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March 20, 2023

Everybody's Got Problems

By Joe Baldwin

"The cops are on their way. Is it worth it for the copper dimes I've got in the till?"

The hand that holds the revolver shakes. I hope there's not too much sweat on his palm, because one slip and ... His breathing comes through the balaclava, ragged, desperate. He looks like a man who's just woken up and can't comprehend his surroundings.

"I gotta do this. I gotta. I need the money. My daughter ain't gonna spend her life like me. She needs college funding."

"You won't get it from this shop. Try the supermarket down the road."

"SHUT UP. I'm not stupid. I'll never make it down there in time. You just want me to step out, take one to the head from the boys in blue. Well, I ain't no mug. I ain't gonna die out there. It's gonna be in here, and if I go, you're coming with me, mister."

Sparks shoot out of the camera above and I wince as they burn my shoulder. The robber shot all the cameras out when he entered the shop, the gunshots echoing off the walls and sending people diving for cover or fleeing for the back exit. There are only two customers left now, a woman hiding behind the frozen food and a man crouching down behind a shelf loaded with fizzy drinks. Sticky orange fluid is pooled around his feet from bottles punctured by bullets. He keeps glancing at the door, weighing up the chances of escaping without taking a slug in the back. I keep shaking my head at him. The gunman will kill us all if anyone tries anything. A man who robs a store with a gun isn't given to half measures.

"You can still go" I say. "There's still time. I'll even show you out the back door if you want. If you leave now, you can walk away and no one will be any the wiser."

"Do ... do you think it's possible, man?" he stutters. "I -- I don't wanna hurt nobody. Just want to do right by my daughter. I'm not a bad guy."

"Yeah it's possible" I say. "They haven't seen your face. You shot out all the cameras so most of this isn't even on tape. That's pretty smart. I bet you're a smart guy. You can figure out how to get what your daughter needs. You don't have to do this."

The sirens are getting closer, like a flock of shrieking birds. "Last chance. Take it or leave it," I say.

There's movement behind him as the woman rushes by and escapes into the street. The gunman fires after her, the shot splintering the door and sending shards of glass flying across the shop floor, where they glisten like tiny diamonds. "NOBODY MOVE!" he roars. "Empty the fuckin' till now!"

I open it and pour everything into his black duffle bag. Nobody asks me about my wife's illness, about how I might need the money to pay medical costs. No, we're all working for this guy, so that his daughter can go to college. She better discover the cure to Alzheimer's or something. He throws the bag over his shoulder. "I'm sorry man. I know you got problems. Everybody's got problems. But mine are worse." He starts backing off.

There's another bang and a hole bursts open in his chest, the skin ripping apart like a balloon popping. He collapses in front of the desk, his gun clattering to the floor. The man who was hiding behind the drinks shelf is holding his own gun. I open my mouth to speak. Then something hits me in the gut and I crash into the cigarette shelves behind me. Packets of cigs hit me on the head as I go down. I pull my hands away from my stomach. Blood drips from my twitching fingers. "W -- What?" I stammer.

The man picks up the bag.

"I'm sorry man. But I need to pay my wife's bail."

Then he lifts the gun and fires another shot. The last things I see are his back as he heads out the rear exit, and the blue and red lights flashing.

Article © Joe Baldwin. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-02-08
Image(s) are public domain.
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