A Day at 7-11
“Is that all sir?” Vihaan’s bored expression revealed he already knew the answer.
“That’s all, thanks,” I said, and the expression of boredom on Vihaan’s face remained unchanged. After all, he had asked the question many times before. I had worked across the street in an office building for years now and had always taken time in the morning to get a an Apple Fritter. Vihaan’s boredom, and frankly my own, had prompted an existential crisis for me. I’ve had enough of my job, my colleagues, my life. I never was meant to be businessman, but everyone I know tells me that’s where I’m supposed to be.
My colleagues would stay away from me like they were social distancing. They were the businessmen that my father envisioned me to be, yet here I was, trying my best to capture the spirit, if not the image, of a businessman. I’ve got the brown leather shoes, but they’re faded and have a couple smudges that even three shoe-shine attempts couldn’t take out. I’ve got the business suit, but I have to tug at it because it’s too small under my arms, a shade too blue for my office, and I have no spare money after I pay my rent to replace it anyway. I’ve got the slick, combed back black hair, but I never felt it suited me. My image suits a businessman, but perhaps a businessman doesn’t suit me. As for the actual business part of being a businessman, I’m firmly wedged in middle management, definitely not a director but not minimum wage either.
My job is at a school textbook firm. I organize the workers to sort and ship textbooks to private schools, and I get organized by upper management who may be just a little too snobby even though they are smart. The guys at my level, care more about their appearance than their job performance. Yet with all that personal attention, they always seem to be late. For me though, my great-grandfather’s pocket watch dictates my movements. He carried it going to war against the German forces in Normandy and was never late to his post once. Unlike my peers, he was truly a reliable guy. So, when my Office “buddies” make fun of me, I couldn’t care less since it’s hard to care what people think of you when you don’t like the people in the first place. So yeah, I get to work in my tacky suit and old shoes. But I get to work on time, and isn’t that the most important part of work anyway? The award for “Most Textbook Sales” goes to me, which I think draws the attention of upper management. With this attention, my sharply-dressed colleagues have learned to be polite to the best worker in the office. After all, a director doesn’t care how someone in middle management dresses, a director just sees a number. So, is it real acceptance? No, but for me it’s enough.
I pulled out my pocket watch. Though I like to be early, traffic had been particularly light this morning and according to the watch I have twenty-six minutes to kill. I prefer not to spend any more time at the office than I have to, so I figured I’d stop at the 7-11 across the road and have my Apple Fritter on the bench outside. Once I got to the 7-11, my office building loomed across the road, reminding me of my slowly dissipating time. Soon I’d have to go, and I couldn’t help but count the minutes. My apple fritter began to lose its sweetness. There would be no enjoyment of the little things with my work looming in front of me, so I might as well leave.
Fritter in hand, I stood up and headed for my car. My fingers fumbled around in my right pocket, grabbing nothing but cotton. I turned around to ensure my keys hadn’t fallen out on the bench, yet I didn’t see my keys. My hand was halfway to my left pocket when I saw a man in a black ski mask. He had a baggy, black leather jacket and faded blue jeans. In an instant, my mind began to speed up while everything around me slowed. My hand stopped moving. All thoughts of time disappeared. My fritter was halfway to the pavement, but thankfully a Fritter hardly makes a sound when it lands. I was aware of him, but despite my carelessness he wasn’t aware of me. He had stopped just outside of the door, right next to the bench I had occupied only minutes ago. Courtesy of the ski mask, I couldn’t see his face, nor could I see what the man was thinking. Then I saw it: a gun.
While I was reaching to dial 911, I heard the ding of the door opening. He had disappeared into the store. Muffled yelling, a waving gun, and Vihaan’s voice came next. I turned to my phone screen and hit three numbers.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“He’s…I mean there’s…there’s a man robbing my 7-11…he has a gun.”
“Okay sir, please stay calm. Where is the 7-11?”
“Uh…Ruth Street, across from the McGraw Textbook Office.”
“Okay sir, officers are on their way, please stay on the line.”
“Are you inside the building?”
