“I’ll go first,” Buck instructed. “Then Chris, come in. Tyrone, you hang around outside near the door. Don’t cause no suspicion now. Got it?” Buck, from the drivers’ seat, stared at Tyrone in the rear view mirror.
Chris, from the passenger seat, waited for Tyrone’s answer. Tyrone nodded but without conviction.
Quiet and darkness set in inside the car as Buck settled the Blue Camaro onto the exit ramp of the freeway. They began their descent into the city.
Tyrone’s full stomach felt queasy. Buck had insisted they eat on the way to the job. He stopped at Church’s Chicken® on Martin Luther King Boulevard, got a family box of greasy chicken, dinner rolls, corn on the cob, and ate it in the parking lot of the fast food restaurant. Tyrone ate a wing and couldn’t eat anymore. He had no appetite.
Buck devoured the drumsticks, breasts, two ears of corn, two dinner rolls, sucked down a 24 oz. strawberry soda, and belched a sinful, nasty, loud, vulgar belch then said, “Let’s do this.”
They rolled toward the western side of town.
Anticipation gripped Tyrone in the darkness of the back seat. His chest was tight, his throat dry. His 6’1” frame hardly fit into the tight back seat of the sports car. He slumped and bent his head forward to find some comfort for his long legs.
Tyrone’s long legs had carried him to the 400-meter state finals in high school. “Little Horse,” they called him. He finished second, but no scholarship offers came his way. He had no money for further education.
I’ve been to this store many times before. The thought drifted across Tyrone’s brain. The car hit a bump in the worn road. The coldness of the blue steel in Tyrone’s pants touched his skin. This ride to the store was different. He knew it. He removed the gun from inside his pants and placed it on the seat, pointing it away from himself and toward Buck
Tyrone had tried to get his old high school buddy Goose to come along. He’d begged Goose, but Goose begged off. “Ain’t going to jail, Jack,” Goose responded.
Approaching the destination, Tyrone could see the blinking lights of the 7-11®. The city streets were naked, with the exception of an old, fat bag lady wobbling her way home from the bus stop and a day of scrubbing, cleaning, and caring for someone else’s home and children. She walked as though her feet hurt, and her next step would be her last. A step, a wobble; she would shift her weight then take another step, another wobble. Tyrone thought, Everyone has to make a living.
Buck had instructed that they all wear black windbreakers and a black cap just like he’d seen the bad guys do on CSI-NY, his favorite show. “Zip up,” Buck commanded.
Sweat beads gathered on Tyrone’s forehead. Even though it was a warm night, cold chills crept into his bones. Was this the dumbest thing he’d ever done? How could he get out of it? Was he scared of Buck? He was damn sure afraid of Chris. What about his family?
He’d married Pam two weeks ago. It felt good to marry the mama of his two-year-old son. He promised to get a job and help her with the bills. A good woman, Pam worked as a nurse. She was smart with money. She and Tyrone had dated since high school. She had gotten pregnant their senior year.
He thought of his son. Little Man, they called him. Tyrone had been so proud the day he was born. He’d held him so close, those first few days. He’d vowed to do right by his son. He tried. He drove cabs. He did day labor. He’d landed a career opportunity loading trucks with UPS®. Thirty days later, they fired Tyrone for a positive marijuana test. He hadn’t worked in a year. Desperate, he tried to make nice with his father long enough to get his rent covered. Daddy said, “No way. When I tried to help you, you didn’t want it.” His father had arranged a job for Tyrone in the steel plant where he’d worked for forty years, but Tyrone turned it down. “I ain’t working in no plant,” he emphatically told his father the last time they had talked.
Buck’s gruff voice interrupted Tyrone’s thoughts. “Get ready.” Buck, at nineteen, was a convicted felon and a violent veteran criminal. He slowed to make the right turn into the parking lot but then suddenly accelerated and passed his mark. No one said anything. Tyrone breathed a little easier. Both Tyrone and Chris had faith in Buck. Tyrone thought, Buck’s the man. He knows what he’s doing.
Buck circled the block, making sure there were no cops around. He came back and made his turn. The lot was vacant. The store was empty of customers. Chris reached over and killed the radio.
Buck pulled the Camaro next to the rectangular building with flashing neon lights. Only the old man was inside, just as Buck had figured and Tyrone had said. Tyrone hit the illuminating dial on the watch Pam had given him, 10:49. Buck turned, checked his piece of big, cold blue steel, and demanded, “Everybody be cool. It’ll be over in three minutes. Don’t be a fool.”
Buck opened the door, slid from under the wheel, and made his way around the car. He shoved the gun into the back of his pants just like criminals did on television. Chris followed. He shoved his gun down into the back of his pants, just like Buck. Tyrone lingered for a few precious seconds. He’d begun to sweat and beads of water trickled down his forehead, into his eyes. He thought about running. Just running. Maybe, running track again. When he was running track, it had been the happiest time of his life.
“Damn,” he murmured.
The night air was thick, the heat a forewarning of trouble. Water beaded up on Tyrone’s forehead and ran from under his arms. Like Buck and Chris, Tyrone tucked the gun into the back of his pants.
