Sixty Days in the Hole
by L.D. Zane
“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”
“We need the police and an ambulance now to the Just-a-Buck store on Perrytown Road in Riverton.”
“What’s the nature of your emergency, sir?”
Rachael Bensinger walked up to the cashier—a Hispanic woman in her early forties—at the Just-a-Buck store on Perrytown Road, and stated, “I’m here for an interview with Mr. Patterson.”
“And your name, sweetheart?”
“Rachael. Rachael Bensinger.”
“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Bensinger.” She extended her hand to shake Rachael’s. Rachael returned the courtesy. The cashier pointed to her name badge and said, “My name is Serena. I’m the store manager here.” Then she reached under the counter and handed Rachael a clipboard with an application and pen attached.
“You can sit over there at the table and complete this. When you’re done, come find me and I’ll get Mr. Patterson.”
“I actually completed one online and printed it out, along with my resume.” Rachael held them up. “See?”
Serena gave a broad smile and said, “Then I’ll call Mr. Patterson now. He’ll like that you came prepared. He always likes it when someone is prepared.”
Yeah. Like I had a choice, Rachael thought.
A fit man wearing a navy polo shirt, sporting the store name, tan khakis, and Nike sneakers walked up. Holding out his hand, he said, “Hi. I’m Dylan Patterson, the General Manager. I’ll be conducting the interview. And you are Rachael Bensinger. Right?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered, shaking his hand.
“Dylan or Mr. Patterson is good. I haven’t been addressed as ‘Sir’ since I left the Army. Okay?”
He noticed her slight-of-build stature and long auburn pony tail.
“Absolutely, sir… I mean, Mr. Patterson. Please call me Rachael.” She paused, then added, “Actually I prefer Rach.” What the hell am I doing being so chatty? Christ, Rachael, shut up.
“Then Rach it is. Please follow me back to my office.”
They walked to the back of the store, through two swinging doors, into the warehouse. Dylan made a left turn, stood to the right of his office door frame and, with his left hand, motioned for Rachael to enter. “Please, take a seat.”
Not much of an office, Rachael observed. Looks like a converted storage space. Plastic chairs, and a cheap-ass desk, with the same type of plastic chair behind it. And they’re orange! This guy doesn’t stand on ceremony, that’s for sure. Apparently, he’s not trying to impress anyone. Then again, maybe he doesn’t have to.
Rachael picked the chair to the left. Dylan noticed she waited until he sat before she followed suit.
He looked at her application and resume for a few moments, put them aside, and said, “I’ll be straight with you, Rach. I’m seeing you as a favor to your PO.”
Rachael sat up straighter in her chair, and said, “I wasn’t aware of that Mr. Patterson, but I thank you.” She then mustered up the courage to ask, “How do you know my Parole Officer, Rebecca Olson?”
“A couple of years ago she was making visits to small retailers like us, asking if we would be willing to hire non-violent parolees or those on probation. I told her I would, if I saw the right candidate. We kind of hit it off, and still see each other on occasion. Our lifestyles aren’t conducive to a long-term relationship. Did I answer your question…Rach?”
“Yes. And I’m sorry for that. It really was none of my business,” she said, squirming a bit in her seat.
Dylan noticed. “Relax,” he said. “No harm. No foul. I opened the door, and you walked in. I like that attitude, for what it’s worth.” Without hesitation, he said, “I have a few questions of my own. I see you’re from Columbus, Ohio. Graduated high school and have an Associates Degree in accounting.”
“Yes. And I also took a few more courses in business.”
“Excellent. So what brought you here to Riverton?”
“In my last year at community college, I met a guy who was taking a course in welding. We started dating, and eventually moved in together. We both finished our courses at the same time. The college had a placement service and found me the position doing accounts payables at All States Trucking.”
“Good company. I know it well,” said Dylan. “They handle a fair amount of our freight. So how come you’re no longer there?”
“I believe you already know the answer to that, Mr. Patterson.”
“Ya know…you’re right. I do know the answer. Please forget that I asked that question. You’re not required to tell me about your personal past.”
“No, I want to tell you, Mr. Patterson. I have nothing to hide.”
“Okay. As you wish. Please continue.”
“They also found Billy—that’s his name, Billy McKenzie—a job as a welder in this area. So we came east, found an apartment, and moved in together.
“We were good for about a year and a half, but then Billy started hanging out with some real stoners from work. We both did a little weed from time to time; it never got crazy. But I could see Billy change. He was stoned almost every night. He had trouble getting up for work. After a few months, the company cut him for bad attendance. Billy promised he would get off the weed, but he didn’t.
