The mall was closed today but I got into it anyway.
I seem to have a talent for this, finding unlocked doors. I pick a door, it's open. I only meant to go to the grocery store to get something to eat before they closed for Thanksgiving, but they turned out to be closed since this morning. Well, since last night, since Ralph's has reduced hours, presumably because paying scabs $15 an hour to break the strike is really expensive. Anyway. No grocery stores. I went to the mall. I wanted a burger. Mervyn's was closed so I went in through a side entrance.
Once inside I could see the place was shut down. Not that anything was shut off. All the lights were on, fountains running, etc., but all the stores were shut. Being who I am, I decided to wander around, figuring I'd run into a guard before long and get asked to leave.
I went to the upper level to check on Carl's Jr. Surely there was a guard up there, keeping an eye on things from up high. But it was just as empty as the ground floor. I continued down the mall, not hurrying, poking around. It looked devoid of human presence. Somewhere a recorded message looped. Didn't they have cameras in this place? Am I walking across a neglected monitor, past one of those gray hallways no one ever sees?
It wasn't strange to be in an empty mall, having worked in one, but I savored it. No people. Now if only the rest of the world would empty out while I'm in here. All I'd add would be open gates so I could get at the merchandise....
Rounding the first turn I finally saw someone. Some unfortunate lady in on Thanksgiving, shuffling stock around. She sort of tuned me out as I passed her store. Instead of continuing down the main drag I went around that weird side loop, noting the location of the police station. I wanted to see the empty food court.
And it was empty, as empty as the rest of the place. I could hear a phone ringing somewhere, and there was a regular sound of squealing metal... I started to get spooked, because I didn't want someone interrupting me before I'd reached the other end of the mall.
The squealing noise was an escalator. One of the steps was misaligned, something you'd never notice over the din of shoppers. I stayed on the bottom level, taking even more care as I slipped by the stall of pirated Nintendo games, certain I was now being watched. I was coming up on Santa's crib.
I thought about boosting a pointsettia as there were about two hundred of them surrounding Santa's Cookie Shop (sponsored by Nestle's), but it wasn't something I'd be able to explain away if I was caught carrying it. Normally I like to swipe a little something when I trespass, just to prove I was there. I kept an eye out.
Santa's chair was ragged from long use, undoubtedly permeated with years of Santa sweat, perhaps Santa lice. Despite this, there was no question about what I should do. I sat down, leaned back, spread my arms out on the ratty pillows, supervillain style. I slouched in the seat, wearing black clothes, evil prickvixen hair. "I'm your Santa now, kids." That would be a good time to be found by the guards ('How's it going, Santa?' booms a voice from a loudspeaker), but none came. After a minute of this I got bored and started moving again.
I thought I heard a couple of ladies talking in Lane Bryant, but saw no one. Above me I could hear the whimpering of puppies coming from Pet Love (does Senator Rick 'Man On Dog' Santorum shop there?), and after reaching the end and going up a level I headed that way. Did they really leave the animals in there alone all day?
Evidently not, for as I leaned cautiously I saw a girl moving stuff around in there. At least the animals were looked after... but I didn't want to be seen. I went to the other side of the aisle and hoped she didn't happen to look up. From further behind me I thought I heard somebody moving boxes around.
I took a peek into the Lego store (trying the door), as behind me the phone kept ringing. It was in the information desk. As I approached the desk, the phone stopped ringing. Pausing a moment, I pushed open the swinging door and went where mere shoppers were not meant to go. A phone, a terminal, a lot of handwritten instructions under the glass desktop. 'Do NOT say you aren't allowed to do that.' The phone started ringing again as I exited the booth. Because of that I didn't hear the footsteps.
As I rounded the desk towards the squeaky escalator, I saw a couple of guys running up the mall towards me. Running. One was a guard in a uniform, the other was a guy in a white polo shirt and black pants, who might've been an actual cop. They seemed pretty excited. I don't know what they were expecting.
The guard said something into his microphone to let his security friends know I wasn't a rampaging looter, vagrant, crack fiend, escaped alien, mutant, al Qaeda soldier, Springer guest, shirtless perp from 'Cops,' and then he spoke to me.
"The mall is closed, sir," he said. Obvious, but I guess it's in his script.
"Yeah, I thought it might be," I replied.
He pointed to one of the exits. "You can leave through the doors over there."
I started to go that way, then stopped. "The top level?" I asked.
He thought about it. "Yeah, the top level."
I started in that direction, then veered over to a drinking fountain and had a little drink before continuing, to try the guy's patience. I was not yelled at. Good enough. The way out passed by the police station, which held a couple of clerks. They took no apparent notice.
The guard followed me outside at a discreet distance to make sure that I actually left. I looked around, unsure of my way, which made me look like less of a menace, until he pointed out the nearest street. I thanked him and went that way, wondering how someone like me, with dark glasses and bright red, sticky-up hair could escape notice in an empty mall for over twenty minutes.