Okay kid, I’m going to tell you this once, so just listen.

When the manager grins and asks you why you want to work the midnight shift at Steve’s Stop and Go, Jim’s Discount Liquor, Sally’s Party Central or whatever, be honest but not too honest.

I appreciate convenience, you should say, and I’m a night owl.

That way, you’re still telling the truth.

Always remember that it has to be a Mom and Pop sort of place, not a 7-11 or any sort of chain. Your average 7-11 has just under a dozen closed-circuit cameras hidden all over the store, filming directly to computer hard drives in the back. Unless you’re a hacker, you don’t want to work at 7-11. Plus, with only twenty dollars in the register at any given moment, chains aren’t as profitable. Your average mom and pop, they keep hundreds in the register just under the cash tray: Hamilton’s, Franklin’s, all the president’s people hope to see. Avoid joints with bulletproof glass enclosing the register. You want the place to look as appealing as possible. It doesn’t hurt to find a place in a bad neighborhood, either.

And stay away from gas stations. Too much traffic.

Make sure you’ll be working alone, unless you want to take on a partner. A guy I knew out in San Diego, the cat working with him aced him one night, inside of the cooler behind the bottles of Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Told the manager my bud walked out in the middle of his shift. On the other hand, I was working in Seattle once and this little chick working with me figured out what I was up to, she jumped right on board. We rolled together for a few years. With partners it can go either way, but you’re still taking a risk. They can be a help though, especially when you’re dealing with a group.

Oh, and you need to get yourself a van, one that’s not too beat up preferably, and the key for the back entrance to the store, if the place has one. You want a joint that has a back exit. It makes things easier.

If you get some say in your schedule, tell them you want to work from ten to six; those are peak hours in my experience. That way, you get the people flung out of bars like the night’s trash, travelers, junkies and bums. A nearby highway is a plus.

Who are they? You’ll know who they are when they come in. The strung out, the dusted, their blank stares focused on the racks of candy, trying to decide which rolling paper works best, which cigar is easiest to hollow out, they’re yours. The drunks stumbling around, telling you stories about how their spouse left them and they just got fired, they’re yours too. If someone comes in, buys a lot of hard candy they can suck on and juice, they’re probably rolling on E. E stands for easy in your case.

It pays to keep a smile on your face, to make conversation. If someone says “Hard night?&rdquo just say yes. It’s a signal that they want to talk. Go ahead, make a connection. You might not get them that night, but you will eventually. People will come back for a friendly face.

On a good night, you can hook two, maybe three future meals.

The other ones, the ones who don’t want to talk, the ones with the nylons on their heads, the ski masks, they just want you to put the money in the bag. Don’t bother, you only have to put it back later. It’s hilarious when they flash guns. Go ahead and let them shoot you. Hell, if you want to fall down behind the counter and scream a little, knock yourself out. When you pop back up, I guarantee half of them will shit their pants.

Never feed near the merchandise. The clean-up is a pain in the ass and you have to come up with an explanation for why half the magazines are gone, why there’s red shit all over the potato chips. If you’re lucky, they won’t struggle, they’ll go quietly.

Clear the scene quick, you never know when another customer will come through the door. Most stores have everything you’ll need already, just be sure to use a cleanser with a lot of ammonia. It denatures proteins, makes getting a DNA sample a complete pain in the ass if someone gets curious.

The van comes in handy for the empties. Just throw them in the back and pitch them at your leisure. Call a towing company for any leftover vehicles, say they’re derelict if anyone asks. Most of the guys working the midnight shift for a towing company won’t ask questions, though. They’re with us.

Last thing, if someone comes in to rob you and you aren’t hungry, just give them the money, pretend you’re scared. Report it to the police after they go. It’s a pain in the ass and it’s humiliating, but we all have to do it. If armed robberies disappeared completely, people would start asking questions and we don’t want that. That’s really the last thing we want.

It’s all about convenience.


J. Webster lives and labors in Hattiesburg, where he studies creative writing at The University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. He originally hails from Jackson, Michigan, once home to the world’s largest walled prison until they tore down the walls and put up fencing topped with razor-wire Slinkys. This is his first publication.

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