Monday, October 30, 2006

Customers: Part 13 - Speakee Spanish

   Sonja cornered Greg. Sonja only spoke Spanish. Greg couldn't speak a damn word of Spanish other than what was listed on the Mexican drive thru menu. No matter. Sonja persisted, requesting all sorts of Latin dance music, mariachi music, cumbias. Usually, when Sonja walked through the doors everyone fled.
   Everyone.
   Sonja then hunted employees down, asking, "Speakee Spanish? Speakee Spanish?"
   John and João, completely fluent, ducked into corners. Yet Sonja was exceptional in tracking down the help she wanted.
   The two she preferred were Greg and João. Both guys continually pushed the other towards Sonja. Both were unnerved by her. Maybe they were a little phobic.
   Explanation.
   Once upon a time, Sonja had been a guy. Still had a male voice, though she used a breathy falsetto. Haircut styled into a casual black pageboy. Usually wore jeans and a t-shirt. Tight t-shirt. She had a nice rack, hefty. Budget had definitely been allocated there. Unsure about other regions, which was what Greg or João tried to convince the other to investigate.
   Along the way, something must have happened. Something bad. Financial problems, perhaps.
   Sonja began to revert.
   Still had those big boobs. Also had a big, bushy mustache. And she / he still wanted Latin music. Wanted Greg or João. Or anyone who could, "Speakee Spanish."

   And you know how some girls stand really close to guys?
   And accidentally brush them?
.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Coworkers: Part 56 - Dash Of Blue

   The first time I noticed the incident, I wasn't paying much attention. I was running backup register, checking in a large D shipment, smacking the computer monitor. This dense blue cloud swept past. When I looked up, I didn't see anything aside from a couple of girls who had entered and surveyed the floor.
   "Doing all right?" I asked.
   "We're fine," one turned and smiled. "Just getting started. Thanks."
   Both sauntered to the back. Seconds later, The Professor powered off the vacuum cleaner.
   A week passed. Mandy and I chatted up front, when I noticed, again, that blue blur. We both turned. It was The Professor, bolting from the Classical Room like he'd heard, "Free cigarettes!" Raced to the Listening Center and began dusting.
   "Glad someone's excited about housecleaning," Mandy commented.
   We returned to our conversation.
   I still didn't get it.
   After the third time, watching The Professor bound from his sanctum, hurrying to sort Easy Listening, I mentioned this to Missy.
   "Did some pretty girl walk in the store?" she asked.
   "Uhhh ... " I thought.
   "One or two girls, maybe? Wearing short dresses or tight jeans?" she continued.
   "Mmmm ... "
   "You're in your own little world up there, aren't you?" she teased me.
   "Lot of things to do, not a lot of time," I gestured.
   "Look, anytime an attractive female enters the store, The Professor sprints out of his room, then stations himself on the floor. Pretends to be cleaning or tidying, then jumps in their way and offers his services."
   "Gentleman services?"
   "Ha ha. In his dreams."
   Missy was correct. In fact, the female staff had already noticed this and often made quick guesses on the rejection button.
   "She'll say no with a smile."
   "Talks with her hands. She'll wave dismissal."
   "Bored, in a hurry, and blonde. Buzz off, loser."
   "Score! She's trapped."

   Civilization offered many refinements to enhance our lives. Watching clowns flame out was popular with proles.

   "Hey, Dude, you should have invited that woman to lunch." I spoke with The Professor.
   "Ahhhh, she wasn't my type," he answered.
   "She was attractive," I argued. "Late thirties, professional, business suit. Clearly interested in you."
   "I have standards," he snapped, testily.
   I rolled my eyes. "You're allergic to successful women, with money, who might get moist for you?"
   "SSShe was too old, and -- and her body wasn't in the best shape."
   "What? You think some nineteen year old coed will give you three seconds? You ever stood in front of the mirror, Big Boy? Stone naked, critique the conglomerated package?"
   I couldn't believe I'd said that. The Professor, unclothed. Before a looking glass. Two of him. Suddenly, I felt queasy.
   "Well -- Well, I can't help the fact that I possess elevated standards, whereas you are, undoubtedly, more tolerant of mediocrity." Then he marched outside to light up.
   Nicotine breath only enhanced the presentation.
   For awhile, employees considered chipping in and submitting a "personals ad" for The Professor.

