Retcon Punch, Episode 06: Ripoff

Retcon Punch, Episode 06: Ripoff

Nov 18

New to Retcon Punch? Start at the beginning.

I wake in the chair, sun stabbing its stabby light into my eyes, groggy for a second. Then I recall it’s Petty Larceny Friday at Superb Comics, and that gets me up.

I stop for a McGriddle on the way in, barely making the 10:30 a.m. breakfast cutoff, and pull into the strip mall lot to see Tara leaning up against the locked door, reading an issue of McCall’s. Take a snapshot every Friday morning, lay them on top of each other over the years; the only thing changing is Tara’s ugly sweater.

“You see Survivor?” Tara barks as I stick the key into the door and flip the bolt. She is insufferably devoted to reality television. Sometimes I am too, if only to give us something to talk about all day.

“No, I missed it last night. I was out.”

“Big date?” Tara snorts. Yep, a snort escapes her face. It must have been making a break for it.

“Just busy.” My grin is tight.

And that’s the sum total of our conversation on this slow Friday, which I spend mostly working on the next month’s comics order and surfing the internet when my mind becomes too distracted by thoughts of blowtorches melting away the hinges on a giant safe to steal the valuable contents within.

By seven-thirty, the Friday after-work crowd has come and gone, and Tara tips a folding chair at our gaming tables onto its back legs as she continues her voyage through McCall’s.

“You can head out if you want,” I say, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. “I’ll wrap things up here. Probably scoot a little early myself.”

“Thank God,” Tara sighs. “This magazine sucks.”

Slowly, it unfolds in my brain that she’s been reading (perhaps re-reading?) that self-same sucky magazine all day. For the thousandth time, I puzzle over Tara, and the strangeness of her existence–the kind of person who would not only continue to read, but possibly re-read, a magazine she does not like. How bored do you have to be to do that, especially in a store that is literally full from ceiling to floor with reading material?

By the time I complete that train of thought, the little tin bell on the door handle has rung, and Tara is long gone.

It’s a little after nine when I hear the tap-tap on the shop’s back door. In fact, it wakes me up; there’s an awful couch in the back room where I sometimes take a brief siesta when the relentless pressure of selling periodical comic books gets to be too much.

“Do you want a Snickers?” Veronica asks. There’s a candy bar hanging from between two of her fingers; in her hands are two packed bags from Home Depot.

“Thanks. You paid with cash, right?”

“Of course.”

“And you didn’t withdraw the cash anywhere in the vicinity of this shop or the Home Depot this evening?”

“Of course not.”

“And you wore, like, a hat or something, so that the checkout people wouldn’t be able to identify you?”

“I used self-checkout, jackass.”

She’s dumped the bags on the awful couch by this point and is seated next to them, quickly withdrawing an assortment of tools that in theory will be used to pry open the giant old safe. I think I see a blowtorch and the reality of what’s happening hits me pretty hard.

“Holy shit,” I whisper.

“I had a feeling this would freak you out a bit. Here, help me move this.”

We remove a pile of detritus from atop the safe, then wobble and scoot it away from the wall, so as to cut into the back. The activity doesn’t do much to help my mood; by the time we’re done, I’m shaking a little bit. Veronica grabs both of my hands.

“Listen, go eat your Snickers out at the counter. I’ll knock again when I’m done.”

I walk out into the store, slightly dazed. I stand behind the counter and begin to fire up the computer, then realize that if I log onto the internet, I will effectively be providing proof that I was in the store while the robbery was taking place. Paranoid as all get-out, I turn toward a large pile of back issues under the counter that have needed filing for weeks.

I’m working with my head down and my brain almost not even thinking about thieving when that tin bell tinkles again. I almost don’t hear it, until the tinkling gets more forceful, and is joined by the thump of an angry fist on the shop’s front door.

My heart pounds and I contemplate sliding behind the counter or exiting the back door screaming. Then I see Tara’s round anxious face peering in the front window, her hands cupped around her eyes so she can see me.

She sees me.

I slap on that tight grin again and undo the deadbolt.

“Sorry, boss.” She practically pushes her way past me. “Have you seen my sweater? It has Mickey Mouse on it.”

“Huh…I can picture it in my head” (which I can, because half of what she wears features a cartoon character) “but I don’t think it’s here.”

“Let me check the back.”

I cannot hear past my heart in my ear. I am engaging in Edgar Allen Poe-style hysterics. I am inventing my own macabre subgenre.

“No, Tara, wait–“

But she doesn’t wait; she opens the door before I can stop her, because she is a speedy small troll of a woman.

Miraculously, the room appears normal. The safe is somehow back into position and looks completely undisturbed. The Home Depot bags are stuffed into the garbage can; the awful couch is the same as it ever was.

“Ugh, it’s not in here. Shit. Anyway. Have a good weekend.”

Tara leaves me in the back room and stomps away to the exit. I hear the tinkle of the tin, the scrape of her tires on the gravel lot out front, a car horn blaring as she merges into traffic without looking first. My heart’s noise returns to my chest where it belongs.

Veronica scoots herself out from under the awful couch, covered in dust mites. A stale Skittle is attached to her hair.

“Holy shit, can you believe–“

She rushes towards me, pulls me in. We kiss and fall onto the awful couch. The Skittle drops to the floor and rolls.

Next Week: Maureen McGovern Had It Right

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