On the way back from Troy, Pam asked Catherine to stop somewhere so she could use the restroom. She still wasn’t feeling well and blamed the Chinese food for not settling well.
At the first convenience store we saw, Catherine pulled in. While Pam used the facilities, Catherine, Kevin, and I browsed the aisles. I wanted to get something to drink for my long drive home. It was already past ten and from experience, there would be nowhere open on a Sunday night where I could stop for anything until I reached Springfield. I suggested Kevin do the same. Catherine didn’t intend to buy anything, saying she was stuffed from dinner.
When I went to the counter to pay for my stuff, I became suspicious. Something was off about the clerk. There was no other way to describe it. Neither was he bored nor was he busy taking care of a wish list from his manager, which was the two extremes to which I’d grown accustomed in visiting a convenience store at night. However, this clerk appeared fidgety or perhaps overly nervous. His operation of the cash register seemed tentative, far too much to ever be left alone in a store. And he had not smiled or said hello to me. In fact, he hadn’t said anything. When he gave me change, it was too much, but when I returned the difference, he just left the extra money at the side of the register.
I asked the clerk for a bag, and he looked around his workstation before finding one that was way too big for my small purchase. He handed it to me separately instead of putting my purchases into the bag, leaving it to me to take care of.
As Kevin laid his things on the counter, I was thinking back to when we entered. The clerk didn’t welcome us. Pam asked him where the restroom was. All he did was look around until Kevin saw the sign and pointed it out to Pam.
A sick feeling of deep dread grew inside of me. As I watched the clerk fumble his way through Kevin’s transaction. At the end, he said rudely, “I suppose you want a bag too?”
Kevin glanced toward me before he answered, “Yeah, sure.”
The clerk stuffed the things into an equally large bag as mine and handed it across the counter, saying, “Here!”
“My change?” Kevin asked.
“Oh, yeah. How much was it?”
“I gave you two dollars. You owe me seventy-nine cents.”
“Here.” He handed Kevin a dollar bill. “For your troubles.”
There was no ‘sorry about that’, ‘thank you’, or ‘come again’. Nothing.
Kevin glanced at me and shrugged. “You ready Catherine?”
“Yeah,” she joined us. “Is Pamela still in the restroom?”
“I think so,” I said as my focus shifted back to my lady. As I began walking down the side hallway toward the restroom, she emerged, looking flushed and sweating profusely, wobbling as she leaned against a stack of boxes for support. I handed my bag to Kevin and reached out for her as she fell, catching her as her knees buckled before she hit the floor.
“Dizzy. I threw up everything.”
“You think it’s food poisoning?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I didn’t want you worrying. I’ve been throwing up everything for a couple of days.
“When did the pain start?”
“Around the same time, but it was more like a cramp.”
“Any shooting pains?”
“Yeah, sometimes, but that felt better this morning. So, I thought it was getting better. And it was okay during church. It started hurting again while everybody was playing tennis. Then it started feeling like…I don’t know like my stomach muscles are tight.”
“That doesn’t sound like a pulled muscle.”
“I still think it is.” She indicated her lower abdomen on her right side. “Right here.”
“Can you walk?”
“I think so,” she pushed away from the stack of boxes she’d been leaning against for support, but after two steps, her knees gave out again. I swept her up into my arms and carried her. Kevin opened the door and held it for me and then opened the car door.
“Let’s just get you in the back seat,” I told her. “You can stretch out and rest your head on my lap.”
Kevin helped me maneuver her into the car.
“Are you okay?” Catherine asked her sister.
I checked Pam’s forehead. “She’s running a fever, a pretty high one,” I said. Then I lightly touched her right side. Just as she described, it felt tight, and she groaned as I applied pressure. “She’s a lot sicker than she thinks.”
“I’ll be fine,” she insisted.
“Where’s the nearest emergency room?”
“You think it’s that bad?”
“I think it’s acute appendicitis.”
Catherine stared at me. “Really?”
I nodded. “I’m one of those weird kids who wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, so I read medical books from the library until I was about fifteen.”
“Dr. Brent,” Pam offered as a joke but winced as she suppressed a laugh.
