His skin was taut and he imagined a sudden movement might cause it to rip like dry, rough paper. The air-conditioning tickled his arms. Cool, lazy and impersonal. He stared, unseeing, down the snack aisle and ignored the magazine spread before him on the counter, a jumble of contrasting yellow headlines promising sex tips and the inside scoop on celebrity love lives. He glanced at his watch. 2am. The depression was heaviest at night and his shoulders sagged under the weight. It was always hardest in the evening when he was alone with the beauty, health and hygiene around him making promises they couldn’t keep. In his pocket he fondled a baby blue pill, rolling it between his fingertips. He looked again as his watch. Soon, he thought, 3am.
    The automatic doors opened with a hiss and he swore under his breath as a customer shuffled into the glare of the pharmacy.
    “May I help you?” Karthik asked, a conditioned greeting dragged out reluctantly.
    The man was thin and his clothes swallowed his limbs. He looked in Karthik’s direction, overshot, then his eyes settled slowly on the nametag, the small black rectangle in a sea of stiff red cotton. The man twitched and looked Karthik in the eyes then quickly away. Bird-like. “This a 24-hour pharmacy?” He was staring down the snack aisle with his head tilted to the side.
    Karthik followed his gaze then realized the man was listening for something. Other customers? Employees? A small knot of anxiety bloomed in his stomach. “Yeah, we’re 24-hours. “ Cautiously he added, “We don’t sell liquor and beer is down aisle one.”
    “I don’t need any beer.” The man spoke quietly and turned, pulling a stubby black pistol from deep in his hoody and aimed it loosely in Karthik’s direction. “Where’s the pharmacist?”
    Damn, he knew this was going to be a lousy night. They were all lousy but he had known this was going to be the worst. “I’ll give you the money in the drawer, but I don’t have more than fifty dollars.”
    “I don’t want money.” The man spoke quietly, the gun in his hand was exclamation enough. “I want your pharmacist to get me… I want Oxycontin, like, a bunch of it.”
     “Sorry, the pharmacist left at eight and I don’t have the key to the pharmacy.”
    “The sign says 24-hours pharmacy!”
    “Yeah, well, the sign is misleading. It actually says ‘Open 24-hours’ and under that it says ‘Pharmacy and Grocery’ but they have different hours. It’s confusing.”  
    While the man was processing this Karthik nodded at the pistol. “No offense but what is that, a .22?” he straightened, one hand resting lightly on the counter, the other in his pocket, squeezing the pill. “You might want to step closer, from over there you won’t even hurt me.”
    “Fuck you,” the man tensed and aimed, “You tryin’ to be a hero?”
    Even in the Gulf, especially in the Gulf, he never thought himself a hero but he had taken enough shit over the years that he couldn’t shut up.
    Karthik pointed across the store, “Prophylactics in aisle eight.”
    He freaked. The man stomped towards the counter, sputtering and holding the pistol extended on a straightened arm. With every step the gun bounced - aiming at Karthik’s head then over his shoulder, back at his head then over his shoulder. He watched the black pit of the barrel and wondered if he would die tonight, working minimum wage and at the hands of strung out prescription junky. Did it even matter?     
    The man slammed into the counter and the gun was inches from Karthik’s face. Bouncing on the extended arm the gun pointed briefly to the side and he grabbed the man’s wrist, pulling his arm down and against the edge of the counter. Bones crunched and the man squealed in pain. Fumbling, Karthik grabbed the gun, pulled it hard and spun it around. He held it with both hands, one bracing the other, stepped out of reach and aimed into a blood shot eye.
    Moaning, the man crumpled across the counter, the spark to fight had left him.  He held his broken wrist and pulled it into his body. “Please, please don’t hurt me.”
    Pathetic, Karthik thought. “Get up!” he ordered. “I should shoot you just for being an idiot. Next time you want to steal some drugs the least you can do is come in when the pharmacy is open.“
    He reached into his pocket, holding the gun steady with his other hand, and pulled out the pill. Holding it between two fingers he placed it on the counter.
    “Take it,” he said, “then get out. You need it more than me tonight.”
    The man muttered and balled a shaking fist around the pill.  He looked at Karthik and his face relaxed when he realized he wasn’t going to come to any more harm.
    “Get out of here.”
    Dragging steps and the hiss of the automatic doors then the man was gone, building momentum and shambling down the street.
    Karthik’s hands began to shake and he dropped the gun on the magazine that still lay open on the counter. He looked at his watch. 2:10am. The pill was the last from his prescription. He reached below the counter and pulled out a large ring of color-coded keys. He took a deep breath and sorted through them until he found the one he needed then walked on wobbly legs around the counter and down the snack aisle towards the pharmacy.