23. A Man In A Rubber Mask

     I’ve been thinking a lot about good and bad timing over the past week. How you can never really gauge the repercussions of your day-to-day activities, and if they will alter the course of your life. We’ve had a string of shootings in Nashville this month: one in a Waffle House at three in the morning (for seemingly no reason); one in a touristy spot of East Nashville; and one somewhere else in the city between two arguing locals. You can never definitively tell when you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
     I’ve been taking the lazy route to living, cutting out my workout time until C leaves, soon, for work in Switzerland. Because of this, I’ve tabled all of my extracurriculars, including my wine group. I may cave and go on a run, but this break has been nice. It’s been like a quality-time overdose. We’ve also been extremely loyal to the Jewish deli we live next to, going there to pick up breakfast for the past three days straight. It’s a vacation of indulgences.

     We decided that the best use of our time last night would be to spend it on our couch, eating barbecue. We would go for a quick errand run to pick up a prescription at CVS, and swing back to Martin’s BBQ for takeout on the way home. C complained about going at first, but after my joke that he needed to protect me from the sketchy area that the CVS was in, he rolled his eyes and put on his shoes. I left my mace bracelet, normally always strapped to my wrist when I leave the apartment, on the kitchen table. 
     

     As we were driving, C was on his phone, ordering takeout from Martin’s off of their website. We pulled into the CVS parking lot, a plot of land which the city of Nashville has forgotten, filled with deep pot holes and strewn with an endless, randomly-distributed array of speed bumps. I parked close to the door, next to an odd-looking sedan with a square, quilted pattern of different paint colors and rust covering its entirety. I saw a shadow in the passenger side seat and quickly looked away.
     We entered through the automated sliding door and turned toward the pharmacy at the back of the store, passing the front registers. A middle aged woman with her glasses perched on her head was leaning on the employee side of the counter, her eyes fixed on an adjacent aisle. She instinctively greeted us with “Welcome to CVS, hope you’re having a good day”, but not making eye contact, and seemed surprised when we both responded with “Thank you, you too.” She continued to stare, distracted, at the aisle two rows away from us. I didn’t give it a second thought.
     When we reached the pharmacy counter, there were two people in scrubs, the girl wearing a lab coat and looking to be about my age. She started our transaction, but gave up without cause halfway through, shaking her head. “Can you do this?” She said, in an exasperated tone. I thought she might've been new to the checkout system. A much younger guy in dark blue scrubs took her place, giving us a quick smile before going to collect my prescription. C disappeared around the corner of a far aisle, near the refrigerated section.

“Do you have insurance?” The young man asked me, looking concerned at the price on the screen.

“I don't,” I sighed. “I know, it’s crazy. I will hopefully be starting my new insurance next month, so I won’t have to do this again.” Which was true. It was $175.00 for ONE refill of my medicine. 

     The female pharmacist my age who had walked away looked up. “Are you sure you don’t qualify for the coupon?” I told her I’d tried, but it didn’t seem so. Right then, the woman from the front counter appeared next to us, her eyes narrowed. The pharmacist switched gears, looking from the man to the front clerk. “One of you go lock the doors.”

“I’ll lock the doors. Tyson had gone out for a smoke, I need to keep a look out for him” the woman replied, and then walked away.

     The pharmacist seemed to grow more frantic, and told scrubs to try and work out the coupon issue on the far computer while she used the register-side phone.
     As he asked me the questions on the application form posted on the drug’s website, I perked up my ears, trying to discern the distant, serious conversation the girl was having with the receiver. C reappeared and dropped an entire case of Bud Light with a thunk onto the counter. He grinned, pleased with himself. “For your kidney stones” He said, in a thick French accent. I laughed in spite of myself.

“I think she might be calling an ambulance for someone.” I whispered to C, seeing the pharmacist, her eyes fixed on that middle aisle.

Scrubs heard me and answered, “She’s not calling an ambulance, she’s calling the police.” My eyes shot back to her, and I could see that she was now crying.

 

     The questionnaire completed, and a definitive YOU DO NOT APPLY FOR THIS DISCOUNT flashing on the screen, scrubs shrugged and gave me an apologetic look before we returned to the far register. With the case of beer, the total rung up to a whopping $206.36, and I paid the man with a defeated smile. With the front doors locked and no transactions left to be made, we all awkwardly looked around at each other. I addressed the panicked pharmacist, who had now begun to compose herself. 

“So, now that we’ve got some time—“ (C laughed out loud.) “—can someone tell me what’s going on?”

     Scrubs gave me another shrug as if to say I dunno, and looked over at the pharmacist, who was deciding whether or not to tell us the truth. She chose to come clean.

“There was a man, he had a see-through, like, rubber mask over his face” a horrified look appeared in her eyes as she recalled what she had seen. “He walked up and handed me a note—“ She looked down at her shoes. “It said, Give me all your oxycontin. You have 30 seconds. My friend is watching you. Hand me back the note.” She let out a heavy breath and looked like she might cry again. “They were walking out two aisles over, at the same time you guys walked in.”

     We heard sirens in the distance, right as the gravity of the situation became clear. Within a few minutes, four police officers streamed inside the store and requested statements.  C, I and scrubs had no information to give, and the pharmacist relayed her tale.

     I looked at the big group of blue. “If you're able to, would one of you escort us to our car?”

     The policeman on the end looked at me, and nodded with a slightly annoyed expression. We followed him out, past the front desk, past the front clerk who quietly said “sorry” under her breath, and past the bored-looking teenager I assumed was Tyson. 

“We’re parked just outside the door, it’s there, the Smart car.” He walked out in front of us, and all at once we could see a barricade of flashing police cars surrounding the entrance to the CVS. C laughed to himself, always the nihilist.

“Could you imagine if I’d stayed in the car? Ha!”

     We thanked the officer, and headed quickly to our respective sides. Just then, I remembered something:

“Wait! Officer, if you’re interested, I may have some information…” I described to him the car I saw, with as much detail as possible. He nodded a last time, giving me the same expression as before. I retreated to the car, having done my due diligence.
     With a few flashing police cars already leaving the scene, we pulled out of the safari parking lot and turned onto the neighborhood lane leading us to Martin’s. We had been delayed just long enough to ensure that our food would be ready right when we arrived.

     Standing in the takeout line on a busy Friday night, I had my arms around C’s waist, with his left arm resting on my shoulders. Still facing forward, I looked up at him. “I can’t believe that just happened. What if he’d had a gun?” C looked on, unfazed. I continued:

“But isn’t it just so crazy that you can’t know from one day to the next what will happen, if one tiny decision will change everything, if it would end everything?”

C stoically replied, “If it happens, it happens. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it.”

We collected our hot wings and headed back home, just like we had planned to do.