January 10th, 2024

The Hold Up
Short story by Kent Frates
Reprinted from A Dubious Collection, The Road Runner Press, 2022

Nelda had to get out of this shithole job in this shithole town.  Working in Eddie’s liquor store for eight dollars an hour just wouldn’t cut it.  It hadn’t always been this way.  During the oil boom jobs were plentiful and, waitressing in a popular bar paid off with plenty of good tips for a sexy looking young woman.  It also led to some bad decisions.

It must have been Leroy’s smile that got her.  Whatever else he was, which wasn’t much, Leroy had a killer smile.  About her age he was not quite handsome but, damn that smile.  He also had a good job driving a truck for a drilling company out of Tulsa and, a fair line of bullshit.

The bar closed when the oil business went in the shitter and drilling stopped almost entirely.  Then Leroy disappeared, leaving Nelda with a car payment she couldn’t afford and, a nine-month-old son.  Western Oklahoma was gut punched and, things only got worse because of a long drought that crippled the wheat farmers.  All those new pickup trucks were being repossessed by banks and everybody who could leave town, did.  It wasn’t as bad as the depression and the dust bowl but some days it felt like it.

Nelda hung on because she didn’t have a choice.  Her mom helped look after little Leroy and she found work, even if the job wasn’t worth a damn.  People still drank, mostly beer and cheap whiskey, and her boss Eddie had the only liquor store in town.  Eddie also rented out some trailer homes he owned.  Nelda lived in one and a big chunk of her pay check went right to the boss.  The cheap motherfucker found ways to squeeze the money out of everything he touched but, no use complaining, she still had a job and she knew she’d figure a way to get out of town, somehow.

She wasn’t dumb and at twenty-two she had the kind of body that made men look twice.  If she didn’t go out of her mind while she figured a way out she’d be fine or, at least, that’s what she kept telling herself.

Nelda was the only one in the store, as she was most of the time.  Dressed in a cut off t-shirt and jeans, she passed time by cleaning the store, dusting the bottles and, vacuuming or, playing on the Internet.

Eddie came in around 3:00.  Usually, he didn’t come in until 6:00, when he took over for the evening but, sometimes he’d just show up.  Nelda was sure it was to check the cash register and see that nothing was missing.

Eddie was around sixty but looked older.  Mostly bald, he was tall and thin, stooped shouldered, with suspicious eyes.  He always dressed in western shirts and cheap Walmart slacks, with a ring of keys hung at his belt.

“How’s business?”  Eddie asked, as he came around behind the counter and opened the cash register.

“Same as always.  Lou bought a six pack and Charley a five-dollar bottle of wine.  A couple of Mexicans bought two cases of beer and a bottle of Jim Beam.  Maybe they’d robbed a bank.”

Eddie shook his head and started his familiar whining.  “Can’t make any money on this place when it’s open and can’t make any money when it’s closed.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Nelda replied.

“It’s the damn government and the big oil companies.  They control the price of oil.  They don’t give a damn about a small business man.”

“The price will come back.  It always does.  Then you’ll be rolling in dough again.  You still got the first nickel you ever made anyway,” Nelda said.

Eddie walked around the store pretending to look over the displays but Nelda knew he was really checking to see if he thought any stock was missing.  What an asshole.

Back behind the counter Eddie looked at Nelda and said, “I’ve got to let you go.”

“What the hell Eddie I work for nothin’.  Where you going to get anybody else for slave labor?”

“My cousin’s boy needs a job.  He’ll work for minimum wage.”

“You’d let me go for 75 cents an hour?  You are a cheap bastard!”

A junker car pulled up outside the store.  A young guy in dirty jeans and a t-shirt got out of the car.  He had on a trucker cap and dark glasses.  He walked straight into the store and up to the counter pulling a nickel plated revolver from behind his back and pointing the gun at Eddie.

“Give me your damn money.”

Eddie fumbled with the cash register and said, “OK, OK there’s not much here.”

The robber was young with long dirty blonde hair and twitched like he was on something.

Eddie pulled the money from the cash register.  It was less than $100.00.

“Empty your pockets,” The robber said as he scooped up the cash register money.

Eddie pulled his wallet out and threw it on the counter.  It was stuffed with big bills.

“I’ll take your watch too,” the robber said while continuing to level the gun at Eddie but keeping an eye on Nelda at the same time.

As Eddie reluctantly took off his watch Nelda said, “Hey, kid maybe this is what you came in for,” and yanked up her shirt, showing off her nice looking boobs.

The robber turned his head and stared at Nelda.

Eddie scooped a sawed off .410 shotgun out from under the counter and blasted away at the robber, blowing a hole in the robber’s chest and, knocking him over backwards.

Nelda walked around the counter, leaned down and felt for a pulse in the robber’s neck.

“Call the cops.  I think he’s dead.”

Eddie pulled out his cell phone.

“You think your cousin’s boy can do that for you?” Nelda said.

About the author: Kent Frates is the nonfiction author of the award-winning book, Oklahoma’s Most Notorious Cases, and Oklahoma Courthouse Legends. A Dubious Collection, The Road Runner Press, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, features a cast of colorful characters in stories, including a penny-pinching doctor, a corrupt sheriff, a conniving politician, and other assorted characters. Frates is also a poet and attorney. He resides in Oklahoma.