And the gun being pink doesn’t make it any less goddamned heroic.
Trust me, I would have much rather followed the official Super Thrift Discount Mart robbery protocol, C.H.O.A.D.: Calmly and Happily Obey All Demands. No heroes meant no corpses, which meant less paperwork. And less paperwork meant fewer lawsuits, which corporate viewed as a bigger threat than some bullshit petty theft. Cash was safe-dropped every hour, and every inch of the store was covered by surveillance cameras. They weren’t actually recording anything most of the time, but wannabe criminals didn’t need to know that. The bottom line is it’s simply not worth it for either a minimum wage cashier or an amateur-hour outlaw to risk life and limb over the measly contents of the Lane 8 cash drawer.
As the esteemed night shift manager I was fond of doing as little work as possible, and not exchanging gunfire with drug-crazed criminals fit my slacker motif pretty fucking well.
But then I met Faith.
She started on night shift three weeks ago to the day. I walked into the upstairs break room and she was crouched down, rifling through the cabinet where the packets of diarrhea-inducing sludge the STD Mart passed off as complimentary coffee for employees were stashed. Her bleached blonde hair was loosely piled atop her head; a few stray curls tickled her neck. Tight khaki pants clung to an ass that was too perfect for this world, the outline of her thong visible underneath the thin fabric. Her company-issued collared shirt had ridden up a little, revealing a tribal pattern tattoo across the milky flesh of her lower back.
I sat at a table and pretended to play with my phone while I stared. She bounced on the balls of her feet as she sifted through the contents of the cupboard, and as I watched her thighs and bottom rise and fall I realized my own tan slacks were growing uncomfortably tight.
Eventually she gave up her search and slammed the cupboard, and as she stood and turned toward me my breath caught in my throat. Not because of some lame-ass love at first sight crap, although she was certainly pretty; I just tend to choke on my own spit from time to time. Smooth, I know.
“Don’t they keep any decaf in this shithole?” Her lips shone with pink gloss. Otherwise she wore very little makeup. The small splotches of acne scarring her cheeks were the only proof that she was human. Even the frumpy STD Mart uniform couldn’t mask her curves.
“Does it mean anything?” I said between coughs. I was still a little choked up from my recent brush with death via my own saliva.
She stared at me like I’d just asked if I could tend the rabbits.
“The tattoo. On your back.” I forced my eyes back to my phone.
“Yeah, it means I was an idiot when I was sixteen,” she said, plopping her flawless bottom onto the chair across from me.
Over the course of our shared fifteen minute break I learned that Faith was a whopping nineteen years old now, but the intensity raging behind her blue eyes told me that she knew a hell of a lot more about the world than I did, despite my five additional years on the planet. She was new to town and lived with her boyfriend, and she didn’t seem overly thrilled about either.
The next afternoon I stopped and bought a large decaf coffee for Faith on my way into work, and that buck ninety-nine bought me a world of shit that I hadn’t quite bargained for.
Love can make you do crazy things.
I pressed my face against the cold door of the milk case and peered out at the store through streaked glass. There was no sign of the masked gunman that had herded us in here a few minutes earlier, and no sign of Faith. The hum of the refrigeration unit and the panicked mumbling of my moronic coworkers made it impossible to hear what was happening in the store.
My heart was pounding; I had to act soon.
I clicked off the safety.
The gun belonged to Faith, and so did I.
A week ago we’d been chilling in the cash office during Faith’s break, which had become our nightly routine--I liked to hide out and pretend to do paperwork, and Faith seemed to prefer flirting with me over spending her half an hour of freedom in the bleach-scented squalor of the STD Mart break room--when the firearm slipped out of her purse.
I squealed and jumped back in my chair when the weapon hit the tile. It wasn’t my most manly moment.
“Relax, Riley. I always keep the safety on.” Faith bent forward to scoop up the gun, her fingers fiddling with the grip longer than necessary, allowing me ample time to compose myself and still sneak a peek down her shirt.
She caught me looking and smiled, then leaned over a little farther.
“Why do you even have that?” I said, my voice cracking. “I mean, I don’t think STD Mart policy…”
“Protection,” she said, shoving the gun back into her bag.
I felt like a creep because I couldn’t tear my mind away from her cleavage, and the small tattoo I’d glimpsed on her left breast--one half of a heart that looped into the infinity symbol. While she mused on the dangers of being a woman in the modern world, I wondered where else she was hiding ink.
