They entered the city through a labyrinth of overpasses and underpasses that seemed to loop and loop around forever.
“I’m not sure if we’re coming or going anymore.” Mike said.
“Just follow the other cars.” Callie said.
“They’re lost too, by the look.”
They had tried to follow the road map, at the cost of devastating confusion. Callie gave up on it and tossed it in the back unfolded. She now tried to make sense of the road signs as they zipped by.
“Look, there’s an exit. Take it!” she said. She didn’t know if it was the right one, but she was tired of the endless loops.
“Okeydoke!” Mike said, and turned the wagon into the exit. She was right; the turn took them straight into the heart of the city.
“What now?” Mike asked.
“Let’s start with something simple. We find a phonebook and look up the name Longstreet. See if she's here.”
“And if she’s unlisted?”
Callie gave him an exasperated look. “One problem at a time, please!”
“Maybe we should try a mall.” Mike said, “Malls have public phones, and it’ll give us a chance to take a break from the road and stretch our legs a little.”
“Okay, let’s do that.”
They meandered through the city’s streets, letting the flow of traffic guide them. At last they found what they were looking for: the CityScape Mall. A big three story building with all the architectural beauty of a painted brick. The parking lot was huge, and still mostly full. They drove in, parked in the closest space to the mall they could find, and got out.
“Remember where we parked.” Mike said, as he locked up the wagon, and joined Callie in gawking.
“That’s bigger than any mall I’ve ever seen.” she said.
“That’s not saying much. We haven’t seen that many.”
They walked towards the mall. Even from a distance, they could see that the place was a beehive of activity.
They reached the entrance, and the automatic doors swished open. The place exhaled upon them it’s cold air conditioned breath. Mike and Callie shuddered at the unexpected frigidity, and entered.
“Shoulda brought a jacket.” Mike said.
They walked first to a “you are here” map. Backlit and color-coded, it was a square monolith that stood in the center of the entrance hall like a solemn guardian. Callie ran her finger over its shiny plastic face.
“The phones are here.” she said, and tapped the spot with her fingernail, “Let’s go.”
They walked past the map, and entered the mall’s main promenade. A beautiful pool-sized water fountain encircled by benches took up its wide center. They jostled past swarms of loitering shoppers. On the top floor, which housed the food court, two kids leaned over the railing and spat down at the people that walked by on the ground floor.
Mike and Callie reached a square pillar with phones on all four sides. Each phone was bracketed with sheets of curved stainless steel as a concession to privacy. Fat phonebooks hung from absurd metal cords and bindings. Callie picked---or rather, heaved---up one of these phonebooks, and thumbed through it. As she did so, a blonde haired boy of about twelve bumped into Mike.
“Sorry, guy!” he said, and scooted away.
“Sure.” Mike said, and turned his attention back to Callie and the phonebook. He put his hands in his pockets to warm them, and noticed something missing.
“I don’t believe this! That kid just took my wallet! All our money’s in there!” Mike said, and ran after the boy, who was already hightailing it.
The kid led Mike on a merry chase. Mike was faster, and managed to close the distance, but the boy dodged him at every turn, and weaved through the crowds in expert fashion.
The kid ducked into a clothing store, and Mike followed him into it; but lost him amidst the shoppers and the racks. Mike backtracked to the entrance in time to see the boy running up an escalator to the second floor.
Clever little snot! Mike thought to himself, and ran to catch up.
He reached the escalator and, hop-skipping two steps at a time, ascended to the second floor. He skimmed down the rows of stores, and looked inside each one, hoping to catch a glimpse of the little thief. He got to a bookstore, and to his surprise saw Callie walk out of it, with the kid in a headlock.
“Were you looking for this?” she asked.
“How did you---?”
“I’m the smart one, remember? As for you,” she squeezed the boy’s head a little harder, “Give him back his wallet.”
The boy yelped, retrieved the wallet from inside his tucked-in shirt, and handed it to Mike.
“Sorry, guy.” he said with a sheepish grin.
Mike took the wallet and counted the money. Once he was sure everything was there, he put the wallet back in his pocket. “Well, it looks like we got you, kid.” he said.
“It looks like we got you.” a voice said, from behind them.
The voice belonged to one of two severe-looking mall security officers.
“We have strict rules here against kids running around and disturbing the customers.” he said, “You three better come with us.”
“Not today!” the boy said, and stomped on Callie’s foot.
Callie, who had loosened her grip on the boy’s head in the distraction, yelled “Oww!”, and let go of him.
The boy made to run off, but one of the officers extended his long arm in a lightning quick reflex, grabbed the kid by the back of the shirt collar, and pulled him back.
The other grabbed Mike and Callie’s arms, to prevent a similar attempt. People began to stop and stare.
“By resisting, you three have just made your situation worse.” the one with the boy in hand said, his voice as cold as the mall itself.
“But we didn’t resist!” Callie said, “We don’t even know him!”
“Officer, this kid stole my wallet! I had to run to catch him!” Mike explained, in his best grown-up voice.
“Tell it to the frain.” the officer said, “We’re taking the lot of you downstairs.”