Had he believed in such a thing as regret, it might have been the gun. The difference between zero and three and five fell into the hands of that gun, and though none of it was worth it, there was no more money to be had, with or without the weapon.
“Name?” The uninspired clerk asked, fingers poised for attack above the keyboard, awaiting their flight plan.
“Wallace,” said Wallace.
“And, Mr. Gilbert, what was your previous employer’s reason for letting you go?”
“I couldn’t work on account of going to prison,” Wallace said, unblinking. The ’s’ sound in the word ‘prison’ sloshed its way through the hole in Wallace’s bottom row of teeth. He held a baseball cap, folded in two, between his knees. A small, thin mustache grew on his upper lip in much the same way the hair on his head barely covered any ground.
And oh, if it hadn’t been for the gun.
“Were you convicted of a felony, Mr. Gilbert?”
“And are you currently looking for work or unable to find work?”
“Yessir,” Wallace lisped.
“No, Mr. Gilbert,” the clerk said. He looked up from the computer for the first time to see Wallace’s creased and worried face, his sweat-stained hat shaking with unease between his bouncing kneecaps. “Are you currently looking for work. OR, have you been looking for work and can’t find any.”
Wallace slumped in the rounded, plastic chair. Yes, though, he thought. It was both.
“Yes, sir,” Wallace said, more careful of the hole in his teeth. “I’m, uh, still looking.”
The clerk was silent, fingers poised on alert again.
“Haven’t given up looking, I guess?” Wallace said, to further define.
“Hmm,” said the clerk. “We’ll call it currently looking, then.”
“I was drunk and stupid,” Wallace said.
“I took money from someone. I was drunk and stupid.”
The clerk’s hands sank from their mid-air perch.
“Mr. Gilbert, I just file the paperwork.”
They sat in silence for 26 seconds. Wallace placed his ball cap over his knee, stretched it to fit this bony sort of face. The clerk tapped the letter “d” 11 times in a row.
“In about three business days, call this number,” the clerk said. “You’ll answer the questions they give you and then if you qualify, the money will deposit directly into your account.”
Wallace thought this was arguably simpler than placing a gun to a soft part of someone’s body and asking for it. Hindsight, though. Plus he had never necessarily been looking for easy.
He left the unemployment office and crossed the street against traffic to the 7-11. He would get smokes, but first, a Red Bull and the cheapest beef jerky. Peppered was fine, but teriyaki was ideal, and neither of them were in the four dollar range he had until EBT came through.
“Hey, three fifty, yeah?” The voice asked, too loudly, too jaggedly, as coins jangled on a metal countertop.
“Three fifty, yeah,” a second voice confirmed. More coins.
The coins were a ruse, as Wallace watched the two - likely meth-heads, he reasoned from the lack of hair, the patchy movements - shove cellophane-wrapped sandwiches down their pants. Their shiny heads colluded behind the heated cage of taquitos, as they made enough metal noise to disguise the rustling in their clothing. This, too, Wallace thought, was a quicker path.
Instead, Wallace had a Red Bull, some pricey dried meat, and the ghost of a gun.