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Dispatches from Atlantis #3

Graveyard Shift

by



I HEAR THE FRONT DOOR razz, rudely interrupting my perusal of the latest Hustler, and here comes Vin rolling on into the Circle K. It’s around 3:30 in the morning and I wonder how much of a spot he’s gonna ask. I’m a couple bucks up on the register and I hate to be a total prick to the street urchins, especially Vinny ‘cause he’s helped out before, sweeping the lot and taking garbage out.

But his ass got kicked, literally, figuratively and seriously, out of his house the night before. He has a hard enough time walking down here from the natural landscape park he’s squatting in. I knew he wasn’t going to be much help. Tough break, but that’s what he gets for banging his wife’s sister on the living room couch while the old lady is supposedly asleep. Vin’s a nice guy but lacks in what we would call “sound judgment.”

“Hey Vin, how’s the knee doin’?”

“Worse’n it was yesterday.”

Christ, now he’s actually pulling his pant leg up to show me where his wife landed a metal folding chair. I was just trying to be polite, but there it is, all brown, purple and swollen to the size of a small cantaloupe.

“You shouldn’t be out moving around on that. It’s making it worse.”

“Yeah, I know, but am I supposed to lay down on my nasty ass blanket all night long when I already done that shit all day long?”

I sympathize with him, though I know better.

“But you didn’t have to come all the fuck way down here from the park Vin. You walked two miles to get here!” I’m actually pissed because I’m already pretty sure I know his response even before he gives me his million-dollar, shit eating grin.

“But you don’t work down there no more homeboy. And that ole’ asshole Andre don’t even let me in the store no more.”

“What Vinny? What kind of shit did you pull?”

His eyes look down.

“Man, don’t act like you don’t know. Everyone knows I was gonna pay for that forty.”

“You tried to gaffle Andre?”

“I was gonna pay for the bitch!”

“Bullshit. If you told Andre you were gonna pay for it, he would have let you have it.”

“Besides, I hate that fuckin’ store,” Vin “answered”, completely ignoring the point I just made. “You got AC and a bigger cooler all up in here.”

That’s true at least. Bailing the 7-11 gig in the nearby depths of “Greater Las Vegas” for a fancy up to date Circle K near the intersection of Bonanza and Eastern is the smartest move I’ve made in two years; a higher wage, regular raises every six months, and a discount on merchandise assuming my total cash outs for the previous month weren’t more than ten dollars in the red. Though I walk the same route Vinny does to get here (whereas it's only five minutes from my place to the 7-11) the extra time is worth it. Not to mention I’ve made friends with the cops who stop by for free coffee and donuts all the time. The 7-11 on the other hand, overlooks the projects. Not that I’m racist; hell, I’ve done my share of rock and chasing cutie sisters down there, but every summer that neighborhood is a lit match away from a full blown riot, and motherfuckers don’t give a shit how down you are if they need to squeeze a few rounds while fucking shit up. The intersection isn’t perfect, but I’ve got a few more options and some “friends” with guns on speed dial. Like Vinny says, we also have the AC working all the time. It’s like the difference between Vegas and Reno, really.

“Listen, I’m in some pain here,” Vinny explains. I know his angle is genuine. He always tries to keep his angle real with me. He slaps down two dollars and thirty seven cents on the counter. “I gotta get me a bottle of Thunderbird; the big bottle.”

He’s caught me off guard, which is exactly what he wanted to do.

“That’s seven seventy five dude. I can’t spot you that shit. That puts me in the hole. Can’t you just get some Old E? I’ll even go a Crazy Horse for you.”

“I need something stronger man. How about the big MD 20/20?”

“That’s still damn near seven bucks Vin. How about a Crazy Horse and I’ll throw in a bottle of Boone’s Farm?”

“Man, that ain’t shit. I need a buzz holmes. I need help up in here.”

“I’m tryin’ to work with you!”

“Not hard enough bitch!”

I don’t know what to say, so I just shrug. I’m looking at a guy I know is down on his luck, feeling like crap and jonesing hard, but I can’t budge. If I do, he’ll be in here every one of my graveyard shifts working me for more than I can afford.

After a minute of Vinny shaking his head, he scoops up his money. “You mind at least if I work the lot?” he asks, knowing damn well I never get on him about his panhandling.

“Yeah, go ahead, just don’t go around telling the other clerks I let you do this shit OK? Or else the party is definitely over.”

“Party my ass,” Vin mutters, stalking outside.

