Dre’s grandma finally poked her head out of the poker machine parlor, blinked under the bright, fluorescent lights of the convenience store and seemed embarrassed.
Dre was looking toward the front door.
“Andy, I am so sorry,” she said. “I lost track of the time. We should probably get on home. Are you hungry?”
“What was that?” Dre said.
The clerk sitting behind the counter said, “It sounded like a crash. Maybe a tree fell or one of the power poles.”
“Andy, I think we should probably get on out of here,” Grandma Collins said.
Dre turned around.
“Oh, hey Grandma. How’d you do?”
“I lost about five dollars,” she said. “So, not a bad. We should go. I’m sorry I took so long. Have you eaten anything? Are you hungry?”
“Hey, kid, back away from the door,” the clerk told him. “There’s somebody coming.”
Dre took a step back and looked out into the dark beyond the fuel island. A lumbering shape, a big man, was coming toward the door.
When he stepped under the shelter above the pumps, they could see his chest was covered in blood and his face looked mashed. He walked in painful jerks, holding his left shoulder with his right hand.
“My goodness,” Dre’s grandma exclaimed. “Call the police. That man’s been hurt.”
“Yeah,” the clerk said and reached for the phone behind her.
The injured man pushed through the door gasping. His eyes were swimming.
“Hello,” he said. “I.”
Then he fell forward and went sprawling on the floor.
He hit hard, and the clerk hissed.
“Ow,” she said and began dialing 9-1-1 on the vintage phone bolted to the back wall.
Dre’s grandma moved forward carefully and looked at the man. He seemed to be breathing, but it was shallow. She tried to find a pulse but couldn’t locate one.
“Is he going to be OK?” Dre asked.
Blood continued to trickle from the man’s nose.
Grandma Collins looked back, smiled and gave a thumbs up.
She had no idea.
Half a minute after the clerk hung up, bright headlights sped toward the store.
“That was…” the clerk said and then saw that it wasn’t a cop in a police cruiser, but a Pizza Hut manager in a beat-up Ford Focus.
He pulled up alongside the front door and didn’t even kill the lights before he jumped out of the car and came stomping in, mad as anything.
“You little pissant,” Ryan shouted at Dre, oblivious of the corpulent man in the brown suit lying face first on the dirty, tiled floor. “Don’t think you’re getting away with what you did. I’m calling the cops and you’re going to pay for a new jukebox and for an electrician to fix whatever you did to our breaker box.”
Dre took a step back toward his grandma.
“Ryan,” the clerk shouted and pointed toward the man on the floor. “Not now. Do something.”
“Oh, you bet I’m doing something,” Ryan railed. “Drew you don’t get to mess with me. I am sorry things didn’t work out between your mother and me. We tried. God knows, I tried, and she was lucky to have a guy like me come around in the first place.”
Grandma Collins stepped up beside Dre and said, “Are you out of your idiot mind? There’s a man on the floor. Can you help?”
“Who are you?” He asked.
“Grandma, get back, he’s gone crazy,” Dre said.
Ryan’s eyes grew wide and he nodded. “Oh, that figures. You’re his mother’s mom. Yeah, we never met, but I heard plenty about you. This figures: the little thug is hanging out with his Me-Maw. Where were you? Huh? Where were you while he was vandalizing my restaurant?”
“Ryan, shut your mouth,” the clerk yelled. “This is neither the time or the place.”
“It seems fine to me,” Ryan shouted and then glared at Dre. “Nice touch,” he said, “The Hootie and the Blowfish song. Yeah. That was our song, wasn’t it? That was your mother and my song. You wanted to rub it in.”
Dre shook his head.
“No, you fool, it wasn’t your song. It was a song. It was a song I didn’t like and one you used to play whenever we got in the car with you because you thought it was a good white and black people together song.” Dre looked up at him. “You and Mama didn’t have no song together. You were bad to her. You made her sick. You’re garbage.”
Ryan clenched his fists and stomped toward Dre, then a gun went off.
The bullet zipped past the Pizza Hut manager’s foot and disappeared into the baseboard across the room.
“Step away from the boy,” a ragged voice called from the floor. “Leave this establishment. Get in your car and go back to wherever you came from. I don’t feel so great right now, but I assure you my second shot will give you a limp you will have for the rest of your life.”
Aghast, Ryan looked down and maybe for the first time, noticed there was someone lying on the floor.
“What are you…”
“You have until the count of three,” the man told him. “One.”
“You need help,” Ryan said, but the barrel of the gun was pointed at him.
The Pizza Hut manager decided the man didn’t want his help and he didn’t need the hassle. He put his hands up and all but sprinted out the front door and back to his car.
As soon as the car pulled away, the man sagged and laid his head back on the floor.
“Have you called for help, Miss?”
The clerk told him she had.
“I called 9-1-1,” she said. “They should be here in just a few minutes.”
“Good,” he said and coughed. “Good. I think I’m in trouble here. I’m not sure if I broke something I shouldn’t or if I’m having a mild heart attack. It could go either way,” he said weakly. “Doesn’t matter. I need some help.”
“Help is on the way,” the clerk said.
“Mister, it’s going to be OK,” Dre told him.
The man looked up. He was very pale.
“That’s good,” he told them. “I need some other help. It’s a lot of help, but if you help me, I’ll help you.”
Before any of them could answer, the man said, “My name is Skip. Over that way is my car. There’s a suitcase in the car. I need you,” he looked at Dre. “I need you to run over there as quickly as you can and get my briefcase and my phone. Then I need you to hide them or take them home with you. I don’t care but get them out of sight.”
“And I need you not to ask any questions,” the man said. “Will you do that?”
“He will not,” Grandma Collins said.
“If he does this, I’ll pay his way through any state college he wants, if that’s what he wants,” Skip told them. “He just has to hurry.”
“For real?” Dre said.
“Dre, no,” his grandma said, but the boy was already running out the door in the direction of where the man had come in from.
“Help me flip over,” Skip said to Grandma Collins. “I need you to get this holster off me. It’s just a snap. I can’t do it on my own.”
“I have a conceal carry permit,” he said slowly. “I am legally allowed to carry a fire arms but being allowed to carry a gun and having a gun on your person during a ‘situation’ are two different things. There would be questions. I don’t want any questions. Will you help me?”
Grandma Collins pushed him over and took the holster. He handed her the gun.
“Give it to the little lady behind the counter,” he said. “Hide it for me,” he told her.
“You going to pay my way through college?” She asked.
“If that’s what you want,” he told her. “Just help me now. We can settle up later.”
She took the gun. Sirens were sounding in the distance. The two women looked at the bloody man on the floor, who had suddenly gone very silent.