Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Customers: Part 20 - Oscar's Scam‏

   Oscar became a Regular several years ago. Shopped once a month, shifting to weekly once we became Wherehouse Music. Because, at that point, we were buying USED. And Oscar always had CD's to sell.
   Oscar always had a small pile of CD's, usually four or five. These invariably totaled enough to buy one New CD or two USED. It was uncanny.
   Most sellers either brought in a huge stack, generally for cash, or a handful, for exchange value. Oscar fell into the latter category. All sellers visited for a year or less. Time to download their music collections to the computer hard drive, and eliminate all the CD's from their abode. If the computer crashed or was stolen ... well ... easy come, easy go. I gave up trying to explain the audio difference between 1100 kbps wav files versus 96 kbps mp3 files. These were all men, and had stubbornly fixed their minds.
   Oscar had been selling discs for years. Oscar was scruffy, blue collar, drove an older car. I'm not judging, but it was extremely unlikely he had built a monster collection, and now he was unloading it.
   No way. Had to be a scam.
   One afternoon, I asked him. Oscar had just sold me $20 worth of CD's. The discs and booklets were immaculate. The cases were scuffed and beat up to hell. Still, our system valued each SKU at $5.00.
   "Oscar, do you work for the data entry crew? Your CD's always bring high dollar. What's the con, Dude?"
   Oscar glanced from side to side, then shot me a sly look.
   "I always grab your flyers, man. The Wanted List," he pulled out several of our glossies from his shirt pocket. "Check out swap meets and pawnshops every week."
   "Most of these are New Releases," I commented on what he sold me.
   "I know. I always ... always ... look for the top wanted ... in really shitty cases. Most places only charge 25¢ or 50¢ for those."
   "That's great! So you pay a dollar, maybe two dollars, and swap for twenty dollars worth of music? That's genius!" I laughed.
   "Yeah," Oscar grinned. "Pawnshops are best cause they're always getting stuff that's jacked. Straight outta cars is my guess. Usually new stuff."
   That was the dark underbelly of USED. For every legit customer purging their collection, there was a crook or druggie using us as a fence. Sometimes we identified them and booted them from the store. Then they'd send the girlfriend, or their kid. Life sucked. Other times, we treated them like scum. The database might offer $5.00 for a title, yet we would reduce the bid to 50¢. Complaints got them nowhere. Thereafter, they went elsewhere.
   Oscar had technically bought the CD's, but he was in effect, laundering them. Another employee might have suffered qualms. Not this soul. What Oscar had devised wasn't too far from radio announcers, columnists, or music store employees selling promos. Or even The Exchange Lady, who'd been switching CD's for ten years already.
   Plus, I was always one to appreciate a clever dodge. Oscar had confided in me, and I never told anyone else his strategy. Not that I bought his explanation completely. Now and then the jewel case didn't pass close inspection. The interior insert that the disc resided on would be black, when it ought to have been clear because of artwork underneath. As if someone had swapped disc and packaging from a nice jewel case to a ... ahem ... a shitty case. A case that might have been marked ... 25¢.
   Like I said, Oscar had been straight with me. Besides, I got a kick out of him. Pat, Joe, John, most of the crew knew him and thought well of him.
   Ryzer, on the other hand, did not appreciate Oscar. Scoped him like a cat watching a lizard high up on a window ledge.
   I've mentioned my sorry ass skills in catching thieves before. Probably a character defect of trusting people and ingrained cynicism. I also worked days, most thieves preferred darkness.
   Ry had a deeply righteous streak. He was idealistic. His was a black & white, right or wrong, moral code. None of that gray, shadowy twilight that I maneuvered so quietly in.
   Ry caught Oscar.
   Pawnshops had wised up to Oscar's game, or nabbed him switching cases. Don't know. He'd been banned from them all. In our store, he was cutting a $4.99 USED CD from a soft keeper. Ry crept along the far wall, kept low, rounded the endcap ... and ... "Gotcha!"
   One cheap item. Not even a misdemeanor. Not worth calling the cops. Ry had been justified, he made the bust. Yet I didn't pull the trigger.
   I kicked Oscar out, banned him. Ry remained silent, though I knew he wanted Oscar to enjoy that courtesy police ride downtown. I doubted the cops would bother with a $4.99 theft. Cops had better things to do. Oscar was so insignificant.
   Still, I guess Ryzer made a face as Oscar slinked out the alcove one final time.
   Oscar shot us the finger.
   "Dude, I think that was for you," I told Ry.
   "It was worth it!" he laughed.
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