“No…I’m outside…but…I …I think I should go…”
“Sir, if you are out of immediate danger please stay on the li-“
I hung up. There was nothing a person taking calls across town could do for me now. I fumbled for my car keys in my left pocket, relief that I had found them. I was halfway to the driver’s side of my car when I heard faint sobbing from inside the 7-11. I turned around.
Behind the counter, Vihaan was staring right at me, with a gun staring right at him. He was just a kid, and he was watching me leave while he was at the mercy of some stranger’s deranged judgement. Why didn’t he just give him the money? My keys went back into my pocket and I walked to the door.
I’m not sure I would have had the courage to try and help, but the glass wall of the7-11 was plastered with advertisements of red coffee cups or sports drinks set to a green background. The ads that had been a mild annoyance every morning but now they afforded me enough cover to get closer to the door. The door itself was completely unencumbered by ads, making it too risky to look through. There was a crack in one of the posters, a small chunk of missing green. It slightly bothered me though it most certainly didn’t bother Vihaan. Yet right now, it was a gift. Peeking through like a boy looking through a hole in the fence at the neighbor’s yard, I had an invisible viewpoint.
Vihaan was trying his best to keep it together, but he just kept repeating the same thing over and over.
“The money was deposited, the money was deposited…”
“Surely you have some more, somewhere. Don’t you? You must, you must!” That was the first time I had heard the other man speak. His voice was startling. He sounded young, he sounded desperate. Yet that youthful tone gave way to youthful rage, and the man kept getting more and more frustrated. The gun was waving around in a way that even made me, an invisible watchman, uncomfortable. I couldn’t imagine what Vihaan was going through. Yet Vihaan wasn’t looking at the man. Vihaan was looking below the counter. Why? Then I remembered. The guy in the ski mask wasn’t the only one who had a gun.
Even if Vihaan was quick, he wouldn’t have had enough time. He had a hunting rifle, a slow, cumbersome weapon that required time to fire. Police were coming, but Vihaan didn’t know that. It was as if everything in the world that Vihaan believed could help him was below that counter. For some reason, he looked up at the ceiling, then went back to looking below the counter again. His face was no longer choked with tears. He had become quiet, too quiet. I knew what he was preparing to do. The robber grew quiet too, noticing the change in Vihaan’s demeanor. The guy in the ski mask steadied his gun, right on Vihaan’s still face. My lips moved to shout “no,” but no sound came. Vihaan was ready, but I was not.
If I went in now, I could be the one in extreme danger, but Vihaan might have time to get a shot off. But would he be quick enough? The robber seemed agitated enough to fire. Vihaan’s expression was steady, but the Robber’s gun was not. Vihaan wouldn’t have a chance, but I didn’t want to die any more than Vihaan did. I’ve lived my whole life in the image of the businessman, yet for me that image was like a poorly tailored suit. I don’t want to die a “businessman,” I want to die as “Frank.” Without even realizing it, my voice was back, and I was muttering my name.
“Frank. Frank. Frank. Frank. Frank.”
I don’t want to lose the opportunity to change. But I also don’t want to leave a man to die just so I can lose the image that has plagued me. My thoughts began to slow, my mind began to ease. Reaching into my coat pocket, I felt the cold metal of my great-grandfather’s pocket watch. I pulled it out, just to stare at the clean, practical face. I thought about what my great grandfather would do. I thought about what my dad would do. Then I thought about what “Frank” would do.
“Hey Frank,” I said without looking up from the register. Frank is always my earliest customer, but today he was even earlier. Guess traffic must have been light.
“Hey, how’s it going?” Frank asked.
“Oh, the same as usual. How about you?”
“Same! The same,” Frank chuckled at his own “joke” and I couldn’t help but let out a snort. I suppose we were both in the same predicament, though Frank would probably disagree that a college student and a businessman could be in “the same predicament.” Frank was a walking stereotype, your businessman in the middle of what American’s call a “mid-life-crisis.” He was at the stage where he was realizing that the life he had now was the life he’d have until he retired. Still, I can’t really criticize Frank, my life isn’t much better. Just for starters, I live in Minnesota.
