Friday, November 13, 2015

Flip and the Shopping Cart

(From Flip Ransomed, chapter 13.  Setting: 1976.)

WARNINGS: Kidnapping themes.

Rock 'n' Read

Flip was in a horrendous mood.  The scrape across the left-front side of the Chevelle was just as bad as Joe had supposed it would be, and it seemed to have left an equally horrible scrape across Flip’s very soul.  If he did actually have a soul.

He’d been able to fix the flat tire easily enough.  Duh, Joe had thought to himself as he’d meandered aimlessly along the grassy highway shoulder, he’s a mechanic.  I almost forgot.  He doesn’t rob people and kidnap them and drag them across the country for a living.  Joe had eventually plopped down in the grass, sat cross-legged, and picked at stray weeds while Flip had gone to work.  The mechanic had sullenly ignored Joe, refusing to enlist his help in heaving a spare tire out of the Chevelle’s trunk, though it had looked awfully heavy.  He’d then pulled out a tire jack (also from the trunk), dropped to his knees, and set about cranking the car up at a tilt in order to switch the tires.  All of it he’d done with sharp, angry motions, like the kind Joe used to slam doors after an argument with his mother.  Except Flip’s anger was much more frightening.

Joe snapped back to the moment and realized that the buildings around them were getting slightly sparser.  Flip jaywalked his way suddenly across a sloping street, and Joe jogged hesitantly behind him.  Soon they were waltzing right into the wide parking lot of a large store called Roses.  Joe stopped and squinted at it.

“Roses?  Are we…buying roses?” he asked uncertainly, fighting a grin at the thought of Flip purchasing an elegant bouquet of crimson flowers.

Flip stopped walking and rolled his head around to give Joe and half-lidded glare.  “Seriously?  This is a Roses, it doesn’t mean they sell roses.  It’s a department store.”  He frowned harder and squeezed his eyes shut in frustration.  “I mean- they might sell roses, but -” He huffed and gestured angrily.  “Pete’s sake, just come on.”

“We’re shopping?” Joe prompted again, tilting his head in confusion as he followed Flip to the doors.  His heart leapt suddenly.  “Are- are we buying me more clothes?”

“Yep,” Flip muttered back as he slid over by the shopping cart collection, yanking free the nearest one.  “You stink.”

Joe gave him a nose-wrinkling frown.  “That’s not my fault!” he protested, maybe more loudly than he should have.  Flip turned on him suddenly and knelt down so they were more level with one another, angry gray eyes glaring up into startled brown.

“Hush,” Flip said through his teeth, his naturally-low voice even lower.  The kidnapper glanced around cautiously to ensure no fellow shoppers were looking down their noses at him.  He was poised casually, with one arm resting across his bent knee; he even had the nerve to put his other hand on Joe’s shoulder.  Joe’s jaw tensed.  To any onlookers, the scene would look simply like a father admonishing his son.  The thought made him want to retch.

“Whose rules is it?” said Flip quietly, raising his dark eyebrows expectantly.  “Whose rules’re we playing by?”

Joe’s mouth pressed into a thin line.  He looked past Flip’s ear and eyed a young woman pushing her cart, just a few feet from them, totally oblivious.  “Flip’s,” he forced himself to answer.

Flip’s face did something between a smile and a smirk.  Then, of all the horrible things, he winked.  “Good boy,” he said at normal volume as he pat Joe’s shoulder once, then rose to his feet.

Ugh, Joe’s entire brain echoed.  He brushed invisible Flip-cooties off his shoulder, doing his best to swallow the sick taste in his mouth.

Roses really was a department store, after all; it had everything from office supplies, to hardware, to food, to clothing.  Flip and Joe made a beeline for the clothes, or at least as close to a beeline as the store’s layout allowed, and presently ran into the boys’ section.  To Joe’s surprise, Flip stopped at the underwear.

“Essentials first,” he shrugged.  After a moment of Joe looking at him, he gestured grandly to the array of undergarments.  “Well?  I’m not gonna pick ‘em for you.”

