Will hadn’t stopped for breakfast. He had gone to the mall and had gone into the Woolworth store, to look around a bit more. His stomach was churning and the last thing he wanted was anything to eat. There was a different clerk on duty so Will just window shopped a bit, looking at hunting knives and various other accessories that were displayed neatly in one of the cases. He was hesitant and really didn’t know what he was doing in the store and knew he had to get on his way to work. He did make a mental note of a small black knife in a black plastic sheath that he learned was primarily a diver’s knife, similar to what SEALS used on their harness strap. He made a mental note of it and then left with intent to stop back by.
His stomach was turning, his mind was reeling and his hands were starting to tremble slightly as he gripped his steering wheel. He arrived in the store parking lot very early once again; but this time chose to park to the extreme far end of the parking lot next to a bar and steakhouse. He just silently gazed down, not really thinking of much at first.
Reliving his prior night started seeping in to his thoughts. The longer he sat in his car, the worse it became for him. He was starting to shake visibly throughout his upper torso. He felt so foolish; but couldn’t stop it. All sorts of thoughts streamed through his mind with muttered verbalizations.
“I could just quit! I don’t need this shit! What the hell would I do? How could I explain at the next interview, why? When would there be a next interview? If I told the truth, they would probably just think I was nuts or suffering some sort of relapse of time in service. If I quit, I can’t get unemployment. If I get fired, I can’t get a job. I was out for three months. What could I expect with a mark against me?” The sickening simple truth was that he was in this and had to see it through. Then he began reliving the prior night. The shaking didn’t subside until he was really starting to get mad. Then calmness fell over him with one obvious betrayal punctuating everything. His right hand was trembling uncontrollably. He held it down to his side and just watched as if he were witnessing someone else’s hand. Then his head fell and he was shaking it in disbelief.
Boy, some killer you are? If you had that gun, what could you hit with it, right now? You ready to play Wyatt Earp? Besides getting arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, exactly what do you think you can accomplish? A shootout? You better be able to prove self defense hot shot! At best you’ll get off with aggravated assault! If you don’t end up getting shot by a cop yourself! A whole prison full of Clairemont Jonas’s waiting to break you in! Exactly what authority could you claim? You ain’t a badge! Nobody gonna think anything; but an angry ex-military guy that went over the edge. Stenz and the Security Department would drop you like a hot rock! Oh, he is obviously unreliable! Jesus H. Christ, you are screwed dumbass!
After about another twenty minutes or so, Will pulled his car up to a spot on the Imperial side of the lot. He gazed out on to the street, looking over the people walking by and waiting at the bus stop. Everybody had a hunkered down, expecting the worst, demeanor. Mostly keeping their eyes averted as they waited for the bus. You could see their eyes darting from side to side occasionally. Evaluating their own vulnerability and just hoping to God to get home safe. A few toughs walked by, shouting obscenities or hollering at some woman or giving a sign or gesture to someone passing in a car; visual gang lingo of some sort that meant something to somebody.
For some reason, that gave Will a bit of a boost by making him grateful that he didn’t live here and that there was escape at the end of each or any day. He could see people that were obviously simply intent on survival and struggle to achieve getting out of this particular Hell. Honest people that just worked and tried to get by as best they could. He thought about a couple buddies he had known in service, black, intelligent, frosty cool and always ready to crack jokes. For the first time, he understood comments they had simply passed in simple conversations. He thought that much more highly of them, since they had come out of something similar to this. That knowledge kept Will balanced and able to distinguish circumstances and individuals. He decided he could watch carefully for those kinds of indicators he remembered from his service acquaintances.
Maybe that was a clue?
The tremors subsided and he glanced at his watch, knowing it was very close to the time to punch in for the next round. He hadn’t eaten and hadn’t brought a lunch and certainly had no intent of leaving the store to forage for lunch around 4:30 in the afternoon. He figured he could get a carton of milk at the grocery and something sealed.
With that, he drew in a deep breath, got out of the car, locked it and wheeled to turn toward the door.
“You got yourself and your guts and that’s about all! You got to get through this!” Will realized he was actually talking to himself, out loud. As he walked in, the stench hit him again. Overwhelming, as he half held his breathand made his way back to the office; intentionally not noting a damn thing about the condition of the store.
Mary Brown was standing on the outside of the photo counter, cleaning the glass and hollered out loud; “Good afternoon Mr. Morgan!”
He just nodded at her and couldn’t help but smirk slightly and then responded with a tip of his head and an index finger waving slightly; but kept heading for the office.
As he unlocked the door and moved in, he was surprised to see Farley standing inside, as though he had just been caught. Mr. Farley hadn’t returned after his lunch break the prior day and Will figured that Farley thought he would have reported it. Just half smiling Will started a conversation that seemed half cordial.
“Well, that was quite an education, last night. I got baptized! That’s for sure!” Farley sort of gave Will an evaluating glance and asked; “Did Clairemont give you a good idea of what we deal with here?”
“Yeh; he was real helpful. He gave me a good idea of the lay of the land. This sure isn’t anything like I expected.”
