Episode 26 – Night Shift

We’re about to close when the doorbell rings…four street guys come waltzing in. It’s obvious they’re not looking to buy, just swaggering around marking their turf or something. They wander through touching stuff, making comments and laughing…like it’s all bullshit.

Know I’m asking for trouble, but I walk up to them…ask if they need help. They study my clothes. “What the fuck are you supposed to be?” One asks.

I shrug. “I’m not supposed to be anything. These are clothes we sell.”

The guy shakes his head. “Then you not gonna do much business!” They all snicker.

Same guy picks up a leather cuff and examines it. “How much is this shit?”

We stare at each other. Guess I look like a fish out of water. They’re tough-looking guys…variations on a theme…saggy pants, tank tops, hats sideways, high tops…probably as young as me, but one’s got a mustache.

“Thirty-five,” I tell him.

He laughs. “Thirty-five cent?”

“No, dollars. You interested?”

“No fucking way. You think I’m that rich?”

I shrug. “Who knows? I’d give you a break if you want it.”

Guy nods. Drops the cuff. Seems surprised I’m not cringing in fear. “What choo doing around here, man. You not from here, right?”

“Downtown. Dropped out of school…gotta support myself.”

They nod. Stand uncomfortably…not sure what to do next.

“Wait a second,” I tell them. Get cards from the counter.

“Everything okay?” Pearl asks.

“Yeah, fine.” I walk back…hand them out. “If you’re interested in anything, let me know. I’ll treat you fair.” Introduce myself and they do the same: Jonathan, Todd and Ahmed.

They examine the cards. Todd says, “okay, cool.” Shakes my hand, and they head out.

I’m relieved. Damn glad it wasn’t a robbery!

“You handled that well,” Pearl says. “I’m not sure I would’ve put up with them.”

“I figured it’d be worse if I acted weird.” Don’t tell her I was pissing in my pants.

Pearl pulls out a set of keys. “Time to close. Can you be here same time tomorrow?”

“Definitely.”

“I’m impressed. You did an excellent job.”

I can’t help grinning. Wish my father could hear.

Pearl turns off the lights and locks up. She’s about to head off, then turns to me. “Where you spending the night?”

I’m thinking: good question. “Dunno…I’ll check around.”

Her eyes widen. “You have no place to go?”

“No worries. I’ll make some calls.”

“Hunter it’s 10:15, You can’t wander around all night.”

“No sweat. I feel like jogging anyway.”

“This late? You’re crazy!”

I chuckle. “I guess you could say that.” I look around. It’s still pretty busy on the street. Shopkeepers bullshitting in doorways… customers checking stuff out. Shouldn’t be too dangerous.

“I’d invite you to my place, but my boyfriend’s there.”

“No problem. I’ll be fine.” Start to head out. Figure I’ll end up in the park.

“Hunter, wait a second. My mother and little sister have room. I’ll call them.”

I shrug. “Don’t go to any trouble,” secretly delighted by the thought of a soft bed.

She makes the call…has a lively conversation. ‘Listen,” Pearl says to her mom, “I’ve got a young employee who needs a bed for the night…very nice and polite. Can I send him over?”

They’re obviously caught off guard. “Not that old…sixteen. He’s an orphan.”

After some back and forth, she gives me thumbs up…jots down directions…only ten blocks. Sounds perfect, but I don’t have enough money for a gift, toothbrush, or even running shorts. “Pearl,” I say, “I know this sounds presumptuous, but could I have an advance? I need to buy a couple of essentials.”

“Sure,” she says. “You’re worth it.” Hands me sixty bucks.

I’m shocked. Look down at the bills. “I don’t need that much. Twenty’s fine.”

She laughs. “No worries. Your sales more than make up for it.”

I’m confused. “What do you mean?”

“The tourists’ purchases get credited to you. You did well.”

“That wasn’t all me. I don’t know squat about the inventory.”

“Hunter, a lot was due to you. Take the money, please.”

I pocket the money, feeling rich. Realize I’m still in my store outfit. “What should I do with these?”

“Wear them tomorrow. You’ve only had them a few hours. Listen, I’ve gotta go. I’m very pleased. You’re just what I was hoping for!”

Can’t believe it. I’ve got a perfect job and the owner likes me. “I don’t deserve this,” I tell her. “Maybe I’ll screw up tomorrow.”

“I’m not worried,” she says walking off. “just keep doing what you’re doing.”

To be continued….Read next episode!