“He bounced from job to job, and eventually he stopped looking. During that time, I was promoted to assistant supervisor of the accounts payable department. With Billy not working, the money was getting tight, but I was doing well enough to keep up with my car and the apartment. Billy’s car got repo’d. We argued daily about the money. But it never got violent. Never.
“Finally, one day the shit hit the fan. He came home totally blown out of his mind—drunk and stoned. He offered me a joint, and I took it, thinking that if I got a little high with him, we wouldn’t argue. I also had a couple of beers. Looking back on it, I don’t really know what the hell I was thinking.” She glanced down, and then said quietly, “Guess I wasn’t thinking.
“I told Billy that he either needed to get and keep a job—any job—pronto, or we were through. That sent him into a rage. He trashed the apartment. When I tried to stop him, he slugged me in my left eye.” Rachael reflexively brushed her bangs to cover her left eye.
“How long ago did this happen?”
“About three weeks ago.”
“He must have really laid one on you, because I can still see the remnants of it. I didn’t want to ask before, but now it makes sense.”
“They x-rayed my eye at the ER after I was arrested. There were some slight fractures, but the orbit was still intact. I have blurry vision in that eye, but it’s getting better every day. I can drive okay.”
“So what happened with the police? The report said you were charged with assaulting a police officer.”
“Before we knew it, the police were at the door and demanded we open it. Billy opened it and asked the one cop, ‘What the fuck do you want?’ The officer pushed Billy aside and told him to sit down. He refused and took a swing at the cop. That was it. They threw him face down on the floor and cuffed him. He was screaming that the cuffs were too tight and cursing up a storm when they lifted him to his feet.
“The one officer saw my eye bleeding, came over to me, and wanted to look at it. I told him to take his hands off of me, and to loosen Billy’s cuffs. One thing led to another, and apparently I grabbed a beer bottle and hit the officer in the head. I say apparently, because I don’t remember much about that night, and that’s the truth.”
“Then what happened?”
“We were arrested, charged, booked, and spent the night in jail. They arraigned us the next day and we were given Public Defenders. Billy and I appeared before a judge a few days later, and that’s when he sentenced us to six months’ probation because it was our first offense. He said we couldn’t leave the county, had to take random piss tests, pay a ton of money, and find gainful employment within two weeks. The judge said if we tested positive, didn’t find a job, or got so much as a parking ticket, we would be spending six months in the county prison. He also said Billy had to move out, being the apartment was in my name. We even got different PO’s.
“All States wasn’t too happy when they learned of this. They put me on ‘Extended Suspension.’ HR said if I was clean after six months, they would consider hiring me back.”
“Well, Rach, I hope you’re not holding your breath about being rehired. That was a nice way of them covering their collective asses. They’re not going to rehire you. Period!”
“I know that, Mr. Patterson. I’m not that naïve. Rebecca—I mean Ms. Olson—said she believed I could straighten out my life and deserved a second chance. A few days later she told me about this job and that she’d set up an interview. Ms. Olson even helped me put together my resume.”
“What happened to Billy?”
“Since he didn’t have a job or a place to stay, they transferred his case to a PO in Columbus so he could stay with his folks, under the same conditions. I don’t know what he’s doing, and I don’t care. I haven’t heard from him since the night we were arrested. Good riddance.”
Dylan could see a twinge of sadness in Rachael’s eyes when she spoke of Billy. “I appreciate you sharing your story, Rach. Seems to be in line with what I’ve been told by Ms. Olson. What other questions do you have for me?”
“Well, the first question I have is, how did you become the General Manager?”
“Good question. Believe it or not, no one’s ever asked me that before. After college, I went through Army basic training, Officer Candidate School, and completed Ranger training. I did two tours in Afghanistan during my seven years in the Army, and came out as a Captain. I got married while in my fifth year in the Army. That lasted two years. I was discharged from the marriage just before I was discharged from the Army.” Dylan shrugged his shoulders and said pensively, “That life wasn’t conducive to a long-term relationship either.
“I tried a few jobs, but nothing caught. A friend of mine said that he had heard about a guy who was looking for someone who knew logistics and had leadership skills, for a General Manager position. My friend didn’t know the guy’s name, but knew he owned a few Just-a-Buck stores. So I went to a Just-a-Buck store—this one in fact—and filled out an application and handed them my resume. A day later I got a call from Ross Wells, the owner. We met, and the rest is history.”
“How long have you been here?” asked Rachael.
Dylan looked up, and then said, “Hard to believe, but going on five years. We started with two stores, and now have six between here and Polltown.”
I was spot on. Knew he was in his mid-thirties. “You said ‘we.’ If I may ask, are you an owner as well?”
“Not yet. Nonetheless, I treat the stores as if they were mine. I like to believe I had a hand in the growth of the company. I think Mr. Wells believes that as well. He’s told me, more than once, that ownership is in the offing…and soon.”
