The thieves arrived together. Family unit. Father, Mother, Auntie, two young boys, one girl. Walked in, split off towards CD's, cassettes, videos. Derek and Todd profiled them quickly and warned the crew. All employees recognized them, even Stephanie, chewing gum and busily tying her hair with a plastic, yellow Sound Warehouse bag.
These shoplifters were almost a stereotype. Now and then, they clustered, conferring in quiet voices. Then they splintered off again. Six human balls in a pinball machine.
Thieves often behaved abnormally. Too organized, too efficient, yet haphazard and wary. Organized, anal types were classic grab 'n go shoppers. Browsers tended to slowly sweep the store. Regulars checked new releases, talked to employees, asked questions or annoyed the hell out of us.
The dawdling, the mini conferences, these guys were up to no good. After thirty minutes, and a final huddle, family members waltzed through the exit doors. Except for Auntie and girl. Auntie bought a 99¢ blank tape. The girl waited behind, bored, clutching a bulky sweatshirt across her chest.
The girl was the mule.
Stephanie ran register. Charles pretended to be busy at backup. Layla and Dan tended front displays.
Purchase made, change given, Auntie and cohort walked. Triggered the alarms.
We closed the trap. Auntie launched the excuse.
"Oh, that must be me," she laughed and waved the blank tape and receipt. "But I already paid. See you!"
This excuse might have sailed elsewhere, not our store. Charles appropriated the bag, and walked it back through the gate as a "special courtesy" for them. Sound Warehouse - because we care.
Alarm triggered again. Girl apprehended. No resistance, no protesting, no drama. Auntie simply said, while she walked ...
"You'll know what to say. We'll wait in the car."
The girl looked twelve or fourteen. Hair pulled back. Pants, blue windbreaker over a t-shirt. Plus, a sweatshirt full of swiped items. She gazed slowly across the store, hadn't a care in the world.
A police substation was staffed one block from us. Cops always responded when we called, and responded pronto when the culprit was a young offender. Police always wanted to deter criminal tendencies early on, and they were masters of friendly scare tactics.
No sooner had the cops arrived, and begun the intimidating authority message, than the girl launched Stage 2.
"Seventy five bucks. I'm underage."
"I'm a minor. I'm under eighteen. I took less than $75 in stuff. You can't do nothing to me."
All those huddled family pow wows made sense now. Doing their arithmetic. Sweatshirt contained four cassettes, three compact discs, a close out movie, five candy bars. Before taxes, totaled $73.92.
Son of a bitch.
"Seventy five bucks. I got less than $75. I'm a minor," she repeated, louder.
From a legal standpoint, she was, damnit, correct. At worst, the theft was a misdemeanor. More likely, an infraction. As a minor, however, an amount under $75 was ... nothing.
Not only a family of thieves, but educated thieves.
"I'm under 18. And you can't do nothing."
The two cops, both large males, had entered with broad smiles before shifting into impassive enforcement figures. They remained stone eyed, but one could sense bottled fury every time the girl jeered at them. If the perp was male, and this was 1947, there would be slapping.
Two more cops cruised in. Male and female. Within minutes, they scowled and muttered in frustration. The law was what it was, their hands were tied. Li'l Criminal was going to swing out the door. Reinforcing the lesson that she'd beaten the law.
"Actually ... " Charles spoke up, " ... most of the items she took were on sale."
Cops, Coworkers, Culprit, everyone's attention flashed back to third grade math class.
"Cassettes are marked off $3.00 each as part of a midline sale. Two CD's are New Release priced. The third is also part of that midline sale."
"Seventy five bucks. I'm a minor," the girl protested. Yet she wasn't so loud or cocky now. She leaned sideways and looked for that waiting car in the parking lot. No cavalry from that quarter.
"To be technical, the law specifies $75 - - Retail," the policewoman smiled like a tiger. "Retail, the baseline price, not the Sale price."
The Retail price totaled $97.92, three bucks shy of a felony charge. As it was, misdemeanor, and a free ride downtown in the back of a police car. And a lot of crying.
The family vehicle followed at a discreet distance.
For the store, and four cops, a tasty victory.