"You know the drill," he says.
"You know." He points at the door, or rather through it at the situation unfolding outside. "The drill. What to do in situations like this. The drill!"
"Oh, oh!" I say. "Sorry, I thought you were talking about"--I mime using a power tool to drill through a wall--"you know, I thought you had some plan for getting us out through one of the side walls."
"Into another shop." He stares at me blankly, so I add: "Sideways. Through the wall. Into another shop, and then away."
"That's not the drill," he says.
"Well, okay, that's just what I thought you were saying."
"No. No, that's not what I was saying."
"Okay, good, I understand that now. It was just an honest mistake."
"Through the wall?" he asks. "Into another shop?"
"It was just a thought. Just a misunderstanding, don't worry about it."
"I mean, how would we get through?"
"With a dri... never mind about that. Tell me about the drill. What are we supposed to do?"
He shakes his head.
"I can't get that idea about going into another shop out of my head," he says.
"Forget about it."
"I can't. I mean, what were you thinking? What good would it do getting into another shop? How would we even get into another shop?"
"Never mind that!" I snap. "Look, just tell me what you were going to tell me. Tell me about the drill."
He tells me about the drill. If anything, it's slightly more stupid than the plan to go through the wall. Actually, scratch that. It's a lot more stupid than the plan to go through the wall. It's straight-up moronic, and I can only assume that it has been written by a staffer at headquarters who has never even been to the shop on a busy day, let alone experienced a riot.
The first thing we are supposed to do is to secure the tills and the payment machines. This is the sort of thing we would do at close of day anyway, but usually you do it without a hundred angry people outside watching your every movement and shouting abuse at you. It doesn't give you much more information, watching someone secure the tills - otherwise it would be trivial for any one of our vast number of ex-employees to get into the lock-boxes and spirit away the day's takings - but it does help you focus on where all the money is going. When you're rioting outside and in the mood for looting and there are thousands of you, trivial matters like heavy wooden lock-boxes, even ones with metal reinforcement, are no bar to the pursuit of your aims. We might as well be holding up big bundles of cash to the crowd then conspicuously stuffing them into our pockets.
"Okay, I'm not doing that," I tell him. "What's in the tills anyway, maybe two hundred quid? We've had a slow day, and almost everyone paid by card. What's next?"
He tells me.
"You're fucking kidding me," I say.
The next item on the drill - the second item, the second item on the drill - is to address the crowd and tell them to disperse. Not ask, mind you. Tell.
"Who do they think works here, fucking Robocop?"
"Language, please," he says, frowning. "We are still representatives of the Maximus Clothing Corporation."
"Fuck the Maximus Clothing Corporation," I tell him, "and fuck you. There is absolutely no way that I'm going over there-"
"Outside," he corrects me.
"It says that the store manager or the most senior supervisor should go outside to address the crowd."
"And what does everyone else do?"
"They stay behind."
"Oh, that's lovely."
I poke my head around the rack of clothes we're hiding behind. The rioters are pressed up against the shop shutters in a solid block of angry humanity that one would normally only see in a zombie movie or on boxing day at eight forty-five. I am not quick enough to avoid being noticed, and a great yell goes up. I duck my head back and five seconds later I hear the sound of the shutters being rattled - at first randomly, then back and forth as the crowd manage somehow to build up a synchronised rhythm.
"I suppose at least we managed to get the shutters down in time," I say.
"Well, that just makes it more awkward," he says.
"Well," he says. "Now we've got to wind the shutters up again if you're going to go out and tell them to move on."
I stare at him for a few seconds, hoping that my relentless slack-jawed glare will somehow get across the impression I want to give, a sort of uneven solution of utter disbelief suspended in righteous anger. After a few moments, it is clear that the message has not been received. He is still looking at me evenly, almost expectantly, as though at any moment I might bound up, punch my way through the shutters, and stroll nonchalantly out into the crowd dispensing pearls of stern wisdom on all sides as I go, and presumably as I walk up a magical rainbow and am received directly into heaven. Rather than what will actually happen if I open the shutters, which is that ten seconds later I will be on the floor getting kicked from all sides while psychotic looters pour into the store and start gutting it like a whale on the deck of a Nantucket sailboat.
"Let me make this absolutely clear," I tell him. "I am not - not now, and possibly not ever - going to lift up those shutters, unlock the door, and go out into that crazy mob. If you think otherwise, you need to disabuse yourself of that delusion quickly and with no fuss. Telling the crowd to disperse is a job for the police, as is the subsequent job of getting them to disperse with tear gas and truncheons when they decide that they're not going to cooperate. Do you understand? Is this making it's way in there somehow?"
He opens his mouth as if he's about to answer, but at that moment there is an almighty snapping sound from the front of the shop - an ominous sound that I cannot identify but which is loaded with bad promises and the anticipation of worse to come. I pull back a couple of the coats just in time to see the source of the noise before it vanishes.
The snap, it is clear from the moment I see it, was caused by a gigantic gently curving crack that has formed across the single pane of glass to the right of the door - a pane about fifteen feet high and the same across. The constant pressure on the shutters has caused them to bend in slightly and press against the glass, and some small weakness in the glass had suddenly grown to cross the whole surface.
I see the crack only for a moment before it vanishes - sadly not through some amazing application of high-tech self-repairing glass, but because the entire thing shatters, tumbling out of its mounting in a glittering rain of safety-glass powder and weakly-attached mosaics that crash to the floor of the shop just inside the shutters. There is a moment of stunned silence from the mob, then an ecstatic roar made three times as loud by the fact that there is now no longer anything but air and a metal shutter between me and them.
"Well fuck," I say.
"Language," he chides me.