Having a cocked and loaded pistol pointed at Chuck's chest didn't quite feel the way he thought it would. All of the scenarios that he ran through his head while sudsing up in his evening showers involved a slightly more heroic Chuck.
For starters, it would likely happen in front of his girlfriend, and Chuck would be defending her honor. This robbery that played through his head would also take place somewhere in public, maybe somewhere busy too. Like in front of the Prudential Center where there would be a hundred sets of wide eyes, all watching with bated breath. Chuck would be calculated.
When the greasy pearl snatcher drew the weapon and took aim at Chuck and Tiffany, Chuck would command the attention of the robber and warned not to point the gun at Tiff again. A tense stand-off would ensue, like two steely prize-fighters with locking glares at a weigh-in. Who would crack first and look away? Headlights from cars and the MTBA buses streaming by would feel like cameras flashing over their faces and the slick handgun outstretched and pointed at Chuck. Tiffany's chest would deflate in disappointment as Chuck would be the one to flinch and break eye contact. Though it would be to cast a glance over the shoulder of the non-dominant arm of the would-be shooter. Doubtlessly, the nerves of the gunman would get the better of him, and he would instinctively look over. The trick to looking over the shoulder of the gunman's off-hand would be when the shooter turns his head and shoulders to see who's approaching, the gun hand would naturally shift closer to Chuck. With cat-like speed, Chuck would spring into action using his left hand to seize the handgun by the slide and direct the muzzle to the ground, while his right hand would come down heavily on the chin of the robber. It would be like the last haymaker Joe Louis threw which knocked out Max Schmeling in front of a sold out Yankee Stadium. And the crowd would erupt as the robber folded onto the wet canvas, or rather, the wet sidewalk. Ticker tape would not rain down in celebration, however, because Chuck was just a cashier at a Smokers Choice convenience store, and he did not have a girlfriend named Tiffany.
. . .
Charles 'Chuck' Olszewski lived with a cat he named Fitz in a studio apartment little larger than a boxcar in Taunton, Massachusetts. Phrasing it as 'living alone,' made Chuck uncomfortable, not that anyone much asked, but if they did, Fitz was his roommate. Perhaps it was best no one asked, or that he avoided situations where it would come up. Staying in on the weekends instead of bar crawling around the towny dives made sure that he minimized the potential of declaring he lived alone, or that he lived with a cat he would refer to by a first name basis. Something about being a guy in his thirties living alone with Fitz seemed harder to explain than a woman with cats that lived by herself.
A 'boys night out' for Charles consisted of staying in. Of course, he would order a large well done pepperoni pizza pie from Dýnami's, the sub-shop down the street. It was a short walk there and back from Chuck's apartment, and the Greek guys dripping with sweat and oil while they rolled out pizza dough behind the counter were always too busy to chew the fat on Friday nights. Fifteen bucks later, Chuck was back home to Fritz.
Chuck's peers, whether they were former classmates that never left Taunton, or people that found Taunton through the circumstances of work or life, were getting dressed up to go and have drinks and play darts. More than likely, a few of them would end up fucking a stranger they met that evening only to remain strangers thereafter.
Fitz and Charles settled into the evening nicely in the company of one another on opposite ends of the couch. In front of the couch, on a small coffee table he'd picked up from the Goodwill, there was the half empty Dýnami's pizza box which Fitz would lazily eyeball when he wasn't nodding off. On the television, Chuck had spent the last two hours watching through old episodes of Legends of the Hidden Temple. 90's reruns of Kirk Fogg loosely directing confused children to, 'hit the button,' or, to 'try another door,' as the Silver-Snakes climbed around Olmec's Mayan temple.
Fitz's nodding off turned to a deep, twitching sleep after sometime. Everyone knows that a cat shouldn't eat pepperoni, but Fitz always managed to convince Chuck for a few with those lemon yellow eyes. Legends of the Hidden Temple had ceased to auto play and something else came on. Some kind of flavorless family sitcom. Chuck's eyes watched the screen, but it might as well have been static. There was a sterile laugh track that played, and Chuck would smile along with the punchlines out of formality. Characters came and went out of the changing scenes, and there was a cameo by some retired athlete who had a zinger directed at the numb-nuts husband. This show, whatever it was called, was just like the one last year that debuted after Sunday Night Football on NBC. It had the same semi dysfunctional family with the same foolish husband and a cameo by a football player who was in evident financial distress and turned to acting. And that show was just like the one that debuted the year before that on Thursday Night Football on FOX.
Charles's phone buzzed.
CHUCK. JEDDY CALLED OUT, CAN U COME IN SRY
Chuck figured Fitz was too asleep to try to get into the pizza box, so he left it on the coffee table as he got up to shower. The sitcom was left on to keep his roomie company in case he were to wake up. Based on the snoring, that was unlikely.
