“Hey, Peter. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
My boss, Jeff, gawked at me from the other side of the counter, a grin forming beneath his blond mustache.
“Sure,” I said.
“Why don’t you come out from behind the counter?”
Oh, no. Come-out-from-behind-the-counter talks were rarely a good thing.
“I’m fine right here,” I said.
“I insist,” Jeff said.
As much as I didn’t care to stand face-to-face with Jeff, fighting him on it would be a lost cause. So, I circled the counter and stopped a few feet short of him, placing my hands in the pockets of my pants.
“I have some news,” Jeff said, his grin turning into a big-toothed smile. “I just gave my two weeks’ notice.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You’re leaving?”
Jeff nodded. “You know what that means?”
“That your life won’t be as shitty now?”
“Not only that. It’s an opportunity for you. How would you like to fill my shoes as manager?”
I let out a breath and swallowed. “Gee. I don’t know what to say.”
“But I’m only working here during the summer. Until college starts up again.”
“I’m sure we can work something out, even if it’s only on a temporary basis.”
I pondered. “There are a lot of things to consider.”
“Like what?” Jeff asked.
“Pay,” I replied. “I’m working this job to help pay my way through college. Would I get a raise?”
“You’d be a salaried employee,” Jeff noted, “instead of an hourly employee like you are now. I already worked the numbers. I’m taking into account your hourly wage, the average number of hours you work per week, and my manager’s salary. Your taxable income would increase by twenty-five dollars a week!”
Jeff seemed pretty excited about the bump in pay. Much more than me.
“Wow,” I said. “That would definitely get me over the poverty line.”
“What else is on your mind?” Jeff inquired.
“My duties,” I replied. “I’m assuming I would have additional responsibilities.”
“Which means more hours.”
“Which means I’d be making less per hour than what I’m making right now.”
Jeff’s brow furrowed, then his eyes widened. “But you get benefits.”
“But I’m still on my parents’ plan, so I don’t really need health insurance right now.”
Jeff pursed his lips and put a hand to his chin, mulling things over. “I think you’re missing the big picture here.”
“The title,” he said, enthusiastically. “Manager. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
“And you’ll earn immediate respect.”
“But I only slightly respect you.”
“Exactly,” Jeff shouted, pointing a finger at me. “If I wasn’t manager, you wouldn’t respect me at all.”
I dropped my gaze and glanced at the floor.
“Just give it some thought,” Jeff insisted. “If you don’t take the job, I’ll have to spend the next two weeks trying to find someone else to fill my position.”
“How long do I have to make a decision?”
“Until I get back from lunch today.”
“Great. I appreciate your flexibility on the matter.”
A chiming of the door interrupted our enthralling conversation, and I turned to look, my eyes bulging at the sight. A hulking figure stood in front of the door. They wore a black ski mask and pulled something from behind their back. A gun!
“Who’s in charge here?” the man said.
I pointed to Jeff, noticing that he already had a finger pointed at me.
“I don’t care who does it,” the man said, “but I want the money from the register.”
Jeff stood with his mouth agape; the rest of his body frozen in place.
“Now,” the man shouted.
“Okay,” I said, taking the initiative.
I circled around the counter and made my way to the register. I pulled all of the paper money from the register and left the coins. A man with a gun probably had no interest in loose change.
“Here you go,” I said, extending a hand.
The man closed the gap and grasped the money. He eyed it warily.
“Twenty-seven dollars?” he said.
“I didn’t count it,” I said. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“What kind of company only has twenty-seven dollars in its cash register?”
“A pet store like this one,” I answered. “It’s not a very lucrative business. And most people pay with credit cards now.”
“It’s true,” Jeff interrupted. “We’re pretty cash-strapped. In fact, I talked with the owner recently, and he was considering letting Peter go in order to cut costs.”
That was very reassuring.
“That would have sucked,” Jeff said. “Having to do two jobs. Mine and Peter’s. But now that I’m leaving, Peter has a chance at a promotion. Talk about a change of luck.”
“What the hell are you rambling about?” the man said. “You must have a safe. Where is it?”
Jeff went back to being a mute, so I decided to answer.
“We don’t have one,” I admitted.
“What?” the man said.
“The safe would probably be worth more than what we put inside it, so there’s never been a need for one. You can go check behind the counter if you want.”
I watched as the man deliberated, eventually shaking his head. “Forget it then. You must have something else of value in this store.”
“We have some nice tanks.”
“Do I look like I can carry a tank out of here?”
“I guess not.”
“What kind of animals do you like?” I asked.
“You do like animals. Right?”
“They’re okay,” the man answered. “I remember having a turtle as a kid. It was pretty boring.”
“So, you’re a reptile guy. How about one of our ball pythons?”
“I don’t want a damn snake!”
“How about a hedgehog?”
“Enough with the animals,” the man said.
“But you’re missing the point,” I noted. “Some of our animals are worth a lot. A hedgehog is pretty small. Perfect for the stealthy criminal such as yourself. You could easily sell it for two-hundred and fifty dollars.”
That appeared to get the man’s attention. He pocketed the money. “Okay. Go get one.”
I looked to Jeff since he was closer to the hedgehog. He nodded and made his way over to a small cage. Jeff picked it up, walked to my side, and rested the cage on the floor in front of us.
The man placed the gun in the waist of his jeans, draping his shirt over top of it. Then he picked up the cage by its handle.
“Will this really get me two-hundred and fifty dollars?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s their going rate. Just don’t try selling it back to us. We don’t have the money.”
The man turned and exited the store.
I let out a much-needed breath. One large enough to fill the Goodyear blimp. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I pivoted to look.
“You may have just saved our lives,” Jeff said. “I knew you were management material.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I said.
“Then you’ll take the job?”
“I didn’t say that. I was only implying that I’m smarter.”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Jeff snickered.
“Oh. I’m pretty confident it’s the case.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you gave the guy one of our guinea pigs,” I said. “He’s going to be pissed when he realizes it’s not a hedgehog.”