Mid forties, overweight, chain smoking, retail wage earning, classical music expert seeks fashion model, built like a snake. Mediocrities need not apply.

   Like so many great notions, this came to nothing. Besides, Mediocrities sounded like a Greek hero.
   I never offered him bounce advice again. Worse, I mimicked everyone else in the store. Observed The Professor hurl himself upon Beauty's indifferent facade, only to be cast forth upon the rocks of rejection.
   Apologies for the puffery.
   After awhile I got fairly sharp at predicting the spurning method generally used.
   Pity.
.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Coworkers: Part 57 - Puppies‏

   First Foster, then Winston. Stacey attracted puppies.
   Foster had known Stacey from high school, but they ran in different cliques. He'd been a jock, she'd been in the rebel alliance. For many athletes, high school meant the apex of fame, followed by the end of dreams. After graduation, there were no college scholarships, no professional careers, no All-Star games, no Wheaties cereal box covers.
   Foster was one of many. He hadn't been big enough, strong enough, or fast enough for major university squads. Parents shuffled him to junior college. One semester, then done. An uncle got him a cushy messenger job for a defense contractor. Drove from office to factory to field. Shuttled plans or paperwork, now and then electronic gear. The rest of the time, he tended his shadowy flock.
   There was a parade of obliging females. Office receptionist, girl in the far apartment, stranger in the grocery parking lot. Foster was big, handsome, with a killer smile. Possessed an athlete's grace, and self effacing charm. When they didn't chase, women were inclined to recline. There was one tiny complication.
   The wife.
   Foster had already been busted. Before and after the wedding. Multiple times. His wife was forgiving, patient, blind, a doormat. Take your pick. Tolerance was running out, however. If she caught him bird doggin' one more time, she was done. Divorce papers were at the attorneys. Waiting for her signature. Waiting for that last straw.
   So Foster got himself a part time job at the music store, where half the crew were attractive females. Spring was heating into Texas Summer. Female customers entered in tight shorts, Daisy Mae tops, sundresses, high heels. Foster didn't stray ... well ... he didn't get caught.
   He adopted a beard. Stacey.

   For his wife, Foster could declare, "Look, this is my gay girlfriend. We're going out while you work all that overtime. Luv ya."
   The missus also recalled Stacey and could relax. Stacey wasn't a threat. Finally, her skirt chasing man wasn't sniffing her best friend's leg.
   Within three weeks, Foster's frat boy world tilted sideways. Stacey was the quarterback of the duo, and she steered him towards the sweaty back hairs of Life. They slammed punk clubs and mosh pits, midnight go kart races, industrial and primal concerts. Roller derby was a blast, roaring down roads that had been closed, even better.
   Instead of beer kegs, Foster tumbled into a vat of hallucinogens, smoke, and mind fucks. Darkened alley doors yielded a high risk treasure trove.
   Foster was comfortable around Stacey, being with her was often better than being with the guys. She wasn't aging into middle class conservatism, like so many of his male buddies. Foster was too young for a mid life crisis, too young for middle age, period. Stacey attacked life with blazing recklessness. She was not one of those people who held back. She never held back.
   For months, they partied and tore through the local club scene. High times. If Foster disappeared with other females for a few evenings, Stacey didn't care. Not like they were steady, or even an item.
   Stacey might not have cared, but ... After several months, Foster grew increasingly obsessive. Stacey wasn't remotely exclusive, but he started thinking about her. He'd phone the store on his day off, checking on her. If she went out with girlfriends, he sulked. Whether he admitted it or not, Foster's middle class roots were showing. He suffered a one sided bromance. He'd grown possessive.
   Jealously sapped the fun out of the friendship. Stacey was annoyed, then impatient. Foster had been amusing; it had been entertaining to revisit steaming pig holes and watch his innocent reaction. The last thing she wanted, however, was one more suspicious, over protective, insecure individual in her life.
   After dodging his calls for a few days, she finally confessed she had been seeing someone. That relieved him, he could relate. Until she lied and told him it was a guy.
   That info messed up Foster's head, big time. She was fooling around ... on him? He gave notice, quit the store.
   Word was, he blundered one more time with his wife.
   That time, she had no patience.