“That’s not the only thing wrong.” Kevin looked at me from across the back of the passenger seat. “I think the store is in the process of being robbed.”
“What?” Catherine glanced back into the store.
“I think so, too,” I said. “Take a look around. Two other cars. One a junker with all the windows down, looks like it barely limped in here. The other is a later model, parked away from the front to give customers the best parking spots…”
“The clerk’s. So, where is the other shopper?” Catherine asked.
“Exactly,” Kevin said.
“We were in there long enough that if someone is using the men’s room, they would have come outside. And I didn’t hear any noise in the other restroom when I was helping Pam.”
“Maybe someone just left their car there because they couldn’t get it to start.”
“Maybe, but the clerk was rude,” I said.
“Really rude,” Kevin amplified.
“Well, that’s nothing new,” Catherine said.
“I don’t know. It exceeded anything I’ve normally experienced. And he gave us their largest bags. I’m sure they don’t do that for just. A few items. Bags cost them money.”
“That’s true,” Kevin said. “My mom used to work at a convenience store. I remember her complaining about the manager yelling at them about the bags. They didn’t use them until a customer asked.”
“It’s just the whole thing…it doesn’t feel right. He gave me back too much change, didn’t bag my stuff…seemed unsure of what he was doing, and was nervous.”
“And then he forgot to give me change and then gave me a whole dollar back for my troubles.”
Pam groaned. As I checked her, she was passed out.
“We gotta get her to the hospital,” I said. “But we need to call the cops.”
“Are you sure about…” Catherine stared into my eyes and then glanced at Kevin. She knew the answer before finishing her question.
“You guys stay here. I’ll call the police from the payphone,” Kevin said.
“Maybe you could ask them where the nearest hospital is,” Catherine said. “Or have them send the emergency squad.”
By the time he reached the phone, it was too late. “Three men ran out of the store brandishing guns. They split up, one holding a gun on Kevin. Another held a gun on me as the third was dragging Catherine from the car. They pulled our arms back behind us and applied duct tape to our wrists. Then at gunpoint, two of them nudged us back inside the front door. The third guy, the rude clerk went back for Pam and dragged her out of the back seat, causing her to scream out in pain. He backhanded her across the face, eliciting the expected reaction from me. But the guy holding the gun on me pulled the hammer back on his revolver and warned me not to think about it.
“She’s sick,” I protested. “She needs to get to the hospital.”
“Not my problem, Ace. You had your chance to leave. Now, get back inside.”
“What are you going to do with us?”
“Tie you up…for now.”
Catherine had stopped resisting. She kept looking at me and glanced at Pam as they were dragging her back into the store, her heels squeaking across the waxed resilient tile floor. I needed to do something but felt helpless. I didn’t want to get anyone hurt — or worse killed. But I couldn’t let this go down. What were they going to do with us after they were through robbing the place — leave witnesses?
They locked the front doors behind them and fooled around with the breaker box until they located the toggle that turned off the outside lights.
Then they took us into the stockroom where one guy — the real clerk I assumed — was bound and gagged. He was stripped down to the waist so that the fake clerk could wear his uniform shirt. He was unconscious, propped up in the corner next to a desk. They forced me to sit next to the real clerk. When I did, they bound my ankles with duct tape as well.
Catherine was next, although one of the guys seemed to be teasing her, making suggestive comments. I could see from Kevin’s face that if his hands were free, he would have loved nothing better than to wrap them around the guy’s throat and pop his head like a zit. If my hands were free, I would have helped.
But Kevin was in no better position than Catherine or me. The three of us watched helplessly as two guys bound and gagged Pam, then stretched her out on the cold, hard floor in front of us. When they were finished, they applied gags to each of us as well, all the time complaining about how much we delayed them.
A fourth guy continued uninterrupted with a power drill working on the safe. I wondered if it was worth all the effort, to rob a convenience store in a Troy, Ohio suburb? Really, how much money could be inside?
Unable to do much of anything or even talk, I reached out mentally to Catherine on the off chance that she was advanced enough with her gifts. Aunt Claire had confirmed that both her nieces were witches, but so far, I hadn’t seen any indication from Catherine.
