A 10 p.m. streetlight cracks through the store window, casts mirrored letters on the floor, shines the shoes of three old strangers in line with a bag of chips or a bottle of seltzer for a Thursday night of bingo or some other senior fun when the bell above the door sounds and Baz Osborne, tall with 19 short years of life enters. He carries a gun.
“Everyone down,” he says, waves the gun in the air. “Please.”
Erkin Polat, owner and night shift clerk with a cloudy beard, starts to drop.
“Not you,” says Baz.
Marcus Benson, second in line, retired parole officer, speaks up. “Just a minute, young man. I’ve got a bad back. I can’t get down on the floor.”
“Me too,” says the guy behind him. He wiggles his cane for emphasis.
“What’s with you guys?” asks Baz. He lowers the gun, but points it at the cooler.
Marcus looks around at his companions in line. “We’re old,” he says.
“Okay, you can stand there. But don’t move please.”
“What about me?” asks Erkin. “I’m not so young, either.”
“I said not you.”
“But I usually sit on my stool. My feet are killing me.”
“Okay, okay, sit on it. Now give me the money.”
Erkin sits, but doesn’t reach for the register. “Why?” he asks.
“Are you stupid? Why do you think?” Baz takes a step towards the counter.
“Hey don’t call me names.”
“Oh, sorry,” says Baz. “Sometimes I get stressed.”
“That’s okay,” says Marcus. “Isn’t that okay, Mr. Clerk?” Erkin nods. Marcus turns back to Baz. “What’s your name young man?”
“Baz,” says Baz. “But not really,” he adds. His nose is sweaty.
“Okay Baz But Not Really,” says Marcus, “Why don’t you tell us why you want the money?”
Baz hesitates like he wants to say something, opens his mouth, closes it.
Shirley Doyle, first in line, last to speak, raises her arms with her palms flat. Her Coke waits on the counter. “Can we get this over with? It’s getting close to my bedtime.”
“Is that thing loaded?” asks the guy behind Marcus. He uses his cane to point.
“I don’t know,” says Baz. He lowers the gun to his side.
Shirley pivots. “You don’t know?” She squints and puckers her lips like she can’t believe an umbrella is leaking.
Baz turns a light shade of red and explains in a tenor of faint bravado that he doesn’t know whether the gun is loaded because he doesn’t know much about guns, in fact nothing at all really, but he watches TV and assumes that they’re always loaded because that’s the way it works on the screen and besides he’s desperate.
“I was desperate back in 68,” says the guy with the cane. “My platoon was trapped, just about wiped out.”
“That’s a shame,” says Baz. “I’m glad you’re okay, though.”
“Christ. Shall we put some chairs in a circle?” asks Erkin. Marcus and Shirley exchange a glance, shrug.
“No, I guess this wasn’t a good idea,” says Baz. “I better get going.”
“I don’t know. My mom is sick.”
“Home, then,” says Marcus. “Go be with her.”
“She needs medicine.”
“There’s a Walgreens three blocks over,” says Erkin.
“They want money,” says Baz.
“Don’t they all,” says the guy with the cane. He hobbles to the counter, lays his bag of nuts down. “I don’t need these,” he says, then pulls his wallet from his coat, removes 2 twenties. “Take it,” he says to Baz. He looks around.
Shirley cracks a crust of makeup with one eye, fishes in her purse. “All right, I’ll chip in,” she says. Marcus digs in his pocket, follows suit.
“Not me,” says Erkin. “I’m barely making a living here.”
The guy with the cane taps it on the floor. “Come on man. You can afford it. You charge $6 for like three ounces of nuts.”
“Okay, okay, but only 10 bucks.” He opens the register, looks at Baz. “But leave the gun here.”
Baz nods, sets the gun on a rack with potato chips. “Okay.”
“And call me sir,” says Erkin.
“Now get out of here.”
The bell above the door sounds. Footsteps fade on the sidewalk. The streetlight grows a little brighter.