48)   Super Sunday, February 19th:  2 – 2:30 AM  Clean-up on Aisle Six!”


Speaking of the Devil, Uncle Raoul finally poked his nose out of Lester’s Likenesses, one hand still resting on the shoulder of a dwarfish Renaissance eminence… Erasmus, perhaps, or Tintoretto.  The Mall still teemed with looters, but they seemed less noisy and aggressive now, as if spent… or gathering strength and intellects for another assault on the remaining commercial citadels.  One of these looters, Tom’s brother-in-law, Stretch, stepped through the window, nodding at Raoul…

          “What they got here, bro’… jeez, lookit’ these things.  Heavy!  Could set a couple up in the yard for the birds to crap on but me, gonna git’ myself a box.  Got family, workin’ the inside…”

          “Well, bully for you…” Raoul said for, after all, they were in Washington, almost, and everybody knew a few choice lines of Presidential jive.

          “Guess I… hey-ey,” Stretch pointed, “you see this ladder?”

          “Uh… what it is…” Raoul agreed.

          “Goes up to that heating vent, I know…” Stretch nodded, “I’ve worked heating, air-conditioning.  Probably a false ceiling.  Get up there, no telling where a body can get into…”

          No tellin’…” Raoul agreed, anything to get this hayseed white guy on his way to wherever he was going…

          “Might even lead to where they got those Dominators at.  Ol’ Stretch didn’t get where he is today, thinkin’ small… comin’?”

          Raoul just waved good luck, so Stretch climbed up the yellow ladder and grabbed hold of the vent, pulling himself up… Raoul watched his legs, dangling from the fixture, then Stretch yanked himself up into a crawlspace full of pipes, dust, unfluorescent rodents, their excrement and, far off, a door.

          He slapped the side of the steampipe as if it were an old friend who wouldn’t let him down.  “Hope somebody don’t turn the heat on…” he said to himself.  Then, Stretch crawled towards the door and kicked it open, revealing a network of catwalks above the corridor – stretching from Petworld at the far northwest all the way down to the funeral home and Parfumeríe, way to the south across from Oil Change Charlie’s garage.  Here and there, doors were adjacent to the catwalks.  The door to the bank was locked, as were several of those to Giga Plex, but the door to the space above the CD store… Zombie Ground Zero… sagged open.  He entered, stuck his head downwards through the heating vent, muttering another prayer to the God of all sneakthief dirtbag losers that it wasn’t on a timer just about to activate and, whispering “...strength in numbers...” called out to the zombies below…

          “Hey, yo… dudes!  Up here!”

          He pointed to the ladder running up to the catwalks and beckoned; the zombies began to stir, began moving towards it like their namesakes in the movies as he shouted out…

          “Hey!  Somebody bring a crowbar…”

          Tom Eppert didn’t really believe Westy had had anything to do with swiping his Mongolian reward, having been chained to the tent all the while, so the tasing was punishment enough for Raoul’s sin.  He left the General lying in a puddle of blood and froth and bodily wastes, drifted back towards the loading dock area, angrily questioning others whom he passed along the way, until he reached the stockroom where Marko and the Mexicans were smoking funny cigarettes; Craig Synch leaning moodily atop a pile of LCD boxes as frustrated zombies continued beating on the metal door of the loading dock…

          “Hey man, I been straight with you, you straight with me?” he hailed his seventeen-year-old supervisor…

          “Sure…” Craig said.

          “That Mark, he let me pick out a set, a Tungway ’27.  Not the biggest, not the, uh… betterest…” he gave the kid the sort of rueful grin intended to emphasize that they were just a couple of working guys, man to man, “but hey, the game’s tomorrow.  Anyway…” and he glanced suspiciously towards the Mexicans, “donde esta?”

          Craig blinked.  “Anything like that, back here, it’s gone… long gone!  You were here, all the cheap stuff sold out…”

          “It had a reservation, a piece of paper… attached…” Tom’s voice trailed off.

          Craig tried not to smile at how someone could be so old and so stupid at the same time.  “Means nothing.  Anybody?”  Marko and the Mexicans shook their heads.  “Sorry, man…”

          Tenison, coming out of his office, couldn’t help but berate his lazy hirelings.

          “Place is a mess.  Anybody believe in working?”

          “We on the clock?” Craig shot back.

