Sin Tax, by Preston Lang, coming July 1 from All Due Respect Books

Sin Tax cover



Everyone knows that cigarettes will kill you. Mark works the overnight in a grimy deli in the Bronx, selling gray market smokes and bad meat. His hotheaded manager Janet pushes him to help her con their boss into paying cash for a truck full of tax-free cigarettes. Soon he finds that Janet is willing to do nearly anything to grab the money, and what they are up to is a lot more dangerous than three packs a day.


Preston Lang is a writer from New York. His work has appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, Out of the Gutter, Crime Syndicate, and WebMD. The Sin Tax is his third novel.




THE WHITE GUY in the gray hoodie put two cases of Corona on the counter then picked up a bag of Milano cookies. He studied the package and put it next to the beer. Then he drew his gun. The clerk froze, and the man in the hoodie jammed the weapon into his face. The clerk’s hands shook as he cleaned out the register and put the money on the counter. The man in the hoodie shoved the cash into the front pocket of his sweatshirt. He put the beer and cookies into a backpack, then, almost as an afterthought, he asked for cigarettes. The clerk began loading packs into the bag. When there was no more room, the man zipped up his backpack and turned to leave the store.

Janet paused the video on her laptop and looked at Mark.

“If you get robbed again, you’re fired,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

“If it happens again, you are fired. That’s all.”

“I had a man stick a gun in my face, then you make me watch it twice, and now you’re telling me I’m fired?”

“You’re not fired. You’ve still got your job. But if it happens again, you are gone.”

“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

“Let me ask you a question: why was there 240 dollars in the register?”

“Because I didn’t have a chance to put the extra cash in the—”

“You didn’t have a chance? You want me to wind it back so we can look at video of you standing at the counter reading for half an hour with 240 dollars sitting in your reg?”

Mark had been told to keep his register under seventy-five dollars at all times. As money collected he was supposed to put large bills in the drop slot.

“That was a mistake,” he said.

“Fine, it was a mistake. If it happens again—you’re fired.”

Mark looked at the screen. He could see the back of the thief’s sweatshirt, stained and fraying with a yellow number 44 ironed on the back; and he could see himself, looking useless and defeated.

“Next time I’ll risk my life to save a few Milano cookies,” he muttered.

“What’s that?”


“You didn’t call the police, right?”

“No. I called you like you said to—”

“Yeah, okay. I thought I might finally get a good night’s sleep. You had to pick tonight to get yourself robbed. I was having some very pleasant dreams: this Scottish guy was going down on me at Christmastime. What do you think that means?”

“…I don’t know.”

“And I might show up here some night, unannounced. If there’s more than seventy-five dollars in your reg, then you’re fired.”


Janet didn’t seem to care for this attitude.

“You want some advice for your own good, for free?”

“I very much want that.”

“The highest form of life is the pasty little twat who makes sarcastic remarks to people who actually have a little bit of competence and ambition. Do you think that you can be that pasty little twat?”

He didn’t say anything. Yeah, it burned. When you work an overnight shift in a filthy bodega, you’re either a real standup guy sending back money to relatives in a poor country, or you’ve messed up in life somewhere along the way. There’s no in between. Maybe one night you learn how to program an ancient microwave, or you clean the dust off a ceiling fan with a mop, or you catch a thick rat in a glue trap. You do something like that and for a minute you feel like you’re worth something, but someone will knock you back down quick enough.

“Now. Are you going to be all right for the rest of the shift, or do you need a lullaby and a cuddle?” Janet asked. She didn’t wait for an answer, started to leave the store.



She turned back on him like she expected a fight, like she wanted one, like it was something that came up for her on a regular basis—come at me counterman, let’s do this.

“I don’t have any change in my register,” he said.

“And why is that?”

“Because of an earlier incident, which was all my fault. But if I still work here, and if I’m going to finish my shift, I will need some small bills, won’t I?”

“Yeah. All right. Great point. You may be management material after all.”

Janet walked back behind the counter and squeezed past Mark to get to the safe. She looked him right in the eyes as they grazed each other. If he was disgusted by being that close to her body, he kept it to himself. She opened the safe, careful to block Mark’s view of the keypad. She took out 19 singles, 4 fives, and 2 tens and put them in the register.

“This should be enough. Anyone gives you a hundred for a pack of smokes, you hand him your nicest carrot and tell him to go fuck himself. Anything else you need in order to do your job?”

Mark didn’t mention that they’d stopped carrying fresh produce two months earlier. Janet left the store.

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