“It’s not really all that major when you get down to it,” Padgett said. “A Disney Store, yes, and a Macy’s, but we really need a Nordstrom’s out here.”

The officer told her not to avoid the question. She asked him what the question was again and he said it again.

“You do what you need to,” Padgett said with a smile. “It varies from situation to situation a little, but the spirit of help and humanity is definitely alive in some places.”

“What about the security guards?” the officer said, in maybe the strongest voice he would use the whole time.

Padgett smiled again. “You make the arrangements you need to make at certain times, and everybody comes out warm and smiling.”

“‘Warm and smiling’?” this reporter heard himself say, while poising his own pencil.

“Buddy Forrester is one of the nicest of the guys working out here,” Padgett said as she straightened out a shelf that had some biker and Maxim calendars mixed in with what seemed otherwise to be an all-canine display. The officer wrote down the name but didn’t ask her if that was the guy who had acted kind of funny when he unlocked the Gap store.

Padgett said she had no permanent address beyond “the greater Honeymilk area and all my friends in it.”
That “greater Honeymilk area” includes several outparcels that have been built out just the way the developer drew it up back in the ’80s, with restaurants, furniture stores, a couple of doc-in-a-boxes, motels, big-boxers and a 12-plex. The area is now the retail and lodging hub of this part of the state, though you can ask anyone and he or she—mostly he—will tell you they never even go close to Honeymilk at Christmas. Which of course makes it hard to figure why the hell it’s so crowded every year and how one particular former Gap employee could use “the unf[rea]kingbelievable Honeymilk traffic” as an excuse to cover screwing a buyer in the stockroom every day for two and a half weeks and have this reporter not suspect anything.

The officer didn’t seem to think to ask Padgett about that big scope of the mall property aspect even though it had come up. Still, you could think in a way that that overall size did tend to suggest she could very well be telling the truth about her life.

In hardworking fashion that very afternoon, this reporter asked more than 40-some people all around the mall about Padgett—without mentioning the calendar stand—and most said yes, wasn’t she the one who had run the calendar kiosk, or stand, or shop—however they phrased it—almost since the mall opened?

What seemed to be revealed by the investigation was a broad, interwoven pattern—a tapestry?—of this young woman, who may well have been employed within Honeymilk Mall for as long continuously if only seasonally as anyone, having connections and friendships of one kind or another with perhaps more than 200 individuals in connection with their businesses, as security personnel or even just as individual salespersons or daily mall shoppers or users.

Once her first few customers came along—two Nissan Titan–built women in their 30s in neon sweat suits who each bought a diet calendar, and a guy in his 50s who got a little upset that all the calendars were sealed up, even after Padgett very clearly pointed out to him that each month of the stupid Pinups of the Forties calendar was represented on the back with a smaller image—the officer seemed to be losing momentum with his questioning and his inclination to detain Padgett any further, such as he was anyway. He left the calendar scene briefly and walked over to the Gap store to see if anything was missing or perhaps to ask them how in the world they can charge what they do for that stuff when you can get better ladies wear at Stein Mart, say, which has morally upright employees as well, for like a third the price. The officer came back shrugging, reporting that no one over there seemed to know anything about anybody sleeping inside their night fence, and that the only charges they wanted to press at this particular time were either Visa or MasterCard.