“And you believe him?” Rachael asked with a smirk.
Dylan stiffened. His expression turned hard and cold. He responded, “Yes. Yes, I do. I have no trust issues, Rachael. Do you?”
Rachael looked down and fidgeted with her hands. Why the fuck would I ask that? That was really stupid. I might as well apologize and leave. I’m not getting this job. I guess it’s prison for me.
Dylan stood up suddenly. He looked down at his desk and shuffled some papers.
Then both Dylan and Rachael started to apologize at the same time, their voices stepping over each other. Dylan broke the tie and said, “My comment was out of line, Rach, and a cheap shot. I’m sorry.” He sat down.
“I’ll accept your apology if you accept mine,” said Rachael.
“Deal,” said Dylan.
“Any…other…questions?” Dylan asked with a hesitant smile.
“Just a few.”
“What’s my position, how much does it pay, and when do I start?”
Dylan folded his hands on the table and leaned in. “What makes you think I would offer you a job?”
Rachael didn’t hesitate. “Well, for starters, I think you liked what you heard from Ms. Olson or I wouldn’t be here. You had every reason to blow off someone with a record—especially assaulting a police officer.
“Second, I’m still here. You didn’t ask me to leave, even though I asked a few totally stupid questions.
“Third, I think you and I have a few things in common.”
“Such as?” asked Dylan.
“We both have faced some tough situations—although I won’t compare mine to your military service—and we kept going. We’re not quitters. I’m not a quitter, Mr. Patterson. Stupid? Yeah. A quitter? No way.”
“You’re not stupid, Rach. That’s obvious by your employment record and how you’ve conducted yourself with me.”
“So when do I start?”
Looking squarely at Rachael, Dylan answered, “Today is Friday. Be here Monday at 8 a.m.”
“I’m assuming the usual retail work, like stocking and the register?”
“Nope. Actually, I have something more challenging in mind, and have since I first heard about your accounting skills.”
Rachael asked with some reservation, “What would that be?”
“Well, I only have two full-time employees in each store—a manager and an assistant manager. Depending on the size of the store and its traffic, we also have two to three part-timers averaging twenty-five hours per week. My assistant manager here just quit after two months.” He shrugged again. “Such is the retail industry. So Serena and I need an assistant manager. Serena’s one of the main reasons this store has been so profitable. But she can’t do it alone.
“I like to believe I’m pretty squared away with most aspects of this business, except one—which Mr. Wells brings to my attention, unfortunately, often.”
“And that would be?”
“Putting all the numbers together in a way that makes sense to both Mr. Wells and me. Yes, we have a great accountant, but we need someone who is in the trenches—so to speak—every day. We need real-time information if we are to really grow this business. But up to now, we haven’t found the right person.” He stopped, studied Rachael’s face for any sign of hesitation. Seeing none, he asked, “Think you could be that person—both an assistant manager and help me with my numbers for all of the stores?”
“So I would kind of be your assistant, in addition to being the assistant manager here. Is that right?”
Dylan smiled, and said, “I never thought of it that way…but yes. What do you think? Are you up to the challenge?”
I’m in no position to be choosy, but I just don’t want to be taken advantage of and treated like some tool because of my situation. I was making excellent money before this shit happened, and I need to get back to that level as soon as possible. I need to go for it. Rachael responded coolly, “Depends.”
Dylan’s eyes widened and he raised his eyebrows. Still smiling, he leaned forward and asked, “On what?”
“On the amount of hours and the pay. I want to work as many hours as I can get. I’m not afraid of long hours, Mr. Patterson, as long as I’m being paid the right amount for the work I’m doing.”
“We’re talking forty hours. And I won’t abuse the privilege, I promise. As far as pay goes… ” Dylan leaned back, put his hands behind his head, and looked at the ceiling. He then placed his hands back on the table and said, “Thirteen-fifty an hour. I know it isn’t what you were used to making, but it’s about a dollar more than I would start an assistant manager.”
“What?” his voice raising an octave.
“Fourteen an hour. I have no idea what you’re really going to need as far as reports for you and Mr. Wells, and experience has taught me that you don’t know either. I’ve been in this spot before. The more I do, the more you’ll want. I’m just building in some cushion for what I know will happen.” She paused, and then asked, “Are we still on for Monday at 8 a.m.?”
Dylan stood and said, “We are. Welcome aboard.” He stuck out his hand.
“Looks like we have a deal, Mr. Patterson,” she said, shaking his hand. “Do you inform Ms. Olson, or do I?”
“I’ll take care of it. She said she wanted a call from me immediately after the interview. I’ll take you out front and formally introduce you to Serena and make her aware of your duties. She’ll be thrilled to know that she’s getting some reliable help.”
