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How May I Help You?

Service with a smile? In the Gutter, that's just another day at the office. Where every cup of coffee comes with a Killer Smile.

Take a number. Get in line. Who says customer service is dead?

How May I Help You? by Todd Morr




“How may I help you?”

She sounded like she meant it, and her brown eyes appeared to be sincere even though they seemed a little dull, perhaps that was because her nametag did not have doctor in front of the name and her smock was covered in the logo of a convenience store chain. Either way I had to ask; unlike the average asshole walking through those glass doors I really needed it.

“Do you mean that?” I said.
                 
“Mean what?”

I began to think my assessment of her intelligence was not based on preconceived notions about clerks working the morning shift.

“That you want to help me,” I said.

“Of course, that’s what I’m here for. Tell me what you need.”

I paused; her face told me she thought I was about to ask for something obscene. My reaching for the edge of my jacket did not help. For the sake of speed it was better to show first, then tell; time was one of the many things I did not have this morning.

The look on her face confirmed the hole in my shoulder had gotten worse. I did not have to look; with every step I could feel it widen. I swear I could hear it tear like someone ripping a T-shirt in two. The blood seemed to have slowed from a gush to a trickle. This was not good news, since it likely had more to do with my blood running out as opposed to my wound healing.

“What happened? That is a lot of blood.”

“Some asshole shot me.”

“Why?”

“Because maybe I’m an asshole too.”

“I don’t know how I can help you with that.”

“You probably can’t; that is not what I want help with anyway.”

“I could call an ambulance.”

“I could do that myself. I need a place to hide.”

“I think you need the ambulance more.”

“As long as the gun that shot me has more bullets I need to hide first.”

She bit her lip. I wanted to tell her to hurry but held my tongue. She pointed to the opposite corner of the little store. I looked back and did not see anything but neat rows of alcoholic beverages in aluminum cans behind a glass door.

“The cooler, it loads from the back. The door is back there in the corner,” she told me, and this time I saw it.

“Thank you,” I said as I headed for the door. After she pointed it out the door seemed to flash like a beacon. I was not moving very fast; losing all that blood had made me weak and the adrenalin burst spawned by being shot at seemed to have gone dry. I tried to remind whatever part of my body that produced the adrenalin we were still in danger, but like just about everybody, except maybe a dim clerk, it was not listening to me today.

I still made it, closing the door behind me as I heard the chime. The same chime that rang when I decided to seek sanctuary in this glorified liquor store. My teeth started to chatter and my body shook. I told myself this was because I was hiding in a refrigerator and had nothing to do with the .45 slug that had gone through my shoulder. For the second time today, I was not a very convincing liar.

McGreezy had a big voice that sounded like somewhere in his rolls of hard fat was a quality old school reverb tank. I could hear it clearly even behind this insulated door.

“How ya doing?” he asked the clerk.

“Fine. How about you?” she replied, any nervousness not apparent in her voice.

“I’ve been better,” McGreezy told her, and for just a moment I felt like I might have a life span beyond noon. He sounded tired and frustrated; I hoped it meant he’d come in just to buy a pack of smokes. Maybe he would pick up a bottle of something and work on tracking me down later.

“Do you know you’ve got blood on your floor?” McGreezy added.

“No.”

I couldn’t see him, but I was pretty sure he was pointing out my bright and sticky blood on the freshly mopped, white tile floor. I did not feel so hopeful anymore.

“How may I help you?” she asked.
 
“You really mean that?”

“Of course, that’s what I’m here for,” she replied sounding like she meant it.

It got real quiet for a moment, then the next thing I heard was McGreezy’s big, booming voice.

“Grab me a pack Winston’s,” he said. “Take your time, I’m going to grab something from the cooler.”

I risked a glance between the bottles of malt liquor, trying to convince myself he was just thirsty, and that there was another reason for him reaching into his jacket besides drawing the big blue revolver.

Upon graduating from Adams State College with a degree in fine art Todd Morr decided if he was going to be a starving artist, he preferred music and writing. He lives in Oceanside, California with his wife and children, where he plays and teaches guitar. He has a story in Out of the Gutter 8 and his first novel Captain Cooker, is out now from Snubnose Press. He can contacted, or followed on twitter @ToddMorr1.