Joe grumbled to himself and started poking through a ridiculous number of brands and types.  Maybe he should pick the most expensive ones – but no, that was stupid, it was his mother’s money Flip was using in the first place.  Joe grew uncomfortable.  He didn’t even shop for his own underwear back at home.  He studied the pictures on the packages.  Where those the kind he wore?  Was Flip standing there judging him?  What was a Y-front?  This was ridiculous and awkward.

He finally grabbed at a package of normal-looking white underwear – the kind whose picture he thought closely resembled what he’d had on for the past four days – and tossed it in Flip’s shopping cart.  Flip looked all wrong pushing a shopping cart, Joe thought.  Leather jacket, button-down shirt, aviators hanging at his collar, faded jeans, black boots, shopping cart.  No, it didn’t quite fit.

“Fabulous,” Flip droned tiredly, starting forward with his ridiculous shopping cart.  Out of nowhere, a high-pitched squeaking made him stop in his tracks, nearly causing Joe to collide with his back.
“Gotta be kiddin’ me,” groaned Flip, kicking at one of the cart’s front wheels in disgust.  He rolled the cart forward a little and the culprit-wheel went haywire, wiggling spastically and squeaking with all its might.

Joe had to suppress the urge to burst into laughter, quietly walking a few steps behind Flip and his broken shopping cart as they squeaked along.  “Squeaky cart,” Flip was grumbling to himself in comical disgust.  “Of course it’s the blessed squeaky cart…”

“Maybe I should get one of these,” piped Joe, holding up a striped button-down shirt.  “And I’ll look just like you.”

“What,” grunted Flip, “don’t like my shirts?”

Joe replaced the button-down and rolled his eyes, picking out a blue-and-yellow-striped pullover shirt instead.  “All I’ve ever seen you wear is button-downs,” he answered with a shrug.  “Literally all the time.”

Flip harrumphed, passing a hand down his front to smooth the red-checkered button-down he was currently sporting.  “I think they look sharp.”

The squeaky cart was soon carrying underwear, socks, Joe’s shirt, an alternate pair of blue jeans, and an array of staple foods – milk, bread, cheese, sandwich meats.  When Joe had questioned Flip’s desire to purchase actual groceries, a flat “Too risky to eat in public all the time” was all he’d gotten.  Joe could fill in the blanks by himself.

Flip pushed their cart into line at a checkout register, right behind an enormous woman whose curly-haired toddler was eyeing Joe with the utmost suspicion.  Joe tried not to look back at her, busying himself with eyeing the assortment of random things for sale at the checkout.  Magazines that were nothing like Flip’s, cigarette lighters that looked a lot like Flip’s.  Candy bars, bags of snacks.  Then his eyes fell onto something exciting, and he couldn’t look away – it was a plastic bag containing three pieces of lightweight wood, and according to the printed instructions on the front, these pieces became a tiny plane.  Joe grinned in astonishment.  It was a TopFlite glider; but more than that, it was a ray of hope.

“Hey,” he nudged Flip, once he’d gathered his nerve.  Flip was still in a foul mood, but Joe had to try.  “Hey, look at this.”  He pulled the unassembled glider off its hook and held it up.

Flip blinked down at it tiredly.  “What about it?”

Joe hesitated.  “Can I have it?”

“What?”  Flip snorted and looked away, rubbing at his eyes.

“Come on,” Joe pestered.  “Please?  It’s really boring in the car,” he added, which earned him an incredulous eyebrow-raise.  He fell silent and eyed the glider longingly, prepared to put it back on its hook.  Then he remembered something.  He scanned the rack of for-sale-at-checkout things and spied a bundle of newspapers, bending over and checking the date quickly.  Today was Tuesday, October 5th.

“It’s my birthday in two days,” Joe announced firmly.  Flip stared at him in mild disbelief.  “No, really.  October 7th is my twelfth-”

“Oh, whatever,” Flip interrupted, snatching the glider from him and tossing it into the shopping cart with their other spoils.  Joe didn’t bother to hide his gleeful grin, but he didn’t say another word.  He knew better.

“Shoot,” Flip breathed suddenly.

Joe blinked at him.  “Shoot what?”

“Forgot something.”  Flip started to turn from the cart and then seemed to remember his situation, leaning over so the enormous woman couldn’t hear what he was whispering fiercely to Joe.  “Do not move, you hear me?  I’m goin’ to that aisle right there” – he pointed – “and if you make a move for the doors, I’ll see you do it.”