She turned toward me. “I hear you. Pam said you were like us.”
“Not exactly. I’m a wolfcat.”
She frowned. “What can you do?”
“Not much, levitation, unlock things, sometimes read minds, and a few other tricks.”
“I can do some of that. Pamela is the one with the real gifts, though.”
My eyes followed Catherine’s as she looked at the shelf across the way. There were some possibilities, items that might be heavy enough if I could manage to have them leap off the shelves and hurl them toward the guys. But that was dangerous. They had guns.
“I can do this thing, where I project somewhere else. It’s almost like I’m there, except I leave an anchor here…oh, and my aura stays behind.”
“I’m not even sure what you just said.”
“I’m thinking about projecting myself outside to use the phone to call the police. I’m going to be quiet for a bit like I’m asleep. But I’m going to be somewhere else.”
“Okay.” She nodded.
I projected outside, to the payphone. Picking up the receiver and pressing it to my ear I started to dial 911. But instead, I played through everything I knew about hostage situations. Granted, it was from watching TV and probably grossly inaccurate, but I was pretty sure the police would surround the store, call in a special team, maybe from another city, like Dayton, or maybe the State Highway Patrol, because I didn’t know if Troy was big enough to have their own. And they would negotiate with the guys who had the guns. That was going to take a long time and I didn’t know how long Pam had before her appendix ruptured.
I returned, focusing my eyes on Catherine.
“Did you call?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think the Police can free us in time for Pam’s sake.”
“Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing. So, it’s up to us. What kind of magic do you have?”
“The kind that I’m still mostly learning about.”
“Brent,” Pam’s thought arrived, but it was weak.
“I’m here, hon. We’re all here. Hang in there. We’re going to get you help.”
The one guy who was keeping watch over us kept staring at Catherine. I didn’t need to read his filthy mind to know what he was thinking.
“So, what’s the plan?” She asked.
“We need to do something. We need to force the situation but do it safely. I need to know what else a wolfcat can do.”
“Okay. How do you do that?”
“Dawn would know.”
“Dawn?” Catherine asked.
“She’s a friend, a wolfcat. She’s married to a witch.”
“Nice,” Catherine said.
I just hoped I wasn’t going to interrupt their honeymoon or anything.
Closing my thoughts about her, projecting to her mind.
“Kinda in a bind, literally. Can you see through my eyes?”
“Sure. I think so.”
“Can you see this?” I looked at Catherine, then Kevin and finally Pam. Then I focused on the guy holding a gun on me and the other three guys who were trying to get the safe open.
“You’re a hostage?”
“Yeah. In a convenience store, of all places. We were going to take Pam to the hospital. She’s got acute appendicitis.”
“Oh wow! You do have a situation.”
“Yeah, but we ended up in this mess. Any ideas about what I can do with my powers?”
“Let me get Jen. We’ll be right there.”
I wasn’t sure what Dawn had in mind. I’d only intended for her to give me advice. But I didn’t have long to wait for a response. Almost immediately there was a commotion out on the sales floor.
The guy who was drilling stopped. “I thought you said you locked the doors!”
One of the other guys came over to relieve the rude clerk from watching us. “Go see what it is.”
“Sorry about that.” I heard Dawn saying. “My friend’s a little intoxicated.”
“I’m not either,” Jen slurred. I heard her crash into something, and the sound of stuff hitting the floor. And suddenly, there was a thud, exactly like a body hitting the floor.
“Excuse me,” Jen slurred. “I-I-I need some help out here. Somebody. Hey, I need help. This guy just tripped and fell and…”
The other guy with a gun who was watching the guy drill into the safe got up and went out to the counter.
“Oh, there you are,” Jen said.
“What the fuck?” Jen yelled. “Get away from me you pig!”
Both the other guys looked up, just as Jen and Dawn appeared behind them, each with a gun, each slugging their last victims.
Kevin looked over at me. I shrugged. But I knew that wasn’t going to cut it for an explanation.
I frowned as I noticed that both Jen and Dawn were wearing surgical gloves. “No fingerprints,” she explained before opening a desk drawer and locating scissors to cut through the tape on my hands and ankles. I removed the gag from my mouth. “Thanks. You two are like superheroes.”
