Money in the Back
By: Adam Lujan
We pulled into the parking lot of the Seven Eleven at about two thirty in the morning. Sweat had gradually built up on the brim of my forehead, making it look like condensation on a side of a soda can. When I pulled on my mask, thick globs of it came running down my face and onto my neck. Sonny wasn't sweating though. He looked about as calm as I'd ever seen him sitting there in the driver side seat, smoking his Camel Wide and fidgeting with the radio on his 78 Caprice. As soon as he found some old Smokey Robinson, he sat back and took another slow puff off his coffin nail and turned to me with a smile.
"Nothing like some oldies to sooth the soul," he said with a smirk crawling slowly across his lips. "Smokey is that real pimp shit Arnold. You should be taking notes."
I smiled and nodded back at Sonny, trying to make it seem to him that I wasn't so damn wound up at the moment. His returned smile was a nice condolence.
"Here's the strap," he said, handing me the handgun from out of his waistband. It was a small, snub-nosed 38 caliber. The black metal had small grooves and cuts in it, as if it had been banged around a lot. Along the grip on the handle ran some duct tape that seemed to be holding it together. It wasn't a very scary or intimidating gun, but it scared the crap out of me.
"Thanks," came a shaky voice out of my own mouth.
I could feel Sonny eyeing me up and down as I switched the gun between hands: right, left, right, left. I wanted to make the impression that I was testing the weight, getting a feel for the handle, anything really that made me look as if I had a clue to what I was doing. But in actuality, this was the first time I ever held any handgun besides toys and cap guns. Sonny took a couple more drags off of his Camel and in a low, almost inaudible tone, began to sing a couple of lines of the song playing on the radio.
"I've made love to you a thousand times," he crooned as he pulled out his automatic nine millimeter and popped in a loaded clip. Then, he motioned towards the entrance to the store and I heard the click of his door opening followed by the pavement crunching underneath his Pumas. Everything seemed to freeze at that particular moment, and I felt myself drifting out of the car and beside Sonny as we both walked up to the sidewalk and then through the entrance. The smell of mopping solution hit me as my feet squeaked against the freshly polished linoleum. I looked behind the counter and saw the woman manning the register. She was most likely in her thirties, but as she smiled at the two of us, she showed that most of her top teeth were missing, most likely from smoking crack or crystal meth. It reminded me of when my niece was one and a half and only her a few of her top teeth had come in, and how whenever she smiled all you could see was her bright pink gums shining back at you. Sonny yanking back on the hammer of his pistol before shoving it into the clerk's terrified face.
"Put your fucking hands up bitch!" he screamed. She complied, her fingers and wrists twitching as they ascended up towards the ceiling. The toothless smile was long gone, replaced by a mortified face of a woman fearing for her life. I slowly raised my gun and leveled it at the cigarettes displayed behind the clerk, fearing that the gum might go off and suddenly take her out really complicate things. The barrel of the gun was visibly shaking, and when Sonny noticed this he began to bark out more orders to the women to empty the register.
"And don't you try anything stupid," he added. "I wouldn't feel one bit sorry splattering you all over the fucking place!"
The woman held the terrified look on her face as she nodded her head to show that she understood what Sonny was talking about. Then she slowly snatched up a huge brown paper bag, popped open the drawer, and then began to fit the bundles of bills inside the bag as quick as she could.
"It's alright," she said, "we can work this out. There's no amount of money that's worth my life. Really."
"Just shut up," Sonny answered back. "If you just put the damn money in the bag, we'll be fine. But hurry it up! And have you put the hundreds in the safe yet?"
"Yes sir, we do that pretty early."
"Well you're going to have to make up for it one way or another girly. I figure if you fill us up another bag full of liquor and cigarettes, I won't blow your fucking head off. And you'd better hurry up because this shit is already taking too long!"
Then Sonny came up to my ear and began to whisper what he wanted me to do. I just stood there while he told me that he was pretty sure that there were big bills laying around in the back room. This meant that I had to hold up this woman while he just went in there a few minutes to look around for the hundreds. As he told me all this I just tried to remember that rent was due in a couple of days and there was no way that I could find any job that would advance me that amount of money. I began to feel my dinner coming up half digested. This seemed like a bit more than I signed on for.
"Man," I whispered, "I don't know. I don't want to shoot no bitch. Fuck that!"
"Did I say that you would have to shoot her?" Sonny asked me with a tiny shove. "I said just stand here with your fucking piece pointed at her. If she moves, fire the gun in the ceiling or something. You're not supposed to shoot anybody!"
Sonny walked away from me and started towards the door that was located at the back of the store. He moved in a way that seemed to show how confident he felt. Everything was going smoothly. The clerk watched him walk behind the island where the cash register was located and then turned back and fixed her eyes on me. They were a very light blue. Her pupils were a normal size, meaning that if she had lost her teeth from smoking, that she probably wasn't on anything right now. As a matter of fact, she really seemed calm standing there with a gun pointed straight at her. I'm sure this wasn't the first time that she had been held up. That made it kind of a funny feeling that she was the first person that I had held up. She finished filling up the bags. Then she slid them across the counter towards me.
