2008-09-10: Don't Forget Your Change!


Joel and Aspen_icon.gif

Summary: The Company casts an agent in an unlikely role to test Joel.

Date It Happened: September 10th, 2008

Don't Forget Your Change!

Best Buy

New York City

It's late at night at the megastore of megastores, the blue and gold monolith of consumerism standing tall and proud in the city. It's a great sweeping set of aisles and endcaps all displaying the wares of the modern world, proclaiming better living through technology. So late after most other stores have closed and settled on the outskirts of the city, this particular stores seems almost like a latenight beacon, its fluorescent light shining and beckoning for customers to come and taste the apple of capitalism.

Yet within it's quiet. Late on a weekday night, barely any customers are in the store this close to eleven. There are a handful of employees throughout, one at the security desk, one at the register, and a few in the aisles. Just one such an employee in the electronics department is Joel. Standing at the end of a display, his hands on a video game controller, his attention isn't necessarily on the job, but rather on the next Covenant soldier that's attacking his digital avatar.

"Someone upstairs owes me for this. I look like a grade-schooler," the British voice of a woman hisses indignantly just out of earshot — and out of sight. Around the corner from the video game section is Aspen St. James, speaking to a sleek cell phone. "I could be on assignment in Punta Cana. … Well, it's no Cuba. Yes, well. I'm going in." The phone is snapped neatly shut. Loosening her shoulders, the woman slides on a pair of purple-framed glasses just so on her face, turns her frown upside down, and turns the corner.

So it is that the woman strolls up behind Joel, converse shoes quiet on the tile. She has the potential to be a knock-out, by typical standards, but the geeky classics and quirky style have her pegged as a girl nerd: rainbow striped knee-socks that are just as colourful as her jewelry, a pink t-shirt that declares 'YOUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE', and knee-length denim skirt. It all makes her look younger than she is. That's not to say everything isn't fitted. "Excuse me?" she pipes up in a vaguely Texan accent. "Are you busy?"

The first words that start to fall from Joel's lips are, "Umm, yeah one…" It's in those few initial moments that the young man's focus remains on the game, three bad guys downed with three shots exactly. But then there are the momentary flickers of neurons that remind him that he's still technically at work, the store still technically isn't closed, and of course the voice was female and so has a touch more demand upon his mind.

He hits the pause button and puts the controller on its hanger, then turns around with that easy employee smile. "I mean sorry about that, course I'm not." If she's a good judge of people she might detect the momentary doubletake that he gives her. It's the look of fleeting surprise, intrigue, but then to his credit he kiboshes it straight down. The only thing marking his extra engagement is a faint widening of his eyes and a hint of the genuine to his smile. "May I help you?"

The young lady bounces on her sneakers a little and peeks around Joel for an instant. "Nice shots!" she says with a buoyant smile before slinking back a step and looking from side to side furtively. "I was wondering, uhhh… do y'all do repairs? On consoles? If they were bought here? 'Cause… I sorta like-trashed my 360 and I'm goin' through withdrawals… if not, that's totally cool though! I'll just buy a new one!"

"Uhh," There's a faint smile, just at the corner of his mouth, this one seeming more like a real smile than the store helper kind. "Well, we kinda don't here. Microsoft gets all uppity about it, warantees and stuff. You kinda have to send them back to them." For a moment the whole sales drone mentality starts to take over, "The new ones are over…" But then his brow knits faintly and he looks at her, "But you know what? Why don't you tell me what's wrong with it? I've had mine flake out a few times, maybe it's something that can be fixed easy enough?" His blue eyes meet hers and in that moment he remembers to button the top button of his blue dress shirt for some reason.

Bright blue eyes stare right back at Joel through her glasses, until the girl looks over in the direction of the new X-Boxes. Less obviously, she skims the aisles and touches her ear. Not that there's a secret spy device in there or anything. "Uuuuhm, well, it's sorta embarrassing," she says, punctuating it with a laugh and a sort of snort. She bites her lip and peers fretfully at the employee. "I sorta spilled Redbull all over it and there was this kinda explosion and this little puff of smoke and it totally slayed my chance at beating my high score in Halo 3."

