Just Another Night at Work

Night shift yawned with boredom. Until it didn’t.

In the economy parking lot at Portland’s airport, Jen caught motion out of the corner of her eye from shatterproof glass windows offering a 180-degree view. Lighted poles illuminated the covered lanes at the exit. Everything beyond them became a blank, black slate.

But movement often jarred her senses. Most of the time, there was nothing. Or it was a precursor to a car pulling into the cashier lane.

Between two and four in the morning were the darkest and dullest times. She had time to read many pages in whatever crossed the digital pages of her eBooks. Maybe the suspense novel she’d been enjoying had heightened her imagination.

Headlights cut through the ink. A battered truck approached, shuddering to a halt beside her window. A young man wearing dark clothes, his black beanie pulled almost over his eyes, leaned toward the window.

Sirens sounded in her gut when she realized the scrap of paper in his left hand wasn’t a lot ticket. It wasn’t anything she could identify. But when he nudged the business end of a pistol over the edge of his open window, her nerves snapped to attention.

The jolt of adrenaline was a double-shot of espresso directly to the bloodstream.

“Give me the cash,” he growled, in a tone so close to the rev of his engine she almost didn’t catch the words. Even so, the intent was clear.

She sat back, allowing an extra six inches of air between his face and hers. Her toes stretched toward the alarm button inconveniently placed at the intersection of floor and wall beneath her table.

“You don’t know how this works.” Her voice sounded steady. Like the time her best friend had a seizure in high school.

Never let them see you sweat. You can break down later.

“Yeah I do.” He glowered and poked the gun closer to her.

It was mostly behind his other arm, so she doubted the security camera trained on them would catch it. But if she could just reach another two centimeters. The toe of her sneaker rammed the raised button. She lifted her foot and poked the mechanism.

“I point the gun. You give me the money.” Yeah, that sounded about right for a holdup.

“I can’t.”

“This lane is for cash. I know you have plenty.”

Oh, her strangely mathematical mind knew she had four hundred eight five dollars. But he didn’t know that. And he didn’t know how it was secured in the booth either.

“The payments go into a slot in a locked box. I don’t have the combination.”

“You think I’m stupid?” His hiss could have scared a rattlesnake

\ “You give out change.”

“Oh. That.” She shook her head slightly. “You want the thirty bucks I have in ones and fives? You’re seriously committing armed robbery for enough cash to buy yourself a steak dinner?”

He gulped. His eyes shifted from side to side.

She tilted her head toward the camera. Yes, they were caught on tape. If security didn’t make it in time to stop him, they would be able to get a clear photo of his face. And his license plate. In the past, this booth had been robbed several times per year. But no one had attempted it in the seven months of her employment.

“Give me the cash.”

She shrugged and turned the key in the cash drawer. Most of the night’s receipts were shoved in the back because counting it gave her something to do after the midnight rush ended. Her fingers trembled slightly over the stack of ones. She scooped them up and groped for the fives beside them with her other hand.

“Hurry up!”

She couldn’t see the firearm from her position, and the angle might force the bullet into the booth walls. But she didn’t make enough money to take a bullet for the Port of Portland.

She extended both hands toward him and he grabbed the cash.

“The gate,” he snarled.

She pushed the button. Safety first, avoiding destruction of property second.

His engine revved. Tires squealed and his vehicle flew out of the lot. His cab swiped the raising bar, which bucked and swayed as it finished its ascent.

At the rotunda, headlights flashed. Two sets. One from the direction of the other long-term lot and one from Cascade Avenue. The pair of security teams sent to pin the thief in.

Jen sank into the padded stool. Her legs twitched with excess energy. She stood and paced the small enclosure.

Ten minutes eked past. The shaking had subsided, so she sat down and fiddled with the cash drawer key. Locked. Open. Locked. Open. Locked. Leave it.

The yellow light of the lot’s security vehicle flashed. It circled out of view behind the collection booth. Soon, tapping on the door warned her of company.

Her heart leapt into her throat at the light noise. More adrenaline pumped into her bloodstream. A faint click and buzz as the coded lock was disengaged.

Alex stood there in all of his middle-aged, overweight glory. He pushed his hat back.

“We got him.” He shook his head. “How did you manage to keep him from stealing it all? I know there’s more than thirty-four bucks in that drawer.”

“I told him the intake dropped into a lockbox.”

Alex crowed with laughter.

The tale of her tricking the robber grew with every passing day. Meanwhile, boredom returned to night shift in the parking lot.

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