   Winston was a new hire.
   From experience, I knew to avoid new kids for about six weeks. Probation adjustment period. Otherwise, I'd forever view them as boat paddles. Stacey and I both shared an initial low opinion of this dude. He tried too hard, striving to mesh with the staff too quickly. Interrupting conversations, offering unrelated opinions.
   Winston was a horror film enthusiast and wannabe filmmaker. He hadn't actually filmed anything, but he loudly detailed genius story-lines. All derivative. I didn't need to hear about his crappy junior high influences. Stacey and I independently waived the six week rule and began hating Winston immediately.
   Funny thing happened, though. The guy was genuinely enthusiastic about music. He wasn't the most knowledgeable, but he was diligent and energetic. He weathered the scorn from Stacey and myself without whining. Completed the grunt work The Boss assigned him. John and Pat were already forbearing types, and the rest of the crew grew tolerant.
   After a few months, I chatted with Stacey, "I don't feel like hounding him out the store anymore. I think he'll be OK."
   "Yeah, I'm the same way. I'm not going to pick on him. Once I started listening to him, he was pretty funny."
   Sympathy and understanding. Blah blah blah.
   I opened Winston's gaze to a higher strata of bad flicks by loaning him some Asian films, as well as classics such as Meet The Feebles and Dancing Outlaw. By this point, he was taking film courses at the local college, and creating experimental, unwatchable short films.
   Soon, he began following Stacey like a stray Beagle. Everyone mocked him. It was Foster Part II, another buddy puppy rerun.
   Only Winston was a lost innocent.
   We didn't recognize it at the time.
   When he ventured off the main path, he wasn't equipped for the crooked difficulties.
   Not all souls were able to imbibe the drug cocktail and shrug off the effects. Winston was a drinker. Beer, some hootch. He was ten years younger than Foster had been. The effects of reefer, then pills, was immediate and startling. Like a switch had been flicked, his enthusiasm snuffed out. He affected cynicism, boredom, lethargy. At the store, he was less motivated. Work was drudgery. Worse for his ambitions, he lost interest in all those film projects. He wanted to create something, he still voiced dreams, but his energy had flagged. Winston could no longer start projects, let alone finish anything.
   His world revolved around Stacey. Clubs, drugs, partying, trying to play catch up with someone a decade older. Stacey hadn't meant to, but she had become a bad influence on him. She led the life she had for years. She wasn't a babysitter, she wasn't a guiding force.
   Yet, she was the guide. Stacey couldn't or wouldn't grasp this. She was an older influence, something between role model - mentor - example.
   There was only one Stacey.
   Winston tried to copy her lifestyle. He wrecked himself trying.
   The descent began here.
.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Coworkers: Part 58 - Housekeeping Mishap

   I never witnessed this. Stacey related the incident after the fact, and Kristi verified it.
   I never saw it because I was distracted by Armstrong.
   Armstrong was a Regular, nutty as a rancid peanut ranch. Halted and interrupted himself like a stuttering duck. Shortchanged upstairs, he had the IQ and social skills of a marshmallow. Minutes earlier, I had sold him two cassettes, Phil Collins and Bread. Now, he stood frozen in the parking lot, midway between our front doors and his elderly mother's waiting car. Thinking. Pondering those two cassettes with that Swiss cheese mind of his. Damn.
   Armstrong was notorious for changing his mind after the purchase. He already owned it, he no longer liked the group, didn't like the cover. Who knew? He'd hurry back in, switch items off the shelf, hurry back out. Throw inventory off. Worse, he'd often switch a budget $3.99 tape for a $9.99 New Release. If he remembered to pay in the first place. Wasn't dishonest, just air upstairs.
   The first time I ever saw Armstrong was when Dan stop checked him at the front entrance. Dan asked if he remembered to bring money, then demanded he crack open his billfold to prove it. Oh, if only we could do that with everyone.
   Sound Warehouse - Customer service, first and foremost.
   Back to today. Soon as Armstrong reentered, I barked at him to fork over his sack and bring any exchange to my register. Now he stood in line, sharing his lunatic world.
   Armstrong was convinced he had cavities. He was complaining loudly to other customers in line about his dental hygiene. Trouble was, he didn't have a tooth in his skull. Dentures. Better, he had yanked out those gooey chompers and thrust them inches from onlookers. No idea what he ate for lunch, but I'm sure they enjoyed a full view. This was why folks shopped at Sound Warehouse. Free freak show. Where else could one peer at holes in gummy pink & white plastic?

