From the author: A man intends to rob a liquor store before he finds an opportunity to steal from a couple of lottery winners. Based on a true story.
Robert Yerrington was sitting in a red Toyota pickup, his window rolled down to let out his cigarette smoke. The elbow of the arm he was using to puff the roll was resting on the tattered car door, and he was seventy-five feet away from Mason’s Liquor store, a convenience shop whose neon sign was flickering out.
The business was slow tonight. He had been sitting here for twenty minutes and had not seen a customer enter the place.
Robert felt his .38 underneath his armpit, holstered by a strap that was concealed by the fabric of his light flannel overshirt. He carried it with him everywhere he went, ever since he got back from the sandbox circles of hell known as Iraq & Afghanistan two years ago. Sometimes the gun felt like the only consistent positive force in his life. It was Robert’s day off from a job that he was actively looking to escape, where he worked as the guard of a parking lot for a corporate office, taking down license plate numbers and making sure people paid to park in their nice areas. That part was easy, but most of the time he did janitorial work later in the evenings. It was a shit job, but it was enough to keep the lights on in his crumbling apartment.
The nightmares of screaming, the detonations of planted devices by the enemy on pathways stained with the blood of his friends prevented him from getting eight hours of sleep almost every night. So did the constant threat of eviction.
Robert opened the car door, stepped out, and felt the cold breeze of the night hit his face. He locked the vehicle behind him and walked towards Mason’s.
This place was loaded with junk food, wine bottles, and dozens of whiskey brands. Robert knew that although this place was small, it was still the most visited stop in town. The place rested on the highway that every trucker, tourist and local used to get in and out of this recession-torn place.
It was easily taking down five grand a day, and even more than that on weekends. Robert knew this because he had been scouting the place before tonight, checking to see how many people came in and out, and how much product was really purchased. This was the only real liquor store beside the grocery outlet seven blocks away, and that place was too large, too complicated, too populated.
Robbing a grocery store was easy, but the getaway would be the difficult part.
This store, on the other hand, was vulnerable in both the actual hold up and escape.
Robert knew that he could probably point the gun at the clerk’s face right now, tell him to bag all of the money from the main bank, and then flee.
Robert promised himself that he would wait until tomorrow night. He was here to get answers to a few questions now, nothing more.
The first question he needed to answer was how many cameras were in the shop.
Robert looked around the overly fluorescent place and only saw two. One was right above the main till, getting a good view of the bald spot on top of the clerk’s head. The second was aligned above the cold beer section.
The second question was how many employees were in the place at any given time. On day shift it was probably two, and more than likely both were armed, considering this was a rough transient area where the homeless, extremely poor, and meth-addicted made frequent visits at. Robert knew he had to be careful and could not underestimate anybody.
He stared at the back door behind the counter to see if there were any indicators of movement hinting at the presence of another employee. The clerk, who was overweight, hairless, and wearing a red superhero ‘Flash’ shirt, stared at him broodingly, waiting to be conversed with against his will, like every other patron he had probably dealt with today.
A young man in his early twenties with a girl of the same age then walked through the doors. The man was wearing a bright yellow construction vest and dirty Timberland boots. The young lady was wearing a dress made of dark satin and fishnet webbing, with charcoal shaded lipstick and jet black hair. They went to the back shelves, retrieved a case of lager, and then walked up to the counter.
The clerk asked them if that would be it.
“One scratch-off ticket,” the young man said with a tired voice, laying down a twenty-dollar bill.
“Which one?” the clerk asked, annoyed.
The worker rang up the alcohol and handed them the ticket. The couple then walked to the door, when a cell phone rang.
It was the woman’s. She placed the case of beer down on the ground, reached into her purse, and answered her phone.
The man pulled out a quarter, beginning to scratch the painted circles on the paper that he had purchased.
Robert stared at the two while looking at a collection of Zippos. He grabbed a crimson one and then faced the clerk.
“I’ll take a pack of Marlboro’s,” Robert said.
“That’ll be it? You look like you could use some vodka. It’s on sale.”
“Nah,” Robert said.
The clerk laid down the requested brand of tobacco and then started ringing the numbers up. Robert heard a jubilant yell behind him.
Turning around, he saw that the off duty construction worker jumped up and down before hugging his girlfriend, who at first seemed to be angry with him by interrupting the call she was trying to take.
The clerk looked over, and that was when the young man showed him the ticket.
“You won?” the clerk asked, a smile slowly spreading across his face. “Congratulations.”
The couple then kissed, hugging each other tightly for another minute, before grabbing their beer and heading out.
Robert quickly paid for his items and exited the gas station.
When he was back at his car, he stared at the couple as they stepped foot into their black Ford truck.
The legacy wheel, Robert thought, was a well-known contest. Anybody who won the prize would get a chance to go on television, and spin an oversized wheel with numbers. Whatever digits the flexible triangle dangling above the wheel rested on when it was done spinning was the amount of cash that the person would win.
The least you could win was four hundred thousand dollars. The most was a million. As a winner, it was within your options to completely decline a television appearance by claiming the cash in a lump sum or incremental amounts over the years by just accepting the minimum. It was life-changing currency even if you chose to fall on the minimal amount. Everybody in California watched the program. Robert never tuned in religiously, but he knew enough about it to remember that the tickets could be claimed at any time during regular business hours, and the wheel spin itself only happened on Fridays. Today was Saturday, so it would be another full week.
Robert stared as they pulled out of the parking lot, and then decided to keep a good distance away while still trailing behind them.
The cameras in the store did not pick up the fact that the couple had won. There was only one person who could confirm that they were the winners, and that was the clerk, and Robert doubted anyone would really believe him.
Whoever had that ticket, Robert thought, was the person who could go onto the show and spin that wheel.
The couple drove into a neighborhood that was neat, filled with rows of identical, bleach white houses. Their lawns were perfectly trimmed. It was a nice, vanilla neighborhood, one that made Robert’s look very grimy in comparison.
They parked in front of two connected condominiums. Robert saw this and decided to pull into an alleyway two blocks from them.
He stepped out of his car and then peered around the edge as the couple walked into their apartment, holding hands and smiling at each other, kissing before opening the door and going inside.
It was apartment number seven.
Robert knew that plans had changed. Robbing the liquor store was no longer a priority.
He sat in his vehicle for a long time, going to sleep for four hours. He figured it would be at least eight hours before the male woke up and then went to work, if he even decided to go to work, knowing that he was about to be rich.
Robert thought about all of the lottery winners who brag about completing their final two weeks in the workforce before officially retiring, letting the whole world know that they had a great work ethic. It always bugged him, but maybe this man would be that type of person.
By dawn, Robert’s smartphone alarm clock went off. He immediately stepped out of his car and then walked out of the alleyway, staring across the boulevard.
The couple’s car was still parked.
Robert did a stakeout for another hour. He smoked, walked to a nearby coffee shop for ten minutes and bought a newspaper, read the headlines, and then came back.
The car was still there.
Finally, the man stepped out of his place, and he was not wearing his construction uniform. Instead, his yellow safety vest was slung over his shoulder. Robert knew the man was planning on turning his equipment in. There was a spring in his step as he then got into his car and left.
Robert approached the house, trying to appear inconspicuous, just taking a walk around the neighborhood like any other commuter or junkie looking to score.
He circled the place, and then briefly stared into the window from a three-yard space. The girl was there, sitting on her bed and surfing the internet on a laptop. He watched as she set it aside. Afraid she might see him, Robert ducked behind a fence situated next to a withered tree.
After a few more prolonged minutes, the girl stepped out of the apartment. She passed right by Robert without even glancing at him. Years of service had taught him how to be covert in the presence of enemies.
Now was his chance. He did not expect it to come this early, thinking he might have to stalk them for an additional two or three days, but it was now or never.
Robert looked around cautiously, searching for anyone – dog walkers, joggers, community patrolmen, anyone – and not seeing them, he scaled the fence and then landed in the couple’s backyard. He went around to the posterior of the condo, and then looked in. He could see the living room. Robert smashed the glass with the butt of his gun after doing another visual perimeter sweep, and safely crawled inside, avoiding the shattered segments of translucent material.
Once he was on his feet again, he donned a pair of leather black gloves that had been resting in the front of his black jeans and began looting the place.
He tore open drawers, cupboards, entertainment system stands, couch cushions, the mattress in the bedroom, both closets. There was a bookshelf positioned against the wall next to the kitchen, and he began knocking the paperbacks and hardcovers down to the floor after opening them, fluttering the pages. Robert then went into the bathroom and started rummaging through the medicine cabinet, not finding the one thing he was looking for.
He heard a creaking, shuffling noise coming from the front of the apartment. It was the sound of the door opening and closing.
Robert locked himself in the nearby closet of the main bedroom.
A female voice filtered through the ether. “Chris? Chris, where are you? What happened?”
She entered the bedroom. Robert leaped out of the closet, pulling his gun out and pointing it at her head from a five-foot distance. The woman let out a short scream, before putting her hands up.
“Quiet,” he said “You make one more noise, and I swear to God you won’t have a face.”
She nodded, muffling her own voice, and clearly wanted to cry.
“Where’s the ticket?” Robert asked.
“I-I don’t know.”
“He brought it with him. It’s in his wallet.”
“When is he coming back?”
The woman looked at Robert neutrally for a second.
“Now’s not the time to try and protect him,” Robert said. “The best thing you can do is tell me the truth. If it takes him eight hours to get back, I’ll wait here with you for eight hours. You try to move, you’re dead. Do what I say, you’ll get out alive. It’s that simple. So, let me ask the question one more time. When is he coming back?”
“He said he was going to work to quit his job today,” she said. “He should be here anytime.”
“That’s more like it. Take a seat.”
The woman did so, sitting on the nightstand in the corner.
“What’s your name?” Robert asked, keeping the gun level to her.
“Lucy,” she said.
“Well, Lucy, let me tell you something. For such a small, shitty apartment, you sure do keep it nice.”
The sound of a car pulling up at the front was audible.
The door opened.
“Honey,” the male voice said, “you should’ve seen it. I told Mr. Brooks to fuck off. I bought some tequila for us, too…hey, wait a minute - ”
The young man rounded the corner gripping a handle of Patron in his left hand, and that was when Robert took a few steps back and aimed the gun at his head.
“Lucy,” Robert said, “move closer to your boyfriend now, or he gets a bullet to the head.”
She did as was commanded. Meanwhile, the young man just stared at Robert with disbelief.
“What do you want?”
“Empty your pockets, now. Pull everything out from your wallet. I want that ticket.”
The young man reached into his right-hand pocket.
He pulled out a revolver and aimed it at Robert.
Robert squeezed his trigger. The young man staggered backward, but not before firing once, twice.
Robert pummeled backward and landed on his spine. He screamed in agony. He looked forward and saw the ticket winner do the same. Blackness enveloped him.
Lucy stared at the two dead men. The entire room was covered in blood and all of the items she and Chris used to own were now splashed in red and scattered in disarray.
She walked over to her boyfriend. She went through his pockets, getting his intestinal fluids on her hands.
Chris looked up and groaned, half-conscious. She found the ticket, clutched it tightly against her chest as if it was keeping her cool on this hot day. Lucy then retrieved his car keys.
She walked out of the place and got behind the wheel of her vehicle.
She drove to Mason’s liquor store. Walking in, she saw the clerk, the same one that had congratulated them on their winnings last night. Today was his final Friday.
Lucy leaned over and kissed him. He embraced her kiss, running his hands down her back and then rested them on her hips.
“I broke up with him,” she whispered into the clerk’s ear.
He smiled. “Good. I’ll get started on the flight plans.”
This story originally appeared in Yellow Mama webzine.