He doesn’t even try to keep it low key like he normally does, working his hustle right next to the front door where I can see him. I know it’s because he’s totally pissed at me, and I’m such a passive aggressive pussy I’m starting to feel guilty. A quick bump of crystal meth should solve that emotional problem, so I duck quick into the back utility room where I’ve got my stash laid out for convenience (hey, it is a convenience store.)

I’m gone for less than half a minute but when I come back out front, Vinny has disappeared from the front of the store. Even though I didn’t hear the front door buzz, I run a quick scan of the store mirrors, and no, he hasn’t come back inside.

But I don’t have time to puzzle over his whereabouts because now another brother, tall and skinny, is coming inside. He’s wearing black leather neck to toe, eyes bugging something fierce, and sweating like a pit boss a few thousand dollars short on his shift.

“Where you keep the Arm & Hammer?” he barks at me.

“Middle aisle, towards the back on the left.”

The guy doesn’t even break his stride as he heads down the aisle. His whole vibe is completely wigged, and it’s making me wigged. Something feels like it’s going down. I’d feel a lot better if I could see Vinny out there, but instead his absence makes me that much more nervous.

I see the brother pick up a small box of baking soda, and then he cuts over to another aisle, looking up and down the shelves for a minute, before coming back to the counter. “You got a plastic sandwich bag back there?” he asks.

I pull up one and hand one over just in time to see the guy has unceremoniously opened the baking soda and spilled it out all over the counter. I’m staring at the mess I’m pretty sure I’ll wind up cleaning, and he’s staring at the plastic bag I’m holding out to him.

“You got a bigger one?” he asks.

“This is all I’ve got.”

“Then I guess this is gonna have to do,” he says snatching the bag from my hand while simultaneously pushing a twenty spot over to me..

I ring up the Arm & Hammer. I’m still nervous, and don’t want to slip the twenty underneath the cash tray in the register so this freak can see all of the other big bills I’ve got sitting there (gotta remember to get those in the safe.)

Stashing the twenty into a side crease in the cash tray, I pull out eighteen dollars and forty-one cents in change. I try to hand it over to the guy, but he’s too busy putting most of the baking soda into the baggie. Once he finishes, he rolls up the plastic strip until it looks just like a neat white pillow.

“Here’s your change.”

“Keep it. If this works out I ain’t gonna need it,” he snaps heading toward the door. Just before he opens it he adds, “And if it don’t…I still ain’t gonna need it.”

Then he’s gone. I’ve got eighteen plus dollars and a small mountain range of baking soda to clean up. I hear a big engine roar to life in the lot, and see a big silver convertible mustang backing out. Just before it takes off, I can see the brother is driving, and there’s a shock of platinum blonde hair riding shotgun.

I grab a wet rag to clean off the counter. Vin hobbles back in, his shit eating grin back in full.

“Hey man, I can cover you on that Thunderbird now.”

“Sheee- it. I can cover your ass now. Gimme three high flyers!”

“You’re serious?”

“Man, that cat that was just in here?”

“Yeah?”

“He pulls up in that ‘stang, jumps over the door without even opening it, tells me to watch his shit while he’s in here, and slips me this.” Vinny holds out a clean, crisp Benjamin. “Check and see if that fuckin’ thing is real,” he orders me. I run the counterfeit marker over it, and sure enough, I take out three of the big Thunderbird bottles and ring Vinny up.

“Man, that chick that was with him was something else,” he tells me. “She got out the car, starts rappin’ with me, talkin’ all this shit about how all she ever wanna do is smoke bud and toot while watchin’ motherfuckin’ MTV. The whole time she’s talkin’ this shit, she’s got her hand all down in her panties and I can fucking see her pullin’ on her clitty dog! I can see everything man and then she pulls her panties up tight and starts rubbin’ her ass all up and down on the hood of the car. I swear she left a streak of her pussy juice right up on the front of it. And then bam, he’s back out and they're both heading back down Eastern. That was crazy ass.”

I bag up his T-bird for him, hand him his change, and think for just a minute about hitting him up for a tip, but then think better of it as he leaves the store, still talking to himself. Vinny needs it a hell of a lot more than I do, and I figure I’m just being a selfish son of a bitch. I know this is true, because I’m envious of him right now.


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About Paul Corman-Roberts


Paul Corman-Roberts had coffee and donuts with Eldridge Cleaver in 1995 and once pulled a graveyard shift at a Circle K during the Rodney King riots. He misses working in theater.

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