Tales From the Mall Food Court: Guns and Soup
Although the following story is based on true events, the author categorically denies actually violating any of the general orders of the Flamingo Coral Beach Hills Gardens Police Department. Furthermore, anyone who is interested in enforcing the oppressive and nonsensical rules of police work should not read beyond this point.
I am an intruder.
I am the unwelcome sludge that seeps into the daily conversation of their lives.
I do not belong here. They know it. I know it.
Still, their faces are welcoming and their hand gestures affable. And although there is no genuine interest in who or what I am, they do want to know something about me: how much I am spending, and how fast can I leave when I'm done.
I'd call them parasites, but then I would be the blackest of pots casting aspersions at uniformly culpable kettles.
When you join the polyester circuit, you know that the locals on your beat will receive you with a certain amount of reticence. After all, they've watched you taze their neighbor or kick a hobo who's been going through a trashcan in the alley. People don't make eye contact with the cops in their town, and the cops are smart enough to know why.
Going into a neighboring city is a completely difference scene. No one is quite sure what extra-jurisdictional powers you have—not the lawmakers, not the mayor, not the punk in the back of your cruiser—no one. Definitely not the guy behind the counter of the restaurant where you buy your chow. You might be vaguely aware that you have some arrest powers in certain situations, but unless you're going to sit around memorizing statutes and policies—and you're not—you have no idea what those are.
The Coconut Palms Mall is located about a quarter of a mile outside of the boundaries of the berg where I work: Flamingo Coral Beach Hills Gardens. If I were the kind of person who spent time paying attention to rules, I would know that going to the mall while on duty is verboten. In that I'm not, I'm still very aware that driving three traffic signals north of the border to grab a bowl of chicken udon noodle soup is not the type of thing that the admin would likely label "exigency circumstances." I wouldn't usually take a risk for mall food (which usually consists of trays of orange chicken), but if you'd ever had the chicken udon noodle soup at Noodle World, you'd understand why I take my chances.
I wouldn't say that Phan, the manager and proprietor of Noodle World, was exactly a friend, but he probably didn't want to witness my gruesome death as much as say the ladies of Cajun Grill or the dudes over at Sbarros. Still, on the rare occasion that I choose to eat at one of those places instead of Phan's, he sneers at me from across the food court. On the day in question, I had in fact come for a hot bowl of Asian soup.
As I passed the Nathans and the Cinnabon, I heard the distinctive sound of the occasional meat cleaver or butcher's knife slamming into a counter. Audible warnings that my days in the court were numbered. All in all, it was shaping up to be a pretty standard soup run, but something caught my eye. Sitting at a table with what I presumed to be his family, was a middle-aged African American gentleman wearing a plaid shirt, corduroy hat, and dungarees. I wouldn't have thought this to be unusual, but it was about ninety degrees outside and he didn't look wealthy enough to be dressed in layers. He was also staring at me a little too hard, but that only bothered me when I noticed the blued barrel of a holstered automatic pointing downwards from the bottom of his untucked shirt.
Keep in mind that there are close to a million concealed weapons permits in the Sunshine State, so a lot of people have guns, but once I notice that someone is strapped, I generally like to make sure they have all their bona fides. My big problem was that I was flying off the grid, and if I took any action, I would have to call it in. On the other hand, I was envisioning this supposed family man pulling his pistol and turning the food court into a shooting gallery. No more Noodle World. No more Nathans.
If you've ever watched any episode of The Big Valley you know that the most important factor in a gunfight—other than actually knowing how to shoot and being fast—is to keep a cool head. There wasn't really a reason not to be calm at this point. All that I really had was a man eating bourbon chicken with his wife, daughter, and a hip-holstered .45. I casually glided past their table, watching the man in the hat through my peripheral vision. There was a tense moment when I reached the counter and realized that corduroy hat was now at about my seven o'clock, but I couldn't turn to see him without making it obvious. When I reached the counter, Phan greeted me with a smile that was a little oilier than usual. Maybe he had hired the gunman and family to protect his gambling operation? What are you not telling me, Phan?
"Ahhh, Officer Latrigue, I see you've returned for a bowl of my special chicken udon noodle soup. Only the freshest ingredients, you know."
"Cut the crap, Phan. Just give me the soup or you'll get the sap," I snarled.
Grilling him about the gunman would be pointless. I didn't know that he had anything to do with him and even if he did, he wouldn't talk. He's just about the soup. Well, the soup and a few non-soup noodle dishes. Noodle World has a limited menu, but it would be unfair to say that they only have soup.
I casually flipped around and put my back to the counter while I waited for Phan to fill my order. By this point, he must have sensed that something was amiss; I usually watched every step of his preparation. When the piping hot bowl was placed on my tray, I threw a sawbuck on the counter and told Phan to keep the change. I never tip him, but if I turned to get change, I would have to take my eyes off of my target, and I just wasn't willing to take that risk for $1.67.
I eased over to a table that put me about twenty feet directly behind the gunman. It's your turn to feel uncomfortable, mac. My positioning couldn't be better. From where I sat, I could angle my own .45 upward to avoid hitting his wife and kid. They might get splattered with blood, but they would definitely avoid the bullets. Now, my only problem was eating. I'm a right-handed shooter, but I also use that hand to manipulate chopsticks. Any overt movement on hatty's part would require me to drop the chopsticks and pull my sidearm. I decided to move my weapon to the table surface and conceal it under a napkin near my left hand. I wasn't as accurate shooting lefty, but my chopstick handling on that side is even more comical. It really was the better of the two choices and unfolded, the napkin covered all but the butt of the gun.
The next twenty minutes became a game of slurping soup and waiting. Other than the one time that the man in the hat shifted in his chair, I didn't almost shoot him at all. When he finally stood up, I realized that what I thought was a gun was actually a diabetes blood sugar testing machine. Of course, that doesn't mean that he couldn't also have a gun. I think that this might have been one of those cases where overreacting is the best thing. Besides, who brings a six-year-old girl to a food court?