I rang up the last customer, shut off my register and headed to the break room. My feet were killing me, and I was more than happy that my eight-hour graveyard shift was halfway over. In the break room sat Joe. He was an alright guy, I suppose, just a little... quiet. He just kinda showed up, did his job and went home. Hell, the manager was beginning to get on him about not saying, “Thank you for coming to Kwik-E Mart!” when customers were leaving. I shared a simple half-smile as a friendly gesture, and continued to the refrigerator, not thinking twice about it. I reached in and grabbed the Diet Coke and salad that awaited me.
I sat down in front of Joe, and he never even shuddered. He didn’t look up, wave, say hi, nothing. Like I said, he was a shady fellow. Popping open the Coke let out that familiar sound and shook away the awkwardness that was approaching. In between bites, I decided to try and make conversation. Maybe the reason he was quiet is because no one had ever tried talking to him before.
“Man,” I said, mouth full of lettuce, “third shift is a pain in the ass, huh?” He looked up at me, a bit startled, and just nodded vigorously. Taking another big bite, I took a second to analyze Joe to see if I could pinpoint his interest. Judging a book by its cover is bad, I know, but I had to try.
“So, did you get that new COD game? I got a copy at my house, and it’s pretty sweet, dude.”
“Yeah,” he said in a soft whisper. I took one final bite of the salad and chugged the rest of my soda down my gullet, before saying goodbye to Joe and heading to the bathroom before starting work again. As I walked through the front of the store, my manager stopped me.
“Hey,” he said, grabbing me by my arm, “don’t take too long in there. We got people complaining out here.” I nodded, then headed to my original destination. It seemed kind of strange to be so busy on third shift, but I figured there was some kind of party somewhere and people needed beer. As I began to piss, I could hear my boss yelling at the top of his lungs in the break room.
“How many times have I told you?” he yelled. “Just say thank you! Is it that fucking hard!”
I knew now that he was talking to Joe. I felt bad for the guy. He was my age, around twenty-two, and he was just trying to get paid, like the rest of us. The yelling ceased after a minute or so, and as I was about to leave my stall, the bathroom door swung open and smacked against the wall. I could see the concrete dust from the wall slowly fall to the ground. Scared shitless, I retreated back into the stall and sat with my knees pulled to my chest. I was afraid to look and see who it was, but I assumed it was Joe. I would be pissed if someone yelled at me like that. That’s when I heard it; it was just barely audible over the residual hum of the fluorescent light on the ceiling. He was whispering to himself. At first, it seemed like regular gibberish, until I put my ear to the wall of the stall to try and decipher the mumbles. When the words he spoke became clear, my blood ran as cold as the stall my ear rested on.
“He’s going to learn. He’s going to get his, oh yeah. You’ll all see.”
My heart dropped. What the hell did he mean? Was he gonna kick his ass? I sat in there in the fetal position, contemplating on what I could do. I figured the best thing to do was try and talk to him. I let my feet rest on the floor and stood up slowly. That’s when I heard another sound that made me freeze. I heard a magazine being pushed into a pistol, and a bullet being cocked into the chamber. I tried to get the stall open, but the latch was stuck.
“Joe!” I screamed out. “Don’t do this!”
The bathroom door was opened calmly. Joe replied with, “This is something you should have foreseen. It has to be done.” The bathroom door slowly shut as he exited.
“Joe! Come back!”
I kicked the stall door with all the strength I could muster, and it rattled, shook, and eventually opened. I heard gasps and screams and bolted from the stall and to the front of the store. Everyone stood there in total fear and shock. Joe was standing there, with his 9mm drawn on the manager, pointed straight between his eyes. The manager had his hands up above his head and was shivering in fear.
“Joe,” he said, “you don’t have to do this. J-Just put the gun down and we will work this out.”
“There is nothing to work out!” Joe screamed. He was beginning to tear up. “You’ve fucked with me the last time.” I stood there in absolute awe; what could I do? I’m just a cashier. I pulled out my phone and dialed 911.
“911, what's your emergency?”
“I’m a cashier at the Kwik-E Mart. We have an employee who’s pulled a gun out on the manager.” Joe and the manager were yelling back and forth, when out of nowhere, Joe pistol-whipped him. He was laying on the ground, while Joe stood over him, with the gun against his temple.
“Police have been dispatched. They should be there in just a minute.”
“Okay,” I said, “what should I do?”
"Just give him his space. Don’t give him any reason to shoot."
Beads of sweat were running down my face, and the tension could be cut with a knife. For what felt like hours, I watched Joe yell and scream at the manager. He went on and on about how he treated him, and how "he was going to get his". Finally, the sirens could be heard from the outside of the store, and there was a strange sense of solace for a split second.
The police poured into the store and drew their guns, immediately pointing them at Joe.
“Leave me alone!” Joe yelled. He began to bang the gun against his temple. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
“Sir, calm down and drop your weapon,” one of the officers said. I had no idea what was going on and why he was screaming like this. “Sir, put the gun down, or we will open fire.” Joe’s screaming ceased and he began to laugh maniacally. It was a twisted, horrid laugh that didn’t even seem human.
The cackle continued for a few minutes, before he turned back to the manager that was bleeding out on the floor.
“Thank you, sir! Without you, I would have never managed this type of courage.” Joe then swung the gun around and pulled the trigger, sending a bullet straight into the manager’s skull. The blood began to pour out; all the bystanders gasped, and some even puked. I just stared, in awe, unable to muster any words. The maniacal laugh returned and rang out through the store.
“Fire at will!” one the officers yelled. I counted eight gunshots before Joe hit the ground, and even then, even after the gun was snatched from his hand and he laid on the ground bleeding out, he still laughed that horrid chuckle and managed to stay alive long enough for the ambulance to arrive.
I never found out if Joe lived through it all, but I did find out that he was a diagnosed schizophrenic, which explains his episode that day. That was three years ago, and I’ve gotten a new job since then. I’m happy to put all that behind but to this day. I swear, I can hear Joe calling out when I’m trying to sleep.
“Robert,” he calls, “you were there for me; now I’m here for you.”
Why is he here for me? I’m just a cashier.