Mob Mentality

06/20/24

Last Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. they hit. Hard. Thirty blew in through the main entrance doors. They wore hoodies and masks. Men and women of all shapes and sizes—tall, fat, black, white—you name it. They spread through the aisles like a virus, grabbing everything in sight: clothing, purses, shoes, makeup. High-end merch, but also anything they could get their dirty-gloved hands on. If it wasn’t locked down (and even if it was), it ended up stuffed in duffel bags or plastic sacks.

Or trashed.

Merch-filled racks and display cases toppled over. Fragrances from broken perfume bottles mixed and mingled, creating a sweet, toxic stench.

Casualties of a retail war zone.

“Run!”  I called out to the customers. They scattered in all directions, their screams as sharp as designer stilettos.

I spotted the mob’s leader. He was built like a refrigerator but coming in fast. High on adrenaline, I grabbed the nightstick from my duty belt.

“Exit the store.” I said, lifting my weapon. “Now!”

 He grabbed me by the arm and pushed me to the ground. “Stay down, Buddy,” he muttered. “Or you’re gonna get hurt.”

My sixty-year old body slammed the tile floor. I should have tucked and rolled. I should have used my police training. Sure, I’d been retired three years now, but shit, you’d think I’d have learned something. Retained it.

But I got soft. A Lazy-Boy and dinners at five will do that to you.

I glanced at the security cameras. Their lights flickered red. They were recording. No doubt, they’d captured me: old and inept on the floor.

But at least I’d tried to stop it, right? Against all odds, protect and serve.

I struggled to my knees and slid behind the cosmetics counter. I pressed the hidden alarm button; it blared. I grabbed the handheld radio from my belt and called for help. With my back against the counter, I caught my breath. My tongue hung in my mouth like a slab of dried meat. Police sirens sounded in the distance.

The mob struck like a cyclone; they were gone in a flash. Organized chaos. A hundred-thousand dollars in stolen merchandise: a retailer’s nightmare.

When the police arrived, I stayed with them for a couple of hours. I tried to help out. I gave my statement.

“Review the security footage,” I said finally. “A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

As I was leaving, a cop I’d worked with years ago stopped me.

“Glad you weren’t hurt,” he said.

I rubbed my lower back. “Thanks, Mike.”

“Who’d have thought mall security could be so dangerous?”

“Yeah,” I said, deflated. “Part-time for Christ’s sake. I thought the force was bad.”

He laughed. “It is.”

I nodded. “The City of Angels.”

“Well, take care of yourself, Buddy. And enjoy retirement, you lucky bastard.”

“I will,” I said with a wave and a smile. “Marge and I are headed to Cabo for a couple of weeks. A little R&R.”

I walked through the congested parking lot. Police cruisers and ambulances littered the path. A shroud of smog draped over the city’s jagged skyline. When I reached my car, my cell phone buzzed. No caller ID. I answered it anyway.

“Another good take,” said the caller. “Meet you at the garage to settle up. 10:00 p.m.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Oh, and Buddy…sorry I came at you so hard.”

I grinned. “At least it looked realistic.”

I turned off the cellphone and slipped it into my coat pocket. I unlocked my Impala. The vinyl seats were worn and crazed. A cop’s salary hadn’t cut it. Neither did the pension. I was drenched in debt. Twenty-five years on the job and what did I have to show for it?

A lousy service medal.

I turned the ignition key. The car coughed to life. I put it into drive and grabbed the wheel with both hands. Our little string of flash mob robberies had plagued L.A. for the past eight months. It was time to cash out and fly south. Time for the good life. Hell, I’d earned it.

Civil servant, my ass.

~ fin ~

James Patrick Focarile 300 x 300

James Patrick Focarile is an award-winning writer who resides in the Northwest, U.S.A. He holds an undergraduate degree from Rutgers University and an M.F.A. from Brooklyn College. His work has appeared in the following: Mystery Tribune, Guilty Crime Story Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern Flash, Close To The Bone, Thrill Ride Magazine, and more. For more info, visit: JamesPatrickFocarile.com