Short Story – Retail Robbery

“Thank you, have a good night.”

The cashier closed his till. Thomas watched from around the corner of the snack aisle. He caught a glimpse of several twenty dollar bills. It might not be worth the risk unless the cashier was hiding a few bigger bills underneath the stack.

The doorbell rang as another customer entered, but that was fine. Thomas intended to stay until the very last second. If all went well, he’d be the last person inside. No other witnesses, no collateral damage.

He pretended to browse the fridges with pop and energy drinks. The weight of the revolver inside his sweater pocket felt increasingly heavier as time went on. Thomas was getting nervous, although this wasn’t his first time.

“We’re closing in two minutes, guys.”

The other customer walked up to the till with a pre-made sandwich and a coffee. Thomas slowly made his way to the register as well, keeping a firm grip around the concealed weapon.

“Thank you, have a good night.”

The doorbell rang a final time as the customer left the store. Only Thomas and the cashier remained. The air got thicker. Thomas’ throat tightened. He was standing right in front of the smiling employee. He was ready.

“What can I get for you?”

Thomas indicated with a nod for the cashier to look down. He pulled out his revolver half-way to show that he was armed. Strangely, the cashier didn’t seem fazed by this.

“Sir? I have to close in a minute, you have to decide now.”

Maybe he didn’t see the gun, Thomas thought. He preferred the quiet approach. Show the gun and get the money. There are fewer risks involved, like accidentally pulling the trigger and splashing someone’s brains all over your sweater. No, he’d rather not aim at a nervous dude where any twitch could cause him to fire. But it seemed that this time Thomas had to take this less subtle route. He pulled out the gun, still not pointing at the cashier, but revealing it out in the open. That should get his attention, he thought.

“Sir?”

“You might wanna open the register and give me all the bills. Keep the change for yourself. Do it quick and quiet, and we won’t have a problem.”

“Sorry, we don’t do cashback.”

“You…what? I don’t want no cashback, I want all of the money in your till. Now.”

Thomas tried to appear calm. The cashier didn’t seem to understand the situation. Sometimes people froze in fear, but they were all aware of what was going on. They were trained for these situations. Trained to comply. Technically, there was no real robbery here. The companies willingly gave all their money to anyone who asked, no purchase necessary. No one was losing their jobs over it, either. Big companies made that lost money back with insurance or tax fraud.

So the rich stayed rich, the employed were traumatized but still employed, and Thomas got a down-payment for his next kick. No harm done, really. However, this time he had to spell it out for the clerk.

“This is a robbery, man.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot here”, the cashier said laughing. “People keep complaining about our prices, but you know, you pay for convenience. So what is it that I can help you with? I really need to be closing now.”

Thomas was baffled. He looked around, irritated that he wasn’t out of the store yet with cash in hand. Robbing these stores off of their free money wasn’t a crime until the cops get you. But no one else entered while they were talking. There was still time to get it done, he just had to hurry. Thomas lifted his arm and with it the weight of his conscience.

“Give me all your money or I will paint the walls with your blood!”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Sir.”

“Yes, you can, because there’s a gun pointed at your face. Open the till and give me the money!”

“I can’t open the till unless you make a purchase.”

“You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

“I’m certainly not, Sir. It won’t let me do it unless I ring something up.”

Thomas grabbed a chocolate bar that was within reach and slammed it on the till.

“Then ring this up, for god’s sake.”

“There’s a buy two for three dollars special for this one.”

“Goddammit!” Thomas reached for another one but hesitated. “Is there mix and match?”

“Sure is.”

He grabbed the peanut butter bar instead.

“And is that everything for you today?”

“That and all the cash in your register. Keep the change.”

The cashier scanned the second candy bar and looked confused at the screen of his computer.

“What’s the hold up?” Thomas asked impatiently.

“This one doesn’t scan. Hold on, I have to manually find it in the system.”

“Didn’t you say it was two for three bucks? Just type in three bucks, dammit.”

“It doesn’t work that way. Have you never worked in retail before?”

“Do I fucking look”, Thomas stabbed the air in front of the cashier with his revolver, punctuating each curse word, “like I fucking work in retail?”

Thomas was about to lose his composure, but caught himself and pointed the gun downward again. This was definitely not going as planned. Shooting the cashier wouldn’t do him any good. Most registers require an employee password to access the money, and without the cashier, Thomas can’t get to it. Besides, having a murder charge just to get a couple hundred bucks wasn’t a fair trade off.