He stopped for a moment, dropped his smile, and then said with the commanding tone of an infantry officer, “I, too, believe in second chances, Rach. Lord knows I’ve had a few do-overs. We’re all counting on reliability. If you start having attendance issues, or you come in here high or fail your piss test just once, you’re history. Are we clear?”
“Absolutely clear, Mr. Patterson.”
“Excellent. Then I’m positive we’ll have a great working relationship. And I really would appreciate if you would just call me Dylan. Okay?”
“Okay…Dylan. What do I wear to work?”
“Same outfit as mine. We start you off with two sets. If you are still here after thirty days, there’s no charge. If you leave before then, we dock the one check we hold back. We pay weekly, so you won’t get a check until the second week. Will you be able to manage until then?”
“Yes. I still have some savings. But what if I need more than two sets of uniforms? How much is each set?”
“They’re somewhere around thirty bucks.” Dylan looked away for a moment, then turned toward Rachael. “Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll spot you the additional three sets. After thirty days, I’ll recover the cost of the three sets over three pay periods. Does that work?”
“Yes, yes it does. Thank you so much, Dylan. What do I wear until I get the first two sets?”
“Serena always carries enough sizes on hand. But if she doesn’t have your size, she’ll call me. I’ll get them from another store and bring them in this Saturday.”
“Great. Let’s talk to Serena, and then I have to jump. I have a lot on my plate today.”
The next thirty days went faster than anyone had anticipated—especially for Rachael and Dylan. They were now into their first full month of the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. It was customary for Dylan to hold a team meeting with each store, once a week, and prior to opening for the day. The Perrytown Road store’s day was Friday.
After going through some mundane issues, Dylan got to the pandemic. “This last month has been different, to say the least. I know we’re in short supply of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, everything made of paper, and stuff I never thought most people would think of as essential. I mean, we’re just about sold out of dish racks. Go figure!”
Dylan paused for a moment to make sure he had the right tone of voice. He continued. “I do have another matter which I need to address. We’ve been gradually scaling back our hours. We’re now going to be open from nine to five, for two reasons. First, limiting our hours does mean fewer customers, but it also means there will be less demand for our products—especially the items we don’t have anyway. Hopefully, we just might be able to keep some of those high-demand items in stock.
“Second, our employees have less time to be exposed to the crazies out there. Thanks to Rach running some numbers, we found that the highest amount of negative incidents at our stores happened after five. For those of you who are part-time—don’t worry, your hours won’t be cut. I will, however, need to see Serena and Rach after the meeting to discuss this further.”
That’s a polite way of saying your hours are getting cut, thought Rachael. But hey, at least I’ll still have a job.
“I know I didn’t bring much in the way of good news today, but we have to play the hand we’re dealt the best we can. This store was the first store Mr. Wells started, and all of you continue to make this the number one store in all the areas where it counts. I’m proud to work with each and every one of you. Are there any questions?”
Teresa, a part-timer in her early twenties, raised her hand. “I’d like a few minutes of your time, in private, Dylan.”
“No problem, let’s go to my office. Everyone else—keep up the great work. See you next week. Have a good weekend, and stay safe.”
In less than fifteen minutes, Dylan came to the front of the store, backpack slung over his right shoulder, and asked Serena and Rachael to step outside.
“Smoke ’em if you got ’em, ladies. I know I am.”
“What’s up, Mr. Dylan?” asked Serena.
“Well, for starters, your hours won’t be cut. Our original intention, as much as Mr. Wells and I didn’t want to do so, was to cut managers and assistant managers’ hours to thirty-five hours per week. But that won’t be necessary now…at least here.”
“Why’s that?” asked Rachael.
“Because Teresa just quit.”
Serena’s eyes widened and she lifted her eyebrows. “Why? I thought she was happy here.”
“She just said she had some family issues. I didn’t press her. But instead of allowing her to quit, I told her I would lay her off so she could collect. Between the state and the feds, she’ll do okay. I also told her if she wanted to come back, and we had an opening, I would rehire her.”
“You’re a good man, Mr. Dylan.”
“Uh…it was the least I could do, Serena. The question I have for the two of you is—can you handle the load with one less person?”
“I’m sure we can,” said Serena, “especially with the reduced store hours.”
“What do you think, Rach?”
“Serena and I will talk with Terry and Gina to work it out. You won’t notice any change in our performance, Dylan.”
Dylan smiled, and said, “I don’t doubt it. I can’t thank the two of you enough for holding down the fort, especially with all the shit that’s been happening. Before I get going, could I have a word with you, Rach? Alone?”