   Anyway, my attention was preoccupied with Armstrong, his cassettes, those damned false teeth, and how many customers he would permanently scare away. Consequently, I wasn't paying attention to Professor, vacuuming the Listening Center, and his brain.
   As usual, Professor was in a nervous flurry. His mad craving for a cigarette rush agitated his jittery nerves. That Hoover was jerked back and forth with the same furious intensity used to clear foam from the happy twinkie.
   Of course, he wasn't paying attention.
   The vacuum rolled across the dangling end of a roll of security tags. The machine immediately began to gobble the strip. The box flipped sideways on the counter. Feasting accelerated.
   The intellect of the classical expert was a tightly strung web of minutiae, misplaced memories, interruptions. His brain seized. He lunged towards the disappearing tags, then back towards the "Off" switch. The Sensormatic box tumbled from the counter, and the Hoover slurping increased in tempo. Like a preacher caught in a brothel, Professor jerked back and forth, torn between rescuing those hapless security tags and stifling that naughty machine, now screaming its mind out.
   All the while, Professor uttered, "Ahh, ahh, ahh," in that monotone, robot voice of his.
   Kristi stood there, dumbfounded, then covered her mouth to giggle. Stacey laughed so hard tears streamed down her face.
   Eventually, between the twitching, hopping, thrusting, the power cord unplugged from the wall. Excitement ground to a painful halt.
   Professor rapidly explained to Stacey he was completely unsettled by the "piece of junk" equipment, then raced outside for the soothing comfort of burning nicotine.
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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Coworkers: Part 59 - Why Can't You Look?‏

   "Because we don't have a THE section. The Rolling Stones are in the R's. OK?"
   With that, Mandy wheeled around returned to her shopping cart stuffed with CD's to stock.
   A customer had interrupted her (mistake number one), asked if she might help him (mistake number two), then explained he'd looked all over the T section, but couldn't find The Rolling Stones (mistake number three).
   I witnessed the exchange from a distance and positioned myself so I'd be the first available employee the customer could vent at. He did. I smiled, nodded sympathetically, and told the mollified client I would deal with her. Walked up to Mandy afterward and said simply, "Hand."
   Mandy stuck out her arm. I slapped her wrist lightly. Walked off. She and I often used a shorthand. That way, I hadn't involved The Boss, other managers, or District meddlers.
   After her first week, the store realized Mandy possessed terrible customer service skills. She wasn't rude, she simply had poor people skills. Customers complained periodically, but it wasn't like she slighted any group or individual. Mandy was an equal opportunity offender. Curt and brusque to one and all. In the store, Mandy was never flavor of the month. One of the other girls had "favorites." Mandy never made her list. She was one of those invisible people who faded into the background. Yet, I saw her. She had a magnificent work ethic, and was extremely task focused. Conflicts arose when customers interrupted completion of those tasks.
   Bad as it was, once Mandy got pregnant, her customer service went to hell.

