The old bell hung above the door to the QuickStop jingled to announce a customer. “Be with you in a sec,” Jayda said. “Just gotta finish with #7 pump.

She peeked out the window, which doubled as a drive-thru for folks who wanted to take advantage of the QuickStop’s built-in deli meats.

Tapping the mini intercom, she said in a voice that was 98% static by volume: “Can I get you anything else? Snack or deli meats?” Jayda had the dubious honor of slicing salami for anyone who wanted it as part of her shift, even though the slicer was about Truman Administration vintage. She could stuff her face for free, but after one ill-fated roast beef sandwich, and a subsequent trip to worship the porcelain goddess she packed a lunch.

“Ew, no,” said the customer at #7. “Stop asking me if I want your tainted meats, girl.”

“Look, Mr. Lebedev makes us ask,” Jayda sighed. “Don’t hold the dodgy quality of his salami against us, hmm?”

#7 was already replacing his pump, grumbling, and slipped into the front seat of his ’87 Lincoln Town Car without so much as a glance at the plastic “TIPS” cup duct-taped to the pump–the very loophole that allowed Lebedev to pay Jayda about $6 an hour.

Now grumbling herself, Jayda turned to the pump controls. She reset the leak alarm, which had been going off more or less continuously since 1978, zeroed out Mr. Lincoln’s balance, and smiled slightly as she had the brief, gratifying thought of covering his car in sliced, noxious salami as revenge.

“Now, what can I do for you, Mr.-” Jayda began, turning to face the customer waiting patiently at her counter. She stopped when she saw the imposing figure there.

“She bid the attendant a fond hello, and inquired about the existence of a…shall we say…lost and found.” The woman standing at the counter was tall and regal, dressed all in black, and despite the searing brightness of the QuickStop’s cheap fluorescents, her face seemed indistinct, shadowed. That buzzing, unfriendly light didn’t seem to want anything to do with her.

Jayda recognized the strong, eccentric figure at once–probably the crackpot who’d moved into the old Fox place, and another weirdo in a town that was already well above its dosage. “A lost and found?” she said. “Sure, there’s one right here.”

She dipped beneath the counter and reappeared with an old cardboard box. It was bursting with lost keys, questionable t-shirts both greasy and torn, and other bric-a-brac. Mr. Lebedev tended to help himself to anything more valuable that got lost, quietly hawking it on eBay.

The woman pushed the box aside; it seemed like a gentle, almost motherly motion, until it slid off the edge and clattered to the tile with a noise that made Jayda jump where she stood.

“No, there was nothing in the moldy old box of rightfully forgotten detritus for her,” the woman said, airily referring to herself in some hoity-toity tense. “What she had lost was far more personal and dear. One might say it was stolen, even.”

“Look, lady, the police station is five blocks down and three blocks right,” said Jayda. “It’s in the same building as the library and the county health office. You can’t miss it.” The cops did come in to gas up their cruisers on occasion, with Lebedev giving a rather bribelike fleet discount that probably helped keep him in business, but they tended to pay at the pump and never made small talk–much less collecting anything lost or stolen.

“The attendant was not understanding. Was it mere ignorance, or was it because she knew the truth and could not bear to speak it?” The woman paused, smiled in the shadows, and continued. “And so her guest continued to speak, outlining a thing that had been stolen–stolen from one of her very good friends, and something that was vital to her ongoing work. A map, of sorts, in a special case.”

Jayda tried to maintain a poker face as her stomach skidded into the leaky fuel tanks ten feet below. The worthless little case she’d mistaken for a laptop? The MacBook bandit’s first bum score in her nearly one-year Robin Hood crusade? How could this bizarro customer know about that?”

“She saw a flicker of recognition on the attendant’s face, and knew that she had come to the right place. She made her next words firm, but clear. That map was a map of many things, and they ley lines inscribed upon were the web on which accursed Higbee rested. She would have it back, or the young attendant, not yet known to all as a daring thief, would find herself in a most…dangerous…position.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!