(1) Songbird

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Chapter 2: Is Shoplifting Such A Big Deal?

Breaking all protocol ever created for this situation, I reach underneath the front counter, grab a wad of plastic bags and fling them at our attacker. I swear that I can hear somebody singing in the background while this is all going on, but that’s probably the adrenaline.

Nearly ripping the thin girl’s arm out of its socket, I run her to the backroom without stopping for a second. The well dressed gunman quickly dispenses of my distraction and he fires towards us wildly. Even though every display TV within ten feet of the backroom door is toast, the pale girl and I make it off the sales floor safely.

“What the hell is this? What’s the point of kidnapping you if they’re just gonna pump you full of holes!?” I ask the kid rhetorically.

His reasons for shooting us don’t mean shit in the end, actually. With a vice grip on the girls nearly translucent right hand, I rush us to the backroom fire exit twenty feet away.

“Where does this exit go?” the girl asks me, concern in her voice rising to the surface.

“The back of the building, duh!” I reply, whilst pushing the heavy metal door open, poking my head out to ensure her safety. The light tugging on my left sleeve does nothing to disturb our escape… but staring down the metal barrel on the other side of that door sure does.

BANG!

“Yah!” screams the girl as she kicks open the other side of the emergency exit open, knocking the barrel of the gun just out of position and turning a just propelled bullet from lethal to harmless.

Maybe it’s time for all this hero business to end, eh? I don’t think I’ll look very dapper with an eighth hole in my skull. Hopefully the suited man in front of me will take really good care of the weird girl. I’d like to eventually collect the social security I’m paying into. Can’t do that if i’m dead.

But then I’d be a pussy.

Instead, I ball my right hand into a fist and launch it into the attacker’s face while a furious shriek escapes my throat.

If I give her up now all I’ll be known as is a coward. At least I’ll go down as some kind of hero if I die here.

“Thanks for shopping with us!” I scream at my assailant with the intensity of a caged orangutan as my steel-toed boot collides with his shin, sending a yelp rising through his body and his gun to the ground, along with his unconscious body. All I need to do from here is pick up this guy’s gun, make it out to my car, and we’ll be home free. From there, we’ll make our way to the police department and I’ll be at home before sundown.

So I bend down to the ground to grab his firearm, dreams of hot Spaghetti O’s abound, when a bone-chilling thought takes root in my mind.

Isn’t there somebody following us?

BANG!

A mighty tug sends me backwards on my ass as another live round is fired towards my person. Instead of ending my life or liquefying my organs, the lead bullet propelled by gunpowder only manages to hit the heavy fire exit door I was standing in front of nary a second ago. I can’t help but to say what I’m really thinking right about now.

Fuck.” I whisper to myself, having totally forgotten about the first dude who was hot on our trail. I would ask my pale associate how she knew to force me to the ground but there’s a dollar tree secret service lookin’ asshat that needs my attention.

Baldy throws his handgun to the ground in frustration and he rushes me with his bare fists. I try to get off the ground to my feet but his speed is astronomical compared to the horsepower my untoned thighs can push out.

As Mr. MIB goes to pin me to the hard concrete floor for some ground and pound, a girl’s size three foot covered in torn-apart Reebok sneakers trips the assailant’s feet, causing him to stumble his stubble covered chin into my knee.

“Good timing” I tell the girl before standing up. Actually that’s something I should address. Because this little operation has been less about me getting her away from whatever the fuck is going on and more about her helping me help her get away from here. All I’ve done is stand around and almost get shot, while she’s:

Kicked the door to stop me from dying

Pulled me to the ground to stop me from dying

Tripped that dude to stop me from getting my shit kicked in and probably dying

“That’s not entirely true…” the girl whispers under her breath, before continuing “you did punch that escort pretty good.”

“Thanks…” I tell her, tapering off at the end. Must’ve been muttering to myself again. I do have a tendency to talk to myself from time to time.

Without warning, the sound of twenty or so footsteps marching as one towards our location echoes throughout the concrete halls of the backroom. They probably all have guns. So we’re doomed. Joel Newman is gonna die a pathetic death. Can I write my will and testament out fast enough on my phone? Who’ll get my pet fish Odysseus?

“Chill out Joel.” the nameless girl tells me, sparking confusion on my part.

“How did you know my name, kid?” I ask her, perplexed until I notice the hard plastic name tag hanging over my right breast pocket. I slip the tag into my pocket for no reason in particular, the confusion in my face being transferred onto her visage as well.

“Let’s go there.” she suggests then points her pale thin arm towards the employee bathroom.

Having no better options in front of me, I sigh and pray that this girl’s intuition is right before dusting off my pleated khakis and running into the bathroom with her in tow, locking the door behind us.

“They don’t know we’re here, so we’re safe.” The girl tells me, counting my lucky stars that the room is soundproof so that employees can cry about their pitiful existence without the other lackies hearing.

Deciding to take the opportunity when it presents itself, I reiterate an important question.

“Kid, tell me. How did you know my name was Joel?” I ask with a firm tone of voice. Her face reverts back to its original blank slate, much like how it was when I first bumped into her. Though I’m not sure if it’s because she knows she’s been had and she’s trying to poker face me or if it’s because that’s just how she looks all the time. Like a barbie doll with silver hair and painted off white with the expression of a soldier who’s seen some shit.

“It was on your nametag.” she says as her expression turns from soulless to a deep scowl.

Her answer is horseshit covered in fertilizer, because of one distressing fact.

This store cares not for the individual. Sales are everything, profit is everything. When I started this job oh so long ago they got my nametag switched up with another dude that had just been hired for the holiday season. The guy quit on day numero uno, citing the extensive dress code rules given to employees… but he kept the name tag. When I inevitably asked for a replacement name tag HR refused and told me to just sharpie an L at the end. So now I just wear the tag like this out of spite for my corporate overlords.

I pull the nametag out of my right pants pocket and throw it over to my mysterious compatriot. Her mask slips and, for the smallest of moments, surprise comes across her face.

The name tag says ‘JOE’ is big bolded lettering, especially big for our senior citizen guests who come in.

Now kid, spill the beans. I can see the surprise mounting on your face and I’ve had too many bullets shot my way for there to be secrets between us at this point.

Not only have you had impeccable timing in saving me today, you only knew about the dude on the other side of the emergency exit after I saw him. You only knew to pull me off my feet after I thought about him chasing us.

But none of that matters in the face of the fact that I’m saying none of this right now and you’re still reacting to it.

“What the hell are you?”

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