Rory dangled a cigarette from his lips and listened to the Corolla hum lazily through the parking lot. Talk radio played just loud enough to hear over the engine’s drone. A 98 cent tax on gas. Per gallon. Rory heard that. He heard the governor babbling at the press address and imagined tears running down his face as he shrieked on about the apocalypse. It will be a hellscape, the governor said. Hot, dry, and desolate unless we all chip in to prevent the near-inevitable meltdown. California is fucked, in not so many words.
He parked and walked into the BevMart looking for cheap white wine. Rory loved the BevMart and its cold, sterile smell. He took his time like usual before finding his Riesling and a six-pack of craft beer to boot and was on his way home. It was the mayor rambling now. This time about the new influx of early-released convicts, thanks to Assembly Bill 109, who are assuredly all non-violent offenders. They paid their debts to society, he said, and we ought to thank them for that, so another bill had been enacted that demanded we house them until further notice. One ex-con per family, two per household of two or less. Rory thought about sleeping on his couch as two 300-pound Chicanos took turns fucking their hainas on his bed.
An hour later he thought about masturbating but he was already too drunk to do so. He sat watching porn with not even half a hard-on just passing the time. It took him two and a half hours in traffic and half a tank of gas to get home and this was what awaited him. 36 years old and instead of a wife to just sit next to in front of a TV and half-heartedly cum into before bed, he had sadist fantasies playing on a VR headset. He reached down his pants in a last ditch effort but for yet another day in a row there was no sensory response down there; as if someone had cut the taut string connecting two empty coffee cans. 7 o’ clock. Rory decided to sleep.
He woke the next morning and washed up, checked his gun, and headed back to work. He wore all black. The dispensary couldn’t afford Kevlar so it was up to him to provide it. He couldn’t afford it either so a while back he’d decided his gun was effectively useless in the event of a holdup. Your boss’s money would never be worth getting shot over. No one and nothing is worth getting shot over. So he stood as a glorified doorman at Melrose 30 Cap letting in the hood rats, hippies, hipsters, skaters, pill popping wine hags, old head gangsters, and middle aged, so-called bachelors just like himself all alike.
The smell of marijuana nauseated him at this point. He stood outside smoking Camels all day compulsively eating Klonopin. Before he would go inside every now and then and talk with Erin who usually worked the front desk until she mentioned her fiancée once and then Rory stopped coming in altogether. He stood in the heat wave now with yet another hangover staring at the shadowless noon blacktop, circling his thumb over the hammer on his Beretta.
A car pulled up and a kid no older than 16 came out from the driver’s seat. “Hey,” Rory said, “ID?”
The kid snorted. “The fuck?”
“Need your ID to get in.”
He ignored Rory and opened the door himself. Rory’s face turned hot. His jaw clenched. He closed his eyes for a moment and looked up to feel the sun beat down on his face. He meditated in the red warmth glowing through his eyelids and followed the kid inside.
“Hey you gotta get outta here.”
The kid was at the front desk laughing with Erin.
“What’s wrong?” Erin said.
“He needs to leave. Now.”
“Whoa dude, chill. What happened?”
“Yeah bro, chill,” the kid said coolly, smirking.
“If you don’t leave I’m gonna have you arrested for trespassing.” Rory said slowly, deliberately.
“Call the cops then, shit.” He turned back to Erin.
Rory was dizzy from the pills and couldn’t get his thoughts straight, couldn’t get his voice to match the noise in his head. His nostrils flared along with his bulging, bloodshot eyes. His teeth felt ready to crack under the pressure. He marched over to the kid and grabbed him by the back of the neck.
“What the fuck! Don’t touch me!”
He tried leading him to the door but the kid twisted around and started swinging. Rory tackled him at the waist and had him pinned but he still wouldn’t stop swinging. The kid was irate, claiming his Crip set, letting Rory know who he was fucking with. Rory flipped him over and tightened an arm around his neck. The kid tried to scream but he could only manage increasingly desperate gasps and gurgles. Erin screamed for the girls in the back to come help.
All the girls in the shop had come out and were trying to separate the two, crying, begging Rory to stop. The kid flailed around and found an angle. He dug an elbow into Rory’s ribs giving him a chance to breathe before he reached for Rory’s gun. One of the girls noticed and screamed “His gun!” and they all scattered.
“Don’t you fucking think about it!” Rory said. The kid had a hand on the Beretta’s grip. All he had to do was unfix the latch on the holster. “Stop!” Rory said and then dropped a fist like a mallet through the boy’s thin cheekbone. He covered his face, but Rory kept clubbing down on the back of his head, slamming his face into the stone tile. The sound of the girls’ hysteria mixed in with caveman grunts and wet, labored breathing until Rory finally stepped back.
The boy was unconscious. It was silent now except for the sound of him choking on his blood. The girls fetched water and rags and turned him on his side. Rory was numb. He tried to breathe deep and make sense of what had just happened as he walked outside and lit a cigarette. He reached for his tube of Klonopin. Empty.
He tossed the bottle and sat down on the curb. He could hear them inside, all weeping, still trying to wake the boy up. The sun seemed hotter now even though it had only been minutes. He thought about the gas tax. Maybe they were right. Unlivable hellscape. That at least sounded right.
The sirens approached. Rory lifted his gun. He fired 4 rounds into the sky and put the muzzle to his chin as the police pulled up. Don’t shoot, they said. Drop the gun. He took one last drag of his cigarette then squeezed the trigger slow. He flinched. Teeth and bone bounced off the blood-spattered wall behind him before his body thumped down on the pavement. He was still awake.