          Tenison’s only response was a sick smile, but that afforded Tom the chance to press his case…

          “Mark, sir…” he corrected himself, “did you put my set back in the office?”

          “Why would I do that?” said the offended Manager.

          “Well, it’s gone…”

          “So?”  The distraction angered Tenison.  “You think I give a rat’s ass about your personal problems… you coulda put it in the trunk of your car.  You didn’t, you lose.  And you still gotta pay, you signed a note.  Me, I have more important things to worry about… like these idiots out there who want to kill us, and all you want to do is watch them do it on TV?  Who do you think you are – the President?”

          Grabbing a bullhorn from the utility shelf, Mark Down Mark stormed off, leaving Tom openmouthed, and with the feeling that he’d somehow imposed… no one to appeal to but the guys in the stockroom…

          “Yeah, I signed a note, I paid… and I didn’t take time off to put it in my car ‘cause I was working.  Working!  And he fuckin’…”

          He couldn’t finish his thought, shook his head.

“Everything’s fucked up,” Craig commiserated – but now with an agenda of his own.  Tom, you’re married… how did you, uh, get your wife to uh… say yes?”

          “Nancy?  I gave her a million dollars…” Craig’s face fell, “…hold on a minute…”

          He’d spotted Ray Wilson leading Honey and Sabra from the janitor’s closet, whispering into their ears…

          “Hey!  Hey!  Talkin’ to you, what the fuck were you doing in there?”

          “None of your business, ol’ man…” Ray snapped.

          “We are not letting any of those losers in on this…” Sabra Martin hissed, taking in not only Tom but the sly-looking kid supervisor, the Mexicans and the creepy Turk or Russian or whomever with the shifty eyes…

          “Somebody stole my television… my Tungwa!” Tom brayed.

          “Keep cool,” Ray assured the girls, before telling Eppert “Do I  look like I got a TV in my pocket?  You wanna go in there, look around, fine… just don’t slip the lock behind you.  People in here sorta like a nice, dark quiet place, dig?”

          His wink nearly made Tom gag.  “I’ll d-do that…” he promised.

          “Knock yourself out.  Too bad you have to go it alone, but…”  Putting an arm around both girls, Ray lowered his voice.  “Let the damn fool look around, he won’t find anything.  Not the right time yet, but soon as I say so, or just give a little nod, just kinda migrate on back, an’ we’re oozin’ an’ cruisin’ our way down to Oil Can Charlie’s…”

“You think those… those people,” Honey gulped, “…have broken into the garage?”

          Ray nodded.  “Count on it.  But they don’t have a clue about the basement either…”

          Looters had, in fact, breached Oil Change Charlie’s… more than an hour previous, in fact… but their rewards were meager: the register, the vending machines, a few tools.  A bigger prize loomed next door… and a looter had finally driven his truck through the One World gates and the crowd, honking, scattering mall zombies and squishing the fallen as it rumbled through the Promenade to the Food Court, hung a right past Giga-Mart and Deems Hardware (with bright, blue signs promising “Propane – Lowest Price in Town”).  Before Prince George’s Luxury Wheels, the zombie army hooked up chains swiped from Deems to the chainlink gate – then the driver gunned the pickup in reverse, stripping his transmission, but wrenching a hole in the gate large enough for all but the fattest zombies to squeeze through.  They swarmed over the Beemers, Ferraris and, even, a few expensive hybrids… while, in Giga-Plex, Captain Capps held his head, pointing to the Dominator…

          “Damn thing’s making me sick…” he told Big Sonny.

          Offended, but queasy himself, the mogul reminded him:  “That damn thing’s a thirty thousand dollar set…”

          “Something’s still wrong,” Lester shook his head.  “Maybe it’s the reception, but my gut feels like it’s crawling with… I don’t know, spiders…”

          “Old woman!  Fine, I’ll turn it off…”

          Big Sonny angrily pointed and clicked… but the Romanian TV wouldn’t go off.  He walked up to confront the image that was taller than himself, pressed the manual power switch.  Still it stayed on, broadcasting the idiot face and voice of Ted Fraser…

          “It’s twenty past two, now, Eastern Time, and we’re receiving reports of uncontrollable violence all over the country.  From Dallas, Omaha, Sacramento, even Butte, Montana, and what is so striking, and different from past incidents, is… for lack of a better word, the democratic composition of these crowds…”

          “They’re a buncha damn looters and thieves!” Sonnenschein snarled, clicking uselessly.  “Any idiot could figure out that they were Democrats…”

          “With me tonight… this morning, actually… is T. Scott Farmington, Associate Professor of Psychology at Howard University,” Fraser declared as the great screen in front of Big Sonny filled up with a big, black man who caused the Big Boss to leap back, stuttering and shaking.  “Dr. Farmington, thank you for coming out under such difficult circumstances – you concur that this differs, in some respects, from similar disturbances during the 1960’s, for example, or after the Rodney King verdict or St. Louis or the Medicaid and food stamp revocations last summer… not to mention the storming of the Capitol two years ago...”

