Hagan stared through the murky window of The Purple Penguin Bookstore, waiting for her shift to fade like so many other useless minutes of her life. It had been especially slow for a Monday, which meant she had to lock up on her own. The trouble was, one or two straggling “pervies” always seemed to pop in right before closing to either get their jollies for free or buy something for the road.
At one time, The Purple Penguin had been an actual bookstore. Unfortunately, customers hadn’t rushed through the doors for the New Age books the shop promoted. The owner, a product of the sixties free-love era, changed tactics and replaced many of the books, Buddha statues, and incense with something a little more risqué for the predominately Mormon community. Tucked behind a beaded curtain in a former storage room, sex toys, x-rated videos, and a line of erotic products soon filled the shelves and kept the shop in the green.
Just as she’d anticipated, a black 70s style Oldsmobile Cutlass rumbled up to the curb. One missing right hubcap, rusted fender, and bent antennae. Damn it. Leonard Small. She grabbed her co-worker’s discarded copy of “Inked” and began thumbing through it, not really seeing the tattooed images before her but needing something to settle her rambling thoughts. As harmless as most of the customers were, she voluntarily worked in a sex shop with a steady supply of whips and chains and all things to entice the freaks to come out and play. And Leonard Small could’ve been the captain of them all.
The metal bell fixed to the heavy front door rang as he shuffled inside, the smell of salami and sweat wafting above his fat head. He pulled a toothpick out of his mouth and smiled. “How’s it hangin’?” The sight of his tangled and discolored teeth set the hairs on her arms on end.
She stood taller as he approached and pointed at the clock. He sneered at her gesture, not bothering to look at the time. Son of a bitch couldn’t care less. He nodded, but didn’t speak, which was unusual for Leonard. He’d liked to chatter to whoever was working, pressing his large gut into the counter as he boasted about one of his exploits. Hagan hadn’t been shy about her distaste for him, so maybe he’d gotten the hint and would leave her alone.
The tinkling sounds of the long multi-colored beads soon signaled his decent into “perveville.” She pulled out the logbook, and next to the daily sales, she wrote: 8:48 p.m. Oxymoron here—again! She tossed both the magazine and logbook aside and began drumming her fingers against the top of the glass case that displayed the most expensive treasures of The Penguin: a collection of anatomically correct Smurf figurines, hand blown glass dildos, gold plated handcuffs, and first edition copy of Alice Does Wonderland.
8:50. She pulled out her cell phone and scrolled through her recent text messages, all from her father and all purposely ignored. If she hadn’t needed something to do, she probably would’ve gone on ignoring him. “Nothing’s changed, jailbird,” she muttered as she typed: C U 2moro. Her father hated where she worked, hated that she’d dropped out of her junior year of college to “piss her life away.” Not that she cared what he thought, however true it might’ve been.
She slipped her phone back into her jean’s pocket. 8:52. She leaned over the counter and looked toward the back corner of the store and into the large convex mirror hung to prevent shoplifting. “Hey, we need to close up,” she yelled. “If you’re going to buy anything, move it or lose it.”
No movement. No sound.
“Leonard! Did you hear me?” She paused as she waited for a response. When he didn’t answer, she locked the cash register and slipped the coiled bracelet key chain around her wrist and up to her elbow before making her way toward the back. “I need to close up.” She stared into the room, not wanting to venture any farther. “Did you hear me?” With a nervous hand, she parted the curtain and pulled the beads to one side. Her chest grew tight—something was off. Damn Peter for calling in sick.
In front of the rows of x-rated DVDs, Leonard stood with his back to her.
“Closing time. Didn’t you hear me?” Just turn around and leave, freak. Turn around and leave.
He didn’t move. The bell on the front door rang.
“We’re closed,” she yelled. She held her breath waiting for the bell to sound again, or a conceding remark from the new late comer, but nothing. What the hell? Her hand fell away from the beads, causing them to sway and crash into each other. “What part of—” She whipped around and slammed into a thick wall of stale cigarette smoke. She took a step backwards, realizing she’d just run into a man’s chest. “Sorry, but . . .” Her gaze widened.
A man, dressed in black clothing and a full ski mask, towered over her. Oh my God. She turned again toward Leonard, the least likely person to help, only he was now facing her, his pervert smile on high, a loose white cloth in his hand. “I think I’m gonna like this.”
Hagan looked from Leonard to the masked intruder. “This isn’t funny, Leonard.”
He laughed. “This ain’t meant to be funny, sunshine.”
“If you want the money. Take it.” She slid the register key from her arm and held it out for him. “Please, just take it.” Her hand trembled as she pushed the key towards the man’s chest. Take it.
He didn’t acknowledge the gesture, his eyes looking past her, not seeing her at all.
Leonard began whistling as he ambled forward.
“Please.” Her voice cracked. She held the key toward him again. Take it and go. Please. Take it and go.
Leonard stopped less than a foot from where she stood, tilted his head, and scratched at the patchy stubble on his chin. “We ain’t here for the money.” He batted the key from her hand.
Her eyes followed its flight into a far corner of the room. What was she supposed to do? She returned to face him. “I won’t say anything. Take anything you want.”
Leonard crouched and bore into her gaze. “I intend to get what I want.” He pinched her lips into a pucker and drew her face closer to his. “If you play nice, maybe you won’t get hurt.”
She tried to nod despite the strong hold he had on her.
“Very good.” He dropped his hand from her face and turned to the man in black. “Tie her up.”
“No!” She leapt toward the only space between the man and freedom, not that she had a chance. The men quickly pinned her in the doorway. Strands of beads tangled themselves over her arms and legs as she fought to escape their grasp. Leonard laughed as he taunted her with his ping-ponging shoves back and forth with the darkened stranger. She was an object, nothing more. Through all of her kicking and screaming and Leonard’s deep belly laughs, she heard the bell ring again. For a fleeting moment, she wanted to smile, but as the men continued without any regard to whomever ventured inside, she realized they weren’t worried—they’d expected it.
“Help! Help me!” She screamed so hard, so loud, her ears popped, then something soft covered her nose and mouth. Her pleas silenced. Her nostrils burned. And by the time she realized what that sweet smell was she’d just inhaled, it was too late. Everything faded to black. A chirp of her cell phone signaled the last sound she’d heard. Dad.