Updated: Mar 7, 2020
It didn’t take long for Owen to establish that he was in charge. Part of me was thankful to hand over responsibility in a time like this, but I couldn’t ignore the glaring fact that Owen was the kind of guy who didn’t know just how much he didn’t know, and his false sense of complete competency was almost certainly going to make matters worse.
He ordered everyone into the front of the store for the start of his “investigation.” Jerry came along quietly and peacefully. We found Bart laying low in the back office by the time clock. One of the mischief cats made a surprise appearance, but scrambled on top of the drink case and disappeared before Owen could line up and take a shot, which only left the man even more furious. Deep down, I was secretly rooting for the racoons.
With all of the remaining live victims in one place, Owen took my flashlight and stood guard at the booth while the five of us sat quietly awaiting our new fearless leader’s plan. Yen and Lucy sat on one side. I took the aisle seat, Jerry the wall, with Bart crammed between us.
Owen began, “Alright. First thing’s first, which one of you did it?” His interrogation skills left more than a little to be desired. When no confessions were immediately forthcoming, he continued. “That’s alright. We’ll figure it out. In the meantime, nobody is going anywhere.”
His light was shaking, a dead tell that his brave and cocky persona was little more than a bluff. He needed help, which I tried to offer. “Maybe we should call the authorities and tell them what happened.” As soon as I started speaking, Owen blinded me with his light. He held it there until a few seconds after I stopped. Perhaps he was taking the time to consider my suggestion, or maybe he was just letting this little amount of power go to his head.
Finally, he lowered the light and said, “Yeah, okay. Let’s call the cops. But I don’t trust any of you.” He shook the flashlight at my side of the table. “Yen, you and the orange mouse girl were sitting right here when it happened, so I know neither of you are the killer. Take this.” He gave Yen the spare flashlight. “Go call 911. Tell them where we are. Tell them a man is dead, and I’ve got it narrowed down to three suspects.”
As Yen made her way to the store phone, I tried to explain. “Actually, 911 doesn’t work in this town. You’ll have to call the sheriff’s department.”
“Dude,” Bart said forcefully. “Your town really sucks.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You three shut up!” snapped the man with the gun. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this one way or another.”
“Owen!” Yen called out, a note of fear lining the edge of her voice.
“The phones are dead.”
Of course. Of course the night is unfolding like this. Why should I even be surprised that it’s happening all over again?
He left us in the dark and headed towards Yen. As soon as he was out of whisper-range, Lucy leaned forward and quietly asked, “Okay, guys, what’s really going on?”
I leaned forward to whisper back, “I legitimately do not know.”
“Is there someone else in here with us?”
I heard the deep breath she took before asking, “Did one of you kill that man?”
Jerry answered, “I think it’s more than reasonable to assume that the racoons did it.”
Thankfully, Jerry sounded like his old self. It felt good to have him back, but I wasn’t about to forget how he had just fugue-stated in the supply closet. Was that some kind of temporary insanity? Possession? There were too many possibilities and not nearly enough time for me to form a good plan.
Owen was back before I knew it.
“Alright, let’s work this out. You, delivery guy, where were you when that man was stabbed?”
Bart’s answers were matter-of-fact. “I was hiding.”
“I saw a gun come out, and I don’t get paid enough to take a bullet.”
Owen flicked the light at me. “What about you?”
I answered, “I also don’t get paid enough to take a bullet.”
“You know what I mean, smart-ass.”
“I made a phone call, then I went to see if I could find the racoons.”
“Interesting,” he said, turning that simple word into an implicit accusation.
“How is that ‘interesting’?” Lucy asked.
“The phone was sabotaged. Someone cut the line out of the wall, and it looks like they used a knife to do it. You’re saying you were the last one to use the phone. Is it really possible that the killer waited for you to hang up, sliced the cable, then snuck past you and killed the old man?”
Owen kept it up. “He was wearing one of those stupid face masks, but it was already bloody when we first got here. What’s the story behind that?”
Jerry laughed. “Oh, that was me. He was acting a fool, so I cracked his face chimney like a boss.”
Owen turned the light onto Jerry, who had at some point pulled his own sharp-tooth smiling mask back up over his face.
Owen asked, “Are you prone to violent outbursts?”
Bart chimed in, “Come to think of it, you did tackle me pretty hard.”
“Thank you,” Jerry responded.
I could see which way the winds were blowing, and I didn’t like it. Jerry had been acting strangely for most of the night, but I knew him well enough to know that he was innocent. I also knew him well enough to know he was the worst person to advocate for his own innocence.
“Owen,” Yen called.
“Take a look at this.”
He left us once again to join the woman standing in the center of the room with her flashlight pointed at the code green box.
Lucy whispered, “I don’t like this. That guy is unhinged. He shouldn’t be in charge.”
Bart leaned forward and put his head in his hands. “This is so fucked. I just want to go home.”
“What about the rest of your shift?” I asked, trying to keep the mood light.
“There is no ‘rest of the shift,’ man. I just said that so you guys would let me get out of here. Everybody I work with knows the rules. This is what I get for breaking them.”
This was another unexpected curveball. “What do you mean?”
“This gas station is always the end of the route. When I started working, everybody told me the same thing about this place. Get in and get out. Never start a conversation with the workers. Never stay longer than necessary. Never go to the bathroom. I get paid double to run this route because no one else wants to do it. I just assumed it was because this gas station is in the middle of klan country. Now I’m sitting here waiting for Mr. good-guy-with-a-gun to decide my fate? For real, fuck this town and everyone in it.”
“Hey!” Owen yelled. “No talking!”
“Yes sir, boss!” Bart shouted sarcastically.
We sat in somber silence until he returned to the table with the box in his hands and Yen by his side. He reached inside the kit, pulled out the pack of surgical masks, and dropped them onto the table. It appeared as if someone had taken a knife to the pack, slicing holes through the lot of them.
Someone is sabotaging our supplies.
Yen asked, “Who would do something like that? And why?”
“I don’t know,” Owen answered. “But I intend to find out.”
They both immediately turned around and pointed their lights at the sound of something crashing loudly to the ground. Whatever it was, it came from the bathroom.
“Go check that out,” Owen said.
“Are you crazy?” Yen answered. “That’s where