“Hey, do you like to shoot?” Her eyes lit up again, and I knew I’d do absolutely anything to make her happy.
She led me through the dimly lit maze of pallets in the stockroom like a seasoned STD Mart pro, stooping down to scoop up some bottles and cans from the damaged goods bin. Once both of our arms were full I followed her through the back door by the deserted docks, where she carefully spaced our scratched and dented loot along the top of a dumpster. Then she dragged me back toward the building and handed me the gun.
I turned it over in my hands, examining it from all angles. I had shot a rifle a couple of times at camp when I was a kid, but I’d never even touched a handgun. It was lighter than I’d expected.
“It kicks a little if you’re not used to it.” Faith reached over to guide my hands on the gun while I adjusted my stance. Her chest brushed against my arm as she showed me how to click off the safety, and the shiver that ran through me had fuck-all to do with the deadly weapon in my hands. “Go ahead, try it.”
I squinted toward the bottles and squeezed the trigger, and if the weight of the weapon and Faith’s warm breath on my neck had caused me to downplay the brutal power of the hot pink pistol, the boom that echoed off the empty semi-trailers was an earsplitting reminder.
I stumbled backward more from the noise than the recoil, and Faith threw her head back in laughter. All the bottles remained intact.
“You shot high. Try again,” Faith said.
We spent our next several breaks out on the docks, shooting at busted up groceries. Faith was a much better shot than me, but I caught on. I was sure the local cops would eventually swoop in and surround the place, but they never did.
And I couldn’t just sit here and hope the lazy fucks would show up now.
I nudged the dairy case’s door open and tried to squirm out stealthily. After belly-flopping against the epoxy floor with the gun over my head like an armed trout for a few moments I finally managed to kick free of my pasteurized prison, and leapt to my feet. Displaced milk cartons rolled across the aisle.
I glanced around quickly, afraid that my thrashing may have drawn the robber’s attention, but all was quiet on the dairy front. Of course it was; the burglar would be focused on breaking into the cash office.
The cash office where Faith was waiting—alone, unsuspecting, and unarmed. Waiting for me.
Earlier this evening, after our lunch break shooting session, Faith had followed me back to the cash office. There was something different about her demeanor. Her eyes, normally fearless, were focused on the floor.
“I want to leave Steve,” she finally blurted. “I took this job so I could save up enough money to get away.”
I lowered myself into the room’s lone janky office chair. Faith normally sat on the countertop that lined one wall, where each shift manager organized cash, coupons, and other assorted supermarket swag, but she remained standing. Her hips swayed slightly as she swung her purse from side to side.
“Are you okay?” I said. I swallowed down the spit that was nefariously threatening my windpipe.
“Never better,” she said.
And then she was on top of me.
She flung her legs over the arms of the chair, somehow not sending both of us crashing to the floor. Before I could register what was happening her lips smashed into mine, our teeth colliding painfully until we both made the necessary adjustments. As we kissed I ran my hands through her hair, which was every bit as soft as I thought it would be, then down her back, finally resting them on the hips that had dominated my fantasies. She straddled me closer, and something dug sharply into my thigh.
Faith’s gun. It was still in my pocket.
She hopped back to her feet, wiping the gooey mixture of our shared saliva from her face onto the back of her hand.
“Is that a gun in your pocket, Riley, or are you just happy to see me?” She grinned and I stood, albeit a little more delicately that she had, and wrapped my arms around her. I never wanted to let go.
“Both,” I said, kissing her again.
She kissed me back deeply for a moment, then pushed away.
“I have to get back to work,” she said. “My manager is a real hard ass.”
She grabbed her purse and reached for the door, then turned back and kissed me again.
“You know,” she pulled the front of her shirt down, running her fingertips across her cleavage. “I have another break at midnight. Let’s continue this then.”
“It’s only a fifteen minute break,” I said.
“Then we’d better make the most of it.” Her hand flitted along the front of my pants.
“What will we do for the other ten minutes?” My voice was barely a squeal.
Faith smiled, tightening her grip as she leaned closer. “Don’t do any of the safe drops tonight. I want to do it on the counter, on top of all the money,” she whispered, giving my earlobe a nibble.
“Do you know how unsanitary that is?” I said. “Studies have shown that cash is practically covered in fecal matter. That’s particles of poop, Faith!”
