Truth. Truth is all I wanted. Well, that and a box of Andes Chocolate Mints. At that moment, with my stomach growling, and my mind racing, I couldn’t figure which one was more urgent. But either way, it caused me to walk willingly into a sketchy gas station downtown that smelled of smoke, and sour milk. 

Hilly’s Gas and Goods was a sad, gray building squatting in the middle of nowhere, a few miles outside city limits. Surrounding it was a massive plot of sand and weeds. Were it not for the highway, and ugly gas station, you could film an old western there. 

I parked my deep green toyoda a couple spaces from a dented camry, which, as the only other car in the parking lot, must have belonged to the employee staring at me from inside. I tried to look confident as I pushed through the dirty glass doors, but there are few things more uncomfortable than a situation like this. 

First of all, I was a mess. My hair looked like I’d picked up road kill and plopped it on my head, and, since I couldn’t find my contacts this morning, I wore my big, Buddy Holly style glasses that were perpetually crooked after I'd clumsily hit my head on a doorway. Not to mention my shoes were probably mismatched, but you can hardly blame me for that. I own about a dozen pairs of converse, and I’m a little color blind. 

Second, the employee and I were the only ones in the building, and the smoke from his cigarette filled the room, its only escape a small window behind him.

And, last but not least, a murder had taken place at this gas station. 

Granted, it was several months ago now, and easily a cold case that the police had practically given up on, but regardless, it was a case, and naturally my ambitious, ammature butt wanted to be a part of it. 

The employee, whose name tag read Jordan, nodded as I entered. Then, removing the cigarette from his mouth, blew out a long, grey cloud that reminded me of the train by my house. I highly doubted that was allowed, but I hardly had authority over him.

“Looking for something, my guy?” he asked. From my view of him, partially obstructed by the scratched up counter he leaned his elbows on from behind, he seemed a bit like myself. Tall, gangly, and in his early twenties. But the similarities ended there. He was a bit more muscular than me, his dark arms riddled with tattoos. His hair was pale purple- I think- and cropped on the sides, leaving a tuft at the top that was tied back in a stubby ponytail. What would you call that? A mantail? His shirt was white, and torn at the sleeves, and gages made his ears hang low, like Budda. 

“I was looking for Andes Chocolate Mints,” I told him, trying not to breathe in. He nodded in the general direction of the candy isle, and put the cigarette back in his mouth. 

After muttering an awkward “thanks” I crossed the floor to the indicated isle, feeling Jordan’s eyes on me as I scanned the shelves.

“So, how long have you worked here?” I asked, partly because I wanted to be friendly, and partly to cover the growling of my stomach. When no answer came, I turned and saw him scrolling through his phone. I scowled. He’d probably been bored out of his mind all day, and now that he finally had a customer, he couldn’t be bothered with them. I cleared my throat. His jaw shifted slightly, but he didn’t look up. 

To my immeasurable disappointment, the shelves were empty of any Andes Chocolate Mints, so I settled for a bag of m&ms instead, and returned to the cashier, where I set them on the counter with a crinkle.

“I heard there was a murder around here,” I mentioned, trying to sound casual. Unfortunately, being casual is not one of my strong suits, and the sentence sounded like I’d recited it for a school play. Jordan didn’t seem to notice the awkward tone. He at last looked up at me, and nodded again, pulling the cigarette from his mouth.

“Yeah. Here at this gas station, actually.” when he talked, the left side of his lips were quirked up in a sort of smirk. This must have been a habit, because the skin was creased in that spot, even after his mouth relaxed. He glanced at the m&ms. “No Andes?”

I shook my head. “I couldn’t find any.”

He shrugged, and picked up the bag with a ringed hand to scan it. 

“So… was the case ever solved?” I asked. I knew the answer, but wanted his words. Maybe he’d have a little more information. Unlikely, seeing as I’d done my own research, but you never know. When Jordan answered, he spoke from the side of his mouth, to keep the cigarette in. 

“Nope. But I heard it was some idiot with a gun. He probably skipped town months ago.” He handed the m&m’s back to me. “$3.90.” his voice was lower than mine, and a bit scratchy, despite his young age.

Gingerly, I fished the wallet from my pocket and began shuffling through the bills. 

“So I guess, you don’t know why they did it?” I asked. Not the most subtle ways of getting information, but I was doing my best.

“No. Why, are you a cop?”

“No.” I handed him a five dollar bill. “Just curious. You weren’t working here when it happened?”

“Oh I was working here,” he said,tightening his mantail “Just wasn’t my shift. Came in next day and heard that Jess was shot in the parking lot.”

“So you knew her?”

Knew her?” Jordan snorted, and leaned his elbows on the counter. I instinctively took a step backwards. “She was my ex.”

My heart skipped. Now I was really getting somewhere. “So the police must have questioned you.”

“Not more than anyone else.” he breathed out another cloud of smoke. “No one knew we were dating.”

“Oh.” Why was he telling me this? I tried to keep calm. “I’m sorry. It... must have been hard to lose someone you know.”

Jordan nodded. “It was a bit of a shock.”

“Were you on good terms with her when she died?”

He frowned. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

Crap. I raised my hands. “My bad, I didn’t mean to impose, I just thought… I don’t know, I thought it’d be nice to have someone to talk to.” I started to back away. 

Jordan shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Whatever. We were on pretty good terms. I mean, I wasn’t ready to talk to her yet, but she seemed chill with it all. Like we were never a thing in the first place.” his voice had a forced quality to it.

“I see.” I reminded myself to never work at a gas station. This man was so desperate for company, he was spilling his personal life all over. But now I was trying not to breathe too loud. Somehow I’d gotten him comfortable enough to talk to me, but this could easily take a turn for the worse. The m&m bag was getting sweaty in my clenched hand. “I don’t suppose you’d know anyone who’d want to hurt her?”

Jordan bit his lip and stared out the window at the highway. “No one wanted to hurt Jess. No one. We all liked her, she was-” he stopped, and sniffed, muscles tensed. Then drew another breath from his cigarette and sighed, turning back to me. “Like I said, some idiot with a gun made a mistake.”

I nodded. “Right. So no one wanted her dead, then? No one?”

He shook his head furiously, and the end of the cigarette glowed orange. “No one wanted her dead, they were just foolin’. They weren’t thinking. Didn’t realize…" my mind was racing. What was he going on about? "-didn’t check the safety…guns are so stupid…” he clenched his teeth, and for a moment, I thought the cigarette might fall from his mouth. “Just showin off, like some idiot. Showin off to someone who stopped caring a long time ago. Never should have-” 

I watched, frozen and horrified, as Jordan tried to control his shallow breaths through the cigarette, which glowed on and off like a light switch. The smoke was filling the area, choking my lungs, but I ignored it. I was getting close. So close. I dared not say a word, dared not shatter this strange, and fragile bond I suddenly had with this man. The crease at the left  side of his mouth twitched. He was sweating, staring at his hands. I realized only then that I was leaning forward. He looked at me, eyes wide. I didn't move. For a moment, we stared at one another, two strangers in a place of smoke and death. 

At last, after a quivering breath, he reached beneath the counter and pulled out something black. Something metal. My eyes widened when I saw it. He gripped it tightly in his damp hand as he raised it to my pale forehead. My heartbeat, his breathing, were the loudest sounds in the room. But that could change within seconds. He maintained eye contact, gun shaking. He quirked his mouth again, to speak through the fuming cigarette, and said, his voice quiet and shaking,

“Alright, buddy. Can you keep a secret?”

August 16, 2020 22:09

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.