Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Choices Made

If he survived the next ten minutes, Rod told himself, he was going to kill that cat. His girlfriend's cat, Lola, was out of kitty litter and his girlfriend had withheld sex in order to force him to go out and pick up some more. Now, here he was, hiding in the meat locker, while those thugs terrorized the shop clerk and took her money. At least they hadn't found him yet. No telling what they'd do to him if they did. Then his cell phone rang and he heard footsteps coming toward him.

The caller ID showed his girlfriend's name: Kelley. Rod thumbed the volume control, sending her directly to voicemail. Maybe they didn't hear it, he thought. He sat as still as a statue, breathing slowly through his open mouth. The coldness of the meat locker turned his breath into white puffs. The footsteps stopped outside and Rod saw the handle start to turn.

Rod only had a handful of seconds to figure things out. Maybe he'd just give the thugs his money and they'd leave him alone. Maybe he could disarm this one, sneak up on the other one, and be a hero. The door opened a crack and Rod knew what he had to do.

He sprung from his crouch and exploded through the door. The thug was knocked down and his gun slid across the slick linoleum.

Rod turned left and ran out the emergency exit. His shoulder immediately rammed into the dumpster across the alley and he turned. Dodging trash cans and puddles, he sped down the alley. The thick soles of his boots thudded along the wet pavement. His ears were filled with the zip-zip sound of his arms pumping inside his ski jacket.

The alley spit him out onto Harrison and he beat two more blocks to Nassau before he slowed down. His body gave out and Rod fell to his knees next to a blue USPS mail box. The bitter night air was colder than that inside the meat locker. Snow fell like ash from the end of a cigarette. Rod hurled.

The next day, Rod wandered the streets of town, replaying the night in his head. Maybe he couldn't have been a hero like he thought, but at least he and the clerk would've gone through the robbery together. Being in that situation with somebody else must be better than going through it alone. Instead, he acted like a coward.

Rod shocked himself with the harshness of the word: coward. But that’s what he was. The shock of the word woke him up from his reverie. He had wandered his way back to the store. He figured his subconscious was telling him to go back and make things right.

The store seemed none the worse for wear. The aisles were cleaned up and there was no police tape anywhere. Rod grabbed a bag of kitty litter and went up to pay.

The clerk from last night stood behind the register. She didn't look up as Rod approached, but that was fine with him. He couldn't look her in the eye after abandoning her last night anyway. She was a cute young woman with a smallish build. Her black hair was slicked down and held in place by clips. The thugs had done a number on her, though. She had a fat lip and a black eye. A half inch red cut jutted perpendicular to her left eyebrow. It was held together by a great number of stitches.

Rod reached down and put a pack of Chewlies gum on the counter so he wouldn't have to look at her any more. The shame he felt at abandoning her to those jackals was unbearable. He was glad she was ok, but the urge to leave grew stronger with each passing second. He wanted to get out before she recognized him.

Rod slapped his money on the counter, scooped up his purchase, and headed for the door. He had to will himself not to run.

"Hey," the clerk shouted.

Rod's spine stiffened. He knew she recognized him. He was the only customer in the store last night and he abandoned her to the hands of a couple hoodlums. He wanted to keep walking. Pretend he didn't hear her call. But he stopped.

Rod turned around and took a couple steps back to the counter. His mouth opened, ready to spew out an apology. To say he was sorry for abandoning her.

Before he could speak, the clerk said, "You forgot your receipt."

Rod took the receipt, jammed it in his pocket, and left.

Note: Since I saw the name of the cat, I desperately wanted to use the line "whatever Lola wants, Lola gets" somewhere. It made it into the early drafts, but those didn't quite work. Then the idea came to show the aftermath of the robbery instead of the actual event itself (and a darker tone).

Patti has links to everyone's stories for this challenge here.

Hope you enjoyed it.


sandra seamans said...

Excellent story.

John McFetridge said...

Good one. I like the aftermath, gets a little deeper into the character. Well done.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Fanstastic job with this. Thanks so much.

Ray said...

I liked this - a lot. Really is a case of just an ordinary person caught up in a situation that he wants no part of. Reflective of real life.

Cormac Brown said...

Nice neo-noir.

WellesFan said...

Thanks, everyone. I tried something a little different and I'm glad you liked it.

Gerald So said...

What sells this story for me is Rod's introspection and the overall lack of closure. As Ray said, it felt very real.

Paul Brazill said...

Just read this. very impresed.