My Life

Dispatches from the Wasteland: The Warmth of Random Headlights in the Dark of the Night

Note: Yet another snippet from my work-in-progress for NaNoWriMo (click here to read this story from the beginning), picking up right after an underage asshat was annoyed with my refusal to sell him beer at the convenience store where I worked many centuries ago, and he returned a bit later with a weapon…


Needless to say, having a gun pointed at me was not one of the more calming and relaxing moments in my life. I’m sure my jaw hit the ground with an incompetent thud, because the whole scene came out of nowhere and caught me completely off guard. I may have even wet myself a little bit. Not sure, didn’t check.

Anyway, the kid with the gun. Once he saw the look on my face, he threw his head back and laughed. Then he just turned and walked away. Slowly. Like he was just out for a stroll and looking at the stars, might even stop by for an ice cream cone if Braum’s was still open.

I just stood there for a minute, with white noise flooding my brain instead of any useful electrical impulses that might help me process what had just happened. Then I realized I was still clutching the cigarette order in one sweaty hand. I snapped to and threw the damn thing down on the counter. There would be no more counting tonight, screw my next performance appraisal.

But what should I do now? Do I need to call the police? Surely that was a crime, what just happened. It HAD to be a crime. Nobody should get away with something like that. Then again, this was Oklahoma, and some of these people have an inordinate amount of affection for their handguns. Pointing your gun at someone might not even be a misdemeanor, for all I knew. You might have to actually pull the trigger before you get your hand slapped.

Oddly enough, during the whole encounter, it never once crossed my mind to push the panic button near the cash register. That’s what the button was for, to notify the police if something serious was going down. We are fully schooled on the proper use of this button during training. Robbery? Gang violence? Crazed people with implements of death? Push the damn button!

I didn’t even think of it. Good to know that I had a completely level head in a time of crisis and followed procedure, yes?

But could I push it now, after the fact and all? Maybe not. It wouldn’t be right for me to occupy some police officers when something much more serious might be going down somewhere else. Part of me was already convinced that the kid was just pissed at me because I wouldn’t sell him any beer, and all he wanted to do was scare me. (Mission accomplished.) I probably wouldn’t see him again.

Then again, we’re talking about a basically deranged kid who thought it was okay to wave a gun at me in the first place. What else did he think would be okay? What if he’d only disappeared so he could find some of his little friends who also had access to weapons of mass destruction? I picked up the phone.

Just then, headlights bounced across the front of the store as a squad car pulled into the parking lot. Wow. Did I just make a telepathic 9-1-1 call? If so, I needed to figure out how to make some money off this newfound skill.

The squad car parked right at the front doors, and the headlights blinked off. I could now see that it was Justine, one of the officers who patrolled this area. She liked to get her coffee from our store, probably because I threw on a fresh pot every time I thought about it, unlike the slackers at some of the other stores who would let the coffee simmer down to nothing but black tar.

I patiently waited for Justine to do all her little sign off crap and get out of the car. It was always a mystery to me, this whole process that Justine would go through before exiting the vehicle. She would flip switches and turn dials and fiddle with this and that in a complex array of motions. It would not have surprised if the space shuttle had launched out of her trunk by the time she was done.

She finally wrapped it up, popped open the car door, hauled herself out and sauntered toward the store. (Justine, despite the pretty name, was not the most feminine creature on the planet. She’s one of those people who is fully comfortable with releasing an echoing belch regardless of where she might be. Perhaps she was just alerting other predators that she was claiming this territory?)

Justine opened the front door, took two steps in, glanced at my face, and screeched to a halt. “What happened?”

I was still a little rattled, so I’m sure I came out with something like “This kid… and he… and I didn’t… and the gun… and his tongue…and-”

She held up a hand. “It’s alright. Slow down. I got time. Let me grab some coffee while you start over.”

So, Justine moseyed over to the coffee area, quietly performing the intricate routine that some serious coffee drinkers have, where everything has to be done in a certain order, while I took a deep breath and babbled away about the beer-less bastard.  She would nod every few words to indicate that my signal was being received and that I should keep going.

Then Justine calmly walked back to me at the counter, blew on her coffee, took a very tiny sip, grimaced slightly to indicate that it was still a little too warm, set the cup on the counter, and then looked at me. “He won’t be back. You’re good. But let’s do some paperwork anyway.”

She trotted back out to her car, where she grabbed up a clipboard and a folder and some other official looking things. Then she came back in the store, spread out her materials over one section of the counter, and uncapped a pen. “Tell me everything again.”

