He'd seen the movies. Read thrillers. Been on the New York subway of the pre-zero-tolerance 1980s (while on tour as a fledgling shot-putter for the Moscow Worldwide Comrade Sports Team). But nothing prepared Sergei for the sight of a cold gun-barrel pointing in the region of his thrid eye.
He stopped dancing, pissed himself and tried to focus somewhere in the middle distance, near the petrol-pump that said 'cards only'. He didn't want to look the robber in the eyes, following the same philosophy that urges you not to lock eyes with a wild dog.
Two things could now happen and here's the first [well, an infinite array of things really, but as a limited author, Steve has selected two. We'll play this like a movie that has an ending and an alternate ending on the DVD reissue. The first in this post the second in the next]:
Sergei was fundamentally a coward. There was no way he was going to fight to protect the takens of the blasted 'Fuel&FagsCoPetroleum', his employers and owners of this hellhole.
Not only did he hate them, he was also scared half to death. And in such times, the mind starts playing tricks.
As he stared at that middle-distant petrol pump, the screen telling the buyer how many litres he/she'd been ripped-off for turned into a miniature TV screen, flashing back through Sergei's childhood in the old USSR and his attempt to make it in the west.
What he focused on was the dream of owning a chip shop - buying a chippy and setting up in business. His Uncle Dimitri, who defected decades before the wall came down, always said, on those incognito postcards that he sent from his bedsit in Morden, Surrey (he used to describe the accomodation as "near-a the toob stayteon to geyt inta Loondon") - "Sergei, you-a moost give-a de Eengliss foood. Frie-ed food. 'itsa vart dey eeet. You wad becum ze Milly-yon-air!" He died after he was knocked off his moped while learning the cab driver's 'knowledge'. It may have been the KGB.
Sergei remembered his meeting last week (as his life flashed past him, the instant before an imagined bullet to the brain) with a guy selling a mobile chip shop, on eBay.
He made the trip over to Basildon in Essex, never been there before. The van (Buy-it-now price £2,650, with immediate £300 PayPal deposit after purchase) was parked up in the man's drive: a Transit, 'N-reg', bit of rust. The business was called "Not the Jackson Pollock's - All Cod Fish Bar", sign-written on the side of the ex-ambulance vehicle in day-glow yellow lettering, edged with silver.
"Why the Jackson Pollock?" said Sergei.
"We don't like that Pollock fish - we only use cod. It's a conspiracy thoery that fish stocks stuff. By the Icelanders, trying to put our fishermen out of business." said the fish shop seller, Benny Rubkins, "you'd know all about that stuff with the secret police and all."
Sergei didn't have a clue what he was on about.
"The beauty of this vehicle is that you've got minimal overheads. No rent, no rates. Just fill up with a bit of juice and Bob's your uncle!" said Rubkins.
"Bob's my...what?" said Sergei.
"Vladimir's your uncle - whatever. It's easy money!"
Sergei liked the idea more and more.
"And as it's an ambulance, I like the fact that we're still contributing to keeping our hospitals full. You know, bringing on ill-health all the junk food!" said Rubkins, laughing an showing off a mouth full of stained, caracked and missing teeth and a discoloured tongue. Looked alot like the average Russian, thought Sergei.
Rubkins fired up the fryers, lined up along the side of the ambulance, the entrance was at the rear, and led to a glass diplay area, just like a chippy in the High Street.
"Make up to £2,000 a week in the summer, this thing will. A couple of weeks work and it would have cost you nothing," said Rubkins, dipping a frozen fillet of cod into some pasty looking pale yellow batter before slipping into the fat where it sizzled and curled into a semi-circle.
"That's the way you want it, Serge me old mate," said Rubkins, tipping a bag of sliced potatoes into the adjacent fryer, "Let it curl up so it steams in the batter, don't want the fat to get through to the fish. Here, try out cooking the chips."
Sergei wrapped his hand round the handle of the frying basket, it wasn't like the pathetic Do-nut fryers installed at the petrol station - always spitting out molten liquid at the users, never cleaned: the weight and feel of this fryer made him feel like a man. Like a businessman. A Western businessman. "I'll take it, Mr Rubkins. Your business, I'll buy it. Full price."
"Wise decision Sergei. You won't regret it," said Rubkins and they shook on the deal. Sergei went back to the frying basket and dunked the chips into the popping fat. Yes it felt good.
When he came round, he held a ragged piece of woolly mask in his hand, above the Do-nut fryer. It was still attached to the head of the robber and somehow Sergei was dunking the head of the man into the boiling fat: in and out, in and out. His features had crisped up like a roasted chicken and he didn't seem to be breathing.
Wow, thought Serge, the power of the sub-conscious imagination, and promptly vomited over the pick and mix.