   For eight and a half months, she toiled on. Extended breaks and lightning trips to the restroom were tolerated by coworkers. As she got heavier, she got slower. For many projects, she found it easier to sit on the floor. Once there, she was a beached sea turtle, on vacation.
   "Excuse me, are you busy?" a customer asked.
   "What do you need?" replied vacation turtle.
   "Uh, George Strait."
   "He's in Country."
   "Uh ... yes ... but where's Country?"
   "Just down that way,"
she pointed in the vague direction of Neptune.
   "I'm sorry. Which way?"
   "Why can't you look?"
she snapped.
   At that moment John overheard the exchange and hurried to assist the frustrated customer. These were not isolated incidents, but occurred weekly.
   Normally, I would have slapped her wrist, and she'd answer, "I know, sorry." But, she was pregnant. Bloated, uncomfortable, nauseous. And Mandy, when she had been manager, had bailed me out of several lunatic mistakes. She covered for me, and didn't advise The Boss, Pat, John. I owed her.
   Stacey and Derek, a mismatched pair if ever there was one, concocted a more devious punishment than my wrist slap.
   They assigned The Professor to watch over Mandy. Station himself near that helpless, little woman. She was terribly pregnant, after all. Lift her up from the floor, see if she needed anything. Water, cookie, celery. Whatever he thought she required.
   Even when she told him to leave, he wouldn't. Lost her temper, got ugly, he treated her like an irrational, dysfunctional two year old.
   After two weeks of solicitous attention, she about lost her sanity. Especially after it was suggested she christen the baby with The Professor's name.
   Luckily, she lolled on the floor, and there was nothing deadlier than CD keepers to hurl.
   Besides, we were quicker. We could dodge.
   Too bad The Professor had been looking elsewhere.
   Maybe it was just a lucky shot.
.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Coworkers: Part 60 - Jinxed

   "Well, I'm hardly responsible."
   "Ah."
   I listened, reluctantly, to Jinx. Manager trainee. Not a newly promoted associate. No, an off the street wannabee, who'd decided a music industry career might enhance her life. Enrolled in Blockbuster's manager training program, a miserable concept if ever there was one.
   Jinx knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about AM chart action or FM airplay beyond 1979. She "liked" Country, but she couldn't discern the difference between George Strait, George Jones or Grandpa Jones.
   In a word, she was exactly the sort of individual Blockbuster's recruiting campaign attracted. Someone who didn't nurture musical preconceptions. No Rock Snobs need apply. Preference granted to ignoramuses.
   I avoided this woman.
   I couldn't decide what to call her, either.
   Jinx or Jinxed.
   See ... terrible things didn't happen to her. Bad luck or disasters tumbled on any hapless soul who came in contact with Jinxed.
   You caught the jinx.
   Took us a painfully long time to realize that.

   Jinxed originally worked as a copy shop clerk. Cheery and friendly. All smiles and stories. Needed to share. Husband suffered chronic health catastrophes. That is, when she permitted marital activity. The doghouse was his second home. The daughter was one of Life's sad sack losers. Drugs, couple of exes, parade of surly boyfriends, bill collectors, and slew of half related rugrats. The son was, at present, a guest of the governor. Huntsville Penitentiary. He was innocent, mind you. Jinxed always disliked his girlfriend, who had entangled Junior with a fast crowd.
   Jinx remained upbeat despite all those family members and friends upon whom misfortune descended.
   I was superstitious. To me, bad luck was contagious. Still, I had to train Jinxed on Shipping & Receiving. Future General Managers had to understand all aspects of store operations. Shipping was a no-brainer. Once a week, we shipped paperwork (payroll numbers and select invoices) to HQ. Fill out a form, slap an address sticker on a UPS box, leave it for the driver.
   Jinxed did fine. Next week, she filled out the form and sent the contents to her own house. Corporate honchos had a conniption, Jinxed apologized profusely, while I felt like prime steak idiot. I should have watched her like a hawk. Except I was distracted. My car (aka: Gold Box) had gone haywire. Middle of a street, Anywhere USA, Gold Box decided to shut down. Mechanics scratched their heads. Changed battery, wiring, contacts. Got it running, day later, dead. Retry.
   Gold Box was heavy to push.
   Receiving proved more challenging. Jinxed found it confusing to talk and tally at the same time. And she did prefer talking. Errors were rampant. After a few days, The Boss applauded her mastery and graduated her from Ship/Receive 101.
   "She can wreck her own store, she's not wrecking mine," he confided.
   Pat suffered similar issues teaching her filing and accounting. Pat had her own problems. About that time, her apartment evicted her, then her boyfriend dumped her.
   Stacey and John explained closing procedures. Within days, John's ulcers flared up. Stacey got ticketed after a car struck her while she walked across the parking lot.
   On and on, disasters compounded.
   Kristi got food poisoning. Blamed her boyfriend's mother.
   Winston's camcorders, editing equipment, and those contest videos he'd created were all stolen.
   One of the husbands was poking a bush that wasn't his wife's. Caught. Proceedings commenced.
   Derek's grapes went missing one week, bag of weed disappeared from his car the next. He began packing a gun.
   Philip worked part time. Rest of the time, he tooled around the Lonestar State, representing cattle. Jinxed didn't like him, bossed his ass around, bullied him until he gave notice. Philip was liked and sorely missed.
   Instead of a $1.00 tip at his dining stop, The Professor accidentally left $10.00. The waitress loved him! Until he returned and asked for $9.00 back.
   Dan scored with some rodeo doll, then injured himself. She went roping 'n riding elsewhere.
   Staplers broke. False alarms triggered at 3:00 AM. The restroom flooded. The back lift jammed midway. Power failure struck our entire block.
   As noted, I was superstitious. I drew a bead on Jinxed early on and shunned her. Corrupted almost the entire crew with my dotty idea.
   Almost.
   I tried to warn her.
   We all tried to warn her.
   Mandy.
   Jinxed jumped on Mandy like a starving tick on a fresh shaved Basset Hound. Mandy was never lucky making friends. She was now pregnant and Jinxed showered advice and attention all over her. When birthing time happened, Mandy phoned only one colleague.
   Jinxed.
   All along, family doctor and obstetrician anticipated a normal delivery. That night, Jinxed waited nearby. Complications. Mandy had to be sliced open like a melon. Baby was fine.

