A night like any other, snowplows working overtime, two weeks from Christmas. Cold patrol: noise calls, broken windows. He pulls his olive knit cap over his shaved head, puts on his gloves, and hooks his thumbs in the armpits of his armored vest. Fully armed.
Dispatch from HQ: trouble in paradise. Someone’s up to no good in the superstore. He takes the case. He has little choice; the lines of battle have shifted again. Anything to avoid mausoleum duty. Anything to get back to work.
The mechanical doors slide open and a portly civilian in a blue apron bids him welcome. He lifts a pinky to gesture hello. “I have a report of someone walking around the store stuffing merchandise in their clothes,” he declares.
“He’s in the back of the store somewhere,” says the greeter, pointing to the right. The supersoldier expresses his gratitude, and begin his march.
With his thumbs safely hooked in the armpits of his armored vest the supersoldier navigates the grid to perfection. Methodical precision; not a step misplaced, nor a breath out of time.
His presence agitates the civilians, who can’t help but bluster in his path. Little civilians clamor in shopping carts, laughing and demanding the most of their caregivers. An elderly civilian bows her head to the supersoldier and steps out of his way. Another wishes him a merry Christmas. She’s wearing an American flag windbreaker and black leather chaps.
“Thank you, ma’am,” says the supersoldier, always on the clock.
But nobody matches his description. He continues his even pace, past the walls of glittering plaques that read WISH and HOME, past the camo-print fleece blankets, the seasonal section, the dog toys, the fish tanks, the boots, pink warm slippers, polystyrene soles, copy paper. The supersoldier’s apparent calm is a facade; he’s beginning to doubt himself.
“Am I just missing it, or what?”
A little civilian runs across the aisle, crying for his caregiver. Someone abandoned a cart full of clothes and the super soldier has to push it out his way or alter his path; he alters his path, if just for a moment, and the threat retreats into the rear horizon.
The walls read SPEND LESS GET MORE in bright, legible letters. Mirrors framed and unframed catch the supersoldier’s vigil in repeating glimpses. Winter coats, patterned socks, starter kitchen sets. The pressure builds to a dull roar as the supersoldier reaches the end of his journey. The air is thick, the aisles empty. The friendly smiles have stopped.
Finally, the supersoldier finds his target, cowering behind a rack of hoodies, his heavy pants sagging with movies and shirts. Even the supersoldier can’t help but notice, with some pity, the two macro moles on the target upper lip.
“Don’t put your hands in your pants,” orders the supersoldier. “Don’t you dare put your hands in your pants.”
The target appears to move his hands towards his pants, and the supersoldier repeats himself one more time. “Don’t you put those hands in those pants.”
Together, the supersoldier secures their fate, and the target doesn’t resist.