Joe was tired. It was a long day, at the end of a long week, and the damn muzak was trying to lull him into sleep.
“Just finish your sandwich and we can get out of here.” Joe spoke in a tired tone to his seven year old son.
The food court had that slightly unfilled feeling common to malls in the age of amazon, but it happened to be a convenient place to feed the kids on his one night a week visitation. Teddy nibbled at the sandwich, clearly not hurrying, trying to draw the time out with his dad a little longer.
POP. POP. POP. The irregular sound of gunfire hit Joe’s ears and he looked up, trying to identify the source. Screaming people started rushing into the food court. POP. POP.
Joe grabbed Teddy and hauled him bodily out of the booth and in ten steps pushed his son over the waist high counter of the sandwich shop. POP. POP. Joe hopped over and pulled Teddy down. POP.
“Keep down, we are getting out of here.” Joe said, as he crawled away from the front counter and into the kitchen area. At the back of the kitchen a door led into the service passageway, Joe pushed it open for Teddy to crawl through. Joe followed, and stood up.
“C’mon.” Joe said as he pulled Teddy to the right, away from the normal mall entrance area customers would use. Joe didn’t know where the service passageway would end, but people in restaurant uniforms started coming into the passageway and they were moving in the same direction. Joe picked up Teddy when he stumbled and followed the crowd to an underground delivery area. The entrance was not connected to the customer parking lots. Joe put Teddy down and they walked up the ramp into the gray light of evening.
“Dad, what’s happening?” Teddy asked, his legs a blur as he tried to keep up with Joe.
Joe slowed down, but didn’t stop moving. “Something happened, and we had to leave, and we are going to the car and I’m getting you home to your mom.”
“Dad, you’re bleeding.” Teddy said, pointing to Joe’s right arm. Joe looked, and sure enough he was bleeding. A small but steady stream of red came from the fatty portion of his tricep area. No spurting, so no arteries nicked.
“I must have snagged it on something when we crawled through the kitchen.” Joe answered, “Now lets get to the car.”
Joe kept to the islands of trees and shrubbery that separated the delivery area from the customer parking lot.
“Ok buddy, you see the car right there? Well you and I are going to run towards it, ok? And when we get there I want you to stay down by the front tire until I open the door and you climb in from my side and get down in the leg area, curl up like a little bunny, ok bud?” Teddy nodded.
“Ok, go!” Joe whispered and began running, making a zig zag left and right while Teddy ran straight to the car. There were no pops associated with the gunfire. Teddy crouched by the driver side front wheel and Joe only fumbled once unlocking the door. “In, in, in” Joe said as he pushed Teddy through to the passenger side. He got in, and without thinking put on his safety belt before he started the vehicle. He put it in gear and reminded himself to drive calmly, deliberately.
Less than five minutes away Joe pulled the car into a drugstore parking lot.
“Teddy, lets go get a bandaid for my boo-boo.” Joe said, pulling Teddy out of the passenger side floorboards. Joe pulled a thick winter jacket from the backseat and put it on to hide the blood.
Joe purchased hydrogen peroxide, cotton gauze wrap, and medical tape. He used the bathroom to clean the wound, which looked like a graze from a bullet ricochet, and made a pressure dressing. Teddy helped, holding the tape like a real trooper. The right arm of the winter jacket hadn’t soaked through yet, allowing Joe and Teddy to walk back out of the store with the clerk none the wiser.
Getting back into the car Teddy hopped into his booster seat, and Joe clicked him in. Only then did they hear the sound of multiple sirens.
“Someone was shooting in the mall.” Teddy said, matter of fact. “It sounded like your gun when you took me to the range.”
“Yes, someone was.” Joe replied. “Lets go see your mom.”
Joe pulled out his cell phone, and sent a text that they were heading to her house, what used to be their house, now.