Instead, I got a hesitant, and slightly irritated, “Well…I’m gonna have to page the officer on call and wake him up.”
“Yeah. I figured.”
“Then he’s gonna have to get dressed–”
“God, I hope so.”
“–and drive on down to you.” [another long pause] “From Bangor.”
This might be a good time to tell you that the store I work at is about a forty minute drive from Bangor. If you’re going the speed limit. Nobody ever does. Certainly not uniformed police officers with lights and sirens atop their cars.
“Then you’d better get cracking.”
“Well…is this lady violent? Or just annoying?”
This is where I could have embellished. No Pants Lady was in the process of emptying a Little Debbie snack cake display. I’m a writer, after all, and it wouldn’t have taken too much effort for me to come up with a tale filled with blood and gore featuring a customer by the name of Deborah…
Then I remembered…those goddamn security cameras would eventually give me away. So I opted for the truth.
“At the moment, she’s engaged in the wanton destruction of private property.”
I watch a LOT of Law & Order.
“Yes. Wanton.” [long pause] “Unruly. Unchecked. Mean-spirited.”
I also own a dictionary.
Still she said nothing, so I added, “She certainly has the capacity for violence.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve seen this type of behavior before. It always ends in tragedy.”
Yep. Law and Order again.
“Well,” she said, “I’ll give the officer a call. It’ll probably take him about two hours to get to you.”
“Two hours? Two fucking hours???” (Yes, I swore to a Sheriff’s dispatcher. It’s probably on tape somewhere. Big Brother’s lurking after all.) “What am I supposed to do until then?”
“Just try to remain calm. And try to keep her calm.”
I flipped through my mental Convenience Store Training Manual. Clean the bathrooms: Check. Mop the floors: Check. Card old ladies for alcohol and tobacco products: Check. Keep unruly, possibly psychotic, snack cake-flinging customers calm: Nope.
By then the dispatcher had hung up. I clutched the phone, made my way back out, slowly, into the main part of the store, and took my place again behind the counter. I saw the pack of Pall Malls staring up at me. If a hundred years of advertising was to be believed, there was nothing better for calming the soul (hers, not mine) than a direct hit of nicotine.
My voice was shaking, and it shamed me to the core. I cleared my throat and said it again, this time with what Cartman would call Authori-tah.
It worked. Or at least, it got her attention.
“What is it?” It was more a growl than a question.
“I was just wondering if you’d like a cigarette?”
It’s safe to say she did. She grinned broadly, dropped the can of Pringles she’d been preparing to hurl, and made her way over. “Can I smoke it in here?”
She sounded more like a mischievous four-year-old than a fifty-three-year-old destroyer of snacks and nerves. It was in my best interests to keep her that way.
“Sure,” I whispered. Then I gave her a conspiratorial wink. “As long as you don’t tell my boss.”
“Oh, I won’t.”
Then she lit up. This might be a good time to tell you that I’m asthmatic. Still, exposure to second hand smoke wouldn’t kill me quite as quickly as exposure to the demon side of this woman, so I smiled. She smiled back. We were chums once again. Until she saw the phone in my hand.
“Who you gonna call?”
Ghostbusters! Seriously, that’s what my mind shouted. Even in times of peril, you just can’t escape pop culture.
But I didn’t get the chance to answer out loud. It was at this moment that a customer–a big, tall, strapping, manly man, complete with broad shoulders and a thick, scruffy beard–entered the store. I recognized him right away. We’ll call him “Man who comes in every morning at three o’clock for a 24oz cup of 100% Colombian coffee (black) and a can of Kodiak Wintergreen chewing tobacco (he always has his ID ready for me).” And, God bless him, he was fifteen minutes early. It took all my self-control not to clasp my hands together, flutter my eyelids, and shout, My hero!!!
He looked at No Pants Lady, then at the snack-littered floor, then at me.
“Hey [Three o’clock Man.]”
He turned once more to No Pants Lady. “[Jane*], are you giving this nice lady a hard time?”
“Nope. I’m just having a smoke.”
“So I see. Have you paid for those yet?”
“Well, do it now, then get in my truck. I’ll take you home.”
And, under the influence of his quiet Authori-tah, she meekly obeyed. We peered out the window at her. Once she’d climbed into his truck–giving us a rather horrendous view of…well, never mind–he said, “Sorry about that. She’s my neighbor. She’s kinda nuts.”
I just nodded and handed him a can of Kodiak. “I haven’t had a chance to make the coffees yet,” I apologized. “I was kinda busy.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
He handed me a ten, but I shook him off. “It’s on me this morning.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep.” Even though tobacco chewing is the third most disgusting habit I can think of.
I waited until they drove away, then I called my boss. I figured he might want to be apprised of the situation. He growled something indistinguishable that I took to mean, “I’ll be right there.” I hung up the phone, then began the arduous task of cleaning up the store. When he arrived, fifteen minutes later, all that remained of Hurricane No Pants Lady were the candy bars and packs of gum she’d thrown at me. He gave the store a brief once over, then said:
“How come the coffees aren’t done yet?”
My story is probably a little anti-climatic. If this had been an episode of Law & Order, there would have been a police stand-off and dramatic trial. Of course, that would have made me Murdered Cashier, a role I’m not too keen on playing. If this had been a romantic comedy, then No Pants Lady would have been the MacGuffin that brought “Three O’Clock Man,” as portrayed by The Hot Guy on Saving Grace, and myself, played by the beautiful and talented Kate Winslet (shut up! this is my movie adaptation fantasy!), together again after a long and painful separation. That won’t work, either, since I’m happily married to a strapping, unbearded guy who doesn’t chew tobacco. Or it might have been…well, you get the idea. But what really happened is this:
Three O’Clock Man drove No Pants Lady to her house, where she lives alone. Not even a cat. No one knows what’s actually wrong with her. And no one knows if an unsuspecting cashier (or an electric meter reader or a Fuller Brush salesman) will be confronted by her again. That’s because after I finished making the coffees, my boss took pity on me for having to endure such a rough night and sent me home early. As I slept, warm and safe beside my hubby, the officer arrived; two hours after my original call, exactly as promised. My boss decided not to press charges (apparently the only actual damage done was to three Little Debbie snack cakes…a grand total of $1.20), so the cop drove back from whence he came. Without No Pants Lady’s real name and address. Without giving a shit whether or not she’ll strike again. Or if she’ll kill herself someday by getting hit by a car while walking five miles, barefoot and half-naked, to the store for a pack of Pall Malls and a bottle of Allen’s Coffee Brandy.
It’s a kinda sad ending, really. But it’s the truth.
* Not her real name.