The interior of the mall lawyer’s office is barren and cold and dark. Plain beige walls with strips of painter’s tape left on the door frames.
Susan should have noticed the door was not locked when she entered. There’s a man inside waiting for her. A bad cowboy.
“Ma’am,” he says. He tips his hat.
Cheap. Cheap clothes; a cheap vest that Susan can see the stitching on from where she’s standing; cheap cowboy hat on his head — the kind you buy at a tourist kiosk or dollar store anywhere just off the parkway. Machine-tooled leather belt with lead souvenir belt buckle.
On the belt is a big knife in a faux-leather sheath. That’s probably cheap too.
In fact, the most expensive thing this man might be wearing are his boots. Dyed lizard skin; might’ve set him back a hundred bucks.
The central air kicks in and she can smell him on the air. Cheap cologne that masks the true scent of this man. It’s the scent of a man who rarely bathes. This is the sort of man that doesn’t like to take showers, hold babies, or take care of his pets.
“Can I help you?” Susan asks him.
Her eyes flicker to the knife on his belt, then back to his eyes. Its this exchange that she notices there’s something wrong with his face. It doesn’t move properly. It looks stiff. Facial paralysis or he’s wearing some sort of wax mask. A face on top of a face.
His knife comes out and he gets up from the chair.
In women’s self-defense classes the instructor will always discuss the use of makeshift weapons. Carry a can of oven cleaner and a carpenter’s hammer in your purse. Roll up a magazine and strike with the rounded end. Arrange your house keys between your knuckles and punch. There are other tips too. Such as the correct movements to do if a rapist grabs you by the elbow. Or where to strike a man: the bridge of the nose, the center of the sternum, and the place between the legs where the balls hang down.
But this shitty cowboy has six inches of height and fifty pounds of weight on Susan. And even as she wonders if sixteen hours of karate classes at the YMCA have turned her into a pure killing machine, this bad cowboy has crossed the room and wrenched the purse from her hands.
Susan watches him root through her bag like some kind of deranged woodland animal. Susan pictures hitting this fellow with her handful of keys before he guts her like a dying fish.
The cowboy isn’t very happy with the things in her purse. He tosses the bag down and stomps it. He looks her body up and down like she’s prey.
Susan retreats from the room back into the front part of the office with the big picture windows and the ferns. The cowboy follows with his knife.
When the cowboy grabs her, Susan knows she’s going to die. But then he pauses; cocks his head to one side; presses the flat of the knife blade to his paralyzed half-mouth. He says: “Do you hear that?”
There’s a pack of feral dogs in the empty mall parking lot. They’ve all begun to bark and howl at increasing fervor. In the next moment, there’s an explosion of glass and sound and blood as one of the dogs hurls itself through the window glass.
In the next moment, the room looks like a bomb has gone off in it. There’s broken glass and dog’s blood everywhere. An office fern has tipped over and spread its dirt across the carpet. At the center of the explosion is the dog itself. A mangy black cur; skinny and starved but still large enough to menace.
The dog spins in a frenzy and bares its fangs. It recovers its bearings and focuses its crazed eyes upon Susan and the bad cowboy. He retreats into the back-office room and the dog goes after him in pursuit.
The animal runs headlong into the office door which the cowboy has slammed behind him. It hits with such force that the hard composite surface splits its skull and snaps its neck.
Now the dog is dead and the man is gone. Out the back window and into the alleyway where the mall keeps its dumpsters.
Susan rummages through the detritus on the ground and fishes her cellular phone from the wreckage. She uses this to dial for the police.
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