Haste Makes Waste

Renegade Ghost - Chapter 1

19 April 2021

The pharmacy had been closed for hours, immaculately straightened, its doors long since locked. Only the backup lights remained on, just enough to give the camera feeds definition. They had remained diligently focused on their assigned cabinets and counter tops this and every other night, but they would not capture much of the peculiar events which were to follow.

Their microphones picked up little more than a single squeak of a sneaker against the uncannily glossy, faux-stone floor. A puzzled security technician would surely review the feed in the morning, and find the frame empty. And yet, one by one, each of the cameras slowly turned to face the nearest wall. The particularly old, stubborn one in the corner would not budge, its platform caked with rust, and caught this sabotage on film. It shook a few times, as if given a futile tug, until eventually a piece of tape floated, completely unassisted, up to and over the lens.

A figure faded silently into view in the once-uninhabited room, transparent and then solid in an instant. The apparition was dressed almost entirely in white, floating just above the ground. Slowly, she pulled back her hood, revealing a deep red masquerade mask that glinted even in this limited light. She drew a long breath…

Then she stuck out her tongue and blew a very loud and wet raspberry at the camera, instantly shattering any mystique that may have accompanied her entrance, before beginning to rifle around the shelves.

Esper considered herself something of a grassroots superhero. Which, dear reader, you have surely noticed is at odds with their current burglarizing of a pharmacy, but you’ll get used to it.

“Alright, I’m an expensive medication, where do I live?”

Nobody answered her, because nobody else was there, so she decided to play the other portion of the conversation, too.

“Well I’d be in a pharmacy.” Except the sound was cast from across the room.

“Thanks, check, that’s not helpful.” As if this were a perfectly normal conversation to have with a disembodied voice.

It didn’t take long to find the stockroom, though there were a few more cameras to vandalize. Brightly colored plastic tubs lined the shelves, each filled with packets and bottles she didn’t recognize. The first shelf was labeled: Oral - INN A-C.

Which meant exactly nothing to her, other than that they were alphabetically sorted. She made a beeline to the first set of R’s, gliding every few paces, and pawed through each of the bins. She didn’t find what she was looking for. The names were a lot more clinical than she had expected.

She didn’t recognize anything (why would she?) and couldn’t look it up on her burner. It had to be written somewhere, though; pharmacists couldn’t memorize everything. She flipped through a few of the binders on the counter, and after a few minutes of searching found a mapping of brand names to active ingredients.

“Bingo,” she said, plucking a bottle from the shelf. She gave it a little shake. It felt full, but the label indicated it was a lower dose than she’d been looking for. She wondered how long it would last them. Better than nothing, though.

“You’re causing a lot of trouble for folks, you know that?”

Again, her own voice answered back from the bottle:

“I’m an inanimate object. Don’t blame me for your problems.”

You really had to bring your own fun in this line of work.

She honestly considered stealing the rest of the stock for a moment. It was probably best to leave some for others, though. Assuming anyone could even afford it. Maybe the next person had better insurance, who was she to judge? Esper slipped the single bottle into the pocket of her cardigan, its continued admonishments muffled and then silenced completely.

Well, mission accomplished, I guess.

She was in the process of returning the cameras to their original positions when glass crashed in the next room. Startled, Esper jumped, remaining suspended in the air for a moment. Force of habit. Not a moment later, the security alarm triggered, further lighting the back room in strobes.

What in the world…?

She pressed her head into the metal gate which separated the pharmacy from a convenience store, passing right through it until she could see to the other side. The lights were flashing in the store, too, but she couldn’t see why from her vantage point. In between the shriek of the alarm, she thought she heard movement.

Now, Esper happened to know that this store had been knocked over this week already, in an armed robbery, and that the area was still a little tense. She’d passed a few squad cars on the way, windows down in the parking lot of the bowling alley, gossiping as they do. Only an idiot would try this tonight. Or someone that doesn’t keep up with the local news. Okay, so that was actually a lot of people.

And she had superpowers, so, she didn’t count.

This is technically not my problem, Esper thought, knowing full well she was going to stick her nose into it anyway.