Serena took the cue. “I should be getting back in. Have a good weekend, Mr. Dylan.”
“You, too, Serena.”
Here it comes. “You’ve done a great job, Rach, but we have to cut you loose being a convict and all. So sad. Too bad. Shit!
Dylan got right to the point. “Drop the worried look. It’s all good.”
“Just a natural reflex. Sorry.”
“Yeah. I get it. But it really is all good. You’ve done an outstanding job helping out Mr. Wells and me. And you were right… We had no freakin’ clue as to what we wanted or needed. That negative incident report was brilliant. And we never even asked you to do that. Impressive work with us, and here at the store. Just know that Serena loves you. This brings me to the first order of business.”
“Your pay. Because of the outstanding work you’ve done, and your initiative, I wanted to bring you up to fifteen an hour, but Mr. Wells overrode that idea. He said…” Dylan purposely hesitated, to keep Rachael in suspense, “‘Don’t be so fucking cheap, Dylan. Good employees are hard to find, and harder to keep. Give her sixteen-fifty.’ That pay raise starts Monday. Think you can manage on that?”
Rachael had a blank stare. Her mouth fell open.
“Wow! This is a first. Rachael Bensinger not commenting. I could get used to this. I’m going to continue, while you collect your thoughts. Okay?”
Rachael just nodded.
Dylan put his backpack on the sidewalk, pulled out an iPhone from a side pocket, and handed it to Rachael.
“What’s this?” asked Rachael.
“It’s called an iPhone.”
“I know what it is, Dylan. I already have an iPhone.”
“Mr. Wells and I felt badly about clogging up your personal phone with voicemails, texts and emails. Now—”
Rachael cut him off, and said with a smile, “You get to clog up this phone. Right?”
Dylan took a drag on his cigarette, pointed it at Rachael, and said, “Exactly. You always were a fast learner, Rach. We’ve already loaded it with all the apps you’ll need. If you need a new app—that’s business related, of course—just ask me and I’ll make it happen. I also loaded all the contacts you’ll need. You’ll find your phone number under your name. I’d appreciate if you keep it on you, and always on. I promise I won’t abuse that privilege either. And, of course, we pay the bill. You’ll never see it. You good with this?”
Rachael turned melancholy, and Dylan saw tears form in the corners of her eyes. “Why so glum, Rach? I thought you would be happy with the raise and the phone. What the hell am I missing here?”
“Guys just don’t get it.”
“Not sure what you mean. Enlighten me.”
“I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m crying because I’m overwhelmed…overwhelmed by the whole situation. I’m thrilled and happy.”
“You’re right. I don’t get it.”
“What I mean, Dylan, is that a little over seven weeks ago, my life was in the crapper. Now, I’m just about at the same pay level I was before this whole shitty mess started. I have a good position, I have bosses who actually care about the people they employ, and—most importantly—” Rachael started to cry openly, “My work is appreciated. I’m appreciated.”
Rachael collected herself. “I’m sorry, Dylan,” she said between sniffles. She wiped away the tears with the palm of her hands. “I guess it all came to a head. I’ve been holding all of this shit in. It won’t happen again. I promise. And I thank you for all that you’ve done for me.”
“Hey… I didn’t do anything for you. I showed you a door. You opened it and walked through it. You made it happen. You’ve earned everything that you have. No charity here, believe me.
“Now, if it’s okay with you, I need to motor or I’ll be late.” Dylan picked up his backpack, looked at his watch, and muttered, “Shit. I already am. Oh well. Savor the moment, Rach. Have a great weekend, but remember…”
Rachael interrupted again, and said, “I know… Keep it tight and together. No worries, Dylan.”
Dylan allowed himself an ear-to-ear smile. Before he headed to the car, he said, “By the way, and I hope this doesn’t make you cry again, but remember those three sets of uniforms you were supposed to pay for starting this month?”
“Yeah. I can more than afford to pay it back.”
“No need. You’ve more than paid for them for what you’ve done for this company. Debt is cancelled.”
“Was that your decision, or Mr. Wells’?”
“All mine. Mr. Wells allows, and expects, me to make executive-level decisions, Ms. Bensinger. Besides, he didn’t know I did it in the first place.”
Before Rachael could respond, Dylan turned and sprinted to his car.
The next month was a blur. Businesses started to reopen; people were getting back to work, products which were once scarce appeared on the shelves—and stayed there— because the hoarding had diminished. Customers were actually behaving like customers, instead of hungry, cornered animals.
At the end of his last Friday team meeting of the month, Dylan thanked everyone for their efforts in an extraordinarily difficult time. He also mentioned that he and Mr. Wells were planning on opening at least three new stores in the next year.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Dylan said to Rachael, “I need some time with you. And don’t worry, it’s all good. Let’s grab a smoke.”
