Early evening, Carlton, when we hit the joint. We piled out of the car near the supermarket entrance, clogged with Christmas shoppers, banging trolleys, yowling kids. Michael, the leader, gave the place a once-over.

"You go this way," he said to Jon, a young dark-haired man. "Blair you head there. I'll go by the deli, see how far we get." Christmas music crackled over the system -- Jingle Bells, All I want for Christmas is you -- on slow hell rotation, the candies and crackers in bright red and green, aisles and aisles of them, dizzying, disorienting. "Let's go."