"Ah, well," Joel leans back, just a touch not able to hold eye-contact for /too/ terribly long. He rocks back on his heels, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly as he looks towards the new ones, then back at her. "Yeah that kinda sounds worse than the whole red ring of death thing." The young man looks back, meeting her gaze again this time a little easier. "I'm sorry, you might be best off calling the manufacturer. Usually they're pretty good about it. They'll send you a box and everything. Just uhh, don't mention the redbull." His smile comes a little easier.

"Y'think?" the girl lifts her brows ever-so-optimistically over the frames of her purple glasses. "That means I gotta wait for shipping and— sorry, I don't mean to go all rambly on you. Crap, it's like, almost closing time, isn't it? Maybe I'll go find some PC games to hold me over'n get outta your hair. Thanks— " she peeks at his ID tag, "Joel!" Aspen and her rainbow socks twirl around to stroll toward the computer games.

"Yeah," He answers to her first question, then she goes on and he smiles to answer, "Yeah…" With further gifted conversation he adds, "Sure, there are some decent ones. And yeah, Joel." His smile broadens as she starts to walk over in the other direction towards the PC games. It's only after she's a small bit of distance away that his brow knits and he looks down, shaking his head, "Yeah, Joel. Smooth." He takes a deep breath, glancing after the departing girl. If one were looking closely they might get the hint of the silent conversation he's having in his head, the way his face shifts a little as if affecting different dialogue choices, then he just shakes his head and says quietly to himself, "Feh." Back to the video game he turns.

A few minutes pass. Over by the PC games, out of Joel's sight, the girl nevertheless browses the selection. A store janitor shuffles past Joel, sliding along a mop and bucket and carrying a CAUTION: WET FLOOR sign under one arm. Nearby, a back room door opens and slams shut.

Cue… shriiieeeeek!!

Plastic-wrapped computer game packages go skittering along the polished floor out into the main aisle. The rubber soles of Aspen's shoes squeak as she's suddenly shoved out into the aisle, the massive arm of a beast of a man wrapped forcefully under her throat. The bald fellow has an equally steely-eyed, but shorter, friend - and he has a gun pointed at Aspen. "You. You work here," he growls at Joel. "Move it to the register or I'll empty Nerd Girl's skull."

The scream almost makes the young employee drop his video game controller. He looks up and around abruptly, his attention seized by the commotion. He looks first to the guy, to Aspen, to the guy with the gun, Aspen, the gun, Aspen… sorry back to the gun. He blinks openly, rapidly. "I uhh uhh." But then when he shouts those harsh words he at least is able to command his voice. "Hold on, hold on a sec, I'll do whatever you need, don't hurt her."

He holds up his empty hands, the controller thumping to the ground as he starts to step in the direction of the checkout aisles at the man's behest. "I'll get the register open and all, s'just the one this time of night." He backs to the side and away towards the aforementioned register, doing what the man has asked.

Pushed along as the men follow Joel, Aspen (great little actress that she is), kicks and tugs at the man's arm, her face a mess of distress. "Let go of me!" she squeaks. The hefty man who holds her doesn't let up, even as she kicks his shins with her heels between steps.

The gun-wielding man grabs a much-wrinkled duffel bag from under his coat, throwing it at Joel. "Put all the cash in the bag!" The weapon he holds is aimed back and forth between Aspen and Joel.

It's then that the security shows up, likely a familiar face to Joel, jogging over with a hand on his hip, freezing when he spies the goings-on.

"No problem, sure, hey thanks, duffel bag, awesome." Joel's rambling at this point, in that ingratiating tone of his as if he were trying to close on the sale of a several thousand dollar HD television. He catches the bag and stops at the register. His eyes widen for a moment as he tries to remember exactly how to open it, let's see… Rhonda was shift manager, but she hates having to come over when called so that means the keycard is…

Joel reaches under the register and pulls off the small card from its place hanging upon a nail. He slides it in the keyslot and the register promptly opens with a small cha-ching that's universally recognized. He starts to fill up the bag with the bills within… of course that's when the security guard shows up. "Mike, hey!" He holds up a hand, as if trying to stay the man's advance. "Chill out, they got a gal… and guns, and just chill!"