It didn’t take long to find the source of the alarm. Shattered glass was spread on the mat in front of the now empty frame of the automatic door, crunched in a few places under a heavy boot. The culprit was kneeling behind the front desk, having pried open another cabinet, filling an athletic bag with boxes of cigarettes. The register had been broken open, but probably never held anything to begin with.

They gripped a box of headphones with both hands, ripping it off the rack, and spent a minute trying to pry off the spider-wrapping which was already chirping in between bursts of alarm. Though they managed to get it off eventually, they must have decided it hadn’t been worth the time, returning to smaller, easier-to grab items.

When they next stood, they found themselves face-to-face with Esper, who was perched on the edge of the counter and watching with great amusement. A crowbar swung out from the shadows, a reflex, their scream swallowed whole by the alarms. It passed straight through Esper like she wasn’t even there, and she laughed.

“Hey, c’mon, friend” Esper shouted over the noise, “I’m already robbing this pharmacy, find your own!”

The (other) burglar stumbled backward away from her, tripping on scattered merchandise and dropping the crowbar. They flattened themselves against the cabinets, spilling more items off of it and onto the floor, eyes wide in recognition.

“Oh god, it’s you!”

Esper hadn’t move an inch, but they slid down the cabinets and back to the floor again, tucked into a ball as if under assault. Even through the ski mask, Esper was disappointed to see, they were crying.

“Please don’t kill me,” they begged, “I’m just trying to get by. Please.”

She wasn’t about about that life anymore, especially the whole protecting private property part. Obviously. But reputations were slow to change.

“No, no, hey, we’re good,” she said, fully aware of the absurdity of a superhero comforting a burglar, “I’m not going to hurt you. I just wanted to let you know that you messed up this whole stealthily breaking and entering thing I had going, and that you suck for that.”

They didn’t move. She wasn’t sure they had comprehended her.

“No, but, seriously though. You need to go, quick.”

They looked over to the broken door, and then back at her. The alarm finally stopped.

“What, like… I can leave?”

“In fact, I insist.”

“I don’t… I know you. I’ve seen…”

Esper didn’t want to hear what.

“Yeah, I know,” she snapped, “Whatever it is, I know, and I’m sorry. Now get the hell out of here. You picked a bad store, trust me.”

Their gloved hand strayed over to the bag, testing.

“Take it, go, I’m not going to stop you.”

Slowly, they circled around Esper, bag and crowbar in hand, never taking their eyes off of her. She tried to look as non-threatening as an infamous undead superhuman could manage.

As it happens, they would not have made it far even if they had not hesitated.

Two figures cast long shadows in the alternating red and blue light on the pavement outside. Dispatch, 10-62, one of them radioed. Esper knew that one. In-progress something-or-other. She used to listen out for those.

As the first officer ducked under the jagged glass jutting out from the frame, Esper and the burglar found themselves squinting into her flashlight beam.

“Police,” they announced, as if that were not already obvious. Or perhaps they were just very proud of it. The usual commands followed. Arrest, hands up, move slow, blah blah. Esper’s new friend immediately complied, dropping the bag and raising their hands in surrender. She half-heartedly followed suit.

The lights swept them from head to toe. First, they saw the crowbar. That’s strike one, weapons unholstered.

Then, they recognized Esper, which was strike two, and three. Both of them took aim at her center of mass.

That’s 10-90, repeat 10-90! That one was new. The panic in his voice did not bode well.

“Good evening, officers, isn’t it nice-“

She did not get to finish the joke. Apparently 10-90 meant I intend to shoot this particular person dead immediately, because they both opened fire.

Esper threw her hands in front of her instinctively, pressing against a surface only she could see. The first bullet ricocheted off an an invisible wall of force and into a bottle of red wine on an end cap, coating the floor and sending fragments of glass into the air. The second hit a light fixture. They fired six more and Esper had no idea where the rest went.

“Stop,” she said, keeping her hands in the air. “Don’t shoot!” Her ears were ringing, and she honestly was not sure if the officers had heard her.

Her new friend bolted and dived into an aisle. The officers took three more shots at the sudden movement. Esper wasn’t quick enough to catch them, and they punched into the shelving. Hopefully that’s all they hit.

The officers dived for cover, calling desperately for backup. And look, Esper got it, she really did, but this was overkill.