“No, nobody could expect what happens here. You came back, so I guess you’re okay huh?”
“Oh yeh; I’m okay. Just still tryin’ to figure it all out.” “I didn’t have an opening checker this morning, Rachel didn’t call in and I haven’t been able to get hold of her or anybody else. Thank God I had an eleven o’clock girl, or I’d have really been screwed!”
“Clairemont’s off today, so you’re on your own tonight. I’m gonna make a change run, you need anything?”
“Yeh, I do, let me get out my box.”
The safe was on day lock, as usual; but damn near everybody in every store did that.
All you had to do was lift the handle and pull it about half a turn and you were in. It simply was the smartest way to handle bringing back pull bags from the cashier’s and getting it into the safe and then getting back out on the floor quickly. The only time you could get in trouble for it was if Security happened to walk in and check it and then usually they only gave you a stern warning. They knew what reality was verses policy.
As Will gazed into the safe, only his lock box was in there. Clairemont’s wasn’t in sight. Not saying anything, he just pulled his out and opened it and scribbled down a full round of basically everything. He gave the Manager all but the two rolls of pennies and the ten dollar bill from the night before.
“Damn! You went through that much change last night?”
“No. That’s all that I had, when I counted it in.”
Farley looked a bit puzzled; but didn’t say anything.
“I’ll pad the early checker’s drawer and Mary’s before I go, so you won’t get hung right away. You can strip some singles out of the ice cream register, if you get stuck before I get back.”
Will just nodded and asked if the night checkers and stock boy were in?
“Yeh, you got lucky, everybody’s on their best behavior for your first night alone.
Guess they all want to make a good impression for you?”
Will smiled at that and nodded casually.
“If you have questions, I’ll sit down with you, when I get back and go over anything you might have to ask.”
“Nah, I got nothin’! Clairemont probably should be a trainer, he was pretty thorough!” John gave Will a passive glance; but said nothing on the way out the door.
Will gave the office an evaluating glance and followed Mr. Farley out of the door. He headed directly for the podium, to get the lay of the land for the day. Normally every store had a work board with assignments for each employee on duty. This store didn’t and Mr. Farley didn’t seem inclined to explain that omission. If there had been a board, it would simply say, get through the day!
As he was standing at the podium, the stock boy sauntered in, late by about 15 minutes, didn’t say a word and went to the back to clock in. Mr. Farley gave the boy a glance; but didn’t say anything and headed for the door with their change money, stuffed in a sack in his shirt.
Will waited a few minutes for the stock boy to come toward the front and then stopped him.
“We didn’t get a good chance to talk yesterday. My name’s Will Morgan. Sorry ’bout the way we started off; but that was kind of unusual.”
The stock boy didn’t offer a word; or even seem to be slightly interested in what Will was saying.
“Your name is?”
“Oh, Roger Hanfield. They just call me Han or hey you, most of the time. I gotta get my liquor list started, that always takes the most time and then ice cream next.” “Sure! You seem to know what you’re doin’, so I’ll leave you to it.” Roger just gave a begrudging half nod and moved on past Will to the beer box to start his restocking.
Will looked over at the woman in the main cash register and moved towards her, to make his introduction. She was a bit more pleasant than the girl Will had met the day before. This gal also braced a bit as Will came forward; but at least seemed receptive to pleasantries, if nothing else.
“Hi, my name is Will Morgan.”
“Oh, hello. I’m Belinda.”
“I guess you know I’m your new guy, Third?”
“Yes. I’m the mid-day checker Monday through Friday.”
She was on the malnourished side. Very slender; but looked clean and well groomed.
She had a more positive attitude and kept her head and eyes moving all around her, as she spoke, which was the sign of an older hand that knew what she was doing. She straightened some of the candy bars that were in the rack across from the check stand and seemed braced to jump back in at the approach of any customer.
“I guess Rachel didn’t show up this morning. So, Mr. Farley got hung early.” “That’s was no surprise to me, she wasn’t very good and I’m glad she’s gone.
I bet she was short at checkout last night? That girl was no damn good and I knew it the first time I saw her! She was a hit and run, just waiting for her chance! For the life of me, I don’t know why Mr. Farley keeps hiring that kind! No damn good!” Will was a bit taken back; but kept listening; “So you had her figured out huh?” “She was plain as glass! Anybody with half a brain could tell she was no damn good!”
“Well, okay! Ah, I think I’ll be asking you for estimations of anybody I take an app. from.”
“I should be a Manager! I know this place a lot better than any of you!” “Well, I think that Clairemont would know the people around here.” “Oh please! He’s out for himself too! You best watch yourself around him! Nobody to mess with! He’s got Farley by the ass and everybody knows it!” She glanced as though someone might overhear and then she just fell silent and continued straightening the candy bars.
Because it was still early Spring and even in Southern California the weather was overcast and cool there wasn’t the constant line at the ice cream counter. Will went over to simply eyeball it and make sure nothing was melting and the basin water was running.
No more than Will had gotten over there and Belinda started calling on her microphone for a Manager. Will realized that was strange and started over toward her check stand. There was a tall black man just standing outside the exit side of her register, a black woman and two more hulking black men just behind her.
