Rose opened the store at 7:30, which was an hour and a half late, not that it mattered. This early and this time of the year, she doubted anyone would notice. The church crowd was just starting to rouse. Maybe the Catholics or the Methodists got up early. She didn’t know. She was nominally a Baptist, as were the five churches within a mile of the store.
Most of those people weren’t even on their way to Sunday school yet.
Rose sipped her first energy drink of the day, which helped soothe her nerves.
Greg’s wife called in to tell her that Greg was doing much better, but that the doctor didn’t want him to come back to work for at least a week.
“That’ll be fine,” Rose said.
She wasn’t sure if she’d even be here.
Rose figured that either she’d up and quit before the end of the day or Margie would just fire her. She wanted to hold out for the involuntary termination if she could because of benefits and the opportunity for legal action.
The events over the last couple of days had really sharpened her desire to inflict some damage on someone else for a change. The casual resentment she felt for her job and her lot in life had been aggravated just since Friday night.
She was seven months pregnant. Why was she still working in the first place? Who said it was OK for someone like her to get stuck working at a crummy backwater gas station? Didn’t she deserve more out of life? Didn’t she deserve a rewarding career –any kind of career, really?
Wasn’t she smart enough and talented enough to be anything other than a babysitter for washed up teenagers who’d aged out of their bright futures and were now only fit to be security guards for a bank of high-priced, low-value snacks?
Why had she nominally fallen in love with Jake, let him move into her house (rent free) and then allow him to impregnate her?
Anger roiled within her.
Nothing about anything was fair.
Because there was nothing much else to do, Rose wiped down counters, then restocked drinks and candy. She swept up the larger pieces of trash but figured that Matt and Margie could mop a floor for a change.
She went outside to smoke.
Only a handful of people actually came into the store. Most of just stopped for gas.
“What an awful, crappy and lonesome job this is,” she said.
Around 11, after the first Sunday morning church rush, she got the call from Skip McAllister.
“That was quick,” she said. “I hadn’t expected to hear from you for at least a couple of days -at least.”
“I imagine I looked pretty rough last night,” he told her.
“Like a dead man,” she said.
“I got better,” he said and chuckled.
Rose didn’t get the joke.
“What can I do for you?” She asked.
“I’m planning on stopping by today to pick up my things and say thanks,” he said. “I was thinking around 1 o’clock.”
“Yeah, that will be fine,” he said, then she added, “You mentioned a reward?”
“Of course,” he said. “We can discuss that when I arrive. See you at one.”
“Right, bye,” she said and hung up.
Rose wasn’t a particularly religious woman, but she did believe that sometimes some force in the universe did answer what amounted to special requests. Sometimes, after dumping on one person for a long, long time, the universe cut them a break.
Rose believed that Skip McAllister, whether he was a drug cartel gunman or a mafia hitman, was the answer to that request.
She just wasn’t sure how.
Ryan looked at his phone. Kelly had tried to call him six times since early this morning, but Ryan refused to answer.
“He probably just wants a ride home.”
As far as he was concerned, Kelly had brought this on himself. He’d come up with the rough outlines of the plan and Ryan had gone along with it. Ryan would never have known about the money or Rose’s involvement if Kelly hadn’t had an axe to grind.
He wasn’t even sure that there was ever money in the first place. For all he knew, Kelly had duped him into giving him a ride out to Rose’s house in some misguided attempt to get even for firing him. He’d dragged Ryan into this mess.
So, no, Kelly could walk home.
As usual, Ryan went into work.
Sunday was always a big day at the Pizza Hut. They had a full staff to handle the church people, who came in after services. Nobody wanted to work Sundays, of course, particularly the servers. The local churchgoers tended to spread out, make a mess and weren’t particularly good tippers.
Everybody would rather work before a football game or after a softball tournament when the beer would flow, and everyone was generally in a nicer mood.
Because of the traffic, Ryan was almost required to work Sundays, not that he minded, usually. There wasn’t much to do on your average Sunday afternoon in Charleston, anyway. Most of the time he just sat at home watching television or tweaking one of his dating profiles. He was on Tindr, OK Cupid and Christian Mingle. He hung out on Snapchat, too, but he hadn’t had much interest.
Today, however, he was hugging the coffee pot in back and trying to stay awake. Kelly had kept him out all night. It was just shy of noon and he felt like the underside of a tire.
“Hey, I’m going over to the Shopaminit and grab a Red Bull,” he yelled to the kitchen staff. “Hold the fort down. Be back in a minute.”
Nobody said anything, but why would they? This was his store.
It took slightly more than a minute to get across the bridge and pull into the parking lot of the Shopaminit.
He walked in the front door and Rose looked up.
“Hey,” he said. “I thought you had today off.”
Ryan felt her eyes on him. He didn’t like it. She watched him cross the store toward the energy drink cooler.
“I’m waiting on Matt and Marge to get back,” she said. “I’ll be out of here soon enough.”