In the shower, Charles massaged a glob of shampoo into his scalp under the hot water. As it started to foam, Charles clenched a rifle in his hands and turned to take aim. The rifle, an M1 Carbine, felt weightless in his hands. Weather reports are useless out in the bush, totally fucking useless. Command hadn't expected showers until 0800, but low and behold. The deluge rolled down his face and neck but he kept alert scanning the brush with the carbine at low ready. A single crack rang out in the jungle. Ambush! Charles scooped a glob of suds off his head and splattered it against his chest. The foam exploded like it was sea water breaking against a cliff. Chuck pretended to stagger back as much as the confines of the shower would allow and withdrew his side arm. Quickly turning he fired the handgun from his hip hitting a Vietcong soldier square in the head. No . . . Charles scooped another wad of bubbles from his head and splattered it against his side. The bullet must have sliced into his ribcage, but he wasn't down! Chuck turned around and dropped to a knee and emptied the M1 Carbine's fifteen round magazine into a pair of VeeCee infiltrators. That's better.
Chuck squeezed another glob of shampoo into his hair and he imagined himself behind the counter at work. It didn't take much imagining, on account of he'd been there about four hours before and would be there again soon covering Jeddy. Mr. Jefferson, the owner, didn't particularly care for Jeddy, or his hobby, but he seemed to tolerate him. Jeddy had an interest in firearms and was an avid gun collector — as avid as $9.50 an hour would permit. Mr. Jefferson had a more favorable view of Chuck; he was dependable enough and kept the drawer at work square. There was plenty of cross pollination between Chuck and Jed though between shift changes. Chuck didn't own any guns, but he daydreamed about it. He and Jed would brag about which ones they would purchase at some point down the line. Chuck did however own a pocket knife that he concealed at work.
Pleasantly warm water ran down Chuck's back and he closed his eyes. The sharp electrical, two tone jingle sounded as the door swung open inside the Smokers Choice and a man filed in. Footsteps neared Chuck, the man's boots clicking along the vinyl tiles. Click, click, click. Charles smirked and sank his hand inside of his pocket where he kept the knife. His thumb toyed with the thumb-stud as he heard the mechanical sound of a handgun's slide being pulled back to chamber a round. This was his favorite part of the shower.
"Put your fuckin' hands up!" a voice shouted from behind.
Chuck's eyelids slowly peeled open and the smirk disappeared. In front of him was a display of cigarette packs, cigars and other smoking peripherals. Above the display was the Keno monitor showing a grid of numbers, some of which were highlighted in yellow. Chuck blinked his eyes tightly. Still Keno.
"Get your hand out of your fuckin' pocket, man!"
Chuck sucked in a gulp of air through his mouth and did as he was instructed. He exhaled and sucked another gulp in, and another one, and another one. His lungs were unable to give him a satisfyingly deep enough inhalation to catch his breath.
"You're acting like a funny dude, turn around, don't do anything crazy, I just need the money. This thing is loaded."
On the opposite side of the cash wrap, Chuck saw a man wearing a retro Patriots jersey dawning the number 16 in a knitted black mask with poorly cut holes for the mouth and eyes. The eye holes were so badly splayed, his cheekbones were more visible than his eyes. Pointed squarely at Chuck's chest was a handgun. It did not feel as he thought it would. He felt dumb; unable to speak, as if he stood before a judge. The greasy, half digested Dýnami's pizza was churning in his stomach. If Chuck opened his mouth to speak, if he unclenched his teeth, he felt as if he might puke onto the counters.
"Money!" The robber quickly turned his head back towards the door and then back to Chuck. He motioned the pistol towards the till. Chuck nodded his head and sloppily pulled on the till and rolled his hand across the register until the Sonic the Hedgehog ring collection chime sounded and the till popped open. Instead of handing the bills over, Chuck forked over the whole aluminum cash drawer inside the till. "Fuck you, wise guy," the man with the gun said. He reached the gun across the counter and smacked it across Chuck's head. The drawer fell onto the counter with a clangorous crash as the change in the till bounced out of the coin beds. Chuck staggered back and fell into the smoking display. He dazedly looked up to see the back of the Patriots jersey. 16, Zolak.
Blood leaked from under his palm and dripped down his face and onto his uniform. Tears that he was unaware of streamed out of his eyes. Charles 'Chuck' Olszewski had been robbed and would soon call the police.
. . .
Back home on the couch, Fitz was peacefully sleeping to the sounds of the television that Chuck had left on for him earlier that evening. During the course of the night, Chuck's favorite show as a kid had come on. Reruns of Nickelodeon GUTS, and the host, Boston native Mike O'Malley, was in the middle of introducing the show. "Welcome back to GUTS! The action sports show that asks, 'Do you have it?'" Mike O'Malley cheered. The audience replied.