CAPTURED. TAKEN PRISONER BY the very same people he had come to stop. They should be the ones in chains, not him.
Though, to be honest, he was not in chains. No, the Mighty Piñata had been restrained by plastic zip ties. Not steel, not titanium, not that unbreakable metal (the name of which he has forgotten), but plastic.
It had all been so humiliating and a drain on his confidence.
That was until the vampire lobster woman had taken him before their leader. The man she had called King Crab. This leader, this powerful man, after having lain eyes upon all that is mighty about the Piñata, their great King of the Crabs had fainted.
“Your boss seems a bit frail,” the Piñata said.
“Silence!” the lobster woman shouted. Then she back handed him across the face.
He was knocked to the floor, the blow like that of a sledgehammer, and he should know. After all, you can’t be an A-1 crime fighter like he is and not get beaten by the occasional sledgehammer.
But still, the hit had been more than he thought the woman capable of. Yet, from there on the floor, as he looked up at the pale villain, he could see that her hands were gone, and in their place, claws like that of a lobster.
“That’s a neat trick,” he said. He swiped at his mouth, his hand coming away bloody.
“You will not disrespect King Crab,” she said, standing over him.
“I disrespect no one, foul woman,” said the Piñata. “He disrespects himself when he stands on the wrong side of the law.”
She reared back to deal him another mighty blow.
“Will you just leave him there on the floor?” he asked.
She paused, her claw still raised to strike.
“Seems to me that you are the one that is being disrespectful,” he said.
The lobster woman looked from him to the crab on the floor. There her gaze paused for a moment or two before turning back to him. Her mouth curled in anger, her lip quivering with an unbridled rage, and for a moment, he thought she would pull her gun and shoot him down. Instead, she hit him again, a hammering blow across the side of his face, and left him to bleed on the floor as she went to check on her leader.
His head felt like a pound of ground beef that had seen the wrong side of the skillet. This was pain. But he was use to pain. It was pain, after all, that caused him to don the mantle of Kicking Crime in the Teeth. And so, with that thought bouncing around in his head, the memory of how he came to be, the Mighty Piñata allowed unconsciousness to take him as his mind drifted back to that fateful day in July when everything had changed.
THE HEAT WAS ALMOST unbearable. But that was outside. Inside the store was like the deep recesses of an industrial cooler.
Albert Wei, who had been scheduled to work the register at the Shop-N-Save, liked it cold. The way he figured it, he could put on more layers. If it was hot, however, well, no one wanted him taking anything off.
The store, for the time being, was empty. But then, at thirty minutes past three in the morning, that wasn’t out of the norm. An empty store meant idle hands. Albert didn’t believe in idle hands, which was why he had been cleaning each pack of cigarettes on the wall behind him. He was only required to run a duster over everything, but that only took care of the dust on top of the packs. What about the dust that fell down in between? Not on his watch.
To his right, one of the two automatic doors opened, letting in a little of the heat.
“Welcome to the Shop-N-Save,” Albert said, smiling.
The customer, a young man with a shaved head and a hoodie grunted his response as he walked by the counter, heading into the back of the store.
Albert continued to smile at the customer’s retreating back.
“Let me know if you need help finding anything,” Albert said. “You can find me right here.”
A great smile was, in Albert’s opinion, the key to great customer service. After all, where does friendship come from but out of a smile?
Albert went back to dusting the cigarettes, the smile still stretched across his face. He hummed a jaunty tune; something he thought might make its way onto the soundtrack of a movie about a stalwart convenience store clerk making the best of his idle time.
He heard the sound of the door to the cooler close. The cooler was along the south wall of the store, to his left. But only when facing the cigarettes as he was now. When facing front, the cooler was to his right.
Albert turned and faced front. He knew that the cooler was typically a customer’s last stop before bringing their purchases up to the counter. And sure enough, there he was. The customer in the hoodie with the shaved head. Bottle of soda in his right hand, and a piñata tucked under his left arm.
That’s what Albert loved about the Shop-N-Save, they sold all kinds of great stuff. From soda to socks, yams to yo-yos, and pineapples to piñatas. The Shop-N-Save had it all.
Albert increased the power of his smile as the gentleman in the hoodie drew near. Eye contact was essential in making friends, and that’s all the Albert’s customers were, his friends. But the gentleman in the hoodie walked right on by, not once glancing in Albert’s direction. Was he making his way to the exit?
“Sir,” Albert said, not quite sure what was going on. “You have to pay for those.”
The gentleman in the hoodie ignored Albert and moved on. The automatic door slid open.
“Sir!” Albert called out. “You have to pay for those!”
But he was gone.
For just a moment, Albert found himself confused. Did that just happen?
Yes. Yes it did happen.
That left Albert with little choice. Vaulting the counter, Albert Wei followed the shoplifter into the night.
He found the man in the lot, walking through a circle of dirty light from one of the lot’s overhead lamps. The man in the hoodie stopped and turned to Albert, a scowl on his face.
“Why you following me?” The scowl grew even darker.
“I need to see your receipt,” Albert said, nearly out of breath from the short run.
“Receipt?” said the thief. “For what?”
“For the merchandise you took from the store, sir.” Albert tried his best to match the bald man’s scowl, but it was difficult to do through all the sweat.
“The piñata and the soda, sir,” Albert said.
The shoplifter’s scowl turned into a look of disgust.
“Walk away, dude,” the man said.
“Excuse me?” said Albert.
The man took a step toward Albert and leaned in, their noses nearly touching.
“Walk away now,” the man said. “Before you can’t.”
The man’s eyes bore into Albert’s, and for a moment Albert wanted to run, could feel his legs itching to move. He wouldn’t be blamed for walking away. He was going above and beyond as it was. Technically, per the Shop-N-Save handbook, employees were not to try and stop thieves or robbers. Which meant that Albert was, per the handbook, breaking the rules, something he didn’t like doing.
But the man had taken something that didn’t belong to him. Two somethings, actually. And that was a rule far more worse to break. So Albert, despite the audible knocking of his knees, stood his ground.
“Sir, I can’t let you leave store property without first paying for this merchandise.” Well, he was certainly into it now. No turning back. All he could do was go forward. “I’d like you to accompany me back inside the store to await the arrival of the authorities.”
The man smiled. He even laughed.
“I’m outta here,” the man said. And then shaking his head, the smile still on his face, he turned and walked away.
Albert did the only thing he could. He reached out and took hold of the piñata’s tail.
The piñata began to slide out from under the bald man’s arm, but before it was free, the man spun and took hold of the piñata by the head.
The two now waged a tug of war in the middle of the lot. A contest in which the very ideals of justice were at stake.
“Let go!” the bald man called out, pulling on the colorful party favor.
“I won’t!” Albert replied. “Stealing is a crime that the Shop-N-Save is unwilling to pay for!”
But in the end, Albert wasn’t strong enough. With one desperate tug the bald man wrested the piñata from Albert’s grasp. Then, much to Albert’s surprise, the man swung the piñata, which struck Albert a mighty blow upon his head.
Albert went down.
The bald man, however, was not finished. Standing over Albert, he rained down blow after blow, beating Albert with the piñata until the colorful horse burst open, spilling its sugary payload across Albert and the lot.
The bald man tossed the broken piñata aside and fled the scene as Albert, his body broken and bleeding, passed out in the middle of the Shop-N-Save parking lot, encased in the dirty glow from the large lamp which shown down from above.
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