ALL SALES FINAL!
Strolling in three minutes late I saw the whole store in one glance. It was bare empty; we might as well have been robbed. Only a few aisles still had any food on them, and all the checkout lanes were closed, save one. Not a single customer in sight, but that wasn’t a surprise, most of the remaining merchandise consisted of unused scotch tape and folded cardboard boxes.
I followed the back hallway to Pat’s office. It always made me think of what a prison warden’s office must look like, what with the lack of windows, concrete walls, and soul-sucking vibe.
He looked the part sitting in his desk, his Mom and Pop Grocer t-shirt screaming to be ripped apart and set free, the veins on his forehead hitting new heights.
“Hey, take a seat—do you know where Gabe and Trisha are?” he asked. I strained to keep my eyes from rolling as I responded. Even Pat knew as well as anyone that you couldn’t keep tabs on those two. Many had tried, all had failed.
“Yeah, they went to pick up the carts outside,” I said. I couldn’t stand looking at him anymore, and followed his own gaze around the room, to the stacks of manila folders that were now useless, to the dollies likely to be donated to that second-hand joint across the street.
“That’s good—you doing ok?” he asked. I shrugged my shoulders.
“This is only part-time. I still have my full-time gig at the mill,” I said. Working forty-eight hours a week shoving detergent packets into bottles wasn’t my idea of a dream job, (it also took rubbing alcohol to kill the smell when I got home every night), but it was something.
“That’s good.” Pat’s gaze was becoming as glazed as the expired doughnuts he usually kept under his desk. When he stood up, he was swaying a bit.
“Yeah, actually I just got a call from the Fairhaven branch. Gabe doesn’t know, but they only have another month, tops.” He walked over to the small safe in the corner of the room. There were a number of games that were played at this safe’s expense, but the longstanding joke was that Pat kept body parts of former employees in there.
“Damn, Pat, that sucks,” I said. “Why are you telling me?”
Pat pulled something out of the safe. It was a small stack of papers that read LIQUIDATION on the cover page.
“Because, I want to give you one last assignment. Ray from Iowa has been coming down on me, and strong, about critical evaluations, manager relocation, the branches left. Plus Brenda keeps hounding me about the move, and I don’t know if it’s gonna happen. Please, can you do me this one favor? Just please tell Gabe.” I nodded quickly, like any other reaction would make him snap. He took a deep breath, and then came the drink—except it was Alka Seltzer in a Dixie Cup. He downed it like a shot anyway.
“The American dream is dead,” he said, still staring at the papers, and I expected mournful violins or something to kill the tension, hidden cameras maybe, but nothing did. I took my cue to vacate, treating Pat like what he just said was something profound.
There was laughter from aisle eight, the toiletries aisle. I followed it and saw Gabe and Trisha, throwing damaged packs of toilet paper at each other.
“Hey man! You made it!” Gabe was everything I wasn’t; tall, a natural build, had a bright future, and seemed content 24-7. I’d tried several times to catch him being down, but the bastard always smiled too. It could get annoying.
“Yeah, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing Clint again,” I said. Clint, a high school kid who’d manned register number one, had thrown his final temper tantrum outside the entrance, using his pack of shopping carts as a bowling ball to the stray carts in the lot.
“Oh, well—another one bites the dust!” Gabe said, and ran down the aisle, skating on the dirty tile in his sneakers till he was out of sight. I began to give chase at wherever he was going, tell him the news alone if I could, but was tired after only a few striding steps. Whatever, I had time.
I made my way over to Trisha, a quasi-goth girl with a huge love of makeup and a hatred of all things small, be it fashion trends, clothes, money spent, or her guys. Her head was in her smart phone, watching a video.
“What’s with him today?” I asked.
“Not really sure, you think he hated working here or something,” she said, and started to lead me to the warehouse. Thing about Trisha was that she got off on ordering us all around, which I guess Gabe kinda dug, but I sure as hell didn’t. Still, whatever she had in mind beat talking to Pat, and what’s one more shift? I was counting the hours.
What was left of the warehouse was a large slab of concrete and freezer-like temperatures, to keep the remaining deli meat cold enough to avoid a lawsuit. Back here was the rejected stuff from the floor: coat hangers, electrical tape, and my favorite, the shrink-wrapping machine. I bought one of those myself for five bucks, not sure why.
