The last few weeks before Christmas Brad knew he was being hunted. He could feel it every time he walked towards the end of the mall. That kiosk was her territory. On occasion he’d glimpsed her standing among the crowds of shoppers, watching. He could feel her eyes on him and knew he was in danger. Like a sleek black panther she had chosen her prey. The hunt was on. Whenever she spied him, Brad knew she was preparing to pounce. Most encounters he managed to evade her, staying clear of her den, using other shoppers to hide behind. Only once had he nearly fallen to her attack. She had leaped out towards him, but with a sudden sidestep Brad darted to the other side of a slower shopper and that poor soul fell victim to her ambush. The secret to living through attacks in the wild is to make sure you are not the slowest prey in the field. Christmas shopping was battle for survival and the mall was a jungle.
Brad finally had all his Christmas shopping done a full four days before the holiday. He was in the mall to laugh at all those still rushing around in a panic trying to complete lists and fulfill wishes. He was enjoying himself with no stress or demands, at peace in the chaos. He walked through the mall with a smile on his face, whistling in his head (not out loud because people would think he was crazy doing that). Closing time was near and the crowds had thinned. As Brad headed for the parking lot he looked back over his shoulder down the long corridor. Only few shoppers making last minute decisions strolled in the distance, carrying large bags or pushing shopping carts. Brad looked ahead towards the exit, completely forgetting the danger waiting in this end of the mall until she stepped out from behind her kiosk cutting off his escape.
There was no one else around. No one for Brad to hide behind, no one to sacrifice.
She had him.
The young, slender woman with long dark hair and eyes of middle eastern descent smiled. She held out a bottle in her hands and motioned for Brad to hold up his palms. She proceeded to pump the bottle when he complied, depositing a small pile of cold hand cream onto each.
“Feels good doesn’t it?” Her accent warmed the air and all thoughts of it being winter vanished.
Brad rubbed his hands together and he realized he had fallen into a sales pitch trap. All he could do now ride it out and hope for an opportunity of escape to present itself.
“Are you still doing your Christmas shopping,” she asked?
“I’m all finished,” he answered, with a proud smile.
“Is there a special woman in your life?”
Brad smiled again and almost laughed, trying not to let on that he knew what she was doing. “No.”
“No girlfriend, daughter?”
When he again replied no, the woman realized she needed to change tactics.
She asked him his name and when she learned it was Brad she introduced herself as Mary. She then proceeded to appeal to Brad’s vanity. After all, he may be gay.
“Brad, do you care about your face?” Before he could answer she continued. “Of course you do. What do you use to wash your face?”
Brad paused, he had to think about the answer. “Soap and water, I guess.” He shrugged.
With this answer Mary knew he wasn’t gay, just single. Time to switch tactics again. She moved in much closer to him, invading his personal space, looking closely at his face. Flirtation was needed in this situation. “I can see you have some dry skin and redness. I have just the thing for you.” Brad didn’t really care about the redness or dryness of his face. As long as he avoided mirrors he didn’t have to look at it. Mary pulled a small box off the kiosk shelf. “This is our Dead Sea Facial Peel. It will make your face feel good. I guarantee if you try this you’ll be back here in a month to give me a kiss because you are so happy with how good it works.”
Brad smiled at her flirtations, for a moment forgetting he was still in a trap.
Mary continued, touching his arm with her hand to keep him from trying to step away,. She now appealed to his intellect. “You’re familiar with the Dead Sea? Of course you are. It’s the lowest point on Earth with a mixture of salt and chemicals that make our facial peel so good. Let me show you.” She took Brad’s hand in hers and turn it over, pushing up the sleeve of his jacket to expose his wrist. She rubbed the sensitive skin with her fingertips then spread some of the facial peel cream on the spot her fingers had just warmed. “Once a day,” she said. “Let it sit there for thirty seconds. Then rub it off like this.” She produced a small cloth and rubbed the cream away, then she held the cloth up to Brad’s face with one hand while still holding his arm tight with the other.
“See that?” She was referring to what was on the cloth. “Dead skin. That’s how good this cream works exfoliating. Next we add some of this skin conditioner.” She squirted cream from a different bottle onto his wrist and slowly rubbed it in for him. “Now feel that.” She indicated his wrist. “Nice?” Brad had to admit it really did feel nice and smooth. “It can do that to your face, conditioning it, especially after you shave. Do you shave?”
That’s when Brad realized Mary probably needed glasses, as he stroked the thick gray mass of hair on his face. Mary recovered quickly from this misstep with a flash of a smile. “Of course you don’t, but if you did, imagine how good your face would feel. You have a good face and this is good for your face. That’s why I am not going to try and sell you any of these other products.” Mary waved her arm at the shelves beside her. “Do you know why, Brad?” Her hand move to his arm again and pulled him close. “Because you don’t need them. You only need these two, the peel and the conditioner.”
To his surprise Brad found himself agreeing with her, thinking yes, I do need them. The trap had been baited and sprung. Even though he knew what was going on he had fallen for her lure and considered purchasing the product just to make her smile some more.
It was then Mary mentioned the price. “The peel and the conditioner usually sell for one twenty, but I will give them both to you for half price.”
Brad nodded his head. A dollar twenty was cheaper then he expected, and to get both for sixty cents really seemed a bargain, he was thinking he should pick up several bottles at that price.
When it sunk in that by one twenty she really meant one hundred and twenty dollars, Brad regained his survival instincts and realized Mary only cared for the kill. The flirtation and flattery were all to flay him alive.
The sudden jolt back to the reality must have registered in his eyes, because Mary said, “Is sixty dollars too expensive?” Brad knew she was working on his pride, believing he wouldn’t want to appear to be a cheapskate.
“No, not at all, it’s not too expensive for me,” Brad smiled.
For the briefest of instants a look of fear showed on Mary’s face. Her prey no longer seemed secure in her trap. She needed a weapon. Stepping around the corner of her kiosk Mary opened the cash register and pulled out a stack of sales slips. “This will give you some idea of how much people are willing to pay for our products.” She flipped through the receipts under Brad’s nose so he could see them as she read out loud. “Eight hundred dollars! Five Hundred Dollars! Three Hundred and Fifty Dollars!” She pulled the slips away and stared directly into Brad’s eyes. “You can have it for sixty dollars!”
There was a pause.
“Why are you not buying it?”
“I need to sleep on it,” Brad said.
“If you don’t buy it tonight for sixty dollars you aren’t going to come back tomorrow to buy it for one hundred and twenty!” She was catching on that Brad had no intentions of ever buying the creams now. The power of her accent, that had earlier held the potential to melt winter, now hinted at threatening to haunt his future nightmares.
Mary made one last attempt to slay her prey. “Since you are my last customer for tonight and I have a lot of money to count for today, here is what I’ll do.” She picked up the pocket calculator on the counter, punched a number into it and handed it to Brad. Brad read $40.00.
He passed the calculate back to her and looked into her dark, waiting eyes.
“I’m sorry I am going to have to pass, but thank-you very much.” Brad saw in Mary’s eye’s a flash of something he could only described as fury. She turned her back on him and walked away.
Brad had survived.
As he walked to his car that night he calculated in his head how much soap and water he could get for sixty bucks. He felt the smooth spot on his wrist and smiled.