My normal daily routine while running the gas station involved first loading hot dogs onto the roller grill, balancing the store cash, stocking the soda cooler, and then hanging out inside the cashier cubicle. The cashier cubicle was surrounded by glass and had a window that closed and a door that locked. After two years, I was used to the bad neighborhood. I did not require my cashier’s to lock the cage; they only did if they felt uncomfortable. Personally, I only locked myself in the cubicle when I was stuck working overnights because it was a pain to try and interact with customers through glass.
Always a people person.
I actually had enough payroll on that particular day to afford both myself and a cashier, which meant I was free to do other things. My mission of the morning was figuring out how to best set up my two beer displays so that they would take up the least amount of space. I had finished all of my normal tasks, and had no real grand plans for the rest of my day. It was nice to have a day off of the cash register.
A big guy came in, dressed in khakis and a creased blue shirt with a wrinkled collar. He had a blue plastic clipboard clutched in his armpit. “Hello,” he said, approaching me where I knelt beside one of my wheeled displays. “Are you the manager?”
“Yes,” I replied, “what can I do for you?”
“My name’s Ron. I work for the health department. I’m here to do your inspection.”
I frowned and asked for his badge. He produced it from his back pocket and held it out to me. Rubbing it between my fingers, it seemed legit if not quite old. It was laminated, but still a little wrinkled. I shrugged and handed it back. I had been through health inspections before. “What do you need from me?”
He wandered away towards the front windows without answering me at first. Leaning closer to one of my front windows, he gestured, “See this here window banner?”
“It’s way too big. You need to be able to have a clear view of the parking lot from the cashier area. This covers up everything; you can’t see in or out.”
“Okay…” I answered, confused. Why did the health inspector care about my windows?
He came back past me and headed towards the walk-in cooler. He pulled open the door and looked inside. “I’m not sure about this either.” He took a step in, and I held the door open behind him. “I think that these maybe not be stacked quite so high.”
Maybe? No, I was clearly violating height regulations, but I didn’t have a choice. The store was way too small.
Without going any further into the cooler, he turned around and went past me and out into the back room. “What do you have here by way of security systems?”
My spidey sense for weird had already been tingling, but the bells started going off full force at that moment. Health inspectors checked things like food preparation and storage. They didn’t ask about windows; they certainly didn’t ask about security systems. Something wasn’t right. “Uh, well,” I stammered.
“Can you show me?”
If I took him back towards where the computer was, I could slip into the cashier cage, shut the door, and press the holdup button. Whether he was a robber or not, the police would still come. They came whenever I called; I gave them free coffee and donuts whenever they stopped by so they were more than happy to help with whatever situations arose. “It’s this way,” I told him, heading in the opposite direction from where the security system was, towards the cash control computer and the cashier cage. My cashier was in the cage, waiting on a customer. “Give me just one second,” I said, holding up a finger and leaving Ron standing by the computer. I had just barely crossed the threshold of the cashier cage when I felt something pressing against my back.
“I need you to open the safe now.”
My cashier screamed and dropped to the floor, but the movement barely registered. Nothing did except for the hard object pressed against my back. Gun. I dropped down to my knees in front of the safe, which right under the cash register. I looked at my cashier, and she met my eyes, tears streaming down her face. She was barely eighteen years old. I looked back up at Ron. “I’ll open it if you let her go. She’s just a kid.”
He didn’t answer me, instead jabbing the gun into my back again.
“She’s scared. Please, just let her go. I’ll give you whatever you want.” I was scared too, but I was the manager. It was my job to get her out first, to get her away from the gun. I wished I had paid more attention in robbery training; you never really think that it will happen to you. It also occurred to me that if he let her go and she made it outside, chances were she would run into a bike patrol cop before too long and they would come back and save me. The holdup button was too far down the counter; I wouldn’t be able press it without him seeing what I was doing. The cashier was much closer.
“Open the safe, and then I’ll let her go.”
Step one of robbery training came back. Don’t negotiate. Give them whatever they want, and try to get them out as quickly as possible.
I fumbled with the safe, entering my combination once then twice then three times without no success. He put one hand on my shoulder and held the gun to my head with the other. “Open it. Now.”
My hands were shaking. I looked over at my cashier, and then at the holdup button. White and huge under the counter. It was right there. She looked at me, and then at the button. I nodded. After I entered my combination, successfully, and pulled the door open, Ron bent down and began pulling unused cash drawers out. My cashier lunged up into a squat and rammed her finger into the button.
The police sirens came into range no more than a minute later. He had been stuffing money into a bank bag, but when he heard them coming he struck me with the gun and then bolted. The money scattered everywhere as he ran.
My cashier and I sat on the floor, stunned. He was gone, but he hadn’t shot us. I didn’t cry, not until I got home that night.
He was never found.
We locked the cashier cage on every shift after that.