“So, what’s the fucking problem? We need to get this thing going.”

“Well, the way this usually goes is that I scan the item code, not a random price tag. Meaning I’ll have to get the proper item to get the two for three deal going. It will just take a second, hang on”, he typed something in his computer and touched the screen a couple times, then continued “and there we go. Gotta keep the inventory in order, you know?”

“I don’t give a shit, now open the till.”

“Sure. How are you paying today?”

“Fucking what now?”

“Cash or Card?”

“Listen, buddy-“

“It’s Ben”, he pointed at his nametag.

“Fine. I’m not paying for nothing, Ben. Open the till and give me your money. How is this so difficult to get?”

The cashier, Ben, sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He took a second then leaned on the counter as if he was about to deliver some bad news to a patients’ parent.

“You don’t shop around much, do you?” Ben asked.

“The fuck are you on about?”

“I don’t know if this is a new concept for you, Sir, but when I said the till won’t open until I ring something in, I meant that I’ll have to perform all the steps of the purchase before it opens up. That includes payment, or else it won’t work.”

“You’re fucking with me!”

“I’d rather not.”

“Fine, put that shit on debit.”

“Thank you. That will be three forty-five on debit.”

“Hold on, you said it was gonna be only three bucks.”

“Yes, but taxes aren’t included in that deal.”

“Fucking taxes”, he fumbled in his pants and got his debit card out. “You got tap?”

Ben pointed at a sign directly next to the debit machine saying “sorry, no tap”.

“Don’t fucking roll your eyes on me, I didn’t see that.”

Thomas slid his debit card into the machine and followed the instructions. After he punched in his PIN he had to wait for a few seconds until the purchase was approved.

“Alright, Sir, it went through. Would you like a copy of your receipt?”

“No, just all the money in your till. Fast.”

“Oh, sorry, I thought I said we don’t do cashback.”

“Dude”, Thomas cocked the hammer of his gun, “don’t fucking push me.”

“The till won’t open for debit transactions. You should have paid cash so I could give you change.”

“Buddy, if I-“

“It’s Ben.”

Thomas closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He should have ran out earlier. There was no shame in giving up. But it was too late to hit a different store. Nothing else was open in the neighbourhood. No, he was too close. There was still time.

“Right…Ben. If I’m going to lose my mind in here”, he let the revolver’s muzzle touch Ben’s forehead, “you’ll lose yours, too.”

“I have an idea”, said the cashier, still unfazed by the menace in front of him. “I could scan the items as a return, and give you your money back in cash. That will open the till.”

“There you go, Ben. Do it.”

He scanned the two chocolate bars. Then realized that it didn’t work for the peanut butter bar earlier. Again, Ben typed something in his computer and touched the screen a few times to find the item in his inventory.

“This better work, Ben. I’m getting real frustrated here.”

“Sorry about that. Here we go, three forty-five as a return. Just gotta choose cash for return method, and-“

The cash register slid out with a ding. Finally, Thomas would get what he came for. It was a miracle that he hadn’t been discovered by some pedestrian or patrolling security guard outside.

Ben pulled out an envelope from a sliding shelf and crammed all the dollar bills inside. It looked like a few hundred bucks; not much, but it would get Thomas through a week with food and a few beers. The cashier then took the receipt and circled something before pushing the paper into the envelope as well.

“There’s a survey on the back of the receipt. Tell us how we did and you’ll have a chance of winning a fifty dollar gift card”, he said as he handed over the envelope.

“I’ll make sure to mention you, Ben.”

Ben followed Thomas to the door and locked it behind him.

Ben turned off half of the lights in the store. He took off his work shirt and walked into the back room. The gun holster gripped tight against his chest, but luckily the store uniform was so baggy that none of the customers had noticed. He threw the shirt next to a young man sitting on the floor, chained up against a pillar. Ben kneeled down and removed the young man’s gag.

“Store’s closed now, sorry to keep you waiting so long”, he said as he pulled out his gun and checked that the safety was still turned off. “Fucking last minute customer’s, am I right?”

He caressed the young man’s cheek with his semi-automatic pistol. The muzzle smelled like ash and fire; it stopped a tear on its way down. The chained up employee whimpered quietly as he still felt the heat of the weapon.

“I know you have a couple thousands in your safe here. Now be so kind and tell me the code”, he paused, looked behind the young man, and smiled, “or do you want to end up like your friend Ben?”

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