Page 3 of Depredation

It was a waste of breath to point out they more than likely didn’t know the exact time we closed. Bill was, if nothing else, diplomatic to a fault when it came to pleasing his customers.

“Okay, then you go on ahead so you can get the baby what she needs. I’ll close up.”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

“You’re not asking, and it’s not that big a deal; I’ll be fine.”

He remained silent for all of five seconds before surprisingly agreeing. “If you’re sure…”

“Go. I’ve closed plenty of times.”

“I appreciate you, Harper.” He gave me a grateful smile, and then shuffled off to the back to gather his things from our break room.

I wasn’t crazy about staying any longer than I had to, but I was scheduled to close regardless. Plus, I didn’t have a newborn at home in need of diapers—just a lazy, slightly obese tomcat that probably couldn’t care less if I showed back up or not.

The door opened just as I rounded the register, and the driver of the black truck stepped inside. He brought with him a gust of cold air and snowshoes packed with snow.

“Hello,” I greeted, shivering slightly.

A silent nod of acknowledgment was his only response as he made his way to one of the back aisles.

“Alright, Harper, I’m taking off,” Bill said, sweeping past, nicely bundled up in his winter garments.

“Drive safe.”

“You too,” he called over his shoulder, disappearing out into the chilled night.

I checked on the patron, who was now in the snack aisle, before lifting our nightly task list from beneath the counter.

“Take out trash, sweep floors, refill toilet paper/ paper-towels,” I mumbled to myself, mentally adding that I’d have to clean up the snow now forming a small puddle on the linoleum.

“He left you to handle all that alone?” the man asked, approaching the counter. He had a cultured voice with an accent I couldn’t immediately place.

“Oh, it’s not that bad.” I smiled at him and set the list aside, giving him my full attention. He wasn’t a giant or anything, but he was tall enough that I had to lift my chin to look up at him.

Leather gloves concealed his hands. His head and mouth were covered with a black hood and scarf, making it difficult to tell what he looked like.

The only thing that stood out to me was his eyes. They were the color of molten silver, and lively—almost as if they were smiling at some inside joke.

“How old are you?” he asked abruptly, setting his things down on the counter.

“I just turned twenty-two.”

“Just?”

“My birthday was a month ago.”

“Happy belated birthday, then.”

“Thanks.” I smiled, still trying to gauge where his accent could be from.

He looked down for a brief second and snagged one of the bags of Nacho Bugles that hung just below the counter.

“These good?” he asked, holding them up.

“Those are my favorite thing to snack on, but they taste even better with a root beer.”

“I need to grab one of those too, then.” He winked and slid the corn chips beside his pack of mints and a mini flashlight before pointing to the wall of cigarettes behind me.

“Can I have a red pack of Pall Malls?”

“Do I need to ID you?” I asked jokingly. His soft laugh brought forth another smile on my face. He made his way to the freezer where the soda was, and I spun around to grab him a box of smokes.

As I scanned the rows of cancer sticks for the right brand, I swore I could feel his eyes drilling into my spine.

When I turned back to face him, though, he had already sat the cold beverage down, and was texting someone on his phone.

He had taken one of his gloves off in the process, allowing me to catch a glimpse of a silver wedding band as I rang everything up.

I wondered where he was heading to, or from, so late at night.

“Is this it?”

“That’s it,” he confirmed.

“Okay, it’s going to be—”

“That’s not important.” He tossed down two twenty-dollar bills, telling me to keep the change, before grabbing the tiny black bag I’d sat on the counter.

“Wait, this is way too much.”

He ignored me and made his way to the door. “See you soon, Harper.”

The way he emphasized my name sent a tendril of unease slithering down my spine.

We didn’t exactly get ‘regulars’, so I wasn’t sure how to take his remark.

I stayed where I was and watched him pull out of the parking lot, noticing his truck looked pretty new.

It was equipped with a large metal grille guard and didn’t have any plates on it. Come to think of it, he hadn’t even gassed up.

The whole encounter had a strange vibe. Metric gas station sat off one of the rural highway exits. It was never really booming with business, but it served its purpose as a quick place to refuel on gas and grub with a clean bathroom.

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