"There you go," was all she said. Then we stood standing there, not talking. We just looked at each other. She looked me up and down and I tried to stay away from those eyes. But the gun stayed steady between us and I made sure that it didn't sway one tiny bit. It seemed like ages while Sonny was in that back room looking for the money. After about two minutes I began to feel really stupid standing there with that gun pointed at that poor defenseless woman.
"Everything's going to be ok," I told her. "All we want is the money. You're going to be alright."
That's when the clerk began to burst into tears. It started with very quick sobs that soon turned into long, deep wails. She clutched at her face and then began to convulse with each sob that struck her body. Large tears peaked out from between her fingers and when she looked back up at me, her eyes were bloodshot.
"I know that," she replied back. "I'm just really nervous around guns. No less when one's fucking pointed at me.."
I nodded and then started looking down at the floor, leaving the gun pointed at the clerk. The more I saw how in bad shape she was over this, the more I regretted ever coming on this little escapade with Sonny. From the back room I could hear items being thrown around from one end to the other. Occasionally I could hear Sonny cursing and raving about something. I stood there counting the seconds, while the woman continually got more and more hysterical.
"Calm down," I finally told her, "You're driving me crazy."
"Okay. Just please don't shoot me."
"God damn it! I already told you I'm not going to shoot you. Shut up!"
When I screamed at her, it just made her flinch at the way I hollered at her and that made me even more irritated with this woman. I couldn't believe that she had this much trouble listening.
"Jesus Christ lady!" I screamed at her. "Would you cut that out?"
"It's just that I'm not even doing anything to you! Look, I'll put the gun down."
I set the gun down on the counter, but leaned over it so that if she tried to swipe it up, I could just grab it and point it at her again. Sonny had then opened the door and came out with red cheeks and a tired look on his face.
"For the love of God man!" he scolded me. "Pick up the fucking gun!"
I jumped at the screams and then snatched the gun up from off of the counter.
"I was just trying to calm her down," I explained. Right after I said the words, I felt really dumb and Sonny gave me another irritated glance from behind his ski mask. I think that's what set him off, because next he walked around from behind the cash-register island and then grabbed up the woman by a handful of hair. He placed the barrel of his gun under her chin and then began to whisper threats in her ear. He told her that if she moved he would kill her. Then he told her that if she didn't shut up, he'd do the same. Then he grabbed her by the face and pushed her down onto the floor, making her slide to a stop at the end of the cigarette display. Then Sonny grabbed up the bag of money and handed me the bag of liquor.
"There wasn't any large bills," he said. "Let's get the fuck out of here."
Suddenly I couldn't move. I knew that the smart thing to do at the time would have been to just listen to Sonny. Just pick up the bag and get in his Caprice and jet on out of there before the cops came. Faint sirens could be heard in the distance already. Someone had probably seen what was going on and called the police on their cell phone from outside. But on the other hand, I felt that I could still get myself out of this mess.
"Sonny," I started to say, "I don't want to do this anymore man."
"What?" he asked me from behind the counter.
"I said that I don't want to go through with this anymore. I'm done now. I'm going to go home and figure out this rent thing myself."
He clinched his teeth at me and then spat out, "Well maybe you should have thought of that before we drove here to the damned place, huh? Did that ever cross your mind?"
"I know man. I should have told you earlier but it just hit me right now. I just can't do this anymore."
I placed the gun back down on the counter. Sonny gave me a cold glare and then slowly raised his gun up and at me.
"You pick up that gun right now," he ordered me. I stood there staring at him for quite some time. I wasn't really sure what to say, because I knew that whatever I told him, I would still have to make the choice of walking out of there. "Pick up the damn gun. Hurry and do it Arnold, or I'll blow you away."
Then I began to take off the mask. As soon as it came off I felt the cool air-conditioning hit my bangs and I took a look up towards the surveillance camera that was posted in the corner. The handgun stayed level at my forehead while Sonny shook his head in amazement.
That was about the time the clerk had gotten up and grabbed the gun I had left on the counter. Sometimes I wonder if she was waiting down there the whole time, waiting for the right moment. She clawed at the gun and after about an eighth of second and then snatched it up with her right hand and blew two holes into Sonny's chest. The impact sent him sprawling backwards, his gun clamoring behind him. Then the woman stood over him and shot about three more shots into his body. I barely had enough time to register what went on when the woman pointed the gun in my direction and then pulled back on the trigger. A single slug flew past me and ripped through a bag of Cheetos and went through and slammed into the display case window in the back, the one showing the cold sodas. Then the hammer clicked against the empty cylinder and that's when she threw the gun at me while I tried to run out the door. It bounced off the window a clacked to the ground as I finally got out of the doors and ran. I ran past Sonny's car and down the sidewalk with my fists pumping as fast as they'd carry. Almost in a hope that if I moved my arms faster that my feet would travel faster.
The police found me a couple miles down the street. By that time sweat was pouring down my face.