Dare to be YOU!
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Snow Day At Work

Tami Richards, Contributing Author


I
arrived at work just before noon and got soaked walking across the parking lot. I put my mace key chain in my apron pocket, and already the nozzle was ice cold. The KEN'S MARKET sign on the marquee buckled and popped in the increasing wind. The red letters swayed back and forth, sparks shooting out of the quivering letter K. My shoes squeaked throughout the front lobby as I entered the store. The building is only a few years old and has high, exposed-rafter ceilings. Sound carries like it's being shot through a megaphone.

I stood in checkstand 3, gliding canned goods and various emergency staples across my scanner, when I noticed Mr. Harrison in my line. When it was his turn to place his groceries on the belt, I rushed around the front of my checkstand to help him unload them. Mr. Harrison is a man in his late seventies. His hard eyes tell the tales that his labored breath and sagging lips could not. His grocery cart becomes his cane from the moment he grabs hold of it upon entering the store. The wrinkles on his face are as deep as boldly carved wood, so one could labor for hours to find a resemblance of the long forgotten features of his youth. His color is a dark rich hue from many years of long hours toiling in the sun.

He pulled open the left side of his thin jacket, thrust his right hand in, and yanked out a small revolver.
I raised my voice, knowing that Mr. Harrison was almost deaf. "What are you doing out in weather like this, Mr. Harrison?"

He smiled wide, revealing his yellowed dentures. "A man's got to eat, no matter what the weather." That seemed to settle it for him and he dug his checkbook out of his coat pocket to sign his name. It is his habit to let the checker fill out everything else on his check and no one seems to mind.

It had gotten quite late in the day, about five-thirty, and the rain that doused the streets began to freeze. The first snowflakes had begun falling from the clouds at about four o'clock. I craned my head around to look outside and noticed that a thick blanket of snow covered the parking lot.

"Would you like me to call a taxi for you, Mr. Harrison?" I said, as I filled out his check. "The weather looks like an awful bear to be driving in."

"No, no. I'll be all right," he said. "I've seen worse storms than this in my time."
A young man got in line. He was wearing a faded denim jacket and baggy camouflage pants. Setting a case of bargain beer down on the belt, he began shifting his feet back and forth.

"Quit socializing and ring me up so I can get the hell out of here," he said. His long, unkempt hair was greasy; its black strands hung straight down and crawled about on his shoulders when he moved his head. He wore a frizzy blue stocking cap covered with small, irregular holes.

"I'll be with you in a moment, Sir."

"Can't you get another checker up here, some of us might be in a hurry."

A line had begun to form. A woman, plump and bound tight in many layers of sweaters, was now standing behind the scraggly man. Canned food, matches, candles, batteries, flashlights and fire logs filled her cart. Her brown hair was pulled tight in a bun on the top of her head. The lines on her face were sharp, but not deep.

Next in line stood a teenager with a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. His short, blond hair was dripping water down his face. Melting snow ran down his ski jacket.
"Everybody has gone home because of the storm. I'm the only checker here." As soon as those words reached my ears, I knew it was a stupid thing to say. My husband often scolds me for speaking without thinking. He says that one day it's going to get me into trouble. I hate when he's right.

"In that case, I want all the money from these registers. Now," he said. He pulled open the left side of his thin jacket, thrust his right hand in, and yanked out a small revolver. My hands immediately shot up into the air. As I stared at the gun, Mr. Harrison's check drifted to the floor and settled at my feet.

"Oh, please. There's no need for that," I said. "Go ahead and take the beer, you can have it."
"I think I will have a beer," he said. He tore open the case and guzzled the brew while keeping his eye and his gun on me. The gun swayed a little as he tilted his head back, but I never lost sight of the short, black barrel. "Listen, babe. Open up that cash register and put all the money in a bag." The shine from the overhead fluorescent lights seemed to lie dead in his dull brown eyes.

Just then, the lights flickered off. A loud whirring sound
His legs wobbled and he kneeled down on the floor, his eyes closing with a quick flutter, then he collapsed onto his back.
echoed throughout the store as the emergency generators kicked on. All the computers and cash registers shut down with a low-pitched moan. The small emergency lights quivered and shed their pale light throughout the store.

"What the hell is going on?" the gunman said.

Mr. Harrison looked over at the gun's reflection in the faded light. Clasping his right hand over his heart, he sucked air into his lungs with a long wheeze. His legs wobbled and he kneeled down on the floor, his eyes closing with a quick flutter, then he collapsed onto his back. "Oh no!" I said, running around my check stand to his side.

"Don't do that!" The gunman pointed at my register "Get over there and get my money!"
I closed my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. What do I do? Oh, God help me, what do I do? Do I get the money? Do I help Mr. Harrison? My husband says that I am indecisive. That I am a chicken. Mr. Harrison is going to die because I can't make decisions.
"Can't you see he's having a heart attack?" the teenager said. He had walked up and knelt next Mr. Harrison. "Let me help him. I know CPR."

"Okay, but don't try anything heroic," the gunman said. "I don't mind shooting idiots." He popped another beer and began to chug it while keeping his eye on us. The lady with the cart began to take a few steps back. It seemed as if the lines on her face were deeper. Her mouth hung open and her hands shook.

"Oh, no you don't, lady," the gunman said. "You sit on the floor next to the old man. Hold his hand or something."
The gunman's eyes bored right through me. I felt as if he knew what I was thinking. I felt as if he could see that I was weak. Should I lie and tell him the power outage locked the registers? My mouth was dry. Sweat soaked my shirt. My lips and hands trembled, the perspiration on my forehead turned to ice. I looked over the checkout counter at Mr. Harrison. He was still unconscious and pale.