Once outside, Rachael asked, “So what’s up?”
“First, I have some good news about me.”
“Mr. Wells has agreed to let me buy in on twenty percent of the existing stores, and I’ll get thirty percent of the new stores, up front. Pretty slick, huh?” he said patting his back over his left shoulder with his right hand.
“Forty percent. You know you’re going to be working your ass off on opening three new stores, and you should get forty percent.”
“Okay. I don’t disagree, but what if he doesn’t agree?”
“Then you negotiate. Get real, Dylan. He’s not going to cut you loose. You’re too valuable. He’ll probably wind up giving you thirty-five percent. I mean, what do you have to lose? The worst that happens is that he stays at thirty, and maybe gives you an option for more down the road. I know you’re not a wimp, so don’t start acting like one now. The guy loves you. He’s already said as much to me.”
“Yes. He has. He said you’re almost like a son to him—which I don’t understand, being that he has a son.”
“His son is a fucking idiot, which is why Mr. Wells doesn’t allow him near the business. If you ever have the unfortunate opportunity to meet him, you’ll understand. Believe me.”
Dylan remained silent for a minute. Rachael saw him nodding his head as if he was talking to someone. Then Dylan said, emphatically, “You’re right, as usual. I’ll ask him for forty. I meet with him today to iron out some of the details. I promise you, I won’t wimp out.”
“That’s the Dylan I know. Charge that hill!” Rachael paused before she asked, “Is that it, or is there more good news?”
“Well, you’ve done a great job, Rach, which is why I might need to replace you as assistant manager.”
“What? Why?” Rachael said raising her voice in both disbelief and anger.
“Because Mr. Wells and I were hoping you would accept a promotion to the position of Assistant General Manager.”
“I wasn’t aware we even had an Assistant General Manager.”
“We don’t…yet. That’s why we were counting on you accepting it. And if you do, I need to replace you here.”
“You know, Dylan, maybe you should have led with that. Sometimes you have the tact of a hand grenade.” Rachael crossed her arms tightly across the front of her body.
“I suppose I could have broached the subject differently.”
“Ya think?” Rachael said while rolling her eyes. She started tapping her right foot. “So who will be the assistant manager here?”
“We have someone in mind from another store. It would be ideal for her.”
“So, did you offer her the position?”
“Nope. I wanted to see if you accepted the promotion first. It wouldn’t have been fair to offer her a position that wasn’t available.”
“Does she even know that the position here might be open?”
“Again, no, for the same reason as I just mentioned.”
“Who would train her?”
“Serena would. She said she wants to train the assistant her way, like she did with you, and I agree. And please stop that incessant foot tapping and chill the hell out! Christ, Rach, you’re always so fuckin’ defensive.”
Rachael stopped the foot tapping, but kept her arms crossed. “Maybe I have good reasons for it.”
“Maybe you do, but I shouldn’t be one of them. Quit making me pay for how other people have treated you. Okay?”
Rachael dropped her arms, lit another cigarette, and shuffled her feet. She said, sheepishly, “I agree with Serena. Who wants the old assistant hanging around while you’re training a new one? So, tell me about this new position.”
Dylan carried on as if nothing had happened. As far as he was concerned, nothing did happen. “Doing exactly what you’ve been doing with the numbers, except doing it full time. You’d be meeting with Mr. Wells and me more often, as well as visiting the stores more frequently. It’s come to my attention that the managers and assistant managers prefer hearing the numbers from you, because—and I quote—‘She’s one of us.’ You will be busy, Rach. But having you in this position is more important now than it ever was.”
“Would I work from one of the stores, or from home?”
“That’s your call. What do you prefer?”
“I prefer to work out of this store, actually. I believe I’d be more productive. May I use your office when you’re not here?”
“I have a better idea. If you accept the position, I can have a contractor build out another office next to mine—here. This is the only place I have an office, by the way.”
“Would I be able to have a plywood desk and orange plastic chairs like you?” Rachael grinned.
“Why, Ms. Bensinger, I am deeply hurt. I always thought my furniture had charm. It gives off a certain ambiance.”
“It does. It says this guy is either incredibly cheap, or has very bad taste in furniture.”
Both laughed out loud.
Dylan relaxed his stance and lit another cigarette. “In reality, Rach, you’re not going to be spending that much time in the office. Nonetheless, Mr. Wells gave us a budget for new furniture. We can look together and pick out nicer stuff. I’ll defer to your judgment.”
He’s finally learning, Rachael thought.
“And speaking about shopping for stuff, part of your package of perks is a leased car. We can go shopping for one this week, since I would have to sign for it.”
“What do I do with my car?”
