“Did they really say that?” this reporter asked.

“Sure as shit,” said the officer, who then folded up his notebook, stuck his pencil in his shirt pocket, and shrugged his shoulders. He had been on one single case now for nearly two hours and was very likely in dire need of a few doughnuts before he got in his big fat Ford and drove away.

This reporter also spent some time around the outparcels, taking time to hate Dick’s for putting the local sporting goods store out of business, and to wonder how Olive Garden always wins for best Italian restaurant in the local magazine restaurant poll.

And it seemed clear, with all the little bushy and brushy spaces behind and between stores that nobody ever looks at, with all the big boxes and fixtures and stuff the stores set out and don’t even bother to put into the Dumpsters, and with the way the land has been changed so much over the past 20 or 25 years, that no one really could have it all memorized like you used to could when it was the same for decades on end. It was like all new land and construction and little places that no one really knew about or cared about.

Except perhaps Padgett. It’s possible and apparently increasingly likely that she may know it all better than anyone—planner, architect, store owner, cop with a searchlight, anybody. And then throw in all the people she knows. And all the howdies and smiles and “really-busy-today-ain’t-its?” she exchanges, and you have that tapestry this reporter mentioned earlier.

Extensive Internet and law enforcement searches later in the afternoon turned up no address for her, and hours of pre-deadline work tracking down her mother in Florida yielded a simple “try the mall,” before
that long, bad-tone noise of when you get hung up on.

But several hard questions remain: Is Padgett somehow tied to the kiosk in ways that go beyond simple retail employment? For example, she told this reporter in an early-afternoon follow-up interview that her mother’s favorite song as a girl was Neil Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl,” which you probably never heard of either and that this reporter never got the chance to verify with the mother. Number two: Is a job that’s only 16 or 20 weeks a year actually enough to support a modern young American woman with heavy metal needs for the piercings without something weird going on? Or three, is the key to her situation really and simply the collective retail good will she describes out here at Honeymilk? Is there some kind of vast but shallow underground economy—a sort of informal welfare at the teat of Big Retail for those who need it? The worry of course is about just what all she may or may not have to give in return at any given time, especially as related to as sorry-ass a lot as cop-wannabe security guards really are. This reporter will be spending far more time at Honeymilk Mall and in detailed follow-up interviews with Bimini Padgett in the coming months in order to look into that and many other retail questions.