“Same as always Sir?” I habitually queried of the wispy man at my counter. The deep blue flannel look was new, but everything else about him was carved from a solid block of routine. The same haircut that failed to cover the bald spot on his head, the same muck encrusted work boots, and the same patient smile hid behind his oxygen tubes all adorned him neatly.
He nodded as I placed the anticipated 2 gallons of milk, 24 pack of beer, and pack of cigarillos on the counter. I didn’t bother counting the money he handed me, as it was always the exact change.
“I don’t suppose I could convince you to help me carry my items to my cab tonight, could I sonny?” he asked despite knowing my response.
“You know, as well as I do Sir, that company policy prohibits the sole employee from leaving the station. It’s a security risk. Besides, I would hate to cause any undo delay for the next people in line,” I said motioning to the husky woman and towering blonde man in my line.
Unhelpfully, both customers waved me on, signalling they didn’t mind the wait. “I’m sorry, but I must insist on not leaving the store,” I said.
“Didn’t anyone raise you right?” the blonde man asked, his muscled physique almost pouncing in indignation. “What do you have against helping an old man?
“Nothing at all sir, but rules exist for a reason. I am truly sorry. Please trust me when I say that he is capable of getting to his car without my help” I said.
“Do they train you in rudeness here?” the woman at my counter asked. “Sir, I’d be happy to help you once I am done checking out,” she said directed at the elderly gentleman.
“Menthol 100’s in the blue box, two of your 3 dollar scratch tickets, and a pint of your cheapest vodka,” she ordered curtly.
“May I see some Identification, Miss?”
Her glasses slid down her nose as she lowered her crowsfeet encircled eyes at me. “Does it look like I am underage?” she countered.
“No Mam, but I must card every person who comes through here as a matter of policy,” I politely defended.
“Not that either of us need to be carded, but you didn’t card him,” she said pointing to the elderly gentleman.
“I am aware of that mam, but please trust me that I have every intention of being as helpful as possible to the people who frequent here. Just bear with me, and I will have you on your way – purchases in tow,” I pleaded.
“I don’t have time for this, the meter is running.” The elderly man complained as he shuffled out the door. “Just catch-up as soon as you can help me, and I’ll start on my way, Mam. ”
“Does watching an old man barely able to carry his groceries make you feel powerful?” the blonde man inquisited. “What type of sick, uncaring prick would do that?”
“No sir, I am trying my best to get everyone checked out in an orderly fashion. If you would please wait your turn I will make sure that everything is running smoothly.”
“If you think you can pull your head out of your ass long enough to cure your terminal dipshitery put twenty on pump five. If it is not ready when I get back I will call whoever you supervisor is supposed to be, no matter what hour it is,and you can explain your cruel incompetence to them,” the man yelled. His light blond brow nearly invisible in the deep purple hue of his face as he tossed his payment in my direction before heading out the door to assist the old man.
“Sir, what grade of fuel do you want?” I called after him, hoping to distract or delay. After he left I returned my attention to the woman at my counter. “I am truly, extremely sorry for the delay, but if you will watch out the window you will know as much as I know.”
Eyebrow raised, she humored my request as I focused on processing her transaction. I didn’t need to watch or to be convinced of anything. I already knew his fate.
The blonde man chatted with the elderly gentleman while escorting him back to his turquoise taxi, parked at the street corner just as it was every night. Despite the glances the blonde man shot in my direction I could only pity him, for he only had about seven steps left. I winced at the sixth step, and watched the blonde man as he was nearly folded in two with a swift, calculated grab into the taxi.
The door was closed before the blonde man had even made a sound. “Turn away now mam,” I advised. Unresponsive, she stood blankly as the elderly man nodded at us from his seat. For the slightest of moments his smile sharpened into a gaunt, mocking taunt. The delight in his eyes reflected in the frost on the car window.
Steadying herself on the counter, the woman just stared at me as if she was asking a question.
“If you want an explanation of what that old man is, I can’t give you that. All I know is the last four attendants disappeared in the middle of the night, without so much as locking up the station,” I explained.
“Lucky for me, I’m the one they hired to be a stickler to the rules.”