The Perils of Louella:

Chapter 182: Louella Knows Fear

by A.C. Cherbonnier
     LEN lay motionless on the supermarket’s terrazzo floor. One gunman stood over him with a sawed-off shotgun, while the other turned to Louella and Petra at their cash registers.
     Louella froze like a rabbit in the crosshairs. Don’t make eye contact, do what he says, she reminded herself, praying to God she didn’t get shot. She glanced nervously in the direction of the store manager’s elevated cubicle. Was Bob up there crawling on the floor, calling 911, sounding the silent alarm? Or was he in the john in the back? She tried to remember when she last saw him.
     “You!” hissed Robber Number 2, pointing his gun at her. “Empty your register!”
     Louella did as she was told. For the first time in years she felt beads of cold sweat trickling down her thin rib cage.
     “Come on, come on!” he demanded. “Or do I have do it myself? And believe me, you don’t want me to do that, honey!”
     Louella almost retorted, “You’re no honey of mine!” but caught herself. She was dealing with a wild animal, one that could kill its prey. She stuffed everything from the till into a blue plastic recycling bag and handed it over, still not making eye contact.
     He snatched it and turned to Petra. “Now you!”
     Louella stole a glance at the robbers. Good grief! They’re not even wearing masks! she realized. We could identify them! You don’t suppose they mean to--”
     It was unthinkable. This can’t be the end of my life, dying at the point of a gun in some random crime! she thought. This can’t be happening to us! I mean, we’re in the County!
     Petra dropped a roll of coins on the floor and stooped to pick it up. The gunman leaped behind her and pushed her aside, slamming the side of her head with the barrel of the gun. “No way you’re sounding no alarm!” he said, scooping the money from the register as Petra lay on the floor, her face bloodied, her eyes rolling upward in a faint.
     The only sound in the place now was the Muzak, at 3 a.m. encouraging non-existent shoppers to relax and spend more. Thank God the place is empty! she thought. But she listened anxiously for the sound of the manager’s footsteps. He was wearing boots with cleats--which Louella hated as much as white socks on a man--and the robbers would know he was coming.
     Petra moaned softly.
     The robber backed away from them, waving his gun as if daring them to do something.
     Big guy! Yeah, I’m really impressed with you, you creep! He joined his partner over Len’s prostrate body and they whispered hurriedly.
     Oh no! They’re not going to shoot Len! Oh no! Louella looked straight ahead, trembling, waiting to hear the shot. Funny I should have been worried about a dumb violation notice from the City just a few minutes ago, she thought.
     The sound didn’t come. The two ran out into the night. Louella heard a car roar off. Len stood uncertainly and went to Petra.
     Then she heard the manager’s clacking boots coming their way. He was humming to the Muzak.


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This story was published on Mar. 3, 1999.