The security officers led Mike, Callie, and the pickpocket boy downstairs to an elevator with grate doors. They entered, and one of the officers pushed the button for basement. The cabin clanked and groaned as it went down. When they reached the “Bargain Basement”, which looked empty and kind of spooky, they stopped. The officer pushed the basement button once more, and the cabin began a second descent.
When they stopped again, the doors opened this time on a white tiled hall, which seemed to slope downward to the bowels of creation. Personnel in similar outfits as the security officers walked up and down this hall to different offices, represented by white doors along the walls.
They were led out of the elevator, and to one of the doors, labeled: DETAINMENT CELL 1. The cold-voiced officer opened the door to an empty white room, and pointed them in.
The boy was to go in first, but didn’t get far. He grabbed the sides of the doorway in a panic.
“No! I can’t! I hate cramped places!” he cried.
The officer gave him a hard shove, and the boy fell to the floor inside.
“I’m not going to have the same problem with you two, am I?” he asked Mike and Callie.
Angry as he was with the kid for getting them into this, Mike nonetheless found what he had just seen intolerable. “Listen, you---“ he started to say, but Callie pinched him hard in the back.
“No sir! No problem from us!” she said in a loud voice, to drown out Mike’s “Oww! What?!”
“Shut up, Mike!” she hissed in his ear, and pushed him ahead of her into the room.
The officer addressed the three.
“A frain officer will be called to pick you up and take you to Ragginarck. You will stay here until then. If you have parents, you will be allowed to call them from there to pay whatever fines or penalties are imposed. If you don’t have parents, you’ll most likely stay there for good. Understood?”
Before they could answer, he slammed the door. The sound of it being locked followed.
“Well, that’s just great!” Mike said.
“He’s a full on crapstick.” the boy, now calm, cool, and collected, said. “The frain don’t take you directly to Ragginarck, they take you to a Judicial Complex holding cell first. After a few hours waiting time, you get maybe a quick two minute visit with a judge, maybe less; and then they haul you off to Ragginarck.”
“Oh wow, that’s so much better!” Mike said, “I was afraid there for a moment that we were totally screwed!”
The boy paid Mike no mind; he crouched down low with his ear to the door, listening for something.
“What’s your name, kid?” Callie asked him.
“What are you talking to him for?!” Mike asked, “He’s the one who got us into this! And by the way, why did you pinch me?!”
“I pinched you because you were going to tell off that jerk and get us into even more trouble!”
“How do you know? Can you read minds all of a sudden?”
“I know because I know YOU.”
Mike waved her off.
“The name’s Rakkadakkar.” the boy said, without taking his ear from the door, “But my friends call me Rak.”
“Hi Rak. I’m Callie, that’s Mike.”
“Hi.” Rak said, “Sorry again about the wallet, guy.”
“Sure, whatever.” Mike shrugged, “Fill us in, though. Ragginwhak. What is it? Where is it? Why do I get the feeling it’s not a vacation retreat?”
“Ragginarck.” Rak corrected, “It’s the prison for juvenile offenders. They don’t call it a ‘prison’, but that’s what it is, in effect. This city is pretty harsh on roundicants and travigants, especially since that shigging phote Stromen Freath became Vignach.”
“Roundicants? Travigants?” Callie asked, “Shigging phote?”
“Oh, that’s just the verbex of the inviduii.”
Mike and Callie looked at him as if he had just sprung antlers.
“Wow, you guys really aren’t from around here, are you?”
Mike and Callie shook their heads simultaneously.
“Slang.” Rak explained, “Roundicants and travigants are runaway and throwaway kids. You don’t want to know what ‘shigging phote’ means! Anyway, unless we want to end up in Ragginarck, I think it’s time we leave. I don’t hear anyone outside anymore.”
“Whaddaya mean, leave?” Mike asked, “The door’s locked.”
Rak smiled, stood up, and opened the door.
“How did you do that?!” Callie asked.
“During my ‘panic attack’, I stuck a special wad of clay into the lock hole.” Rak said, “No hole, no lock.”
He carefully extricated said clay and put it in his pocket, “A pounder’s gotta think ahead.”
“Way to go, kid!” Mike said, with newfound respect for the little thief, “I think it’s time we depart these premises.”
The three moved quickly and quietly out of the cell, and made their way up the hall toward the elevator. They were almost there when they heard a voice from somewhere behind them shout: “Hey! You!”
They turned and saw a security officer a short distance back. He had apparently just come from out of one of the offices. He was one of the two that had caught them and brought them here.
“HEY! GET BACK HERE!” he bellowed, and barreled toward them like an angry bull.
Mike, Callie, and Rak turned and ran for the elevator. They got there, opened the doors, and got in. Mike pushed the button to go up. The grate doors closed just as the officer reached them. He hit them with such force; the cabin shook as it ascended. They saw him retrieve a walkie-talkie from his belt, and bark orders into it, before he was obscured by the next floor.
They reached the bargain basement, and then the elevator stopped.
“Uhh-oh!” Mike said.
The elevator shuddered and began to descend.
“We’re going back down!” Callie said.
“I was afraid of that.” Rak said, and pushed the STOP button.
The elevator stopped again.
“Here, help me open the doors.” he said.
The three forced the grate doors open. The bottom half of the basement opening was all they had to go through, but it was more than enough. Mike helped Callie and Rak up through it: then they in turn pulled Mike up.
The basement was immense; tables and tables of bargains, and huge bins filled with clothes, shoes, and stuffed toys, cluttered the place.
“There’s gotta be a staircase around here somewhere.” Rak said.
The elevator closed its doors, and descended.
“Better find it quick.” said Mike.
“I see it!” cried Callie up ahead of them.
They followed her to the far corner of the basement, and there found a deep staircase, which led upwards to closed double doors. Behind them came the sound of the elevator, as it lumbered its way back up.
“Time to go!” Rak said.
The three scrambled up the staircase and exploded through the double doors and into the mall proper. Rak led them through the main thoroughfare, and to the nearest exit. The automatic doors swished open before them, and out they went, into the parking lot. A friendly warmth enveloped them, and they stopped a quick moment to catch their breath.
“Will they come after us out here?” Mike asked between gasps.
“They might.” Rak replied.
“We should get to our wagon then.” Callie said.
“You guys have a vehicle?”
“Where is it parked?”
“Row ten. Over there.” Mike pointed to the distance.
“Too far. Not enough time.” Rak said, “This way, follow me!”
He ran towards the first car he came across in the parking lot, and crouched low behind it. Mike and Callie did likewise; Mike took the car behind Rak’s, Callie took the one behind his.
“Get ready to haul, if I yell ‘run’.” Rak said, and raised his head high enough to peek through the windows.
He saw four mall security officers blow through the mall doors, look out and around at the vastness of the parking lot, and deflate. They turned, conferred, came to a decision, and headed back into the mall.
“We’re clear!” said Rak.
The three stepped out from behind the cars.
“Let’s not tempt fate.” Mike said, “Let’s get to the wagon.”
They hurried to row ten.
“So, Rak,” Callie said, “Need a ride?”
“I wouldn’t mind one.” he said, “Where are you two headed?”
“Good question. What do you think, Mike?”
“It’s been a long day.” Mike said, “I say we call it a night, and look for a place to---“
He stopped. They had reached row ten, and the spot where the wagon had been parked.
But the wagon wasn’t there.