Unlike my husband, I’ve never actually caught a shoplifter red-handed in our store, but I’ve always been hankering to. A female version of Barney Fife, I’m constantly fingering the bullet in my shirt pocket, just waiting for the moment when I can wedge it into my pistol and pull the trigger--all metaphorically speaking, of course. I would never shoot someone who was shoplifting…well, unless they were trying to lift off with my husband.
So this past week, when a group of six girls came into our store -- shaking the rain out of their flaming hair while their mouths breathed last whiffs of cigarette smoke -- I saw a majority of them were dressed in baggy sweatpants and sweatshirts with the kangaroo pocket in the front, and they had great big bags slung over their skinny shoulders. My shoplifting senses, within seconds, had flipped to high alert.
Peering over the seasoning box I was stocking, I watched the flame-haired girls casually stroll up and down the Health Beauty Aid aisles and thought their stroll far too casual. I memorized the items they were putting into their buggy and was bothered by the fact that they were only selecting the more expensive ones.
Gonna pay for that? I thought, stocking vanilla bean bottles with unnecessary vengeance.
A few minutes later, I went back into the warehouse and told my sister-in-law to keep an eye on the gang of skinny girls, too, for her dream of catching a shoplifter is almost as large as mine. Immediately, she stopped entering prices and swaggered up to our office like she was 220 pounds of pure intimidation rather than 110 soaking wet. Taking a long, loud gulp of water, she stared at the girls over the rim of the glass; my sister-in-law’s eyes shooting as many fiery darts as someone with the heart of a teddy bear can.
Once she returned to the main floor, both of us followed the girls up and down the aisles, wielding our price guns behind their backs like Western slingers and practicing on each other in the aisles they weren’t in by bracing our legs and pointing our guns at each other, miming, “Hands up!”
When the girls were finally weirded out enough by our antics that they went up to pay, I remained near the cash register, casually stacking candy bars into orderly piles, knocking them over and restacking them again.
(Really. I should work for the CIA or something.)
After they’d all finished checking out and left with a sneering look over their shoulders at my sister-in-law and myself, I went up to our cashier and asked if she knew anything about them, thinking that she would hunker toward me with her usual, “I really shouldn’t be saying this, but….”
Instead, she simply waved her hand toward the door and smiled. “Oh, them? Yeah, they all go over there to that community college. Amber knows 'em. They’re in cosmetology school.”
So…their matching flame-colored hair and cuts and dark sweat suits didn’t mean they were a country version of the Crips and shoplifting from the Smart Shopper was the newbies’ initiation.
This past week all the wind must’ve made that karma travel fast, for it wasn’t over and I had (forgive the mixing of metaphors) gotten a big gulp of my own medicine. It began harmlessly enough….My husband was driving us home after a long, tiring day during which we’d been to Nashville and back; he’d poured, smoothed, and stamped the concrete at our house; I’d worked on my novel, in the store, and make a meal for the men who’d helped my husband with the concrete. Because of these tasks, we were both shot through with weary and looked it. My hair was in a ponytail and needed washing. I had on a ratty running t-shirt and pants. My husband was covered in head-to-toe concrete dust. His shirt looked even worse than mine, and he had a week’s worth of beard that made his face look hard and sharp like a felon’s.
Our poor old Jeep looked even worse than the two of us combined. It was filmed with a coating of dust so thick you could write SOS on the rear window, and someone would surely dart to your rescue from 50 miles away. Our right brake light was out; the driver’s side window wouldn’t roll down; the whole back hatch and seat was overrun with tools and the muzzleloader my husband keeps in the Jeep during deer season, just-in-case.
So, when Mr. Police Officer pulled us over when we were a block from home and came striding up to the driver’s side window, my husband couldn’t roll it down.
“Son, can you get this winder down for me?” he asked.
“No, sir,” my husband replied, rolling down the back passenger window instead, “I can’t. It’s broke.”
The officer took in my husband’s slightly disheveled appearance. “You been working hard today, son?”
“Yes, sir. Pouring concrete.”
“Is ’at right?”
“Son, you know you were going 34 in a 25?”
The police officer paused, shone his flashlight back through our vehicle, remained a moment too long on the toolbox and gun case. I began to get nervous, contemplated throwing our Bible back on top of the muzzleloader, but figured that gesture would just make him think we're from Waco, Texas.
“You know your brake light is out…back ’ere on the right?” the police officer asked.
“You gotch yourself proof of insurance and a license, son?”
“Yes, sir, right here…” My husband paused, looked up into the blinding flashlight. “Now I think this insurance card might need updated--it just went out last week.”
“Hmmm,” the police officer said. “You got any tickets lately?”
“One by a state-y…a while back.”
“But that was almost a year ago,” I added. “In Kansas City…”
Hearing another voice, the police officer shone his flashlight over to where I was. I smiled like my face was going to crack in two if I didn’t.
He just harrumphed, jangled his belt, and strutted back to his car.
Fifteen minutes later we were still sitting there when an unmarked car -- black as a bat -- swooped in beside ours along with another squad car. Their lights were flashing.
“What’s going on?” I asked my husband.
A few minutes after that, they both circled their vehicles around us like lions or bullies -- lights still flashing -- then pulled out as abruptly as they'd pulled in.
Another five minutes and the original police officer came back with the tell-tale ticket in hand.
As he explained everything to my husband, something in my peripheral vision caught my eye. I looked to the right and saw a hulking brute of a man, dressed in more black than a New Yorker, standing beside our Jeep with his arms crossed and his dark eyes just looking for trouble. He was 220 pounds of pure intimidation and -- unlike my sister-in-law -- there certainly was no teddy bear heart here.
Within five minutes we were free to go as long as we promised to pay the $65 court fine, but the man to the right of my window did not move either his body or his eyes from us, even after the other police officer had.
It was unnerving to say the least.
My husband hadn’t even shifted our poor old Jeep into Drive when I decided to hang my price gun and matching gun-slinger stride up for good.
That is, until I catch a Smart Shopper shoplifter red-handed--then, well...Mr. Barney Fife himself couldn’t put on a bigger show.
Picture can be found here.