I have a part time job at a convenience store gas station. When things work out right, it's third shift two nights a week. Whoever has that shift is there alone for eight hours. We do not have locked doors and one of those little windows to take money through. You can come right on in. You, your neighbors and the guy that robbed our location last week.
I wasn't there. That particular night I worked second shift. Our new regular third shifter was blessed with the visitation. She wasn't hurt and the police caught the guy. Still, being there alone the past two nights has been a slightly nervous experience. It always was, of course, but the closeness of the incident spurs the imagination to take off running at very little provocation.
Take this sequence that occured in the first quarter of my shift. It would make a great opening to a movie. Opening only, because the threads never came together.
The light colored station wagon pulled up to the curb at the left entrance, with its headlights glaring in my face. There was nothing unusual in the way the ignition was shut off, or of the opening driver side door. I hardly noticed the man who got out and stood there next to his car while I waited on two customers inside. By the time I looked up, he was getting back in his car. Changed his mind, I guessed. However, though he started the engine, backed up and pulled away... he only moved the car about 15 feet, so that it was parked perpendicular to the curb and in front of the other entrance, but a rude six feet out into the lot. Once again, the man in the plaid cotton shirt stood by his vehicle, but he seemed to be staring and willing me to look at him. I did. He pointed, I thought, toward the right entrance, which we keep locked on third shift. I pointed toward the left entrance, thinking he wanted to come in and didn't know which door to use. Hey, it's third shift. People are sleepy. He came in obediently and hung back from the counter while I rang up some cigarettes for a junior smoker with a barely of age ID. The spooky way he was acting, I figured he wanted to buy condoms. I smiled as non judgmentally as I know how.
"I wanted to know how it is right to park." This slightly accented comment came out of a tan face of some far eastern gene pool. I was guessing India. Maybe Pakistan. Whatever, he was assimilated enough to be wearing cargo shorts and flip flops. Still, the question stumped me.
"I am waiting for my friend. How is it that people park? There are no lines. I do not wish to be in the way."
In the nearly two years I have worked at this place nobody has ever apologized for their parking. I was immediately suspicious and on guard.
A police car, lights flashing but no siren, zoomed by going north on Man-O-War.
"Your car is fine. People park every-which-way." (Please don't kill me.)
"Thank you. I am just waiting for my friend."
Cotton Plaidshirt went back to his car and stood outside. Waiting. A police car, lights flashing but no siren, zoomed by going south on Man-O-War. Mr. Plaidshirt did not have long to wait. Perhaps a six-pack sale and two tanks of gas later, a black or navy SUV pulled alongside his car. Osama Bin Laden was driving. Okay, no.. but a 60-ish man with a long white beard wearing a white cap that looked like an upside down cereal bowl and a white shirt with caftan style sleeves and neckline. It was almost one in the morning, my imagination was inclined to extrapolate. He pulled alongside Plaidshirt's vehicle and was talking to him through the window. He looked annoyed and was waving and gesticulating. Father-son I thought. Stupid son missing directions somehow. A white panel van pulled into the lot behind the SUV. I thought Osama and Plaidshirt were obliviously blocking this unmarked vehicle from getting to the pumps, but changed my mind when I saw the black hair and two tan faces that could have been family.
Two police cars, lights flashing but no sirens, passed each other going one north, one south on Man-o-War. Then another one going north. Maybe south made a u-turn.
Osama screeched away and the panel van zoomed after him. Cotton Plaidshirt jumped in his car and followed in haste.
Terrorists? In Kentucky? Is India mad at us? Would they make an example of a capitalist convenience store? A better example of Western greed could not be found. And 12 gas pumps could make a mighty big statement. But they were gone, and I was being silly. And the coffee ran out and things got back to normal.
More police cars. Don't get me wrong. I see a lot of them in the middle of the night and they are often in a hurry and sometimes use sirens and lights. But these seemed very close together and it occurred to me that they were looking for something or someone that had been reported close by.
I was ringing up cigarettes for a regular customer... a pretty and friendly young woman who must live or work close by. A black muscle-sedan pulled up to the door and a young god with shorn hair emerged. He didn't look like a cop. He looked like a movie cop. Grey t-shirt, black pants and a vest that I assumed was bullet proof and said POLICE. Badge. Gun.
"Have you seen a white male, bald, on foot... maybe came it to use the phone? Or anything?"
"No. But if I do, I'll call you guys."
"Thanks Ladies." He was off.
"That'll be $7.43." I reminded my customer.
"Oh. Sorry. I was distracted. I love cops. What if I see this guy? Give me your number."
She said she would call me and I could call the police. I guess she thinks I have this officer's direct line. We assured each other we would get the bad guy and she left laughing.
I'm sure Plaidshirt and the bald white guy on foot were unconnected but I bet I could write them together into a heck of a story. What I have to remember is not to continue telling myself those stories into the wee hours of the morning because it makes me do things like rip the packet of coffee in half and shower myself with granules when a door slams at a coffee making moment.