The one time I was ever held up (what a phrase for being threatened!) was a puzzling event, and I relate the tale here in part because I still wonder at it sometimes, when I am in a beer store.
It was summer. I was 19. I worked in a beer store called The Beverage Barn. The owner was a dyspeptic man named Al. He specialized in terse annoyed blurted grunted rude answers to questions. Whatever question you had, his answer was peeved and blunt and insulting. He muttered his answers through his cigar. There were three of us employees, and we used to speculate what his answers would be to questions having to do with hermeneutics and existentialism and cosmology. He had the awful habit of leaving his moist expired cigars anywhere, so that in the wrong light, such as just after dusk, the shop appeared to be rife with leeches, or huge cockroaches, or the pellets of tremendous owls.
One of the three employees was an older man who was the definition of the word lassitude. Whatever it was he should have cared about, he did not care about. He did not care about love or money or pay or hours or labor or customers or delivery trucks or locking the fence to the yard when we closed up, even though he was charged with locking the fence every night when we closed up, but rarely did. I cannot remember his name, but I vividly remember his weary face and weary eyes and weary bearing, as if it was all he could do to drag himself around the shop, avoiding actual work, and one time locking himself in the ice room by accident and very nearly freezing to death, although as Al observed later, who could tell the difference?
The other employee was a boy named Curtis, who was 20, and worked hard all through his shifts, and said yes whenever you wanted to trade shifts, and said yes whenever you asked if he would cover a day or two for you, and never lost his temper at Al, and usually covered up for the indolent man without complaint, and greeted customers with a friendly and cheerful mien, and turned out to be stealing cases of beer in incredible numbers, as I discovered much later, when by chance I found out that he was selling private access to the yard that the indolent man rarely locked. But that is a story for another time.
Curtis usually ran the cash register, being facile with machines and money, but on his days off I ran it, for Al did not trust the indolent man, and he hated running the register himself, preferring to ramble around being annoyed and rude and slurping his cigars. So I was on the register one evening when a young man came in and pulled a small blunt gun half out of his right front pocket, and said the word till. I remember that that the gun was a dull bruised black color, with a brown handle that seemed like it might be made of wood or leather, and that the young man had the beginnings of a beard, not enough to be called a beard quite yet. That it was the sort of beard that had hopes of someday being a beard is the most polite thing you could say about it.
I was so surprised that I didn’t say anything or do anything, but just as the young man was about to say something or gesture at me with the gun, the indolent man stepped out of Al’s office behind the counter, and said, You are going to put that popgun in your pocket and walk out of here calm and quiet, or else I will walk you home and have a chat with your uncle, and the young man with the gun pushed the gun deep in his pocket and walked silently out of the store. The indolent man watched him leave, and after the front door closed he said, We are not going to tell Al about this, because nothing really happened, did it? And I said no, nothing had actually happened, although it seemed to me several surprising things had happened, and then he went back in the office, and I mopped the floor. A while later, Al came back in from the yard and we closed up, and I walked home, rattled and puzzled and thinking how things could happen when they didn’t, and the other way around.
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