The heavy smell of gas fumes made Mike's stomach heave. Bob Forde had given him the low-down on working the pumps and how to use the credit-card swipe-box. That was twenty minutes ago, and still no customers. Mike got to thinking this stretch of the road out of Minidoka was a road to nowhere.
He pulled at the thick cotton collar of his pump attendant's shirt and ran his fingers over the embroidered name patch. It labeled him as 'Bill'. Bob promised if he lasted longer than three-month, he get him a shirt with his own name patch. Same he promised all his pump-boys. What happened was this: three months passed - if they lasted that long - and all the regulars became used to calling the pump-boy 'Bill'. Bob Forde would carry on about how it would be best not to confuse the customers, and so not a single one had themselves a shirt proclaiming their true name. Anyway, Mike was lucky to get a shirt at all. Bob thought he was out of shirts since Vinnie ran off. Stole the till cash and the Goddamned shirts. Mike's shirt turned up hanging on a hook in the men's room just that same morning.
'Here you go, Mike,' said Bob sniffing at the armpit. 'Don't seem worn at all.' He threw the shirt and Mike caught it back-handed. 'Think I'll call the Sheriff. Vinnie must've snuck it back since opening time. Maybe he's still got some of my cash left.'
Just as Mike was beginning to get really bored, a mid-sixties, black Cadillac pulled off the road and swung round by the main pump-set.
'Howdy, kid,' said the driver, a guy in his forties with a baseball cap and a walrus moustache. 'Fill her up. Check the windshield and kick the tires.'
'Firefox!' said Mike, the man's words reminding him of a scene from a Clint Eastwood film.
'Say what?' from the guy, a suspicious frown on his face.
'Er, "Firefox". Just means, like, "Straight away".'
'Yup!' said Mike flipping the petrol cap.
'You kids. Speak a whole different language,' said the guy leaning on the long wing of his car.
As Mike pumped gas, he became aware of the man's eyes on him. He looked up and as their eyes met, the corner of the man's mouth turned up and his eyes did that thing. Mike looked away. Then he turned to check out his reflection in the office window. Nope! As far as he could tell, there was no sign hovering above him with a great big arrow pointing down and saying 'HUSTLER'. Why did his old life follow him around no matter where he went? A small corner of his mind began to wonder how much he could get from this old fart, and just what he'd have to do to get it. He ground his teeth and thought he'd rather squirt the sonofabitch with gas and set him on fire.
The pump cut off. Mike checked the reading.
'That's fourteen dollars.'
'You filled up the trunk as well as the tank?'
Mike did not answer. He decided he hated this guy pretty much for reminding him of what he was.
The man took out his billfold and peeled off a twenty. 'You going to clean my 'shield? Check my tires? Maybe sell me - a little something else?
Mike snatched the twenty, took it over to the office and rang the till. He returned and held out the six dollars change. 'My windshield! My tires!' said the man in an exaggerated way.
'Firefox!' said Mike. The man smiled and replied 'That's more like it!'
Mike didn't move. 'It don't mean what I said it did, mister.'
'It means "Fuck off". And you know why.'
The man looked at his feet, embarrassed, and swung open his car door. 'Yeah. Well. Sorry. Maybe I read the signs wrong.' Climbing in he slammed the door, reconstructing his glass and metal fort about himself. 'Keep the change.'
Mike threw the six dollars in through the open window. 'Stick your change up where the sun don't shine,' said Mike triumphantly, and turning his back on the Cadillac he smiled to himself. As the engine fired up, he felt that he had somehow prevailed. Against whom, or what, he was unsure. He only knew he'd turned a bad feeling into a good one.