   We endured six rainy months, dodging lightning bolts, arrest warrants, bubonic plague. Rack and ruin wrought by Jinx's malevolent wraiths. End of that time, she announced she didn't wanna manage a music store after all.
   Jinxed transferred away. Became Assistant at a mid cities Blockbuster Video location.
   No one ... No one ... kept in touch.
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Sunday, October 1, 2006

Shoplifting: Case 06 - Fighter Wing

   Jamie and I chatted up front. Morning had rolled steady, followed by lunch rush nuthouse. Time was now 1:15, slack time before the late afternoon accelerated. We had been very lucky. The crew had been Pat, Jamie and myself. Mandy was home with an ill child, Stacey had phoned at 10:00, advising us she would be in at 6:00 instead of noon. Everything should be fine by 2:00, Pat reassured us. Derek, John, Destina. Pat phoned each, they were coming.
   Jamie had been with the store several months. She was quite capable, intelligent and motivated. If she remained, she could have been promoted to Assistant sooner or later, maybe get her own store down the line. She was a divorced mother, however, and retail paid squat. Besides, her heart led elsewhere. James was an outstanding cook and had refined her skills into catering during the past four years. Within a few months, she would depart our store and launch her own catering business in Big-D. On that particular afternoon, she was reminiscing.
   I kidded Jamie about fame and fortune. Her brush with show biz. Once upon a time, Jamie had been a contestant on Star Search. Didn't win, doors never cracked open, and the dream washed away with time. Yet the experience had been fun, and she carried fond memories.
   Pat marched up. Her expression was intense.
   "Did either of you see a guy leave here? Black sweatshirt?"
   Jamie shook her head.
   "Wearing a hood," I replied. "Round, wire rim glasses. Left about three minutes ago."
   "And he didn't buy anything," Pat stated flatly.
   "No," I shook my head.
   "Ohhh!" Pat groaned. "That makes me so angry."
   "I remember that guy,"
Jamie reflected. "Blonde hair, he was cute. I helped him for ten minutes. Found two misplaced discs for groups he wanted. Loaded one for him at the Listening Center. He was really happy."
   "I put on the second disc for him,"
Pat muttered.
   "I thought he'd ask me out, or ask for my number. I made my interest pretty obvious."
   I thought of a smart ass comment, then checked it. "What's up, Princess?" I asked Pat.
   "So, he says he's going to buy those discs, but could he use the restroom first. I unlocked it for him, then forgot about him. But ... something bothered me."
   "Did you check the restroom?"
Jamie flashed immediately.
   "Yes. Found these buried in the trash basket." Pat displayed empty CD keepers. Not two, either, a fistful. Sides black and melted. Hooded boy had taken a cigarette lighter to them.
   "What! I flirted with him. I helped him! I helped him for ten minutes!"
   "So did I! I helped him at the Listening Center! Then I unlocked the restroom for him. Ohhh, I'm so mad!"

