I have reworked the first part of the story with a few new elements about the characters, and changed a few of the details of how the characters finish up in the shop, before the policewoman makes her entrance.
This is the new first section:
Jack was staring down the barrel of a gun.
He had gone down to the corner shop to get a pack of cigarettes.
He had to hustle because he knew the shopkeeper, Alphonse, liked to close at 11:00 pm sharp. His momentum propelled him through the door, causing the customer warning bell to ring loudly as the door bashed into it, and before the sound had died away, he knew he was in trouble.
It took a second, perhaps three, to sum up the situation.
A young girl, about 16 or 17, scared, looking sideways at a man on the ground, then Alphonse, and then Jack. He recognized the gun, a Luger, German, relic of WW2, perhaps her father’s souvenir, or more likely a stolen weapon, now pointing at him then Alphonse, then back to him.
Jack took another second or two to consider if he could disarm her. No, the distance was too great. He put his hands out where she could see them. No sudden movements, try to remain calm, his heart rate up to the point of cardiac arrest. No point making a bad situation worse.
Pointing with the gun, she said, “Move closer to the counter where I can see you better.”
Everything but her hand steady as a rock. Only tell tale sign of stress, the bead of perspiration on her brow. It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the shop.
Jack shivered, and then did as he was told.
A few seconds more for him to decide she was in the unpredictable category.
“What’s wrong with your friend?” Jack tried the friendly approach, after he’d taken the three steps sideways necessary to reach the counter.
The shopkeeper, Alphonse, who, Jack noted seemed to have aged another ten years in the last few months, spoke instead; “I suspect he’s an addict, looking for a score. At the end of his tether, my guess, and her to get some money.”
A simple hold up that had gone wrong. Wrong time, wrong place, in more ways than one Jack thought, now realizing he had walked into a very dangerous situation. She didn’t look like a user. The boy on the ground, he did, and he looked like he was going through the beginnings of withdrawal.
Oddly, though, Jack had noticed a look pass between the shopkeeper and the girl.
“All you had to go was give us the money, and we wouldn’t be here, now.” She was glaring back at Alphonse. “You can still make this right.”
A flicker of memory jumped out of the depths on Jack’s mind, something discussed at the dinner table with their neighbours, something about the shop being a pick up point for drugs.
The boy on the floor, he was not here for money.
Jack thought he’d try another approach. “Look, I don’t want trouble, and you don’t want trouble. I’ll go, forget this ever happened. You might want to do the same.”
The girl looked like she was thinking. The gun, though, still moved between him and the shopkeeper.
Another assessment of the girl; this was not her real home. She was from a better class of people, a different part of town. Caught up in a downward spiral because of her friend on the floor.
Caught in a situation she was not equipped to deal with.
Annalisa looked at the two men facing her.
Simmo, the boy on the floor, had told her that the shopkeeper would be a pushover, he was an old man who’d just hand over the drugs, rather than cause trouble for himself.
Where Simmo had discovered what the shopkeeper’s true vocation, dispensing drugs to the neighbourhood addicts, she didn’t know, but it was not the first place like this they had visited.
She had always known Simmo had a problem, but he had assured her he had it under control. Until a month ago, when he had tried something new.
It had changed him.
The breaking point came earlier that day when, seeing how sick he was, she threatened to leave. It brought out the monster within him, and he threatened to kill her. Not long after he had changed into a whimpering child pleading with her to stay, that he hadn’t meant anything he’d said before.
All he needed was one more ‘score’ to get his ‘shit’ together, and he would do as she asked, and find help.
She believed him.
He said he knew a place not far from the apartment, a small shop where what he needed was available, and said he had the money.
That should have been the first sign he was not telling the truth, because she had been funding his habit until her parents cut off the money supply. She suspected her father had put a private detective on to find her, had, and reported back, and rather than make a scene, just cut her off so she would have to come home or starve. Her father was no better than Simmo.
And, as soon as they stepped into the shop, Simmo pulled out the gun,
Instead of the shopkeeper cowered like Simmo said he would, he had laughed at them and told them to get out. Simmo started ranting and waving the gun around, then all of a sudden collapsed.
There was a race for the gun which spilled out of Simmo’s hand, and she won.
That was just before the customer burst into the shop.
It had been shortly before closing time. Simmo had said there would be no one else around.
Now she had another problem to deal with, a man who was clearly as scared shitless as she was.
This was worse than any bad hair day, or getting out of the wrong side of bed day, this was, she was convinced, the last day of her life.
She heard a strange sound come from beside her and looked down. There was a trickle of blood coming out of his mouth and Simmo was making strange sounds like he was choking.
Any other time she might have been concerned, but the hard reality of it was, Simmo was never going to change. She was only surprised at the fact it took so long for her to realise it.
As for the man standing in front of her, she was safe from the shopkeeper with him around, so he would have to stay.
Another glance at the shopkeeper told her she had made the right decision, his expression said it all. Gun or no gun, the moment she was alone with him, he would kill her.
This wasn’t the shopkeeper’s first hold up. In fact, over the years there had been a dozen. But only one got reported to the police, and that was only because the robber was shot and killed.
He’d taken a bullet that night, too, which, from the police point of view, made him a concerned citizen simply defending himself.
The rest had been scared off by the double barrel shotgun he kept under the counter for just such emergencies.
The young punk who came into the shop with his girlfriend had pulled out the pistol and told him if he reached for the shotgun he’d shoot him. The kid looked unstable and he’d backed away.
When the kid collapsed, he should have gone for the shotgun, but instead he thought he could get to the gun before the girl realised what was happened. She wasn’t an addict, and clearly looked like she was only along for the ride. Her look when the kid pulled out the gun told him she’d known nothing about her partner’s true intentions.
But, he wasn’t fast enough, and she had the gun pointing at him before he’d got past the counter.
From one pair of unpredictable hands to another.
Like the girl, he was just as surprised when the customer burst in the door, just before closing time.
The situation might have been salvageable before the customer came in the door, getting the girl to go along with the robbery being about money, but there was no denying what the kid on the floor’s problem was.
He had to try and salvage the situation simply because there was a lot of money involved, and other people depending on him. He looked at the boy, on the floor, then the girl.
“Listen to me, young lady, you would be well advised to let this man go as he suggests. And, please put the gun down before someone gets hurt. Your friend needs medical help and I can call an ambulance.”
The girl switched her attention back to him. “No one’s going anywhere, so just shut the hell up and let me think.”
The storekeeper glanced over at the customer.
He’d seen him come into the shop once or twice, probably lived in the neighbourhood, the sort who’d make a reliable witness, either a lawyer or an accountant. Not like most of the residents just beyond the fringe of respectability.
If only he hadn’t burst into the shop when he did.
© Charles Heath 2016