A Typical Night at Walgreens - Rebecca Rhodes

             Walgreens always seemed to exist in a world of its own, but when Drew was assigned as assistant manager for the late shift, he was exposed to the unique peculiarities of the town’s population. Typically, he worked from morning to four, and though he hated his job, life was tolerable. He got used to watching fifty-year-old-men with graying hair and swim trunks scouring dusty shelves for last-minute travel shampoo, Little Debbie’s mini donuts, or bottles of ibuprofen for the back pain they consistently complained about. But now, five shifts a week from four to eleven, Drew fought off boredom and exhaustion, faked a friendly smile and sorted packages of off-brand diapers for proper advertisement. The number of even remotely respectable customers slowly dwindled as it grew later. Those few who came through the door seemed to belong to another species. As far as Drew was concerned, these people’s weird tendencies, like stroking all the travel washcloths one by one or silently sniffing every brand of hand sanitizer, deemed them unworthy of being considered human.
            Once, while Drew was at the register late at night, a man tried to buy six containers of diced pepper jack cheese. However, the man had no money, so he offered to pay Drew with a pack of cigarettes, explaining they were more valuable because he’d acquired them in prison. Another time, a nine-year-old boy strolled into the store unattended at 10:30 at night, pulled a single Red Bull off the shelf, and chugged it all in less than a minute. While Drew was too mystified to do anything about it, the kid swiftly crushed the can under his foot, left it in the aisle, then walked out of the store as casually as he’d come in.
            Drew’s personal favorite was the woman who entered ten minutes before closing with her “emotional support animal,” a four-foot-long monitor lizard named Henry, which she guided on a too-flimsy leash attached to a pink studded collar. When asked to take her pet outside, she refused, explaining that Henry needed to come on walks with her to get his exercise, and that he was now banned from the public park for some reason she refused to elaborate on. She then asked to buy meat for Henry. When Drew quickly said they didn’t have enough in stock, the woman left with a sigh of disgust.
            Such events weren’t too out of the ordinary for a typical night at Walgreens. The so-called people at least kept it interesting, which temporarily distracted Drew from the fact his life revolved around scanning the same toiletry items over and over again, taking inventory of shelves of petroleum jelly, or occasionally performing janitorial duties in the most unsalvageable bathrooms he’d ever seen. But on this particular night, Drew’s patience for the job, as well as the customers, was already gone, as three different people had come in to ask for directions to the nearest CVS.
            The shift dragged on with three people slipping over the wet floor sign, two teenage shoplifting attempts, and one overflowing toilet. At eleven o’clock, it was time for the misery to end, so Drew turned the sign on the locked front door from “Open” to “Sorry, we’re closed.” The other employees clocked out and fled out the back before they were stuck doing any leftover work. Drew watched them pack into their cars and speed away before the clock hit a minute past eleven. He was, predictably, left to do the daily janitorial duties on his own; he never had the heart to tell the others to stay behind after their day in paradise had come to an end.
            Drew looked between the candy-crowded sales counter and the seventeen aisles where all sorts of items on the lower shelves overflowed onto the yellowed tile floor. He shook his head and held in a sigh. It looked like he’d be busy tonight.
            Drew tried to spin around and head for the supply closet but his right foot stuck in place for a second. He looked down and slowly tugged it back to reveal the cause  ̶   he’d stepped on a wad of gum no less than six inches in diameter, and the wet, sticky substance clung to the sole of his shoe in strings as he pulled his foot away.
            Drew sighed. This was the third time this week. He was becoming far too familiar with how the customers marked their territory. So familiar, in fact, that he could now identify seven different brands of gum just by the sight of their chewed remains. Judging by the sickly gray color and the slimy consistency, this was, unfortunately, grape Hubba Bubba. Drew shook his head; this would require much more damage repair than a gum deposit usually warranted. It would take at least another ten minutes to get it all up, and if any sort of mess was left behind, his manager, Greg, would likely attempt to cut his hourly pay – again  ̶  to punish Drew for showing a lack of commitment to his duties. And so, now that the store was empty, silent except for the sound of Celine Dion’s voice moaning “The Power of Love” through the static-filled radio, Drew rolled out the cart of cleaning supplies and got to work.
            Covering his mouth from the fumes, Drew coated the gum and a two-foot radius around it with enough disinfectant spray to cure a moderate plague. He grabbed the scraper and knelt, but before he started to diligently scrape the mess apart, Drew began to zone out. He did this every time he had to engage in menial labor, which often resulted in him being mentally absent from the moment he clocked in to the moment he left the store. His favorite distraction was imagining how much better his life would be if he’d just gone to college. There’d be no more late shifts, no more disorderly customers, no more Walgreens. But just like when he’d graduated high school six years ago, he couldn’t afford it.