“Pat said we gotta sweep all this crap up and fill a few garbage bags. If there’s a customer, that’s of course a priority, but he doubts there’ll even be one,” Trisha said. Like she was corporate, she took off without showing any effort to help. I wondered, as she made herself scarce, what kind of effect my news would have on her.
It took a lot to get Gabe heated up…I mean, a LOT. The one time he even came close was when our middle-school age bag boy Ralph had swiped a handful of twenties from a free register and tore off home. Gabe was stunned for a second, but soaked it all in, then laughed as he called the cops. Cool as ice.
Come to think of it, it’d be impossible for him not to think the news was a big joke; Pat was known for his ‘gotcha!’ moments, always had been. That’s why it took a moment to believe he was serious enough to make me do it. The longer I let my ‘assignment’ linger, the harder it seemed. Telling Gabe was one thing; getting him to even believe me, though?
I just hoped it wouldn’t interfere with our post-job hang.
All of us were planning to go out to Moriarity’s after we shut the place down for the last time, get our drinks half off, and celebrate, kind of like a wake. We usually went there on occasions, like Trent taking off, our old manager, who earned a unanimous vote of hatred from everyone. I’d had three White Russians too many and forgot most of the night. We even invited Pat, who definitely could use a hard one, though under the circumstances I was fine with tossing a little more Alka Seltzer his way and calling it good.
I glanced out at the main floor upon leaving the warehouse, and wasn’t surprised that no one had arrived in the meantime.
There was a loud whoosh all of a sudden at my side. My elbow was yanked hard enough to dislocate it and I looked into the glowing face of Trisha, content as a honeymooner.
“Hey, you gotta see this!” she said.
“Easy there,” I said. “What is it now? We only have an hour left; should start cleaning up so we can get outta here.” Trisha laughed.
“You sound like Gabe,” she said.
“Rubs off, I guess. Where is he?” Giddy as a schoolgirl, she practically ran to the surveillance room, which always made me think of something you’d see in a back lot studio. It was always dark in there, with four small screens, each connected to an obvious, old fashioned camera in each corner of the building; one near the safe, another at the break room, and for some reason, Pat’s office. Gabe, sitting at the controls, was interested in that last screen, giving the impression he was watching the cliffhanger of a serial drama.
I didn’t care that Trisha was here, with an hour to go, it was now or never.
“Hey man, I gotta tell you…” I began, but Gabe waved his hand like a conductor and for some reason I obeyed. Relief on the delay of the inevitable, I guess. Probably it was what we all watched; Pat sat at his desk, signing away the store. Gabe, who knew him best, told me he’d been here nine years, but only a manager for three. As soon as he finished the last signature he slowly buried his head in his arms, looking to take a nap.
“Does he know that we’re even watching him?” I asked, but Trisha and Gabe were too far under hypnosis to answer.
Even without the audio, it was impossible to not watch his dome bobbing rhythmically in the nest of his arms on the desk.
“Turn it off, we shouldn’t watch this,” Gabe said to Trisha, who in turn started fumbling with some of the levers, as if she’d get lucky. Before I could object to the logic of this move, she moved the camera.
Pat’s body shifted immediately to the right, and his head slowly rose.
“No way, he can’t hear us!” I said. Trisha nodded, then sighed as Pat resumed his position. When she hit the same lever to push it back, the camera remained frozen off center, capturing a large chunk of wall in Pat’s office with precision. Gabe leaned in to the board.
“This was your idiotic idea!” Trisha said.
“I know, just a sec,” he said and hit another switch, which set off an alarm I didn’t realize we had. Every speaker in the vicinity roared to life, knocking us all out of the hazy vibe in the room. Gabe grabbed the lever back and killed the noise, but we all knew it was too late.
We saw Pat pick up a few papers, the ones marked LIQUIDATION, and rip them apart, then, like out of a horror movie, turned up to us at the monitor, staring straight at the camera. His eyes freaked me out a bit; only in the comics did I see any so bloodshot. It was easy to tell he was yelling our names. Then he pulled the plug.
“MOVE!” yelled Gabe, and we ran for it back on the floor. It didn’t take long to pretend to be busy with inventory—we’d had plenty of practice.
Pat’s footsteps filled the slience, moving out of the office and straight to the front door, and I thought of Clint’s episode a few hours ago.
“Hey, Pat!” I yelled. “We’re sorry, man, we’ll get the carts!”
Trisha held me back from going to Pat, and we stood behind the glass wall like it was a buffer for a battle zone.
