1. Glue Shut.
"Vanilla's been done. It's nearly as cliché as wearing strawberry" I explain to Emma, busy showing no signs of interest. Or cherry, thinking about it. I pick up the soap pack, my eyes taking in the label, quickly memorising the front and then moving up behind the shelves to the doors; the security guard and basic barcode scanners.
"'A zingy blend of lemon, orange and lime in individually crafted shapes, wrapped for freshness'" I repeat and continue, my eyes flick across to above the wide door, which seems blank of any security mechanisms. I frown mentally and turn the pack over, taking a quick look and begin the repeat what it says. "A fresh.."
I tune out to what I'm saying and concentrate on the side of the door, squinting as though I can't make out what's on the label while I stare around the soap to the door's frame, unable to see what I'm meant to have found, when I see it:
A small white box a foot off the floor, a simple infrared laser designed to stop thieves or vandals who don't have a clue in hell with what they're doing. Of course, it doesn't help the store if the group do know what they're doing, but it's been proved to work at 83 percent in stopping crime in this country so how having one or two around hurt? Or so the store figure.
In actual fact, the results are wrong. If you've got a good team together, the next group of fuck-ups get caught by the thing, the store checks their stock after, making sure nothing got nicked and find a few hundred K gone (depending) and figure that the guys they've caught must have passed it on before the system kicked in and the cops picked them up. Most times, the group's probably drunk, too, and breaking in for a bet, but that's the legal system here. How a group of kids, adults, idiots – whoever - are supposed to have stolen money I don't know but I'm not complaining.
"Wash!" Emma bleats happily after me sitting on the floor with a thump.
I look down at her. My 'kid' for today. Usually having a shitting, impatient three year old with you when you're trying to check out a shop's security system isn't the best thing, and usually people remember you for 'that woman with the kid' - especially when the kid starts kicking up - isn't good, but single people get attention now.
See, there was an article about 'suspicious people' and calling the police in the newspaper a bit back and now there's posters everywhere for anything; unattended baggage, unattended empty prams, unattended inhabited prams - literally anything – and of course, shifty looking single people. Hence the child.
"Come on then trouble," I say cheerfully, bending down to lift her up. "You tired?" I'm asking, wondering how it is that she can be tired when I've carried her most of the day around this goddamn mall. Another problem with scouting; you have to fit in as the happy shopper and crawl round the local area for a bit, so I've been stuck with this girl for three hours counting. Could be worse.
"Mmm," she nods, sticking her thumb in her mouth having wiped it enough on the floor, and buries her head into my shoulder.
"We won't be a minute," I whisper and head along the perfumes section down the side of the store, leaving the vanilla body spray facing the wrong way.
I half-stalk across the velour of pale plastic tiles glad I'm carrying the kid else we'd be caught up in not-stepping-on-the-cracks game and take god knows how long to get anywhere. But we make it kinda quickly, hours before closing time because even that causes suspicion – the vague idea that perhaps someone might be ingenious enough to hide in the toilets until the staff leave. How cunning.
Me and Emma look at the perfumes as I pretend to pick one, my arm aching with her unfamiliar weight. I check a look down: her sucking on her grimy thumb and dribble running down her chin. I wipe it off, smiling at the slime on my finger and make at a face at her. She grins, and I go back to eyeing the top left of the shelf by the ceiling, or more specifically finding the cameras in the store. I wander down, still looking and thank god this is the last floor I've got to do of this damned store.
I don't mind scouting, really - I love my job; it's perfect. Just with a kid in tow it's harder, but she seems tired so she's either about to go to sleep or scream. Here's hoping.
I spy the camera in the corner, it's pointed nearby so I look at the Lancôme next to it and walk down, gently jiggling her on my arm and seeing her head droop either way, which amuses me in this half-assed situation. Two metres down towards the end of the shelving I stop and look back to the camera, watching for where it's pointed and deciding where it'll miss.
There's a camera by the entrance to the store, this one in the back left corner and I'm assuming there'll be one by the till.
There usually is. That leaves the corner I'm in unsupervised by security, I frown slightly and reach for a wide glass tester bottle, reading the cover and using its reflection to look behind me. It doesn't work.
I swing round pretending to look for an assistant, looking back at the bottle and quickly replaying the shop panorama through my head. A photographic memory of sorts: if I look quickly, I can almost 'replay' it through in my head. The slower I look, the better picture I get. Which makes for an easier scouting job all round.
I head over to the counter nearby and smile at the woman who's there to tell you what you should be smelling like.
"Hey, could you get me Chanel down please? I can't quite get it." I can – I just refuse to reach. A short shrug and embarrassed grin.
"Sure," she heads over, black skirt flicking and heels clicking on the damn floor, and I trail behind, still finding it strange carrying a kid even though I did some practising before hand.
