by Edward Sullivan
Do you know the difference between a Mossberg pump action shotgun proper and the Youth model of the same weapon? I‘m a United States Marine Corps veteran and I didn’t know what was pointed at me from less than a foot in front of my face. It occurred to me that somehow the overall effect was stubby and compact for the object. This thought was weird for two reasons: first, the hole at the end of the barrel looked as big as a manhole in the street; second, was “Who the hell contemplates that kind of cognitive dissonance while they are in the middle of an armed robbery?”
Number 1 came in and racked the shotgun; that made number 2’s handgun easily ignorable. Nothing gets your attention quite like a shotgun. Lots of times people say “Oh the real thing is nothing like the movies!” Let me tell you one thing right now, Hollywood got that one right. At the very least they get it right enough that the sound makes you want to piss your pants when it happens for real. This is why I feel no shame in saying I got on the damn floor when I was told to. Not even one else did what they were told. Shock is an unpredictable thing. Others like the girls working the registers were made to get back up.
The upstanding citizens now commanding the entire room’s attention, or their analogs, had robbed this establishment every Memorial Day and Labor Day for the past three years. The upper management in its infinite wisdom had done one thing in response to this. You would think it was to replace the outdated camera and alarm system. Nope. So maybe you figured it was to pay for a Police Department special detail on the biggest cash collecting days of the year from the open to the close of the day. Not really; they paid for a few hours in the middle of the day on Friday then got cheap and didn’t call for another detail. The sole ongoing tactic they instated was to take the “no sale” register keys from the cashiers and trust only the mangers with them. This creates a difficulty when armed men want the money which is in the seven registers, and the staff cannot open them.
Number 1 was definitely in charge. He was shorter than the other but wider. He didn’t seem fat, just wide, maybe athletic. He was the only one talking. He was unhappy that no one in front of him could provide money. He expressed this displeasure by kicking the closest teenage cashier to the ground. She was a little thing weighing maybe ninety pounds. She went down badly. It was evident from the noise it made even though no one was looking up. I won’t say I was brave, but my nature got the best of me and I peeked without thinking. I wish I hadn’t. In times after this I would wish I didn’t need to see number 2 strike the pregnant woman in the head.
“Keys now or someone dies.” Again something you would swear was Hollywood. Maybe these guys actually took their cues from that kind of stuff. As trite as that is, you believe it when the situation is real. A part of your brain probably calculates the odds of it being a bluff and doesn’t want to risk it.
The problem with the key request was the scarcity of people who could oblige. There were three. One was on lunch. One was outside the building. I had just come in from speaking with her two minutes ago. This meant one person inside this smaller by the minute building could open those registers and the safe. People were going to at the very least get hurt if it didn’t happen soon. My problem was: that person was me.
“I have keys. Don’t hurt anyone. I’m getting up.” You think getting up out of bed in the morning is hard? You think starting a long run is hard? You should try volunteering to get up and placate two armed men. The two blue ribbon human beings were both psychologically predictable and not of stellar intelligence. The result of this was that when something, namely me, moved in their peripheral vision they swung the guns toward it. It is unnerving to get off the floor and see guns plural pointed at you. Actually the second guy with the handgun was at least 15 feet away and was not that disturbing. It was the Mossberg shot gun with the fear inducing voluminous barrel four feet away that truly shook my resolve. It got closer. Twelve inches is a very large length for a sandwich, it makes a very poor buffer for a large caliber firearm pointed at you. It is in these moments that you become hyper-aware yet less perceptive. I will remember the feeling of that moment forever but could not tell you the color of the gunman’s shirt 15 minutes after they left.
I started smoking again that day. My alcohol intake certainly didn’t decrease either. I remember the minutes immediately afterward very well. The adrenalin makes you second guess yourself. You wonder if you could have done something. I was a former Marine. I had never backed down from anyone. I should have taken them on. I sat and waited for my turn to talk to the cops. The cops always seemed to get there too late. It made a five or ten minute nightmare into a two hour prolonged ordeal each time this happened. I lived across the street in a company apartment. I looked up and saw my wife in the window. She was holding my little girl who was just eight months old. I remembered why I didn’t play the hero. I had responsibilities that were important and it wasn’t to random strangers or corporate accountants. My life belonged to that little girl.
The science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres are Edward Sullivan’s usual milieu. He has been featured in Aphelion-The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Quantum Muse, and Ravenous Monster Horror Webzine. He is the recent Third Place finisher in Ravenous Monster‘s “Spreading the Plague” Flash Fiction contest. He is the current Flash Fiction Editor at Aphelion- The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy.