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The Quick & Go was like every convenient store in the world. Tight packed aisles loaded with snacks you have to assume have been there since god knows when. The back room though was a fucking mess. Bob’s desk had a computer that was yellowed with age and one of those time stampy machines that I’d been he kept at five early late so he could always have something hanging over your head when he docked your pay an hour.
Underneath the desk was a safe that was wide open and a bunch of papers had fallen around that looked kinda like the same ones Bob had been hauling ass with. Lucille picked one up and her face twisted in that confused way. “Why the hell would Binary Chemicals be sending Bob a check?”
When I peered over her shoulder, she was right. It was a receipt off the top of a check, like you get with your paystub, and the bottom perf had been torn off, so the check had obviously been cashed. It had been from this Binary Chemicals company that Lucille seemed so keen on and it had been for not a small amount of money, like a couple grand. It didn’t say what it was for though, but the date said it was from a couple months back. “Put it in your pocket. Might come in handy if we ever wanna blackmail Bob for smokes.”
I walked over to the swinging door between the front of the house and the back of the house, end the minute it swung open the air that hit me in the face had me dry heaving. “Holy shit… he wasn’t kidding..” the smell was beyond rancid, like someone had pickled a bunch of garbage from a slaughterhouse and left it in the sun for a month. I didn’t throw up, but I also wasn’t sure how I was going to get up the stomach to get out there.
Lucille had been behind me tearing through boxes of stock that hadn’t been put out and when I got back from my hunched over position, she pushed a jar of menthol rub, like the kind you put on your chest when you have a cold, into my hands and I looked at her only to see her entire nose was slathered in the stuff, making her look like she had been trying to snort a gluestick. I obliged and rubbed the stuff on my upper lip and immediately a big part of the smell was lost in a field of mint. “Good job.” I said, trying to not make a big deal of it and pushed through the door.
The lights were off, but the sun still shone through the windows, casting the place in this weird mix of brightness and shadows around every corner. And let me tell you, even with the menthol all over our faces, there was still that scent of something bad in the air. “When did you say he died?” I asked, trying to not put too much air into my nose at any point in time.
“I didn’t, but Rickles worked third shift.. So sometime last night, right?”
“Yeah, but this smell ain’t 12 hours dead…” I said as we ducked through the aisles.
“How would you know?” She said like she was accusing me of making shit up. Pot and kettle and all that. Fact is, I do know, and I’m not explaining the crap from my past to some idiot who believes that her house is protected by fairy circles. I brushed her off and we kept going, and as we got closer to the front of the store, the smell was just getting worse.
When we got up to the front counter, we could see the cop car still sitting out at the entrance of the place, leaning against his car and watching the world go by. Looking at the clock above the wall of cigarettes was a clock that read 3:35 and my heart damn near stopped. I pulled out my phone and saw it was still only 10:30am. When I looked back at the clock I saw that the hands had all stopped moving and recognized it wasn’t saying it was 3:35pm, but possibly whatever had stopped Rickles had stopped the clock too. “Hey,” a thought had hit me. “The freezers are out. Like there’s none of that hum or anything. This place is like dead silent.”
Lucille gasped, “You’re right. This place is usually loud as hell with those broken-ass compressors.”
I had thought the lights were out just as a matter of the place being closed, but even the emergency exit lights were off. Curiouser and curiouser.. Am I right?
That’s right Alice and the Chocolate Factory or some shit.
Anyways, I finally got the nerve to step up and look behind the counter and god damn, everything Bob had said was right. Rickles face, not the prettiest before all of this mind you, looked like his skin was all stretched out and was ready to split. You could see blue and purple veins across his cheeks and his neck, and his eyes pushed out like a little more pressure might have them pop out like corks. It was, by far, the most horrible thing I had ever seen in my life up to that point. I was about to tell Lucille to stay back because of just how gross it was, but she had stepped up a hair too early and let out a surprised shriek. “He… he..” I could hear the tears somewhere in the back of her head getting ready to push out.
“Turn around.” I barked at her, not trying to be mean, just all of a sudden feeling cold in the pit of my stomach and just reacting. I walked around the edge of the counter and saw that his whole body was like that. His flannel shirt was straining against the buttons, and bubbles of flesh were visible where the shirt was pulled apart.
“..why the fuck did we do this?” I asked myself more than Lucille, and I heard her vomit in response.
“Sounds accurate to me.”
Pete stopped and took the shot he had ordered and a look of deep thought came over his face. “Still there?” The voice on the other end asked.
“Yeah.” Pete seemed like he was fighting over some detail, and then finally started again, “So let me stop this for a second to tell you that what I did next, I’m not proud of. Hell, if it wasn’t an important part of the story, I’d leave it out entirely… but.”
Maxine, who had been riveted between serving customers laughed. “You asshole.”
“What?” The phone voice asked.
“Pete stole his fucking wallet.”
Pete sighed, validating that without needing to say another word.
“Would it make you feel better if it was so I could see who his family was so I could tell them what happened?”
Maxine raised her eyebrow, “Is that the main reason you did it?”
Pete shook his head, “Third or fourth, tops.”
While Pete had been telling the story, Maxine had come up with an idea. She wasn’t going to be able to stop people from hearing him. Even if it was only the guy sitting next to Pete, there was a good chance he would eventually eavesdrop enough to recognize that this was a story worth listening to, true or not.
Out of fear that maybe there was an invisible red dot on the back of Pete’s
Thankfully, only a couple of people had caught on that there was something of interest at the bar. Maxine wasn’t entirely sure what to do about that, because she didn’t want people crowding Pete because it might blow whatever cover he was trying to protect by just sitting there, but on the other hand, telling people to not create a scene usually had the exact opposite effect. If this hadn’t been a karaoke night, more people probably would have caught on that there was a guy sitting at the bar, telling his life story. Those that had figured out, Maxine pulled to the side, and made up some story about how Pete was trying to pitch some movie to an executive cousin of hers. Some people might not have bought it, but she didn’t care. They weren’t freaking out.
The best part of it was, she would give them a free drink if they went and sat exactly where she told them too. At first, she thought she should keep them far away from Pete, but then Miles came up, and Maxine loathed Miles. He was the type of guy who regularly complained about how women were all cheaters and liars, but had, on more than one occasion, bumped into his girlfriend while he was getting a drink with his other girlfriend. It was to the point where she thought he did it so he could keep complaining.. It was the only answer.
He got put at a table right in front of the window with his date which probably blocked about half of the view of whomever was lurking out there.
Maxie didn’t know if it would help Pete, but if it put Miles in danger, it helped womankind which was just as good. Hearing that he had gone and stolen Rickles’ wallet though… she couldn’t be certain if he was worth the trouble.