He pointed again, and Joe followed his fingertip until he noticed a large, reflective circle that was perched in a corner of the store.  From its angle, it looked as if Flip could be telling the truth; if Joe were to walk a few feet towards the door, he’d probably see in the reflection the aisle Flip had indicated.  Joe gritted his teeth and wondered if it was worth betting that Flip might be lying to him.  If he were telling the truth, and Joe were to bolt for the doors…well, there was no telling how quickly Flip could overtake him.  If not by the time he got outside, certainly before he made it even halfway across the parking lot.

“I won’t move,” Joe surrendered icily.

Flip narrowed his eyes briefly, but turned and hurried to his aisle to quickly retrieve whatever it was he’d forgotten.  As soon as he was out of sight, Joe threw his plan B into action.

He didn’t bolt for the doors – he couldn’t risk it.  Instead, once the enormous woman in front of their cart was preoccupied with her toddler, Joe turned and sprinted straight for the clothing section.  He arrived in the women’s area first and glanced around himself frantically, his head spinning as though it were fastened with a loose screw.

Hide!  Hide! his brain was screeching at him.  Where?!  He risked a quick glance over his shoulder at the registers, spotting the massive woman and Flip’s neglected cart.  And then, just before he looked away, Greasy Flip himself jogged back into view.  It was all in slow motion: Joe saw him almost make it to the cart and stop short, pivoting around on his feet as he looked every which way; and then he looked the right way, several yards across the linoleum floor and past a rack of sweaters, and his frantic eyes found Joe’s.

Joe’s heart stopped and he whirled around, breaking into a sprint.  He ran headlong through the store without a thought about where he was going, weaving through racks of half-priced jeans.  Shirts and scarves and hats and purses and shoes all flew past him as he heard Flip’s shouting and forced himself to run faster, the smack of his sneakers echoing in his ears.  He decided at the last possible moment to pull a sharp turn, his feet nearly flying from under him as he careened across the slick floor and into a display of oh look, roses, which immediately tumbled over and spilled the regal flowers in every direction.

There!  There!  Joe was now flying through the grocery section, assorted food items whizzing past him, aisle after aisle, until he spotted the perfect hiding place: the bakery counter.  Thank God, there was no one manning it!  He rushed over and pulled a grimace, bracing himself as he slapped a hand down and threw himself over in a clumsy vault.  He landed on the dirty, cold floor in a panting heap, staring up at the rear side of several cake displays.

He’d done it.  He was finally away from Flip Thompson.  He’d escaped his kidnapping.  All he had to do now was… He paused.  What would he do now?

Oh, no.  Joe scrambled onto his knees and brushed store-floor dirt from his hoodie.  He pressed himself against the back of the counter and slowly, carefully, raised himself enough to peak through the glass displays and out at the store.  Where was Flip?  He hadn’t seen him leap behind the bakery counter, had he?  Think, Mahaley!  Now what?  The only option was to wait until… Until what?  Until Flip left the store.  No – Flip wouldn’t do that.  He’d circle Roses until he was absolutely positive that Joe was no longer inside, and he’d probably enlist the help of the store workers.  Have you seen my kid? he’d ask.  And they would help him, because none of them had any idea of the truth.

Joe’s stomach dropped, and he realized that he’d made a terrible mistake.  He was stuck.  If Flip didn’t find him, the store workers would, and they’d hand him over to his kidnapper.  To his very perturbed kidnapper.

The cold floor suddenly felt harder against his kneecaps, so Joe adjusted himself, sitting down on the floor with his back against the counter.  He stared back into the work area of the bakery, and through the dim lighting, he spied the words on a door a little ways from him: Employees Only.  His pulse pounded.  What if he went in there?  There could be an emergency exit of some sort, but what if there wasn’t?  He’d be running straight into the workers that were supposed to be behind the counter.

Maybe I could just explain, Joe thought for the first time.  But he was only a kid, and people in Tennessee might not have any idea who he was.  Tennessee was a long way from Colorado, after all.  There certainly wouldn’t be enough time to convince them before Flip found him…would there?

Before he could finish his decision, the employee door began to open.

No comments:

Post a Comment