Coming from Calcutta, Minnesota felt like living in a freezer 24-7. Duluth itself was just coming out of a long, miserable winter, filled with temperatures still in the arctic range. Why did I ever come here? I suppose I had family in Duluth, but it turns out they’re too busy to catch up often, so now I’m stuck here with little reason. I’m studying Medicine at the College of Duluth, Minnesota, but college in America is a relatively easy affair, far easier than anything offered at the University of Calcutta. I’m hoping to become a doctor, but in Duluth hope seems to be disappearing by the second. Still, a Duluth spring is the only time of year I look forward to. Birds begin to be audible once more, grass pokes its head through a blanket of white, trees shake of their white coats and put on new, green ones, and even the people here become slightly friendlier. Actually, I deal with people a lot. I’m a cashier at 7-11, so I’ve met some of the rudest Americans and some of the nicest people too. Frank is one of the nicer guys, but he’s neither rude nor great. He’s just…fine. I wouldn’t trust him with much though ‘cause I get a sense he’s always looking for something, but not from me. This was a usual day, and that was just the usual Frank.
Once Frank got his Apple Fritter [that man refuses to change his routine], I was once again alone in the store. My manager had arrived an hour before to pick up the money from the register to deposit it in the bank account, but apart from picking up the money, my manager rarely shows his face around here. Still, it was early in the day, and I could expect a few more customers before my shift ended.
“Forget something Frank?” I asked.
“It’s not Frank,” a voice I had never heard before answered back. “I want you to be calm about this. I don’t want to hurt you, I just need you to open the register.”
I looked up. Before me stood a man with a ski mask, a black leather jacket, and faded black jeans. Still, that’s not what I noticed first. I noticed the gun.
“I don’t want no trouble,” the man continued, his voice quickening and getting louder, “just the money and I’m gone.”
At the word “money,” my world began crashing around me. My surroundings faded, time slowed, and I was left alone with this man. This man with a gun who wanted money that I didn’t have. Frank was my only customer since my manager this morning, and he only gave a buck ninety-nine. I wanted to tell him I had thousands. I wanted to tell him he could have it all. But I couldn’t. I gulped before delivering an answer I didn’t want to give. “Sir, the money, it’s…it’s gone…” I said.
“Gone where?” He replied. Frustration and anger was creeping into his voice now, and the gun rose closer to my face.
“My manager took it this morning. I only have a dollar and ninety-nine cents.”
“Are you lying to me? I don’t think you understand, that’s not enough! Let me see the register!”
He peered over, with his gun now carefully trained at my heart. I followed the path of the gun, right to my heart. I may be learning about how the body works, but I don’t yet know how to save it. Even if I did, there’s not much I could do if he shot me right in the heart.
“Where’s the rest.”
“As I already told you, my manager took it,” I said with audible frustration. Where was this anger coming from? I should be scared now, so why am I being rude to the man who holds my life in his hands?
“Look kid, I don’t think you understand…my wife…she needs money. I need money. Don’t you have a safe?”
“I’m sorry, this is a 7-11. We don’t have a safe. We have no money except what’s in the register.”
Realization seemed to throw a few blows to the man, and he looked at me as if I’d struck him. I considered running now, but that was too risky. Hopefully he would just leave. My world stopped crumbling for just a second. I could think. I had hope.
In an instant, a gun was right between my eyes and the man was staring me down. “No,” he said, “you’re lying.”
“I swear sir, this is all we have!” My anger turned to sorrow at his disbelief. My world began to fall again, disintegrating once more. My throat constricted and I nearly choked.
“You are going to tell me where the money is, or you are going to die.” His voice became far more calm than before, but there was something behind it. It was as if his anger had mixed with whatever crazed motivation he had come here with.
“I can’t sir! I…I have nothing!” with this my eyes began to water. Big, salty, teary droplets flowing down my cheek. I don’t remember the last time I cried. I had learned to hide these tears, but I couldn’t hold them anymore. I didn’t know they were coming, and I couldn’t do anything about them.