"Silly," Emma tells me.
"Mmm, yeah," I ignore her.
"Which one d'you want, sorry?"
"Uh," I say. "Allure."
She reaches for it easily while I gaze around the store.
"There you go" she shop-bought-smiles at me, passing the box.
"Thanks," I reply gratefully. Emma waves at her, her fingers dangerously close to my eyes.
"Cute kid." She doesn't look too much older than me and probably thinks I'm a slut. Oh well.
"Eee," Emma says.
"Shhh," I say, stroking her hair. "Thanks, she's my niece," I direct at the shop-girl, laughing a little. "I'm meant to be looking after her for a day." I make a jokey-grimace face and eyebrows up. She laughs, Emma drools, I nod.
"Thanks" I repeat and look back at the Lancôme as though deciding and nod decisively. I lug the kid up again to stop her sliding off my arm and make my way over to the tills.
I look back again, an indecisive shopper; quickly checking I haven't missed anything. I bite my lip, quickly replaying the view a last time and go to buy my extortionately expensive chemicals, avoiding looking near the tills' cam.
Out of the shop and sheltering on the porch-type entrance to the mall Emma starts crying. I pull her hood up on her plastic mac.
"You look very clever in your mac," I tell her, sounding informed. Very pink I think to myself. She looks happy enough and waves her feet into my stomach.
It's dumping it down and I don't need this. I shift arms, and give her a hug and as she sits on my right arm, my left with the bag on the wrist rubbing her back and she stops slightly. I walk quickly out into the rain and Emma whines, flinching I pull my jacket up.
Rain goes typically everywhere as I half run past bollards and round a corner with a door declaring 'TVs half price' and 'closed' to where our small red car's parked on the curb, Emma having stopped whining somewhere on the way across, now simpering into my shoulder.
I unlock the car and strap her in the back right seat, managing the seatbelt around her car seat for once. I had issues with it on the way out. I look up for cars coming and go round the back, letting myself in the door, lean back on the seat and sigh.
We make the London terrace in twenty minutes, both of us needing sleep.
I pull myself out the seat and push the door open, making a face; the rain turned from huge glops to smaller, heaving it down worse than ever. Murky water sloozes across the pavement and I open the right door, reaching across the seats to unclip the kid and lift her out her child-seat, putting her in the middle seat while I yank the child-seat out. I give it a sharp tug from side to side and the seat-belt flies hitting the glass. I mutter under my breath and take a look at the mark; it's hardly there.
Emma 's puddy hands grasp at my chest and I jerk back, pulling the seat across and scooping her up with my arm, doubling back out of the car and shutting the door with my hip. The rain makes it down face, streaming down my forehead, into my eyes and over my eyes and dribbling off my nose. I'm just waiting for the crying to start again.
I stick the keys in the lock, give a twist and watch the bolts come up through the window then run as well as I can without shaking her, to the plain door in this plain street where Jake's standing, waiting like the helpful boyfriend he is. I quickly kiss him on the lips, the slight sluggishness of them gone as I almost hop inside.
He shuts the door. I set Emma on the floor and guide her hands to his; sighing and leaning back against the wall as he walks her to the crèche. I bask in the soft light and wring the water out of my face. Jake returns, Emma-less and leans against the archway between the rooms.
He looks at me almost bemused, a slightly serious smile at the corner of his lips. I blink and sigh, and need a drink.
"How'd it go?" He asks sceptically, an eyebrow slightly up. Git.
"Fantastic Darling" I tell him. I yawn, looking down right at the floor, ploy of looking awake, alert, etc failing. I push myself off the wall and go left, down the hall, towards the kitchen.
"Babe. Are you tired?" he asks a mock reprimanding tone added in for sheer fun.
"No shit," I say not bothering to turn round. Exhausted now I'm home and wanting to sleep. I was up early.
I lean over the thick marble-type counter, my hands keeping me standing and yawn at it, a deep double-toned yawn that makes me feel better, my head a bit lighter. I rub my eyes and reach down to the fridge, my head hanging and peering into the glare.
I pull a can of coke out from the second shelf, feeling out of place drinking it in this rented, light and airy, 'beautiful house to raise some kids in m'am" nudge-nudge, wink-wink, house for me and my 'boyfriend'. But I'm tired, and I don't really care. The ring pull pops and I drug it down.
It sits in my left hand, hanging by my side as I go through to the lounge, piling into a deep red two seater sofa and sprawl across it lengthways, not hanging messily out but not tidy either. I stick my face into a pillow and sit the can on the floor my eyes half open, making out the gold clock on the shelf that tells me it's 5pm. I mutter incoherently and my eyes pull themselves down to glue shut.