            Drew would often fantasize about ending up in some sort of bizarre accident that would result in a payoff  ̶  only then would he be able to get tuition money through the power of a good lawyer. Hit by a city bus that ran a red light? Sure, he’d get $50,000 at least. Struck by a speeding ice cream truck while crossing the street? Less effective, maybe around $20,000. Getting into a life-threatening accident at work? It depends on whether or not Greg was doing his job right, which he never did. Survive a plane crash? That’s it, he’d be rich enough for four years.
            Drew was about five minutes into scraping the illogically large pile of gum off the floor  ̶     thankfully, the gooey mass didn’t have a tooth lodged inside of it this time  ̶  when the phone rang. Interrupted from his morbidly joyful thoughts, he rose from his painful crouch and stretched his legs before going behind the checkout counter to answer it. “Hello, Walgreens, how can I assist?”
            On the other end, Greg, cleared his throat and announced, “Drew, the ointment’s being shipped in late tonight.”
            Drew rolled his eyes and thought, The ointment! Finally! I guess I’ll just drop everything and celebrate, that’s fantastic news!
“I left some crates out, so go clean off the loading dock. I’ll be over in ten minutes for closing, and it better be finished by then,” he added.
            “Gotcha,” Drew said flatly. He hung up and wondered how likely it was to survive a plane crash.
            Forgetting the pile of gum, he made his way to the back door of the building and out to the loading dock, a concrete storage unit closed off by what looked like a flimsy metal garage door leading to the parking lot. He pressed a button to raise the door, and a waft of freezing air came in. Like every winter night in Michigan, it was around seventeen degrees and windy, cold enough to make his face sting and the exposed skin of his arms swell with goosebumps.
            Drew spotted seven wooden crates on the black tar of the dock. Taking a breath, Drew hurried outside and shakily picked one up with both hands. He rushed it back inside the storage unit, then returned for another, taking trip after trip for heavy white boxes which he dropped into the corners of the unit without thinking, ignoring the word “fragile” printed on each one  ̶  there was no reason to care what was inside, especially since the ointment was somehow deemed more pressing.
            As Drew picked up the last box and faced towards the unit, he heard the sound of footsteps over the noise of the wind. They stopped directly behind him only seconds later. Drew sat the box down and turned to face the newcomer, seeing only the shape of a tall man silhouetted against the faint streetlights.
            Not again, Drew thought, shaking his head. “Can I help you?”
            There was a pause before the stranger responded. “Let me in,” he said at last.
            “I can’t. We’re closed.”
            “That doesn’t matter. I wasn’t asking.”
            “That’s too bad. Go get your Pepto-Bismol somewhere else. I hear there’s a CVS around here somewhere.”
            The man didn’t reply but instead took a couple steps closer to the building. He came into the light now, and Drew could see the stranger had the collar of a black turtleneck pulled up over his nose and mouth. His head was covered with a wide-brimmed felt hat, and he wore a long, bulky coat. Drew thought he was an idiotic knock-off of a 90s action movie villain.
            “We’re closed. Understand? Closed.”
            The man reached into his unzipped coat and shifted it slightly, revealing the contents of the inner pocket. The handle of a gun reflected back in the white light. “I wasn’t asking,” the stranger repeated.
            Drew looked at the gun and took a deep breath. He told himself the man obviously wasn’t going to use it; it was just an empty threat. Judging by the outfit, Drew assumed this was not the brightest robber in the world. Perhaps he was one of the more intelligent ones Drew had encountered this month but still not any sort of threat. At least he was being cinematic about it.
            “We’re closed,” Drew said again.
            “I said let me in. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll listen.”
            “I don’t think so, buddy.” Drew looked down at his watch, thought of Greg, who, he realized, was already late in relieving him of his shift. If Greg showed up, maybe this guy would be a little more eager to leave.
            The man pulled out the gun, raised it and pointed it at Drew’s chest. Drew took another breath and attempted to stay unfazed; in situations such as these, he never expected much harm to come to him or the establishment in which he served his late-night prison sentence. The people in the area didn’t seem to know how to properly use debit cards to buy Nutter Butters, let alone commit successful armed robberies. Drew assumed this man was not right in the head and was mistakenly in the wrong place; after all, he expected nothing more from people who shop at Walgreens. “Get lost,” he said.
            “This is your last chance to cooperate.” he said, still aiming the weapon, his arm unwavering.
            “I said get outta here,” Drew muttered. “Why would you want to rob a Walgreens in the first place? What, you want sixty bucks in change and a coupon for antifungal cream? Trust me, there’s nothing in there worth the jail time.”
            “I’m the one with the gun, and I don’t like your attitude.”
            “That’s okay. My customer service hours are over. Now get lost, or I’ll call the cops.” He began shooing the robber away as if he were trying to get rid of a deer standing in the road, with little shouts of “Get out,” and “Go on, I don’t have all night.”
