When the end came--and it did, as promised, although not quite how he'd pictured it--Evander James Genesee simply opened his eyes and became what he had been forged to become.
People knew him as anything but Evander. His co-workers used to call him Brewsky. Some guy from New York said there was a beer up there called Genesee, but Evander never drank the beer, and in fact, he never met the guy from New York who knighted him with the name Brewsky.
Except for his parents, Evander's family called him Van, or Vanny. Mom and Pops called him Evan, formally, as if that had been Evander's intended name, as if the trailing "der" had been accidentally added, then quickly reneged and forgotten. His little sister, Gracie, when they were younger, found humor in calling him Der, especially after Mom and Pops would say, "Evan."
"Evan," Mom would say.
"Der," Gracie would say. Then she would run. Der meant a chase and a chest thump to Gracie.
His daughters called him Daddy. His wife called him Love.
Van. Vanny. Evan. Brewsky. Der. Daddy. Love. That's how the world knew him. Anything but Evander.
Evander James Genesee had no idea what to call himself. In his mind, he was a null and a void, hollow as a shucked and sucked oyster, nothing soft left inside, no pearl, no meat, no salty innards. Nothing remained of Evander but the tough outer shell of a man. Evander didn't feel tough. He didn't act tough. He didn't realize how rigid he'd become, or how scaly and sharp his edges had grown.
Then again, neither do oyster shells.
Down South, near the coast, they use oyster shells to pave their driveways.
"Get over here and get down!" the man said to Evander. The man motioned with the pistol where he wanted Evander, pointing the barrel downward, toward the floor. "Get down over here where I can see you, man, now!"
A red-striped hooded jacket concealed the man's head and face, but not the gun, which the man aimed toward Evander's chest. The man's hand wobbled as he yelled at Evander. So, in reality, the gun pointed in Evander's general direction, but more accurately would be described as pointing anywhere but Evander's chest.
Evander stared at the man.
"Mira, you okay?" Evander said.
Mira nodded. She stood behind the counter, frozen, with her hands out to her sides as she watched the man in front of her register. She wore her white cook's apron with her ponytail tucked into a white cook's hat, and had been frying up the morning taquitos for the truck stop restaurant last time Evander had checked on her. They were otherwise alone in the truck stop. Only the truckers outside, in the parking lot, idling in their sleeper cabs, might hear any shots that were fired.
"Muthafucker, get down, you better get down! Now!"
Evander looked down at his hands and realized he still held the paper towel from the restroom, wadded in his palm. Evander had just finished checking the men's and women's restrooms, and in another two hours, after he'd emptied the trash and made another sweep through the parking lot, and maybe bagged some ice for the ice machine, he'd be through with this shift, and he could sneak off to his Tahoe in the parking lot and sleep until noon.
Or, maybe not. Evander waited as the man shook the gun in his general direction. "I just mopped this floor, too," Evander said.
When the man didn't respond, Evander stepped to his booth, laid the napkin next to his coffee, picked up the cup, and sipped it. The coffee had grown tepid while he was cleaning the restrooms. "Hey, Mira, you think you can warm up my coffee?"
Two shots rang out in the truck stop restaurant. They were nervous shots from a shakey hand, and both bullets plunked into the wall behind Evander. The sound echoed through the restaurant and slammed into Evander's ears with nearly the same impact as a bullet. Evander popped his ears as he walked toward the hooded man.
A cloud of smoke hung over the gun as the hooded man yanked the trigger again and again without report. The man banged the gun on the counter and jabbed his finger into the gun's sliding bolt, trying to dislodge the uncleared casing, but instead, he ejected the gun's clip. The clip clanged to the floor at the man's feet.
Evander paused five feet from the man, leaned down, and peeked beneath the man's hood. The man had to be at least seven inches shorter than Evander, around Mira's height. Evander pointed a finger-gun at his own forehead and said, "Right here, between the eyes, one shot, pop." Evander clicked his thumb against his forefinger.
The hooded man stumbled backward, pointed the now unloaded pistol at Evander, yanked the trigger one last time, and then threw the pistol at Evander. The pistol flew over Evander's head and bounced beneath the neighboring booth.
The hooded man turned and sprinted into the entrance doors. The entrance doors opened inward, not outward, and the man slammed into the doorway head-down, stumbled backward, then grabbed the door and threw it open, turned left and ran down the sidewalk, around to the back of the store.
"You okay?" Evander said to Mira.
Mira began to cry, and Evander saw her shaking, but she nodded at Evander and said, "I'm okay."
Evander picked up the man's gun and looked it over. The weapon was an out-dated Taurus 9mm, and it looked like it had never been cleaned. He and Gracie had one like this, when they were kids. Their father bought it at Walmart, and no matter how much they cleaned and oiled the weapon, it never did fire well, and always seemed to disperse a cloud of discharge smoke from the back of the weapon, right into the face of the shooter. It was the cheapest gun their father could find.
Evander slid back the sliding bolt and picked out the bent casing jammed inside. Along with chunking smoke at the user, the gun also jammed frequently, and as the robber had discovered, the weapon was more effective when you threw it.
"I'm gonna check out back," Evander said. "Call the cops if you want, but I don't think he'll come back, and they won't catch him anyway." Evander slid his coffee across the counter to her. "Think you could warm this up?"
Mira picked up the coffee and nodded. "Oh, Vanny, I'm, um, I'm..."
"It's okay," Evander said. "Really. It's fine. He's gone, and he's not coming back, trust me. If he does, well..." Evander waved the pistol in his hand. "We'll be ready, I suppose. I can throw this at him."
Mira smiled a little at the joke, but Evander could tell she was still rattled. He rounded the counter, took the coffee out of her hand, and hugged her. Mira's head nestled just beneath Evander's chin. He held her for a dozen or so seconds, letting her shake it out, until the fry alarm began to go off in the back of the kitchen.
"Your taquitos are done," Evander said. "No sense ruining breakfast, now is there?"
Mira shook her head. She smiled a little bigger this time, and Evander had an almost over-powering urge to kiss her forehead.
Mira sucked in a breath and stepped away from Evander. She shook her hands by her side, turned and looked for something, and then pulled down a large butcher's knife from the magnetic knife rack next to the grill.
"I'm not so helpless," Mira said. She twisted the knife in her hand, and then stuck it beneath her apron string. "He comes back, he's gonna lose some appendages."