I was counting change to see if I could afford a Slim Jim with my bottle when it started.
“All we want’s what’s in the register,” the guy with the ponytail yelled, but it was the gun in his hand that demanded attention.
The one in the denim jacket flipped Open to Closed, threw the bolt, and pulled the shade. The windows were plastered with cigarette ads; we were in a cave.
“Don’t move,” Ponytail told us. “You can keep your wallets and nobody gets hurt.”
He stepped toward the kid behind the counter while Denim Jacket put his back to the door and pointed his shotgun our way.
Three of us were in line: the codger in front, then me, then a tank top Mr. Muscles. He was already giving me a wide berth, as folks with showers will, so I had room to step back as Ponytail approached. The old guy, lottery ticket trembling, was trapped by the magazine rack and couldn’t.
“S’cuse me, pops,” Ponytail said. “Sorry to cut’cha, really. Tell you what, I’ll even scan that for you.”
Gun on the clerk, Ponytail took the ticket and held it under the scanner. Red light crisscrossed the ticket and a hidden orchestra struck up We’re in the Money.
“Hey!” said Denim Jacket. “A winner!”
“How much?” Ponytail peered at the scanner. “It says call some number.”
He turned to the clerk.
“Ah… ah… means he won over $500,” the kid stammered. He was backed as far from the counter as he could, his butt knocking batteries off the rack behind him.
“Well, hell, we don’t need to call nobody,” said Ponytail. He snatched a newspaper off the rack and pressed it into the old man’s hands. “Read today’s numbers, pops. We’ll see how you did.”
The newspaper rattled and from the corner of my eye I caught Muscles looking from the counter to Denim Jacket’s shotgun and back.
The codger started reading.
“Lucky thirteen! Got it,” said Ponytail.
Ponytail’s gun turned from the clerk so fast the barrel caught the newspaper and ripped it.
“Yes! Yes! Fifty-six!”
Ponytail lowered his gun and grabbed the newspaper so he could read the numbers. Denim Jacket raised the shotgun and stepped forward.
“What? What’s it worth?”
Everyone in the bodega followed Ponytail’s eyes as they moved up the lottery display.
“That’s mine!” The codger’s voice wasn’t shaking now. “You can’t take that! I’ll…”
“You’ll what?” said Ponytail, gun up again.
But the old guy wasn’t seeing it.
“I’ll call the lottery commission!” he sputtered. “They may not believe it was mine, but you’ll never cash in when they hear how you got it!”
The bullet drove him back and the scandal rags were smeared crimson as he slid to the floor.
The clerk dove behind the counter. Muscles and I threw ourselves backward, ducking down an aisle stocked with dusty soup cans.
Ticket in one hand, pistol in the other, Ponytail glanced toward Denim Jacket. His acne-pocked face said he understood what the old man’s last words meant—we all had to die.
The underage girl in the walk-in beer cooler who was gonna ask me to buy her wine coolers, maybe offer a buck for my help, but decided my puke-stained sweatpants were too gross, opens the door and steps out.
Ponytail’s gun snaps her way. There’s a loud crack and glass shatters as I tackle her.
Muscles reaches back and finally pulls the gun he’s packing. His first shot misses Ponytail, but the clerk, rising to peer over the counter, gets it in the forehead. The second and third shots end Ponytail’s lottery dreams just as Denim Jacket’s shotgun barks.
Muscles’ shoulder is blown to shreds as he turns toward Denim Jacket, and both fire, shots overlapping in a roar.
I’m off the girl before the sound fades. Sobbing, wine coolers forgotten, she rushes toward the sirens screaming up outside.
Six steps to Ponytail, avoiding the blood, then another twelve out the back to the alley where I’ve spent many afternoons with my bottle.
Today, no bottle. But tomorrow, no alley either.