Monday, August 18, 2008

Five-finger Discounts

When I was much younger and still prone to drug and alcohol excesses, I used to steal stuff. It was sport, not necessity, and I stopped when I got caught. I had been eyeing a pair of Ray Bans at the local sports store and decided to try the old sunglasses-on-top-of-the-head ploy--you know, wear them around as if they're yours, and walk out of the store. But I got nabbed by a lady cashier who threatened to have me deported and that was that.

Even now, I occasionally fantasize stealing, imagining exactly how I would get this or that item out of the store without paying for it. Its mildly entertaining if I have too much time on my hands.

I bring this up because I saw a woman stealing today. I was at one of those giant hangar stores that carry everything from bicycles to bacon when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a well-dressed white woman in her forties stuff a large Brie cheese into her handbag. She was neither furtive nor hurried. She picked it up, read the label, put it in her purse. There were people around but I'm pretty sure I was the only one who noticed. I followed at a distance and saw her take another large piece of cheese, a pack of smoked turkey slices, a tin of ham and a box of Belgian chocolates. Everything went into her large red leather purse. If she noticed me noticing her, she chose to ignore it. Eventually, she pushed her shopping cart into a check out line, paid her money and left.

Not once was I tempted to call security. Obviously, she had a ham and cheese jones. Maybe her husband---she wore a wedding band--was in dairy product rehab. Maybe she had a large family to feed. Maybe she wanted to surprise a lover.

I estimated that she spent about a hundred, stole about fifty. I assume she got a thrill from it, felt perhaps that she was getting even with something or someone. I somehow doubt that she really needed the stuff.

According to statistics, retail theft is up, with the incidence food theft rising daily. No surprise there as the cost of daily living spirals out of control. Gasoline theft is at an all time high as well, and in my neighborhood, many stations have instituted pay-before-you-pump starting at dark. I have not researched cheese theft per se and so can't tell you whether that's up too.

I imagine it's kind of tough for stores. How far can you go protecting your merchandise without alienating the customers? Where do you draw the line? Will you really prosecute Gammie for stealing batteries? (Yes, that's from Seinfeld.)
A friend who used to work security at Safeway told me about a family that would enter the store in the early morning, cause a diversion by knocking over a stack soup cans or fruit, then stuff their respective pockets during the commotion. Soon, they were well-known throughout the area and one morning all five of them were arrested---Mom, Dad, three children between the ages of twelve and seventeen. While Dad and the kids went for basic staples--hamburger meat, Polish sausage, Eggos and such, Mom specialized in high price items. When the police searched her, they found $400 of fois gras and filet mignon.

Here's installment 39 of Wasted Miracles.

Mamadou rose from the chair heavily. His head swam, he knew he was well on his way to being very drunk. He’d never liked inebriated people, was conscious of the muddy feeling in his arms and legs. He glanced at the clock on the kitchen range. Past two in the morning. He found the slip of paper with Marsh’s number, dialed. When Marsh answered, Mamadou said, “I’ll try to help you, Mr. Marsh. Come by tomorrow, around three. But there are no guarantees. There never are.” He hung up before the man could respond. He staggered to bed, didn’t bother with the sheets or blanket. He drifted off to uneasy sleep with the words ‘unfinished business’ circling in his head.

Chapter 11

Captain Roderick Stuart was not an unwordly man. He had wandered the planet as chief of a ship no single human could ever dream of owning, and he had seen firsthand the frailties and strength of the race. He knew men were weak, knew their lust had no bounds and knew, if for this very reason alone, that prostitutes would be drawn to the Isadora as, well, bees to honey.
In his heart of hearts, Captain Stuart knew such people were necessary to the functionings of a well-ordered society. He believed, though he never would dream of admitting it to anyone, that virtually all relationships had a basis in some form of prostitution. It was, after all, the oldest profession, and for a good reason.
He was therefore not in the least shocked to hear that two such creatures were plying their trade on his ship. What he resented was that they had been caught, which showed a certain lack of intelligence, and their captor had been one of the ship’s venerated clients. The Worthingtons of Ontario were on the A-list. They booked at least one cruise a year, sometimes two. They always stayed in first class and, though hugely wealthy, seemed largely content to play shuffleboard in the morning, bridge in the afternoon, and canasta at night. Mr. Worthington drank a bit too much on occasion, but this was forgivable, considering his spouse. Mrs. Worthington had a tendency to be a bit short with the crew (she had once called a steward a ‘dunderhead’) and her no salt, no fat, low carbohydrate and high fiber diet was a constant challenge to the chef.
Jennifer Jamieson and Clare Drake. Cabin 5-18. The captain checked his watch. In a half-an-hour’s time, diner would be served. The two would probably be in their cabin, getting ready. He drafted a quick note on the Isadora’s letterhead paper, sealed it in an envelope. He asked one of the men to deliver it immediately to cabin 5-18.
The two young women were attractive. Massively so. Captain Roderick Stuart was surprised that he had not noticed them before. Certainly, they stood out. One blonde, one brunette. They could have been twins but were not. Captain Steward estimated their age at between 22 and 25. They were poised, and very angry.
The blonde one, Jennifer, was speaking for them both. “Fuck you.”
The brunette nodded her head.
Their language left a bit to be desired.
The brunette said, “We’ll sue.”
The captain smiled. “Then you’ll do so from shore. We shall ask you to leave at the next port.”
“You can’t--”
“Yes, I most assuredly can. This is my ship. I can do almost anything here. Putting you ashore will be a minor inconvenience, believe me.”
Both women wore petulant, offended looks. The brunette broke first. “Oh shit,” she said.
The blonde smiled. “Can’t we work something out?”
The captain stood silent for a long moment. It was important that the two women think his decision was the product of much deliberation. It wasn’t. The handbook distributed to all ship officers by the Isadora’s mother company stated that dumping clients--any clients--was to be a last resort.
“Perhaps we can,” said the captain.
In fact, the problem was easily solved. The captain knew how quickly gossip traveled among both the crew and the passengers. He had no intention of fostering a cause celebre. Clare Drake and Jennifer Jamieson would therefore be allowed to enjoy almost all the pleasures the ship had to offer. They would not, however, practice their profession. If they did, they would spend the remainder of the cruise in the brig and be delivered to the local police at the next port of call.
The blonde shrugged her beautiful shoulders. “OK.”
The brunette mimicked her.
Captain Roderick Stuart bowed very slightly at the waist to show there were no hard feelings

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