The building was dark and shuttered as the car pulled slowly to a stop in the alley behind the mini mall. Jesse and I slid the ski masks on over our faces.
Jenny climbed out of the passenger side and got behind the wheel. Reaching into her purse, she extracted and handed Jesse his pistol, which he tucked into the waistband of his pants. Kissing her on the forehead, he hissed final instructions: “We’ll be right back. Be ready to haul ass as soon as you see us come running.”
We climbed out and he opened up the trunk and I reached in and pulled out a sledgehammer, a couple of flashlights and two duffle bags, and then we strode silently, but purposely, around to the front of the store.
Sweat ran down my forehead and into my eyes, blood pumping through my veins, supercharged, throbbing with adrenaline. It was a warm night and we were wearing gloves, as well as the baseball hats and hoodies that Junior had suggested, telling us they were the type favored by the Latinos down in Green Bay and would help throw the authorities off our trail.
Traffic was sparse on the streets on a Sunday night as we suspected it would be. A lone pickup truck with one headlight out and a bad muffler lurched to a stop at the light before turning unsteadily and belching gray smoke, rattled slowly up the road and out of sight.
Emerging from the shadows, we scrutinized the empty street in both directions as far as we could see. The breeze was crisp, but I was sweating nonetheless. Quiet hung in the air; while the neon sign announcing the word Drugs illuminated our silhouettes in blue.
“Go for it, Preach,” he directed in a whisper.
I raised the sledge above my head and swung the cumbrous end with violence at the front door, shattering it, spewing a shower of dust and glass particulates into my face.
An alarm immediately punctured the night air with a shrill scream.
I lifted the hammer to swing again, but Jesse held my arm back and leapt through the opening like a rat into a hole. “Let’s go,” he shouted back at me as I followed—glass shards crunching under my shoes and the twisted metal frame tearing at my arms as I distorted my angular limbs and clambered through.
Inside, the essence of decades of stale cologne, mothballs and antiseptic creams struck my nostrils. Staggering forward cautiously, my eyes struggled to adjust to the darkness, the interior lit only by the rays of our flashlights, reflecting off the displays of postcards, cardboard eyeliner supermodels and super size condoms. In the back, the pharmacy area shimmered with florescence. We headed that way.
Jesse sprinted down the aisle and bounded with one leap like a deer over the counter. Frantically, he tore through trays and boxes and bottles—scattering their contents across the counters and onto the floor.
“What do we need again?” he screamed over the wailing alarm and waved his arm wildly for me to search the other end of the racks. “What’s the shit called?”
“Pseudoephedrine? It’s in the sinus shit!” I responded with frustration. I’d been through this with him too many times before to have to worry about it now.
“Yeah, yeah, I remember,” he said while ripping open cabinet doors and yanking the contents out.
I hoped so. How many times did we go over it? I wondered with irritation.
Jesse checked the time on his watch. “One minute,” he screamed—rising excitement evident in his voice.
I scrambled into action at the opposite end of the pharmacy area. Heart throbbing violently, I fumbled with dozens of bottles, my shaking hands knocking several off the counter, spilling mounds of yellow and pink pills across the floor.
The alarm continued its ear-splitting attack.
“Where are you hiding it, you motherfuckers?!” Jesse slammed the contents of a bin to the floor. Grabbing the telephone in frustration, he smashed it against the wall sending plastic shards flying everywhere.
I glanced up over my shoulder and saw with apprehension that I was looking into the lens of the security camera. It knew that it couldn’t see the details of my masked face, but it could see into my eyes. I felt its gaze staring at me. It felt like God himself was looking deeply into my soul and judging me.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts.
“Minute and a half!” Jesse’s voice skirted the edge of the abyss.
My legs wobbled as I scrambled around the pharmacy work areas—upending stools, swinging open cabinets and emptying drawers, shining my light into the recesses of shelves and cabinets, peering quickly within to determine their contents.
The alarm wailed relentlessly; they would be coming soon. I could see the sad eyes of my father gazing at me through the bars of a jail cell. We had to get out now.
Suddenly, I spotted the familiar red and green colored boxes in the glare of my flashlight.
“Here!” I shouted. Using both hands, I scrambled, stuffing armloads of the boxes into my bag.
“Jackpot!” Jesse cried out in delight a second later and dancing in a circle held up a bottle triumphantly. “I found some Oxycontin! We are going to be very popular motherfuckers when we get back home,” he giggled in giddy enthusiasm.
“What else should we grab?” I asked while shoving the final boxes of sinus meds into the duffle.
“You tell me, you’re the answer man,” Jesse snapped.
“Okay, I guess just lithium batteries and blister packs if you see them.”
“Two minute, dude. We don’t have time. We got what we came for already, so just grab as many pills as you can—the dead heads back home will take anything for a buzz. Fill the bag with whatever, just make it quick.”
Frantically I stuffed my bag full of whatever bottles of pills I could reach, arms pumping at a rate of speed I didn’t realize I possessed. Striking it with his fist, Jesse banged open the cash register and grabbed a handful of bills from the interior as he flew by.
“Two and a half!” he yelled. “Time to rock and roll!”
Vaulting over the counter, we ran hard for the door—knocking items off the shelves as we blurred past—a display of sunglasses crashing to the floor in our wake.
Reaching the exit, Jesse launched himself through the hole to the outside like a bullet from a gun. Following close behind him, I stumbled and fell as my unwieldy body clambered through, tearing my jeans and cutting my knees on the debris. Crying out in pain, I reached out and grabbed Jesse by the heel, and he whirled back, and, grabbing my arm, dragged me along and back to my feet and we hurtled down the pavement.
Regaining my balance, we sprinted around the corner and dove into the car, the wail of the alarm still echoing in our ears.
“Drive!” Jesse shouted.
The tires squealed.
“Not so fast! Take it steady and slow! We don’t need any attention!”
Jenny slowed the car to a legal pace and we slipped softly like a ghost for a couple blocks through a quiet residential neighborhood, before switching the headlights on and picking up speed. Jesse screamed at the top of his lungs, “That was fucking awesome!” and pounded on the dashboard, while I slouched down in the back seat and guiltily watched for red and blue lights in the rear view mirrors, panting in dreadful anticipation at getting busted, until at last, we took a final turn and cleared the town. Breathing heavily, laughing, relieved and quite pleased with our take, we turned on the tunes, fired up a jay, and—taking the winding back roads that we had scouted before—were out of Iron Mountain and on our way home in less than five minutes.
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