I hate the two-six shift. It is absolutely the graveyard shift, and only truckers and lowlives need gas at that time of night. Every so often someone is just lost and turns off the highway to ask directions, but those guys never buy anything. I don’t know why Gus insists on keeping the station open twenty four hours, out here in the middle of nothing.
I’ve got a little television set out the back that I can see from the counter. I have to turn my back on the store which I can only do when there are no customers in, but that’s most of the shift. The stupid thing about working in a gas station it that it takes forever to save up for a car of my own. I was hoping to find an old beat up camaro I could fix up, but even for that, I’m not even half way there, and then I have to actually buy parts and spend time on it. I don’t have parents to count on for money, like most of the morons I go to school with. Mum’s looking, I know she tries. She hustles when she can; I hate that for her. But she won’t ever take any goddamn money from me either, so I have to slip it in her purse in ones, so she won’t notice. Even then, she must realise, we just don’t talk about it.
She only ever does it when I’m out of the house, but I can always tell, when I get back from a two-six shift and she’s up, making coffee when I get in. There’s drive through packets out in the kitchen. I used to daydream, sometimes, of saving up enough to leave a wad on the kitchen counter, and take off one night. She’d have to take the money then, and she could just use it for herself and stop fussing over me. And I go somewhere make something of myself. We never speak about where the little money she does have comes from.
One night on the two-six at Gus’s Gas, I was watching some shitty game show rehash, some woman with tears and shaking arms as the $1000 sign flashed above her podium, when some guy walks into the store in his boxers. And his business shirt. And socks but no shoes. He looks right at me with those desperate eyes- he’s got his tie and jacket on perfect. He puts his hand into his jacket, pulls out something from his chest, and aims it right at me.
“What size feet have you got?” he demands. I’m looking at this guy like maybe he’ll turn out to be Ashton Kutcher with a stick-on moustache or something. But this is a real gun. He’s pointing a goddamn gun at me.
The guy aims it at a tin of beans on a pyramid, pulls the trigger. Pinky sauce bleeds out of the deformed tin. I can instantly smell metal. I can taste metal. I look him in the eye and say
“Fourteen, sir”, like he’s my goddamn principal or something, and I’m respecting my elders.
“Take them off”, he scowls, dead serious “and your pants.”
I must have looked startled.
“Now! You thick sonovabitch”, he’s new to this I can tell, but he adds “you saw what I did to the beans!”
Some thing in me flicks. Suddenly I’m cool as ice, and this guy’s starting to bug me. But I humour him
“I’m probably better off shot” I say, ” than walking home at six am with no pants and no shoes round here. And if I make it home in one piece, if I don’t get beaten up real bad tonight, I’ve gotta walk into the bargain store tomorrow, with no pants on, and no shoes on, and buy some.”
“What the fuck do you think I care? You think I’m gonna give you something for them?”, he begs, like I’ve ruined everything somehow. He’s still holding the gun up, I don’t like it.
“How much have you got?” I try.
“If you’re short of cash there’s an ATM outside, or I can offer you cashback on any item in the store, sir.”
“You kidding me?” he glares, he’s not finding this funny at all.
“You never know who’s around this time of night” I find myself saying, somewhat humourlessly.
“Fuck. I’ll take some gum, and do cashback for your pants and shoes”
“Anything else sir?” I’m asking, I’m back to service with a smile, as if this is a normal Thursday night shift.
“Ten dollars” he says, as I put my till code in the register.
“Now you’re kidding me.” I say like I’m outside my body, watching it all happen. It’s a dream or something. Am I an idiot that’s forgotten about the gun?
“They’re second hand!” he goes, obviously a businessman, this asshole.
“I’d rather have my pants and shoes than a shitty ten dollars, thanks” I seem to be saying.
“I’m the one with the goddamn gun here. Give it over” he’s not even enjoying this at all.
I look him up and down like I’m deciding what I’ll do, but I know what’s coming next.
“Guess what,” I look him in the eye, I lean right over the counter, and speak softly, just below his face, and whisper; “you’re just not gonna shoot me.”
I watch panic flicker behind his eyes, but he’s not giving in so easy.
“Oh yeah, and how the hell are you so sure about that?” his accent has got rougher like he’s overcompensating. I see it as a weakness.
“Cos you’re willing to cause all this fuss to get out of here looking half respectable. You must have something to lose. There’s no way you’ll pull the trigger, and take my pants off me when I’m passed out, and steal my shoes. You wouldn’t do it.”
“I don’t need all this Freud shit, just charge the card, I don’t want to know how much, I just wanna get out of here.” He hands it over, and I kick off my old scuffed up track shoes behind the counter as I ring the gum through.
I know exactly how much is in the till, and I push my luck. I should have gone to the safe at the start of my shift, but hadn’t bothered. There was over four hundred dollars in the drawer. We’re so far out in the middle of nowhere, no one dares half-fill their tank. When I ran this arseholes card through, I see it’s not even his money, it’s a company card. The scumbag, like I was robbing him personally. But I knew his kind when he offered me a shitty ten dollars. I check my pockets, for my keys and some other little bits of junk I carry round. I tip it all onto the shelf beneath the counter and undo the chord holding up my combat pants. They drop to a puddle on the floor. I hand him his gum, and his company credit card. I pass the pants and shoes over the counter to him. “Thank you for choosing Gus’s Gas, have a good evening sir.”