The Victim

After you’ve been robbed a few times, you kind of get used to it. Your hands don’t shake as much, you don’t sweat as profusely, and afterwards you don’t thank God as reverently for seeing you through the ordeal. But you’re still not happy about it, that’s for damn sure. In fact, you’re pissed. Beyond pissed. And you vow never to let yourself be a victim again.

At least, that’s the way it happened with me. I suppose I should have seen it coming. I’d opened a liquor store, after all. A prime target for robbers. But like a lot of folks, I thought robberies only happened to other people. The guy up the block, the guy across town. I never imagined that I could become a victim.

But then I did become a victim. Not once, not twice, but three times. And by then I’d had enough. I was fed up. Fed up enough to buy a handgun. Fed up enough to keep it loaded under the counter.

Funny thing about guns. Once you own one, you almost feel destined to use it. Every day when I’d get to work I’d see that big, ugly.357 revolver under the counter and start fantasizing about blowing away some thieving lowlife. I was ready to do it. I wanted to do it.

But the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, and nobody came to rob me. It was as though the criminals had some sort of sixth sense. Like they knew to stay clear of the store. In a way, I was happy about that. But in another way, I felt frustrated. I’d been victimized multiple times, and I longed to turn the tables.

Finally one night, in the dead of winter, it seemed I might get my chance.

It was minutes before closing time. The door opened and in came a guy wearing a ski mask. The mask immediately put me on high alert, but I told myself to keep cool. It was nineteen degrees outside, with a strong wind chill. A ski mask made sense. Still, I found myself getting adrenalized. And to be honest, I also found myself hoping the guy was strapped and had come to rip me off. Because I was ready for it. Eager.

Well, I got my wish. Sort of. The guy was indeed there to help himself to the contents of my cash register. But unlike the previous robberies, he didn’t pull a gun on me. He pulled a knife.

“The money,” he said.

I looked at the knife and paused. I was so used to being robbed at gunpoint that seeing a blade come out had discombobulated me. I hesitated, not sure of what to do.

“Hurry,” he said, jabbing the air.

Taking a deep breath, I made my decision. I knew that in the eyes of the law a knife was a deadly weapon, and that I’d be perfectly within my rights to shoot this guy dead.

So that’s what I did. Grabbing the .357, I pointed it at his chest and fired. The explosion was deafening. The robber flew back and fell to the floor, with the knife landing right beside him.

As I came around the counter to kick it away, the door opened again.

“Bobby!” a voice cried. I looked up and saw someone rushing in. I didn’t hesitate. I fired again.

And knew immediately that I’d made a terrible mistake.

Bobby was seventeen. His brother Paul was thirteen. And I’d killed them both. Just like that.

They found a knife in Paul’s pocket, so no charges were filed against me. It was ruled a justifiable double homicide. But I don’t feel justified. I feel anything but.

The incident has come to dominate my life. It’s always on my mind, at the forefront of my thoughts. I feel like a zombie, shuffling through each day, not alive, yet not dead either. It’s even worse at the store, where I sit behind the register every night, alone and unarmed, reliving that fateful encounter. And no matter how hard I try, I just can’t get that little kid’s face out of my mind. Because that’s what he was. A little kid.

And in those rare moments when I’m not reliving the killing, I’m praying to God. Sometimes I pray for the boys’ souls, and sometimes I pray for my own. But mostly I pray to God to let me go back in time and be a victim again, just for that one night.

Please God, just for that one night.

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Originally published at Out of the Gutter Online

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