I did. And she kept asking questions and wanting more information, pausing every now and then as I attended to other customers as they came into the store, to the point where I started wondering why she was being so thorough. Then it dawned on me. She was just trying to keep me company, staying with me until I quit worrying about being alone in the store and that jerk coming back.

Eventually, of course, she had to go. I tried to thank her, but of course she blew that off. Just doing her job. “But I’ll check back in later, in case you remember some more details or something.” And check back she did. The woman drank more coffee that shift than one would think is humanly possible.

And she was right. I never saw that kid again.

But I definitely saw more of Justine. Mostly coffee runs. You see, it was an understood policy with Quik Trip that any police officer was welcome to free beverages and, well, basically anything they wanted. It was a discreet thank you, but it also kept them coming in the store, and that’s always a good thing. Especially in the high-risk stores. You want officers to just show up with some degree of regularity. I was fully prepared to cook them a five-course meal if necessary

Sadly, Justine had to make quite a few “official” visits as well. That store had a lot of “runners”. These are the folks that just walk in the store, grab whatever they wanted (usually beer) and then run out the door without paying for it. There was a dividing line we had to follow: Less than twenty dollars in merchandise, you could just write it off. Over twenty? It was technically a felony, and you had to make a police report.

It got to the point where Justine always brought her clipboard every time she came in, just in case. Generally, somebody ran every night. There was nothing you could do to stop them, especially if the store was busy.

Well, there was ONE thing you could do. After 11pm, we were allowed to lock one of the double doors at the entrance. I usually locked the door people typically considered the “out” door, so the runners wouldn’t notice this road hazard on the way in.

I have to say, I did find this locked door to be quite entertaining when it came to the runners. There was something very satisfying about it when some stoner would slink in the store, grab two 12-packs of beer, haul ass to the front of the store, and then slam face-first into immovable glass. It was a crunching sound that I greatly enjoyed.

Anyway, Justine and I became buddies. And one of the things that greatly amused her was being able to subtly torture me whenever possible. Her favorite thing to ask me when she made her first appearance on any given evening? “You gonna shove your stick in the tank tonight?”

I’ll leave you to ponder that image for a minute. Let me know when you’ve recovered.


Click here to read the next bit in this series…


Originally published in a different from in “Memory Remix” and “The Sound and the Fury” in 2010. Modified considerably for this post. I’m not sure how far I’m going to drag out this story-line, as it’s a long one, but it feels good for now. I’ll keep an eye on the comments so I can determine when we reach that interest drop-off point…


26 replies »

  1. What a frightening experience! Also a great way to prove that panic buttons are a complete waste of time. That community sounds like a very strange place – people who wave guns at you and police officers who realise that you need company after someone has just waved a gun at you but tell you not to worry about it!? Great read once again – thanks Brian :O) x

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Um, wow. Good on Justine (which name must be doled out to females destined to be ‘earthy”…although I knew a Shavaughn once who was just as earthy.. and apologies to all feminine to the nth degree Justines out there who might read this remark). You never can tell, can you? Now off to ponder what “shove your stick…” might mean and hope it isn’t the incredibly (not because doing something that I think shoving your stick might BE is ‘dirty’ perhaps, it’s the innate Utah upbringing that makes me deems things of a possibly sexual nature as such. Ignore it). dirty thing I thought of…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hahaha 😀 I’m still laughing at the image of a stoned runner slamming into a locked door. Kind of reminded me of Wiley E Coyote hitting a wall and turning into an accordion.

    Justine sounds like a gem. I think I would like her.

    Yes – keep posting! I’m really enjoying this story! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Of course, karma would get me back for my over-enjoyment of the locked door, as I would often forget about the state of said door and smack my own self when I had to go outside and sweep the parking lot or clean the gas pumps. It wasn’t so funny then… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wait a minute… I assumed if this was NaNoWriMo material then it was fiction, but now I’m catching on this is a real memory and you really did have a gun pointed at you. And while I feel bad about that, it also pleases me there truly is a Justine in the world.
    Sorry it took me so long to catch on. I think it’s the snow. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • And it’s a fair assumption that I would be working on a fiction piece for NaNo, but this go around I decided to piddle with a collection of short stories, dragging bits out of the past and re-shaping them in a quasi-related manner. Many of the short stories are, indeed, fiction, but the snippets I have posted so far pertain to true tales from my sordid adventures the year after I dropped out of college to “find myself”, unaware of what else I would find in the process…

      Liked by 1 person

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