“TELL ME! TELL ME NOW!” he shouted. I couldn’t anymore. My bout of tears turned into a stream. I wanted to run, to leave this place. I looked to the door. Outside was Frank. He was doing something, I’m not sure what. Wait…he had his keys. He…he’s going to leave me here! At this the tears only became more uncontrollable. I couldn’t see the man anymore, I couldn’t even see Frank. This onslaught of tears had never happened to me before, and I was helpless before them, just like I was helpless before the man in front of me.
At my emotions, the man lost his composure. He turned around, both hands rubbing his face. His free hand went to his pocket, hesitating a brief second, before moving back to his face. Turning around to face me again he said,
“Last chance kid. I don’t want to do this. Where’s the money.”
“I…I don’t have it!” I sputtered. I looked below the counter, unable to face this man and his gun, and waited for death. My eyes met a hunting rifle, an old relic of my manager he left here for me. “In case things get rowdy,” he said as he showed it to me. This was my last hope, and hope was running low in Duluth so I needed all of it that I could find. My tears slowed and I looked at the ceiling. In that ceiling of 7-11 I found my religion once again. God, I love you, and I hope you know that. But for now, I’m going to do something, but I think I need your help.
The tears were gone, but so was the man’s carelessness. He was studying me carefully with eyes that moved from the top of my head, lingered at my jacket, and then returned to my face.
“You don’t understand…” he said.
I understood enough.
“The procedure is expensive, Mr. Johnson.” Said Doctor Dwight. I nodded. “We can discuss money later,” I said. “Will the treatment work?”
“We think so. Your wife has a fairly unique form of cancer, and we believe this procedure has a good chance of killing the malignant cells.”
I don’t remember what we talked about after that. It doesn’t matter anyway. I don’t need to hear what type of cancer my wife has or what weird name doctors call a treatment. I just need to know if the treatment will work. Well, I guess I do need to know price too.
Sophia knew that marrying me was not going to bring her riches, but at the time we didn’t think that was going to be a problem. Now it was.
Before her illness, our money was enough. Sophia was a lawyer who was earning good pay, and I was looking [unsuccessfully] for a job. Sophia still had leftover student loan debt, and I
had studied history. Unfortunately, history doesn’t earn much pay no matter how much you care about it. I used to help out at the University of Minnesota Duluth as a TA for a history class with waning numbers, but eventually there wasn’t enough students to justify a large history wing so I was laid off. I wrote my thesis on the comparative history of Rome and Greece, but unfortunately this topic wasn’t topical out here in Minnesota.
Since her diagnosis, Sophia had been getting sicker and sicker to the point she had been hospitalized for the last week. I left Sophia at the hospital and drove home in a confused mess of thoughts and emotions. We had medical insurance, but it wouldn’t completely cover the bills, particularly because the insurance was tied to Sophia’s employment. Plus, with Sophia in the hospital, we had been receiving no source of income for months, and money was tight even before Sophia got diagnosed. I had no idea what to do. I checked my watch, and to my surprise I had spent the night at the hospital.
The road was a blur. White lines lost their edges and trees molded together. There was nothing here in Minnesota. Nothing. There was nothing I could do either. I’m too poor to save my own wife’s life. My beat up Tacoma pickup couldn’t be sold for much. I had few personal possessions I could sell. I had a gun in the glove compartment, but that wouldn’t be worth much. Then the early morning lit up. A 7-11 appeared next to me and the world began to focus. My mind was busy thinking, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was thinking about.
No, I thought. There has to be another way.
This is the only way, said my mind
I’m not a criminal. I’m not resorting to this. My mind and I were arguing, and I didn’t know who was winning. It’s easy, you already have what you need. It’s your wife’s life vs. some dude’s profit from a convenience store. With this, I knew who won the argument.
My foot slammed against the brake pedal, and with screeching groans the old Tacoma turned around. I reached into the glove compartment and pulled out my hand gun. If you’re wondering why a laid off teacher’s assistant owns a gun, this was Minnesota after all. Everyone needs a gun here. I can’t say I appreciated this need, but I understood why it existed. With isolated houses miles apart from any help, some protection was necessary.