She kissed my cheek and turned to leave, and I knew I’d happily swim through a sea of raw sewage just to feel her pressed against me again.
“Oh, and Riley?” she had paused in the doorway. “Keep the gun on you until breaktime. The bulge turns me on.”
“Oh I’ll give you a bulge,” I said to the closing door, hating myself immediately for saying something so stupid.
Faith returned to the STD Mart floor, and I followed once I could will my erection to stand down. The next couple of hours were the longest of my life. I made my normal rounds to collect cash, but left it stacked on the counter instead of dropping it into the safe. I was the only one on the shift with a key to the office, and other than maybe wrinkling it up a bit, no harm would come to the supermarket’s precious money. Well, except maybe soiling it with some more bodily fluids, but I was trying really hard not to think about what nastiness was already swimming on those bills.
At five minutes until twelve I was leaning against the customer service counter jotting down cigarette inventory, when Faith brushed up against me. I pretended to be surprised, as if I hadn’t been watching every excruciating minute tick by since her last break.
“Can I have the key?” she said softly. “I want to go in and get ready for you. Give me five minutes, then knock. Okay?”
I handed over the key without saying a word. I could barely breathe, let alone speak.
Faith disappeared into the cash office, and I scribbled down the last few carton counts with my mind running wild.
But then all hell broke loose.
Shouting at the bank of cash registers snapped me back to attention. Standing between the store entrance and the checkout lanes was a large man in a ski mask, wildly swinging a shotgun.
“Everyone listen up! Do what I say, and no one gets hurt!”
I nearly passed out as the blood that had been rushing to an entirely different region of my body suddenly flooded my brain. The cashiers whimpered as they cowered in their stations.
“Who’s in charge here?”
I considered ducking behind the counter, but my scared subordinates pointed me out so quickly I didn’t even have time to crumple.
The robber stomped over to the counter. He was at least six feet tall, clad head to toe in black, with a black backpack over his shoulder.
“Make an announcement. Tell the customers to get the fuck out of the store. Now!” He shoved me in the chest with the shotgun.
I picked up the service counter phone and pressed the intercom button.
“Attention STD Mart shoppers,” my voice cracked. “Umm…”
The thief yanked the phone out of my hands.
“If you don’t want to die tonight, you should get the fuck out of here now!”
The few customers pilfering around at the late hour booked it for the door, most of them taking their shopping baskets with them. One particularly stoned-looking young man grabbed a few extra candy bars on his way out.
Once the last stragglers had vacated, the robber emptied the contents of each cash drawer into his backpack, then led us to the cooler and barricaded us inside. I crouched down to catch my frosty breath, and that’s when the familiar stab in my leg reminded me of the gun.
I looked around at the panicked faces of my employees, but she wasn’t among them. Of course she wasn’t; she was in the cash office, probably scared shitless... and possibly even naked.
I had to save her.
After escaping the cooler I stalked back to the front of the store, rounding the corner to the cash registers in time to see the thief emerge from the cash office, his loaded backpack slung over the arm that held the shotgun casually at his side, his other arm around Faith’s shoulder.
At least she was dressed.
She saw me first. She planted her feet and the assailant looked up, his eyes locking on me and the pink handgun.
He threw Faith to the floor and raised the shotgun.
“Shoot him now, Riley!” Faith screamed.
The robber turned toward her as though surprised, and that gave me the split second I needed to pull off the hero thing. I aimed for his thigh, and squeezed the trigger.
I shot high.
His neck exploded with a sickening splash. The shotgun bounced off the floor first, then the backpack, followed finally by the spongy thud of the man himself. A bloody stew quickly swirled and spread underneath him, and his chest convulsed as he tried to slurp air into his desecrated throat.
As the intruder gurgled to his death I did what every good hero would do--dropped to my knees and vomited until there was not a drop of anything left inside of me, and then passed out for a minute.
Eventually sirens wailed outside, and a moment later the police waddled in. One particularly round officer mumbled something into his radio about an ambulance.
I sat up as two paramedics rushed to the body of the bad guy, and although he had stopped struggling several minutes ago, I guess they were still required to try. One slit open his shirt, while the other felt around for a pulse.
On the left side of the criminal’s exposed chest was a crude tattoo--one half of a heart that looped into the infinity symbol.
The other half.
My head swam as I stared at the chaos surrounding me. Blood, guns, police. . . but no sign of the backpack.
And no sign of Faith.