Angry mobs stormed the front and back doors, yelling and wielding crowbars, guns and other weapons. The sound of breaking glass preceded the screeching alarm – another ‘smash-and-grab’ incident that had become so prevalent in shopping centers across the US and the Bradbury Mall was no exception. This time it was the exclusive Hermès shop located three stores down from the Cinnabon where Estrella worked.
“Everyone into the storage room. Now!” barked Jeff, Estrella’s boss.
“Jeff, is this really necessary?” Estrella countered. “By the time we get everyone in the back room, those thugs will be gone. They’re not interested in us.”
“Estrella, I’m not going to argue with you. Get Rosita and go into the storage room now. You too, Carlos and Eddie. Everyone – let’s go.”
Rosita screamed as gunshots rang out, bullets pinging loudly off the steel beams in the plaza. Shoppers scattered for safety, the cacophony of yelling, gunfire and shattering glass filling the mall. As Estrella guided Rosita into the back room, she caught a glimpse of one of the looters. She recognized him as Ozzy, a gang member who hung around the bodega near her apartment. “Desgracia! Worthless garbage!” she spat out.
Once everyone was safely inside the storage area, Jeff locked the heavy metal door. Breathlessly, he slid down onto the floor. No one said a word. Rosita trembled in the corner of the little room while Estrella comforted her. Eddie and Carlos sat on boxes staring at the floor. No matter how many times these incidents happened, no one knew what to do but everyone had the same two questions: why were these lootings being allowed to continue and was it worth going to work every day?
Jeff spoke softly. “Listen, folks. I know this is taking a toll on everyone and I’m just as frightened as you but it’s my responsibility to take care of you. The security guards aren’t allowed to carry guns and they’re in as much danger as we are, probably more. We can’t take risks; we all have families waiting for us at home so we’re just going to have to take cover in here whenever this happens. No arguments. And always remember to take your cell phones with you. Comprende?” Everyone nodded in agreement.
After a while an announcement came over the mall’s PA system informing everyone that the situation was under control. Jeff asked his workers to help clean up, then they could go home; he lightly squeezed Rosita’s hand, assuring her he’d drive her home. Estrella complained vociferously about the ‘smash-and-grabs’, saying it was “a disgrace for these animals to carry on like this, spreading fear and endangering people’s lives, while no one did anything to stop them!” Frightened, tired and sad, she left the shop in tears.
Estrella’s car was parked in the municipal garage below the mall. She decided to use the winding ramp down to the employee parking level instead of riding the elevator or using the enclosed stairwell. As she walked she heard glass breaking; the looters were back. Thankfully she was on her way out. Suddenly a car alarm went off and Estrella realized the sound of breaking glass was car windows being smashed – cars in the garage.
There it was again. And again. And again! The smashing became louder, faster, closer. Someone was in the garage and they were following her. Estrella quickened her step and the crashing sounds kept pace. She could see her car at the end of the ramp and broke into a run, desperately rummaging through her purse searching for her keys. She could hear the footsteps now. At last her fingers locked around the remote and she frantically pushed all the buttons until her car lights flashed and the rear hatch opened. Running for her life, she swung open the driver’s seat door, madly pushing the buttons to close the hatch and lock the doors. Shifting into ‘drive’, she sped out of the garage swerving wildly.
Estrella drove as fast as she could until the mall was no longer visible in her rearview mirror. She gradually slowed down and stopped as the traffic light changed to red. Her heart began to beat regularly and she exhaled. “I’m never going back there again” she said out loud.
The light turned green and she continued to her apartment. Pulling into a parking spot, she turned off the ignition and reached for her purse. Her blood ran cold as she felt a jagged piece of glass at her throat. Ozzy’s familiar gruff voice whispered in her ear “No, chica. You definitely are not.”
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