Pat walked out in a daze; his body language suggested that he should be in some kind of angry tirade, all hygiene thrown out the window, but he calmly walked through the awning, around the cart pile, and to his Subaru. He never looked back. The three of us remained where we were, our hands pressed on the glass, not quite believing it. Trisha spoke up first.
“Maybe he’s getting some grub for us,” she said, and as if to respond, the Subaru dovetailed around the entrance to the nearby drive-thru and proceeded in the opposite direction.
“Ok, tacos or something? He did say he had to fill up on gas.” She walked over to the remaining register.
“Something seemed weird about that, though. I’m calling him,” Gabe said, and flipped out his old cell.
I didn’t have much to add. Breaking the news to Gabe was filling up most of my head, and only thirty minutes to go…then twenty. Numerous scenarios filled my head, an infinite number of ways to tell him, only a few to make him believe it. I found that I still couldn’t do it. My heart surprised me by beating a little faster as the last ten minutes dragged on. I came near talking to him a few times, but the whole time he was either on his cell or chatting with Trisha.
Right at nine Gabe locked the door and managed to put on the prehistoric deadbolt one-handed. He’d said he’d hit Pat’s voicemail every time he’d called.
“Gabe, just cut it out already. Pat’s gonna be here tomorrow anyways,” Trisha said. She filled out the day’s income, which looked like a whopping five bucks, put it in the safe bag, and strolled over to Pat’s office.
She had a point, why not have Pat give the news himself? I was done here. The automatic lights were blinking; we had only five minutes to get out of the building, another rule created by the mighty liquidator.
Ok, then. Five minutes.
This was my best shot, as Gabe began to kick the years-ago broken ATM machine near the front door. Every time we closed shop I’d seen this ritual in action, as he claimed one of these times he’d hit the jackpot and everything would spill out. He kicked it harder than usual.
“Hey Gabe,” I said, a lot quieter than I planned to. “You got a sec? Something Pat needed me to tell ya.” He didn’t even pretend to hear me, just kept on kicking. Being from the warehouse, I was required to wear steel-toed boots and probably would’ve broken it with a single try, but Gabe’s sneakers were probably going to make his toes bleed any second, the way he was going at it.
I didn’t know what else to say or do. Trisha came to where he continued the show, but he batted her away and just kept on. His intensity was making me feel like I was back in my meeting with Pat.
“Umm, I’ll see you guys at Moriarity’s,” I said, pocketed my check, and got out of there. I think Trisha nodded in agreement, but I wasn’t totally sure. She stood in fascination of Gabe, waiting for it to be over.
The pile of carts had finally broken, and now each one of them had claimed their own piece of the lot. I kicked one away as I got in my car and went down the back lot to Moriarity’s. I still wasn’t sure I was going to tell Gabe the news. He did say he’d be here tomorrow to meet up with Pat and the powers that be. Maybe it’d be best to leave it alone, or at least with a White Russian at my side.
The burned out aura of Moriarty’s as I entered was inviting, but not as much as a fresh plate of some steaming nacho order. I think I smelled some steak in there.
Our usual booth in near the entrance was taken, so I just grabbed the one next to it. It always feels a little weird to be the first one and wait around for everyone, but I figured Gabe and Trisha wouldn’t be long. Margie, our usual waitress, took my White Russian order, and I began to sip all the memories of the day away before checking my watch. Another ten minutes had come and gone. Where was everyone?
My neck had begun to hurt from craning my head to checking the door. Finally I recognized Trisha strolling in, her serious look taken to a new level. She didn’t even bother Margie with the small talk, just plopped down in the booth.
“Gabe’s not coming,” she said. “He went to Pat’s house, find out what’s going on. He said he might join us later, but we should get started. I see you didn’t need me to tell you that.”
I nearly choked in surprise.
“Damn it!” I said. “Did he give a time he was gonna get here?” Trisha already had a menu covering most of her face, but her ponytail swung back and forth in a solid no. Before my brain could even register it, I had my phone out and was punching Gabe’s number, moving out of my seat and Trisha’s earshot. I didn’t expect him to answer in record time, but he did.
“Make it quick,” he said, sounding deadly serious.
“Ok. Fairhaven’s closing next month,” I said. I’d like to pretend that I was so sloshed I couldn’t remember any of this, but subtlety is a lost art form.