“Keep it. The leased car is for business purposes so you don’t rack up the miles on your car.”
“Can I get a fancy SUV like yours?”
“Uh, no. But I promise you yours will be safe, comfortable, new, and appropriate for your position. You won’t be embarrassed driving it.”
“It all sounds great, Dylan. I’m flattered that Mr. Wells and you think that much of me. When would I start?”
“This Monday would be great.” Dylan paused, and then said to Rachael, “I’m surprised you didn’t ask about the money.”
“I just figured all the other perks would be my increase in compensation.”
“Not even close, Rach. We’re putting you on a salary of forty thousand a year, plus profit sharing at the end of the year. That’s a six-thousand-dollar increase. So…do I make the call to the new assistant manager offering the job, or what?”
“What if she refuses?”
“She won’t. Quit stalling. What’s your decision, and don’t play hard to get.”
“Absolutely, Dylan. Absolutely! Thank you, thank you. Please thank Mr. Wells for me, please. And I’m sorry I was such a bitch to you earlier. You didn’t deserve it.”
“You can tell Mr. Wells in person when the three of us meet this week to design a strategy for opening these new stores. And I did deserve it. I thought I was being clever. Guess not!
“I have a few calls to make before I head out. Have another smoke. You’ve made a number of people very happy by accepting this position, especially me. And, by the way, today marks the end of your sixty-day probation period with us. Congrats. You’ve come a long way in these last two months. Very impressive. For what it’s worth—Ms. Olson, Mr. Wells, and I are extremely proud of you. Well done.”
Yes! Yes! I know I haven’t said this lately, but thank you, Jesus. No, really, thank you. I can’t believe this is happening. Rachael threw a fist bump in the air. She flicked her cigarette onto the parking lot, and turned to go back into the store.
“Nice dance, Rachael.”
Rachael’s breathing became fast and heavy. “What the fuck are you doing here, Billy? I thought you were in Ohio.”
“Is that any way to talk to your boyfriend?”
“You’re not my boyfriend.”
“I kind of figured that, since I haven’t heard from you in almost three months. I called your cell, but the number went to a different person. What happened with us?”
“What happened? Are you fuckin’ kidding me? You hauling off and clocking me in my face. You damn near cost me my eyesight in one eye. We got arrested and all the other shit that came with it. That’s what happened! And there is no ‘us.’ Now get the hell out of my way. I need to get back to work.”
Billy blocked her path. “Rachael, I know I fucked up, and I’m sorry. Can we at least try to work it out?”
“No. Now move out of my way.” As Rachael strode toward the door, Billy grabbed her right arm with his left. His hand completely engulfed her slender wrist. “Let go, Billy. You’re hurting me.”
“I figured you were going to reject me, so how about spotting me a hundred bucks. I’m staying with this guy and I need it for expenses.”
“Bullshit! You’re stoned, and you’re going to use the money to buy weed, or whatever. I’m not giving you a fucking dime. Now, LET GO.”
Rachael heard a firm, calm voice from behind her. “Let her go, Billy.”
She turned and saw Dylan in the doorway with his backpack slung over his right shoulder. I’ve never seen Dylan’s face and demeanor look like that. That’s the face of a Ranger in combat. If I were the enemy, I’d be scared shitless.
“Who the fuck are you?” asked Billy.
“It doesn’t matter who I am, and you don’t want to find out. You just need to let go of Rach.”
“I’m not leaving without her, or some money.”
Dylan locked his eyes on Billy, allowed his backpack to slide off his shoulder, slowly reached into his left pocket, and pulled out a neatly folded wad of cash. “There’s over two hundred dollars here, Billy. Let go of Rach, take the cash, leave, and I’ll pretend this never happened. Okay?”
“Fuck you,” Billy shot back. He turned to Rachael and asked, “Are you doing this douche bag, Rachael?”
Dylan answered before Rachael had a chance. “No one’s doing anyone, Billy. Let go of her, take the cash, and split—now!”
“And what if I don’t?”
“That would be your first, and probably, last mistake.”
Rachael shouted, “I’ve had enough of your shit, Billy. You’re never going to hurt me again.” She spun to her right, breaking his hold and, with both of her hands, pushed Billy.
As he stumbled backward, he shouted, “You bitch,” and reached under his hoodie.
Rachael felt as if she was hit twice in the gut by a sledgehammer. She slammed up against the store’s pane glass window, and slid down onto the concrete walkway. This pavement is cold, she thought.
Dylan seethed under his breath, “No, no, no. I thought all of this shit was behind me.” Then his instincts took over. He put his backpack under her head, took off his jacket, stripped off his shirt and pressed it tightly against Rachael’s abdomen. “Christ. I can’t stop the bleeding.”
