I shop—really shop—about twice a year. Boxing Day sales and June stocktake sales. I have enough friends in retail to know that even on 50% off days, retailers are making a killing, and so the idea of buying anything at 100% just horrifies me.
In the past people have commented on threads of similarity between my romance heroines and me. But never about my heroes and me.
Reconnaisance is everything in Black Ops shopping.
So, I slipped over the edge of my inflatable black Zodiac (cunningly disguised as a Honda Jazz) and then dodged and weaved between the clusters of civilians—armed with only two survival tools, my Glock nine millimetre wallet and my photo IDs of targets to extract, until I emerged disguised as a regular shopper deep in the heart of enemy territory seething with those who might try to get my extraction before me.
I’d been properly briefed before heading out; I knew my targets and I knew their habits:
A good pair of walking shoes for a trip to New York next year, King-sized fitted sheets and Wii ‘You Sing’ (Glee, preferably, but Robbie Williams would suffice)
I hit Myer the moment it opened and hit the escalators backwards, surveiling my sixty for any signs of insurgents out to come between me and my target. There was a terrified family somewhere waiting anxiously for news of their beloved King Sized sheets and it was my job to bring it home. But I hadn’t expected to walk into a blood bath. None of our intel had indicated how many units—some of them other governments, most of them privately funded enterprises—would be set to extract the same target. King-sized sheets clearly hold a lot of sway politically and everyone wanted this liberation for their own reasons.
Myer play hardball and surrounded this prime target with layer after layer of civilians, jostling and elbowing amongst themselves, counting on the fact we wouldn’t go in hard when so many lives were at stake. But there was something about the scene that didn’t ring true… I glanced at my ID documents. Similar, but not the same. Dear God, these were decoy fitted sheets. Not the 50% off ones. My eyes immediately tracked left where an unassuming man was loading up a trolley at a dock-door. I notified HQ and changed coordinates, strolling casually toward the hapless restocker. Right logo, right colour. Now as long as there was a prominent ‘K’ on the packet I knew I had my target. I stepped in front of him as he started to move off and he froze, he didn’t even try to prevent me sweeping a set into my arms and sprinting for the nearest cash point. But I had my advantage and a good clear lead and no-one tried to follow me.
I didn’t spare a thought for that re-stocker who was swallowed by shoppers alerted by my slick manouver. Collatoral damage. In war you can’t think about the casualties. That will come later.
I didn’t waste any time celebrating the liberation of my first target. I hit the mezzanine floor running and weaved my way directly to the next store. Wii Glee was a big ask. Sold out across Australia last time I checked. But you just never know. Shopping War is a funny thing.
I commando rolled into JB Hifi under the security sensors and crab-walked my way down a back wall past the PCs and mobile phones and tucked myself securely away in a relatively empty corner to get my bearings. The wii logo flashed seductively at me from two aisles away. The trick in military extraction is not to get cocky, that’s when mistakes get made. I casually browsed my way up and down adjacent aisles, getting closer, eyes flicking left and right like a crack lord, all the time tracking the wii shelves for my target.
Oh, the humanity...
But I knew my orders. Glee was most likely never coming home, but I could save Robbie. I changed focus and started searching for that smug smile on the cover. My pulse kicked up and I had a mini surge of adrenaline. There he was. In a two microphone pack. It was a miracle.
Moments later I was in a queue, my arms locked rigidly around the man I’d come to rescue, and my game face well and truly on. Moments more and I was walking casually toward the security guards at the entrance to the store. They were stopping everyone leaving and checking IDs. If anything happened it was going to happen now.
My breath stopped. My heart raced. I struggled to look normal.
The man at the checkpoint looked serious. Some kind of middle eastern origin (mind you this was JB HiFi, they all looked swarthy), important uniform, impressed with his own importance. If I didn’t play it cool this was all going to go south very quickly. His suspicious eyes glanced at my receipt, then at the way I clutched Robbie Williams to my chest, then at me.
My years of shopping training paid off and he was fooled by my casual expression. He waved me thorugh the checkpoint and I was off!
I turned back toward the way I’d come in. Another early lesson of effective Boxing Day shopping, never get caught up in the vicious browsing cycle. Get in, get the job done, get out.
I checked seven shoe stores before finding what I was looking for. Birkenstocks. Going for an unashamed premium. Right size, right colour. Wrong price but in the field you have to think on your feet. I had a giftvoucher, so really it was only going to cost me half what they were asking in ransom. HQ would approve.
Five minutes later I was hitting the little-used stairs between public toilets and bursting out my secret access-way back into the 40 degree heat and pelting it for the Zodiac, knowing how many operatives lost their lives just when they thought they were safe, in the home stretch.
I spared a thought for the innocent restocking guy in Myer—the one who’d gone down in helping me achieve my goals—and I hoped he’d be okay. Though I knew he probably wouldn’t.