I glanced up when the bell announced my first customer. Christ on a cracker, it would have to be him—I just can’t catch a friggin’ break. I tried smiling, but it wasn’t going to happen—the miserable old bastard didn’t deserve the attempt. Still, the owner of the store pounded into my head that all customers were to be greeted regardless of their shitty dispositions.
“Good morning, Mr. Ellsworth.”
“Says who, girlie, you? Your blatherings are wasted on me, so just take my order. I want six ounces of Black Jack, six ounces of Trapper’s and half a dozen of them bear claws. They better be fresher than last week’s bunch. I won’t make the mistake of buying them later in the day. Never thought Mrs. Maitland would have the balls to put out day old crap and for the price! Just proves people will do anything to make a buck these days.”
He glared at me. I glared back.
“Is that all?”
“Of course, that’s all! Do you think I’m made of money? And don’t take all day about it either, girlie. Be careful while you’re at it. Never known a female to be so damn ham-fisted.”
It required endless buckets of self-control to refrain from bouncing the heavy steel tea scoop off the nasty old goat’s skull. By the grace of whatever god was the rage these days, I managed to harness my instinct to maim, and filled his order—like I did every friggin’ Friday these past months.
“Don’t think you can short me like you did last week, girlie. I bet you thought I hadn’t noticed, but I did. Not much gets by me. You damn kids aren’t as smart as you think you are.”
I sucked in my cheeks and counted to seven. Did nothing give the guy pleasure? Anyone with a heart would cut a sob-story a bit of slack, but by most villager’s accounts, Mr. Ellsworth was a miserable human being from the moment he formed words.
“Quit day-dreaming and get to it, girlie.”
What is his deal today? Jesus.
Normally, a couple rude comments meant to end someone’s good day proved enough to satisfy his hateful nature. However, today’s bitter criticism went far beyond his usual contempt for humanity, and every Friday it worsened. The old vulgarian derived true enjoyment from inflicting verbal abuse on people. I wished I could cork his mouth for good.
Just then a thought popped up. An epiphany, more like, enabling me to see a clear way forward. Euphoric, I reached for a jar hidden beneath the counter, and while he launched into another scathing diatribe about women in the workplace, I slipped a teaspoon of the fine, dusty powder into a cup of tea. I handed him the drink.
“Care to try a complimentary sample of our newest flavor–Just Desserts?”
He accepted the offering, cast a suspicious glare at the contents, and then stuck his hawkish nose so far into the cup, I thought he might snort the contents.
He beetled his brows and glanced up. “Bout time I get something for free ‘round here.”
He blew and sipped at the tea not stopping until he slurped up the dregs. A low gurgle broke the silence. Startled, he stared at me. I stared back. He began to speak, but no words formed. He lurched forward mouth agape and eyes wild. The cup dropped from his fingers and bounced before rolling beneath the cabinet. He grabbed at his chest, and the smell of skin a-sizzle laced the air. Moments later a heavy fog enveloped the old man and he disappeared.
I flapped a towel to help dissipate the fog then leaned over the counter and peered at the floor. A pile of clothes lay in a heap where the old bastard once stood. After a tick, they too dissolved revealing a gray, grizzled cockroach.
My boss poked her head out from behind the office door, looked around and made her way over to me.
“I thought I heard Mr. Ellsworth’s voice earlier. I assume Mr. Wonderful left?”
“Yep, you just missed him.”
“How was he today?”
“He seemed a bit…bugged.”
The cockroach scurried toward the door catching the boss’s eye.
“Oh, ick!” Disgusted, she stomped on the roach with a size eleven foot.
“Where there’s one there’s hundreds more. Looks like we’ll have to get the fumigators in.”
“Yup.” I grinned. “Looks like.”
~ end ~
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