Silence rolled over the sleeping store like a really, really quiet blanket. The slam of the door echoed and faded into the gloom of the emergency lighting, and Alice was alone on the shop floor.
Pools of yellow-white light fell in cones from the ceiling, illuminating the department like the points of a grid. Some kind of furnishings area, she supposed, all lush blue carpetting and expensive sofas around idealized coffee-tables topped not with the rings from badly placed mugs, but with books of colorful illustrations, bright and shining birds, and inexplicably painted cats. She wandered around for five minutes or so, not noticing the door reopen and the suit emerge from it.
“Miss?” it said.
“Yes? Are you here to let me back out?”
“Soon. My boss would like a word with you.”
“Soon’s not really good enough, Richard. Is this likely to be quick, or do I need to phone the police?”
“Five minutes with my boss, and then I’ll walk you out. Promise”
“Five minutes. Just a second.” Alice found her phone and tapped out a message.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m telling my sister to call the police if I’m not back in the square in ten minutes. No offence, Richard, and you’re probably a nice guy, but right now I’m locked in an unfamiliar place with a guy who’s reacting really strangely, and I’m not feeling at my most trusting.” Alice pressed Send, “So lay on, Macduff.”
They went back though the door Richard had escaped though, which appeared to lead though more white corridors with blue and white tiles on the floor. Alice activated the thing on her phone she’d downloaded to track a theoretical morning run, in the hope that she could use it to get back out again if necessary. Eventually they got to a lift, the decor abruptly changing from the stark white of the corridors to a deep and comforting red carpet, wood-panelled walls, and regular pictures of similar looking men and women. One final door led to an impressive room with a desk piled with paper. A door from that led to an even more impressive room, lined with bookshelves and filling cabinets, and a huge desk with nothing on it save a silver laptop, behind which a man on the far end of middle age sat in a large leather chair.
“Dominic Maliceson” introduced Richard.
“Charmed”, oozed Maliceson.
“Alice Chatterton” said Alice.
“Please sit down” asked Maliceson, “That will be all for now, Richard. Please wait outside”
Richard left the room quietly.
“Look,” said Alice, “If you don’t want me to tell anyone about your christmas department, I won’t. I know Christmas isn’t something you usually do, and if it’s that big a deal, I’ll keep quiet”
“That’s… not it”, said Maliceson, “There are reasons we don’t generally do Christmas, and they’re quite important. Actually, I was going to ask you if you wanted a job.”
“Well, you saw someone who you had no idea about lose something, and you went out of your way to help them. While doing so, you attempted to help keep the store orderly despite it being of no consequence to you whatsoever. That’s impressed me.”
“Okay, yes, I’m looking for work at the moment. I wasn’t actually considering retail as a career, though.”
“Give it a try, until after the holidays? Two month contract? You’ll be helping customers find things, nothing too taxing. Also, I’ll need you to report to me if you see any of the departments sneaking in Christmas displays.”
“How much does it pay?”
Dominic wrote down a number on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk.
“Per week.” he clarified. It was quite a large number. “Week in arrears, two weeks notice either side after a week’s trial period. I’ll give you a full contract when my secretary gets in.”
“Subject to that… all sounds fine, I think.”
“Great. Happy to start on Tuesday?”
“Tuesday will be fine”
“Good. Pleasure to have met you.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
They shook hands.
“Richard will show you out”, said Maliceson, “Leave your address with him and I’ll send the contract tomorrow morning.”
Richard showed her out.
The contract arrived tomorrow morning.
At 8am on Tuesday, she started the job, or at least the training.
It was two weeks before anything exploded.