Will tried to evaluate what was going on; but realized he best stay right at the register with Belinda. He went around the turnstile side and through and then stepped into her check stand and started sorting bags and acting as if he were going to bag the woman’s purchase. She handed Belinda a hundred dollar bill and Belinda cautiously tilted up her tray and reached down and got four twenties from underneath without leaving hardly enough room to pull her hand out from under the tray. She gave the hundred the once over and then counted out the woman’s change, some $93. The man to the outside of the register started backing away and allowing the woman to head for the door, the two men following the woman, didn’t have anything in their hands and didn’t stop, they just all proceeded out of the store.
“I was about to be hit! Glad you was smart enough to come over here!” Will was puzzled and looked out toward the four of them leaving and then looked back at Belinda.
“They were gonna hit me!”
“What do you mean?”
“White bread; let me give you a crash course!”
“Tall guy on the outside, two big guys on the inside and she just happened to only have a hundred dollar bill for six dollars worth of nothin’! I have to pull up the twenties from under the tray, the outside guy sees how much I have under and then gives the high sign to the brothers standing behind her.”
Will felt terribly sheepish! The whole thing was crystal clear!
“Well Miss Belinda, I didn’t see it comin’; but I am a quick study! I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks for the short class in reality!”
“Did you see that first guy behind her had a lump under his jacket? They weren’t foolin’ around! At least you had the good sense to get my back! I don’t think you scared ’em all that much; but the slow down made it not worth it, along with possible identification later.”
“Well, I noticed you didn’t lift your drawer to put the hundred under and I suppose that helped the most. They couldn’t make out what you had.”
“I don’t lift or drop my drawers, for no man!” Belinda was smirking and giggling at that little advisement.
“I gotcha! Miss Belinda! Thanks again, for the education!”
“Ah, you might be alright, white bread!”
Just then, a really cut, large kid that had been playing the rifle arcade game on the concourse, hollered out “shit” and simply ripped the rifle and ball mount out of the game, slung it over his shoulder and started for the door.
Will was just looking and spun around to ask a silent question of Belinda.
“I’d let it go, if I was you Mr. Morgan, that’s Terrance and he’s a bruiser!” “Ah, yeh! Not to mention, he could probably kick my ass into next week!” Belinda started laughing vigorously at that comment. A big hearty belly jiggling laugh; but she had no belly, so her whole frame just shook.
“You kinda alright and you seem to be learnin’ I think we’ll get along just fine!” Just then Farley came in, with the rifle tucked under his arm. “That damn Terrance!
That son of a bitch, he’s gonna piss me off one of these days! Boy, he’s fast for a hulk! He saw me commin’ threw it down and ran!”
“I’ve told ’em, I wanted that damn game out of here, for months! Maybe this will get the job done?”
Will followed John back to the office to retrieve his change run and sheepishly waited for what would probably be a lacing out.
“Good thing you didn’t stop Terrance. He’s a bad, bad boy! Runs with the Piru’s!
Wants to join and I don’t think it will be too much longer, ’til he’s wearing their colors.
Clairemont is the only thing that keeps him in line when he’s in here. I don’t know what he has on Terrance; but he don’t try nothin’ when Clairemont’s here!” Will was primarily relieved he wasn’t going to get ridiculed; but was dumbfounded at John’s comment about Clairemont and the series of new realities that he had just been educated in.
“Listen Morgan, I’m gonna trust you.” Mr. Farley, pulled a .32 out of his jacket pocket after walking back into the office.
“Clairemont doesn’t carry; but I think there’s a reason he doesn’t. Han does. Hell, it’s the only way any of us got the guts to come in this hell hole everyday! Stenz knows it, Security knows it. Hell, Stenz has a nickel plated .38 he keeps in his briefcase; you watch, he’s always careful not to have anybody on the open side of his briefcase whenever he’s around!”
“I would advise you, to get something too! It’s the only way us cue balls stand a prayer!”
“Anything that goes down, you let it go down! I always tell all the clerks, not to get between a dog and his bone! That’s how you’ll survive this! That’s all the speech or advice I’ve got for you! You rat me out, it’ll go hard for you. A hell of a lot harder, than it will go for me! You just keep your piece, for self defense.” “Little Price couldn’t give a shit about this store or any of ’em like it! Hell, if it gets that bad, they just write it off or maybe burn it down themselves! One of these goes up in about five minutes flat and with all the flammable stuff in the store, it’s hell to prove what happened or how it happened.”
“We sit around at our Manager meetings trying to figure out who the Company torch might be? It ain’t that unusual! Little Price has had about a dozen stores burn down over the years I’ve been with ’em. All of ’em losers in real bad areas; kinda strange, when you think about it!”
“You’re a young guy, just out of service and you don’t know shit! Just don’t let any misplaced loyalty get you hurt! Just ain’t worth it. You have a lot of life in front of you! Stick around and live it. Get past this and get the hell out, when you can!” Will didn’t respond; but was nursing a twinge of guilt circulating deep within him.
That; and a lot of self doubt.