Bernice sprinted out of the glass doors and pounded across the parking lot. She allowed herself the luxury of a glance at the glass-walled walkway between the two halves of the shopping mall, nodded, and started off again, running towards the crossing.
Officer Bostaph came out a few seconds later, following her trail carefully. As he ran, he watched her, concentrating on following where she went so as not to lose sight of her behind the bushes as she headed away from the mall.
What on earth is she doing going this way? he thought. What does she think she can gain from this?
And it occurred to him that he already had his answer in the shoes that she was wearing. Her thin-soled basketball shoes were ideal for wooden surfaces, or for outdoors, but the marble-effect concrete floor inside could be slippery if it got even slightly wet. He didn’t want to lose her, but the soles of his shoes didn’t quite work so well on the dust. No matter, though – he could make up for it; he was older, he had longer legs.
For twelve, she runs fast. The thought flickered through his mind and was then out again.
The gap increased, slightly, trying to run over the sand blowing in from the desert. He was losing her.
“Come on,” he said to nobody in particular, trying to push himself along.
He wasn’t built for sprinting any more, if he ever really had been. The old cliché of the doughtnut-inflated cop belly really wasn’t true in his case, but he could definitely see a thickening around the midriff these days. A lessening of the hair, a growing forehead where blonde locks used to be. He was approaching middle age and not relishing the prospect.
The roadway was almost empty this time of day, and Bernice shot across the crossing, oblivious to everything except her goal. A car screeched to a halt in the middle of the road, and Bostaph held up his hand to the driver and his passenger, thanking them for stopping as he ran across. They were mouthing something, shouting at him, but he couldn’t hear and didn’t have time to go and find out. Still, it was lucky they hadn’t hit her. “12-year-old black girl killed – white cop blamed” flashed a newspaper headline in his mind. If he ever made it into the newspapers, that wasn’t the headline he wanted.
Going the straight route would have meant a detour, so instead, Bernice jumped a small fence, around ankle height, to get into the parking lot on the other side of the road at a point closer to the building. It looked easy when she did it. But it wasn’t, clearly. He tripped and started stumbling forward. His mind started racing on the way to the floor.
This is going to hurt, he thought. And then, so this is what it feels like. I’ve heard of this – where time slows down. But never felt it.
He mentally looked around himself, trying to work out what would be the best way to fall. How to cushion himself effectively. They say you should relax, he thought. No time for anything else. By the time the signal reaches the muscles, I’ll be on the floor. Tense muscles get hurt.
The thump brought time back to its normal speed. Raising his head, he saw Bernice. She had heard him hit the floor, stopped and turned back to look. He got up, started a loping run after her and she started off again.
You’ve got to admire her, he thought. She’s not going to stop.
Well, if she wasn’t going to stop, neither was he. This was a good case, and there was no way he was going to back out now. None.
She briefly stopped in front of the building’s automatic doors, waited for them to open, and then very calmly walked into the shopping centre. He followed her, quietly, and waited by the exit.
He was a little further behind than he would have liked; she had disappeared from sight. He was on the ground floor, with shops on either side, benches either side of the escalators up to the other floors, and a few potted plants before the coffee stalls and jewellery stands that occupied the middle of the bottom floor.
Sometimes, three or four seconds can seem like an eternity. No matter. She would be back. He waited. And there she was: riding back down the escalator, behind a middle aged woman and a man with a backpack in his mid-20s, in a hoodie.
Bernice’s head poked out from one side, and she saw the office lookup up, and pointed at the man in front of her. He nodded in reply.
The middle-aged lady got off, and Bostaph stepped in front of the escalator. He blocked the exit from it, standing there, impassive.
“Oh man,” the man said, and turned again, one foot starting back up to the next step.
What? thought Bostaph. Is he going to try and run back up again?
Bernice’s timing was perfect.
“Hello,” she said. “Remember me?”
Bernice bunched one pink-braceleted fist at him and the man leaned backwards, instinctively. But that was a mistake: he was already too close enough to the bottom step and Bostaph grabbed him by the shoulders, dragged him over towards the bench, and made him sit down.
He was a thin looking youth, but didn’t look unwell. He didn’t have that hungry look of someone who hasn’t eaten, more that guilty look of someone who was out for kicks and got caught for it. If he had had any sympathy for him, Bostaph found it evaporating quickly.
“Let’s have a look in that bag of yours, shall we?” he asked, looking down at the man in the hoodie.
“No way man… I mean why?” he stammered. “Cos, like, what am I supposed to have done?”
“Oh, you know,” Bernice said.
“Never try and steal from Bernice’s mum,” Bostaph said, pointing a thumb at the girl. “She knows all the routes round here.”
“And wherever you’re trying to go,” she said. “I can get there faster.”
“Yeah,” Bostaph grinned. “You can count on that.”
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