          For all of his imposing presence on the Dominator, Farmington spoke just like any other Professor… nothing but euphemisms and accusations, carefully couched in the excelsior of historical context.  “Yes… and no, Ted.  Popular insurrections…”

          “Criminality…” Big Sonny recovered, firing back at the television…

          “…always arises out of longstanding grievances, tinder to which a spark has been added – an assassination, an unfair legal verdict, a perceived stolen election or, in this instance, denial of a public ritual that competes with, if not… in some places… supplants Sunday religious services.  To many Americans, their football is a right and a rite – that is, a religious rite,.  And religious wars and movements can gain a frightening strength, far out of proportion to the causal injury.”

         “What’s that… that egghead…” Capps frowned, “talking about?”

Farmington obliged.  “After the Rodney King trial and the more recent police shooting incidents, we did see a few whites and Latinos in the street, but these were isolated and easily attributable to the usual radical political suspects and some just out to liberate commodities from the system… in Baltimore, however, and St. Louis, organized anarchist communities…”

Big Sonny nodded.  “He’s talkin’ about what all of ‘em talk about, no matter how they phrase it - talkin’ about stealing…”

“…but the present incident is not specifically racial in origin, although some of the local vehemence may have had to do with the shootings in Nakonset Park, the other night.  Football, like few other institutions, is America’s unifying paradigm; the exigencies of the circumstances particularly threaten lower-income persons across all racial and religious lines.  You have your Black Lives Matters people, you have the white males without good jobs or college educations already angry at being played by their President yet enraged by his having the office stolen out from under him again, even if Sam Rivers is going to do far more for the alt-right in America than Trump ever could, because he’s competent.  Not a good man, but competent!  When the elites deny this subjugated population its vicarious catharsis, you have the makings of an incipient class war… of a sort not really seen since the Great Depression over three quarters of a century ago… and, as such, infinitely more dangerous to the elites than just another race riot…”

Big Sonny had stepped back a few paces so that he would be approximately the same height as Farmington as he furiously clicked the remote, shouting: “Off!  Off, you bastard… off!”

Mark Tenison, bullhorn clasped in his folded arms, frowned at the big, black image so as to impress the boss with his sycophantic loathing.  “Maybe you could change the channel?” he ventured.

“Can’t!” roared Big Sonny, still clicking and swearing.  “Can’t!  Can’t!  Damn you, you Commie Dracula bastard…”

So furious he’d become that he actually kicked the side of the Dominator, but all that this accomplished was that a seam on the expensive, water-damaged crocodile shoe split, exposing Leland Buford’s big toe, mottled and damp under a sheer, gray silk stocking… or, wait… the imposing Professor Farmington had reached the end of his spiel, allowing Ted Fraser to take back control of the moment – a relieved, almost jolly, Ted Fraser.

          “We’ve got Evan Augsberg back with us, broadcasting from a police trailer that has been set up a block from the besieged One World Mall – somewhat the worse for wear, but still hanging in there like the old pro he is… Evan, can you…”

          And, as the besieged of Giga-Plex stopped what they were doing to gawk at the bandaged and battered newscaster, far above, a crowbar pried open the door to the catwalk maze overlooking the store.  A dozen zombies at the threshold fell to arguing about who would be first to venture onwards into the Promised Land… foremost among them Tom Eppert’s brother-in-law, Stretch, a short and menacingly pugnacious Army washout named Quimper (who still wore his military uniform) and wild-eyed Bennie, a white guy in thrift-store leisure duds and an enormous dirty blond Afro…

