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OH I’M REALLY SO, SO SORRY (AS IF) by William L. Spencer

Basically, our problem was this: where and how do we kill him?

I mean while not getting nabbed by the authorities, and also not making it into a total chore, if at all possible.

Where was simple. We looked at each other and both of us said it at the same time: Nordstrom.

Where else? Two seventeen-year-old high school girls figuring out our first hit job. She’s Charlotte and I’m Dana.

We head for the second floor of Nordstrom in the Westgate Mall. We’re killing a guy, so we’re at the men’s department. Charlotte goes hey, how about we get him into a fitting room? Nice and private…

I go hmm, what then? Say we bust into the fitting room and then

Char looks at me and I look at her and we X’d out the fitting room, headed for the escalator.

We got there and it stopped me: the escalator.

It’s trippy to stand at the top of an escalator and watch the steps emerge. Each steel comb slides out, turns down, and glides away, so smooth.

It’s the fold that got me. Steel against steel. Hard edges. They’re especially dangerous-looking if you’re thinking what it would be like if some person, a guy you’ve decided to kill for example, tripped and somehow toppled down with the back of his neck or the back of his head right on one of those sharp steel edges.

I grabbed Charlotte’s arm and made her stand at the top of the escalator and pointed to the steps, those sharp, hard, steel edges.

“Perfect!” she said. “Now all we have to do is get him here.”

Nordstrom is high end. If you look up, you’ll notice the lighting is sort of soft, but with these spotlights—hundreds of them—focused on the counters, the racks, the display tables. Makes you want to check out the merch. Yeah, I took a good look at the ceiling, thinking about cameras. After all, you don’t want to kill a guy and have it caught on video, LOL.

All in all, a pretty cool place to hang while you’re waiting for the dude you plan to toe-tag.

We picked Wednesday because we wanted to get it done before the creep could do any more damage, and because we figured it was a slow day at the store. Same with the time, just before noon. We’ve both been to Nordy’s enough to know that before noon in the middle of the week the place is like deserted.

I found a spot with a view of where he’d come in. The Nordstrom ground floor has an entry to the main parking lot, and the store has these comfortable chairs in different places, so an hour before he was due, I grabbed one, took out my phone, and did the finger thing like I’m browsing my Twitter pals or Instagram pics. It was blend-in time.

No one notices me. I’m a junior in high school and I can look good—well, at least okay—when I want to. But on this errand I’m dressed down: skinny jeans, long-sleeve rash guard top, no makeup, brown hair in pigtails, so I look younger and frankly kind of effing drab. I’m no raving beauty, so not being noticed comes easy. A tall, regular girl just chillin’.

My black, rash guard top is surfer wear. If a wave dumps you and you get rolled along the bottom, you don’t get your skin all scuffed. It’s a poly material, fits tight. A rash guard is a handy item of clothing if a person is falling down an escalator and tries to grab your arm. That certain person won’t get a good grip or scratch you with his nails if you’re wearing a rash guard like mine.

You probably won’t find that tip on the label, LOL.

Sure enough, fifteen minutes before his appointment, he comes bouncing through the glass doors, bouncing as much as a tubby old fart like him can bounce. He’s like fifty or so. Hard to tell with old guys. He’s dressed to impress: That’s probably his best suit, a pinstripe number, white shirt and tie. He looks like a bag of potatoes.

I know where and when he’s going to show up because Charlotte called him yesterday and told him about the thousand-dollar sports jacket he’d won in the drawing.

We had him on speakerphone.

“I didn’t enter any drawing,” he said. I’m laughing to myself. Of course you didn’t, Mr. Brainiac.

Charlotte put on her adult voice and read the script.

“Yessir, that may be the case. But someone put your business card in the bowl, and the department manager drew it out this morning. So congratulations. Can you come in for a fitting at 11:45 tomorrow?”

He bounces through the doors, heading for the up escalator, thinking he’s won a jacket that retails for a thousand buckarooskis.

I tap a message to Charlotte, letting her know the creep is in the store. Now she’ll move to what I call Phase 2 and she insists is Phase II, pronounced eye-eye, because she’s that kind of person with that sense of humor. Where I’m plain, Char is a classic beauty. Where I’m angling for an athletic scholarship, Char plans to be an actress. She’s borrowed a sheath dress from her mom and gone all the way with eyeliner, pearl earrings and necklace. I look about fourteen and Char could pass for twenty-three.

When the guy comes in, I think wheee! He’s here! I get a prickly feeling. My stomach flips. It’s the adrenaline. I’ve felt it plenty of times before tournaments and meets.

A stray thought: Am I really going to kill this dork?

The answer comes back: it’s time for him to go. I flash on what MM told us about her seven-year-old sister, Emma, and this guy, the stepfather, slinking into the kid’s room at bedtime.