            In a move Drew hadn’t anticipated, the robber moved forward, grabbed him by the shoulder and then twisted Drew’s arm behind his back so it could be broken at a moment’s notice. Drew was even more taken aback when the man pressed the barrel of the gun against his head and said, “You’re letting me inside. And you’re giving me what you got. Understand?”
            Drew took a breath yet again. He told himself the gun probably wasn’t loaded. A customer once employed this same scare tactic on him in an attempt to get a 90% discount on a bulk package of Slim Jims. It’s not like Drew knew how to handle an armed robbery anyway  ̶ Greg never went over that in training like he was supposed to  ̶  and it was too late at night to care about following the rules anyway.
            “Whatever. Have it your way,” he said. “We’ll go inside so the security cameras can get a better look at you.” Drew began to lead the way back into the store, his arm still twisted behind his back, and the gun still pressed against his temple, leaving the door open as he crossed the threshold despite the cold air flooding inside.
            Drew noticed the aisle directly in front of them happened to contain laxatives. He tipped his head towards the racks and said, “Well go on, then. Take your pick.”
            The robber sighed with exasperation, his voice sounding like a hiss. “Look, smartass, just go empty the register.”
            Straight to the point, at least. This shouldn’t have to hold me up for too long after closing, Drew thought. “I hope you’re okay with nickels,” he said as he continued towards the front of the store. The robber let go of him once they’d reached the checkout counter, but kept the gun trained on Drew’s head from a distance.
            Drew pressed a few buttons, and the register drawer slid open. He set a few twenties, two rolls of quarters, and the other miscellaneous coins on the countertop.
            The robber, who Drew could now see had blue eyes and darkly freckled skin, pocketed the money with his free hand, then said, “Shit. That’s it?”
            “Consider yourself lucky. I make thirteen dollars an hour, for God’s sake.”
            “Where’s the safe?”
            “Just take your money and go, pal. I’ve got closing up to do, and a large pile of Hubba Bubba that’s not going to get scraped up on its own.”
            “I’m not going anywhere until you empty the safe.”
            “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
            “Again. I’m the one with the gun. Do you think this is funny?”
            Drew shook his head. “Look, I don’t know the safe’s combination.”
            Drew laughed. He was telling the truth  ̶  Greg never let anyone else handle the profits, not even his cashiers or assistant managers. That’s why he always came in for closing; only he could put away the petty cash of the day, since only he knew the combination to the safe. “If you want to file a complaint about my poor service, take it up with the manager.”
            At this, the robber lost his patience. With one swift motion, he pointed the gun at Drew’s left leg and pulled the trigger.
            Drew was bewildered. No words could match the pain. The blood dripping from his lower leg was a new form of reality. Suddenly, the gravity of the situation sunk in. This guy wasn’t your average Walgreens shopper.
            Drew felt dizzy, his vision blurred and he collapsed, unable to control his body. Nerve and muscle damage radiated through his body; he hugged his knee close to his chest and gritted his teeth.
            He couldn’t understand the moment. A minute ago, it was a typical night at Walgreens, but now he was alone on the cold Hubba Bubba-scented floor, bleeding, wishing he’d gone to college, having his ears violated by the slow pop music from the radio, and hoping for Greg to come save him.
            The robber yelled a few more things. Drew couldn’t quite register his words, distracted by his misery. When Drew didn’t respond, the robber searched behind the counter until he found the safe. He aimed his gun at the lock and pulled the trigger. Two more shots split through the air, bullets ricocheting, until the gun was empty. The bell on the entrance door chimed, and the robber quickly backed off, hurrying toward the loading dock.
            Drew’s ears rung even louder from the noise. He groaned, unable to move, as he saw a short, bald man run behind the counter and frantically place his hands on the safe  ̶  Greg.
            Just then Drew realized how completely and utterly blessed he was. Sure, his leg was bleeding, and, sure, he was about to faint from the pain, but this was truly the best thing to ever happen to him.
            Greg spun around and looked at Drew, not concerned by a minor gunshot wound. “What happened?”
            Drew choked out, “I quit.”
            Greg blinked, dumbfounded. “You what?”
            Drew smiled slightly and got his voice back. “I quit. I’m going to college.” He felt dizziness consume him, and the room swirled to the black of unconsciousness as he added, “Thanks for the tuition money, Greg. I’ll see you in court.”

Rebecca Rhodes is an author from Baltimore, Maryland, where she grew up as an only child with way more pets than family members. She loves writing, and as a graduate of the Carver Center literary arts program, she writes in every genre imaginable, from poetry to sci-fi novels, but humor stories are her favorite. She is nineteen years old and attends college in California, where she is majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in film. She loves bad movies, stale memes, and collecting weird home decor. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling through Southern California, finding creative ways to cook popcorn, coaching softball, and spending time alone with her three cats.