By Michael Fontana
Armed robbery seemed easier to Al than first thought, wandering into the convenience store like an actor from a movie, bandanna over the lower half of his face, stocking cap pulled down low to conceal forehead and brow, right gloved hand holding out the gun, left gloved hand waving the empty bag into which the bills would be tossed.
“Hand over the till,” Al said like an actor in a spy film he recalled.
It was all cinematic there. Cameras hung from the ceiling, capturing every step, every word, every gesture that he conveyed. Someone soon in a police station would review the footage frame by frame, slow it down, speed it up, all to better locate his facial features for identification. But he was already convinced that he had dodged that particular bullet.
That is, until the clerk spoke up, a fat man, balding, sweating. The latter flattened his hands on the counter before opening his mouth: “You’ll have to kill me first.” He said it with such serenity that it seemed more suited for a monastery than a convenience store.
Al tried to wave it off as nerves, pushing the gun straight into the clerk’s throat. “Hand over the till,” Al said again.
“No,” the clerk said again. “This is my store and you’ll have to kill me first.”
Al had no intention of killing or harming anyone. It was supposed to be like in the movies where actors fell in cosmetic pools of blood only to rise again in different roles. The script was that the clerk was to reach in, haul out handfuls of bills, and drop them in Al’s bag. The clerk would live unscathed, Al would scoot out the door, the alarm would summon the cops and then a pursuit would begin. Al was convinced he would triumph in any such game, except now the clerk was unfamiliar with the script.
Al pushed the gun into the clerk’s throat even further, wattles of skin enfolding the barrel, Al’s hand jumpy with adrenaline, heart beating like a tom-tom, sweat dowsing his clothes, even dampening his hat, rolling down into his eyes, his bandanna drooping with the weight of it.
Finally the clerk drew up and pushed the barrel away. “Kill me now or get the hell out of my shop,” he said, eyes glowing like hot coals.
The store seemed to still like there was no more air in the atmosphere, like only the two men could make sound. Then the clerk hit a switch and the lights went dead. Al opened fire with no idea of his aim, simply that glass shattered with the burst. He heard the clerk move from behind the counter, headed toward the door as if finally recognizing this was serious.
Al had no idea what to do other than unload the entire chamber of the gun into dead space, shattering things. Beneath that noise played the soundtrack of the clerk making his way to the door which he opened with a whiff of sewer rolling in. When Al shot at the door there was more shattering but then an alarm went off. Al crunched across the glass in the dark, stumbling here and there, cutting his hands as he broke his fall, blood growing sticky on the handle of the gun.
Rounding a corner outside, Al saw red and blue lights looming toward him from down the road, heard additional police sirens shattering the air as if it too was made of glass. He darted down an alley, dropped the expended gun, shed his hat and bandana as best he could with bloody hands, dropped the bag too, made his way to a fenced gate and scaled it with arachnoid precision, dropping to the other side only to collapse into the clerk.
The clerk must have taken a different path, only to arrive at the same destination and far more out of breath than Al. Al grabbed the clerk’s collar with his bloody hands and pressed close until they were nose to nose. “What in hell are you doing? Are you a suicide wannabe?”
“Saved my shop, didn’t I?” the clerk said, spitting the words into Al’s face.
Cops gradually rounded the corner, guns drawn, pointed in the direction of the two men, neither of them clear as to what was scripted for such a moment. The clerk dropped to the pavement, hands in the air as best he could, an awkward pose at best, while Al stood stock still in the flashlight beam of a female cop who trembled with the service revolver keyed on him.
A male cop raced over to the clerk, pushed the latter’s arms down into the small of his back and cuffed the wrists together while Al moved slowly, cautiously, toward the woman cop who had the bead on him.
“I’m surrendering,” Al said.
“Then keep put,” the woman cop said back, flashlight beam dancing in the air, the hammer of the pistol sliding back with her uneasy thumb at the control.
Al tried to remember what the movie actors did, but they never seemed to wind up so quickly and easily arrested. They either escaped clean or were shot to death, no compromise between those two axes.
He surveyed the situation and then raced headlong into the woman cop, who opened fire and missed him completely. Al knocked her down and bolted forward into night, into the city where he rounded corners until convinced there was no way the cops could locate him. Then he leaned against a sweaty wall and wept with the weight of failure, wishing as hard as he could for everything to simply fade out like things did at the end of movies.
Bio: Michael Fontana is a retired activist, teacher and fundraiser who lives in beautiful Bella Vista, Arkansas. His story, “Sweet Little Straight Razor“, appeared in The Yard: Crime Blog in 2021.
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