I tamp it down, keep the cool in place, meander along behind Tubby. I take my time. I know what’s gonna happen. He’ll go up the escalator and make the U-turn to the men’s department. With a smile on his face, he says he’s here for his big prize. The thousand-dollar sports jacket. The salesguy will give him a gigantic blank look, and will go find the manager because, after all, the servants aren’t always in the loop. The manager will come out and explain to Tubby that there isn’t any drawing, there never was any drawing, there will never be a drawing. My guess is the manager will say all this in the sort of way that will let Tubby know that Nordstrom is different from Pinstripes-R-Us where Tubby got the econo number he’s wearing.

In short, Tubby will be made to feel like the fool he is, which the manager will probably be pretty good at getting across.

Char and I talked this over: At this point Tubby will be royally steamed. He will have little puffs smoke coming out of his ears. His eyes will be rolled back in his head and turned red. He will only be able to think about how he’s been shown up as a total and complete dunce in front of the manager and whoever else was standing there staring at him.

No, he won’t be browsing the ties and belts. He’ll be walking fast, tromping back to the down escalator. He’ll make the tight U-turn to get on, and…

Uh-oh! Someone not paying attention when they get on a down escalator! That’s when accidents will happen!

I trail along behind Tubby on his way up to the men’s department, and I’m saying to myself, Hey, kiddo, time to step on the cockroach who preys on the small and the weak.

This adventure has a nice scary feel to it. A rollercoaster at that moment before the first drop.

It’s funny, in a way, because the decision to kill him just popped out.

It started when Char and I heard MM sobbing in a stall of the girl’s bathroom at school. Her name is Mary, but Char started calling her Mary Mary in the third grade, probably from Mary Mary Quite Contrary. She wasn’t contrary at all; Char just started calling her that, who knows why. So of course I picked it up. Then another Mary showed up at school so everyone started calling her Mary Mary, and then it got shortened to MM.

We calmed her down and got the story: Her stepfather was copping feels, saying things, hitting on her when her mom wasn’t around. That was one thing. MM told him to keep his dirty effing hands to himself. Then MM’s little sister, Emma, told her the creep was coming into Emma’s room at bedtime, talking about the stuff she might get for Christmas, which was eight months away. If you know anything about molesters, that’s called grooming. He was putting his hands under the covers. Emma felt weird and told her big sister.

MM went to her mom.

Her mom didn’t want to hear it. Mom said MM was asking for it, wearing leggings, sticking her butt out. As for Emma, mom said she was always in a tizzy over nothing.

Stepdad was the breadwinner and so on and so forth, and at her age mom wasn’t going to find another guy like him, blah blah blah. So she wasn’t gonna rock the boat. And besides, MM had it wrong; he wasn’t like that. He wasn’t that kind of person.

Yeah, like no one’s ever heard that before.

But MM’s mom did say something to him and stepdad got mad and MM saw the change in him. He started pressing and she could see where things were headed.

By this time, our conversation had moved to a table in the far corner of the library where we squeezed together and talked in whispers. MM sat between us. I was propped with my elbow on the table, MM slouched down between us.

We went over it from every angle: What can we do about this pedo? We were going around and around when it popped out of my mouth: “He needs to have an accident.”

MM was staring at her hands in her lap. She goes, “Yeah, an accident where his dick falls off.”

But Char and I had a look going on over her head. Char read my face and I read hers. Nothing more needed to be said. We knew it right then. Time for him to go.

I watch Tubby bounce to the up escalator.

I take my time following along to the second floor. I check it out. Almost empty, as expected.

The cosmetics counter is the closest one to the down escalator, and Char is there at the far end where the perfumes are, picking up bottles of Chanel. She’s dressed to kill—hey, wasn’t that a movie or something?—she beckons the salesgirl over.

I have a choice of seating. There’s a pair of the super nice grey chairs facing back toward the men’s department, and another pair tucked right beside the down escalator.

I really do love this store!

I grab one of the chairs facing the men’s department.

Now the timing is important.

I hold my cell at eye level so it doesn’t look like I’m spying.

They’re at the far end of the men’s department with counters and clothing racks in the way, so I can only get glimpses. After a couple minutes, I see the manager come out from somewhere and I know it won’t be long.

Either this will work or it won’t. Maybe Tubby will decide to look at other stuff. Maybe someone he knows will show up and they’ll hang together. Maybe he won’t use the down escalator at all; maybe he’ll wander out into the mall, head for the Little Miss Dress Shop to see if there are any naked mannequins in the window.

We think we have it figured, but like in baseball and wall quoits, you never know.

And then I spot him heading my way, walking fast. I feel the rush in my arms and legs that tunes me up.

