Written by Rob Daly
Cliff stands bent at the waist in the dressing room of the “Islands” clothing store, his black Nike track pants at his ankles. The green carpet under his Lacoste sneakers so plush he swayed a little as he smoothed the silky palm tree-print shirt around one leg and slid three thick rubber bands around it, holding it aloft. Pulling up his pants, he looked down and, satisfied with his work, grabbed three similar shirts hanging on a brass hook and left the dressing room.
The slight, balding salesman, who had introduced himself as Jody, watched Cliff emerge from the rear corner of the store and called to him.
“Did those work for you?” he asked, moving slowly toward him.
“No,” Cliff said, forcing a smile. “Better luck next time.”
He draped the shirts over a rack and continued toward the entrance without pausing.
Jody walked to the shirts, passed his hand over the three hangars and called to Cliff.
“Sir, may I speak to you for a moment?”
Cliff stopped and looked back as two nearby customers looked up.
“I believe you took four shirts into the dressing room.”
“Must have left one in there, sorry,” Cliff said turning away.
Jody looked over his shoulder where a young woman stood by the dressing room door gently shaking her head.
“Sir, excuse me. May I speak to you for a moment?” Jody said and in that instant Cliff pulled the tinted glass door open and dashed out into the night.
A piercing alarm squealed.
The mall was nearly new, a style blending outdoor shopping with amusement park. Spanning three blocks on a manufactured cobblestone Main Street, it was built to resemble a quaint village. Storefronts were facades of used brick, louvered shutters and flowery window boxes. Antique light posts lined the street where in the middle, a reproduction trolley car carried shoppers from one end of the mall to the other.
Cliff had planned on an orderly exit, unaware that security devices were now attached stealthily to clothing; that Jody’s computer screen had revealed four items in Cliff’s possession when he entered the dressing room. Cliff could ponder his mistake on the long flight to Hawaii tomorrow. Right now his problem was the Friday night movie theatre crowd. The same teeming herd that would have provided cover for the walk to the street and his car parked a block away.
To his right the trolley lumbered past. He dashed around it out of sight of the store, then hurried past couples and children, between giggling teens and window shoppers; past the throng at the surging fountain. He was nearing the corner where he could dash for the exit when he heard voices behind him, demanding that he stop. He broke into a frenzied run, pushing people out of his way. The corner was in sight and he lunged for it with every muscle and all the adrenaline he could summon.
Mr. and Mrs. Timmons had been planning to take the twins to Baby Gap all week and while Donny parked the car, Sheila left the parking garage and pushed the double stroller quickly toward the lights and the crowd on Main Street. She wanted a few minutes in front of the fountain and the musical light show before meeting her husband.
Cliff never saw the front wheel of the stroller before he tripped over it. He somersaulted over the legs of baby Jenna and hit the street in a roll. It happened so fast that some witnesses claimed the screaming began even before Cliff’s body caused the trolley to lurch to a stop, sending passengers and their bags sliding off the seats. Baby Jenna cried and cried as people began shouting orders and sirens sounded and shoppers were corralled behind the entrance to Crate & Barrel. The blood ran downstream, crisscrossing the outlines of the cobblestones, past Cliff’s bulging eyes into the period-look drainage grate.
The trolley wheel having penetrated at the level of his heart, Cliff’s pants and the stolen goods hidden inside were hardly touched. At the mortuary, the palm tree shirt was retrieved, bagged and eventually returned to the corporation that owned the store. After a thorough steam ironing, Jody placed it back on the full price rack, as good as the day Cliff didn’t buy it.