The would-be robber's gun is suddenly pointed at Mike. Both of them lurch forward when Joel's hand goes under the desk, but they calm down (relatively speaking) when it's just a keycard he produces. "Keep it going!" the larger of the two grunts at Joel. "Get'cher pricey gadgets in there too!" He looks sidelong at his partner, lifting Aspen up a few inches. "Think I might take this one with us, ehhh?"

"Help— !" Aspen squeaks again, looking intently at the security guard as he appears.

Mike raises one hand in surrender and takes a step back. It can't run that smoothly, however. Before he can get a word out, the guard steps backward into a puddle of water-trailing from the janitor's abandoned bucket nearby — that didn't seem to be there moments before when he walked up. He slips, skids forward straight into the man with the gun, knocks him down in a flurry of sudden chaos, and the weapon goes sailing across the floor, landing conveniently near Joel and the register. As it happens, it's an awkward-looking weapon up close, not an ordinary pistol. Chunky. Perhaps a taser?

It's in that moment, that flurry of action and reaction that things click through Joel's mind. At first there's the gut reaction, reaching out, as if trying to stave off Mike's stumble, then the shift and shuffle of feet as the two men go down. The young man's frozen there in that instant, the taser skittering across the countertop near the register, the big man holding with his arm around poor Aspen.

It's when things seem to move again for him that everything is one clean motion. When he thinks back on it later it all just makes sense. But when it happens in the here and now, it seems to come utterly unbidden. In one clean motion he scoops up the taser. Even as he's lifting it up the weapon is examined, the business end identified, and the firing mechanism… that big red button is recognized. There's that short 'CRACK-SZAT' that comes from the weapon as it's fired right into the robber upon the ground, sure Mike get some of the extra voltage but not enough to really hurt him too badly. But what might be even more remarkable is that even in that same motion with his other hand Joel instantly realizes he has a roll of quarters. It's a faint silvery blur as that heavy circular projectile of coins is snapped straight at the big man's forehead… followed by a second… and a third eerily quick.

As the men on the ground — the robber and Mike — shake and twitch in light of being tazed, Aspen and the man keeping her captive struggle with their opposite battles. Hanging onto his arm with both hands, the woman pulls and squirms and generally flails.

One roll of quarters isn't enough to stop the big man, but the second makes him reel back, and the third snaps his neck back with its force so soon after the last two. Staggering and weaving this way and that as he backpedals further and further away, his grip on Aspen melts away. She sneaks down and scurries behind the cash, ducking down by Joel and peeking over the top, wide-eyed.

As the man reels, Joel seems a bit wide-eyed himself. He blinks a few times, then as Aspen skitters around to hunker down behind him he seems to come back to himself. Turning sideways he says quickly, "Umm, you should probably… like, Run!" And as he says that he tries to urge her to make her way towards the front doors behind them both and down the aisle.

He gives her a second or two to get going if she is before he turns around to face the larger man. His eyes flicker down for something else, anything else, but comes up empty. He looks back up at the large guy and says to himself, 'This is the part where you fall down?' Probably more hopeful than anything else.

"Oh! Right!" Aspen drags her feet, reluctant, but eventually takes off, running down the aisle. She looks quickly over her shoulder and tries to make a speedy sidestep behind a display of memory cards when she thinks Joel isn't looking, however.

Fall down? The big man staggers again, perhaps seeing stars, but he doesn't quite fall down… until Aspen peeks around the display as clandestinely as she possibly can and gives him a look that says get on with it already you bloody idiot.


Running around the register, Joel kneels down beside Mike. He immediately checks the man's vitals, making sure he's ok. He tries to remember, oh hell, did Mike have a heart condition? But then he touches fingers to the side of his neck and gives a small nod. The young man gives a look to the tazered fellow and perhaps against his better judgement checks the criminals vitals as well.

Perhaps it's to his credit then in that moment that he screams for help, "Hey, help! Like, robbery!" Though he doesn't wait for an answer, he moves to the fun, hits 9 for the outside line, and quickly dials 9-1-1. While he waits for the other end to pick up he hops up and down a bit, the adrenalin still pumping.

