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When your convenience store gets robbed twice a month, you need a special kind of employee behind the register. That's me. I like the night shift, which is good, because those in my condition tend to stay up all night. The late shift is usually busy on the front end and tapers off to dead quiet later, perfectly matching my body's natural energy levels. It also leaves me with time to contemplate life, the irony of it all!
A better job would be night watchman at a chemical factory I suppose, but I'm not comfortable with all the noxious chemicals that may or may not affect me. Supposedly it's all safe now with OSHA guidelines, but I'm skeptical. Man has delved too deeply into chemistry without glancing from side to side to consider all its ramifications to those of us with unusual medical conditions. Anyway, I digress.
I'm half way through my Wittgenstein when the customer comes in that will rob me tonight. It's the eyes, I suppose, or the carry of the shoulders that gives her away. Her red pea coat might conceal a shotgun, but I predict a handgun. I wonder what Freud might have made of her choice if he were in my place, but I suspect that he would have more pressing issues on his mind than penis envy, or lack thereof, in the woman's choice of weaponry. He'd probably be pissing his pants. Some of us just aren't cut out for working the night shift.
Her coat is worn at the shoulders from too many heavy purses and her sneakers are coming apart at the soles. Most of her brown hair is hidden under a knit beret. Her eyes , peeking out from under frizzy bangs, are all sunken in from too little sleep with little dark spots on the lids that will only get worse as she ages. Frown lines are inexpertly spackled with makeup, making them all the more noticeable under the fluorescents. I wonder if I pity her, and decide that I do not.
“No,” I say, “We have Barq's and Dad's, but no A and W.”
“Well then just give me some smokes.”
“The ones from over there,” she says, nodding at something over my shoulder. Amateur distraction, that. Sometimes they run if you just hold your ground.
“Virginia Slims?” I stare right at her as she shifts from foot to foot.
“No, those.” She points at the rack with a wiggling finger.
“Those are American Spirit,” I say, not bothering to turn around. “You want the regular or lights?”
“No, not those, the other ones. The ones I'm pointing at.” She's almost whining at me.
“Why don't you just tell me what they're called?” I say.
“Goddammit, I don't know the names, just what they look like, okay?” She jabs her finger over my shoulder like she's leading a cavalry charge. “Gimme those.”
They always try to distract you, well almost always. Funny how people are willing to put a bullet into you for a measly few dollars, but won't look you in the eye when they pull their gun. I've met exactly three humans that had the courage or sociopathy to meet my gaze and pull their weapon. This woman doesn't have it. I don't pity her, I don't want to do her a favor, but I do want to get back to my book so I sigh and turn around. I hear the whisper of cloth and feel air tickle the back of my neck.
“You know,” I say,”if you pull the trigger now my chest will explode, my brains will paint the wall, or you're going to miss. In any case, the register isn't going to open and there's going to be a God-awful mess.”
“Just turn around, real slow,” she says.
“Slow is a relative term. What's slow to me may still get me shot. How about snail slow? Turtle slow? Mime in an invisible forcefield slow?” I pause, but she doesn't say anything. “The Earth is spinning at just over a thousand miles an hour, and I'm on the Earth, so I'm not moving all that slow at all, am I?”
“Einstein corrected that bullshit Newtonian thinking hundred years ago,” she says.
I turn around, real slow. She's standing taller now, shoulders back, and pointing a mini-cam at me.
“So you're not here to clean out the register,” I say.
“No, I'm here for an interview.”
I'd rather be shot.
“No you're not, you're reading Kant.”
“Says the lady who makes the distinction between Einstein and Newton.” I shake my head. “No, I'm working. The boss allows me to read when it's slow, but never said anything about interviews.”
“I can change your mind.”
“I'm doing a documentary.”
“I hate documentaries.”
“You'll like mine. It's about working the graveyard shift.”
“If I wanted to see a documentary about that, I'd bring a mirror to work.”
“I'm at a place in my narrative where I want to explore the dangers of night jobs, so I staked out some convenience stores likely to get knocked over.”
“And you found this place.”
She nods. “Number one on my list. And it's been robbed seven times since I started filming two months ago.”
Seven times? I've only been held up six. Who was the seventh? Oh yes, Lou. Poor bastard. The guy knocking him over didn't even fire. It wasn't the bullet in the end, it was the heart attack. I didn't feel too bad for him though. Five kids on four women and he never restocked the shelves during his shift. Lou's probably looking up at me now, laughing his scorched ass off.
“Funny thing,” she says, placing a thumb on a button that makes the lens twist, “the last time this place was held up, the guy shot you three times in the chest before running out with the cash. Five minutes later you stood up, called the cops, and finished the shift like nothing had happened.”
I shrug. “The guy was a lousy shot. Blew out a carton of Marlboros, a display stand of Horny Goat Weed, and the take-a-penny dish.”
She clucks her tongue at me. “Before you called the cops, you mopped up the blood from the floor and changed shirts.”
My stomach falls to my knees, someone is going to die because of this, and I hope it's not me.
“You're mistaken,” I say.
“I have it on camera.” She smiles at me like an assistant D.A. bucking for promotion. “My name's Kennedy, by the way, Kennedy Rue.”