Dawn glanced at Jen before answering. “Yeah, we are, sorta.”
“We’ll talk about that later,” Jen said with a wink. She began binding the hands and ankles of our former captors.
“Anyway, thanks,” I said.
Dawn freed Catherine while I removed her gag.
“You’re lifesavers!” she said.
I removed the gag from Kevin’s mouth while Dawn cut through his bonds.
“Where did they come from?”
“Pennsylvania,” Jen answered before I had a chance. “North of The Burgh.”
“You just happened to be in the area?” he asked.
Jen looked at me.
“I’ll explain later, Kevin.”
“Nope. I think I want to hear this now before you have a chance to come up with some believable bullshit. You two just suddenly appeared behind those guys and slugged them.”
“Yep, that’s pretty much what we did,” Dawn confirmed.
“You’re that assistant…from the magic show last fall.”
“He has a good memory,” Dawn directed to me.
“I think he liked you. Maybe he was infatuated.”
“Probably so.” Dawn winked at Kevin as she reached out her hand and lifted his chin. “You’re cute.”
“Uh, he’s with me,” Catherine said.
“That’s cool,” Jen said. “She’s with me,” Grabbing Dawn’s hand.” Then turning to look at her. “I thought you said it was going to be a nice, quiet Sunday night.”
“It started out that way.”
“You got this, now, Brent?” Jen asked.
“Yeah. I owe you two.”
“Naw, it’s what friends do. We’ll talk some more, soon. Okay?”
“See ya ’round.” And without any fanfare, both Jen and Dawn popped out.
Kevin sat back hard on the desk chair. “Uh, I’m still waiting for that explanation, Brent.”
“One was a witch,” Catherine said before glancing at me. “A pretty powerful one at that. I’m guessing the other was a wolfcat?”
“That’s not an explanation. That’s more like a reason for two more questions,” Kevin said.
“I got this,” Catherine said, taking Kevin by the hands as she knelt in front of him. “Pamela and I are witches, not as powerful as the one who was just here, but close. Okay?”
“Uh,” Kevin almost managed to form a word.
“That’s something you’re either going to have to adjust to and accept about me, or we can never get past where we are,” Catherine finished.
“Okay. That’s cool. What about Brent?”
“I’m a wolfcat, like Dawn. Just a male version — and maybe there are some other differences.”
“I’m still learning about him,” Catherine explained.
“I have wolf and cat attributes and a certain amount of magic, the same as what witches have but some different things, too, except I’m still learning about those.”
“I just wanted to know what happened. It makes more sense now, I guess. I didn’t know witches and wolfcats and stuff like that were real. That’s all.”
“You’re good now?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Kevin said, looking at Catherine. “It’ll be fun. Right?”
“We can make it fun,” she promised. “Maybe not all the time. But it won’t be boring.”
“And you’re not going to tell anybody?” I asked Kevin.
“No one would believe me anyway. So, what’s the point?”
Catherine stood up. “I like him,” she said to me. “I think I’ll keep him around.”
“I don’t think he’ll mind. He kinda grows on you after a while.”
“Hey, I’m right here.”
I smiled. “So, how do we explain all this to the authorities?” I looked around. “We need to get an ambulance for Pam and cops for these losers?”
“How’s this? I managed to get my hands free by rubbing the tape against a sharp edge on the shelves. And I got the drop of one of them,” Catherine began to conjure a story.
“Then she helped me get free,” Kevin suggested. “And being a wrestler and football player, I tackled one of them, and got his gun.”
“And we slugged the other two.” Catherine finished. “Oh, and the whole time, I believe you were outside calling the cops. Right?”
“That sounds sort of reasonable,” I said. “I was in the restroom when they grabbed you two and hid behind that stack of boxes in the hallway. I saw them dragging Pam in from the car and I watched what was going on in the back through that mirror in the back corner of the store. So, while they were all busy in the back. I sneaked outside and made the call.”
“Yeah, well we’ll refine our side of the story a bit while we’re cleaning up so that it looks like our story is what happened. Wanna help me, Kevin?”