall behind the counter, the scratch tickets tagged with prices ranging from one to thirty. Thirty dollars for a scratch ticket? Who bought these things?

Kyle slapped the counter. "Fuck this." Reaching under the T-shirt emblazoned with "Handy Dandy—No Job Too Ugly," he pulled out a gun. "Just give me a whole bunch of them."

Brad stepped back, his hands splayed. "Whoa. What are you doing?"

The barrel wavered as Kyle enunciated, "I am trying my luck with the state lottery."

"Kyle, put away the gun. I told you, I got this covered. Think of it as a gift. Welcome to the job. It's good to have you on the team." What the hell was wrong with this guy?

The Indian woman yanked a ribbon of tickets out of the nearest bin and pulled sideways to tear them off. "Take them. Just go."

She tossed the snarl of tickets onto the counter and stepped back, tripping over something on the floor and maintaining her balance only by throwing an arm up against the plastic bins.

Bang. Her metal bracelets.

Kyle winked at Brad before pointing the gun at her head. "None of those look like winners. You saying I look like a loser? That my friend here looks like a loser?"

"Kyle...We're...we're going to be late."

Was that really the best he could come up?

The clerk pulled streamers of tickets from two different bins. "Here." She held them out to Kyle as if it was an offering.

Kyle turned to Brad. "Are you just going to stand there gawking, or are you going to take them from the lady? My hand is sort of busy holding the gun."

"Forget the tickets. Let's just go."

"What, you think she can just slip them back inside their little glass cages? That's not how it works. Brad, she tore them off."

"So what?"

"Those tickets are ours. Fifty-fifty, you and me."

"I want no part."

Kyle laughed. "No part? You wanted to drive the truck, boss. That makes you the getaway driver on this here heist."

Brad shook his head, searching for a way to de-escalate this mess. "We should just leave. If we go right now, I'm sure we can all forget this even happened." He pleaded with the clerk, "That okay with you?"

The Indian woman nodded.

Kyle frowned. "Brad, take the fucking tickets."

A five-tone melody announced somebody else had entered the store.

Brad turned to see a cop lifting a newspaper from the pile, and almost ran over to give him a hug. Everything would be—

Bam, bam, bam.

The cop's throat exploded with a spray of red, and his head just...

A crash as the cop tumbled back against the door, the weight of his body pushing it open.

Brad's heart stopped. His hands, pressed against his ears, made him think of seashells on the beach, echoes of the waves, endless days leaving footprints in the wet sand.

"Woo-eee!" Kyle blew across the end of the upturned barrel. "We are having some fun now."

Brad stared at his coworker, recalling that not so long ago Brad had thought he didn't know the guy well enough to judge.

Kyle leaned across the counter and pointed his gun down at the woman wailing out of sight. "Shut the fuck up!"

The clerk struggled to choke the wailing to a whimper.

Brad forced his hands from his ears. "What did you do?"

"Aimed where he wasn't wearing a vest, that's what I did."

Hearing the five-tone melody, Brad spun expecting to see a second chance. Instead, he saw the door propped open by the dead cop.

Dead. Brad had never seen a dead person. Never seen actual violence acted out in the real world. This just didn't make any sense.

Bing, bong. Bing, bong, bing.

Kyle tucked the gun in the back of his pants. "Help me pull him inside."

Brad searched for the words. "You shot him. Why did you shoot him? Why would you shoot a cop?"

"I guess you could say I was resisting arrest."

Bing, bong. Bing, bong, bing.

Kyle grabbed an ankle with each hand and lifted. "You want to help or just stand there and watch?"

"I don't believe this." Brad paced the front of counter.

"This guy's not light. Just saying."

"I stopped to get an energy drink. Asked if you wanted to come in with me; that was a mistake. I went for my wallet, and you went for a gun."

Kyle dragged the body down the middle aisle and yelled, "Any time you want to step in and lend a hand, that would be great. Maybe if you're feeling peckish, you could crack open that energy drink that was so damn important."

For a second, Brad considered heading out the door. Even if he made it outside, even if he got in the truck and drove away, what difference would it make?

"Kyle, you killed someone. Right here in front of me. Who even brings a gun to work?"

"Cops for one." A double-tap of boot heels hitting the floor. "You want his?"

"No, I don't want his gun. I don't want any gun. I need to think." Brad covered his face. "We're in so much trouble. What are we going to do?"

"I've changed my mind. I think I will have a donut."

"We should be at work right now, Kyle, carting trash out of some shithole."

"You didn't want to go to work." Kyle bit off half the cruller, chewed twice, and swallowed. "I could tell. You were just going through the motions."

"You're insane."

"Maybe a cigarette would help you calm the fuck down."

"I don't smoke."

