Jessie and Kyle were shown to the fireplace by two mall security guards. They were an oddly matched, or perhaps mismatched, set. The one who seemed to be in charge, or at least consider himself in charge, was fat and slow. The other was thin and nervous. Fat scooped large greasy fingers into a box of fries thickly coated with liquid cheese and green chilli. “Yup, this is ’bout where we got you set up.” He gestured to the area behind the fireplace.
The fireplace was by the food court – the longest open room in the mall. It was a wide rectangular space with broad skylights, lots of seating, and an open area for events. It was where the mall would set up their Santa in another few weeks. As venues went it had good exposure, poor acoustics, and Kyle wasn’t certain he wanted to be there.
Jessie had set the job up a few days ago. Though he’d watched her on the phone and listened in on her side of the conversation, she’d mostly kept the details a secret. At the time, he’d thought she was trying to impress him by handing over a well-arranged bit of work without any effort on his part. Now he was starting to wonder if she’d realized he might not be that excited about the whole affair and hadn’t wanted to give him a chance to refuse.
Kyle was going to be putting on a show. The mall brought people in to do that during November and December. They had musical acts, the local ballet, even a puppet show— anything kid friendly and seasonal. Most of the acts came back every year, and Kyle was a little surprised Jessie had been able to get them booked on such short notice. She’d had a lot to say about how impressive illusion was, then she’d offered the mall a really low rate on his appearance and that had been enough to get them a meeting with the mall events coordinator. Kyle had almost balked at the rate, but Jessie had a lot to say on the subject of something being better than nothing. She could be surprisingly intimidating. The next day, Kyle’s standard demo illusion had sealed the deal. It felt nice to finally close a sale. Something was better than nothing, and the mall would be great exposure.
“We could rope it off for you,” the thin one offered accompanied by a few quick darting gestures that presumably laid out where the velvet ropes would fall.
“No we can’t,” The fat one shook his head in seemingly genuine sorrow. His jowls wobbled as he did that.
“We can’t?” The thin security guard spoke rapidly compared to his heavier partner. Of course, most people spoke rapidly compared to the heavyset guard.
“Well, we rope off Santa.”
“Yeah, but that’s Santa now isn’t it?” The question was asked with perfect lack of irony that seemed to indicate he really felt Santa held special status when it came to fire codes. “Anyhow, we ain’t got no ropes.”
“Yeah, can’t rope it off. Sorry, we ain’t got no ropes.”
“That’s no problem, I’m not worried about kids getting close.”
“Don’t mind kids getting close?” The fat security guard asked, there was a thin hint of mocking in his voice.
“I like kids,” the thin guard volunteered innocently. The fat one gave him a funny look. The thin one didn’t notice.
“‘Course fire is a big worry for us here. We’ve got lots of people coming through here; they could really jam up at the exits if things got out of hand. ‘Course we’re here to keep things in hand.” He grinned in a self-satisfied manner and jammed another cheese dripping fry into his mouth.
“Do you know where the exit is?” The thin one asked.
Kyle blinked, the exit was a bank of some thirty or forty glass doors at the end of the food court. It might have been more obvious if it had been Niagara Falls, but it was fairly hard to miss. “Uh, yeah. I’d use those right?”
“Yup, that’s the exit,” the fat one assured him. “Now should there be a fire I’d like you to proceed over there in an orderly manner.”
“Um, will do.”
“I heard some chatter that your show was going to last around 30 minutes.”
It hadn’t been chatter, so much as the e-mail that Kyle had sent to the security office explaining his ‘act’ and what it entailed. “That’s right.”
“Well, good luck!” The thin one said.
“Yeah, good luck,” the fat one ran his finger along the bottom of the cheese fry box and scooped up the last of the cheese. With no further direction the fat one pivoted and began a slow waddling walk away. The thin one followed, he detoured into stores and jumped ahead and then fell behind as he said little things to people here and there. He ended up doing laps around his partner.
As the two security guards disappeared in the crowd of the mall Jessie and Kyle looked at one another. Jessie blinked slowly, Kyle blinked back. At length Jessie supplied, “I feel safer.”
“Sure— from fire. Got the speakers?”