I was putting the blankets away in the home goods section when my walkie-talkie came to life, nearly ending mine in the process. It cut into the quiet like the blare of an on-coming train. Precious seconds passed before I was finally able to fumble down the stepladder, disconnect the device from my belt and bring it to my lips.
“Debbie, you need to come outside,” he said.
It was Clarke.
His voice wasn’t in its usual somber timber, instead, it sounded tightly coiled, like a spring, ready and waiting to explode. No one can’t tell anything from his voice most times. That’s why he manned the telephone for customer service. Nothing gets him rattled.
That drop of something that’s always been there since Harry hired him several months ago grew into a pond. I didn’t want to not trust him or be one of those people that always side-eyed veteran’s but being around Clarke was like being in a cage with a barely leashed tiger without mace. His eyes would lock onto a target with an intensity incapable from a human and he prowled the aisles with the graceful steps of a predator. I’m a Texas girl and would rather jump into a fire than be rude, but Harry was kind enough to make sure our shifts didn’t coincide most times when I asked. Most times.
That’s all he said, and then a loud bang loosened my grip on the walkie-talkie. It clattered to the ground as I raced to the front of the empty store out into the blazing heat of June. Harry was religious, so no one was in the patch he called a parking lot other than a car and Clarke, who was standing next to it by the driver’s side. I could see Clarke because he was so tall and his hair that Harry sometimes joked as resembling a stop sign wasn’t easy to miss either. And that wasn’t the only thing red. When I got closer, blood stained the inside of the window shield, dripping from the ends to form a macabre crimson rainbow.
I took in the familiar blue of the van, a van that I’ve seen more than a thousand times, and for a heart-stopping moment, my mouth formed ‘dad’ before my eyes fell on the incense swinging from the rear-view mirror, the words #1 BOSS! stamped on both sides.
“Harry!” I screamed, terrified by how terrified my voice sounded to my own ears. My feet took me from the other side of the van to the open window, stumbling past Clarke who was silent and waiting, the shock dulling my awareness of the danger I was coming closer to. All my eyes could see was the red. It became obscured with wet as I swatted at my empty pockets with one hand while trying to open the car door with the other, but it was wet too and my feet kept slipping on it, as if Harry had been leaning outside of the window when he’d gotten shot.
“Help me Clarke!”
I continued fighting with the door to no avail until I whipped back around to Clarke, anger boiling over in my stomach, but the sight of him, towering right there before my eyes, killed the words before they left my lips.
Red painted his face.
His eyes were like ice and I was left frozen, only able to watch as he raised the gun I hadn’t noticed before from his side to point at my forehead.
“The boys and I used to ask each other a question when we were in ‘Nam,” he said, the words low, barely disturbing the singing of the cicadas around us. “How many bullets does it take to kill a person?”
The muzzle lovingly kissed my forehead like a mother would.
“How many bullets does it take to kill a person?” he repeated.
“One,” I stuttered, barely able to push the words out through the tightness of my throat. His lips pulled back into a sinister smile, the first I’ve ever seen from him.
“Harry had a different answer,” he said, and he stepped away. I remained frozen as he kept moving back until his faded yellow jacket disappeared into the dense forest line bordering Harry’s shop. It wasn’t until I could hear a police siren nearing that I finally slumped to the ground, uncaring that I was rolling around in his blood.
If I was born in New York instead of Texas, I would have told Ron to pack up his aqua eyes and flashy smile and do his own shift for once. I would have stopped covering for heavy-stomached Rebecca. I wouldn’t have felt the need to restock those blankets at the top of the shelf. I would have told Harry not to hire Clarke.
If only I was born in New York.