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.
   "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."
   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.

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