   Never disrespect a woman who's done you a good turn. Both Jamie and Pat regarded the theft, and his treatment of them, as an affront. They seethed with righteous indignation.
   "He burned them, then hid them under paper towels. What if the store caught fire? Which way did he go?" Jamie suddenly demanded.
   I pointed in the direction of downtown.
   "You thinking what I'm thinking?" Pat shot a look to James. "You know he's in one of them." She turned to me, "Can you watch the store?"
   I gazed across the Floor. "There's ten shoppers. I'm alone," I gestured helplessly. "This isn't a yes - no question, is it?"
   "Of course not!" Pat laughed, and the two females took off side by side. Pair of scrambled jet fighters. Trouble bound.
   Quick reconnaissance of Eckerd's, whirlwind sweep through Stein Mart, finally a brisk inspection of Tom Thumb.
   Pay dirt.
   Hood covered his face. Shopping for chips and cookies. Stuffing bags into his sweatshirt, actually. Under the watchful gaze of Tom Thumb's female manager, leaning from the end of the aisle. Some guys got all the luck, some guys got zip. The manager let Pat and Jamie have the more expensive bust. He surrendered sheepishly.
   I witnessed the return of the prodigal. Two peeved girls flanked either side of Hooded boy, each firmly clutched an arm. I dialed the cops and told dispatch we nabbed a shoplifter. Outside, the girls' mouths went a mile a minute. The thief was receiving a powerful scolding. He was still flinching as the trio entered.
   " ... think it's funny? What you did was wrong."
   "Now sit right there and don't move!"

   Hood boy sat on the hassock behind the file server. He had a young face, looked about 20. Embarrassed, amused.
   "Worthy!"
   "I already called 'em. Jeez."
   "Just checking."
   They returned to kicking his ass. Jamie stood there, arms crossed. Pat posted nearby, hands on her hips. I recognized the look. Both were in "mommy mode," treating the culprit like a disappointing three year old.
   " ... and after we helped you, too!"
   "And what if the store caught fire? Did you think of that?"
   "So help me, if I catch you laughing -- "
   "Did you even think, period?"
   "There were customers here. Children. People could have died."
   "Wouldn't be so funny then, would it?"
   "Wipe that smile off your face before I wipe it off for you ... "

   Hooded boy must have been praying for the police to rescue him. Nice quiet ride downtown.
   " ... ask Worthy, he'll know."
   What?
   Jamie stormed over. "Pat says we have a camera?"
   "Huh ... Oh, that."
   I went into the cube and dug out the Polaroid. Camp Bowie was legendary. We boasted a trophy wall.
   James brought the camera to Pat who checked the film and began shifting about. Usually we waited until the cops arrived and handcuffs were in place. Hooded boy was completely dominated by these women and sat there, compliant. Pat was still trying to frame the picture without a smirk when the cops walked in. Approached me, I pointed sideways.
   After the Pat & Jamie Inquisition, the police seemed downright friendly, though they did snap those cuffs on. Pat took her photo, then delayed the officers until she was sure the mug shot was framed and focused. Brought it to me, and I tacked it on the trophy wall. The wall sported dozens of photos, a special order form, arrest warnings, pieces of ripped clothing, an old video membership card, dropped drivers license. Loot from less intelligent crooks. Pictures posted in plain enough sight for anyone who looked that way. Now and then a lucky customer might recognize a classmate, buddy, relative. We never took them down.
   Jamie and Pat gave statements, then warned their suspect, in no uncertain terms, they would meet him in court if he dared go that route. One of the officers turned in my direction and suppressed a chuckle. Hooded boy was herded out the exit, into the squad car. Next stop, quality time in a city meditation cell.
   Destina clocked in, then Derek, then John.
   Pat, James and I headed off to Kincaid's for a celebratory burger.
.