Chapter 29

Five minutes before a man with a gun planned to enter the store, two little girls cut in front of me in line.

It wasn’t really their fault. I was waiting in line, yeah, but this being a convenience store, the tabloid magazines were stored on a rack beneath the counter, and I was turned toward them, reading the ridiculous headlines about even more ridiculous celebrities. Above me, the speakers in the ceiling poured some a song by Bruce Springsteen.

It was summer and the temperature was stifling and for the past week after work I’d been stopping in for a slushie. The movie theater where I worked was having a promotion with this chain of stores: bring in your ticket stub for a free sixteen ounce soda or slushie. The theater floors always littered with stubs, I figured what the hey and stocked up on ticket stubs.

So I was standing there, a Cherry Coke slushie in one hand and reading a recent headline about Tom Cruise, when the man who’d been in line before me finished his purchase and turned away. The two girls stepped up and threw candy bars down on the counter.

The cashier — a woman named Dorothy, who never seemed to have a night off because I always saw her in here — gave me a look, as if asking, You mind?

I shrugged, took a sip of my slushie, and reached into my pocket for a ticket stub. I pulled the ticket stub out, rubbed my thumb over the print, and then stepped aside when the two girls shouted “Thank you!” and turned away.

Neither one of them bumped into me as they hurried toward the entrance, an electronic buzzer going ding-dong when it opened and closed.

I stepped up to the counter and handed Dorothy my ticket stub.

As she punched some buttons on her screen, she asked, “Did you enjoy the movie?”

“It was okay.”

“I’ve been meaning to see it. I’m a huge fan of his.”

“Me too,” I said, trying to remember what movie had been printed on the ticket stub.

“I loved him in that other movie. You know, the one about World War Two?”

I made a face, like I was trying to remember, and then shrugged. “I can’t think of it.”

“Oh well, no big deal. You have a good night now, okay?”

“Thanks. You too.”

That electronic buzzer went ding-dong when I left the store and then I just stood there on the curb sipping my slushie.

For the most part the city was quiet. I could hear a siren off in the distance. A few cars passed back and forth on the street.

And across the street, pacing back and forth, was a Hispanic man in a baggy gray hoodie. He kept looking at me, taking nervous drags on his cigarette.

I just stood there, sipping my slushie. More than once I had the crazy notion of lifting my hand and waving. Maybe I’d yell something like, “Hey, Irving, how’s it hanging?” but maybe not.

Yes, I remembered his name. I remembered everything. That was the silver ring’s deal. I could go back but would be forced to remember all the events of the previous twenty-four hours. The silver ring didn’t seem to care that I would remember. After all, who would believe my story anyway?

Irving didn’t leave his spot across the street. He kept smoking, kept pacing, until a few minutes went by and the police cruiser pulled into the parking lot.

By then I had already finished my slushie. There was a little left in the bottom and I slurped it too fast, causing brain freeze.

The two cops got out of the cruiser. They headed for the entrance. As they walked I glanced across the street and saw Irving already hightailing it down the sidewalk.

“Evening, officers,” I said, opening the door for them.

Officer Titus walked by me without even a glance. Officer Mallory did what was expected and nodded at me and said thanks.

I let the door shut and just stood there for another minute or so. I took a deep breath and let it out. Then I tossed the empty cup in the trashcan and started for home.

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