          Stretch was a problem-solver, of a sort, he also held a rather higher opinion of himself than circumstances often warranted… in this instance, because he was the only nearly-sober brigand among the raffish crew teetering out over the edge of Giga-Plex.  He’d had a couple of beers, a vodka tonic before coming up the pike from Dempstertown, a few more beers that some guys were tossing out into the crowd at One World Mall, a long gulp of tequila from a common bottle… but he felt fine.  Nothing wrong with his balance… or expert analysis of the obstacles standing between him and some fine, MHDTV flatscreens, twenty six hundred a pop, marked down to $2,449,99.  “No handrails, ‘cept every six foot or so where them beams cross an’ they’re sorta rounded…” he adjudicated, cautiously…

          Quimper, on the other hand, was ready to rock n’roll.  “Columns out there ain’t so wide you couldn’t wrap arms around ‘em and slide right down like you was in the firehouse…” he suggested.  “Looks like they got one every fifteen feet…”

          “More like every ten feet in that space between the stoves, down there, an’ that camera and video stuff…” Stretch calculated.

          “I could use one of them digital camera-printer combinations,” Bennie anticipated.  “No more payin’ through the nose to the drugstore for the one-hour service, that ain’t…”

          Ain’t what?” some asshole who’d managed to climb the ladder behind them challenged gleefully.  Ain’t one-hour?”

          Ain’t service,” Bennie leered.

Quimper was channeling his military experience, now.  “Go down one of those two columns either end of the DVDs, or keep goin’ to the wall,” he pointed out over the expanse of Giga-Plex, “I believe somebody could climb right down the pile of sets…”

          “Could,” Stretch admitted.  “Or just pull one up and keep goin’ through that door like this one, that goes…”

          “…Into that funny people’s grocery,” Quimper finished.  “Wife used to shop there, ‘fore she had her accident…”

          “Well, either of you gonna do it, or just stand there in the way, cacklin’ like a couple of chickens?” Bennie complained,

          Quimper’s temper flared.  “Who you callin’ chicken?”

          “Chick chick chick!”

          So the military washout tried leaning across Stretch to throw a punch, but his feet slipped, and he had to grab onto the rail to keep from falling off.  Bennie slid around the both of them and sprinted out onto the catwalk, arms out like a tightrope artist…

          “Here I go!  Here I giga-go-go-go!” he crowed.

          Once he’d recovered his footing, a scowling Quimper stepped out onto the rail.  “Teach you who’s chicken…”

          Stretch put one of those big hands at the end of one of those long arms that had given him his boyhood name on the soldier’s shoulder.  “Were I you,” he counseled, “I’d stand back and wait a moment.  There’s probably some surprise out there, always is… better that he finds out for us before we do…”

          “Oh!   Sounds mighty dishonourable, though…” Quimper considered.

          Stretch smiled.   “Doesn’t it?”

          Bennie’s sprint had quickly eroded to a trot, then the wavering walk of a drunk under a police flashlight by the side of the road as he leaned a little too far to the right, trying to get a better look at the digital cameras.  He windmilled his arms, groaned – leaned back and staggered a few more steps onward towards the media display.

Hanging out by their Tech and Credit Tent, half-hypnotized by news footage on the Dominator, Total and Thunder were pretending to ignore their skulking manager when Bennie’s ejaculations from above caused them to look up…

          Skinner pointed.  “Holy shit!” he exclaimed.

          So Thunder looked up too, waving his hands and pointing.  “You’re not supposed to be up there!  That’s trespassing, dude!…

          And, suddenly, it seemed like everybody in the store was looking up, following Bennie’s progress.  The scruffy football zombie kept walking, garnering oohs and aahs as he nearly slipped while still high above Appliantology, but Bennie gave his audience a cheery, beery wave and kept sliding past the columns, obsessively intent on the display of televisions that reached almost to the ceiling behind the sarcen dominated by the radiating, raving Dominator.  The sax player and clarinetist broke into an impromptu circus rag.  But, while turning into the corridor between the DVDs and games, Bennie’s feet failed - he fell some sixty feet and plunged headfirst onto a rack of Blu-Ray action movies… marked down owing to age or lack of box office resonance… with a sickening, bloody THPLAT!

          The musicians let their rag trail off into a razzberry

          “Oh, Dude!” Total commiserated.

          And Mark Down Mark, lifting the bullhorn to his lips… twisted, now, into a mean little grimace… couldn’t help but take advantage of the situation to exert his authority and impress Big Sonny.

          “Clean-up on Aisle Six!” he ordered.



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