THE FASTEST GUN ON 441
By R.W. Haynes
OK, here’s the story.
The setting is a semi-rural 7-11 type store. There’s a kind of lean and hungry lookin, raggedy, kind of dirty character, walking through the parkin’ lot toward the door of the store. Looks like one of those homeless people. He’s carryin’ a piece of cardboard sign that says, written in crude letters with what looked like a pencil, written and rewritten and rewritten to make the letters larger and more visible. Crude lettering. Wasted lookin’ piece of cardboard. “THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER.”
Anyway, this guy crosses the parkin’ lot of the 7-11. Walks inside. Worried-lookin’ lady about 27, standin’ behind the counter, lookin’ like she had barely pulled herself together to get to work. Not quite squared away, not quite beautified and brushed and all that stuff. Anyway, the guy walks in…
So anyway, this guy’s got the sign. He walks in the store. He goes back in the back and buys himself a quart of Mad Dog 20-20 or Ripple or T-Bird or something similar. Comes up to the counter. Pays for it with some greasy dollar bills and a few coins he fishes out of his watch pocket. And he pays it off. And there’s nobody else in the store except him and the lady. Real quiet. Tranquil wouldn’t be the word, but maybe boring might be better. Dull. Anyway.
So he says to the lady… She says, “Thank you.”
He says, “You’re welcome.”
And he says, “How’s your day goin’ today?”
She says, “Well, I’ve had a lot better, but I reckon it will pass.”
“It will,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
And she said, “Well, my husband’s ‘bout to drive me crazy, and I don’t know what to do ‘bout it.” She said, “I think he’s goin’ back to drinkin,’ and I think he might be datin’ somebody else.”
And the fellow, he’s got his bottle of wine. He’s got a kind of a pouch hangin; on his shoulder, and he’s putting the wine in there, and he says, “Well, honey, I tell you what you do.”
And she says, “Well, any ideas you got will probably work better than everything I’ve tried.”
And he said, “That’s right.” He said, “That’s right. But you do what I tell you, and everything will be fine.”
And she said, “Sounds like it’s worth a try to me.” And he said, “It is.”
And she just looked at him, with this real skeptical look on her face, and a slightly crooked smile, slightly charmed by him, because he’s offerin’ her help, even if it’s not a very likely assistance. And he takes his cardboard sign, that’s got “THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER” written on it, and he lays it down on the counter.
“Give him this,” he says.
“What?” she said. “This?”
“Give him this,” he says. “And tell him I told him to behave himself.”
And the lady just laughs and laughs and laughs. And she says, “Well, if I do that, he’ll think I’m crazy.”
“That’s all right,” he said. “Just do what I told you.”
She said, “Are you serious?”
He said, “I never been more serious in my life.”
She said, “It won’t hurt to try, will it?”
He said, “No, it won’t hurt to try.”
Now at the same time there’s a guy pulled up in the parkin’ lot outside. He’s drivin’ a beat-up old 92 Impala, and he’s got it in his mind he’s gon rob this place. His name is Lonnie Cash. He’s one of these guys, a kind of workin’ guy poised somewhere between the agricultural form of labor and the more manual kind of construction labor, jobs where you work hard and you don’t get treated real well but jobs in which you can survive decently, most of the time, if you show up and do what you’re told. Lonnie Cash has himself had something of a drinkin’ problem over the years, but he’s kind gotten over that. He’s also had a few scrapes with injustice, I guess you could say, and he’s decided that nothin’ much matters any more. He wants a few bucks. He wants to get on down the road. The only way he can think of to meet his needs at the moment is by takin’ that old cheap Saturday night special he’s got in his pocket and putting it to work for him. He’s not afraid. He’s not a cruel man, but he has a kind of a…almost an animal practicality, and when he feels like he’s fightin for his life he’ll do what it takes to emerge victorious. And this is one of those points at which he’s very close to making a decision that will enable him to continue down the path which he doesn’t really understand but which he has been down many times before.
Now Lonnie decides to go ahead and take action, He makes sure his pistol is invisible. He looks through the glass and he sees this guy in there, homeless wino, it looks like, talkin to the lady behind the counter. And he decides he’s goin’ to go in about the time that guy comes out.
The homeless-lookin fellow smiles at the lady behind the counter, and, somewhat to his surprise, she extends her hand for a handshake, and they shake hands. And she has a somewhat dazed and amused expression on her face. But suddenly she looks much calmer than she has in a long time.
Lonnie meets the eyes of the homeless guy as he is entering the store, and he immediately has an extremely strange emotion. He has a feeling something extremely important is happening to him at that moment. He goes on in the store, and he walks back to the back, cuts his eye around to see if there’s anyone coming, and there’s nobody coming, and, as he walks up to the front desk, he thinks, “Well, I at least need to give the illusion that I’m about to make a purchase instead of robbing this lady,” and he reaches over to the candy rack and grabs a Baby Ruth candy bar. And as he goes up to the counter,he lays that on there, and the lady behind the counter says, “Will that be all?”
And he says, “I believe it will.”
And the lady behind the counter said, “Did you see that guy that just left?”
He said, “I sure did.
She said, “I never saw anybody like him in my life before.”
And Lonnie, much to his surprise, said, “I haven’t either.”
The lady behind the counter takes the dollar that Lonnie has handed to her, and this is the point at which Lonnie had expected he was goin to produce his piece-of-crap pistol and clean out the cash register. But, instead, he takes his change, and he says, “Thank you very much. Have a nice day.”
And the lady said, “You do the same.”
And Lonnie walked out the door. Never touches his pistol. Instead of goin’ to his car, he kind of walks a little bit dazedly around the edge of the store, and he sees a dumpster. He goes back to the dumpster, and the dumpster has a little gate on it, a sliding gate that has a little chain, and it’s locked so that it can’t be pulled open, however, there’s enough slack in the chain that it can be moved about three inches. Lonnie goes back to the dumpster, and he turns around and looks behind him. And he makes sure that nobody is watching. And he reaches in his pocket, and he takes out that old .38 that he’s got, and he opens the cylinder, and he takes all the bullets out, and then he throws the bullets in the dumpster. And then he looks at the cylinder of the gun, and he closes it with a click. And he takes that pistol, holds it up and smiles at it, and says “There aint no such thing as an unloaded gun.” Then he throws it in the dumpster and slams the gate shut.
About the Author:
R. W. Haynes is Professor of English at Texas A&M International University, where he teaches early British literature and Shakespeare. His recent publications include studies of playwright/screenwriter Horton Foote. In 2016, Haynes received the SCMLA Poetry prize at the Dallas conference of the South Central Modern Language Association. His book of poems titled Let the Whales Escape is forthcoming (2019) from Finishing Line Press. Recently published is Laredo Light: Fifty Poems by R. W. Haynes (Cyberwit 2019).