“William Shears,” I say.
“Your name tag says Paul.”
“I know. I borrowed it.”
“So what are you, Billy?” she says. “What is bulletproof and only comes out at night?”
“I just work here, and let's just leave it at that,” I say.
“No, no, no, that will never do. I think you're far more interesting than the graveyard shift.”
“I think you should leave now, before I call the cops.”
She leans in. “Let's do that. Let's tell the boys in blue that if they go to a certain mausoleum, they'll find the gnawed remains of a man wanted for robbing this very convenience store. the same man who put three rounds in your chest a week ago.”
So she was tailing me too? I began having visions of dismemberment, being placed in separate boxes and buried in the desert.
“Coincidence. Nothing to link that place to me,” I say. Though I would have to find a new place to crash for a while, hallowed ground with the right mix of clay and loam.
“Nothing except for a hidden camera showing you crawling into the vault each morning after work.” She tilts her head and purses her lips. “What I can't figure out is why you don't smell like grave dust and rotting flesh.”
“But I must know.”
Some assailants you can bluff into thinking you're a harder target than is worth risking. One guy just walked out when I laughed at his gun. “You wouldn't be the first investigative reporter I've eaten,” I say.
Her free hand pulls a green plastic squirt gun from her pocket. “Holy water, blessed just this morning, mixed with garlic oil.”
For the first time since I took the job, I wonder if I can get to the panic button under the counter.
“I'm not allergic to garlic, that's just a myth.”
“Noted. Are there many vampires in the world?”
I let out a long breath. No point in bluffing now. “A handful.”
“Why work here? Shouldn't you be in a castle, the head of some multi-national or something?”
“I've made many fortunes over the years, and lost every one in spectacular fashion.”
“You sound unlucky.”
I shake my head. “Every loss was deliberately planned. I like to ride the roller coaster; it adds variety to existence.”
“How'd you lose your last fortune?”
“Derivative trades. I used to run Lehman Brothers behind the scenes.”
She let out a low whistle. I shrug.
“That timetable did accelerate out of control a bit at the end, I admit. Now I just needed to start over again. A friend of mine owns this chain and was having problems with this particular location. I saw a need, and filled it.”
“The entrepreneur's mantra,” she says.
“You are going to make me famous.”
“My continued existence depends on keeping a low profile.”
“Then you will want to stay in my good graces,” she says. “So here's how it's going to work. If you don't want the videos I have at home made public, you will do as I say. You will come when I call. You will come to an empty building and sit across from a camera while I ask questions from a secure location. In exchange, I will protect your identity.”
“My brethren will know regardless, they will kill me as a traitor.”
“If I release the video now, they'll surely kill you anyway. If you cooperate, I can give you a month or two head start before I release anything.”
“It won't make a difference, I say.”
“Think of it as a new roller coaster to ride.”
Whatever response I had in mind is cut short by a masked man with a shotgun bursting through the door.
“The money! In the bag!” he throws a garbage bag on the counter. Kennedy turns, the camera with her. The man's eyes narrow and he points the shotgun at her. Not a perp you can bluff, this one, a pure sociopath with his own calculus of risk and reward.
“Put that down! Down!” he says to her.
Kennedy cringes and lowers the camera. “Okay, it's off. Okay?”
He turns to me, still holding the weapon at Kennedy. “The money in the bag or I'll blow her damn head off.”
“Sure thing,” I say, and I open the till. My fastest time for clearing out a register is thirty seconds. It takes me forty-five this time because of the pennies.
“And all the cartons of hard packs,” the man says.
I begin adding the cigarettes to his bag.
“Gimme your camera,” he says to Kennedy.
She hesitates. “It's not on.”
“I don't care, give it to me.”
“You can have my wallet,” she says, “but you can't take my camera.” She looks up with a flare of defiance. “ It's mine.”
“Just give it to him,” I say.
Kennedy then makes two mistakes. The first is not letting go of the camera when man reaches out and grabs at it. The second is grabbing at the shotgun during the struggle. There's a thunderclap, and Kennedy falls with a surprised look frozen on her face.
The masked man turns and fires a blast into my chest. I understand; in for a penny, in for a pound. I see stars when my head smacks against the floor, only clearing in time to see a gloved hand reach over the counter for a bag full of money and smokes.
I sigh and stand up a minute later. I'm pleased there is no blood behind the register. The vest I made from adult diapers seems to have done the trick. I make my way to Kennedy, mindful of not stepping in her pooling blood. I reach for the forgotten camera and fiddle with the settings until I find the “erase all” function. The police will find the security camera broken – again. Shotguns are so inaccurate weapons after all. Her wallet will be missing, which will mean it'll take a while before they identify her. In the meantime, I'll visit her place and get rid of all her evidence of my condition.
I now decide that I pity Kennedy Rue. She had enough commitment to her calling to blackmail a vampire, after all. If she had done a little more research about the psychology of armed robbery, or worn a bulletproof vest, maybe she would have come out of this alive. But that's the breaks when it comes to working the graveyard shift. Some people just don't have what it takes to survive.