Behind the display, Aspen spies through the pegholes in the metal and eyes Joel on the phone. She takes off at a run, swirling around the display, nearly bowling it over. "J-joel!" she shouts. Distract, distract! "I'm sorry! I didn't leave! I wanted to make sure you didn't like, get capped or something!" As she hurries back toward the register, one foot plants directly in the puddle of water Mike slipped in. She goes down, too, a blur of flailing arms . Palms in the water, she makes as if to push herself up. "I'm okay!"

Meanwhile, the small puddle snakes around the register and there's a sudden crack and sizzle of electronics frying… such as the phone, which goes dead.

As the young woman comes hurtling around the corner the phone's lowered, then when she starts to fall he immediately drops it. "Oh!" The receiver falls even before it szzzts and goes dead. The boy in blue and yellow does a quick hop and slide over the countertop the likes of which even the Duke boys would be proud. He lands with a double thap of sneakers beside her and is already making to help her up. "S'alright… miss, let's get out of here. There's a cell in my car."

And as quickly as that he's trying to usher and urge her towards the door, shooting a worried glance back towards the robbers and the incapacitated Mike. In the hectic flurry of motion she might even catch the faint glimmer of worry in his eyes before it shifts back to the determination of flight and safety for this valued customer of the store. Sure she's cute, but really he's just doing his job. Really.

"Nina," Aspen lies easily, bright eyes wide and flighty as she scrambles up with Joel's help. She clings to his arm, looking, for all intents and purposes, like she's ready to run out of the store, stat. "Do you think the security dude's okay? You were like a ninja back there! Those guys— you saved me!"

"He's ok if they don't do anything to him…" He says a bit worriedly and a little distracted as they make their way to the door quickly, the glass double doors whisking open with a small hiss. And once they're out in the open and the parking lot he breaks into a jog or a run depending on how quickly she can keep up, "Get behind the green Saturn over there." He gestures even as he's 'doink-doinking' the car alarm, letting him open the driver's side door to dive in meaning to dig around for his cell.

"You shoulda made sure he was knocked out!" 'Nina' has no problem keeping up, jogging right along side Joel. She scurries behind the green Saturn just like he says, looking over the top of it at the store before ducking down by one of the tires, perched on the toes of her Converse. Lowering her voice as much as she can,, barely above a whisper, meaning for it to be inaudible by Joel, she speaks to … well, the pavement. "Are either of you awake? Bloody— get out the back way if you can hear me."

The young man's response comes rushed, "Yeah like how? Jump up and down on his head?" Hearing none of what follows, Joel's busy opening his glove compartment, lying on his side on one of the seats. He flips the door down and reaches in for his cell. It takes a moment to power the thing on then he keys in the three numerals needed to alert the authorities. Furtively he waits for the phone to ring, but while he does so he unlocks the passenger door and pushes it open for her to get in if she's of the mind. He straightens up, fumbling for the keys in his pocket. It doesn't take long for the car to start and he's already relaying information to the dispatcher that answers, "Yeah, police, 9th street Best Buy, robbed, hurry!"

* * *

"Is it really 'robbed' if they didn't get away with anything?" Ill temper and British accent shoved back into a far corner and replaced by a much more American voice, 'Nina' pops into sight through the passenger side window. She pulls the door open and climbs in, hugging herself. "Sorry, I think'a dumb questions when I'm nervous. I don't wanna be here anymore, do you think we oughta wait?"

"Yeah, uh, no." The smooth responses continue to flow from Joel even as he gets the car rolling, turning out of the parking lot and starting his way into traffic in as quick an effort to put some distance between himself and the store and its state of current chaos as possible. It takes a few moments for the adrenalin to begin wearing off and as the car hums down the road he answers, "I think intent means something." He looks over at her across the car seat, "I mean for that sort of thing. But they meant to take things, so… yeah." Sometimes people attach onto the inane during times of stress.

Aspen puts on a thoughtful face and fiddles with 'Nina's' beaded bracelets for a few moments while peering out the window at the city streets. When she looks back at Joel, her eyes are wide and inquiring behind the lenses of her glasses. "Are you always that good at throwin' stuff?"