Reaching further into the glove compartment, my hand found soft wool. I pulled out the ski mask Sophia used when we went to Chester Bowl, a ski resort near Duluth. Memories of laughter, wet clothes, and warm, crackling fireplaces filled my mind.
I looked long and hard at the 7-11. I walked to the door, and stood just outside the store. I thought about the doctor, telling me the procedure costs thousands. I thought about the young kid inside the store, staring at the register. Most importantly, I thought about Sophia sitting in that hospital bed, losing a little bit of hair and a little bit of her life every day. I was done thinking. I opened the door.
“Robbery taking place in the 7-11 on Ruth street, near McGraw textbook office.” The radio crackling to life was rare, rarer still for it to be serious. Checking my GPS, I could feel my hairs stand on end, and suddenly I shivered. I put two fingers to my neck, and sure enough, my heart rate had accelerated too. I was the closest.
People around here keep to themselves. Everyone has guns and everyone is too isolated to bother to ask for help. As a result, a call to arms was unusual. I had even been to that 7-11 just yesterday. Turning on the sirens, I shot down the road towards the scene. Hell, I can’t even remember the last time I got to turn on the sirens. My father was a policeman, but he only told the good stories, making police work seem like the dream job. However, most of the job around turned out to be fairly boring, filled with paperwork and traffic stops. Still, I like the job, especially the way people treat me because of the badge.
I was a couple minutes away from the store, but my mind was already there. How I was going to enter, what I could expect from a robbery, if it could be a hostage situation, and on and on. I was starting to feel sick and knew it was because my breathing was now beginning to get out of hand. My training was lacking, since the officers around here weren’t expected to ever need to use it. Still, one thing an instructor taught me had stayed with me: I need to stay in the present, so I focused on returning to the present moment. It’s not always easy focusing on what’s going on right in front of you, but I can’t afford to think in the past or the future with this job. Lives depend on it.
Out of the deep green woods appeared the 7-11, with a bright green and yellow neon welcome sign managing to cut its way through the woods. I pulled up on the road near the parking lot and prepared to enter. I checked the radio for backup but no-one was on patrol near me. I pulled out my gun and snuck through the underbrush. The windows were full of advertisements so I couldn’t establish a viewing angle of the inside of the store. I had chosen to wait for a backup when a gunshot rang out. A pause. Then another bang. Whatever was going on, I simply couldn’t wait.
I believe in preserving life, and that’s partly why I became an officer [though unfortunately not every officer seemed to join for that reason]. I’m here to save people. And right now, in this building, people needed to be saved. I crept up to the clear glass door and began a mental countdown to prepare myself.
I kicked the door in with my gun drawn. “Duluth P.D! Hands up!” I yelled. Inside was not the scene I had hoped for. Two dead men lay on the ground: one with a baggy blue business suit, the other with a ski mask, black leather jacket, and jeans. My hope was not completely unanswered however, as the gas station attendant stood behind the counter with wide eyes. God, he was just a kid, no older than college age. A hunting rifle lay on the ground next to him, and a gun I assume was the robbers was on the ground next to my feet. I moved the handgun to the side to check the pulses of the two men on the ground. Nothing.
“Hello, this is officer Anna Burke. Bring the coroner and an ambulance to the 7-11 on Ruth Street.”
I turned to the cashier. “Are you hurt sir?”
“No…” he responded.
“More help is on the way, but you’re safe now. Can you tell me what happened?”
“The man…he held me at gunpoint. He wanted money but…we, we didn’t have any.”
“What about the other man?” I asked
“Frank…he saved me. I was about to try and defend myself when Frank came in. I…I shot the other guy, but he shot Frank.
“This is Frank, right sir?” I asked, pointing to the guy in the suit.
“Yeah, he’s the businessman,” the cashier replied.
“He doesn’t sound like just a businessman. He sounds like a hero.”
At this the cashier got quiet. He looked down at the counter before looking at me again.
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”
Power in Numbers