"Is he going to be be all right?" I asked the boy.

"I don't know," the boy said. "He needs a doctor. The only thing I know is how to administer CPR. We need an ambulance."

I saw movement to my left. Ken had emerged from the back room. He came around the end of aisle three just as the gunman was walking around to check stand one.

"Open this register and put the money in a bag!" the gunman said.
"I can't! I have to clear this order off this register first," I said. And it was the truth. Each checker has their own set of checking numbers and can only be working at one check stand at a time. I tried to explain this to him.

"Then do it!" he said.

Ken came up behind the gunman. "What's going on here?"
"Mr. Harrison has had a heart attack. We need an ambulance," I said.

"You," the gunman pointed his pistol at Ken. "Come get the money out of these registers." Seeing the gun pointed at him, Ken lost all the color from his face.

"Okay," Ken said. His green eyes widened and his voice rose to a high pitch. "But let me just call an ambulance for this man. If he dies, that makes you a murderer."

"Go ahead and call an ambulance, I'll be gone before they get here anyway."
Ken walked over to the customer service desk at the front of the lobby, just past the check stands.
"You stay where I can see you," the robber said.

Ken picked up the receiver. "No problem, the phone is right..." He ran his tongue over his trembling lips. "...dead. What are we going to do now?"

"I don't care what you do after I'm gone, just give me the money and I'll go."

"We can't open the registers until the electricity comes back on," I said. My mouth got us into this; maybe it could get us out.

"What about the safe?" he asked Ken.

I looked at Ken, hoping he would take my cue. "Well, uh, that's electronic too," Ken said.
"I don't know how much longer I can keep this up," the teenager said.

"I'll take over for awhile," the woman said. "Just tell me how to do it."

"Okay, it'll show you."

She knelt down next to him. As he explained CPR to her, Ken came over by me. "We can't give you any money. Why don't you come over to the door and I'll let you out. We can just forget this whole thing ever happened," he said.

The gunman guzzled another beer and turned to Ken. "The snow's getting pretty deep out there. I think I'll stay here and make myself comfortable for awhile." He finished off his can of beer with a toss of his head and grabbed another one, opened it and chugged it in what seemed to be one swift movement.

I looked down at Mr. Harrison and noticed that his hand was in his sweater. "Maybe he has some heart medicine in his pocket."

"That's a good idea," the teenager said. He checked Mr. Harrison's pockets. "I found something."
He held up a prescription bottle. "Nitro tabs," he read. "Dissolve one tablet under tongue or take with water. Re-administer after eight minutes if needed." The woman continued her CPR. She was concentrating on pumping and counting. Beads of sweat collected on her forehead. All the while, the gunman sat on the belt of my check stand, steadily emptying his case of beer. His gaze was becoming more sluggish and his speech more slurred.

Ken sat on the floor at the end of the check stand. His head cradled in his hands, he occasionally looked towards the doors. There would be no help anytime soon, and we all knew it. If someone were to come to the store, the doors wouldn't open without the manual over-ride key.

Don't lose it, I commanded myself. Walking over to Mr. Harrison, I took the bottle of pills from the teenager and opened it. I took one out and put it under Mr. Harrison's dry, white tongue. His eyelids fluttered and he looked a little less like death.
I picked up a plastic divider from checkstand 4, wondering what kind of weapon it would make.


Maybe, I thought, if I could help him I could help us. I picked up a plastic divider from checkstand 4, wondering what kind of weapon it would make. My mind began to see more clearly, as if the murky gray were fading away. Here was a drunken gunman, obviously becoming mellower with drink. There was Mr. Harrison, now okay but still in need of medical attention. Outside help was nowhere in sight. It was bleak, but it was black and white. The situation called for some action. It was up to me to do something. But what?
The gunman's yellowish eyes were softer and his movements had become slower in just the last half-hour. He slid from the belt and began walking towards me.
"What d' ya thinkin, hon?" he said. "Think you're gonna hit me withhat?"
I stuck my right hand into the pocket of my apron and gripped the small, leather-covered mace can in my fingers, snapping the cover with my thumb I dropped the plastic divider to the floor. My trembling hand pulled the mace out of my pocket, and I pushed down the release button, sending a spray of the chemical directly into his eyes. He covered his face and let out a scream, dropping to his knees. The gun fell to the floor by my feet.
"Ken," I said, "get me some rope so we can tie this jerk up."

"Yeah, okay" he said. "I'll get some baling twine out of the back."
The crook was screaming on the floor above Mr. Harrison's head. His hands were covering his face and turning a flaming red. I walked over to him and stood watch over him. A sudden surge of energy flowed through me.

Ken ran back with the baling twine and some duct tape. He and the teenager tied up the ex-gunman. The teenager retrieved the gun from the floor, timidly placing it on the check stand. Ken wrapped duct tape over the robbers' mouth. I ran into the office and pushed down the emergency police alert button, located near the safe.

I paced the lobby until about six-thirty when we were startled by a sharp banging. Three policemen and two ambulance personnel were waiting at the glass doors.
"I got it." Ken ran over to the doors and let them in. He explained to one of the policemen what had happened. Calmness washed over me as I watched the ambulance drivers take Mr. Harrison away on a stretcher. I knew he would be okay because of the quick thinking of the teenager and the courage of the big lady to learn CPR in a hurry. The policemen weren't showing much mercy to the robber as they ripped the duct tape from his mouth and cut away the rope, replacing it with handcuffs.

Ken finished giving his report to the policeman and walked over to me. "You sure handled that gunman great Gayle. Does your husband know he's married to a real hero?
I smiled.



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