He started for the door about the time he figured Buck and Chris were inside. Tyrone was the lookout. He was afraid, afraid to go through with it and afraid to leave.
Tyrone could see the old man, Mr. Perkins. He knew Mr. Perkins through his grandfather, who also worked at this store. Tyrone had casually mentioned that his grandfather, his father’s father, worked at a 7-11®, and Buck had taken it from there. Tyrone had protested, but Buck reasoned it was all the way across town and their heads would be covered. No one would get hurt. He swore it would be a piece of cake. Tyrone stood his ground and insisted the job be done when his grandfather was not working.
Tyrone peeked inside the store. He did not want Mr. Perkins to see him.
Mr. Perkins had retired from his job in the factory. His wife had died five years before. He worked in the 7-11® to make a few bucks and get out of the house. Tyrone’s grandfather had recommended him to the owner, who hired him. Mr. Perkins stood slightly slumped and his hair grew in gray patches throughout his head. His customers loved him and his pleasant disposition. He, in turn, enjoyed his interaction with his customers.
Looking through the glass, Tyrone lost his focus. Mr. Perkins reminded him of his grandfather. He pictured his grandfather standing behind the counter with Buck and Chris in the store. What would he do?
Tyrone snapped out of it, made it to his position. Buck, Chris, and Mr. Perkins were the only ones in the store. Things were moving smoothly. No problems.
Mr. Perkins did not see him.
Suddenly, without warning, the old man’s eyes came alive, registering danger. He’d spotted the piece in the waistband of Chris’s pants as Chris bent over pretending to look for some Oreo cookies. In a split second, Mr. Perkins, a kind, lovable older man, went under the counter for his piece, a Charter Arms Undercover .38 special.
Instantly, Buck, a veteran crook and felon with no dreams and no future at nineteen years old, went for his automatic, shouting, “He got a gun.” Chris, having spent a few years in juvenile detention and having enthusiastically watched too many Criminal Minds episodes, dove spread eagle, behind the row of cookies.
Tyrone, paralyzed, watched it all unfold. He could not flee, nor could he help.
The old man fired the .38 special twice in Buck’s direction. Bam! Bam!
Buck, kneeling, gun pointed sideways like he’d seen in the new rap video, fired multiple rounds. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
It was surreal to Tyrone. It looked like television. The images were so vivid! The old man shooting, Buck behind the potato chip counter, and Chris lying prone on the floor, firing like a marksman. Tyrone thought about his own gun. The thought made him sick.
This wasn’t television. It was for real. His nervous stomach threw up the Church’s Chicken® wing.
In the next instant, fate slammed the door on all four lives.
Buck rose, his gun sideways, and fired multiple times. The bullets caught Mr. Perkins full in the chest like target practice. Tyrone saw blood gush and squirt through the gray flannel work shirt. It wasn’t like television at all. It wasn’t surreal. It was real, bloody, and scary as hell. Bullets tore away at Mr. Perkins’ flesh. Little pieces of his body flew in different directions. Mr. Perkins screamed out with the pain, became limp, and fell against the cash register, violently bumping his head. He hit the floor, lifeless.
It was time to go.
Tyrone’s legs started moving. He pulled his gun, threw it toward the dumpster in the parking lot, and broke for the freeway. His stride was long and casual, but his heart and mind were frantic. He replayed the picture in his mind—Mr. Perkins’ flesh being ripped open by the penetrating bullets. He tried blocking it but the pictures kept coming.
Sweat poured in currents from his body.
Tyrone ran. Running felt good. Running restored order to his world. He could control running. He started to relax. Running, he was able to think.
He didn’t know if Mr. Perkins was dead or not. Yes he did. He knew Mr. Perkins was dead. Damn! He didn’t look back for Buck and Chris. He never had to see them again, and it would be okay. He would never do this again. This had been stupid. He thought of Pam and Little Man. He was running to them. I’m on my way honey. Hey, Little Man, Daddy is on his way home. His thoughts raced along with him. Maybe I’ll call Daddy and get the job in the plant, he thought. Oh God, I hope so.
Somehow he ran up the entrance ramp to the freeway. Cars whizzed by. The thought of thumbing a ride entered his mind and exited just as fast. He continued running; his long strides now growing shorter; his breaths coming in fevered pants. He was no longer in running shape.
He never looked back. He didn’t stop running. He never again wanted to stop running, never again.
Sirens whistled in the distance, and he knew cops must be on the scene. Never losing stride, he hit the watch dial, 11:00 pm. It was time for his grandfather’s shift to start. Was his grandfather there? Would he find out? Would his dad?
Tired, exhausted, and run out, he wanted to quit running. He couldn’t go anymore. He wanted to stop. He wanted to be in the little one bedroom apartment with Pam and Little Man. He wanted the three of them to cuddle up in the bed his father had given him. He wanted to be home. Gradually, he slowed. Cars zipped by. He didn’t look backward or to the side. He only wanted to look straight ahead. He stopped running. He didn’t see or hear the Camaro pull up behind him. He didn’t hear the horn blow. When he heard his name called, it startled him. He turned.
Buck pulled the Camaro next to him, and commanded, “Get in.”