Lunch break, Part I
3:00 AM, and time for lunch. As usual, I forgot to bring any, and because I'm sleepy and I haven't eaten in about 10 hours, it's time to head to what passes locally as the Big City for lunch.
First, a cuppa coffee. I pull into the vacant parking lot of the 7-Eleven, and hop out with my thermal road cup. As I walk into the store, I see the good-looking young black counterman counting paper currency into his left fist and writing down amounts in a log, prior to making his nightly drop. There's more there than he should have, and he's got more on the counter-- I suspect he missed a drop. It looks like more than $100.
I head back to the coffee pot, and am relieved to see that it's a fresh pot, as I fill my road cup and snap on the cap. Back at the counter, I point to my cup, and ask if he thinks that it would be a large or a medium cup. He sees it out of the corner of his eye and calls it a large, before saying "Oh, you're a... no charge, sir." He just now saw my uniform.
It is common for convenience stores to give free coffee to cops, and it doesn't bother my sense of ethics. I reuse my own thermal cup, they end up pouring out several pots of it a night, and my presence there is a pretty good deterrent to stickups, what with the "shoot me" uniform and car out front. But I always try to pay, and I ask him if he was sure.
I consider leaving without saying a word, but decide that I owe him something for the coffee. I wait for him to finish writing on his sheet and make his cash drop. "When did you realize that a cop was in the store?" I ask.
He grins sheepishly. "When I looked up at you here at my counter."
"I thought so, and I can respect that you're honest with yourself about it. Don't you think it would be a good idea to watch people coming in?" I ask.
"Why?" he genuinely looks curious.
"Because of your personal safety. Friend, you're in a profession that's at least as dangerous as my own. Wouldn't it be nice to drop a sheet of paper over all that cash you had in your hand and on the counter when I walked in? What are you going to do if a man parks around the side, and pulls on a ski mask while pulling a gun out of his belt as he walks toward the door?" I ask, pointing out the glass storefront.
"Well, our policy is to give them everything..." he begins.
"Quite right; if you've got to be robbed, then by all means give them the dough so that they can leave. But why put out bait for them?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you make drops at a specified time? Why let anyone see when you have money out on the counter? With that glass store front, you have enough time to put the money out of sight. But back to what I asked before: what are you going to do when you see a clear robbery coming up?"
"Uh, there's not much I can do-- they'll fire me if I bring in a gun or something, and even if I fight them," he shrugs helplessly.
"And that's a damned shame, that they ought to fix. But let's look at what you can do-- do you keep the store keys on you?"
"Is there a room back there," I point behind the counter, "with a strong door that locks?"
"Yeah... there's the office. It's got a steel door and a deadbolt," he says. He's beginning to think about the situation.
"And you look pretty healthy. What are you, 21, 22 years old?" I ask.
"20," he responds.
"You must be pretty responsible, then. Okay, don't you reckon that, with this counter in the way, you could outrun most anyone who's at the door, to the office back there?" I ask. He's young and smart, and he's seriously reflecting on it.
"You damn' right I could. Excuse me," he says.
"Heh. No problem. Last-- do you carry your cell phone on your person?" I ask.
"Always," he says with certainty, and I believe him.
"Then, when the bad guys come in, hightail it to the back office, call 911, and hunker down. And the bad guys can take what they want."
"What if I was wrong?" he asks.
"Then you'll be mildly embarrassed, and a cop or three will get a kick out of it. Nothing worse, " I reassure him.
"You know," he says as he eyes the distance between the back room door and his place at the counter, and the distance between the front door and his register, "I believe that's what I'll do..."
"But it won't work," I admonish him, "unless you pay better attention to your surroundings. At 03:00, you need to be suspicious of everyone."
"Yeah..." he smiles sheepishly.
"And don't ever, EVER let 'em walk you back into that back room," I tell him. "Better to take a bullet in the butt as you run away than to be shot in the head in the back room."
He nods soberly.
"Okay. I'm done preaching," I grin. "Gotta run. Please be safe." I head out the door as I hear him call the same back to me.
I can't just take the coffee for free.