Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Shoplifting: Case #13 - The Gun

   Normally, police response was not immediate. Neighborhood cops had been primed for months, however, events that night evolved quickly.
   Crime had increased.
   Used to be, we caught a stupid shoplifter once a quarter. Lately, we contacted authorities monthly, if not sooner. More druggies, a nearby reform school, increased gang activity. And casual shoplifters, still completely stupid.
   After Wherehouse began stocking games, gang action escalated. Typical pattern, guys selected 4 - 5 games, approached front registers, then bolted out the doors en masse. District wide, stores were plundered repeatedly. After losing a handsome fortune, the chain discontinued offering pawnshop payouts for our Region.
   Our store was also a lucrative goldmine for the Oreo Cookie Crew. That's what the local cops termed this crackhead trio, two black guys, one white. They burgled after-hours shops up and down Camp Bowie over and over. Smash N Dash experts.
   Usual time, 2:00 AM. Tool of choice, the cinder block.
   Security cameras caught the trio twice already at our location. Cookie member hurled the concrete cinder block through the plate glass, punching an opening big enough for fellow members to squeeze. Those guys were suicidal. Massive shards of plate glass dangled precariously. Sheets often fell after a Cookie member passed through. Heavy plate glass would have sliced them up, sheared off a limb, or cut them in two.
   Oreo Crew didn't think. They did practice outstanding time management, though. Three minutes of looting, specifically DVDs, into the pickup truck, gone.
   Police swarmed within two minutes. Frustrated, and increasingly angry. The cops wanted to nail them. As did the "first notified' manager who had to show up on the spot, then wait for the glass man.
   The police substation was one block from us. They worked on red alert.

   Molly stop-checked a man at the front. Alarms beeped. He held a shopping bag, perhaps she missed a security tag. He also swung a gymbag. I walked up.
   Tonight was one of my rare night shifts. Pat and Stacey were off somewhere, show or wedding, and Joe was at lunch. John stocked the Floor, Molly ran Register, Boone the Listening Center. Boone had been Manager at Hulen for a stint, then quit after he landed a higher paying job. He'd gone back to Hulen when he wanted extra pay, but they wouldn't hire him. While Manager, he scheduled his people split shifts (10:00 - 2:00 followed by 4:00 - 8:00). They hated that, and blocked his return. The Boss hired him as a courtesy, even though he knew ex managers were poor subordinates, forever second guessing and airing their comments.
   I approached. Molly carried our shopping bag through the sensors without incident. The customer continued to flare the alarm. She was stalling him, checking the bottom of shoes for a tag. There were never - ever - tags on the bottom of shoes. It was that gymbag. She knew it, I knew it.
   I loved Molly, she was a darkhorse. Very pretty college girl, quiet around me, always industrious, didn't require a lot of maintenance. Managers did not repeat instructions to her, she worked out Retail problems, worked with the team, worked on her own. Anyone who worked with others, already knows how invaluable, and rare, this type was.
   Molly, smiling, friendly, agreeable, would not let the man pass.
   "Alright, Dude," I smiled, "you got a metal implant in your arm? Maybe a heart pacemaker?"
   Those items never triggered alarms, either.
   "It's the weirdest thing," he threw a sickly smile. "Third store in a row I set an alarm off. These things don't like me."
   "I already walked his CDs through,"
Molly said. "No problem."
   "Got to be his shoes," I smiled, but gave Molly a half wink. "Customers are always stepping on tags," I lied.
   "Well ... " the customer paused, " ... I think I have another problem."
   He cracked open his gymbag. Molly and I leaned over and peered inside.
   Brass colored. Muzzle of a small bore handgun.
   Real? Fake? Cheap piece of crap? Starting pistol? Pellet gun?
   I've seen my share of guns over the years. Believe it or not, I was in ROTC for a few years. I dated girls whose purses concealed. Coworker Derek packed, so did Sherri, so did Sissy. Killwater, a Regular, carried a derringer and sawed off shotgun. I made a cold appraisal, then did something completely and unforgivably shitty.
   I walked away.
   I flashed Molly a serious look, before turning to the customer, now closing his bag.
   "Oh, I doubt that should cause the alarm," I smiled. "Give me two seconds to fix a Listening Center crisis and I'll be right back and we'll straighten this out."
   I strolled to the Listening Center.
   "Boone, give Molly backup for a second, OK?"
   Boone headed up front while I eased behind the Listening Center wall. Dialed 911, explained our situation.
   If anything happened to Boone or Molly I'd never forgive myself.
   Returned to the front. The customer was still waiting. Boone, not knowing a thing, ran register. Molly smiled. If she threw me a look, I didn't catch it.
   Sent Boone back to the Listening Center, moved Molly to the furthest register. I'd taken a huge gamble, and I'd gotten lucky. Damn lucky.
   Started talking to the guy with the gun, stalling, just as a squad car jerked to a stop outside. Two officers hurried inside. I nodded at the gymbag.
   The cops grabbed his bag immediately. Molly and I exhaled.
   "Well, lookee here," one policeman pulled out the brass barreled gun. "Little boys with little toys. What else you got in this bag?"
   DVDs and CD box sets. Over forty items. Unbelievable. No wonder he never ran, the bag was too heavy.
   The other officer frisked him, then turned to me, "Are you the Manager who phoned?"
   I nodded.
   "There's more in his pants. I'm going to have him strip in one of your restrooms. I need an impartial witness."
   Years ago, Greg and Stacey had busted a female who yanked down pants and panties to prove she hadn't stolen anything. Greg and Stacey knew she had taken something, but she had gotten away. Not tonight.
   Three of us squeezed into the Customer Restroom and locked the door. I hated it. Even though the cop was in complete control, if the thief became violent, I'd be trapped in a cramped bathroom with two men and a .45 caliber revolver. I pulled out my lock-blade, popped it, pressed it against my belt.
   "I ain't got nothing. I don't know how those discs got in my bag. That's not even my bag. I was holding it for some guy."
   Steady stream of excuses. Pure bullshit to boot.
   The guy wore baggy nylon pants. The patrolman spread eagled him against the wall and ordered him to drop his drawers. Out tumbled another 20 CD box sets.
   What had I said, that the perp couldn't run from us? Hell, he could barely walk.
   Three more squad cars had arrived. The thief's car was seized, his wife and companions were being questioned. Molly and Boone were giving statements.
   Our visitor had driven from the other side of Dallas to west Fort Worth. To steal. Mall stores, electronic stores. They had triggered alarms but those employees waved them out the door.
   Molly did not.
   Neither did I.
   He'd flashed the cheap knockoff gun to intimidate us. In a friendly sort of way, mind you.
   Molly had been surprised, and wasn't sure if it was real. Yet she trusted me. My non-reaction had been unexpected; the crook never thought I'd call the cops. And the cops had been high alert because of the Oreo Cookie Crew.
   To me, Molly was the real hero. She had stopped the shoplifter, she had held the fort for me while I called the Marines. If she was upset or angry, she never showed it or vented towards me.
   Afterward, everyone reassured me my actions had been cool and swift. Correct.
   I was never convinced.
   I'd taken a calculated risk.
   I had gambled.
   I'd been lucky.

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