I jump up and scoot over to one of the chairs next to the down escalator, looking over to see that Char is at Skin Care, using a brush on her cheeks, comparing Skin Foundation SPF 15 to Intensive Skin Serum Foundation SPF 40, acting like she’s looking in a mirror but really spotting that I’ve moved to the Ready Zone.

Here’s the plan: She makes a mess on the counter, opens samples, spills powder, drops brushes. When she leaves the counter to get on the escalator behind me, covering my moves, the salesgirl is busy cleaning up the mess, never looks over at the escalator.

From the chair next to the escalator, I do a final sweep. The place is like Antarctica. Let me tell you, if you’re going to pop a cap on a guy at Nordstrom, just before noon on a Wednesday is a good time to do it.

Take the shoe department in front of me. As expected, the girl and guy working there, who are into each other, are huddled at the sales desk all the way at the far wall. No reason for them to pay any attention to anyone getting on the escalator.

And here he comes, stepping along. He looks grim. Yes, he’s pissed.

Just as he passes me I’m up and close behind him, centered on his body, matching every roll and sway, adjusting my position to be right where I need to be.

He makes the tight U-turn, steps onto the down escalator with his right foot, and I’m there, my Converse hard on top of his trailing shoe and for me everything shifts into s-l-o-w motion.

But for him it’s…

MY GOD WHAT’S HAPPENING?

His weight isn’t coming forward like it’s supposed to and…

JESUS! I’M GONNA FALL!

He swings his left arm out to grab the handrail and I’m turbocharged. It’s like spotting a girl in gymnastics, which I’ve been doing since I was eight. Say she’s practicing a dismount from the balance beam. You’re there to help her turn or not turn, help her get safely onto the mat.

Same thing with Tubby.

I bring my right hand across and grab his left forearm, jerking him off the handrail. At the same time my left arm goes around his rib cage and I grab a handful of cloth as far as I can reach. My left foot is planted on a step and I’m travelling with him. He’s got hold of nothing and I’ve got leverage. He’s getting an emergency message…

IT’S ALL WRONG!

And he stiffens, which doesn’t help him but is great for me. I turn him as he’s falling, and I can tell when he figures out it’s going to be bad:

The breath comes out of him in a low moan.

When he’s faceup and about to hit, I plant a foot in his chest and jump with all my weight. He smacks hard on his back then his head whips down and hits with a crunchy chunk that sounds like breaking stalks of celery. Sooo satisfying!

All the way down Charlotte’s been close behind me, blocking the view of anyone who might notice.

At the bottom, the escalator slides us off and Tubby’s head lolls, nice and loose.

Char scrambles to the side and says real loud, “This girl tried to keep him from falling!” Just in case anyone’s wondering.

As people on the ground floor start to move toward us, Charlotte and I ease back. Everyone’s gawking at Tubby and no one notices as two girls meander away and stroll through the store and out into the mall where they catch the elevator up to the Food Court.

That’s right, the Food Court. Coming down from all that adrenaline gives you a terrible thirst.

We’re quiet till we get drinks and food and a table at the back. Then Charlotte goes, “What do you think?”

I go, “Sounded to me like the poor guy broke his neck. Maybe he’s a goner or a paraplegic or something.”

“Too bad,” she says.

“Yeah,” I say, “I’m so, so sorry.”

We exchange a smile: as if.

“You know,” Charlotte says, “you’re really a vicious little bitch.”

We’re sitting there in the Food Court, and honest to God, it’s all I can do to keep from spewing Diet Pepsi out of my nose.

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AUTHOR BIO:

William L. Spencer has published fiction and non-fiction in the San Diego Reader and West Coast Review, Furtive Dalliance Literary Review, The Magnolia Review, Fabula Argentea, and Weber – The Contemporary West (2020). He is a winner of First Place for Fiction (twice) and First Place for Non-Fiction from the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild, and winner of the Ursus Press Short Story Contest. He edited “Across This Silent Canvas” by Hubbard Miller. A graduate of the University of Washington, he lives in San Diego with his wife. He can be found on scribophile.com as Carlos Dunning.

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WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Oh I’m Really So, So Sorry (As If)”:

In most cases we decline to publish pieces involving killing, violence, and drugs, and we’ve declined some otherwise excellent pieces for those reasons alone. We felt that the humorous aspects of William Spencer’s tale overrode those concerns and hope that none of our readers find the piece in anyway distressing.

That aside, we loved the contemporary voice that captures the personalities of the two girls. The first-person POV is also perfectly executed. Note how the author pulls off how Dana is in effect talking to the reader in such as way that it doesn’t come off as telling. She shows us everything as it happens, only telling when absolutely necessary (like their names).