Fast Way Out by Jaie D. Maclane

I’d been looking to skip this shithole town for some time when my ticket out walked in through a convenience store door with a gun. I was standing in line waiting for some pudgy cashier to count an old bag’s twenty dollars in pennies when he appeared.

“Give me the fuckin’ money!”

The gun rushed over the counter and stopped inches from the clerk’s face. Everyone near the register recoiled collectively and stampeded out the door. The fat man behind it raised his hands and pissed his pants. I just stood my ground and watched. With the way my life was going it’d be a mercy kill if I took one to the head. Besides, this had the potential to get interesting.

They say most people in the event of a robbery never remember the guy’s face. Apparently a loaded gun takes up a lot more space in a room than the man behind it. I guess that made me the odd girl out. I saw the guy behind it like a break in the rain. Only this break possessed a five-eleven, one-eighty stature, a pale complexion and a pitiful look that made me want to pat him on the back and buy him drinks. He had guts, I’d give him that, but the gun in his hand trembled and he looked about as eager and self-conscious whipping it out as a virgin on prom night.

“I said open the damn register! Do I look like I’m fuckin’ with you?” His teeth chattered through the words. It kind of made me flush. Not the fact that this guy was wielding the power of death but that he looked all too human doing it.

“I—I can’t open it. I have to make a sale.”

“What are you shittin’ me?” The gunman threw a free hand up.

Tears had welled in the fat man’s eyes. That grated me a little. No one ever acted cool anymore in the face of death.

“I’m sorry but it don’t open unless I scan something!”

The robber looked around. “Well, fuck.” He snatched a pack of bubblemint gum and slapped it on the counter.

“You—you want to buy that?” The clerk looked at him like his IQ had dropped to zero.

I rolled my eyes and stepped forward. “Goddamn. Will you just scan it already.” I shoved the pack closer to the clerk. The robber stared at me, his eyes narrowed in bewilderment, but he kept the gun fixed on the man.

I scoped the tag on the clerk’s shirt. It read “Randy”.

“Hey, Randy?” I snapped my fingers. “Earth to Randy? Could ya step it up a little so I can get the fuck out of here, please? See, I had this long-ass day and now I just want to go home, plant my ass on the couch and watch Jeter hit his ten-thousandth homer. Not too much to ask now, is it? So oblige your friendly neighborhood armed robber so I get back to my cramped little space and reflect on the reasons why I’m becoming a chronic alcoholic. Thank you.”

I stepped back.

The clerk was a deer in the headlights. Somewhere sirens cried out in the distance.

“Scan the fucking gum!” Me and the gunman screamed in unison.

The clerk flinched. He scanned the gum, punched some buttons, and the register popped open. He forked over handfuls of cash to the man who stuffed the gun in his waistband. I watched as he lined his pant-pockets with wads of green. His fingers worked diligently on delicate hands. His build was lanky-average but his face was handsome enough that it’d be a damn shame if the cops blew it off in a shootout. He didn’t come across as a junkie, a nut or a perv. His body, his clothes—everything—seeped only one emotion. Desperation. He looked amped to run, not just from this store but from this entire fucking town. From this dilapidated state. From the world as a whole. That notion shot off a starting gun in my head. Here was my ticket out.

The gunman turned and bolted for the door.

I stepped up to the counter and flashed the clerk my booze. Forty ounces to freedom. I tossed him a fiver and split.

On the corner of the store the gunman jumped into an empty car and throttled the engine. I ran to the vehicle and threw open the door. He stared at me—his eyes the wildest shade of blue—and said: “Are you nuts!” It was the sweetest thing anyone had said to me all day. When he didn’t move for his gun I dropped into the passenger’s seat. I hated this town more than I cherished playing it safe. Safety was overrated anyhow and nowhere was truly safe.

The sirens screamed closer and I could see flashing lights a quarter-mile up the street.

“Get out of here,” I said. “Go! I know a place you can lay low.” I’d taken the bus here and directed him toward the quickest route to my place. “From there we can gather some things, switch cars and get the hell out of dodge.”

He white-knuckled the steering wheel and punched the gas for the highway.

He shook his head. “Why you doing this? Far as you know I could be insane.”

“No one who wants to leave this town bad enough to rob a store could be that insane. Besides, now I’m aiding and abetting you. Now we’re partners in crime. I don’t have a problem robbing shit to fund a road trip. How ‘bout you? You skipping town, right?”

He side-glanced me. “How’d you know?”

“That look. I see it every damn time I check the mirror. Well, now it’s time to do or die.” I eyed him. “So how ‘bout it? Which direction you headed?”

He checked the rear-view mirror. “Anywhere but here.”

I leaned back in my seat. “Good to hear.”

Jaie Maclane is currently trapped in the Twilight Zone between where she is and where she wants to be. She writes stories to amuse herself when she’s not pretending she has a life. Check her at Another Night Chain Smoking or on Twitter at @jaiemaclane


Chris Allinotte said...

This reads like the opening chapter of a book I'd definitely read.

The characterization is what works best here, the nuances, and the realistic ugliness of the clerk's terror, and the fact that the stick-up man wasn't a stereotypical tough guy.

I'll be watching out for more!

David Barber said...

Great characterisation in this piece, Jaie. Add to that a great plot and great writing and you have a perfect story. Well done!

I agree with Chris. This could be the start of something bigger...and I hope it is.

Thomas Pluck said...

Chris said it, Jaie! I like this one and think your next visit to FFO should be chapter two!!

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Now that was a well written, fast paced story that did not let up. I friggin' hate this term, almost as much as "craft", but "the voice" was awesome. Your blog looks really good as well and I'm looking forward to more of you stories.

McDroll said...

Great characters and really got the feel of the hopelessness and the need to change his life.

It has pace too which I love and a certain amount of humour. Great job!

Anonymous said...

Now that's one perfect damn story! For anybody who's ever wanted out of a town so bad he'd have ridden with the devil and a case of the crabs to get clear of the place (raising hand -- that would be me)this tale clicks so hard it could splinter your teeth.
Characters -- including the cypher behind the counter -- come clear and true. The humor is so damn graveyard funny it brought laughter right up from my toes. Liked it? You damn betcha I did! Cool.

Mike Wilkerson said...

Good story, Jaie. Dug what you did with the fat man- that deer in the headlights mentality. Another chapter of the story would be cool, but the ending as is lets one's imagination work and that's just as good. And like the man, James Ellroy, said: closure is bullshit.

Regardless, looking forward to what's next from the Midwest hard girl.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Ah, the convenience store robbery. Seems like there's a million fun ways to write this one. Here's an angle I've never seen before. Well done.

Jaie D. Maclane said...

Thanks guys. Yup. Where would a crime-fiction writing hobby be without at least one clichéd convenience store robbery scene? Glad you all enjoyed it (perhaps more than I did). Thanks for reading. :)

Mike Miner said...

Yes, there's an acho in here. I would also like to read the further adventures of these two. Excellent read.

Lacy said...

Great characters! Really liked this.

Gabriel said...

Great stuff Jaie, as usual. Love the realism and grittiness of the characters and the originality you gave to a recurring theme. Want more!