“That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more.” Pop a can of spinach, enjoy instant super- human strength and beat the crap out of Bluto. If Popeye would have fought evil instead, he could have been right up there with the supers, man, woman or bat. Consider evil in the general sense of the word though, nothing global. The official American hero representative overseas shouldn’t sound like he had a recent stroke, or a crippling speech impediment that may in fact have been an unfortunate result of repeatedly eating out of lead-soldered cans. Imagine the French, ‘Ees thees da best they had to offa?’.
And yes, Bluto was technically evil, but it wasn’t his fault. Olive Oyl played him and Popeye both. She was the real villain, tormenting Bluto and his over-active pituitary, flaunting her stick thin figure like an unemployed concubine. She messed with Popeye’s head so hard he had to drown his sorrows in soggy, broad leafed vegetables that looked and smelled like they were dredged from the bottom of a swamp pond.
Paul wasn’t sure how it happened. One minute he was admiring his metaphorical kingdom, the quiet domain that was Miller Creek Mall after hours, and the next? He wakes up Saturday morning sprawled on the floor in his underwear with Betty the mall manager and half a dozen elderly walkers standing over him wondering if he was still alive.
“Someone hit me with something. Something hard,” Paul said.
The question of who ‘dunnit’ will have to be shelved for the time being, as the day before, the Black Friday incident offered much bigger fish for frying. Friday fish fries are culturally significant in these parts.
“Is there a scenario where this was an accident?” Philippine asked.
“Maximine, tell me you’re here for a new pair of man stomping high heel hoof covers and an overpriced cup of bean juice,” the detective jabbed.
“Save it flat foot, you know you’re not that lucky Czerneski,” she said.
Detective Tom Czerneski had been swimming in the shallow pool of collaborative investigating so long that the skin on the top of his feet were worn raw.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me this is connected to your missing persons somehow,” Tom said.
“Well, now that you mention it, the thought had crossed my mind,” she said.
“Sorry Philippine, the only way you’re finding foul play here is if the supposed perp, in plain sight of a couple hundred people set up a real-life game of mousetrap. No way, no how. Hell, it was a good thing she hung there for minute, gave people a chance to get out of the way,” he said.
“How long are you going to leave her out there?”
“Not too much longer, the meat wagon is on its way. Besides, we still got a mourner,” Tom said.
“You’re a real sensitive soul Czerneski. Mind if I talk to her?” she asked.
“Knock yourself out,” he said.
Well inside the yellow tape Tempest Seely sat by herself on the same sort of folding chair that caught her friend. She was chanting something inaudibly, her lips moving like a subtitled movie on mute.
“Oh my Tempest, you knew her?” Philippine asked.
“I did, she was like, like my…”
Tempest took a moment to clear her throat and gather herself.
“She was just a few feet away, she was coming in to drop off dolls, just a few more steps,” Tempest cried.
“I’m so sorry. If there’s anything I can do…” Philippine said.
Tempest picked her head up slowly and stared directly into Philippine’s eyes.
“Find it,” she said.
“I’m sorry what? Find what?” Philippine asked.
“It. I don’t know what it is, who it is. I know you can feel it, it’s in your bones. She felt it, my lovely lady Pireau. She warned us in her own way, and it took her. It took her from us and now, now…” Tempest broke down again.
“As much as I would like to say I don’t know what you’re talking about, I can’t. I can’t because there’s something going on here Tempest, and it scares me,” Philippine said.
Tempest, once again gaining her composure grabbed Philippine by both hands and plead with her.
“The police will do nothing, you are my hope, John Blake’s hope, even Roy Manis’ hope,” she said.
“I thought you hated Roy,” Philippine said.
“Hate is what it wants, hate has lead us here, next to my beautiful friend. I have to go. I can’t be here anymore. Here, call me when it’s done. I have to go. I have to go.”
Tempest handed Philippine a note, presumably with her number on it and ran from the area. Philippine didn’t even look at it, she just kept her eyes on Tempest and tucked it into her front pant pocket.
“What the hell was that all about,” Tom asked.
“That’s her friend lying there, that’s what it was about. Sounds like they were close,” Philippine said.
“Ah, I get it, carpet munchers, huh?” Tom asked.
“Czerneski, I swear if there were more ways to say you’re a damn pig I can’t think of one. Anybody see anything?” she asked.
“Hell yes, about a hundred kids and their mothers. They all say the same thing, they looked up, she was hangin’ there and then she fell. She was holding…”
Tom was interrupted by a whole new array of panicked screaming coming from the second floor.
“Now what? Sergeant, can you go see what the hell that’s all about now?” Tom asked.
“Yessir, on my way,” he answered.
“How did she fall Tom?” Philippine asked.
“Something slippery on the ground, looks like oil,” Tom said.
“And that’s normal?” she asked.
“The way we figure it, they had a lift in here the night before last hanging decorations and what not. Probably one of them leaked,” he said.
“Did you sample the oil? Check it against the lift?” she asked.
“Not as of yet, Maximine,” Tom said, annoyed.
“And even if that’s true, it doesn’t explain why she was on the railing. I mean, people don’t just slip and fall up, right? It doesn’t make any sense, I mean, she’d have to be hanging over the edge almost, don’t you think? Somebody has to have seen something,” she said.
