BEER RUN: A Nick Constantine short story - PHIL BELOIN, JR.
The rundown market had bars hanging over the windows, glitzy ads for beer and smokes plastered the outside. Looked like my kind of place. I parked curbside, crossed the dark street and went in. The register was on my left, the towel head clerk stood by the cigarette displays and lotto accoutrements, of which there were plenty, the state exploiting addicts just like drug dealers and casino operators.
I heard giggling down an aisle— checked it. Never can be too careful in the ghetto. Two punks in do-rags were perusing a centerfold by the magazine racks. They were the only other costumers.
I went to where the fridges hummed, the kids hooting at the nudies. I scanned the beer choice, found kingers—what a treat—and grabbed those lovely tall cans, a chill caressing my fingers and twinkling the back of my head like a beer buzz.
It happened as I was strolling to the register.
“Give me all the fucking money in the register, man!”
“Come on! Give us the money!”
A do-rag had a gun on the towel head. The other do-rag was unarmed, but his mouth was firing threats. In this fucked up neighborhood, there was no way the towel head didn’t have a bazooka under the counter. If he let it go, he would splatter them do-rags and get me, too.
I came up behind the punks, the clerk shaking his head, no, no, no, while his hands slipped down his sides. The unarmed one was asking if the towel head understood American and if he didn’t, how could he get a job like this? It seemed like a pretty good question.
Using my .45’s barrel, I tickled the do-rag of the pistol toting fella.
“You boys better get outta here,” I said.
Three sets of eyes met mine.
“Sheet,” the one without the gun said. “This ain’t your bizness, dude.”
“Yeah, take off,” the other one said.
“Well, guess what?” I said. “I haven’t gotten my carton of smokes.”
“Get this man some cigarettes,” the gunless punk said to the clerk.
I noticed his cohort’s knees were quivering.
Towel head was still moving his hands downward.
I cocked the trigger, the little adrenaline forces doing the double quick through me. “Leave the gun on the counter before I send your brain over to the wall.”
The quaking worked its way up to the do-rag’s gun arm. He was young—sixteen, seventeen years old tops.
“Hey, you,” I said to the clerk. “Stop moving your hands! I got this.”
His hands froze but then his mouth took over, blabbering at the do-rags to listen to me, the gunless one saying he knew the towel head spoke American.
The kid lowered the pistol to the counter and headed for the door, his buddy pushing him outside. When I turned back, the barrel of the towel head’s rifle was an inch from my face.
“You no get the money,” he said.
“How ‘bout that carton of smokes?”
“You put gun away first.”
I placed the beer on the counter and holstered the .45.
“Okay, you my friend,” the clerk said.
He scooped up the do-rag’s pistol and returned the shotgun to its hiding spot.
“No sell beer now,” he said. "After eight o’clock.”
“It the law.”
“I just saved your ass.”
“I get big trouble sell beer after eight o’clock.”
“You get big dead if it wasn’t for me.”
“Tell you what, my friend,” he said. “You give me twenty for six-pack. I look other way when you go.”
“Didn’t black male just leave?”
“No, you don’t understand what I’m...”
“This is what I say to you now; you want beer, twenty-five dollar.”
“You said twenty before.”
“I said twenty when we not argue.”
“You’re a god-damn disgrace.”
“You want chilly beer, no? I here to make money—not for health.” He punched some buttons on the register.
“Okay, my friend. Sixty-seven and six cents for cigarettes.”
I gave him ninety-two bucks.
He moved to put the beer in a paper bag. “Have nice night, my friend.”
“Turn your head. I’m leaving now.”
“No turn head on you ever.”
This is a short excerpt from Phil’s novel, The Big Bad. Check out the entire book out on Amazon.