Police detective Mariella Cruz couldn’t keep herself from twisting around to stare at the vampire sitting beside her in the close confines of her little Fiat, Fifi. Her luscious red lips opened to mirror the surprise in her large, dark eyes.
“How is that even possible?” she demanded.
Said vampire, Niles Gule, shrugged his elegant shoulders.
“You’re one-hundred-fifty years old!” the perky Latina exclaimed.
Niles raised a delicate, taloned finger. “One-hundred-fifty-eight.”
“And you’ve never been inside a Walmart?”
“What can I say? I’ve never needed a fifty pack of cheap cotton jockeys.” Niles frowned at the thought. “I suspect they ride up.”
Shoving her car keys in her pocket, Cruz said, “Well, I’m going in. Mom needs her prescription. Coming?”
Niles considered the parking lot. Although an early evening sun set as a golden orb on the horizon, the place was packed. The closest space Cruz could find was a long hundred yards to the front door.
“Consider it a learning experience,” Cruz prodded, sliding out. “Sun’s almost gone. You’re safe.”
Niles knew he was safe enough from being fried by the earth’s fiery star but he wondered about the people in the lot. A group of toughs in torn black t-shirts and ratty jeans gathered around a light pole and eyed shoppers the way sharks pondered baby seals. A Hispanic couple had begun arguing as they loaded a big screen TV into a van too small to hold it. Niles didn’t speak Spanish but he could tell when two people were approaching blows.
Ignoring the sexual taunts from the school of sharks, Cruz barked something that sounded like knock it off in Spanish to the squabbling couple and marched for the store. Trailing behind her, Niles gave the sharks a hard look from his brilliant blue eyes, earning himself derision from people who didn’t appreciate Italian tailored suits. The group only backed off when he allowed his annoyance to flash his eyes yellow. Not even prowling sharks challenged an annoyed vampire with glowing yellow eyes.
Once inside the store, Niles gazed about curiously, having heard about Walmart but never visited one. People darted about in a dizzying whirl, yanking on small children, yelling at infants to stop crying, urging their elderly to move it along. Employees in blue vests pretended to manage the chaos but patrons ignored them. Shoppers used their carts as rams to clear a path of anyone who stood in their way like a bunch of cars in a bumper car alley. Niles flattened himself against a towering stack of Diet Coke to keep from being run over by one such hurried shopper.
Cruz made a beeline for the left side of the store where a giant sign proclaimed Pharmacy. Fearlessly, she slammed past marauding shopping carts and wailing children. She used her elbows to deflect a couple of loitering men who stood in her way.
Niles followed more slowly, staring around the store with wide eyes. He’d never envisioned such a place. Stuff was piled everywhere. Massive walls of candy blocked access to the twenty checkout lanes. Stacks of six-packs offering every non-alcoholic beverage known to man created a maze that slowed traffic. Even small appliances like hair dryers and toasters stood cluttering the walk ways, causing shopping cart pileups.
Deciding perhaps the better part of valor would be to remain where he was until Cruz returned, Niles selected the wall of Coke as his safe harbor. From there he could watch the checkout lanes for Cruz on the way out. He folded his arms and simply watched the show.
And what a show it was. A man in fatigues argued with a customer service rep about returning an item. The line behind him of twelve others was growing impatient and Niles feared a brawl might erupt. A toddler broke loose from its mother and, with its toy shopping cart, bolted for freedom out the front door. The poor beleaguered mother dropped her purchases in the middle of the aisle and sprinted to catch her wayward offspring.
The best entertainment, however, was the small woman wearing bulky black clothes. As Niles watched, she grabbed a five pound steam iron and stuffed it into her pants. Amazingly, no one noticed. Still more amazingly, she continued stuffing irons into her clothing until she had five tucked away. How she managed, Niles couldn’t imagine, but she merely looked fat when she was finished.
Since he was a police officer, Niles felt he needed to act. He approached the woman slowly while he scanned the area for someone in security.
The woman glared at his approach, silently daring him to say something.
“I saw what you did,” Niles said, keeping his voice calm and his body language non-aggressive.
The shoplifter wasn’t impressed with his demeanor, his expensive clothes, or his towering height. Her face grew cold and determined. She launched herself at the vampire full bore, intending to plow him down and escape the store. She collided with him, her head butting into his stomach. Niles oofed at the blow and staggered backwards but hung on, not allowing her to escape. A man, probably the woman’s accomplice, dove for Niles’ shoulders. Niles spun around like a bronco, trying to buck off the man on his back and the woman clutching his waist. He couldn’t see. A fist punched him in the jaw. The woman’s elbow got him in the crotch.
Spinning on the glossy floor, Niles and his two passengers stumbled into the Celebrate Summer! display. First they took out the table with its bright green umbrella, then the faux tiki bar collapsed, sending up a cloud of raffia and scattering plastic margarita glasses across the floor. When another young man leaped into the fray, the four tumbled backwards into the wading pool with a splash. Niles landed on his back in the pool, the man trapped and sputtering underneath him, the woman splayed on his stomach, irons pressing into both of them and threatening to end a vampire’s hopes of offspring.
By that point, security came running. One by one, they pealed the combatants off one another until a soaking wet Niles stood glowering at the three malefactors. His good silk suit was ruined. Fortunately, his Jerry Garcia Liquid Torso 8 tie had survived unscathed. Thank heaven for small miracles.
Before security could arrest Niles along with the band of shoplifters, Cruz arrived, flashed her badge and explained Niles was an off duty police officer trying to assist. The chief of security believed her and after thanking Niles, told them they were free to leave. He probably wouldn’t need them as witnesses because the entire affair had been caught on camera.
Shaking her head, Cruz considered her wet, bedraggled vampire. “Okay. I agree. You and Walmart are not a good combination.”
“Ya think?” Niles rung out his jacket in disgust.
With his dignity dented and his pride punctured, the vampire hastened swiftly from the store.
Rather than suffer the shift ahead with her partner’s nose out of joint, Cruz drove him home so he could change into dry clothes. When he returned to the street, he was surprised to find police officers Jonas Williams and Walter Cooksey standing beside Fifi and talking to Cruz. Williams was holding out his phone and bending over with laughter.
As Niles approached, Williams lost it. He nearly collapsed to the pavement, he was laughing so hard.
Lifting a supercilious brow, Niles glared at each of his coworkers in turn.
“Ok, out with it. What’s up now?”
Williams had turned purple and gasped, unable to answer. Cruz was fighting to keep a straight face but not succeeding. That left poor Cooksey to offer the explanation.
“Congratulations, Ghoul,” he chirped, brandishing his phone. “You’ve made today’s People of Walmart.”