“Look Maximine, whether you PI’s like to admit it or not, accidents happen. Not everything is a big conspiracy. So if you don’t mind, I gotta make sure this here accident, slash old lady is cleaned up and outta here before them cameras get turned on. Cause you know what happens then? I put on my sad face and tell the city there was an unfortunate accident. Then, after that, the world’s most credible witness is gonna come on and say the same damn thing. Maybe you know him, he’s got a big white beard, wears a red suit, kinda heavy set if ya get my drift,” Tom explained.
“Well, in that case, you mind if I ask a few questions?” Philippine said.
“Watch yourself Maximine, I don’t need no half-cocked PI makin’ waves,” the detective warned.
“Don’t worry about me Detective, I’ll be just like a little elf, you won’t even know I was here,” she said.
“Fine, knock yourself out,” he said.
Philippine was almost at the tape holding back the masses when Tom yelled back at her.
“Hey elf! Just in case you find anything in that stocking, you be sure to let me know first, huh?” he said.
Philippine nodded and disappeared into the crowd.
By the time Saturday morning rolled around Betty was at wit’s end. Between the accident, her missing people, Killer creek rumors and the press, who have consequently picked-up on the rumors, she sobbed uncontrollably.
“My God Paul, what happened? Are you okay?” Betty asked.
“Someone hit me with something, something hard,” Paul said.
“What happened to your clothes?” she asked.
“My clothes? Shit, my clothes!” Paul yelled.
He was so busy screwing his head on straight he didn’t realize he had been stripped. His guard uniform including his hat, nightstick, batman utility belt and everything on it was gone. He was left with a wife beater t-shirt, formerly whitey tighties, black socks jammed to his knobby knees and a pair of shiny, non-slip, short bus guard shoes.
The day before, after the incident, amid the chaos, Roy slipped out of the display window and took up a cliché pose closer to the front door.
He’s not getting away with this, not again.
He’d check, then move, check then move again as he inched closer to the door, eventually making it out in front of the boutique, a welcoming ambassador to the novel treasures inside.
“How did you get out here? I swear, it’s always something. C’mon, you’re coming with me,” Tempest said.
She had just left the scene downstairs and fully intended to close the boutique, send her staff home and disappear for the rest of the day. She picked Roy up by the waist and tried to carry him back inside the store, but he clobbered her arms and broke her grip. Tempest jolted backwards and bumped her head on the metal doorframe, hard enough for her to see stars.
It’s now or never.
Roy ran out into the very public second level of the mall. His awkward gate lacked balance. Unable to adequately contort his body to weave through and around obstacles, he crashed and bounced off nearly everything in his path, including people.
Some were too shocked to utter a word, others smiled and laughed, sure that they were part of some sort of hidden camera, or mass marketing event. It was mostly the little ones who wailed in terror at the hard, plastic anthropomorphic nightmare. Their screams carried like a wave through the upper level until Roy finally ducked into one of the big department stores.
The second level of the store where Roy entered was littered with people picking through shelves, searching for deals on unnecessary items that will save them enough money to make them feel like their hamburger was free.
The people who chased him mingled with those already inside until nobody had a clue as to where he had gone. Inside the dressing room, Roy slipped out of his burlap overshirt and cargo shorts and into whatever article of clothing happened to be left on the hook. In this case, a black, tea-length party dress with rhinestones bedazzling a lacey handkerchief hem.
The boots didn’t do the dress justice, but the ensemble really did a good job of accentuating the solid tone of his legs.
This is just great.
Peering through the slats in the door he could see people searching. Every mannequin in the store was suspect, each an unwilling recipient of a pointed physical attack meant to make them blow their cover.
He saw the sergeant first and then Philippine. They spoke briefly to each other and then to a gaggle of witnesses who appeared to be pointing in every direction.
If I only… I gotta warn her.
All good things must come to an end, and this curiously undelightful Black Friday at Miller Creek Mall was no exception. The closing announcement was soon followed by the pitter patter of employee feet who collectively spared no time finding the exits.
Paul’s first round was uneventful, no people, no music, no mannequins. He heard about the chaos earlier and was pleased to have missed it. He didn’t believe what people said, chalking it all up to hysteria born of an unfortunate accident. He even laughed out loud at the prospect of a mannequin being alive, scoffing at the ridiculousness of the notion. And then it hit him, literally.
Roy needed to warn Philippine, but he was afraid. If he were to be caught he would surely be destroyed. The warning from the old woman played over and over in his mind. The only man who knew he existed, the only person who could help him was the evil to which she referred.
He would have cried if he could. Defeated, depressed, and overwhelmed with terror Roy repented, praying that God could hear him through his plastic shell.
Santa’s workshop, a velvet rope laden maze where kids wait lifetimes to see the Claus while parents posture themselves, planning for bad backs while they dissuade cherubic impending fears. Small tables along the route littered with coloring sheets and crayons offered consuming art opportunities victims never had a chance to finish.
Much like the children who infested the same waters, the popular theory suggested the twisted prankster simply ran out of time. It most likely took him so long to dress a mannequin in Paul’s uniform that he didn’t have time to finish the note before the mall opened.
‘Help me, I’m Ro’ was as far as the broken blue crayon and his poor penmanship could take him.
It’s hard to write with plastic hands. The white light blinded him, he felt like a stone shot from a giant slingshot.
When Roy came to his senses, his lips were locked against those of a beautiful young woman. In a circle around them, half a dozen people knelt, watching with envy, their faces lit with the anticipation of trying it themselves. He relished the air pumping into his lungs, a feeling he had not enjoyed for some time.