Bob flipped the tab on the gas nozzle and shoved his cold hands back into the pockets of his coat. The pump clunked along, and the meter tracking the totals pulsed like an artery attached to a dying heart. Another gust of wind came through and Bob shivered. He scrunched up inside of his jacket, and icy fingers found their way in through the openings around his neck and waist. The wind was thick with the scent of coming snow. The station was empty save for the clerk inside who seemed to be watching some dirty movie. Bob squinted but couldn’t quite make it out. One of the fluorescent lights flickered and gave an angry buzz.
As his tank filled, a man came around the side of the building, from the shadows. He looked a bit dirty and possibly homeless. Bob wondered how anyone could be homeless in weather like this. He walked with his head down and his body buried in his own jacket. All in all, the clothes he wore looked to be in decent shape. A tattoo could be seen on his neck.
Great, Bob thought. I’m sure all he needs is just a little bit of money for something. Don’t they all? He pulled the nozzle and quickly put his gas cap on, but the man was there before Bob could get in his car. The lot was empty, the hour late, and Bob had no excuses. He paused by his car door and waited.
“Excuse me, sir” the man said as he stepped up onto the small concrete island that divided the lanes. “I’m sorry to bother you, but—””
Here it comes, Bob thought. Could ya spare some change? I ran out of gas or my mom’s not feelin’ well or I just lost my job or some kind of heartbreaking bullshit story that—
“You wouldn’t happen to have any jumper cables, would you?” the man finished. He nodded back toward the building. “I’ve been having some issues with my car lately. Alternator or something. Anyway, the damned thing won’t start. I think all it needs is a jump.”
Bob relaxed as the tension in his body exchanged for guilt. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “You parked around the side?”
The man nodded.
“I’ll pull around.”
Relief spread across the man’s face. It wasn’t as dirty as Bob first believed, just covered with a thick beard that could use a wash. “Cool,” he said, and trotted off.
Bob came around and saw the man standing next to an old sedan. It was tan with rust blended in and covered in road scum. The hood was popped, and the man was huddled up as well as he could while the wind tore through his beard. “Thanks again, man,” he said. “This is shit weather to break down in.”
The cold was worse on this side of the station, the wind stronger, and Bob hurried with the cables from his trunk. “You know, it’s funny,” Bob said. “I usually keep these in my truck, but the other day I just got this feeling, like I should throw ’em in my car.” He applied the clamps and shrugged. “Kinda weird, huh? I never keep these things in my car.”
“That is kinda weird,” the man said. “I guess it was meant to be.”
“Yeah,” Bob said. “It’s freezing! See if your engine will fire up.”
The man looked at Bob with strange eyes. “Do you really believe that stuff? That it was meant to be?”
Bob shrugged. “I dunno. I guess. Why?”
The man shrugged, pulled a knife from his coat pocket, and stabbed Bob in the gut.
With his hands shoved so deep in his own pockets, Bob was too slow to stop the attack. Instead he clamped his hands around the man’s wrist as he felt the serrated edge twist and dig into his intestines. The man kept shoving, shoving, and Bob felt as though he would be lifted up into the black sky of the night itself. His legs weakened, buckled, and Bob fell to the cold pavement of the parking lot. With a brutal slash, the knife was yanked free. Bob could taste blood in his mouth.
The man knocked the cables free, rolled Bob over and stole his wallet, and hopped into his dirty sedan. It started up with ease.