Serena came to the doorway, gasped, and put her hands to her mouth. Choking back tears, she asked, “What happened to Rachael, Mr. Dylan?”
Dylan remained calm, and said, “Get me a shitload of towels, Serena.”
“Any fucking kind. Move it, Serena.”
Dylan grabbed his cell phone with his free hand, and made yet another call.
“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?” inquired the male operator in a controlled voice.
need the police and an ambulance now
to the Just-a-Buck store on Perrytown Road in Riverton. Please hurry,” responded
“What’s the nature of your emergency, sir?”
“I have a female employee who’s been shot twice in the abdomen.”
“Is the assailant still there?”
“No. He dropped his gun and fled on foot. Now get me some help, please.”
“Stay on the line, sir, while I make the call. Your name?”
“Your name. What’s your name, sir?”
“Dylan. Dylan Patterson.”
Serena returned with an armful of towels. “Just put ’em next to Rach, Serena.”
“Is she going to be okay, Mr. Dylan?”
“Hand me three of those towels.”
“They’re turning red as soon as you put them on,” cried Serena.
Dylan now talked to Rachael. “Rach, listen to my voice. Just focus on my voice. You’re going to be okay. Help is on the way. I need you to help me pick out furniture, Rach. Listen to my voice.”
The faintest of smiles crossed Rachael’s face. I hear you, Dylan, but I’m having a hard time keeping my eyes open. My eyelids are so heavy. I feel so tired. Why do I feel so tired?
The operator returned. “The police and EMT’s should be there in a few minutes. Keep pressure on the wound.”
“I know what to do. I was in combat.”
“Understood, sir. I’ll stay on the line until the police arrive.”
Within a few minutes two city police and a county sheriff’s car rolled up at the same time as the EMT’s. “I’m going off the line, sir. God speed,” said the 9-1-1 operator.
Two medics knelt beside Rachael. The police pulled Dylan aside. “Let the EMT’s do their job, sir. Perhaps you could help us with some details.”
“What’s her first name?” asked the EMT at her feet, while the other EMT put an oxygen mask on Rachael.
“Rachael. Rachael Bensinger,” responded Dylan. She’s about twenty-three.”
“Thanks.” Then the EMT spoke to Rachael. “Rachael, my name is Ryan. My partner’s name is Nilda. We’re with the fire department. You’re going to be okay, Rachael, but I need you to focus as hard as you can on my voice. Blink if you understand.”
Rachael managed one blink, and then her eyelids slammed shut.
“Rachael, we need to roll you on your side. This may hurt, but it’s necessary.”
As Ryan rolled her onto her left side, Rachael let out an anguished cry. “Nilda, look for exit wounds.” Nilda looked and shook her head.
“Shit,” said Ryan. “That means the slugs are still in there. I can’t stop the bleeding, Nilda.”
“Her bp is falling off a cliff, and she barely has a pulse, Ryan. We have to move her, now.”
A moment later, Nilda yelled, “No pulse, Ryan. It’s gone. I’m starting CPR.”
As Rachael felt the chest compressions, she thought she heard Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘Human Touch’ being played over the store’s music system. What a strange song to play now. And why am I thinking about volcanoes?
At that very moment, a geyser of blood violently erupted from Rachael’s mouth, filling her mask. Nilda ripped it off. Dylan broke from the police, cradled Rachael’s head from behind, and turned it to the side so she wouldn’t choke. Nilda continued with the CPR.
“Don’t you quit on me, Rach!” yelled Dylan. “Start fighting, damn it. Be fierce. Fight!” A torrent of tears from Dylan pelted Rachael’s forehead like a hard rain against a window.
Ryan looked at Nilda and said, “Nilda, there’s still no pulse. It’s over.”
“It ain’t over until I say it’s over. Give me another minute, Ryan.”
Ryan gave it thirty seconds, then grabbed Nilda’s arm. “It’s over, partner. Time to let it go.”
Nilda slammed her fist into her medical bag three times, shouting, “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
From some deep recess of Rachael’s mind, which she couldn’t quite pinpoint, she heard a calm voice. Congratulations for getting through your sixty days in the hole. Good job. In her mind, she smiled.
A moment later, from a different corner of her mind, she heard a desperate, panic-stricken voice cry out, Awww shit, Rachael.
L.D. Zane served in the Navy from 1968 to 1975. Five of those years were aboard nuclear-powered, Fast Attack submarines. He lives with his wife in a small city in southeastern Pennsylvania, and is a member of The Bold Writers group.
L.D.’s short stories have been published in over two dozen literary journals. His first anthology, It’s Always My Fault & Other Short Stories, has recently been published by Pretzel City Press.
L.D.’s website is: ldzaneauthor.com