Petrolandia – The Common Runner
The evening rush had long since died down. There had been a glut at the beginning of my shift, a visiting something renting out one of the motels across the street and sending people to the gas station for condoms and ice cream. I did my very best not to care. The price of gas changed, coffee was made, and I settled as the people went away and the world was quiet again.
Eli had dropped in and said hi while making himself some coffee, then wandered over to the back corner to read the newspaper. I was typing away on my laptop, occasionally glancing at the security monitor that showed everywhere around the store.
I stopped writing and Eli looked up.
“There’s something in the bushes,” I said, frowning. “A raccoon, maybe?”
“If there is, I hope it eats Mitch,” Eli grumbled, turning back to the newspaper.
“Who’s Mitch?” I asked. Eli let out a long-suffering sigh.
“You mind if I come back there?”
I waved him over and he came, squinting at the security monitor.
“Is there any way to enhance the image?”
A car pulled up, a pretty girl now off-shift coming home and paying at the pump. The bushes moved a little more, whatever was in them getting closer to the pumps. A baseball cap on a head poked out of the canopy, beady eyes leering from the fauna.
“That,” Eli said, pointing. “That’s Mitch. Sandor calls him the common runner.”
It took me a moment to realize Mitch was masturbating in the bushes. I recoiled. Eli grimaced and moved away, made himself a cup of coffee and went back to reading the newspaper. The girl finished pumping gas and left without ever knowing Mitch was there.
Even on the monitor, I could tell Mitch was dissatisfied. His head vanished back into the bushes. He emerged a short time later and went into the bathroom.
He was a short husk of a man, dirt and unknowable stains coating him and his clothing. The logo had worn off his baseball cap, which covered thick hair the color of sun-bleached dog doo. Over the years, I would see him come and go and get close enough to see that his watery eyes shone from whatever drugs he needed to justify his existence.
His mustache was surprisingly well cared for.
“He thinks it makes him look distinguished,” Eli said. “And he needs an advantage.”
“An advantage? How does having a mustache give him an advantage?”
“All the local addicts are scared of facial hair,” Eli said, pointing to the scraggly rat’s nest on his face. “It’s why I have this.”
“What,” I trailed off, waiting for my brain to reboot. “Why are the addicts scared of facial hair?”
“Only the locals, and I have no idea,” Eli shrugged. “Sometimes it’s better not to ask questions.”
Mitch came out of the bathroom, his hands dripping wet, and vanished back into the bushes. More rustling revealed that he was getting closer to the edge of the property, basically coming to rest at a place where he could see the whole lot. I watched that spot for a while.
I got bored and went back to writing.
Another car pulled up, this time a guy and a girl getting out. The girl waved at me and stretched her legs. I waved back as the guy started walking towards the store.
Mitch ran out of the bushes and threw a load of cum in the guy’s face, then kept running past him and around the corner and was gone.
The girl’s eyes went wide and she scrambled back into the car, the guy doing the same. They drove off, speeding off the lot and away.
“The common runner?” I asked, looking at Eli.
“No, no.” Eli hadn’t looked up from his newspaper. “Cum and runner.”
My eyes went wide. I was getting used to that feeling.
“How often does he do that?”
“Once or twice a month,” Eli grimaced, turned a page and grinned. “Hey, the Tea Party is touring again. I always liked them.”
“Me, too,” I said. “Maybe I’ll bring in a few of their albums.”
“That’d be cool. I haven’t heard then in forever.”
I mentioned Mitch to Jon when he came in that morning. Jon asked for the general time the incident had occurred, saying that sometimes the police dropped in to make a symbolic gesture.
“Why don’t they arrest him?” I asked.
“Who? Mitch?” Jon seemed bemused. “Who knows? He comes in sometimes to buy Peter Jackson blue king size – just remind him to use the motion-activated hand sanitizer dispenser by the door.”
“What about the door handles?”
“You can clean them after he uses them if you want,” Jon said. “Remember – your job is to protect the cigarettes, so we’ll take care of his mess. If he buys something, stick whatever money he gives you in the sink and we’ll wash it later. With bleach.”
“Okay,” I said, packing up my things as the morning shift arrived. “Hey, is it okay if I bring some CDs to listen to?”
“Sure, whatever makes the job easier,” Jon said, smiling and waving me off. “See you tomorrow morning.”