In the dark of night, florescent lights turned the quickie shop into a bright beacon. A lonely glow, isolated in the dark expanse of desert down where an old county road crossed the California state highway. Karen stood, facing out of the big front windows across the western distance, staring at the red blinking lights that topped thousands of turbines at a windfarm back in the hills, like red stars blanketing the horizon. A new-hire, Kenny, was counting off cigarettes cartons behind the counter and marking numbers into a printed spreadsheet on a clipboard.
“I don’t get why we have to inventory the cigarettes. Not like anybody can get to ’em back here,” Kenny said.
“Something to do,” Karen said.
“Makes no sense.”
“Wait a few years and nothing about this place will make sense.”
Karen thought, Christ. Nothing about the place made sense to her anyway, not least the fact that she still worked there after so many years. Or for that matter, why at twenty-six she still lived here in the middle of goddam nowhere. A younger version of herself would’ve bet money that she’d have been long gone by now.
“No offense, but if I’m still working here in a few years,” Kenny said. “I’ll blow my brains out.”
“When you do,” Karen said. “Use Peter’s shotgun in back.”
Karen turned from the window and looked at Kenny, thinking maybe some night she’d jump his bones. Cute young guy. Fit. Could be fun.
She said, “You get high, Kenny?”
In the back office they sat drinking beers which Karen bought and passing a joint Karen rolled. The only customers coming in that late were tweakers and hyped-up truckers. Karen watched Kenny while he whined about some recently-ex girlfriend, the beer and bud deepening her mild attraction to the dumb sweet guy.
Then the entrance dinger ding-donged.
“Damn. Can you handle that,” Karen said, waking up the computer by waggling the mouse. “I gotta start balancing the safe anyway.”
A minute later Karen was staring at the closed office door thinking something cuckoo was happening on the sales floor. Ok sure the pot had her paranoid, she thought, but something was definitely off. Odd sounds? No, creepy quiet.
Then someone shouted something like, “…every goddam cent.” Then, “…now the safe.”
Karen parted the blinds in a window that looked out on the floor and saw a scroungey looking guy with nylons pulled down on his face. Dirty clothes, scabbed-up forearms. Fidgety with a pistol pointed at Kenny.
“Ah’Christ,” Karen spat, whishing she wasn’t stoned.
She scrambled Peter’s shotgun out of his bottom desk drawer. It was all chopped down, sawn-off and smoothed. Pistol grip polished to a shine. She broke the breach and found two shells staring owl-eyed back at her. When she turned and stood facing the door, the gun was up and locked, both hammers cocked.
Her heart jackhammered.
She heard sneakers going wild on linoleum outside the door. Shelves crashing, glass smashing. A struggle.
Then Kenny saying, Ok-ok-ok. Okay.
Her palms went sticky on the warm wood grip.
Outside, footsteps moved her way.
She felt the first trigger press into the fleshy give of her finger.
The doorknob turned and Kenny came into the room, bleeding from a head wound.
In a split-second Kenny’s bloodshot eyes met Karen’s then registered the gun and he dodged down to his left. Karen squeezed reflexively. Both triggers came all the way back and the shotgun boomed and bucked.
Nylon face went down screaming, taking it mostly in the legs and lower torso. Karen and Kenny spent a shocked moment not moving, ears ringing.
Kenny said, “I quit.”
“No shit. Think I don’t?” Karen said.
“What’re you gonna do now?”
Karen just stared at him.
The Sherriff said nylon face would live, but he’d never screw again. Double-ought castration. He said he believed Karen acted in self-defense, but she’d have to go see him in the morning to square her statement away. Peter could answer for the illegal firearm.
After the deputies and everybody left, Karen set about getting drunk and stoned again. Then she had sex with Kenny on Peter’s desk. Simple, nice and quiet. Then she clocked out of the quickie shop for the last time, found her car in the parking lot and drove for the red horizon.