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Honorable Mention - "Out of the Ordinary"

1997 Anne Horton Writing Award
Honorable Mention
"Out of the Ordinary"
Bonnie Thompson

The day was warm, approximately 60 degrees in Las Vegas, Nevada, even though it was the week before Christmas in 1990. My day started out the same as any other 3-11 shift at Lucky Food Stores, where I had been employed for the past seven years as a cashier. I was dressed in my uniform, consisting of navy blue pants, white blouse, red, white, and blue striped two-inch tie, and red bib apron. I was assigned to the quick-check aisle this particular Friday afternoon. Stepping in behind my register, I read the sign, "10 ITEMS OR LESS, CASH ONLY, NO CHECKS PLEASE" ( as if anyone paid any attention to that). Two dozen or more people sat at the video poker machines which lined the wall to the right, directly in front of my check stand. The sound of quarters clinking as they were being fed into the poker machines filled the room, and the fresh smell of baked bread and holiday cookies from the bakery department caused my stomach to growl. Pressing the sign-on key of my IBM 4680 cash register, I entered my operator number, pressed the asterick sign, entered my password, and then pushed the "Enter" key. The machine clicked, and I was ready to serve the public for the next eight hours.

Shoppers bustled up and down the aisles tossing canned vegetables and boxed cereal into their overflowing grocery carts. The check-out lanes were lined up like cars on the freeway at rush hour. Frantic shoppers collided into one another but did at least say, "Excuse me" or "Pardon me" because, after all, this was the holiday season( you know--the time to be kind and jolly and all that stuff). Around 7:00 p.m. a Negro man in his late twenties placed four items on the automatic black belt of my check stand: a small six-ounce steak, two packs of Kool cigarettes, and a bottle of Heinz 57 steak sauce. I placed each item over the clear glass panel and registered each individual price. Hitting the total button on my machine, I announced in a friendly voice and with a polite smile," Your total is $11. 23."

As I placed each item into a brown recycable plastic bag, the man said in a low deep voice, "Put all your money in the bag. Hurry up." This was a common remark jokingly made almost daily by some of my regular customers. However, this particular day it was not a joke, and this was not a regular customer. I immediately sensed danger. Slowly lifting my head, I noticed a black army pistol wedged in under the check-writing stand, aimed at my chest. The world felt as if it had stopped on its axis. I stopped breathing; at least I felt as if I had. In an instant I thought to myself,"Why isn't my life flashing before my eyes?" (I had always heard that happened just before a person dies.) I knew this was it-- I was going to die. I tried not to panic, to be calm, keep in control. After all, we had been trained in this area; we had been told what to do should we as checkers ever find ourselves in this situation. The only problem was that I couldn't remember what. My hands began to shake, so I took a deep breath. I braced myself by placing one hand on each side of my control panel, which faced my assailant. When I pressed the keys to open my drawer, nothing! Once again I tried the key sequence, and again I was refused entry into the cash drawer. It was useless. I could not remember how to open the register. With pleading eyes, I looked up. Then my mind began to register and retain-- a camouflage army jacket, weight somewhere in the vacinity of 250 pounds, approximately six feet five inches tall, shoulder length curly black hair, and mirror sunglasses.

I felt the gun pointed at me--it felt like a cannon--and anticipated the bullet that would end my life. "I can't get the drawer open," I replied. The man's voice held malice when he said, "You have five seconds to open that drawer." Then he began to count. I heard "one" and nothing more. By the grace of God, my mind commanded my hands through the correct key sequence. The bell on my register rang, and the drawer popped open like a kernel of popcorn in hot grease. Then I realized that my manager was occupying the register behind me. I didn't dare look at him but thought to myself, "Fred, please see me put all this money in this bag and know what is happening. I'll be all right. Fred will help me." As nonchalantly as I could, I pulled all the twenties, tens, fives, and ones out of my drawer, hoping someone, anyone, would see what was happening. So many people, innocent people, could be hurt if I made one mistake. Placing the money in the plastic bag, I handed it to the giant of a man. Placing his left hand, which he held the gun in, into his left jacket pocket, he then slowly turned and casually started walking down the aisle past the slot machine players, through the mass of holiday shoppers, and towards the sliding glass doors to his freedom. Creeping slowly backwards, my eyes never leaving the gunman's back, I grabbed onto the flimsy wooden partition next to my machine. I slipped behind the panel, which covered all of me except for my eyes. I turned halfway around and said, "Fred, I was just robbed! He has a gun!" "Which one?" Fred asked, looking through the crowd of people. Motioning towards the front door I said, "the black guy in the camouflage jacket going out the door." "Stay where you are. Let him go," he said. We both stood rooted to the floor and watched as the man eased his way through the crowd and out the front door as though this were an ordinary day and an ordinary transaction on his part. The two glass panels closed with a "whoosh" behind him.

The man was caught three weeks later. I identified him in a police line-up and had to appear in court for his sentencing. He received sixty years for each one of the armed robbery offenses he had committed (I was one of twelve). I feel there was a reason for my life being spared that fateful night six years ago, and I thank God there were no deaths or injuries. Perhaps, the reason was so I would be able to share that particular story with this English class today. Thompson