Kyle stuffed the rest of the cruller into his mouth and leaned over the counter, crumbs flying as he said, "My friend here needs to start smoking."

A carton arced up to land on the counter.

"I'll assume that service came with a smile. It was funny, anyway." Kyle presented the carton to Brad. "Don't say I never gave you anything."

Brad brushed the carton aside. "You do know what you did, right? You killed somebody."

"Only if he dies. If he doesn't die, it's just attempted murder, maybe assault with a deadly weapon. Shit, if the judge is soft-hearted, maybe I can plea to disturbing the peace."

Brad pointed at the aisle. "Did that cop look like he just wanted to rest a minute before he got up to go about his business?"

"Can't say that he did." Kyle shook his head. "No, I'll give long odds that he's a goner."

"We are so fucked."

"Brad. If you're not going to use those smokes, maybe we could return them for store credit."

"How can you make jokes?"

"I hear ya, Brad. I hear the disappointment in your voice. You're thinking: I can't become friends with someone like him. I think he might have a gambling problem."

Kyle reached for a clump of scratch tickets and dragged them closer. "You know, I think you might be right."

He pulled the gun from the rear of his pants and used the edge of the grip to scratch at the silver circles. "I like to skip to the results. Then I go back to see what I'm trying to match."

Talking to Kyle was pointless. "I'm going to call the police."

"No, you're not."

Brad nodded. "I don't know how, but I'm going to try to explain this."

"It's too late, Brad."

"Why?"

"Brad. Is that short for Bradley?"

"Bradford. It was my grandfather's name."

"You ever meet him?"

Brad shook his head. "Forget my grandfather. Why is it too late to call the police?"

Kyle placed his gun on the counter, separated one ticket from the rest, and blew away the silver dust. "Five bucks." He showed the winning ticket to Brad.

"Great. Wonderful."

Kyle leaned over the counter. "You hear that? You owe me five bucks."

"Kyle, why is it too late to call the cops?"

"The clerk on the floor already did. I heard her press three buttons while you were cleaning wax out of your ears. Seriously, you didn't hear her muffling the phone when dispatch tried to get more information?"

"They can track the phone. They'll send help."

Kyle spun away in laughter. "Help? You think anybody is going to send us help? Brad, we are the outlaws. That means we are outside the law." Kyle removed another donut from the case. "Nobody comes to save the likes of you and me. We are on our own."

Brad leapt forward and grabbed the gun off the counter. He took two large steps back, raised the gun with shaking hands, and pointed at Kyle. "I'm in charge now."

"Good. I was tired of doing all the heavy lifting." Kyle took a large bite of the sugar frosted. "What's the plan, boss?"

Powdered sugar covered Kyle's T-shirt.

"You are going to stay here."

"Not leaving until I get my five bucks."

Brad backed toward the door. "When the police arrive, I'm going to tell them what happened."

"I hear they're good listeners."

"No, wait. She comes with me. Hey, you, behind the counter. We're leaving."

Kyle turned toward the counter. "Before you go, you owe me some money."

Brad heard the clerk scramble.

A hand reached up and tapped buttons on the register until the drawer opened. "Take everything."

Kyle walked over to the counter, peered inside the drawer, and plucked out a five. "We're good. You can go."

The clerk scurried from behind the counter. Stopped rather than pass too close to Kyle.

He raised his hands and backed two steps down an aisle.  

Trying to block the memory of the dead officer, the sight of his throat exploding, Brad motioned the Indian woman should run to him, which she did.

Brad raised his voice. "Kyle? You just stay put. I'll tell them you're unarmed. I'll tell them...things got out of hand, that you didn't mean to hurt anybody. Kyle?"

Brad heard the clerk push through the door to freedom, to what remained of normalcy.

Bing, bong. Bing, bong, bing.

"Kyle, I'm leaving now. Everything's going to be okay."

Sirens in the distance. The cavalry.

Brad took a step backwards. Another. "Kyle?"

"What?" Kyle stepped around the end of an aisle, a gun in his hand. "Sorry it took me so long, boss, but I had a hell of a time with his holster. Thanks for holding down the fort."

"Put it on the counter."

In one fluid movement, Kyle raised the gun until it was pointed to the left of Brad and fired three shots. "Get down, it's the cops!"

Brad scurried away from the large windows and vaulted over the counter. There was no way he wanted to be between Kyle and the cops.

A loudspeaker crackled. "This is the police. Come out with your hands up. I want to see empty hands. Come out and lay down on the ground, arms out straight like they're wings on a bird."

Unable to shake the urge to know what was happening, Brad shifted into a crouch so he could see over the counter.

Kyle strode into the center of the store with a large bag of ice. Grinning, he swung the bag and let go, the ice crashing through the window where he'd placed three shots.

He yelled, "We have hostages in here. A pregnant woman and her little boy."