“Hey, cool it! Look, I’m not moving, we’re good.”

One of the officers, unsure, cast around looking for the missing burglar.

“Okay,” he said, “get on the ground. Slowly. I want your hands behind your head.”

“Yeah, for sure. Easy.”

“Don’t,” said his partner, “She’s done this before. She will kill you.” Her weapon was still leveled at Esper’s chest, trigger finger tense.

“Nuh uh, scout’s honor,” said Esper, “I surrender, see?”

A potential de-escalation in sight, she relaxed a bit. Which was a mistake, because the burglar chose that moment to strike one of the officers in the back. His gun discharged into the ceiling before clattering across the floor.

His partner swung around to face the attacker, and Esper grasped at the air again, twisting the gun out of her hand. An unseen force flipped her over, and she struck the service counter hard.

By the time the officers recovered their posture, Esper had vanished, and so had the would-be-burglar, leaving only the crowbar behind.

A review of the tapes later would reveal Esper diving headlong into them, interrupting a sloppy finishing blow that never connected. They both passed through the wall, into the parking lot, and out of sight.

Adrenaline propelled them over another chain-link fence, but they hit the ground at a crawl. They hadn’t seen Esper in three blocks, but they could hear her sometimes, just behind them.

It was like something out of a horror movie.

They weren’t sure who’s yard this was, but nobody stirred inside, so they took a moment to catch their breath and listen to the passing of sirens. They jammed the sweaty ski mask into their pocket, thanking God for fresh air and life itself.

After a moment, the fence groaned, bending out about half an inch. They watched with fascination as Esper faded into view, sitting against it. They didn’t have the energy to run anymore.

“You wanna tell me what you thought you were doing just now?”

“Robbing a Walgreens?”

“Uh huh, nothing wrong with that. The crowbar, though, what was the plan there? They were already down.”

They weren’t sure how to answer that, not really.

“I don’t know. I was scared. What are you lecturing me for, anyway? Like you haven’t done worse.”

To their surprise, Esper agreed with them.

“A lot worse. I think I’ll be paying it off for the rest of my life. What are you knocking over convenience stores for, anyway?”

They shrugged.

“We’re behind on rent.”

Esper sighed.

“Wait here,” she said.

Almost fifteen minutes passed. They almost left. As they were standing, she appeared again, a wad of bills in hand. She’d plucked them from inside an ATM, though she didn’t tell them that.

They hesitated. Opportunities like this came with a cost.

“You sure about this?” they asked.

“Don’t go growing a conscience on me now,” said Esper, “besides, they’ll never know it was missing.”

As if to prove the point, she disappeared from view, and the fence creaked again.

“And do me a favor.” Her voice was several feet away now. “Find another line of work for a bit. They’ll be looking for you. And I don’t like competition.”

They weren’t sure they could promise that. If they’d had any other option, they’d have taken it.

“Thank you,” they said instead.

No one answered.

Safely in her apartment, Sally pulled off her gloves, and tossed her mask on her bed.

She flopped down on the rug with a treat - a 3am dinner of leftover, partially stale Doritos - and permitted herself a healthy sulk. She was furious, not even with police procedure, but with herself. That kid probably would have been fine if not for the notorious Esper making an appearance. Arrested, definitely, but fine.

Honestly, it’s no wonder they had tried to shoot her on sight. She deserved it, after everything she had done before. It was going to take a long, long time to earn back the city’s trust. And she probably wasn’t going to get there by stealing medicine, no matter the reason. But somehow, she swore she would redeem herself. She pulled the second bottle from her pocket and turned it over again and again in her hands.

To think, Pearson-Gray was charging almost $780 dollars for one of these pills. Six months ago, they’d been just twenty. Technically this adventure qualified as grand larceny, though personally she considered price gouging a life-saving drug the greater offense. Either way, it was hardly her first felony.

She spent another restless hour or so eating snacks and trying to figure out some way to actually solve the larger problem. Nothing occurred to her, same as usual. But one of these days, capitalism was going to get it. Maybe tomorrow.

Ugh, tomorrow. She was going to be exhausted. Eventually, and far too late, she fell asleep watching reruns of The Great British Baking Show.

And that’s how Sally Blaire fucked up her first pharmacy heist.