Ryan grabbed a silver can and then a bag of salted peanuts, one of his regular purchases, then he took the snack and drink to the counter.
The way she was looking at him. He wondered if maybe Kelly had said something or if she could have seen his car from her house.
“You, OK?” he asked. “You look a little out of it.”
She smiled. “Long night.” Rose rang up the drink and the peanuts. “What was with you and that kid, last night? You can’t come into this store and start shouting at customers.”
Oh, that. He smiled. That was awful, but maybe less awful than being a party to a burglary.
“The black kid vandalized my store,” he said. “He came in, somehow got my jukebox on repeat, playing an old Hootie and the Blowfish song and then he broke the lock on the breaker box.
“I had to call Mr. Molique, who had to call an electrician to come out last night to fix it, so we could close. I was at the restaurant until after midnight,” Ryan complained. “So, yeah. I was mad at the kid. The kid cost us a couple of hundred dollars in repairs.”
“Hootie, what?” Rose said.
“It was a band,” he said. “Maybe they’re still a band. I don’t know if they still are. I honestly haven’t kept up with them that much.”
“But why come over here? Why the kid?”
Ryan sighed and cracked open his energy drink.
“I dated his mother a couple of years back,” he said. “She and I both worked at the Pizza Hut, back when I was just the assistant manager. She worked service. You shouldn’t get involved with the people you work with, but we did. We got really close and then it just didn’t work out.
“I guess he’s still nursing a grudge.” He laughed. “Obviously, he’s nursing a grudge.”
Rose listened to him, but then said, “Be that as that may, I can’t have you coming in here screaming at my customers. You can’t do that again.”
Sheepishly, Ryan raised his left hand and placed his right hand over his peanuts.
“I promise to never ever come in here yelling at your customers,” he said and grabbed his purchases. “But what about that guy with the gun?”
“You mean the guy who almost blew your foot off?” Rose said, “Heart attack. An ambulance came and picked him up, but not before he left us with a cool million dollars to watch over.”
Ryan dropped his peanuts.
“Yeah. He’s some kind of hitman or something,” she said. “You probably saw the accident up the road. He flipped his car and rolled down the hill. It’s a wonder he walked away, but then he came in here. I’m not sure whether he had the heart attack before, after or during. Probably before.”
Ryan couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“So, that was the guy on the floor you stood over,” she said. “He’s fine, by the way –or mostly. So, before the police arrived, he had us hide his money for him, but I’m guessing that Kelly –you know Kelly, the guy who used to work here? He must have been outside at some point and seen the cash. We were looking at it after the ambulance took the guy away. He must have come down to have a word with me about his recent dismissal.”
“Rose, what? Did you call the police?”
Rose laughed and slapped her hand on the counter –funny joke.
“Not at all,” she said. “I didn’t even call the police when Kelly came to my house and broke in. I guess he thought I had the cash. I don’t.” She sighed. “I chased him off. He ran off screaming.”
“That’s terrible,” he said, feeling cornered. “I’m glad you’re ok.”
“I think he had help,” she said. “I mean, he was alone in the house. I think I might have really been in trouble if there’d been more than just him, but it was just Kelly.” Rose looked hard at him. “I did see a car go by on the road. Do you know who I thought it was?”
“Rose.” He said soothingly and shook his head.
She ignored him. “What were you doing out there? Was that your idea? Because I’m about a hundred percent sure that Kelly has no idea at all where I live. None. But you know, I think I’ve seen you drive past my house once or twice. I thought it was coincidence. Kanawha County isn’t so big.”
Ryan didn’t have a good answer, so he blurted out a bunch of words that seem to make sense, even if they weren’t particularly true.
“I’ve been seeing a girl over that way,” he said. “Her name is Tina. She’s got a trailer over that way. She’s kind of a skank, to be honest. It’s purely physical. We get together when I can’t find anybody else. I’m sorry. You and me have been getting close, I know, but I got needs.”
Rose looked at him as if he’d vomited a living octopus.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It wasn’t me. I was out last night at Tina’s place. I left before her boyfriend got home. He works overnights at Walmart.”
As far as lies go, Ryan thought it was one of his best. It sounded unflattering and desperate, which were the true hallmarks of a good lie. Truth was embarrassing.
Rose nodded. Then she reached under the counter and pulled out a cell phone. She held it up and pressed a button.
A Bon Jovi song rang in Ryan’s pocket.
Sadly, slowly, Ryan silenced the phone, took his food and drink and said, “I’ll go now.”
Rose called after him. She said, “I get pizza whenever I want. I call over to the Pizza Hut and if I want a pizza, you’ll make it and have someone else bring it over.”
“This is non-negotiable,” she said. “I get free pizza for as long as I want and I don’t tell anybody about any of this. I get free pizza as long as you work at that Pizza Hut. I get free whatever if you go to another restaurant that’s within the state of West Virginia.”
“Rose, I can’t do that,” he said, though of course, he knew that he could, and he would.
“And you never come in here again,” she said. “Not ever. You can buy your peanuts someplace else.”