A beat of silence. "Do you have a cell phone?"

"There are some pay-as-you-go phones new in their packages. Do you think I can activate one without going online? Fuck you!"

Chuckling, Kyle returned to the aisles.

Brad dropped until he sat on his heels. Kyle was going to get them killed. Kyle would probably shoot Brad if he made a run for the door. That's if the cops didn't shoot him first.

Was it so much to ask, sipping from an energy drink on the way to the job? Driving a coworker who wasn't batshit crazy?

Kyle shot that cop. Killed him. No reason at all.

Brad covered his eyes.

The loudspeaker: "Does the pregnant woman have a cell phone?"

Kyle yelled, "Doesn't want a mutant fetus."

What the hell was wrong with Kyle?

Did Handy Dandy hire just anybody?

Brad slumped onto the floor, looking down the alley behind the counter. At the far end: a plain white door.

"Do Not Enter." "Employees Only." "No Smoking."

There was probably an office on the other side. Maybe an emergency exit. Maybe just a window. If Brad could get into the office, he could shove something against the door to keep Kyle from following. A desk. A table. A chair under the doorknob, however that was supposed to work.

If there was an office, there had to be phone. He'd call the police and explain the situation. There was no pregnant woman with her little boy. Brad was the hostage. Kyle was armed with the cop's gun; Kyle was insane.

Unless the door was locked. Of course it was locked. What was Brad going to do, stand there slamming his shoulder against the door while Kyle sauntered over to shoot Brad in the back of the head?

Fuck.

Brad looked away from the door, lowered his gaze, noticed Kyle's gun still clutched in his hands.

He didn't know anything about firing a gun. Didn't even know if he was holding it correctly.

What the hell was he supposed to do, shoot his way out? Challenge Kyle to a duel? Fire at the doorknob as if that wouldn't fuck up the lock?

Brad shielded his eyes from the fluorescent lights.

"Kyle, you still there?"

"No way. Once I won the lottery, I gave my notice and went to Hawaii. Fuck Handy Dandy."

"I'm looking at an office door. There's got to be a second exit. It's fire code."

"You don't think there's cops out back?"

Fuck. Brad hadn't considered that possibility.

"Why'd you say the hostage was a pregnant woman? You could have said two guys. You could have made demands, and then when the cops asked you to send out the hostages first, we could have gone out with hands raised."

"You'd probably have to piss in your pants for them to buy it."

"Already took care of that."

"Ha! Hold tight, boss. We're in control of this situation. Cops got a bullhorn? Big fucking deal. We've got enough processed food to create a weapon of mass destruction."

"Why don't you yell that a little louder? Maybe they'll send in government assassins." Brad rubbed his eyes until he saw colored lights.

This was not his life. This was a nightmare. This was worse than a nightmare because there was no waking up.

"Yo, Brad."

"What?"

"Tell me the truth. You think we're going to get fired for not showing up on time?" Kyle chuckled.

Fucking lunatic.

Brad took a deep breath.

Maybe the key was to simply wait until Kyle got bored and rushed the door. Or the cops came in through the back.

They'd kick open the office door, see him sitting here with his hands up, piss running down his leg.

Kyle would do something stupid, and they'd engage him, forgetting for a moment Brad who was obviously no threat.

Brad would keep his hands raised, and they'd take him into custody. Ask him to explain what couldn't be explained.

"Yo, boss!"

"What?"

"I'm thinking I might cut a deal."

"Great idea." They probably couldn't wait to negotiate a lesser sentence for a cop killer. "You do that, Kyle."

"I figure, why not? It was your idea to come in here. You're the senior man. You're holding the gun that killed that cop. I mean...I got information they want to hear. I got no problem testifying."

"You have got to be fucking kidding me." Brad climbed to his feet. "All you had to do today was carry trash out of a shithole and leave it in bins by the side of the road. That's it."

Brad marched down the alley behind the counter. "Is that what you did, Kyle?"

"Don't remember doing that."

"No. Apparently, that was too easy. Instead, you decided to rob a convenience store and kill a cop."

Brad raised the gun as he advanced into the first aisle.

Empty.

He spun into the second aisle to see a streak of blood leading to that very cop. The breath went out of him.

"Yo, boss."

Brad looked up to see Kyle standing at the other side of the aisle, a cocky grin on his face. "Do we get a fifteen-minute break or what?"

Brad raised the gun and pulled the trigger as fast as he could.

Cops yelling at him to put down the weapon, raise his hands, lay on the ground.

Brad turned to explain, his arms going wide, gun still in his hand. 

*** 

Shots were returned.




Stephen D. Rogers is the author of
SHOT TO DEATH, which will be released by All Due Respect in April, and more than 800 shorter works. His website, www.StephenDRogers.com,includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.
 

 

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