2 AM Problems
The moon was high as Shirley shoved open the battered door of the gas station.
“Hi, Shirl,” said the reclining youth behind the counter.
“Hey hey Eugene,” Shirley answered. “So when are you going to set this place on fire?”
“Soon,” Eugene kept up his apathetic expression and turned another page in his dubious magazine. “I’ll save all the popsicles for you, though.”
“That’s my guy,” Shirley rounded an aisle of jalapeno chips and sunflower seeds to face the coolers. Knee-deep in the cold breath, she stood for a moment. She wasn’t even born the last time soda was available here, or in a malt shop, or in the grocery store. There wasn’t a thing in the world like a cold Dandy Jack over whisky. People would do anything for it.
“Do the malt shop hop with me,” crooned Ready Eddy over the radio. “You’re the one, darling, can’t you see.”
Shirley reached for the cooler full of Big Wheels, drumsticks, and popsicles to rake in armfuls of the salted lime flavor. A conversation drifted out of the frosty depths, but Shirley paid it no mind until she heard her own name. She crouched down and propped the door open with her shoulder. Her armful of popsicles poked her coldly in the chest and neck. As far as she could tell, two men were talking in angry tones.
“I’m done with her,” said one of them. “I want to cut out.”
“Cut out and do what, exactly?” demanded the second. “She’s not going to send us away with well wishes and remind us to send her post cards.”
“We’re the stars alive, you and I,” Ready Eddy continued. Shirley scowled. Charlie and Lawrence. Those titanic jerks, she thought to herself, squeezing the popsicles closer.
“She’s been too careless,” Charlie went on. “Remember the caffeine shipment from China? A disaster.” That wasn’t her fault. Not entirely.
“An operation like this doesn’t always go smoothly,” Lawrence told him. “There are so many variables at any given time.” Shirley resolved not to break all of Lawrence’s fingers.
“With her, there are way too many variables, big dude, and you know it,” Charlie said. “The risk is bigger than the gain and I want out,” there came the sound of a smack. “Don’t hit me, you shithead.”
“You can’t. We’re in this too deep.” Shirley eased out from between the door and the cooler and shut it quietly. She stood, the lime popsicles likely already plastic pockets of salty slush. Spots danced in her vision and her blood thundered in her ears. Jaw set tightly, she returned to the counter and let Eugene ring up the popsicles. She stared at a display of sunglasses, imagining swinging a hammer at Charlie until he cried. Or punching some of his teeth out.
“Um, Shirl,” said Eugene.
“Sorry, big dude, I was just thinking about my projects,” Shirley passed him some cash. She leaned against the counter with her armload of popsicles.
“So what job do you have that gives you projects all the time?”
Shirley unwrapped a popsicle. Still good. Salty. Like Charlie’s tears would be. “I’m an artist,” she answered. In no hurry to leave yet, she wondered why in the world Charlie and Lawrence were in the freezers of the Starstop gas station. Ready Eddy’s hit single faded out and another song took its place.
She gnawed on the popsicle stick, looking at the youth from the corner of her smoke-shadowed eye. “So, Eugene, do you like soda?”