Dead Men Sell No Sales
On the opening night of Halperin, a brand new shopping centre in the heart of Mayfair, Alice Carroll begins the first shift of her new job in the high-end store. With discounts, drinks and live entertainment laid on for the customers, it promises to be a night to remember. However, it’s not just the exclusive event which makes it an unforgettable evening. When staff begin to talk of a ghostly presence, and Sam Hain turns up for something more than just some new socks, it’s clear that there’s more in store than a special sale. And something about the mannequins doesn’t seem quite right...
Beginning Volume II of the Sam Hain – Occult Detective series, Dead Men Sell No Sales sees things start to go from bad to worse, as Sam and Alice find themselves fighting against forces far more sinister than stroppy shoppers.
Hectic, disorganised, and more stressful than was strictly necessary. That was the only way to describe the atmosphere in Halperin Shopping Centre that night.
Event preparations had entered the final crunch-point for the new shopping centre’s grand opening the following day. There was to be a special, ribbon-cutting opening by a minor celebrity, free wine and beers for the customers, live performances from a quartet of singers, exclusive sales on a range of designer products, and a raffle event for the chance to win a sizeable sum of money in store credit. Almost all of the pieces for the opening promotions were in place.
Staff were contracted to work late into the evening to make sure everything was in order. Management had, of course, gathered everyone early in the afternoon for a briefing, as if they were generals addressing their troops on the eve of war. Even though the majority of the heavy lifting (both literally and figuratively) had been underway throughout most of that week, the management team made sure there was plenty to keep their employees occupied all night.
Design crews put the finishing touches on mannequins in the window displays, adding a few last minute accessories and dusting off the clothes to appear as pristine as possible. Posters were hung in the windows and banners were draped from the ceilings. Brand managers busied themselves with going over paperwork and ensuring their tills were preprogrammed with the range of special offers. The floor staff spent their hours folding the clothes, tidying the items on display, polishing down glass cabinets and ensuring there was enough stock on standby for the anticipated rush when the doors finally opened to the public at four o’clock the following afternoon. Stressed supervisors seemed to behave as if managing their staff was as challenging as herding cats, and did not hold back from making sure that they all knew it.
Everyone was tired. The day had been long and the work was more than plentiful. It didn’t help that London was caught in the middle of a summer heatwave, causing people to work up a sweat even doing the most minimal of activities. Despite their supervisors’ orders to get the work done as quickly as possible, most of the staff were going about their tasks with a sluggish, almost laid-back, attitude. They had taken their late-afternoon breaks to make their way to Green Park, laying on the grass and bathing in the baking heat of the sun, and had returned to the strip-lit department stores feeling significantly more lethargic. This was likely to be the last night of relative ease any of them would have working on the shop floor; no customers awaiting service, no long queues and no running around to replenish their stock. They decided to embrace this calm before the storm.
As the evening wore on and the staff were in the final hour of their late shift, an eerie, otherworldly stillness seemed to hang over Halperin. There was no sound throughout the whole of the shopping centre; no music playing over the sound systems, no background noise of chatter among colleagues, only the distant sound of feet shuffling, glass polishing and clothes folding. Even the managers had fallen silent, no longer bellowing orders and instead quietly leafing through their paperwork. It was as if the shopping centre itself was holding its breath. In reality, it was more than likely that everyone was simply eager to return home.
Down in the basement, just as the last of the employees were clocking out and making their way to the staff doors, Marcus was surveying the security camera feeds. He reclined in his chair, his feet resting on the desk and gently swivelling the seat this way and that, watching the footage of the final staff members walking out of the door. Swinging his legs around and pulling the office chair forward, Marcus tapped at his keyboard and hit Enter with a flourish. On the screen monitoring the staff doors, he watched as a small diode above the doorway turned from green to red. He imagined he could almost hear the sound of the locks clunking shut.
The security office, which he lovingly referred to as an Orwellian Observatory, was not a large room by any stretch of the imagination. It was little more than a glorified storage cupboard, but it boasted a vast array of monitors which seemed to entirely cover the wall. Each screen displayed 360° footage from each department on every floor, and with the press of a button Marcus could pull the focus of a camera to zoom in and track anyone and anything almost anywhere in Halperin.
Watching the CCTV feeds from around the shopping centre had given him a source of entertainment when he had turned up for the night shift. He could watch people going about their work, those who had stopped to chat for a long while, or paused to quickly adjust their clothes or scratch their arses when they thought no one was looking, or thinking they had got away with sneaking out for a crafty cigarette through one of the side doors. But now that everyone had left for the night and the lights were all out, there was very little of interest going on. Mannequins, he thought, did not lead very interesting lives, even if they did look creepy in the dim night-lights of the stores.
Sipping from a steaming mug of coffee which was strong enough to raise the dead, Marcus leaned back in his chair, rested his feet on the desk once more, and settled in for a long night on watch duty. He had not come unprepared, though. In his satchel, Marcus had brought a plentiful supply of coffee, crisps and chocolate to keep him going through the night. He felt like a kid at a sleep over, just without the company. The only company he did have was his laptop with its hard-drive of films, and Craig.
Craig was an untalkative, borderline antisocial, man who was sat in a similar office on the third floor. He would reluctantly respond to Marcus over the walkie-talkie, but beyond reporting his checks he kept himself to himself. Whether Craig had a similar setup of films, snacks and coffee, Marcus didn’t know; he suspected he must have, but Craig seemed like the kind of person who would not excuse himself even the slightest bit of joy.
Unwrapping a Twix and setting his laptop up on the desk in front of him, Marcus flicked through what films and series he had on offer. He settled on a sub-par, low-budget horror movie. Nothing was going to happen tonight, and he knew that even a crap film would be more entertaining than watching nothing happening in real time across the quiet, empty stores. Screeching violins shrilled dramatically through his speakers as the shadow of something darted behind the movie’s protagonist, and even though he was only half-watching the film, Marcus had failed to notice something.
On a screen monitoring a section of the first floor, the shadow of something darted behind one of the mannequins.