by Katherine Tomlinson
Illustrated by Mark Satchwill
|Illustration by Mark Satchwill|
Barbara Dinwiddy hadn’t really wanted to install a snack machine in the motel’s office. The soda machine outside was trouble enough with the homeless people vandalizing it in hopes of scrounging change and her guests pounding on it in hopes of getting free drinks.
It still amazed her that people would pay more than a dollar for a cold soda rather than just buy a six-pack and chill it in their refrigerators but then, she’d scoffed at the notion of bottled ice tea when it first came out and now she routinely bought big cartons of Snapple at Costco.
And if she kept sweets and snacks in the house, she’d buy them in bulk too.
Barbara hated low-nutrition snacks with the zeal of a reformed junk food junkie and it drove her crazy watching her guests waste their hard-earned money on sugar- and salt-laden crap.
She’d stopped putting out lollipops on her desk when she realized her long-term guests were pilfering them and feeding them to their kids for breakfast.
It wasn’t that she wanted the kids to go hungry but she disapproved of jacking them up on sugar before unleashing them on their unsuspecting teachers.
Now, with a vending machine that dispensed candy bars and peanut butter crackers and such, Barbara felt like a pusher and the worst kind of hypocrite.
At first she’d told the vending machine salesman to stock energy bars along with the other stuff, but after a month, she’d had to admit that no one was buying them and told him to add M&Ms to the mix instead.
“Good choice,” he’d told her. “They’re the number one selling candy in the world.”
The vending machine salesman, whose name was Jim, had promised that she’d make a nice little income stream from her commission on snack and candy sales and he’d been right.
She got 13 percent of the proceeds and that added up to enough to pay a few bills every month. Not a big bill like the electricity, but it covered her car insurance and her post office box and the occasional take-out meal from Thai BBQ.
So the snack machine stayed.
Kevin Eastman, who was on parole for armed robbery and a recovering heroin addict, had the biggest sweet tooth of any of her guests. He bought chocolate bars two at a time and it wasn’t unusual for him to drop by before leaving for work to grab a little something sweet.
He always seemed a little embarrassed, as if acknowledging that he’d only substituted one bad habit for another.
He said the same thing to her every morning, “You have a good day now Ms. Dinwiddy,” which she appreciated.
“You too, Mr. Eastman,” she replied.
Kevin Eastman had been living at the motel for nearly two years, the longest of any of her guests but Barbara did not encourage familiarity. The less she interacted with the people who occupied her motel, the better she liked it.
The only exception she made was for Liam Garrick.
She didn’t care much for Liam’s mother Shannon, and knew Shannon didn’t like her at all, but she admired the woman’s gumption. She wasn’t a whiner, like so many of her other long-term guests. She didn’t blame other people for her problems or the government or the phases of the moon.
Barbara had once asked her why she didn’t sell her gas-guzzler of a car and get something smaller. Shannon had shrugged.
“We might end up living in it,” Shannon had said without a trace of self-pity. “And it would be nice to have something a little roomier.” Then she’d chuckled a bit ruefully to let Barbara know it was all right to laugh.
Shannon wouldn’t let Liam buy things from the snack machine like the other kids. So he ate bananas and apple slices and sometimes mozzarella cheese sticks when they were on sale.
Sometimes when Liam was hanging out in the office reading a book, Barbara would give him an oatmeal cranberry cookie. They had an unspoken agreement that he wouldn’t tell his mother about the cookies.
Liam genuinely seemed to like Barbara. He took her grumpiness in stride and never seemed to take it personally if she didn’t want to talk to him. He seemed happy just to be near someone when his mother wasn’t home and he’d taken to sitting with Barbara in the afternoons when he got home from school.
Barbara had gotten used to the little boy’s presence and she kind of missed him on weekends.
He wasn’t like the other kids who lived at the motel, snot-nosed little brats whose parents let them run wild in the parking lot and left them without supervision while they were doing God knows what at night.
Shannon Garrick never went out at night. After a full day’s work at her job, she came home and put in another six hours doing tedious medical transcription work for a clinic in Tarzana.
Barbara admired her work ethic. Shannon had her eyes on the prize.
She wanted something better for her little boy.
“Would you like a cookie Liam?” Barbara asked.
The boy looked up from his book.
“Yes please,” he said.
Barbara brought him a cookie and a glass of milk on a little tray she’d bought on a vacation to Mexico back before it was too dangerous to go to Mexico.
“Thank you,” Liam said and put his book aside.
Just as Barbara was about to ask him what he was reading, the door to the office burst open and a skinny kid ran inside, looking wild-eyed and sweaty.
Barbara knew he wasn’t there ti rent a room.
“Get out of here,” she said, then repeated it in Spanish.
The kid ignored her and made a beeline for the door that led to Barbara’s apartment.
“Hey,” she said, and grabbed his skinny arm.
He cursed at her, then stared past her, transfixed by something he saw outside the office window.
Then he pushed Barbara away as he pulled a gun from the waistband of his pants.
Barbara fell to the floor and crawled over to the chair where Liam was sitting, frozen with fear.
“Get down,” she ordered, pulling him to the floor and covering him with her body.
The skinny kid fired at the same time as the guy outside the window.
His shot went wild and hit Barbara.
The guy outside the window was a better shot.
The skinny kid was dead before he hit the floor by the snack machine.