We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight/Ask himself if it's him or them that's really insane.
A couple of prostitutes step off the dimly lit street into the splash of white light. Their dark bodies appear as things long past the point of retrieval, their faces as postscripts to winless battles. Beyond the gas pumps, moving toward the entrance, their heeled footsteps tap out a slow, gloomy processional.
The green car makes yet another speedy run, this time going west on Van Buren, passing 11th Street. Arms flail out of the passenger windows as the occupants bark threats of bodily harm. The guys in the green car want to pound the bantam security guy.
The security guy just shakes his head and smirks.
"Tssssssss, last night those guys driving in that car threatened me," he says. "They were drinking in their car on the premises, so I threw them off. One guy even said if I didn't relax, he was gonna relax me. I wasn't too worried, it was just their way of getting off."
In this Van Buren neighborhood after midnight, the Circle K is neutral territory; a stop-off point where a security guard with a large gun is posted to discourage the tensions of poverty-ravaged residents. The phone booth just across 11th Street is manned by dark shadows with white teeth. The booth is a handy place to buy rock or dope. It has been that way for months, in spite of the cop cars that roll by every 15 minutes or so.
Others come and go in the perpetual light of a late-night Circle K: A grizzled dude with prison tats etched into his forearms counts nickels at the counter for a Dr Pepper before disappearing back into the dark. Some countrified day-worker types with shot, red eyes stammer through the doors, shaking their heads because it's past 1 a.m., too late for Bud Light purchases. A sharply dressed Latino in shiny cowboy boots and a handmade silver watchband gets his brand of smokes and tears out in a polished new pickup.
Shaun, the on-duty Reliant security guard, is the 21-year-old son of a trucker. He comes from a long line of military personnel. His dad, his grandfather and a bunch of his cousins were all in uniform. "I was an infantryman as well as a track vehicle mechanic recovery specialist. I kinda did a bunch of things," Shaun says.
Shaun is slender, thin-lipped and has a slight blond mustache. He's not the biggest guy on the block. He wears a uniform with a quacking two-way radio over his shoulder. At his waist is a holstered side arm. A beeper dangles off of his belt.
"Eighteen years of age with a clean record is all you need to work this security job," he says.
But in two weeks, Shaun intends to take the police academy's entrance exam.
"If I don't pass the test to be a cop, I'll have to keep taking it until I do. Right now they need all the help they can get, and they are hiring like crazy."
A beat-up pickup pulls in. A small-eared guy with a barrel cut and a square jaw jumps out from the passenger side. He knows Shaun.
"Whatcha got there?" Shaun asks, nodding to the man's weapon.
Turns out this guy was once a security guard at a Circle K. Then he passed the test. Now he works for the Mesa PD. And although he is off-duty, he still sports the shoulder holster and gun. It's a 24-7 thing.
"I used to work with you guys," the Mesa cop tells Shaun.
"What happened, did they irritate you too much, make you come in on your days off?" Shaun asks.
"No. They didn't let me have off work because they didn't believe I was having a baby. My wife's in labor screaming in the background."
The cop offers Shaun some advice on his upcoming police academy exam. He says the polygraph offers the most trickery.
"They asked me if I had ever had sex with a minor, and I said, 'Yes,'" he says laughing. "'Cause I was minor. If you say no to a question like that, the machine will pick it up."
While finishing his smoke, the Mesa cop and the security guard trade more banter. Then the cop hops back in the pickup where a friend is waiting patiently in the driver's seat. They head east on Van Buren.
Shaun doesn't need to cite Freud when he explains how his girlfriend feels safer with his weapons.
"The girl I am dating, she lives with me, and she doesn't feel safe. She's got my knife. When folded out, it is about eight inches long. When it isn't pulled out, it is only about four and a half inches long. I carry my gun around 24-7."
Shaun's mind-blowing ejaculator is a .40-caliber Ruger P-94. His other roommate is a gun fanatic, too.
"My roommate is another security guard. All his posts are unarmed, and he still has his gun."
I ask him how often his roommate is armed. Stupid question.
"Twenty-four-seven," Shaun says, smiling. "Trust me, if somebody breaks into my house, they're in the wrong neighborhood. There is a world of hurt. My roommate has a .45, I got a .40. He's got three clips, I got three clips. When they break into our house, we don't have to worry about how many times we shoot 'em.
"'Cause that's trespassing, breaking and entering. We're just defending ourselves and our property. What's the most we're gonna do? Put a couple of holes in the door and have to repair the door? Woohoo."
Actually, Shaun might want to brush up on the law before he takes the academy test--you can't use deadly force against someone just because they've broken in or taken your property.
Furthermore, I point out that his dream sequence might be marred by having to clean the intruder's brains off the ceiling.
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"Well, if he broke into our apartment, there wasn't much up there [in his head], 'cause everybody in our complex knows we're armed. Trust me, by the time they think about banning guns, I'll have an arsenal. I carry a gun 24-7. I've been here since January, and I've had a gun pulled on me seven times. I get my mom askin' me why I carry a gun all the time, and I tell her, ''Cause I'm tired of getting one pulled on me all the time.' If somebody pulls a gun on me, I'll shoot 'em."
Or tell his mother.
We talk about kids with guns. I tell him I think the Columbine massacre was a stupidly phallic protest--mean, self-destructive acts by middle-class fuck-ups who hated their meaningless lives. And how these things are always dick-driven. Girls never feel the need for such dissemination.
Shaun kind of nods, half-listening.
"What I've seen the most of since I have been doing Circle K's, is kids 16, 17 years old, walking around with guns. And they are concealin'. And you know they're not old enough to buy a gun, let alone a concealed-weapons permit. And they got it stuck in the back of their pants, and, when they bend for a piece of candy, you see the gun. If they are trying to hide, they're not doing a very good job at it. The ones I pay attention to are the ones who have it concealed and stuck in their pants.
"But," he adds. "If they outlaw guns, who's gonna have 'em? The outlaws."
Forty-five minutes later, the guys in the green car pass the K again.
Their zoo-at-feeding-time howls echo again. Shaun rests his hand on his Ruger, shakes his head and smirks. He sucks another mouthful from his cigarette.