On the way to work that night I thought I had hit rock bottom. It was the 11th month of the worst year of my life. Nothing more could happen, I thought.  Surely it can only get better from here.

I mean come on…

I had taken the bar exam in February

Found out my Dad had cancer in April

Found out I failed the bar exam in May

Took the bar exam again in July

Buried my Dad in August

Then found out I failed the bar exam again in October

It was November and I was delivering flowers by day and on this cold Monday night, was my first night at Subway. I was coming on at 9 and closing at 1. This was 1999; no smartphones, I didn’t bring anything to read, and the stack of Penny Savers at the door I decided could wait until I was really desperate. 

By 10:30 I had had 2 customers, swept and mopped the floor, cleaned the bathroom and stocked everything I could think of.

My 3rd customer of the evening tripped the door chime at around 11:15. He was a black male not more than 15-16 years old, about 5’ 7”, weighed maybe 120 pounds and wore dark jeans and a dark hoodie. Oh, and he had a gun. I know nothing about guns other than maybe I can tell the difference between a handgun and a rifle. His was small – and black.

So he walks in and without breaking stride or making eye contact proceeds through the door clearly marked Employees Only and joins me behind the counter. He was a man of few words, not that I expected a chatty armed robber, I’m just saying that from start to finish he maybe uttered a dozen words. Me, on the other hand was trying not to blabber like an idiot – because as my wife Karma can tell you, when I’m nervous I can’t shut up.

He motioned towards the cash register with his gun hand; he didn’t need to say anything. We both knew why he was there and what he wanted. I opened the cash register and emptied the contents into one of those plastic zippered bank bags that I found under the counter: around $10 in coins, less than $25 in ones and maybe 3 or 4 fives. That’s it. That was going to be his take tonight. Then he asked me to open the safe. I knew where the safe was of course; I was standing right on it. I knelt down to pop the plastic cover off and showed him that the only access I had was the slot through which I could drop folded bills.

Out of the corner of my eye I see his arm rise up. He’s pointing the gun at my head. Then he says I have to the count of ten to open it. If I was just kind of afraid before, now I’m really scared. I repeat everything I just told him about it being my first night and I can only drop money and why would they give me the combination – it’s my first night! I’m talking really fast and probably an octave higher. But when he got to 5 he stopped. He believed me. I must have stood up then after he stopped counting. He had the money but made no move to leave. I stared at him and he stared at the floor.

So I did what anybody in this position would do:


I asked him if he wanted me to make him a sandwich – to go of course. He seemed a bit confused by my question and I remember having to repeat it again. In his defense, when planning an armed robbery it’s not likely that you figure that the guy behind the counter is going to do something nice for you, right? 

Now, this whole time – maybe less than a minute, I have my back to the kid and have no idea what he’s doing. I wonder what was going through his head, but I really can’t say. I’m thinking a foot long meatball on white would be fine – he didn’t say either way. I put the sandwich in a bag and pushed it down the counter towards him. He took it.

OK – so now we’re done right? I’ve given him everything he wanted and added a nice hot meal. I wish I had asked him if he wanted chips and drink with it because it would make a better story, but no. 

That’s when he asked me to walk out of store with him.

The level of fear up to this point just jumped up from the 8 or 9 of kneeling with a gun at my head – to 11; and the sound of the blood pulsing through my head was loud enough for the kid to hear. Fear, yes. But also anger.

NOT FAIR!!!! I gave you all the money. And, did I or did I not MAKE YOU A SANDWICH.

Why? Why would we need to go outside? Is this to buy you more time to get away? Fine, I promise to wait 10 minutes before I call the cops – I said none of this.

When a guy with a gun tells you to drop everything and take a walk with him, you do it. 

We walked out together – the streets were empty. It was quiet, peaceful, and pitch dark. The area off the main road turns immediately into residential houses set 30 feet off the sidewalk and lots of mature trees. The houses are dark. We walk. One house, two… He tells me to turn around give him my keys and stand still. I do. I stood there for several minutes while he made his escape. I didn’t look back – I didn’t want to know where he went or how far away he was. 

It was over.

Upon my return, my first call is to Karma because without my keys I can’t drive home. Then to my manager who makes the call to the cops. The cops come and tell us that the kid fits the description of the kid who hit the 7-Eleven a half mile away just an hour before.

I think about him from time-to-time. I wonder, does he think of me, ever? Did our encounter have any lasting impact on him? It surely did on me. But here’s the thing, did I make the kid a sandwich to buy myself some more time for someone to come in and see what was happening? Or to make the kid feel bad? Nah.

I think I did it because it looked like he could use it. 

Karl Kauffman moved seventeen times, lived in three countries and stayed in four states before he graduated from high school. Genealogist/private investigator by day and craft-beer-drinking TV binge watcher by night. He is happy to call Western North Carolina his home.

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