Gabe didn’t answer, he simply hung up. Uh-oh. I slumped back to my seat, aware of how awkward things could get here if Gabe so much as texted Trisha.
“Check!” I motioned to Margie, and she nodded from her spot near the kitchen, checking the score as she always did.
“What’s your hurry? It was your idea to come here in the first place,” Trisha said, folding up her menu.
“I know, but I need to see Gabe,” I said. “And you gotta drive.”
My stomach was groaning loud enough to talk for me, but Trish was a purveror of pop, and had Lady Gaga blasting over every other sound within ten feet. The little episode with the ATM was Gabe’s saving grace, I guess; this wasn’t right. I didn’t want to see my co-worker go off the deep end after three years of stability.
“Maybe I should have drove,” was what I managed to get out for conversation to Trish. She ignored me.
I’d never been to Pat’s, but most everyone else had, even Clint. Pat lived in one of the small suburban alcoves outside town, and had himself the smallest house on the street, by far. As Trish parked across the street, I noticed the driveway was empty.
We both hopped out of the car at once, and she proved far better at this than I, as she hadn’t even ordered any booze before we left. Gabe was sitting on the hood of his own car in front of us, flicking his lighter in a menacing way. It seemed menacing to me, anyways, he had a look of crazy I’d never seen before. He brought the lighter up to his face and took a long drag from his cigarette.
“Honey, did you find Pat?” Trish asked. Gabe nodded in a methodical way, like he was miming a scene for charades.
“Yeah, he went after Brenda. She drove to her sister’s place a few miles east. I watched the whole thing go down, wasn’t pretty. Thought he might get back soon.” Gabe took another drag, and any other time Trisha and I both would have laughed as he coughed up a storm with each breath. But this was too weird, too heavy.
“Pat said you could never follow through, and crap like that’s why we went under,” Gabe said, and though I’d never taken Trisha’s side before, that seemed a little harsh. I looked on at the two of them staring in my direction and realized with a jump he was talking about me.
“Every little time you were screwing around, playing with the shrink-wrapping machine, hitting on Beth in produce, all that shit!” Gabe said. I felt my forehead turn up a few degrees.
“That’s BS,” I replied at once. “He couldn’t tell you it himself. It wasn’t any one person, it was none of us.”
“It was all of us!” Gabe replied, and though that didn’t make any sense to me, I had my next line on deck, ready to go.
“Really? How are we shut down when Fairhaven’s numbers suck? We beat ‘em every year! You know you were getting demoted anyways!” Might have been too much, but it was true. Manager or not, month or not, Fairhaven was far from a lateral move.
Gabe let that be the end of it; he slid off the hood and walked away, probably without a clue where he was going, just away from me, I guess. I noticed as he walked that he’d developed a slight limp.
Trisha jogged over to Gabe and joined him. Of course, this left me without a ride, so looking back, maybe I should have run over and beaten the damn keys out of him, but there wasn’t anything left to say or do. I dialed up a cab instead, took over an hour.
That’s about it, really. I tried calling Gabe’s cell over the next few weeks to hook him up with something at the mill, but his number was disconnected. Everyone’s had. Every tie had been severed, every connection to my employ over the last two years erased. I was more upset about losing contact with Beth, she of the produce section, but I heard she hooked up with Clint anyways.
I drove on the far side of town a few months later to get some burgers from Moriaritys, and had to wait ten minutes for my order. I glanced over at the old booth we usually stayed at, an elderly couple occupying it, reading their menus. Margie winked at me, like she always did, as she walked by. How many times had we come here? Like, seven? I’d remembered meeting Beth here, and slamming on Trent, and Trisha stuffing toilet paper up Gabe’s pants, and…damn, that all happened on the same night. We’d only hung here once.
I pulled over to the old building after I grabbed my food. It looked as if ten years had gone by; the rust over the paint job had formed its own ecosystem, the level of loose garbage around rivaled the city dump. I really needed to satisfy my curiosity, though, and peek inside.
A thick layer of dust that had hardened from the autumn weather formed a thin film over the glass. The sunlight shone through it well enough to spotlight the old ATM. I could barely make out a splotched dent on the front with the imprint of Gabe’s sneaker. I leaned in harder, as if that would help, looking to see if there were any bills that fell out of the small hole that he had created, but there weren’t any.
After graduating from Hope College in Holland, MI with a BA in English, Sean Gallagher has been living in Mesa, AZ as a working writer.
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