There's a furrow that touches his brow, she can probably see him purse his lips in faint dismay. It's always good to press someone for information while they're doing something else, always good to come at someone when they're distracted. For him he's distracted what with the driving and the recent wildness of the attempted robbery. So when he lies it's pretty easy to tell. He doesn't even look at her as he says, "What, that? No. That was uhm, I threw something yeah, but you like hit that guy with your head too. You don't remember that?"

"I did?" The girl's eyes shoot wider, brow furrowing until she purses her lips and sinks lower in the seat, patting the back of her head carefully. "Hunh. You were still a good shot," she lauds. Belatedly remembering to tug her seatbelt into action, she clicks it into place. "Shoot. I didn't even get my games."

"Yeah, that uh, sucks." That look of consernation on his features doesn't lighten. He does give her a sidelong glance that some might say is reserved for the insane, but he doesn't add any words to that imagining. He keeps going on the road steadily then asks, "Where should I drop you off at?" He frowns, rubbing the back of his neck as if thinking about asking something else, but he doesn't say that either.

"Uuuhm…" 'Nina' continues toying with her bracelets, twirling one of them repeatedly around her wrist. "I guess a subway station. I can catch the train to Queens." It might come off as a touch avoidant, but 'Nina' smiles after the fact, seeming sincere, if shaky. She's alert, watching every one of his expressions.

There's that grimace there, but he looks at her sidelong finally as they start to take a turn into a public parking garage. Pulling through the empty toll booth and taking the ticket from the window, he starts driving down the rows of parking spaces. He pulls into a spot and then turns to her, "Look, uhm, Nina." He puts the car in park and faces her fully. "I don't know what it is. Maybe it's just like, the stress, maybe it's that you're just too hot for words, or maybe it's just like other stuff, hell maybe I'm paranoid or losing my mind. But this was just really weird. And I'm kinda like, worried I might be doing something stupid. I don't know what it is, but I have this vibe, and probably I'm going to sit here in this car a bit before I figure out what to do. You're welcome to run out the door though and get on a subway train. Think there's a station down the block. But… yeah."

Playing innocent, Aspen lifts her brows and stares, owl-like, at Joel. "Oh, I— " she looks away, feigning a blush and mumbling something dismissive and incoherent in the sweet Texan accent she's playing off, but she gains a more serious edge once she looks back at the electronics department manager. "What stuff? What're you doin' that's stupid? Of course it was weird, your store was just held up, dude! Like— that's some crazy business right there!" She unbuckles her seatbelt and turns to face the young man. "I'm freakin' out too, but you're kinda scarin' me."

"Yeah, you're right." Joel checks the door locks to make sure they're undone and open so she can get out if she wants. He leans back in his seat, pressing his hands to his head as if pained a bit. He shakes his head, beetling ihs brow as he looks out towards the hood of his car. "I'm sorry, miss. You… go on. I'll tell them in the craziness I forgot to like, whatever." He doesn't elaborate upon his inner monologue, perhaps thankfully.

The so-called Nina grabs onto the door handle, urging it open just a tad, but she looks back hesitantly — reluctantly? — at Joel. Ultimately, she seems to give up on what she was going to say and hurries out of the car — only to hang onto the door and duck her head back in. "Hey… Joel?"

With both hands still resting on the steering wheel, he's looking distracted, thoughtful as she gets out of the car. He's snapped back by her words, returning his mind from whatever paths it had been taking in contemplation. Leaning over to meet her gaze, one eyebrow cocked curiously, he replies, "Yeah?"

"…Thanks." The girl smiles sweetly, hesitating a few awkward seconds longer before piping up to add, "I'll come back when you're store's not bein' robbed." She slams the door shut, offers a tiny wave and jogs away from the car (who would want to linger around a dark parking garage after going through what she did, right?), eventually disappearing behind one of the cement pillars on her way to the nearest subway entrance.

"Uhm, sure…" Just a few words that linger after she's gone. Joel looks after her for a while, but then he looks back at the steering wheel before him and lets his thoughts return to other matters.

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