KLEPTOMANIAC - CHRIS RHATIGAN
My shoulder twitches as I open the freezer and curl my fingers around the half-gallon of Neapolitan ice cream.
I imagine bringing the ice cream back. Jo would stop by my place and her spring green eyes would brighten—she loves everyday surprises. We’d eat the strawberry and chocolate from the box and mock the first round of American Idol rejects.
I turn to find the clerk staring at me. He kneels next to a box, pops open a box cutter, rips through packaging tape. Judging from his scaly skin and the slump in his spine, he’s been working the night shift at the Pump N Munch for many years. He knows better than to chase me. Protocol is to hit the button, wait for the cops.
Yet he’s challenging me. I’m sure of it. He props his elbows on the glass counter, steeples his fingers.
I try to control my twitching shoulder. No dice.
My heart bumps against my rib cage. Deep down, I hope he’s like the Loss Prevention guy from Sears. That dude chased me through an entire mall for swiping a parka. He didn’t catch me, but I give him points for playing the game.
Back then, I thought I was clever, scraping off security tags with a pocket-knife or sliding a baseball card up my sleeve.
Not anymore. Now my methods are direct.
My first move is quick. Outside in two steps. Bells on the door clanging.
I run past the empty gas pumps, cradling the ice cream in my arm. The bells ring again.
I accelerate down the sidewalk, bounding in and out of the beams of streetlights. Suck down gulps of humid air.
Sirens wail in the distance. Too soon for the cops. Unless there was another clerk or a manager I didn’t see who made the call.
A reflection of a shadow trailing me bounces off the abandoned storefront windows across the street.
Sweat trickles into my eyes. A cramp stabs under my ribs like an ice pick.
The sirens fade, the sound replaced by another set of feet striking the sidewalk, persistently echoing my steps.
What kind of clerk chases a guy who stole ice cream? What would he do when he caught me? That box cutter. He could’ve taken that.
Maybe he’s not just a convenience store clerk. Maybe he’s a serial killer.
Maybe I crossed the wrong guy. Why couldn’t I’ve paid for the ice cream like anyone else would have?
Turning around will slow me down. But I want to see him gaining on me.
I look behind.
And see the Sears LP guy.
What the fuck?
I’m still looking in the rearview when my toe snags a lip between two sidewalk panels. The carton catapults. I fall hard, face-first to the concrete.
My head throbs when I come to. Bruises everywhere. A gash on my elbow. Blood trickling from my temple to my jaw.
The LP guy stands above me, sucking down a cigarette. He resembles a smaller, more wiry version of Mr. Clean down to the white tee shirt tucked into jeans.
I sit up, joints screaming, lean against a slimy brick wall. Realize that he must have dragged me into an alleyway.
“As soon as I saw you on the closed circuit, I remembered you,” he says. “Punk that stole that jacket.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Own that store now.”
“You call the cops?”
“Hell, no. Worse they’ll do is throw you in jail for a night. That won’t teach fuckers like you. You don’t respect a man’s property.”
He slides on a pair of brass knuckles. I scramble, but he grabs me by the scalp with his left.
And pummels me with his right.
BIO: Chris Rhatigan is a student and freelance journalist living in Iowa City, Iowa. He has worked as a reporter for the New Haven Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. He always appreciates feedback, and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.